Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 27, 2008

VP Non-Story

The weekend at the McCains’ attended by a number of vice presidential hopefuls seems to have been mostly an exercise to generate meaningless speculation by the media over a non-event. It’s one step above anonymous sources mulling over a McCain-Bloomberg ticket. (Yeah, a New York socially liberal billionaire is just the person to help sway those Appalachian voters and calm the GOP base.)

The apparent stunt diverted whatever lingering attention there might have been over McCain’s medical records or his wife’s tax returns and allowed McCain the benefit of a bit of news without ever leaving home. At some point there will be serious news on the VP front to report. This wasn’t it.

The weekend at the McCains’ attended by a number of vice presidential hopefuls seems to have been mostly an exercise to generate meaningless speculation by the media over a non-event. It’s one step above anonymous sources mulling over a McCain-Bloomberg ticket. (Yeah, a New York socially liberal billionaire is just the person to help sway those Appalachian voters and calm the GOP base.)

The apparent stunt diverted whatever lingering attention there might have been over McCain’s medical records or his wife’s tax returns and allowed McCain the benefit of a bit of news without ever leaving home. At some point there will be serious news on the VP front to report. This wasn’t it.

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Not So Good At History

A number of blogs (and now cable news outlets) are on to the fact that Barack Obama did not get the details right on the story of his uncle (or was it a grand-uncle?) and his return from World War II. I am rather forgiving on war memories, and if the uncle or Obama got a few facts wrong about where he served I am not one to grouse. However, Obama and his staff get a lot of history wrong (and a lot of other stuff wrong, too).

Isn’t Obama supposed to be highly educated, sophisticated, a great intellect? Shouldn’t the media’s bar be higher for this brilliant leader of the new age of politics? Had it been Hillary Clinton or Al Gore who made all these errors, we would have heard by now that the candidate was a fabulist. Had it been John McCain it would have been a sign of senility. Had it been George W. Bush . . . oh, you can imagine. So maybe Obama’s gaffes are a sign of inexperience and shallow knowledge? Nah, couldn’t be.

A number of blogs (and now cable news outlets) are on to the fact that Barack Obama did not get the details right on the story of his uncle (or was it a grand-uncle?) and his return from World War II. I am rather forgiving on war memories, and if the uncle or Obama got a few facts wrong about where he served I am not one to grouse. However, Obama and his staff get a lot of history wrong (and a lot of other stuff wrong, too).

Isn’t Obama supposed to be highly educated, sophisticated, a great intellect? Shouldn’t the media’s bar be higher for this brilliant leader of the new age of politics? Had it been Hillary Clinton or Al Gore who made all these errors, we would have heard by now that the candidate was a fabulist. Had it been John McCain it would have been a sign of senility. Had it been George W. Bush . . . oh, you can imagine. So maybe Obama’s gaffes are a sign of inexperience and shallow knowledge? Nah, couldn’t be.

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Consumer Confidence and Barack Obama

Today, the Conference Board reported that consumer confidence, after months of decline, is at a near 16-year low. This comes, of course, as no surprise. Recent polls have shown that Americans are overwhelmingly convinced that the economy is in catastrophic shape; Alan Greenspan is on record discussing the “the most wrenching” financial crisis since World War II. But what exactly accounts for this degree of despair?

Two weeks ago, in the Wall Street Journal, Zachary Karabell wrote:

[I]t would be a stretch to rank the current problems as especially notable or dramatic. Something else is going on–namely a cultural rut of pessimism that is draining our collective energy, blinding us to possibilities, and eroding our position in the world.

Right now we have an unemployment rate of 5% and headline inflation topping 4%. We have economic growth of 0.6%, extremely low consumer confidence and weakening consumer spending, small business optimism at a 28-year low, and of course a housing market that is showing declines in excess of 20% in some parts of the country.

These are hardly statistics to celebrate, but they are a far cry from the crises of the 20th century. Next time someone compares the present to the Great Depression, stop them.

Stopping all the people who make that claim these days wouldn’t leave you much time to do anything else. Karabell went on:

It is also common today to hear comparisons to the stagflation and grim economy of the 1970s. Here too perspective is in order.

For all the present talk of volatility, in 1973 and 1974 the economy expanded 10% in the first quarter of 1973, contracted 2.1% in the third quarter, went up 3.9% in the fourth quarter, went down 3.4% in the first quarter of 1974, then up 1.2% in the second quarter – continuing like a bouncing ball for another year.

The unemployment rate went from 4.9% in 1973 to 8.5% in 1977, and then nearly broke 10% in 1982. Meanwhile the stock market went from 1067 in January 1973 to 570 in December 1974, a drop of 46%. And there was double-digit inflation and a sharp rise in the price of oil, which represented a higher percentage of consumer spending than today.

Victor Davis Hanson has noted the same insistence over evidence that it’s almost breadline time:

Last week, I asked a fierce Bush critic what he thought were the current unemployment rate, the mortgage default rate, the latest economic growth figures, interest rates and the status of the stock market.

He blurted out the common campaign pessimism: “Recession! Worst since the Depression!”

Then he scoffed when I suggested that the answer was really a 5 percent joblessness rate in April that was lower than the March figure; 95 to 96 percent of mortgages not entering foreclosure in this year’s first quarter; .6 percent growth during the quarter (weak, but not recession level); historically low interest rates; and sky-high stock market prices.

There are serious problems–high fuel costs, rising food prices, staggering foreign debt, unfunded entitlements, and annual deficits. Yet a president or vice president running for office (and covered incessantly by the media) would at least make the argument that there is a lot of good news . . .

This gets to the heart of the matter. In 2004, James Carville astutely noted the following:

And by and large, our message has been we can manage problems, while the Republicans, although they will say we can solve problems, they produce a narrative. We produce a litany. They say, “I’m going to protect you from the terrorists in Tehran and the homos in Hollywood.” We say, “We’re for clean air, better schools, more health care.” And so there’s a Republican narrative, a story, and there’s a Democratic litany.

Carville is one of the Clinton faithful, but there’s no doubt that it’s Barack Obama who hit on the right narrative and figured out how to sell it. Couched in language about hope and change, Obama’s message is ultimately one of abjection and despair. From his routine stump speech to his time-stopping epic on race in America, Obama wants you to know that Americans have it bad, worse than you realized, and he’s going to get us out of it. Americans work every shift and still can’t pay their bills; they go hungry to pay for chemotherapy. But if he’s elected, together, under his audacious guidance, we just might make it through. He is a remarkably talented narrator and as we’ve seen his audience is rapt. The fact that there is some genuine financial concern in America lends legitimacy to his exaggeration. The vicious cycle is in place. We’re told the economy is dismal, we say so in polls, we read the poll results as confirmation of what we’ve been told, we look to the candidate for change who tells us the economy is dismal.

In 1992, Bill Clinton became president by convincing voters that the economy was tanking. It mattered not at all that that year’s growth rate was above the yearly average since 1945. As Americans continue to despair about the catastrophe that isn’t, Barack Obama inches ever closer to the White House.

Today, the Conference Board reported that consumer confidence, after months of decline, is at a near 16-year low. This comes, of course, as no surprise. Recent polls have shown that Americans are overwhelmingly convinced that the economy is in catastrophic shape; Alan Greenspan is on record discussing the “the most wrenching” financial crisis since World War II. But what exactly accounts for this degree of despair?

Two weeks ago, in the Wall Street Journal, Zachary Karabell wrote:

[I]t would be a stretch to rank the current problems as especially notable or dramatic. Something else is going on–namely a cultural rut of pessimism that is draining our collective energy, blinding us to possibilities, and eroding our position in the world.

Right now we have an unemployment rate of 5% and headline inflation topping 4%. We have economic growth of 0.6%, extremely low consumer confidence and weakening consumer spending, small business optimism at a 28-year low, and of course a housing market that is showing declines in excess of 20% in some parts of the country.

These are hardly statistics to celebrate, but they are a far cry from the crises of the 20th century. Next time someone compares the present to the Great Depression, stop them.

Stopping all the people who make that claim these days wouldn’t leave you much time to do anything else. Karabell went on:

It is also common today to hear comparisons to the stagflation and grim economy of the 1970s. Here too perspective is in order.

For all the present talk of volatility, in 1973 and 1974 the economy expanded 10% in the first quarter of 1973, contracted 2.1% in the third quarter, went up 3.9% in the fourth quarter, went down 3.4% in the first quarter of 1974, then up 1.2% in the second quarter – continuing like a bouncing ball for another year.

The unemployment rate went from 4.9% in 1973 to 8.5% in 1977, and then nearly broke 10% in 1982. Meanwhile the stock market went from 1067 in January 1973 to 570 in December 1974, a drop of 46%. And there was double-digit inflation and a sharp rise in the price of oil, which represented a higher percentage of consumer spending than today.

Victor Davis Hanson has noted the same insistence over evidence that it’s almost breadline time:

Last week, I asked a fierce Bush critic what he thought were the current unemployment rate, the mortgage default rate, the latest economic growth figures, interest rates and the status of the stock market.

He blurted out the common campaign pessimism: “Recession! Worst since the Depression!”

Then he scoffed when I suggested that the answer was really a 5 percent joblessness rate in April that was lower than the March figure; 95 to 96 percent of mortgages not entering foreclosure in this year’s first quarter; .6 percent growth during the quarter (weak, but not recession level); historically low interest rates; and sky-high stock market prices.

There are serious problems–high fuel costs, rising food prices, staggering foreign debt, unfunded entitlements, and annual deficits. Yet a president or vice president running for office (and covered incessantly by the media) would at least make the argument that there is a lot of good news . . .

This gets to the heart of the matter. In 2004, James Carville astutely noted the following:

And by and large, our message has been we can manage problems, while the Republicans, although they will say we can solve problems, they produce a narrative. We produce a litany. They say, “I’m going to protect you from the terrorists in Tehran and the homos in Hollywood.” We say, “We’re for clean air, better schools, more health care.” And so there’s a Republican narrative, a story, and there’s a Democratic litany.

Carville is one of the Clinton faithful, but there’s no doubt that it’s Barack Obama who hit on the right narrative and figured out how to sell it. Couched in language about hope and change, Obama’s message is ultimately one of abjection and despair. From his routine stump speech to his time-stopping epic on race in America, Obama wants you to know that Americans have it bad, worse than you realized, and he’s going to get us out of it. Americans work every shift and still can’t pay their bills; they go hungry to pay for chemotherapy. But if he’s elected, together, under his audacious guidance, we just might make it through. He is a remarkably talented narrator and as we’ve seen his audience is rapt. The fact that there is some genuine financial concern in America lends legitimacy to his exaggeration. The vicious cycle is in place. We’re told the economy is dismal, we say so in polls, we read the poll results as confirmation of what we’ve been told, we look to the candidate for change who tells us the economy is dismal.

In 1992, Bill Clinton became president by convincing voters that the economy was tanking. It mattered not at all that that year’s growth rate was above the yearly average since 1945. As Americans continue to despair about the catastrophe that isn’t, Barack Obama inches ever closer to the White House.

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Worrisome . . .

There’s a lighthearted piece in today’s New York Times about Barack Obama and his aide, Reggie Love. The following paragraph leapt out at me:

Along the way, some unofficial rules have emerged between the candidate and his aide. From Mr. Obama: “One cardinal rule of the road is, we don’t watch CNN, the news or MSNBC. We don’t watch any talking heads or any politics. We watch ‘SportsCenter’ and argue about that.”

Anyone concerned about that? The man who may be president doesn’t watch the news or “any politics.” All during the primary, Obama has found himself a little flustered when called upon to offer facts in his defense. You’d think he would try boning up on the headlines now and then. So unskillful is Obama in this regard that the Wall Street Journal once recorded his wife Michelle giving him the following instructions

“Barack,” she interjected, “Feel — don’t think!” Telling her husband his “over-thinking” during past debates had tripped him up with rival Hillary Clinton, she said: “Don’t get caught in the weeds. Be visceral. Use your heart — and your head.”

So, SportsCenter it is. The issue here is not brain power. One only need listen to Obama wax poetic about hope and inclusiveness for thirty seconds to sense his formidable intelligence. Rather, he seems disinclined to deal in pedestrian details, what with lofty generalizations being so much more fun and all. Or maybe when you spend all day going from from adoring amphitheater to adoring amphitheater, a critical jab from a talking head can really spoil your mood.

There’s a lighthearted piece in today’s New York Times about Barack Obama and his aide, Reggie Love. The following paragraph leapt out at me:

Along the way, some unofficial rules have emerged between the candidate and his aide. From Mr. Obama: “One cardinal rule of the road is, we don’t watch CNN, the news or MSNBC. We don’t watch any talking heads or any politics. We watch ‘SportsCenter’ and argue about that.”

Anyone concerned about that? The man who may be president doesn’t watch the news or “any politics.” All during the primary, Obama has found himself a little flustered when called upon to offer facts in his defense. You’d think he would try boning up on the headlines now and then. So unskillful is Obama in this regard that the Wall Street Journal once recorded his wife Michelle giving him the following instructions

“Barack,” she interjected, “Feel — don’t think!” Telling her husband his “over-thinking” during past debates had tripped him up with rival Hillary Clinton, she said: “Don’t get caught in the weeds. Be visceral. Use your heart — and your head.”

So, SportsCenter it is. The issue here is not brain power. One only need listen to Obama wax poetic about hope and inclusiveness for thirty seconds to sense his formidable intelligence. Rather, he seems disinclined to deal in pedestrian details, what with lofty generalizations being so much more fun and all. Or maybe when you spend all day going from from adoring amphitheater to adoring amphitheater, a critical jab from a talking head can really spoil your mood.

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McCain on North Korea

While the mainstream media continues to fawn over Christopher Hill’s efforts in the Six Party talks, John McCain sets out his own views on North Korea (and Asia more generally) in the Asian Wall Street Journal. While much of the piece contains relatively familiar words of support for free trade and strengthening existing alliances, this jumps out:

We must use the leverage available from the U.N. Security Council resolution passed after Pyongyang’s 2006 nuclear test to ensure the full and complete declaration, disablement and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear facilities, in a verifiable manner, which we agreed to with the other members of the six-party talks. We must reinvigorate the trilateral coordination process with Japan and South Korea. And we must never squander the trust of our allies and the respect for our highest office by promising that the president will embark on an open-ended, unconditional personal negotiation with a dictator responsible for running an international criminal enterprise, a covert nuclear weapons program and a massive system of gulags.

The first two sentences are aimed squarely at the Bush administration. Many voices are urging McCain to get to the left of Bush on foreign policy. But here McCain goes the other way, in essence crying foul on the increasingly preposterous attempts (detailed by Stephen Hayes most recently) to ignore North Korea’s nuclear testing and proliferation (not to mention gross human rights abuses) for the sake of what some call “legacy deals.”

McCain continued these themes in a speech today on nuclear proliferation, stating that

North Korea pursues a nuclear weapons program to the point where, today, the dictator Kim Jong-Il has tested a nuclear weapon, and almost certainly possesses several more nuclear warheads. And it has shared its nuclear and missile know-how with others, including Syria. It is a vital national interest for the North Korean nuclear program to be completely, verifiably and irreversibly ended. . . .

Again, this criticism seems to be directed mainly at the unwillingness of the Bush administration to push for verifiable restraints on North Korea’s nuclear program. The latter may not do much to endear McCain to mainstream pundits, but it will likely cheer the conservative base (which has grown increasingly disgusted with Bush’s second term foreign policy record). North Korea is one issue on which McCain seems inclined to break with Bush, albeit not the way most critics envisioned.

While the mainstream media continues to fawn over Christopher Hill’s efforts in the Six Party talks, John McCain sets out his own views on North Korea (and Asia more generally) in the Asian Wall Street Journal. While much of the piece contains relatively familiar words of support for free trade and strengthening existing alliances, this jumps out:

We must use the leverage available from the U.N. Security Council resolution passed after Pyongyang’s 2006 nuclear test to ensure the full and complete declaration, disablement and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear facilities, in a verifiable manner, which we agreed to with the other members of the six-party talks. We must reinvigorate the trilateral coordination process with Japan and South Korea. And we must never squander the trust of our allies and the respect for our highest office by promising that the president will embark on an open-ended, unconditional personal negotiation with a dictator responsible for running an international criminal enterprise, a covert nuclear weapons program and a massive system of gulags.

The first two sentences are aimed squarely at the Bush administration. Many voices are urging McCain to get to the left of Bush on foreign policy. But here McCain goes the other way, in essence crying foul on the increasingly preposterous attempts (detailed by Stephen Hayes most recently) to ignore North Korea’s nuclear testing and proliferation (not to mention gross human rights abuses) for the sake of what some call “legacy deals.”

McCain continued these themes in a speech today on nuclear proliferation, stating that

North Korea pursues a nuclear weapons program to the point where, today, the dictator Kim Jong-Il has tested a nuclear weapon, and almost certainly possesses several more nuclear warheads. And it has shared its nuclear and missile know-how with others, including Syria. It is a vital national interest for the North Korean nuclear program to be completely, verifiably and irreversibly ended. . . .

Again, this criticism seems to be directed mainly at the unwillingness of the Bush administration to push for verifiable restraints on North Korea’s nuclear program. The latter may not do much to endear McCain to mainstream pundits, but it will likely cheer the conservative base (which has grown increasingly disgusted with Bush’s second term foreign policy record). North Korea is one issue on which McCain seems inclined to break with Bush, albeit not the way most critics envisioned.

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One Step Closer . . .

Since Iran’s nuclear program was exposed in August 2002, Tehran has protested its innocence and claimed its nuclear program has only civilian purposes. The IAEA has just produced its latest report and it is not expressing confidence in Iran’s version of the facts. The IAEA pressing Iran on a number of findings about clandestine military activities–a diagram for an underground testing arrangement, the testing of explosive bridgewire detonators normally used for nuclear weapons, and documents about modifying the Iranian Shahab-3 missile to accommodate a nuclear warhead. And the report includes the following statement:

The Agency has also inquired about the reasons for inclusion in the curriculum vitae of an IAP [Institute of Applied Physics, a military-linked institute implicated in some of Iran’s nuclear activities] of a Taylor-Sedov equation for the evolving radius of a nuclear explosion ball with photos of the 1945 Trinity test–the July 16, 1945 US test of a nuclear plutonium bomb in the New Mexico desert.

Iran has denied that there is any connection to nuclear weapons, just as it denied that it had asked for a nuclear warhead design it obtained from the network of Pakistani scientist Dr. A.Q. Khan. But these denials are starting to ring more and more hollowly, even to the ears of IAEA Director General, Dr. Mohammad ElBaradei, not exactly unsympathetic to Iranian arguments. The IAEA has now verified that the design Iran has is identical to the one Pakistan has–so we now know that Iran obtained a design for a nuclear weapon from the Khan network, built an underground testing range, developed special detonators for a nuclear weapon, modified its long range missiles to fit a nuclear warhead, and has set physicists to studying nuclear blasts. What more does the international community need to know about this program before it recognizes that stronger measures are needed to prevent Iran from achieving its goals?

Since Iran’s nuclear program was exposed in August 2002, Tehran has protested its innocence and claimed its nuclear program has only civilian purposes. The IAEA has just produced its latest report and it is not expressing confidence in Iran’s version of the facts. The IAEA pressing Iran on a number of findings about clandestine military activities–a diagram for an underground testing arrangement, the testing of explosive bridgewire detonators normally used for nuclear weapons, and documents about modifying the Iranian Shahab-3 missile to accommodate a nuclear warhead. And the report includes the following statement:

The Agency has also inquired about the reasons for inclusion in the curriculum vitae of an IAP [Institute of Applied Physics, a military-linked institute implicated in some of Iran’s nuclear activities] of a Taylor-Sedov equation for the evolving radius of a nuclear explosion ball with photos of the 1945 Trinity test–the July 16, 1945 US test of a nuclear plutonium bomb in the New Mexico desert.

Iran has denied that there is any connection to nuclear weapons, just as it denied that it had asked for a nuclear warhead design it obtained from the network of Pakistani scientist Dr. A.Q. Khan. But these denials are starting to ring more and more hollowly, even to the ears of IAEA Director General, Dr. Mohammad ElBaradei, not exactly unsympathetic to Iranian arguments. The IAEA has now verified that the design Iran has is identical to the one Pakistan has–so we now know that Iran obtained a design for a nuclear weapon from the Khan network, built an underground testing range, developed special detonators for a nuclear weapon, modified its long range missiles to fit a nuclear warhead, and has set physicists to studying nuclear blasts. What more does the international community need to know about this program before it recognizes that stronger measures are needed to prevent Iran from achieving its goals?

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Who Talks To Obama?

A story on Zbigniew Brzezinski from the Telegraph:

Mr Brzezinski said “it’s not unique to the Jewish community – but there is a McCarthyite tendency among some people in the Jewish community”, referring to the Republican senator who led the anti-Communist witch hunt in the 1950s. “They operate not by arguing but by slandering, vilifying, demonising. They very promptly wheel out anti-Semitism. There is an element of paranoia in this inclination to view any serious attempt at a compromised peace as somehow directed against Israel.” Although Mr Brzezinski is not a formal day-to-day adviser and stressed he doesn’t speak for the campaign, he said that he “talks to” Mr Obama. He endorsed the Illinois senator, lauding him as “head and shoulders” above his opponents. He said that he was the only candidate who understood “what is new and distinctive about our age”. In turn, Mr Obama has praised Mr Brzezinski as “someone I have learned an immense amount from” and “one of our most outstanding scholars and thinkers”.

I have no doubt that Obama’s staff will rush forward to declare, as they have before, that Brzezinski is only a informal adviser. But the question remains why Obama has had a retinue of advisors (both formal and not) like Brzezinski, McPeak, and Malley who hold views so antithetical to Obama’s supposedly unassailable record and views on Israel. You can understand how rational voters, Jewish or not, would conclude that something is amiss and wonder why Obama does not disassociate himself entirely from these people. But no, those Jews are just hung up on Obama’s name and the phony emails about Obama’s Muslim upbringing. That must be it.

A story on Zbigniew Brzezinski from the Telegraph:

Mr Brzezinski said “it’s not unique to the Jewish community – but there is a McCarthyite tendency among some people in the Jewish community”, referring to the Republican senator who led the anti-Communist witch hunt in the 1950s. “They operate not by arguing but by slandering, vilifying, demonising. They very promptly wheel out anti-Semitism. There is an element of paranoia in this inclination to view any serious attempt at a compromised peace as somehow directed against Israel.” Although Mr Brzezinski is not a formal day-to-day adviser and stressed he doesn’t speak for the campaign, he said that he “talks to” Mr Obama. He endorsed the Illinois senator, lauding him as “head and shoulders” above his opponents. He said that he was the only candidate who understood “what is new and distinctive about our age”. In turn, Mr Obama has praised Mr Brzezinski as “someone I have learned an immense amount from” and “one of our most outstanding scholars and thinkers”.

I have no doubt that Obama’s staff will rush forward to declare, as they have before, that Brzezinski is only a informal adviser. But the question remains why Obama has had a retinue of advisors (both formal and not) like Brzezinski, McPeak, and Malley who hold views so antithetical to Obama’s supposedly unassailable record and views on Israel. You can understand how rational voters, Jewish or not, would conclude that something is amiss and wonder why Obama does not disassociate himself entirely from these people. But no, those Jews are just hung up on Obama’s name and the phony emails about Obama’s Muslim upbringing. That must be it.

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More on Diana West

On Friday, I criticized Diana West’s defense of the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Baghdad. Over the weekend, Diana fired back at me on her blog. She begins:

Alas. Contentions, the blog of Commentary magazine, has a problem with this week’s column. Abe Greenwald writes:

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.

Nice, ad hominem opener.

She objects to the reprimand the soldier received and the general air of apology from the U.S.

Which included, just to refresh, a deferential public apology from Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond during which another US officer presented the assembled locals (likely insurgents, not long ago) with a brand new Koran after kissing it. Abe then quotes briefly from my column:

“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?”

And then he writes:

That won’t do, Diana.

What won’t “do,” Abe–comparing Gen. Patton and “Mein Kampf” with Gen. Hammond and the Koran? Why not?”

Critics like to say that for neoconservatives it’s always 1938. So I take particular relish in pointing out to Diana that the 1938 framework in which she’s placed the war on terror is a functional nonstarter.

Yes, there are many nasty injunctions in the Qur’an. Yes, there are calls to anti-Semitism and supremacy. But Diana’s line of argument–that the West is up against nothing less than the Qur’an itself–is inevitably countered by one of two points. First, there are nasty parts in the foundational works of other major religions. Second, there are Qur’anic passages promoting humanity and understanding. This is rebutted in turn: “But there are more nasty bits in the Qur’an than in other holy books.” And once you’ve reached that less-than-stellar point, your crusade has lost a good deal of its moral clarity. If you’re going to wage wholesale war on an entire religion, you’ll need more than a tabulation showing that the religion’s core text is, on balance, nastier than the next.

Why are the Iraqi Kurds such reliable American allies? Why, last week, did a Turkish Muslim sit down with me for a glass of wine? After all, they read the same Qu’ran bearing the same proclamations about infidels and the same prohibition on alcohol. Religion is personal, fluid, mysterious. Yes, I know: the Qur’an is supposedly the direct word of God and therefore not open to interpretation. But in reality, it is interpreted and reinterpreted constantly. In various times and various locales, Muslims have given different parts of Qur’anic text different weight. Because of the U.S.’s indefatigable efforts on both the military and diplomatic fronts, we are currently witnessing the rejection of jihad among the Sunni and Shia of Iraq. Nothing spurs religious dynamism like major shifts in the political landscape. I have a hard time seeing how the unapologetic desecration of the Qur’an puts America on a better footing in the war on terror.

Diana goes on:

“I’m not sure whether Abe disputes my argument, but he certainly thinks it shouldn’t be made. Here’s why he says “that won’t do”:

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.

Notice that this fact is given as a rationale for silence, not as a cause for concern.

Not silence, merely restraint from vandalism. Bluster about shooting up a Qur’an is no substitute for beneficial inquiry into the relationship between moderate and radical Islam. I’m proud to note that COMMENTARY does not shy away from exploring such questions at length. I refer Diana to “In Search of Moderate Muslims” by Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom in the February 2008 issue, and to these dissenting letters from Stephen Schwartz and COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Pipes.

I understand Diana’s concerns and I share some of them. But all in all it’s a good thing that the U.S. is not in the habit of waging war on religions. Such undertakings would contradict the noblest intentions of our Constitution. And on a purely strategic level, doing battle with Islam itself would surely lose us our most important allies. I always enjoy fielding the anti-war charge that America is trying to oppress Muslims worldwide: there’s not a shred of evidence to support it. And forfeiting that assurance would be the same thing as giving up the fight.

On Friday, I criticized Diana West’s defense of the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Baghdad. Over the weekend, Diana fired back at me on her blog. She begins:

Alas. Contentions, the blog of Commentary magazine, has a problem with this week’s column. Abe Greenwald writes:

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.

Nice, ad hominem opener.

She objects to the reprimand the soldier received and the general air of apology from the U.S.

Which included, just to refresh, a deferential public apology from Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond during which another US officer presented the assembled locals (likely insurgents, not long ago) with a brand new Koran after kissing it. Abe then quotes briefly from my column:

“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?”

And then he writes:

That won’t do, Diana.

What won’t “do,” Abe–comparing Gen. Patton and “Mein Kampf” with Gen. Hammond and the Koran? Why not?”

Critics like to say that for neoconservatives it’s always 1938. So I take particular relish in pointing out to Diana that the 1938 framework in which she’s placed the war on terror is a functional nonstarter.

Yes, there are many nasty injunctions in the Qur’an. Yes, there are calls to anti-Semitism and supremacy. But Diana’s line of argument–that the West is up against nothing less than the Qur’an itself–is inevitably countered by one of two points. First, there are nasty parts in the foundational works of other major religions. Second, there are Qur’anic passages promoting humanity and understanding. This is rebutted in turn: “But there are more nasty bits in the Qur’an than in other holy books.” And once you’ve reached that less-than-stellar point, your crusade has lost a good deal of its moral clarity. If you’re going to wage wholesale war on an entire religion, you’ll need more than a tabulation showing that the religion’s core text is, on balance, nastier than the next.

Why are the Iraqi Kurds such reliable American allies? Why, last week, did a Turkish Muslim sit down with me for a glass of wine? After all, they read the same Qu’ran bearing the same proclamations about infidels and the same prohibition on alcohol. Religion is personal, fluid, mysterious. Yes, I know: the Qur’an is supposedly the direct word of God and therefore not open to interpretation. But in reality, it is interpreted and reinterpreted constantly. In various times and various locales, Muslims have given different parts of Qur’anic text different weight. Because of the U.S.’s indefatigable efforts on both the military and diplomatic fronts, we are currently witnessing the rejection of jihad among the Sunni and Shia of Iraq. Nothing spurs religious dynamism like major shifts in the political landscape. I have a hard time seeing how the unapologetic desecration of the Qur’an puts America on a better footing in the war on terror.

Diana goes on:

“I’m not sure whether Abe disputes my argument, but he certainly thinks it shouldn’t be made. Here’s why he says “that won’t do”:

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.

Notice that this fact is given as a rationale for silence, not as a cause for concern.

Not silence, merely restraint from vandalism. Bluster about shooting up a Qur’an is no substitute for beneficial inquiry into the relationship between moderate and radical Islam. I’m proud to note that COMMENTARY does not shy away from exploring such questions at length. I refer Diana to “In Search of Moderate Muslims” by Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom in the February 2008 issue, and to these dissenting letters from Stephen Schwartz and COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Pipes.

I understand Diana’s concerns and I share some of them. But all in all it’s a good thing that the U.S. is not in the habit of waging war on religions. Such undertakings would contradict the noblest intentions of our Constitution. And on a purely strategic level, doing battle with Islam itself would surely lose us our most important allies. I always enjoy fielding the anti-war charge that America is trying to oppress Muslims worldwide: there’s not a shred of evidence to support it. And forfeiting that assurance would be the same thing as giving up the fight.

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Wright on al-Qaeda

Lawrence Wright, author of the brilliant book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, has written an extremely significant essay in The New Yorker, “The Rebellion Within.”

Wright’s article is devoted to an issue that has fascinated me for months now and which I have written on (see here and here): how the tide within the Islamic world is turning against jihadism and more specifically, the significance of Sayyid Imam al-Sharif–who is more widely known by the pseudonym Dr. Fadl–breaking with the extremist and violent ideology he helped develop and popularize. This is one of the most significant and, until now, unreported ideological developments within the Islamic world. (Wright wisely points out that Fadl’s defection is not the only relevant data point; we have seen key Saudi and Palestinian clerics make similar arguments. For example, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Aal al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, issued a fatwa in October 2007 forbidding Saudi youth from engaging in jihad abroad. And a month earlier, Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, an influential Saudi cleric whom Osama bin Laden once lionized, wrote an “open letter” condemning bin Laden).

By way of background: Fadl, an Egyptian, is a living legend within the Islamic world and former mentor to Ayman Zawahiri, the ideological leader of Al Qaeda. In November 2007, the first segment of Fadl’s book appeared in the newspapers Al Masri Al Youm and Al Jarida. Titled “Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World,” it attempted to (in Wright’s words) “reconcile Fadl’s well-known views with his sweeping modifications.” The result is that “Fadl’s arguments undermined the entire intellectual framework of jihadist warfare.” Wright argues that Fadl’s book is “a trenchant attack on the immoral roots of Al Qaeda’s theology:”

The premise that opens “Rationalizing Jihad” is “There is nothing that invokes the anger of God and His wrath like the unwarranted spilling of blood and wrecking of property.” Fadl then establishes a new set of rules for jihad, which essentially define most forms of terrorism as illegal under Islamic law and restrict the possibility of holy war to extremely rare circumstances. His argument may seem arcane, even to most Muslims, but to men who had risked their lives in order to carry out what they saw as the authentic precepts of their religion, every word assaulted their world view and brought into question their own chances for salvation.

There is more:

Fadl repeatedly emphasizes that it is forbidden to kill civilians-including Christians and Jews-unless they are actively attacking Muslims. “There is nothing in the Sharia about killing Jews and the Nazarenes, referred to by some as the Crusaders,” Fadl observes. “They are the neighbors of the Muslims . . . and being kind to one’s neighbors is a religious duty.” Indiscriminate bombing-“such as blowing up of hotels, buildings, and public transportation”-is not permitted, because innocents will surely die. . . .

Speaking of Iraq, he notes that, without the jihad there, “America would have moved into Syria.” However, it is unrealistic to believe that, “under current circumstances,” such struggles will lead to Islamic states. Iraq is particularly troubling because of the sectarian cleansing that the war has generated. Fadl addresses the bloody division between Sunnis and Shiites at the heart of Islam: “Harming those who are affiliated with Islam but have a different creed is forbidden.” Al Qaeda is an entirely Sunni organization; the Shiites are its declared enemies. Fadl, however, quotes Ibn Taymiyya, one of the revered scholars of early Islam, who is also bin Laden’s favorite authority: “A Muslim’s blood and money are safeguarded even if his creed is different.”

Wright’s essay–which includes fascinating details on Fadl’s life, his relationship with Zawahiri, the rift that developed between them, and their recent debate about the nature of meaning of jihad–concludes:

One afternoon in Egypt, I visited Kamal Habib, a key leader of the first generation of Al Jihad, who is now a political scientist and analyst. His writing has gained him an audience of former radicals who, like him, have sought a path back to moderation. We met in the cafeteria of the Journalists’ Syndicate, in downtown Cairo. Habib is an energetic political theorist, unbroken by ten years in prison, despite having been tortured. (His arms are marked with scars from cigarette burns.) “We now have before us two schools of thought,” Habib told me. “The old school, which was expressed by Al Jihad and its spinoff, Al Qaeda, is the one that was led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Sheikh Maqdisi, Zarqawi. The new school, which Dr. Fadl has given expression to, represents a battle of faith. It’s deeper than just ideology.” He went on, “The general mood of Islamist movements in the seventies was intransigence. Now the general mood is toward harmony and coexistence. The distance between the two is a measure of their experience.” Ironically, Dr. Fadl’s thinking gave birth to both schools. “As long as a person lives in a world of jihad, the old vision will control his thinking,” Habib suggested. “When he’s in battle, he doesn’t wonder if he’s wrong or he’s right. When he’s arrested, he has time to wonder.”

“Dr. Fadl’s revisions and Zawahiri’s response show that the movement is disintegrating,” Karam Zuhdy, the Islamic Group leader, told me one afternoon, in his modest apartment in Alexandria. He is a striking figure, fifty-six years old, with blond hair and black eyebrows. His daughter, who is four, wrapped herself around his leg as an old black-and-white Egyptian movie played silently on a television. Such movies provide a glimpse of a more tolerant and hopeful time, before Egypt took its dark turn into revolution and Islamist violence. I asked Zuhdy how his country might have been different if he and his colleagues had never chosen the bloody path. “It would have been a lot better now,” he admitted. “Our opting for violence encouraged Al Jihad to emerge.” He even suggested that, had the Islamists not murdered Sadat thirty years ago, there would be peace today between the Palestinians and the Israelis. He quoted the Prophet Muhammad: “Only what benefits people stays on the earth.”

“It’s very easy to start violence,” Zuhdy said. “Peace is much more difficult.”

The tectonic plates have been shifting within the Islamic world for many months now. Thanks to Wright’s new essay, many more people in this country will recognize what is unfolding and its ramifications for al Qaeda specifically and jihadism more broadly. And while there is plenty of work that remains to be done and this struggle is far from over, what we have seen are heartening, far-reaching, and perhaps even pivotal developments in the history of jihad.

Lawrence Wright, author of the brilliant book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, has written an extremely significant essay in The New Yorker, “The Rebellion Within.”

Wright’s article is devoted to an issue that has fascinated me for months now and which I have written on (see here and here): how the tide within the Islamic world is turning against jihadism and more specifically, the significance of Sayyid Imam al-Sharif–who is more widely known by the pseudonym Dr. Fadl–breaking with the extremist and violent ideology he helped develop and popularize. This is one of the most significant and, until now, unreported ideological developments within the Islamic world. (Wright wisely points out that Fadl’s defection is not the only relevant data point; we have seen key Saudi and Palestinian clerics make similar arguments. For example, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Aal al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, issued a fatwa in October 2007 forbidding Saudi youth from engaging in jihad abroad. And a month earlier, Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, an influential Saudi cleric whom Osama bin Laden once lionized, wrote an “open letter” condemning bin Laden).

By way of background: Fadl, an Egyptian, is a living legend within the Islamic world and former mentor to Ayman Zawahiri, the ideological leader of Al Qaeda. In November 2007, the first segment of Fadl’s book appeared in the newspapers Al Masri Al Youm and Al Jarida. Titled “Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World,” it attempted to (in Wright’s words) “reconcile Fadl’s well-known views with his sweeping modifications.” The result is that “Fadl’s arguments undermined the entire intellectual framework of jihadist warfare.” Wright argues that Fadl’s book is “a trenchant attack on the immoral roots of Al Qaeda’s theology:”

The premise that opens “Rationalizing Jihad” is “There is nothing that invokes the anger of God and His wrath like the unwarranted spilling of blood and wrecking of property.” Fadl then establishes a new set of rules for jihad, which essentially define most forms of terrorism as illegal under Islamic law and restrict the possibility of holy war to extremely rare circumstances. His argument may seem arcane, even to most Muslims, but to men who had risked their lives in order to carry out what they saw as the authentic precepts of their religion, every word assaulted their world view and brought into question their own chances for salvation.

There is more:

Fadl repeatedly emphasizes that it is forbidden to kill civilians-including Christians and Jews-unless they are actively attacking Muslims. “There is nothing in the Sharia about killing Jews and the Nazarenes, referred to by some as the Crusaders,” Fadl observes. “They are the neighbors of the Muslims . . . and being kind to one’s neighbors is a religious duty.” Indiscriminate bombing-“such as blowing up of hotels, buildings, and public transportation”-is not permitted, because innocents will surely die. . . .

Speaking of Iraq, he notes that, without the jihad there, “America would have moved into Syria.” However, it is unrealistic to believe that, “under current circumstances,” such struggles will lead to Islamic states. Iraq is particularly troubling because of the sectarian cleansing that the war has generated. Fadl addresses the bloody division between Sunnis and Shiites at the heart of Islam: “Harming those who are affiliated with Islam but have a different creed is forbidden.” Al Qaeda is an entirely Sunni organization; the Shiites are its declared enemies. Fadl, however, quotes Ibn Taymiyya, one of the revered scholars of early Islam, who is also bin Laden’s favorite authority: “A Muslim’s blood and money are safeguarded even if his creed is different.”

Wright’s essay–which includes fascinating details on Fadl’s life, his relationship with Zawahiri, the rift that developed between them, and their recent debate about the nature of meaning of jihad–concludes:

One afternoon in Egypt, I visited Kamal Habib, a key leader of the first generation of Al Jihad, who is now a political scientist and analyst. His writing has gained him an audience of former radicals who, like him, have sought a path back to moderation. We met in the cafeteria of the Journalists’ Syndicate, in downtown Cairo. Habib is an energetic political theorist, unbroken by ten years in prison, despite having been tortured. (His arms are marked with scars from cigarette burns.) “We now have before us two schools of thought,” Habib told me. “The old school, which was expressed by Al Jihad and its spinoff, Al Qaeda, is the one that was led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Sheikh Maqdisi, Zarqawi. The new school, which Dr. Fadl has given expression to, represents a battle of faith. It’s deeper than just ideology.” He went on, “The general mood of Islamist movements in the seventies was intransigence. Now the general mood is toward harmony and coexistence. The distance between the two is a measure of their experience.” Ironically, Dr. Fadl’s thinking gave birth to both schools. “As long as a person lives in a world of jihad, the old vision will control his thinking,” Habib suggested. “When he’s in battle, he doesn’t wonder if he’s wrong or he’s right. When he’s arrested, he has time to wonder.”

“Dr. Fadl’s revisions and Zawahiri’s response show that the movement is disintegrating,” Karam Zuhdy, the Islamic Group leader, told me one afternoon, in his modest apartment in Alexandria. He is a striking figure, fifty-six years old, with blond hair and black eyebrows. His daughter, who is four, wrapped herself around his leg as an old black-and-white Egyptian movie played silently on a television. Such movies provide a glimpse of a more tolerant and hopeful time, before Egypt took its dark turn into revolution and Islamist violence. I asked Zuhdy how his country might have been different if he and his colleagues had never chosen the bloody path. “It would have been a lot better now,” he admitted. “Our opting for violence encouraged Al Jihad to emerge.” He even suggested that, had the Islamists not murdered Sadat thirty years ago, there would be peace today between the Palestinians and the Israelis. He quoted the Prophet Muhammad: “Only what benefits people stays on the earth.”

“It’s very easy to start violence,” Zuhdy said. “Peace is much more difficult.”

The tectonic plates have been shifting within the Islamic world for many months now. Thanks to Wright’s new essay, many more people in this country will recognize what is unfolding and its ramifications for al Qaeda specifically and jihadism more broadly. And while there is plenty of work that remains to be done and this struggle is far from over, what we have seen are heartening, far-reaching, and perhaps even pivotal developments in the history of jihad.

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The CIA’s Grand Champion

 From 2002-05, Mark M. Lowenthal was an assistant director of the CIA and vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council. He has written one of the more useful books by an intelligence official: Intelligence: From Secrets To Policy. An even more significant accomplishment to my mind — one that offers outside validation of his smarts — is having become a “Grand Champion” on Jeopardy in 1988.

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Lowenthal candidly admitted that the “U.S. intelligence community has failed” both as “a public institution and as a profession.” But the failure, in his eyes, does not reside in either inability to intercept the 9/11 plot or the erroneous assessment of Iraq weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

September 11, Lowenthal argues, was not something that could have been forestalled by intelligence:

No one has yet revealed the one or two or 10 things that, had they been done differently, might have prevented the attacks. In my view, and in the view of many of my colleagues, even the missed “operational opportunities” identified by the 9/11 Commission would have done little more than force al-Qaeda to send different terrorists into the United States, especially considering the legal rules in play at the time. Even if every “dot” had been connected, they would not have led to the tactical intelligence needed to stop those four planes on that Tuesday morning.

I am not fully persuaded, but, for the sake of argument, let’s grant Lowenthal the point. He makes a similar observation about the botched 2003 WMD National Intelligence Estimate. Even if the tradecraft in producing that NIE had not been so shoddy, the result, he contends, might well have been the same:

it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to envision an NIE based on good intelligence that would have come up with the correct answer. The best my fellow analysts could have done, I think, would have been to offer three analytical options: Saddam Hussein has WMD; he does not have WMD; or we simply do not know. And of course, given his track record of gassing Kurds, attacking neighbors and resisting U.N. weapons inspections, the most likely of the three still would have been that he had WMD. But analytical responses that cover the waterfront of possibilities are not seen as very useful to policymakers, for obvious reasons. Moreover, even if we had concluded that we just didn’t know what Iraq had, Bush would have probably favored going to war anyway, and Congress would have gone along, largely out of political expediency.

This is more persuasive. But if these two alleged failures were not really failures at all, why then is Lowenthal so down on U.S. intelligence? His answer:

We failed because we have not explained ourselves adequately and comprehensibly to the public — describing our role, the limits within which we work and our view of what can be reasonably expected from us. We have failed because we have allowed ourselves to be caricatured, vilified and misrepresented by people who do not know us, do not like us and do not understand us — or simply see us as convenient fall guys.

This is preposterous. Lowenthal is undoubtedly right that the public is ill informed about what can reasonably be expected from intelligence in view of the insuperable challenges it continually faces. I have made a similar observation in The CIA Follies (Cont’d.) in COMMENTARY. But the idea that intelligence officials have allowed themselves “to be caricatured, vilified and misrepresented by people who do not know us, do not like us and do not understand us — or simply see us as convenient fall guys” does not hold up.

I would point Lowenthal to the 2005 declassified summary of the Inspector General’s report on the CIA’s counterterrorism branch,  including its al-Qaeda unit run by Michael Scheuer. Perhaps the CIA could not have stopped the 9/11 plot no matter what it did. But the managerial and analytical ineptitude on display in that critical unit is staggering.  

I would point him to the decision to put Richard Immerman, an anti-war activist professor, in charge of analytical standards and integrity in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

I would point him to the tendentious declassified summary of the December 2007 NIE on Iran.

I would point him to the endless leaks from the intelligence community designed to undercut the policies of the administration it is tasked with serving. The intelligence community has not been vilified; rather, elements in it have been villainous and the entire operation has been paying the price. One doesn’t need to be a Jeopardy grand champion to understand that.

 From 2002-05, Mark M. Lowenthal was an assistant director of the CIA and vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council. He has written one of the more useful books by an intelligence official: Intelligence: From Secrets To Policy. An even more significant accomplishment to my mind — one that offers outside validation of his smarts — is having become a “Grand Champion” on Jeopardy in 1988.

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Lowenthal candidly admitted that the “U.S. intelligence community has failed” both as “a public institution and as a profession.” But the failure, in his eyes, does not reside in either inability to intercept the 9/11 plot or the erroneous assessment of Iraq weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

September 11, Lowenthal argues, was not something that could have been forestalled by intelligence:

No one has yet revealed the one or two or 10 things that, had they been done differently, might have prevented the attacks. In my view, and in the view of many of my colleagues, even the missed “operational opportunities” identified by the 9/11 Commission would have done little more than force al-Qaeda to send different terrorists into the United States, especially considering the legal rules in play at the time. Even if every “dot” had been connected, they would not have led to the tactical intelligence needed to stop those four planes on that Tuesday morning.

I am not fully persuaded, but, for the sake of argument, let’s grant Lowenthal the point. He makes a similar observation about the botched 2003 WMD National Intelligence Estimate. Even if the tradecraft in producing that NIE had not been so shoddy, the result, he contends, might well have been the same:

it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to envision an NIE based on good intelligence that would have come up with the correct answer. The best my fellow analysts could have done, I think, would have been to offer three analytical options: Saddam Hussein has WMD; he does not have WMD; or we simply do not know. And of course, given his track record of gassing Kurds, attacking neighbors and resisting U.N. weapons inspections, the most likely of the three still would have been that he had WMD. But analytical responses that cover the waterfront of possibilities are not seen as very useful to policymakers, for obvious reasons. Moreover, even if we had concluded that we just didn’t know what Iraq had, Bush would have probably favored going to war anyway, and Congress would have gone along, largely out of political expediency.

This is more persuasive. But if these two alleged failures were not really failures at all, why then is Lowenthal so down on U.S. intelligence? His answer:

We failed because we have not explained ourselves adequately and comprehensibly to the public — describing our role, the limits within which we work and our view of what can be reasonably expected from us. We have failed because we have allowed ourselves to be caricatured, vilified and misrepresented by people who do not know us, do not like us and do not understand us — or simply see us as convenient fall guys.

This is preposterous. Lowenthal is undoubtedly right that the public is ill informed about what can reasonably be expected from intelligence in view of the insuperable challenges it continually faces. I have made a similar observation in The CIA Follies (Cont’d.) in COMMENTARY. But the idea that intelligence officials have allowed themselves “to be caricatured, vilified and misrepresented by people who do not know us, do not like us and do not understand us — or simply see us as convenient fall guys” does not hold up.

I would point Lowenthal to the 2005 declassified summary of the Inspector General’s report on the CIA’s counterterrorism branch,  including its al-Qaeda unit run by Michael Scheuer. Perhaps the CIA could not have stopped the 9/11 plot no matter what it did. But the managerial and analytical ineptitude on display in that critical unit is staggering.  

I would point him to the decision to put Richard Immerman, an anti-war activist professor, in charge of analytical standards and integrity in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

I would point him to the tendentious declassified summary of the December 2007 NIE on Iran.

I would point him to the endless leaks from the intelligence community designed to undercut the policies of the administration it is tasked with serving. The intelligence community has not been vilified; rather, elements in it have been villainous and the entire operation has been paying the price. One doesn’t need to be a Jeopardy grand champion to understand that.

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Carter Supports Global Nukes Race?

Jimmy Carter continues his shameful lurch deep into the land of moral equivalence. Here’s the New York Times:

Asked at a news conference in Wales on Sunday how a future president should deal with the Iranian nuclear threat, he sought to put the risk in context by listing atomic weapons held globally. “The U.S. has more than 12,000 nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union has about the same, Great Britain and France have several hundred, and Israel has 150 or more,” he said, according to a transcript.

This has me deeply concerned. I understood the omnipotent Jewish lobby to have put the U.S. in the position of Israel’s lap dog. Surely we can hand over some of our 12,000 to our master so that that he may better defend himself. I mean, only 150?

Jimmy Carter continues his shameful lurch deep into the land of moral equivalence. Here’s the New York Times:

Asked at a news conference in Wales on Sunday how a future president should deal with the Iranian nuclear threat, he sought to put the risk in context by listing atomic weapons held globally. “The U.S. has more than 12,000 nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union has about the same, Great Britain and France have several hundred, and Israel has 150 or more,” he said, according to a transcript.

This has me deeply concerned. I understood the omnipotent Jewish lobby to have put the U.S. in the position of Israel’s lap dog. Surely we can hand over some of our 12,000 to our master so that that he may better defend himself. I mean, only 150?

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Media Wars

The White House took issue over the weekend with the New York Times‘s characterization of its position on the GI bill. Hillary Clinton has had it with NBC/MSNBC. A day doesn’t pass without the McCain camp taking a shot at a mainstream media outlet. Has the coverage actually gotten worse? Or is the victimization imaginary?

Perhaps it is a little bit of both. As to the latter, with omnipresent YouTube both the media and those they cover have access to who said what to whom. The reporters’ notes of a given event are not the final say. If the media gets it factually wrong or take liberties in interpreting events, the aggrieved subject can fight back. And through the power of Google a candidate or official can easily do his own research and combat the media version of events.

But it is also true that, in the fight for news niches, some outlets have given up all pretense of objectivity. When the most rabidly partisan cable show host sits in the anchor chair to read the evening’s primary returns, it is little wonder that the “hard news” coverage is neither hard, nor news. It is frothy opinion dressed up in the guise of news. (Even other liberal outlets were bothered.) So it shouldn’t surprise anyone when, for example, Hillary Clinton’s team objects. And of course, if mainstream media figures candidly acknowledge their bias, there is every reason for those getting the short end of the coverage to object.

The media already has a confidence rating lower than Congress with the American people. So the consequence of all the pushback is likely to make the public even more skeptical of much of what they read and see. And that perhaps is the real motive of many of those pushing back so hard. It would also be nice if, as a result of all the scrutiny, the mainstream coverage actually got better–but that may be too much to ask.

The White House took issue over the weekend with the New York Times‘s characterization of its position on the GI bill. Hillary Clinton has had it with NBC/MSNBC. A day doesn’t pass without the McCain camp taking a shot at a mainstream media outlet. Has the coverage actually gotten worse? Or is the victimization imaginary?

Perhaps it is a little bit of both. As to the latter, with omnipresent YouTube both the media and those they cover have access to who said what to whom. The reporters’ notes of a given event are not the final say. If the media gets it factually wrong or take liberties in interpreting events, the aggrieved subject can fight back. And through the power of Google a candidate or official can easily do his own research and combat the media version of events.

But it is also true that, in the fight for news niches, some outlets have given up all pretense of objectivity. When the most rabidly partisan cable show host sits in the anchor chair to read the evening’s primary returns, it is little wonder that the “hard news” coverage is neither hard, nor news. It is frothy opinion dressed up in the guise of news. (Even other liberal outlets were bothered.) So it shouldn’t surprise anyone when, for example, Hillary Clinton’s team objects. And of course, if mainstream media figures candidly acknowledge their bias, there is every reason for those getting the short end of the coverage to object.

The media already has a confidence rating lower than Congress with the American people. So the consequence of all the pushback is likely to make the public even more skeptical of much of what they read and see. And that perhaps is the real motive of many of those pushing back so hard. It would also be nice if, as a result of all the scrutiny, the mainstream coverage actually got better–but that may be too much to ask.

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Has Obama Lost Interest Too?

Abe points out that the media have lost interest in the Iraq War. But it is not just the media. I, like many others, have observed that for some time the Democrats have lost interest in understanding and examining the progress made in Iraq. They are so wedded to a narrative of defeat and a position of immediate withdrawal that they have failed to acknowledge factual developments–be they political or military–which would cause them to rethink their narrative, lest they should be forced to acknowledge the real progress in the last eighteen months.

On Monday, John McCain went after Barack Obama for failing to visit Iraq for two years and for essentially ignoring the most significant national development of the last year–the success of the surge. He declared:

He really has no experience or knowledge or judgment about the issue of Iraq and he has wanted to surrender for a long time. . . If there was any other issue before the American people, and you hadn’t had anything to do with it in a couple of years, I think the American people would judge that very harshly.”

Obama has been selling “judgment” to the Democratic primary electorate. But McCain now is asking Americans to assess Obama’s judgment in light of his refusal to examine key facts and adjust national security policy to maximize American interests. When forced to explain the particulars of his surrender plan (like the particulars of his stated intention to negotiate unconditionally with state terror sponsors) to general election voters, Obama may have a tougher time. (McCain might start, for example, by pressing Obama to explain his fantastical “strike force” alternative plan for Iraq.) As with many issues, the devil is in the details. McCain’s strength may reside in his ability to force Obama to spell out what he really means underneath all his impressive rhetoric.

Abe points out that the media have lost interest in the Iraq War. But it is not just the media. I, like many others, have observed that for some time the Democrats have lost interest in understanding and examining the progress made in Iraq. They are so wedded to a narrative of defeat and a position of immediate withdrawal that they have failed to acknowledge factual developments–be they political or military–which would cause them to rethink their narrative, lest they should be forced to acknowledge the real progress in the last eighteen months.

On Monday, John McCain went after Barack Obama for failing to visit Iraq for two years and for essentially ignoring the most significant national development of the last year–the success of the surge. He declared:

He really has no experience or knowledge or judgment about the issue of Iraq and he has wanted to surrender for a long time. . . If there was any other issue before the American people, and you hadn’t had anything to do with it in a couple of years, I think the American people would judge that very harshly.”

Obama has been selling “judgment” to the Democratic primary electorate. But McCain now is asking Americans to assess Obama’s judgment in light of his refusal to examine key facts and adjust national security policy to maximize American interests. When forced to explain the particulars of his surrender plan (like the particulars of his stated intention to negotiate unconditionally with state terror sponsors) to general election voters, Obama may have a tougher time. (McCain might start, for example, by pressing Obama to explain his fantastical “strike force” alternative plan for Iraq.) As with many issues, the devil is in the details. McCain’s strength may reside in his ability to force Obama to spell out what he really means underneath all his impressive rhetoric.

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The New Game

There is a new equivalence game afoot in the liberal punditocracy. Commentators, having discovered that their Barack Obama has made some alarming statements about direct negotiations with dictators, have begun claiming “Well, McCain doesn’t want to talk to anyone, which is worse.” This is factually wrong.

The latest example is Richard Cohen’s column in the Washington Post. He declares:

I attribute Obama’s predicament to inexperience and a certain worrisome naivete. When he said he would personally negotiate with Iran (if he were president), he might not have realized exactly what he was saying.

That alone would seem to be a conclusion which disqualifies Obama from the presidency. So what to do? Make up a position that is equally ludicrous and attribute it to McCain. That one, according to Cohen, is “John McCain will talk to no one.” But this, as I said, is false. McCain has previously said that not only would he conduct lower-level discussions and contacts with all sorts of regimes, but that he looks favorably at such discussions going on currently.

Cohen also repeats the Jamie Rubin canard that McCain was in favor of direct contact with Hamas after the 2006 elections. But more honestly than Rubin, he lets on that McCain acknowledged that these discussions would by dictated by, among other things, “how Hamas acts.” So McCain does favor talking to adversaries when the time is right? What’s the problem, then? Obama, it seems, has revealed himself even to liberal fans as a “naif.” (Or as hopelessly indecisive or inconsistent, as demonstrated by his dual intention both to talk unconditionally with Hugo Chavez and isolate him.) The only solution is to paint McCain, in Cohen’s words, as an “ostrich.” Too bad McCain’s own words and proposals don’t support that claim.

There is a new equivalence game afoot in the liberal punditocracy. Commentators, having discovered that their Barack Obama has made some alarming statements about direct negotiations with dictators, have begun claiming “Well, McCain doesn’t want to talk to anyone, which is worse.” This is factually wrong.

The latest example is Richard Cohen’s column in the Washington Post. He declares:

I attribute Obama’s predicament to inexperience and a certain worrisome naivete. When he said he would personally negotiate with Iran (if he were president), he might not have realized exactly what he was saying.

That alone would seem to be a conclusion which disqualifies Obama from the presidency. So what to do? Make up a position that is equally ludicrous and attribute it to McCain. That one, according to Cohen, is “John McCain will talk to no one.” But this, as I said, is false. McCain has previously said that not only would he conduct lower-level discussions and contacts with all sorts of regimes, but that he looks favorably at such discussions going on currently.

Cohen also repeats the Jamie Rubin canard that McCain was in favor of direct contact with Hamas after the 2006 elections. But more honestly than Rubin, he lets on that McCain acknowledged that these discussions would by dictated by, among other things, “how Hamas acts.” So McCain does favor talking to adversaries when the time is right? What’s the problem, then? Obama, it seems, has revealed himself even to liberal fans as a “naif.” (Or as hopelessly indecisive or inconsistent, as demonstrated by his dual intention both to talk unconditionally with Hugo Chavez and isolate him.) The only solution is to paint McCain, in Cohen’s words, as an “ostrich.” Too bad McCain’s own words and proposals don’t support that claim.

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