Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 30, 2008

How Many Can You Count?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Transparency Continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Multilateral Math

192 + 27 = 2.4 million.

There are 192 countries in the United Nations.

It has been 27 days since a cyclone devastated Burma.

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

78,000 people are dead.

56,000 are missing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

192 + 27 = 2.4 million.

There are 192 countries in the United Nations.

It has been 27 days since a cyclone devastated Burma.

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

78,000 people are dead.

56,000 are missing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Good News Isn’t Always Good For The Democrats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bibi Will Be Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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McCain Foreign Policy Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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China Turns Our Lights Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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U.S. Success and Democratic Woe

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

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

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

This week, Hayden’s said

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This week, Hayden’s said

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

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

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

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

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

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The Story Is Only as Good as the Witness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Al-Qaeda and The Turning Tide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Expert Opinions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My article ended with a warning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My article ended with a warning:

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

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

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The Most Transparent Politician Ever?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crying Sheep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sarkozy: Still French

Throughout the six-month Lebanese presidential crisis, France remained the lone western party actively engaged in monitoring the Lebanese political process. In this vein, French President Nicholas Sarkozy pushed for the Hezbollah-led opposition to accept the will of the parliamentary majority and elect consensus candidate Michel Suleiman president without preconditions. In late December, Sarkozy demonstrated impressive guts when he publicly blamed Syria for the ongoing crisis and suspended contacts with Damascus until it ended its interference–all with Egypt’s diplomatic support. The move left Syria stunned, and France seemed to finally have a president who was willing to play hardball with anti-western forces.

Well, Sarkozy’s response to last week’s Doha agreement–which resolved the political crisis in terms favorable to Hezbollah–should dash such fantasies. Yesterday, Sarkozy phoned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to thank him for his “tireless efforts” in support of the Doha agreement, vowing to strengthen economic and political ties between Damascus and Paris and restoring full diplomatic relations. This only adds to the political windfall that Syria achieved through the Doha agreement–which strengthened its allies within Lebanon–and the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency proudly posted photos of long-lost friends Sarkozy and Assad atop its website.

Make no mistake: Sarkozy’s phone call to Assad represents a diplomatic retreat of epic proportions, as Sarkozy has entirely negated his strong stance against Syria’s role in Lebanon while achieving none of his demands! Indeed, the Doha agreement–which grants Hezbollah veto power within the current cabinet–has all the telltale signs of Syrian interference. Moreover, as the Doha agreement gives Hezbollah substantial influence in formulating a new elections law, Syria has acquired a new means for interfering in Lebanese politics for many years to come.

Ultimately, Sarkozy seems to have embraced the Doha agreement for the same reason that the Bush administration has: because it resolved the Lebanese political crisis without a civil war, which-thanks to constantly increasing support from Iran via Syria-Hezbollah might have won. Yet, unlike the Bush administration–which bizarrely sat on the sidelines throughout the presidential standoff–Sarkozy made clear demands of Syria. To surrender those demands completely in favor of the Doha agreement’s short-term quiet is the ultimate appeasement.

Throughout the six-month Lebanese presidential crisis, France remained the lone western party actively engaged in monitoring the Lebanese political process. In this vein, French President Nicholas Sarkozy pushed for the Hezbollah-led opposition to accept the will of the parliamentary majority and elect consensus candidate Michel Suleiman president without preconditions. In late December, Sarkozy demonstrated impressive guts when he publicly blamed Syria for the ongoing crisis and suspended contacts with Damascus until it ended its interference–all with Egypt’s diplomatic support. The move left Syria stunned, and France seemed to finally have a president who was willing to play hardball with anti-western forces.

Well, Sarkozy’s response to last week’s Doha agreement–which resolved the political crisis in terms favorable to Hezbollah–should dash such fantasies. Yesterday, Sarkozy phoned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to thank him for his “tireless efforts” in support of the Doha agreement, vowing to strengthen economic and political ties between Damascus and Paris and restoring full diplomatic relations. This only adds to the political windfall that Syria achieved through the Doha agreement–which strengthened its allies within Lebanon–and the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency proudly posted photos of long-lost friends Sarkozy and Assad atop its website.

Make no mistake: Sarkozy’s phone call to Assad represents a diplomatic retreat of epic proportions, as Sarkozy has entirely negated his strong stance against Syria’s role in Lebanon while achieving none of his demands! Indeed, the Doha agreement–which grants Hezbollah veto power within the current cabinet–has all the telltale signs of Syrian interference. Moreover, as the Doha agreement gives Hezbollah substantial influence in formulating a new elections law, Syria has acquired a new means for interfering in Lebanese politics for many years to come.

Ultimately, Sarkozy seems to have embraced the Doha agreement for the same reason that the Bush administration has: because it resolved the Lebanese political crisis without a civil war, which-thanks to constantly increasing support from Iran via Syria-Hezbollah might have won. Yet, unlike the Bush administration–which bizarrely sat on the sidelines throughout the presidential standoff–Sarkozy made clear demands of Syria. To surrender those demands completely in favor of the Doha agreement’s short-term quiet is the ultimate appeasement.

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Reid’s Prediction

Stop the presses: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has predicted today that the race for the Democratic nomination will be over in a matter of days.

“By this time next week, it’ll be all over, give or take a day,” Reid told an audience at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club, where he was promoting his new book.

OK, so it’s not exactly headline news. But what is news is that Reid and his House counterpart Nancy Pelosi will be doing some arm-twisting between now and then to get superdelegates to go public to seal the deal for Barack Obama.

All this smacks of smoke-filled rooms and party hacks-the remnants of machine politics the Democrats have been eschewing since 1968.  The party has been endlessly re-writing its rules ever since, trying to come up with the perfect formula to keep its many disparate interest groups from tearing each other apart.  The very idea of awarding a portion of state delegates on a proportional basis was hatched in 1988 to try to appease Jesse Jackson.

Apparently Democrats never imagined that one day they’d face a situation where two viable candidates would emerge from the very interest groups for whom they’d carved out token representation.

Stop the presses: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has predicted today that the race for the Democratic nomination will be over in a matter of days.

“By this time next week, it’ll be all over, give or take a day,” Reid told an audience at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club, where he was promoting his new book.

OK, so it’s not exactly headline news. But what is news is that Reid and his House counterpart Nancy Pelosi will be doing some arm-twisting between now and then to get superdelegates to go public to seal the deal for Barack Obama.

All this smacks of smoke-filled rooms and party hacks-the remnants of machine politics the Democrats have been eschewing since 1968.  The party has been endlessly re-writing its rules ever since, trying to come up with the perfect formula to keep its many disparate interest groups from tearing each other apart.  The very idea of awarding a portion of state delegates on a proportional basis was hatched in 1988 to try to appease Jesse Jackson.

Apparently Democrats never imagined that one day they’d face a situation where two viable candidates would emerge from the very interest groups for whom they’d carved out token representation.

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Another Ranting Preacher?

Barack Obama has another spiritual leader ranting and raving about whites, Father Michael Pfleger. The vitriol is familiar. This one was also a mentor, as well as a political supporter. The kicker: Obama gave him — that would be a political donor – a $100,000 earmark. Perhaps that’s a story.

Stanley Kurtz explains that the relationship between Obama and Pfleger is as close as Obama’s with Wright:

There is a kind of informal nexus between Wright, Farrakhan, and Pfleger, each of whom are bound by an allegiance to black-liberation theology, or to the black Muslim nationalism that inspired James Cone to create black-liberation theology to begin with.

Obama was a part of this nexus. Despite current attempts to rewrite history, Obama was close to Wright for years, and fully entangled with him, both theologically and politically. Pfleger’s influence over Obama, whose work as a “community organizer” had him in frequent contact with South Chicago’s churches, is second only to that of Wright. Obama has worked on a great many political causes with Pfleger, and Pfleger was a key early backer of Obama’s failed 2000 bid for a seat in Congress.

As to the Pfleger outburst, Obama professes to be “disappointed.” With each additional ranting hate-monger the impact may lessen, but it is fair to say that Trinity Church was just the type of place for these folks to come with their material. It is harder and harder to pretend that Rev. Wright and Father Michael Pfleger were anomalies, or deny that this was standard operating rhetoric at Obama’s church. It is still harder to believe that Obama did not know and countenance the views of people with whom he shared political, social and spiritual ties.

People who think no one cares about any of this will yawn. People who view this and say “He hangs out with a strange crowd” will file this away as one more piece of evidence. And lots of Democrats will toss and turn wondering: Who else is out there?

Barack Obama has another spiritual leader ranting and raving about whites, Father Michael Pfleger. The vitriol is familiar. This one was also a mentor, as well as a political supporter. The kicker: Obama gave him — that would be a political donor – a $100,000 earmark. Perhaps that’s a story.

Stanley Kurtz explains that the relationship between Obama and Pfleger is as close as Obama’s with Wright:

There is a kind of informal nexus between Wright, Farrakhan, and Pfleger, each of whom are bound by an allegiance to black-liberation theology, or to the black Muslim nationalism that inspired James Cone to create black-liberation theology to begin with.

Obama was a part of this nexus. Despite current attempts to rewrite history, Obama was close to Wright for years, and fully entangled with him, both theologically and politically. Pfleger’s influence over Obama, whose work as a “community organizer” had him in frequent contact with South Chicago’s churches, is second only to that of Wright. Obama has worked on a great many political causes with Pfleger, and Pfleger was a key early backer of Obama’s failed 2000 bid for a seat in Congress.

As to the Pfleger outburst, Obama professes to be “disappointed.” With each additional ranting hate-monger the impact may lessen, but it is fair to say that Trinity Church was just the type of place for these folks to come with their material. It is harder and harder to pretend that Rev. Wright and Father Michael Pfleger were anomalies, or deny that this was standard operating rhetoric at Obama’s church. It is still harder to believe that Obama did not know and countenance the views of people with whom he shared political, social and spiritual ties.

People who think no one cares about any of this will yawn. People who view this and say “He hangs out with a strange crowd” will file this away as one more piece of evidence. And lots of Democrats will toss and turn wondering: Who else is out there?

Read Less




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