Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 8, 2008

Another Chapter In The Battle For The Narrative

John McCain is not accepting “uncle” from the likes of Sen. Jay Rockefeller. In a Fox interview he turns up the heat on the candidate himself:

I don’t understand that but I would call upon Senator Obama to repudiate Senator Rockefeller’s remarks. If he is surrounded by people like that, than I think he should have a direct repudiation. I frankly am unfamiliar with that rhetoric by a U.S. senator. I do believe that if Senator Obama is going to maintain the type of campaign that he says that he is–a respectful campaign–and this is one of his closest and strongest supporters, than I think he should repudiate Senator Rockefeller. Immediately.

And he’s not letting go of the “100 year” comment fight, clearly believing he can turn the tables on Obama:

It’s not respectful of the commitment that Senator Obama made. He continues to say it. Anyone who reads the context of my remarks knows that I was talking about after the war–a security relationship . . . so it’s really a direct contradiction of Senator Obama’s stated purpose of conducting a respectful campaign. And I think the American people will evaluate that.

Whether accurately or not, the McCain team seems convinced that Obama is banking on his crossover appeal to general election voters as a “new kind of politician.” It is not a bad supposition, given the emphasis Obama has placed on this theme in the primary race. It follows then that McCain will take every opportunity to try to smudge up that image and suggest Obama is “more of the same.” So long as Obama and his surrogates give McCain material, you can bet they will use it. We’ll see whether Obama “blinks” on these issues, either apologizing about Rockfeller himself or getting off the “100 year” refrain. I suspect he won’t.  And that will be just fine with the McCain camp.

John McCain is not accepting “uncle” from the likes of Sen. Jay Rockefeller. In a Fox interview he turns up the heat on the candidate himself:

I don’t understand that but I would call upon Senator Obama to repudiate Senator Rockefeller’s remarks. If he is surrounded by people like that, than I think he should have a direct repudiation. I frankly am unfamiliar with that rhetoric by a U.S. senator. I do believe that if Senator Obama is going to maintain the type of campaign that he says that he is–a respectful campaign–and this is one of his closest and strongest supporters, than I think he should repudiate Senator Rockefeller. Immediately.

And he’s not letting go of the “100 year” comment fight, clearly believing he can turn the tables on Obama:

It’s not respectful of the commitment that Senator Obama made. He continues to say it. Anyone who reads the context of my remarks knows that I was talking about after the war–a security relationship . . . so it’s really a direct contradiction of Senator Obama’s stated purpose of conducting a respectful campaign. And I think the American people will evaluate that.

Whether accurately or not, the McCain team seems convinced that Obama is banking on his crossover appeal to general election voters as a “new kind of politician.” It is not a bad supposition, given the emphasis Obama has placed on this theme in the primary race. It follows then that McCain will take every opportunity to try to smudge up that image and suggest Obama is “more of the same.” So long as Obama and his surrogates give McCain material, you can bet they will use it. We’ll see whether Obama “blinks” on these issues, either apologizing about Rockfeller himself or getting off the “100 year” refrain. I suspect he won’t.  And that will be just fine with the McCain camp.

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Come Home, Micheline

In a hilarious column published today in the Wall Street Journal Europe, Swiss columnist Roger Koppel prays for someone to stop Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, from continuing her reckless foreign policy. The latest stunt of was, readers may recall, going to Tehran to witness–while wrapped in a white veil–the the signing of a massive gas deal between Iran and the Swiss energy company EGL.

Despite Calmy-Rey’s protestations about her stance for human rights while on this trip, Koppel surmises that “the prevailing impression was that she let herself be manipulated as a useful idiot by a brutal regime.” Given her record–signing the gas deal with Iran, supporting Qaddafi fan and radical anti-capitalist Jean Ziegler as a rapporteur for the Human Rights’ Council, having Switzerland stand as the only Western country to condemn Israel in a recent, biased HRC resolution–doesn’t calling her useful give her too much credit?

In a hilarious column published today in the Wall Street Journal Europe, Swiss columnist Roger Koppel prays for someone to stop Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, from continuing her reckless foreign policy. The latest stunt of was, readers may recall, going to Tehran to witness–while wrapped in a white veil–the the signing of a massive gas deal between Iran and the Swiss energy company EGL.

Despite Calmy-Rey’s protestations about her stance for human rights while on this trip, Koppel surmises that “the prevailing impression was that she let herself be manipulated as a useful idiot by a brutal regime.” Given her record–signing the gas deal with Iran, supporting Qaddafi fan and radical anti-capitalist Jean Ziegler as a rapporteur for the Human Rights’ Council, having Switzerland stand as the only Western country to condemn Israel in a recent, biased HRC resolution–doesn’t calling her useful give her too much credit?

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They Just Might Blow It

Hillary Clinton just jettisoned strategist Mark Penn from her campaign because Penn dared contemplate free trade. For a candidate who tries to sell herself as an extension of the Clintonian 90’s, such vigilance against centrism, financial or otherwise, speaks to a strange state of affairs for Democrats. Of course, Hillary and Obama have adopted rabidly anti-free trade postures. Why are these two candidates competing for the affections of the far Left when one of them will have to go up against a Republican centrist who garners praise from Democratic voters?

In the 2004 Presidential election, Democrat John Kerry made the fatal mistake of substituting outrage for ideology. Hoping to coast into the White House on a wave of anti-Iraq War sentiment, Kerry ran almost exclusively against George W. Bush, with no real positive policy vision of his own. Among Democrats, he wasn’t alone in thinking he had done all that was required to become president. On the eve of the election, Jimmy Breslin wrote of Kerry’s imminent victory, “I am so sure that I am not even going to bother to watch the results tonight.”

But Breslin was wrong and the results were indisputable: Bush and the war would have a second term. Amazingly, the failure wrought by Kerry’s method of campaign-framing didn’t deter Democrats. In the 2006 congressional races, Democrats once again failed to convey a chosen ideological path. There was no clear indication of an affinity for Clintonian centrism or for progressivism. Democratic Congressional hopefuls ran simply as the GOP alternative. They talked up small-ticket items like a raise in minimum wage, and offered a watery mash-up of ideologies in the form of the “first hundred hours” contract. This time it worked. 2005 saw the dashed hopes of the “Arab Spring.” By 2006, anti-Iraq and anti-Bush sentiment was strong enough to deliver a Democratic thumpin’ to Capitol Hill Republicans. The Democratic Party Leader may have been Howard Dean, but the pitch—to the extent there was one—was “blue dog” compromise. In short, the Democrats remained ideologically rudderless.

Having got Congress back without recourse to an ideological framework, Democrats saw no reason not to continue in this mode. Which brings us to 2008. Without ever having resolved the centrism-progressivism question, the Clinton-Obama race was to be determined by an issue outside of political ideology—namely, identity. It has become the white woman against the black man: as everyone repeatedly points out, their policy differences are incremental. Moreover, these policies are surprisingly far to the Left. This is because the Democrats, since 2004, have not figured out how to sell themselves to the general electorate. They are now playing endlessly to their own. In the identity battle–and in the overall warfare of this Democratic primary–Obama has all but won. While his impending victory has nothing to do with political ideology, the candidate himself comes equipped with a strong adherence to far-Left principles. This is how the Democrats have ended up with the most liberal potential presidential nominee since World War II.

The problem with this scenario is that modern Democratic presidents have come to office as centrists. Most of the Democrats who voted for Bill Clinton are more closely aligned with John McCain than with Barack Obama. If anything, the sudden shock of a far-Left liberal will scare a Democrat-inclined voter who’s never had to commit to a delineated political ideology. This is to say nothing of Republican voters and independents. Additionally, Barack Obama’s Iraq plan, when you try to nail it down, is no clearer today than John Kerry’s was four years ago. As brutal as this primary has been, the Democrats’ work is still all ahead of them.

Hillary Clinton just jettisoned strategist Mark Penn from her campaign because Penn dared contemplate free trade. For a candidate who tries to sell herself as an extension of the Clintonian 90’s, such vigilance against centrism, financial or otherwise, speaks to a strange state of affairs for Democrats. Of course, Hillary and Obama have adopted rabidly anti-free trade postures. Why are these two candidates competing for the affections of the far Left when one of them will have to go up against a Republican centrist who garners praise from Democratic voters?

In the 2004 Presidential election, Democrat John Kerry made the fatal mistake of substituting outrage for ideology. Hoping to coast into the White House on a wave of anti-Iraq War sentiment, Kerry ran almost exclusively against George W. Bush, with no real positive policy vision of his own. Among Democrats, he wasn’t alone in thinking he had done all that was required to become president. On the eve of the election, Jimmy Breslin wrote of Kerry’s imminent victory, “I am so sure that I am not even going to bother to watch the results tonight.”

But Breslin was wrong and the results were indisputable: Bush and the war would have a second term. Amazingly, the failure wrought by Kerry’s method of campaign-framing didn’t deter Democrats. In the 2006 congressional races, Democrats once again failed to convey a chosen ideological path. There was no clear indication of an affinity for Clintonian centrism or for progressivism. Democratic Congressional hopefuls ran simply as the GOP alternative. They talked up small-ticket items like a raise in minimum wage, and offered a watery mash-up of ideologies in the form of the “first hundred hours” contract. This time it worked. 2005 saw the dashed hopes of the “Arab Spring.” By 2006, anti-Iraq and anti-Bush sentiment was strong enough to deliver a Democratic thumpin’ to Capitol Hill Republicans. The Democratic Party Leader may have been Howard Dean, but the pitch—to the extent there was one—was “blue dog” compromise. In short, the Democrats remained ideologically rudderless.

Having got Congress back without recourse to an ideological framework, Democrats saw no reason not to continue in this mode. Which brings us to 2008. Without ever having resolved the centrism-progressivism question, the Clinton-Obama race was to be determined by an issue outside of political ideology—namely, identity. It has become the white woman against the black man: as everyone repeatedly points out, their policy differences are incremental. Moreover, these policies are surprisingly far to the Left. This is because the Democrats, since 2004, have not figured out how to sell themselves to the general electorate. They are now playing endlessly to their own. In the identity battle–and in the overall warfare of this Democratic primary–Obama has all but won. While his impending victory has nothing to do with political ideology, the candidate himself comes equipped with a strong adherence to far-Left principles. This is how the Democrats have ended up with the most liberal potential presidential nominee since World War II.

The problem with this scenario is that modern Democratic presidents have come to office as centrists. Most of the Democrats who voted for Bill Clinton are more closely aligned with John McCain than with Barack Obama. If anything, the sudden shock of a far-Left liberal will scare a Democrat-inclined voter who’s never had to commit to a delineated political ideology. This is to say nothing of Republican voters and independents. Additionally, Barack Obama’s Iraq plan, when you try to nail it down, is no clearer today than John Kerry’s was four years ago. As brutal as this primary has been, the Democrats’ work is still all ahead of them.

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Battle For The Narrative

Barack Obama supporter Senator Jay Rockfeller comes out with this:

McCain was a fighter pilot, who dropped laser-guided missiles from 35,000 feet. He was long gone when they hit.What happened when they [the missiles] get to the ground? He doesn’t know. You have to care about the lives of people. McCain never gets into those issues.

The comment is not only shocking but factually wrong to boot. (Later in the day Rockefeller was forced to apologize.) This follows the drum beat of “100 year” comments from Obama and the “warmonger” jibe from another supporter. If the Obama appeal in the primary was to a different kind of politics and to the public yearning for bipartisan civility, the campaign may have some message confusion going on. The storyline is supposed to be: Clinton is the mean, nasty prevaricator; he’s the nice, uplifting one. Got it?

Barack Obama supporter Senator Jay Rockfeller comes out with this:

McCain was a fighter pilot, who dropped laser-guided missiles from 35,000 feet. He was long gone when they hit.What happened when they [the missiles] get to the ground? He doesn’t know. You have to care about the lives of people. McCain never gets into those issues.

The comment is not only shocking but factually wrong to boot. (Later in the day Rockefeller was forced to apologize.) This follows the drum beat of “100 year” comments from Obama and the “warmonger” jibe from another supporter. If the Obama appeal in the primary was to a different kind of politics and to the public yearning for bipartisan civility, the campaign may have some message confusion going on. The storyline is supposed to be: Clinton is the mean, nasty prevaricator; he’s the nice, uplifting one. Got it?

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Obama’s Pastor Rejects “Middleclassness,” All Right

A March 2007 New Republic article has surfaced in which the piece’s writer, Ryan Lizza, asserts that Jeremiah Wright was once a Muslim:

But Wright was a former Muslim and black nationalist who had studied at Howard and Chicago, and Trinity’s guiding principles–what the church calls the “Black Value System”–included a “Disavowal of the Pursuit of Middleclassness.’

I’m not terribly interested in the spiritual evolution of Rev. Wright. Muslim Americans have the same rights as Jewish Americans, Hindu Americans, and Christian Americans—including the right to worship freely and be left alone provided their worship doesn’t infringe upon anyone else’s rights. (Although the implication here is that he might have been a Nation of Islam member, and the NOI is, at best, a racialist organization.) In any case, the Democratic primary has provided enough identity fodder to last several lifetimes.

What’s far more interesting is that Trinity Church’s guiding principles include a “Disavowal of the Pursuit of Middleclassness.’ Keep that in mind. Yesterday in Slate Christopher Hitchens gave this account of the Rev. Wright’s retirement booty: “a $1.6 million home, purchased in the name of his church and consisting of more than 10,000 square feet, in a gated community in Tinley Park, a prosperous white section of the city.” This deeply spiritual man has demonstrated that rarest of qualities in modern preachers: the ability to live up to one’s professed ideals. After all, there’s nothing middle-class about a 10,000 square foot home.

A March 2007 New Republic article has surfaced in which the piece’s writer, Ryan Lizza, asserts that Jeremiah Wright was once a Muslim:

But Wright was a former Muslim and black nationalist who had studied at Howard and Chicago, and Trinity’s guiding principles–what the church calls the “Black Value System”–included a “Disavowal of the Pursuit of Middleclassness.’

I’m not terribly interested in the spiritual evolution of Rev. Wright. Muslim Americans have the same rights as Jewish Americans, Hindu Americans, and Christian Americans—including the right to worship freely and be left alone provided their worship doesn’t infringe upon anyone else’s rights. (Although the implication here is that he might have been a Nation of Islam member, and the NOI is, at best, a racialist organization.) In any case, the Democratic primary has provided enough identity fodder to last several lifetimes.

What’s far more interesting is that Trinity Church’s guiding principles include a “Disavowal of the Pursuit of Middleclassness.’ Keep that in mind. Yesterday in Slate Christopher Hitchens gave this account of the Rev. Wright’s retirement booty: “a $1.6 million home, purchased in the name of his church and consisting of more than 10,000 square feet, in a gated community in Tinley Park, a prosperous white section of the city.” This deeply spiritual man has demonstrated that rarest of qualities in modern preachers: the ability to live up to one’s professed ideals. After all, there’s nothing middle-class about a 10,000 square foot home.

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No Exit Strategy?

The line of the day, as Democratic Senators grilled General Petraeus, was that he was presiding over a fight with “no exit strategy.” This is a telling turn of phrase, and a meaningful one. Obviously, a nation doesn’t need an “exit strategy” when it fights a war it wins; the exit strategy in such a war is victory. When a nation wins a war, what it exits from is the violence of that war. The war’s end means an end to military violence. The question that follows a victory is not how to exit, but rather what the nature of the victor’s engagement will be. By calling for an exit strategy after nine months of progress toward victory, Democrats are doing nothing less than demanding that Petraeus frame his entire mission in Iraq through the prism of defeat.

The line of the day, as Democratic Senators grilled General Petraeus, was that he was presiding over a fight with “no exit strategy.” This is a telling turn of phrase, and a meaningful one. Obviously, a nation doesn’t need an “exit strategy” when it fights a war it wins; the exit strategy in such a war is victory. When a nation wins a war, what it exits from is the violence of that war. The war’s end means an end to military violence. The question that follows a victory is not how to exit, but rather what the nature of the victor’s engagement will be. By calling for an exit strategy after nine months of progress toward victory, Democrats are doing nothing less than demanding that Petraeus frame his entire mission in Iraq through the prism of defeat.

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More on the Hearings

There are many things to say about today’s Senate testimonies of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. But what has struck me, so far, are the following.

The first is that in Petraeus and Crocker you see two men who embody excellence, a wonderful thing to see in any field of human endeavor. It’s especially comforting to find it in a place as important and fragile as Iraq. General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are informed, careful, candid, and wholly in command. They have a complicated story to tell–and they tell it very, very well.

The second thing I noticed was how respectful and strong Petraeus and Crocker are. Senator Bayh (D-Indiana), for example, asked a question whose purpose was to get General Petraeus to say that those who disagree with Petraeus’ strategy are just as patriotic as those who agree with his strategy. General Petraeus made the right and obvious rejoinder: one of the reasons we fight for freedom is to allow people to hold different opinions. But he also made a powerful case that (these are my words, not his) not all opinions are equally valid or informed – and that the wrong opinions, animating wrong decisions, can have terrible consequences.

The third thing that jumped out at me is the vast ignorance of many Senators. For example, Senator McCaskill (D-Missouri) appears wed to a particular (defeatist) narrative regarding Basra: it was, she insisted, a terrible loss for Prime Minister Maliki, a big win for Muqtada al-Sadr, and evidence that the Iraq project is falling apart.

Ambassador Crocker patiently explained why this interpretation is wrong. He pointed out that there is actually fairly widespread support throughout Iraq for Maliki’s efforts, that there is a strong popular reaction against Shia militias, and that Sadr appears to be putting some distance between himself and elements of the Jaish al Mahdi (JAM) militia. These are all important data points.

General Petraeus made many of the same observations in response to previous questions. He pointed out that planning of the Basra operation left a lot to be desired–but that the Iraqi government’s willingness to take the battle to the enemy was encouraging. He acknowledged the troubling defections we saw within the ranks of the Iraqis–and told about the very impressive and heartening conduct of most of the ISF. Things are still playing out in Basra–but some of the early stumbles seem to have been corrected, adjustments are being made, and things are better now than they were. This is, in some ways, the story of Iraq writ large.

What we’re getting, and not only from Senators critical of the war, is posturing. Many Senators appear far more interested in making speeches than they do in asking pertinent questions. Iraq is a fluid situation–yet so many political figures have made up their mind. They act as if things are frozen in amber, as if a snapshot in time is a permanent state of things. And they seem wholly uninterested in increasing their understanding of the facts on the ground–especially if the facts on the ground demonstrate progress. Petraeus and Crocker, at least, are nuanced and knowledgeable. Which is, unfortunately, something rarely found on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

There are many things to say about today’s Senate testimonies of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. But what has struck me, so far, are the following.

The first is that in Petraeus and Crocker you see two men who embody excellence, a wonderful thing to see in any field of human endeavor. It’s especially comforting to find it in a place as important and fragile as Iraq. General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are informed, careful, candid, and wholly in command. They have a complicated story to tell–and they tell it very, very well.

The second thing I noticed was how respectful and strong Petraeus and Crocker are. Senator Bayh (D-Indiana), for example, asked a question whose purpose was to get General Petraeus to say that those who disagree with Petraeus’ strategy are just as patriotic as those who agree with his strategy. General Petraeus made the right and obvious rejoinder: one of the reasons we fight for freedom is to allow people to hold different opinions. But he also made a powerful case that (these are my words, not his) not all opinions are equally valid or informed – and that the wrong opinions, animating wrong decisions, can have terrible consequences.

The third thing that jumped out at me is the vast ignorance of many Senators. For example, Senator McCaskill (D-Missouri) appears wed to a particular (defeatist) narrative regarding Basra: it was, she insisted, a terrible loss for Prime Minister Maliki, a big win for Muqtada al-Sadr, and evidence that the Iraq project is falling apart.

Ambassador Crocker patiently explained why this interpretation is wrong. He pointed out that there is actually fairly widespread support throughout Iraq for Maliki’s efforts, that there is a strong popular reaction against Shia militias, and that Sadr appears to be putting some distance between himself and elements of the Jaish al Mahdi (JAM) militia. These are all important data points.

General Petraeus made many of the same observations in response to previous questions. He pointed out that planning of the Basra operation left a lot to be desired–but that the Iraqi government’s willingness to take the battle to the enemy was encouraging. He acknowledged the troubling defections we saw within the ranks of the Iraqis–and told about the very impressive and heartening conduct of most of the ISF. Things are still playing out in Basra–but some of the early stumbles seem to have been corrected, adjustments are being made, and things are better now than they were. This is, in some ways, the story of Iraq writ large.

What we’re getting, and not only from Senators critical of the war, is posturing. Many Senators appear far more interested in making speeches than they do in asking pertinent questions. Iraq is a fluid situation–yet so many political figures have made up their mind. They act as if things are frozen in amber, as if a snapshot in time is a permanent state of things. And they seem wholly uninterested in increasing their understanding of the facts on the ground–especially if the facts on the ground demonstrate progress. Petraeus and Crocker, at least, are nuanced and knowledgeable. Which is, unfortunately, something rarely found on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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The Iraq Hearings So Far

The blow-by-blow of today’s Iraq hearings can keep you busy if you are so inclined. But there is a Kabuki-like quality to all of this. Hillary Clinton looks bored as John McCain gives his opening remarks. Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus go through facts which Democrats barely bother to rebut, ignoring the details and concluding that all this means failure. McCain tries to get as much as he can on the record, while Clinton tries to keep mum.

It all seems a series of set pieces, not much intended to enlighten or persuade as to provide fodder for the political combat which will follow. The reality is that Democratic Congress–which could not manage to cut off or condition funds for U.S. troops in 2007–will not pull the plug now. The real battlefield is the presidential election. Today was merely the setup for the YouTube war to follow.

The blow-by-blow of today’s Iraq hearings can keep you busy if you are so inclined. But there is a Kabuki-like quality to all of this. Hillary Clinton looks bored as John McCain gives his opening remarks. Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus go through facts which Democrats barely bother to rebut, ignoring the details and concluding that all this means failure. McCain tries to get as much as he can on the record, while Clinton tries to keep mum.

It all seems a series of set pieces, not much intended to enlighten or persuade as to provide fodder for the political combat which will follow. The reality is that Democratic Congress–which could not manage to cut off or condition funds for U.S. troops in 2007–will not pull the plug now. The real battlefield is the presidential election. Today was merely the setup for the YouTube war to follow.

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They Want Their Dialogue

Some media pundits are not buying into the notion that the Reverend Wright affair is behind us, or more importantly, behind Barack Obama. Richard Cohen wants another speech. Stuart Taylor just wants some answers.

This is the danger with not getting all the answers out the first time around. It’s always tempting for politicians to skate by, saying as little as possible, especially if they’re uncertain what additional incriminating material might be out there. That natural inclination must have been particularly strong here, where Obama could bank on the media’s ludicrous resistance to probing the particulars of his association with Wright.

So the underlying issue–his relationship with Wright and toleration of Wright’s vitriol–is now compounded with the nagging sense that Obama has “ducked” a central problem with his candidacy. For those playing armchair psychologist (or just practicing standard punditry), the questions remain: Why not go before the media and answer all questions? Why not tell us why he sought out Wright to begin with? Why keep going to Wright’s church, with his kids no less?

Those inclined toward skepticism about Obama’s messianic grace or simply searching for a key to his personality may wonder, as Taylor does, whether this demonstrates a lack of courage and the ability to say “no” to friends and supporters–traits any president needs. Others will wonder if this is evidence of a deep form of political cynicism, the notion that you can play on white guilt (Give ‘em a nice speech on reconciliation) to avoid answering tough questions.

Regardless of the merits of the pundits’ concerns, it’s highly unlikely Obama will give another speech on the topic. Going back now would signal recognition of a huge strategic misstep. Whatever bed he’s made he will now have to lie in and whatever voters really think of him will not be known until they step into the booths in November. Because that is where irked or worried or angry voters have their final say.

Some media pundits are not buying into the notion that the Reverend Wright affair is behind us, or more importantly, behind Barack Obama. Richard Cohen wants another speech. Stuart Taylor just wants some answers.

This is the danger with not getting all the answers out the first time around. It’s always tempting for politicians to skate by, saying as little as possible, especially if they’re uncertain what additional incriminating material might be out there. That natural inclination must have been particularly strong here, where Obama could bank on the media’s ludicrous resistance to probing the particulars of his association with Wright.

So the underlying issue–his relationship with Wright and toleration of Wright’s vitriol–is now compounded with the nagging sense that Obama has “ducked” a central problem with his candidacy. For those playing armchair psychologist (or just practicing standard punditry), the questions remain: Why not go before the media and answer all questions? Why not tell us why he sought out Wright to begin with? Why keep going to Wright’s church, with his kids no less?

Those inclined toward skepticism about Obama’s messianic grace or simply searching for a key to his personality may wonder, as Taylor does, whether this demonstrates a lack of courage and the ability to say “no” to friends and supporters–traits any president needs. Others will wonder if this is evidence of a deep form of political cynicism, the notion that you can play on white guilt (Give ‘em a nice speech on reconciliation) to avoid answering tough questions.

Regardless of the merits of the pundits’ concerns, it’s highly unlikely Obama will give another speech on the topic. Going back now would signal recognition of a huge strategic misstep. Whatever bed he’s made he will now have to lie in and whatever voters really think of him will not be known until they step into the booths in November. Because that is where irked or worried or angry voters have their final say.

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Hillary Goes Without a Shower

Nothing says cringe quite like Hillary Clinton being folksy. Here is the entire script of her new ad, “Scranton”:

[Clinton :] This is me in Scranton, where my father was raised, and my grandfather worked in the lace mill.
Every August, we’d pile into the car and head to our cottage on Lake Winola.
There was no heat, or indoor shower–just the joy of family.
I was raised on pinochle and the American dream.
I still have faith in that dream
It’s just been neglected a little.
We all need to dream it again
And I promise we will.
I’m Hillary Clinton and I approved this message.

Overcompensation is the hallmark of such Hillary efforts: “no heat, or indoor shower–just the joy of family,” “raised on pinochle and the American dream.” Just think what $110 million would have been if the American dream hadn’t “been neglected a little.”

She is somehow incapable of avoiding self-parody. After the miserable reception her gift-wrapped policy Christmas ads received, she should have recognized her weakness in the cute and quaint department. But Hillary refuses to assess her faults. She just indulges them repeatedly until everyone else does.

Nothing says cringe quite like Hillary Clinton being folksy. Here is the entire script of her new ad, “Scranton”:

[Clinton :] This is me in Scranton, where my father was raised, and my grandfather worked in the lace mill.
Every August, we’d pile into the car and head to our cottage on Lake Winola.
There was no heat, or indoor shower–just the joy of family.
I was raised on pinochle and the American dream.
I still have faith in that dream
It’s just been neglected a little.
We all need to dream it again
And I promise we will.
I’m Hillary Clinton and I approved this message.

Overcompensation is the hallmark of such Hillary efforts: “no heat, or indoor shower–just the joy of family,” “raised on pinochle and the American dream.” Just think what $110 million would have been if the American dream hadn’t “been neglected a little.”

She is somehow incapable of avoiding self-parody. After the miserable reception her gift-wrapped policy Christmas ads received, she should have recognized her weakness in the cute and quaint department. But Hillary refuses to assess her faults. She just indulges them repeatedly until everyone else does.

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Reading Tea Leaves

The latest craze among Barack Obama’s media and pundit cheerleaders is to point to his “happy” campaign, a veritable “organizational wonder,” to vouch for Obama’s executive skills and in turn predict a brilliant presidency.

There is some measure of truth in the notion that voters can use the conduct of a campaign to assess a candidate, especially someone with zero executive experience and a very thin public record in general. (Goodness knows he’s been a candidate for about a third as long as he has been in the Senate, so his presidential race is a substantial chunk of his national public life.)

Certainly he gets credit for not hiring and then sticking with a gang of vicious backstabbers who publicly and privately denigrate their peers. So he’s not Hillary Clinton. That faint praise does not provide much solace. But there are several problems with this whole line of argument.

First, a candidate is only a brilliant campaign executive if he wins. If the voters in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Indiana all decide they have had enough Obama-mania his organizational skills don’t look so hot. John McCain became a turnaround specialist in reviving his campaign, but no one would have thought him brilliant if he’d lost Florida. In short, results entirely color evaluations of the managerial skills of the candidate.

Second, neither of these accounts or others like them speak to what role if any Obama actually plays in the campaign. David Axelrod may be a genius. But do we know if Obama delegated all decisions to him? Or which calls Obama is directly responsible for? Not from these accounts. At best we can say that Obama hired a very good campaign manager. But if he is a super-delegator that won’t necessarily make him a good president.

Third, these accounts are highly selective. Doesn’t the conduct of his campaign also show he avoids huge problems until forced by public outcry to confront them (e.g. Reverend Wright)? Haven’t we seen that he does not level with his supporters (e.g. on trade) and uses the slash-and-burn tactics he himself decries? Even one of these accounts lets on that he has shown a dangerous tendency toward “self-righteousness.” ( Ya think?) So you could argue from much available evidence that his campaign conduct should send up warning flares, not champagne corks.

The latest craze among Barack Obama’s media and pundit cheerleaders is to point to his “happy” campaign, a veritable “organizational wonder,” to vouch for Obama’s executive skills and in turn predict a brilliant presidency.

There is some measure of truth in the notion that voters can use the conduct of a campaign to assess a candidate, especially someone with zero executive experience and a very thin public record in general. (Goodness knows he’s been a candidate for about a third as long as he has been in the Senate, so his presidential race is a substantial chunk of his national public life.)

Certainly he gets credit for not hiring and then sticking with a gang of vicious backstabbers who publicly and privately denigrate their peers. So he’s not Hillary Clinton. That faint praise does not provide much solace. But there are several problems with this whole line of argument.

First, a candidate is only a brilliant campaign executive if he wins. If the voters in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Indiana all decide they have had enough Obama-mania his organizational skills don’t look so hot. John McCain became a turnaround specialist in reviving his campaign, but no one would have thought him brilliant if he’d lost Florida. In short, results entirely color evaluations of the managerial skills of the candidate.

Second, neither of these accounts or others like them speak to what role if any Obama actually plays in the campaign. David Axelrod may be a genius. But do we know if Obama delegated all decisions to him? Or which calls Obama is directly responsible for? Not from these accounts. At best we can say that Obama hired a very good campaign manager. But if he is a super-delegator that won’t necessarily make him a good president.

Third, these accounts are highly selective. Doesn’t the conduct of his campaign also show he avoids huge problems until forced by public outcry to confront them (e.g. Reverend Wright)? Haven’t we seen that he does not level with his supporters (e.g. on trade) and uses the slash-and-burn tactics he himself decries? Even one of these accounts lets on that he has shown a dangerous tendency toward “self-righteousness.” ( Ya think?) So you could argue from much available evidence that his campaign conduct should send up warning flares, not champagne corks.

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Re: Re: In Praise of “Disrespect”

Eric, finger-wagging at a nation on the verge of elections and assuming their inability to comprehend American policy can be called a lot of things, but respectful is not one of them. Indeed, the State Department statement you link to not only respectfully praises the Palestinian Legislative Council for holding elections, but makes U.S. opposition to Hamas’s ideology explicit before the fact:

To participate in a peace process of Israelis and Palestinians, the Palestinian partner must at least accept Israel’s right to exist. To implement agreements on movement and access for the Palestinian territories, the Palestinian partner must be committed to preventing violence. In short, the Palestinian partner must be committed to peaceful development.

This doesn’t even require reading between the lines: Electing Hamas will sideline the peace process. What more could the U.S. have said?

Respectfully,
Abe

Eric, finger-wagging at a nation on the verge of elections and assuming their inability to comprehend American policy can be called a lot of things, but respectful is not one of them. Indeed, the State Department statement you link to not only respectfully praises the Palestinian Legislative Council for holding elections, but makes U.S. opposition to Hamas’s ideology explicit before the fact:

To participate in a peace process of Israelis and Palestinians, the Palestinian partner must at least accept Israel’s right to exist. To implement agreements on movement and access for the Palestinian territories, the Palestinian partner must be committed to preventing violence. In short, the Palestinian partner must be committed to peaceful development.

This doesn’t even require reading between the lines: Electing Hamas will sideline the peace process. What more could the U.S. have said?

Respectfully,
Abe

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Compassion for $500B

On Sunday, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will participate in a “Compassion Forum.” I am reasonably certain this is for real and not a Saturday Night Live gag. John Edwards will grade each participant’s answers on a scale of Scrooge to Gandhi. (Okay, that part I made up.) The topics for the compassion fest will include poverty, global AIDS, climate change, and human rights. (No word on if Obama will be quizzed as to whether he agrees with Rev. Wright about the origins of AIDS.)

Why do I sneer? These are, after all, terribly serious and pressing issues. But the premise of the forum, and others like it, is ridiculously condescending. We are led to believe that the reason these problems exist is because we are insufficiently compassionate. What we need is to increase our collective “compassion footprint.” That would solve all these knotty problems. Compassion, of course, invariably means dollars and dollars means government dollars. And so the conversation dissolves into an auction with taxpayers money. (“Hillary pledges $300B for poverty!” “Obama says he’s in for $450B on global AIDS!”)

Not only does this simplify to the point of absurdity the critical issues we face, it distracts from very real solutions that would make a difference. Will one of the participants tell the crowd that surest way to avoid poverty in the U.S. is for young people to stay in school and off drugs, avoid law-breaking, and hold down a job? Probably not. Rarely in these settings does compassion entail taking a tough line with our adversaries. Will someone ask if we show compassion to Cuban political prisoners by meeting with their jailer? Probably not.

“Compassion” in a forum like this is a very special kind of compassion. It, of course, does not extend to Iraqi civilians or any discussion of the moral obligations we may have incurred there. And don’t dare bring up compassion for the struggling democracies around the world that would be helped by something as mutually beneficial as free trade. (Think trade with the U.S. might help alleviate poverty in the Third World? You must be crazy.) That would be off topic, you see. We’re talking about the kind of compassion that complacent liberals can get excited about.

Aside from all that, it’s worth asking whether, on a political level, this even helps voters decide between the two Democratic contenders. Given that both are utterly expert at pandering, especially when it involves spending taxpayer money, I would think not. But I bet they both mention John Edwards more than once (not in a hedge fund-McMansion way but in the little-girl-with-no-coat sense) in one last push to snare his endorsement. That, at least, would be productive.

On Sunday, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will participate in a “Compassion Forum.” I am reasonably certain this is for real and not a Saturday Night Live gag. John Edwards will grade each participant’s answers on a scale of Scrooge to Gandhi. (Okay, that part I made up.) The topics for the compassion fest will include poverty, global AIDS, climate change, and human rights. (No word on if Obama will be quizzed as to whether he agrees with Rev. Wright about the origins of AIDS.)

Why do I sneer? These are, after all, terribly serious and pressing issues. But the premise of the forum, and others like it, is ridiculously condescending. We are led to believe that the reason these problems exist is because we are insufficiently compassionate. What we need is to increase our collective “compassion footprint.” That would solve all these knotty problems. Compassion, of course, invariably means dollars and dollars means government dollars. And so the conversation dissolves into an auction with taxpayers money. (“Hillary pledges $300B for poverty!” “Obama says he’s in for $450B on global AIDS!”)

Not only does this simplify to the point of absurdity the critical issues we face, it distracts from very real solutions that would make a difference. Will one of the participants tell the crowd that surest way to avoid poverty in the U.S. is for young people to stay in school and off drugs, avoid law-breaking, and hold down a job? Probably not. Rarely in these settings does compassion entail taking a tough line with our adversaries. Will someone ask if we show compassion to Cuban political prisoners by meeting with their jailer? Probably not.

“Compassion” in a forum like this is a very special kind of compassion. It, of course, does not extend to Iraqi civilians or any discussion of the moral obligations we may have incurred there. And don’t dare bring up compassion for the struggling democracies around the world that would be helped by something as mutually beneficial as free trade. (Think trade with the U.S. might help alleviate poverty in the Third World? You must be crazy.) That would be off topic, you see. We’re talking about the kind of compassion that complacent liberals can get excited about.

Aside from all that, it’s worth asking whether, on a political level, this even helps voters decide between the two Democratic contenders. Given that both are utterly expert at pandering, especially when it involves spending taxpayer money, I would think not. But I bet they both mention John Edwards more than once (not in a hedge fund-McMansion way but in the little-girl-with-no-coat sense) in one last push to snare his endorsement. That, at least, would be productive.

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The Klein and the Fury

On Friday I wrote a response to Joe Klein’s most recent Time column – and apparently Joe didn’t like it very much. On Sunday he wrote not one but two responses to my posting. They are worth unpacking.

1. Klein refers to me as the “former chief White House propagandist for the Iraq war” and says “those who spent the past seven years as propagandists for the one of the worst, and needlessly blood-soaked, presidencies in American history, have such a fabulous record of self-righteous wrong-headedness that they needn’t be taken seriously at all.”

One might think that when it comes to Iraq, Klein would tread carefully. As I have pointed out here, here, and here, Klein, despite his efforts to make it appear otherwise, supported the Iraq war before it began.

On February 22, 2003, he told Tim Russert on his CNBC program that the war was a “really tough decision” but that he, Klein, thought it was probably “the right decision at this point.” Klein then offered several reasons for his judgment: Saddam’s defiance of 17 U.N. resolutions over a dozen years; Klein’s firm conviction that Saddam was hiding WMD; and the need to send that message that if we didn’t enforce the latest U.N. resolution, it “empowers every would-be Saddam out there and every would-be terrorist out there.”

Read the rest of Wehner’s article at COMMENTARY Online.

On Friday I wrote a response to Joe Klein’s most recent Time column – and apparently Joe didn’t like it very much. On Sunday he wrote not one but two responses to my posting. They are worth unpacking.

1. Klein refers to me as the “former chief White House propagandist for the Iraq war” and says “those who spent the past seven years as propagandists for the one of the worst, and needlessly blood-soaked, presidencies in American history, have such a fabulous record of self-righteous wrong-headedness that they needn’t be taken seriously at all.”

One might think that when it comes to Iraq, Klein would tread carefully. As I have pointed out here, here, and here, Klein, despite his efforts to make it appear otherwise, supported the Iraq war before it began.

On February 22, 2003, he told Tim Russert on his CNBC program that the war was a “really tough decision” but that he, Klein, thought it was probably “the right decision at this point.” Klein then offered several reasons for his judgment: Saddam’s defiance of 17 U.N. resolutions over a dozen years; Klein’s firm conviction that Saddam was hiding WMD; and the need to send that message that if we didn’t enforce the latest U.N. resolution, it “empowers every would-be Saddam out there and every would-be terrorist out there.”

Read the rest of Wehner’s article at COMMENTARY Online.

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Trade Lessons

Mainstream media outlets and conservative analysts are in rare agreement on the Democratic contenders’ stance on free trade, calling them either ignoramuses or cynical liars. If the first, they have deceived their advisers, who doggedly stick to the belief that their candidates are really smart enough to know that free trade creates jobs and is an essential component of international economic health and entirely in our own financial and diplomatic interests. They can’t be that dense, their admirers contend. No economist worth his salt would support returning to protectionism.

That leaves the second option. As DLC leader Will Marshall argues:

Apparently, the rule is that in the primaries, facts and evidence don’t matter, so bashing trade becomes a way of validating the emotions of people who feel stressed by global competition, and the facts get trampled underfoot in the process.

On the merits, this is not a tough issue. As to the Colombian trade deal, the Washington Post points out that the result of the deal would be to lift numerous restrictions on U.S. goods going into Colombia. The Post castigates both Democratic candidates for their “flimsy” rationale for opposing the deal. The Los Angeles Times points out that ripping up NAFTA “could spark a trade war with Canada and Mexico and reverse more than a decade of growth for all three North American economies.” There just isn’t much room to argue that the Democrats have attempted to resolve this issue on the merits.

So, if we go with the cynical liar option, the question remains why Democrats and their media supporters do not extrapolate a larger lesson from the candidates’ conduct. If both of them make up facts, play on voters’ fears, and shirk from telling voters unpleasant truths, how is either going to govern? It is not as if trade is unique–most issues which reach the President’s desk require hard choices. It is worth asking whether we should have similar concerns about the candidates’ pronouncements on Iraq, health care, taxes, and every other “hard” issue. This seems to be a “teachable moment” about their leadership style and personal character.

But criticisms of this kind never seem to continue beyond trade: what would follow would be a wholesale indictment of a very old-style type of politics–divisive, dishonest, anti-intellectual and fear-mongering. Too broad a criticism might shed doubt on the entire storyline for both Democratic contenders, and especially for Barack Obama, who is supposed to be above all this. And we can’t have that, can we?

Mainstream media outlets and conservative analysts are in rare agreement on the Democratic contenders’ stance on free trade, calling them either ignoramuses or cynical liars. If the first, they have deceived their advisers, who doggedly stick to the belief that their candidates are really smart enough to know that free trade creates jobs and is an essential component of international economic health and entirely in our own financial and diplomatic interests. They can’t be that dense, their admirers contend. No economist worth his salt would support returning to protectionism.

That leaves the second option. As DLC leader Will Marshall argues:

Apparently, the rule is that in the primaries, facts and evidence don’t matter, so bashing trade becomes a way of validating the emotions of people who feel stressed by global competition, and the facts get trampled underfoot in the process.

On the merits, this is not a tough issue. As to the Colombian trade deal, the Washington Post points out that the result of the deal would be to lift numerous restrictions on U.S. goods going into Colombia. The Post castigates both Democratic candidates for their “flimsy” rationale for opposing the deal. The Los Angeles Times points out that ripping up NAFTA “could spark a trade war with Canada and Mexico and reverse more than a decade of growth for all three North American economies.” There just isn’t much room to argue that the Democrats have attempted to resolve this issue on the merits.

So, if we go with the cynical liar option, the question remains why Democrats and their media supporters do not extrapolate a larger lesson from the candidates’ conduct. If both of them make up facts, play on voters’ fears, and shirk from telling voters unpleasant truths, how is either going to govern? It is not as if trade is unique–most issues which reach the President’s desk require hard choices. It is worth asking whether we should have similar concerns about the candidates’ pronouncements on Iraq, health care, taxes, and every other “hard” issue. This seems to be a “teachable moment” about their leadership style and personal character.

But criticisms of this kind never seem to continue beyond trade: what would follow would be a wholesale indictment of a very old-style type of politics–divisive, dishonest, anti-intellectual and fear-mongering. Too broad a criticism might shed doubt on the entire storyline for both Democratic contenders, and especially for Barack Obama, who is supposed to be above all this. And we can’t have that, can we?

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From Middle East Journal: Builders of Nations

“This is my hardest deployment,” Marine Sergeant Cooley said as he unfastened his helmet and tossed it onto his bed. “We weren’t trained for this kind of thing.” He’s been shot at with bullets and mortars, and he’s endured IED attacks on his Humvee, but post-war Fallujah is more difficult and more stressful than combat. He isn’t unusual for saying so. Many Marines I spoke to in and around the Fallujah area said something similar.

“We’re trained as infantrymen,” Captain Stewart Glenn said. “But here we are doing civil administration and trying to get the milk factory up and running.”

“We make up all this stuff as we go,” Lieutenant Mike Barefoot added.

While most Americans go to school, work traditional day jobs, and raise their families, young American men and women like these are deployed to Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan where they work seven days a week rebuilding societies torn to pieces by fascism, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and war. It is not what they signed up to do. Some may have geeked out on nation-building video games like Civilization, but none of the enlisted men picked up any of these skills in boot camp.

Officers pick up some basic relevant skills, though, as well as a more complete education. Lieutenant Nathan Bibler runs a Joint Security Station in the slums of Fallujah and works with local authorities every day.

He has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. “In a lot of ways it helps me analyze and interpret,” he said. What helps more than anything, though, is a training program Marine officers go through in 29 Palms, California, before they’re deployed.

“We were living in a town they built out in the desert with Iraqis.”

“Really,” I said. “Iraqi-Americans?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t know if they were all U.S. citizens, but Iraqis who were already in the U.S. We were living in this town that they built. We lived in the town with the Iraqi Police right next door. Actually they lived with us part of the time.”

Enlisted men don’t go through role playing training in 29 Palms, but every officer who mentioned it to me said those exercises were eerily effective, that actors from Iraq hired to play Iraqis in Iraq during counter-terrorist warfare turned out to be surprisingly like real Iraqis in a real counter-terrorist war.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

“This is my hardest deployment,” Marine Sergeant Cooley said as he unfastened his helmet and tossed it onto his bed. “We weren’t trained for this kind of thing.” He’s been shot at with bullets and mortars, and he’s endured IED attacks on his Humvee, but post-war Fallujah is more difficult and more stressful than combat. He isn’t unusual for saying so. Many Marines I spoke to in and around the Fallujah area said something similar.

“We’re trained as infantrymen,” Captain Stewart Glenn said. “But here we are doing civil administration and trying to get the milk factory up and running.”

“We make up all this stuff as we go,” Lieutenant Mike Barefoot added.

While most Americans go to school, work traditional day jobs, and raise their families, young American men and women like these are deployed to Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan where they work seven days a week rebuilding societies torn to pieces by fascism, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and war. It is not what they signed up to do. Some may have geeked out on nation-building video games like Civilization, but none of the enlisted men picked up any of these skills in boot camp.

Officers pick up some basic relevant skills, though, as well as a more complete education. Lieutenant Nathan Bibler runs a Joint Security Station in the slums of Fallujah and works with local authorities every day.

He has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. “In a lot of ways it helps me analyze and interpret,” he said. What helps more than anything, though, is a training program Marine officers go through in 29 Palms, California, before they’re deployed.

“We were living in a town they built out in the desert with Iraqis.”

“Really,” I said. “Iraqi-Americans?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t know if they were all U.S. citizens, but Iraqis who were already in the U.S. We were living in this town that they built. We lived in the town with the Iraqi Police right next door. Actually they lived with us part of the time.”

Enlisted men don’t go through role playing training in 29 Palms, but every officer who mentioned it to me said those exercises were eerily effective, that actors from Iraq hired to play Iraqis in Iraq during counter-terrorist warfare turned out to be surprisingly like real Iraqis in a real counter-terrorist war.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

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Re: In Praise of “Disrespect”

I disagree, Abe. When Muslim publics cite the Western boycott of Hamas in the aftermath of the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections as an example of disrespect, they are correct–but for the wrong reasons. No, it’s not disrespectful for the United States to refuse to deal with Hamas until it meets the basic conditions that one expects from any responsible political party–namely, recognizing Israel, recognizing previously signed agreements, and renouncing terrorism. However, it was profoundly disrespectful-not to mention politically foolish–to outline these conditions only after Hamas won elections that the Bush administration publicly supported as “a key step in the process of building a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state.”

A better strategy would have been to address the Palestinian public directly prior to the elections, explaining the consequences of electing Hamas for U.S.-Palestinian relations. Had this happened, our response to the elections’ outcome would have boosted American credibility, rather than catalyzing rampant charges of disrespect.

Yet, according to a State Department official I spoke with at the time, the administration feared that expressing its views on Palestinian affairs would lead Palestinian voters to retaliate with strong support for Hamas–an outcome that the administration didn’t want to encourage. In turn, the U.S. opted to avoid eye contact with the Palestinians completely, quietly funneling $2 million to the Palestinian Authority for public works expenditures intended to boost Fatah’s popularity. Of course, this approach failed miserably, and the cautious optimism of the previous fourteen months–which developed as a result of Arafat’s death, Abbas’ victory in the January 2005 presidential elections, and Israel’s disengagement from Gaza-immediately mutated into the diplomatic hopelessness that persists today.

Sadly, the wrong lessons have been drawn from this episode-namely, that the U.S. should make amends for its “disrespect” towards the Palestinian electoral outcome by engaging Hamas. This fails to consider the relative value of Muslim public support for the U.S., which pales in comparison to the value of maintaining our policy against engaging terrorist groups diplomatically. But if the ultimate objective is maintaining–and preferably boosting–American credibility, then there is a substantial value-added to communicating directly with the foreign constituents of our policies. At the very least, Muslim publics deserve to be told why we do what we do. They call it respect; I call it public diplomacy.

I disagree, Abe. When Muslim publics cite the Western boycott of Hamas in the aftermath of the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections as an example of disrespect, they are correct–but for the wrong reasons. No, it’s not disrespectful for the United States to refuse to deal with Hamas until it meets the basic conditions that one expects from any responsible political party–namely, recognizing Israel, recognizing previously signed agreements, and renouncing terrorism. However, it was profoundly disrespectful-not to mention politically foolish–to outline these conditions only after Hamas won elections that the Bush administration publicly supported as “a key step in the process of building a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state.”

A better strategy would have been to address the Palestinian public directly prior to the elections, explaining the consequences of electing Hamas for U.S.-Palestinian relations. Had this happened, our response to the elections’ outcome would have boosted American credibility, rather than catalyzing rampant charges of disrespect.

Yet, according to a State Department official I spoke with at the time, the administration feared that expressing its views on Palestinian affairs would lead Palestinian voters to retaliate with strong support for Hamas–an outcome that the administration didn’t want to encourage. In turn, the U.S. opted to avoid eye contact with the Palestinians completely, quietly funneling $2 million to the Palestinian Authority for public works expenditures intended to boost Fatah’s popularity. Of course, this approach failed miserably, and the cautious optimism of the previous fourteen months–which developed as a result of Arafat’s death, Abbas’ victory in the January 2005 presidential elections, and Israel’s disengagement from Gaza-immediately mutated into the diplomatic hopelessness that persists today.

Sadly, the wrong lessons have been drawn from this episode-namely, that the U.S. should make amends for its “disrespect” towards the Palestinian electoral outcome by engaging Hamas. This fails to consider the relative value of Muslim public support for the U.S., which pales in comparison to the value of maintaining our policy against engaging terrorist groups diplomatically. But if the ultimate objective is maintaining–and preferably boosting–American credibility, then there is a substantial value-added to communicating directly with the foreign constituents of our policies. At the very least, Muslim publics deserve to be told why we do what we do. They call it respect; I call it public diplomacy.

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And Send A Dozen Roses To Senator Clinton

You have to hand it to Hillary Clinton. Her precipitous drop in the Democratic primary polls and the steady drip, drip, drip of superdelegates heading to her competitor has not slowed her down. Slowed her down, that is, in her effort to give John McCain lots of good material to use against Barack Obama in the general election.

Her latest? A new ad, the equivalent of the “3 a.m. ad” on steroids. This one, filled with retired generals and admirals, sets out the argument once again that Obama just isn’t up to the task of being commander-in-chief:

You cannot learn on the job, you have to have a base of experience-a framework of experience

Who do we believe would be the best person to occupy the Oval Office and to answer the red phone, as we said, at 3 o’clock in the morning or three o’clock in the afternoon? We come down on the Sen Hillary’s side of the ledger

I admire charisma, I admire intellect. In a Commander in Chief I want more than that. I want proof. I want a track record.

If, as now appears increasingly likely, Clinton goes down to defeat, there will be ad after ad for McCain constructed out of this type of material. If nothing else, it ensures that the Democratic “dream ticket” is never going to come true.

You have to hand it to Hillary Clinton. Her precipitous drop in the Democratic primary polls and the steady drip, drip, drip of superdelegates heading to her competitor has not slowed her down. Slowed her down, that is, in her effort to give John McCain lots of good material to use against Barack Obama in the general election.

Her latest? A new ad, the equivalent of the “3 a.m. ad” on steroids. This one, filled with retired generals and admirals, sets out the argument once again that Obama just isn’t up to the task of being commander-in-chief:

You cannot learn on the job, you have to have a base of experience-a framework of experience

Who do we believe would be the best person to occupy the Oval Office and to answer the red phone, as we said, at 3 o’clock in the morning or three o’clock in the afternoon? We come down on the Sen Hillary’s side of the ledger

I admire charisma, I admire intellect. In a Commander in Chief I want more than that. I want proof. I want a track record.

If, as now appears increasingly likely, Clinton goes down to defeat, there will be ad after ad for McCain constructed out of this type of material. If nothing else, it ensures that the Democratic “dream ticket” is never going to come true.

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Was the NSA Terrorist Surveillance Program Illegal?

What are the proper limits of a president’s authority under Article II of the U.S. Constitution? The question is put squarely before the public by the release of a secret 2003 legal memorandum written by John Yoo inquiring whether a president could, among other things, order a prisoner’s eye to be poked out.

Yoo takes the view that the president’s powers as commander in chief in wartime are virtually unlimited, and can ride over federal statutes banning interrogation techniques like assault and maiming. The Justice Department disavowed this doctrine nine months after it was enunciated, and that seems entirely appropriate. Even in wartime, our constitutional history makes fairly clear that there are limits on what a president can do.

But where exactly do those limits reside? And how exactly do they bear on another controversy involving executive power: President Bush’s decision in late 2001 to authorize the National Security Agency to launch the Terrorist Surveillance Program. This program involved the interception of international calls between al-Qaeda suspects abroad and persons in the United States? Because the program seemingly violated the plain language of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and, as some also argue, the Fourth Amendment prohibition on warrantless searches, was it also every bit as much an overreach of executive power as the actions outlined in John Yoo’s torture memo?

The answer, in my view, is emphatically no.

To begin with, strong arguments have been made that to the extent FISA limited the president’s power, it was itself an unconstitutional usurpation of the president’s power. At first glance this assertion seems to be merely a restatement of Yoo’s thesis that the president’s powers are unlimited. But the difference is that for very good reason warrantless wiretapping in wartime has a long history in this country. For very good reason, legalized torture does not.

The numerous examples of warrantless searches carried out for foreign-policy purposes, some under taken by the Clinton administration even after FISA was on the books (as in the case of Aldrich Ames), suggest that the NSA activities are well within the boundaries of constitutionally acceptable wartime measures. That, in any case, was also the consensus of a panel of retired FISA court judges who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2006.

Second, Congress was repeatedly briefed about the NSA program over a period of years. Although one or two members expressed reservations, no formal objection was ever lodged. When the program was disclosed to the public by the New York Times in December 2005, members of Congress from both parties voiced dismay that a valuable counterterrorism program had been compromised. The assent of Congress must carry considerable weight in any assessment of the legal status of the NSA program.

Reasonable men (and women) can disagree about this, of course. There was considerable disagreement about the NSA program within the Bush Justice Department itself. But such disagreement, one of the pretexts for the New York Times‘s decision to reveal the highly secret program, is not itself a sign of trouble but of health. If these matters were simple, there would be no need for an extensive legal bureaucracy to consider them. But in the final analysis a mere declaration by the New York Times or any other critic of the Bush administration that an intelligence program was illegal or unconstitutional does not make it so.

What are the proper limits of a president’s authority under Article II of the U.S. Constitution? The question is put squarely before the public by the release of a secret 2003 legal memorandum written by John Yoo inquiring whether a president could, among other things, order a prisoner’s eye to be poked out.

Yoo takes the view that the president’s powers as commander in chief in wartime are virtually unlimited, and can ride over federal statutes banning interrogation techniques like assault and maiming. The Justice Department disavowed this doctrine nine months after it was enunciated, and that seems entirely appropriate. Even in wartime, our constitutional history makes fairly clear that there are limits on what a president can do.

But where exactly do those limits reside? And how exactly do they bear on another controversy involving executive power: President Bush’s decision in late 2001 to authorize the National Security Agency to launch the Terrorist Surveillance Program. This program involved the interception of international calls between al-Qaeda suspects abroad and persons in the United States? Because the program seemingly violated the plain language of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and, as some also argue, the Fourth Amendment prohibition on warrantless searches, was it also every bit as much an overreach of executive power as the actions outlined in John Yoo’s torture memo?

The answer, in my view, is emphatically no.

To begin with, strong arguments have been made that to the extent FISA limited the president’s power, it was itself an unconstitutional usurpation of the president’s power. At first glance this assertion seems to be merely a restatement of Yoo’s thesis that the president’s powers are unlimited. But the difference is that for very good reason warrantless wiretapping in wartime has a long history in this country. For very good reason, legalized torture does not.

The numerous examples of warrantless searches carried out for foreign-policy purposes, some under taken by the Clinton administration even after FISA was on the books (as in the case of Aldrich Ames), suggest that the NSA activities are well within the boundaries of constitutionally acceptable wartime measures. That, in any case, was also the consensus of a panel of retired FISA court judges who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2006.

Second, Congress was repeatedly briefed about the NSA program over a period of years. Although one or two members expressed reservations, no formal objection was ever lodged. When the program was disclosed to the public by the New York Times in December 2005, members of Congress from both parties voiced dismay that a valuable counterterrorism program had been compromised. The assent of Congress must carry considerable weight in any assessment of the legal status of the NSA program.

Reasonable men (and women) can disagree about this, of course. There was considerable disagreement about the NSA program within the Bush Justice Department itself. But such disagreement, one of the pretexts for the New York Times‘s decision to reveal the highly secret program, is not itself a sign of trouble but of health. If these matters were simple, there would be no need for an extensive legal bureaucracy to consider them. But in the final analysis a mere declaration by the New York Times or any other critic of the Bush administration that an intelligence program was illegal or unconstitutional does not make it so.

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