Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 10, 2008

What Rules?

John Dickerson would like to know what rules Barack Obama is using that allow him to excoriate Countrywide, yet use James Johnson to vet VP candidates. Dickerson wants to find out what standard allows Obama to condemn Washington insiders but call on the ultimate Washington fixer for the most important task to date — finding a running mate. As they say in the lawyer biz, that assumes facts not in evidence.

I think it is fairly clear that the New Politics run only one way. Hillary is in the pocket of lobbyists but Obama’s advisors don’t count because they don’t work for him. John McCain is a “Bush clone” but we are supposed to get away from unhelpful labels (e.g. “liberal”). There should be no guilt by association except when it comes to McCain’s problematic endorsements and Charlie Black. George W. Bush ignores reality but Obama sees no reason to talk to General Petraeus or investigate Iraq for himself. And on it goes.

You’ll search long and hard for a rule which covers all that. Rules are for little people, not the Agent of Change.

John Dickerson would like to know what rules Barack Obama is using that allow him to excoriate Countrywide, yet use James Johnson to vet VP candidates. Dickerson wants to find out what standard allows Obama to condemn Washington insiders but call on the ultimate Washington fixer for the most important task to date — finding a running mate. As they say in the lawyer biz, that assumes facts not in evidence.

I think it is fairly clear that the New Politics run only one way. Hillary is in the pocket of lobbyists but Obama’s advisors don’t count because they don’t work for him. John McCain is a “Bush clone” but we are supposed to get away from unhelpful labels (e.g. “liberal”). There should be no guilt by association except when it comes to McCain’s problematic endorsements and Charlie Black. George W. Bush ignores reality but Obama sees no reason to talk to General Petraeus or investigate Iraq for himself. And on it goes.

You’ll search long and hard for a rule which covers all that. Rules are for little people, not the Agent of Change.

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An Odd Standard

In a story about Barack Obama’s relapse into smoking there is this zinger:

His own history included intermittent cigarette smoking,” David L. Scheiner, M.D. wrote in a letter released to reporters. “He has quit this practice on several occasions and is currently using Nicorette gum with success.”

The release of a scant one-page summary for 21 years of care brought some criticism to the Obama campaign – especially when compared to the thousands of pages of medical records released by McCain. Obama promised reporters that if there are additional health-related questions, his campaign would make that information available. “In terms of additional records, if there are particular things that people have questions about, then we’d be happy to give that information,” he said.

Frankly I don’t give a darn whether he is smoking or not (presumably whatever risk of lung cancer he is incurring won’t be a problem in the next eight years) but isn’t that a rather strange standard for disclosure? You have to guess what might be there and ask about it? Whatever happened to the promise of the most transparent administration ever and the guy who jabbed the Clintons for hiding the ball on their tax and White House records?

In a story about Barack Obama’s relapse into smoking there is this zinger:

His own history included intermittent cigarette smoking,” David L. Scheiner, M.D. wrote in a letter released to reporters. “He has quit this practice on several occasions and is currently using Nicorette gum with success.”

The release of a scant one-page summary for 21 years of care brought some criticism to the Obama campaign – especially when compared to the thousands of pages of medical records released by McCain. Obama promised reporters that if there are additional health-related questions, his campaign would make that information available. “In terms of additional records, if there are particular things that people have questions about, then we’d be happy to give that information,” he said.

Frankly I don’t give a darn whether he is smoking or not (presumably whatever risk of lung cancer he is incurring won’t be a problem in the next eight years) but isn’t that a rather strange standard for disclosure? You have to guess what might be there and ask about it? Whatever happened to the promise of the most transparent administration ever and the guy who jabbed the Clintons for hiding the ball on their tax and White House records?

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One Way To Make A Point

Well there is one way for John McCain to show the contrast between the two candidates: go visit some of the countries Barack Obama has insulted. Colombia is first. But the itinerary could be very long.

Although the McCain camp has had a few flubs, I am less convinced than some that the campaign team, to quote a phrase, has lost its bearings. They have done a fairly good job making mincemeat out of Obama’s foreign policy flips and flops and this week they got McCain’s message out on taxes. It is a long race but there is, perhaps for the first time, a sense of focus and aggressive determination not previously seen from McCain’s side. And a Colombia visit is just one more example.

Well there is one way for John McCain to show the contrast between the two candidates: go visit some of the countries Barack Obama has insulted. Colombia is first. But the itinerary could be very long.

Although the McCain camp has had a few flubs, I am less convinced than some that the campaign team, to quote a phrase, has lost its bearings. They have done a fairly good job making mincemeat out of Obama’s foreign policy flips and flops and this week they got McCain’s message out on taxes. It is a long race but there is, perhaps for the first time, a sense of focus and aggressive determination not previously seen from McCain’s side. And a Colombia visit is just one more example.

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Don’t Look A Gift Horse

This story on Iraq featured on the McCain team’s new website makes the point that Barack Obama needs to and perhaps already is shifting fast on the war, given the fact the surge has succeeded far better than the Democrats imagined. However the tone of the piece is somewhat curious.  The spin is that “both candidates have shifted on Iraq.” But that is simply hogwash.

John McCain has always supported the war (which may be a problem with many independents), was critical of the Bush pre-surge management of the war, supported the surge and says he will stay to complete the job. So what has changed? The report points to his prediction that the “hot” part of the war would be over by the end of his first term. But this is not a change at all, of course. He’s not committing to do anything other than what he’s always said he’ll do: win the war.

But if the report were straight forward and entirely accurate the conclusion would be painfully obvious: Obama has been shifting with the winds and the fortunes of the war which was determined by others and McCain has shaped the outcome and adhered to his longstanding views. Yikes. They can’t say that, can they?

It is progress in mainstream reporting, I suppose, to at least have an admission that Obama’s denigration of the surge is now a problem and that reality is at odds with his dogma.

This story on Iraq featured on the McCain team’s new website makes the point that Barack Obama needs to and perhaps already is shifting fast on the war, given the fact the surge has succeeded far better than the Democrats imagined. However the tone of the piece is somewhat curious.  The spin is that “both candidates have shifted on Iraq.” But that is simply hogwash.

John McCain has always supported the war (which may be a problem with many independents), was critical of the Bush pre-surge management of the war, supported the surge and says he will stay to complete the job. So what has changed? The report points to his prediction that the “hot” part of the war would be over by the end of his first term. But this is not a change at all, of course. He’s not committing to do anything other than what he’s always said he’ll do: win the war.

But if the report were straight forward and entirely accurate the conclusion would be painfully obvious: Obama has been shifting with the winds and the fortunes of the war which was determined by others and McCain has shaped the outcome and adhered to his longstanding views. Yikes. They can’t say that, can they?

It is progress in mainstream reporting, I suppose, to at least have an admission that Obama’s denigration of the surge is now a problem and that reality is at odds with his dogma.

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From Iraq to Afghanistan

In April 2007, during a Primary debate in South Carolina, Barack Obama came up with a doozey that never received the level of scrutiny it deserved. He said

Afghanistan is an area where we should be focusing. NATO has made real contributions there. Unfortunately, because of the distraction of Iraq, we have not finished the job in terms of making certain that we are driving back the Taliban, stabilizing the Karzai government, capturing bin Laden and making sure that we’ve rooted out terrorism in that region.

So, the U.S. has let NATO down in Afghanistan, by getting distracted in Iraq. As to the first half of that charge: Many NATO countries have, of course, prohibited their forces in Afghanistan from engaging in any activities other than stability and civilian operations, leaving much of the dangerous heavy lifting to the U.S.

As to the second half of the charge: It looks like “the distraction of Iraq” has led to some critical counterinsurgency innovations that are now bearing fruit in Afghanistan.

There is a story in today’s New York Times about Company C of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and how they are applying the lessons learned in Iraq’s Anbar Province to the Garmser District of Afghanistan — and seeing results. The Marines drove the Taliban out of the area with unprecedented speed, and now, as they did in Anbar (and a great many other areas of Iraq), they are getting out into the scared population in order to garner trust among civilians. From the Times:

In this village, only the poorest laborers and farmers have started filtering back, Lieutenant Matzke said, adding, “These people are completely broken.” They refused all assistance at first, he said, but after talking for a couple of hours they admitted they could use the help, but were afraid to accept it for fear of the Taliban.

The people were glad when the Taliban were driven away, the marines said, and that is a sentiment they need to nurture. “We need to convince the people we are here to help, and to exploit the fact that we can help,” Captain Moder said.

As a first step, the marines promised to provide a strong security cordon so those villagers who had fled could return without fear to rebuild their homes and reopen the bazaar.

The new bonds have have made it possible for Marines to implement new security measures — such as photographs, fingerprints, and iris scans – that will help civilians and soldiers identify Taliban operatives in their midst.

It would be specious (and unforgivably callous) to argue that the blood and treasure lost in Iraq represent some kind of dues paid for the opportunity to win in Afghanistan, but the fact remains — military ingenuity is born of the necessity to counter unexpected challenges. In truth, the revamped counterinsurgency strategy developed during the Iraq War is proving to be the most lethal tool in the larger War on Terror. The Obama Plan, of ducking the hardest challenges and simply redeploying troops, is no plan at all. Ironically, Barack Obama said it best: “When you have no overarching strategy, there is no clear definition of success.” General David Petraeus and John McCain have a strategy and a definition. Does he?

In April 2007, during a Primary debate in South Carolina, Barack Obama came up with a doozey that never received the level of scrutiny it deserved. He said

Afghanistan is an area where we should be focusing. NATO has made real contributions there. Unfortunately, because of the distraction of Iraq, we have not finished the job in terms of making certain that we are driving back the Taliban, stabilizing the Karzai government, capturing bin Laden and making sure that we’ve rooted out terrorism in that region.

So, the U.S. has let NATO down in Afghanistan, by getting distracted in Iraq. As to the first half of that charge: Many NATO countries have, of course, prohibited their forces in Afghanistan from engaging in any activities other than stability and civilian operations, leaving much of the dangerous heavy lifting to the U.S.

As to the second half of the charge: It looks like “the distraction of Iraq” has led to some critical counterinsurgency innovations that are now bearing fruit in Afghanistan.

There is a story in today’s New York Times about Company C of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and how they are applying the lessons learned in Iraq’s Anbar Province to the Garmser District of Afghanistan — and seeing results. The Marines drove the Taliban out of the area with unprecedented speed, and now, as they did in Anbar (and a great many other areas of Iraq), they are getting out into the scared population in order to garner trust among civilians. From the Times:

In this village, only the poorest laborers and farmers have started filtering back, Lieutenant Matzke said, adding, “These people are completely broken.” They refused all assistance at first, he said, but after talking for a couple of hours they admitted they could use the help, but were afraid to accept it for fear of the Taliban.

The people were glad when the Taliban were driven away, the marines said, and that is a sentiment they need to nurture. “We need to convince the people we are here to help, and to exploit the fact that we can help,” Captain Moder said.

As a first step, the marines promised to provide a strong security cordon so those villagers who had fled could return without fear to rebuild their homes and reopen the bazaar.

The new bonds have have made it possible for Marines to implement new security measures — such as photographs, fingerprints, and iris scans – that will help civilians and soldiers identify Taliban operatives in their midst.

It would be specious (and unforgivably callous) to argue that the blood and treasure lost in Iraq represent some kind of dues paid for the opportunity to win in Afghanistan, but the fact remains — military ingenuity is born of the necessity to counter unexpected challenges. In truth, the revamped counterinsurgency strategy developed during the Iraq War is proving to be the most lethal tool in the larger War on Terror. The Obama Plan, of ducking the hardest challenges and simply redeploying troops, is no plan at all. Ironically, Barack Obama said it best: “When you have no overarching strategy, there is no clear definition of success.” General David Petraeus and John McCain have a strategy and a definition. Does he?

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The Fate of The Worst

One of the unheralded heroes of the past year in Iraq is Major General Douglas Stone of the U.S. Marine Corps, who has just ended a stint as commander of detainee operations. His most notable innovation has been to institute “COIN behind the wire” — that is a counterinsurgency program aimed at weaning detainees away from terrorism. It is too soon to tell to what extent this program has succeeded, but early indications are positive. The program is now being put to the test because the U.S. command is reducing the number of detainees in American custody. The total has already dropped from 25,000 to 21,000, as noted in this Washington Post article,   yet the amount of violence for the past three weeks has been at its lowest level since early 2004.

Eventually the total will continue to fall. But there is a hard core of detainees, estimated at some 8,000, who are the worst of the worst. These are stone-cold Al Qaeda and Special Groups killers who can never be released, yet in most cases there is not sufficient evidence to convict them of crimes in an Iraqi court. It is doubtful that the Iraqi criminal justice system is capable of handling such dangerous terrorists, in any case, and it is unclear if it will ever be up to the task.

But how long can the U.S. continue to hold them? Our authority to detain them at the moment comes from a UN Security Council resolution that is due to expire at the end of the year. Negotiations on a bilateral status of forces agreement between the U.S. and Iraq governments that would provide continuing authority have been tortuous. It is uncertain whether and when they will be concluded. No doubt some short term expedient can be worked out, but the long term question remains: What do we do with these thugs? That is not a question that has been debated much, but in many ways it is much more pressing than the fate of the facilities at Guantanamo Bay, which hold only around 300 prisoners at the moment.

One of the unheralded heroes of the past year in Iraq is Major General Douglas Stone of the U.S. Marine Corps, who has just ended a stint as commander of detainee operations. His most notable innovation has been to institute “COIN behind the wire” — that is a counterinsurgency program aimed at weaning detainees away from terrorism. It is too soon to tell to what extent this program has succeeded, but early indications are positive. The program is now being put to the test because the U.S. command is reducing the number of detainees in American custody. The total has already dropped from 25,000 to 21,000, as noted in this Washington Post article,   yet the amount of violence for the past three weeks has been at its lowest level since early 2004.

Eventually the total will continue to fall. But there is a hard core of detainees, estimated at some 8,000, who are the worst of the worst. These are stone-cold Al Qaeda and Special Groups killers who can never be released, yet in most cases there is not sufficient evidence to convict them of crimes in an Iraqi court. It is doubtful that the Iraqi criminal justice system is capable of handling such dangerous terrorists, in any case, and it is unclear if it will ever be up to the task.

But how long can the U.S. continue to hold them? Our authority to detain them at the moment comes from a UN Security Council resolution that is due to expire at the end of the year. Negotiations on a bilateral status of forces agreement between the U.S. and Iraq governments that would provide continuing authority have been tortuous. It is uncertain whether and when they will be concluded. No doubt some short term expedient can be worked out, but the long term question remains: What do we do with these thugs? That is not a question that has been debated much, but in many ways it is much more pressing than the fate of the facilities at Guantanamo Bay, which hold only around 300 prisoners at the moment.

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I Don’t Think It Worked

As detailed here and here Senator Joe Lieberman appears to be none too pleased with what his advisor terms “sleazy tactics” by the Obama camp in leaking and misrepresenting a conversation between the two senators.

I thought Obama was supposed to be against bluster and bullying as a negotiating tactic. And this is not the first time he has tried to slime a senate colleague. All in all it is a rather odd way to demonstrate that you will usher in a new era of comity and bipartisanship.

As detailed here and here Senator Joe Lieberman appears to be none too pleased with what his advisor terms “sleazy tactics” by the Obama camp in leaking and misrepresenting a conversation between the two senators.

I thought Obama was supposed to be against bluster and bullying as a negotiating tactic. And this is not the first time he has tried to slime a senate colleague. All in all it is a rather odd way to demonstrate that you will usher in a new era of comity and bipartisanship.

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Joe Biden — Wrong Squared

In his Washington Post column today E.J. Dionne, Jr. gives lavish praise to Senator Joseph Biden. According to Dionne

I visited with Biden since he should be at the top of any list of vice presidential picks for Obama. Why Biden? In part because of where he took our discussion: Few Democrats know more about foreign policy, and few would so relish the fight against McCain on international affairs. Few are better placed to argue that withdrawal from Iraq will strengthen rather than weaken the U.S.

The problem is that the two most important policy decisions related to Iraq were the decision to go to war in the first place and the President’s embrace of the so-called surge. On the former, Biden justified his support of the use of force resolution by saying, among other things

Saddam is dangerous. The world would be a better place without him. But the reason he poses a growing danger to the United States and its allies is that he possesses chemical and biological weapons and is seeking nuclear weapons,

We now know that like virtually everyone else, Biden was wrong about Saddam possessing WMD stockpiles.

The other key policy moment related to Iraq was the President’s decision in January 2007 to champion the surge, which involved sending tens of thousands of additional troops to Iraq and, more importantly, endorsing a new counter-insurgency strategy under the command of General David Petraeus. I have written numerous times on the security, political, and economic progress we’ve seen since the “surge” was put in place; there’s no need here to rehearse all the evidence. Suffice it to say that there is now no longer any serious dispute that the surge has been succeeding far beyond even the expectations of those of us who supported it. Iraq, while still a fragile and fractured nation, is in much better shape than it was. And where was Biden on the surge? He was one of its most vocal critics.

During his January 8, 2007 appearance on “Imus in the Morning,” Biden said, “there’s a civil war that can – will not be affected by us putting in 20,000 or 30,000 or 40,000 troops. It will not change the dynamic.”

Three days later, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Biden, chairman of the Committee, said this:

I believe the president’s strategy is not a solution, Secretary Rice. I believe it’s a tragic mistake. In Iraq, the core of the president’s plan is to send another 20,000 Americans to Baghdad, a city of more than 6 million people, where they will go, with their fellow Iraqi soldiers, door to door in the middle of a civil war. If memory serves me, we’ve tried that kind of escalation twice before in Baghdad, and it’s failed twice in Baghdad, and I fear it will fail a third time.

In January, Biden also co-sponsored a non-binding “anti-surge” resolution that was, in his words, “not an attempt to embarrass the president…It’s an attempt to save the president from making a significant mistake with regard to our policy in Iraq.” And on January 24 Biden said the measure “is designed to let the president know that there are many in both parties, Democrats and Republicans, that believe a change in our mission to go into Baghdad – in the midst of a civil war – as well as a surge in ground troops . . . is the wrong way to go, and I believe it will have the opposite – I repeat – opposite effect the president intends.”

Senator Biden could not have been more wrong in his decision or his prediction on the effects of the surge. It’s worth adding that Biden certainly hasn’t been wrong on everything having to do with Iraq; to his credit, he understood early on that we had too few troops in Iraq. Yet when the President finally did what Biden had been arguing for, Biden became a leading oppositional figure. In fact, Senator Biden was among the most visible opponents of the most successful strategic change that was made during the war, thereby undermining the claim that “few are better placed to argue that withdrawal from Iraq will strengthen rather than weaken the U.S.” And as the evidence of the surge’s success grew, Biden was advocating the Democrat’s plan to rapidly withdrawal most combat troops. In September 2007, for example, Biden was asked by Fox’s Chris Wallace if the Democratic Congress were able to force the president’s hand to pull out most of the troops from Iraq, wouldn’t al Qaeda would play this as a huge victory and a defeat for the U.S.? Biden responded this way:

No, I don’t. I think the rest of the world would say they’re finally getting smart. I think the European allies would say they’re finally getting it right. I think, in fact, the regional parties would begin to think, “Whoa, these guys are starting to figure this out.”

So Biden opposed the surge when it was proposed – and continued opposing it even as it began to bear fruit. And as the evidence of progress grew, he seemed to twist himself in a pretzel trying to explain away what he predicted could not occur.

Arguing that withdrawal from Iraq will strengthen rather than weaken the U.S. is an impossible claim to sustain in light of the last year. Only those who have bought into the narrative that Iraq is irredeemably lost (despite the evidence) will even attempt to make this case. And the notion that an American defeat will strengthen America is Orwellian. A defeat would be a defeat and a disaster – and thanks to the remarkable events of the last 17 months, the outcome of Iraq rests in large measure on what we do. We can prevail there, but only if we don’t lose our nerve and undo a strategy that, by every conceivable metric, is working. Yet that is what Dionne and Biden are advocating. In this instance, they ought to be ignored.

In his Washington Post column today E.J. Dionne, Jr. gives lavish praise to Senator Joseph Biden. According to Dionne

I visited with Biden since he should be at the top of any list of vice presidential picks for Obama. Why Biden? In part because of where he took our discussion: Few Democrats know more about foreign policy, and few would so relish the fight against McCain on international affairs. Few are better placed to argue that withdrawal from Iraq will strengthen rather than weaken the U.S.

The problem is that the two most important policy decisions related to Iraq were the decision to go to war in the first place and the President’s embrace of the so-called surge. On the former, Biden justified his support of the use of force resolution by saying, among other things

Saddam is dangerous. The world would be a better place without him. But the reason he poses a growing danger to the United States and its allies is that he possesses chemical and biological weapons and is seeking nuclear weapons,

We now know that like virtually everyone else, Biden was wrong about Saddam possessing WMD stockpiles.

The other key policy moment related to Iraq was the President’s decision in January 2007 to champion the surge, which involved sending tens of thousands of additional troops to Iraq and, more importantly, endorsing a new counter-insurgency strategy under the command of General David Petraeus. I have written numerous times on the security, political, and economic progress we’ve seen since the “surge” was put in place; there’s no need here to rehearse all the evidence. Suffice it to say that there is now no longer any serious dispute that the surge has been succeeding far beyond even the expectations of those of us who supported it. Iraq, while still a fragile and fractured nation, is in much better shape than it was. And where was Biden on the surge? He was one of its most vocal critics.

During his January 8, 2007 appearance on “Imus in the Morning,” Biden said, “there’s a civil war that can – will not be affected by us putting in 20,000 or 30,000 or 40,000 troops. It will not change the dynamic.”

Three days later, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Biden, chairman of the Committee, said this:

I believe the president’s strategy is not a solution, Secretary Rice. I believe it’s a tragic mistake. In Iraq, the core of the president’s plan is to send another 20,000 Americans to Baghdad, a city of more than 6 million people, where they will go, with their fellow Iraqi soldiers, door to door in the middle of a civil war. If memory serves me, we’ve tried that kind of escalation twice before in Baghdad, and it’s failed twice in Baghdad, and I fear it will fail a third time.

In January, Biden also co-sponsored a non-binding “anti-surge” resolution that was, in his words, “not an attempt to embarrass the president…It’s an attempt to save the president from making a significant mistake with regard to our policy in Iraq.” And on January 24 Biden said the measure “is designed to let the president know that there are many in both parties, Democrats and Republicans, that believe a change in our mission to go into Baghdad – in the midst of a civil war – as well as a surge in ground troops . . . is the wrong way to go, and I believe it will have the opposite – I repeat – opposite effect the president intends.”

Senator Biden could not have been more wrong in his decision or his prediction on the effects of the surge. It’s worth adding that Biden certainly hasn’t been wrong on everything having to do with Iraq; to his credit, he understood early on that we had too few troops in Iraq. Yet when the President finally did what Biden had been arguing for, Biden became a leading oppositional figure. In fact, Senator Biden was among the most visible opponents of the most successful strategic change that was made during the war, thereby undermining the claim that “few are better placed to argue that withdrawal from Iraq will strengthen rather than weaken the U.S.” And as the evidence of the surge’s success grew, Biden was advocating the Democrat’s plan to rapidly withdrawal most combat troops. In September 2007, for example, Biden was asked by Fox’s Chris Wallace if the Democratic Congress were able to force the president’s hand to pull out most of the troops from Iraq, wouldn’t al Qaeda would play this as a huge victory and a defeat for the U.S.? Biden responded this way:

No, I don’t. I think the rest of the world would say they’re finally getting smart. I think the European allies would say they’re finally getting it right. I think, in fact, the regional parties would begin to think, “Whoa, these guys are starting to figure this out.”

So Biden opposed the surge when it was proposed – and continued opposing it even as it began to bear fruit. And as the evidence of progress grew, he seemed to twist himself in a pretzel trying to explain away what he predicted could not occur.

Arguing that withdrawal from Iraq will strengthen rather than weaken the U.S. is an impossible claim to sustain in light of the last year. Only those who have bought into the narrative that Iraq is irredeemably lost (despite the evidence) will even attempt to make this case. And the notion that an American defeat will strengthen America is Orwellian. A defeat would be a defeat and a disaster – and thanks to the remarkable events of the last 17 months, the outcome of Iraq rests in large measure on what we do. We can prevail there, but only if we don’t lose our nerve and undo a strategy that, by every conceivable metric, is working. Yet that is what Dionne and Biden are advocating. In this instance, they ought to be ignored.

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Going Native

Roger Cohen has clearly been spending too much time in Europe. No intent here to begrudge the pleasures of The Continent, but one expects a foreign affairs columnist of the New York Times to be adequately grounded in the attitudes and realities of the American people in attempting to explain the world to an American audience. Writing Monday in the Times, dateline Paris, Cohen betrays a total lack of familiarity with the nuances of American politics, swept up as he is in European Obamania.

“Right now, in French eyes, there’s a single good American: the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, Barack Obama,” Cohen breathlessly reports. “His book, ‘The Audacity of Hope,’ is a best seller. His face is everywhere, sometimes in socialist realist images evoking Che Guevara.” We know we’re in for trouble when Cohen doesn’t bother to consider whether the French likening of Obama to a communist mass murderer is an indicator of good judgment on the part of the peoples whose opinions he holds in such high esteem. Nevertheless, “I think the French case says something particular about the state of American politics and global expectations,” Cohen admits, and continues to explain why this is the case.

Cohen writes that, “Four years ago, with post 9/11 nationalist sentiment still running high, John Kerry had to hide the fact he spoke French and had French relatives. Republicans liked to mock the then Democratic candidate by suggesting he began rallies with a ‘Bonjour.’” Now, Cohen declares, everything has apparently changed. “That anti-Gallic, freedom-fries fever has run its course. It’s exhausted, as are many of the jingoistic elements of the conservative, Republican wave that has been the dominant force in U.S. politics since Nixon.”

Cohen’s premise is wrong. John Kerry did not lose because of “freedom-fries fever” or the fact that he spoke French, however much people like Cohen may wish this were the case. This alternate history of the 2004 presidential election has become a comforting salve for many liberal writers, so easy is it to blame the loss of their candidate (and their shared world view) on the idiocy of the American people. Republicans always have bad ideas, this narrative goes, and conservative victories are always due to cleverness and deceit. Only if Republicans can fool enough Americans into believing that Democrats are “egghead liberals short on Iraq testosterone” can they win. That Kerry lost because he was a lousy candidate and had an inconsistent and incomprehensible policy on the Iraq War is not an explanation that writers like Cohen wish to entertain.

As much as Cohen’s misreading of Kerry’s loss is off-base, so is his understanding of the current Democratic nominee, who, whatever his politics, is one of the most dynamic political figures of the age. Indeed, likening Obama’s plight to Kerry’s, Cohen unwittingly insults the man he is attempting to praise. To put it in terms that Cohen might better understand: Comparing Barack Obama to John Kerry is like comparing Nicolas Sarkozy to Jacques Chirac.

Cohen then cites familiar figures about the electorate’s strong preference for Democratic policies over Republican ones. From this, he concludes that “Americans are looking to European health care and environmental measures as possible models.” It’s true that some policy wonks here may admire what some policy wonks in France are proposing about global warming (Cohen’s column is a mass of vague generalities, but I’m assuming that’s the “environmental” issue he’s discussing), but American admiration for French policies pretty much ends there. I don’t think Americans want militant labor unions running the country, the worst race relations in the western world, or 7.5% unemployment (keep in mind that figure is historically low for France, the lowest in 25 years in fact, and is due to the conservative, free market economic policies of Nicolas Sarkozy). But that’s just me, writing from my sheltered, Washington, D.C. cloister. Certainly if I were a New York Times foreign affairs columnist, I’m sure I’d see America — and the world — a whole lot differently.

“One thing the French love about Obama is his talk of dialogue, even with Iran.” Mais, bien sur! One doesn’t have to resort to crude jokes about French appeasement and surrender to find this farcical. Roger Cohen wants Barack Obama to run on a platform that would prove popular in France. It’s a good thing, for Obama at least, that he isn’t on his campaign staff.

Roger Cohen has clearly been spending too much time in Europe. No intent here to begrudge the pleasures of The Continent, but one expects a foreign affairs columnist of the New York Times to be adequately grounded in the attitudes and realities of the American people in attempting to explain the world to an American audience. Writing Monday in the Times, dateline Paris, Cohen betrays a total lack of familiarity with the nuances of American politics, swept up as he is in European Obamania.

“Right now, in French eyes, there’s a single good American: the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, Barack Obama,” Cohen breathlessly reports. “His book, ‘The Audacity of Hope,’ is a best seller. His face is everywhere, sometimes in socialist realist images evoking Che Guevara.” We know we’re in for trouble when Cohen doesn’t bother to consider whether the French likening of Obama to a communist mass murderer is an indicator of good judgment on the part of the peoples whose opinions he holds in such high esteem. Nevertheless, “I think the French case says something particular about the state of American politics and global expectations,” Cohen admits, and continues to explain why this is the case.

Cohen writes that, “Four years ago, with post 9/11 nationalist sentiment still running high, John Kerry had to hide the fact he spoke French and had French relatives. Republicans liked to mock the then Democratic candidate by suggesting he began rallies with a ‘Bonjour.’” Now, Cohen declares, everything has apparently changed. “That anti-Gallic, freedom-fries fever has run its course. It’s exhausted, as are many of the jingoistic elements of the conservative, Republican wave that has been the dominant force in U.S. politics since Nixon.”

Cohen’s premise is wrong. John Kerry did not lose because of “freedom-fries fever” or the fact that he spoke French, however much people like Cohen may wish this were the case. This alternate history of the 2004 presidential election has become a comforting salve for many liberal writers, so easy is it to blame the loss of their candidate (and their shared world view) on the idiocy of the American people. Republicans always have bad ideas, this narrative goes, and conservative victories are always due to cleverness and deceit. Only if Republicans can fool enough Americans into believing that Democrats are “egghead liberals short on Iraq testosterone” can they win. That Kerry lost because he was a lousy candidate and had an inconsistent and incomprehensible policy on the Iraq War is not an explanation that writers like Cohen wish to entertain.

As much as Cohen’s misreading of Kerry’s loss is off-base, so is his understanding of the current Democratic nominee, who, whatever his politics, is one of the most dynamic political figures of the age. Indeed, likening Obama’s plight to Kerry’s, Cohen unwittingly insults the man he is attempting to praise. To put it in terms that Cohen might better understand: Comparing Barack Obama to John Kerry is like comparing Nicolas Sarkozy to Jacques Chirac.

Cohen then cites familiar figures about the electorate’s strong preference for Democratic policies over Republican ones. From this, he concludes that “Americans are looking to European health care and environmental measures as possible models.” It’s true that some policy wonks here may admire what some policy wonks in France are proposing about global warming (Cohen’s column is a mass of vague generalities, but I’m assuming that’s the “environmental” issue he’s discussing), but American admiration for French policies pretty much ends there. I don’t think Americans want militant labor unions running the country, the worst race relations in the western world, or 7.5% unemployment (keep in mind that figure is historically low for France, the lowest in 25 years in fact, and is due to the conservative, free market economic policies of Nicolas Sarkozy). But that’s just me, writing from my sheltered, Washington, D.C. cloister. Certainly if I were a New York Times foreign affairs columnist, I’m sure I’d see America — and the world — a whole lot differently.

“One thing the French love about Obama is his talk of dialogue, even with Iran.” Mais, bien sur! One doesn’t have to resort to crude jokes about French appeasement and surrender to find this farcical. Roger Cohen wants Barack Obama to run on a platform that would prove popular in France. It’s a good thing, for Obama at least, that he isn’t on his campaign staff.

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No Big Deal To Pick The VP

Barack Obama says James Johnson isn’t that important and his discounted “Friends of Angelo Mozilo” loans is a “game.” But could it be that this is a bridge too far even for his media fans.? One observes:

The fact that his staff made similar tactical attacks on Clinton, on very similar issues (actually, nobody on in Clinton’s orbit was ever accused of getting a special deal from Countrywide) makes it harder for Obama to take cover on the high road here.

Yowzer. That’s not the only reporter who is rolling his eyes in disgust. There is this report:

The problem is, Obama critics say, perception and hypocrisy. Obama had railed against Countrywide and Mozilo, and his campaign had impugned Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, for taking money from Countrywide lobbyists and for allowing a senior campaign adviser to simultaneously do work for Countrywide.

The full presser is here with the amazed reaction of Jake Tapper (“Did I read that correctly? Did Obama claim that Johnson and Holder — two of the three people heading up his VP search committee — aren’t ‘work’-ing for him?I suppose that’s because they’re unpaid, but my stars, that’s a lot of high-level, time-consuming sensitive effort to not be considered “working” for Sen. Obama.”)

Perhaps worse yet are hints of more to come from that well-known rightwing media outfit, MSNBC:

Obama, meanwhile, seems to have his own problem with veep vetter Jim Johnson, who reportedly received preferential loans from subprime lender Countrywide. The Obama camp responded by blowing off the story, according to Time. “This is an overblown story about what appear to be completely above-board transactions.” Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor also shot back, “It’s the height of hypocrisy for the McCain campaign to try and make this an issue when John Green, one of John McCain’s top advisors, lobbied for Ameriquest, which was one of the nation’s largest subprime lenders and a key player in the mortgage crisis.” But these responses mask what seems to be a problem for the campaign. How much more is here with Johnson? As the housing crisis percolates in the background, Johnson was involved with many of the players involved in this so-called crisis. So even if he has committed no wrongdoing, he’s at a minimum connected to folks who did questionable things. And then there is his role he played on some corporate boards involving executive compensation. But there’s a larger point the GOP will hit Obama with on this one: If Obama claims he’s going to clean house in DC of the folks who conduct business the “old way,” then why is he doing business with a guy like Johnson who — some might argue — is the poster child of the old way to do business in DC. If there’s a drip, drip on Johnson, can Obama afford to keep him in this high profile role? Will some potential veep candidates who Johnson could vet come out publicly against some of the things Johnson practiced in corporate America? This story’s not going away…

The Obama camp must be asking where the media cocoon is when you need it (And by the way many of these reporters have now caught on to the problem with Eric Holder.)

Barack Obama says James Johnson isn’t that important and his discounted “Friends of Angelo Mozilo” loans is a “game.” But could it be that this is a bridge too far even for his media fans.? One observes:

The fact that his staff made similar tactical attacks on Clinton, on very similar issues (actually, nobody on in Clinton’s orbit was ever accused of getting a special deal from Countrywide) makes it harder for Obama to take cover on the high road here.

Yowzer. That’s not the only reporter who is rolling his eyes in disgust. There is this report:

The problem is, Obama critics say, perception and hypocrisy. Obama had railed against Countrywide and Mozilo, and his campaign had impugned Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, for taking money from Countrywide lobbyists and for allowing a senior campaign adviser to simultaneously do work for Countrywide.

The full presser is here with the amazed reaction of Jake Tapper (“Did I read that correctly? Did Obama claim that Johnson and Holder — two of the three people heading up his VP search committee — aren’t ‘work’-ing for him?I suppose that’s because they’re unpaid, but my stars, that’s a lot of high-level, time-consuming sensitive effort to not be considered “working” for Sen. Obama.”)

Perhaps worse yet are hints of more to come from that well-known rightwing media outfit, MSNBC:

Obama, meanwhile, seems to have his own problem with veep vetter Jim Johnson, who reportedly received preferential loans from subprime lender Countrywide. The Obama camp responded by blowing off the story, according to Time. “This is an overblown story about what appear to be completely above-board transactions.” Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor also shot back, “It’s the height of hypocrisy for the McCain campaign to try and make this an issue when John Green, one of John McCain’s top advisors, lobbied for Ameriquest, which was one of the nation’s largest subprime lenders and a key player in the mortgage crisis.” But these responses mask what seems to be a problem for the campaign. How much more is here with Johnson? As the housing crisis percolates in the background, Johnson was involved with many of the players involved in this so-called crisis. So even if he has committed no wrongdoing, he’s at a minimum connected to folks who did questionable things. And then there is his role he played on some corporate boards involving executive compensation. But there’s a larger point the GOP will hit Obama with on this one: If Obama claims he’s going to clean house in DC of the folks who conduct business the “old way,” then why is he doing business with a guy like Johnson who — some might argue — is the poster child of the old way to do business in DC. If there’s a drip, drip on Johnson, can Obama afford to keep him in this high profile role? Will some potential veep candidates who Johnson could vet come out publicly against some of the things Johnson practiced in corporate America? This story’s not going away…

The Obama camp must be asking where the media cocoon is when you need it (And by the way many of these reporters have now caught on to the problem with Eric Holder.)

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Your Brain on Google

Nicholas Carr has an interesting article in the new Atlantic, provocatively headlined, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” His thesis is that the Internet — not really Google per se — is shortening attention spans and making it more difficult to concentrate on longer pieces of writing. There’s probably something to this, although, as he notes, previous shifts in technology — the development of the typewriter in the 19th century, the development of writing in ancient times — also occasioned much handwringing about whether they would cause a fall in moral and intellectual standards.

For my part, I haven’t noticed my attention flagging because of the Internet. What I have noticed is that the Internet makes it much easier to produce longer pieces of writing. Google, especially, is invaluable, and not only because it enables anyone to look up obscure facts with a few keystrokes. Another function of Google is less famous but growing in importance for those of us in the book-writing biz — namely its “book” search function. Google has digitized thousands of volumes, allowing researchers to easily find obscure tomes. While no preview is available of many recently published books, and others offer only a “snippet view,” growing numbers of books whose copyright have lapsed are available in “full” search mode, meaning that you can, if you so desire, read the entire book online — or, more likely, print it out.

I have found this to be in invaluable resource while researching my new history of guerrilla warfare. It used to take me a long time to get books via interlibrary loan, and then the 19th century volumes usually arrived in very poor conditions. Now for nothing more than the cost of the paper and ink I can get printer-fresh copies of General Phil Sheridan’s memoirs, George Macaulay Trevelyan’s classic volumes on Garibaldi, or the Rev. James Gordon’s “History of the Rebellion in Ireland in the Year 1798.” Moreover, if necessary, I can use Google to search for keywords inside the books.

This is a huge and growing boon for scholars or interested readers, and it is the product not of a traditional nonprofit library but of a decidedly profit-making business. Thanks, Google, for making me-and lots of others-smarter. Of course whether readers raised on the Internet will be interested in reading what I or other authors produce is another question.

Nicholas Carr has an interesting article in the new Atlantic, provocatively headlined, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” His thesis is that the Internet — not really Google per se — is shortening attention spans and making it more difficult to concentrate on longer pieces of writing. There’s probably something to this, although, as he notes, previous shifts in technology — the development of the typewriter in the 19th century, the development of writing in ancient times — also occasioned much handwringing about whether they would cause a fall in moral and intellectual standards.

For my part, I haven’t noticed my attention flagging because of the Internet. What I have noticed is that the Internet makes it much easier to produce longer pieces of writing. Google, especially, is invaluable, and not only because it enables anyone to look up obscure facts with a few keystrokes. Another function of Google is less famous but growing in importance for those of us in the book-writing biz — namely its “book” search function. Google has digitized thousands of volumes, allowing researchers to easily find obscure tomes. While no preview is available of many recently published books, and others offer only a “snippet view,” growing numbers of books whose copyright have lapsed are available in “full” search mode, meaning that you can, if you so desire, read the entire book online — or, more likely, print it out.

I have found this to be in invaluable resource while researching my new history of guerrilla warfare. It used to take me a long time to get books via interlibrary loan, and then the 19th century volumes usually arrived in very poor conditions. Now for nothing more than the cost of the paper and ink I can get printer-fresh copies of General Phil Sheridan’s memoirs, George Macaulay Trevelyan’s classic volumes on Garibaldi, or the Rev. James Gordon’s “History of the Rebellion in Ireland in the Year 1798.” Moreover, if necessary, I can use Google to search for keywords inside the books.

This is a huge and growing boon for scholars or interested readers, and it is the product not of a traditional nonprofit library but of a decidedly profit-making business. Thanks, Google, for making me-and lots of others-smarter. Of course whether readers raised on the Internet will be interested in reading what I or other authors produce is another question.

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Tax Day

Taxes are a major theme in John McCain in a speech today before small business owners. Although Republicans unsuccessfully tried and tried again to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, such failure might prove to be the political gift that keeps on giving. Democrats who do not support extending the Bush tax cuts — which include both marginal rate reductions and the estate tax limitation — are then in the position of favoring a massive tax raise.

But of course, they tend to make it worse by favoring lots and lots of other tax increases (in the case of Barack Obama, payroll taxes and energy taxes, to name just two). And as one commentator put it, items like the capital gains tax hike are “going to impact more people than you may think.” Heck, even Hillary Clinton doesn’t like his idea to lift the payroll tax cap.

All that said, the Democrats and the economically illiterate members of the media have done a darn good job convincing Americans that the Bush tax cuts were just a give away to the rich. So McCain’s job is three-fold: 1) Convince Americans that retention of the Bush tax cuts and his other plans such as doubling the child tax exemption are good for the middle class; 2) Convince Americans that Obama’s  stated intention of taxing only the very rich is false (e.g. he voted to hike the tax rate on those making approximately $31,850); and 3) Convince Americans that in current economic times tax increases would be extremely harmful to the economy and job creation.

As with Iraq, McCain’s economic arguments are not the easiest to make. But fortunately for him, in both instances, his opponent is playing the role of the far-left extremist, making McCain’s pitch a bit more obvious, especially with swing voters. And that is why you will hear more lines like this from McCain: “In so many ways, we need to make a clean break from the worst excesses of both political parties.”

Taxes are a major theme in John McCain in a speech today before small business owners. Although Republicans unsuccessfully tried and tried again to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, such failure might prove to be the political gift that keeps on giving. Democrats who do not support extending the Bush tax cuts — which include both marginal rate reductions and the estate tax limitation — are then in the position of favoring a massive tax raise.

But of course, they tend to make it worse by favoring lots and lots of other tax increases (in the case of Barack Obama, payroll taxes and energy taxes, to name just two). And as one commentator put it, items like the capital gains tax hike are “going to impact more people than you may think.” Heck, even Hillary Clinton doesn’t like his idea to lift the payroll tax cap.

All that said, the Democrats and the economically illiterate members of the media have done a darn good job convincing Americans that the Bush tax cuts were just a give away to the rich. So McCain’s job is three-fold: 1) Convince Americans that retention of the Bush tax cuts and his other plans such as doubling the child tax exemption are good for the middle class; 2) Convince Americans that Obama’s  stated intention of taxing only the very rich is false (e.g. he voted to hike the tax rate on those making approximately $31,850); and 3) Convince Americans that in current economic times tax increases would be extremely harmful to the economy and job creation.

As with Iraq, McCain’s economic arguments are not the easiest to make. But fortunately for him, in both instances, his opponent is playing the role of the far-left extremist, making McCain’s pitch a bit more obvious, especially with swing voters. And that is why you will hear more lines like this from McCain: “In so many ways, we need to make a clean break from the worst excesses of both political parties.”

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Mr. Almost

And then, there is the other Ehud. Ehud Barak was Prime Minister of Israel at the start of the second intifada in 2000 — a terror war launched by Yasser Arafat, the likes of which Israel had never seen before, including dozens of suicide bombings. Things did not die down until Israelis dumped Barak in a general election and put Ariel Sharon into power.

Today Barak is the head of the Labor Party, the number two party in the governing coalition and the only thing propping up Ehud Olmert’s Kadima-based government. In today’s Ha’aretz, political commentator Uzi Benziman writes about Barak’s ultimatum issued to Olmert that he must resign or face elections — an ultimatum that left out a dealine. He writes:

During his term as prime minister, in 2000, Ehud Barak sounded like someone who was intent on reaching an agreement with Yasser Arafat, but recanted at the last minute. During that same period, Barak looked as if he were on the brink of signing an historic peace treaty with Hafez Assad, but at close to zero hour, he found another reason to refrain from doing so. After the publication of the Winograd Committee’s interim report, which clearly enunciated Ehud Olmert’s responsibility for the failures of the Second Lebanon War, Barak explicitly stated his intention to quit the government immediately after the committee released its final report, but he decided to claim “changed circumstances” so as to avoid keeping his word. Since being tapped as defense minister, Barak has escalated his rhetoric against the Hamas leadership and repeatedly threatened a large-scale military operation in the Gaza Strip, yet he has not followed through on his threats.

For this reason, Benziman dubs him “Mr. Almost,” referring to an old song about a man who never quite gets together with his beloved. It’s worth a read, as we all sit and wait for the inevitable fall of the Olmert government.

And then, there is the other Ehud. Ehud Barak was Prime Minister of Israel at the start of the second intifada in 2000 — a terror war launched by Yasser Arafat, the likes of which Israel had never seen before, including dozens of suicide bombings. Things did not die down until Israelis dumped Barak in a general election and put Ariel Sharon into power.

Today Barak is the head of the Labor Party, the number two party in the governing coalition and the only thing propping up Ehud Olmert’s Kadima-based government. In today’s Ha’aretz, political commentator Uzi Benziman writes about Barak’s ultimatum issued to Olmert that he must resign or face elections — an ultimatum that left out a dealine. He writes:

During his term as prime minister, in 2000, Ehud Barak sounded like someone who was intent on reaching an agreement with Yasser Arafat, but recanted at the last minute. During that same period, Barak looked as if he were on the brink of signing an historic peace treaty with Hafez Assad, but at close to zero hour, he found another reason to refrain from doing so. After the publication of the Winograd Committee’s interim report, which clearly enunciated Ehud Olmert’s responsibility for the failures of the Second Lebanon War, Barak explicitly stated his intention to quit the government immediately after the committee released its final report, but he decided to claim “changed circumstances” so as to avoid keeping his word. Since being tapped as defense minister, Barak has escalated his rhetoric against the Hamas leadership and repeatedly threatened a large-scale military operation in the Gaza Strip, yet he has not followed through on his threats.

For this reason, Benziman dubs him “Mr. Almost,” referring to an old song about a man who never quite gets together with his beloved. It’s worth a read, as we all sit and wait for the inevitable fall of the Olmert government.

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Yeah, They Planned It Just This Way

Mickey Kaus asks of Barack Obama’s VP vetter James Johnson:

Why would Obama, in his first big personnel decision, choose a paleoliberal greedhead with a track record of failure? You tell me. He’s described Johnson as ‘a friend.’ It looks as if he was at best highly susceptible to amicable overtures from someone he should have had some critical perspective on.

Really, the choice is so bad the conspiratorial minded might suspect this unhelpful suggestion to put Johnson on the VP selection committee came from someone in the Hillary Clinton camp. In fact this description sounds like the profile of someone with whom the Clintons would feel right at home:

He’s part of the permanent government of this country, a long-time Democratic fixer (Mondale and Kerry campaigns), former CEO of Fannie Mae, and as such a big buyer of Countrywide loans. He’s a guy who sits on a bunch of corporate boards, etc.

But there are no limits to the spin of the liberal punditocracy, desperate to come up with an explanation for this appalling failure of judgment. Try this out:

I don’t really think this amounts to a scandal, but it’s certainly a distraction… it’s hard to see how the Obama campaign wouldn’t have expected questions about Johnson’s past activities in the home mortgage industry, so I take it they are not terribly worried about the WSJ’s reports.

Well, unless they didn’t expect the questions about Johnson’s past activities and have a tin ear cultivated in a media cocoon, that sounds right. So which is it: the Obama team expected an off message mini-scandal to disrupt their New Politics message or they were clueless? (Given that this very same pundit observed in 2007 that “perhaps no Democrat in Washington better exemplified the city’s political-corporate-cultural elite than James A. Johnson, the former head of Fannie Mae,” I’ll vote for the latter.)

But let’s think this through. Option #1 would be for Johnson to announce he has become a distraction and remove himself from the VP selection process. That sounds smart and painless and ends the story for most media outlets quickly. Option #2 would be to tough it out because the Obama camp can’t let “Obama forces out lobbyist advisor” be the first major misstep in the first week of the general campaign.

If you are a John McCain supporter you are hoping it’s Option #2 because the longer a story about a “paleoliberal greedhead with a track record of failure” goes on the better and because the attacks on McCain lobbyist connections will likely need to simmer down for a while.

Mickey Kaus asks of Barack Obama’s VP vetter James Johnson:

Why would Obama, in his first big personnel decision, choose a paleoliberal greedhead with a track record of failure? You tell me. He’s described Johnson as ‘a friend.’ It looks as if he was at best highly susceptible to amicable overtures from someone he should have had some critical perspective on.

Really, the choice is so bad the conspiratorial minded might suspect this unhelpful suggestion to put Johnson on the VP selection committee came from someone in the Hillary Clinton camp. In fact this description sounds like the profile of someone with whom the Clintons would feel right at home:

He’s part of the permanent government of this country, a long-time Democratic fixer (Mondale and Kerry campaigns), former CEO of Fannie Mae, and as such a big buyer of Countrywide loans. He’s a guy who sits on a bunch of corporate boards, etc.

But there are no limits to the spin of the liberal punditocracy, desperate to come up with an explanation for this appalling failure of judgment. Try this out:

I don’t really think this amounts to a scandal, but it’s certainly a distraction… it’s hard to see how the Obama campaign wouldn’t have expected questions about Johnson’s past activities in the home mortgage industry, so I take it they are not terribly worried about the WSJ’s reports.

Well, unless they didn’t expect the questions about Johnson’s past activities and have a tin ear cultivated in a media cocoon, that sounds right. So which is it: the Obama team expected an off message mini-scandal to disrupt their New Politics message or they were clueless? (Given that this very same pundit observed in 2007 that “perhaps no Democrat in Washington better exemplified the city’s political-corporate-cultural elite than James A. Johnson, the former head of Fannie Mae,” I’ll vote for the latter.)

But let’s think this through. Option #1 would be for Johnson to announce he has become a distraction and remove himself from the VP selection process. That sounds smart and painless and ends the story for most media outlets quickly. Option #2 would be to tough it out because the Obama camp can’t let “Obama forces out lobbyist advisor” be the first major misstep in the first week of the general campaign.

If you are a John McCain supporter you are hoping it’s Option #2 because the longer a story about a “paleoliberal greedhead with a track record of failure” goes on the better and because the attacks on McCain lobbyist connections will likely need to simmer down for a while.

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Re: Half-Hearted

Jamie, it really is even worse than you describe. As aptly detailed by Mark Hemingway the entire Newsweek piece, which never bothered to obtain Senator Lieberman’s account of the conversation, is filled with half-truths and Obama-inspired propoganda. It is easy to see how the Obama camp falls into a state of self-denial, believing alternatively that they have no Jewish problem or that it is the Jews’ fault for believing scurrilous rumors. Why easy? Because in the hall of media mirrors, their own self-serving take is reported back to them and they in turn seize upon it for justification that Jews’ objections are nonexistent or trivial.

But the story raises another issue: how smart is it of the Obama camp to antagonize a revered figure in the Jewish community? Is this showing tact and diplomatic skills or a tendency to bully and bluster? I suspect it will change Senator Lieberman’s conduct and behavior not at all. He has and will continue to speak calmly and without a hit of malice about Obama’s statements and positions. But the impact on observers and supporters of Sen. Lieberman is another story. The image that the Obama camp is painting of their own man — indifferent to the facts, ready to cast aspersions on others, and lacking any self-awareness of his own faults — is not a pretty one. And people are watching.

Jamie, it really is even worse than you describe. As aptly detailed by Mark Hemingway the entire Newsweek piece, which never bothered to obtain Senator Lieberman’s account of the conversation, is filled with half-truths and Obama-inspired propoganda. It is easy to see how the Obama camp falls into a state of self-denial, believing alternatively that they have no Jewish problem or that it is the Jews’ fault for believing scurrilous rumors. Why easy? Because in the hall of media mirrors, their own self-serving take is reported back to them and they in turn seize upon it for justification that Jews’ objections are nonexistent or trivial.

But the story raises another issue: how smart is it of the Obama camp to antagonize a revered figure in the Jewish community? Is this showing tact and diplomatic skills or a tendency to bully and bluster? I suspect it will change Senator Lieberman’s conduct and behavior not at all. He has and will continue to speak calmly and without a hit of malice about Obama’s statements and positions. But the impact on observers and supporters of Sen. Lieberman is another story. The image that the Obama camp is painting of their own man — indifferent to the facts, ready to cast aspersions on others, and lacking any self-awareness of his own faults — is not a pretty one. And people are watching.

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Half-Hearted?

A much talked-about Newsweek story offers more details on that strange encounter between Barack Obama and Joe Lieberman on the floor of the Senate last week:

In a brief but animated Senate floor confrontation last week, according to a campaign aide who asked for anonymity when talking about private discussions, Obama told Lieberman he was surprised by Lieberman’s personal attacks and his half-hearted denials of the false rumors that Obama is a Muslim. (The aide says Lieberman was “strangely muted” during the exchange; a Lieberman spokesman says the chat was “private and friendly.”)

The anonymous “campaign aide” is clearly an Obama source, given that this person characterizes Obama’s frustration with Lieberman as being based upon the Connecticut Senator’s “half-hearted denials of the false rumors that Obama is a Muslim.” I did a brief search to find these “half-hearted denials,” and the only story I found was this one, which appeared on the New York Observer website February 1. Here’s Senator Lieberman:

“The one time that I confronted it, I was campaigning in Florida for Senator McCain. I spoke to a large group and a man stood up and asked me about it, or he referenced it. And I said, of course, that I know Senator Obama pretty well. Obviously one’s religion is a matter of choice. Everything I knew said he was Christian. So, I don’t know how widespread it is but that’s the one time I confronted it. And of course the most important thing is that Senator Obama said it’s just not true.”

Never mind that this is the only incident on record (at least the only incident I could find) in which Lieberman was confronted by said rumor. This is “half-hearted?”

A much talked-about Newsweek story offers more details on that strange encounter between Barack Obama and Joe Lieberman on the floor of the Senate last week:

In a brief but animated Senate floor confrontation last week, according to a campaign aide who asked for anonymity when talking about private discussions, Obama told Lieberman he was surprised by Lieberman’s personal attacks and his half-hearted denials of the false rumors that Obama is a Muslim. (The aide says Lieberman was “strangely muted” during the exchange; a Lieberman spokesman says the chat was “private and friendly.”)

The anonymous “campaign aide” is clearly an Obama source, given that this person characterizes Obama’s frustration with Lieberman as being based upon the Connecticut Senator’s “half-hearted denials of the false rumors that Obama is a Muslim.” I did a brief search to find these “half-hearted denials,” and the only story I found was this one, which appeared on the New York Observer website February 1. Here’s Senator Lieberman:

“The one time that I confronted it, I was campaigning in Florida for Senator McCain. I spoke to a large group and a man stood up and asked me about it, or he referenced it. And I said, of course, that I know Senator Obama pretty well. Obviously one’s religion is a matter of choice. Everything I knew said he was Christian. So, I don’t know how widespread it is but that’s the one time I confronted it. And of course the most important thing is that Senator Obama said it’s just not true.”

Never mind that this is the only incident on record (at least the only incident I could find) in which Lieberman was confronted by said rumor. This is “half-hearted?”

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Back To The Future: Is Jimmy Carter Coming Back?

Just as Barack Obama would like to tie John McCain to President Bush, John McCain would like to link Obama to Jimmy Carter. McCain threw that notion out there in an interview with Brian Williams on Monday evening. The connection works on some level — concerns about toughness in foreign policy and an untried leader running on a “change” theme. (Oh, yes, and Carter is none too popular with the Jewish community, given the drumbeat of invectives and unbridled criticism he has directed at Israel.)

Now it doesn’t “work” of course in the same way that McCain’s association with George W. Bush does. Carter is not the incumbent president and Obama is not running on a platform to continue any of the Carter policies. But that is not really required for McCain’s purposes.

The McCain camp wants and needs desperately to have a simple and easy tagline to conjure up bad thoughts about Obama in the way “Bush’s twin” or “Bush’s clone” works on the imagination of the anti-Bush crowd. Carter may not be “it,” but you can see the wheels turning at the McCain camp as they ponder how to knock down Obama’s lofty image and get voters to think about Obama’s actual policy proposals and their likely results. And there is something awfully familiar about this.

Just as Barack Obama would like to tie John McCain to President Bush, John McCain would like to link Obama to Jimmy Carter. McCain threw that notion out there in an interview with Brian Williams on Monday evening. The connection works on some level — concerns about toughness in foreign policy and an untried leader running on a “change” theme. (Oh, yes, and Carter is none too popular with the Jewish community, given the drumbeat of invectives and unbridled criticism he has directed at Israel.)

Now it doesn’t “work” of course in the same way that McCain’s association with George W. Bush does. Carter is not the incumbent president and Obama is not running on a platform to continue any of the Carter policies. But that is not really required for McCain’s purposes.

The McCain camp wants and needs desperately to have a simple and easy tagline to conjure up bad thoughts about Obama in the way “Bush’s twin” or “Bush’s clone” works on the imagination of the anti-Bush crowd. Carter may not be “it,” but you can see the wheels turning at the McCain camp as they ponder how to knock down Obama’s lofty image and get voters to think about Obama’s actual policy proposals and their likely results. And there is something awfully familiar about this.

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