Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 4, 2008

Welcome to The General Election

Barack Obama certainly hopes there are better days ahead. First, the words of Hillary Clinton and the other Democrats live on to haunt him thanks to the RNC. Then Tony Rezko is convicted on multiple counts, dominating much of the news. And Hillary gets to suck up the oxygen for the remainder of the week, with a final exit on Friday. Why not today? Why not Tuesday? Who knows. The VP search committee — yes, Hillary, we’ll put you on the list — is now set. But should the former head of Fannie Mae be on it? Does Caroline Kennedy care about moderate balance or ideological purity? We’ll find out.

This may strike some as a bit off-message. Not much high rhetoric. Somehow kissing the ring of Big Labor doesn’t quite jive with the notion of throwing out special interests. What has surprised some observers is that the McCain team seemed quite prepared, ready out of the box with the Democrats vs. Obama video, ready to challenge Obama to town hall meetings and firing on Wednesday on Iran and foreign policy. Weren’t they supposed to be low on organization? Perhaps someone was playing possum. And let’s not forget that the RNC, which is responsible for much of the response, is well-funded and integrated already into the McCain campaign.

Let’s see how Obama handles his first press avail when quizzed on Rezko, or how he deals with pesky reporters asking about his Iran policy reversals. Then we’ll know just how prepared he is for the next five months.

Barack Obama certainly hopes there are better days ahead. First, the words of Hillary Clinton and the other Democrats live on to haunt him thanks to the RNC. Then Tony Rezko is convicted on multiple counts, dominating much of the news. And Hillary gets to suck up the oxygen for the remainder of the week, with a final exit on Friday. Why not today? Why not Tuesday? Who knows. The VP search committee — yes, Hillary, we’ll put you on the list — is now set. But should the former head of Fannie Mae be on it? Does Caroline Kennedy care about moderate balance or ideological purity? We’ll find out.

This may strike some as a bit off-message. Not much high rhetoric. Somehow kissing the ring of Big Labor doesn’t quite jive with the notion of throwing out special interests. What has surprised some observers is that the McCain team seemed quite prepared, ready out of the box with the Democrats vs. Obama video, ready to challenge Obama to town hall meetings and firing on Wednesday on Iran and foreign policy. Weren’t they supposed to be low on organization? Perhaps someone was playing possum. And let’s not forget that the RNC, which is responsible for much of the response, is well-funded and integrated already into the McCain campaign.

Let’s see how Obama handles his first press avail when quizzed on Rezko, or how he deals with pesky reporters asking about his Iran policy reversals. Then we’ll know just how prepared he is for the next five months.

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The Threshold and the Real World

The Associated Press has an article about the supposed worldwide excitement over Barack Obama’s nomination. Let’s just say the reporter’s polling methodology was less than scientific. Here’s the list of global celebrants:

–An international relations professor at the London School of Economics: “He has a very appealing persona – elegant, fluent, strings lots of sentences together into paragraphs . . . But in terms of (his) actual policies towards the Middle East, Iraq, Iran, China, Europe – actually, we don’t know.”

–Obama’s uncle in Kenya.

–Obama’s third grade classmate in Indonesia: “He would play ball during recess until he was dripping with sweat. . . I never imagined he would become a great man.”

–A hairdresser in Mexico: “Bush was for the elite. Obama is of the people.”

–The German government’s coordinator on U.S. relations: Many Germans “find (Obama’s) mixture of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy very attractive.”

The Times of London: “Obama waits on the threshold of history.”

–A Vietnamese real estate salesman: “He seems to be a peace lover”

–The deputy director at the Center of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University in Beijing.

All well and good. But who was less than thrilled? Here are the last two paragraphs of the piece:

Obama, however, has made himself unpopular in Pakistan by saying the United States should act alone on information about terrorist targets within the country’s national borders, leading some to believe he will not be any different from Bush.

“Obama has threatened attacks against us even before becoming the president, and he will be more dangerous compared to Bush,” said Ibrar Ahmad, 34, a lecturer at the Government College in Multan.

There you have it. When it comes to peace-and-love, beautiful sentences, and vague comparisons to adored icons, a handful of friends and family are jazzed up. That would be fine–if we were actually “waiting on the threshold of history.” But in reality, the world’s dangers and complications don’t pause so that everyone can stand around and admire the handsome man with the eloquent speeches, and in the dangers and complications department the world’s candidate has already clumsily placed himself behind the eight-ball.

The Associated Press has an article about the supposed worldwide excitement over Barack Obama’s nomination. Let’s just say the reporter’s polling methodology was less than scientific. Here’s the list of global celebrants:

–An international relations professor at the London School of Economics: “He has a very appealing persona – elegant, fluent, strings lots of sentences together into paragraphs . . . But in terms of (his) actual policies towards the Middle East, Iraq, Iran, China, Europe – actually, we don’t know.”

–Obama’s uncle in Kenya.

–Obama’s third grade classmate in Indonesia: “He would play ball during recess until he was dripping with sweat. . . I never imagined he would become a great man.”

–A hairdresser in Mexico: “Bush was for the elite. Obama is of the people.”

–The German government’s coordinator on U.S. relations: Many Germans “find (Obama’s) mixture of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy very attractive.”

The Times of London: “Obama waits on the threshold of history.”

–A Vietnamese real estate salesman: “He seems to be a peace lover”

–The deputy director at the Center of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University in Beijing.

All well and good. But who was less than thrilled? Here are the last two paragraphs of the piece:

Obama, however, has made himself unpopular in Pakistan by saying the United States should act alone on information about terrorist targets within the country’s national borders, leading some to believe he will not be any different from Bush.

“Obama has threatened attacks against us even before becoming the president, and he will be more dangerous compared to Bush,” said Ibrar Ahmad, 34, a lecturer at the Government College in Multan.

There you have it. When it comes to peace-and-love, beautiful sentences, and vague comparisons to adored icons, a handful of friends and family are jazzed up. That would be fine–if we were actually “waiting on the threshold of history.” But in reality, the world’s dangers and complications don’t pause so that everyone can stand around and admire the handsome man with the eloquent speeches, and in the dangers and complications department the world’s candidate has already clumsily placed himself behind the eight-ball.

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Obama’s Paleocon Role Model

In an interview with Der Spiegel, Senator Chuck Hagel takes credit for Senator Barack Obama’s isolationist rhetoric. Hagel laughingly says Obama “has accepted my position and my direction.” True, there are differences. But, looking at the quotes below, can you determine who said what?

• “We went into Iraq based on flawed judgment, based on dishonest motives, based on flawed intelligence, and we have a very, very big problem today.”

• “If you engage a world power or a rival, it doesn’t mean you agree with them or subscribe with what they believe or you support them in any way…What it does tell you is that you’ve got a problem you need to resolve. And you’ve got to understand the other side and the other side has got to understand you.”

• “This administration was hell-bent on going to war in Iraq.”

• “No, I wasn’t wrong about [the surge]. We’ve lost over 900 dead Americans since the surge. Now if you want to dismiss that as “success,” that’ll be your interpretation.”

• “That’s right, this is a–this is a civil, sectarian war. Yes, al Qaeda’s there. Yes, terrorists are there. But they are not the predominant aspect of this. And I’m really sorry to see some of the administration continue to say that this is the [central] front [in the war] on terrorism, this war. It’s not. This is a sectarian, civil war.”

• “We are eroding our military power at a time when our country faces an increasing arc of challenges and threats across the globe. We are abusing our all-voluntary force in a dangerous and irresponsible way.”

Answer: All of the above quotations are Hagel’s–even if each sounds like Obama.

Since becoming an outspoken critic of the Bush Administration and, more famously, the Iraq war in Iraq, Hagel has become the Left’s favorite Republican. But do the similarities between the two senators–specifically on foreign policy–mean that the Democrats have merged with the paleocons?

In an interview with Der Spiegel, Senator Chuck Hagel takes credit for Senator Barack Obama’s isolationist rhetoric. Hagel laughingly says Obama “has accepted my position and my direction.” True, there are differences. But, looking at the quotes below, can you determine who said what?

• “We went into Iraq based on flawed judgment, based on dishonest motives, based on flawed intelligence, and we have a very, very big problem today.”

• “If you engage a world power or a rival, it doesn’t mean you agree with them or subscribe with what they believe or you support them in any way…What it does tell you is that you’ve got a problem you need to resolve. And you’ve got to understand the other side and the other side has got to understand you.”

• “This administration was hell-bent on going to war in Iraq.”

• “No, I wasn’t wrong about [the surge]. We’ve lost over 900 dead Americans since the surge. Now if you want to dismiss that as “success,” that’ll be your interpretation.”

• “That’s right, this is a–this is a civil, sectarian war. Yes, al Qaeda’s there. Yes, terrorists are there. But they are not the predominant aspect of this. And I’m really sorry to see some of the administration continue to say that this is the [central] front [in the war] on terrorism, this war. It’s not. This is a sectarian, civil war.”

• “We are eroding our military power at a time when our country faces an increasing arc of challenges and threats across the globe. We are abusing our all-voluntary force in a dangerous and irresponsible way.”

Answer: All of the above quotations are Hagel’s–even if each sounds like Obama.

Since becoming an outspoken critic of the Bush Administration and, more famously, the Iraq war in Iraq, Hagel has become the Left’s favorite Republican. But do the similarities between the two senators–specifically on foreign policy–mean that the Democrats have merged with the paleocons?

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Which Is More Likely?

Who will have more luck: John McCain daring Barack Obama to do weekly town hall debates or Hillary Clinton goading Obama into putting her on the ticket? Neither would be a good idea for Obama.

As shaky as McCain is with a structured speech, he can be compelling in town halls. It is where he is comfortable and it gives him the forum to demonstrate his expertise. What’s more, for a weakly-financed campaign it would be manna from heaven to have the networks covering the road show. And as for Obama, his press avails tend to bring out the “hmmm” and “ahhhhs” and a bit of discomfort when pressed on anything from Tony Rezko to Hamas. Obama would be wise to steer clear of settings with impromptu questions. But can he afford to? Doesn’t he need to prove he can go toe-to-toe with his more experienced opponent? His campaign indicates some interest, but apparently minus the town hall format.

And Hillary today is trying honey instead of vinegar, attesting to Obama’s pro-Israel bona fides at AIPAC. Still, how does Obama feel about a petition to put her on the ticket (along with the ever-present Clinton shadow)? On this one Dick Morris is correct: the biggest reason for Obama not to bite is Bill. The last thing Obama needs is to bring the circus back to the White House.

Who will have more luck: John McCain daring Barack Obama to do weekly town hall debates or Hillary Clinton goading Obama into putting her on the ticket? Neither would be a good idea for Obama.

As shaky as McCain is with a structured speech, he can be compelling in town halls. It is where he is comfortable and it gives him the forum to demonstrate his expertise. What’s more, for a weakly-financed campaign it would be manna from heaven to have the networks covering the road show. And as for Obama, his press avails tend to bring out the “hmmm” and “ahhhhs” and a bit of discomfort when pressed on anything from Tony Rezko to Hamas. Obama would be wise to steer clear of settings with impromptu questions. But can he afford to? Doesn’t he need to prove he can go toe-to-toe with his more experienced opponent? His campaign indicates some interest, but apparently minus the town hall format.

And Hillary today is trying honey instead of vinegar, attesting to Obama’s pro-Israel bona fides at AIPAC. Still, how does Obama feel about a petition to put her on the ticket (along with the ever-present Clinton shadow)? On this one Dick Morris is correct: the biggest reason for Obama not to bite is Bill. The last thing Obama needs is to bring the circus back to the White House.

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Fight Stupider, Not Harder

In a video that has just come to light, Barack Obama makes a scary declaration:

I will cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending. I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space. I will slow our development of future combat systems.

That’s quite a goal, considering his reluctance to slow the development of Iran’s future combat systems. The video was made last year for the pacifist organization Caucus4Priorities.org, whose mission is “To redirect 15% of the Pentagon’s discretionary budget away from obsolete Cold War weapons towards education, healthcare, job training, alternative energy development, world hunger, deficit reduction.” Cold war weapons, future combat systems–what’s the difference, right? The important thing is the Democratic nominee’s commitment to cut back on defense while we’re at war. Just so you know that Obama means business, he appeals to you at the end of the clip:

You know where I stand. I fought for open ethical and accountable government my entire public life. I don’t switch positions or make promises that can’t be kept. I don’t posture on defense policy and I don’t take money from federal lobbyists for powerful defense contractors. As President, my sole priority for defense spending will be protecting the American people.

And with hope in our hearts, change in our minds, and parking space in our arsenals I’m sure there’s no threat we won’t overcome. By “we,” of course, I mean the additional 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines that Obama has elsewhere pledged to add to our technologically-hampered armed forces.

In a video that has just come to light, Barack Obama makes a scary declaration:

I will cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending. I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space. I will slow our development of future combat systems.

That’s quite a goal, considering his reluctance to slow the development of Iran’s future combat systems. The video was made last year for the pacifist organization Caucus4Priorities.org, whose mission is “To redirect 15% of the Pentagon’s discretionary budget away from obsolete Cold War weapons towards education, healthcare, job training, alternative energy development, world hunger, deficit reduction.” Cold war weapons, future combat systems–what’s the difference, right? The important thing is the Democratic nominee’s commitment to cut back on defense while we’re at war. Just so you know that Obama means business, he appeals to you at the end of the clip:

You know where I stand. I fought for open ethical and accountable government my entire public life. I don’t switch positions or make promises that can’t be kept. I don’t posture on defense policy and I don’t take money from federal lobbyists for powerful defense contractors. As President, my sole priority for defense spending will be protecting the American people.

And with hope in our hearts, change in our minds, and parking space in our arsenals I’m sure there’s no threat we won’t overcome. By “we,” of course, I mean the additional 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines that Obama has elsewhere pledged to add to our technologically-hampered armed forces.

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Another Jerusalem Syndrome

Today at the AIPAC conference, Nominee Barack Obama declared that “Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of Israel” in any future agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. But it was only three weeks ago that Daniel Kurtzer, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Obama’s adviser on middle east policy, announced that “it will be impossible to make progress on serious peace talks without putting the future of Jerusalem on the table.” Let’s just say that Obama’s thoughts on Jerusalem are still in their fluid stage.

I remember when I was a kid, I used to get excited every time a presidential candidate promised to recognize Jerusalem officially as the capital of Israel by moving the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv. But then my dad would say, “They always promise that. They never, ever do it.” Decades later, they still haven’t done it, and I’ve concluded that the best thing is to ignore all campaign promises about Jerusalem, even when they are not contradicted by the candidate’s closest advisers–and all the more so when they are.

Today at the AIPAC conference, Nominee Barack Obama declared that “Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of Israel” in any future agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. But it was only three weeks ago that Daniel Kurtzer, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Obama’s adviser on middle east policy, announced that “it will be impossible to make progress on serious peace talks without putting the future of Jerusalem on the table.” Let’s just say that Obama’s thoughts on Jerusalem are still in their fluid stage.

I remember when I was a kid, I used to get excited every time a presidential candidate promised to recognize Jerusalem officially as the capital of Israel by moving the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv. But then my dad would say, “They always promise that. They never, ever do it.” Decades later, they still haven’t done it, and I’ve concluded that the best thing is to ignore all campaign promises about Jerusalem, even when they are not contradicted by the candidate’s closest advisers–and all the more so when they are.

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China in Its Century

Nineteen years ago today, China’s People’s Liberation Army slaughtered unarmed citizens in the streets of Beijing and in Tiananmen Square, the spiritual heart of China. The Communist Party since then has remained unapologetic even though almost everyone in China who lived through that time knows that the atrocity was wrong. “When will the national flag be lowered for our children?” asks Ding Zilin, whose son was cut down then.

China’s flag, while it remains red, will never be lowered for the victims of the massacre. The leaders of the Communist Party, always obsessed with their legitimacy, believe they will never have to admit error or say they’re sorry. They think their government can outlast those who remember Tiananmen. They say that no one died on June 4 or that only soldiers perished in the darkness. Chinese children are not taught about the event in their schools, and so many have not heard of the army’s indiscriminate killing as it marched from the outside of the capital to its center.

And why should we care? Chinese leaders, emboldened by our silence, think that time is on their side and that in a few short decades they will sit at the center of the international system in a century they possess. Unless we confront them, they will in time subvert our institutions and, when we are weak, demand we see things their way. They are already poisoning American society.

Now, China’s autocrats have succeeded in getting presidents and prime ministers to legitimize them by traveling to their capital for the opening ceremony of the Olympics. At a time when he should speak out, the leader of the world’s free states will instead go to participate in what Beijing sees as a display of submission. Worse, China’s supremos have already cited President Bush’s upcoming trip to China as America’s rejection of the regime’s critics.

If we believe in our values and wish to defend our society, then we must remember this day, the fourth of June, for as long as the Communist Party of China refuses to acknowledge the great crime it committed almost two decades ago. It’s not just about the fate of the great Chinese people; it’s about ours as well.

Nineteen years ago today, China’s People’s Liberation Army slaughtered unarmed citizens in the streets of Beijing and in Tiananmen Square, the spiritual heart of China. The Communist Party since then has remained unapologetic even though almost everyone in China who lived through that time knows that the atrocity was wrong. “When will the national flag be lowered for our children?” asks Ding Zilin, whose son was cut down then.

China’s flag, while it remains red, will never be lowered for the victims of the massacre. The leaders of the Communist Party, always obsessed with their legitimacy, believe they will never have to admit error or say they’re sorry. They think their government can outlast those who remember Tiananmen. They say that no one died on June 4 or that only soldiers perished in the darkness. Chinese children are not taught about the event in their schools, and so many have not heard of the army’s indiscriminate killing as it marched from the outside of the capital to its center.

And why should we care? Chinese leaders, emboldened by our silence, think that time is on their side and that in a few short decades they will sit at the center of the international system in a century they possess. Unless we confront them, they will in time subvert our institutions and, when we are weak, demand we see things their way. They are already poisoning American society.

Now, China’s autocrats have succeeded in getting presidents and prime ministers to legitimize them by traveling to their capital for the opening ceremony of the Olympics. At a time when he should speak out, the leader of the world’s free states will instead go to participate in what Beijing sees as a display of submission. Worse, China’s supremos have already cited President Bush’s upcoming trip to China as America’s rejection of the regime’s critics.

If we believe in our values and wish to defend our society, then we must remember this day, the fourth of June, for as long as the Communist Party of China refuses to acknowledge the great crime it committed almost two decades ago. It’s not just about the fate of the great Chinese people; it’s about ours as well.

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Trager on Obama’s Isolationism

CONTENTIONS blogger Eric Trager contends that “Barack Obama is peddling a brand of isolationism that Americans haven’t heard from a major presidential contender in nearly a century – one that uses the daily struggles of hard-working Americans to generate a fear of international involvement.” You can read his piece in today’s New York Post.

CONTENTIONS blogger Eric Trager contends that “Barack Obama is peddling a brand of isolationism that Americans haven’t heard from a major presidential contender in nearly a century – one that uses the daily struggles of hard-working Americans to generate a fear of international involvement.” You can read his piece in today’s New York Post.

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McCain Blogger Call

John McCain held another blogger call today. Once again, he began by congratulating Hillary Clinton, praising her campaign which “inspired women.” He also, in more succinct terms, congratulated Barack Obama for his success in rallying his party. He reviewed his invitation for town hall meetings with Obama. (In response to a later question, he praised this format as the most effective way to get voters involved in the process.) He also castigated Obama for refusing to recognize the surge’s success and visit Iraq or be briefed by General Petraeus.

I asked him about Obama’s change of position on classification of the Iranian National Guard as a terrorist organization. McCain started by observing that Obama has now switched his position on “various” issues, including softening on the surge. He recalled that Obama opposed the Kyl-Liebermann Amendment claiming it would justify an attack on Iran and had called it “reckless,” but now, in front of AIPAC ,favored such a designation. I followed up, asking if he really believed that Obama was coming around on the surge. McCaian answered that he didn’t know if he was “coming around” but that he now used terms like a “sensible withdrawal” rather than “a categorical condemnation” as he had in the past. McCain said that there is no “objective observer, I stress objective, who believes that the surge has not succeeded.”

McCain seemed very feisty with regard to Obama and eager to point out reversals from his opponents’ primary race as he now enters the general election. However, when pressed by bloggers with some aggressive questioning (e.g. hasn’t he impugned the motives of conservatives, doesn’t he want town halls to only get away from speeches where he isn’t very strong) he remained calm and placid. It appears that he is clearly focused on who his real opponent is.

John McCain held another blogger call today. Once again, he began by congratulating Hillary Clinton, praising her campaign which “inspired women.” He also, in more succinct terms, congratulated Barack Obama for his success in rallying his party. He reviewed his invitation for town hall meetings with Obama. (In response to a later question, he praised this format as the most effective way to get voters involved in the process.) He also castigated Obama for refusing to recognize the surge’s success and visit Iraq or be briefed by General Petraeus.

I asked him about Obama’s change of position on classification of the Iranian National Guard as a terrorist organization. McCain started by observing that Obama has now switched his position on “various” issues, including softening on the surge. He recalled that Obama opposed the Kyl-Liebermann Amendment claiming it would justify an attack on Iran and had called it “reckless,” but now, in front of AIPAC ,favored such a designation. I followed up, asking if he really believed that Obama was coming around on the surge. McCaian answered that he didn’t know if he was “coming around” but that he now used terms like a “sensible withdrawal” rather than “a categorical condemnation” as he had in the past. McCain said that there is no “objective observer, I stress objective, who believes that the surge has not succeeded.”

McCain seemed very feisty with regard to Obama and eager to point out reversals from his opponents’ primary race as he now enters the general election. However, when pressed by bloggers with some aggressive questioning (e.g. hasn’t he impugned the motives of conservatives, doesn’t he want town halls to only get away from speeches where he isn’t very strong) he remained calm and placid. It appears that he is clearly focused on who his real opponent is.

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Amateur Comedy Genius

Forgive me for intruding on the serious blogging here, but I must suggest you read this Variety blog item — not because it’s interesting, but because of the comments below it, which include some of the funniest writing of the year by the commenters. (I particularly admired the name of one commenter — “You had me at Heil.”)

Forgive me for intruding on the serious blogging here, but I must suggest you read this Variety blog item — not because it’s interesting, but because of the comments below it, which include some of the funniest writing of the year by the commenters. (I particularly admired the name of one commenter — “You had me at Heil.”)

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McCain Team Responds To Obama At AIPAC

Senator Joe Lieberman, Rep. Eric Cantor and McCain foreign policy and national security director Randy Scheunemann responded to Barack Obama’s AIPAC speech. Lieberman deemed the speech one of “good intentions” but raised three major criticisms. First, he noted that Obama had sought to minimize the threat from Iran when talking on the primary campaign trail, but before AIPAC now cast the threat as “grave.” Second, with a mild tone but forceful, they took Obama to task for his switch of position on classification of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. As the co-author of the amendment with Sen. Jon Kyl, Liebermann noted that it was supported by three-fourths of the Senate including Sens. Schumer, Durban, Reid and Clinton, but that at the time Obama opposed it. Obama says that it contained lanugage about military action. Lieberman said bluntly, “It has none of that.” Lieberman said he hoped that Obama would acknowledge that his vote was a mistake. Finally, he rejected Obama’s view that Israel was less safe because of American actions and said that if there is a culprit, it is Iran.

Scheunemann reminded the media that Obama still seemed fixed on withdrawal from Iraq, but that now he wants a “phased” withdrawal, whereas he previous voted to cut off all funds immediately. He also bashed Obama for claiming that we had “subcontracted” Iranian negotiations to the Europeans, deeming this insulting to our allies. Finally, he noted that Obama seemed to be “walking back” some of the prior comments on meeting Ahmadinejad and now indicated he would do so “if it would advance American interests.”

In short, the road back to the middle of the road will be treacherous for Obama. As he tries to moderate his views, on Iran most clearly, he will, it seems, face frequent reminders from the McCain camp that the new positions seem adopted especially for the general election. In a world of YouTube and Google, not to mention campaign websites, the job of the McCain camp is made much easier.

Senator Joe Lieberman, Rep. Eric Cantor and McCain foreign policy and national security director Randy Scheunemann responded to Barack Obama’s AIPAC speech. Lieberman deemed the speech one of “good intentions” but raised three major criticisms. First, he noted that Obama had sought to minimize the threat from Iran when talking on the primary campaign trail, but before AIPAC now cast the threat as “grave.” Second, with a mild tone but forceful, they took Obama to task for his switch of position on classification of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. As the co-author of the amendment with Sen. Jon Kyl, Liebermann noted that it was supported by three-fourths of the Senate including Sens. Schumer, Durban, Reid and Clinton, but that at the time Obama opposed it. Obama says that it contained lanugage about military action. Lieberman said bluntly, “It has none of that.” Lieberman said he hoped that Obama would acknowledge that his vote was a mistake. Finally, he rejected Obama’s view that Israel was less safe because of American actions and said that if there is a culprit, it is Iran.

Scheunemann reminded the media that Obama still seemed fixed on withdrawal from Iraq, but that now he wants a “phased” withdrawal, whereas he previous voted to cut off all funds immediately. He also bashed Obama for claiming that we had “subcontracted” Iranian negotiations to the Europeans, deeming this insulting to our allies. Finally, he noted that Obama seemed to be “walking back” some of the prior comments on meeting Ahmadinejad and now indicated he would do so “if it would advance American interests.”

In short, the road back to the middle of the road will be treacherous for Obama. As he tries to moderate his views, on Iran most clearly, he will, it seems, face frequent reminders from the McCain camp that the new positions seem adopted especially for the general election. In a world of YouTube and Google, not to mention campaign websites, the job of the McCain camp is made much easier.

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The NYT Endorses McCain!

The New York Times today endorsed John McCain for President. Here’s an excerpt:

Mr. Obama has asked to be judged by something more than his positions. He offers himself as an experienced leader who would end the culture of bickering in Washington and use wisdom and resoluteness in dealing with domestic social problems and international crises. But his resume is too thin for the nation to bet on his growing into the kind of leader he claims already to be. He does have great personal charm. But Mr. Obama’s main professional experience was a few undistinguished years as a back bencher in the Illinois and U.S. Senates. His debates with his primary opponents exposed an uneasiness with foreign policy that cannot be erased by his promise to have heavyweight advisers. John F. Kennedy, as a far more seasoned new president, struggled through the Cuban missile crisis while his senior advisers offered contradictory advice on how to confront a Soviet military threat on America’s doorstep. The job description is for commander in chief, not advisee in chief.

The Senator from Arizona has admitted to his limitations as a speaker. But John McCain has a heart–and a mind–prepared for presidential-scale challenges. When it comes to the details of policy making, he will not need on-the-job training.

OK, OK: this actually ran on October 29th, 2000, when the Times–to exactly no one’s surprise–endorsed Al Gore over George Bush.

Here’s the remarkably little altered original:

Mr. Bush has asked to be judged by something more than his positions. He offers himself as an experienced leader who would end the culture of bickering in Washington and use wisdom and resoluteness in dealing with domestic social problems and international crises. But his resume is too thin for the nation to bet on his growing into the kind of leader he claims already to be. He does have great personal charm. But Mr. Bush’s main professional experience was running a baseball team financed by friends and serving for six years as governor in a state where the chief executive has limited budgetary and operational powers. His three debates with Mr. Gore exposed an uneasiness with foreign policy that cannot be erased by his promise to have heavyweight advisers. John F. Kennedy, as a far more seasoned new president, struggled through the Cuban missile crisis while his senior advisers offered contradictory advice on how to confront a Soviet military threat on America’s doorstep. The job description is for commander in chief, not advisee in chief.

The vice president has admitted to his limitations as a speaker. But Al Gore has a heart–and a mind–prepared for presidential-scale challenges. When it comes to the details of policy making, he will not need on-the-job training.

The New York Times today endorsed John McCain for President. Here’s an excerpt:

Mr. Obama has asked to be judged by something more than his positions. He offers himself as an experienced leader who would end the culture of bickering in Washington and use wisdom and resoluteness in dealing with domestic social problems and international crises. But his resume is too thin for the nation to bet on his growing into the kind of leader he claims already to be. He does have great personal charm. But Mr. Obama’s main professional experience was a few undistinguished years as a back bencher in the Illinois and U.S. Senates. His debates with his primary opponents exposed an uneasiness with foreign policy that cannot be erased by his promise to have heavyweight advisers. John F. Kennedy, as a far more seasoned new president, struggled through the Cuban missile crisis while his senior advisers offered contradictory advice on how to confront a Soviet military threat on America’s doorstep. The job description is for commander in chief, not advisee in chief.

The Senator from Arizona has admitted to his limitations as a speaker. But John McCain has a heart–and a mind–prepared for presidential-scale challenges. When it comes to the details of policy making, he will not need on-the-job training.

OK, OK: this actually ran on October 29th, 2000, when the Times–to exactly no one’s surprise–endorsed Al Gore over George Bush.

Here’s the remarkably little altered original:

Mr. Bush has asked to be judged by something more than his positions. He offers himself as an experienced leader who would end the culture of bickering in Washington and use wisdom and resoluteness in dealing with domestic social problems and international crises. But his resume is too thin for the nation to bet on his growing into the kind of leader he claims already to be. He does have great personal charm. But Mr. Bush’s main professional experience was running a baseball team financed by friends and serving for six years as governor in a state where the chief executive has limited budgetary and operational powers. His three debates with Mr. Gore exposed an uneasiness with foreign policy that cannot be erased by his promise to have heavyweight advisers. John F. Kennedy, as a far more seasoned new president, struggled through the Cuban missile crisis while his senior advisers offered contradictory advice on how to confront a Soviet military threat on America’s doorstep. The job description is for commander in chief, not advisee in chief.

The vice president has admitted to his limitations as a speaker. But Al Gore has a heart–and a mind–prepared for presidential-scale challenges. When it comes to the details of policy making, he will not need on-the-job training.

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Obama the Hit Man

The contrast between McCain and Obama last night was instructive, and in ways not favorable to McCain. I’m not speaking of the relative strength of their speaking performances. What I mean is that McCain looked uncomfortable on the attack against Obama, while Obama looked perfectly comfortable, even chomping-at-the-bit eager, in his attack on McCain. It seems that Obama is going to feel free to be extremely aggressive in his assaults on McCain, in part because he knows his slavish supporters in the media are going to continue to accept the contention that he is bringing a new tone of bipartisanship to Washington. McCain is going to have to find a way to deal with this.

The contrast between McCain and Obama last night was instructive, and in ways not favorable to McCain. I’m not speaking of the relative strength of their speaking performances. What I mean is that McCain looked uncomfortable on the attack against Obama, while Obama looked perfectly comfortable, even chomping-at-the-bit eager, in his attack on McCain. It seems that Obama is going to feel free to be extremely aggressive in his assaults on McCain, in part because he knows his slavish supporters in the media are going to continue to accept the contention that he is bringing a new tone of bipartisanship to Washington. McCain is going to have to find a way to deal with this.

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Obama’s AIPAC Address

The entire text of Barack Obama’s address to AIPAC is worth a read. Anytime a presidential candidate confirms our commitment to Israel and expresses any understanding of the historical and religious roots of the state of Israel I am pleased. We should never get so caught up in electoral politics that we fail to appreciate that a bipartisan consensus on the value of the Israeli alliance remains a key component of our national security agenda. That said the speech was, well, odd.

He began with the excuse/warning that bad things were being said about him in emails. But again he did not use the occasion to mend any fences–to explain, for example, that advisors say things he doesn’t believe in, or that he has come to see how hateful and disturbing Rev. Wright’s hate speech is and how it poisoned the well with the Jewish community. The elephant in the room just stomped along.

On several policy points, the most obvious problem to me seems that there is a disconnect, and absence of means to ends, in his vision. He says he loves and will defend Israel but there is no road to get there (i.e. a more peaceful and secure Israel) other than some vague diplomatic avenue. But with whom shall we negotiate? Why will he succeed when others fail? In part, of course, this is because he repudiates means that might pressure opposing forces either diplomatically or militarily. And for those hoping that he might have seen the light on the surge, the answer is “no.” He is still pulling out and seems blissfully unaware what impact it might have on Iran, Hamas and other terrorists — that is, the enemies of Israel.

As for his position on designating the Iranian National Guard as a terrorist organization, we should be clear. He opposed it last fall, was criticized by Hillary Clinton and Dick Durbin, and now has invented a patently false excuse: that it involved U.S. troops. At the time, his real problem was that it was too confrontational (“Bush saber rattling,” in Obama’s nomenclature). He should be honest if he has changed his mind. It is a good thing, after all, that he now recognizes the Iranian National Guard as a terrorist organization. It does make it that much stranger, though, that he still wants to meet with the Iranian President.

The entire text of Barack Obama’s address to AIPAC is worth a read. Anytime a presidential candidate confirms our commitment to Israel and expresses any understanding of the historical and religious roots of the state of Israel I am pleased. We should never get so caught up in electoral politics that we fail to appreciate that a bipartisan consensus on the value of the Israeli alliance remains a key component of our national security agenda. That said the speech was, well, odd.

He began with the excuse/warning that bad things were being said about him in emails. But again he did not use the occasion to mend any fences–to explain, for example, that advisors say things he doesn’t believe in, or that he has come to see how hateful and disturbing Rev. Wright’s hate speech is and how it poisoned the well with the Jewish community. The elephant in the room just stomped along.

On several policy points, the most obvious problem to me seems that there is a disconnect, and absence of means to ends, in his vision. He says he loves and will defend Israel but there is no road to get there (i.e. a more peaceful and secure Israel) other than some vague diplomatic avenue. But with whom shall we negotiate? Why will he succeed when others fail? In part, of course, this is because he repudiates means that might pressure opposing forces either diplomatically or militarily. And for those hoping that he might have seen the light on the surge, the answer is “no.” He is still pulling out and seems blissfully unaware what impact it might have on Iran, Hamas and other terrorists — that is, the enemies of Israel.

As for his position on designating the Iranian National Guard as a terrorist organization, we should be clear. He opposed it last fall, was criticized by Hillary Clinton and Dick Durbin, and now has invented a patently false excuse: that it involved U.S. troops. At the time, his real problem was that it was too confrontational (“Bush saber rattling,” in Obama’s nomenclature). He should be honest if he has changed his mind. It is a good thing, after all, that he now recognizes the Iranian National Guard as a terrorist organization. It does make it that much stranger, though, that he still wants to meet with the Iranian President.

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Unknowns

The Wall Street Journal picks up where John McCain left off, questioning how much most Americans know about Barack Obama. As for a new era of bipartisanship the Journal’s editors observe:

We can’t find a single issue on which Mr. Obama has broken with his party’s left-wing interest groups. Early on he gave a bow to merit pay for teachers, but that quickly sank beneath the waves of new money he wants to spend on the same broken public schools. He takes the Teamsters line against free trade, to the point of unilaterally rewriting Nafta. He wants to raise taxes even above the levels of the Clinton era, including a huge increase in the payroll tax. Perhaps now Mr. Obama will tack to the center, but somehow he will have to explain why the “change” he’s proposing isn’t merely more of the same, circa 1965.

And unlike McCain, they also question Obama’s judgment and choice in associating with Wright, Pfleger, and the less well known Rev. James Meeks. As Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once put it:

As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

For Obama we know from his record that he is very liberal and we know that he hasn’t accomplished much. We also know he is a great speechmaker and verbally fluent (when not pressed very hard, as he was in the Philadelphia debate). The known unknowns include how he plans to increase his support with working-class voters and how he will pivot back to the center on taxes, the economy, the surge, national security, and a list of issues. But it is the unknown unknowns that nag at many Democrats. The video clips floating around, the other wacky preachers who might pop up, the other people who heard him promise Palestinian acitvists he was on their side or who saw him attend the Million Man march. It is that last category which will make the next five months a nailbiter for the Democrats.

For the Republicans it is the known knowns that keep them up: their candidate’s rhetorical limitations, the GOP’s damaged brand, the money and enthusiasm gap, and the “country is on the wrong track” poll numbers.

Which is all a long way of saying that we know less than we think about how this will all turn out.

The Wall Street Journal picks up where John McCain left off, questioning how much most Americans know about Barack Obama. As for a new era of bipartisanship the Journal’s editors observe:

We can’t find a single issue on which Mr. Obama has broken with his party’s left-wing interest groups. Early on he gave a bow to merit pay for teachers, but that quickly sank beneath the waves of new money he wants to spend on the same broken public schools. He takes the Teamsters line against free trade, to the point of unilaterally rewriting Nafta. He wants to raise taxes even above the levels of the Clinton era, including a huge increase in the payroll tax. Perhaps now Mr. Obama will tack to the center, but somehow he will have to explain why the “change” he’s proposing isn’t merely more of the same, circa 1965.

And unlike McCain, they also question Obama’s judgment and choice in associating with Wright, Pfleger, and the less well known Rev. James Meeks. As Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once put it:

As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

For Obama we know from his record that he is very liberal and we know that he hasn’t accomplished much. We also know he is a great speechmaker and verbally fluent (when not pressed very hard, as he was in the Philadelphia debate). The known unknowns include how he plans to increase his support with working-class voters and how he will pivot back to the center on taxes, the economy, the surge, national security, and a list of issues. But it is the unknown unknowns that nag at many Democrats. The video clips floating around, the other wacky preachers who might pop up, the other people who heard him promise Palestinian acitvists he was on their side or who saw him attend the Million Man march. It is that last category which will make the next five months a nailbiter for the Democrats.

For the Republicans it is the known knowns that keep them up: their candidate’s rhetorical limitations, the GOP’s damaged brand, the money and enthusiasm gap, and the “country is on the wrong track” poll numbers.

Which is all a long way of saying that we know less than we think about how this will all turn out.

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Obama’s Case for Invading Iran

Does Barack Obama believe we should have invaded Iran instead of Iraq?

There is no greater threat to Israel – or to the peace and stability of the region – than Iran. Now this audience is made up of both Republicans and Democrats, and the enemies of Israel should have no doubt that, regardless of party, Americans stand shoulder-to-shoulder in our commitment to Israel’s security. So while I don’t want to strike too partisan a note here today, I do want to address some willful mischaracterizations of my positions.

The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region. It pursues a nuclear capability that could spark a dangerous arms race, and raise the prospect of a transfer of nuclear know-how to terrorists. Its President denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map. The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.

But just as we are clear-eyed about the threat, we must be clear about the failure of today’s policy. We knew, in 2002, that Iran supported terrorism. We knew Iran had an illicit nuclear program. We knew Iran posed a grave threat to Israel. But instead of pursuing a strategy to address this threat, we ignored it and instead invaded and occupied Iraq.

The rationale Obama gives in explaining why Iran is a threat relies on the same arguments that went into the decision to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein. Hmmmm . . .

Does Barack Obama believe we should have invaded Iran instead of Iraq?

There is no greater threat to Israel – or to the peace and stability of the region – than Iran. Now this audience is made up of both Republicans and Democrats, and the enemies of Israel should have no doubt that, regardless of party, Americans stand shoulder-to-shoulder in our commitment to Israel’s security. So while I don’t want to strike too partisan a note here today, I do want to address some willful mischaracterizations of my positions.

The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region. It pursues a nuclear capability that could spark a dangerous arms race, and raise the prospect of a transfer of nuclear know-how to terrorists. Its President denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map. The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.

But just as we are clear-eyed about the threat, we must be clear about the failure of today’s policy. We knew, in 2002, that Iran supported terrorism. We knew Iran had an illicit nuclear program. We knew Iran posed a grave threat to Israel. But instead of pursuing a strategy to address this threat, we ignored it and instead invaded and occupied Iraq.

The rationale Obama gives in explaining why Iran is a threat relies on the same arguments that went into the decision to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein. Hmmmm . . .

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Your Call Is Very Important To Us, Mr. Obama. Please Hold.

From today’s New York Times:

Mr. Obama called Mrs. Clinton late Tuesday evening to congratulate her, but aides said he left a message because he could not reach her. In his speech, his supporters cheered as he paid respect to his rival.

So much for picking up the phone at 3 am! For weeks, everyone had called on Hillary to make a clean, classy exit. If she stayed on, in the face of certain defeat, she’d do yet more damage to the Democratic Party. For her part, Hillary was having none of it. She lent herself a cool $6 million and bragged about a questionable popular vote victory until she lost her voice.

And after ignoring everyone’s pleas to pack it in, she’s earned accolades. People as unlikely as Victor Davis Hanson are now “impressed with her doggedness, stamina, and calm.” Moreover, Barack Obama (the Democratic nominee) called her (the loser) to congratulate her.

But while everyone is on the verge of forgetting exactly who Hillary Rodham Clinton is, I suspect she’ll remind them soon enough: She didn’t take Obama’s call. What kind of plan to nab the VP spot involves blowing off the gracious nominee at the apogee of his triumph? She has a plan, all right, and the vice presidency is one branch of the decision tree she’s considering. But she’s far from resigned to the electoral reality of the situation. Sure, Obama is the nominee-depending upon what your definition of is is. The web is astir with very nasty unsubstantiated rumors about a coming storm in the Obama campaign. If you think Hillary is not hanging in there to see if rumor becomes fact, I have a Bosnian sniper story I’d like to sell you.

From today’s New York Times:

Mr. Obama called Mrs. Clinton late Tuesday evening to congratulate her, but aides said he left a message because he could not reach her. In his speech, his supporters cheered as he paid respect to his rival.

So much for picking up the phone at 3 am! For weeks, everyone had called on Hillary to make a clean, classy exit. If she stayed on, in the face of certain defeat, she’d do yet more damage to the Democratic Party. For her part, Hillary was having none of it. She lent herself a cool $6 million and bragged about a questionable popular vote victory until she lost her voice.

And after ignoring everyone’s pleas to pack it in, she’s earned accolades. People as unlikely as Victor Davis Hanson are now “impressed with her doggedness, stamina, and calm.” Moreover, Barack Obama (the Democratic nominee) called her (the loser) to congratulate her.

But while everyone is on the verge of forgetting exactly who Hillary Rodham Clinton is, I suspect she’ll remind them soon enough: She didn’t take Obama’s call. What kind of plan to nab the VP spot involves blowing off the gracious nominee at the apogee of his triumph? She has a plan, all right, and the vice presidency is one branch of the decision tree she’s considering. But she’s far from resigned to the electoral reality of the situation. Sure, Obama is the nominee-depending upon what your definition of is is. The web is astir with very nasty unsubstantiated rumors about a coming storm in the Obama campaign. If you think Hillary is not hanging in there to see if rumor becomes fact, I have a Bosnian sniper story I’d like to sell you.

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Wouldn’t You Like To Be a Fly on the Wall?

Hillary Clinton is reported to be seeking a one-on-one meeting with Barack Obama. But to quote Hillary, “What does Hillary want?” Probably the VP slot. How does Obama get out of giving it to her? It is tough to say “no,” some would say, since she hasn’t left the race, isn’t yet promising to be a good sport, and hasn’t embraced the nominee. Or is it tough? What would she really do if he said, “Hillary I can’t make any promises about the VP slot. I have to think this through and see where we are in a month or so and where I need help”? Threaten a floor fight? Be the spoiler and go home and sulk, leaving much of the Democratic Party up in arms?If Obama really is as smart as they say, he’ll figure out he doesn’t need to give her anything.

But does he want her, or rather does he need her, as VP? I think the answer is “yes,” only if he lacks confidence in his ability to broaden his coalition and win in the easiest election year for Democrats in a generation. And we know the fellow who is planning on lowering the ocean levels is nothing, if not confident. He can get elected, he must figure, with many other women as VP, if he needs a female or with someone who can help him in key state. And as for governing, he needs her and Bill looking over his shoulder like a hole in the head, as my mother would say. But how he deals with her will be his first big test. And it sure would be fun to listen in.

Hillary Clinton is reported to be seeking a one-on-one meeting with Barack Obama. But to quote Hillary, “What does Hillary want?” Probably the VP slot. How does Obama get out of giving it to her? It is tough to say “no,” some would say, since she hasn’t left the race, isn’t yet promising to be a good sport, and hasn’t embraced the nominee. Or is it tough? What would she really do if he said, “Hillary I can’t make any promises about the VP slot. I have to think this through and see where we are in a month or so and where I need help”? Threaten a floor fight? Be the spoiler and go home and sulk, leaving much of the Democratic Party up in arms?If Obama really is as smart as they say, he’ll figure out he doesn’t need to give her anything.

But does he want her, or rather does he need her, as VP? I think the answer is “yes,” only if he lacks confidence in his ability to broaden his coalition and win in the easiest election year for Democrats in a generation. And we know the fellow who is planning on lowering the ocean levels is nothing, if not confident. He can get elected, he must figure, with many other women as VP, if he needs a female or with someone who can help him in key state. And as for governing, he needs her and Bill looking over his shoulder like a hole in the head, as my mother would say. But how he deals with her will be his first big test. And it sure would be fun to listen in.

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The Morning After

Sometimes the combination of a good night’s sleep and the media spin machine has a way of transforming events. The good news for John McCain: Obama spoke too late to make much of the newspaper coverage. His speech was fluff, so little if any of the text was quoted (could the part about lowering the ocean levels have been just too embarrassing to relate?). And, better yet, the “stumbling” to the finish line storyline was given new oxygen by Barack Obama’s loss in South Dakota. McCain’s speech was covered and the press duly covered his main themes, especially the notion that the election may be about what type of change the voters want and whether Obama’s rhetoric matches his record.

McCain got some help as Hillary Clinton got her share of ink and attention over the “What does she want?” issue. (Can Obama imagine four or eight years of lime-light stealing?) It was not lost on the press that Clinton is attempting to strong-arm the new nominee.

And perhaps the media, with their least favorite candidate out of the way (not yet, but almost) will toughen the coverage of Obama a bit. He is the nominee and they, to their chagrin, must report the facts now and then. Even the New York Times concedes he is largely an unknown quantity who has “stumbled and fumbled” a number of times.

So the McCain camp must be pleased: as difficult as it may have been to watch McCain’s speech, the substance was good. The timing early in the evening and his mere presence drew coverage. And Clinton is doing her best (or at least having the effect) of making Obama in his moment of glory weaker and less in command than he no doubt would like.

Sometimes the combination of a good night’s sleep and the media spin machine has a way of transforming events. The good news for John McCain: Obama spoke too late to make much of the newspaper coverage. His speech was fluff, so little if any of the text was quoted (could the part about lowering the ocean levels have been just too embarrassing to relate?). And, better yet, the “stumbling” to the finish line storyline was given new oxygen by Barack Obama’s loss in South Dakota. McCain’s speech was covered and the press duly covered his main themes, especially the notion that the election may be about what type of change the voters want and whether Obama’s rhetoric matches his record.

McCain got some help as Hillary Clinton got her share of ink and attention over the “What does she want?” issue. (Can Obama imagine four or eight years of lime-light stealing?) It was not lost on the press that Clinton is attempting to strong-arm the new nominee.

And perhaps the media, with their least favorite candidate out of the way (not yet, but almost) will toughen the coverage of Obama a bit. He is the nominee and they, to their chagrin, must report the facts now and then. Even the New York Times concedes he is largely an unknown quantity who has “stumbled and fumbled” a number of times.

So the McCain camp must be pleased: as difficult as it may have been to watch McCain’s speech, the substance was good. The timing early in the evening and his mere presence drew coverage. And Clinton is doing her best (or at least having the effect) of making Obama in his moment of glory weaker and less in command than he no doubt would like.

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Fry Them

The Washington Post reports today:

More than 6 1/2 years after devastating suicide attacks against the United States launched the Bush administration’s fight against global terrorism, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, plot is scheduled to appear in a Guantanamo Bay courtroom tomorrow morning.

In the current issue of COMMENTARY, I have an article entitled In the Matter of George W. Bush v. the Constitution, which takes up, as part of a more extended discussion of the legal knots in which we have tied ourselves, the issue of military commissions. Drawing on Jack Goldsmith’s brilliant book, The Terror Presidency, I made a comparison to our practices in this area during World War II.

They were very different, to say the least.

In June 1942, eight Nazi saboteurs were captured in the United States; one of them was an American citizen. The group had plans to blow up defense plants and other national infrastructure, along with Jewish-owned department stores. President Roosevelt demanded of Francis Biddle, his attorney general, that the men be tried by a military commission. Although Biddle had reservations about whether the law would permit this, FDR swept such scruples aside. In short order, a commission was established that had “no written procedures,” operated in total secrecy, and was not based upon law. The Supreme Court took up a habeas-corpus plea from the saboteurs but then beat a hasty retreat in the face of threats from the White House. In the end, the military commission pronounced a death sentence on six of the eight. A week later, to the approbation of the public as well as the New York Times and the Washington Post, they went to the electric chair. All this happened in the course of a mere six weeks after their capture.

Compare such proceedings with the ongoing effort since 9/11 to establish military commissions for prisoners in Guantanamo. With the executive branch curtailed, that effort is now dragging into its seventh year with no end in sight. It involves men charged with crimes outstripping anything done by the hapless German saboteurs who had managed only to wander around Manhattan and Chicago, spending $612 of the $174,588 they had brought with them. The fact that captured al-Qaeda terrorists are today being represented by blue-chip law firms and are using the federal courts to challenge every aspect of the government’s case offers a glimpse of how radically the cultural landscape has changed.

In striking contrast to its stance toward the same issue today, the New York Times editorialized back then that the military commission

was lawfully constituted; and that no cause was shown for the discharge of the prisoners by writ of habeas corpus. . . . The statements made by prosecution and defense counsel made it clear that the accused were members of the German army; that whether or not they landed in a war zone, they came through one to get ashore; and that they went behind our lines wearing civilian clothing. The fact that there were eight of them instead of 800,000 made them no less invaders, subject if captured to military law. The fact that they were not in uniform exposed them to the military penalty of death. In light of what we now know all this is common sense.

How things have changed. Common sense seems to have gone the way of the Edsel.

The Washington Post reports today:

More than 6 1/2 years after devastating suicide attacks against the United States launched the Bush administration’s fight against global terrorism, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, plot is scheduled to appear in a Guantanamo Bay courtroom tomorrow morning.

In the current issue of COMMENTARY, I have an article entitled In the Matter of George W. Bush v. the Constitution, which takes up, as part of a more extended discussion of the legal knots in which we have tied ourselves, the issue of military commissions. Drawing on Jack Goldsmith’s brilliant book, The Terror Presidency, I made a comparison to our practices in this area during World War II.

They were very different, to say the least.

In June 1942, eight Nazi saboteurs were captured in the United States; one of them was an American citizen. The group had plans to blow up defense plants and other national infrastructure, along with Jewish-owned department stores. President Roosevelt demanded of Francis Biddle, his attorney general, that the men be tried by a military commission. Although Biddle had reservations about whether the law would permit this, FDR swept such scruples aside. In short order, a commission was established that had “no written procedures,” operated in total secrecy, and was not based upon law. The Supreme Court took up a habeas-corpus plea from the saboteurs but then beat a hasty retreat in the face of threats from the White House. In the end, the military commission pronounced a death sentence on six of the eight. A week later, to the approbation of the public as well as the New York Times and the Washington Post, they went to the electric chair. All this happened in the course of a mere six weeks after their capture.

Compare such proceedings with the ongoing effort since 9/11 to establish military commissions for prisoners in Guantanamo. With the executive branch curtailed, that effort is now dragging into its seventh year with no end in sight. It involves men charged with crimes outstripping anything done by the hapless German saboteurs who had managed only to wander around Manhattan and Chicago, spending $612 of the $174,588 they had brought with them. The fact that captured al-Qaeda terrorists are today being represented by blue-chip law firms and are using the federal courts to challenge every aspect of the government’s case offers a glimpse of how radically the cultural landscape has changed.

In striking contrast to its stance toward the same issue today, the New York Times editorialized back then that the military commission

was lawfully constituted; and that no cause was shown for the discharge of the prisoners by writ of habeas corpus. . . . The statements made by prosecution and defense counsel made it clear that the accused were members of the German army; that whether or not they landed in a war zone, they came through one to get ashore; and that they went behind our lines wearing civilian clothing. The fact that there were eight of them instead of 800,000 made them no less invaders, subject if captured to military law. The fact that they were not in uniform exposed them to the military penalty of death. In light of what we now know all this is common sense.

How things have changed. Common sense seems to have gone the way of the Edsel.

Read Less




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