Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 6, 2008

Not Everything Need Be Grim

If the real news –unemployment, terrorism and the general decline of Western Civilization — has you down, there are still reasons to laugh: the Bottom 10 Barack Obama VP picks and this “Obama on Your Shoulder” video are two. And if the McCain camp is smart they will figure out that humor, well done and biting, is one sure way to break through media clutter and get voters to think about whether the cult of Obama-mania has gone a bit too far.

If the real news –unemployment, terrorism and the general decline of Western Civilization — has you down, there are still reasons to laugh: the Bottom 10 Barack Obama VP picks and this “Obama on Your Shoulder” video are two. And if the McCain camp is smart they will figure out that humor, well done and biting, is one sure way to break through media clutter and get voters to think about whether the cult of Obama-mania has gone a bit too far.

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There’s The Mainstream Media For You

This is one of the sillier things written lately on the presidential campaign:

Obama’s lucky we’re all so obsessed with secret meetings[between Obama and Hillary Clinton], because his apparent reversal on Jerusalem — telling AIPAC that the city must remain “undivided” and then backtracking yesterday by saying to CNN’s Candy Crowley that the city should be up to negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians – could be used by McCain as an example of inexperience. Did Obama, in his exuberance to win over Jewish voters, just say what the group wanted to hear regarding Jerusalem? Or did he not realize what he was saying? All in all, this wasn’t a good moment for Obama. He’s just lucky no one noticed — for now.

Silly, because of course the MSM lack of interest doesn’t, hasn’t and won’t prevent the McCain camp from seizing on this as evidence of Barack Obama’s unpreparedness. And silly because lots of people noticed. And even sillier because I was under the impression that it is the media’s job to inform us of important events — like when the brand new nominee stumbles on the first day after the nomination in front of a core constituency group which is posing a challenge for him.

And if the media or the Obama camp think no one is noticing, the Republican Jewish Coalition put out this:

On Thursday, Barack Obama backtracked on this position and reversed it. Following criticism from Palestinian and Hamas officials, Barack Obama on Thursday announced in an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley that “obviously, it’s going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be a part of these negotiations.”

“Barack Obama’s attempt to use buzzwords to impress pro-Israel leaders has already backfired. Barack Obama’s reversal on Jerusalem, 24 hours after his AIPAC speech, demonstrates why the Jewish community has doubts and fears about an Obama presidency,” stated Matt Brooks. “Barack Obama’s retreat demonstrates that Senator Obama lacks the resolve and leadership necessary to protect America and Israel from the serious threats we face. Worst of all, the impression that Barack Obama changed this position because of pressure by Hamas officials sends all the wrong messages that a President Obama will back off pro-Israel positions when Hamas protests. Yet again, Barack Obama demonstrates why the Jewish community does not trust Barack Obama to keep America and Israel safe and secure.”

This sense that Obama gets away with glaring errors has a modicum of truth, of course. The media cocoon in which he lives doesn’t make it very hard on him. But it may also insulate him and perpetuate his own misunderstanding that his problems stem not from his own missteps, but from sinister forces ready to confuse and befuddle the voters.

This is one of the sillier things written lately on the presidential campaign:

Obama’s lucky we’re all so obsessed with secret meetings[between Obama and Hillary Clinton], because his apparent reversal on Jerusalem — telling AIPAC that the city must remain “undivided” and then backtracking yesterday by saying to CNN’s Candy Crowley that the city should be up to negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians – could be used by McCain as an example of inexperience. Did Obama, in his exuberance to win over Jewish voters, just say what the group wanted to hear regarding Jerusalem? Or did he not realize what he was saying? All in all, this wasn’t a good moment for Obama. He’s just lucky no one noticed — for now.

Silly, because of course the MSM lack of interest doesn’t, hasn’t and won’t prevent the McCain camp from seizing on this as evidence of Barack Obama’s unpreparedness. And silly because lots of people noticed. And even sillier because I was under the impression that it is the media’s job to inform us of important events — like when the brand new nominee stumbles on the first day after the nomination in front of a core constituency group which is posing a challenge for him.

And if the media or the Obama camp think no one is noticing, the Republican Jewish Coalition put out this:

On Thursday, Barack Obama backtracked on this position and reversed it. Following criticism from Palestinian and Hamas officials, Barack Obama on Thursday announced in an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley that “obviously, it’s going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be a part of these negotiations.”

“Barack Obama’s attempt to use buzzwords to impress pro-Israel leaders has already backfired. Barack Obama’s reversal on Jerusalem, 24 hours after his AIPAC speech, demonstrates why the Jewish community has doubts and fears about an Obama presidency,” stated Matt Brooks. “Barack Obama’s retreat demonstrates that Senator Obama lacks the resolve and leadership necessary to protect America and Israel from the serious threats we face. Worst of all, the impression that Barack Obama changed this position because of pressure by Hamas officials sends all the wrong messages that a President Obama will back off pro-Israel positions when Hamas protests. Yet again, Barack Obama demonstrates why the Jewish community does not trust Barack Obama to keep America and Israel safe and secure.”

This sense that Obama gets away with glaring errors has a modicum of truth, of course. The media cocoon in which he lives doesn’t make it very hard on him. But it may also insulate him and perpetuate his own misunderstanding that his problems stem not from his own missteps, but from sinister forces ready to confuse and befuddle the voters.

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Lieberman Outreach

As if he were not in enough hot water already with his party, Senator Joe Lieberman is now heading up “Citizens for McCain” to try to appeal to Independents and disaffected Democrats. The email which Lieberman sent out is a revealing look at the approach McCain is taking to snaring non-Republican voters. It is heavy on just the things that drive many in the conservative base crazy — praise for Hillary Clinton, emphasis on global warming, immigration and campaign finance reform, and reminders of his history of opposing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the war and his track record of Republican heresies. There is also plenty about patriotism and experience.

Certainly, McCain does not expect the majority of Democrats or even the majority of Hillary Clinton supporters to find this framework appealing, but it appears that he is banking that some mix of moderate to conservative non-Republicans who are concerned enough about Barack Obama’s experience and foreign policy judgment that they might flip to McCain.

Will it work? Several months ago I would have be doubtful, but Obama has helped McCain in this regard, even more than Hillary Clinton. It is fashionable and easy to blame Clinton, and she certainly helped sow seeds of doubt with efforts like her “3 a.m. ad.” But Wright/Pfleger/Trinity Church and Bittergate were all Obama’s doing. It is those non-Republicans who squirmed in their seats when they witnessed Obama’s facade as a post-partisan, non-ideological figure crumble and who get very nervous about his toughness and strength in foreign policy whom McCain is after. “Citizens for McCain” sounds better than “seat squirmers” but that’s who they are.

As if he were not in enough hot water already with his party, Senator Joe Lieberman is now heading up “Citizens for McCain” to try to appeal to Independents and disaffected Democrats. The email which Lieberman sent out is a revealing look at the approach McCain is taking to snaring non-Republican voters. It is heavy on just the things that drive many in the conservative base crazy — praise for Hillary Clinton, emphasis on global warming, immigration and campaign finance reform, and reminders of his history of opposing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the war and his track record of Republican heresies. There is also plenty about patriotism and experience.

Certainly, McCain does not expect the majority of Democrats or even the majority of Hillary Clinton supporters to find this framework appealing, but it appears that he is banking that some mix of moderate to conservative non-Republicans who are concerned enough about Barack Obama’s experience and foreign policy judgment that they might flip to McCain.

Will it work? Several months ago I would have be doubtful, but Obama has helped McCain in this regard, even more than Hillary Clinton. It is fashionable and easy to blame Clinton, and she certainly helped sow seeds of doubt with efforts like her “3 a.m. ad.” But Wright/Pfleger/Trinity Church and Bittergate were all Obama’s doing. It is those non-Republicans who squirmed in their seats when they witnessed Obama’s facade as a post-partisan, non-ideological figure crumble and who get very nervous about his toughness and strength in foreign policy whom McCain is after. “Citizens for McCain” sounds better than “seat squirmers” but that’s who they are.

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The Presumptuous Nominee

The most entertaining aspect of Barack Obama’s prediction that he’ll serve two consecutive Presidential terms is not the gargantuan overconfidence of the candidate, but the fudging on the part of worshipful media: From CBS2 Chicago:

“It’s a good time to be in Chicago,” Barack Obama said to the cheering crowd. “The White Sox are winning. The Cubs are winning. And Chicago’s going to win the 2016 Olympics.”

“In 2016, I’ll be wrapping up my second term as president, so I can’t think of a better way than to be marching into Washington Park alongside Mayor Daley, alongside Rahm Emanuel, alongside Dick Durbin, alongside Valerie Jarrett as President of the United States, and annoucing to the world, ‘Let the games begin!’”

The remark was a contrast to Obama’s usual style of rhetoric, which tends to be charismatic, yet understated and not prone to brash predictions. But since it became clear he was going to be the Democratic presidential nominee, a shift has been detected in his demeanor.

Has he been the nominee since April? That’s when he said

And let me make one last point about the comparison to McGovern and Dukakis, both excellent men, but I’m a pretty darn good politician . . . I can give a pretty good speech, and I can connect and inspire the American people in ways that have become apparent. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t pretty good at mixing it up, and so much of the attack machine that’s been built up is part of the old politics.

Or maybe he got the nod in January. That’s when Obama gave a speech at Dartmouth that included the following:

… a light will shine through that window, a beam of light will come down upon you, you will experience an epiphany, and you will suddenly realize that you must go to the polls and vote” for Obama.

Perhaps Obama’s nomination goes back to June 2005? That’s when he wrote in Time magazine:

In Lincoln’s rise from poverty, his ultimate mastery of language and law, his capacity to overcome personal loss and remain determined in the face of repeated defeat–in all this he reminded me not just of my own struggles.

Just when did this charismatic, yet understated Barack Obama roam the earth?

The most entertaining aspect of Barack Obama’s prediction that he’ll serve two consecutive Presidential terms is not the gargantuan overconfidence of the candidate, but the fudging on the part of worshipful media: From CBS2 Chicago:

“It’s a good time to be in Chicago,” Barack Obama said to the cheering crowd. “The White Sox are winning. The Cubs are winning. And Chicago’s going to win the 2016 Olympics.”

“In 2016, I’ll be wrapping up my second term as president, so I can’t think of a better way than to be marching into Washington Park alongside Mayor Daley, alongside Rahm Emanuel, alongside Dick Durbin, alongside Valerie Jarrett as President of the United States, and annoucing to the world, ‘Let the games begin!’”

The remark was a contrast to Obama’s usual style of rhetoric, which tends to be charismatic, yet understated and not prone to brash predictions. But since it became clear he was going to be the Democratic presidential nominee, a shift has been detected in his demeanor.

Has he been the nominee since April? That’s when he said

And let me make one last point about the comparison to McGovern and Dukakis, both excellent men, but I’m a pretty darn good politician . . . I can give a pretty good speech, and I can connect and inspire the American people in ways that have become apparent. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t pretty good at mixing it up, and so much of the attack machine that’s been built up is part of the old politics.

Or maybe he got the nod in January. That’s when Obama gave a speech at Dartmouth that included the following:

… a light will shine through that window, a beam of light will come down upon you, you will experience an epiphany, and you will suddenly realize that you must go to the polls and vote” for Obama.

Perhaps Obama’s nomination goes back to June 2005? That’s when he wrote in Time magazine:

In Lincoln’s rise from poverty, his ultimate mastery of language and law, his capacity to overcome personal loss and remain determined in the face of repeated defeat–in all this he reminded me not just of my own struggles.

Just when did this charismatic, yet understated Barack Obama roam the earth?

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Bookshelf

Thomas Quasthoff’s dark, velvety bass-baritone voice and penetrating intelligence have helped to make him the most talked-about interpreter of German art song since Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was in his unforgettable prime. So have his deformities. Born in 1959, Quasthoff was one of the ten thousand European children whose pregnant mothers unknowingly took thalidomide, a drug that causes severe birth defects. As a result, he is four feet tall and has no arms, a disability that prevented him from pursuing an academic degree in music in Germany, where conservatory students, even singers, were then required to play the piano. But it didn’t stop him from studying law, taking private voice lessons, winning a major music competition, signing a recording contract by Deutsche Grammophon, and becoming world-famous.

A few years ago Quasthoff wrote a German-language autobiography that has now been updated and translated into English as The Voice: A Memoir (Pantheon, 256 pp., $24.95). It is, not at all surprisingly, a remarkable book, and not merely because of the remarkable story its author has to tell. Quasthoff is bristlingly tough-minded and apparently devoid of self-pity. Here, for instance, is how he describes what he saw in the bathroom mirror on the morning that he made his 1998 New York Philharmonic review:

“Crippled arms and legs, no laughing matter.” That’s how a tabloid paper once put it, but I see the situation differently. Here is a four-foot three-inch concert singer without knee joints, arms, or upper thighs, with only four fingers on the right hand and three on the left. He has a receding hairline, a blond pig head, and a few too many pounds around his hips, and he is in a superb mood. All he needs now is a shave.

How can one fail to be impressed by a man capable of writing a paragraph like that?

But The Voice would be worth reading even if Quasthoff were merely a first-rate singer outfitted the normal quota of limbs, for he is also a witty, sharp-eyed observer of the passing scene who has strong opinions and no inhibitions about sharing them with his readers. Nor are his opinions in any way predictable. Unlike many European artists, for instance, Quasthoff appreciates the “fundamentally democratic casualness” of the American classical-music scene:

What strikes me first is the complete absence of that solemn, respectful murmur that has been flowing around German stages since the days of Goethe and Schiller. Instead one enjoys the relaxed atmosphere, the matter-of-fact attitude with which the Americans have-yes, I will put it this way-made use of their cultural temples….Personally, I view Homo Americanus‘s habit of valuing the classical arts no higher than other forms of intelligent entertainment-whether film or basketball-as a true achievement of civilization. It does not harm the quality and professional appreciation of artists; rather, the opposite is true.

This openness to the cultural implications of the democratic experience undoubtedly arises from the fact that Quasthoff is a passionate fan of all kinds of American music. Not only is The Voice salted with passing references to such unlikely figures as Robert Johnson, the Golden Gate Quartet, Miles Davis and John Fogarty, but Quasthoff’s most recent album for DGG, Watch What Happens, is a collection of English-language pop standards plausibly sung in a jazz-inflected style. One of the funniest anecdotes in the book is the tale of how Quasthoff auditioned for his first voice teacher by singing “Mack the Knife” and “Ave Maria,” then tossing off an imitation of Louis Armstrong “complete with a swinging throat catarrh.” I would have paid to hear that.

Thomas Quasthoff’s dark, velvety bass-baritone voice and penetrating intelligence have helped to make him the most talked-about interpreter of German art song since Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was in his unforgettable prime. So have his deformities. Born in 1959, Quasthoff was one of the ten thousand European children whose pregnant mothers unknowingly took thalidomide, a drug that causes severe birth defects. As a result, he is four feet tall and has no arms, a disability that prevented him from pursuing an academic degree in music in Germany, where conservatory students, even singers, were then required to play the piano. But it didn’t stop him from studying law, taking private voice lessons, winning a major music competition, signing a recording contract by Deutsche Grammophon, and becoming world-famous.

A few years ago Quasthoff wrote a German-language autobiography that has now been updated and translated into English as The Voice: A Memoir (Pantheon, 256 pp., $24.95). It is, not at all surprisingly, a remarkable book, and not merely because of the remarkable story its author has to tell. Quasthoff is bristlingly tough-minded and apparently devoid of self-pity. Here, for instance, is how he describes what he saw in the bathroom mirror on the morning that he made his 1998 New York Philharmonic review:

“Crippled arms and legs, no laughing matter.” That’s how a tabloid paper once put it, but I see the situation differently. Here is a four-foot three-inch concert singer without knee joints, arms, or upper thighs, with only four fingers on the right hand and three on the left. He has a receding hairline, a blond pig head, and a few too many pounds around his hips, and he is in a superb mood. All he needs now is a shave.

How can one fail to be impressed by a man capable of writing a paragraph like that?

But The Voice would be worth reading even if Quasthoff were merely a first-rate singer outfitted the normal quota of limbs, for he is also a witty, sharp-eyed observer of the passing scene who has strong opinions and no inhibitions about sharing them with his readers. Nor are his opinions in any way predictable. Unlike many European artists, for instance, Quasthoff appreciates the “fundamentally democratic casualness” of the American classical-music scene:

What strikes me first is the complete absence of that solemn, respectful murmur that has been flowing around German stages since the days of Goethe and Schiller. Instead one enjoys the relaxed atmosphere, the matter-of-fact attitude with which the Americans have-yes, I will put it this way-made use of their cultural temples….Personally, I view Homo Americanus‘s habit of valuing the classical arts no higher than other forms of intelligent entertainment-whether film or basketball-as a true achievement of civilization. It does not harm the quality and professional appreciation of artists; rather, the opposite is true.

This openness to the cultural implications of the democratic experience undoubtedly arises from the fact that Quasthoff is a passionate fan of all kinds of American music. Not only is The Voice salted with passing references to such unlikely figures as Robert Johnson, the Golden Gate Quartet, Miles Davis and John Fogarty, but Quasthoff’s most recent album for DGG, Watch What Happens, is a collection of English-language pop standards plausibly sung in a jazz-inflected style. One of the funniest anecdotes in the book is the tale of how Quasthoff auditioned for his first voice teacher by singing “Mack the Knife” and “Ave Maria,” then tossing off an imitation of Louis Armstrong “complete with a swinging throat catarrh.” I would have paid to hear that.

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Israel Threatens to Attack Iran

“If Iran continues with its program for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack it,” said Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz in today’s Yedioth Ahronoth, the Israeli newspaper.  “The sanctions are ineffective.”

Many assume that no Israeli government will let the Iranians build a nuclear arsenal, and Mofaz’s words — he also used “unavoidable” in the same sentence as “attacking Iran”– constitute the most explicit threat to use force to date.  Because it looks unlikely that the Iranians will stop their program to enrich uranium, war in the Persian Gulf is becoming inevitable.

So this appears to be the last chance for the Bush administration to take the lead in stopping Iran.  And it is perhaps the last chance for us to maintain the current international system.  After all, Mofaz’s comments highlight Washington’s failure to maintain stability.  Countries are starting to take matters into their own hands, and this signals that the world could transition from the American-led global order to another type of international system.  In that new system — the Chinese use the term “multipolar”– many countries will be able to bring about drastic change.  When there are a significant number of actors, great powers will no longer be able to maintain global order.  Events in a multipolar world, therefore, have the potential to flare and lead to wholly unpredictable consequences.

Like a war between Iran and Israel, for instance.  Of course, many analysts will not take Mofaz’s words seriously.  They will say he does not speak for Ehud Olmert and, in any event, the prime minister will be departing soon.  Perhaps all this is true, but the fact that he spoke is a sign that we could soon embark on an era of fundamental, fast, and uncontrollable change.  When that era begins, all our assumptions about international politics will become obsolete.

The next war in the Middle East, in short, might change everything.  So the stakes for the United States could not be higher.  Now is the time for President Bush to act.

“If Iran continues with its program for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack it,” said Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz in today’s Yedioth Ahronoth, the Israeli newspaper.  “The sanctions are ineffective.”

Many assume that no Israeli government will let the Iranians build a nuclear arsenal, and Mofaz’s words — he also used “unavoidable” in the same sentence as “attacking Iran”– constitute the most explicit threat to use force to date.  Because it looks unlikely that the Iranians will stop their program to enrich uranium, war in the Persian Gulf is becoming inevitable.

So this appears to be the last chance for the Bush administration to take the lead in stopping Iran.  And it is perhaps the last chance for us to maintain the current international system.  After all, Mofaz’s comments highlight Washington’s failure to maintain stability.  Countries are starting to take matters into their own hands, and this signals that the world could transition from the American-led global order to another type of international system.  In that new system — the Chinese use the term “multipolar”– many countries will be able to bring about drastic change.  When there are a significant number of actors, great powers will no longer be able to maintain global order.  Events in a multipolar world, therefore, have the potential to flare and lead to wholly unpredictable consequences.

Like a war between Iran and Israel, for instance.  Of course, many analysts will not take Mofaz’s words seriously.  They will say he does not speak for Ehud Olmert and, in any event, the prime minister will be departing soon.  Perhaps all this is true, but the fact that he spoke is a sign that we could soon embark on an era of fundamental, fast, and uncontrollable change.  When that era begins, all our assumptions about international politics will become obsolete.

The next war in the Middle East, in short, might change everything.  So the stakes for the United States could not be higher.  Now is the time for President Bush to act.

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Yeah, Right

Juan Williams dissects the problems and failings of Barack Obama in handling the Reverend Wright/Father Pfleger/Trinity United Church issue (i.e. his association with race-baiting, hate-spewing extremists). He argues, as many at CONTENTIONS have, that Obama has been dishonest and evasive in coming to terms with and explaining his relationship with those at such odds with his post-racial appeal. Williams counsels:

This time he has to admit to sins of using race for political expediency – by knowingly buying into divisive, mean messages being delivered from the pulpit. He has to say that, as a biracial young man with no community roots, attaching himself to Rev. Wright and the Trinity congregation was a shortcut to move up the ladder in the Chicago political scene. He has to call race-baiting what it is, whether it comes from a pulpit or calls itself progressive politics. And he has to challenge his supporters, especially his black base, to be honest about real problems at the heart of today’s racial divide – including out-of-wedlock births, crime, drugs and a culture that devalues education while glorifying the gangster life.

This would be lovely, but I suspect he won’t do it, not ever. First, it may not be true, as Stanley Kurtz contends. Obama’s attachment to these people may have been sincere, part of his identification and support for a far left agenda. But even if Kurtz is wrong, and this was all expediency by Obama, how could the Agent of Change, The New Politician ever admit as much? His entire campaign, indeed his life, would be revealed as a fraud.

Moreover, confessing his sins is just not his style. As I have argued repeatedly with regard to his efforts to bridge the divide with the Jewish community, he cannot succeed in overcoming concerns because he refuses to come to terms with the real reasons for the antipathy which many Jews feel toward him. Obama has not not leveled with or sought to explain his relationship with a preacher who railed against Israel, nor his association with Palestinians who villified Israel. He hasn’t addressed concerns about his choice of foreign policy advisors. (Nor does he confess the error of his ways in advocating for over a year that he meet directly and unconditionally with Ahmadinejad, the world’s most prominent Holocaust denier.) He would rather attribute the problems he is having to gossipy emails or his middle name.

It is ironic that Obama constantly castigates President Bush, and more recently John McCain, for not admitting errors. That is Obama’s great fault, and may yet be his undoing.

Juan Williams dissects the problems and failings of Barack Obama in handling the Reverend Wright/Father Pfleger/Trinity United Church issue (i.e. his association with race-baiting, hate-spewing extremists). He argues, as many at CONTENTIONS have, that Obama has been dishonest and evasive in coming to terms with and explaining his relationship with those at such odds with his post-racial appeal. Williams counsels:

This time he has to admit to sins of using race for political expediency – by knowingly buying into divisive, mean messages being delivered from the pulpit. He has to say that, as a biracial young man with no community roots, attaching himself to Rev. Wright and the Trinity congregation was a shortcut to move up the ladder in the Chicago political scene. He has to call race-baiting what it is, whether it comes from a pulpit or calls itself progressive politics. And he has to challenge his supporters, especially his black base, to be honest about real problems at the heart of today’s racial divide – including out-of-wedlock births, crime, drugs and a culture that devalues education while glorifying the gangster life.

This would be lovely, but I suspect he won’t do it, not ever. First, it may not be true, as Stanley Kurtz contends. Obama’s attachment to these people may have been sincere, part of his identification and support for a far left agenda. But even if Kurtz is wrong, and this was all expediency by Obama, how could the Agent of Change, The New Politician ever admit as much? His entire campaign, indeed his life, would be revealed as a fraud.

Moreover, confessing his sins is just not his style. As I have argued repeatedly with regard to his efforts to bridge the divide with the Jewish community, he cannot succeed in overcoming concerns because he refuses to come to terms with the real reasons for the antipathy which many Jews feel toward him. Obama has not not leveled with or sought to explain his relationship with a preacher who railed against Israel, nor his association with Palestinians who villified Israel. He hasn’t addressed concerns about his choice of foreign policy advisors. (Nor does he confess the error of his ways in advocating for over a year that he meet directly and unconditionally with Ahmadinejad, the world’s most prominent Holocaust denier.) He would rather attribute the problems he is having to gossipy emails or his middle name.

It is ironic that Obama constantly castigates President Bush, and more recently John McCain, for not admitting errors. That is Obama’s great fault, and may yet be his undoing.

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Bush’s Security Rethink

In a speech yesterday for the Ceremonial Groundbreaking of the United States Institute of Peace, President Bush said this:

And as we’ve adopted to meet these new circumstances, there have been successes and setbacks — and we’ve learned some lessons. One lesson is that before nations under fire from terrorists can make political and economic progress, their populations need basic security.

The President is quite right. One of the fundamental mistakes the Bush administration (in which I served) made was to believe political progress and elections would have radiating and far-reaching security effects; that the Sunni insurgency would be drained of its violence and energy as insurgents increasingly took part in the political process. But it turns out that the political progress that was made — and which was an authentic expression of the longing of the Iraqi people to be free – wasn’t nearly enough. So long as basic security wasn’t provided, whatever political and economic progress was made could be quickly undone.

This important error in judgment played into other ones: the U.S. should pursue a “light footprint” approach, the insurgency was primarily a product of the American occupation (we were part of the problem and therefore a quick exit from Iraq would lead to lessening violence), nation building was passé, and decapitating Saddam’s regime should be the primary objective of the war. We placed far too much confidence in American military technology and not nearly enough planning into what it took to win an asymmetrical war. There was an understandable longing to leave Iraq as soon as possible; the problem is that this mindset led to trying to accelerate the hand-off to the Iraqis before they were ready. We kept trying to pass the baton to the Iraqis – and it kept being dropped.

What General David Petraeus long understood, and what he was finally able to execute on a large scale once he was named the commanding general in Iraq, is that the sine qua non of progress in Iraq was providing basic security. In practical terms, that meant more troops and, even more importantly, a new counter-insurgency strategy that was population-centric — meaning our troops needed to live with the Iraqis rather than retreat to Forward Basing Operations at night — and anchored in winning over the confidence of the Iraqi people. With Petraeus came a wholly new approach; his appointment signaled an enormously important strategic shift in our approach to the war. And what we have seen since then are the fruits of that change.

The very real political progress we’ve seen in Iraq this year is the result of Iraqis feeling a greater sense of security. They don’t fear, as they once did, that cities that were secured would soon be lost, forcing Iraqis to side with either Sunni insurgents or Shiite militias.

The President, to his credit, came to understand the flaws in our military strategy, even if it happened quite late in the day. The President made key personnel changes that opened the way for the surge to succeed — and which, by any objective measure, it has. In the face of gale-force political winds, President Bush endorsed what turned out to be the right strategy, when much of the public and most of the political class had given up on Iraq. And in David Petraeus he found his Grant and Ridgway. It was, in many ways, the President’s most impressive act in office. And it gives the lie to the oft-repeated claim that he is stubborn, rigid, and inflexible.

In fact, President Bush showed he had the capacity to recognize his strategy was failing and replace it with one that works. Ironically it turns out that Senator Obama, who comes across in his speech and countenance as flexible and open-minded, who has shown a disturbing unwillingness to alter his views based on new evidence and changing facts. Barack Obama is like a character in Groundhog Day; for him, it is always December 2006 in Iraq. If President Bush deserves blame for not insisting that adequate preparation was done for the Phase IV planning of the war, then he surely deserves credit for making a fundamental adjustment, one he made when he stood almost alone. And because of those changes Iraq – which under Saddam was a land of repression and a land of tears – is now redeemable.

In a speech yesterday for the Ceremonial Groundbreaking of the United States Institute of Peace, President Bush said this:

And as we’ve adopted to meet these new circumstances, there have been successes and setbacks — and we’ve learned some lessons. One lesson is that before nations under fire from terrorists can make political and economic progress, their populations need basic security.

The President is quite right. One of the fundamental mistakes the Bush administration (in which I served) made was to believe political progress and elections would have radiating and far-reaching security effects; that the Sunni insurgency would be drained of its violence and energy as insurgents increasingly took part in the political process. But it turns out that the political progress that was made — and which was an authentic expression of the longing of the Iraqi people to be free – wasn’t nearly enough. So long as basic security wasn’t provided, whatever political and economic progress was made could be quickly undone.

This important error in judgment played into other ones: the U.S. should pursue a “light footprint” approach, the insurgency was primarily a product of the American occupation (we were part of the problem and therefore a quick exit from Iraq would lead to lessening violence), nation building was passé, and decapitating Saddam’s regime should be the primary objective of the war. We placed far too much confidence in American military technology and not nearly enough planning into what it took to win an asymmetrical war. There was an understandable longing to leave Iraq as soon as possible; the problem is that this mindset led to trying to accelerate the hand-off to the Iraqis before they were ready. We kept trying to pass the baton to the Iraqis – and it kept being dropped.

What General David Petraeus long understood, and what he was finally able to execute on a large scale once he was named the commanding general in Iraq, is that the sine qua non of progress in Iraq was providing basic security. In practical terms, that meant more troops and, even more importantly, a new counter-insurgency strategy that was population-centric — meaning our troops needed to live with the Iraqis rather than retreat to Forward Basing Operations at night — and anchored in winning over the confidence of the Iraqi people. With Petraeus came a wholly new approach; his appointment signaled an enormously important strategic shift in our approach to the war. And what we have seen since then are the fruits of that change.

The very real political progress we’ve seen in Iraq this year is the result of Iraqis feeling a greater sense of security. They don’t fear, as they once did, that cities that were secured would soon be lost, forcing Iraqis to side with either Sunni insurgents or Shiite militias.

The President, to his credit, came to understand the flaws in our military strategy, even if it happened quite late in the day. The President made key personnel changes that opened the way for the surge to succeed — and which, by any objective measure, it has. In the face of gale-force political winds, President Bush endorsed what turned out to be the right strategy, when much of the public and most of the political class had given up on Iraq. And in David Petraeus he found his Grant and Ridgway. It was, in many ways, the President’s most impressive act in office. And it gives the lie to the oft-repeated claim that he is stubborn, rigid, and inflexible.

In fact, President Bush showed he had the capacity to recognize his strategy was failing and replace it with one that works. Ironically it turns out that Senator Obama, who comes across in his speech and countenance as flexible and open-minded, who has shown a disturbing unwillingness to alter his views based on new evidence and changing facts. Barack Obama is like a character in Groundhog Day; for him, it is always December 2006 in Iraq. If President Bush deserves blame for not insisting that adequate preparation was done for the Phase IV planning of the war, then he surely deserves credit for making a fundamental adjustment, one he made when he stood almost alone. And because of those changes Iraq – which under Saddam was a land of repression and a land of tears – is now redeemable.

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“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics” Redux

As an addendum to Jennifer Rubin’s thoughtful piece on the anniversary of D-Day, let me add that it is not only in military casualty statistics that the media so often fails to provide a historical framework to make the numbers meaningful. They almost never do when it comes to economics.

As a case in point, in the 1992 election, one of the constantly reiterated Democratic talking points was that the United States was suffering through “the worst economic times since the Great Depression.” (Translation: George H. W. Bush is Herbert Hoover; elect the new FDR and all will be well.) I don’t remember any mainstream media seriously disputing what was utter historical nonsense. Unemployment in the recession of 1991-92 (in retrospect one of the mildest in American history) peaked in June, 1992, at 7.6 percent. Less than ten years before, in the far worse recession of 1981-82, unemployment peaked in December, 1982, at 10.8 percent, nearly half again as many people out of work.

Of course sixteen years ago, a conscientious reporter (please pardon what so often seems an oxymoron when it comes to historical context) would have had to go to the company reference library to look the data up. Now he can do it at his or her desk or even from the neighborhood bar. I’ll even save reporters the necessity of googling. To find the unemployment rate for every month since 1948, go here and here:

I’m always amazed at how many political reporters and editors seem to think that it is their duty to report what a politician says accurately but not to check on whether what he says is a bald-faced lie, especially when statistics are involved. They should. As one of the greatest politicians of the 19th-century English-speaking world, Benjamin Disraeli, noted, mendacity comes in three forms: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

As an addendum to Jennifer Rubin’s thoughtful piece on the anniversary of D-Day, let me add that it is not only in military casualty statistics that the media so often fails to provide a historical framework to make the numbers meaningful. They almost never do when it comes to economics.

As a case in point, in the 1992 election, one of the constantly reiterated Democratic talking points was that the United States was suffering through “the worst economic times since the Great Depression.” (Translation: George H. W. Bush is Herbert Hoover; elect the new FDR and all will be well.) I don’t remember any mainstream media seriously disputing what was utter historical nonsense. Unemployment in the recession of 1991-92 (in retrospect one of the mildest in American history) peaked in June, 1992, at 7.6 percent. Less than ten years before, in the far worse recession of 1981-82, unemployment peaked in December, 1982, at 10.8 percent, nearly half again as many people out of work.

Of course sixteen years ago, a conscientious reporter (please pardon what so often seems an oxymoron when it comes to historical context) would have had to go to the company reference library to look the data up. Now he can do it at his or her desk or even from the neighborhood bar. I’ll even save reporters the necessity of googling. To find the unemployment rate for every month since 1948, go here and here:

I’m always amazed at how many political reporters and editors seem to think that it is their duty to report what a politician says accurately but not to check on whether what he says is a bald-faced lie, especially when statistics are involved. They should. As one of the greatest politicians of the 19th-century English-speaking world, Benjamin Disraeli, noted, mendacity comes in three forms: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

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Is There Nothing For Which Himself Will Not Be Praised?

Andrew Sullivan, who really has to surrender his “I am the only true conservative” nonsense now, on Obama‘s meeting with Hillary Clinton:

[H]ow canny for Obama to go to her house. The symbolism of deference, the crossing of her threshhold, makes for extremely good politics. And since she’s the hostess, there are, even for a Clinton, some boundaries of manners.

Of course, it turns out that Obama didn’t go to her house, but for Pete’s sake already. There’s five months until the election, Andrew. You’d better pace yourself.

Andrew Sullivan, who really has to surrender his “I am the only true conservative” nonsense now, on Obama‘s meeting with Hillary Clinton:

[H]ow canny for Obama to go to her house. The symbolism of deference, the crossing of her threshhold, makes for extremely good politics. And since she’s the hostess, there are, even for a Clinton, some boundaries of manners.

Of course, it turns out that Obama didn’t go to her house, but for Pete’s sake already. There’s five months until the election, Andrew. You’d better pace yourself.

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The Bad News Bear and the Good News from Iraq

Today’s news that the unemployment rate rose by 10 percent (from 5 to 5.5 percent), with oil’s climb continuing and no bottom in sight, together with the continuing foreclosure of homes across the country, all suggest John McCain’s path to victory is even more treacherous than it might appear. And so the irony presents itself: With a troubled economy and Democrats ahead on issue after issue, McCain will only reach the presidency in two ways. First, Barack Obama is going to have to do something from now until election day that seriously calls his judgment into question — and I mean something new, not a Jeremiah Wright offshoot. Second, there is Iraq. McCain is going to have no choice but to center his campaign around victory in Iraq — by claiming that the turnaround during the surge has not just created fragile gains but that we are on the verge of actually winning outright in Iraq and that the victory is due almost entirely to him. (Whether that’s true or not is another matter.) That Obama was wrong about the surge, is wrong about where we are now and just how meaningful it will be to secure a victory there, and that these mistakes on Obama’s part raise serious questions about his ability to handle the growing threat from Iran.

It may seem counterintuitive that McCain needs to use an unpopular war to get himself elected, but the way things look right now, nothing else is going to get him elected. Yes, he needs to spell out a reform agenda. Yes, he needs to have answers, and fluid ones, on domestic policy matters. But all that is purely defensive, to ensure that Obama’s advantage on matters like those does not grow. In the end, McCain has to make it an election about leadership. And where he has shown leadership is Iraq. Oddly enough, this won’t be easy for him. McCain doesn’t like to talk all that positively about any subject; it’s not his way. He’s a skeptic and a naysayer, kind of a gadfly. But gadflies don’t become president, especially not in this atmosphere. He is going to have to be a cheerleader and a braggart. It’s a tough call, but Lord knows, he’s been through worse.

Today’s news that the unemployment rate rose by 10 percent (from 5 to 5.5 percent), with oil’s climb continuing and no bottom in sight, together with the continuing foreclosure of homes across the country, all suggest John McCain’s path to victory is even more treacherous than it might appear. And so the irony presents itself: With a troubled economy and Democrats ahead on issue after issue, McCain will only reach the presidency in two ways. First, Barack Obama is going to have to do something from now until election day that seriously calls his judgment into question — and I mean something new, not a Jeremiah Wright offshoot. Second, there is Iraq. McCain is going to have no choice but to center his campaign around victory in Iraq — by claiming that the turnaround during the surge has not just created fragile gains but that we are on the verge of actually winning outright in Iraq and that the victory is due almost entirely to him. (Whether that’s true or not is another matter.) That Obama was wrong about the surge, is wrong about where we are now and just how meaningful it will be to secure a victory there, and that these mistakes on Obama’s part raise serious questions about his ability to handle the growing threat from Iran.

It may seem counterintuitive that McCain needs to use an unpopular war to get himself elected, but the way things look right now, nothing else is going to get him elected. Yes, he needs to spell out a reform agenda. Yes, he needs to have answers, and fluid ones, on domestic policy matters. But all that is purely defensive, to ensure that Obama’s advantage on matters like those does not grow. In the end, McCain has to make it an election about leadership. And where he has shown leadership is Iraq. Oddly enough, this won’t be easy for him. McCain doesn’t like to talk all that positively about any subject; it’s not his way. He’s a skeptic and a naysayer, kind of a gadfly. But gadflies don’t become president, especially not in this atmosphere. He is going to have to be a cheerleader and a braggart. It’s a tough call, but Lord knows, he’s been through worse.

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D-Day

It is the anniversary of D-day. On anniversaries that aren’t “round numbers” few even remember to mark the day, the news coverage is absent and politicians tend to ignore it. When you review the losses not just of that day but the entire Battle of Normandy the numbers are staggering. One wonders if today the event would be characterized in the same way and whether over 10,000 Allied casualties in a single day would be reported as a great tragedy, a sign our military planners had failed us in some way.

This week I attended the Bradley Symposium at which frequent COMMENTARY contributor Victor Davis Hanson presented his essay “Memory and Civic Education: The Perils of Cultural Amnesia” and spoke of the arrogance and the lack of perspective which comes from ignorance about our history. His observations seem extremely pertinent with regard to WWII. How many Americans know about Tarawa, a true debacle in which the U.S. suffered 3000 casualties, or know the basic facts about the Battle of the Bulge where over 19,000 Americans were killed? Not enough.

Some basic historical literacy might provide Americans with some perspective on our current war and some understanding that even in the greatest triumph, mistakes, horrid mistakes, are made and yet through enormous bravery and determination we can persevere. At the very least we might have an appreciation for the enormity of the sacrifices needed to destroy fascism in the 20th century.

It is the anniversary of D-day. On anniversaries that aren’t “round numbers” few even remember to mark the day, the news coverage is absent and politicians tend to ignore it. When you review the losses not just of that day but the entire Battle of Normandy the numbers are staggering. One wonders if today the event would be characterized in the same way and whether over 10,000 Allied casualties in a single day would be reported as a great tragedy, a sign our military planners had failed us in some way.

This week I attended the Bradley Symposium at which frequent COMMENTARY contributor Victor Davis Hanson presented his essay “Memory and Civic Education: The Perils of Cultural Amnesia” and spoke of the arrogance and the lack of perspective which comes from ignorance about our history. His observations seem extremely pertinent with regard to WWII. How many Americans know about Tarawa, a true debacle in which the U.S. suffered 3000 casualties, or know the basic facts about the Battle of the Bulge where over 19,000 Americans were killed? Not enough.

Some basic historical literacy might provide Americans with some perspective on our current war and some understanding that even in the greatest triumph, mistakes, horrid mistakes, are made and yet through enormous bravery and determination we can persevere. At the very least we might have an appreciation for the enormity of the sacrifices needed to destroy fascism in the 20th century.

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“Those Yearning Faces”

Last November, in a speech in Iowa, Barack Obama came out with my favorite of his soaring, poetic pronouncements:

I will send once more a message to those yearning faces beyond our shores that says, ‘You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now.’

It’s a great bit of gassy internationalism that’s worth considering every now and then as Obama continues to define his international policies. Just whose “yearning faces” is the Democratic nominee so worried about? Yearning Colombian faces? Nah, we can’t trade with them. Yearning Pakistani faces? Nah, we may need to bomb them.

I know — he must mean the yearning Iraqi faces that reflect the fear of a premature U.S. withdrawal? Well, here is Obama speaking in Michigan this week on the great global future he envisions:

I want to end a war that’s costing America $10 billion a month and begin to make the critical investments we need to get our own country moving again. That’s the choice in this election. Are we going to continue the failed Bush-McCain economic policies and remain mired in an endless and costly conflict in Iraq, or will we change course, and focus on the problems that working families in Michigan and across America are facing every day?

That bit of gassy isolationism may alarm Iraqis currently working toward further security and political reconciliation. Today, the Washington Post reports the Iraqi government will seek to extend the US. military presence in Iraq beyond the December deadline set by the United Nations security mandate.

The Iraqi official, who said he could speak candidly only with anonymity, said there was virtually no chance that the July deadline, set by Bush and Maliki last fall, would be met. He said an Iraqi request to extend the U.N. mandate might come as early as next week, when Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari is to brief the U.N. Security Council.

No wonder Obama doesn’t want to go to Iraq. He’d have to look into those yearning faces and tell them to buzz off and go find their own future. There is one yearning face beyond our shores that we know Barack Obama has vowed to accommodate: that of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Could that be who he was talking about?

Last November, in a speech in Iowa, Barack Obama came out with my favorite of his soaring, poetic pronouncements:

I will send once more a message to those yearning faces beyond our shores that says, ‘You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now.’

It’s a great bit of gassy internationalism that’s worth considering every now and then as Obama continues to define his international policies. Just whose “yearning faces” is the Democratic nominee so worried about? Yearning Colombian faces? Nah, we can’t trade with them. Yearning Pakistani faces? Nah, we may need to bomb them.

I know — he must mean the yearning Iraqi faces that reflect the fear of a premature U.S. withdrawal? Well, here is Obama speaking in Michigan this week on the great global future he envisions:

I want to end a war that’s costing America $10 billion a month and begin to make the critical investments we need to get our own country moving again. That’s the choice in this election. Are we going to continue the failed Bush-McCain economic policies and remain mired in an endless and costly conflict in Iraq, or will we change course, and focus on the problems that working families in Michigan and across America are facing every day?

That bit of gassy isolationism may alarm Iraqis currently working toward further security and political reconciliation. Today, the Washington Post reports the Iraqi government will seek to extend the US. military presence in Iraq beyond the December deadline set by the United Nations security mandate.

The Iraqi official, who said he could speak candidly only with anonymity, said there was virtually no chance that the July deadline, set by Bush and Maliki last fall, would be met. He said an Iraqi request to extend the U.N. mandate might come as early as next week, when Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari is to brief the U.N. Security Council.

No wonder Obama doesn’t want to go to Iraq. He’d have to look into those yearning faces and tell them to buzz off and go find their own future. There is one yearning face beyond our shores that we know Barack Obama has vowed to accommodate: that of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Could that be who he was talking about?

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Loose Lips Don’t Always Sink Ships

I’ve returned alive from my debate with Walter Pincus of the Washington Post. He is a genial fellow (as am I) and it was a friendly discussion. As I noted here on Tuesday, the proposition under discussion was:

RESOLVED: That in a free society the people need to know what their government is doing, so the media should have discretion in deciding whether or not to publish “leaked” classified national security information.

Pincus made the affirmative case and I was supposed to make the negative one. But I didn’t. As I wrote here:

I also favor the proposition. If that is how the issue is framed, there won’t be much debate. Given the huge amount of material the government classifies but which it shouldn’t classify, it would be hard to argue otherwise. Here, for example, is a link to a recently declassified photograph of a handgun. Why it was classified in the first place is a mystery. If Walter Pincus has published this picture, back when it was stamped secret, on the front page of his newspaper, I would not have been troubled in the least.

But that said, I also believe — and here is where I imagine I will part company with Pincus – that if the press is to enjoy discretion in this area, prosecutors should also enjoy discretion of their own.

They should remain free to investigate damaging leaks by subpoenaing journalists and compelling them, under pain of contempt citations, to disgorge their confidential sources. On some rarer occasions, when the press itself violates statutes governing the publication of classified information, journalists themselves should be vulnerable to prosecution.

In response to this line of argument, I received a thoughtful comment from Lawrence Kramer who wrote:

I don’t believe it is ever right to enact legislation under which an act “may” be criminal. Prosecutorial discretion refers to the prosecutor’s husbanding of resources — to declining to prosecute what is clearly illegal where there is no public interest to be served (e.g., the office superbowl pool); it does not refer to a discretion to decide whether an act is a crime. Yes, the prosecutor is charged with determining whether an act is a crime, but it is not something about which he has discretion. The law says whether the act is a crime; the prosecutor then must decide in his discretion whether to prosecute it. You are advocating a law under which the prosecutor decides whether a crime has been committed in the first place. I believe such a situation might fairly be called a “government of men.”

I’m not suggesting I have a solution to the excesses of a free press, only that you don’t have one either.

I am not sure that Mr. Kramer and I disagree about anything here, although perhaps he will see a point of discord. Some of the relevant statutes are quite vague, especially the Espionage Act of 1917. This law does not punish the unauthorized disclosure of “classified” information. Rather, it enjoins the unauthorized disclosure of “national defense information” (NDI). This distinction gives the press a great deal of latitude. In any given case, journalists can argue that information it has published is not NDI, and has been improperly classified by the government. Such improper classification happens frequently, and it is easy to dig up examples of information that is not NDI and improperly classified “confidential” or “secret.”

Thus, inevitably, the press does have discretion to publish when its comes upon classified information. That has certainly become the common practice in American journalism. Given that the classification system is so haphazard, it would be difficult to alter the practice without radically altering the entire scheme under which information is deemed secret by the government.

But since we are faced with a press that is not only eager to publish classified information, but classified information about highly sensitive and operational counterterrorism programs, some remedy is needed. And that is where prosecutorial discretion comes in. Not every leak of classified information is damaging. But some of those that are damaging could be prosecuted under existing law.

Here in New York City, the police typically do not go after jay-walkers. But a jay-walker trying to cross high-speed traffic on the Long Island Expressway, endangering motorists and himself alike, deserves to be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  And indeed, not only deserves to be arrested, but in all likelihood would be arrested by the NYPD.

A similar fate should await high-speed publishers of leaked NDI, like James Risen of the New York Times.

I’ve returned alive from my debate with Walter Pincus of the Washington Post. He is a genial fellow (as am I) and it was a friendly discussion. As I noted here on Tuesday, the proposition under discussion was:

RESOLVED: That in a free society the people need to know what their government is doing, so the media should have discretion in deciding whether or not to publish “leaked” classified national security information.

Pincus made the affirmative case and I was supposed to make the negative one. But I didn’t. As I wrote here:

I also favor the proposition. If that is how the issue is framed, there won’t be much debate. Given the huge amount of material the government classifies but which it shouldn’t classify, it would be hard to argue otherwise. Here, for example, is a link to a recently declassified photograph of a handgun. Why it was classified in the first place is a mystery. If Walter Pincus has published this picture, back when it was stamped secret, on the front page of his newspaper, I would not have been troubled in the least.

But that said, I also believe — and here is where I imagine I will part company with Pincus – that if the press is to enjoy discretion in this area, prosecutors should also enjoy discretion of their own.

They should remain free to investigate damaging leaks by subpoenaing journalists and compelling them, under pain of contempt citations, to disgorge their confidential sources. On some rarer occasions, when the press itself violates statutes governing the publication of classified information, journalists themselves should be vulnerable to prosecution.

In response to this line of argument, I received a thoughtful comment from Lawrence Kramer who wrote:

I don’t believe it is ever right to enact legislation under which an act “may” be criminal. Prosecutorial discretion refers to the prosecutor’s husbanding of resources — to declining to prosecute what is clearly illegal where there is no public interest to be served (e.g., the office superbowl pool); it does not refer to a discretion to decide whether an act is a crime. Yes, the prosecutor is charged with determining whether an act is a crime, but it is not something about which he has discretion. The law says whether the act is a crime; the prosecutor then must decide in his discretion whether to prosecute it. You are advocating a law under which the prosecutor decides whether a crime has been committed in the first place. I believe such a situation might fairly be called a “government of men.”

I’m not suggesting I have a solution to the excesses of a free press, only that you don’t have one either.

I am not sure that Mr. Kramer and I disagree about anything here, although perhaps he will see a point of discord. Some of the relevant statutes are quite vague, especially the Espionage Act of 1917. This law does not punish the unauthorized disclosure of “classified” information. Rather, it enjoins the unauthorized disclosure of “national defense information” (NDI). This distinction gives the press a great deal of latitude. In any given case, journalists can argue that information it has published is not NDI, and has been improperly classified by the government. Such improper classification happens frequently, and it is easy to dig up examples of information that is not NDI and improperly classified “confidential” or “secret.”

Thus, inevitably, the press does have discretion to publish when its comes upon classified information. That has certainly become the common practice in American journalism. Given that the classification system is so haphazard, it would be difficult to alter the practice without radically altering the entire scheme under which information is deemed secret by the government.

But since we are faced with a press that is not only eager to publish classified information, but classified information about highly sensitive and operational counterterrorism programs, some remedy is needed. And that is where prosecutorial discretion comes in. Not every leak of classified information is damaging. But some of those that are damaging could be prosecuted under existing law.

Here in New York City, the police typically do not go after jay-walkers. But a jay-walker trying to cross high-speed traffic on the Long Island Expressway, endangering motorists and himself alike, deserves to be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  And indeed, not only deserves to be arrested, but in all likelihood would be arrested by the NYPD.

A similar fate should await high-speed publishers of leaked NDI, like James Risen of the New York Times.

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Aftermath of AIPAC

The day after his appearance at AIPAC Barack Obama was apparently not happy with Senator Joe Lieberman who had the temerity to explain that Obama had changed his tune on the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment. It may be unpleasant for Obama to have a Democrat, even an Independent-Democrat, speak out so sharply, but frankly his record is plain for anyone to see. Lieberman, as author of the Amendment, simply is a more effective critic than most.

Alas, it also appears that Obama is no closer to a reconciliation with reality on Iraq. Whatever weasel words he employs, his meaning and perspective have not changed: his code word is “withdrawal.” He never indicates that much if anything has changed in Iraq, he never speaks of “victory” and he certainly never acknowledges that the surge has brought about unimagined (unimagined by the Democrats, that is) progress. And so, as Peter points out, he continues to pretend that there is no need to re-evaluate his central assumptions: that all is lost, that Al Qaeda has benefited by our presence there and that Iran and the terrorists whom they sponsor would not take delight and encouragement from our precipitous exit.

And then the big reversal: it seems that Obama did not mean to pledge to revise U.S. policy on the final status of Jerusalem. In front of AIPAC he pledged that Jerusalem would be the undivided capital, the Palestinians then squawked and Obama promptly retreated. (On this, David did not even need to wait until Election Day for his hopes to be dashed.) If further example is needed that Obama lacks experience (Did he not know what current American policy was, or did he not believe the Palestinians would notice his comments? Did he mean to be bold and then think better of it?) and the clarity to steer foreign policy, this is it. He managed to confuse and annoy just about everyone with this one.

As with direct meetings with Iran, flip-floppery on a key element of our Israel policy only shows Obama to be uninformed and unsteady. Moreover, one wonders whether the speech was not reviewed and vetted by his advisors (the ones that are “official,” as opposed to the ones that are not and say inconvenient things)? Foreign powers tend to take American presidents at their word, unless proven unreliable and erratic. Obama has proven himself to be both.

So if anyone supposes that his AIPAC speech signaled some intellectual or political maturation on Obama’s part (or development of a sophisticated foreign policy staff), there is more than enough reason to be disappointed.

The day after his appearance at AIPAC Barack Obama was apparently not happy with Senator Joe Lieberman who had the temerity to explain that Obama had changed his tune on the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment. It may be unpleasant for Obama to have a Democrat, even an Independent-Democrat, speak out so sharply, but frankly his record is plain for anyone to see. Lieberman, as author of the Amendment, simply is a more effective critic than most.

Alas, it also appears that Obama is no closer to a reconciliation with reality on Iraq. Whatever weasel words he employs, his meaning and perspective have not changed: his code word is “withdrawal.” He never indicates that much if anything has changed in Iraq, he never speaks of “victory” and he certainly never acknowledges that the surge has brought about unimagined (unimagined by the Democrats, that is) progress. And so, as Peter points out, he continues to pretend that there is no need to re-evaluate his central assumptions: that all is lost, that Al Qaeda has benefited by our presence there and that Iran and the terrorists whom they sponsor would not take delight and encouragement from our precipitous exit.

And then the big reversal: it seems that Obama did not mean to pledge to revise U.S. policy on the final status of Jerusalem. In front of AIPAC he pledged that Jerusalem would be the undivided capital, the Palestinians then squawked and Obama promptly retreated. (On this, David did not even need to wait until Election Day for his hopes to be dashed.) If further example is needed that Obama lacks experience (Did he not know what current American policy was, or did he not believe the Palestinians would notice his comments? Did he mean to be bold and then think better of it?) and the clarity to steer foreign policy, this is it. He managed to confuse and annoy just about everyone with this one.

As with direct meetings with Iran, flip-floppery on a key element of our Israel policy only shows Obama to be uninformed and unsteady. Moreover, one wonders whether the speech was not reviewed and vetted by his advisors (the ones that are “official,” as opposed to the ones that are not and say inconvenient things)? Foreign powers tend to take American presidents at their word, unless proven unreliable and erratic. Obama has proven himself to be both.

So if anyone supposes that his AIPAC speech signaled some intellectual or political maturation on Obama’s part (or development of a sophisticated foreign policy staff), there is more than enough reason to be disappointed.

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Undeniable? Not To Obama

In a tidy recap of the situation in Iraq, the Wall Street Journal contends:

The good news in Iraq is increasingly undeniable, even to the media. In March, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered Iraqi troops to retake the southern Shiite city of Basra from Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. After a shaky start, the city has now been liberated from Sadrist goon squads, and it is mostly peaceful. “The presence of the Iraqi army has made people safe, not 100%, but 90%,” a Basra barber told the Washington Post. The army is pursuing the Sadrists in their last redoubt, Amarah, while other radicals have followed Moqtada to Iran.

After reviewing the ample evidence of military and political progress the Journal editors conclude:

All of this means that it is now possible to foresee not merely a stable Iraq, but also one that can achieve our original strategic goals in the region. The strategist Frederick Kagan – an architect of the surge – makes the analogy to West Germany during the Cold War. A secure and pro-American Iraq would be crucial to expanding U.S. influence in the Arab heart of the Middle East, and especially to containing Iran. A democratic Iraq can serve as an alternative pole of Shiite power in the region, as well as an alternative political model to theocratic, radical Tehran.

Ah, were it only so. Barack Obama does in fact deny the progress made. For him, progress is not only deniable, the alleged failure to accomplish anything of worth in Iraq remains a central premise of his campaign. Because he remains wedded to that narrative he doesn’t foresee a good outcome.

One of several results is possible. First, Obama can recognize reality and retreat from his retreat policy. (He is acquiring a long list of these “never mind” items, from unconditional talks with rogue states to the status of Jerusalem to devotion to Trinity United Church, so maybe he can just slip this one in.) There are obvious political dangers there. Second, he can keep it up and see if things take a turn for the worse in Iraq. Betting against American success is unseemly, but a tried and true political tactic of the Left. Third, he can shift rationales — yeah, we are winning but it costs too much or yeah, we are winning , so we can now leave — but not his policy objective.

Still, the central point of the Journal’s editors is sobering, namely that “we can now say with certainty that we will win, as long as we don’t repeat our earlier mistakes and seek to draw down too soon.” Absent any sign Obama has opted for the “recognize reality” option, there appears a very grave risk that this is precisely what he will do if elected.

In a tidy recap of the situation in Iraq, the Wall Street Journal contends:

The good news in Iraq is increasingly undeniable, even to the media. In March, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered Iraqi troops to retake the southern Shiite city of Basra from Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. After a shaky start, the city has now been liberated from Sadrist goon squads, and it is mostly peaceful. “The presence of the Iraqi army has made people safe, not 100%, but 90%,” a Basra barber told the Washington Post. The army is pursuing the Sadrists in their last redoubt, Amarah, while other radicals have followed Moqtada to Iran.

After reviewing the ample evidence of military and political progress the Journal editors conclude:

All of this means that it is now possible to foresee not merely a stable Iraq, but also one that can achieve our original strategic goals in the region. The strategist Frederick Kagan – an architect of the surge – makes the analogy to West Germany during the Cold War. A secure and pro-American Iraq would be crucial to expanding U.S. influence in the Arab heart of the Middle East, and especially to containing Iran. A democratic Iraq can serve as an alternative pole of Shiite power in the region, as well as an alternative political model to theocratic, radical Tehran.

Ah, were it only so. Barack Obama does in fact deny the progress made. For him, progress is not only deniable, the alleged failure to accomplish anything of worth in Iraq remains a central premise of his campaign. Because he remains wedded to that narrative he doesn’t foresee a good outcome.

One of several results is possible. First, Obama can recognize reality and retreat from his retreat policy. (He is acquiring a long list of these “never mind” items, from unconditional talks with rogue states to the status of Jerusalem to devotion to Trinity United Church, so maybe he can just slip this one in.) There are obvious political dangers there. Second, he can keep it up and see if things take a turn for the worse in Iraq. Betting against American success is unseemly, but a tried and true political tactic of the Left. Third, he can shift rationales — yeah, we are winning but it costs too much or yeah, we are winning , so we can now leave — but not his policy objective.

Still, the central point of the Journal’s editors is sobering, namely that “we can now say with certainty that we will win, as long as we don’t repeat our earlier mistakes and seek to draw down too soon.” Absent any sign Obama has opted for the “recognize reality” option, there appears a very grave risk that this is precisely what he will do if elected.

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Obama Backtracks on Jerusalem

Has Barack Obama come out against dividing Jerusalem? We had thought so, based on his declaration at the AIPAC policy conference this week that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”

But as I pointed out earlier, this had contradicted explicit statements by his top Middle East adviser just three weeks earlier. And today, Obama’s camp is out there “clarifying” things. Interviewed by the Jerusalem Post, Obama’s spokesman insisted that this did not mean ruling out Palestinian sovereignty over parts of Jerusalem, or that Jerusalem would also be the capital of a Palestinian state. “Jerusalem is a final status issue, which means it has to be negotiated between the two parties” as part of “an agreement that they both can live with,” he said.

Needless to say, Americans for Peace Now are “gratified” that Obama is not “undermining the peace process” as they had initially feared. And Zionist organizations are troubled by his “troubling” change of heart. But the real question is whether Obama himself is aware of the weight of his own words, whether this is a deliberate tightrope walk between truth and falsehood, in which he risks his credibility in order to maximize his popularity among the different camps regarding Israel — or whether it is simply a blunder, which his team now has to clean up.

Has Barack Obama come out against dividing Jerusalem? We had thought so, based on his declaration at the AIPAC policy conference this week that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”

But as I pointed out earlier, this had contradicted explicit statements by his top Middle East adviser just three weeks earlier. And today, Obama’s camp is out there “clarifying” things. Interviewed by the Jerusalem Post, Obama’s spokesman insisted that this did not mean ruling out Palestinian sovereignty over parts of Jerusalem, or that Jerusalem would also be the capital of a Palestinian state. “Jerusalem is a final status issue, which means it has to be negotiated between the two parties” as part of “an agreement that they both can live with,” he said.

Needless to say, Americans for Peace Now are “gratified” that Obama is not “undermining the peace process” as they had initially feared. And Zionist organizations are troubled by his “troubling” change of heart. But the real question is whether Obama himself is aware of the weight of his own words, whether this is a deliberate tightrope walk between truth and falsehood, in which he risks his credibility in order to maximize his popularity among the different camps regarding Israel — or whether it is simply a blunder, which his team now has to clean up.

Read Less




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