Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 2008

What Took Twenty Years?

John, as you just noted, Barack Obama is leaving Trinity Church. Here’s the ABC News report:

Sources tell ABC News that Obama felt that as the campaign continued, the media would continue to focus on the church, to the detriment of the church community, that Obama would be held responsible for what happened in the church, and that the Church would be held responsible for his campaign. It would be best, Obama felt, to simply cut ties. He has not yet joined a new church. (Emphasis added.)

Well, we can now call Obama’s claim that he is devoted to the church and not Wright “inoperative.” This seems to undermine the argument of his apologists that there was nothing wrong Trinity United and lots of people attend places with rabbis or ministers with whom they “disagree.” Now that it is plain that this church welcomed and celebrated anti-white, anti-woman and anti-Semitic hate speech it is fair to ask why now, why only now would he leave? Well, he’s got a general election to run and the old Obama – the one with Rev. Wright and Father Pfleger as mentors – needs to be pushed out of view.

Imagine if the roles were reversed and John McCain had attended a white separatist church for twenty years. Would his resignation after two decades cure the concern that he had lived some sort of weird double life, cavorting with racists but talking about equal opportunity in his public life? I would imagine he’d have been forced out of the presidential race by now.

So the question remains: was Obama the least observant church congegrant on the planet (racism and anti-Semitism at Trinity? No!) or a hypocrite? Let the voters decide.

John, as you just noted, Barack Obama is leaving Trinity Church. Here’s the ABC News report:

Sources tell ABC News that Obama felt that as the campaign continued, the media would continue to focus on the church, to the detriment of the church community, that Obama would be held responsible for what happened in the church, and that the Church would be held responsible for his campaign. It would be best, Obama felt, to simply cut ties. He has not yet joined a new church. (Emphasis added.)

Well, we can now call Obama’s claim that he is devoted to the church and not Wright “inoperative.” This seems to undermine the argument of his apologists that there was nothing wrong Trinity United and lots of people attend places with rabbis or ministers with whom they “disagree.” Now that it is plain that this church welcomed and celebrated anti-white, anti-woman and anti-Semitic hate speech it is fair to ask why now, why only now would he leave? Well, he’s got a general election to run and the old Obama – the one with Rev. Wright and Father Pfleger as mentors – needs to be pushed out of view.

Imagine if the roles were reversed and John McCain had attended a white separatist church for twenty years. Would his resignation after two decades cure the concern that he had lived some sort of weird double life, cavorting with racists but talking about equal opportunity in his public life? I would imagine he’d have been forced out of the presidential race by now.

So the question remains: was Obama the least observant church congegrant on the planet (racism and anti-Semitism at Trinity? No!) or a hypocrite? Let the voters decide.

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Is There Worse to Come?

The breaking news is that tonight (Saturday night), Barack Obama will announce he has resigned his membership in the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago — the former pulpit of Jeremiah Wright from which the Catholic priest Michael Pfleger made his incendiary remarks about Hillary Clinton. This is of course the same church that Obama said contained within it every aspect of the black community (which raises the question of whether he is, by the same logic, resigning from the black community).  There’s something about this decision that raises more questions than it answers. Is Obama doing this now because he is on the verge of securing the nomination and no longer needs to worry so much about disappointing his base? Or is he worried there is more to come on YouTube from the Trinity United stage and he wants to have dissociated himself from it all beforehand? Is he going to have to give another major speech on race to revise and amend his previous speech on race?

The breaking news is that tonight (Saturday night), Barack Obama will announce he has resigned his membership in the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago — the former pulpit of Jeremiah Wright from which the Catholic priest Michael Pfleger made his incendiary remarks about Hillary Clinton. This is of course the same church that Obama said contained within it every aspect of the black community (which raises the question of whether he is, by the same logic, resigning from the black community).  There’s something about this decision that raises more questions than it answers. Is Obama doing this now because he is on the verge of securing the nomination and no longer needs to worry so much about disappointing his base? Or is he worried there is more to come on YouTube from the Trinity United stage and he wants to have dissociated himself from it all beforehand? Is he going to have to give another major speech on race to revise and amend his previous speech on race?

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Iraq Casualties

This is the last day of May, and, although it is still the early afternoon on the East Coast as I write, in Iraq the day is nearly over. Barring some catastrophe it appears that this month will go down as either the lowest- or second-lowest casualty month for U.S. troops in Iraq. According to icasualties.org, 19 U.S. soldiers died this month. (It is possible that a few more deaths may still be recorded as, tragically, some wounded soldiers may not make it.) The record had previously been set in February 2004 when 20 soldiers died. Of course all the usual caveats apply: even 19 deaths is far too many, and there is no guarantee that there will not be greater bloodshed next month.

Still, this is another sign of progress and a further rebuke to the naysayers who were suggesting that recent fighting in Basra and Sadr City was a serious setback. Actually, those offensives have resulted in defeats for the Sadrists and victories for the democratically elected government. Now that the fighting is over, greater stability is returning-at least as much stability as you are likely to get in a country that remains at war. A coalition spokesman announced that the number of security incidents is at the lowest level since March 2004, and by the Associated Press’s count the number of Iraqi civilians killed this month was the lowest since December 2005. Notwithstanding the temporary increase in violence recently, overall the number of attacks has declined 70 percent since the troop “surge” was completed in June 2007.

A month ago the news media had a field day publicizing the increase in casualties in April, when 52 U.S. personnel died. Since the figure in May is less than half that, by all rights the press should treat that as big news, right? Don’t bet on it. Too often the press has operated under the motto: good news is no news. But I am ready to be pleasantly surprised.

This is the last day of May, and, although it is still the early afternoon on the East Coast as I write, in Iraq the day is nearly over. Barring some catastrophe it appears that this month will go down as either the lowest- or second-lowest casualty month for U.S. troops in Iraq. According to icasualties.org, 19 U.S. soldiers died this month. (It is possible that a few more deaths may still be recorded as, tragically, some wounded soldiers may not make it.) The record had previously been set in February 2004 when 20 soldiers died. Of course all the usual caveats apply: even 19 deaths is far too many, and there is no guarantee that there will not be greater bloodshed next month.

Still, this is another sign of progress and a further rebuke to the naysayers who were suggesting that recent fighting in Basra and Sadr City was a serious setback. Actually, those offensives have resulted in defeats for the Sadrists and victories for the democratically elected government. Now that the fighting is over, greater stability is returning-at least as much stability as you are likely to get in a country that remains at war. A coalition spokesman announced that the number of security incidents is at the lowest level since March 2004, and by the Associated Press’s count the number of Iraqi civilians killed this month was the lowest since December 2005. Notwithstanding the temporary increase in violence recently, overall the number of attacks has declined 70 percent since the troop “surge” was completed in June 2007.

A month ago the news media had a field day publicizing the increase in casualties in April, when 52 U.S. personnel died. Since the figure in May is less than half that, by all rights the press should treat that as big news, right? Don’t bet on it. Too often the press has operated under the motto: good news is no news. But I am ready to be pleasantly surprised.

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What’s The Difference Between Obama and McCain?

John McCain’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg is an interesting counterpoint to Barack Obama’s. In McCain’s interview, you will find not a trace of moral equivalence, no infatuation with Philip Roth (whom Obama apparently imagines as the paragon of American Judaism–perhaps needing a more up to date understanding of Roth’s legacy among many American Jews), and no hesitancy to denounce Islamic jihadism.

Reading the two interviews side-by-side provides a telling contrast between two world views and two approaches to foreign affairs. McCain goes out of his way to stress the role of diplomacy at the right level and the right time, but the main differences between the two candidates are stark. These three questions and answers sum it up:

JG: What do you think motivates Iran?

JM: Hatred. I don’t try to divine people’s motives. I look at their actions and what they say. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the state of their emotions. I do know what their nation’s stated purpose is, I do know they continue in the development of nuclear weapons, and I know that they continue to support terrorists who are bent on the destruction of the state of Israel. You’ll have to ask someone who engages in this psycho stuff to talk about their emotions.

. . .

JG: Senator Obama has calibrated his views on unconditional negotiations. Do you see any circumstance in which you could negotiate with Iran, or do you believe that it’s leadership is impervious to rational dialogue?

JM: I’m amused by Senator Obama’s dramatic change since he’s gone from a candidate in the primary to a candidate in the general election. I’ve seen him do that on a number of issues that show his naivete and inexperience on national security issues. I believe that the history of the successful conduct of national security policy is that, one, you don’t sit down face-to-face with people who are behave the way they do, who are state sponsors of terrorism.

Senator Obama likes to refer to President Kennedy going to Vienna. Most historians see that as a serious mistake, which encouraged Khrushchev to build the Berlin Wall and to send missiles to Cuba. Another example is Richard Nixon going to China. I’ve forgotten how many visits Henry Kissinger made to China, and how every single word was dictated beforehand. More importantly, he went to China because China was then a counterweight to a greater threat, the Soviet Union. What is a greater threat in the Middle East than Iran today?

Senator Obama is totally lacking in experience, so therefore he makes judgments such as saying he would sit down with someone like Ahmadinejad without comprehending the impact of such a meeting. I know that his naivete and lack of experience is on display when he talks about sitting down opposite Hugo Chavez or Raul Castro or Ahmadinejad.

. . .

JG: Let’s go back to Iran. Some critics say that America conflates its problem with Iran with Israel’s problem with Iran. Iran is not threatening the extinction of America, it’s threatening the extinction of Israel. Why should America have a military option for dealing with Iran when the threat is mainly directed against Israel?

JM: The United States of America has committed itself to never allowing another Holocaust. That’s a commitment that the United States has made ever since we discovered the horrendous aspects of the Holocaust. In addition to that, I would respond by saying that I think these terrorist organizations that they sponsor, Hamas and the others, are also bent, at least long-term, on the destruction of the United States of America. That’s why I agree with General Petraeus that Iraq is a central battleground. Because these Shiite militias are sending in these special groups, as they call them, sending weapons in, to remove United States influence and to drive us out of Iraq and thereby achieve their ultimate goals. We’ve heard the rhetoric — the Great Satan, etc. It’s a nuance, their being committed to the destruction of the State of Israel, and their long-term intentions toward us.

A better explanation of the differences between the candidates will be hard to come by.

John McCain’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg is an interesting counterpoint to Barack Obama’s. In McCain’s interview, you will find not a trace of moral equivalence, no infatuation with Philip Roth (whom Obama apparently imagines as the paragon of American Judaism–perhaps needing a more up to date understanding of Roth’s legacy among many American Jews), and no hesitancy to denounce Islamic jihadism.

Reading the two interviews side-by-side provides a telling contrast between two world views and two approaches to foreign affairs. McCain goes out of his way to stress the role of diplomacy at the right level and the right time, but the main differences between the two candidates are stark. These three questions and answers sum it up:

JG: What do you think motivates Iran?

JM: Hatred. I don’t try to divine people’s motives. I look at their actions and what they say. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the state of their emotions. I do know what their nation’s stated purpose is, I do know they continue in the development of nuclear weapons, and I know that they continue to support terrorists who are bent on the destruction of the state of Israel. You’ll have to ask someone who engages in this psycho stuff to talk about their emotions.

. . .

JG: Senator Obama has calibrated his views on unconditional negotiations. Do you see any circumstance in which you could negotiate with Iran, or do you believe that it’s leadership is impervious to rational dialogue?

JM: I’m amused by Senator Obama’s dramatic change since he’s gone from a candidate in the primary to a candidate in the general election. I’ve seen him do that on a number of issues that show his naivete and inexperience on national security issues. I believe that the history of the successful conduct of national security policy is that, one, you don’t sit down face-to-face with people who are behave the way they do, who are state sponsors of terrorism.

Senator Obama likes to refer to President Kennedy going to Vienna. Most historians see that as a serious mistake, which encouraged Khrushchev to build the Berlin Wall and to send missiles to Cuba. Another example is Richard Nixon going to China. I’ve forgotten how many visits Henry Kissinger made to China, and how every single word was dictated beforehand. More importantly, he went to China because China was then a counterweight to a greater threat, the Soviet Union. What is a greater threat in the Middle East than Iran today?

Senator Obama is totally lacking in experience, so therefore he makes judgments such as saying he would sit down with someone like Ahmadinejad without comprehending the impact of such a meeting. I know that his naivete and lack of experience is on display when he talks about sitting down opposite Hugo Chavez or Raul Castro or Ahmadinejad.

. . .

JG: Let’s go back to Iran. Some critics say that America conflates its problem with Iran with Israel’s problem with Iran. Iran is not threatening the extinction of America, it’s threatening the extinction of Israel. Why should America have a military option for dealing with Iran when the threat is mainly directed against Israel?

JM: The United States of America has committed itself to never allowing another Holocaust. That’s a commitment that the United States has made ever since we discovered the horrendous aspects of the Holocaust. In addition to that, I would respond by saying that I think these terrorist organizations that they sponsor, Hamas and the others, are also bent, at least long-term, on the destruction of the United States of America. That’s why I agree with General Petraeus that Iraq is a central battleground. Because these Shiite militias are sending in these special groups, as they call them, sending weapons in, to remove United States influence and to drive us out of Iraq and thereby achieve their ultimate goals. We’ve heard the rhetoric — the Great Satan, etc. It’s a nuance, their being committed to the destruction of the State of Israel, and their long-term intentions toward us.

A better explanation of the differences between the candidates will be hard to come by.

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Putin’s Poodle

Just when you thought that the behavior of Jacques Chirac–the former French president widely suspected of corruption who has never met a Third World despot he didn’t like–couldn’t get any more loathsome, now comes this bit of news. Chirac has been singing the praises of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, whose prime achievement as president was to destroy the vestiges of democracy bequeathed to him by Boris Yeltsin. From the New York Times:

On Friday, Mr. Putin smiled benignly as Mr. Chirac expressed his “very deep friendship” for him and said, “My esteem comes from the remarkable manner in which you governed Russia.”

He grouped the time Mr. Putin was prime minister under Boris Yeltsin with his two presidential terms, saying, “These 10 years have been, unquestionably, great years for Russia.”

One wonders if this is a job application. The Putin machine has already hired one out-of-office European leader-former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Perhaps Chirac would like to get on the gravy train too, assuming he isn’t already (which, for all I know, he may be).

Just when you thought that the behavior of Jacques Chirac–the former French president widely suspected of corruption who has never met a Third World despot he didn’t like–couldn’t get any more loathsome, now comes this bit of news. Chirac has been singing the praises of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, whose prime achievement as president was to destroy the vestiges of democracy bequeathed to him by Boris Yeltsin. From the New York Times:

On Friday, Mr. Putin smiled benignly as Mr. Chirac expressed his “very deep friendship” for him and said, “My esteem comes from the remarkable manner in which you governed Russia.”

He grouped the time Mr. Putin was prime minister under Boris Yeltsin with his two presidential terms, saying, “These 10 years have been, unquestionably, great years for Russia.”

One wonders if this is a job application. The Putin machine has already hired one out-of-office European leader-former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Perhaps Chirac would like to get on the gravy train too, assuming he isn’t already (which, for all I know, he may be).

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Who Blundered?

Stories like this, which parrot Barack Obama’s talking points on John McCain’s comments on U.S. troop levels in Iraq, demonstrate the intellectual and professional dishonesty of the mainstream press. The reporter who penned this account of McCain’s “blunder”( was that term ever used when Obama misremembered the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit?) was on same call as I was yesterday. Nevertheless, he failed to describe, or even hint, at the McCain team’s complete responses to this matter: 1) the decision to reduce below surge troop levels has been made and 2) the larger context of this is that Obama was fundamentally wrong in contending the surge would have no impact (ah, that story is undergoing an edit also). One need not agree with the McCain camp on the latter point to at least afford them the courtesy of transcribing its response.

Compare the Post’s telling to this account in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) which recounts both sides’ barbs, the list of recent Obama gaffes, and Obama’s attacks on McCain’s troop level remark. The reporter also presents the McCain view:

Sen. McCain focused on the military success of the surge, saying the decision to increase troop levels shows that he exhibited proper judgment and Sen. Obama, who opposed the surge, did not.

Now that wasn’t so hard. It would seem a basic task of journalism to at least present what both campaigns have to say on a given matter. And in the world of the blogosphere you can always go to alternative outlets to find out who said what to whom.

Stories like this, which parrot Barack Obama’s talking points on John McCain’s comments on U.S. troop levels in Iraq, demonstrate the intellectual and professional dishonesty of the mainstream press. The reporter who penned this account of McCain’s “blunder”( was that term ever used when Obama misremembered the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit?) was on same call as I was yesterday. Nevertheless, he failed to describe, or even hint, at the McCain team’s complete responses to this matter: 1) the decision to reduce below surge troop levels has been made and 2) the larger context of this is that Obama was fundamentally wrong in contending the surge would have no impact (ah, that story is undergoing an edit also). One need not agree with the McCain camp on the latter point to at least afford them the courtesy of transcribing its response.

Compare the Post’s telling to this account in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) which recounts both sides’ barbs, the list of recent Obama gaffes, and Obama’s attacks on McCain’s troop level remark. The reporter also presents the McCain view:

Sen. McCain focused on the military success of the surge, saying the decision to increase troop levels shows that he exhibited proper judgment and Sen. Obama, who opposed the surge, did not.

Now that wasn’t so hard. It would seem a basic task of journalism to at least present what both campaigns have to say on a given matter. And in the world of the blogosphere you can always go to alternative outlets to find out who said what to whom.

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Bizarro World

Geraldine Ferraro sounds like Ward Connerly:

As for Reagan Democrats, how Clinton was treated is not their issue. They are more concerned with how they have been treated. Since March, when I was accused of being racist for a statement I made about the influence of blacks on Obama’s historic campaign, people have been stopping me to express a common sentiment: If you’re white you can’t open your mouth without being accused of being racist. They see Obama’s playing the race card throughout the campaign and no one calling him for it as frightening. They’re not upset with Obama because he’s black; they’re upset because they don’t expect to be treated fairly because they’re white. It’s not racism that is driving them, it’s racial resentment. And that is enforced because they don’t believe he understands them and their problems. That when he said in South Carolina after his victory “Our Time Has Come” they believe he is telling them that their time has passed.

Terry McAuliffe sounds like Rich Lowry (or Bob Dole) on Scott McClellan:

I never like it when someone works for someone and then comes out and writes a book trashing them. . . . I don’t care if it is politics or life. If he was that upset about everything, he should have quit. Remember, Gerald Ford’s press secretary quit when he disagreed with pardoning, Ford pardoning Nixon. If you don’t agree, then get out. And I just, I find it abhorrent the way these people come out and write books about their boss. It made ‘em money, it made ‘em prestige, it gave them all this power, and then they turn around and slap ‘em. I just, I gotta tell you, I just uh, I don’t care who it is — Democrat, Republican — it’s wrong.

And Bill Clinton sounds like Brent Bozell on the Leftwing media conspiracy.

Next thing you know we will find out that “Obama, a University of Chicago intellectual, is in the unlikely position of seeming to have a closed, uninquisitive mind when it comes to Iraq.” In all seriousness, when the Democratic party lurches so far to the left (with the assistance and urging of much of the mainstream media), the political landscape may be so scrambled that the Clintons, Terry McAuliffe and Geraldine Ferraro–exemplars of the Democratic establishment with a political memory longer than a week–start sounding sane in comparison.

Geraldine Ferraro sounds like Ward Connerly:

As for Reagan Democrats, how Clinton was treated is not their issue. They are more concerned with how they have been treated. Since March, when I was accused of being racist for a statement I made about the influence of blacks on Obama’s historic campaign, people have been stopping me to express a common sentiment: If you’re white you can’t open your mouth without being accused of being racist. They see Obama’s playing the race card throughout the campaign and no one calling him for it as frightening. They’re not upset with Obama because he’s black; they’re upset because they don’t expect to be treated fairly because they’re white. It’s not racism that is driving them, it’s racial resentment. And that is enforced because they don’t believe he understands them and their problems. That when he said in South Carolina after his victory “Our Time Has Come” they believe he is telling them that their time has passed.

Terry McAuliffe sounds like Rich Lowry (or Bob Dole) on Scott McClellan:

I never like it when someone works for someone and then comes out and writes a book trashing them. . . . I don’t care if it is politics or life. If he was that upset about everything, he should have quit. Remember, Gerald Ford’s press secretary quit when he disagreed with pardoning, Ford pardoning Nixon. If you don’t agree, then get out. And I just, I find it abhorrent the way these people come out and write books about their boss. It made ‘em money, it made ‘em prestige, it gave them all this power, and then they turn around and slap ‘em. I just, I gotta tell you, I just uh, I don’t care who it is — Democrat, Republican — it’s wrong.

And Bill Clinton sounds like Brent Bozell on the Leftwing media conspiracy.

Next thing you know we will find out that “Obama, a University of Chicago intellectual, is in the unlikely position of seeming to have a closed, uninquisitive mind when it comes to Iraq.” In all seriousness, when the Democratic party lurches so far to the left (with the assistance and urging of much of the mainstream media), the political landscape may be so scrambled that the Clintons, Terry McAuliffe and Geraldine Ferraro–exemplars of the Democratic establishment with a political memory longer than a week–start sounding sane in comparison.

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How Many Can You Count?

There are a number of mini-stories within the Father Pfleger controversy. Catholics are upset. Women and Hillary Clinton supporters are angry about his insulting and demeaning comments about her. The Democrats concerned about healing the party are worried. The earmark hawks smell a rat. And then there is the basic issue: what does Barack Obama believe and who are his intellectual and spiritual tutors?

Perhaps when the media exhaust themselves with the McClellan book they might work around to some Obama interviews that are a bit tougher than those they served up when Rev. Wright broke onto the scene. Some basic questions could get things going: why did you select him as a mentor? Did his liberation philosophy appeal to you? Why did you give him a nice juicy earmark?

And it will be interesting to see whether the McCain camp has gotten over its squeamishness about Obama’s ranting clergymen and will raise these issues themselves. As we have seen on Iraq, when they put their minds to it they aren’t bad at focusing the media on an Obama liability. But if they don’t, it is hard to see that the press, and in turn the public, will care much about this topic.

There are a number of mini-stories within the Father Pfleger controversy. Catholics are upset. Women and Hillary Clinton supporters are angry about his insulting and demeaning comments about her. The Democrats concerned about healing the party are worried. The earmark hawks smell a rat. And then there is the basic issue: what does Barack Obama believe and who are his intellectual and spiritual tutors?

Perhaps when the media exhaust themselves with the McClellan book they might work around to some Obama interviews that are a bit tougher than those they served up when Rev. Wright broke onto the scene. Some basic questions could get things going: why did you select him as a mentor? Did his liberation philosophy appeal to you? Why did you give him a nice juicy earmark?

And it will be interesting to see whether the McCain camp has gotten over its squeamishness about Obama’s ranting clergymen and will raise these issues themselves. As we have seen on Iraq, when they put their minds to it they aren’t bad at focusing the media on an Obama liability. But if they don’t, it is hard to see that the press, and in turn the public, will care much about this topic.

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Transparency Continued

The New York Times seems miffed that Barack Obama didn’t release his full medical records–just a one page doctor’s letter missing key answers to obvious questions.(e.g. How much did he smoke and has he really quit?) It seems downright odd that he wouldn’t have released all his medical records. After all, the old guy with a history of cancer put it all out there. Why all the cloak and dagger?

The Clintons perfected the art of making nondisclosure an end unto itself, a tactic that often seemed pointless and counterproductive. If there is not some deep dark secret in Obama’s medical records why conceal all of them from view? It makes as much sense as the Clintons sitting on their tax returns and the White House logs for a year.

One wonders if Obama learned the wrong lesson running against them.

The New York Times seems miffed that Barack Obama didn’t release his full medical records–just a one page doctor’s letter missing key answers to obvious questions.(e.g. How much did he smoke and has he really quit?) It seems downright odd that he wouldn’t have released all his medical records. After all, the old guy with a history of cancer put it all out there. Why all the cloak and dagger?

The Clintons perfected the art of making nondisclosure an end unto itself, a tactic that often seemed pointless and counterproductive. If there is not some deep dark secret in Obama’s medical records why conceal all of them from view? It makes as much sense as the Clintons sitting on their tax returns and the White House logs for a year.

One wonders if Obama learned the wrong lesson running against them.

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Multilateral Math

192 + 27 = 2.4 million.

There are 192 countries in the United Nations.

It has been 27 days since a cyclone devastated Burma.

2.4 million homeless and hungry are denied aid by the Burmese junta.

78,000 people are dead.

56,000 are missing.

This is shameful math. Where did all the body-count-ghouls with their Iraq War tallies disappear to? Why are these humanitarian activists now silent in the face of such overwhelming human tragedy? They seem, frankly, distracted. When a coalition of democracies liberated millions from from tyranny the rest of the world counted corpses. When a military dictatorship starves its population, all eyes are on a disgraced former White House Press Secretary.

The AP reports that the junta is now forcing cyclone victims to leave their shelters without food or supplies. UNICEF official Teh Tai Ring says, “The government is moving people unannounced . . . dumping people in the approximate location of the villages, basically with nothing.” With 2.4 million homeless roaming the ravaged land, the Burmese government has “declared that the relief phase of the rescue effort had been concluded.”

Hey, McClellan says Bush rushed into war, you know.

Aid groups report that that the junta is still blocking foreign aid from getting to victims, even though it promised UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon that travel restrictions would be lifted.

Did you hear that McClellan talks about Bush talking about cocaine?

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, “The military leaders surely know that foreign aid will save lives and help to rebuild the devastated areas. But they also fear the political consequences of opening up the disaster zone to international aid teams. This might show up their own incapability, and undermine their credibility and legitimacy.”

The important thing, after all, is that the U.S. didn’t go in there like the world’s police and try to force American values and institutions on a sovereign nation. And anyway, things will probably turn out fine because UN official Terje Skavdal said that the forced exposure of the refugees is “completely unacceptable.”

(Here is some more shameful math: Scott McClellan’s book is a number one bestseller.)

192 + 27 = 2.4 million.

There are 192 countries in the United Nations.

It has been 27 days since a cyclone devastated Burma.

2.4 million homeless and hungry are denied aid by the Burmese junta.

78,000 people are dead.

56,000 are missing.

This is shameful math. Where did all the body-count-ghouls with their Iraq War tallies disappear to? Why are these humanitarian activists now silent in the face of such overwhelming human tragedy? They seem, frankly, distracted. When a coalition of democracies liberated millions from from tyranny the rest of the world counted corpses. When a military dictatorship starves its population, all eyes are on a disgraced former White House Press Secretary.

The AP reports that the junta is now forcing cyclone victims to leave their shelters without food or supplies. UNICEF official Teh Tai Ring says, “The government is moving people unannounced . . . dumping people in the approximate location of the villages, basically with nothing.” With 2.4 million homeless roaming the ravaged land, the Burmese government has “declared that the relief phase of the rescue effort had been concluded.”

Hey, McClellan says Bush rushed into war, you know.

Aid groups report that that the junta is still blocking foreign aid from getting to victims, even though it promised UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon that travel restrictions would be lifted.

Did you hear that McClellan talks about Bush talking about cocaine?

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, “The military leaders surely know that foreign aid will save lives and help to rebuild the devastated areas. But they also fear the political consequences of opening up the disaster zone to international aid teams. This might show up their own incapability, and undermine their credibility and legitimacy.”

The important thing, after all, is that the U.S. didn’t go in there like the world’s police and try to force American values and institutions on a sovereign nation. And anyway, things will probably turn out fine because UN official Terje Skavdal said that the forced exposure of the refugees is “completely unacceptable.”

(Here is some more shameful math: Scott McClellan’s book is a number one bestseller.)

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Good News Isn’t Always Good For The Democrats

Uh oh. That, I suspect, may be the reaction of some Democrats these days when they read the front pages of the major newspapers. What if the Iraq war is not the zinger the Democrats thought it would be? As Abe and others have pointed out, nothing is going very well from their perspective, precisely because so much is going well in Iraq. The mainstream media have noticed that not only does Barack Obama not want to see the progress for himself ( how oddly closed-minded, they observe), but that John McCain leads on the “best able to handle Iraq” poll question. Then, the other big Democratic rhetorical club–“We have rendered ourselves less able to fight Al Qaeda”–appears to be, well, poppycock. Al Qaeda is not yet defeated, but it is seriously wounded. (And hey, Nancy Pelosi–it wasn’t Iran’s doing.)

So if Obama won’t go to Iraq, maybe he could read up and see for himself that, whatever the merits of the decision to go to war, the decisions made since then (which he also opposed) and the track record in inflicting grave injury on Al Qaeda (which he has denied) have worked out better than expected. Better than the Democrats expected, that is.

That is why, I suspect, Obama’s camp–with a major assist from the mainstream media just frothing at the prospect of showing that somehow McCain is less informed and knowledgeable about Iraq than Obama–manufactures the “drawn down/have dawn down/will draw down” mini-controversy. Anything, anything to get the voters’ minds off the fact that Obama simply got the surge and the withdrawal strategy wrong.

Uh oh. That, I suspect, may be the reaction of some Democrats these days when they read the front pages of the major newspapers. What if the Iraq war is not the zinger the Democrats thought it would be? As Abe and others have pointed out, nothing is going very well from their perspective, precisely because so much is going well in Iraq. The mainstream media have noticed that not only does Barack Obama not want to see the progress for himself ( how oddly closed-minded, they observe), but that John McCain leads on the “best able to handle Iraq” poll question. Then, the other big Democratic rhetorical club–“We have rendered ourselves less able to fight Al Qaeda”–appears to be, well, poppycock. Al Qaeda is not yet defeated, but it is seriously wounded. (And hey, Nancy Pelosi–it wasn’t Iran’s doing.)

So if Obama won’t go to Iraq, maybe he could read up and see for himself that, whatever the merits of the decision to go to war, the decisions made since then (which he also opposed) and the track record in inflicting grave injury on Al Qaeda (which he has denied) have worked out better than expected. Better than the Democrats expected, that is.

That is why, I suspect, Obama’s camp–with a major assist from the mainstream media just frothing at the prospect of showing that somehow McCain is less informed and knowledgeable about Iraq than Obama–manufactures the “drawn down/have dawn down/will draw down” mini-controversy. Anything, anything to get the voters’ minds off the fact that Obama simply got the surge and the withdrawal strategy wrong.

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Bibi Will Be Back

Two polls released today in Israel have confirmed what most observers have long thought — that new elections would bring Bibi Netanyahu and the Likud party back to power. The Haaretz poll has Likud, headed by Netanyahu, winning 29 Knesset seats (more than double the party’s current 12 seats); Kadima, led by Tzipi Livni, winning 23; and Labor, led by Ehud Barak, winning 15. The Ma’ariv poll found roughly the same results, with Likud at 30, Kadima at 25, and Labor at 18.

As a side note, it is entertaining to read Haaretz‘s grudging and opaque story on the poll results. One would think that a poll confirming the dramatic increase in Likud’s popularity would be headlined and would emphasize that information. Instead, the story is slugged, “Poll: Mergers drive away voters, parties better off running alone,” and only in the third paragraph (in the context of a discussion of the electoral prospects of merged parties) does the reader learn that Likud would handily beat Kadima and Labor in an election.

These results are unsurprising. Israeli voters, like their American counterparts, tend to be motivated in times of danger by a very basic consideration: Are my children going to be blown up on a bus? Is a rocket going to crash through my roof? The Likud party in Israel, like the Republican party in America, is seen as being most capable of preventing such tragedies.

Two polls released today in Israel have confirmed what most observers have long thought — that new elections would bring Bibi Netanyahu and the Likud party back to power. The Haaretz poll has Likud, headed by Netanyahu, winning 29 Knesset seats (more than double the party’s current 12 seats); Kadima, led by Tzipi Livni, winning 23; and Labor, led by Ehud Barak, winning 15. The Ma’ariv poll found roughly the same results, with Likud at 30, Kadima at 25, and Labor at 18.

As a side note, it is entertaining to read Haaretz‘s grudging and opaque story on the poll results. One would think that a poll confirming the dramatic increase in Likud’s popularity would be headlined and would emphasize that information. Instead, the story is slugged, “Poll: Mergers drive away voters, parties better off running alone,” and only in the third paragraph (in the context of a discussion of the electoral prospects of merged parties) does the reader learn that Likud would handily beat Kadima and Labor in an election.

These results are unsurprising. Israeli voters, like their American counterparts, tend to be motivated in times of danger by a very basic consideration: Are my children going to be blown up on a bus? Is a rocket going to crash through my roof? The Likud party in Israel, like the Republican party in America, is seen as being most capable of preventing such tragedies.

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McCain Foreign Policy Call

Sen. Jon Kyl and McCain senior foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann held a conference call to talk about Iraq and a comment that John McCain made yesterday that “We have drawn down to pre-surge levels.” (The Obama camp pounced, declaring that the pre-surge troops won’t be fully withdrawn until July.)

Sen. Kyl began by saying that “Al Qaeda has been significantly, significantly degraded in Iraq and other places.” He continued “The point is the surge recommended by Sen. McCain has worked.” Scheunemann was more harsh, declaring that Obama is “so wedded to a narrative of failure” that he refuses to get additional facts and that he simply “refuses to recognize any progress.” He declared that Obama was “demonstrably wrong” on the judgment that the surge would not reduce sectarian violence.

I asked whether McCain considered Obama unfit to be commander-in-chief. Scheunemann excoriated Obama for refusing to take the time to visit Iraq and or even meet with General Petraeus. He said, “Sen. Obama lacks the judgment, experience and knowledge” to be commander-in-chief. Most of the rest of the call was taken up by mainstream reporters wrangling with the advisors, accusing McCain of a gaffe and arguing that this revealed that he was uninformed about a key fact. The advisors reiterated again and again that the essence of McCain’s comment is correct: we are drawing down and we have already decided to reduce below surge levels. The bulk of the reporters seemed positively fixated on what the McCain camp termed a “verb tense” and the prospect of catching McCain in an error.

On an unrelated note, I asked whether McCain had problems with the progress of the Six Party talks and was disappointed in the Bush administration’s decision to abandon verification of North Korea’s nuke program. Without responding directly, the advisors noted that McCain has favored talks with our allies and an agreement that is “complete, irreversible, and verifiable.”

Sen. Jon Kyl and McCain senior foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann held a conference call to talk about Iraq and a comment that John McCain made yesterday that “We have drawn down to pre-surge levels.” (The Obama camp pounced, declaring that the pre-surge troops won’t be fully withdrawn until July.)

Sen. Kyl began by saying that “Al Qaeda has been significantly, significantly degraded in Iraq and other places.” He continued “The point is the surge recommended by Sen. McCain has worked.” Scheunemann was more harsh, declaring that Obama is “so wedded to a narrative of failure” that he refuses to get additional facts and that he simply “refuses to recognize any progress.” He declared that Obama was “demonstrably wrong” on the judgment that the surge would not reduce sectarian violence.

I asked whether McCain considered Obama unfit to be commander-in-chief. Scheunemann excoriated Obama for refusing to take the time to visit Iraq and or even meet with General Petraeus. He said, “Sen. Obama lacks the judgment, experience and knowledge” to be commander-in-chief. Most of the rest of the call was taken up by mainstream reporters wrangling with the advisors, accusing McCain of a gaffe and arguing that this revealed that he was uninformed about a key fact. The advisors reiterated again and again that the essence of McCain’s comment is correct: we are drawing down and we have already decided to reduce below surge levels. The bulk of the reporters seemed positively fixated on what the McCain camp termed a “verb tense” and the prospect of catching McCain in an error.

On an unrelated note, I asked whether McCain had problems with the progress of the Six Party talks and was disappointed in the Bush administration’s decision to abandon verification of North Korea’s nuke program. Without responding directly, the advisors noted that McCain has favored talks with our allies and an agreement that is “complete, irreversible, and verifiable.”

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China Turns Our Lights Out

Chinese hackers caused two power blackouts in the United States in the last half decade, according to the cover story in tomorrow’s National Journal. American intelligence sources confirm that the People’s Liberation Army was responsible for intrusions in 2003 that likely caused North America’s largest blackout, which affected three states, parts of Canada, and 50 million people. More than a hundred generating stations were shut down. To this day the Chinese activity that precipitated the cascading failure is not fully understood.

Then, this February, three million customers were hit by a blackout that appears to have been inadvertently caused by the People’s Liberation Army as it mapped the network of Florida Power & Light. “I suspect, as the system went down, the PLA hacker said something like, ‘Oops, my bad,’ in Chinese,” said an unnamed information-security expert quoted in the story.

As they say, the Chinese are at war with us every day over the phone lines. Washington is squeamish about publicly naming China as the source of hostile attacks, so we almost never push back.

Whatever happened to the don’t-tread-on-me spirit in this country? We ignored al Qaeda’s attacks until September 11. Now we’re adopting the same passive approach to Chinese assaults on our critical infrastructure. Last August, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while in Beijing, publicly told off Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao about Chinese hacking. Why can’t Robert Gates muster the courage to say anything in front of the microphones when he travels to the Chinese capital? Beijing has rewarded our secretary of defense for his discretion by hacking into the computer network serving his office last June.

We need a better China policy. So here’s a proposal. The next time the Chinese cause a blackout in this country, let’s take down all their grids. The communists in Beijing will be angry, but I suspect they’ll get the message.

Chinese hackers caused two power blackouts in the United States in the last half decade, according to the cover story in tomorrow’s National Journal. American intelligence sources confirm that the People’s Liberation Army was responsible for intrusions in 2003 that likely caused North America’s largest blackout, which affected three states, parts of Canada, and 50 million people. More than a hundred generating stations were shut down. To this day the Chinese activity that precipitated the cascading failure is not fully understood.

Then, this February, three million customers were hit by a blackout that appears to have been inadvertently caused by the People’s Liberation Army as it mapped the network of Florida Power & Light. “I suspect, as the system went down, the PLA hacker said something like, ‘Oops, my bad,’ in Chinese,” said an unnamed information-security expert quoted in the story.

As they say, the Chinese are at war with us every day over the phone lines. Washington is squeamish about publicly naming China as the source of hostile attacks, so we almost never push back.

Whatever happened to the don’t-tread-on-me spirit in this country? We ignored al Qaeda’s attacks until September 11. Now we’re adopting the same passive approach to Chinese assaults on our critical infrastructure. Last August, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while in Beijing, publicly told off Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao about Chinese hacking. Why can’t Robert Gates muster the courage to say anything in front of the microphones when he travels to the Chinese capital? Beijing has rewarded our secretary of defense for his discretion by hacking into the computer network serving his office last June.

We need a better China policy. So here’s a proposal. The next time the Chinese cause a blackout in this country, let’s take down all their grids. The communists in Beijing will be angry, but I suspect they’ll get the message.

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U.S. Success and Democratic Woe

Doubtless there is reason to be sober about CIA Director Michael Hayden’s sunny new assessment of the fight against al Qaeda. In addition to its countless pre-9/11 fiascos, the agency seems–in its supposedly revamped state–still to suffer from a culture of political bias and unaccountability. One need only look at the absurd NIE on Iran’s nuclear weapons to note that the intelligence community is more than happy to, in Gabriel Schoenfeld’s well-chosen phrase, “cry sheep.”

However, someone’s crying sheep does not establish that there is no sheep. As my CONTENTIONS colleague Peter Wehner has noted, Hayden’s recognition comes amid a cluster of acknowledgments that Bush’s conception of the war on terror may not have been so disastrous after all.

So, where does this leave the Democrats who’ve been up-in-arms about George Bush’s “dropping the ball” in the fight against al Qaeda?

This week, Hayden’s said

On balance, we are doing pretty well. . . Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’ — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam.

On the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Barack Obama said

Above all, the war in Iraq has emboldened al Qaeda, whose recruitment has jumped and whose leadership enjoys a safe-haven in Pakistan – a thousand miles from Iraq.

The central front in the war against terror is not Iraq, and it never was. What more could America’s enemies ask for than an endless war where they recruit new followers and try out new tactics on a battlefield so far from their base of operations? That is why my presidency will shift our focus. Rather than fight a war that does not need to be fought, we need to start fighting the battles that need to be won on the central front of the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There is going to have to be some reconciliation of realities here. Of course we need to keep up the fight against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But considering the growing acceptance of George W. Bush’s successes, Obama is going to have a hard time proposing a “shift” as such. If the acknowledgment of U.S. accomplishments continue, John McCain may yet stop worrying about keeping that perceived space between himself and the President.

Doubtless there is reason to be sober about CIA Director Michael Hayden’s sunny new assessment of the fight against al Qaeda. In addition to its countless pre-9/11 fiascos, the agency seems–in its supposedly revamped state–still to suffer from a culture of political bias and unaccountability. One need only look at the absurd NIE on Iran’s nuclear weapons to note that the intelligence community is more than happy to, in Gabriel Schoenfeld’s well-chosen phrase, “cry sheep.”

However, someone’s crying sheep does not establish that there is no sheep. As my CONTENTIONS colleague Peter Wehner has noted, Hayden’s recognition comes amid a cluster of acknowledgments that Bush’s conception of the war on terror may not have been so disastrous after all.

So, where does this leave the Democrats who’ve been up-in-arms about George Bush’s “dropping the ball” in the fight against al Qaeda?

This week, Hayden’s said

On balance, we are doing pretty well. . . Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’ — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam.

On the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Barack Obama said

Above all, the war in Iraq has emboldened al Qaeda, whose recruitment has jumped and whose leadership enjoys a safe-haven in Pakistan – a thousand miles from Iraq.

The central front in the war against terror is not Iraq, and it never was. What more could America’s enemies ask for than an endless war where they recruit new followers and try out new tactics on a battlefield so far from their base of operations? That is why my presidency will shift our focus. Rather than fight a war that does not need to be fought, we need to start fighting the battles that need to be won on the central front of the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There is going to have to be some reconciliation of realities here. Of course we need to keep up the fight against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But considering the growing acceptance of George W. Bush’s successes, Obama is going to have a hard time proposing a “shift” as such. If the acknowledgment of U.S. accomplishments continue, John McCain may yet stop worrying about keeping that perceived space between himself and the President.

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The Story Is Only as Good as the Witness

It would have been nice had Peggy Noonan tried harder to answer her query (“Is it true?”) about Scott McClellan’s book. She acknowledges that the storyteller has some significant credibility problems, but shushes those who criticize him. She then seems to conclude the book is nevertheless “true.” (There’s quite a bit of “if he thought it or felt it, it has truth” which suggests that, unfortunately, post-modernism has become endemic.)

Maybe it’s the lawyer in me, but I think that when the credibility of the witness is damaged because of bias, motive to lie, or lack of first-hand facts (or all of these), there is reason to believe the story isn’t true. There are a few core problems with McClellan’s telling, which others more knowledgeable than I about the inner workings of the Bush White House have pointed to, contemporaneous contradictory comments and lack of access being two of the major ones. Hint #1: a telltale sign of a hyped story about supposed misdeeds is use of provocative language (“propaganda”) in lieu of details about who, what, where, and when untruths allegedly were concocted. Hint#2: when the book changes fundamentally between the “proposal and publication” under the tutelage of a left-wing book publisher you can bet, like that infamous British intelligence report, it got “sexed up” a bit.

So rather than hush the skeptics, maybe we should consider their point: the storyteller is an unreliable witness. (And if forced to swallow truth serum, the reporters–the ones who covered the White House–who are now fawning over McClellan would tell us they doubt he was keyed into the major players and key conversations which would substantiate his claims.)

As to the generic venom and clichéd observations (Dick Cheney was powerful! Who’d have thought?):those didn’t take a percipient witness. They could have been drafted by George Soros. (Maybe they were.)

It would have been nice had Peggy Noonan tried harder to answer her query (“Is it true?”) about Scott McClellan’s book. She acknowledges that the storyteller has some significant credibility problems, but shushes those who criticize him. She then seems to conclude the book is nevertheless “true.” (There’s quite a bit of “if he thought it or felt it, it has truth” which suggests that, unfortunately, post-modernism has become endemic.)

Maybe it’s the lawyer in me, but I think that when the credibility of the witness is damaged because of bias, motive to lie, or lack of first-hand facts (or all of these), there is reason to believe the story isn’t true. There are a few core problems with McClellan’s telling, which others more knowledgeable than I about the inner workings of the Bush White House have pointed to, contemporaneous contradictory comments and lack of access being two of the major ones. Hint #1: a telltale sign of a hyped story about supposed misdeeds is use of provocative language (“propaganda”) in lieu of details about who, what, where, and when untruths allegedly were concocted. Hint#2: when the book changes fundamentally between the “proposal and publication” under the tutelage of a left-wing book publisher you can bet, like that infamous British intelligence report, it got “sexed up” a bit.

So rather than hush the skeptics, maybe we should consider their point: the storyteller is an unreliable witness. (And if forced to swallow truth serum, the reporters–the ones who covered the White House–who are now fawning over McClellan would tell us they doubt he was keyed into the major players and key conversations which would substantiate his claims.)

As to the generic venom and clichéd observations (Dick Cheney was powerful! Who’d have thought?):those didn’t take a percipient witness. They could have been drafted by George Soros. (Maybe they were.)

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Al-Qaeda and The Turning Tide

CIA Director Michael Hayden gave a noteworthy interview to the Washington Post this week. According to the Post:

Less than a year after his agency warned of new threats from a resurgent al-Qaeda, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden now portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda’s allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group’s core leadership. While cautioning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents. Two years ago, a CIA study concluded that the U.S.-led war had become a propaganda and marketing bonanza for al-Qaeda, generating cash donations and legions of volunteers. All that has changed, Hayden said in an interview with the Washington Post this week that coincided with the start of his third year at the helm of the CIA. “On balance, we are doing pretty well,” he said, ticking down a list of accomplishments: “Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’ — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam,” he said.

The sense of shifting tides in the terrorism fight is shared by a number of terrorism experts, though some caution that it is too early to tell whether the gains are permanent. Some credit Hayden and other U.S. intelligence leaders for going on the offensive against al-Qaeda in the area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the tempo of Predator strikes has dramatically increased from previous years. But analysts say the United States has caught some breaks in the past year, benefiting from improved conditions in Iraq, as well as strategic blunders by al-Qaeda that have cut into its support base.[…]

On Iraq, he said he is encouraged not only by U.S. success against al-Qaeda’s affiliates there, but also by what he described as the steadily rising competence of the Iraqi military and a growing popular antipathy toward jihadism. “Despite this ’cause célebrè’ phenomenon, fundamentally no one really liked al-Qaeda’s vision of the future,” Hayden said. As a result, the insurgency is viewed locally as “more and more a war of al-Qaeda against Iraqis,” he said. Hayden specifically cited the recent writings of prominent Sunni clerics — including some who used to support al-Qaeda — criticizing the group for its indiscriminant killing of Muslim civilians. While al-Qaeda misplayed its hand with gruesome attacks on Iraqi civilians, Hayden said, U.S. military commanders and intelligence officials deserve some of the credit for the shift, because they “created the circumstances” for it by building strategic alliances with Sunni and Shiite factions, he said.

Hayden’s assessment comes on the heels of important essays by Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker and Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank in The New Republic arguing that the tide within the Islamic world is turning strongly against al Qaeda and jihadism. The causes for this shift include an organic uprising within the Arab and Islamic world against the barbaric tactics of al Qaeda, as well as the success of the Petraeus-led strategy in Iraq, which has been indispensable in aiding the “Anbar Awakening” and which has also dealt devastating military blows to al Qaeda.

We need to be very cautious. Progress, like setbacks, can be reversed. Georgetown University terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman is surely right when he says “Al-Qaeda’s obituary has been written far too often in the past few years for anyone to declare victory. I agree that there has been progress. But we’re indisputably up against a very resilient and implacable enemy.” And Hayden’s right to warn us that progress in Iraq is being undermined by increasing interference by Iran, which he accused of supplying weapons, training, and financial assistance to anti-U.S. insurgents. According to the Post:

While declining to endorse any particular strategy for dealing with Iran, he described the threat in stark terms. “It is the policy of the Iranian government, approved at the highest levels of that government, to facilitate the killing of American and other coalition forces in Iraq. Period,” he said.

It’s worth recalling how widely the pendulum has swung in just the last two years. In 2005 and 2006, Iraq, it was said in many quarters, was lost; we either had to beat a hasty retreat or, as Joe Biden and Les Gelb counseled, we needed to separate Iraq into three largely autonomous regions (Shia, Sunni, and Kurd). For a time the Biden-Gelb plan was the “hot” one among commentators — the “third way” between leaving Iraq precipitously and foolishly attempting to repair a hopelessly broken and divided society. In fact, we are now seeing precisely the reconciliation and progress that many analysts believed was impossible to achieve.

It was also said by many analysts that as a result of the President’s misguided policies, al Qaeda was growing more popular, terrorist recruitment was up, al Qaeda had been handed great gifts by the Bush administration, and that America was less safe than prior to 9/11. The conventional wisdom was that the “Bush legacy” would be that al Qaeda was much stronger and America was much weaker than before the Iraq war.

Today the pendulum is swinging very much the other way. The reality is that things are much better now then they were at the mid-point of this decade. The cautionary tale in all this may be that we need to resist the temptation to take a snapshot in time and assuming that those things will stay as they are. Two years ago there were reasons for deep concern — but there were not reasons, it turns out, for despair or hopelessness. Events are fluid and can be shaped by human action and human will. While commentators were busy writing obituaries on Iraq, Bush, in the face of gale-force political winds, changed strategies –and Petraeus and company took on the hard task of redeeming Iraq.

Recent events are reminders, too, that equanimity and the capacity for some degree of detachment are important qualities to possess–qualities which are often lacking among those of us who inhabit the world of politics and government and comment on events on a daily or weekly basis.

It seems clear that among the worst thing we could do right now, in the wake of the significant, indisputable but reversible progress we’ve made, is to turn away from what works. It’s certainly true that the United States is limited in its capacity to shape the intra-Islamic struggle that is unfolding. But we do have the capacity to influence things in some arenas–and Iraq is, right now, a central battlefield in the war against jihadists. To undo what we have put in place would be unwise, reckless, and–given events of the last year–indefensible as well.

CIA Director Michael Hayden gave a noteworthy interview to the Washington Post this week. According to the Post:

Less than a year after his agency warned of new threats from a resurgent al-Qaeda, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden now portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda’s allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group’s core leadership. While cautioning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents. Two years ago, a CIA study concluded that the U.S.-led war had become a propaganda and marketing bonanza for al-Qaeda, generating cash donations and legions of volunteers. All that has changed, Hayden said in an interview with the Washington Post this week that coincided with the start of his third year at the helm of the CIA. “On balance, we are doing pretty well,” he said, ticking down a list of accomplishments: “Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’ — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam,” he said.

The sense of shifting tides in the terrorism fight is shared by a number of terrorism experts, though some caution that it is too early to tell whether the gains are permanent. Some credit Hayden and other U.S. intelligence leaders for going on the offensive against al-Qaeda in the area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the tempo of Predator strikes has dramatically increased from previous years. But analysts say the United States has caught some breaks in the past year, benefiting from improved conditions in Iraq, as well as strategic blunders by al-Qaeda that have cut into its support base.[…]

On Iraq, he said he is encouraged not only by U.S. success against al-Qaeda’s affiliates there, but also by what he described as the steadily rising competence of the Iraqi military and a growing popular antipathy toward jihadism. “Despite this ’cause célebrè’ phenomenon, fundamentally no one really liked al-Qaeda’s vision of the future,” Hayden said. As a result, the insurgency is viewed locally as “more and more a war of al-Qaeda against Iraqis,” he said. Hayden specifically cited the recent writings of prominent Sunni clerics — including some who used to support al-Qaeda — criticizing the group for its indiscriminant killing of Muslim civilians. While al-Qaeda misplayed its hand with gruesome attacks on Iraqi civilians, Hayden said, U.S. military commanders and intelligence officials deserve some of the credit for the shift, because they “created the circumstances” for it by building strategic alliances with Sunni and Shiite factions, he said.

Hayden’s assessment comes on the heels of important essays by Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker and Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank in The New Republic arguing that the tide within the Islamic world is turning strongly against al Qaeda and jihadism. The causes for this shift include an organic uprising within the Arab and Islamic world against the barbaric tactics of al Qaeda, as well as the success of the Petraeus-led strategy in Iraq, which has been indispensable in aiding the “Anbar Awakening” and which has also dealt devastating military blows to al Qaeda.

We need to be very cautious. Progress, like setbacks, can be reversed. Georgetown University terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman is surely right when he says “Al-Qaeda’s obituary has been written far too often in the past few years for anyone to declare victory. I agree that there has been progress. But we’re indisputably up against a very resilient and implacable enemy.” And Hayden’s right to warn us that progress in Iraq is being undermined by increasing interference by Iran, which he accused of supplying weapons, training, and financial assistance to anti-U.S. insurgents. According to the Post:

While declining to endorse any particular strategy for dealing with Iran, he described the threat in stark terms. “It is the policy of the Iranian government, approved at the highest levels of that government, to facilitate the killing of American and other coalition forces in Iraq. Period,” he said.

It’s worth recalling how widely the pendulum has swung in just the last two years. In 2005 and 2006, Iraq, it was said in many quarters, was lost; we either had to beat a hasty retreat or, as Joe Biden and Les Gelb counseled, we needed to separate Iraq into three largely autonomous regions (Shia, Sunni, and Kurd). For a time the Biden-Gelb plan was the “hot” one among commentators — the “third way” between leaving Iraq precipitously and foolishly attempting to repair a hopelessly broken and divided society. In fact, we are now seeing precisely the reconciliation and progress that many analysts believed was impossible to achieve.

It was also said by many analysts that as a result of the President’s misguided policies, al Qaeda was growing more popular, terrorist recruitment was up, al Qaeda had been handed great gifts by the Bush administration, and that America was less safe than prior to 9/11. The conventional wisdom was that the “Bush legacy” would be that al Qaeda was much stronger and America was much weaker than before the Iraq war.

Today the pendulum is swinging very much the other way. The reality is that things are much better now then they were at the mid-point of this decade. The cautionary tale in all this may be that we need to resist the temptation to take a snapshot in time and assuming that those things will stay as they are. Two years ago there were reasons for deep concern — but there were not reasons, it turns out, for despair or hopelessness. Events are fluid and can be shaped by human action and human will. While commentators were busy writing obituaries on Iraq, Bush, in the face of gale-force political winds, changed strategies –and Petraeus and company took on the hard task of redeeming Iraq.

Recent events are reminders, too, that equanimity and the capacity for some degree of detachment are important qualities to possess–qualities which are often lacking among those of us who inhabit the world of politics and government and comment on events on a daily or weekly basis.

It seems clear that among the worst thing we could do right now, in the wake of the significant, indisputable but reversible progress we’ve made, is to turn away from what works. It’s certainly true that the United States is limited in its capacity to shape the intra-Islamic struggle that is unfolding. But we do have the capacity to influence things in some arenas–and Iraq is, right now, a central battlefield in the war against jihadists. To undo what we have put in place would be unwise, reckless, and–given events of the last year–indefensible as well.

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Expert Opinions

A number of far-left and far-right websites are featuring excerpts from that classic work of historical scholarship, Mission Accomplished! Or How We Won the War in Iraq: The Experts Speak by Victory S. Navasky, former editor and publisher of the Nation, and Christopher Cerf, a musician who is most notable for his contributions to Sesame Street (I’m not making that up). This is a collection of quotes regarding the Iraq War that is supposed to make supporters of the war effort look stupid. Judging by the mention of me in the excerpt posted online, it’s the authors who look stupid. They write:

On November 6, 2003, President Bush observed: “We’ve reached another great turning point…” On June 16, 2004, President Bush claimed: “A turning point will come two weeks from today.”

That same day the Montreal Gazette headlined an editorial by neoconservative columnist Max Boot: “Despite the Negative Reaction by Much of the Media, U.S. Marines Did a Good Job in Fallujah, a Battle That Might Prove a Turning Point.”

I didn’t recall the article in question, because I have never written a word for the Montreal Gazette. I have, however, written a lot of articles for the Los Angeles Times and other publications that have been syndicated and thus appeared in other publications such as the Montreal Gazette. But it took about ten seconds of digging by my industrious research associate, Mike Scavelli, to discover that the article they refer to ran in the Gazette on December 9, 2004, not on June 16, 2004.

That’s quite a difference: the U.S. mounted two assaults on Fallujah in 2004: the first in April, the second in November. The first assault failed, although U.S. government spokesmen initially tried to spin it as a success. I wasn’t buying it. I wrote about the earlier battle in a May 6, 2004, column entitled, “The U.S. Loses by Quitting in Fallouja.”

The second battle was more successful and my column reflected that. But notwithstanding the headline put on it by the Gazette editors (which contrasted with the more accurate L.A. Times headline: “What We Won in Fallouja”), I didn’t exactly call the second battle of Fallujah a turning point. What I actually wrote (quoting from my original L.A. Times column which was slightly altered in the Gazette) was this:

The news media . . . seem positively despondent over the battle of Fallujah.

It is right and proper . . . to mourn the death of 71 Americans and the wounding of hundreds more . . . But it is wrong to . . . [assume] as so much of the current commentary implicitly does, that war solves nothing and that all casualties are meaningless. In fact, many of the turning points of history have been battles, such as Wellington’s victory at Waterloo, which ended for two centuries, and counting, the threat of French expansionism in Europe.

Obviously, the battle of Fallujah will not be as decisive as Waterloo; few battles are. But that shouldn’t blind us to the accomplishments of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which led the offensive along with U.S. Army and Iraqi soldiers.

My article ended with a warning:

Thus, for all their success in Fallouja, we should not expect U.S. troops to completely pacify Iraq anytime soon. What they can do — what they are doing — is to keep the insurgents from derailing a political process that, one hopes, will soon result in the creation of a legitimate government that can field indigenous security forces and defend itself.

Cerf and Navasky don’t actually explain what it is that each of their quoted “experts” got wrong. They seem to expect it should be obvious. Maybe I’m not as smart as a “Sesame Street” lyricist, but I fail to grasp the error in what I wrote.

A number of far-left and far-right websites are featuring excerpts from that classic work of historical scholarship, Mission Accomplished! Or How We Won the War in Iraq: The Experts Speak by Victory S. Navasky, former editor and publisher of the Nation, and Christopher Cerf, a musician who is most notable for his contributions to Sesame Street (I’m not making that up). This is a collection of quotes regarding the Iraq War that is supposed to make supporters of the war effort look stupid. Judging by the mention of me in the excerpt posted online, it’s the authors who look stupid. They write:

On November 6, 2003, President Bush observed: “We’ve reached another great turning point…” On June 16, 2004, President Bush claimed: “A turning point will come two weeks from today.”

That same day the Montreal Gazette headlined an editorial by neoconservative columnist Max Boot: “Despite the Negative Reaction by Much of the Media, U.S. Marines Did a Good Job in Fallujah, a Battle That Might Prove a Turning Point.”

I didn’t recall the article in question, because I have never written a word for the Montreal Gazette. I have, however, written a lot of articles for the Los Angeles Times and other publications that have been syndicated and thus appeared in other publications such as the Montreal Gazette. But it took about ten seconds of digging by my industrious research associate, Mike Scavelli, to discover that the article they refer to ran in the Gazette on December 9, 2004, not on June 16, 2004.

That’s quite a difference: the U.S. mounted two assaults on Fallujah in 2004: the first in April, the second in November. The first assault failed, although U.S. government spokesmen initially tried to spin it as a success. I wasn’t buying it. I wrote about the earlier battle in a May 6, 2004, column entitled, “The U.S. Loses by Quitting in Fallouja.”

The second battle was more successful and my column reflected that. But notwithstanding the headline put on it by the Gazette editors (which contrasted with the more accurate L.A. Times headline: “What We Won in Fallouja”), I didn’t exactly call the second battle of Fallujah a turning point. What I actually wrote (quoting from my original L.A. Times column which was slightly altered in the Gazette) was this:

The news media . . . seem positively despondent over the battle of Fallujah.

It is right and proper . . . to mourn the death of 71 Americans and the wounding of hundreds more . . . But it is wrong to . . . [assume] as so much of the current commentary implicitly does, that war solves nothing and that all casualties are meaningless. In fact, many of the turning points of history have been battles, such as Wellington’s victory at Waterloo, which ended for two centuries, and counting, the threat of French expansionism in Europe.

Obviously, the battle of Fallujah will not be as decisive as Waterloo; few battles are. But that shouldn’t blind us to the accomplishments of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which led the offensive along with U.S. Army and Iraqi soldiers.

My article ended with a warning:

Thus, for all their success in Fallouja, we should not expect U.S. troops to completely pacify Iraq anytime soon. What they can do — what they are doing — is to keep the insurgents from derailing a political process that, one hopes, will soon result in the creation of a legitimate government that can field indigenous security forces and defend itself.

Cerf and Navasky don’t actually explain what it is that each of their quoted “experts” got wrong. They seem to expect it should be obvious. Maybe I’m not as smart as a “Sesame Street” lyricist, but I fail to grasp the error in what I wrote.

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The Most Transparent Politician Ever?

Hillary Clinton has some grounds to be peeved. She, after all, was scolded by the Obama camp for months for failure to reveal all her tax records, the Clinton library records, and the White House logs. Barack Obama painted her as the captive of corporate lobbyists. It was shooting fish in a barrel–the public had had enough of the Clintons’ shenanigans and the press was mercilous in debate grillings and coverage.

But really is Obama any better? The Obama camp has played “count the lobbyists” for weeks, trying to convert John McCain into a stooge for special interests (which will surprise the business community which is none too thrilled to have someone as the Republican nominee who is so enamored of regulation). But in just one week we learn that Obama’s Puerto Rico campaign director is a lobbyist and David Axelrod apparently has his own roster of clients, although he desperately spins to avoid the title of “lobbyist.” (Didn’t Hillary take some flak for Mark Penn’s lobbying business?) And Obama hasn’t exactly given up closed-door fundraisers.

So is Obama any better on the lobbyist and openness front than Clinton? Well, he is less experienced and never made his way to a position where–for example–he took a healthcare task force deep undercover. In other words, his trail is not as long. But as the facts dribble out, it is not clear he is any more committed or able to rid himself of the “sins” (imagined or real, depending on your perspective) which he used to bring down Clinton.

Whether this apparent hypocrisy will hobble him to any degree in the general election remains to be seen. We will have to see if Jonathan Last was right when he penned that “Hypocrisy is the last great sin.”

Hillary Clinton has some grounds to be peeved. She, after all, was scolded by the Obama camp for months for failure to reveal all her tax records, the Clinton library records, and the White House logs. Barack Obama painted her as the captive of corporate lobbyists. It was shooting fish in a barrel–the public had had enough of the Clintons’ shenanigans and the press was mercilous in debate grillings and coverage.

But really is Obama any better? The Obama camp has played “count the lobbyists” for weeks, trying to convert John McCain into a stooge for special interests (which will surprise the business community which is none too thrilled to have someone as the Republican nominee who is so enamored of regulation). But in just one week we learn that Obama’s Puerto Rico campaign director is a lobbyist and David Axelrod apparently has his own roster of clients, although he desperately spins to avoid the title of “lobbyist.” (Didn’t Hillary take some flak for Mark Penn’s lobbying business?) And Obama hasn’t exactly given up closed-door fundraisers.

So is Obama any better on the lobbyist and openness front than Clinton? Well, he is less experienced and never made his way to a position where–for example–he took a healthcare task force deep undercover. In other words, his trail is not as long. But as the facts dribble out, it is not clear he is any more committed or able to rid himself of the “sins” (imagined or real, depending on your perspective) which he used to bring down Clinton.

Whether this apparent hypocrisy will hobble him to any degree in the general election remains to be seen. We will have to see if Jonathan Last was right when he penned that “Hypocrisy is the last great sin.”

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Crying Sheep

When you cry wolf once too often, you lose credibility. The same thing happens when you cry sheep.

Is the CIA now crying sheep about al Qaeda? In an interview with the Washington Post, CIA Director Michael Hayden sketches a series of triumphs in the global war on terrorism:

Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word “ideologically” — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam.

Before we uncork the champagne, let’s recall that it was less than a year ago that U.S. intelligence estimated that al Qaeda

is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership. Although we have discovered only a handful of individuals in the United States with ties to al-Qaeda senior leadership since 9/11, we judge that al-Qaeda will intensify its efforts to put operatives here.

As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment.

Let’s also recall that in January 2007, John Negroponte, then Director of National Intelligence, offered a wolf-like assessment of Iran:

Our assessment is that Tehran is determined to develop nuclear weapons. It is continuing to pursue uranium enrichment and has shown more interest in protracting negotiations than reaching an acceptable diplomatic solution.

In December of that year, the same office, now led by Mike McConnell, issued a National Intelligence Estimate was crying sheep:

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.

And of course, the shadow hanging over all U.S. intelligence assessments is the botched 2003 estimate that Iraq had an active WMD program. But in this instance the wolf turned out to be a sheep.

Restoring the credibility of U.S. intelligence is an urgent task. What is the point of having intelligence agencies if we cannot even place a modicum of trust in their words?

But how should they go about the task? Ultimately, there is only one approach that will work: get rid of the clowns and start getting things right.

When you cry wolf once too often, you lose credibility. The same thing happens when you cry sheep.

Is the CIA now crying sheep about al Qaeda? In an interview with the Washington Post, CIA Director Michael Hayden sketches a series of triumphs in the global war on terrorism:

Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word “ideologically” — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam.

Before we uncork the champagne, let’s recall that it was less than a year ago that U.S. intelligence estimated that al Qaeda

is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership. Although we have discovered only a handful of individuals in the United States with ties to al-Qaeda senior leadership since 9/11, we judge that al-Qaeda will intensify its efforts to put operatives here.

As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment.

Let’s also recall that in January 2007, John Negroponte, then Director of National Intelligence, offered a wolf-like assessment of Iran:

Our assessment is that Tehran is determined to develop nuclear weapons. It is continuing to pursue uranium enrichment and has shown more interest in protracting negotiations than reaching an acceptable diplomatic solution.

In December of that year, the same office, now led by Mike McConnell, issued a National Intelligence Estimate was crying sheep:

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.

And of course, the shadow hanging over all U.S. intelligence assessments is the botched 2003 estimate that Iraq had an active WMD program. But in this instance the wolf turned out to be a sheep.

Restoring the credibility of U.S. intelligence is an urgent task. What is the point of having intelligence agencies if we cannot even place a modicum of trust in their words?

But how should they go about the task? Ultimately, there is only one approach that will work: get rid of the clowns and start getting things right.

Read Less




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