Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 13, 2008

This Is Why Facts Matter

Senior Brookings Fellows Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack gave a report today and entertained questions at a Brookings briefing on Iraq. It was the single most illuminating presentation I have witnessed on the status of Iraq and the potential way forward. Neither man can be accused of shilling for either the administration or John McCain for numerous reasons: both have been strong critics of the war and O’Hanlon opposed the war at the onset and still believes on balance it has not made us safer. I understand from Brookings that the entire transcript will be posted, but I offer some highlights below.

O’Hanlon explained that the last three months has been the “spring of the blossoming of Iraqi security forces” and Iraq is on an “impressive trajectory” although we have not yet “reached a stable end point.” He stressed that the 80% reduction in civilian violence was much better than he thought possible. He went through a detailed review of Basra, conceding that Maliki’s actions took the Americans by surprise and that in the first week things went poorly. However, by the second week two brigades were deployed from Al Anbar ( a testimony to massive improvements in Iraq security force logistics) and the mission was successful, allowing the Iraqi army and national police force to now control the streets of Basra.

Pollack echoed these observations, saying that “The headline was the emergence of Iraqi security forces.” He explained that the fundamental shift from Americans leading with Iraqis in support to Iraqis leading not just “hold” but “clear” operations is now “well underway.” He observes that sectarian divisions within the military are receding as mixed Sunni and Shia units have been successful in Basra and Mosul operations. He sees vast improvement in military leadership which “is one of the main reasons for improvement” in the security situation. He credits the military success with allowing for a “fundamental rearrangement” of Iraqi politics, observing that Maliki is now “flying high” with new found respect from Sunnis. The big picture take away, he says, it that having achieved remarkable success with major issues we now can begin to address “second and third order problems” such as insuring that military forces “stay in their lane” and do not subvert civilian leadership.

I asked O’Hanlon whether his previous criticism that Barack Obama was in denial about facts on the ground still stood. In a lengthy answer he and then Pollack avoided a partisan hit on Obama and I think revealed their true purpose: to inform the public and policy makers about the real situation in Iraq and allow Democrats to in essence climb back off the surge opposition policy limb they have crawled out on. (This is my description; they were quite tactful and even optimistic that this is a time when political leaders can reorient themselves to new facts.) Both indicated that it would be a mistake with critical provincial and national elections upcoming in 2008 and 2009 to begin an abrupt withdrawal in 2009. O’Hanlon offered that Democrats could take credit for having pressured Iraqis on a political front with the clear message that our presence would not be indefinite and that they should accept that “the good news is you may be able to leave earlier than proposed based on progress and not on defeat.”

Continuing with the answer, Pollack said that “our support is absolutely critical” in the short term and that “a massive withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2009 is not a good idea.”

O’Hanlon continued by praising McCain’s May 2008 speech that envisioned half the U.S. forces out by the end of his first term. He then said that there might be a “more optimistic” timetable which Obama could conceivably adopt whereby we would return to pre-surge levels this year, see a modest reduction in 2009 and further reductions to 50,000-70,00 troops in 2011.

The program continued with many more probing questions and insightful answers which I strongly encourage all to read when the transcript is available.

I think this presentation highlighted several things. First, facts do matter and they are readily available to anyone who cares to find them. Second, the wisdom of the war and the mismanagement of the war for a number of years needs, for the sake of the country’s national security, to be separated from what we do now. As O’Hanlon said “we are where we are.” Third, Democrats can save face and claim credit for pressuring the Iraqi government if they are inclined to depart from their defeat at all costs approach. Fourth, no one should be Pollyannaish about the success to date but a better outcome than almost anyone would be imagined is now possible. Fifth, the military success of the surge followed by the remarkable progress of the Iraqi military has now empowered Maliki as a truly national political leader. That is what we had hoped when the surge began and that is the basis by which we can achieve a decent outcome and eventually draw down our troops. Finally, I am considerably less optimistic than O’Hanlon that there is now a political window during which the Democrats can be weaned from their defeatist perspective. I fear it would be too great a shift for Obama and the Democrats who have banked on failure. I hope I am wrong and pray that this is the beginning of a reconciliation with reality.

Senior Brookings Fellows Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack gave a report today and entertained questions at a Brookings briefing on Iraq. It was the single most illuminating presentation I have witnessed on the status of Iraq and the potential way forward. Neither man can be accused of shilling for either the administration or John McCain for numerous reasons: both have been strong critics of the war and O’Hanlon opposed the war at the onset and still believes on balance it has not made us safer. I understand from Brookings that the entire transcript will be posted, but I offer some highlights below.

O’Hanlon explained that the last three months has been the “spring of the blossoming of Iraqi security forces” and Iraq is on an “impressive trajectory” although we have not yet “reached a stable end point.” He stressed that the 80% reduction in civilian violence was much better than he thought possible. He went through a detailed review of Basra, conceding that Maliki’s actions took the Americans by surprise and that in the first week things went poorly. However, by the second week two brigades were deployed from Al Anbar ( a testimony to massive improvements in Iraq security force logistics) and the mission was successful, allowing the Iraqi army and national police force to now control the streets of Basra.

Pollack echoed these observations, saying that “The headline was the emergence of Iraqi security forces.” He explained that the fundamental shift from Americans leading with Iraqis in support to Iraqis leading not just “hold” but “clear” operations is now “well underway.” He observes that sectarian divisions within the military are receding as mixed Sunni and Shia units have been successful in Basra and Mosul operations. He sees vast improvement in military leadership which “is one of the main reasons for improvement” in the security situation. He credits the military success with allowing for a “fundamental rearrangement” of Iraqi politics, observing that Maliki is now “flying high” with new found respect from Sunnis. The big picture take away, he says, it that having achieved remarkable success with major issues we now can begin to address “second and third order problems” such as insuring that military forces “stay in their lane” and do not subvert civilian leadership.

I asked O’Hanlon whether his previous criticism that Barack Obama was in denial about facts on the ground still stood. In a lengthy answer he and then Pollack avoided a partisan hit on Obama and I think revealed their true purpose: to inform the public and policy makers about the real situation in Iraq and allow Democrats to in essence climb back off the surge opposition policy limb they have crawled out on. (This is my description; they were quite tactful and even optimistic that this is a time when political leaders can reorient themselves to new facts.) Both indicated that it would be a mistake with critical provincial and national elections upcoming in 2008 and 2009 to begin an abrupt withdrawal in 2009. O’Hanlon offered that Democrats could take credit for having pressured Iraqis on a political front with the clear message that our presence would not be indefinite and that they should accept that “the good news is you may be able to leave earlier than proposed based on progress and not on defeat.”

Continuing with the answer, Pollack said that “our support is absolutely critical” in the short term and that “a massive withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2009 is not a good idea.”

O’Hanlon continued by praising McCain’s May 2008 speech that envisioned half the U.S. forces out by the end of his first term. He then said that there might be a “more optimistic” timetable which Obama could conceivably adopt whereby we would return to pre-surge levels this year, see a modest reduction in 2009 and further reductions to 50,000-70,00 troops in 2011.

The program continued with many more probing questions and insightful answers which I strongly encourage all to read when the transcript is available.

I think this presentation highlighted several things. First, facts do matter and they are readily available to anyone who cares to find them. Second, the wisdom of the war and the mismanagement of the war for a number of years needs, for the sake of the country’s national security, to be separated from what we do now. As O’Hanlon said “we are where we are.” Third, Democrats can save face and claim credit for pressuring the Iraqi government if they are inclined to depart from their defeat at all costs approach. Fourth, no one should be Pollyannaish about the success to date but a better outcome than almost anyone would be imagined is now possible. Fifth, the military success of the surge followed by the remarkable progress of the Iraqi military has now empowered Maliki as a truly national political leader. That is what we had hoped when the surge began and that is the basis by which we can achieve a decent outcome and eventually draw down our troops. Finally, I am considerably less optimistic than O’Hanlon that there is now a political window during which the Democrats can be weaned from their defeatist perspective. I fear it would be too great a shift for Obama and the Democrats who have banked on failure. I hope I am wrong and pray that this is the beginning of a reconciliation with reality.

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McCain Seizes the Moment?

I noted earlier that John McCain has not used the impasse over FISA reauthorization to cast doubt on Barack Obama’s leadership and credibility on homeland security. (After all, that doesn’t have anything to do with Iraq troops or the surge.) I questioned whether it might be smart to highlight the Guantanamo habeas corpus dilemma–the prospect of hundreds of terrorists marching into court with discovery requests in hand–to highlight th contrast between him and Obama. Now it seems he may do just that.

This is not simply a matter of scoring points. It is a very real national security issue and voters need to know whether Obama will demonstrate any independence from the left-wing, trial-lawyer mantra that these people get full access to the courts and all legal procedural rights afforded to American citizens, even if it means forcing us to release terrorists who may kill Americans. Again, this is not a matter of providing some procedural guarantees for detainees (the Bush Adminsitration and Congress tried that), but of finding a solution to the fix we are now in thanks to five members of the Supreme Court.

If McCain can explain this in simple terms he would go a long way toward educating the public about what is at stake and what happens when trial lawyers control national security policy.

I noted earlier that John McCain has not used the impasse over FISA reauthorization to cast doubt on Barack Obama’s leadership and credibility on homeland security. (After all, that doesn’t have anything to do with Iraq troops or the surge.) I questioned whether it might be smart to highlight the Guantanamo habeas corpus dilemma–the prospect of hundreds of terrorists marching into court with discovery requests in hand–to highlight th contrast between him and Obama. Now it seems he may do just that.

This is not simply a matter of scoring points. It is a very real national security issue and voters need to know whether Obama will demonstrate any independence from the left-wing, trial-lawyer mantra that these people get full access to the courts and all legal procedural rights afforded to American citizens, even if it means forcing us to release terrorists who may kill Americans. Again, this is not a matter of providing some procedural guarantees for detainees (the Bush Adminsitration and Congress tried that), but of finding a solution to the fix we are now in thanks to five members of the Supreme Court.

If McCain can explain this in simple terms he would go a long way toward educating the public about what is at stake and what happens when trial lawyers control national security policy.

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Kaplan on Rumsfeld

Robert D. Kaplan, one of our most thoughtful and enterprising foreign correspondents, has an intriguing article in the Atlantic headlined, “What Rumsfeld Got Right.” He admits that the Rumsfeld legacy is not a good one, as seen in the worsening situation in Iraq and Afghanistan on his watch. But he tries to argue that Rumsfeld wasn’t wrong about everything. “Even before 9/11,” he writes, “Rumsfeld saw a new strategic landscape of manifest uncertainty, of fundamental and catastrophic surprise.” In responding to that changed environment, Rumsfeld moved tens of thousands of troops out of established bases in Europe and Asia. He writes:

Thus, by 2004, the Pentagon unveiled plans to bring home an additional 70,000 troops from those fixed garrisons, even as it moved to expand a network of bare-bones sites in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America to support rotational rather than permanently stationed forces. Such “lily pad” bases would be different from the “Little Americas” of the Cold War: no soldiers’ spouses, no kids, no day-care centers, no dogs, no churches.

He also credits Rumsfeld for trying “to break the lock that individual services still held on area commands (a lock that Goldwater-Nichols was supposed to have prevented) by naming a Navy admiral to run the Army-dominated Southern Command, trying to get an Air Force general to run the Navy-dominated Pacific Command, and so on.” In addition: “Parts of the world were unassigned when Rumsfeld came into office; he assigned them. He created Northern Command for the defense of the continental United States and put Canada and Mexico inside it. He assigned Russia to European Command and Antarctica to Pacific Command. Out of part of European Command, which was responsible for much of Africa, he created Africa Command.”

He also writes that Rumsfeld did a good job of repositioning the U.S. in Asia. For instance: “Rumsfeld also took the lead in revamping the U.S.-Japan military relationship. Japan agreed (among other things) to spend billions of dollars to defend itself against North Korean ballistic missiles, and to host the first nuclear aircraft-carrier strike group to forward-deploy overseas (a notable development for a country neuralgic about nuclear weapons).”

Finally there was Rumsfeld’s signature issue of transformation. Kaplan admits that Rumsfeld’s success in this area was far from complete but argues he should be given credit for some significant accomplishments:

Rumsfeld did press for one of the most significant shifts in Army organization since the Napoleonic era, changing the Army’s central maneuver unit from the division to the brigade combat team. A brigade was only half or a third the size of a division (which could have anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers). Its headquarters element was less bureaucratic and less top-heavy with colonels.

The problem with all those achievements, as even Kaplan confesses, is that at best Rumsfeld was half-right. Yes the armed forces needed to be transformed-but not necessarily in the “light and lethal” direction that he emphasized, which left them ill-prepared for long-term counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, it’s a good idea to make the brigade, rather than the division, the basic unit of maneuver–but the Rumsfeld-era brigades lacked enough combat punch and were a poor substitute for dramatically increasing the overall size of the army. Yes, U.S. troops needed to be repositioned after the end of the Cold War–but putting them in the heart of Texas doesn’t improve their readiness to fight in the Middle East or other likely battlefields and it slights the positive political role that long-term deployments overseas can have. Yes, Rumsfeld was right to shake up traditional service prerogatives–but his interventions were often so heavy-handed that they caused resentment out of all proportion to their potential benefits.

Kaplan is right to point out that Rumsfeld didn’t get everything wrong. Thank goodness. But that’s not likely to be much of a defense in the court of history. After all, Robert McNamara got some things right too–his budgeting processes were still in use at the Pentagon decades after he left office. But his legacy remains tied, correctly, to the major war he oversaw. And that will be Rumsfeld’s fate too. It did not help that the turnaround in Iraq occurred only after Rumsfeld and his chosen generals (Abizaid, Casey) were booted out of office.

Also, although Kaplan does not mention this, Rumsfeld’s record is looking worse all the time because his successor has been so much more effective. Bob Gates has turned out to be a real reformer. He has fired more senior political appointees and military officers than Rumsfeld ever did, instituting a principle of accountability that had been sorely lacking during the Rumsfeld years. And he’s done it without creating the widespread, self-defeating animosity that Rumsfeld engendered. Ralph Peters, who called Rumsfeld our worst secretary of defense, has already anointed Gates as the best. Just as Jimmy Carter looked worse because of Reagan’s success, so too will Rumsfeld look worse from Gates’s success.

Robert D. Kaplan, one of our most thoughtful and enterprising foreign correspondents, has an intriguing article in the Atlantic headlined, “What Rumsfeld Got Right.” He admits that the Rumsfeld legacy is not a good one, as seen in the worsening situation in Iraq and Afghanistan on his watch. But he tries to argue that Rumsfeld wasn’t wrong about everything. “Even before 9/11,” he writes, “Rumsfeld saw a new strategic landscape of manifest uncertainty, of fundamental and catastrophic surprise.” In responding to that changed environment, Rumsfeld moved tens of thousands of troops out of established bases in Europe and Asia. He writes:

Thus, by 2004, the Pentagon unveiled plans to bring home an additional 70,000 troops from those fixed garrisons, even as it moved to expand a network of bare-bones sites in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America to support rotational rather than permanently stationed forces. Such “lily pad” bases would be different from the “Little Americas” of the Cold War: no soldiers’ spouses, no kids, no day-care centers, no dogs, no churches.

He also credits Rumsfeld for trying “to break the lock that individual services still held on area commands (a lock that Goldwater-Nichols was supposed to have prevented) by naming a Navy admiral to run the Army-dominated Southern Command, trying to get an Air Force general to run the Navy-dominated Pacific Command, and so on.” In addition: “Parts of the world were unassigned when Rumsfeld came into office; he assigned them. He created Northern Command for the defense of the continental United States and put Canada and Mexico inside it. He assigned Russia to European Command and Antarctica to Pacific Command. Out of part of European Command, which was responsible for much of Africa, he created Africa Command.”

He also writes that Rumsfeld did a good job of repositioning the U.S. in Asia. For instance: “Rumsfeld also took the lead in revamping the U.S.-Japan military relationship. Japan agreed (among other things) to spend billions of dollars to defend itself against North Korean ballistic missiles, and to host the first nuclear aircraft-carrier strike group to forward-deploy overseas (a notable development for a country neuralgic about nuclear weapons).”

Finally there was Rumsfeld’s signature issue of transformation. Kaplan admits that Rumsfeld’s success in this area was far from complete but argues he should be given credit for some significant accomplishments:

Rumsfeld did press for one of the most significant shifts in Army organization since the Napoleonic era, changing the Army’s central maneuver unit from the division to the brigade combat team. A brigade was only half or a third the size of a division (which could have anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers). Its headquarters element was less bureaucratic and less top-heavy with colonels.

The problem with all those achievements, as even Kaplan confesses, is that at best Rumsfeld was half-right. Yes the armed forces needed to be transformed-but not necessarily in the “light and lethal” direction that he emphasized, which left them ill-prepared for long-term counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, it’s a good idea to make the brigade, rather than the division, the basic unit of maneuver–but the Rumsfeld-era brigades lacked enough combat punch and were a poor substitute for dramatically increasing the overall size of the army. Yes, U.S. troops needed to be repositioned after the end of the Cold War–but putting them in the heart of Texas doesn’t improve their readiness to fight in the Middle East or other likely battlefields and it slights the positive political role that long-term deployments overseas can have. Yes, Rumsfeld was right to shake up traditional service prerogatives–but his interventions were often so heavy-handed that they caused resentment out of all proportion to their potential benefits.

Kaplan is right to point out that Rumsfeld didn’t get everything wrong. Thank goodness. But that’s not likely to be much of a defense in the court of history. After all, Robert McNamara got some things right too–his budgeting processes were still in use at the Pentagon decades after he left office. But his legacy remains tied, correctly, to the major war he oversaw. And that will be Rumsfeld’s fate too. It did not help that the turnaround in Iraq occurred only after Rumsfeld and his chosen generals (Abizaid, Casey) were booted out of office.

Also, although Kaplan does not mention this, Rumsfeld’s record is looking worse all the time because his successor has been so much more effective. Bob Gates has turned out to be a real reformer. He has fired more senior political appointees and military officers than Rumsfeld ever did, instituting a principle of accountability that had been sorely lacking during the Rumsfeld years. And he’s done it without creating the widespread, self-defeating animosity that Rumsfeld engendered. Ralph Peters, who called Rumsfeld our worst secretary of defense, has already anointed Gates as the best. Just as Jimmy Carter looked worse because of Reagan’s success, so too will Rumsfeld look worse from Gates’s success.

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What Are They Up to Today?

Barack Obama is trying to scare old people that John McCain will “privatize” social security. McCain responds:

We have to fix Social Security, and we have to fix Medicare. And I want to just mention on the issue of Social Security, ‘McCain wants to quote privatize Social Security.’ My friends, I do not and will not privatize Social Security. It is a government program, and it is necessary, but it’s broken. We’ve got to tell the American people that we got to fix it. And we got to sit down together, the way that Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill did back in 1983 and fix Social Security. But my friends, I will not privatize Social Security, and it’s not true when I’m accused of that, but I would like for younger workers, younger workers only, to have an opportunity to take a few of their tax dollars, a few of theirs, and maybe put it into an account with their name on it. That’s their money. That’s their money. So when I say that, so when I say that, please don’t – please don’t let them twist that as they have others. It’s their money. It’s their money. It’s your money. And we will make sure that present day retirees, I will commit, have the benefits that they have earned. And nothing any proposal would change that.

Who is going to win this one? Scaring old folks is a tried and true political tactic so McCain will likely have his work cut out.

Meanwhile, he is trying to force Obama into town halls (even accepting invitations from the LBJ and Reagan libraries) and  has rebuffed a limited counteroffer from Obama. It is unclear whether at this point they will agree to any. Why won’t Obama agree? As one friendly blogger concedes: ” Too much time away from campaigning — it’s a big country and there are lots of places to go, too much prep time, too much schedule disruption. And, truth be told, McCain is better at these kinds of events than Obama is.” Will it matter? On this one, unlike social security, McCain may have the upper hand. After all, why should Obama be afraid to interact unscripted with McCain?

Barack Obama is trying to scare old people that John McCain will “privatize” social security. McCain responds:

We have to fix Social Security, and we have to fix Medicare. And I want to just mention on the issue of Social Security, ‘McCain wants to quote privatize Social Security.’ My friends, I do not and will not privatize Social Security. It is a government program, and it is necessary, but it’s broken. We’ve got to tell the American people that we got to fix it. And we got to sit down together, the way that Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill did back in 1983 and fix Social Security. But my friends, I will not privatize Social Security, and it’s not true when I’m accused of that, but I would like for younger workers, younger workers only, to have an opportunity to take a few of their tax dollars, a few of theirs, and maybe put it into an account with their name on it. That’s their money. That’s their money. So when I say that, so when I say that, please don’t – please don’t let them twist that as they have others. It’s their money. It’s their money. It’s your money. And we will make sure that present day retirees, I will commit, have the benefits that they have earned. And nothing any proposal would change that.

Who is going to win this one? Scaring old folks is a tried and true political tactic so McCain will likely have his work cut out.

Meanwhile, he is trying to force Obama into town halls (even accepting invitations from the LBJ and Reagan libraries) and  has rebuffed a limited counteroffer from Obama. It is unclear whether at this point they will agree to any. Why won’t Obama agree? As one friendly blogger concedes: ” Too much time away from campaigning — it’s a big country and there are lots of places to go, too much prep time, too much schedule disruption. And, truth be told, McCain is better at these kinds of events than Obama is.” Will it matter? On this one, unlike social security, McCain may have the upper hand. After all, why should Obama be afraid to interact unscripted with McCain?

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Swallowing Taiwan

Today, China and Taiwan signed agreements to establish regular flights and to bolster tourism. This follows yesterday’s deal to open permanent representative offices in each other’s territory. After eight years of tense relations between Beijing and Taipei, the two sides are moving at lightning speed to strengthen ties after the inauguration of Ma Ying-jeou as the island’s president last month.

And what would be wrong with the easing of tensions across the Taiwan Strait? Hardline elements in Ma’s Kuomintang, which now controls both the executive and legislative branches of government, want to surrender Taiwan’s sovereignty and become just another subdivision of the People’s Republic of China. Not everyone in the ruling party wants to do that, of course, but rapid economic integration poses a threat to the separate existence of the democracy of 23 million people.

Some in the United States would be happy if Beijing absorbs the Republic of China, as the island is formally known, because it is an obstacle to the formation of a condominium between Washington and Beijing. President Bush does not share this cynical goal, but he has nonetheless done more than anyone else to translate it into reality. The leader who once said he would do whatever it took to support Taiwan has done just about everything he could to help China. He sat in the Oval Office with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and castigated Taiwan, he further isolated the island in international circles as a favor to the Chinese, and now he is blocking arms sales to the Taiwanese.

President Ma may or may not want to submit to China, but we can say that the United States is leaving him little choice but to seek accommodation with the autocrats in Beijing.

Today, China and Taiwan signed agreements to establish regular flights and to bolster tourism. This follows yesterday’s deal to open permanent representative offices in each other’s territory. After eight years of tense relations between Beijing and Taipei, the two sides are moving at lightning speed to strengthen ties after the inauguration of Ma Ying-jeou as the island’s president last month.

And what would be wrong with the easing of tensions across the Taiwan Strait? Hardline elements in Ma’s Kuomintang, which now controls both the executive and legislative branches of government, want to surrender Taiwan’s sovereignty and become just another subdivision of the People’s Republic of China. Not everyone in the ruling party wants to do that, of course, but rapid economic integration poses a threat to the separate existence of the democracy of 23 million people.

Some in the United States would be happy if Beijing absorbs the Republic of China, as the island is formally known, because it is an obstacle to the formation of a condominium between Washington and Beijing. President Bush does not share this cynical goal, but he has nonetheless done more than anyone else to translate it into reality. The leader who once said he would do whatever it took to support Taiwan has done just about everything he could to help China. He sat in the Oval Office with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and castigated Taiwan, he further isolated the island in international circles as a favor to the Chinese, and now he is blocking arms sales to the Taiwanese.

President Ma may or may not want to submit to China, but we can say that the United States is leaving him little choice but to seek accommodation with the autocrats in Beijing.

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All This in Eight Years?

Barack Obama’s characterization of present-day America as a nationwide ghost town is old news, but sometimes he really outdoes himself. Consider this downer from a speech Obama gave yesterday in Wisconsin:

. . . for the last eight years, we’ve failed to keep the fundamental promise that if you work hard you can live your own version of the American dream. Instead, folks are working harder for less. The cost of everything from gas, to groceries to tuition is skyrocketing. It’s harder to save, and harder to retire. At kitchen tables like Ryan and Jenny’s, it’s easy to feel like that dream of opportunity that should be the right of all Americans is slipping away.

This troubling story is written into communities across the country. It’s the story of empty factories shut down forever because the jobs were shipped overseas and nothing took their place. It’s the story of a mother who can’t afford health care for her sick child; a father who lost his job and can’t afford a tank of gas to look for another; a child facing a future where they’ll have to pay off hundreds of billions of dollars in debt to pay for George Bush’s tax cuts.

Forget about policy–a situation as dire as the one Obama describes requires the world’s worst luck. This is Murphy’s America, where everything that can go wrong will go wrong (and be blamed on George Bush’s tax cuts). Why would Obama even try to reach such hapless Americans? There’s no way they can make it to the voting booths in November–not with the kid home sick, the empty gas tank, the job search, and the hundreds of billions in debt. Sure, Iraqis and Afghans may have managed to get to the polls over the last few years, but they never had to face this kind of American oppression.

Barack Obama’s characterization of present-day America as a nationwide ghost town is old news, but sometimes he really outdoes himself. Consider this downer from a speech Obama gave yesterday in Wisconsin:

. . . for the last eight years, we’ve failed to keep the fundamental promise that if you work hard you can live your own version of the American dream. Instead, folks are working harder for less. The cost of everything from gas, to groceries to tuition is skyrocketing. It’s harder to save, and harder to retire. At kitchen tables like Ryan and Jenny’s, it’s easy to feel like that dream of opportunity that should be the right of all Americans is slipping away.

This troubling story is written into communities across the country. It’s the story of empty factories shut down forever because the jobs were shipped overseas and nothing took their place. It’s the story of a mother who can’t afford health care for her sick child; a father who lost his job and can’t afford a tank of gas to look for another; a child facing a future where they’ll have to pay off hundreds of billions of dollars in debt to pay for George Bush’s tax cuts.

Forget about policy–a situation as dire as the one Obama describes requires the world’s worst luck. This is Murphy’s America, where everything that can go wrong will go wrong (and be blamed on George Bush’s tax cuts). Why would Obama even try to reach such hapless Americans? There’s no way they can make it to the voting booths in November–not with the kid home sick, the empty gas tank, the job search, and the hundreds of billions in debt. Sure, Iraqis and Afghans may have managed to get to the polls over the last few years, but they never had to face this kind of American oppression.

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Bottler Brown

Why is Gordon Brown so staggeringly unpopular? The latest Times poll had the Conservatives on 42 percent, Labour on 26 percent, and the Liberal Democrats on 22 percent approval. Over the past few months, Labour has suffered a catastrophic wipeout in local elections, has seen the disgusting Ken Livingstone lose the London mayoral election to Boris Johnson, and was badly beaten in a by-election in Crewe, a Commons seat they have held for decades.

The BBC, showing once again its desire to be fair and balanced in a way that would make Fox News (or, rather, CBS) blush, ran an entirely one-sided exploration (“Gordon Brown: Where Did It All Go Wrong?”) of this question on Monday, featuring damning on the record interviews with most of Brown’s current Cabinet colleagues. The BBC’s theme was conventional wisdom: Brown is unpopular because, in British parlance, he’s a bottler: he lacks the courage to make tough decisions.

There is some evidence for this. Brown’s collapse began when he failed to call a general election last fall, one that, if he had won it, would have given him a mandate of his own, not one that derived from Blair. His other damaging mistake was, in his last Budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer, to abolish the 10 pence tax band, and so to raise taxes on the poor. This was, understandably, seen as directly contrary to the principles of the Labour Party, and Brown was eventually forced to backtrack. Hence the BBC’s theme.

As I pointed out in December, we have seen this before: the failure of the designated successor is as old a story as Balfour following Salisbury. But having been in Britain for the past two weeks, the disdain the public and the media feel for Brown is hard to understand. As one top Tory adviser put it to me, there is no objective reason why Labour should be doing so badly. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are inflicting few casualties, and while the economy is now looking sickly, Brown went downhill before it did. But yet Labour is busy tearing itself apart, with everyone looking on happily.

My explanation is not so much that Brown is a bottler. It’s that both Britain, and especially the Labour Party, badly wanted to defenestrate Tony Blair. He created New Labour and, after many years, the party finally nerved themselves up to challenge him. In a parliamentary system, that takes guts. But last summer he slipped away not quite on his own terms, but certainly not on theirs. Denied the catharsis of completing that rebellion, they have settled for being awkward and unhappy under Brown.

There is a lot to dislike about Labour’s policies, but this is not the second coming of 1979: the turn against Labour is nowhere near as deep-seated as it was then. This is as much about personalities as policies. The challenge facing the Conservatives, as a result, is a tricky one: it is to develop a distinctive, conservative agenda for governing, while staying on the right side of a public that is not really sure what it wants, except that it does not want Gordon Brown.

Why is Gordon Brown so staggeringly unpopular? The latest Times poll had the Conservatives on 42 percent, Labour on 26 percent, and the Liberal Democrats on 22 percent approval. Over the past few months, Labour has suffered a catastrophic wipeout in local elections, has seen the disgusting Ken Livingstone lose the London mayoral election to Boris Johnson, and was badly beaten in a by-election in Crewe, a Commons seat they have held for decades.

The BBC, showing once again its desire to be fair and balanced in a way that would make Fox News (or, rather, CBS) blush, ran an entirely one-sided exploration (“Gordon Brown: Where Did It All Go Wrong?”) of this question on Monday, featuring damning on the record interviews with most of Brown’s current Cabinet colleagues. The BBC’s theme was conventional wisdom: Brown is unpopular because, in British parlance, he’s a bottler: he lacks the courage to make tough decisions.

There is some evidence for this. Brown’s collapse began when he failed to call a general election last fall, one that, if he had won it, would have given him a mandate of his own, not one that derived from Blair. His other damaging mistake was, in his last Budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer, to abolish the 10 pence tax band, and so to raise taxes on the poor. This was, understandably, seen as directly contrary to the principles of the Labour Party, and Brown was eventually forced to backtrack. Hence the BBC’s theme.

As I pointed out in December, we have seen this before: the failure of the designated successor is as old a story as Balfour following Salisbury. But having been in Britain for the past two weeks, the disdain the public and the media feel for Brown is hard to understand. As one top Tory adviser put it to me, there is no objective reason why Labour should be doing so badly. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are inflicting few casualties, and while the economy is now looking sickly, Brown went downhill before it did. But yet Labour is busy tearing itself apart, with everyone looking on happily.

My explanation is not so much that Brown is a bottler. It’s that both Britain, and especially the Labour Party, badly wanted to defenestrate Tony Blair. He created New Labour and, after many years, the party finally nerved themselves up to challenge him. In a parliamentary system, that takes guts. But last summer he slipped away not quite on his own terms, but certainly not on theirs. Denied the catharsis of completing that rebellion, they have settled for being awkward and unhappy under Brown.

There is a lot to dislike about Labour’s policies, but this is not the second coming of 1979: the turn against Labour is nowhere near as deep-seated as it was then. This is as much about personalities as policies. The challenge facing the Conservatives, as a result, is a tricky one: it is to develop a distinctive, conservative agenda for governing, while staying on the right side of a public that is not really sure what it wants, except that it does not want Gordon Brown.

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Worst Campaign Article Ever?

I’ll let you decide. From the LA Times:

Barack Obama no doubt could have lived without the nod he recently received from now-retired Cuban President Fidel Castro, who called the Democrat “the most advanced candidate” in America’s presidential race.

And on Thursday, John McCain received the type of backing from a foreign leader that he too would just as soon forgo.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, at a joint news conference with President Bush in Rome, initially demurred when asked about the U.S. election, saying, “I cannot express any preference with regard to an electoral campaign going on in another country.”

But Berlusconi quickly shifted his stance, acknowledging a preference for Republican McCain based on a “very selfish reason”: If the Arizona senator wins, Berlusconi no longer will be the oldest leader when the Group of 8 industrial nations meet, “because McCain is a month older than me.”

Berlusconi’s comment, it seems to me, is obviously a joke. And Don Frederick, the author, is guilty both of equating Fidel Castro with Silvio Berlusconi and of having no apparent sense of humor.

I’ll let you decide. From the LA Times:

Barack Obama no doubt could have lived without the nod he recently received from now-retired Cuban President Fidel Castro, who called the Democrat “the most advanced candidate” in America’s presidential race.

And on Thursday, John McCain received the type of backing from a foreign leader that he too would just as soon forgo.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, at a joint news conference with President Bush in Rome, initially demurred when asked about the U.S. election, saying, “I cannot express any preference with regard to an electoral campaign going on in another country.”

But Berlusconi quickly shifted his stance, acknowledging a preference for Republican McCain based on a “very selfish reason”: If the Arizona senator wins, Berlusconi no longer will be the oldest leader when the Group of 8 industrial nations meet, “because McCain is a month older than me.”

Berlusconi’s comment, it seems to me, is obviously a joke. And Don Frederick, the author, is guilty both of equating Fidel Castro with Silvio Berlusconi and of having no apparent sense of humor.

Read Less

Failure and Success With Joe Klein

On his June 11 Swampland blog, Joe Klein once again comments on Iraq. On the effects of the so-called surge, Klein admits to progress. In his words:

the military situation in Iraq has improved so much that normally sober and pessimistic military and intelligence sorts are simply stunned.

… the successful operations in Basra, Sadr City and Mosul have had a completely unexpected effect on the stature of the formerly hapless Nouri Al-Maliki: At a recent cabinet meeting after the Sadr City operation, the entire room stood when Maliki entered, a sign of newfound respect for a leader who was regarded as little more than a place-holder only months ago. [italics in original]

… the tide of good news is unmistakable.

Klein offers several caveats in his posting, and they are good ones. But elsewhere he veers badly off track and gets sloppy in the process. And because his views so often reflect conventional, if flawed, wisdom at the time, they are worth examining with some care.

To begin with a specific point of clarification: Klein refers to Fred and Kim Kagan as “persistent Pollyannas about progress” on Iraq. In fact, that’s not correct. Long ago the Kagans were concerned that things in Iraq were going poorly and that, pre-Petraeus, the wrong counterinsurgency plan was in place. They made no secret of their views. On January 17, 2005, for example, Fred Kagan wrote an editorial for The Weekly Standard. In his words, “Claims that there are no serious problems with military policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, or with the equipment our soldiers have, or with the number of troops available, are childish and damaging to efforts to identify and solve real problems.” These are hardly the words of a Pollyanna.

Klein concludes his post with this paragraph:

In all this, we should be clear on one thing: Even if the optimistic scenarios prevail, this war was a mistake from beginning to end. It was a scandalous waste of lives, money and American prestige. It diverted U.S. attention from the real threat of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan–a war that still needs to be won. The threat of neoconservative neocolonialism overseas remains a real problem–and it is likely to be the fault line on which the foreign policy debate takes place in the coming presidential campaign. But those who oppose neocon arrogance and intransigence have to do so from facts, and an acknowledgment of the reality on the ground–an acknowledgment of the brilliant work done in the past year in Iraq by the U.S. military, an acknowledgment that the Iraqis just may have grown tired of killing each other. And with a demand that the troops come home as quickly as possible.

Let’s unpack this a bit.

1. Since Klein declared the Iraq war a mistake “from beginning to end,” it’s once again worth reminding people that Klein favored the war before it began, as I’ve documented here and here. Joe now refers to that as a one-time moment of weakness, one he seems unhappy to be reminded of. But note well: Klein not only favored the war; he offered persuasive reasons why he did.

2. What about Klein’s predictive and analytical powers as they relate to the surge? Klein was a vocal, persistent critic of it and repeatedly declared it could not succeed. Let’s take things chronologically.

On January 7, 2007, Klein wrote this:

Pelosi’s right, though: it’s too late for a surge. Instead of putting all its brainpower into surging, the military should be focusing on how to get our conventional forces out (and leave our unconventional forces in the neighborhood) in a way that prevents an all-out regional conflict

On January 8 alone, he wrote three different posts, including this:

The Democrats who oppose the so-called “surge” are right.

And this:

The question is, will it lead to a quieter Baghdad? And another question: How long will our troops have to be there for this to change Iraq’s violent sectarian culture–if it can work at all? Serious surgers tell me…ten years . That seems more a glacier than a surge.

And this:

For the record, I’m outraged Bush is ignoring the election results and the reality on the ground in Iraq. I think he is sending more young American lives into an impossible situation.

On February 14, Klein wrote this:

This piece, by Lawrence Kaplan, is the smartest thing I’ve read in a while about what’s actually happening on the ground in Iraq. It has the virtue of first-hand reporting from al-Anbar Province and some very good analysis about why the Baghdad “surge” is probably doomed. I differ from Kaplan on one point, however: he’d maintain our troop levels in Baghdad and concentrate the surge on the provinces. I’d withdraw from the civil war in Baghdad, begin pulling our troops out of Iraq–but focus on our long-term national interests: i.e. helping the Sunnis to fight Al Qaeda in al-Anbar.

And from April 3:

I’d like to think that if we concentrated the big brains–civilians like James Baker, elected officials like Senator Jack Reed, military people like McCaffrey and Petraeus–on a creative withdrawal plan we might be able to extricate ourselves, save our Army and prevent a regional war. No chance of that in the Bush Administration, of course. But it’s the only vaguely plausible option that remains.

Ten days later Klein wrote this:

Since many readers seem to have short memories, let me repeat that I’ve been opposed to the surge. I stand precisely with Senators Jim Webb, Jack Reed and Chuck Hagel on this: I think our best military minds–people like Genl Petraeus–should be devoting their attention to the safest, and least disastrous, and most responsible, way out of this.

And a week later this:

The ultimate Iraq “surge” end strength is projected at 167,000, which won’t be enough–especially given the lack of readiness (especially when it comes to equipment), the newly extended tours and the fact that Guard and Reserve troops will be called back. This is an exhausted force. Morale will be a bitch. And for what? The damage to our military will be considerable. A disaster, any way you cut it.

There is much more in the Klein anti-surge oeuvre, but to briefly sum up Klein’s positions on Iraq: He supported a war that he later referred to as the “stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President.” He was a ferocious critic of a counterinsurgency strategy that is, by his own admission, stunningly successful. And he favored a policy which, if it had been put into effect, would likely have led to mass death and perhaps genocide, a victory for jihadists and Iran, greater destabilization in the region, a defeat in a war of enormous consequence and therefore a genuine demoralization of the American military. It’s not clear what in this record commends Klein as an authoritative voice on Iraq specifically or national security matters more broadly.

3. Klein refers to what he terms the “threat of neoconservative neocolonialism overseas.” There are other names for this, such as “liberation” and “championing freedom.” And back in 2005, during the “Arab Spring,” Klein was supportive of it.

In the February 6, 2005 issue of Time, Klein wrote this:

Yes, disentanglement will be difficult. And, yes, we shouldn’t “overhype” the [Iraq] election, as John Kerry clumsily suggested. But this is not a moment for caveats. It is a moment for solemn appreciation of the Iraqi achievement-however it may turn out-and for hope…. This was a symptom of a larger disease: most Democrats seemed as reluctant as Kerry to express the slightest hint of optimism about the elections.

A few weeks later, Klein wrote this:

And yet, for the moment, Bush’s instincts-his supporters would argue these are bedrock values-seem to be paying off. The President’s attention span may be haphazard, but the immediate satisfactions are difficult to dispute. Saddam Hussein? Evildoer. Take him out. But wait, no WMD? No post-invasion planning? Deaths and chaos? Awful, but…. Freedom! Look at those Shiites vote! And now, after all that rapid-eye movement, who can say the Shiites and the Kurds won’t create a government with a loyal Shiite-Kurd security force? And who can say the Sunni rebels won’t–with some creative dealmaking–eventually acquiesce? The foreign-policy priesthood may be appalled by all the unexpected consequences, but there has been stunned silence in the non-neocon think tanks since the Iraqi elections.

It even got to the point that Klein declared that “If the President turns out to be right–and let’s hope he is… he will surely deserve that woolliest of all peace prizes, the Nobel.”

It is an odd thing indeed when the effort to promote self-government in a region that has never known it, and for a people who for decades lived under the lash of the whip, is referred to as “neocolonialism overseas.” The United States is actually trying to help the Iraqis on the path to a decent, stable, peaceful, and free society. That work has involved serious errors of judgment by the Bush Administration, which I have dilated on elsewhere, and entailed enormous sacrifice by our nation. But it has been done in order to advance a noble cause, one Klein once embraced and, given the pinball nature of his views, he may embrace again.

4. Klein claims that Iraq “diverted U.S. attention from the real threat of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan–a war that still needs to be won.” Yet Klein admits that al Qaeda is “facing an intellectual challenge from within its own ranks.” That is correct–and it is happening in part because of events in Iraq. The “Anbar Awakening”–an organic Sunni uprising against the brutality of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and which was greatly assisted by the United States military–is a development of enormous significance. Al Qaeda chose to make Iraq a central battleground in the war against jihadism–and having done so, it is on the receiving end of punishing blows, there and elsewhere.

The Washington Post reported this a few weeks ago:

Less than a year after his agency warned of new threats from a resurgent al-Qaeda, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden now portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda’s allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group’s core leadership. While cautioning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents.

The widely respected U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, said earlier this month, “You are not going to hear me say that al Qaeda is defeated, but they’ve never been closer to defeat than they are now.”

We are also seeing, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, “large and growing numbers of Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere rejecting Islamic extremism.” And there have been large drops in support for bin Laden.

If the President had taken Klein’s counsel to withdraw from the “civil war in Baghdad” and begin pulling troops out of Iraq, it would have been the greatest boon possible for al Qaeda. And so the very thing Klein says he fears would in fact become a reality.

If things turn out well in Iraq–and that is certainly a possibility now, given the enormous progress we’ve seen–then the war may well prove to be a net plus for America’s national security interests and for the broader cause of liberty. That didn’t seem possible a few years ago but, thanks to policies embraced by President Bush and which Klein fiercely opposed, a good outcome in Iraq is now within reach. If that day comes to pass, Joe Klein may well remind people, in his customarily emphatic and cock-sure way, that this was a war he once supported and deemed winnable. It just goes to show that there are advantages in taking shifting stands on all sides of an issue.

On his June 11 Swampland blog, Joe Klein once again comments on Iraq. On the effects of the so-called surge, Klein admits to progress. In his words:

the military situation in Iraq has improved so much that normally sober and pessimistic military and intelligence sorts are simply stunned.

… the successful operations in Basra, Sadr City and Mosul have had a completely unexpected effect on the stature of the formerly hapless Nouri Al-Maliki: At a recent cabinet meeting after the Sadr City operation, the entire room stood when Maliki entered, a sign of newfound respect for a leader who was regarded as little more than a place-holder only months ago. [italics in original]

… the tide of good news is unmistakable.

Klein offers several caveats in his posting, and they are good ones. But elsewhere he veers badly off track and gets sloppy in the process. And because his views so often reflect conventional, if flawed, wisdom at the time, they are worth examining with some care.

To begin with a specific point of clarification: Klein refers to Fred and Kim Kagan as “persistent Pollyannas about progress” on Iraq. In fact, that’s not correct. Long ago the Kagans were concerned that things in Iraq were going poorly and that, pre-Petraeus, the wrong counterinsurgency plan was in place. They made no secret of their views. On January 17, 2005, for example, Fred Kagan wrote an editorial for The Weekly Standard. In his words, “Claims that there are no serious problems with military policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, or with the equipment our soldiers have, or with the number of troops available, are childish and damaging to efforts to identify and solve real problems.” These are hardly the words of a Pollyanna.

Klein concludes his post with this paragraph:

In all this, we should be clear on one thing: Even if the optimistic scenarios prevail, this war was a mistake from beginning to end. It was a scandalous waste of lives, money and American prestige. It diverted U.S. attention from the real threat of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan–a war that still needs to be won. The threat of neoconservative neocolonialism overseas remains a real problem–and it is likely to be the fault line on which the foreign policy debate takes place in the coming presidential campaign. But those who oppose neocon arrogance and intransigence have to do so from facts, and an acknowledgment of the reality on the ground–an acknowledgment of the brilliant work done in the past year in Iraq by the U.S. military, an acknowledgment that the Iraqis just may have grown tired of killing each other. And with a demand that the troops come home as quickly as possible.

Let’s unpack this a bit.

1. Since Klein declared the Iraq war a mistake “from beginning to end,” it’s once again worth reminding people that Klein favored the war before it began, as I’ve documented here and here. Joe now refers to that as a one-time moment of weakness, one he seems unhappy to be reminded of. But note well: Klein not only favored the war; he offered persuasive reasons why he did.

2. What about Klein’s predictive and analytical powers as they relate to the surge? Klein was a vocal, persistent critic of it and repeatedly declared it could not succeed. Let’s take things chronologically.

On January 7, 2007, Klein wrote this:

Pelosi’s right, though: it’s too late for a surge. Instead of putting all its brainpower into surging, the military should be focusing on how to get our conventional forces out (and leave our unconventional forces in the neighborhood) in a way that prevents an all-out regional conflict

On January 8 alone, he wrote three different posts, including this:

The Democrats who oppose the so-called “surge” are right.

And this:

The question is, will it lead to a quieter Baghdad? And another question: How long will our troops have to be there for this to change Iraq’s violent sectarian culture–if it can work at all? Serious surgers tell me…ten years . That seems more a glacier than a surge.

And this:

For the record, I’m outraged Bush is ignoring the election results and the reality on the ground in Iraq. I think he is sending more young American lives into an impossible situation.

On February 14, Klein wrote this:

This piece, by Lawrence Kaplan, is the smartest thing I’ve read in a while about what’s actually happening on the ground in Iraq. It has the virtue of first-hand reporting from al-Anbar Province and some very good analysis about why the Baghdad “surge” is probably doomed. I differ from Kaplan on one point, however: he’d maintain our troop levels in Baghdad and concentrate the surge on the provinces. I’d withdraw from the civil war in Baghdad, begin pulling our troops out of Iraq–but focus on our long-term national interests: i.e. helping the Sunnis to fight Al Qaeda in al-Anbar.

And from April 3:

I’d like to think that if we concentrated the big brains–civilians like James Baker, elected officials like Senator Jack Reed, military people like McCaffrey and Petraeus–on a creative withdrawal plan we might be able to extricate ourselves, save our Army and prevent a regional war. No chance of that in the Bush Administration, of course. But it’s the only vaguely plausible option that remains.

Ten days later Klein wrote this:

Since many readers seem to have short memories, let me repeat that I’ve been opposed to the surge. I stand precisely with Senators Jim Webb, Jack Reed and Chuck Hagel on this: I think our best military minds–people like Genl Petraeus–should be devoting their attention to the safest, and least disastrous, and most responsible, way out of this.

And a week later this:

The ultimate Iraq “surge” end strength is projected at 167,000, which won’t be enough–especially given the lack of readiness (especially when it comes to equipment), the newly extended tours and the fact that Guard and Reserve troops will be called back. This is an exhausted force. Morale will be a bitch. And for what? The damage to our military will be considerable. A disaster, any way you cut it.

There is much more in the Klein anti-surge oeuvre, but to briefly sum up Klein’s positions on Iraq: He supported a war that he later referred to as the “stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President.” He was a ferocious critic of a counterinsurgency strategy that is, by his own admission, stunningly successful. And he favored a policy which, if it had been put into effect, would likely have led to mass death and perhaps genocide, a victory for jihadists and Iran, greater destabilization in the region, a defeat in a war of enormous consequence and therefore a genuine demoralization of the American military. It’s not clear what in this record commends Klein as an authoritative voice on Iraq specifically or national security matters more broadly.

3. Klein refers to what he terms the “threat of neoconservative neocolonialism overseas.” There are other names for this, such as “liberation” and “championing freedom.” And back in 2005, during the “Arab Spring,” Klein was supportive of it.

In the February 6, 2005 issue of Time, Klein wrote this:

Yes, disentanglement will be difficult. And, yes, we shouldn’t “overhype” the [Iraq] election, as John Kerry clumsily suggested. But this is not a moment for caveats. It is a moment for solemn appreciation of the Iraqi achievement-however it may turn out-and for hope…. This was a symptom of a larger disease: most Democrats seemed as reluctant as Kerry to express the slightest hint of optimism about the elections.

A few weeks later, Klein wrote this:

And yet, for the moment, Bush’s instincts-his supporters would argue these are bedrock values-seem to be paying off. The President’s attention span may be haphazard, but the immediate satisfactions are difficult to dispute. Saddam Hussein? Evildoer. Take him out. But wait, no WMD? No post-invasion planning? Deaths and chaos? Awful, but…. Freedom! Look at those Shiites vote! And now, after all that rapid-eye movement, who can say the Shiites and the Kurds won’t create a government with a loyal Shiite-Kurd security force? And who can say the Sunni rebels won’t–with some creative dealmaking–eventually acquiesce? The foreign-policy priesthood may be appalled by all the unexpected consequences, but there has been stunned silence in the non-neocon think tanks since the Iraqi elections.

It even got to the point that Klein declared that “If the President turns out to be right–and let’s hope he is… he will surely deserve that woolliest of all peace prizes, the Nobel.”

It is an odd thing indeed when the effort to promote self-government in a region that has never known it, and for a people who for decades lived under the lash of the whip, is referred to as “neocolonialism overseas.” The United States is actually trying to help the Iraqis on the path to a decent, stable, peaceful, and free society. That work has involved serious errors of judgment by the Bush Administration, which I have dilated on elsewhere, and entailed enormous sacrifice by our nation. But it has been done in order to advance a noble cause, one Klein once embraced and, given the pinball nature of his views, he may embrace again.

4. Klein claims that Iraq “diverted U.S. attention from the real threat of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan–a war that still needs to be won.” Yet Klein admits that al Qaeda is “facing an intellectual challenge from within its own ranks.” That is correct–and it is happening in part because of events in Iraq. The “Anbar Awakening”–an organic Sunni uprising against the brutality of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and which was greatly assisted by the United States military–is a development of enormous significance. Al Qaeda chose to make Iraq a central battleground in the war against jihadism–and having done so, it is on the receiving end of punishing blows, there and elsewhere.

The Washington Post reported this a few weeks ago:

Less than a year after his agency warned of new threats from a resurgent al-Qaeda, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden now portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda’s allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group’s core leadership. While cautioning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents.

The widely respected U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, said earlier this month, “You are not going to hear me say that al Qaeda is defeated, but they’ve never been closer to defeat than they are now.”

We are also seeing, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, “large and growing numbers of Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere rejecting Islamic extremism.” And there have been large drops in support for bin Laden.

If the President had taken Klein’s counsel to withdraw from the “civil war in Baghdad” and begin pulling troops out of Iraq, it would have been the greatest boon possible for al Qaeda. And so the very thing Klein says he fears would in fact become a reality.

If things turn out well in Iraq–and that is certainly a possibility now, given the enormous progress we’ve seen–then the war may well prove to be a net plus for America’s national security interests and for the broader cause of liberty. That didn’t seem possible a few years ago but, thanks to policies embraced by President Bush and which Klein fiercely opposed, a good outcome in Iraq is now within reach. If that day comes to pass, Joe Klein may well remind people, in his customarily emphatic and cock-sure way, that this was a war he once supported and deemed winnable. It just goes to show that there are advantages in taking shifting stands on all sides of an issue.

Read Less

Steyn of the Times

In 2006, the Canadian magazine Maclean’s published a funny and frightening article by Mark Steyn entitled “The Future Belongs to Islam.” It is an excerpt from Steyn’s funny and frightening book, America Alone and contains the kernel of the book’s thesis: On the basis of demographic data, Islam is poised to dominate the political and cultural dynamics of many Western countries.

In response to the article, The Canadian Islamic Congress got together with some legal advisors in the United Kingdom and built a case against Maclean’s and Steyn, charging they violated a Canadian hate speech law. There was a five day hearing last week and now all parties are awaiting a ruling by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal.

Yesterday, the New York Times weighed in on the case with a story by Adam Liptak. To his great shame, Liptak took at face value the characterization of Steyn’s article as hate speech:

. . .Under the First Amendment, newspapers and magazines can say what they like about minorities and religions – even false, provocative or hateful things – without legal consequence.”

The Maclean’s article, “The Future Belongs to Islam,” was an excerpt from a book by Mark Steyn called “America Alone” (Regnery, 2006). The title was fitting: The United States, in its treatment of hate speech, as in so many other areas of the law, takes a distinctive legal path.

Liptak quotes the following statement issued by the Ontario Human Rights Commission without critique:

By portraying Muslims as all sharing the same negative characteristics, including being a threat to ‘the West,’ this explicit expression of Islamophobia further perpetuates and promotes prejudice toward Muslims and others.

The problem is Steyn does not portray “Muslims as all sharing the same negative characteristics.” However, one would never learn this from reading Liptak’s article because Steyn’s original piece is never quoted or described. This is particularly damaging because Liptak has built his entire article around the assumption that Steyn’s work constitutes hate speech and that such speech, though loathsome, is uniquely protected in America.

Yet no one, it seems, can protect thought-provoking writers from the intellectual laziness of the New York Times.

In 2006, the Canadian magazine Maclean’s published a funny and frightening article by Mark Steyn entitled “The Future Belongs to Islam.” It is an excerpt from Steyn’s funny and frightening book, America Alone and contains the kernel of the book’s thesis: On the basis of demographic data, Islam is poised to dominate the political and cultural dynamics of many Western countries.

In response to the article, The Canadian Islamic Congress got together with some legal advisors in the United Kingdom and built a case against Maclean’s and Steyn, charging they violated a Canadian hate speech law. There was a five day hearing last week and now all parties are awaiting a ruling by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal.

Yesterday, the New York Times weighed in on the case with a story by Adam Liptak. To his great shame, Liptak took at face value the characterization of Steyn’s article as hate speech:

. . .Under the First Amendment, newspapers and magazines can say what they like about minorities and religions – even false, provocative or hateful things – without legal consequence.”

The Maclean’s article, “The Future Belongs to Islam,” was an excerpt from a book by Mark Steyn called “America Alone” (Regnery, 2006). The title was fitting: The United States, in its treatment of hate speech, as in so many other areas of the law, takes a distinctive legal path.

Liptak quotes the following statement issued by the Ontario Human Rights Commission without critique:

By portraying Muslims as all sharing the same negative characteristics, including being a threat to ‘the West,’ this explicit expression of Islamophobia further perpetuates and promotes prejudice toward Muslims and others.

The problem is Steyn does not portray “Muslims as all sharing the same negative characteristics.” However, one would never learn this from reading Liptak’s article because Steyn’s original piece is never quoted or described. This is particularly damaging because Liptak has built his entire article around the assumption that Steyn’s work constitutes hate speech and that such speech, though loathsome, is uniquely protected in America.

Yet no one, it seems, can protect thought-provoking writers from the intellectual laziness of the New York Times.

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Additional Guantanamo Thoughts

This excellent analysis makes two interesting points. The Supreme Court struck down not a unilateral exercise of power by George W. Bush, but the joint action of the two elected branches. So when Democratic Senators go popping off about how “Bush lost,” they might want to recall that the Court overrode their action as well. Typically overwrought rants, such as that of the New York Times (“the court turned back the most recent effort to subvert justice with a stirring defense of habeas corpus”), invert what actually occurred: two branches of government tried to craft a detailed procedure to provide terrorists more rights than any enemy detainees in history and the Court said “not good enough.”

And second, since the Court left open the possibility that Congress could go back to suspend the writ of habeas corpus formally and comply with the Constitution, it might be in the interests of Democrats politically to pass some measure which does this so as to avoid

the risk of allowing the detainees to retain full habeas rights. If they don’t act and a terrorist released as a result of a habeas petition commits some atrocity, the Dems will take a predictable political hit. Especially if Obama wins the presidential election, expect the Democrats to enact some sort of partial suspension of habeas corpus, combined with new, but limited statutory procedural rights for detainees.

I’d like to agree, but I’m skeptical. After all, the prospect of losing critical intelligence by failure to pass the FISA extension has not motivated Democrats to pass a bill (with needed telecom immunity). So why should the release of potentially dangerous Guantanamo detainees be any different?

Still, it is worth a try and might be a very shrewd move for John McCain. McCain has not made very much political hay out of Barack Obama’s position on FISA extension. But perhaps using his position in the Senate to introduce a measure to suspend habeas corpus formally (as the Court said would be required), albeit in a narrowly tailored way and with a military tribunal review procedure, would be a good idea. It would demonstrate McCain’s expertise on national security and put into aciton his view that these detainees do not “deserve the protections of the kind of judicial process that a citizen of the United States would have.”

And if Obama opposes it and makes clear he wants all of these detainees to have full access to the courts? Well, that would be a clarifying development. Remember: the issue here is not just providing some right of review through a military tribunal (that’s what President Bush and Congress tried to do) but granting full court access (with all the procedural rights attendant thereto) to detainees, at least 37 of whom, after release, returned to terrorist activities.

In short, McCain should put Obama’s feet to the fire: is he really in favor of letting the terror suspects stroll into federal court and use discovery requests and other legal mechanisms to blackmail the government into releasing them?

This excellent analysis makes two interesting points. The Supreme Court struck down not a unilateral exercise of power by George W. Bush, but the joint action of the two elected branches. So when Democratic Senators go popping off about how “Bush lost,” they might want to recall that the Court overrode their action as well. Typically overwrought rants, such as that of the New York Times (“the court turned back the most recent effort to subvert justice with a stirring defense of habeas corpus”), invert what actually occurred: two branches of government tried to craft a detailed procedure to provide terrorists more rights than any enemy detainees in history and the Court said “not good enough.”

And second, since the Court left open the possibility that Congress could go back to suspend the writ of habeas corpus formally and comply with the Constitution, it might be in the interests of Democrats politically to pass some measure which does this so as to avoid

the risk of allowing the detainees to retain full habeas rights. If they don’t act and a terrorist released as a result of a habeas petition commits some atrocity, the Dems will take a predictable political hit. Especially if Obama wins the presidential election, expect the Democrats to enact some sort of partial suspension of habeas corpus, combined with new, but limited statutory procedural rights for detainees.

I’d like to agree, but I’m skeptical. After all, the prospect of losing critical intelligence by failure to pass the FISA extension has not motivated Democrats to pass a bill (with needed telecom immunity). So why should the release of potentially dangerous Guantanamo detainees be any different?

Still, it is worth a try and might be a very shrewd move for John McCain. McCain has not made very much political hay out of Barack Obama’s position on FISA extension. But perhaps using his position in the Senate to introduce a measure to suspend habeas corpus formally (as the Court said would be required), albeit in a narrowly tailored way and with a military tribunal review procedure, would be a good idea. It would demonstrate McCain’s expertise on national security and put into aciton his view that these detainees do not “deserve the protections of the kind of judicial process that a citizen of the United States would have.”

And if Obama opposes it and makes clear he wants all of these detainees to have full access to the courts? Well, that would be a clarifying development. Remember: the issue here is not just providing some right of review through a military tribunal (that’s what President Bush and Congress tried to do) but granting full court access (with all the procedural rights attendant thereto) to detainees, at least 37 of whom, after release, returned to terrorist activities.

In short, McCain should put Obama’s feet to the fire: is he really in favor of letting the terror suspects stroll into federal court and use discovery requests and other legal mechanisms to blackmail the government into releasing them?

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Brown’s Terrorism Bill

Gordon Brown has finally won a victory, though it may not have been worth the effort. Nothing much has gone right for him since the late fall, and the most recent polls show Labour almost 20 points behind the Conservatives, and barely ahead of the Liberal Democrats. But the embattled Prime Minister succeeded on Wednesday in pushing through the House of Commons a bill giving the government the right to detain terrorist suspects for 42 days without charge.

The most surprising outcome of the vote was Thursday’s shock resignation from the Commons of David Davis, the Conservative Shadow Home Secretary, and Conservative head David Cameron’s main challenger for the leadership. The Conservatives opposed the 42-day detention law largely because Davis demanded it do so: his resignation, he has announced, is intended to force a national debate on Britain’s creeping illiberality. Davis will now stand for re-election at the by-election his vacancy has created: if he wins, as he seems quite likely to do, his own standing within the Party and his views about British civil liberties will both carry even greater weight.

Of course, the affairs of the Conservatives are no direct concern of Brown’s. But his victory, a narrow nine vote one, came at a heavy cost. The margin of victory will encourage the House of Lords to challenge the bill, which guarantees that the Commons will have to return to it. And that is likely to be an expensive proposition. Wednesday’s vote was won in part by promising the Democratic Unionist Party, the Rev. Ian Paisley’s party, additional money for Northern Ireland, in part by agreeing that those detained and never charged will be eligible for financial compensation–and, in a shameful trade-off, by promising that Britain will support the full resumption of EU trade with Cuba. So, for the sake of a single vote in the Commons, to help win an extra 14 days of detention without charge, on top of the 28 days already granted by the current system, Brown’s government sold the pass on democracy in the Caribbean. This is wrong in principle, bad in practice, and it will lead to entirely unnecessary trouble with the United States.

It is tempting for supporters of a vigorous response at home and abroad to the undoubted dangers of Islamic terrorism to defend the proposed law as a disagreeable necessity. And since the US–correctly–claims the right to make its laws without being subject to European carping, it ill-suits Americans to be too hard on other democracies that demand the same privilege. But the government throughout offered no defense of the 42 day measure, except to claim that it might at some point in the future be necessary. That is a slender basis on which to base such a far-reaching claim for increased state power, which is why the Tories voted against it. And, frankly, 42 days is a lot, far more than is allowed in the U.S., and somewhat more even than in most continental states. One wonders if terrorists in Britain are so much cleverer than their counterparts elsewhere, or if Brown’s bill is mostly a tacit admission that the British security services are, as they have hinted, in danger of being swamped by Islamists.

The only thing that makes me sympathize with Brown is that he is at least advancing a measure–supported, one might add, by the majority of the British people–that takes the Islamist threat seriously. It has been passed at too high a price, and it has been defended with arguments that do not command respect. But too many of its opponents–though not Cameron?s Conservative Party–belong to that disreputable school of civil libertarians who, while petrified of their own government, are insouciant about the dangers Britain and the West faces–indeed, they blame their government for creating what they deny is a problem. Brown may have won the vote on Wednesday, but it is Cameron and the Tories who, with their measured opposition, have won the argument.

Gordon Brown has finally won a victory, though it may not have been worth the effort. Nothing much has gone right for him since the late fall, and the most recent polls show Labour almost 20 points behind the Conservatives, and barely ahead of the Liberal Democrats. But the embattled Prime Minister succeeded on Wednesday in pushing through the House of Commons a bill giving the government the right to detain terrorist suspects for 42 days without charge.

The most surprising outcome of the vote was Thursday’s shock resignation from the Commons of David Davis, the Conservative Shadow Home Secretary, and Conservative head David Cameron’s main challenger for the leadership. The Conservatives opposed the 42-day detention law largely because Davis demanded it do so: his resignation, he has announced, is intended to force a national debate on Britain’s creeping illiberality. Davis will now stand for re-election at the by-election his vacancy has created: if he wins, as he seems quite likely to do, his own standing within the Party and his views about British civil liberties will both carry even greater weight.

Of course, the affairs of the Conservatives are no direct concern of Brown’s. But his victory, a narrow nine vote one, came at a heavy cost. The margin of victory will encourage the House of Lords to challenge the bill, which guarantees that the Commons will have to return to it. And that is likely to be an expensive proposition. Wednesday’s vote was won in part by promising the Democratic Unionist Party, the Rev. Ian Paisley’s party, additional money for Northern Ireland, in part by agreeing that those detained and never charged will be eligible for financial compensation–and, in a shameful trade-off, by promising that Britain will support the full resumption of EU trade with Cuba. So, for the sake of a single vote in the Commons, to help win an extra 14 days of detention without charge, on top of the 28 days already granted by the current system, Brown’s government sold the pass on democracy in the Caribbean. This is wrong in principle, bad in practice, and it will lead to entirely unnecessary trouble with the United States.

It is tempting for supporters of a vigorous response at home and abroad to the undoubted dangers of Islamic terrorism to defend the proposed law as a disagreeable necessity. And since the US–correctly–claims the right to make its laws without being subject to European carping, it ill-suits Americans to be too hard on other democracies that demand the same privilege. But the government throughout offered no defense of the 42 day measure, except to claim that it might at some point in the future be necessary. That is a slender basis on which to base such a far-reaching claim for increased state power, which is why the Tories voted against it. And, frankly, 42 days is a lot, far more than is allowed in the U.S., and somewhat more even than in most continental states. One wonders if terrorists in Britain are so much cleverer than their counterparts elsewhere, or if Brown’s bill is mostly a tacit admission that the British security services are, as they have hinted, in danger of being swamped by Islamists.

The only thing that makes me sympathize with Brown is that he is at least advancing a measure–supported, one might add, by the majority of the British people–that takes the Islamist threat seriously. It has been passed at too high a price, and it has been defended with arguments that do not command respect. But too many of its opponents–though not Cameron?s Conservative Party–belong to that disreputable school of civil libertarians who, while petrified of their own government, are insouciant about the dangers Britain and the West faces–indeed, they blame their government for creating what they deny is a problem. Brown may have won the vote on Wednesday, but it is Cameron and the Tories who, with their measured opposition, have won the argument.

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Re: It’s Not About The Kids

John, it’s much worse than that. If you go to the underlying study it is clear that there is no pleasing many women. You see, it was thought that it is not even enough for men to share the household work — they had to do the same type of work. Men taking out the trash and women changing diapers wasn’t good enough. The study comments:

Recent work has also suggested that, in addition to the division of household labor and perceptions of fairness, it is important to consider the types of tasks that men and women participate in. Benin & Agostinelli (1988) argue that even when men increase the number of hours they spend in household labor, women may continue to be dissatisfied if tasks are sex segregated. Traditional “female chores” (e.g., cleaning house, washing dishes etc.) tend to be more repetitive, time consuming and demanding than traditional “male tasks” (e.g., automobile repairs, mowing the lawn). Increases in the amount of time that husbands spend on household tasks may not result in increases in women’s satisfaction over the division of household labor if men limit their participation to tasks that are less demanding and time consuming and leave women, in short, to do the “dirty work.” The results of their study suggest that women are happiest with the division of household labor when their husbands participate in traditional “female tasks.”

But then when this study examined men who bought into the notion they should be doing the “dirty” work it turns out the women didn’t like that. The study concludes:

Contrary to popular belief, increases in husbands participation in “female” tasks was negatively associated with wives’ marital quality. . . [H]usbands’ increased participation in traditionally “female” tasks is significantly associated with decreased levels of marital happiness among wives and increased levels of marital conflict among husbands and wives.

Well, that’ll show them.

A further problem with all of these studies, see for example this one, is the issue of what work gets counted. Does buying car insurance and using office equipment for kids’ homework projects get counted in the men’s column? Does coaching the soccer team count or just changing the diapers when the kids are younger? Much of the work is not quantifiable. Others (my husband, for one) have pointed out that women may be better at keeping score.

And of course none of this accounts for the self-selecting quality of the participants. Would people who consider keeping tabs on their spouse to be unworthy of their time really participate in these exercises?

That’s a long way of saying that these studies are of questionable value other than as means to bash husbands. Perhaps the greatest determinant of “marital equality” is actually the view that, in the end, it all more or less works out. But that wouldn’t make for any nice juicy columns in the New York Times magazine.

John, it’s much worse than that. If you go to the underlying study it is clear that there is no pleasing many women. You see, it was thought that it is not even enough for men to share the household work — they had to do the same type of work. Men taking out the trash and women changing diapers wasn’t good enough. The study comments:

Recent work has also suggested that, in addition to the division of household labor and perceptions of fairness, it is important to consider the types of tasks that men and women participate in. Benin & Agostinelli (1988) argue that even when men increase the number of hours they spend in household labor, women may continue to be dissatisfied if tasks are sex segregated. Traditional “female chores” (e.g., cleaning house, washing dishes etc.) tend to be more repetitive, time consuming and demanding than traditional “male tasks” (e.g., automobile repairs, mowing the lawn). Increases in the amount of time that husbands spend on household tasks may not result in increases in women’s satisfaction over the division of household labor if men limit their participation to tasks that are less demanding and time consuming and leave women, in short, to do the “dirty work.” The results of their study suggest that women are happiest with the division of household labor when their husbands participate in traditional “female tasks.”

But then when this study examined men who bought into the notion they should be doing the “dirty” work it turns out the women didn’t like that. The study concludes:

Contrary to popular belief, increases in husbands participation in “female” tasks was negatively associated with wives’ marital quality. . . [H]usbands’ increased participation in traditionally “female” tasks is significantly associated with decreased levels of marital happiness among wives and increased levels of marital conflict among husbands and wives.

Well, that’ll show them.

A further problem with all of these studies, see for example this one, is the issue of what work gets counted. Does buying car insurance and using office equipment for kids’ homework projects get counted in the men’s column? Does coaching the soccer team count or just changing the diapers when the kids are younger? Much of the work is not quantifiable. Others (my husband, for one) have pointed out that women may be better at keeping score.

And of course none of this accounts for the self-selecting quality of the participants. Would people who consider keeping tabs on their spouse to be unworthy of their time really participate in these exercises?

That’s a long way of saying that these studies are of questionable value other than as means to bash husbands. Perhaps the greatest determinant of “marital equality” is actually the view that, in the end, it all more or less works out. But that wouldn’t make for any nice juicy columns in the New York Times magazine.

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The New York Times Outdoes Itself

The New York Times is the PC gift that keeps on giving. Yesterday came the release of its Sunday Magazine lead story about equal “parenting.” Then, late last night, Times blogger Judith Warner instantly won the 2008 Repulsive Blog Item of the Year Award with a long item that somehow began with reports of Muslim women in France having their virginities restored by surgery and then came to this astounding point:

[An article] from The Times, from May 19…featured 70-odd girls, of “early grade school to college” age, with their fathers, stepfathers and fathers-in-law-to-be, at the ninth annual, largely evangelical “Father-Daughter Purity Ball.”

“The evening, which alternated between homemade Christian rituals and giddy dancing” – and which culminated, for at least one father and his daughters, with a dreamy walk in the night around a lake, “was a joyous public affirmation of the girls’ sexual abstinence until they wed,” said the Times article.

“From this, it’s only a matter of degree to the man in Austria,” I’d scribbled across the first page.

The “man in Austria,” of course, was 73-year-old Josef Fritzl, who was around that time also making headlines after it was discovered that he had kept his daughter, Elisabeth, 42, locked up in a cellar for 24 years, during which time he’d raped her regularly, and had her bear him seven children.

Fritzl, a self-described “man of decency and good values,” had imprisoned his daughter after she began staying out all night and drinking. “I had to create a place where I could keep Elisabeth by force if necessary, away from the outside world,” he confessed.

“Fathers, our daughters are waiting for us,” Randy Wilson, one of the ball’s organizers, said at the Colorado Springs “Purity” event. “They are desperately waiting for us in a culture that lures them into the murky waters of exploitation. They need to be rescued by you, their dad.”

Yes, a man who imprisons his daughter and grandchildren and rapes her for a quarter century resembles in some way men who believe their daughters should abstain from sexual behavior and are attempting awkwardly and a little foolishly to substitute something else for the lure of sex.

Perhaps recognizing that she has journeyed far beyond the pale, Warner attempts to walk it back a little.

“I don’t want to take this analogy too far,” Warner writes. “I don’t mean to imply that there’s any equivalency between Josef Fritzl’s acts and the Purity Ball. Fritzl’s actions were uniquely horrific, and I am not accusing the men who danced in Colorado Springs of any crimes. But there is nonetheless a kind of horror to their obsession with their daughters’ sexuality.”

There’s no putting this genie back in the bottle, Judith Warner.

The New York Times is the PC gift that keeps on giving. Yesterday came the release of its Sunday Magazine lead story about equal “parenting.” Then, late last night, Times blogger Judith Warner instantly won the 2008 Repulsive Blog Item of the Year Award with a long item that somehow began with reports of Muslim women in France having their virginities restored by surgery and then came to this astounding point:

[An article] from The Times, from May 19…featured 70-odd girls, of “early grade school to college” age, with their fathers, stepfathers and fathers-in-law-to-be, at the ninth annual, largely evangelical “Father-Daughter Purity Ball.”

“The evening, which alternated between homemade Christian rituals and giddy dancing” – and which culminated, for at least one father and his daughters, with a dreamy walk in the night around a lake, “was a joyous public affirmation of the girls’ sexual abstinence until they wed,” said the Times article.

“From this, it’s only a matter of degree to the man in Austria,” I’d scribbled across the first page.

The “man in Austria,” of course, was 73-year-old Josef Fritzl, who was around that time also making headlines after it was discovered that he had kept his daughter, Elisabeth, 42, locked up in a cellar for 24 years, during which time he’d raped her regularly, and had her bear him seven children.

Fritzl, a self-described “man of decency and good values,” had imprisoned his daughter after she began staying out all night and drinking. “I had to create a place where I could keep Elisabeth by force if necessary, away from the outside world,” he confessed.

“Fathers, our daughters are waiting for us,” Randy Wilson, one of the ball’s organizers, said at the Colorado Springs “Purity” event. “They are desperately waiting for us in a culture that lures them into the murky waters of exploitation. They need to be rescued by you, their dad.”

Yes, a man who imprisons his daughter and grandchildren and rapes her for a quarter century resembles in some way men who believe their daughters should abstain from sexual behavior and are attempting awkwardly and a little foolishly to substitute something else for the lure of sex.

Perhaps recognizing that she has journeyed far beyond the pale, Warner attempts to walk it back a little.

“I don’t want to take this analogy too far,” Warner writes. “I don’t mean to imply that there’s any equivalency between Josef Fritzl’s acts and the Purity Ball. Fritzl’s actions were uniquely horrific, and I am not accusing the men who danced in Colorado Springs of any crimes. But there is nonetheless a kind of horror to their obsession with their daughters’ sexuality.”

There’s no putting this genie back in the bottle, Judith Warner.

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Why So Sad?

Gregg Easterbrook notes that there is a disconnect between actual conditions in the country and the attitudes about the country’s condition, attributing it in large part to gloom and doom spread by the media:

The relentlessly negative impressions of American life presented by the media, including the entertainment media, explain something otherwise puzzling that shows up in psychological data. When asked about the country’s economy, schools, health care or community spirit, Americans tell pollsters the situation is dreadful. But when asked about their own jobs, schools, doctors and communities, people tell pollsters the situation is good. Our impressions of ourselves and our neighbors come from personal experience. Our impressions of the nation as a whole come from the media and from political blather, which both exaggerate the negative.

Our rotten condition means we need someone to lead us out of rottenness. As Barack Obama says: “we are facing two wars, an economy in turmoil, a planet in peril, a dream that feels like it’s slipping away for too many Americans.” So it is the “fierce urgency of now” that. . .  you know the rest. It is clear that if things were even so-so in America we would not need an Agent of Change to remodel our lives or undertake a vast reworking of our economy and health care system.So it is very out of fashion to note that Americans have never been as rich, never lived as long, and never enjoyed as much racial progress. That is not to say we don’t have major challenges and real problems. But it is fair to say that we shouldn’t be embarrassed to appreciate what we’ve got and be careful not embark on harebrained schemes that could make things worse.

Gregg Easterbrook notes that there is a disconnect between actual conditions in the country and the attitudes about the country’s condition, attributing it in large part to gloom and doom spread by the media:

The relentlessly negative impressions of American life presented by the media, including the entertainment media, explain something otherwise puzzling that shows up in psychological data. When asked about the country’s economy, schools, health care or community spirit, Americans tell pollsters the situation is dreadful. But when asked about their own jobs, schools, doctors and communities, people tell pollsters the situation is good. Our impressions of ourselves and our neighbors come from personal experience. Our impressions of the nation as a whole come from the media and from political blather, which both exaggerate the negative.

Our rotten condition means we need someone to lead us out of rottenness. As Barack Obama says: “we are facing two wars, an economy in turmoil, a planet in peril, a dream that feels like it’s slipping away for too many Americans.” So it is the “fierce urgency of now” that. . .  you know the rest. It is clear that if things were even so-so in America we would not need an Agent of Change to remodel our lives or undertake a vast reworking of our economy and health care system.So it is very out of fashion to note that Americans have never been as rich, never lived as long, and never enjoyed as much racial progress. That is not to say we don’t have major challenges and real problems. But it is fair to say that we shouldn’t be embarrassed to appreciate what we’ve got and be careful not embark on harebrained schemes that could make things worse.

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If CAIR Really Cared About Justice…

According to an article on The American Muslim‘s website, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) praises yesterday’s contentious Supreme Court decision as a “victory for objective justice.” CAIR’s statement follows:

Today’s Supreme Court decision is a victory for objective justice. Once again, the Bush administration’s weak assertion that its heavy-handed detention policy operates within the law has not found support in our nation’s highest court.

As with the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 was passed quickly without proper congressional debate. The repeated lack of appropriate legislative process and administrative double dealing has proven to be damaging to our nation.

The prison facility at Guantanamo Bay is a legal and public relations embarrassment for our country and should be promptly closed.

Never mind that only President Bush is attacked–as opposed to the legislators who actually voted and passed the laws that CAIR objects to–but since when did CAIR (CAIR!) become the arbiter of “objective justice”?

• The organization has proven to be decidedly anti-free speech.

CAIR is anti-Semitic.

• CAIR’s founders are tied to Hamas –“CAIR consistently defends other militant Islamic terrorists too.”

• CAIR backs terrorist sympathizers.

• It supports talking with terrorists (and has even assisted raising funds for Hamas).

Also, note to the author of this press release: calling a prison a “legal and public relations embarrassment” does not even suggest that it is illegal. And, if CAIR is not contending its legality, how’s President Bush’s “heavy-handed detention policy” operating outside the law?

According to an article on The American Muslim‘s website, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) praises yesterday’s contentious Supreme Court decision as a “victory for objective justice.” CAIR’s statement follows:

Today’s Supreme Court decision is a victory for objective justice. Once again, the Bush administration’s weak assertion that its heavy-handed detention policy operates within the law has not found support in our nation’s highest court.

As with the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 was passed quickly without proper congressional debate. The repeated lack of appropriate legislative process and administrative double dealing has proven to be damaging to our nation.

The prison facility at Guantanamo Bay is a legal and public relations embarrassment for our country and should be promptly closed.

Never mind that only President Bush is attacked–as opposed to the legislators who actually voted and passed the laws that CAIR objects to–but since when did CAIR (CAIR!) become the arbiter of “objective justice”?

• The organization has proven to be decidedly anti-free speech.

CAIR is anti-Semitic.

• CAIR’s founders are tied to Hamas –“CAIR consistently defends other militant Islamic terrorists too.”

• CAIR backs terrorist sympathizers.

• It supports talking with terrorists (and has even assisted raising funds for Hamas).

Also, note to the author of this press release: calling a prison a “legal and public relations embarrassment” does not even suggest that it is illegal. And, if CAIR is not contending its legality, how’s President Bush’s “heavy-handed detention policy” operating outside the law?

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