Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 16, 2008

A Good Idea

Robert Kaplan has an eminently sensible column in Atlantic which essentially says Barack Obama can still take credit for opposing the war, but then get with the McCain-Petraeus program. He writes:

A precipitous withdrawal may be the last chance the Iranians will have to dominate Iraq to the degree that they had thought possible in 2006. If Obama heads into the fall campaign without visiting Iraq, without acknowledging progress there, and without altering his time-table for withdrawal, the Iranians may decide to help his electoral chances by initiating a new spate of bombings.In other words, the closer we get to the election, the more consequences Obama’s public position may have for events on the ground in Iraq. And Obama’s position can surely evolve in a direction that acknowledges the need to stay tough there, even as he continues to claim credit for having been against the project from the beginning. Rather than blur the distinction between him and McCain, he can subtly shift on Iraq in a way that demonstrates just how serious a thinker he is on foreign policy.Every email I get from troops deployed in Iraq talks about the improved situation on the ground. Obama should be aware that they think it is far from a lost cause.

And if you don’t by Kaplan, try the AP:

Signs are emerging that Iraq has reached a turning point. Violence is down, armed extremists are in disarray, government confidence is rising and sectarian communities are gearing up for a battle at the polls rather than slaughter in the streets. Those positive signs are attracting little attention in the United States, where the war-weary public is focused on the American presidential contest and skeptical of talk of success after so many years of unfounded optimism by the war’s supporters.Unquestionably, the security and political situation in Iraq is fragile. U.S. commanders warn repeatedly that security gains are reversible.Still, Iraq is by almost any measure safer today than at any time in the past three years. Fears that the country will disintegrate have receded — though they have not disappeared.

(Yes, if AP and others had been reporting what has been going on the public might pay attention more, but let’s be thankful they have stumbled upon the facts, albeit belatedly.) 

But even if the facts are getting hard to deny the problem is Obama’s accepting them. The problem is obviously a political one: Obama opposed the surge and used that opposition to vault himself to the Democratic nomination. Can he really say that he was wrong, McCain was right, and now let’s go win the war? This–along with a substantial skepticism about Obama’s national security team and his level of military and foreign policy knowledge–leaves me skeptical that he will take Kaplan’s advice. Instead, we get more muddled doubletalk of the type we saw Monday: “Yeah, violence is down and I’m pulling out just as fast as I can.”

Robert Kaplan has an eminently sensible column in Atlantic which essentially says Barack Obama can still take credit for opposing the war, but then get with the McCain-Petraeus program. He writes:

A precipitous withdrawal may be the last chance the Iranians will have to dominate Iraq to the degree that they had thought possible in 2006. If Obama heads into the fall campaign without visiting Iraq, without acknowledging progress there, and without altering his time-table for withdrawal, the Iranians may decide to help his electoral chances by initiating a new spate of bombings.In other words, the closer we get to the election, the more consequences Obama’s public position may have for events on the ground in Iraq. And Obama’s position can surely evolve in a direction that acknowledges the need to stay tough there, even as he continues to claim credit for having been against the project from the beginning. Rather than blur the distinction between him and McCain, he can subtly shift on Iraq in a way that demonstrates just how serious a thinker he is on foreign policy.Every email I get from troops deployed in Iraq talks about the improved situation on the ground. Obama should be aware that they think it is far from a lost cause.

And if you don’t by Kaplan, try the AP:

Signs are emerging that Iraq has reached a turning point. Violence is down, armed extremists are in disarray, government confidence is rising and sectarian communities are gearing up for a battle at the polls rather than slaughter in the streets. Those positive signs are attracting little attention in the United States, where the war-weary public is focused on the American presidential contest and skeptical of talk of success after so many years of unfounded optimism by the war’s supporters.Unquestionably, the security and political situation in Iraq is fragile. U.S. commanders warn repeatedly that security gains are reversible.Still, Iraq is by almost any measure safer today than at any time in the past three years. Fears that the country will disintegrate have receded — though they have not disappeared.

(Yes, if AP and others had been reporting what has been going on the public might pay attention more, but let’s be thankful they have stumbled upon the facts, albeit belatedly.) 

But even if the facts are getting hard to deny the problem is Obama’s accepting them. The problem is obviously a political one: Obama opposed the surge and used that opposition to vault himself to the Democratic nomination. Can he really say that he was wrong, McCain was right, and now let’s go win the war? This–along with a substantial skepticism about Obama’s national security team and his level of military and foreign policy knowledge–leaves me skeptical that he will take Kaplan’s advice. Instead, we get more muddled doubletalk of the type we saw Monday: “Yeah, violence is down and I’m pulling out just as fast as I can.”

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“Global Attitudes” Are Irrelevant

The campaign issue whose importance is most blown out of proportion must certainly be global attitudes toward the United States. Nothing concerns liberal journalists, think-tankers, academics, upper-middle class voters–in other words, vital constituencies of the Democratic Party–more than the thought that the French or the Saudis or “the global community” doesn’t love us like they once (mythically) used to. Indeed, just last week a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee issued an entire report and held a hearing on the topic, “The Decline in America’s Reputation: Why?” (For more on that event, read David Frum, who testified as a respondent).

Many liberals place great stock in the opinions of people abroad (except Iraqis), perhaps as a way to share in their deeply-felt disaffection with and alienation from the United States. Their own feelings about the Bush administration have once again been confirmed by a recently released World Public Opinion poll. This poll finds that, among “19,751 respondents in nations that comprise 60 percent of the world’s population,” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Vladimir Putin are “trusted” more than President Bush.

The Center for American Progress unironically trumpets this poll as vindication for its agenda. Yet if the world trusts Ahmadinejad and Putin more than the president of the United States, I say that’s all the more reason to stop concerning ourselves so much with “global opinion”–as well as the Americans who can’t sleep at night thinking about it.

The campaign issue whose importance is most blown out of proportion must certainly be global attitudes toward the United States. Nothing concerns liberal journalists, think-tankers, academics, upper-middle class voters–in other words, vital constituencies of the Democratic Party–more than the thought that the French or the Saudis or “the global community” doesn’t love us like they once (mythically) used to. Indeed, just last week a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee issued an entire report and held a hearing on the topic, “The Decline in America’s Reputation: Why?” (For more on that event, read David Frum, who testified as a respondent).

Many liberals place great stock in the opinions of people abroad (except Iraqis), perhaps as a way to share in their deeply-felt disaffection with and alienation from the United States. Their own feelings about the Bush administration have once again been confirmed by a recently released World Public Opinion poll. This poll finds that, among “19,751 respondents in nations that comprise 60 percent of the world’s population,” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Vladimir Putin are “trusted” more than President Bush.

The Center for American Progress unironically trumpets this poll as vindication for its agenda. Yet if the world trusts Ahmadinejad and Putin more than the president of the United States, I say that’s all the more reason to stop concerning ourselves so much with “global opinion”–as well as the Americans who can’t sleep at night thinking about it.

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The Spirit of European Democracy

As I predicted, Ireland voted against the Lisbon Treaty, in the only popular vote held across the entire European Union to approve the far reaching set of institutional reforms meant to cope with the expansion of the Union from 15 to 27 states in the last four years. Much was and will be said of the reasons for a no vote – including the arcane language of the treaty, its impossible length, the democratic deficit that accompanied its drafting after its unluckly and now defunct predecessor – the EU constitution – was voted down in popular consultations in France and the Netherlands. All this may be true – and this might be a coincidence – but perhaps another reason should be added to the list: only a few days later the European Commission finds itself bogged down in the following controversy:

The European Commission says it wants to loosen the rules that prevent knobbly fruit and vegetables being sold alongside more shapely examples.

Why a regulation on the twists and turns of a parsnip or of a cucumber would have afflicted EU bureaucrats is in and of itself worthy of pondering–and perhaps a reflection of the EU’s sometimes excessive regulatory tendencies. But this is not the strangest thing of all. That would be the fact that

the Commission says its efforts to simplify EU legislation have been resisted by some countries.

Nor was the Commission trying to introduce radical change–limiting its sudden deregulation urge to only 10 out of 26 agricultural products on which it thought it necessary to determine shape, weight and size, among other regulated aspects of the fruits and vegetables in question.

Take for example Regulation 1757/2003, which amended Regulation 1292/81. 1292/81 was about courgettes (i.e. zucchini), leeks, and aubergines (i.e. eggplants). But the EU realized a separate regulation was needed for zucchini only: “In the interest of clarity, the rules on courgettes should be separated from those on other products’ recites the regulation with a certain gravitas. So to simplify matters, more regulations were passed.”

And so it goes, regulating zucchini’s shape, imperfections, softness of the seeds, and who knows what else. It’s riveting. Any wonder the Irish voted no?

As I predicted, Ireland voted against the Lisbon Treaty, in the only popular vote held across the entire European Union to approve the far reaching set of institutional reforms meant to cope with the expansion of the Union from 15 to 27 states in the last four years. Much was and will be said of the reasons for a no vote – including the arcane language of the treaty, its impossible length, the democratic deficit that accompanied its drafting after its unluckly and now defunct predecessor – the EU constitution – was voted down in popular consultations in France and the Netherlands. All this may be true – and this might be a coincidence – but perhaps another reason should be added to the list: only a few days later the European Commission finds itself bogged down in the following controversy:

The European Commission says it wants to loosen the rules that prevent knobbly fruit and vegetables being sold alongside more shapely examples.

Why a regulation on the twists and turns of a parsnip or of a cucumber would have afflicted EU bureaucrats is in and of itself worthy of pondering–and perhaps a reflection of the EU’s sometimes excessive regulatory tendencies. But this is not the strangest thing of all. That would be the fact that

the Commission says its efforts to simplify EU legislation have been resisted by some countries.

Nor was the Commission trying to introduce radical change–limiting its sudden deregulation urge to only 10 out of 26 agricultural products on which it thought it necessary to determine shape, weight and size, among other regulated aspects of the fruits and vegetables in question.

Take for example Regulation 1757/2003, which amended Regulation 1292/81. 1292/81 was about courgettes (i.e. zucchini), leeks, and aubergines (i.e. eggplants). But the EU realized a separate regulation was needed for zucchini only: “In the interest of clarity, the rules on courgettes should be separated from those on other products’ recites the regulation with a certain gravitas. So to simplify matters, more regulations were passed.”

And so it goes, regulating zucchini’s shape, imperfections, softness of the seeds, and who knows what else. It’s riveting. Any wonder the Irish voted no?

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Lazy British

It’s not easy being a child in Britain today.  The United Nations, with its unerring ability to ignore the obvious, at least gets that conclusion right. The government-appointed Children’s Commissioners of England, Scotland, and Wales, who report to the UN, released a report on Monday blaming a raft of liberal obsessions–the low age of criminal responsibility, discrimination, exam stress, and the pressures of marketing–for the fact that British children are more likely to drink alcohol, use drugs, and have sex young than their counterparts in Europe.  Couple all this with a daily drumbeat of knife murders committed by and against children, and you have the familiar symptoms of the continuing rise of the underclass.

The government’s response has been to announce that juveniles who carry a knife illegally will be ranked with child murderers and rapists as automatically charged offenders, not ones who can be let off with a warning.  That may be sensible, but it obviously treats only the symptoms of the problem.  And those symptoms are politically damaging for Labour: the socio-economic news of the last week in Britain was Tuesday’s announcement that both income inequality and child poverty have risen for the second year in a row.  The Guardian‘s predictable response was to demand the government throw even more money at the problem, but even if they do, there is now virtually no chance that Labour will meet its manifesto commitment to halve child poverty by 2010.  As Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes admitted, Britain is trying “to run up an escalator that’s going down.”

The important question is why the escalator is going down.  Income inequality and child poverty are, of course, both profoundly flawed measures of social well-being: inequality is a sin only if you were born a jealous redistributionist, and it is families, not children, who are poor.  But that is the problem: there are few too families to go around.  In 1997, 37% of children in the UK were born outside of marriage.  Now, it’s up to 44%.  If you strip out children born to immigrants and focus only on the Anglo-Saxons, it’s just over 50%.  Sick rates have also risen alarmingly, in large part because, as a 2003 study in the British Medical Journal put it, there is “important deliberate misuse of the system by general practitioners” who believe it is their job to pander to patients who do not want to work.  The result is that, though the headline figures are good, Britain has a lot of disguised unemployment.  And then there’s the knife crime.  Illegitimacy, unemployed young men, and violent crime: that sums up Charles Murray’s tests for an underclass.  No wonder it costs so much to try to run up that down escalator.

But this is not really about money.  What is at stake here is the existence of a society that can, or wants to, exist as anything other than the government’s client, and the rise of a state that has the duty only of providing sustenance without conditions.  And with a media that is resolutely on the side of social disintegration, the situation is bleak.  The Guardian‘s “Case Study: The Single Mother” response to the child poverty report was heartbreaking, not because of what it reported but because of its resolute failure to notice the obvious.  Jodie Devlin, age 24, has two daughters, ages 2 and seven months.  She lives entirely on government benefits, having left the father.  She enjoyed the regular holidays her parents–both of them–took her on as a child, but her own children enjoy no such luxuries, nor are they ever likely to do so.

As Ms. Devlin’s case illustrates, coming from a two-parent family is no cure-all.  What is most striking is that she expressed no awareness that having a child out of marriage at the age of 22 was in any way irresponsible, and the Guardian, predictably, managed to produce several thousand words on the subject of child poverty without suggesting it either.  If no one is ever to be ashamed of, or embarrassed by, their conduct, there is simply no way that the situation will do anything but get worse.

And it’s not just a problem on the home front.  On Wednesday, the government published a report asserting that the reason why low-skilled British workers are losing out to foreign migrants–the now famous “Polish plumber”–is because they are “unemployable and lack the motivation to work,” preferring to pretend to look for a job and collect benefits all the while.  The report’s conclusion that the influx of foreign workers has not lowered wages or increased competition on the job market is dubious, and mostly intended to cover Labour’s failed immigration policies.  But it does give the lie to the often-heard claim that Britain, like the rest of Europe, needs younger immigrants to rescue its benefits system.  On the contrary: the benefits system encourages many Britons not to work, which creates openings in the job market that are filled by the immigrants.

So, for once, the UN has it right: it’s not easy to be a child in Britain today. If Beverley Hughes, and the government, are dismayed at their failures, as they should be, the only question they need to answer is a simple one: why does spending more money not make the down escalator go up?  From clarity on that problem would flow many politically difficult but socially vital answers.

It’s not easy being a child in Britain today.  The United Nations, with its unerring ability to ignore the obvious, at least gets that conclusion right. The government-appointed Children’s Commissioners of England, Scotland, and Wales, who report to the UN, released a report on Monday blaming a raft of liberal obsessions–the low age of criminal responsibility, discrimination, exam stress, and the pressures of marketing–for the fact that British children are more likely to drink alcohol, use drugs, and have sex young than their counterparts in Europe.  Couple all this with a daily drumbeat of knife murders committed by and against children, and you have the familiar symptoms of the continuing rise of the underclass.

The government’s response has been to announce that juveniles who carry a knife illegally will be ranked with child murderers and rapists as automatically charged offenders, not ones who can be let off with a warning.  That may be sensible, but it obviously treats only the symptoms of the problem.  And those symptoms are politically damaging for Labour: the socio-economic news of the last week in Britain was Tuesday’s announcement that both income inequality and child poverty have risen for the second year in a row.  The Guardian‘s predictable response was to demand the government throw even more money at the problem, but even if they do, there is now virtually no chance that Labour will meet its manifesto commitment to halve child poverty by 2010.  As Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes admitted, Britain is trying “to run up an escalator that’s going down.”

The important question is why the escalator is going down.  Income inequality and child poverty are, of course, both profoundly flawed measures of social well-being: inequality is a sin only if you were born a jealous redistributionist, and it is families, not children, who are poor.  But that is the problem: there are few too families to go around.  In 1997, 37% of children in the UK were born outside of marriage.  Now, it’s up to 44%.  If you strip out children born to immigrants and focus only on the Anglo-Saxons, it’s just over 50%.  Sick rates have also risen alarmingly, in large part because, as a 2003 study in the British Medical Journal put it, there is “important deliberate misuse of the system by general practitioners” who believe it is their job to pander to patients who do not want to work.  The result is that, though the headline figures are good, Britain has a lot of disguised unemployment.  And then there’s the knife crime.  Illegitimacy, unemployed young men, and violent crime: that sums up Charles Murray’s tests for an underclass.  No wonder it costs so much to try to run up that down escalator.

But this is not really about money.  What is at stake here is the existence of a society that can, or wants to, exist as anything other than the government’s client, and the rise of a state that has the duty only of providing sustenance without conditions.  And with a media that is resolutely on the side of social disintegration, the situation is bleak.  The Guardian‘s “Case Study: The Single Mother” response to the child poverty report was heartbreaking, not because of what it reported but because of its resolute failure to notice the obvious.  Jodie Devlin, age 24, has two daughters, ages 2 and seven months.  She lives entirely on government benefits, having left the father.  She enjoyed the regular holidays her parents–both of them–took her on as a child, but her own children enjoy no such luxuries, nor are they ever likely to do so.

As Ms. Devlin’s case illustrates, coming from a two-parent family is no cure-all.  What is most striking is that she expressed no awareness that having a child out of marriage at the age of 22 was in any way irresponsible, and the Guardian, predictably, managed to produce several thousand words on the subject of child poverty without suggesting it either.  If no one is ever to be ashamed of, or embarrassed by, their conduct, there is simply no way that the situation will do anything but get worse.

And it’s not just a problem on the home front.  On Wednesday, the government published a report asserting that the reason why low-skilled British workers are losing out to foreign migrants–the now famous “Polish plumber”–is because they are “unemployable and lack the motivation to work,” preferring to pretend to look for a job and collect benefits all the while.  The report’s conclusion that the influx of foreign workers has not lowered wages or increased competition on the job market is dubious, and mostly intended to cover Labour’s failed immigration policies.  But it does give the lie to the often-heard claim that Britain, like the rest of Europe, needs younger immigrants to rescue its benefits system.  On the contrary: the benefits system encourages many Britons not to work, which creates openings in the job market that are filled by the immigrants.

So, for once, the UN has it right: it’s not easy to be a child in Britain today. If Beverley Hughes, and the government, are dismayed at their failures, as they should be, the only question they need to answer is a simple one: why does spending more money not make the down escalator go up?  From clarity on that problem would flow many politically difficult but socially vital answers.

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The Gift That Keeps Taking

It’s not too late to donate to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. If you go over to the Hillary for President website, you’ll find a curious setup. A digital album of campaign photos underneath which is a clickable bar reading “contribute.”

In no way is this a carelessly neglected campaign leftover. The photo album contains stump quotes such as:

Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it. And the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time. That has always been the history of progress in America.

Hillary also shamelessly hits that teary New Hampshire note one last time (I hope) in order to pry open those wallets. There’s this greatest hit:

And I want especially to thank New Hampshire. Over the last week, I listened to you and in the process, I found my own voice. I felt like we all spoke from our hearts, and I am so gratified that you responded.

But how much more gratified she’d be if you coughed up a few post-campaign bucks. During those last weeks when everyone everywhere knew that Obama was going to be the Democratic nominee, Hillary lent her campaign $6.4 million so that she could buy the time she needed to accept defeat. I know Barack Obama makes the claim to audacity, but sticking the Democratic electorate with a $6.4 million therapy bill takes some serious guts.

It’s not too late to donate to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. If you go over to the Hillary for President website, you’ll find a curious setup. A digital album of campaign photos underneath which is a clickable bar reading “contribute.”

In no way is this a carelessly neglected campaign leftover. The photo album contains stump quotes such as:

Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it. And the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time. That has always been the history of progress in America.

Hillary also shamelessly hits that teary New Hampshire note one last time (I hope) in order to pry open those wallets. There’s this greatest hit:

And I want especially to thank New Hampshire. Over the last week, I listened to you and in the process, I found my own voice. I felt like we all spoke from our hearts, and I am so gratified that you responded.

But how much more gratified she’d be if you coughed up a few post-campaign bucks. During those last weeks when everyone everywhere knew that Obama was going to be the Democratic nominee, Hillary lent her campaign $6.4 million so that she could buy the time she needed to accept defeat. I know Barack Obama makes the claim to audacity, but sticking the Democratic electorate with a $6.4 million therapy bill takes some serious guts.

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Something Seems Odd

Barack Obama had this to say about his discussion with the Iraqi Foreign Minister:

My concern is that the Bush administration–in a weakened state politically–ends up trying to rush an agreement that in some ways might be binding to the next administration, whether it was my administration or Sen. McCain’s administration. . .The foreign minister agreed that the next administration should not be bound by an agreement that’s currently made.

What? Somebody, I suspect, didn’t understand what was being said. Is the status of forces agreement only going to run through the end of the Bush administration? Or did either Obama or the foreign minister suggest that agreements from one administration aren’t binding on another?

Then there was this:

Asked by ABC News if Foreign Minister Zebari expressed any concern that the withdrawal of US troops under an Obama administration would undo any security gains, Obama said Zebari did not raise that issue.

So we are supposed to believe that Obama told him he is still moving out one or two brigades a month and Zebari didn’t bat an eye? Perhaps someone might check with the Iraqi government whether it agreeswith the Obama plan regardless of conditions on the ground. I suspect at least one of the people in that Obama-Zebari conversation wasn’t being very clear with the other. But perhaps John McCain, who also spoke to Zebari, can help fill in the blanks.

Barack Obama had this to say about his discussion with the Iraqi Foreign Minister:

My concern is that the Bush administration–in a weakened state politically–ends up trying to rush an agreement that in some ways might be binding to the next administration, whether it was my administration or Sen. McCain’s administration. . .The foreign minister agreed that the next administration should not be bound by an agreement that’s currently made.

What? Somebody, I suspect, didn’t understand what was being said. Is the status of forces agreement only going to run through the end of the Bush administration? Or did either Obama or the foreign minister suggest that agreements from one administration aren’t binding on another?

Then there was this:

Asked by ABC News if Foreign Minister Zebari expressed any concern that the withdrawal of US troops under an Obama administration would undo any security gains, Obama said Zebari did not raise that issue.

So we are supposed to believe that Obama told him he is still moving out one or two brigades a month and Zebari didn’t bat an eye? Perhaps someone might check with the Iraqi government whether it agreeswith the Obama plan regardless of conditions on the ground. I suspect at least one of the people in that Obama-Zebari conversation wasn’t being very clear with the other. But perhaps John McCain, who also spoke to Zebari, can help fill in the blanks.

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Helping the Iraqis Who Help Us

Veteran Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus provides an update today on a small but important organization that is doing invaluable work to help Iraqis who have helped us. The List Project was begun in early 2007 by Kirk Johnson, who spent a year working in Iraq for the U.S. Agency for International Development and was appalled at the suffering of translators and other Iraqis who have risked their lives to work with American forces. Many of them, and their families, have been targeted for death by insurgents. And too often, as George Packer described in the New Yorker last year, the U.S. has seemed uncaring about their concerns. We have not done nearly enough to safeguard employees and their families within Iraq, and we have done even worse when it comes to helping them leave the country.

The State Department has erected elaborate bureaucratic mechanisms to make it almost impossible for them to get visas to come to the United States. As Pincus notes: “In the two years that an Iraqi visa program has been available for people who worked for the United States, only 763 of more than 7,000 Iraqis have been granted entry. When spouses and children are included, the number of Iraqis who had come to the United States under the program through the end of May is 1,696.”

Kirk Johnson has intervened and so far his List Project has helped to bring 31 Iraqis and 61 of their family members to the U.S. But he has a thousand more names on his list of Iraqis desperate to come here. (Readers can contribute to his important work via his website.)

Last week at the Council on Foreign Relations I hosted a roundtable discussion featuring Kirk; Owen West, a Marine reservist who has served two tours in Iraq; and “Alex,” an Iraqi translator who worked with Owen in Iraq and whom Owen has generously sponsored to relocate to the United States. Alex related a harrowing tale of how insurgents tortured and killed his brother because of his work for the Americans. Countless other translators and others have similar tales to tell, and many of them can only dream of coming to America. Indeed another one of Owen’s former translators, “Reyes,” remains trapped in bureaucratic purgatory.

It is a real blemish on our honor as a nation that we are not doing more to help these brave allies. It is not only immoral but stupid: How can we expect others to risk their lives to help us in the future if we don’t take care of those who have volunteered in the past? Some might object that making it too easy for Iraqi translators to leave the country will make it more difficult to accomplish our mission. But many have already left and are now stranded in countries such as Jordan and Syria. The surge is improving security conditions in Iraq, but locals on the American payroll still remain on too many insurgents’ death lists for them to have any confidence of a future in Iraq.

Helping Iraqis who have helped us should not be a partisan issue.  Senator Ted Kennedy, an opponent of the war, has sponsored legislation to increase the number of visas available and to expedite their processing in Baghdad. That’s a good start, but the prime imperative now is for President Bush to get off its keister and do more to help our allies. The administration’s foot-dragging in this regard is as inexplicable as it as counter-productive. We need some high level intervention to break through the bureaucratic logjam. If this requires personal attention from the commander-in-chief, so be it. We owe the Iraqis nothing less.

Veteran Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus provides an update today on a small but important organization that is doing invaluable work to help Iraqis who have helped us. The List Project was begun in early 2007 by Kirk Johnson, who spent a year working in Iraq for the U.S. Agency for International Development and was appalled at the suffering of translators and other Iraqis who have risked their lives to work with American forces. Many of them, and their families, have been targeted for death by insurgents. And too often, as George Packer described in the New Yorker last year, the U.S. has seemed uncaring about their concerns. We have not done nearly enough to safeguard employees and their families within Iraq, and we have done even worse when it comes to helping them leave the country.

The State Department has erected elaborate bureaucratic mechanisms to make it almost impossible for them to get visas to come to the United States. As Pincus notes: “In the two years that an Iraqi visa program has been available for people who worked for the United States, only 763 of more than 7,000 Iraqis have been granted entry. When spouses and children are included, the number of Iraqis who had come to the United States under the program through the end of May is 1,696.”

Kirk Johnson has intervened and so far his List Project has helped to bring 31 Iraqis and 61 of their family members to the U.S. But he has a thousand more names on his list of Iraqis desperate to come here. (Readers can contribute to his important work via his website.)

Last week at the Council on Foreign Relations I hosted a roundtable discussion featuring Kirk; Owen West, a Marine reservist who has served two tours in Iraq; and “Alex,” an Iraqi translator who worked with Owen in Iraq and whom Owen has generously sponsored to relocate to the United States. Alex related a harrowing tale of how insurgents tortured and killed his brother because of his work for the Americans. Countless other translators and others have similar tales to tell, and many of them can only dream of coming to America. Indeed another one of Owen’s former translators, “Reyes,” remains trapped in bureaucratic purgatory.

It is a real blemish on our honor as a nation that we are not doing more to help these brave allies. It is not only immoral but stupid: How can we expect others to risk their lives to help us in the future if we don’t take care of those who have volunteered in the past? Some might object that making it too easy for Iraqi translators to leave the country will make it more difficult to accomplish our mission. But many have already left and are now stranded in countries such as Jordan and Syria. The surge is improving security conditions in Iraq, but locals on the American payroll still remain on too many insurgents’ death lists for them to have any confidence of a future in Iraq.

Helping Iraqis who have helped us should not be a partisan issue.  Senator Ted Kennedy, an opponent of the war, has sponsored legislation to increase the number of visas available and to expedite their processing in Baghdad. That’s a good start, but the prime imperative now is for President Bush to get off its keister and do more to help our allies. The administration’s foot-dragging in this regard is as inexplicable as it as counter-productive. We need some high level intervention to break through the bureaucratic logjam. If this requires personal attention from the commander-in-chief, so be it. We owe the Iraqis nothing less.

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Re: Great Surge, Lets Quit

Abe, I don’t know what to make of Barack Obama’s newfound position on Iraq. He’s decided it isn’t “garbage” to go see for himself and has announced a trip before the election. This report is a bit baffling:

Obama reiterated his call for “precipitous” troop withdrawal, calling the U.S. occupation “finite” and saying that it will come to a “foreseeable end.” He added that the Iraq war is crippling the U.S. economy and that relief is dependent on withdrawing troops from Iraq.

But nothing much is changing in terms of his troop plans:

Asked if there’s any flexibility on how troop withdrawal would play out, Obama repeated his longstanding belief that US troops can be removed from Iraq ” “at a pace of one to two brigades per month.” “At that pace we would have our combat troops out in approximately 16 months. I’ve also consistently said that I will consult with military commanders on the ground and that we will always be open to the possibility of tactical adjustments. The important thing is to send a clear signal to the Iraqi people and most importantly to the Iraqi leadership that the US occupation in Iraq is finite, it is going to be coming to a foreseeable end,” he said.

Indeed, his main argument now seems to be that it all costs too much. Do you think it would be too much for the media to question him on whether he thinks the surge has worked and whether he was wrong on the single most important strategic decision he faced in the Senate? Perhaps he could explain if he now sees the same political progress that John McCain and others have been talking about for a year. Or he could explain why a withdrawal now, aside from saving money (provided of course we don’t have to put troops back in after they have left too rapidly to secure existing gains) makes sense under the circumstances.

From a political standpoint, will the Democratic base not care that just a couple of weeks after securing the nomination Obama attempts to turn on a dime? Likely not, I suspect since they have a general election to win against that fellow whose surge policy has succeeded over the objections and strenuous efforts of Obama and his Democratic cohorts.

Abe, I don’t know what to make of Barack Obama’s newfound position on Iraq. He’s decided it isn’t “garbage” to go see for himself and has announced a trip before the election. This report is a bit baffling:

Obama reiterated his call for “precipitous” troop withdrawal, calling the U.S. occupation “finite” and saying that it will come to a “foreseeable end.” He added that the Iraq war is crippling the U.S. economy and that relief is dependent on withdrawing troops from Iraq.

But nothing much is changing in terms of his troop plans:

Asked if there’s any flexibility on how troop withdrawal would play out, Obama repeated his longstanding belief that US troops can be removed from Iraq ” “at a pace of one to two brigades per month.” “At that pace we would have our combat troops out in approximately 16 months. I’ve also consistently said that I will consult with military commanders on the ground and that we will always be open to the possibility of tactical adjustments. The important thing is to send a clear signal to the Iraqi people and most importantly to the Iraqi leadership that the US occupation in Iraq is finite, it is going to be coming to a foreseeable end,” he said.

Indeed, his main argument now seems to be that it all costs too much. Do you think it would be too much for the media to question him on whether he thinks the surge has worked and whether he was wrong on the single most important strategic decision he faced in the Senate? Perhaps he could explain if he now sees the same political progress that John McCain and others have been talking about for a year. Or he could explain why a withdrawal now, aside from saving money (provided of course we don’t have to put troops back in after they have left too rapidly to secure existing gains) makes sense under the circumstances.

From a political standpoint, will the Democratic base not care that just a couple of weeks after securing the nomination Obama attempts to turn on a dime? Likely not, I suspect since they have a general election to win against that fellow whose surge policy has succeeded over the objections and strenuous efforts of Obama and his Democratic cohorts.

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Great Surge, Let’s Quit

It’s official. There will be no more argument from the Democrats about the success of the troop surge. Their plan is to bury their error in judgment in a larger fabricated argument about American hegemony. Not only is Barack Obama acknowledging progress in Iraq–he’s now pleased with it. And he let Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari know as much when the two spoke by telephone earlier today. However if you’re a Democrat, a smidgen of U.S.-praise must come with a heaping pile of “but.” Here’s Obama on his talk with Zebari:

I emphasized to him how encouraged I was by the reductions in violence in Iraq but also insisted that it is important for us to begin the process of withdrawing U.S. troops, making it clear that we have no interest in permanent bases in Iraq.

Why? Why does Obama — without delving into the regional ramifications — want to make it clear to Iraq, its neighbors, and terrorists laying in wait that “we have no interest in permanent bases”? This is not necessarily to say that we do have such interests or that we should. But it’s certainly a question that demands a more nuanced approach than the one the Democratic nominee has fashioned into a cuddly soundbite. Obama was hasty (and wrong) about the need to send more troops into Iraq in 2007. You’d think the knee-jerk inclination to apologize for American force would have been tamped down by some humility. But once again, he’s arguing against the judicious implementation of U.S. troops.

Moreover, it’s not yet clear where Iraq and the U.S. stand relative to one another in the status of forces discussion. Someone might want to let Obama know that there are compromises between immediate withdrawal and a permanent U.S. presence, and that U.S.-Iraq negotiations on this point are underway. Having lost the surge debate, the Democrats are grasping at straws. If Obama can shave an hour off a proposed drawdown plan, he’ll do it and say he’s halting a Republican scheme for global military domination. The Democrats were wrong on the surge, but their arguments deserved a fair hearing. We were, after all, in the midst of a punishing war that looked like it could only end disastrously. But if they continue to adopt a default anti-military stance at every last turn, they will start to look very silly indeed.

It’s official. There will be no more argument from the Democrats about the success of the troop surge. Their plan is to bury their error in judgment in a larger fabricated argument about American hegemony. Not only is Barack Obama acknowledging progress in Iraq–he’s now pleased with it. And he let Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari know as much when the two spoke by telephone earlier today. However if you’re a Democrat, a smidgen of U.S.-praise must come with a heaping pile of “but.” Here’s Obama on his talk with Zebari:

I emphasized to him how encouraged I was by the reductions in violence in Iraq but also insisted that it is important for us to begin the process of withdrawing U.S. troops, making it clear that we have no interest in permanent bases in Iraq.

Why? Why does Obama — without delving into the regional ramifications — want to make it clear to Iraq, its neighbors, and terrorists laying in wait that “we have no interest in permanent bases”? This is not necessarily to say that we do have such interests or that we should. But it’s certainly a question that demands a more nuanced approach than the one the Democratic nominee has fashioned into a cuddly soundbite. Obama was hasty (and wrong) about the need to send more troops into Iraq in 2007. You’d think the knee-jerk inclination to apologize for American force would have been tamped down by some humility. But once again, he’s arguing against the judicious implementation of U.S. troops.

Moreover, it’s not yet clear where Iraq and the U.S. stand relative to one another in the status of forces discussion. Someone might want to let Obama know that there are compromises between immediate withdrawal and a permanent U.S. presence, and that U.S.-Iraq negotiations on this point are underway. Having lost the surge debate, the Democrats are grasping at straws. If Obama can shave an hour off a proposed drawdown plan, he’ll do it and say he’s halting a Republican scheme for global military domination. The Democrats were wrong on the surge, but their arguments deserved a fair hearing. We were, after all, in the midst of a punishing war that looked like it could only end disastrously. But if they continue to adopt a default anti-military stance at every last turn, they will start to look very silly indeed.

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What Happens Now?

Matt Continetti summarizes the fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision last week on Guantanamo detainees’ habeas corpus rights:

And what precise form will these habeas hearings take? What standards of judgment are the courts to apply? Will plaintiffs’ attorneys be allowed to go venue shopping and file their petitions in the most liberal courts in the nation? Will they conduct discovery? Will they recall soldiers and intelligence agents from the field to testify? What happens when the available evidence does not satisfy judges who are used to adjudicating under the exclusionary rule? Will the cases be thrown out? Will the detainees be freed, able to return to the battlefield? That, after all, is what some 30 released detainees seem already to have done.

The Democrats (and especially Barack Obama) seem blissfully unconcerned or unaware of these issues. They just “favor” the decision. But what does that mean? They favor a perceived knock to President Bush or they favor the implications of the ruling?

From Obama we get either blatant untruths or unhelpful pablum. For example, he says the decision is “a rejection of the Bush administration’s attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantánamo.” That’s just wrong. The fact is that what was struck down was a Congressional statute, not some unilateral action of the Bush administration. Moreover, far from a “black hole” (which suggests a dearth of legal protections for the terror suspects) what was struck down was a painstakingly designed system for evaluating prisoners’ rights. Obama intones: “Our courts have employed habeas corpus with rigor and fairness for more than two centuries, and we must continue to do so as we defend the freedom that violent extremists seek to destroy.” But what does that mean in practice? And is he aware that never in 200 years have military detainees been granted such rights?

As Richard Samp of the Washington Legal Foundation put it:

But the sweeping nature of its assertion of judicial supremacy is nonetheless breathtaking. It is entirely foreseeable that within the next few months, district judges in D.C. will have ordered that classified evidence be turned over to the detainees’ attorneys, and that the military will release more than a few of the detainees rather than comply with the discovery orders.

Obama keeps telling us he’s a constitutional lawyer, so he must understand what the Supreme Court really did. That leaves us to conclude he prefers to demagogue the issue, beat the Bush administration over the head with its “loss,” and hope the American people don’t notice that he supports a very, very dangerous legal conundrum created by the Court. For his part, John McCain would do well to take some keen advice and figure out how to trim the anticipated court proceedings and abate the dangers which the Court has created.

Matt Continetti summarizes the fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision last week on Guantanamo detainees’ habeas corpus rights:

And what precise form will these habeas hearings take? What standards of judgment are the courts to apply? Will plaintiffs’ attorneys be allowed to go venue shopping and file their petitions in the most liberal courts in the nation? Will they conduct discovery? Will they recall soldiers and intelligence agents from the field to testify? What happens when the available evidence does not satisfy judges who are used to adjudicating under the exclusionary rule? Will the cases be thrown out? Will the detainees be freed, able to return to the battlefield? That, after all, is what some 30 released detainees seem already to have done.

The Democrats (and especially Barack Obama) seem blissfully unconcerned or unaware of these issues. They just “favor” the decision. But what does that mean? They favor a perceived knock to President Bush or they favor the implications of the ruling?

From Obama we get either blatant untruths or unhelpful pablum. For example, he says the decision is “a rejection of the Bush administration’s attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantánamo.” That’s just wrong. The fact is that what was struck down was a Congressional statute, not some unilateral action of the Bush administration. Moreover, far from a “black hole” (which suggests a dearth of legal protections for the terror suspects) what was struck down was a painstakingly designed system for evaluating prisoners’ rights. Obama intones: “Our courts have employed habeas corpus with rigor and fairness for more than two centuries, and we must continue to do so as we defend the freedom that violent extremists seek to destroy.” But what does that mean in practice? And is he aware that never in 200 years have military detainees been granted such rights?

As Richard Samp of the Washington Legal Foundation put it:

But the sweeping nature of its assertion of judicial supremacy is nonetheless breathtaking. It is entirely foreseeable that within the next few months, district judges in D.C. will have ordered that classified evidence be turned over to the detainees’ attorneys, and that the military will release more than a few of the detainees rather than comply with the discovery orders.

Obama keeps telling us he’s a constitutional lawyer, so he must understand what the Supreme Court really did. That leaves us to conclude he prefers to demagogue the issue, beat the Bush administration over the head with its “loss,” and hope the American people don’t notice that he supports a very, very dangerous legal conundrum created by the Court. For his part, John McCain would do well to take some keen advice and figure out how to trim the anticipated court proceedings and abate the dangers which the Court has created.

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Obama’s New Spokesperson

The Washington press corps loves to complain about revolving doors, especially when Republican officials end up in high-paying jobs in industries they used to regulate or for whom they did favors on the Hill.  But what happens when one of their own heads through the door in the other direction? Not much, as Howard Kurtz’s puff piece on the defection to the Obama campaign of veteran journalist Linda Douglass illustrates.

Before being named as press spokesperson for the Obama campaign, Douglass spent two decades as an on air reporter for CBS and ABC, including a stint covering the McCain campaign in 2000. Douglass told Kurtz she likes McCain but won’t have any trouble slamming him,

I have fundamental differences with John McCain on the issues and always have. I don’t have any problem criticizing John McCain.

Did she have those “fundamental differences” at the time she was covering the campaign eight years ago?  Who knows.  But, she avers,

It was no secret to the reporters around me that I have Democratic-leaning views. But they said I was always fair.

Kurtz is at pains to come up with some journalists with Republican-leaning views who have also gone through the revolving door into the administrations they covered as reporters, mentioning Ron Nessen, who became Gerald Ford’s press secretary in 1974, and more recently, Tony Snow, who was President George W. Bush’s press secretary.  But, as Kurtz notes, Snow hasn’t been a reporter in decades.  He’s been primarily an opinion journalist, not someone who was supposed to be a neutral observer who simply reported the facts.

News organizations are equal opportunity employers. Conservatives are welcome in journalism, so long as they stay in the back of the paper on the editorial pages.  I doubt we’ll see anyone decamping from the news pages of the Washington Post or New York Times to John McCain’s campaign. Now that would be news.

The Washington press corps loves to complain about revolving doors, especially when Republican officials end up in high-paying jobs in industries they used to regulate or for whom they did favors on the Hill.  But what happens when one of their own heads through the door in the other direction? Not much, as Howard Kurtz’s puff piece on the defection to the Obama campaign of veteran journalist Linda Douglass illustrates.

Before being named as press spokesperson for the Obama campaign, Douglass spent two decades as an on air reporter for CBS and ABC, including a stint covering the McCain campaign in 2000. Douglass told Kurtz she likes McCain but won’t have any trouble slamming him,

I have fundamental differences with John McCain on the issues and always have. I don’t have any problem criticizing John McCain.

Did she have those “fundamental differences” at the time she was covering the campaign eight years ago?  Who knows.  But, she avers,

It was no secret to the reporters around me that I have Democratic-leaning views. But they said I was always fair.

Kurtz is at pains to come up with some journalists with Republican-leaning views who have also gone through the revolving door into the administrations they covered as reporters, mentioning Ron Nessen, who became Gerald Ford’s press secretary in 1974, and more recently, Tony Snow, who was President George W. Bush’s press secretary.  But, as Kurtz notes, Snow hasn’t been a reporter in decades.  He’s been primarily an opinion journalist, not someone who was supposed to be a neutral observer who simply reported the facts.

News organizations are equal opportunity employers. Conservatives are welcome in journalism, so long as they stay in the back of the paper on the editorial pages.  I doubt we’ll see anyone decamping from the news pages of the Washington Post or New York Times to John McCain’s campaign. Now that would be news.

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Try It At Home

Barack Obama’s campaign manager is throwing out the possibility that Obama might not win Ohio, Florida or Pennsylvania, but could still win in November. All, I can say is, had they made that argument during the primary Hillary Clinton’s advisors would have had a field day with the superdelegates. Try it at home using this handy map. It is not impossible. But it is really, really hard for Obama to get to 270 in a credible way without these states.

And, by the way, that huge bump Obama was supposed to get after sealing the nomination looks like it was tiny and is already dissipating. Did the Democrats manage to get someone who transformed a Democratic sure-thing into a nail-biter? Looks that way — especially if they really think they can get by without these three big states and their 68 electoral votes.

Barack Obama’s campaign manager is throwing out the possibility that Obama might not win Ohio, Florida or Pennsylvania, but could still win in November. All, I can say is, had they made that argument during the primary Hillary Clinton’s advisors would have had a field day with the superdelegates. Try it at home using this handy map. It is not impossible. But it is really, really hard for Obama to get to 270 in a credible way without these states.

And, by the way, that huge bump Obama was supposed to get after sealing the nomination looks like it was tiny and is already dissipating. Did the Democrats manage to get someone who transformed a Democratic sure-thing into a nail-biter? Looks that way — especially if they really think they can get by without these three big states and their 68 electoral votes.

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How Bush Actually Operates

Since Barack Obama has taken to learning on the job, he might want to watch what’s happening between President Bush and Britain’s Prime Minster Gordon Brown very closely. Obama can complain about the President’s “foreign policy of bluster and saber-rattling and tough talk,” if he wants, but Bush and Brown’s recent agreement to put the financial squeeze on Iran is exactly what the non-military option looks like. International diplomacy does not consist of shapeless unconditional discussions with undefined aims. Rather, it is a matter of using specific alliances to elicit specific results.

Today, the President and the Prime Minister made a joint appearance and the Prime Minister announced that he would take measures to freeze the overseas assets of Iran’s biggest bank, Bank Melli. He also said he will get other European states to agree to ratchet up sanctions on Iran. “Our message today to the Iranian people is that you do not have to pursue the path of confrontation,” Brown said.

If only it were up to the Iranian people. There’s little if any chance that harsher sanctions will convince the mullahs to abandon their quest for nukes. Rogue states are characteristically indifferent to the well-being of their citizens and are historically inclined to trade prosperity for lethality. Just look at the hungry and stunted population of North Korea, a country that’s banked everything on its nuclear arsenal.

Bush’s critics like to say he unilaterally led the U.S. into a war with Iraq. The fact that we appealed repeatedly to the United Nations, which drafted resolution after toothless resolution is all but lost to the history of the war. Once again, the President is pursuing peaceful options through the building of international consensus and once again he’s characterized as a gun-slinging cowboy. The question is, when global pressure once again proves to be too weak, will the U.S. once again do the right thing?

Since Barack Obama has taken to learning on the job, he might want to watch what’s happening between President Bush and Britain’s Prime Minster Gordon Brown very closely. Obama can complain about the President’s “foreign policy of bluster and saber-rattling and tough talk,” if he wants, but Bush and Brown’s recent agreement to put the financial squeeze on Iran is exactly what the non-military option looks like. International diplomacy does not consist of shapeless unconditional discussions with undefined aims. Rather, it is a matter of using specific alliances to elicit specific results.

Today, the President and the Prime Minister made a joint appearance and the Prime Minister announced that he would take measures to freeze the overseas assets of Iran’s biggest bank, Bank Melli. He also said he will get other European states to agree to ratchet up sanctions on Iran. “Our message today to the Iranian people is that you do not have to pursue the path of confrontation,” Brown said.

If only it were up to the Iranian people. There’s little if any chance that harsher sanctions will convince the mullahs to abandon their quest for nukes. Rogue states are characteristically indifferent to the well-being of their citizens and are historically inclined to trade prosperity for lethality. Just look at the hungry and stunted population of North Korea, a country that’s banked everything on its nuclear arsenal.

Bush’s critics like to say he unilaterally led the U.S. into a war with Iraq. The fact that we appealed repeatedly to the United Nations, which drafted resolution after toothless resolution is all but lost to the history of the war. Once again, the President is pursuing peaceful options through the building of international consensus and once again he’s characterized as a gun-slinging cowboy. The question is, when global pressure once again proves to be too weak, will the U.S. once again do the right thing?

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Not Encouraging

A report today tells us that Barack Obama foreign policy advisor Susan Rice says the issue of Obama’s failure to visit Iraq is “garbage” and since President Bush and Vice President Cheney went and didn’t learn much, neither would Obama. Well, this is disturbing on multiple levels. First, “garbage” is how a foreign policy adviser talks ? (Is this the trash-talk express again?) Second, Bush and Cheney apparently did learn things in Iraq–they changed their entire strategy there, after all. And even if they had not, isn’t Obama supposed to be smarter and more adept at uncovering facts than they? Finally, this suggests that the know-nothing-ism that now seems to characterize the Obama approach to Iraq is not abating anytime soon and, indeed, is being encouraged by his advisers.

The report explains:

Brookings Institution military expert Michael O’Hanlon, who advised 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, says politicians need to see the post-surge changes in Iraq first-hand.”I think it’s a no-brainer,” says O’Hanlon, adding that Obama would be “remiss” as a candidate if he didn’t visit soon. O’Hanlon once was sharply critical of U.S. policy in Iraq, but after several post-surge visits is hopeful of a good outcome.”I’m struck by how much you learn on these trips, when you meet enlisted soldiers or a battalion commander in the field … When commanders in the field say it’s going a lot better, they’re not saying that because George Bush told them to. Obama’s going to get a lot of straight talk,” O’Hanlon says.

(For those interested in prior critiques by O’Hanlon of Iraq, much of his writing is available here. His New York Times piece, co-written with Kenneth Pollack, is worth a re-read as well.)

But are we now to assume that Obama going forward will be deaf to any new facts that conflict with his predetermined views on Iraq? One certainly hopes not, but it is becoming harder and harder for him to align himself with reality the more he and his advisers protest that there is nothing more to learn.

A report today tells us that Barack Obama foreign policy advisor Susan Rice says the issue of Obama’s failure to visit Iraq is “garbage” and since President Bush and Vice President Cheney went and didn’t learn much, neither would Obama. Well, this is disturbing on multiple levels. First, “garbage” is how a foreign policy adviser talks ? (Is this the trash-talk express again?) Second, Bush and Cheney apparently did learn things in Iraq–they changed their entire strategy there, after all. And even if they had not, isn’t Obama supposed to be smarter and more adept at uncovering facts than they? Finally, this suggests that the know-nothing-ism that now seems to characterize the Obama approach to Iraq is not abating anytime soon and, indeed, is being encouraged by his advisers.

The report explains:

Brookings Institution military expert Michael O’Hanlon, who advised 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, says politicians need to see the post-surge changes in Iraq first-hand.”I think it’s a no-brainer,” says O’Hanlon, adding that Obama would be “remiss” as a candidate if he didn’t visit soon. O’Hanlon once was sharply critical of U.S. policy in Iraq, but after several post-surge visits is hopeful of a good outcome.”I’m struck by how much you learn on these trips, when you meet enlisted soldiers or a battalion commander in the field … When commanders in the field say it’s going a lot better, they’re not saying that because George Bush told them to. Obama’s going to get a lot of straight talk,” O’Hanlon says.

(For those interested in prior critiques by O’Hanlon of Iraq, much of his writing is available here. His New York Times piece, co-written with Kenneth Pollack, is worth a re-read as well.)

But are we now to assume that Obama going forward will be deaf to any new facts that conflict with his predetermined views on Iraq? One certainly hopes not, but it is becoming harder and harder for him to align himself with reality the more he and his advisers protest that there is nothing more to learn.

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Status of Forces Agreement

On Sunday the Washington Post editors commented:

In fact, much of the controversy over the negotiations is based on misinformation, some of it spread by Iran’s proxies in Iraq. There are claims that the Bush administration is seeking to establish scores of permanent U.S. bases. In fact, Iraq has merely asked that the agreement list the bases from which American forces would be permitted to operate. It is claimed that the deals would perpetuate the U.S. “occupation.” In fact, they would be a major step in the opposite direction, by placing American troops under the sovereignty of the Iraqi government rather than the United Nations. If the United States were to make a formal commitment to defend Iraq from external aggression, congressional consideration and approval of the pact would be appropriate. For now, the biggest risk is that Tehran and its allies will pressure Mr. Maliki into backing away from a partnership with Washington. In that case, Iran would hasten to substitute itself as Iraq’s defender and strategic ally, with momentous implications for the rest of the Middle East. Surely this is not what the Democrats want.

It is interesting that they acknowledge that there is so much “misinformation” about a key development in Iraq, perhaps another tacit admission that the American media has done an abysmal job of late in relating the extent of political changes in Iraq. There are, of course, two options for the Iraqi government if they do not want Americans to bug out immediately (which they do not) : go to the UN for a new resolution or work out a status of forces agreement (SOFA). The Iraqis, who as the Post editors point out, will enjoy greater control and authority with a SOFA will likely in the end hash out a SOFA, but if not the UN alternative remains available. In a meeting with John McCain on Sunday the Iraqi foreign minister sounded an optimistic note on the SOFA negotiations.

As Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack pointed out last week in their Brookings Institute briefing, the negotiations reveal the emergence of a fully sovereign and national Iraqi government in which public opinion of Iraqi citizens plays a real role. Like so many other developments — the revival of the national police force, the effective functioning of brigades with mixed Sunni and Shia forces, the abatement of civilian violence and the emergence of Maliki as a national figure — the American media has essentially ignored the significant developments resulting from and accompanying the surge. We can ponder why but the result is that the American public and elected leaders have a fundamentally incomplete and therefore inaccurate picture of Iraq.

And it is nice to hear that although he won’t be going to Iraq himself anytime soon or getting briefed by our commanders there Barack Obama will get more up to speed from the Iraqi foreign ministerwho remarked after his Sunday meeting with McCain: “It’s in our interest, in fact, to brief both candidates on the reality of the situation, the way we see it from our perspective, from people who’ve been at the thick of this conflict.”

Perhaps the Post editors could ask their colleagues on the news side to start running stories to explain all of this so that our current debate reflects reality. But it’s so much easier to say “nothing’s changed.” Easier, but wildly inaccurate.

On Sunday the Washington Post editors commented:

In fact, much of the controversy over the negotiations is based on misinformation, some of it spread by Iran’s proxies in Iraq. There are claims that the Bush administration is seeking to establish scores of permanent U.S. bases. In fact, Iraq has merely asked that the agreement list the bases from which American forces would be permitted to operate. It is claimed that the deals would perpetuate the U.S. “occupation.” In fact, they would be a major step in the opposite direction, by placing American troops under the sovereignty of the Iraqi government rather than the United Nations. If the United States were to make a formal commitment to defend Iraq from external aggression, congressional consideration and approval of the pact would be appropriate. For now, the biggest risk is that Tehran and its allies will pressure Mr. Maliki into backing away from a partnership with Washington. In that case, Iran would hasten to substitute itself as Iraq’s defender and strategic ally, with momentous implications for the rest of the Middle East. Surely this is not what the Democrats want.

It is interesting that they acknowledge that there is so much “misinformation” about a key development in Iraq, perhaps another tacit admission that the American media has done an abysmal job of late in relating the extent of political changes in Iraq. There are, of course, two options for the Iraqi government if they do not want Americans to bug out immediately (which they do not) : go to the UN for a new resolution or work out a status of forces agreement (SOFA). The Iraqis, who as the Post editors point out, will enjoy greater control and authority with a SOFA will likely in the end hash out a SOFA, but if not the UN alternative remains available. In a meeting with John McCain on Sunday the Iraqi foreign minister sounded an optimistic note on the SOFA negotiations.

As Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack pointed out last week in their Brookings Institute briefing, the negotiations reveal the emergence of a fully sovereign and national Iraqi government in which public opinion of Iraqi citizens plays a real role. Like so many other developments — the revival of the national police force, the effective functioning of brigades with mixed Sunni and Shia forces, the abatement of civilian violence and the emergence of Maliki as a national figure — the American media has essentially ignored the significant developments resulting from and accompanying the surge. We can ponder why but the result is that the American public and elected leaders have a fundamentally incomplete and therefore inaccurate picture of Iraq.

And it is nice to hear that although he won’t be going to Iraq himself anytime soon or getting briefed by our commanders there Barack Obama will get more up to speed from the Iraqi foreign ministerwho remarked after his Sunday meeting with McCain: “It’s in our interest, in fact, to brief both candidates on the reality of the situation, the way we see it from our perspective, from people who’ve been at the thick of this conflict.”

Perhaps the Post editors could ask their colleagues on the news side to start running stories to explain all of this so that our current debate reflects reality. But it’s so much easier to say “nothing’s changed.” Easier, but wildly inaccurate.

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Without a Summit, Even?

The New York Times editors, without a hint of irony, remark on a chastened Hugo Chavez calling on FARC rebels to lay down their weapons:

We suspect this change of heart has been driven more by self-interest than conviction. Mr. Chávez is increasingly unpopular at home and increasingly isolated abroad, especially as evidence has mounted of his meddling in Colombia. The change nevertheless is welcome and well timed.

Whoa. Whatever happened to the notion that the Times‘s favorite son presidential candidate was going to have a summit with Chavez without preconditions because no real progress can come about unless we chat with these folks? Hmm. Isn’t this yet another real-world example that pressure and isolation are often the best means of forcing rogue state leaders to curb their actions? What if instead the U.S. had invited Chavez for tea at the White House, let him help set the agenda, and lauded him as a leader worthy of a dignity promotion?

Obama and the Democrats consistently berate the Bush administration, and in turn John McCain, for a lack of “realism.” But there is plenty of reason to suggest that Obama’s brand of “realism” doesn’t have much to do with how our adversaries in the real world respond to pressure, be it diplomatic, economic, or military.

The New York Times editors, without a hint of irony, remark on a chastened Hugo Chavez calling on FARC rebels to lay down their weapons:

We suspect this change of heart has been driven more by self-interest than conviction. Mr. Chávez is increasingly unpopular at home and increasingly isolated abroad, especially as evidence has mounted of his meddling in Colombia. The change nevertheless is welcome and well timed.

Whoa. Whatever happened to the notion that the Times‘s favorite son presidential candidate was going to have a summit with Chavez without preconditions because no real progress can come about unless we chat with these folks? Hmm. Isn’t this yet another real-world example that pressure and isolation are often the best means of forcing rogue state leaders to curb their actions? What if instead the U.S. had invited Chavez for tea at the White House, let him help set the agenda, and lauded him as a leader worthy of a dignity promotion?

Obama and the Democrats consistently berate the Bush administration, and in turn John McCain, for a lack of “realism.” But there is plenty of reason to suggest that Obama’s brand of “realism” doesn’t have much to do with how our adversaries in the real world respond to pressure, be it diplomatic, economic, or military.

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Obama’s Father’s Day Speech

Barack Obama deserves credit for his speech celebrating Father’s Day. He spoke before a packed church audience in Chicago and lectured black fathers about the failure of too many black men to live up to the responsibilities that go along with fatherhood:

We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled–doubled–since we were children. We know the statistics–that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.

He’s been relatively silent on this subject through much of the campaign, so it is especially noteworthy that he decided to talk about it now. But even more interesting was the venue he picked to deliver his message. You can’t tell everything from a website, but one thing is clear from the Apostolic Church of God’s website: this is no Trinity United Church of Christ, Obama’s old praying grounds. There are no Black-nationalist trappings, no dashiki clad preachers or kinte cloth. No radical rhetoric or appeals to black solidarity. In fact, I couldn’t find any specific appeal to race, though the pictures and church history made it clear this is a traditionally black congregation. There was a lot more religion and a lot less radical politics. It looked like pretty standard Pentecostal fare.

A cynic might say that Obama is simply re-positioning himself for the general election. But I’d like to believe it’s more than that. I’ve said before that Obama could play an important role in speaking about the absence of fathers in the black community given his personal history as a child abandoned by his own father. And it’s good he chose a church that is far more representative of the black religious community than Jeremiah Wright’s temple of hate. Better late than never.

Barack Obama deserves credit for his speech celebrating Father’s Day. He spoke before a packed church audience in Chicago and lectured black fathers about the failure of too many black men to live up to the responsibilities that go along with fatherhood:

We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled–doubled–since we were children. We know the statistics–that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.

He’s been relatively silent on this subject through much of the campaign, so it is especially noteworthy that he decided to talk about it now. But even more interesting was the venue he picked to deliver his message. You can’t tell everything from a website, but one thing is clear from the Apostolic Church of God’s website: this is no Trinity United Church of Christ, Obama’s old praying grounds. There are no Black-nationalist trappings, no dashiki clad preachers or kinte cloth. No radical rhetoric or appeals to black solidarity. In fact, I couldn’t find any specific appeal to race, though the pictures and church history made it clear this is a traditionally black congregation. There was a lot more religion and a lot less radical politics. It looked like pretty standard Pentecostal fare.

A cynic might say that Obama is simply re-positioning himself for the general election. But I’d like to believe it’s more than that. I’ve said before that Obama could play an important role in speaking about the absence of fathers in the black community given his personal history as a child abandoned by his own father. And it’s good he chose a church that is far more representative of the black religious community than Jeremiah Wright’s temple of hate. Better late than never.

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A Better Executive?

There are multiple reasons to be wary of Barack Obama’s management skills. He procrastinates, he doesn’t take criticism well, he hides from the media, and his ability to judge people around him is, well, less than great. But now we learn from the New York Times that he sounds a whole lot like a certain embattled Republican president.

The Times tells us “Mr. Obama’s style so far is marked by an aversion to leaks and public drama and his selection of a small group of advisers who have exhibited discipline and loyalty in carrying out his priorities.” We now know: “He is personally even-keeled, but can be prickly when small things go wrong.” And worse yet, we here he’s not very hands-on: “He delegates many decisions, and virtually all tasks, to a core group that oversees a sprawling, yet centralized operation in his Chicago campaign headquarters.” Yikes. Aren’t these the very qualities Democrats and many Republicans have been agonizing over in observing the Bush administation for the last seven and a half years? Next thing we know we’ll hear he doesn’t even like to watch the news.

Maybe it is time to reassess the glowing “what a great executive he is” spin from his media cheerleaders.

There are multiple reasons to be wary of Barack Obama’s management skills. He procrastinates, he doesn’t take criticism well, he hides from the media, and his ability to judge people around him is, well, less than great. But now we learn from the New York Times that he sounds a whole lot like a certain embattled Republican president.

The Times tells us “Mr. Obama’s style so far is marked by an aversion to leaks and public drama and his selection of a small group of advisers who have exhibited discipline and loyalty in carrying out his priorities.” We now know: “He is personally even-keeled, but can be prickly when small things go wrong.” And worse yet, we here he’s not very hands-on: “He delegates many decisions, and virtually all tasks, to a core group that oversees a sprawling, yet centralized operation in his Chicago campaign headquarters.” Yikes. Aren’t these the very qualities Democrats and many Republicans have been agonizing over in observing the Bush administation for the last seven and a half years? Next thing we know we’ll hear he doesn’t even like to watch the news.

Maybe it is time to reassess the glowing “what a great executive he is” spin from his media cheerleaders.

Read Less




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