Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 19, 2008

Is the Bloom Off Obama’s Rose?

There is further evidence that something has changed in the Democratic primary race. In the latest CBS poll Barack Obama went from a 16 point lead in February to a 3 point lead (a statistical tie) over Hillary Clinton among Democratic primary voters. Clinton has made progress with both male and female voters. Worse still for Obama, he now trails John McCain among independents by 8 points (after leading him by 10 a month ago) and his lead over McCain overall is down 7 points. (Liberal bloggers are panicky about other polls showing Obama falling behind McCain in key swing states.)

Is this all attributable to the Reverend Wright revelations? Unlikely. More likely is that the combined impact of Wright, Clinton’s attacks on Obama’s readiness to be commander-in-chief and some closer media scrutiny has changed the lay of the land. More worrisome for Obama is the possibility that the novelty of his candidacy has worn off and like any fad, what once was exciting now seems trite.

Whether Clinton can continue to press ahead and rack up a needed series of primary wins remains to be seen. Her own unfavorability rating in the latest CBS poll is the highest of the three remaining presidential contenders. Her progress, it appears, has come from a decline in his appeal, not necessarily a burst of enthusiasm from Democratic primary voters about her.

So if there is now a contest between candidates over which can accumulate the most baggage and become less attractive in the eyes of voters it would be foolish to count out the Clintons. Once we’re out of the realm of inspiration and into the field of negative campaigning, they have few peers.

There is further evidence that something has changed in the Democratic primary race. In the latest CBS poll Barack Obama went from a 16 point lead in February to a 3 point lead (a statistical tie) over Hillary Clinton among Democratic primary voters. Clinton has made progress with both male and female voters. Worse still for Obama, he now trails John McCain among independents by 8 points (after leading him by 10 a month ago) and his lead over McCain overall is down 7 points. (Liberal bloggers are panicky about other polls showing Obama falling behind McCain in key swing states.)

Is this all attributable to the Reverend Wright revelations? Unlikely. More likely is that the combined impact of Wright, Clinton’s attacks on Obama’s readiness to be commander-in-chief and some closer media scrutiny has changed the lay of the land. More worrisome for Obama is the possibility that the novelty of his candidacy has worn off and like any fad, what once was exciting now seems trite.

Whether Clinton can continue to press ahead and rack up a needed series of primary wins remains to be seen. Her own unfavorability rating in the latest CBS poll is the highest of the three remaining presidential contenders. Her progress, it appears, has come from a decline in his appeal, not necessarily a burst of enthusiasm from Democratic primary voters about her.

So if there is now a contest between candidates over which can accumulate the most baggage and become less attractive in the eyes of voters it would be foolish to count out the Clintons. Once we’re out of the realm of inspiration and into the field of negative campaigning, they have few peers.

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A Few Signs Of Fallout

Being tied in North Carolina and falling further behind in Pennsylvania are two small, post-Wright indications that things are not going swimmingly for Barack Obama. The Clinton camp is crowing about improved polling, although does not want to link it to Wright. And a savvy Democrat (h/t Ben Smith) or two noticed that Obama really did not explain what he was doing hanging out with a preacher spouting racist, anti-American venom. If Clinton keeps her lead, wins Pennsylvania by a big margin and comes close in North Carolina she will be crowing that the bottom has fallen out of Obama’s campaign. Should she win North Carolina, the media will be saying the same thing.

Being tied in North Carolina and falling further behind in Pennsylvania are two small, post-Wright indications that things are not going swimmingly for Barack Obama. The Clinton camp is crowing about improved polling, although does not want to link it to Wright. And a savvy Democrat (h/t Ben Smith) or two noticed that Obama really did not explain what he was doing hanging out with a preacher spouting racist, anti-American venom. If Clinton keeps her lead, wins Pennsylvania by a big margin and comes close in North Carolina she will be crowing that the bottom has fallen out of Obama’s campaign. Should she win North Carolina, the media will be saying the same thing.

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The Adams Family

I’ll leave judgments about the historical veracity of HBO’s new miniseries, John Adams, to those with some expertise in the field (at least one historian seems to think it’s not perfect, but not bad either). The real question is: Is it worth watching? And judging from the two episodes that aired this week, the series is (slightly) less than the sum of its parts. The good news, however, is that the parts are generally excellent.

Strong performances anchor the series. Paul Giamatti plays the title character, a lumpy, bald Boston lawyer who finds his way to greatness after successfully defending the British soldiers involved in the Boston massacre. Giamatti is characteristically frumpy here, but he lends Adams an interesting blend of arrogance and anxiety as well. He’s a patriot, yes, concerned for his country, but also about his own family, life, and legacy. It’s a showcase for Giamatti, but Tom Wilkinson (as Ben Franklin), Laura Linney (as Abigail Adams), David Morse (as George Washington) and Stephane Dillane (as Thomas Jefferson) also make quite the impression as well.

Meanwhile, from the costumes to the extravagant sets, everything on the production side is superb, but the standout element is the photography, which looks positively stunning in HD. Director of Photography Tak Fujimoto is a longtime Hollywood hand (I first recall noticing his work in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs), and his visual trademarks are evident in nearly every scene.

He’s got two main modes behind the lens—the participant and the voyeur. The first mode is primarily used in the larger setpieces, most notably in the series’ opening sequence, which depicts the Boston Massacre; a handheld camera follows Adams as he stumbles through the streets and into the bloody scene, running side-by-side with the man as if his partner. It puts viewers inside the scene, makes them part of it. The more intimate scenes, mostly between Adams and his wife Abigail, are typically shot in low light, and often from another room, or behind an object. The effect is of peering in on history from the outside, watching an American founder from the outside.

The series’ weaknesses come mostly in the script by Kirk Ellis, which, at least at this point, has failed to bring the many other fine elements together. There are many strong moments, especially between John and Abigail (a nighttime monologue in which Adams, laying next to his silent wife, thinks through his dilemma—and those of the country—is particularly touching). But too many scenes feel overly scripted, as if the characters were simply spouting miniature editorials. I have no doubt they were eloquent men, but surely they stumbled once in a while? And in both of the inaugural episodes, there is far too much reliance on courtroom-style drama, as the series would really rather be Law & Order: American Revolution. Still, it’s by far the best thing on TV right now, and anyone with even a passing interest in the subject would do well to check it out.

I’ll leave judgments about the historical veracity of HBO’s new miniseries, John Adams, to those with some expertise in the field (at least one historian seems to think it’s not perfect, but not bad either). The real question is: Is it worth watching? And judging from the two episodes that aired this week, the series is (slightly) less than the sum of its parts. The good news, however, is that the parts are generally excellent.

Strong performances anchor the series. Paul Giamatti plays the title character, a lumpy, bald Boston lawyer who finds his way to greatness after successfully defending the British soldiers involved in the Boston massacre. Giamatti is characteristically frumpy here, but he lends Adams an interesting blend of arrogance and anxiety as well. He’s a patriot, yes, concerned for his country, but also about his own family, life, and legacy. It’s a showcase for Giamatti, but Tom Wilkinson (as Ben Franklin), Laura Linney (as Abigail Adams), David Morse (as George Washington) and Stephane Dillane (as Thomas Jefferson) also make quite the impression as well.

Meanwhile, from the costumes to the extravagant sets, everything on the production side is superb, but the standout element is the photography, which looks positively stunning in HD. Director of Photography Tak Fujimoto is a longtime Hollywood hand (I first recall noticing his work in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs), and his visual trademarks are evident in nearly every scene.

He’s got two main modes behind the lens—the participant and the voyeur. The first mode is primarily used in the larger setpieces, most notably in the series’ opening sequence, which depicts the Boston Massacre; a handheld camera follows Adams as he stumbles through the streets and into the bloody scene, running side-by-side with the man as if his partner. It puts viewers inside the scene, makes them part of it. The more intimate scenes, mostly between Adams and his wife Abigail, are typically shot in low light, and often from another room, or behind an object. The effect is of peering in on history from the outside, watching an American founder from the outside.

The series’ weaknesses come mostly in the script by Kirk Ellis, which, at least at this point, has failed to bring the many other fine elements together. There are many strong moments, especially between John and Abigail (a nighttime monologue in which Adams, laying next to his silent wife, thinks through his dilemma—and those of the country—is particularly touching). But too many scenes feel overly scripted, as if the characters were simply spouting miniature editorials. I have no doubt they were eloquent men, but surely they stumbled once in a while? And in both of the inaugural episodes, there is far too much reliance on courtroom-style drama, as the series would really rather be Law & Order: American Revolution. Still, it’s by far the best thing on TV right now, and anyone with even a passing interest in the subject would do well to check it out.

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Hillary’s Wright Moment

Given the mostly positive response that Barack Obama’s speech on race in America has received in the media, it looks as though Obama will be able to put the anti-American and racist comments of his preacher, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, behind him. While Obama’s handling of this controversy provides yet another example of his impressive political skills, the very fact that he had to address Wright’s comments at all always seemed rather unfair. After all, of the two Democrats still contending for the presidency, Obama is the only candidate not to make incendiary comments in a black church.

Indeed, recall Hillary’s speech during a Martin Luther King Day ceremony at a Harlem church in 2006: Hillary declared, “When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation. And you know what I’m talking about!” At the moment this statement was made, the audience fell virtually silent, while public outrage ensued. Yet in contrast to Obama’s apology for comments he didn’t make, Hillary refused to apologize for her actual race-baiting, saying, “I’ve said that before, and I believe it is an accurate description of the kind of top-down way that the House of Representatives is run that denies meaningful debate.”

Of course, the media’s failure to mention Hillary’s own abuse of the pulpit isn’t the first time that she has been given a pass for blatant race-baiting as a strategy for courting the African-American vote. At a debate hosted by Howard University in June 2007, Hillary said, “If HIV-AIDS were the leading cause of death of white women between the ages of 25 and 34, there would be an outraged outcry in this country.” Despite the disturbingly conspiratorial nature of this statement, The New York Times’ Bob Herbert applauded it; the New York Observer cast it as a debate highlight; National Journal called it “inspired”; and it otherwise received minimal coverage.

In short, when will Hillary Clinton’s racially infused rhetoric receive the same scrutiny to which Obama’s associates have been subjected?

Given the mostly positive response that Barack Obama’s speech on race in America has received in the media, it looks as though Obama will be able to put the anti-American and racist comments of his preacher, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, behind him. While Obama’s handling of this controversy provides yet another example of his impressive political skills, the very fact that he had to address Wright’s comments at all always seemed rather unfair. After all, of the two Democrats still contending for the presidency, Obama is the only candidate not to make incendiary comments in a black church.

Indeed, recall Hillary’s speech during a Martin Luther King Day ceremony at a Harlem church in 2006: Hillary declared, “When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation. And you know what I’m talking about!” At the moment this statement was made, the audience fell virtually silent, while public outrage ensued. Yet in contrast to Obama’s apology for comments he didn’t make, Hillary refused to apologize for her actual race-baiting, saying, “I’ve said that before, and I believe it is an accurate description of the kind of top-down way that the House of Representatives is run that denies meaningful debate.”

Of course, the media’s failure to mention Hillary’s own abuse of the pulpit isn’t the first time that she has been given a pass for blatant race-baiting as a strategy for courting the African-American vote. At a debate hosted by Howard University in June 2007, Hillary said, “If HIV-AIDS were the leading cause of death of white women between the ages of 25 and 34, there would be an outraged outcry in this country.” Despite the disturbingly conspiratorial nature of this statement, The New York Times’ Bob Herbert applauded it; the New York Observer cast it as a debate highlight; National Journal called it “inspired”; and it otherwise received minimal coverage.

In short, when will Hillary Clinton’s racially infused rhetoric receive the same scrutiny to which Obama’s associates have been subjected?

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Meanwhile, McCain Sails On

While Barack Obama is insisting he really is post-racial and Hillary Clinton is fretting over possibly-lost Florida delegates, John McCain goes on his way. He visits Iraq, he raises money, and he rises in the polls. The latest:

McCain is in a statistical tie with both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, according to the CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released this morning. In hypothetical November match-ups, Obama draws 47 percent to McCain’s 46 percent, while Clinton gets 49 percent to McCain’s 47 percent. Both those edges are well within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The more intriguing finding is that while voters give McCain a sizable edge over both Democrats in how they believe he would handle terrorism and the war in Iraq, they don’t give a similar edge to Clinton and Obama over McCain on dealing with the economy. On terrorism, 75 percent of respondents said McCain would do a good job, compared to 58 percent who said that of Obama and 57 percent for Clinton.On the economy, which Democrats see as their strong suit, 69 percent of voters said Clinton would do a good job, while 67 percent said that of Obama. But 65 percent said so of McCain, though he has acknowledged he is far better schooled in matters of national security than the US economy.

Indeed, in head-to-head match ups in recent polling McCain now leads both Clinton and Obama. State polling is equally problematic for the Democrats.

This is a potent reminder that while Democrats are still fighting for votes from the ever-more demanding left wing of their base (“No, promise you’ll leave Iraq no matter what!”) there is a big general electorate filled with Republicans, independents and non-primary voting Democrats who may look at the Democratic primary, now fixated on race, name-calling and shouting matches over delegate rules and, remarkably, not be all that impressed with McCain’s opponents.

Whether this continues for very long will in large part has to do with how long the Democrats’ race continues, how aggressively Clinton pushes her delegate grievance and how great a role race continues to play in the Democratic primary contest. (Others have noted that for many, if not most, voters the top issue is not race, but the economy or terrorism. When politicians are talking about themselves and their own political headaches to the exclusion of issues which voters care about, that usually spells trouble.)

The average voter may look at this – and the Democrats themselves – as a troubling side-show, divorced from reality. For now, that’s what the polls suggest is happening.

While Barack Obama is insisting he really is post-racial and Hillary Clinton is fretting over possibly-lost Florida delegates, John McCain goes on his way. He visits Iraq, he raises money, and he rises in the polls. The latest:

McCain is in a statistical tie with both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, according to the CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released this morning. In hypothetical November match-ups, Obama draws 47 percent to McCain’s 46 percent, while Clinton gets 49 percent to McCain’s 47 percent. Both those edges are well within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The more intriguing finding is that while voters give McCain a sizable edge over both Democrats in how they believe he would handle terrorism and the war in Iraq, they don’t give a similar edge to Clinton and Obama over McCain on dealing with the economy. On terrorism, 75 percent of respondents said McCain would do a good job, compared to 58 percent who said that of Obama and 57 percent for Clinton.On the economy, which Democrats see as their strong suit, 69 percent of voters said Clinton would do a good job, while 67 percent said that of Obama. But 65 percent said so of McCain, though he has acknowledged he is far better schooled in matters of national security than the US economy.

Indeed, in head-to-head match ups in recent polling McCain now leads both Clinton and Obama. State polling is equally problematic for the Democrats.

This is a potent reminder that while Democrats are still fighting for votes from the ever-more demanding left wing of their base (“No, promise you’ll leave Iraq no matter what!”) there is a big general electorate filled with Republicans, independents and non-primary voting Democrats who may look at the Democratic primary, now fixated on race, name-calling and shouting matches over delegate rules and, remarkably, not be all that impressed with McCain’s opponents.

Whether this continues for very long will in large part has to do with how long the Democrats’ race continues, how aggressively Clinton pushes her delegate grievance and how great a role race continues to play in the Democratic primary contest. (Others have noted that for many, if not most, voters the top issue is not race, but the economy or terrorism. When politicians are talking about themselves and their own political headaches to the exclusion of issues which voters care about, that usually spells trouble.)

The average voter may look at this – and the Democrats themselves – as a troubling side-show, divorced from reality. For now, that’s what the polls suggest is happening.

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Obama’s Speech, Day 2

I doubt this was intentional, but Barack Obama’s speech yesterday served as an important prophylactic for his campaign. By seeming to speak candidly about race — which is to say, he said we should speak candidly about race, which is not actually the same thing as speaking candidly about race but sounds as though he were speaking candidly about race — he held his standing and position with his passionate supporters in and around the media primarily (I lost count of how many bloggers on the Left said they had tears in their eyes yesterday listening to or reading the speech). This was no small matter. When a candidate finds himself in a swirl of controversy, the danger is two-fold. First, he will lose his step and not secure future support and future possible voters. Second, he will lose the people who have sworn allegiance to him already, who will decide they’ve either been had or that they now see a side of their chosen candidate they hadn’t seen before and fall out of love.

 The revelation, a week before the 2000 election, that George W. Bush had not revealed a 25 year-old drunk-driving arrest fit neatly into the second category, as it is likely he lost enough votes among evangelicals in Florida from that bit of news to turn that state into a 36-day jump ball. The Wright remarks offered the possibility of a similarly disaffected second look at Obama. And by turning on the charm and utilizing his capaciously writerly language  in a manner sophisticated enough to warm the cockles of Todd Gitlin’s oft-disappointed onetime-student-radical-now-with-an-AARP-membership-card heart, he shored up his support with his core supporters.

The big question is what people who are not yet firmly in his camp are thinking, and, more broadly, how the large number of independent voters are going to feel about all of this should he get the nomination. It may well all be a matter in the past by the time the autumn rolls around.

Or it may well not be.

I doubt this was intentional, but Barack Obama’s speech yesterday served as an important prophylactic for his campaign. By seeming to speak candidly about race — which is to say, he said we should speak candidly about race, which is not actually the same thing as speaking candidly about race but sounds as though he were speaking candidly about race — he held his standing and position with his passionate supporters in and around the media primarily (I lost count of how many bloggers on the Left said they had tears in their eyes yesterday listening to or reading the speech). This was no small matter. When a candidate finds himself in a swirl of controversy, the danger is two-fold. First, he will lose his step and not secure future support and future possible voters. Second, he will lose the people who have sworn allegiance to him already, who will decide they’ve either been had or that they now see a side of their chosen candidate they hadn’t seen before and fall out of love.

 The revelation, a week before the 2000 election, that George W. Bush had not revealed a 25 year-old drunk-driving arrest fit neatly into the second category, as it is likely he lost enough votes among evangelicals in Florida from that bit of news to turn that state into a 36-day jump ball. The Wright remarks offered the possibility of a similarly disaffected second look at Obama. And by turning on the charm and utilizing his capaciously writerly language  in a manner sophisticated enough to warm the cockles of Todd Gitlin’s oft-disappointed onetime-student-radical-now-with-an-AARP-membership-card heart, he shored up his support with his core supporters.

The big question is what people who are not yet firmly in his camp are thinking, and, more broadly, how the large number of independent voters are going to feel about all of this should he get the nomination. It may well all be a matter in the past by the time the autumn rolls around.

Or it may well not be.

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Why The Bin Laden Speculation?

Lately there’s been a lot of speculation about who will succeed Osama bin Laden, either formally within the ranks of al Qaeda or generally as the most dangerous terrorist on the planet. Some of my fellow Contentions bloggers may be able to shed more light on this, but I’m starting to find the “who’s next?” speculation curious. Is bin Laden nearly captured? Is he dying or dead? Or is his demotion in status–to cave-dwelling spoken word artist–simply so bathetic as to no longer be newsworthy?

If you were to read the following lead from this March 12 Washington Times article, you’d assume Osama bin Laden was dead:

Internal divisions between Saudi and Egyptian leaders of al Qaeda are producing “fissures” within the terrorist group and a possible battle over who will succeed Osama bin Laden, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday.

Michael Hayden goes on as if al Qaeda’s bin Laden years are as over as Camelot.

Bin Laden is now an “iconic” figure hiding in the remote border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr. Hayden said in a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times.

“And frankly, then, we think there has been an awful lot of jockeying” among possible successors, Mr. Hayden said.

“Keep in mind, he’s a Saudi. An awful lot of that leadership is Egyptian. If the Saudi dies, who becomes the next guy may be quite a contentious matter,” he said.

[…]

Asked whether bin Laden is alive, Mr. Hayden said: “We have … no evidence he’s not. And frankly, we think there would be evidence. … Given the iconic stature, his death would cause a little more than a wake in the harbor.”

Of course, it’s impossible to overestimate the lengths to which the CIA will go to defend their failures. They may think describing bin Laden as irrelevant helps excuse their inability to locate him. But if bin Laden really is becoming a CIA footnote, his inaction is also pushing the MSM to find the “next big thing” in jihad. There’s a story up at ABC News about “[a]n emerging leader, sources say, who threatens to eclipse Osama bin Laden as the world’s top terrorist.” They’re talking about Pakistani warlord Baitullah Mehsud, who’s allegedly behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto:

With his identity protected, Mehsud told the Arab network al Jazeera, “We want to eradicate Britain and America …We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York, and London.”

“He’s saying the same thing that bin Laden said then years ago,” Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said. “And it doesn’t mean that the attack’s coming tomorrow, but yeah, it’s certainly, he’s the kind of person and his group is the kind of group that we need to mindful about.”

I’m all for being prepared, but I’m not thrilled about moving on in quite this way. In watching the video at the above link you can feel the over-eagerness of producers trying to sell “bin Laden II.” We’ve not finished with bin Laden, or if we have we should know about it. Osama bin Laden hasn’t released a video in which he demonstrably talks about current events since October 2004. While over the past four years, Ayman Al-Zawahiri has practically maintained a running v-log. There’s no question al Qaeda’s supposed number one has been (at least) marginalized into operative impotence, but to let the promise of his capture simply fade without explanation is an outrage.

Lately there’s been a lot of speculation about who will succeed Osama bin Laden, either formally within the ranks of al Qaeda or generally as the most dangerous terrorist on the planet. Some of my fellow Contentions bloggers may be able to shed more light on this, but I’m starting to find the “who’s next?” speculation curious. Is bin Laden nearly captured? Is he dying or dead? Or is his demotion in status–to cave-dwelling spoken word artist–simply so bathetic as to no longer be newsworthy?

If you were to read the following lead from this March 12 Washington Times article, you’d assume Osama bin Laden was dead:

Internal divisions between Saudi and Egyptian leaders of al Qaeda are producing “fissures” within the terrorist group and a possible battle over who will succeed Osama bin Laden, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday.

Michael Hayden goes on as if al Qaeda’s bin Laden years are as over as Camelot.

Bin Laden is now an “iconic” figure hiding in the remote border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr. Hayden said in a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times.

“And frankly, then, we think there has been an awful lot of jockeying” among possible successors, Mr. Hayden said.

“Keep in mind, he’s a Saudi. An awful lot of that leadership is Egyptian. If the Saudi dies, who becomes the next guy may be quite a contentious matter,” he said.

[…]

Asked whether bin Laden is alive, Mr. Hayden said: “We have … no evidence he’s not. And frankly, we think there would be evidence. … Given the iconic stature, his death would cause a little more than a wake in the harbor.”

Of course, it’s impossible to overestimate the lengths to which the CIA will go to defend their failures. They may think describing bin Laden as irrelevant helps excuse their inability to locate him. But if bin Laden really is becoming a CIA footnote, his inaction is also pushing the MSM to find the “next big thing” in jihad. There’s a story up at ABC News about “[a]n emerging leader, sources say, who threatens to eclipse Osama bin Laden as the world’s top terrorist.” They’re talking about Pakistani warlord Baitullah Mehsud, who’s allegedly behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto:

With his identity protected, Mehsud told the Arab network al Jazeera, “We want to eradicate Britain and America …We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York, and London.”

“He’s saying the same thing that bin Laden said then years ago,” Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said. “And it doesn’t mean that the attack’s coming tomorrow, but yeah, it’s certainly, he’s the kind of person and his group is the kind of group that we need to mindful about.”

I’m all for being prepared, but I’m not thrilled about moving on in quite this way. In watching the video at the above link you can feel the over-eagerness of producers trying to sell “bin Laden II.” We’ve not finished with bin Laden, or if we have we should know about it. Osama bin Laden hasn’t released a video in which he demonstrably talks about current events since October 2004. While over the past four years, Ayman Al-Zawahiri has practically maintained a running v-log. There’s no question al Qaeda’s supposed number one has been (at least) marginalized into operative impotence, but to let the promise of his capture simply fade without explanation is an outrage.

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It’s About Politics, Not Race

The revelations about Jeremiah Wright are so strange precisely because it’s next to impossible to imagine Barack Obama agreeing at all with this man’s incendiary remarks. I don’t think for a second that Obama’s cool demeanor is a put-on; that he’s masking some sort of pent-up anger and resentment. Yet Obama obviously respects Wright, and has for some time. This leaves me to consider what is it about Wright that so attracts Obama. And that leads me to some troubling conclusions.

Given everything that is known about Barack Obama, and the totality of what he has written and said, there is absolutely no reason to believe that he adheres to the racial grievance theory of America articulated by the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, whatever the Clintons might want to imply. Rather, the legitimate concern about Obama ought to be, and has always been, about his politics. Is he sympathetic to the hard left narrative of America, and if so, does this influence his views about the use of American power? The recent remarks of his wife suggest that he might; one hears a distinct echo of Wright in her statements about this country. Instead of worrying about what Obama knew and when he knew it, we should be asking him what he thinks of Harry Truman (strange that this titan of the anti-communist cause and the Democratic Party never appears anywhere in Obama’s rhetoric) and the way he went about ending World War II. That seems like a far more relevant, not to mention fair, question for a commander in chief than, “Do you agree with your Pastor that the government invented HIV to kill black people?”

The revelations about Jeremiah Wright are so strange precisely because it’s next to impossible to imagine Barack Obama agreeing at all with this man’s incendiary remarks. I don’t think for a second that Obama’s cool demeanor is a put-on; that he’s masking some sort of pent-up anger and resentment. Yet Obama obviously respects Wright, and has for some time. This leaves me to consider what is it about Wright that so attracts Obama. And that leads me to some troubling conclusions.

Given everything that is known about Barack Obama, and the totality of what he has written and said, there is absolutely no reason to believe that he adheres to the racial grievance theory of America articulated by the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, whatever the Clintons might want to imply. Rather, the legitimate concern about Obama ought to be, and has always been, about his politics. Is he sympathetic to the hard left narrative of America, and if so, does this influence his views about the use of American power? The recent remarks of his wife suggest that he might; one hears a distinct echo of Wright in her statements about this country. Instead of worrying about what Obama knew and when he knew it, we should be asking him what he thinks of Harry Truman (strange that this titan of the anti-communist cause and the Democratic Party never appears anywhere in Obama’s rhetoric) and the way he went about ending World War II. That seems like a far more relevant, not to mention fair, question for a commander in chief than, “Do you agree with your Pastor that the government invented HIV to kill black people?”

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What McCain Gaffe?

When the MSM gets fixated on a certain idea it is almost impossible to dislodge it, regardless of the evidence. One of those ideas is that Sunni and Shiite extremists don’t cooperate with one another or with secular Arab regimes.

Thus, last week, we saw a spate of reports claiming that a government-funded think tank had found no links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The report actually finds considerable evidence of Saddam’s links to a number of terrorist groups including Al Qaeda and its constituent organizations. This was noted by commentators such as Steve Hayes in the Weekly Standard but ignored by the MSM.

This week, the MSM is claiming that John McCain made a big gaffe by alleging links between Iran and Al Qaeda. To quote the lead of today’s Washington Post article:

Sen. John McCain, in the midst of a trip to the Middle East that he hoped would help burnish his foreign policy expertise, incorrectly asserted Tuesday that Iran is training and supplying al-Qaeda in Iraq, confusing the Sunni insurgent group with the Shiite extremists who U.S. officials believe are supported by their religious brethren in the neighboring country.

Actually it’s the authors of this Post article who are guilty of making incorrect assertions. There is copious evidence of Iran supplying and otherwise assisting Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni terrorist groups (including Al Qaeda central). The 9/11 Commission itself noted a number of links between Iran and Al Qaeda. That evidence is summarized here. A sample from the Commission report: “There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.”

For more recent evidence of Iranian activity, take a look at this American Enterprise Institute report by Danielle Pletka, Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan. There is an entire section on pages 22-23 on “Iranian Support for Al Qaeda.” Relying solely on press accounts and coalition forces briefings, the authors write:

A supply of arms flowed from Iran into al Qaeda strongholds in Salman Pak and Arab Jabour, presumably from the Iranian border to the south and east. From there, al Qaeda transported the munitions to Baghdad. Iranian arms became an important part of al Qaeda’s arsenal. In May 2007, both [Major General Rick] Lynch and Colonel Ricky Gibbs, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, briefed on the use of EFPs by Sunni extremists south of Baghdad.

This and other bits of evidence have been cited on a number of blogs—for instance, weeklystandard.com and powerline. It has even been noted in the past by the MSM. In fact, last year the Washington Post, the very newspaper now so contemptuous of McCain’s statement, ran this article which states: “Citing testimony from detainees in U.S. custody, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said Iranian intelligence operatives were backing the Sunni militants inside Iraq while at the same time training Shiite extremists in Iran.”

But don’t expect the facts to get in the way of a good story.

When the MSM gets fixated on a certain idea it is almost impossible to dislodge it, regardless of the evidence. One of those ideas is that Sunni and Shiite extremists don’t cooperate with one another or with secular Arab regimes.

Thus, last week, we saw a spate of reports claiming that a government-funded think tank had found no links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The report actually finds considerable evidence of Saddam’s links to a number of terrorist groups including Al Qaeda and its constituent organizations. This was noted by commentators such as Steve Hayes in the Weekly Standard but ignored by the MSM.

This week, the MSM is claiming that John McCain made a big gaffe by alleging links between Iran and Al Qaeda. To quote the lead of today’s Washington Post article:

Sen. John McCain, in the midst of a trip to the Middle East that he hoped would help burnish his foreign policy expertise, incorrectly asserted Tuesday that Iran is training and supplying al-Qaeda in Iraq, confusing the Sunni insurgent group with the Shiite extremists who U.S. officials believe are supported by their religious brethren in the neighboring country.

Actually it’s the authors of this Post article who are guilty of making incorrect assertions. There is copious evidence of Iran supplying and otherwise assisting Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni terrorist groups (including Al Qaeda central). The 9/11 Commission itself noted a number of links between Iran and Al Qaeda. That evidence is summarized here. A sample from the Commission report: “There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.”

For more recent evidence of Iranian activity, take a look at this American Enterprise Institute report by Danielle Pletka, Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan. There is an entire section on pages 22-23 on “Iranian Support for Al Qaeda.” Relying solely on press accounts and coalition forces briefings, the authors write:

A supply of arms flowed from Iran into al Qaeda strongholds in Salman Pak and Arab Jabour, presumably from the Iranian border to the south and east. From there, al Qaeda transported the munitions to Baghdad. Iranian arms became an important part of al Qaeda’s arsenal. In May 2007, both [Major General Rick] Lynch and Colonel Ricky Gibbs, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, briefed on the use of EFPs by Sunni extremists south of Baghdad.

This and other bits of evidence have been cited on a number of blogs—for instance, weeklystandard.com and powerline. It has even been noted in the past by the MSM. In fact, last year the Washington Post, the very newspaper now so contemptuous of McCain’s statement, ran this article which states: “Citing testimony from detainees in U.S. custody, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said Iranian intelligence operatives were backing the Sunni militants inside Iraq while at the same time training Shiite extremists in Iran.”

But don’t expect the facts to get in the way of a good story.

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Lesser of Two Democrats

There is plenty of chatter about Republicans’ support for Hillary Clinton. Did they help tip the balance in her favor in Texas? Are they simply making mischief to help the candidate they believe will be the weaker nominee?

Well the chatter may get louder in the wake of the Reverend Wright revelations and yesterday’s speech. Republicans now are coming around to the view that Obama is a terribly flawed candidate. Put differently, Republicans have discovered that Obama is worse than they thought, indeed perhaps worse than Hillary Clinton, the Cruella D’Ville of Republican politics.

Even before the Reverend Wright sermons were fully exposed there was plenty of reason for Republicans to be concerned about a possible Obama presidency. When Ted Kennedy swoons, Republicans worry. In other words, they suspect (with some justification based on the National Journal rankings) that Obama is far more liberal than Clinton and therefore antagonistic toward Republicans’ long term policy goals. Deep in their hearts they suspect Clinton is just “in it to win it” while Obama actually believes the hype, the left-leaning rhetoric and even some of his policy commitments.

Republicans have long suspected, for example, that Clinton’s lurch to the left on Iraq is simply a feint designed to capture the nomination and, as General Keane suggested, she wouldn’t really put the nation’s interests at risk by pulling out precipitously. Obama? He might, despite Samantha Power’s wishes to the contrary, actually mean what he says. Heck, if he’s willing to have tea with Raul Castro and Hugo Chavez why would he backtrack on his pledges to the netroot base to leave Iraq no matter what? Clinton, these Republicans surmise, tipped her hand when she voted in favor of the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. See, underneath is all she’s not a fuzzy-headed dove, they conclude.

So if at least some Republicans had identified Clinton as the lesser of the two evils before the Wright revelations what must they think now? Certainly the concern that Obama either agrees with, or will play footsie with, the most extreme elements on the left has been re-ignited. (This, of course, is not just a Republican worry- liberals are fretting, if not panicked that their great moral beacon is ethically dim.) They now have gnawing doubts about the moral fiber of a a man who, as Shelby Steele put it, “fellow-traveled with a little race hatred.”

And the notion that with an Obama presidency we would escape the mendacity of another round of the Clintons? That hope has been tempered as it has become increasingly evident that Obama’s honesty quotient isn’t much higher. If it were, the same man who found Reverend Wright too controversial to speak at his announcement kick off would not months later insist “I don’t think my church is actually particularly controversial.” Then there was an interview on Monday in which he came up with another excuse – he would have distanced himself sooner from Wright and Tony Rezko had he in been in Washington longer. Huh? That seemed, of course, to fly in the face of his goals to convince us that 1) he didn’t know about Wright’s statements earlier and 2) he finds Wright’s hate speech abhorrent.

Next was the speech. For many Republicans his effort to set up a moral equivalence between Grandma and Wright was just too much to bear. For Republicans, the speech shattered any illusion that for all his left-leaning views Obama holds the moral high ground against the Clintons.

So, it would be delightful, many Republicans still agree, to put a stake through the Clinton era of political savagery sooner rather than later. But in the end, politics is about choices. If some Republicans now seem to be rooting for Clinton, they may not be trying to game the system; they may just want to prevent the worst of the two Democrats from advancing one step closer to the presidency. Does it matter? Sure–Indiana, West Virginia, North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Montana are all open primaries. So Clinton’s hopes may rest (irony of ironies) on these Republicans helping her to beat an opponent they may dislike even more than she.

There is plenty of chatter about Republicans’ support for Hillary Clinton. Did they help tip the balance in her favor in Texas? Are they simply making mischief to help the candidate they believe will be the weaker nominee?

Well the chatter may get louder in the wake of the Reverend Wright revelations and yesterday’s speech. Republicans now are coming around to the view that Obama is a terribly flawed candidate. Put differently, Republicans have discovered that Obama is worse than they thought, indeed perhaps worse than Hillary Clinton, the Cruella D’Ville of Republican politics.

Even before the Reverend Wright sermons were fully exposed there was plenty of reason for Republicans to be concerned about a possible Obama presidency. When Ted Kennedy swoons, Republicans worry. In other words, they suspect (with some justification based on the National Journal rankings) that Obama is far more liberal than Clinton and therefore antagonistic toward Republicans’ long term policy goals. Deep in their hearts they suspect Clinton is just “in it to win it” while Obama actually believes the hype, the left-leaning rhetoric and even some of his policy commitments.

Republicans have long suspected, for example, that Clinton’s lurch to the left on Iraq is simply a feint designed to capture the nomination and, as General Keane suggested, she wouldn’t really put the nation’s interests at risk by pulling out precipitously. Obama? He might, despite Samantha Power’s wishes to the contrary, actually mean what he says. Heck, if he’s willing to have tea with Raul Castro and Hugo Chavez why would he backtrack on his pledges to the netroot base to leave Iraq no matter what? Clinton, these Republicans surmise, tipped her hand when she voted in favor of the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. See, underneath is all she’s not a fuzzy-headed dove, they conclude.

So if at least some Republicans had identified Clinton as the lesser of the two evils before the Wright revelations what must they think now? Certainly the concern that Obama either agrees with, or will play footsie with, the most extreme elements on the left has been re-ignited. (This, of course, is not just a Republican worry- liberals are fretting, if not panicked that their great moral beacon is ethically dim.) They now have gnawing doubts about the moral fiber of a a man who, as Shelby Steele put it, “fellow-traveled with a little race hatred.”

And the notion that with an Obama presidency we would escape the mendacity of another round of the Clintons? That hope has been tempered as it has become increasingly evident that Obama’s honesty quotient isn’t much higher. If it were, the same man who found Reverend Wright too controversial to speak at his announcement kick off would not months later insist “I don’t think my church is actually particularly controversial.” Then there was an interview on Monday in which he came up with another excuse – he would have distanced himself sooner from Wright and Tony Rezko had he in been in Washington longer. Huh? That seemed, of course, to fly in the face of his goals to convince us that 1) he didn’t know about Wright’s statements earlier and 2) he finds Wright’s hate speech abhorrent.

Next was the speech. For many Republicans his effort to set up a moral equivalence between Grandma and Wright was just too much to bear. For Republicans, the speech shattered any illusion that for all his left-leaning views Obama holds the moral high ground against the Clintons.

So, it would be delightful, many Republicans still agree, to put a stake through the Clinton era of political savagery sooner rather than later. But in the end, politics is about choices. If some Republicans now seem to be rooting for Clinton, they may not be trying to game the system; they may just want to prevent the worst of the two Democrats from advancing one step closer to the presidency. Does it matter? Sure–Indiana, West Virginia, North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Montana are all open primaries. So Clinton’s hopes may rest (irony of ironies) on these Republicans helping her to beat an opponent they may dislike even more than she.

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Right Message, Wrong Audience

Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, told Israel, in a televised speech
to mark the Prophet’s birthday, that “history shows no occupation
lasts forever”.

Now who’s going to tell the Chinese ?

Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, told Israel, in a televised speech
to mark the Prophet’s birthday, that “history shows no occupation
lasts forever”.

Now who’s going to tell the Chinese ?

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Did It Work?

In assessing his speech on race, the key consideration is not whether Barack Obama’s swooning media fan club is impressed (of course they are) or whether it won over conservatives (mostly not) but whether it solved his problem. The measure of the speech’s success, in other words, is whether it convinced the people it was supposed to convince.

Not unlike Mitt Romney, who was forced to give a speech on faith to try to break through to evangelical Christians who stood between him and a victory in the Iowa caucus, Obama was obligated to give a speech to try to stem panic among the Democratic establishment and to satisfy the Democratic base, especially white working class voters, that he is not a fake and a fraud when he posits himself as a great racial healer. (In Romney’s case, his faith speech didn’t help and arguably hurt by raising Mormonism front and center and reminding those very voters he was trying to reach that yes, this is the Mormon guy. It did not much matter whether conservative pundits who already supported him liked the speech or whether TV commentators praised him.)

For Obama, we will have to see if the pictures and headlines trump the cable TV pundits’ praise. The video of Reverend Wright shouting his anti-white and anti-American diatribes and the headlines reporting that Obama refused to disassociate himself with Wright will provide one narrative. The gushing commentators will provide another. I suspect the result will be much the same as it was for Romney: those that didn’t need a speech to be convinced of Obama’s transcending greatness will go on supporting Obama and those who had doubts before (or who now are deeply offended by the venom-spouting Wright) aren’t going to vote for Obama. How many will view this episode as evidence of Obama’s moral clarity (“Look how he embraces all of us and takes us beyond past racial divisions!”) and how many will see it as evidence of his moral obtuseness (“The guy sat there for decades listening to this garbage and still can’t see the difference between Wright and his own grandmother?”) We will have to see whether a significant number of voter are, as my kids would say, “over him” post-Wright.

Time will tell, but the measure of the speech’s success is not the level of rapture from cable news commentators, but the vote tallies (and let’s be honest, the percentage of the white vote) in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. That will tell us if the speech was successful. One thing we know for sure: you can’t say Obama’s candidacy isn’t about race.

In assessing his speech on race, the key consideration is not whether Barack Obama’s swooning media fan club is impressed (of course they are) or whether it won over conservatives (mostly not) but whether it solved his problem. The measure of the speech’s success, in other words, is whether it convinced the people it was supposed to convince.

Not unlike Mitt Romney, who was forced to give a speech on faith to try to break through to evangelical Christians who stood between him and a victory in the Iowa caucus, Obama was obligated to give a speech to try to stem panic among the Democratic establishment and to satisfy the Democratic base, especially white working class voters, that he is not a fake and a fraud when he posits himself as a great racial healer. (In Romney’s case, his faith speech didn’t help and arguably hurt by raising Mormonism front and center and reminding those very voters he was trying to reach that yes, this is the Mormon guy. It did not much matter whether conservative pundits who already supported him liked the speech or whether TV commentators praised him.)

For Obama, we will have to see if the pictures and headlines trump the cable TV pundits’ praise. The video of Reverend Wright shouting his anti-white and anti-American diatribes and the headlines reporting that Obama refused to disassociate himself with Wright will provide one narrative. The gushing commentators will provide another. I suspect the result will be much the same as it was for Romney: those that didn’t need a speech to be convinced of Obama’s transcending greatness will go on supporting Obama and those who had doubts before (or who now are deeply offended by the venom-spouting Wright) aren’t going to vote for Obama. How many will view this episode as evidence of Obama’s moral clarity (“Look how he embraces all of us and takes us beyond past racial divisions!”) and how many will see it as evidence of his moral obtuseness (“The guy sat there for decades listening to this garbage and still can’t see the difference between Wright and his own grandmother?”) We will have to see whether a significant number of voter are, as my kids would say, “over him” post-Wright.

Time will tell, but the measure of the speech’s success is not the level of rapture from cable news commentators, but the vote tallies (and let’s be honest, the percentage of the white vote) in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. That will tell us if the speech was successful. One thing we know for sure: you can’t say Obama’s candidacy isn’t about race.

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What Iraqis Want You to Hear

Two days ago ABC News released a new poll of Iraqi public opinion, and John Burns at the New York Times made a very perceptive observation that should be taken into account when looking it over.

Opinion polls, including those commissioned by the American command, have long suggested that a majority of Iraqis would like American troops withdrawn, but another lesson to be drawn from Saddam Hussein’s years is that any attempt to measure opinion in Iraq is fatally skewed by intimidation. More often than not, people tell pollsters and reporters what they think is safe, not necessarily what they believe. My own experience, invariably, was that Iraqis I met who felt secure enough to speak with candor had an overwhelming desire to see American troops remain long enough to restore stability.

This feels right to me, not only thanks to my experience in Iraq, but also in places like totalitarian Libya where no one dared criticize the regime in public, and where everyone I spoke to did so in private where they were safe. Saddam Hussein commanded a murder and intimidation regime in Iraq, and today’s insurgents wage a murder and intimidation campaign in the streets. In Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraqi civilians were murdered just for waving hello to Americans, and for accepting bags of rice as charity. Fear should not be ignored when gauging Iraqi public opinion, and that includes fear of American guns as well as fear of insurgents.

I’ve been to Iraq five times, and never once have I heard an Iraqi say anything hostile about Americans. Partly this is because I don’t spend time in insurgent circles. How could I? The Iraqis I’ve met don’t represent the full spectrum. Middle Easterners are also famous for their politeness and, unlike some people from other parts of the world, they will not get in your face if they don’t like where you come from. (Al Qaeda members are an obvious and extreme exception, but they’re hated everywhere in Iraq and are violently atypical.)

Burns is right, though, that there’s more to it than that, and there’s also more to it than he let on. Why would Iraqis say to me, an embedded American reporter, that they want Americans to get out of their country while well-armed Marines are standing nearby? Marines won’t punish Iraqi civilians for saying so, but I doubt very seriously that everyone in Iraq understands that.

I often suspect Iraqis tell me what they think I want to hear. What they’re really doing, more than anything else, is telling me what they want me to hear. The difference is subtle, but crucial.

The evidence that this is happening can be found in the public opinion polls, and in the obvious fact that not every Iraqi wants American troops in their country. If everyone were really supportive, as it appears to me when I’m there, the insurgency would not exist. The amount of pro-American opinion – or at least neutral and passive opinion – that I’ve been exposed to in Iraq is artificially inflated.

None of this, though, means the polls are accurate. If 42 percent of Iraqis believe attacks on U.S. forces are acceptable, why has almost the entire country turned against the insurgents?

Here is where I think Burns’ keen observation explains the discrepancy between my experience as a reporter, the public opinion polls, and the reality of a radically diminished insurgency.

A single individual may tell me that he supports the American military presence, and the very same day tell a pollster that he opposes the American military presence. That’s the safest thing to say in each instance. The pollster will be given a safe anti-American opinion as a hedge against retaliation from insurgents, while I’ll be given a safe pro-American opinion as a hedge against retaliation from the Marines who are standing right next to me. It’s impossible to know what this hypothetical person really believes without additional data.

John Burns provides additional data. Let me quote him again. After a five-year assignment in Iraq, he writes “My own experience, invariably, was that Iraqis I met who felt secure enough to speak with candor had an overwhelming desire to see American troops remain long enough to restore stability.” Some of these Iraqis may have been merely polite when they said so, but I think it’s safe to say none feared retaliation from an unembedded and unarmed reporter from Scotland who spoke to them off the record.

Iraqi public opinion is more hostile than I can see and hear for myself as an embedded reporter. But it’s less hostile than what you see in the polls, and it always has been.

Two days ago ABC News released a new poll of Iraqi public opinion, and John Burns at the New York Times made a very perceptive observation that should be taken into account when looking it over.

Opinion polls, including those commissioned by the American command, have long suggested that a majority of Iraqis would like American troops withdrawn, but another lesson to be drawn from Saddam Hussein’s years is that any attempt to measure opinion in Iraq is fatally skewed by intimidation. More often than not, people tell pollsters and reporters what they think is safe, not necessarily what they believe. My own experience, invariably, was that Iraqis I met who felt secure enough to speak with candor had an overwhelming desire to see American troops remain long enough to restore stability.

This feels right to me, not only thanks to my experience in Iraq, but also in places like totalitarian Libya where no one dared criticize the regime in public, and where everyone I spoke to did so in private where they were safe. Saddam Hussein commanded a murder and intimidation regime in Iraq, and today’s insurgents wage a murder and intimidation campaign in the streets. In Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraqi civilians were murdered just for waving hello to Americans, and for accepting bags of rice as charity. Fear should not be ignored when gauging Iraqi public opinion, and that includes fear of American guns as well as fear of insurgents.

I’ve been to Iraq five times, and never once have I heard an Iraqi say anything hostile about Americans. Partly this is because I don’t spend time in insurgent circles. How could I? The Iraqis I’ve met don’t represent the full spectrum. Middle Easterners are also famous for their politeness and, unlike some people from other parts of the world, they will not get in your face if they don’t like where you come from. (Al Qaeda members are an obvious and extreme exception, but they’re hated everywhere in Iraq and are violently atypical.)

Burns is right, though, that there’s more to it than that, and there’s also more to it than he let on. Why would Iraqis say to me, an embedded American reporter, that they want Americans to get out of their country while well-armed Marines are standing nearby? Marines won’t punish Iraqi civilians for saying so, but I doubt very seriously that everyone in Iraq understands that.

I often suspect Iraqis tell me what they think I want to hear. What they’re really doing, more than anything else, is telling me what they want me to hear. The difference is subtle, but crucial.

The evidence that this is happening can be found in the public opinion polls, and in the obvious fact that not every Iraqi wants American troops in their country. If everyone were really supportive, as it appears to me when I’m there, the insurgency would not exist. The amount of pro-American opinion – or at least neutral and passive opinion – that I’ve been exposed to in Iraq is artificially inflated.

None of this, though, means the polls are accurate. If 42 percent of Iraqis believe attacks on U.S. forces are acceptable, why has almost the entire country turned against the insurgents?

Here is where I think Burns’ keen observation explains the discrepancy between my experience as a reporter, the public opinion polls, and the reality of a radically diminished insurgency.

A single individual may tell me that he supports the American military presence, and the very same day tell a pollster that he opposes the American military presence. That’s the safest thing to say in each instance. The pollster will be given a safe anti-American opinion as a hedge against retaliation from insurgents, while I’ll be given a safe pro-American opinion as a hedge against retaliation from the Marines who are standing right next to me. It’s impossible to know what this hypothetical person really believes without additional data.

John Burns provides additional data. Let me quote him again. After a five-year assignment in Iraq, he writes “My own experience, invariably, was that Iraqis I met who felt secure enough to speak with candor had an overwhelming desire to see American troops remain long enough to restore stability.” Some of these Iraqis may have been merely polite when they said so, but I think it’s safe to say none feared retaliation from an unembedded and unarmed reporter from Scotland who spoke to them off the record.

Iraqi public opinion is more hostile than I can see and hear for myself as an embedded reporter. But it’s less hostile than what you see in the polls, and it always has been.

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Hillary Silenced

Hillary Clinton is at a loss for words. At an event yesterday in Philadelphia, she said she had not yet seen yesterday’s Obama speech but was glad he gave it.

According to the Caucus, “Many reporters muttered in disbelief during and after her remarks, surprised that a candidate as diligent as Mrs. Clinton -– who always talked about being well-prepared and doing her homework -– would not have read the speech yet.” Disbelief indeed. She doesn’t know what to say—for at least two reasons: First, the Clintons are slaves to public opinion and Obama’s epic speech has caused head-scratching to go on longer than usual. Some pundits weighed in immediately, but most Americans slept on it and even today continue to mull the implications.

Also, the speech has put the Democrats on a different footing in relation to identity. After Obama announced that black bitterness toward America is an ossified problem whose resolution requires his intimate stewardship, he took the sting out of a lot of future charges. He said, essentially: sure continue to accuse me of embracing the wrong people, but as long as you do you’ll be distracting us from the underlying reality—which I just laid bare and I can fix. Amazingly, he’s made it seem as if anti-Americanism (in close proximity to the potential-president, yet) is beside the point. It’s an illusion of course, but powerful illusion is his medium.

With all the talk of playbooks, (the Clinton playbook, the Republican playbook, the Rove playbook) Obama’s pulled a move (at once defensive and offensive) without precedent. What’s certain is his speech has shifted the balance. Once again, he acts and the world waits for Hillary’s response. This in itself will slow the “she’s back” train down to a crawl.

Hillary Clinton is at a loss for words. At an event yesterday in Philadelphia, she said she had not yet seen yesterday’s Obama speech but was glad he gave it.

According to the Caucus, “Many reporters muttered in disbelief during and after her remarks, surprised that a candidate as diligent as Mrs. Clinton -– who always talked about being well-prepared and doing her homework -– would not have read the speech yet.” Disbelief indeed. She doesn’t know what to say—for at least two reasons: First, the Clintons are slaves to public opinion and Obama’s epic speech has caused head-scratching to go on longer than usual. Some pundits weighed in immediately, but most Americans slept on it and even today continue to mull the implications.

Also, the speech has put the Democrats on a different footing in relation to identity. After Obama announced that black bitterness toward America is an ossified problem whose resolution requires his intimate stewardship, he took the sting out of a lot of future charges. He said, essentially: sure continue to accuse me of embracing the wrong people, but as long as you do you’ll be distracting us from the underlying reality—which I just laid bare and I can fix. Amazingly, he’s made it seem as if anti-Americanism (in close proximity to the potential-president, yet) is beside the point. It’s an illusion of course, but powerful illusion is his medium.

With all the talk of playbooks, (the Clinton playbook, the Republican playbook, the Rove playbook) Obama’s pulled a move (at once defensive and offensive) without precedent. What’s certain is his speech has shifted the balance. Once again, he acts and the world waits for Hillary’s response. This in itself will slow the “she’s back” train down to a crawl.

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Spy vs. Spy

Congress’s reshuffling of the intelligence community in the wake of 9/11 was intended to enhance cooperation among the 16 agencies that serve as our country’s eyes and ears. Is it working? It is hard to tell. But there’s continued sniping among the spy agencies. Why else would a high-ranking official at one of the agencies send me an article entitled How Intelligent is the Director of National Intelligence?, the implied — and lighthearted — conclusion of which is: not very.

Meanwhile, there is serious business to be done. Among the open questions of more than passing interest is: who poisoned the Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 using polonium-21 and why? Was the Russian government behind this action? The consequences that would (or should) flow from such a conclusion are dire.

Edward Jay Epstein has long been one of the most interesting writers on intelligence matters, and also one of the most diligent researchers. He hasn’t solved the riddle, but he reports his findings in today’s New York Sun.  

After considering all the evidence, my hypothesis is that Litvinenko came in contact with a polonium-210 smuggling operation and was, either wittingly or unwittingly, exposed to it. Litvinenko had been a person of interest to the intelligence services of many countries, including Britain’s MI-6, Russia’s FSB, America’s CIA (which rejected his offer to defect in 2000), and Italy’s SISMI, which was monitoring his phone conversations. His murky operations, whatever their purpose, involved his seeking contacts in one of the most lawless areas in the former Soviet Union, the Pankisi Gorge, which had become a center for arms smuggling. He had also dealt with people accused of everything from money laundering to trafficking in nuclear components. These activities may have brought him, or his associates, in contact with a sample of polonium-210, which then, either by accident or by design, contaminated and killed him.

Congress’s reshuffling of the intelligence community in the wake of 9/11 was intended to enhance cooperation among the 16 agencies that serve as our country’s eyes and ears. Is it working? It is hard to tell. But there’s continued sniping among the spy agencies. Why else would a high-ranking official at one of the agencies send me an article entitled How Intelligent is the Director of National Intelligence?, the implied — and lighthearted — conclusion of which is: not very.

Meanwhile, there is serious business to be done. Among the open questions of more than passing interest is: who poisoned the Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 using polonium-21 and why? Was the Russian government behind this action? The consequences that would (or should) flow from such a conclusion are dire.

Edward Jay Epstein has long been one of the most interesting writers on intelligence matters, and also one of the most diligent researchers. He hasn’t solved the riddle, but he reports his findings in today’s New York Sun.  

After considering all the evidence, my hypothesis is that Litvinenko came in contact with a polonium-210 smuggling operation and was, either wittingly or unwittingly, exposed to it. Litvinenko had been a person of interest to the intelligence services of many countries, including Britain’s MI-6, Russia’s FSB, America’s CIA (which rejected his offer to defect in 2000), and Italy’s SISMI, which was monitoring his phone conversations. His murky operations, whatever their purpose, involved his seeking contacts in one of the most lawless areas in the former Soviet Union, the Pankisi Gorge, which had become a center for arms smuggling. He had also dealt with people accused of everything from money laundering to trafficking in nuclear components. These activities may have brought him, or his associates, in contact with a sample of polonium-210, which then, either by accident or by design, contaminated and killed him.

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D.C. Gun Ban

For the first time in 70 years, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in a case directly addressing the meaning of the Second Amendment. At issue in D.C v. Heller is the D.C. handgun ban struck down last year by the D.C. Circuit Court. Everyone will read the tea leaves from oral arguments in trying to gauge which way the Court will rule. For Second Amendment advocates this is the test case of a lifetime.

But, a larger point should not be lost. It is a measure of how far we have come in jurisprudential philosophy in the last generation that both sides and the Court itself is focused on a singular question: what do the words of the Second Amendment mean? Neither side is asking : what do the current standards of moral and ethical thinking tell us about the wisdom of gun ownership? The justices are not grilling the lawyers on the latest criminology studies to decide whether a gun ban is a “good idea.”  That is a tremendous victory in and of itself for judicial originalism, (the notion that judges determine the meaning of statutes and the Constitution, while elected officials decide policy.) Originalism has been derided and dismissed by liberal academics and practionners for years. Now in a high profile setting where a relatively unexplored area of constitutional law is at issue, originalism reigns supreme. For legal conservatives, that is what the last generation of legal scholarship and judicial nomination fights has been about. And if you ultimately believe in self-government- the proposition that citizens and elected officials decide public policy – this is a very good thing.

For the first time in 70 years, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in a case directly addressing the meaning of the Second Amendment. At issue in D.C v. Heller is the D.C. handgun ban struck down last year by the D.C. Circuit Court. Everyone will read the tea leaves from oral arguments in trying to gauge which way the Court will rule. For Second Amendment advocates this is the test case of a lifetime.

But, a larger point should not be lost. It is a measure of how far we have come in jurisprudential philosophy in the last generation that both sides and the Court itself is focused on a singular question: what do the words of the Second Amendment mean? Neither side is asking : what do the current standards of moral and ethical thinking tell us about the wisdom of gun ownership? The justices are not grilling the lawyers on the latest criminology studies to decide whether a gun ban is a “good idea.”  That is a tremendous victory in and of itself for judicial originalism, (the notion that judges determine the meaning of statutes and the Constitution, while elected officials decide policy.) Originalism has been derided and dismissed by liberal academics and practionners for years. Now in a high profile setting where a relatively unexplored area of constitutional law is at issue, originalism reigns supreme. For legal conservatives, that is what the last generation of legal scholarship and judicial nomination fights has been about. And if you ultimately believe in self-government- the proposition that citizens and elected officials decide public policy – this is a very good thing.

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Speaking of Palestinian Society

A new poll is out, according to which support for Hamas among West-Bank Palestinians has risen dramatically since December. In the previous poll, when asked who should be president, the current Fatah leader Mohammed Abbas or Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, West Bankers picked Abbas, 56 percent to 37. In the new poll, Haniyeh edges Abbas, 46 percent to 45.

I am sure that some people will want to read this as an indictment of Israeli incursions against Hamas in Gaza, which are said to encourage sympathetic fanaticism in the West Bank. But this does not square well with the fact that it was Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza that triggered Hamas’ electoral victory and subsequent Gaza takeover to begin with.

What the poll does suggest, rather, is that the Palestinians do not seem to have very sound instincts when choosing their leaders. What, exactly, has Haniyeh given his people in Gaza? War, poverty, humiliation, bloodshed, international isolation. The misery of Gazans is the direct result of Haniyeh’s bloodthirsty compulsions (what in American politicics would be called “policies.”) Why do people in the West Bank want that?

Or is it honor? Ah yes. We know about their honor issues.

A new poll is out, according to which support for Hamas among West-Bank Palestinians has risen dramatically since December. In the previous poll, when asked who should be president, the current Fatah leader Mohammed Abbas or Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, West Bankers picked Abbas, 56 percent to 37. In the new poll, Haniyeh edges Abbas, 46 percent to 45.

I am sure that some people will want to read this as an indictment of Israeli incursions against Hamas in Gaza, which are said to encourage sympathetic fanaticism in the West Bank. But this does not square well with the fact that it was Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza that triggered Hamas’ electoral victory and subsequent Gaza takeover to begin with.

What the poll does suggest, rather, is that the Palestinians do not seem to have very sound instincts when choosing their leaders. What, exactly, has Haniyeh given his people in Gaza? War, poverty, humiliation, bloodshed, international isolation. The misery of Gazans is the direct result of Haniyeh’s bloodthirsty compulsions (what in American politicics would be called “policies.”) Why do people in the West Bank want that?

Or is it honor? Ah yes. We know about their honor issues.

Read Less




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