Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 23, 2008

Might Experience Matter?

Kimberley Strassel reviews the last week or so of the presidential foreign policy debate:

And so it goes, as Mr. Obama shifts and shambles, all the while telling audiences that when voting for president they should look beyond “experience” to “judgment.” In this case, whatever his particular judgment on Iran is on any particular day. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Democrats entered this race confident national security wouldn’t be the drag on the party it has in the past. With an unpopular war and a rival who supports that war, they planned to wrap Mr. McCain around the unpopular Mr. Bush and be done with it. . . . .Then again, 9/11 and five years of Iraq debate have educated voters. Mr. McCain is certainly betting they can separate the war from the urgent threat of an Iranian dictator who could possess nukes, and whose legitimization would encourage other rogues in their belligerence. This is a debate the Arizonan has been preparing for all his life and, note, Iranian diplomacy is simply the topic du jour.Mr. McCain has every intention of running his opponent through the complete foreign-policy gamut. Explain again in what circumstances you’d use nuclear weapons? What was that about invading Pakistan? How does a policy of engaging the world include Mr. Ahmadinejad, but not our ally Colombia and its trade pact?

It may have been that in the fog of “Yes we can”-mania and Hillary Clinton’s phony foreign policy credentials many pundits grossly underestimated the importance of “experience,” at least in the realm of national security. Clinton didn’t have any more real experience than Obama with regard to national security, so one can hardly fault Democrats for choosing him. The contrast was simply not great enough, nor was Clinton a credible enough candidate to convince voters that Obama simply wasn’t up to the task of being commander-in-chief. And, of course, we have been in a primary dominated by voters in the Democratic base pushing the candidates ever farther to the Left.

But in the general election, the voters, including independents and non-primary voting Democrats, may still expect the next president to clear the national security bar in terms of knowledge, competence and, most importantly, toughness. 9/11 punctured the fantasy for many Americans that the world is a benign place, simply waiting for our good deeds and open hand.

And that, I think, is where Obama may have faltered this week. Somewhere between the muddled history lessons (no, the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit isn’t an argument for unconditional talks and no, Roosevelt never met with Hilter or Tojo) and the flip-floppery on unconditional negotiations with state sponsors of terror, Obama raised more questions than he answered. What does he hope to gain from these face-to-face encounters? Could he rhetorically carry the banner for the West on the world stage? And as a former competitor of McCain for the GOP nomination lays out here, are Obama’s instincts (he is, after all, running on “judgment”) sound when it comes to assessing and counteracting the threats America faces?

His supporters are shifting in their seats, trying to cover for the slips and bobbles, but sometimes they make it worse. Senator Joe Biden says Obama “has learned a hell of a lot.” That would be swell if this were all a graduate course in international relations. But at some point he’ll have to demonstrate he’s cleared the bar to be president.

Kimberley Strassel reviews the last week or so of the presidential foreign policy debate:

And so it goes, as Mr. Obama shifts and shambles, all the while telling audiences that when voting for president they should look beyond “experience” to “judgment.” In this case, whatever his particular judgment on Iran is on any particular day. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Democrats entered this race confident national security wouldn’t be the drag on the party it has in the past. With an unpopular war and a rival who supports that war, they planned to wrap Mr. McCain around the unpopular Mr. Bush and be done with it. . . . .Then again, 9/11 and five years of Iraq debate have educated voters. Mr. McCain is certainly betting they can separate the war from the urgent threat of an Iranian dictator who could possess nukes, and whose legitimization would encourage other rogues in their belligerence. This is a debate the Arizonan has been preparing for all his life and, note, Iranian diplomacy is simply the topic du jour.Mr. McCain has every intention of running his opponent through the complete foreign-policy gamut. Explain again in what circumstances you’d use nuclear weapons? What was that about invading Pakistan? How does a policy of engaging the world include Mr. Ahmadinejad, but not our ally Colombia and its trade pact?

It may have been that in the fog of “Yes we can”-mania and Hillary Clinton’s phony foreign policy credentials many pundits grossly underestimated the importance of “experience,” at least in the realm of national security. Clinton didn’t have any more real experience than Obama with regard to national security, so one can hardly fault Democrats for choosing him. The contrast was simply not great enough, nor was Clinton a credible enough candidate to convince voters that Obama simply wasn’t up to the task of being commander-in-chief. And, of course, we have been in a primary dominated by voters in the Democratic base pushing the candidates ever farther to the Left.

But in the general election, the voters, including independents and non-primary voting Democrats, may still expect the next president to clear the national security bar in terms of knowledge, competence and, most importantly, toughness. 9/11 punctured the fantasy for many Americans that the world is a benign place, simply waiting for our good deeds and open hand.

And that, I think, is where Obama may have faltered this week. Somewhere between the muddled history lessons (no, the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit isn’t an argument for unconditional talks and no, Roosevelt never met with Hilter or Tojo) and the flip-floppery on unconditional negotiations with state sponsors of terror, Obama raised more questions than he answered. What does he hope to gain from these face-to-face encounters? Could he rhetorically carry the banner for the West on the world stage? And as a former competitor of McCain for the GOP nomination lays out here, are Obama’s instincts (he is, after all, running on “judgment”) sound when it comes to assessing and counteracting the threats America faces?

His supporters are shifting in their seats, trying to cover for the slips and bobbles, but sometimes they make it worse. Senator Joe Biden says Obama “has learned a hell of a lot.” That would be swell if this were all a graduate course in international relations. But at some point he’ll have to demonstrate he’s cleared the bar to be president.

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Hezbollah’s Victory

Lebanon’s “March 14” majority coalition in parliament managed to hammer out a temporary agreement with the Hezbollah-led opposition in Doha, Qatar, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to raise a toast to the new peace in Beirut just yet. The streets are quiet and normal again for the most part, but none of Lebanon’s most serious problems have been resolved. While diplomats from Washington to Riyadh are pretending, for form’s sake, that this is a terrific breakthrough for stability and national unity, Charles Malik put it more bluntly and honestly at the Lebanese Political Journal. “The Doha negotiations were never meant to solve everything,” he wrote. “They were meant to stall the violence until after the summer tourist season is over.”

Supposedly this agreement, like most of Lebanon’s arrangements, is a compromise that leaves both parties unsatisfied. But I’m having a hard time figuring out what, exactly, Hezbollah has to be gloomy about. Eighteen months ago thousands of Hezbollah supporters built a tent city downtown and forced the semi-permanent closure of much of the city center. They demanded enough seats in the cabinet to wield veto power over any decision the government makes, despite the fact that they couldn’t win enough seats in the last election to earn it. Well, they finally got their long-demanded blocking minority status in Doha, so they happily took down their tent city. If this weren’t a victory, they’d still be seething downtown.

And it’s a dangerous precedent. A year and a half of mostly non-violent resistance yielded Hezbollah bupkis. After one week of murder and mayhem, the Lebanese government caved. The lesson for Hezbollah is clear: when things don’t go your way, take the rifles out of the garage, hit the streets, and start shooting people and burning down buildings.

March 14’s biggest supposed “victory” at Doha is the election to the presidency of Lebanese Army Commander Michel Suleiman, who himself was always considered a compromise candidate. The majority coalition would never elect him if they could pick whomever they want. Suleiman is well-known as a moderate pro-Syrian. He may be an improvement over Lebanon’s last president, Emile Lahoud, who was nothing if not a tool of Syria’s tyrant Bashar Assad, but frankly no one could be worse than Lahoud outside the ranks of the blatantly fascist Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

Hezbollah still gets to keep the unilaterally installed high-tech surveillance system in Lebanon’s only international airport, and of course its fighters will hold onto their illegal weapons. With freshly minted blocking minority powers, Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has effectively neutralized any and all government power that gets in the way of his own. He can’t rule the whole country; nobody can. But he and his militia have the radical freedom to do whatever they please. They can unilaterally start wars with other countries and murder anyone in Lebanon who gets in the way. Hezbollah’s power is now at its apogee.

It may take a while, but something will give. If disgruntled radical Sunnis don’t pick a fight with their belligerent Shia counterparts, Hezbollah will eventually face the Israel Defense Forces again. No one can know what exactly will happen and when, but more war is inevitable as long as violent “resistance” is Hezbollah’s raison d’être.

During Nasrallah’s July 2006 war against Israel, thousands of Shia refugees from Hezbollah’s bombarded strongholds fled north to Beirut as refugees. Christian and Sunni Lebanese took these people in despite anger at Hezbollah for starting a war no one else wanted. Don’t expect that to happen again. Hezbollah’s supporters may find themselves facing conflict on two fronts next time the Israel Defense Forces show up in a bad mood.

Lebanon’s “March 14” majority coalition in parliament managed to hammer out a temporary agreement with the Hezbollah-led opposition in Doha, Qatar, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to raise a toast to the new peace in Beirut just yet. The streets are quiet and normal again for the most part, but none of Lebanon’s most serious problems have been resolved. While diplomats from Washington to Riyadh are pretending, for form’s sake, that this is a terrific breakthrough for stability and national unity, Charles Malik put it more bluntly and honestly at the Lebanese Political Journal. “The Doha negotiations were never meant to solve everything,” he wrote. “They were meant to stall the violence until after the summer tourist season is over.”

Supposedly this agreement, like most of Lebanon’s arrangements, is a compromise that leaves both parties unsatisfied. But I’m having a hard time figuring out what, exactly, Hezbollah has to be gloomy about. Eighteen months ago thousands of Hezbollah supporters built a tent city downtown and forced the semi-permanent closure of much of the city center. They demanded enough seats in the cabinet to wield veto power over any decision the government makes, despite the fact that they couldn’t win enough seats in the last election to earn it. Well, they finally got their long-demanded blocking minority status in Doha, so they happily took down their tent city. If this weren’t a victory, they’d still be seething downtown.

And it’s a dangerous precedent. A year and a half of mostly non-violent resistance yielded Hezbollah bupkis. After one week of murder and mayhem, the Lebanese government caved. The lesson for Hezbollah is clear: when things don’t go your way, take the rifles out of the garage, hit the streets, and start shooting people and burning down buildings.

March 14’s biggest supposed “victory” at Doha is the election to the presidency of Lebanese Army Commander Michel Suleiman, who himself was always considered a compromise candidate. The majority coalition would never elect him if they could pick whomever they want. Suleiman is well-known as a moderate pro-Syrian. He may be an improvement over Lebanon’s last president, Emile Lahoud, who was nothing if not a tool of Syria’s tyrant Bashar Assad, but frankly no one could be worse than Lahoud outside the ranks of the blatantly fascist Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

Hezbollah still gets to keep the unilaterally installed high-tech surveillance system in Lebanon’s only international airport, and of course its fighters will hold onto their illegal weapons. With freshly minted blocking minority powers, Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has effectively neutralized any and all government power that gets in the way of his own. He can’t rule the whole country; nobody can. But he and his militia have the radical freedom to do whatever they please. They can unilaterally start wars with other countries and murder anyone in Lebanon who gets in the way. Hezbollah’s power is now at its apogee.

It may take a while, but something will give. If disgruntled radical Sunnis don’t pick a fight with their belligerent Shia counterparts, Hezbollah will eventually face the Israel Defense Forces again. No one can know what exactly will happen and when, but more war is inevitable as long as violent “resistance” is Hezbollah’s raison d’être.

During Nasrallah’s July 2006 war against Israel, thousands of Shia refugees from Hezbollah’s bombarded strongholds fled north to Beirut as refugees. Christian and Sunni Lebanese took these people in despite anger at Hezbollah for starting a war no one else wanted. Don’t expect that to happen again. Hezbollah’s supporters may find themselves facing conflict on two fronts next time the Israel Defense Forces show up in a bad mood.

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A Defense Riddled with Holes

Over on her blog, Diana West gets a little hysterical about the fallout over the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Bagdhad. She objects to the reprimand the soldier received and the general air of apology from the U.S.:

Let’s play around some more with the story. Imagine if, during the Allied occupation of post-Nazi Germany, a GI had been discovered using “Mein Kampf” for target practice. Would Gen. George S. Patton have kissed a new copy of the Nazi bible as he presented it to a cadre of former Nazis?

That won’t do, Diana. While the Qur’an is sacred to our enemies in Iraq, it is also sacred to our allies in that country. Moreover, it is sacred to the millions of Muslims who are citizens of the United States, to say nothing of the thousands who serve in uniform. True, teasing out Muslim extremists from the larger Muslim population is not always easy. True, the task is made harder still by the near silence of Muslim moderates. But this is a difficulty that demands thoughtful analysis, not crude characterization. Political correctness is a liability in the war on terror, but so too is its reflexive opposite. Whereas the first renders us helpless in the face of the enemy the second leaves us unable to capitalize on alliances.

The shot-up, graffiti-covered Qur’an was found by Sunnis two days after the incident. Any soldier who has been in Iraq will tell you about the importance of engaging the right Muslims in the right way. The whole strategic counterpart of the troop surge was based on building trust in just this manner. Think of the extraordinary progress made by soldiers who left large bases to man posts out among Iraqi civilians, and imagine the damage that could have been done had the U.S. not handled the sniper incident just right. There’s no defense for this sniper’s dangerous folly.

Over on her blog, Diana West gets a little hysterical about the fallout over the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Bagdhad. She objects to the reprimand the soldier received and the general air of apology from the U.S.:

Let’s play around some more with the story. Imagine if, during the Allied occupation of post-Nazi Germany, a GI had been discovered using “Mein Kampf” for target practice. Would Gen. George S. Patton have kissed a new copy of the Nazi bible as he presented it to a cadre of former Nazis?

That won’t do, Diana. While the Qur’an is sacred to our enemies in Iraq, it is also sacred to our allies in that country. Moreover, it is sacred to the millions of Muslims who are citizens of the United States, to say nothing of the thousands who serve in uniform. True, teasing out Muslim extremists from the larger Muslim population is not always easy. True, the task is made harder still by the near silence of Muslim moderates. But this is a difficulty that demands thoughtful analysis, not crude characterization. Political correctness is a liability in the war on terror, but so too is its reflexive opposite. Whereas the first renders us helpless in the face of the enemy the second leaves us unable to capitalize on alliances.

The shot-up, graffiti-covered Qur’an was found by Sunnis two days after the incident. Any soldier who has been in Iraq will tell you about the importance of engaging the right Muslims in the right way. The whole strategic counterpart of the troop surge was based on building trust in just this manner. Think of the extraordinary progress made by soldiers who left large bases to man posts out among Iraqi civilians, and imagine the damage that could have been done had the U.S. not handled the sniper incident just right. There’s no defense for this sniper’s dangerous folly.

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Bookshelf

• Of all the myriad phrases that should be banned from the vocabularies of critics, “definitive biography” belongs at the top of the list. No such book exists, least of all when its subject is a person of major historical significance. About such rare birds no last words can ever be uttered. I’ve published one large-scale primary-source biography of an important writer and recently finished writing another about an important musician, and in neither case did it ever occur to me that I had said everything there was to say about my subjects.

Even less did Ian Kershaw exhaust the subject of Adolf Hitler in his impeccably researched, coolly well-written two-volume biography, in part because Kershaw, a professor of modern history at the University of Sheffield, sought to describe Hitler’s life in the light of the contemporary historical point of view that emphasizes the power of society over the significance of the individual. Like all such books, Kershaw’s Hitler, for all its great value, sometimes resembles a handsomely crafted picture frame with nothing in it. So it is in certain ways even more profitable to read Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution (Yale, 394 pp., $32.50), a collection of essays written between 1977 and the present day and assembled by the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Here we can see Kershaw working out his interpretation of Hitler step by step.

The insufficiently vivid literary portraiture that is the chief weakness of Kershaw’s “Hitler” is by definition less of a problem within the narrower compass of a single-topic essay. Without exception, the 14 pieces collected in Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, which range from an analysis of Hitler’s early speeches and writings to an exceedingly hard-headed essay that asks why “the ultra-violence that characterized the first half of the [20th] century had no equivalent in the second half,” are penetrating and illuminating. The introduction, in which Kershaw offers the reader “a clearer glimpse of the historian behind the history,” is no less worthy of close consideration. What led him to devote the greater part of his adult life to studying Nazi Germany and writing a two-volume scholarly biography of a monster like Hitler? As Kershaw explains it:

I had come to German history via an increased competence in the German language-German was a subject unavailable at my school, so I was able to begin learning it only in 1969, and then for three years purely as a casual hobby-and what really, and increasingly, intrigued me, as a product of postwar British democracy, was how Germany had so completely succumbed to a dictatorship which had brought about world war and, to ratinal minds, a scarcely intelligible persecution and extermination of the Jews.

By such unlikely routes are life-shaping decisions reached.

Kershaw’s prefatory excursion into intellectual autobiography ends with “a rather gloomy look into the crystal ball”:

At least, a replication of the conditions which produced the Holocaust is, mercifully, nowhere in sight. The problems are now very different to those which gave rise to Hitler and genocidal antisemitism. Even so, it is difficult to view the future with great optimism. The threat from an international order in disarray, most obviously in the Middle East, is palpable. And humankind’s capacity to combine new forms of ideological demonisation with bureaucratic refinement and unparalleled technological killing power is far from eradicated. So far, with great effort, the combination, which would be truly dangerous if marshalled by a powerful state entity, has been held in check. Will it continue to be?

To read these words in a book that bears the name “Yad Vashem” on the title page is at once sobering and tonic.

• Of all the myriad phrases that should be banned from the vocabularies of critics, “definitive biography” belongs at the top of the list. No such book exists, least of all when its subject is a person of major historical significance. About such rare birds no last words can ever be uttered. I’ve published one large-scale primary-source biography of an important writer and recently finished writing another about an important musician, and in neither case did it ever occur to me that I had said everything there was to say about my subjects.

Even less did Ian Kershaw exhaust the subject of Adolf Hitler in his impeccably researched, coolly well-written two-volume biography, in part because Kershaw, a professor of modern history at the University of Sheffield, sought to describe Hitler’s life in the light of the contemporary historical point of view that emphasizes the power of society over the significance of the individual. Like all such books, Kershaw’s Hitler, for all its great value, sometimes resembles a handsomely crafted picture frame with nothing in it. So it is in certain ways even more profitable to read Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution (Yale, 394 pp., $32.50), a collection of essays written between 1977 and the present day and assembled by the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Here we can see Kershaw working out his interpretation of Hitler step by step.

The insufficiently vivid literary portraiture that is the chief weakness of Kershaw’s “Hitler” is by definition less of a problem within the narrower compass of a single-topic essay. Without exception, the 14 pieces collected in Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, which range from an analysis of Hitler’s early speeches and writings to an exceedingly hard-headed essay that asks why “the ultra-violence that characterized the first half of the [20th] century had no equivalent in the second half,” are penetrating and illuminating. The introduction, in which Kershaw offers the reader “a clearer glimpse of the historian behind the history,” is no less worthy of close consideration. What led him to devote the greater part of his adult life to studying Nazi Germany and writing a two-volume scholarly biography of a monster like Hitler? As Kershaw explains it:

I had come to German history via an increased competence in the German language-German was a subject unavailable at my school, so I was able to begin learning it only in 1969, and then for three years purely as a casual hobby-and what really, and increasingly, intrigued me, as a product of postwar British democracy, was how Germany had so completely succumbed to a dictatorship which had brought about world war and, to ratinal minds, a scarcely intelligible persecution and extermination of the Jews.

By such unlikely routes are life-shaping decisions reached.

Kershaw’s prefatory excursion into intellectual autobiography ends with “a rather gloomy look into the crystal ball”:

At least, a replication of the conditions which produced the Holocaust is, mercifully, nowhere in sight. The problems are now very different to those which gave rise to Hitler and genocidal antisemitism. Even so, it is difficult to view the future with great optimism. The threat from an international order in disarray, most obviously in the Middle East, is palpable. And humankind’s capacity to combine new forms of ideological demonisation with bureaucratic refinement and unparalleled technological killing power is far from eradicated. So far, with great effort, the combination, which would be truly dangerous if marshalled by a powerful state entity, has been held in check. Will it continue to be?

To read these words in a book that bears the name “Yad Vashem” on the title page is at once sobering and tonic.

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The Giants Meet

Today, Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Beijing on his first foreign trip since assuming the Russian presidency. The two authoritarian giants wasted no time criticizing American plans to create a missile defense shield. In a joint statement, Medvedev and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao said such a defensive system “harms the strengthening of trust between states and regional stability.”

Yet Medvedev did not fly all the way to the Chinese capital to make a rhetorical jab at Washington on something he can do nothing about. The Russian first wanted to remind the West that Russia has other friends. Putin’s initial foreign trip as president took him to London in 2000 to indicate that he was going to look to Europe and the Atlantic Alliance. His successor seeks to convince us that he can reverse that forward-looking orientation.

Second, Medvedev boarded a plane to make a second–and more immediate–point, this one intended for his Chinese hosts. Putin stopped off in Belarus on his way to England in 2000. Eight years later, Medvedev visited Kazakhstan before China. The former Soviet republic borders both Russia and China and represents a crucial prize in the seemingly eternal contest for Central Asia between Moscow and Beijing. Although the two large states see that their interests coincide when it comes to undermining the American superstate-hence all the talk about missile defense as well as a proposed treaty on banning weapons in space-they have plenty of differences among themselves.

The overriding reality is that both Russia and China need the West more than they need the other. Russia inked a $1 billion uranium enrichment deal today with China, and this will help bring the two nations together. Yet their bilateral trade last year was a puny $48 billion. In comparison, America’s bilateral trade with China was $386.7 billion during the same period and accounted for all but $6.2 billion of China’s overall trade surplus of $262.5 billion.

The Bush administration has allowed Moscow and China to throw darts at America, as if their growing relationship did not matter. Whether or not this passivity was justified in the past, the growing cooperation between the Chinese and Russians is now consequential. They are, for example, cooperating to block Western efforts on Iran, undoubtedly the most important matter at this moment. So, it’s about time for Washington to tell the autocrats in Moscow and Beijing that they are either with us or against us when it comes to solving urgent problems. They need us more than we need them. Now, when the international system looks as if it will fall apart, is the time to make this point in public. After all, Medvedev and Hu have no hesitancy in telling us off.

Today, Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Beijing on his first foreign trip since assuming the Russian presidency. The two authoritarian giants wasted no time criticizing American plans to create a missile defense shield. In a joint statement, Medvedev and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao said such a defensive system “harms the strengthening of trust between states and regional stability.”

Yet Medvedev did not fly all the way to the Chinese capital to make a rhetorical jab at Washington on something he can do nothing about. The Russian first wanted to remind the West that Russia has other friends. Putin’s initial foreign trip as president took him to London in 2000 to indicate that he was going to look to Europe and the Atlantic Alliance. His successor seeks to convince us that he can reverse that forward-looking orientation.

Second, Medvedev boarded a plane to make a second–and more immediate–point, this one intended for his Chinese hosts. Putin stopped off in Belarus on his way to England in 2000. Eight years later, Medvedev visited Kazakhstan before China. The former Soviet republic borders both Russia and China and represents a crucial prize in the seemingly eternal contest for Central Asia between Moscow and Beijing. Although the two large states see that their interests coincide when it comes to undermining the American superstate-hence all the talk about missile defense as well as a proposed treaty on banning weapons in space-they have plenty of differences among themselves.

The overriding reality is that both Russia and China need the West more than they need the other. Russia inked a $1 billion uranium enrichment deal today with China, and this will help bring the two nations together. Yet their bilateral trade last year was a puny $48 billion. In comparison, America’s bilateral trade with China was $386.7 billion during the same period and accounted for all but $6.2 billion of China’s overall trade surplus of $262.5 billion.

The Bush administration has allowed Moscow and China to throw darts at America, as if their growing relationship did not matter. Whether or not this passivity was justified in the past, the growing cooperation between the Chinese and Russians is now consequential. They are, for example, cooperating to block Western efforts on Iran, undoubtedly the most important matter at this moment. So, it’s about time for Washington to tell the autocrats in Moscow and Beijing that they are either with us or against us when it comes to solving urgent problems. They need us more than we need them. Now, when the international system looks as if it will fall apart, is the time to make this point in public. After all, Medvedev and Hu have no hesitancy in telling us off.

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Why Iran And Not Hamas?

Senator Barack Obama has staked out positions on both Hamas and Iran that are worth examining.

On Hamas, Obama says, “We must not negotiate with a terrorist group that’s intent on Israel’s destruction. We should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terror, recognize Israel’s right to exist and abide by past agreements.” Elsewhere, Obama has said, “Hamas is a terrorist organization, responsible for the deaths of many innocents, and dedicated to Israel’s destruction, as evidenced by their bombarding of Sderot… I support requiring Hamas to meet the international community’s conditions of recognizing Israel, renouncing violence, and abiding by past agreements before they are treated as a legitimate actor.” So strongly does Obama feel about this matter that he has denounced as an offensive smear the implication that he would meet with Hamas.

On Iran, the story is different. According to Obama:

I would meet directly with the leadership in Iran. I believe that we have not exhausted the diplomatic efforts that could be required to resolve some of these problems — them developing nuclear weapons, them supporting terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. That does not mean that we take other options off the table, but it means that we move forward aggressively with a dialogue with them about not only the sticks that we’re willing to apply, but also the carrots.

And this:

the notion that somehow not talking to countries [like Iran] is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous.

And this:

one of the disagreements that we have on this stage is the degree to which the next president is going to have to engage in the sort of personal diplomacy that can bring about a new era in the region. And, you know, that means talking to everybody. We’ve got to talk to our enemies and not just our friends.

And this:

Nothing’s changed with respect to my belief that strong countries and strong presidents talk to their enemies and talk to their adversaries … I find many of President Ahmadinejad’s statements odious and I’ve said that repeatedly. And I think that we have to recognize that there are a lot of rogue nations in the world that don’t have American interests at heart. But what I also believe is that, as John F. Kennedy said, we should never negotiate out of fear but we should never fear to negotiate.

So why would Obama emphatically insist that he would not meet with Hamas after saying he would meet with Iran’s President Ahmadinejad (a) without pre-conditions and (b) within the first year of his administration? According to the New York Times, Mr. Obama has been clear in making a distinction between his willingness to talk “not just to countries we like, but those we don’t,” as he puts it, and Hamas and other political movements similar to it. “Hamas is not a state,” Mr. Obama told a Jewish group last month. “Hamas is a terrorist organization.”

Of course, Iran is the world’s chief sponsor of terrorist organizations – including Hamas. Iran is also, to use the criteria Obama applied to Hamas, responsible for the deaths of many innocents, including the death of American troops in Iraq. It is manifestly failing to abide by past agreements. And Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has demanded that Israel be “wiped off the map,” hosted a conference of Holocaust deniers, and earlier this month referred to Israel as a “stinking corpse…on its way to annihilation.”

In addition, in January 2006 Hamas won a victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections, taking 76 of the 132 seats in the chamber — so the distinction Obama is making between the government of Iran and Hamas as a terrorist organization is more blurred than he would have us believe. Hamas, after all, is the de facto governing authority over the Gaza Strip. Would Obama meet with Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas, if Meshaal were the Prime Minister of a Palestinian state?

The more fundamental question is why Obama’s reasoning on Iran doesn’t apply to Hamas? Don’t “strong presidents talk to their enemies and talk to their adversaries”? Why doesn’t he “move forward aggressively with a dialogue” with Hamas and try to “exhaust diplomatic efforts”? Isn’t it the case that while we should never negotiate out of fear, we should never fear to negotiate? So what does Obama fear when it comes to negotiating with Hamas? And by the way, shouldn’t the next president engage in the sort of “personal diplomacy” that can “bring about a new era in the region” – and doesn’t that mean talking to “everybody,” to our enemies and not just our friends?

My own view is that Senator Obama is right to say that he wouldn’t meet with Hamas. At the same time, I would not say categorically that U.S. representatives shouldn’t meet with representatives of nations that are hostile to our interests (like Iran) under any circumstances. I concur with Charles Krauthammer, who says that in some instances presidents should meet with our enemies, though only after minimal American objectives have been met. The acid test for negotiations is whether they will advance or set back American interests, and those are matters of judgment and prudence. The problem for Obama is that the type of meeting he has in mind with Ahmadinejad would surely, in Krauthammer’s words, “not just strengthen and vindicate him at home, it would instantly and powerfully ease the mullahs’ isolation, inviting other world leaders to follow.” Beyond that, the arguments Obama has made and the logic he has employed for meeting with Ahmadinejad undercuts his rationale for not meeting with Hamas. And for Obama to so ferociously insist he won’t meet with Hamas unless it meets a set of conditions while showing such eagerness to meet with Ahmadinejad without any preconditions demonstrates how shallow and naïve Obama’s thinking is when it comes to foreign policy.

Barack Obama, a community organizer from Chicago, has no expertise in national security matters. And, we’re learning, he has very little wisdom as well.

Senator Barack Obama has staked out positions on both Hamas and Iran that are worth examining.

On Hamas, Obama says, “We must not negotiate with a terrorist group that’s intent on Israel’s destruction. We should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terror, recognize Israel’s right to exist and abide by past agreements.” Elsewhere, Obama has said, “Hamas is a terrorist organization, responsible for the deaths of many innocents, and dedicated to Israel’s destruction, as evidenced by their bombarding of Sderot… I support requiring Hamas to meet the international community’s conditions of recognizing Israel, renouncing violence, and abiding by past agreements before they are treated as a legitimate actor.” So strongly does Obama feel about this matter that he has denounced as an offensive smear the implication that he would meet with Hamas.

On Iran, the story is different. According to Obama:

I would meet directly with the leadership in Iran. I believe that we have not exhausted the diplomatic efforts that could be required to resolve some of these problems — them developing nuclear weapons, them supporting terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. That does not mean that we take other options off the table, but it means that we move forward aggressively with a dialogue with them about not only the sticks that we’re willing to apply, but also the carrots.

And this:

the notion that somehow not talking to countries [like Iran] is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous.

And this:

one of the disagreements that we have on this stage is the degree to which the next president is going to have to engage in the sort of personal diplomacy that can bring about a new era in the region. And, you know, that means talking to everybody. We’ve got to talk to our enemies and not just our friends.

And this:

Nothing’s changed with respect to my belief that strong countries and strong presidents talk to their enemies and talk to their adversaries … I find many of President Ahmadinejad’s statements odious and I’ve said that repeatedly. And I think that we have to recognize that there are a lot of rogue nations in the world that don’t have American interests at heart. But what I also believe is that, as John F. Kennedy said, we should never negotiate out of fear but we should never fear to negotiate.

So why would Obama emphatically insist that he would not meet with Hamas after saying he would meet with Iran’s President Ahmadinejad (a) without pre-conditions and (b) within the first year of his administration? According to the New York Times, Mr. Obama has been clear in making a distinction between his willingness to talk “not just to countries we like, but those we don’t,” as he puts it, and Hamas and other political movements similar to it. “Hamas is not a state,” Mr. Obama told a Jewish group last month. “Hamas is a terrorist organization.”

Of course, Iran is the world’s chief sponsor of terrorist organizations – including Hamas. Iran is also, to use the criteria Obama applied to Hamas, responsible for the deaths of many innocents, including the death of American troops in Iraq. It is manifestly failing to abide by past agreements. And Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has demanded that Israel be “wiped off the map,” hosted a conference of Holocaust deniers, and earlier this month referred to Israel as a “stinking corpse…on its way to annihilation.”

In addition, in January 2006 Hamas won a victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections, taking 76 of the 132 seats in the chamber — so the distinction Obama is making between the government of Iran and Hamas as a terrorist organization is more blurred than he would have us believe. Hamas, after all, is the de facto governing authority over the Gaza Strip. Would Obama meet with Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas, if Meshaal were the Prime Minister of a Palestinian state?

The more fundamental question is why Obama’s reasoning on Iran doesn’t apply to Hamas? Don’t “strong presidents talk to their enemies and talk to their adversaries”? Why doesn’t he “move forward aggressively with a dialogue” with Hamas and try to “exhaust diplomatic efforts”? Isn’t it the case that while we should never negotiate out of fear, we should never fear to negotiate? So what does Obama fear when it comes to negotiating with Hamas? And by the way, shouldn’t the next president engage in the sort of “personal diplomacy” that can “bring about a new era in the region” – and doesn’t that mean talking to “everybody,” to our enemies and not just our friends?

My own view is that Senator Obama is right to say that he wouldn’t meet with Hamas. At the same time, I would not say categorically that U.S. representatives shouldn’t meet with representatives of nations that are hostile to our interests (like Iran) under any circumstances. I concur with Charles Krauthammer, who says that in some instances presidents should meet with our enemies, though only after minimal American objectives have been met. The acid test for negotiations is whether they will advance or set back American interests, and those are matters of judgment and prudence. The problem for Obama is that the type of meeting he has in mind with Ahmadinejad would surely, in Krauthammer’s words, “not just strengthen and vindicate him at home, it would instantly and powerfully ease the mullahs’ isolation, inviting other world leaders to follow.” Beyond that, the arguments Obama has made and the logic he has employed for meeting with Ahmadinejad undercuts his rationale for not meeting with Hamas. And for Obama to so ferociously insist he won’t meet with Hamas unless it meets a set of conditions while showing such eagerness to meet with Ahmadinejad without any preconditions demonstrates how shallow and naïve Obama’s thinking is when it comes to foreign policy.

Barack Obama, a community organizer from Chicago, has no expertise in national security matters. And, we’re learning, he has very little wisdom as well.

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Down the Memory Hole

Imagine, for a moment, that you are the book review editor of a major newspaper, and a book has been written by someone who was a high-level public official deeply involved in what has been the biggest and most controversial story of the past half-decade.

This official has been mentioned in news stories in your paper on hundreds of occasions, your paper’s editorials have regularly railed against him and his colleagues, and your paper’s op-ed columnists have penned an entire oeuvre of scathing indictments of the policies he helped implement. The official, subjected to years of obloquy in your pages, writes an account of his involvement in the story that by any fair estimation is not just detailed and serious, but one of the most important and useful of its kind to date. Do you choose to review the book, or do you simply pretend that it was never written?

The book I’m talking about, of course, is War and Decision, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith’s account of his role in the Iraq war. And it is being subjected to an astonishing and shameful blackout from many of America’s biggest newspapers. Noting the decision of the Washington Post and New York Times not to review the book, Rich Lowry wrote, “Apparently it’s OK to heap every failure in Iraq on Feith’s head, but then to turn around and pretend he’s a figure of no consequence when he writes a book.”

Curiosity got the better of me, so I checked to see whether the book has been reviewed by other large newspapers. The MSM does not disappoint: There has been no mention of War and Decision in USA Today, the LA Times, NY Daily News, Houston Chronicle, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, or Miami Herald. What charming behavior from our nation’s journalism professionals. You would think the book interfered with the preferred narrative or something.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are the book review editor of a major newspaper, and a book has been written by someone who was a high-level public official deeply involved in what has been the biggest and most controversial story of the past half-decade.

This official has been mentioned in news stories in your paper on hundreds of occasions, your paper’s editorials have regularly railed against him and his colleagues, and your paper’s op-ed columnists have penned an entire oeuvre of scathing indictments of the policies he helped implement. The official, subjected to years of obloquy in your pages, writes an account of his involvement in the story that by any fair estimation is not just detailed and serious, but one of the most important and useful of its kind to date. Do you choose to review the book, or do you simply pretend that it was never written?

The book I’m talking about, of course, is War and Decision, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith’s account of his role in the Iraq war. And it is being subjected to an astonishing and shameful blackout from many of America’s biggest newspapers. Noting the decision of the Washington Post and New York Times not to review the book, Rich Lowry wrote, “Apparently it’s OK to heap every failure in Iraq on Feith’s head, but then to turn around and pretend he’s a figure of no consequence when he writes a book.”

Curiosity got the better of me, so I checked to see whether the book has been reviewed by other large newspapers. The MSM does not disappoint: There has been no mention of War and Decision in USA Today, the LA Times, NY Daily News, Houston Chronicle, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, or Miami Herald. What charming behavior from our nation’s journalism professionals. You would think the book interfered with the preferred narrative or something.

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The Scandal Lobby

It’s nice to have friends in high places. It’s not so nice to see those friends unfairly pilloried by journalists intent on collecting another scalp.

First it was Obama adviser Samantha Power, who was accused by some on the right of being anti-Israel on the basis of evidence that was, to put it charitably, ambiguous. Now it’s John McCain’s chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, who is being labeled as-gasp-a lobbyist. This heinous charge has been hauled out in the New York Times, USA Today, and now the Wall Street Journal.

There is a difference, of course: While Power is not really anti-Israel, Scheunemann really has been a lobbyist. The question is: What’s wrong with that?

All of the reporters who have written about the issue try to insinuate that something nefarious is going on without actually coming out and saying what it is. Today’s Wall Street Journal article by Mary Jacoby is a classic in the genre known in Washington as “appearance of a conflict of interest”-i.e., not an actual conflict but something that can be made to look that way through selective juxtaposition of acts.

Thus Jacoby notes that Randy has lobbied on behalf of Romania, Latvia, Georgia, and Macedonia while those countries were seeking admission to NATO. She then notes that McCain has been in favor of admitting all those countries to NATO. The inference readers are supposed to draw is that there is something untoward going on here. Only in the final line of the article do we get the evidence that dispels these insinuations:

“Sen. McCain’s been for NATO enlargement since the mid-1990s,” said Mr. Rogers, the McCain spokesman. “His record speaks for itself.”

In other words, McCain (whose campaign I advise on foreign policy issues) was in favor of NATO expansion long before Randy was lobbying on those issues. Anyone who knows either McCain or Scheunemann would laugh at the notion that their support for the embattled democracies of Eastern and Southern Europe is the result of payoffs from those countries.

Randy represents those emerging democracies because he believes in expanding freedom-something that he has pushed for in other contexts without earning any money for it. He was, for instance, one of the founders of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Randy has been pushing for NATO expansion since the mid-1990s when he was not a lobbyist at all but Senator Bob Dole’s chief foreign policy adviser.

Unlike some other lobbyists, he doesn’t represent dictatorial or anti-American regimes. And he is so dedicated to McCain that he spent the period between June of 2007 and March of 2008 working as his chief foreign policy adviser for free. Now he has given up his lobbying income to work on the campaign for a fraction of what he was earning.

Again: What is it exactly that he has done wrong? USA Today writes:

While not illegal or a breach of Senate ethics rules, Scheunemann’s lobbying of McCain’s staff as he was advising the campaign comes to light a week after McCain announced a new policy to avoid such conflicts. The new conflict-of-interest policy prohibits campaign workers from being registered lobbyists or foreign agents and bans part-time volunteers from policy discussions on issues involving their clients. Campaign spokesman Jill Hazelbaker said the ethics policy is not retroactive.

So what Randy has done is not illegal. It’s also not unethical under Senate ethics rules or the more stringent ethics rules of the McCain campaign. Now that the candidate has banned lobbyists from the campaign, Scheunemann has stopped lobbying. Which suggests that there is no story here.

Or perhaps that the real story is that reporters are so desperate to bring McCain down a notch that they will try to concoct nonexistent scandals about his aides. The fact that, outside of Mickey Kaus’s blog, there is a notable lack of outrage over Senator Obama picking a major lobbyist to lead his vice presidential search effort only makes the artificiality of this non-scandal all the more apparent.

It’s nice to have friends in high places. It’s not so nice to see those friends unfairly pilloried by journalists intent on collecting another scalp.

First it was Obama adviser Samantha Power, who was accused by some on the right of being anti-Israel on the basis of evidence that was, to put it charitably, ambiguous. Now it’s John McCain’s chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, who is being labeled as-gasp-a lobbyist. This heinous charge has been hauled out in the New York Times, USA Today, and now the Wall Street Journal.

There is a difference, of course: While Power is not really anti-Israel, Scheunemann really has been a lobbyist. The question is: What’s wrong with that?

All of the reporters who have written about the issue try to insinuate that something nefarious is going on without actually coming out and saying what it is. Today’s Wall Street Journal article by Mary Jacoby is a classic in the genre known in Washington as “appearance of a conflict of interest”-i.e., not an actual conflict but something that can be made to look that way through selective juxtaposition of acts.

Thus Jacoby notes that Randy has lobbied on behalf of Romania, Latvia, Georgia, and Macedonia while those countries were seeking admission to NATO. She then notes that McCain has been in favor of admitting all those countries to NATO. The inference readers are supposed to draw is that there is something untoward going on here. Only in the final line of the article do we get the evidence that dispels these insinuations:

“Sen. McCain’s been for NATO enlargement since the mid-1990s,” said Mr. Rogers, the McCain spokesman. “His record speaks for itself.”

In other words, McCain (whose campaign I advise on foreign policy issues) was in favor of NATO expansion long before Randy was lobbying on those issues. Anyone who knows either McCain or Scheunemann would laugh at the notion that their support for the embattled democracies of Eastern and Southern Europe is the result of payoffs from those countries.

Randy represents those emerging democracies because he believes in expanding freedom-something that he has pushed for in other contexts without earning any money for it. He was, for instance, one of the founders of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Randy has been pushing for NATO expansion since the mid-1990s when he was not a lobbyist at all but Senator Bob Dole’s chief foreign policy adviser.

Unlike some other lobbyists, he doesn’t represent dictatorial or anti-American regimes. And he is so dedicated to McCain that he spent the period between June of 2007 and March of 2008 working as his chief foreign policy adviser for free. Now he has given up his lobbying income to work on the campaign for a fraction of what he was earning.

Again: What is it exactly that he has done wrong? USA Today writes:

While not illegal or a breach of Senate ethics rules, Scheunemann’s lobbying of McCain’s staff as he was advising the campaign comes to light a week after McCain announced a new policy to avoid such conflicts. The new conflict-of-interest policy prohibits campaign workers from being registered lobbyists or foreign agents and bans part-time volunteers from policy discussions on issues involving their clients. Campaign spokesman Jill Hazelbaker said the ethics policy is not retroactive.

So what Randy has done is not illegal. It’s also not unethical under Senate ethics rules or the more stringent ethics rules of the McCain campaign. Now that the candidate has banned lobbyists from the campaign, Scheunemann has stopped lobbying. Which suggests that there is no story here.

Or perhaps that the real story is that reporters are so desperate to bring McCain down a notch that they will try to concoct nonexistent scandals about his aides. The fact that, outside of Mickey Kaus’s blog, there is a notable lack of outrage over Senator Obama picking a major lobbyist to lead his vice presidential search effort only makes the artificiality of this non-scandal all the more apparent.

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Well Put

The State Department could learn a thing or two from Solomon Bradman. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is up in arms over a course offered by Bradman’s security firm aimed at helping Seattle police better combat Islamic terrorism. When CAIR’s Washington state chapter president, Arsalan Bukhari complained that the course, “The Threat of Islamic Jihadists to the World,” links Islam to terrorism, Bradman dared speak the unspeakable: “I think their religion got linked to terrorism a long time ago.”

Instead of worrying about “The Threat of Islamic Jihadists to the World,” CAIR might want to worry about the threat of Islamic jihadists to the world. And so, too, might the State Department. In April, they issued a memo counseling “caution in using terms such as, ‘jihadist,’ ‘Islamic terrorist,’ ‘Islamist,’ and ‘holy warrior’.” Supposedly, using “grandiose” language to describe terrorists glamorizes their status in the eyes of the world. But the PC pay-off of the language shift is clear. We’re supposed to keep in mind that not all Muslims are jihadists. Of course, no serious national security official or policy maker has ever said they were.

CAIR is a propagandist organization that specializes in blurring the intentions of those who fight Islamic extremism. Their ever-broadening definition of Islamophobia threatens to swallow up the very notion of accuracy in this fight.

The State Department could learn a thing or two from Solomon Bradman. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is up in arms over a course offered by Bradman’s security firm aimed at helping Seattle police better combat Islamic terrorism. When CAIR’s Washington state chapter president, Arsalan Bukhari complained that the course, “The Threat of Islamic Jihadists to the World,” links Islam to terrorism, Bradman dared speak the unspeakable: “I think their religion got linked to terrorism a long time ago.”

Instead of worrying about “The Threat of Islamic Jihadists to the World,” CAIR might want to worry about the threat of Islamic jihadists to the world. And so, too, might the State Department. In April, they issued a memo counseling “caution in using terms such as, ‘jihadist,’ ‘Islamic terrorist,’ ‘Islamist,’ and ‘holy warrior’.” Supposedly, using “grandiose” language to describe terrorists glamorizes their status in the eyes of the world. But the PC pay-off of the language shift is clear. We’re supposed to keep in mind that not all Muslims are jihadists. Of course, no serious national security official or policy maker has ever said they were.

CAIR is a propagandist organization that specializes in blurring the intentions of those who fight Islamic extremism. Their ever-broadening definition of Islamophobia threatens to swallow up the very notion of accuracy in this fight.

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Hillary the Veep

Michael Goldfarb points out an Obama quote yesterday:

My goal is to have the best possible government. And that means me winning. So, I’m very practical in my thinking. I’m a practical guy. One of my heroes is Abraham Lincoln. Awhile back, there was a wonderful book written by Doris Kearns Goodwin called Team of Rivals, in which she talked about how Lincoln basically pulled all the people he’d been running against into his Cabinet. Because whatever personal feelings there were, the issue was, ‘How can we get the country through this time of crisis?’ I think that has to be the approach one takes to the vice president and the Cabinet.

Goldfarb argues with the substance of what Obama is saying, and rightly so. But the substance really doesn’t matter here. If Obama had been jumping up and down and shouting, “If we can work it out, Hillary will be my vice president,” he couldn’t have been more obvious.

Michael Goldfarb points out an Obama quote yesterday:

My goal is to have the best possible government. And that means me winning. So, I’m very practical in my thinking. I’m a practical guy. One of my heroes is Abraham Lincoln. Awhile back, there was a wonderful book written by Doris Kearns Goodwin called Team of Rivals, in which she talked about how Lincoln basically pulled all the people he’d been running against into his Cabinet. Because whatever personal feelings there were, the issue was, ‘How can we get the country through this time of crisis?’ I think that has to be the approach one takes to the vice president and the Cabinet.

Goldfarb argues with the substance of what Obama is saying, and rightly so. But the substance really doesn’t matter here. If Obama had been jumping up and down and shouting, “If we can work it out, Hillary will be my vice president,” he couldn’t have been more obvious.

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Are We Secure?

According to the Department of Homeland Security’s color-coded “security advisory system,” the terrorist “threat level” is currently yellow. To meet the elevated danger, citizens are urged to “develop alternate routes to/from work or school and practice them.” If the threat level rises to orange, or “high risk,” we are supposed to “exercise caution when traveling.” If it rises to red, or “severe risk,” we should, among other untoward things, “expect traffic delays.”

DHS’s traffic-light warning system is easy to mock, especially by New Yorkers like me who routinely expect traffic delays and, thanks to the vagaries of the subway system, are constantly compelled to practice alternate routes to work–whether we want to or not. 

But what about the DHS itself? In 2003, in the aftermath of the worst attack on our country in its history, the establishment of the agency was the centerpiece of the biggest reorganization of government since the New Deal. Five years later, how is it faring? By the most important measure, it is faring very well indeed. Against all expectations, the United States has not been struck again since September 11. The homeland appears to be secure.

But is that the work of the DHS or the FBI and CIA or the U.S. Army, or dumb luck, or a combination of all of the above? It is impossible to know. What is possible to know is that DHS is plagued by a number of severe problems. It ranks last or next-to-last in the U.S. government’s survey of Best Places to Work survey. In addition to “serious morale” issues–a GAO finding–some of the ailments of the previous fractured system of homeland protection are re-emerging, and some new ills are cropping up as well.

In creating the DHS, President Bush declared that “the changing nature of the threats facing America requires a new government structure to protect against invisible enemies that can strike with a wide variety of weapons.” His idea was to reconfigure “the current confusing patchwork of government activities into a single department whose primary mission is to protect our homeland.” That seemed reasonable enough in theory, promising efficiencies of all sorts in agencies with complementary and overlapping missions.

But it also promised to be extremely problematic in practice. Anyone with any familiarity with federal bureaucracies knows that combining two into one is as arduous a task as mating kangaroos with rabbits. In this instance, the proposal was to unite 22 very different bureaucratic animals, ranging from the Secret Service to the Coast Guard. The result is a lumbering behemoth, with a massive 180,000 employees spread out over hundreds of locations and subject to oversight by 86 Congressional committees. Although strong in certain things, it is also an unwieldy creature that may be quite ill-adapted to its initial primary mission of keeping the country secure from a major terrorist attack.

One problematic part of the venture is the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In 2005, as is well known, it did a heckuva of a job in mishandling the consequences of Hurricane Katrina. Lessons are said to have been learned from that experience and immense resources have been invested in reconfiguring FEMA’s plans to cope with future natural disasters, ranging from tornados to earthquakes. That is fine, and necessary. Yet it means that DHS as a whole ends up compelled to devote a significant fraction of management resources to preparing for weather-related contingencies rather than focusing on the central threat.

 “June 1 is, of course, as you know, the kick-off for hurricane season,” explained Michael Chertoff, Secretary of DHS, at a press conference earlier this month. “I don’t think the official prediction for the season is out yet…In 2006, it was also a pretty mild season, but I hope that doesn’t lull us into believing we don’t have to prepare for 2008.” If the highest registers of the bureaucracy are deeply into weather forecasting, some of the lower registers are off into other ventures that also have zero connection to the larger goals of the reform. 

Another component of DHS is the United States Fire Administration, whose mission is to reduce the financial and human costs of one of our country’s major killers. “Take a flashlight with you,” the Fire Administration advises anyone checking into a hotel or motel. “If the fire is in your room, get out quickly. Close the door, sound the alarm and notify the front desk.” No reasonable person would quarrel with such instructions, but how relevant is this to stopping the next Mohammed Atta?

The Coast Guard, too, has major missions completely unrelated to homeland defense. These include the regulation of maritime navigation and safety, protection of the marine environment, search and rescue, and ice-breaking. All of which raises the question: has consolidation of so many disparate agencies, each with its own set of objectives not directly related to homeland security, made us safer or merely rejiggered the organizational charts?

The question is unanswerable and we are confronted with an unpleasant paradox. Whether the warning light is green, light, or red, unless and until a second major terrorist attack takes place, we won’t know whether DHS is up to its job. And at that moment, by definition, the DHS’s protective function will have been shown to fail. If the target happens to be a motel or hotel, we will be needing our flashlights and calling the front desk.

According to the Department of Homeland Security’s color-coded “security advisory system,” the terrorist “threat level” is currently yellow. To meet the elevated danger, citizens are urged to “develop alternate routes to/from work or school and practice them.” If the threat level rises to orange, or “high risk,” we are supposed to “exercise caution when traveling.” If it rises to red, or “severe risk,” we should, among other untoward things, “expect traffic delays.”

DHS’s traffic-light warning system is easy to mock, especially by New Yorkers like me who routinely expect traffic delays and, thanks to the vagaries of the subway system, are constantly compelled to practice alternate routes to work–whether we want to or not. 

But what about the DHS itself? In 2003, in the aftermath of the worst attack on our country in its history, the establishment of the agency was the centerpiece of the biggest reorganization of government since the New Deal. Five years later, how is it faring? By the most important measure, it is faring very well indeed. Against all expectations, the United States has not been struck again since September 11. The homeland appears to be secure.

But is that the work of the DHS or the FBI and CIA or the U.S. Army, or dumb luck, or a combination of all of the above? It is impossible to know. What is possible to know is that DHS is plagued by a number of severe problems. It ranks last or next-to-last in the U.S. government’s survey of Best Places to Work survey. In addition to “serious morale” issues–a GAO finding–some of the ailments of the previous fractured system of homeland protection are re-emerging, and some new ills are cropping up as well.

In creating the DHS, President Bush declared that “the changing nature of the threats facing America requires a new government structure to protect against invisible enemies that can strike with a wide variety of weapons.” His idea was to reconfigure “the current confusing patchwork of government activities into a single department whose primary mission is to protect our homeland.” That seemed reasonable enough in theory, promising efficiencies of all sorts in agencies with complementary and overlapping missions.

But it also promised to be extremely problematic in practice. Anyone with any familiarity with federal bureaucracies knows that combining two into one is as arduous a task as mating kangaroos with rabbits. In this instance, the proposal was to unite 22 very different bureaucratic animals, ranging from the Secret Service to the Coast Guard. The result is a lumbering behemoth, with a massive 180,000 employees spread out over hundreds of locations and subject to oversight by 86 Congressional committees. Although strong in certain things, it is also an unwieldy creature that may be quite ill-adapted to its initial primary mission of keeping the country secure from a major terrorist attack.

One problematic part of the venture is the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In 2005, as is well known, it did a heckuva of a job in mishandling the consequences of Hurricane Katrina. Lessons are said to have been learned from that experience and immense resources have been invested in reconfiguring FEMA’s plans to cope with future natural disasters, ranging from tornados to earthquakes. That is fine, and necessary. Yet it means that DHS as a whole ends up compelled to devote a significant fraction of management resources to preparing for weather-related contingencies rather than focusing on the central threat.

 “June 1 is, of course, as you know, the kick-off for hurricane season,” explained Michael Chertoff, Secretary of DHS, at a press conference earlier this month. “I don’t think the official prediction for the season is out yet…In 2006, it was also a pretty mild season, but I hope that doesn’t lull us into believing we don’t have to prepare for 2008.” If the highest registers of the bureaucracy are deeply into weather forecasting, some of the lower registers are off into other ventures that also have zero connection to the larger goals of the reform. 

Another component of DHS is the United States Fire Administration, whose mission is to reduce the financial and human costs of one of our country’s major killers. “Take a flashlight with you,” the Fire Administration advises anyone checking into a hotel or motel. “If the fire is in your room, get out quickly. Close the door, sound the alarm and notify the front desk.” No reasonable person would quarrel with such instructions, but how relevant is this to stopping the next Mohammed Atta?

The Coast Guard, too, has major missions completely unrelated to homeland defense. These include the regulation of maritime navigation and safety, protection of the marine environment, search and rescue, and ice-breaking. All of which raises the question: has consolidation of so many disparate agencies, each with its own set of objectives not directly related to homeland security, made us safer or merely rejiggered the organizational charts?

The question is unanswerable and we are confronted with an unpleasant paradox. Whether the warning light is green, light, or red, unless and until a second major terrorist attack takes place, we won’t know whether DHS is up to its job. And at that moment, by definition, the DHS’s protective function will have been shown to fail. If the target happens to be a motel or hotel, we will be needing our flashlights and calling the front desk.

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Biden to the Rescue

Rumor has it that Joe Biden would love to be secretary of state in an Obama administration. On the basis of his Wall Street Journal op-ed today, he would be good at it. He pulls off a skillful bit of rhetorical legerdemain of the kind that is a necessity for high level diplomacy. But you had to read his article pretty carefully to catch it.

The key passage:

Sen. Obama is right that the U.S. should be willing to engage Iran on its nuclear program without “preconditions” – i.e. without insisting that Iran first freeze the program, which is the very subject of any negotiations. He has been clear that he would not become personally involved until the necessary preparations had been made and unless he was convinced his engagement would advance our interests.

But of course the ongoing dispute isn’t over whether we should talk to Iran or other rogue states. The Bush administration has been willing to talk to North Korea, Syria, Iran, and other bad actors. It just hasn’t been willing to grant their leaders one-on-one sit-downs with the president barring some major concessions that they haven’t yet delivered. That is the policy that Obama proposes to change.

As he told ABC’s Jack Tapper again this week: “What I said was I would meet with our adversaries including Iran, including Venezuela, including Cuba, including North Korea, without preconditions but that does not mean without preparation.”

The line about “preparation” isn’t much of a qualification: After all no presidential summit can occur without some preparation. Getting heads of state together is a massive logistical undertaking.

Biden tries to add another qualification that Obama doesn’t make himself when he writes “unless he was convinced his engagement would advance our interests.” But if that were the case Obama’s commitment would be meaningless. After all, President Bush and Senator McCain are also willing to engage in personal diplomacy if it will advance American interests. What sets Obama apart is that he has pledged to hold personal meetings with dictators without “preconditions”-i.e., even if there is no evidence in advance that the meeting will advance our interests.

Biden knows that, and he knows it’s a foolish commitment, so he is trying to find Obama an escape out without coming out and saying so. That’s what a smart diplomat should be doing, but the American public shouldn’t be fooled. (Full disclosure: I’m a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

Rumor has it that Joe Biden would love to be secretary of state in an Obama administration. On the basis of his Wall Street Journal op-ed today, he would be good at it. He pulls off a skillful bit of rhetorical legerdemain of the kind that is a necessity for high level diplomacy. But you had to read his article pretty carefully to catch it.

The key passage:

Sen. Obama is right that the U.S. should be willing to engage Iran on its nuclear program without “preconditions” – i.e. without insisting that Iran first freeze the program, which is the very subject of any negotiations. He has been clear that he would not become personally involved until the necessary preparations had been made and unless he was convinced his engagement would advance our interests.

But of course the ongoing dispute isn’t over whether we should talk to Iran or other rogue states. The Bush administration has been willing to talk to North Korea, Syria, Iran, and other bad actors. It just hasn’t been willing to grant their leaders one-on-one sit-downs with the president barring some major concessions that they haven’t yet delivered. That is the policy that Obama proposes to change.

As he told ABC’s Jack Tapper again this week: “What I said was I would meet with our adversaries including Iran, including Venezuela, including Cuba, including North Korea, without preconditions but that does not mean without preparation.”

The line about “preparation” isn’t much of a qualification: After all no presidential summit can occur without some preparation. Getting heads of state together is a massive logistical undertaking.

Biden tries to add another qualification that Obama doesn’t make himself when he writes “unless he was convinced his engagement would advance our interests.” But if that were the case Obama’s commitment would be meaningless. After all, President Bush and Senator McCain are also willing to engage in personal diplomacy if it will advance American interests. What sets Obama apart is that he has pledged to hold personal meetings with dictators without “preconditions”-i.e., even if there is no evidence in advance that the meeting will advance our interests.

Biden knows that, and he knows it’s a foolish commitment, so he is trying to find Obama an escape out without coming out and saying so. That’s what a smart diplomat should be doing, but the American public shouldn’t be fooled. (Full disclosure: I’m a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

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Linda Chavez on Obama and Race

Here at COMMENTARY, we’ve made available to all readers the important lead article of our June 2008 issue. It is called “Let Us by All Means Have an Honest Conversation About Race.” Its author, Linda Chavez, explains how the triumphant rise of Barack Obama demonstrates just how thoroughgoing is the sea-change in the United States on matters of race — and why, therefore, the fact of Obama’s association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his insistence that Wright “contains within him the contradictions—the good and the bad—of the community that he has served diligently for so many years” is so troubling. Chavez’s brave and groundbreaking piece can be read here.

Here at COMMENTARY, we’ve made available to all readers the important lead article of our June 2008 issue. It is called “Let Us by All Means Have an Honest Conversation About Race.” Its author, Linda Chavez, explains how the triumphant rise of Barack Obama demonstrates just how thoroughgoing is the sea-change in the United States on matters of race — and why, therefore, the fact of Obama’s association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his insistence that Wright “contains within him the contradictions—the good and the bad—of the community that he has served diligently for so many years” is so troubling. Chavez’s brave and groundbreaking piece can be read here.

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Obama Makes His Pitch

Barack Obama went to a Florida synagogue and made his pitch for Jewish support. He faced a skeptical crowd that did not exactly give him a hero’s welcome. But what was most striking were comments like this that are breathtaking in their audacity:

“Don’t judge me because I have a funny name. Don’t judge me because I am an African American. People are concerned about memories of the past. … That is exactly what I am fighting in the African American community when I hear anti-Semitic statements. We are bigger than that.”

First, the insinuation, which he has made more than once, that Jews oppose him because of his name or his race (or because another African American made anti-Semitic remarks) is insulting and condescending. He should drop it from his repertoire and address the real concerns Jewish voters have expressed.

That brings us to his jaw-dropping comment that he has been fighting anti-Semitic statements in the African American community. Excuse me, but did he rebuke Reverend Wright for the Israel is a “dirty word” remark (before Wright’s National Press Club attack on his political sincerity) or when Wright launched into his tirade about a fantastical ethnic bomb created by Israel? Didn’t he attend Farrakhan’s Million Man March? One wonders why Obama would make such a remark, knowing as he must that his association with and choice of a hatemonger as mentor who spewed anti-Israel venom is one of the key concerns for the very audience whose votes he now seeks. Perhaps an apology for years of ignoring Wright’s vile comments would have been a better approach.

Obama also made his appeal at the synagogue as a defender and friend of Israel, defying anyone to find an anti-Israel comment he has made. And he vowed not to negotiate unconditonally with Hamas or Hezbollah. No such promise with regard to their state sponsor Iran, however. He claims it is “distortion” by others to claim he wants to negotiate unconditionally with the terrorist groups themselves. But of course, that is a distortion. The focus of the debate is on his promise with regard to state sponsors of terror and his apparent indifference, indeed his understanding of the reasons why Hamas would look favorably on him as President.

Many Jews have real concerns about Obama’s toleration for Wright, his willingness to provide an international publicity platform for the world’s most prominent holocaust denier, and even his close association with Palestinian activists who defame Israel. To win voters over, he will have to be honest in assessing and addressing their concerns. Then he can try to articulate why it would be in our national security interest, and in Israel’s, to talk without preconditions with Ahmadinejad. That’s the basis for a real dialogue with the Jewish community on matters of foreign policy.

Barack Obama went to a Florida synagogue and made his pitch for Jewish support. He faced a skeptical crowd that did not exactly give him a hero’s welcome. But what was most striking were comments like this that are breathtaking in their audacity:

“Don’t judge me because I have a funny name. Don’t judge me because I am an African American. People are concerned about memories of the past. … That is exactly what I am fighting in the African American community when I hear anti-Semitic statements. We are bigger than that.”

First, the insinuation, which he has made more than once, that Jews oppose him because of his name or his race (or because another African American made anti-Semitic remarks) is insulting and condescending. He should drop it from his repertoire and address the real concerns Jewish voters have expressed.

That brings us to his jaw-dropping comment that he has been fighting anti-Semitic statements in the African American community. Excuse me, but did he rebuke Reverend Wright for the Israel is a “dirty word” remark (before Wright’s National Press Club attack on his political sincerity) or when Wright launched into his tirade about a fantastical ethnic bomb created by Israel? Didn’t he attend Farrakhan’s Million Man March? One wonders why Obama would make such a remark, knowing as he must that his association with and choice of a hatemonger as mentor who spewed anti-Israel venom is one of the key concerns for the very audience whose votes he now seeks. Perhaps an apology for years of ignoring Wright’s vile comments would have been a better approach.

Obama also made his appeal at the synagogue as a defender and friend of Israel, defying anyone to find an anti-Israel comment he has made. And he vowed not to negotiate unconditonally with Hamas or Hezbollah. No such promise with regard to their state sponsor Iran, however. He claims it is “distortion” by others to claim he wants to negotiate unconditionally with the terrorist groups themselves. But of course, that is a distortion. The focus of the debate is on his promise with regard to state sponsors of terror and his apparent indifference, indeed his understanding of the reasons why Hamas would look favorably on him as President.

Many Jews have real concerns about Obama’s toleration for Wright, his willingness to provide an international publicity platform for the world’s most prominent holocaust denier, and even his close association with Palestinian activists who defame Israel. To win voters over, he will have to be honest in assessing and addressing their concerns. Then he can try to articulate why it would be in our national security interest, and in Israel’s, to talk without preconditions with Ahmadinejad. That’s the basis for a real dialogue with the Jewish community on matters of foreign policy.

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Lebanon Recriminations

To add to Eric’s great post below, and to the thoughts of Michael Young and David Schenker, I think it’s appropriate, in the midst of the false denouement of the latest crisis, to take a moment and look at the dreadful behavior of the United Nations.

Remember UN Security Council Resolution 1559? It was passed way back in 2004, and it required the disarmament of Hezbollah. It was ignored. Then there is UNIFIL, the special UN blue-helmet force that, since the end of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, has sat in southern Lebanon doing little other than timidly dissuading Hezbollah from rebuilding its infrastructure in plain view on Israel’s border. When Hezbollah wants UNIFIL to leave, UNIFIL will leave. Before the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, UNIFIL did even less, and in one famous case actually collaborated with Hezbollah in the murder of Israeli soldiers. The 2006 war ended under the auspices of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which authorized an “enhanced” UNIFIL that was tasked with preventing Hezbollah’s re-armament. That resolution was violated before its approval made it into the morning papers, and continues to be ignored with impunity by everyone from Iran and Syria to UNIFIL itself; Hezbollah today is better-armed than it was before the 2006 war.

Whatever else one wants to say about the Doha meeting, at least it didn’t involve the United Nations.

To add to Eric’s great post below, and to the thoughts of Michael Young and David Schenker, I think it’s appropriate, in the midst of the false denouement of the latest crisis, to take a moment and look at the dreadful behavior of the United Nations.

Remember UN Security Council Resolution 1559? It was passed way back in 2004, and it required the disarmament of Hezbollah. It was ignored. Then there is UNIFIL, the special UN blue-helmet force that, since the end of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, has sat in southern Lebanon doing little other than timidly dissuading Hezbollah from rebuilding its infrastructure in plain view on Israel’s border. When Hezbollah wants UNIFIL to leave, UNIFIL will leave. Before the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, UNIFIL did even less, and in one famous case actually collaborated with Hezbollah in the murder of Israeli soldiers. The 2006 war ended under the auspices of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which authorized an “enhanced” UNIFIL that was tasked with preventing Hezbollah’s re-armament. That resolution was violated before its approval made it into the morning papers, and continues to be ignored with impunity by everyone from Iran and Syria to UNIFIL itself; Hezbollah today is better-armed than it was before the 2006 war.

Whatever else one wants to say about the Doha meeting, at least it didn’t involve the United Nations.

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When Is The Jig Up?

Mickey Kaus thinks Barack Obama’s employ of Washington pol extraordinaire Jim Johnson to head his VP search committee is the final straw in the phony debate about whether Barack Obama represents New Politics. But really, it is one small bit of a larger picture. Obama is against villifying opponents? But he accuses McCain of not wanting to be generous to veterans. Obama doesn’t like “cut and paste” politics and playing gotcha with out of context phrases? But he perpetuated the 100 years debate for weeks. He swears age shouldn’t be an issue ? Yet the DNC attack dog Howard Dean dwells on it at every turn. And while Obama doffs his cap to McCain’s years of service, a parade of military-bashing surrogates steps forward to ding McCain.

At some point even the media will notice the disconnect and begin to question the New Politics mantra, right? Well perhaps the public will figure it out on their own.

Mickey Kaus thinks Barack Obama’s employ of Washington pol extraordinaire Jim Johnson to head his VP search committee is the final straw in the phony debate about whether Barack Obama represents New Politics. But really, it is one small bit of a larger picture. Obama is against villifying opponents? But he accuses McCain of not wanting to be generous to veterans. Obama doesn’t like “cut and paste” politics and playing gotcha with out of context phrases? But he perpetuated the 100 years debate for weeks. He swears age shouldn’t be an issue ? Yet the DNC attack dog Howard Dean dwells on it at every turn. And while Obama doffs his cap to McCain’s years of service, a parade of military-bashing surrogates steps forward to ding McCain.

At some point even the media will notice the disconnect and begin to question the New Politics mantra, right? Well perhaps the public will figure it out on their own.

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