Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 13, 2008

Re: Obama’s Little Pin

The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen must be devastated. A mere week after he wrote, “Sometimes I think the best thing about Barack Obama is that little empty space on his lapel,” Senator Obama (as Peter mentioned earlier) has gone and handicapped himself by re-accessorizing his person with an American flag pin.

In a May 6 op-ed, beautifully titled “Pins and Panders,” Cohen questions the automaton patriotism of flag-wearers and describes the pin as “a kitschy piece of empty symbolism.” Yet the man so disgusted with short-cuts to national pride is on board with the super-duper, turbo-charged, mother lode of bandwagon short-cut to national pride: the President as symbol. Cohen describes Obama as “a resplendent emblem of American possibilities.” Perhaps the true patriot wears Barack Obama’s image on his lapel . . .

Cohen writes:

Still, it is bracing to see a presidential candidate recoil, for the most part, from the orthodoxies of pandering. In this regard, the lack of a flag pin has become an important sign of Obama’s desire to think for himself. For all it says about Obama, I salute it.

Ah, but what will Obama fans salute now? Not, heaven forbid, the flag. And how will they square their belief in the rebel patriot anti-panderer with their candidate’s transparent pandering? Obama has not made it easy for his supporters. It’s hard to keep track of the alternating intelligibility of his gestures. Words were not “just words” until they were uttered by his ex-pastor: then they were “just words” again. He couldn’t denounce anti-American black liberation theology–until he could. He was post-racial until he was, first and foremost, racial. A lapel pin was a substitute for patriotism until it was patriotism itself.

There is one possibility that explains the reappearance of the flag pin as something other than pandering. Perhaps, like his wife Michelle, Obama is for the first time in his adult life, proud of his country. In making him the Democratic nominee, the U.S. has earned his patriotism at last. So the flag’s in place and he’s ready to roll. He shouldn’t push it, though. If his base catches him with his hand over his heart, he could lose it all.

The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen must be devastated. A mere week after he wrote, “Sometimes I think the best thing about Barack Obama is that little empty space on his lapel,” Senator Obama (as Peter mentioned earlier) has gone and handicapped himself by re-accessorizing his person with an American flag pin.

In a May 6 op-ed, beautifully titled “Pins and Panders,” Cohen questions the automaton patriotism of flag-wearers and describes the pin as “a kitschy piece of empty symbolism.” Yet the man so disgusted with short-cuts to national pride is on board with the super-duper, turbo-charged, mother lode of bandwagon short-cut to national pride: the President as symbol. Cohen describes Obama as “a resplendent emblem of American possibilities.” Perhaps the true patriot wears Barack Obama’s image on his lapel . . .

Cohen writes:

Still, it is bracing to see a presidential candidate recoil, for the most part, from the orthodoxies of pandering. In this regard, the lack of a flag pin has become an important sign of Obama’s desire to think for himself. For all it says about Obama, I salute it.

Ah, but what will Obama fans salute now? Not, heaven forbid, the flag. And how will they square their belief in the rebel patriot anti-panderer with their candidate’s transparent pandering? Obama has not made it easy for his supporters. It’s hard to keep track of the alternating intelligibility of his gestures. Words were not “just words” until they were uttered by his ex-pastor: then they were “just words” again. He couldn’t denounce anti-American black liberation theology–until he could. He was post-racial until he was, first and foremost, racial. A lapel pin was a substitute for patriotism until it was patriotism itself.

There is one possibility that explains the reappearance of the flag pin as something other than pandering. Perhaps, like his wife Michelle, Obama is for the first time in his adult life, proud of his country. In making him the Democratic nominee, the U.S. has earned his patriotism at last. So the flag’s in place and he’s ready to roll. He shouldn’t push it, though. If his base catches him with his hand over his heart, he could lose it all.

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Plutonium for Dummies

“It’s the plutonium, stupid,” write Siegfried Hecker and William Perry in this morning’s Washington Post. The two leading members of America’s Korea fraternity argue that, when it comes to Pyongyang, America’s most immediate goal should be eliminating its only working reactor, which is located at Yongbyon. Arguments over the North’s uranium weapons program and proliferation of nuclear technologies can wait, they contend. Defanging Kim Jong Il, we are assured, is a step-by-step process.

There is a surface logic to Hecker’s and Perry’s arguments. After all, nobody thinks North Korea is actively building weapons with uranium cores. Therefore, if we disable Yongbyon, we will have effectively ended Kim’s ability to produce more weapons that he can detonate, sell, or store. American policymakers now believe that, after we establish a working relationship with Pyongyang, we can eliminate its nuclear program over time. According to this view, there are no other options.

Or are there? Indeed, there are no other options once we give up the idea of pressuring Beijing and insist on sticking with the conventional diplomatic strategies that created this disaster in the first place. Yet there are other problems with the Hecker-Perry approach. It ignores the fact that North Korea is dealing with us now because it has to–its economy is falling back and it is entering another period of extreme hunger and possibly famine. Yet by providing interim rewards to Pyongyang for its initial cooperation, we are allowing the regime to strengthen itself. After it has done so, it will undoubtedly return to its traditionally intransigent approach. The problem with the current deal with North Korea is that, like the Agreed Framework of 1994, the United States is throwing another lifeline to Kim Jong Il without completely eliminating his nuclear program.

The United States can afford to reward bad North Korean behavior, and we can buy the North Korean nuclear program. But we can afford to do so only one more time. At this moment, the Bush administration is intent on implementing partial arrangements that undercut the possibility of reaching enduring solutions. In other words, we are setting ourselves up to continually buy the Kim family nuclear program. We should realize that our bargaining position is stronger now than it has been in a long while. For instance, South Korea, for the first time in ten years, has a political leadership that is willing to take a tougher line against the North.

Yet at this moment, Washington has decided to abandon its leverage and follow China’s go-slow policies. For those who believe Beijing can be helpful–President Bush, this sentence is directed at you–it is useful to examine Chinese complicity in North Korea’s proliferation of reactor technology to Syria. The real tragedy is that, at a moment when trends permit a firmer policy to work, the United States is adopting a softline approach that is bound to fail. So this is not just about plutonium. It’s about ending North Korea’s nuclear ambitions once and for all.

“It’s the plutonium, stupid,” write Siegfried Hecker and William Perry in this morning’s Washington Post. The two leading members of America’s Korea fraternity argue that, when it comes to Pyongyang, America’s most immediate goal should be eliminating its only working reactor, which is located at Yongbyon. Arguments over the North’s uranium weapons program and proliferation of nuclear technologies can wait, they contend. Defanging Kim Jong Il, we are assured, is a step-by-step process.

There is a surface logic to Hecker’s and Perry’s arguments. After all, nobody thinks North Korea is actively building weapons with uranium cores. Therefore, if we disable Yongbyon, we will have effectively ended Kim’s ability to produce more weapons that he can detonate, sell, or store. American policymakers now believe that, after we establish a working relationship with Pyongyang, we can eliminate its nuclear program over time. According to this view, there are no other options.

Or are there? Indeed, there are no other options once we give up the idea of pressuring Beijing and insist on sticking with the conventional diplomatic strategies that created this disaster in the first place. Yet there are other problems with the Hecker-Perry approach. It ignores the fact that North Korea is dealing with us now because it has to–its economy is falling back and it is entering another period of extreme hunger and possibly famine. Yet by providing interim rewards to Pyongyang for its initial cooperation, we are allowing the regime to strengthen itself. After it has done so, it will undoubtedly return to its traditionally intransigent approach. The problem with the current deal with North Korea is that, like the Agreed Framework of 1994, the United States is throwing another lifeline to Kim Jong Il without completely eliminating his nuclear program.

The United States can afford to reward bad North Korean behavior, and we can buy the North Korean nuclear program. But we can afford to do so only one more time. At this moment, the Bush administration is intent on implementing partial arrangements that undercut the possibility of reaching enduring solutions. In other words, we are setting ourselves up to continually buy the Kim family nuclear program. We should realize that our bargaining position is stronger now than it has been in a long while. For instance, South Korea, for the first time in ten years, has a political leadership that is willing to take a tougher line against the North.

Yet at this moment, Washington has decided to abandon its leverage and follow China’s go-slow policies. For those who believe Beijing can be helpful–President Bush, this sentence is directed at you–it is useful to examine Chinese complicity in North Korea’s proliferation of reactor technology to Syria. The real tragedy is that, at a moment when trends permit a firmer policy to work, the United States is adopting a softline approach that is bound to fail. So this is not just about plutonium. It’s about ending North Korea’s nuclear ambitions once and for all.

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Missile Defensiveness

Today’s New York Times could find no bloody and hopeless Iraq story to run in its A section. But the paper of record weighed in with some indispensable coverage all the same. Amazingly, a missile was fired in–of all places–a war zone:

A surface-to-air missile was fired on Saturday at an American Apache helicopter flying over the Sadr City section of Baghdad, American military officials said on Monday. The attack, which had not been disclosed previously, represents the first time that a helicopter has come under missile attack in Sadr City since fighting erupted in the Shiite enclave in March.

Kind of a strange and unwieldy milestone, if you ask me: the missile did not hit the helicopter and no one was injured. But! People saw this missile:

Soldiers from an American Army civil affairs unit in Sadr City saw the missile ascending and reported that it seemed to have been launched from north of Al Quds Street, where the American military is building a large concrete wall to prevent militia fighters from infiltrating south.

The missile was also seen by Iraqi volunteers in the “Sons of Iraq” program who provide security in Adhamiya, a nearby neighborhood. They found the missile’s body, which was turned over to American troops.

Tomorrow’s headline: “Spent Missile Taken to Scrap Yard.”

Today’s New York Times could find no bloody and hopeless Iraq story to run in its A section. But the paper of record weighed in with some indispensable coverage all the same. Amazingly, a missile was fired in–of all places–a war zone:

A surface-to-air missile was fired on Saturday at an American Apache helicopter flying over the Sadr City section of Baghdad, American military officials said on Monday. The attack, which had not been disclosed previously, represents the first time that a helicopter has come under missile attack in Sadr City since fighting erupted in the Shiite enclave in March.

Kind of a strange and unwieldy milestone, if you ask me: the missile did not hit the helicopter and no one was injured. But! People saw this missile:

Soldiers from an American Army civil affairs unit in Sadr City saw the missile ascending and reported that it seemed to have been launched from north of Al Quds Street, where the American military is building a large concrete wall to prevent militia fighters from infiltrating south.

The missile was also seen by Iraqi volunteers in the “Sons of Iraq” program who provide security in Adhamiya, a nearby neighborhood. They found the missile’s body, which was turned over to American troops.

Tomorrow’s headline: “Spent Missile Taken to Scrap Yard.”

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Re: His To Lose

John, I’m as realistic as any other observer about the uphill struggle John McCain faces. He’s got the drag of George W. Bush’s unpopularity, the economy, the falling number of registered GOP voters, and the Iraq war (which, although not calamitous from a political standpoint, is definitely not a winning issue for McCain). But if you look at the race from an electoral college standpoint, it doesn’t seem quite so bleak.

You can quibble here and there with this count, but it’s a helpful starting point. It gives McCain a 245-221 lead over Barack Obama if you include states which are “sure bets” and “leaners.” As Larry J. Sabato said to me when I started asking about all the talk about the electoral map changing, “My guess is that, despite all the happy talk from both sides, the vast majority of Blue States will stay Blue and the vast majority of Red States will stay Red.” (He cautions that everything could go downhill for McCain if the war takes a turn for the worse.)

The South, for example, is heavily Republican. So outside of Virginia (just barely Southern and not at all Southern in the heavily populated suburbs of D.C.), there likely is not another state that truly will be in play for Obama, despite his huge support among African-Americans in the Democratic primaries. There just aren’t enough Democrats in these states to deliver the states for him.

And those states Republican always hope to win but never do (New Jersey and California tend to top the list)? McCain might con the Democrats into spending some money and time there but the chance that either state would actually vote for McCain is slim to none.

So the candidates, once again, will be back to fighting over a short list of states and for the swing voters within those states. Can McCain win states like New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Ohio? If Ohio remains problematic for Obama, and New Mexico and New Hampshire break for McCain, then the race looks do-able for him.

Yes, the Democrats have more registered voters in all these states than they used to and more money than any political party has ever had. But looked at from an electoral standpoint–which is the way Presidential elections actually work–McCain may be remarkably competitive. The underdog to be sure, but competitive.

John, I’m as realistic as any other observer about the uphill struggle John McCain faces. He’s got the drag of George W. Bush’s unpopularity, the economy, the falling number of registered GOP voters, and the Iraq war (which, although not calamitous from a political standpoint, is definitely not a winning issue for McCain). But if you look at the race from an electoral college standpoint, it doesn’t seem quite so bleak.

You can quibble here and there with this count, but it’s a helpful starting point. It gives McCain a 245-221 lead over Barack Obama if you include states which are “sure bets” and “leaners.” As Larry J. Sabato said to me when I started asking about all the talk about the electoral map changing, “My guess is that, despite all the happy talk from both sides, the vast majority of Blue States will stay Blue and the vast majority of Red States will stay Red.” (He cautions that everything could go downhill for McCain if the war takes a turn for the worse.)

The South, for example, is heavily Republican. So outside of Virginia (just barely Southern and not at all Southern in the heavily populated suburbs of D.C.), there likely is not another state that truly will be in play for Obama, despite his huge support among African-Americans in the Democratic primaries. There just aren’t enough Democrats in these states to deliver the states for him.

And those states Republican always hope to win but never do (New Jersey and California tend to top the list)? McCain might con the Democrats into spending some money and time there but the chance that either state would actually vote for McCain is slim to none.

So the candidates, once again, will be back to fighting over a short list of states and for the swing voters within those states. Can McCain win states like New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Ohio? If Ohio remains problematic for Obama, and New Mexico and New Hampshire break for McCain, then the race looks do-able for him.

Yes, the Democrats have more registered voters in all these states than they used to and more money than any political party has ever had. But looked at from an electoral standpoint–which is the way Presidential elections actually work–McCain may be remarkably competitive. The underdog to be sure, but competitive.

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Fool Me Once…

On September 6, 2007, Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor at al Kibar. Writing about the raid in the New Yorker on February 11, 2008, Seymour Hersh cast doubt on the contention that it was in fact a nuclear facility:

in three months of reporting for this article, I was repeatedly told by current and former intelligence, diplomatic, and congressional officials that they were not aware of any solid evidence of ongoing nuclear-weapons programs in Syria. It is possible that Israel conveyed intelligence directly to senior members of the Bush Administration, without it being vetted by intelligence agencies. (This process, known as “stovepiping,” overwhelmed U.S. intelligence before the war in Iraq.) But Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations group responsible for monitoring compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, said, “Our experts who have carefully analyzed the satellite imagery say it is unlikely that this building was a nuclear facility.”

One of Hersh’s sources was Barack Obama’s non-proliferation adviser, Joseph Cirincione, who told Hersh flatly that

Syria does not have the technical, industrial, or financial ability to support a nuclear-weapons program. I’ve been following this issue for fifteen years, and every once in a while a suspicion arises and we investigate and there’s nothing.

In the face of unequivocal evidence, Cirincione has acknowledged his error, saying “no one bats 1000.” That of course is true. And the difficulty of assessing what Syria was up to was certainly compounded by Syrian deception. David Albright’s outfit, the Institute for Science and International Security, has put out an important study (complete with photographs) of the “extraordinary camouflage” methods the Syrians employed to disguise the facility.

In assessing the track record of an expert like Cirincione, let’s also keep in mind that tight secrecy, camouflage, and deception in nuclear affairs are nothing new. On the eve of the first Gulf war, thanks to secrecy, the United States was almost completely in the dark about the far-reaching scope of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program.

In the run-up to the second Gulf war, the problem was reversed. The intelligence community persuaded itself that Saddam had an active nuclear program when in fact he had none.

One would expect experts to draw appropriate lessons from both experiences. First among them is that humility and a measure of self-doubt are important when trying to penetrate other countries’ secrets.

Such qualities were conspicuously absent in Cirincione’s analysis of al Kibar: “There was and is no nuclear-weapons threat from Syria. This is all political,” is what he categorically told Hersh.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

On September 6, 2007, Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor at al Kibar. Writing about the raid in the New Yorker on February 11, 2008, Seymour Hersh cast doubt on the contention that it was in fact a nuclear facility:

in three months of reporting for this article, I was repeatedly told by current and former intelligence, diplomatic, and congressional officials that they were not aware of any solid evidence of ongoing nuclear-weapons programs in Syria. It is possible that Israel conveyed intelligence directly to senior members of the Bush Administration, without it being vetted by intelligence agencies. (This process, known as “stovepiping,” overwhelmed U.S. intelligence before the war in Iraq.) But Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations group responsible for monitoring compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, said, “Our experts who have carefully analyzed the satellite imagery say it is unlikely that this building was a nuclear facility.”

One of Hersh’s sources was Barack Obama’s non-proliferation adviser, Joseph Cirincione, who told Hersh flatly that

Syria does not have the technical, industrial, or financial ability to support a nuclear-weapons program. I’ve been following this issue for fifteen years, and every once in a while a suspicion arises and we investigate and there’s nothing.

In the face of unequivocal evidence, Cirincione has acknowledged his error, saying “no one bats 1000.” That of course is true. And the difficulty of assessing what Syria was up to was certainly compounded by Syrian deception. David Albright’s outfit, the Institute for Science and International Security, has put out an important study (complete with photographs) of the “extraordinary camouflage” methods the Syrians employed to disguise the facility.

In assessing the track record of an expert like Cirincione, let’s also keep in mind that tight secrecy, camouflage, and deception in nuclear affairs are nothing new. On the eve of the first Gulf war, thanks to secrecy, the United States was almost completely in the dark about the far-reaching scope of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program.

In the run-up to the second Gulf war, the problem was reversed. The intelligence community persuaded itself that Saddam had an active nuclear program when in fact he had none.

One would expect experts to draw appropriate lessons from both experiences. First among them is that humility and a measure of self-doubt are important when trying to penetrate other countries’ secrets.

Such qualities were conspicuously absent in Cirincione’s analysis of al Kibar: “There was and is no nuclear-weapons threat from Syria. This is all political,” is what he categorically told Hersh.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

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It’s His To Lose

Jennifer, all those numbers you just quoted, along with everything else coming down the pike, bring home a very hard reality: Barack Obama is going to have to work hard to lose this election.

Jennifer, all those numbers you just quoted, along with everything else coming down the pike, bring home a very hard reality: Barack Obama is going to have to work hard to lose this election.

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Obama’s Little Pin

So apparently Barack Obama is back to wearing an American flag on his lapel. It’s such a seemingly minor matter, yet one that tells us something worth knowing about the junior senator from Illinois.

To begin at the beginning. Just who among the right wing attack machine made this an issue? Was it Floyd Brown or David Bossie? The Young Americans for Freedom? Maybe the RNC? Perhaps relatives of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth? Or maybe even the ghost of Lee Atwater? Actually, it was Barack Obama. This is from an October 4, 2007 Associated Press story:

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says he doesn’t wear an American flag lapel pin because it has become a substitute for “true patriotism” since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Asked about it Wednesday in an interview with KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the Illinois senator said he stopped wearing the pin shortly after the attacks and instead hoped to show his patriotism by explaining his ideas to citizens. “The truth is that right after 9/11 I had a pin,” Obama said. “Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we’re talking about the Iraq war, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security. “I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest,” he said in the interview. “Instead, I’m going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testament to my patriotism.” On Thursday, his campaign issued a statement: “We all revere the flag, but Senator Obama believes that being a patriot is about more than a symbol. It’s about fighting for our veterans when they get home and speaking honestly with the American people about this disastrous war.

So Senator Obama declared those who wore an American flag pin on their lapel were relying on a “substitute” for “true patriotism,” which apparently he alone embodied. And in a Democratic primary that he thought would be decided by the hard Left, Obama manfully declared, “I won’t wear that pin on my chest.”

To top it all off, Obama and his campaign made sure that, having put this issue in play, none of his critics could say a word about it. If they did, they were guilty of trying to “distract us from the issues that affect our lives” and “turn us against each other.” Serious people don’t care about trivial things like an American flag pin on a lapel–except when you’re Barack Obama, who considered it a serious enough matter to first remove it and then proudly declare his courageous act of defiance to the Democratic voters of Iowa. And now that he’s essentially secured the Democratic nomination, Senator Obama is . . . once again wearing an American flag on his lapel!

It’s understandable if you’re a bit confused by all this. Late last year the American flag lapel pin was a substitute for “true patriotism.” So what has changed between then and now to make it a symbol worth wearing once again? What happened to the proud declaration that “I won’t wear that pin on my chest”? Why, the general election in November. If you understand that, the clouds will part and everything will become clear again. What you should have paid attention to is not the arguments Obama made, but the constituency to which he was playing. Obama tacked left in the Democratic primary, ridiculing people who wore an American flag on their lapel, perhaps because it played well with that particular audience. But now that he’s going to be the nominee, it might not play so well–and gosh darn it, who says there’s anything wrong with wearing an American flag on your lapel anyway?

What we see in this little episode is a man who is extremely smooth and skilled–he saw he had a potential problem and he’s now addressing it–and also deeply cynical (even as he runs against, you guessed it, cynicism). He is able effortlessly to put issues in play and then, with the aid of the MSM, declare those issues off-limits–until he decides to declare them legitimate again. Welcome to the wonderful, transcendent, sublime “new politics” of Barack Obama.

So apparently Barack Obama is back to wearing an American flag on his lapel. It’s such a seemingly minor matter, yet one that tells us something worth knowing about the junior senator from Illinois.

To begin at the beginning. Just who among the right wing attack machine made this an issue? Was it Floyd Brown or David Bossie? The Young Americans for Freedom? Maybe the RNC? Perhaps relatives of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth? Or maybe even the ghost of Lee Atwater? Actually, it was Barack Obama. This is from an October 4, 2007 Associated Press story:

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says he doesn’t wear an American flag lapel pin because it has become a substitute for “true patriotism” since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Asked about it Wednesday in an interview with KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the Illinois senator said he stopped wearing the pin shortly after the attacks and instead hoped to show his patriotism by explaining his ideas to citizens. “The truth is that right after 9/11 I had a pin,” Obama said. “Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we’re talking about the Iraq war, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security. “I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest,” he said in the interview. “Instead, I’m going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testament to my patriotism.” On Thursday, his campaign issued a statement: “We all revere the flag, but Senator Obama believes that being a patriot is about more than a symbol. It’s about fighting for our veterans when they get home and speaking honestly with the American people about this disastrous war.

So Senator Obama declared those who wore an American flag pin on their lapel were relying on a “substitute” for “true patriotism,” which apparently he alone embodied. And in a Democratic primary that he thought would be decided by the hard Left, Obama manfully declared, “I won’t wear that pin on my chest.”

To top it all off, Obama and his campaign made sure that, having put this issue in play, none of his critics could say a word about it. If they did, they were guilty of trying to “distract us from the issues that affect our lives” and “turn us against each other.” Serious people don’t care about trivial things like an American flag pin on a lapel–except when you’re Barack Obama, who considered it a serious enough matter to first remove it and then proudly declare his courageous act of defiance to the Democratic voters of Iowa. And now that he’s essentially secured the Democratic nomination, Senator Obama is . . . once again wearing an American flag on his lapel!

It’s understandable if you’re a bit confused by all this. Late last year the American flag lapel pin was a substitute for “true patriotism.” So what has changed between then and now to make it a symbol worth wearing once again? What happened to the proud declaration that “I won’t wear that pin on my chest”? Why, the general election in November. If you understand that, the clouds will part and everything will become clear again. What you should have paid attention to is not the arguments Obama made, but the constituency to which he was playing. Obama tacked left in the Democratic primary, ridiculing people who wore an American flag on their lapel, perhaps because it played well with that particular audience. But now that he’s going to be the nominee, it might not play so well–and gosh darn it, who says there’s anything wrong with wearing an American flag on your lapel anyway?

What we see in this little episode is a man who is extremely smooth and skilled–he saw he had a potential problem and he’s now addressing it–and also deeply cynical (even as he runs against, you guessed it, cynicism). He is able effortlessly to put issues in play and then, with the aid of the MSM, declare those issues off-limits–until he decides to declare them legitimate again. Welcome to the wonderful, transcendent, sublime “new politics” of Barack Obama.

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Wiser in Battle?

In the Washington Post today, I point out some of the problems with retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez’s new memoir, Wiser in Battle. But even a 1,000-word review is insufficient space to deconstruct all of the myths, misunderstandings, and false impressions that Sanchez tries to peddle. On his own blog, Phil Carter offers trenchant thoughts on what else Sanchez got wrong.

I was particularly struck by Phil’s comments on what Sanchez has to say about the lessons of Vietnam. As Phil notes, Sanchez peddles the old stabbed-in-the-back thesis, writing that

civilian leaders in the White House micromanaged many aspects of the Vietnam War. They did not allow the U.S. armed forces to utilize the full extent of its resources to achieve victory. Instead, the military was forced to fight incremental battles that led to a never-ending conflict.

This was the conventional U.S. Army takeaway from Vietnam, as exemplified by Harry Summers’s influential book On Strategy. Unfortunately, more recent historical work has largely refuted the notion that civilian micromanagement was to blame for our defeat. Sure, it didn’t help that LBJ personally chose bombing targets in the Oval Office, but even more corrosive was the inability and unwillingness of the U.S. Army in the early years of the war to adapt to counterinsurgency warfare. It’s noteworthy that Sanchez, who fails to comment on this lack of adaptation in Vietnam, was guilty of a similar failure to adapt to conditions in Iraq when he was in charge in 2003-2004.

And, just like many of the Vietnam War generals, he tries to lay the blame at the feet of civilians. Of course, civilians–notably President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld–do bear the ultimate responsibility. But Sanchez is off-base when he writes, “I observed intrusive civilian command of the military, rather than the civilian control embodied in the Constitution.” Sanchez seems to be under the misapprehension that the Constitution designates the President as “controller in chief” rather than “commander in chief.”

The problem in Iraq wasn’t that the President was too intrusive; it was that he deferred too much to a military chain of command that made huge mistakes and was slow to correct them. Rumsfeld, while nit-picking minor details, also washed his hands of big strategic decisions (such as the disbanding of the Iraqi armed forces).

The proper lesson of Iraq, then, is the same as the lesson of Vietnam. It is not that we should have less civilian command of the military; it is that we should have better civilian command.

In the Washington Post today, I point out some of the problems with retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez’s new memoir, Wiser in Battle. But even a 1,000-word review is insufficient space to deconstruct all of the myths, misunderstandings, and false impressions that Sanchez tries to peddle. On his own blog, Phil Carter offers trenchant thoughts on what else Sanchez got wrong.

I was particularly struck by Phil’s comments on what Sanchez has to say about the lessons of Vietnam. As Phil notes, Sanchez peddles the old stabbed-in-the-back thesis, writing that

civilian leaders in the White House micromanaged many aspects of the Vietnam War. They did not allow the U.S. armed forces to utilize the full extent of its resources to achieve victory. Instead, the military was forced to fight incremental battles that led to a never-ending conflict.

This was the conventional U.S. Army takeaway from Vietnam, as exemplified by Harry Summers’s influential book On Strategy. Unfortunately, more recent historical work has largely refuted the notion that civilian micromanagement was to blame for our defeat. Sure, it didn’t help that LBJ personally chose bombing targets in the Oval Office, but even more corrosive was the inability and unwillingness of the U.S. Army in the early years of the war to adapt to counterinsurgency warfare. It’s noteworthy that Sanchez, who fails to comment on this lack of adaptation in Vietnam, was guilty of a similar failure to adapt to conditions in Iraq when he was in charge in 2003-2004.

And, just like many of the Vietnam War generals, he tries to lay the blame at the feet of civilians. Of course, civilians–notably President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld–do bear the ultimate responsibility. But Sanchez is off-base when he writes, “I observed intrusive civilian command of the military, rather than the civilian control embodied in the Constitution.” Sanchez seems to be under the misapprehension that the Constitution designates the President as “controller in chief” rather than “commander in chief.”

The problem in Iraq wasn’t that the President was too intrusive; it was that he deferred too much to a military chain of command that made huge mistakes and was slow to correct them. Rumsfeld, while nit-picking minor details, also washed his hands of big strategic decisions (such as the disbanding of the Iraqi armed forces).

The proper lesson of Iraq, then, is the same as the lesson of Vietnam. It is not that we should have less civilian command of the military; it is that we should have better civilian command.

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Grasping at Straws

It is not like Hillary Clinton needs any more encouragement to stick around. She and her husband–in a flashback to old times–seem impervious to the growing chorus of Democrats hoping she’ll exit quickly. The latest Washington Post/ABC poll won’t please those trying to sweep her off the stage.

A surprising 64% of voters want her to stay in the race. That includes 42% of Barack Obama’s supporters. Are these Democrats mad? Do they enjoy the spectacle of Clinton possibly beating the surefire nominee today and damaging his electoral chances? Perhaps they are more polite than the pundits and want to give her the courtesy of finishing the primary season. (According to the poll, they actually seem to have bought into the idea that Clinton’s continued presence isn’t damaging the Democrats’ chances in November.)

Other than that, there is not much good news for Clinton, who trails by a healthy 12% to Obama and now lags on questions of electability and leadership. As for John McCain, he trails Obama 51-44% but can extract a few kernels of good news: 26% of Clinton’s supporters say they will vote for him, he leads Obama 71-18% on experience, and he beats Obama 65-24% on foreign affairs.

But wait: if those two issues are his strong suits and he still trails  Obama, does this mean those issues aren’t that important? It seems that if McCain could improve in one key area–ability to bring about change, where he trails (29-59%)–it would have the most impact. After all, that’s how Clinton lost her aura of invincibility. So long as the argument is “change vs. status quo,” Obama has the undeniable upper hand. If the argument ever becomes focused on what kind of change is each candidate proposing, then McCain may have a shot.

It is not like Hillary Clinton needs any more encouragement to stick around. She and her husband–in a flashback to old times–seem impervious to the growing chorus of Democrats hoping she’ll exit quickly. The latest Washington Post/ABC poll won’t please those trying to sweep her off the stage.

A surprising 64% of voters want her to stay in the race. That includes 42% of Barack Obama’s supporters. Are these Democrats mad? Do they enjoy the spectacle of Clinton possibly beating the surefire nominee today and damaging his electoral chances? Perhaps they are more polite than the pundits and want to give her the courtesy of finishing the primary season. (According to the poll, they actually seem to have bought into the idea that Clinton’s continued presence isn’t damaging the Democrats’ chances in November.)

Other than that, there is not much good news for Clinton, who trails by a healthy 12% to Obama and now lags on questions of electability and leadership. As for John McCain, he trails Obama 51-44% but can extract a few kernels of good news: 26% of Clinton’s supporters say they will vote for him, he leads Obama 71-18% on experience, and he beats Obama 65-24% on foreign affairs.

But wait: if those two issues are his strong suits and he still trails  Obama, does this mean those issues aren’t that important? It seems that if McCain could improve in one key area–ability to bring about change, where he trails (29-59%)–it would have the most impact. After all, that’s how Clinton lost her aura of invincibility. So long as the argument is “change vs. status quo,” Obama has the undeniable upper hand. If the argument ever becomes focused on what kind of change is each candidate proposing, then McCain may have a shot.

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The Worst of Times

You would think the mainstream media would be reveling in the triumph of post-racial America. We are, it appears, on the verge of having the first African-American as a Presidential nominee. White voters have turned out in the millions to vote for him. But are pundits congratulating their fellow citizens on putting American race relations on a new footing? Not quite.

The mainstream media is now increasingly fond of tales of racism directed toward Barack Obama and fixated on the near-certainty that racist tendencies, however submerged, will consume voters in November. John Judis takes us through the psychology of Americans’ intractably racist views, so subliminal they are hard to quantify and address. Then he delivers this news:

Obama is likely to continue having trouble with white working-class voters in the Midwest–voters who tend to score high on racial resentment and implicit association tests and who, arguably, decided the 2004 election with their votes in Ohio. Obama will also have trouble with Latinos and Asians, groups that score high on both indexes, and that can be important in states like California. It’s not hard to quantify Obama’s problem: If 9 to 12 percent of Democratic primary voters in swing states have been reluctant to support him because he is black, one can assume that, in the general election, 15 to 20 percent of Democrats or Democratic-leaning Independents may not support him for the same reason.

One wonders, then, why Hillary Clinton was excoriated for making the same point in far gentler terms and without the psycho-babble. What’s more, if Judis is right, polls are useless and voters are lying in massive numbers when asked about their preferences and if race matters.

You can debate whether Judis is correct (or whether Obama’s disdain for the lives and values of working-class whites is to blame for his poor showing with certain blocs of voters–remember, it’s never his fault), but one thing is certain: the Left seems ready to bludgeon Americans, state by state, if they choose to reject the Agent of Change. It’s racism pure and simple if we don’t all embrace the great Obama.

And if it’s true that we are unredeemable racists, one wonders if the Democrats should have thought this through, paid a bit more attention to exit polls and asked themselves whether, despite her annoying tendency to sow discord, Clinton was right.

You would think the mainstream media would be reveling in the triumph of post-racial America. We are, it appears, on the verge of having the first African-American as a Presidential nominee. White voters have turned out in the millions to vote for him. But are pundits congratulating their fellow citizens on putting American race relations on a new footing? Not quite.

The mainstream media is now increasingly fond of tales of racism directed toward Barack Obama and fixated on the near-certainty that racist tendencies, however submerged, will consume voters in November. John Judis takes us through the psychology of Americans’ intractably racist views, so subliminal they are hard to quantify and address. Then he delivers this news:

Obama is likely to continue having trouble with white working-class voters in the Midwest–voters who tend to score high on racial resentment and implicit association tests and who, arguably, decided the 2004 election with their votes in Ohio. Obama will also have trouble with Latinos and Asians, groups that score high on both indexes, and that can be important in states like California. It’s not hard to quantify Obama’s problem: If 9 to 12 percent of Democratic primary voters in swing states have been reluctant to support him because he is black, one can assume that, in the general election, 15 to 20 percent of Democrats or Democratic-leaning Independents may not support him for the same reason.

One wonders, then, why Hillary Clinton was excoriated for making the same point in far gentler terms and without the psycho-babble. What’s more, if Judis is right, polls are useless and voters are lying in massive numbers when asked about their preferences and if race matters.

You can debate whether Judis is correct (or whether Obama’s disdain for the lives and values of working-class whites is to blame for his poor showing with certain blocs of voters–remember, it’s never his fault), but one thing is certain: the Left seems ready to bludgeon Americans, state by state, if they choose to reject the Agent of Change. It’s racism pure and simple if we don’t all embrace the great Obama.

And if it’s true that we are unredeemable racists, one wonders if the Democrats should have thought this through, paid a bit more attention to exit polls and asked themselves whether, despite her annoying tendency to sow discord, Clinton was right.

Read Less




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