Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 1, 2008

What Does It Mean?

Barack Obama is getting clobbered in another primary, losing more than 2 to 1 in Puerto Rico. On one hand, it is easy to say “Who cares?” The nomination is within Obama’s grasp and Puerto Rico doesn’t vote in November (making this primary the perfect coda to a bizarrely-constructed primary system). Whatever popular-vote theory Hillary Clinton is constructing won’t materially change. You either buy that she won Michigan and Florida, in which case she already leads, or you think she shouldn’t get to count those delegates, in which case Puerto Rico makes no difference.

But it does contribute to the sense that Obama is sputtering. In the words of the New York Times,

In many ways, Mr. Obama is wheezing across the finish line after making a strong start: He has won only 6 of the 13 Democratic contests held since March 4, drawing 6.1 million votes, compared with 6.6 million for Mrs. Clinton.

And there is queasiness about what other shoes might be dropping from Trinity or elsewhere. (Again, from the Times: “Mr. Obama’s announcement on Saturday that he would leave his church was just another reminder of how events continue to unfold in the race.”) So perhaps all she is left with is to sit back for a couple of months, watch the polls and the YouTube clips, and see if something might send those superdelegates scurrying back to her by August. If not, the Democrats have made their choice–a man who runs like John Kerry in the swing states, who for now trails John McCain on Iraq, national security, the economy, and reducing corruption, and who has forfeited his post-racial bona fides in the pews of Trinity United.

Maybe that’s why this didn’t sound like an “I’m dropping out Tuesday” sort of speech. If, come late August, the DNC needs a Plan B–Hillary will be waiting.

Barack Obama is getting clobbered in another primary, losing more than 2 to 1 in Puerto Rico. On one hand, it is easy to say “Who cares?” The nomination is within Obama’s grasp and Puerto Rico doesn’t vote in November (making this primary the perfect coda to a bizarrely-constructed primary system). Whatever popular-vote theory Hillary Clinton is constructing won’t materially change. You either buy that she won Michigan and Florida, in which case she already leads, or you think she shouldn’t get to count those delegates, in which case Puerto Rico makes no difference.

But it does contribute to the sense that Obama is sputtering. In the words of the New York Times,

In many ways, Mr. Obama is wheezing across the finish line after making a strong start: He has won only 6 of the 13 Democratic contests held since March 4, drawing 6.1 million votes, compared with 6.6 million for Mrs. Clinton.

And there is queasiness about what other shoes might be dropping from Trinity or elsewhere. (Again, from the Times: “Mr. Obama’s announcement on Saturday that he would leave his church was just another reminder of how events continue to unfold in the race.”) So perhaps all she is left with is to sit back for a couple of months, watch the polls and the YouTube clips, and see if something might send those superdelegates scurrying back to her by August. If not, the Democrats have made their choice–a man who runs like John Kerry in the swing states, who for now trails John McCain on Iraq, national security, the economy, and reducing corruption, and who has forfeited his post-racial bona fides in the pews of Trinity United.

Maybe that’s why this didn’t sound like an “I’m dropping out Tuesday” sort of speech. If, come late August, the DNC needs a Plan B–Hillary will be waiting.

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Going, Going . . .

This is really not how prime ministers should behave. According to Haaretz, Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has been handling his interrogations relating to the corruption charges facing him rather poorly: He granted police investigators precisely one hour for the latest questioning, and he did his best to make sure police could get in as few new questions as possible. He starts by launching into an extended tirade against leaks of the details of the investigation. Then he changes his testimony, asking that he re-answer questions from previous rounds. (Especially the part where he denies taking money from Morris Talansky.) According to another report, he also insisted that all his answers be written down, not just audio-recorded. “It was clear Olmert was taking up interrogation time deliberately,” said one source. “He knew well that the detectives asked for only one hour, and he felt he was waging a power struggle.”

In the meantime, Olmert’s Kadima party is already fighting over the spoils of their leader’s demise. Olmert has  promised to quit if indicted, a prospect that seems increasingly likely: Even if they can’t prove a quid pro quo for Talansky’s cash-in-envelopes donations that would be required for a bribery charge to stick, the donations themselves were apparently unreported and therefore in apparent flagrant breach of campaign-finance and money-laundering laws. Ehud Barak, head of the Labor party, Kadima’s main coalition partner, has already told Olmert that either he quits or Labor pulls out, bringing on elections. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, front-runner to replace Olmert, has already started pushing for primaries in the party, to give Kadima a head-start in preparing for elections.

According to inside sources, Olmert himself is stalling, trying to figure out the most graceful way to step down. He could start by behaving himself with the police.

This is really not how prime ministers should behave. According to Haaretz, Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has been handling his interrogations relating to the corruption charges facing him rather poorly: He granted police investigators precisely one hour for the latest questioning, and he did his best to make sure police could get in as few new questions as possible. He starts by launching into an extended tirade against leaks of the details of the investigation. Then he changes his testimony, asking that he re-answer questions from previous rounds. (Especially the part where he denies taking money from Morris Talansky.) According to another report, he also insisted that all his answers be written down, not just audio-recorded. “It was clear Olmert was taking up interrogation time deliberately,” said one source. “He knew well that the detectives asked for only one hour, and he felt he was waging a power struggle.”

In the meantime, Olmert’s Kadima party is already fighting over the spoils of their leader’s demise. Olmert has  promised to quit if indicted, a prospect that seems increasingly likely: Even if they can’t prove a quid pro quo for Talansky’s cash-in-envelopes donations that would be required for a bribery charge to stick, the donations themselves were apparently unreported and therefore in apparent flagrant breach of campaign-finance and money-laundering laws. Ehud Barak, head of the Labor party, Kadima’s main coalition partner, has already told Olmert that either he quits or Labor pulls out, bringing on elections. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, front-runner to replace Olmert, has already started pushing for primaries in the party, to give Kadima a head-start in preparing for elections.

According to inside sources, Olmert himself is stalling, trying to figure out the most graceful way to step down. He could start by behaving himself with the police.

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Sayonara, Susan

“If McCain gets in, it’s going to be very, very dangerous,” said Susan Sarandon to the London Telegraph in late May. “It’s a critical time, but I have faith in the American people. If they prove me wrong, I’ll be checking out a move to Italy. Maybe Canada, I don’t know. We’re at an abyss.”

Well, she’s right about looking into the abyss. But we are already standing at a precipice, and we’ll still be there whoever wins in November. So if Sarandon is worried about the dangers she personally faces, I suggest she go to the Arctic Circle. As much as she may like Barack Obama–and I’m not saying she shouldn’t support him–he is not able to wave away the threats we face at this moment. In fact, he could conceivably make them worse. After all, history has shown that the best way to get into a war is to be unwilling to fight one.

But that’s beside the point. There’s something deeply troubling about Sarandon’s comment about leaving. If she thinks so little of her country that she is contemplating abandoning it, then she should depart now. My wife overcame innumerable bureaucratic obstacles over more than a decade to become an American citizen, and I think we can make room for more people who really want to be a part of this country.

So Susan, it’s time to sell your home, pack your bags, and say goodbye to the rest of us. And the same goes for your long-time partner, Tim Robbins, who threatened to leave if George W. Bush won the 2000 election. And while you’re at it, please ask Barbara Streisand, Martin Sheen, and Alec Baldwin–all of whom made the same threat eight years ago–to see if they want to go as well. I know many people who yearn for the opportunity to pledge allegiance to the only country that can save you, me, and the rest of the world from the abyss.

“If McCain gets in, it’s going to be very, very dangerous,” said Susan Sarandon to the London Telegraph in late May. “It’s a critical time, but I have faith in the American people. If they prove me wrong, I’ll be checking out a move to Italy. Maybe Canada, I don’t know. We’re at an abyss.”

Well, she’s right about looking into the abyss. But we are already standing at a precipice, and we’ll still be there whoever wins in November. So if Sarandon is worried about the dangers she personally faces, I suggest she go to the Arctic Circle. As much as she may like Barack Obama–and I’m not saying she shouldn’t support him–he is not able to wave away the threats we face at this moment. In fact, he could conceivably make them worse. After all, history has shown that the best way to get into a war is to be unwilling to fight one.

But that’s beside the point. There’s something deeply troubling about Sarandon’s comment about leaving. If she thinks so little of her country that she is contemplating abandoning it, then she should depart now. My wife overcame innumerable bureaucratic obstacles over more than a decade to become an American citizen, and I think we can make room for more people who really want to be a part of this country.

So Susan, it’s time to sell your home, pack your bags, and say goodbye to the rest of us. And the same goes for your long-time partner, Tim Robbins, who threatened to leave if George W. Bush won the 2000 election. And while you’re at it, please ask Barbara Streisand, Martin Sheen, and Alec Baldwin–all of whom made the same threat eight years ago–to see if they want to go as well. I know many people who yearn for the opportunity to pledge allegiance to the only country that can save you, me, and the rest of the world from the abyss.

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Who Has Obama Disowned?

On Saturday afternoon, in a move perfectly timed to coincide with the DNC’s raucous rules committee hearing about its Florida and Michigan delegations, Barack Obama announced that he and his wife had withdrawn as members from Trinity Church. Remember back in March, when Obama announced that he could “no more disown [Rev. Wright] than I can disown the black community?” Well, does this severing of ties mean that Obama has “disowned” the black community, or that his original speech established an entirely false and craven analogy?

On Saturday afternoon, in a move perfectly timed to coincide with the DNC’s raucous rules committee hearing about its Florida and Michigan delegations, Barack Obama announced that he and his wife had withdrawn as members from Trinity Church. Remember back in March, when Obama announced that he could “no more disown [Rev. Wright] than I can disown the black community?” Well, does this severing of ties mean that Obama has “disowned” the black community, or that his original speech established an entirely false and craven analogy?

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A Glaring Omission

After years of telling us the war on terror was creating more terrorists, the mainstream media has mysteriously woken up to the fact that Islamic extremism is on the wane. Newsweek is the latest publication to run a support-for-jihad-is-fading piece. Readers of CONTENTIONS should by now be familiar with the evidence: Iraqis have turned against radical clerics, Pakistani voters have rejected Islamist leaders, Turkey’s ruling AKP party is trying to modernize Islam, etc. The critical thing is the shift in Islam, not the acknowledgment from Newsweek, of course.

But there is an important omission in the sudden coverage of moderate Muslims: No one talks about the effect of the Iraq War. The MSM can dodge the issue all they like, but the fact remains that the Coalition’s toppling of Saddam facilitated the first organized rejection of fanatical Islam in the Middle East. Back in November 2005, while everyone stateside was crying fiasco, a group of Sunnis in Anbar province joined forces with a clutch of U.S. Marines and began to wrest their country back from al-Qaeda and its sympathizers. That effort grew into a statewide political movement that saw AQI on the run within two years. The Sunni Awakening in itself would not have been enough to stave off the deadly threat of extremism in Iraq. Without Prime Minister al-Maliki’s commitment to take on fanatical Shia militias, both the indiscriminate killing and the political torpor would have continued to hamper any truly national progress.

Both efforts continue to this day. And the fragile achievements they’ve engendered have allowed Iraqis to choose freedom over servitude, industry over stagnation. To think the emerging freedoms of the new Iraq have played no role in the ideological modernization of a region that’s been politically and religiously stymied for the better part of a century is to bury your head in the sand. To point to Iraq as a hindrance in this development is pathological. The MSM cites Scott Mclellan’s “revelation” that George Bush’s motivation for invading Iraq was to transform the Middle East as if that were an ignoble pursuit. And at the same time they rave about the transformation of the Middle East.

The point of all this is not to say “I told you so.” The benefit of the truth is that it’s true regardless of when the New York Times or Newsweek or the New Yorker decides to admit it. And the point is not to give George W. Bush his due. America moves forward by the lights of its collective ideals, not by the reputation of its individuals (despite what Obama fans think). Rather, the point is the soldiers. The thousands of men and women who’ve given everything–so that the insurmountable challenge of Islamofascism could be surmounted–have been dogged by American cynicism at every step. While protecting us and liberating others all Americans in uniform have heard from their homeland is that their mission is wrong, misguided, impossible. Now that we’re seeing the fruits of their effort, is it too much to ask that we acknowledge their contribution? This fight is ongoing, and it’s never too late for Americans to realize that supporting the troops means more than saying you support the troops. It means acknowledging the rightness of their mission, regardless of one’s partisan distaste for various personalities. The Muslim world is indeed changing–and it’s time we do the same.

After years of telling us the war on terror was creating more terrorists, the mainstream media has mysteriously woken up to the fact that Islamic extremism is on the wane. Newsweek is the latest publication to run a support-for-jihad-is-fading piece. Readers of CONTENTIONS should by now be familiar with the evidence: Iraqis have turned against radical clerics, Pakistani voters have rejected Islamist leaders, Turkey’s ruling AKP party is trying to modernize Islam, etc. The critical thing is the shift in Islam, not the acknowledgment from Newsweek, of course.

But there is an important omission in the sudden coverage of moderate Muslims: No one talks about the effect of the Iraq War. The MSM can dodge the issue all they like, but the fact remains that the Coalition’s toppling of Saddam facilitated the first organized rejection of fanatical Islam in the Middle East. Back in November 2005, while everyone stateside was crying fiasco, a group of Sunnis in Anbar province joined forces with a clutch of U.S. Marines and began to wrest their country back from al-Qaeda and its sympathizers. That effort grew into a statewide political movement that saw AQI on the run within two years. The Sunni Awakening in itself would not have been enough to stave off the deadly threat of extremism in Iraq. Without Prime Minister al-Maliki’s commitment to take on fanatical Shia militias, both the indiscriminate killing and the political torpor would have continued to hamper any truly national progress.

Both efforts continue to this day. And the fragile achievements they’ve engendered have allowed Iraqis to choose freedom over servitude, industry over stagnation. To think the emerging freedoms of the new Iraq have played no role in the ideological modernization of a region that’s been politically and religiously stymied for the better part of a century is to bury your head in the sand. To point to Iraq as a hindrance in this development is pathological. The MSM cites Scott Mclellan’s “revelation” that George Bush’s motivation for invading Iraq was to transform the Middle East as if that were an ignoble pursuit. And at the same time they rave about the transformation of the Middle East.

The point of all this is not to say “I told you so.” The benefit of the truth is that it’s true regardless of when the New York Times or Newsweek or the New Yorker decides to admit it. And the point is not to give George W. Bush his due. America moves forward by the lights of its collective ideals, not by the reputation of its individuals (despite what Obama fans think). Rather, the point is the soldiers. The thousands of men and women who’ve given everything–so that the insurmountable challenge of Islamofascism could be surmounted–have been dogged by American cynicism at every step. While protecting us and liberating others all Americans in uniform have heard from their homeland is that their mission is wrong, misguided, impossible. Now that we’re seeing the fruits of their effort, is it too much to ask that we acknowledge their contribution? This fight is ongoing, and it’s never too late for Americans to realize that supporting the troops means more than saying you support the troops. It means acknowledging the rightness of their mission, regardless of one’s partisan distaste for various personalities. The Muslim world is indeed changing–and it’s time we do the same.

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Mbeki’s Mania

Michael Gerson’s Washington Post column last week contained a major scoop that hasn’t received nearly enough press attention. In a piece about South Africa’s woeful support for despots around the world, Gerson revealed:

In late April, about the time this e-mail was written, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa — Zimbabwe’s influential neighbor — addressed a four-page letter to President Bush. Rather than coordinating strategy to end Zimbabwe’s nightmare, Mbeki criticized the United States, in a text packed with exclamation points, for taking sides against President Robert Mugabe’s government and disrespecting the views of the Zimbabwean people. “He said it was not our business,” recalls one American official, and “to butt out, that Africa belongs to him.” Adds another official, “Mbeki lost it; it was outrageous.”

South Africa’s Sunday Times reports that while Mbeki’s office does not acknowledge the letter, the American embassy in Pretoria confirmed that President Bush did receive a letter from Mbeki.

That Mbeki would write a rambling, 4-page screed “packed with exclamation points” to the President of the States is yet further confirmation of his paranoid, conspiratorial world view, and complete unfitness for executive office. It is of a piece with his belief that HIV does not cause AIDS and that those who complain about South Africa’s rampant crime problem are all closet racists. Moreover, as Gerson notes, Mbeki is but symptomatic of the African National Congress’s broader attempt to position South Africa in an anti-Western, Third-Worldist posture on the international stage. Allowing Robert Mugabe to ruin his country is simply the price to be paid when the alternative is the election of a political party favored by the West.

Meanwhile, not long after Mbeki fired off his strange missive to President Bush, Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai sent his thoughts to the dictator-abetting South African president, who had been tasked by both Bush and regional leaders with mediating Zimbabwe’s ongoing political crisis. He does not mince words, informing Mbeki that if his style of “diplomacy” persists, “there will be no country left.” While Mbeki tells President Bush to “butt out” of African affairs (a strange request, considering the fact that the United States has been relatively passive about the chaos in Zimbabwe), Zimbabwe’s democrats wish the reverse: that the United States take a more proactive role while Mbeki exit the stage.

Michael Gerson’s Washington Post column last week contained a major scoop that hasn’t received nearly enough press attention. In a piece about South Africa’s woeful support for despots around the world, Gerson revealed:

In late April, about the time this e-mail was written, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa — Zimbabwe’s influential neighbor — addressed a four-page letter to President Bush. Rather than coordinating strategy to end Zimbabwe’s nightmare, Mbeki criticized the United States, in a text packed with exclamation points, for taking sides against President Robert Mugabe’s government and disrespecting the views of the Zimbabwean people. “He said it was not our business,” recalls one American official, and “to butt out, that Africa belongs to him.” Adds another official, “Mbeki lost it; it was outrageous.”

South Africa’s Sunday Times reports that while Mbeki’s office does not acknowledge the letter, the American embassy in Pretoria confirmed that President Bush did receive a letter from Mbeki.

That Mbeki would write a rambling, 4-page screed “packed with exclamation points” to the President of the States is yet further confirmation of his paranoid, conspiratorial world view, and complete unfitness for executive office. It is of a piece with his belief that HIV does not cause AIDS and that those who complain about South Africa’s rampant crime problem are all closet racists. Moreover, as Gerson notes, Mbeki is but symptomatic of the African National Congress’s broader attempt to position South Africa in an anti-Western, Third-Worldist posture on the international stage. Allowing Robert Mugabe to ruin his country is simply the price to be paid when the alternative is the election of a political party favored by the West.

Meanwhile, not long after Mbeki fired off his strange missive to President Bush, Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai sent his thoughts to the dictator-abetting South African president, who had been tasked by both Bush and regional leaders with mediating Zimbabwe’s ongoing political crisis. He does not mince words, informing Mbeki that if his style of “diplomacy” persists, “there will be no country left.” While Mbeki tells President Bush to “butt out” of African affairs (a strange request, considering the fact that the United States has been relatively passive about the chaos in Zimbabwe), Zimbabwe’s democrats wish the reverse: that the United States take a more proactive role while Mbeki exit the stage.

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Welcome to A Rip-Roaring Edition of “Guess What Op-Ed Leon Is Talking About”!

Leon Wieseltier takes to the back page of the New Republic with 1,143 words on the importance of silence, of not delivering an opinion. “I am empty,” he begins, and then continues on for another 1,140 more words. (When Wittgenstein reached the conclusion that “whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent,” he ended the book he was writing.) In the course of this disquisition on emptiness, he offers this tantalizing remark:

Last week I was in Jerusalem for a few days, and I am brimming with impressions and ideas. Obama and Clinton and McCain continue to inspire thoughts, and of course witticisms. A few days ago a friend of mine published a miserable piece on a matter about which I care deeply, and I am of a mind to be withering about it. The decline of The New York Times remains worthy of comment, as does the poverty of imagination in American theater and film. But for now I am refusing to play. I am in the mood not to be smart….[T]he call of brilliant argument would have to wait, and yield to more fundamental reveries in which brilliance has no place. And so my confused friend, the one who perpetrated that op-ed piece, got away. He knows who he is.

Well, perhaps he knows who he is, but we sure don’t! Anyone have a guess? You can leave your supposition in a comment below. (Clearly, it isn’t Maureen Dowd, since she isn’t a he.) Or you can simply remain silent. Because, in Wieseltier’s words, “compared to the mad rush of fine minds to satisfy the appetites of the world, to rise in the world by interpreting it, there is nothing at all parochial about the confinements of interiority.”

Leon Wieseltier takes to the back page of the New Republic with 1,143 words on the importance of silence, of not delivering an opinion. “I am empty,” he begins, and then continues on for another 1,140 more words. (When Wittgenstein reached the conclusion that “whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent,” he ended the book he was writing.) In the course of this disquisition on emptiness, he offers this tantalizing remark:

Last week I was in Jerusalem for a few days, and I am brimming with impressions and ideas. Obama and Clinton and McCain continue to inspire thoughts, and of course witticisms. A few days ago a friend of mine published a miserable piece on a matter about which I care deeply, and I am of a mind to be withering about it. The decline of The New York Times remains worthy of comment, as does the poverty of imagination in American theater and film. But for now I am refusing to play. I am in the mood not to be smart….[T]he call of brilliant argument would have to wait, and yield to more fundamental reveries in which brilliance has no place. And so my confused friend, the one who perpetrated that op-ed piece, got away. He knows who he is.

Well, perhaps he knows who he is, but we sure don’t! Anyone have a guess? You can leave your supposition in a comment below. (Clearly, it isn’t Maureen Dowd, since she isn’t a he.) Or you can simply remain silent. Because, in Wieseltier’s words, “compared to the mad rush of fine minds to satisfy the appetites of the world, to rise in the world by interpreting it, there is nothing at all parochial about the confinements of interiority.”

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Thomas Friedman on Leverage

Thomas Friedman begins an entirely sensible column with this observation:

Barack Obama is getting painfully close to tying himself in knots with all his explanations of the conditions under which he would unconditionally talk with America’s foes, like Iran. His latest clarification was that there is a difference between “preparations” and “preconditions” for negotiations with bad guys. Such hair-splitting word games do not inspire confidence, and they play right into the arms of his critics. The last place he wants to look uncertain is on national security.

Friedman argues, as he has before, that negotiation with rouge states should follow not proceed acquisition of leverage by the U.S. and its allies. So what should we make of a candidate who thinks the opposite, that his mere presence before the likes of Castro and Ahmejinedad would be productive, would melt their hearts and persuade them of the errors of their ways?

Friedman advises:

Mr. Obama would do himself a big favor by shifting his focus from the list of enemy leaders he would talk with to the list of things he would do as president to generate more leverage for America, so no matter who we have to talk with the advantage will be on our side of the table. That’s what matters.

But that seems entirely out of character and contrary to all of Obama’s pronouncements to date. He opposes measures which would pressure rogue states or their surrogates. He wants to roll back key sanctions against Cuba. He shushes Hillary Clinton, who announced in no uncertain terms that she would “obliterate” Iran if it destroyed Israel with a nuclear attack. He strenuously opposed the Kyl-Liebermann Amendment designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. And, of course, his plan to evacuate Iraq immediately is not the type of display of national fortitude designed to impress Iran, Syria or any other state or group in the Middle East.

Indeed he often gets Friedman’s formulation exactly backwards, as with North Korea. The Council on Foreign Relations reminds us: “Within weeks of Pyongyang’s nuclear test, Obama appeared on Meet the Press and said the United States had no leverage over North Korea because of Washington’s refusal to hold bilateral negotiations. ” No, Friedman would patiently remind him, get the leverage first - it makes diplomatic talks potentially successful and does not result from negotiations.

So I think it is unlikely, perhaps impossible, for Obama to take Friedman’s advice.

Thomas Friedman begins an entirely sensible column with this observation:

Barack Obama is getting painfully close to tying himself in knots with all his explanations of the conditions under which he would unconditionally talk with America’s foes, like Iran. His latest clarification was that there is a difference between “preparations” and “preconditions” for negotiations with bad guys. Such hair-splitting word games do not inspire confidence, and they play right into the arms of his critics. The last place he wants to look uncertain is on national security.

Friedman argues, as he has before, that negotiation with rouge states should follow not proceed acquisition of leverage by the U.S. and its allies. So what should we make of a candidate who thinks the opposite, that his mere presence before the likes of Castro and Ahmejinedad would be productive, would melt their hearts and persuade them of the errors of their ways?

Friedman advises:

Mr. Obama would do himself a big favor by shifting his focus from the list of enemy leaders he would talk with to the list of things he would do as president to generate more leverage for America, so no matter who we have to talk with the advantage will be on our side of the table. That’s what matters.

But that seems entirely out of character and contrary to all of Obama’s pronouncements to date. He opposes measures which would pressure rogue states or their surrogates. He wants to roll back key sanctions against Cuba. He shushes Hillary Clinton, who announced in no uncertain terms that she would “obliterate” Iran if it destroyed Israel with a nuclear attack. He strenuously opposed the Kyl-Liebermann Amendment designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. And, of course, his plan to evacuate Iraq immediately is not the type of display of national fortitude designed to impress Iran, Syria or any other state or group in the Middle East.

Indeed he often gets Friedman’s formulation exactly backwards, as with North Korea. The Council on Foreign Relations reminds us: “Within weeks of Pyongyang’s nuclear test, Obama appeared on Meet the Press and said the United States had no leverage over North Korea because of Washington’s refusal to hold bilateral negotiations. ” No, Friedman would patiently remind him, get the leverage first - it makes diplomatic talks potentially successful and does not result from negotiations.

So I think it is unlikely, perhaps impossible, for Obama to take Friedman’s advice.

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Re: Iraq Casualties

Max, the Washington Post editorializes today, “The Iraqi Upturn: Don’t look now, but the U.S.-backed government and army may be winning the war.” Finally, others notice the enormous strategic and political gains in Iraq. The lede paragraph is surprisingly optimistic (and accurate):

There’s been a relative lull in news coverage and debate about Iraq in recent weeks — which is odd, because May could turn out to have been one of the most important months of the war. While Washington’s attention has been fixed elsewhere, military analysts have watched with astonishment as the Iraqi government and army have gained control for the first time of the port city of Basra and the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, routing the Shiite militias that have ruled them for years and sending key militants scurrying to Iran. At the same time, Iraqi and U.S. forces have pushed forward with a long-promised offensive in Mosul, the last urban refuge of al-Qaeda. So many of its leaders have now been captured or killed that U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, renowned for his cautious assessments, said that the terrorists have “never been closer to defeat than they are now.”

Overall, though, you are correct: aside from this editorial, and an AP wire-report touting decreased Iraq-related deaths, the biggest news story out of Iraq is largely being ignored.

Max, the Washington Post editorializes today, “The Iraqi Upturn: Don’t look now, but the U.S.-backed government and army may be winning the war.” Finally, others notice the enormous strategic and political gains in Iraq. The lede paragraph is surprisingly optimistic (and accurate):

There’s been a relative lull in news coverage and debate about Iraq in recent weeks — which is odd, because May could turn out to have been one of the most important months of the war. While Washington’s attention has been fixed elsewhere, military analysts have watched with astonishment as the Iraqi government and army have gained control for the first time of the port city of Basra and the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, routing the Shiite militias that have ruled them for years and sending key militants scurrying to Iran. At the same time, Iraqi and U.S. forces have pushed forward with a long-promised offensive in Mosul, the last urban refuge of al-Qaeda. So many of its leaders have now been captured or killed that U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, renowned for his cautious assessments, said that the terrorists have “never been closer to defeat than they are now.”

Overall, though, you are correct: aside from this editorial, and an AP wire-report touting decreased Iraq-related deaths, the biggest news story out of Iraq is largely being ignored.

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Obama Acts Like Obama

True to form, Barack Obama’s explanation yesterday of his reasons for leaving Trinity Church are a model of double-talk. (And the remarkably passive media pack doesn’t make it very hard for him to avoid further scrutiny.) He has, he explained

“tremendous regard” for the church community, but said he could not live with a situation where everything said in the church, including comments by a guest pastor, “will be imputed to me, even if they conflict with my long-held, views, statements and principles.”

And he would have remained in a church for two decades where regularly people spoke out in ways which conflicted with his principles because . . . why, exactly? We don’t know. And no one in the press thought to ask.

But it gets worse. ABC reports:

He insisted that Trinity itself is not a church worth denouncing. “I’m not denouncing the church and I’m not interested in people who want me to denounce the church, because it’s not a church worthy of denouncing, and so if they’ve seen caricatures of the church and except [sic] those caricatures despite my insistence that that’s not what the church is about, then there’s not much I can do about it.”

Yes, remember Obama does not do denouncing. There is nothing a Wright or Pfleger or Ayers can do which deserve condemnation. Unless, of course they visit the National Press Club and critique his sincerity.

And Obama concedes that:

[A]t the start of the campaign he never would have expected this much scrutiny to be put on his faith, “which we knew there was going to be some things that we didn’t see coming, this was one. You know I did not anticipate my fairly conventional Christian faith being subject to such challenge and such scrutiny. Initially with emails suggesting that I was a Muslim, later with you know the controversy that Trinity generated.”

This one gets the trifecta for dishonesty, or perhaps cluelessness. First, it is, of course, not the case that his Christian faith is being questioned. I know of no commentator, critic, or political opponent who has done that. What is at issue is his propensity to hang out with hatemongers who suggest his current post-racial theme is a pose. Second, he apparently lacks any cultural or political compass if he really believed that Wright et al. would not become an issue. Was it self-delusion? Or is he so out of touch with average Americans that he was unable to predict what would be deeply offensive to millions of Americans? And finally, notice how he impugns the motives of those who raise concerns about his association with Trinity. They are on a footing, in his book, with those perpetrating the “He’s a Muslim” canard. But the former are not perpetrating a lie. They are discussing and probing the beliefs, sincerity, and character of the man who wants to be President.

The Trinity cast of characters and Obama’s reaction to them have been more revealing than more a dozen-plus debates, all the speeches, and just about anything that has happened in over a year of campaigning. It might be even more revealing if the media would take their role seriously and press Obama on some of these obvious points. But Obama, however inadvertently, has done a fairly good job of letting us know how he makes both political and moral judgments. And that is perhaps the most important thing to know about a potential President.

True to form, Barack Obama’s explanation yesterday of his reasons for leaving Trinity Church are a model of double-talk. (And the remarkably passive media pack doesn’t make it very hard for him to avoid further scrutiny.) He has, he explained

“tremendous regard” for the church community, but said he could not live with a situation where everything said in the church, including comments by a guest pastor, “will be imputed to me, even if they conflict with my long-held, views, statements and principles.”

And he would have remained in a church for two decades where regularly people spoke out in ways which conflicted with his principles because . . . why, exactly? We don’t know. And no one in the press thought to ask.

But it gets worse. ABC reports:

He insisted that Trinity itself is not a church worth denouncing. “I’m not denouncing the church and I’m not interested in people who want me to denounce the church, because it’s not a church worthy of denouncing, and so if they’ve seen caricatures of the church and except [sic] those caricatures despite my insistence that that’s not what the church is about, then there’s not much I can do about it.”

Yes, remember Obama does not do denouncing. There is nothing a Wright or Pfleger or Ayers can do which deserve condemnation. Unless, of course they visit the National Press Club and critique his sincerity.

And Obama concedes that:

[A]t the start of the campaign he never would have expected this much scrutiny to be put on his faith, “which we knew there was going to be some things that we didn’t see coming, this was one. You know I did not anticipate my fairly conventional Christian faith being subject to such challenge and such scrutiny. Initially with emails suggesting that I was a Muslim, later with you know the controversy that Trinity generated.”

This one gets the trifecta for dishonesty, or perhaps cluelessness. First, it is, of course, not the case that his Christian faith is being questioned. I know of no commentator, critic, or political opponent who has done that. What is at issue is his propensity to hang out with hatemongers who suggest his current post-racial theme is a pose. Second, he apparently lacks any cultural or political compass if he really believed that Wright et al. would not become an issue. Was it self-delusion? Or is he so out of touch with average Americans that he was unable to predict what would be deeply offensive to millions of Americans? And finally, notice how he impugns the motives of those who raise concerns about his association with Trinity. They are on a footing, in his book, with those perpetrating the “He’s a Muslim” canard. But the former are not perpetrating a lie. They are discussing and probing the beliefs, sincerity, and character of the man who wants to be President.

The Trinity cast of characters and Obama’s reaction to them have been more revealing than more a dozen-plus debates, all the speeches, and just about anything that has happened in over a year of campaigning. It might be even more revealing if the media would take their role seriously and press Obama on some of these obvious points. But Obama, however inadvertently, has done a fairly good job of letting us know how he makes both political and moral judgments. And that is perhaps the most important thing to know about a potential President.

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I, Wexler

All day yesterday, the Democratic National Committee deliberated on how to resolve the dispute over seating delegates in Florida and Michigan.  The process was choreographed to look like a better-attended Senate hearing, with a panel of DNC big shots hearing testimony from superdelegates affiliated with both the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns.  (Appropriately, CNN’s kindly but profoundly uninspired Wolf Blitzer covered the proceedings with exuberance befitting late-night C-SPAN programming.)

The Obama and Clinton campaigns were divided as to how the delegate dispute should be resolved. Clinton’s supporters demanded that the results of both states’ primaries be counted, and that delegates be awarded in full. Obama’s supporters disagreed, arguing that Obama had followed the party’s rules against counting Florida and Michigan’s early primaries when he declined to campaign in either state.  Still, “party unity” remained the all-important catchphrase of the day, and Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) thus offered an “extraordinary concession” on behalf of the Obama campaign: that Florida’s delegation be seated at half-strength, which was the solution that the DNC ultimately adopted for both disputed states.

Of course, this was the most reasonable solution-as well as identical to the approach that Republicans adopted five months ago when confronted with Florida and Michigan‘s rule-breaking early primaries.  But somewhere within Wexler’s screaming “testimony,” the topic of discussion veered from how to resolve the delegate dispute to a show of maniacal self-aggrandizement:

We’ve talked today about voters’ rights.  No one in the state of Florida has championed voters’ rights more than I.  The irony … this voter-verifiable bill that has been talked about today, there was one person respectfully in the state of Florida who for five years fought for the right of Floridians to have their vote counted and verified and you’re looking at him.  And when I lost, when I got beat, when I got beat by that same Republican legislature and that governor Jeb Bush in Florida, I took my case to court, every way up the state court, every way up the federal court, and we didn’t prevail.  And finally, when we had a new governor, I prevailed on that new Republican governor to give Floridians to the right to have their vote counted by a voter-verified paper trail.  There is nobody more committed to that than me.  That, respectfully, may be one of the reasons why Senator Obama chose me to be here today. . .

This is only the latest in Rep. Wexler’s long history of making every issue in which he becomes involved all about him.

All day yesterday, the Democratic National Committee deliberated on how to resolve the dispute over seating delegates in Florida and Michigan.  The process was choreographed to look like a better-attended Senate hearing, with a panel of DNC big shots hearing testimony from superdelegates affiliated with both the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns.  (Appropriately, CNN’s kindly but profoundly uninspired Wolf Blitzer covered the proceedings with exuberance befitting late-night C-SPAN programming.)

The Obama and Clinton campaigns were divided as to how the delegate dispute should be resolved. Clinton’s supporters demanded that the results of both states’ primaries be counted, and that delegates be awarded in full. Obama’s supporters disagreed, arguing that Obama had followed the party’s rules against counting Florida and Michigan’s early primaries when he declined to campaign in either state.  Still, “party unity” remained the all-important catchphrase of the day, and Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) thus offered an “extraordinary concession” on behalf of the Obama campaign: that Florida’s delegation be seated at half-strength, which was the solution that the DNC ultimately adopted for both disputed states.

Of course, this was the most reasonable solution-as well as identical to the approach that Republicans adopted five months ago when confronted with Florida and Michigan‘s rule-breaking early primaries.  But somewhere within Wexler’s screaming “testimony,” the topic of discussion veered from how to resolve the delegate dispute to a show of maniacal self-aggrandizement:

We’ve talked today about voters’ rights.  No one in the state of Florida has championed voters’ rights more than I.  The irony … this voter-verifiable bill that has been talked about today, there was one person respectfully in the state of Florida who for five years fought for the right of Floridians to have their vote counted and verified and you’re looking at him.  And when I lost, when I got beat, when I got beat by that same Republican legislature and that governor Jeb Bush in Florida, I took my case to court, every way up the state court, every way up the federal court, and we didn’t prevail.  And finally, when we had a new governor, I prevailed on that new Republican governor to give Floridians to the right to have their vote counted by a voter-verified paper trail.  There is nobody more committed to that than me.  That, respectfully, may be one of the reasons why Senator Obama chose me to be here today. . .

This is only the latest in Rep. Wexler’s long history of making every issue in which he becomes involved all about him.

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Clinton Makes Sense, Obama Not So Much

The DNC tried to settle the Florida and Michigan delegate dispute by giving Florida’s delegates half a vote (but giving Hillary Clinton the proportion of delegates she won in the January primary) and dividing up the Michigan delegates, who also get half a vote. Clinton’s team remains unsatisfied over what boils down to 4 Michigan delegates. For now they are maintaining the threat of going to the Credentials Committee and staging a fight in Denver.

I understand entirely what she is up to: maintaining an argument, any argument, to hang around and hope some more political shoes drop or some argument (maybe a sweep of the last few primaries) convinces enough superdelegates to consider throwing the nomination to her. She may yet fold her tent on Tuesday, but she is not foreclosing any options. Although her chance to wrest the nomination from Obama is a long shot at best, she is proceeding in a logical fashion.

Barack Obama’s tactic — quibbling over a few delegates — is baffling. Clinton can not possibly hope to pass him in the pledged delegate race, so why not give her the disputed Michigan delegates and be done with it? She already is going to make her “I won the popular vote” argument, so this seems to leave the door foolishly and needlessly open for Clinton’s continued candidacy. And with the media already buzzing about Obama’s decision to leave Trinity United, why give Clinton a procedural justification to hang on like a bad cold? Baffling.

The DNC tried to settle the Florida and Michigan delegate dispute by giving Florida’s delegates half a vote (but giving Hillary Clinton the proportion of delegates she won in the January primary) and dividing up the Michigan delegates, who also get half a vote. Clinton’s team remains unsatisfied over what boils down to 4 Michigan delegates. For now they are maintaining the threat of going to the Credentials Committee and staging a fight in Denver.

I understand entirely what she is up to: maintaining an argument, any argument, to hang around and hope some more political shoes drop or some argument (maybe a sweep of the last few primaries) convinces enough superdelegates to consider throwing the nomination to her. She may yet fold her tent on Tuesday, but she is not foreclosing any options. Although her chance to wrest the nomination from Obama is a long shot at best, she is proceeding in a logical fashion.

Barack Obama’s tactic — quibbling over a few delegates — is baffling. Clinton can not possibly hope to pass him in the pledged delegate race, so why not give her the disputed Michigan delegates and be done with it? She already is going to make her “I won the popular vote” argument, so this seems to leave the door foolishly and needlessly open for Clinton’s continued candidacy. And with the media already buzzing about Obama’s decision to leave Trinity United, why give Clinton a procedural justification to hang on like a bad cold? Baffling.

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The Real Lessons

David Frum posits, correctly I think, that the real lesson of Scott McClellan is that Presidents shouldn’t surround themselves with incompetent lackeys and foster a sense of blind personal loyalty. That’s something upon which both conservatives and liberals can agree. But of course, we didn’t need McClellan to write about that–he was that. (And if you entirely change your book pitch from “Bush was a pretty ok guy” to “They were all liars” to please your left-wing book publisher, you deserve to have bipartisan contempt hurled your way.)

While we are learning (or re-learning) lessons about the Bush administration, I think refusing to listen to military experts, adjusting to new facts, and acknowledging reality should rank fairly high. Given the current status of Iraq and Al Qaeda, maybe Barack Obama shouldn’t be tossing around phrases like: “We don’t need more leaders who can’t admit they made a mistake.” That seems destined to wind up in a John McCain campaign ad. For now the McCain camp responds that:

Barack Obama has never once said that neglecting to meet one on one with General David Petraeus or that neglecting to visit Iraq in 874 days was a mistake. The issue is: Barack Obama’s inaction appears to be a refusal to see or even consider the reported successes with the ‘Surge’ in Iraq – and that is a major mistake he should admit to.

And from a less biased source: the Washington Post, after pointing to the substantial gains in Iraq, suggests that the new facts “ought to mandate an already-overdue rethinking by the ‘this-war-is-lost” caucus in Washington, including Sen. Barack Obama.” After all, we know the perils of a President who is slow to recognize new facts and adjust accordingly.

David Frum posits, correctly I think, that the real lesson of Scott McClellan is that Presidents shouldn’t surround themselves with incompetent lackeys and foster a sense of blind personal loyalty. That’s something upon which both conservatives and liberals can agree. But of course, we didn’t need McClellan to write about that–he was that. (And if you entirely change your book pitch from “Bush was a pretty ok guy” to “They were all liars” to please your left-wing book publisher, you deserve to have bipartisan contempt hurled your way.)

While we are learning (or re-learning) lessons about the Bush administration, I think refusing to listen to military experts, adjusting to new facts, and acknowledging reality should rank fairly high. Given the current status of Iraq and Al Qaeda, maybe Barack Obama shouldn’t be tossing around phrases like: “We don’t need more leaders who can’t admit they made a mistake.” That seems destined to wind up in a John McCain campaign ad. For now the McCain camp responds that:

Barack Obama has never once said that neglecting to meet one on one with General David Petraeus or that neglecting to visit Iraq in 874 days was a mistake. The issue is: Barack Obama’s inaction appears to be a refusal to see or even consider the reported successes with the ‘Surge’ in Iraq – and that is a major mistake he should admit to.

And from a less biased source: the Washington Post, after pointing to the substantial gains in Iraq, suggests that the new facts “ought to mandate an already-overdue rethinking by the ‘this-war-is-lost” caucus in Washington, including Sen. Barack Obama.” After all, we know the perils of a President who is slow to recognize new facts and adjust accordingly.

Read Less




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