Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 10, 2008

Iran, Running Free

Yesterday, an Iranian nuclear official announced that his country will inaugurate a uranium ore processing facility in Ardakan, in the central part of the country, within a year. On Tuesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran had begun to install 6,000 centrifuges at its enrichment plant at Natanz. These machines are in addition to the 3,000 centrifuges that are already operating there. While in Natanz, he also commemorated the National Day of Nuclear Technology and inspected the country’s “new generation” centrifuges at a research facility.

So what is the world doing to stop Iran? The five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany will meet sometime this month, possibly next week in Shanghai, to discuss sweetening incentives to Iran to stop enrichment. The international community offered a package of benefits in June 2006, but Iran has refused to discuss it. In short, the world, by sweetening its last offer, is negotiating with itself while Tehran continues its efforts to enrich uranium. “The Iranians have not been negotiating since at least the summer of 2005 and they don’t feel like they have to start now,” says George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Why should Ahmadinejad even talk to us when we are, as Perkovich notes, still in the process of outbidding ourselves?

While the members of the international community talk to each other, Ahmadinejad feels safe threatening the West with a “bloody nose,” as he did yesterday. And as a crowd chanted “Death to America,” the Iranian president said “The nation will slap you in the mouth.”

Where is the Bush administration while Iran is running free? I can understand why the President does not want to answer Ahmadinejad’s insulting comments, but he has an obligation to respond to the Iranian’s accelerated efforts to build an atomic device. And that’s exactly what Michael Hayden believes Iran is trying to do, as he told NBC’s Meet the Press at the end of last month. The CIA director reasons that, whether or not Iran dropped its bomb-building plans in the past, it looks like it is pursuing them now because it is willing “to pay the international tariff” to develop the capability to develop a nuclear weapon.

If Hayden is correct—and common sense says he is—then Bush administration inaction is especially troubling. Is the President staying quiet about the Iranians’ nuclear program so they will cooperate on Iraq? Has the White House given up and passed the Iran portfolio to Russia and China? Is Bush simply too tired to lead? The President at least owes the American public—and those who look to America for leadership—some answers.

Yesterday, an Iranian nuclear official announced that his country will inaugurate a uranium ore processing facility in Ardakan, in the central part of the country, within a year. On Tuesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran had begun to install 6,000 centrifuges at its enrichment plant at Natanz. These machines are in addition to the 3,000 centrifuges that are already operating there. While in Natanz, he also commemorated the National Day of Nuclear Technology and inspected the country’s “new generation” centrifuges at a research facility.

So what is the world doing to stop Iran? The five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany will meet sometime this month, possibly next week in Shanghai, to discuss sweetening incentives to Iran to stop enrichment. The international community offered a package of benefits in June 2006, but Iran has refused to discuss it. In short, the world, by sweetening its last offer, is negotiating with itself while Tehran continues its efforts to enrich uranium. “The Iranians have not been negotiating since at least the summer of 2005 and they don’t feel like they have to start now,” says George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Why should Ahmadinejad even talk to us when we are, as Perkovich notes, still in the process of outbidding ourselves?

While the members of the international community talk to each other, Ahmadinejad feels safe threatening the West with a “bloody nose,” as he did yesterday. And as a crowd chanted “Death to America,” the Iranian president said “The nation will slap you in the mouth.”

Where is the Bush administration while Iran is running free? I can understand why the President does not want to answer Ahmadinejad’s insulting comments, but he has an obligation to respond to the Iranian’s accelerated efforts to build an atomic device. And that’s exactly what Michael Hayden believes Iran is trying to do, as he told NBC’s Meet the Press at the end of last month. The CIA director reasons that, whether or not Iran dropped its bomb-building plans in the past, it looks like it is pursuing them now because it is willing “to pay the international tariff” to develop the capability to develop a nuclear weapon.

If Hayden is correct—and common sense says he is—then Bush administration inaction is especially troubling. Is the President staying quiet about the Iranians’ nuclear program so they will cooperate on Iraq? Has the White House given up and passed the Iran portfolio to Russia and China? Is Bush simply too tired to lead? The President at least owes the American public—and those who look to America for leadership—some answers.

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Worrying . . .

This Los Angeles Times report concerning Barack Obama’s relationship with the U.S. Palestinian community and his long-time friendship with Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi is worth a read.

Obama’s presence as a state senator at events in which Israel was denounced for practicing “terrorism” and his warm words of praise for Khalidi naturally left the Palestinian community believing he was sympathetic to their cause. Then came Obama’s emergence on the national stage, his presidential run and his efforts to assure the Jewish community and others that he is a stalwart defender of Israel. No more friendly meetings with Khalidi and Palestinian outreach events.

Campaign manager David Axelrod assures us that “in no way” have Obama’s private and public statements differed. But some are still concerned that his newly-expressed solicitude for Israel does not square with his associations or prior rhetoric (“nobody’s suffering more than the Palestinian people”). Somehow his hyperbole only increases my queasiness (h/t Instapundit).

Then there was Reverend Wright. As Abe Foxman of the ADL put it:

In the context of spending 20 years in a church where now it is clear the anti-Israel rhetoric was there, was repeated . . . that’s what makes his presence at an Arab American event with a Said a greater concern.

What to make of all this? Obama’s supporters will say this proves his ability to reach out to all sides. His critics will say this betrays a dangerous tendency to lead diametrically opposed camps to believe he is “with” each of them. Why dangerous? Because at some point, presidents must make their intentions and positions crystal clear and tell one side “no” or “yes” with total willingness to pay the costs inherent in any decision.

The worry here, I think, is that Obama believes geopolitics works like community activism. His lack of any foreign policy experience, combined with his track record of not standing up to anyone (including a ranting, race-baiting preacher), have given us plenty to worry about.

This Los Angeles Times report concerning Barack Obama’s relationship with the U.S. Palestinian community and his long-time friendship with Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi is worth a read.

Obama’s presence as a state senator at events in which Israel was denounced for practicing “terrorism” and his warm words of praise for Khalidi naturally left the Palestinian community believing he was sympathetic to their cause. Then came Obama’s emergence on the national stage, his presidential run and his efforts to assure the Jewish community and others that he is a stalwart defender of Israel. No more friendly meetings with Khalidi and Palestinian outreach events.

Campaign manager David Axelrod assures us that “in no way” have Obama’s private and public statements differed. But some are still concerned that his newly-expressed solicitude for Israel does not square with his associations or prior rhetoric (“nobody’s suffering more than the Palestinian people”). Somehow his hyperbole only increases my queasiness (h/t Instapundit).

Then there was Reverend Wright. As Abe Foxman of the ADL put it:

In the context of spending 20 years in a church where now it is clear the anti-Israel rhetoric was there, was repeated . . . that’s what makes his presence at an Arab American event with a Said a greater concern.

What to make of all this? Obama’s supporters will say this proves his ability to reach out to all sides. His critics will say this betrays a dangerous tendency to lead diametrically opposed camps to believe he is “with” each of them. Why dangerous? Because at some point, presidents must make their intentions and positions crystal clear and tell one side “no” or “yes” with total willingness to pay the costs inherent in any decision.

The worry here, I think, is that Obama believes geopolitics works like community activism. His lack of any foreign policy experience, combined with his track record of not standing up to anyone (including a ranting, race-baiting preacher), have given us plenty to worry about.

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McCain on The Economy

John McCain today provided the outlines of his proposed short-term fix for the housing crisis, along with hints about his plans for long-term economic growth.

The tightrope he must walk is this: provide concrete solutions without joining the stampede toward government intervention. And his proposals to reform unemployment insurance and job retraining must aim to calm fears without adopting traditional Democratic nostrums (e.g. extending the period of eligibility to collect unemployment benefits).

McCain, in essence, has put his toe in the pool of domestic policy salesmanship. A single speech, of course, will not be sufficient. He and his campaign must now embark on a full-scale effort to explain his views on domestic policy, differentiate himself from the Democrats, educate voters about his policy vision, and much more. That is the battlefield where he and his Democratic opponent will fight for the much-coveted independents.

It is a key step in moving from McCain’s comfort zone (foreign policy) to those issues which resonate most with voters. And next time, he would do better to have his policies fleshed out from the start.

John McCain today provided the outlines of his proposed short-term fix for the housing crisis, along with hints about his plans for long-term economic growth.

The tightrope he must walk is this: provide concrete solutions without joining the stampede toward government intervention. And his proposals to reform unemployment insurance and job retraining must aim to calm fears without adopting traditional Democratic nostrums (e.g. extending the period of eligibility to collect unemployment benefits).

McCain, in essence, has put his toe in the pool of domestic policy salesmanship. A single speech, of course, will not be sufficient. He and his campaign must now embark on a full-scale effort to explain his views on domestic policy, differentiate himself from the Democrats, educate voters about his policy vision, and much more. That is the battlefield where he and his Democratic opponent will fight for the much-coveted independents.

It is a key step in moving from McCain’s comfort zone (foreign policy) to those issues which resonate most with voters. And next time, he would do better to have his policies fleshed out from the start.

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Spurious Spurlock

“Super Size Me” creator Morgan Spurlock begins his new documentary by comparing the supposed trauma of learning he was about to become a father with the attacks on the World Trade Center.

“Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden,” a supposed comedy in which Spurlock tours various places in the Arab world and Israel (Morocco, Egypt, the West Bank, Tel Aviv, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and finally Afghanistan and Pakistan) begins with soaring-through-the-clouds airplane footage meant to evoke the point of view of the 9/11 attackers as they began their descent over New York City. In Spurlock’s narration, he speaks of how wonderful it is to experience the joy of waking up to realize it’s a beautiful day, only to be shocked when the whole thing is wiped out in a sudden unexpected moment. Cut to Spurlock’s wife announcing (in a moment obviously staged for the cameras) that she is pregnant.

Such bad taste is characteristic of the film, which is intended to downplay fears of terrorism and consequently is sure to delight the liberal press that praised every distortion in “Super Size Me.”

Spurlock’s vision is the squishy liberal view, the standard Westchester County wine-sipper’s wisdom, about the post-9/11 world. It isn’t that America is to blame for the attacks, exactly. But if only we were a little more sensitive to the suffering of the Arab world–if only we built them more schools and hospitals and resolved the Israeli/Palestinian issue and maybe sent them a card on Mother’s Day–they probably wouldn’t hate us.

In each country, Spurlock finds a couple of scholars and journalists to deliver that view. When he gets tired of listening to them he simply tells us in voice-over that we should think this, as we regard a cringe-inducing series of animated sequences in which Bin Laden and other terrorists are portrayed as dancin’ rappers or pictured on mock baseball cards (wearing caps with the AQ logo). This film is literally a cartoon version of the Islamist threat.

“Super Size Me” creator Morgan Spurlock begins his new documentary by comparing the supposed trauma of learning he was about to become a father with the attacks on the World Trade Center.

“Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden,” a supposed comedy in which Spurlock tours various places in the Arab world and Israel (Morocco, Egypt, the West Bank, Tel Aviv, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and finally Afghanistan and Pakistan) begins with soaring-through-the-clouds airplane footage meant to evoke the point of view of the 9/11 attackers as they began their descent over New York City. In Spurlock’s narration, he speaks of how wonderful it is to experience the joy of waking up to realize it’s a beautiful day, only to be shocked when the whole thing is wiped out in a sudden unexpected moment. Cut to Spurlock’s wife announcing (in a moment obviously staged for the cameras) that she is pregnant.

Such bad taste is characteristic of the film, which is intended to downplay fears of terrorism and consequently is sure to delight the liberal press that praised every distortion in “Super Size Me.”

Spurlock’s vision is the squishy liberal view, the standard Westchester County wine-sipper’s wisdom, about the post-9/11 world. It isn’t that America is to blame for the attacks, exactly. But if only we were a little more sensitive to the suffering of the Arab world–if only we built them more schools and hospitals and resolved the Israeli/Palestinian issue and maybe sent them a card on Mother’s Day–they probably wouldn’t hate us.

In each country, Spurlock finds a couple of scholars and journalists to deliver that view. When he gets tired of listening to them he simply tells us in voice-over that we should think this, as we regard a cringe-inducing series of animated sequences in which Bin Laden and other terrorists are portrayed as dancin’ rappers or pictured on mock baseball cards (wearing caps with the AQ logo). This film is literally a cartoon version of the Islamist threat.

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The Artificial Neocon

I know there are a few competing priorities, but at this moment in our long life as a nation I can think of no more urgent task for Congress than to pass emergency legislation banning the further use of the word “neocon.” At least until a committee of deep thinkers can get together to agree on a commonly accepted definition. (A starting point may be the Robert Kagan essay I referred to in an earlier posting.) Until that happens, its use will only continue to muddy and obfuscate the debate over otherwise important issues.

Exhibit 2,348,485 of this terminological confusion may be found on today’s front page of the New York Times. In an article entitled “2 Camps Trying to Influence McCain on Foreign Policy,” Times correspondents Elizabeth Bumiller and Larry Rohter posit a nonexistent death struggle between John McCain’s “neocon” advisers (including yours truly) and those of a more “pragmatic” bent. Several bloggers have already noted the article’s shoddy sourcing and tendentious nature.

For my part, I’m simply mystified by how Bumiller and Rohter decided to assign certain personages and policies and not others to the “neocon” camp. Why, for instance, is John Bolton a neocon and John Lehman a “pragmatist” (as the graphic that accompanies the article has it)? I have no idea–and I bet Bolton doesn’t either, since he has repeatedly said he’s not a neocon. Indeed, he’s been a vocal opponent of the idea that democracy promotion should be at the center of American foreign policy (as many neocons argue). A conservative yes, even a hawkish conservative, but not a neocon.

Support for the Iraq War cannot be the test of “neocon-ness.” It was supported by virtually all conservatives, neo- and otherwise, and by many liberals as well. Aware of this difficulty, Bumiller and Rohter imply that pragmatists display their superior wisdom by criticizing the conduct of the war effort. In assigning Colin Powell and Richard Armitage to the pragmatist camp, for example, they write:

While Mr. Powell and Mr. Armitage supported Mr. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq while they were in office, they have become critics of the management of the war.

By that standard, I’m a “pragmatist” too. So are Bob Kagan, Bill Kristol, Fred Kagan, and just about every other “neocon” you can think of.

Another test that Bumiller and Rohter seem to apply is willingness “to work more closely with allies” –something that pragmatists are for and neocons are supposedly against. Bumiller and Rohter write that, in a recent Los Angeles speech, McCain hewed to the pragmatist path because he “rejected the unilateralism that has been the hallmark of the Bush administration’s foreign policy in favor of what he called ‘being a good and reliable ally to our fellow democracies’.”

How do they square this with their earlier assertion that the “author who helped write much of the foreign policy speech that Mr. McCain delivered in Los Angeles on March 26″ was none other than arch-neocon Robert Kagan? Can it be that “neocons” might actually be in favor of working with other countries and not simply bombing them? What a revolutionary idea. Rest assured, it is not a thought that has ever entered the heads of the MSM–or at least affected their coverage.

I know there are a few competing priorities, but at this moment in our long life as a nation I can think of no more urgent task for Congress than to pass emergency legislation banning the further use of the word “neocon.” At least until a committee of deep thinkers can get together to agree on a commonly accepted definition. (A starting point may be the Robert Kagan essay I referred to in an earlier posting.) Until that happens, its use will only continue to muddy and obfuscate the debate over otherwise important issues.

Exhibit 2,348,485 of this terminological confusion may be found on today’s front page of the New York Times. In an article entitled “2 Camps Trying to Influence McCain on Foreign Policy,” Times correspondents Elizabeth Bumiller and Larry Rohter posit a nonexistent death struggle between John McCain’s “neocon” advisers (including yours truly) and those of a more “pragmatic” bent. Several bloggers have already noted the article’s shoddy sourcing and tendentious nature.

For my part, I’m simply mystified by how Bumiller and Rohter decided to assign certain personages and policies and not others to the “neocon” camp. Why, for instance, is John Bolton a neocon and John Lehman a “pragmatist” (as the graphic that accompanies the article has it)? I have no idea–and I bet Bolton doesn’t either, since he has repeatedly said he’s not a neocon. Indeed, he’s been a vocal opponent of the idea that democracy promotion should be at the center of American foreign policy (as many neocons argue). A conservative yes, even a hawkish conservative, but not a neocon.

Support for the Iraq War cannot be the test of “neocon-ness.” It was supported by virtually all conservatives, neo- and otherwise, and by many liberals as well. Aware of this difficulty, Bumiller and Rohter imply that pragmatists display their superior wisdom by criticizing the conduct of the war effort. In assigning Colin Powell and Richard Armitage to the pragmatist camp, for example, they write:

While Mr. Powell and Mr. Armitage supported Mr. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq while they were in office, they have become critics of the management of the war.

By that standard, I’m a “pragmatist” too. So are Bob Kagan, Bill Kristol, Fred Kagan, and just about every other “neocon” you can think of.

Another test that Bumiller and Rohter seem to apply is willingness “to work more closely with allies” –something that pragmatists are for and neocons are supposedly against. Bumiller and Rohter write that, in a recent Los Angeles speech, McCain hewed to the pragmatist path because he “rejected the unilateralism that has been the hallmark of the Bush administration’s foreign policy in favor of what he called ‘being a good and reliable ally to our fellow democracies’.”

How do they square this with their earlier assertion that the “author who helped write much of the foreign policy speech that Mr. McCain delivered in Los Angeles on March 26″ was none other than arch-neocon Robert Kagan? Can it be that “neocons” might actually be in favor of working with other countries and not simply bombing them? What a revolutionary idea. Rest assured, it is not a thought that has ever entered the heads of the MSM–or at least affected their coverage.

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Obama’s Lonely Planet Foreign Policy

Speaking in San Francisco this past Sunday, Barack Obama said:

Foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton and Senator McCain.

Kind of makes you wonder where he thinks he could use some work. In any case, what makes Obama so confident that he can tackle global crises? A college trip to Pakistan, of course. Here’s the New York Times:

. . . Mr. Obama also spoke about having traveled to Pakistan in the early 1980′s. Because of that trip, which he did not mention in either of his autobiographical books, “I knew what Sunni and Shia was before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” he said.

It must have been a rough trip!  Pakistan, after all, is the only country Obama has specifically talked about bombing.   Is he planning to cite a spring break trip to Daytona Beach as a source of authority on naval matters? A viewing of Ishtar as his point of entry into Mideast diplomacy?

Speaking in San Francisco this past Sunday, Barack Obama said:

Foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton and Senator McCain.

Kind of makes you wonder where he thinks he could use some work. In any case, what makes Obama so confident that he can tackle global crises? A college trip to Pakistan, of course. Here’s the New York Times:

. . . Mr. Obama also spoke about having traveled to Pakistan in the early 1980′s. Because of that trip, which he did not mention in either of his autobiographical books, “I knew what Sunni and Shia was before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” he said.

It must have been a rough trip!  Pakistan, after all, is the only country Obama has specifically talked about bombing.   Is he planning to cite a spring break trip to Daytona Beach as a source of authority on naval matters? A viewing of Ishtar as his point of entry into Mideast diplomacy?

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The Deceptive Security Of Early Polls

Internal GOP polling shows John McCain leading both of his potential rivals and enjoying a healthy advantage among independents. However–and this is a big however–GOP consultants do not expect this lead to withstand a post-nomination bump in the numbers of whomever the Democrats nominate.

The report suggests the GOP consultants are pleased to see McCain running ahead in a mythical “generic Republican vs. generic Democrat” race. But that’s consultant-think: he has to come out ahead of his real opponent. Poll-wonks are convinced that McCain’s advantage lies in his atypical GOP profile and his personal characteristics: even Democratic polling reveals that McCain’s greatest strength is his reputation as “a man of integrity.”

But herein lies a trap for the McCain team: the temptation to run on biography alone. Biographical campaigns did not treat Bob Dole or John Kerry well. And it seems foolhardy to say “We’ll take the biography; let the Democrats take the issues.” The danger with that is that Americans will end up voting for the candidate speaking to their issues and concerns. (It may also overlook the lesson of Rudy Giuliani’s campaign: sky high early polling numbers for a national hero can melt away overnight.)

Moreover, such a tactic may misinterpret why McCain is ahead, even preliminarily, and why his public approval ratings are high. McCain enraged the Right but endeared himself to others during his career not because of his war record but because of the stands he took on issues. By combining traditional Republican virtues (e.g. spending restraint) with decidedly unconventional positions (e.g. campaign reform, immigration reform and global warming) he carved out an identity entirely apart from his war record. To now revert to a mushy, issue-less appeal would risk discarding that carefully-constructed advantage.

But the race has not yet begun, an opponent has not yet been selected, and the chance for the McCain team to make the race about something still remains. Or they could just re-run the Dole campaign and hope for the best.

Internal GOP polling shows John McCain leading both of his potential rivals and enjoying a healthy advantage among independents. However–and this is a big however–GOP consultants do not expect this lead to withstand a post-nomination bump in the numbers of whomever the Democrats nominate.

The report suggests the GOP consultants are pleased to see McCain running ahead in a mythical “generic Republican vs. generic Democrat” race. But that’s consultant-think: he has to come out ahead of his real opponent. Poll-wonks are convinced that McCain’s advantage lies in his atypical GOP profile and his personal characteristics: even Democratic polling reveals that McCain’s greatest strength is his reputation as “a man of integrity.”

But herein lies a trap for the McCain team: the temptation to run on biography alone. Biographical campaigns did not treat Bob Dole or John Kerry well. And it seems foolhardy to say “We’ll take the biography; let the Democrats take the issues.” The danger with that is that Americans will end up voting for the candidate speaking to their issues and concerns. (It may also overlook the lesson of Rudy Giuliani’s campaign: sky high early polling numbers for a national hero can melt away overnight.)

Moreover, such a tactic may misinterpret why McCain is ahead, even preliminarily, and why his public approval ratings are high. McCain enraged the Right but endeared himself to others during his career not because of his war record but because of the stands he took on issues. By combining traditional Republican virtues (e.g. spending restraint) with decidedly unconventional positions (e.g. campaign reform, immigration reform and global warming) he carved out an identity entirely apart from his war record. To now revert to a mushy, issue-less appeal would risk discarding that carefully-constructed advantage.

But the race has not yet begun, an opponent has not yet been selected, and the chance for the McCain team to make the race about something still remains. Or they could just re-run the Dole campaign and hope for the best.

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The Secret History of Neoconservatism

The furor over the supposedly perfidious influence of “neocons” in the making of Bush foreign policy seems to have died down a bit. But it will nevertheless remain part of the lasting legend about this administration. Bob Kagan, one of our foremost foreign policy sages, has a must-read article on the subject in the latest issue of Lawrence Kaplan’s new foreign policy quarterly, World Affairs.

Kagan makes many valuable points, but in essence his argument is that there is absolutely nothing new or foreign about the “neocon” vision—combining power with idealism to make the defense of democracy a central tenet of American policy. The more fevered critics of the neocons insist on explaining their world view with reference to Leon Trotsky, Leo Strauss, and other philosophers of marginal influence in modern America. (I can’t speak for anyone else, but I personally have never read a single book by either Trotsky or Strauss.) They would be better advised, Kagan notes, to look to figures as varied as Alexander Hamilton, William Seward, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Dean Acheson, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan, all of whom advocated an expansive vision of America’s role in the world.

The opposing viewpoint—which denounces American “imperialism” and abjures the defense of liberty abroad—has an equally long history.  It lists among its proponents not only modern-day neocon-bashers such as Michael Moore and Pat Buchanan, but also such illustrious predecessors as the “progressive” historians Charles Beard and William Appleman Williams and realpolitik thinkers like Hans Morgenthau and Walter Lippmann.

Nor is this the first time that the more fevered critics of the war effort have wound up charging that the country was “lied” into war by nefarious conspirators. Today it’s neocons. In the past it was banana companies, “merchants of death,” and international bankers. Such assertions have been heard about the Spanish-American War, World War I, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. (In other words, after every conflict that has turned out to be tougher than anticipated.) Even when it came to World War II, some die-hard isolationists accused FDR of somehow forcing Japan to fight us and of deliberately not warning Pearl Harbor in advance of the attack.

Kagan does not deny that folly and miscalculation played a large role in planning the Iraq War. But, as he notes, there is nothing unique about America being overweening or imprudent in the pursuit of its ideals. The only way to avoid such setbacks is to pursue an isolationist or narrowly realpolitik agenda—which would wind up causing us far greater problems in the long run.

The furor over the supposedly perfidious influence of “neocons” in the making of Bush foreign policy seems to have died down a bit. But it will nevertheless remain part of the lasting legend about this administration. Bob Kagan, one of our foremost foreign policy sages, has a must-read article on the subject in the latest issue of Lawrence Kaplan’s new foreign policy quarterly, World Affairs.

Kagan makes many valuable points, but in essence his argument is that there is absolutely nothing new or foreign about the “neocon” vision—combining power with idealism to make the defense of democracy a central tenet of American policy. The more fevered critics of the neocons insist on explaining their world view with reference to Leon Trotsky, Leo Strauss, and other philosophers of marginal influence in modern America. (I can’t speak for anyone else, but I personally have never read a single book by either Trotsky or Strauss.) They would be better advised, Kagan notes, to look to figures as varied as Alexander Hamilton, William Seward, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Dean Acheson, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan, all of whom advocated an expansive vision of America’s role in the world.

The opposing viewpoint—which denounces American “imperialism” and abjures the defense of liberty abroad—has an equally long history.  It lists among its proponents not only modern-day neocon-bashers such as Michael Moore and Pat Buchanan, but also such illustrious predecessors as the “progressive” historians Charles Beard and William Appleman Williams and realpolitik thinkers like Hans Morgenthau and Walter Lippmann.

Nor is this the first time that the more fevered critics of the war effort have wound up charging that the country was “lied” into war by nefarious conspirators. Today it’s neocons. In the past it was banana companies, “merchants of death,” and international bankers. Such assertions have been heard about the Spanish-American War, World War I, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. (In other words, after every conflict that has turned out to be tougher than anticipated.) Even when it came to World War II, some die-hard isolationists accused FDR of somehow forcing Japan to fight us and of deliberately not warning Pearl Harbor in advance of the attack.

Kagan does not deny that folly and miscalculation played a large role in planning the Iraq War. But, as he notes, there is nothing unique about America being overweening or imprudent in the pursuit of its ideals. The only way to avoid such setbacks is to pursue an isolationist or narrowly realpolitik agenda—which would wind up causing us far greater problems in the long run.

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Where Hysteria Rules

Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan took me to task for my delusional “complacency” about America’s image in the eyes of the world. (Earlier in the day, I had written of Camille Paglia: “If Ms. Paglia finds the U.S.’s ‘reputation in tatters,’ she’s describing some internal or personal state of perception.”)

America’s commitment to a drawn-out, asymmetrical, multi-theater war with a global enemy has thrown up an array of sticky challenges. One of them is securing the ongoing commitment of allies. But Paglia’s (and Sullivan’s) hysteria is another matter.

Among whom, exactly, has the U.S.’s reputation taken this alleged dramatic downturn? Spain; Iran and Syria, the enjoyment of whose friendships would be both a disgrace and a functional liability; the totalitarian Hugo Chavez, whose loathing the U.S. should wear as a badge of honor.

Canada’s conservative government continues to pledge troops to the Afghanistan fight, though there are some grumblings there about creeping American fascism. Yet these come from the same quarters that hold state-sponsored censorship hearings in the name of human rights.

There is, of course, the case of Vladimir Putin and Russia. But can the chill emanating from Moscow really be chalked up to cowboy diplomacy? If anything, George Bush has been too trusting and deferential towards the Russian president.

North Korea is everyone’s problem, and will remain so no matter who is in office, even if it’s Barack Obama.

It’s worth pointing out who likes us, too. The Brits under Brown are still fighting with us. France under Sarkozy has taken an unprecedentedly pro-American stance, even upping its contribution to active NATO forces in Afghanistan. Germany’s Angela Merkel is no longer cringing away from George Bush, as she was a couple of years back. Eastern Europe seems fairly content to have the U.S. erecting a protective missile shield there. Bush’s decision to share nuclear technology with India has ushered in a new age of economic and diplomatic comity with the sub-continent. U.S. aid to Africa over the past seven years has made Bush an adored personage continent-wide.

Yet unless you admit the sky is falling, Sullivan diagnoses you as delusional and moves on to the next Obama convert who “gets it,”who understands that Obama’s willingness to talk to everyone (and trade with no one) will repair America’s tattered image.

This is the bi-polar political impulse that’s characterized Sullivan’s work since 9/11. The Iraq War was the bravest, most thoughtful, most promising exercise of military might in modern history–until it was the biggest moral and strategic catastrophe America had ever seen. To find yourself in the path of Sullivan’s hyperbolic pendulum only means that you’ll find yourself there again when it swings from the other direction. In time, even I will presumably “get it.”

Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan took me to task for my delusional “complacency” about America’s image in the eyes of the world. (Earlier in the day, I had written of Camille Paglia: “If Ms. Paglia finds the U.S.’s ‘reputation in tatters,’ she’s describing some internal or personal state of perception.”)

America’s commitment to a drawn-out, asymmetrical, multi-theater war with a global enemy has thrown up an array of sticky challenges. One of them is securing the ongoing commitment of allies. But Paglia’s (and Sullivan’s) hysteria is another matter.

Among whom, exactly, has the U.S.’s reputation taken this alleged dramatic downturn? Spain; Iran and Syria, the enjoyment of whose friendships would be both a disgrace and a functional liability; the totalitarian Hugo Chavez, whose loathing the U.S. should wear as a badge of honor.

Canada’s conservative government continues to pledge troops to the Afghanistan fight, though there are some grumblings there about creeping American fascism. Yet these come from the same quarters that hold state-sponsored censorship hearings in the name of human rights.

There is, of course, the case of Vladimir Putin and Russia. But can the chill emanating from Moscow really be chalked up to cowboy diplomacy? If anything, George Bush has been too trusting and deferential towards the Russian president.

North Korea is everyone’s problem, and will remain so no matter who is in office, even if it’s Barack Obama.

It’s worth pointing out who likes us, too. The Brits under Brown are still fighting with us. France under Sarkozy has taken an unprecedentedly pro-American stance, even upping its contribution to active NATO forces in Afghanistan. Germany’s Angela Merkel is no longer cringing away from George Bush, as she was a couple of years back. Eastern Europe seems fairly content to have the U.S. erecting a protective missile shield there. Bush’s decision to share nuclear technology with India has ushered in a new age of economic and diplomatic comity with the sub-continent. U.S. aid to Africa over the past seven years has made Bush an adored personage continent-wide.

Yet unless you admit the sky is falling, Sullivan diagnoses you as delusional and moves on to the next Obama convert who “gets it,”who understands that Obama’s willingness to talk to everyone (and trade with no one) will repair America’s tattered image.

This is the bi-polar political impulse that’s characterized Sullivan’s work since 9/11. The Iraq War was the bravest, most thoughtful, most promising exercise of military might in modern history–until it was the biggest moral and strategic catastrophe America had ever seen. To find yourself in the path of Sullivan’s hyperbolic pendulum only means that you’ll find yourself there again when it swings from the other direction. In time, even I will presumably “get it.”

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On Christian Zionism

According to a new poll, fully 82 percent of American Christians believe they have a “moral and biblical” obligation to support Israel. This support crosses denominational lines: 89 percent of evangelicals and 76 percent of Catholics agree with the statement. Fully half of all Christians are against any division of Jerusalem, as opposed to 17 percent who support it.

This data creates a difficult question for Rabbi Eric Yoffie, leader of the Reform movement in Judaism, who recently engaged in a nasty public exchange with the evangelical Rev. John Hagee. Hagee supports Israel, opposes the division of Jerusalem, and generally takes positions than can be labeled, in Israeli terms, as right-wing. Yoffie, a diehard fan of the peace process and a supporter of dividing Jerusalem, told his followers that an alliance with Christian Zionists like Hagee is intolerable, and that Hagee’s group, Christians United for Israel, is “extremist.”

There is nothing new in American Jewish discomfort with Christian Zionism. It stems, I think, from a fear of proselytizing and latent anti-Semitism, which today makes almost no sense at all. I can understand liberal Jews opposing conservative Christians on American political issues. They really do have differing views on what America should look like. But to reject an alliance with Christian Zionists on the grounds that they don’t support the particular peace-process policies that most Reform Jews do, or that some such Christians entertain the belief that in the end times all Jews will convert, is to blind oneself to the basic strategic struggle that the Jewish state faces. In liberal terms, it is intolerant. In Zionist terms, it is cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

By placing his commitment to particular political positions ahead of support for Israel itself, Yoffie risks becoming the chief critic of Israel’s most consistent and influential allies in the world. Why on earth?

According to a new poll, fully 82 percent of American Christians believe they have a “moral and biblical” obligation to support Israel. This support crosses denominational lines: 89 percent of evangelicals and 76 percent of Catholics agree with the statement. Fully half of all Christians are against any division of Jerusalem, as opposed to 17 percent who support it.

This data creates a difficult question for Rabbi Eric Yoffie, leader of the Reform movement in Judaism, who recently engaged in a nasty public exchange with the evangelical Rev. John Hagee. Hagee supports Israel, opposes the division of Jerusalem, and generally takes positions than can be labeled, in Israeli terms, as right-wing. Yoffie, a diehard fan of the peace process and a supporter of dividing Jerusalem, told his followers that an alliance with Christian Zionists like Hagee is intolerable, and that Hagee’s group, Christians United for Israel, is “extremist.”

There is nothing new in American Jewish discomfort with Christian Zionism. It stems, I think, from a fear of proselytizing and latent anti-Semitism, which today makes almost no sense at all. I can understand liberal Jews opposing conservative Christians on American political issues. They really do have differing views on what America should look like. But to reject an alliance with Christian Zionists on the grounds that they don’t support the particular peace-process policies that most Reform Jews do, or that some such Christians entertain the belief that in the end times all Jews will convert, is to blind oneself to the basic strategic struggle that the Jewish state faces. In liberal terms, it is intolerant. In Zionist terms, it is cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

By placing his commitment to particular political positions ahead of support for Israel itself, Yoffie risks becoming the chief critic of Israel’s most consistent and influential allies in the world. Why on earth?

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Obama and Webb?

Here is my prediction: Barack Obama will choose Jim Webb to be his vice-presidential running-mate. Both logic and a not-so-subtle clue make this seem likely.

The logic part is easy. As a former secretary of the navy under Ronald Reagan and a highly decorated combat veteran of Vietnam, the Senator from Virginia can be sold to voters as at least as ready as John McCain to answer the telephone at 3AM should it ring. This certainly won’t fill the gap left by Obama’s own dearth of foreign-policy and military experience, but nothing will.  

As for the clue part, Obama has made a point of pressing for negotiations with anyone and everyone, even if they head regimes engaged in supporting terrorism, supplying arms to insurgents killing American soldiers, and acquiring nuclear weapons.

Webb has been busy bringing himself into synch. On This Week with George Stephanopolous, Webb pointed out that he had been shot at in Vietnam with weapons made in China, which didn’t preclude talking to Beijing:

We developed a diplomatic relationship with China that over the years paid out. And the greatest mistake over the past five years of this occupation is that our national leadership has not found a way to aggressively engage Iran without taking other options off the table.

Of course, the idea of talking to anyone and everyone is  proving to be a delicate one, made all the more tricky by Jimmy Carter’s mission to Damascus to meet with Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas.

An spokesman for his campaign says that Obama “does not agree with President Carter’s decision to go forward with this meeting because he does not support negotiations with Hamas until they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and abide by past agreements.”

But how about Ahmadinejad? Has he renounced terrorism, recognized Israel’s right to exist, and abided by its agreements, including, most importantly, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? And if the answer to these questions is no, why would Obama meet with him?

James Webb is very smart. But even if he is chosen for the Veep slot, he is not going to help Obama find a way to resolve the contradiction brought into plain view by our worst ex-president.  �

Here is my prediction: Barack Obama will choose Jim Webb to be his vice-presidential running-mate. Both logic and a not-so-subtle clue make this seem likely.

The logic part is easy. As a former secretary of the navy under Ronald Reagan and a highly decorated combat veteran of Vietnam, the Senator from Virginia can be sold to voters as at least as ready as John McCain to answer the telephone at 3AM should it ring. This certainly won’t fill the gap left by Obama’s own dearth of foreign-policy and military experience, but nothing will.  

As for the clue part, Obama has made a point of pressing for negotiations with anyone and everyone, even if they head regimes engaged in supporting terrorism, supplying arms to insurgents killing American soldiers, and acquiring nuclear weapons.

Webb has been busy bringing himself into synch. On This Week with George Stephanopolous, Webb pointed out that he had been shot at in Vietnam with weapons made in China, which didn’t preclude talking to Beijing:

We developed a diplomatic relationship with China that over the years paid out. And the greatest mistake over the past five years of this occupation is that our national leadership has not found a way to aggressively engage Iran without taking other options off the table.

Of course, the idea of talking to anyone and everyone is  proving to be a delicate one, made all the more tricky by Jimmy Carter’s mission to Damascus to meet with Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas.

An spokesman for his campaign says that Obama “does not agree with President Carter’s decision to go forward with this meeting because he does not support negotiations with Hamas until they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and abide by past agreements.”

But how about Ahmadinejad? Has he renounced terrorism, recognized Israel’s right to exist, and abided by its agreements, including, most importantly, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? And if the answer to these questions is no, why would Obama meet with him?

James Webb is very smart. But even if he is chosen for the Veep slot, he is not going to help Obama find a way to resolve the contradiction brought into plain view by our worst ex-president.  �

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Switching Places

Back in March, John McCain gave a foreign policy address (well-received by liberal and conservative pundits) meant to distance himself from the Bush administration. In it, he emphasized multilateralism and other concerns not traditionally associated with Republicans.

Whether the differences between McCain and Bush are that great–and whether the second Bush term has really been so unilateral–is debatable. But it is incontrovertibly smart politics for McCain to argue that he is not Dubya Mark II. How successful he is at convincing people of this will, in large part, determine the outcome of the election.

Barack Obama might have a similar problem: how to show he is not a standard liberal Democrat on international affairs. On Iraq, at least to date, he has not dared to deviate from the “retreat now” demands of the Democratic base. Nevertheless, he has done his (somewhat confused) best to shed the liberal image of excessive deference to other nations. He’s threatened our allies with withdrawal from NAFTA and dumped on a nation under siege by Hugo Chavez.

This seems a strange way to establish his national security bona fides: there is no constituency for “angering our allies.” Nevertheless, as a function of his inability to stand up to Big Labor, he finds himself adopting foreign policy stances that have already annoyed foreign governments. This is all strangely reminiscent of Bush’s oft-ridiculed “cowboy diplomacy.” (Remember the hue and cry when Bush withdrew from the ABM treaty?)

Back in March, John McCain gave a foreign policy address (well-received by liberal and conservative pundits) meant to distance himself from the Bush administration. In it, he emphasized multilateralism and other concerns not traditionally associated with Republicans.

Whether the differences between McCain and Bush are that great–and whether the second Bush term has really been so unilateral–is debatable. But it is incontrovertibly smart politics for McCain to argue that he is not Dubya Mark II. How successful he is at convincing people of this will, in large part, determine the outcome of the election.

Barack Obama might have a similar problem: how to show he is not a standard liberal Democrat on international affairs. On Iraq, at least to date, he has not dared to deviate from the “retreat now” demands of the Democratic base. Nevertheless, he has done his (somewhat confused) best to shed the liberal image of excessive deference to other nations. He’s threatened our allies with withdrawal from NAFTA and dumped on a nation under siege by Hugo Chavez.

This seems a strange way to establish his national security bona fides: there is no constituency for “angering our allies.” Nevertheless, as a function of his inability to stand up to Big Labor, he finds himself adopting foreign policy stances that have already annoyed foreign governments. This is all strangely reminiscent of Bush’s oft-ridiculed “cowboy diplomacy.” (Remember the hue and cry when Bush withdrew from the ABM treaty?)

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Hamas’s Terror Army

Just in case you were wondering how much Hamas has built up its military in the last few years, a new intelligence estimate puts its armed fighting force in the Gaza strip now at about 20,000 soldiers, including many who trained in Syria and Iran. It’s a hell of a lot of guns for a piece of land roughly the size of Brooklyn and Queens combined, with a much smaller population. Every day Hamas looks less like a “terrorist group” and more like a terror army: think the PLO in the 1980′s or Hezbollah today.

Just in case you were wondering how much Hamas has built up its military in the last few years, a new intelligence estimate puts its armed fighting force in the Gaza strip now at about 20,000 soldiers, including many who trained in Syria and Iran. It’s a hell of a lot of guns for a piece of land roughly the size of Brooklyn and Queens combined, with a much smaller population. Every day Hamas looks less like a “terrorist group” and more like a terror army: think the PLO in the 1980′s or Hezbollah today.

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Next Thing She’ll Be Caught At A USO Show

First, Mark Penn was discovered consorting with a fragile democratic ally on a trade deal clearly in the interest of the U.S. Next, they uncovered Hillary Clinton’s nefarious past affiliation with a huge domestic employer that has provided affordable products (low cost prescription drugs, even) to millions of working-class Americans. Only in a Democratic party convinced that free trade is bad and that its voting base’s favorite store is evil could Clinton be trapped in her current vortex of guilt by association.

Some would say that she is getting her just desserts: having joined the protectionist/populist mob, she now is feeling its wrath. She can complain all she likes about a double standard that vilifies her for fictional sins while allowing Obama to slide by. But the unfairness is beside the point.

The media (and, increasingly, Democratic voters) seem to be tiring of her. Each new bit of material, whatever its merits, becomes one more drip in the torrent of bad news. Reversing that narrative seems to be an ever-steeper uphill fight.

First, Mark Penn was discovered consorting with a fragile democratic ally on a trade deal clearly in the interest of the U.S. Next, they uncovered Hillary Clinton’s nefarious past affiliation with a huge domestic employer that has provided affordable products (low cost prescription drugs, even) to millions of working-class Americans. Only in a Democratic party convinced that free trade is bad and that its voting base’s favorite store is evil could Clinton be trapped in her current vortex of guilt by association.

Some would say that she is getting her just desserts: having joined the protectionist/populist mob, she now is feeling its wrath. She can complain all she likes about a double standard that vilifies her for fictional sins while allowing Obama to slide by. But the unfairness is beside the point.

The media (and, increasingly, Democratic voters) seem to be tiring of her. Each new bit of material, whatever its merits, becomes one more drip in the torrent of bad news. Reversing that narrative seems to be an ever-steeper uphill fight.

Read Less




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