Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 27, 2008

IOC: Stop Bothering China

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge is asking the world to stop bothering China on issues such as human rights. “You don’t obtain anything in China with a loud voice,” he said in an interview appearing Friday on the website of the Financial Times. “That is the big mistake of people in the west wanting to add their views. To keep face is of paramount importance. All the Chinese specialists will tell you that only one thing works-respectful, quiet but firm discussion.”

Really? Rogge, echoing the view of China’s Communist Party as carried in People’s Daily, was speaking in the context of protests that for more than a month have dogged the Olympic torch relay, starting with the flame-lighting ceremony in Greece. He raises the broader issue: How should the world deal with China today?

It is true that China will change on its own. The Chinese people are in the midst of the process of both shedding their self-image as outsiders and ending their traditional role as adversaries of the existing global order. There is unimaginable societal change at unheard of speed thanks to the energy and enthusiasm of China’s 1.5 billion or so restless souls. They are making a “kinetic dash into the future” without so much as a roadmap or compass. If there is any cause for optimism in the world today, it is that the Chinese people are aware, assertive, and confident.

But they are not yet in charge. Unfortunately for them, nine men in blue suits and red ties sit at the apex of political power on the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee. These modern autocrats, more than anyone else, are standing in the way of transformation of the Chinese nation.

They have been able to do so and stay in power because they have been ruthlessly pragmatic. They, like all successful leaders, can be flexible when they must. In other words, they react to pressure. As Arthur Waldron has been pointing out recently, they just bowed to global sentiment by agreeing to talk to representatives of the Dalai Lama. And almost universal African defiance of Beijing’s wishes has forced China’s leaders to give up their attempt to deliver arms to the repugnant Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

So if we want China to change now–and not years from now when it will be too late–the world has no choice but to convince the country’s leaders that the price of resistance is too high. Rogge is right insofar as he notes that the Chinese are concerned about world opinion. When the international community has been united in the past, Beijing has almost invariably modified its behavior. So if we want those nine Chinese autocrats to change their abhorrent policies and practices of today, we must give them no choice at this moment but to do the right thing.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge is asking the world to stop bothering China on issues such as human rights. “You don’t obtain anything in China with a loud voice,” he said in an interview appearing Friday on the website of the Financial Times. “That is the big mistake of people in the west wanting to add their views. To keep face is of paramount importance. All the Chinese specialists will tell you that only one thing works-respectful, quiet but firm discussion.”

Really? Rogge, echoing the view of China’s Communist Party as carried in People’s Daily, was speaking in the context of protests that for more than a month have dogged the Olympic torch relay, starting with the flame-lighting ceremony in Greece. He raises the broader issue: How should the world deal with China today?

It is true that China will change on its own. The Chinese people are in the midst of the process of both shedding their self-image as outsiders and ending their traditional role as adversaries of the existing global order. There is unimaginable societal change at unheard of speed thanks to the energy and enthusiasm of China’s 1.5 billion or so restless souls. They are making a “kinetic dash into the future” without so much as a roadmap or compass. If there is any cause for optimism in the world today, it is that the Chinese people are aware, assertive, and confident.

But they are not yet in charge. Unfortunately for them, nine men in blue suits and red ties sit at the apex of political power on the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee. These modern autocrats, more than anyone else, are standing in the way of transformation of the Chinese nation.

They have been able to do so and stay in power because they have been ruthlessly pragmatic. They, like all successful leaders, can be flexible when they must. In other words, they react to pressure. As Arthur Waldron has been pointing out recently, they just bowed to global sentiment by agreeing to talk to representatives of the Dalai Lama. And almost universal African defiance of Beijing’s wishes has forced China’s leaders to give up their attempt to deliver arms to the repugnant Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

So if we want China to change now–and not years from now when it will be too late–the world has no choice but to convince the country’s leaders that the price of resistance is too high. Rogge is right insofar as he notes that the Chinese are concerned about world opinion. When the international community has been united in the past, Beijing has almost invariably modified its behavior. So if we want those nine Chinese autocrats to change their abhorrent policies and practices of today, we must give them no choice at this moment but to do the right thing.

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The Free Flow of Classified Information Act

Given his particular set of credentials in national security, it is not a surprise that John McCain understands the critical need for secrecy in the conduct of foreign and military policy.  He has, for example, sharply criticized the New York Times for its December 2005 decision to reveal the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program, the highly classified effort to intercept the international telephone and email communications of al-Qaeda terrorists.  “I understand completely why the government charged with defending our security would want to discourage that from happening and hold the people who disclosed that damaging information accountable for their action,” McCain told an audience in Arlington, Virginia, on April 13.But exactly how is the government to uncover who the disclosers are? One way would be for it to issue a subpoena to the journalists who broke the story and ask them before a grand jury, under pain of a contempt citation, to disgorge the names of their confidential sources. That is precisely what the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald did in issuing a subpoena to Judith Miller of the New York Times as he investigated the leak of the identity of the ostensibly undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. Miller spent 85 days in jail refusing to comply with the subpoena before she changed her mind and identified Scooter Libby as her source.

A bill now before Congress would exempt journalists from having to testify in such cases. The bill is called the Free Flow of Information Act, but a better name might be the Free Flow of Classified Information Act. By making it almost impossible to apprehend leakers in government, the flow of highly secret information, already substantial, is likely to grow into a flood.  Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are both supporting this legislation. So, also, is — of all people — John McCain. In addition to criticizing it sharply–he has called it “a license to do harm, perhaps serious harm,” he has also performed a pirouette to praise it as “a license to do good; to disclose injustice and unlawfulness and inequities; and to encourage their swift correction.”

McCain’s effort to have it both ways is either evidence of serious intellectual confusion or shabby political calculation. For its part, the New York Times is insisting that without the law, the flow of news will slow and the public’s “right to know” will be seriously impaired.

I have sought to explain some of the problems with this contention in several articles: Why Journalists Are Not Above the LawA License to Leak and Not Every Leak is Fit To Print. Whatever one makes of my conclusions, the assertion by the Times that the news will dry up without a shield law is a ridiculous position for a newspaper that is currently in the process of slashing its staff by a hundred editors and reporters. Unless its newsroom is currently populated by a forest of deadwood, those cuts will limit its ability to report the news far more than the purely hypothetical loss of stories caused by the absence of a shield law.

Given his particular set of credentials in national security, it is not a surprise that John McCain understands the critical need for secrecy in the conduct of foreign and military policy.  He has, for example, sharply criticized the New York Times for its December 2005 decision to reveal the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program, the highly classified effort to intercept the international telephone and email communications of al-Qaeda terrorists.  “I understand completely why the government charged with defending our security would want to discourage that from happening and hold the people who disclosed that damaging information accountable for their action,” McCain told an audience in Arlington, Virginia, on April 13.But exactly how is the government to uncover who the disclosers are? One way would be for it to issue a subpoena to the journalists who broke the story and ask them before a grand jury, under pain of a contempt citation, to disgorge the names of their confidential sources. That is precisely what the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald did in issuing a subpoena to Judith Miller of the New York Times as he investigated the leak of the identity of the ostensibly undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. Miller spent 85 days in jail refusing to comply with the subpoena before she changed her mind and identified Scooter Libby as her source.

A bill now before Congress would exempt journalists from having to testify in such cases. The bill is called the Free Flow of Information Act, but a better name might be the Free Flow of Classified Information Act. By making it almost impossible to apprehend leakers in government, the flow of highly secret information, already substantial, is likely to grow into a flood.  Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are both supporting this legislation. So, also, is — of all people — John McCain. In addition to criticizing it sharply–he has called it “a license to do harm, perhaps serious harm,” he has also performed a pirouette to praise it as “a license to do good; to disclose injustice and unlawfulness and inequities; and to encourage their swift correction.”

McCain’s effort to have it both ways is either evidence of serious intellectual confusion or shabby political calculation. For its part, the New York Times is insisting that without the law, the flow of news will slow and the public’s “right to know” will be seriously impaired.

I have sought to explain some of the problems with this contention in several articles: Why Journalists Are Not Above the LawA License to Leak and Not Every Leak is Fit To Print. Whatever one makes of my conclusions, the assertion by the Times that the news will dry up without a shield law is a ridiculous position for a newspaper that is currently in the process of slashing its staff by a hundred editors and reporters. Unless its newsroom is currently populated by a forest of deadwood, those cuts will limit its ability to report the news far more than the purely hypothetical loss of stories caused by the absence of a shield law.

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Integrity as Strategy

Here’s the standard take on how the dragged-out Democratic primary will effect the general election: As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama cut each other down, they do John McCain’s work for him. Those two continue to relentlessly bloody each other up, so that by the time one of them goes up against McCain he or she will be a publicly diminished and weakened Democrat with a considerable percentage of detractors within his or her own party ready to vote Republican or stay home. Furthermore, the Democratic Party itself will be in a state of convalescence and in no shape for battle.

Lately, some Democrats have offered a more optimistic interpretation of things. Frank Rich covers this alternative read in today’s New York Times:

The counterargument, advanced by Mrs. Clinton in justifying her “kitchen sink” attacks on Mr. Obama, is that the Democrats are better off being tested now by raising all the issues the Republicans will. It’s a fair point. The Wright, Rezko, Ayers, “bittergate” and flag-pin firestorms will all be revived by the opposition come fall.

But will they? That assumption puts John McCain’s objection to the North Carolina GOP ad featuring Rev. Wright and Obama in strategic perspective. If the Democrats’ slugfest is to serve as a sort of preemptive self-vetting, then McCain’s best bet is to attack the Democratic nominee from a different—untested—angle than any that’s been used during the primary. In this light, things are even worse for the Democrats than the standard interpretation conveys. One Democratic candidate will come to the general election having already taken a big hit on a critical front: character. (Obama would be plagued by the issues Rich mentions; Hillary would lumber under the weight of Snipergate, identity cynicism, dirty pool, and her husband’s outbursts.) With the public perception of his opponent’s character already so compromised, McCain can focus on policy differences—which is exactly what he said he hopes to do. This accomplishes at least two things: it frees up campaign energy to be used more efficiently on critical substantive points, and it makes him look like a breath of clean fresh air compared to the Dems’ nastiness. Not only will the Democrats have brought McCain’s opponents character flaws to the surface, they will have given McCain a campaign blueprint by contrast, saying essentially, “Don’t sully yourself like we did. After nearly a year spent harping on identity and playing ‘gotcha!’ we have nothing to show but an unexpected dip in Democratic support.”

For sure, many in the Republican establishment will continue to hammer at the Democrats on the lurid issues raised during the primary. But, as McCain demonstrated in objecting to the North Carolina ad, he has no problem calling party members out on this. That too can be put to use as an advantage. For every time John McCain tells a GOP mouthpiece to avoid cheap shots or divisiveness, he feeds the growing impression among Democratic voters that for a Republican he’s not that bad.

Here’s the standard take on how the dragged-out Democratic primary will effect the general election: As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama cut each other down, they do John McCain’s work for him. Those two continue to relentlessly bloody each other up, so that by the time one of them goes up against McCain he or she will be a publicly diminished and weakened Democrat with a considerable percentage of detractors within his or her own party ready to vote Republican or stay home. Furthermore, the Democratic Party itself will be in a state of convalescence and in no shape for battle.

Lately, some Democrats have offered a more optimistic interpretation of things. Frank Rich covers this alternative read in today’s New York Times:

The counterargument, advanced by Mrs. Clinton in justifying her “kitchen sink” attacks on Mr. Obama, is that the Democrats are better off being tested now by raising all the issues the Republicans will. It’s a fair point. The Wright, Rezko, Ayers, “bittergate” and flag-pin firestorms will all be revived by the opposition come fall.

But will they? That assumption puts John McCain’s objection to the North Carolina GOP ad featuring Rev. Wright and Obama in strategic perspective. If the Democrats’ slugfest is to serve as a sort of preemptive self-vetting, then McCain’s best bet is to attack the Democratic nominee from a different—untested—angle than any that’s been used during the primary. In this light, things are even worse for the Democrats than the standard interpretation conveys. One Democratic candidate will come to the general election having already taken a big hit on a critical front: character. (Obama would be plagued by the issues Rich mentions; Hillary would lumber under the weight of Snipergate, identity cynicism, dirty pool, and her husband’s outbursts.) With the public perception of his opponent’s character already so compromised, McCain can focus on policy differences—which is exactly what he said he hopes to do. This accomplishes at least two things: it frees up campaign energy to be used more efficiently on critical substantive points, and it makes him look like a breath of clean fresh air compared to the Dems’ nastiness. Not only will the Democrats have brought McCain’s opponents character flaws to the surface, they will have given McCain a campaign blueprint by contrast, saying essentially, “Don’t sully yourself like we did. After nearly a year spent harping on identity and playing ‘gotcha!’ we have nothing to show but an unexpected dip in Democratic support.”

For sure, many in the Republican establishment will continue to hammer at the Democrats on the lurid issues raised during the primary. But, as McCain demonstrated in objecting to the North Carolina ad, he has no problem calling party members out on this. That too can be put to use as an advantage. For every time John McCain tells a GOP mouthpiece to avoid cheap shots or divisiveness, he feeds the growing impression among Democratic voters that for a Republican he’s not that bad.

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Not An Illegitimate Question

As more of Reverend Wright’s pearls of wisdom come out (“We cannot see, however, what we are doing is the same thing al Qaeda is doing under a different colored flag, calling on the name of a different God to sanction and approve our murder and our mayhem”) and he reappears for an interview with Bill Moyers, there are many of us who are perplexed by John McCain’s reticence to discuss the matter.

But now we have Barack Obama’s thoughts. In an interview with Chris Wallace he says:

I think that people were legitimately offended by some of the comments that he had made in the past. The fact that he is my former pastor I think makes it a legitimate political issue….And so the question becomes, how do voters draw conclusions about my values? Do they talk about, do they look at the 20 years in which I’ve devoted my life to community service? Do they about the work I did as a community organizer working with Catholic parishes and churches to bring people together to set up job training programs for the unemployed and the poor? That’s a reflection of my values. Do they look at how I’ve raised my children and how I speak about my family? That’s a reflection of my values. I don’t think that the issue of Reverend Wright is illegitimate. I just think that the way it was reported was not I think a reflection of both that church that I attend and who I am.

Obama stumbles and mumbles a bit about when asked for particulars as to what he heard Wright say, and of course reverts to the “soundbite unfairness” mantra, but even he admits: This is fair game and he will need to explain how his devotion to Wright and choice of him as a “mentor” meshes with his post-racial rhetoric.

Now if he can say it, why can’t McCain? Well, perhaps looking for an excuse to get out of his political predicament (i.e. he can’t talk about a critical issue his likely opponent admits is a problem), McCain now seems to have walked through Obama’s open door. There was this exchange today at a press avail:

Question: Senator, the North Carolina GOP has continued to persist in this advertisement. I was wondering if you could talk about what steps, if any, you will continue to take?

McCain: I’ve stated my position very clearly that I don’t like the ad. I was interested that this morning Senator Obama said that it was a legitimate political issue. If he believes that, then it will probably be a political issue. I saw yesterday some additional comments that have been revealed by Pastor Wright, one of them comparing the United States Marine Corps with Roman legionnaires who were responsible for the death of our Savior. I mean being involved in that — it’s beyond belief. And then of course saying that Al Qaeda and the American Flag were the same flags. So I can understand — I can understand why the American people are upset about this. I can understand that Americans viewing these kinds of comments are angry and upset, just like they viewed Senator Obama’s statements about why people turn to their faith and their values. He believes that it’s out of economic concerns, when we all know that it’s out of fundamental belief, fundamental faith in this country and its values and its principles. Again, Senator Obama is out of touch. I can’t control and will not in the future control. I will voice my opinion and I will continue to think and to say that I think that ad should not be run. But I won’t continue to try to be the referee here.

And later:

Question: I just want to follow up on the Jeremiah Wright issue. you noted today that you saw that Obama said it’s a legitimate political issue, you’ve said previously it is not.

McCain: I have said that I will not have any comment on it and that because I thought and I believe that Senator Obama does not share those views. But Sen. Obama himself says it’s a legitimate political issue, so I would imagine that many other people will share that view, and it will be in the arena. But my position that Senator Obama doesn’t share those views remains the same.

Apparently all now agree: this is not an illegitimate issue.

As more of Reverend Wright’s pearls of wisdom come out (“We cannot see, however, what we are doing is the same thing al Qaeda is doing under a different colored flag, calling on the name of a different God to sanction and approve our murder and our mayhem”) and he reappears for an interview with Bill Moyers, there are many of us who are perplexed by John McCain’s reticence to discuss the matter.

But now we have Barack Obama’s thoughts. In an interview with Chris Wallace he says:

I think that people were legitimately offended by some of the comments that he had made in the past. The fact that he is my former pastor I think makes it a legitimate political issue….And so the question becomes, how do voters draw conclusions about my values? Do they talk about, do they look at the 20 years in which I’ve devoted my life to community service? Do they about the work I did as a community organizer working with Catholic parishes and churches to bring people together to set up job training programs for the unemployed and the poor? That’s a reflection of my values. Do they look at how I’ve raised my children and how I speak about my family? That’s a reflection of my values. I don’t think that the issue of Reverend Wright is illegitimate. I just think that the way it was reported was not I think a reflection of both that church that I attend and who I am.

Obama stumbles and mumbles a bit about when asked for particulars as to what he heard Wright say, and of course reverts to the “soundbite unfairness” mantra, but even he admits: This is fair game and he will need to explain how his devotion to Wright and choice of him as a “mentor” meshes with his post-racial rhetoric.

Now if he can say it, why can’t McCain? Well, perhaps looking for an excuse to get out of his political predicament (i.e. he can’t talk about a critical issue his likely opponent admits is a problem), McCain now seems to have walked through Obama’s open door. There was this exchange today at a press avail:

Question: Senator, the North Carolina GOP has continued to persist in this advertisement. I was wondering if you could talk about what steps, if any, you will continue to take?

McCain: I’ve stated my position very clearly that I don’t like the ad. I was interested that this morning Senator Obama said that it was a legitimate political issue. If he believes that, then it will probably be a political issue. I saw yesterday some additional comments that have been revealed by Pastor Wright, one of them comparing the United States Marine Corps with Roman legionnaires who were responsible for the death of our Savior. I mean being involved in that — it’s beyond belief. And then of course saying that Al Qaeda and the American Flag were the same flags. So I can understand — I can understand why the American people are upset about this. I can understand that Americans viewing these kinds of comments are angry and upset, just like they viewed Senator Obama’s statements about why people turn to their faith and their values. He believes that it’s out of economic concerns, when we all know that it’s out of fundamental belief, fundamental faith in this country and its values and its principles. Again, Senator Obama is out of touch. I can’t control and will not in the future control. I will voice my opinion and I will continue to think and to say that I think that ad should not be run. But I won’t continue to try to be the referee here.

And later:

Question: I just want to follow up on the Jeremiah Wright issue. you noted today that you saw that Obama said it’s a legitimate political issue, you’ve said previously it is not.

McCain: I have said that I will not have any comment on it and that because I thought and I believe that Senator Obama does not share those views. But Sen. Obama himself says it’s a legitimate political issue, so I would imagine that many other people will share that view, and it will be in the arena. But my position that Senator Obama doesn’t share those views remains the same.

Apparently all now agree: this is not an illegitimate issue.

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The Jewish Vote In PA – Updated

Exit polls have now been fully weighted and finalized and Hillary Clinton, it seems, won the Jewish vote in Pennsylvania 62-38%. That is a rather stunning margin, especially considering many of these are more educated and upscale voters (who have consistently favored Barack Obama throughout the primary). This voting group likely contributed to Clinton’s surprising win in Montgomery County(51-49%), a Philly suburb thought to have been prime territory for Obama. So yes, there is now evidence that Obama has a “Jewish problem.”

But it would be a mistake to say that Obama’s endorsement by Hamas, his relationship with Reverend Wright and his willingness to have tea with Ahmadinejad is merely an issue with Jewish voters. Clinton’s final ad featuring Osama Bin Laden, like her 3 a.m. ad before the Texas and Ohio primaries, was aimed at a wider audience obviously than just Jews. The same factors that may give Jews pause also raise some key concerns among all voters, namely their willingness to entrust Obama with the role of commander-in-chief and their overall perception of him as on the extreme Left, even within his own party. It is striking that Obama lost all but self-identified “very liberal” Pennsylvania voters.

So perhaps it is accurate to say that Obama has a “voter problem,” in which Jews play a small, but noteworthy part.

Exit polls have now been fully weighted and finalized and Hillary Clinton, it seems, won the Jewish vote in Pennsylvania 62-38%. That is a rather stunning margin, especially considering many of these are more educated and upscale voters (who have consistently favored Barack Obama throughout the primary). This voting group likely contributed to Clinton’s surprising win in Montgomery County(51-49%), a Philly suburb thought to have been prime territory for Obama. So yes, there is now evidence that Obama has a “Jewish problem.”

But it would be a mistake to say that Obama’s endorsement by Hamas, his relationship with Reverend Wright and his willingness to have tea with Ahmadinejad is merely an issue with Jewish voters. Clinton’s final ad featuring Osama Bin Laden, like her 3 a.m. ad before the Texas and Ohio primaries, was aimed at a wider audience obviously than just Jews. The same factors that may give Jews pause also raise some key concerns among all voters, namely their willingness to entrust Obama with the role of commander-in-chief and their overall perception of him as on the extreme Left, even within his own party. It is striking that Obama lost all but self-identified “very liberal” Pennsylvania voters.

So perhaps it is accurate to say that Obama has a “voter problem,” in which Jews play a small, but noteworthy part.

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Iran in Iraq: Why Do Sabers Now Rattle?

Yesterday morning, the New York Times noted the American government’s recent spotlight on Iran’s support for Shiite militia fighters in Iraq and questioned whether the Islamic Republic had increased its meddling in its neighbor’s internal affairs. “The administration’s focus on Iran has raised alarms among the war’s staunchest critics, who accuse the White House of overstating the threat and laying the groundwork for military action against Iran,” the paper reported. “This is not a new thing,” the Times quoted Senator Dianne Feinstein. “Why all of a sudden do the sabers start to rattle?”

Senator Feinstein, perhaps this is the better question: Why has Washington taken so long to speak candidly about Iran? Tehran has been involved with the Iraqi militias from the get-go. By now, it is apparent that diplomacy, behind-the-scenes and otherwise, has had little effect on Tehran. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Bush administration is resorting to tougher tactics. For instance, Friday, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that the United States is preparing for “potential military courses of action” against Iranian forces. “It would be a mistake,” he noted, “to think that we are out of combat capability.”

If we should be in Iraq, we should be there to win. If we’re there to win, we have to stop Iranian activities that destabilize Iraq. I hope that Obama is right, and we can, in face-to-face negotiations, convince the mullahs to stop committing acts of war against the Iraqi nation. Yet if we cannot-and I don’t see how we can-then we have a choice to make: use force against Iran or commit ourselves to years of directionless combat. Sometimes, Madam Senator, choices are that simple.

Yesterday morning, the New York Times noted the American government’s recent spotlight on Iran’s support for Shiite militia fighters in Iraq and questioned whether the Islamic Republic had increased its meddling in its neighbor’s internal affairs. “The administration’s focus on Iran has raised alarms among the war’s staunchest critics, who accuse the White House of overstating the threat and laying the groundwork for military action against Iran,” the paper reported. “This is not a new thing,” the Times quoted Senator Dianne Feinstein. “Why all of a sudden do the sabers start to rattle?”

Senator Feinstein, perhaps this is the better question: Why has Washington taken so long to speak candidly about Iran? Tehran has been involved with the Iraqi militias from the get-go. By now, it is apparent that diplomacy, behind-the-scenes and otherwise, has had little effect on Tehran. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Bush administration is resorting to tougher tactics. For instance, Friday, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that the United States is preparing for “potential military courses of action” against Iranian forces. “It would be a mistake,” he noted, “to think that we are out of combat capability.”

If we should be in Iraq, we should be there to win. If we’re there to win, we have to stop Iranian activities that destabilize Iraq. I hope that Obama is right, and we can, in face-to-face negotiations, convince the mullahs to stop committing acts of war against the Iraqi nation. Yet if we cannot-and I don’t see how we can-then we have a choice to make: use force against Iran or commit ourselves to years of directionless combat. Sometimes, Madam Senator, choices are that simple.

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Meltdown

Barack Obama may have done poorly with working class and rural voters in Pennsylvania but he’s doing even worse these days among liberal pundits. This is from Bob Herbert:

However one views the behavior of Bill and Hillary Clinton – and however large the race issue looms in this election, and it looms large – there can be no denying that an awful lot of Mr. Obama’s troubles have come from his side of the table. The Rev. Wright fiasco undermined the fundamental rationale of the entire Obama campaign – that it would be about healing, about putting partisanship aside, about reaching across ethnic and party divisions to bring people together in a new era of cooperation. It’s hard to continue making that case when the candidate’s spiritual adviser is on television castigating America and scaring the hell out of at least some white people. Senator Obama did his best with his speech on race in Philadelphia, but the Wright story has extremely muscular legs. It has hurt the campaign far more than Mr. Obama’s comments about guns and religion in San Francisco. But more important than the Wright comments – and sundry gaffes by Mr. Obama himself, his wife, Michelle, and campaign aides – has been Senator Obama’s strange reluctance to fight harder in public for the nomination. He may feel he doesn’t need to, that he has the nomination wrapped up. But there is such a thing as being too cool.

Maureen Dowd (who has been on a tear lately, openly castigating Obama’s masculinity) now sees him limping away: “It used to be that he was incandescent and she [Hillary Clinton] was merely inveterate. Now she’s bristling with life force, and he looks like he wants to run away somewhere for three months by himself and smoke.” Eleanor Clift sees the handwriting on the wall- and fears some Clintonian retribution for the media which had been Obama’s stalwart cheering section:

I’m beginning to think Hillary Clinton might pull this off and wrestle the nomination away from Barack Obama. If she does, a lot of folks—including a huge chunk of the media—will join Bill Richardson (a.k.a. Judas) in the Deep Freeze. If the Clintons get back into the White House, it will be retribution time, like the Corleone family consolidating power in “The Godfather,” where the watchword is, “It’s business, not personal.”

These bear the tell-tale signs of scorned lovers’ rants. Their once beloved candidate is now reviled, mocked and tossed overboard while they prepare for the possible return of their “ex” with all the unpleasantness that entails. And who is joining them?

Well, none other than Howard Dean, who until recently seemed to pursue strategies designed to either end the race early (Obama liked that) or to encourage delegates to respect the pledged delegate count (Obama really liked that). Yet Friday, for the first time, Dean uttered this: “I think the race is going to come down to the perception in the last six or eight races of who the best opponent for McCain will be. I do not think in the long run it will come down to the popular vote or anything else.”

So it may be that these people have something in common: none of them really wants to be on the wrong side when the Democratic race ends. Pundits hate to have guessed wrong–so far better to excoriate the candidate who they will insist was wonderful, but but messed up–and party leaders never want to be on the winner’s wrong side. So better to shuffle over to the Clinton cheering section, however distasteful that might seem. She, at least from listening to all these voices, now appears to be the odds on favorite.

Barack Obama may have done poorly with working class and rural voters in Pennsylvania but he’s doing even worse these days among liberal pundits. This is from Bob Herbert:

However one views the behavior of Bill and Hillary Clinton – and however large the race issue looms in this election, and it looms large – there can be no denying that an awful lot of Mr. Obama’s troubles have come from his side of the table. The Rev. Wright fiasco undermined the fundamental rationale of the entire Obama campaign – that it would be about healing, about putting partisanship aside, about reaching across ethnic and party divisions to bring people together in a new era of cooperation. It’s hard to continue making that case when the candidate’s spiritual adviser is on television castigating America and scaring the hell out of at least some white people. Senator Obama did his best with his speech on race in Philadelphia, but the Wright story has extremely muscular legs. It has hurt the campaign far more than Mr. Obama’s comments about guns and religion in San Francisco. But more important than the Wright comments – and sundry gaffes by Mr. Obama himself, his wife, Michelle, and campaign aides – has been Senator Obama’s strange reluctance to fight harder in public for the nomination. He may feel he doesn’t need to, that he has the nomination wrapped up. But there is such a thing as being too cool.

Maureen Dowd (who has been on a tear lately, openly castigating Obama’s masculinity) now sees him limping away: “It used to be that he was incandescent and she [Hillary Clinton] was merely inveterate. Now she’s bristling with life force, and he looks like he wants to run away somewhere for three months by himself and smoke.” Eleanor Clift sees the handwriting on the wall- and fears some Clintonian retribution for the media which had been Obama’s stalwart cheering section:

I’m beginning to think Hillary Clinton might pull this off and wrestle the nomination away from Barack Obama. If she does, a lot of folks—including a huge chunk of the media—will join Bill Richardson (a.k.a. Judas) in the Deep Freeze. If the Clintons get back into the White House, it will be retribution time, like the Corleone family consolidating power in “The Godfather,” where the watchword is, “It’s business, not personal.”

These bear the tell-tale signs of scorned lovers’ rants. Their once beloved candidate is now reviled, mocked and tossed overboard while they prepare for the possible return of their “ex” with all the unpleasantness that entails. And who is joining them?

Well, none other than Howard Dean, who until recently seemed to pursue strategies designed to either end the race early (Obama liked that) or to encourage delegates to respect the pledged delegate count (Obama really liked that). Yet Friday, for the first time, Dean uttered this: “I think the race is going to come down to the perception in the last six or eight races of who the best opponent for McCain will be. I do not think in the long run it will come down to the popular vote or anything else.”

So it may be that these people have something in common: none of them really wants to be on the wrong side when the Democratic race ends. Pundits hate to have guessed wrong–so far better to excoriate the candidate who they will insist was wonderful, but but messed up–and party leaders never want to be on the winner’s wrong side. So better to shuffle over to the Clinton cheering section, however distasteful that might seem. She, at least from listening to all these voices, now appears to be the odds on favorite.

Read Less

Rhetoric and Action on Iran

In recent days, senior American military leaders have been ratcheting up their criticism of Iranian interference in Iraq, spurred on by finds of recently manufactured Iranian weapons in Basra. (Just one more benefit of Prime Minister Maliki’s much-maligned offensive.)

On Friday, for instance, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a press conference in which he declared that he is “increasingly concerned about Iran’s activity.” While emphasizing that “we are not taking any military elements off the table,” he said that he is “convinced the solution right now still lies in using other levers of national power, including diplomatic, financial and international pressure.”

The problem is that we have spent years using those very “levers” and have not budged Iran an inch. Iran has repeatedly promised to cut off arms shipments to Iraq–arms that are killing American and Iraqi soldiers–and earlier this year some credulous American intelligence officials thought that the Iranians were as good as their word. But, as Mullen noted, “It’s plainly obvious they have not [kept their word]. Indeed, they seem to have gone the other way.”

Is more jawboning from American officials going to convince the Iranians to mend their ways? Or will it only reveal once again American ineffectuality and weakness? I rather think the latter.

The New York Times notes that sterner steps have been contemplated–and rejected:

The administration has, in fact, discussed whether to attack training
camps, safe houses and weapons storehouses inside Iran that intelligence reports say are being used by the Quds Force to train fighters, according to two senior administration officials… For now, however, the United States has decided that military strikes in Iran would be untenable and has concentrated on trying to disrupt the routes used to smuggle weapons and fighters across the border, and on diplomatic and financial pressure, those and other officials said.

It is understandable that the administration shies away from open hostilities with Iran-even if Iran is waging a semi-covert war against us (as it has been doing since 1979). But policymakers should not fool themselves that tough-sounding press statements can substitute for genuinely tough actions, such as targeting those “training camps, safe houses and weapons storehouses inside Iran.”

The president needs to make a decision about how far he is willing to go to
confront Iranian aggression, and if the answer is (as I suspect) “not very
far”, I would advise the administration to tone down its rhetoric. As I’ve
warned in the past, the disconnect between the administration’s harsh talk
and its weak actions-a feature of the second Bush term–is doing serious
damage to American credibility.

Admiral Mullen’s words about Iran apply equal well to the United States: “I
think actions, certainly here, must speak louder than words. And the
actions just don’t meet the commitments on the part of their leadership.”

In recent days, senior American military leaders have been ratcheting up their criticism of Iranian interference in Iraq, spurred on by finds of recently manufactured Iranian weapons in Basra. (Just one more benefit of Prime Minister Maliki’s much-maligned offensive.)

On Friday, for instance, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a press conference in which he declared that he is “increasingly concerned about Iran’s activity.” While emphasizing that “we are not taking any military elements off the table,” he said that he is “convinced the solution right now still lies in using other levers of national power, including diplomatic, financial and international pressure.”

The problem is that we have spent years using those very “levers” and have not budged Iran an inch. Iran has repeatedly promised to cut off arms shipments to Iraq–arms that are killing American and Iraqi soldiers–and earlier this year some credulous American intelligence officials thought that the Iranians were as good as their word. But, as Mullen noted, “It’s plainly obvious they have not [kept their word]. Indeed, they seem to have gone the other way.”

Is more jawboning from American officials going to convince the Iranians to mend their ways? Or will it only reveal once again American ineffectuality and weakness? I rather think the latter.

The New York Times notes that sterner steps have been contemplated–and rejected:

The administration has, in fact, discussed whether to attack training
camps, safe houses and weapons storehouses inside Iran that intelligence reports say are being used by the Quds Force to train fighters, according to two senior administration officials… For now, however, the United States has decided that military strikes in Iran would be untenable and has concentrated on trying to disrupt the routes used to smuggle weapons and fighters across the border, and on diplomatic and financial pressure, those and other officials said.

It is understandable that the administration shies away from open hostilities with Iran-even if Iran is waging a semi-covert war against us (as it has been doing since 1979). But policymakers should not fool themselves that tough-sounding press statements can substitute for genuinely tough actions, such as targeting those “training camps, safe houses and weapons storehouses inside Iran.”

The president needs to make a decision about how far he is willing to go to
confront Iranian aggression, and if the answer is (as I suspect) “not very
far”, I would advise the administration to tone down its rhetoric. As I’ve
warned in the past, the disconnect between the administration’s harsh talk
and its weak actions-a feature of the second Bush term–is doing serious
damage to American credibility.

Admiral Mullen’s words about Iran apply equal well to the United States: “I
think actions, certainly here, must speak louder than words. And the
actions just don’t meet the commitments on the part of their leadership.”

Read Less




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