Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 18, 2008

McCain’s Problem: McCain

John McCain is shouldering many burdens. The GOP is very unpopular. President Bush is very unpopular. The war in Iraq is unpopular. The economy is unpopular. And he has to contend with a person from his recent past who is making his life as a presidential candidate more difficult. That person from his recent past is John McCain. Call him McCain I, and the presidential candidate McCain 2.

McCain 2 finally has an issue on which he can outflank Barack Obama on multiple fronts — as a populist, as someone with an answer to a key economic problem, as a national-security matter. That issue is oil. The Democratic Party is trying to turn the jump in oil prices into an anti-corporate and anti-Bush matter, but that is not likely to work the longer oil prices remain high because of increasing world-wide demand and the weakness of the dollar. Even voters inclined to conspiracy theorizing won’t long accept the notion that the spike in oil prices is due to nefarious boardroom dealing. McCain 2 has been receiving the best advice of his campaign — to advocate an immediate and dramatic increase in American efforts to harvest oil from domestic reserves offshore and in Alaska, and to offer incentives for the building of new refineries to turn the crude into usable gasoline. This is not an option open to Democrats because of the central importance of the environmental movement to the party’s base.

So McCain 2 makes a big speech about offshore oil drilling and the need for it. Fine. But the message is muted and confused. Why? Because McCain 1 voted against oil exploration and field development in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, and McCain 2 doesn’t want to look like a flip-flopper by changing his stand on the matter.

That’s the safe play. But it steps on McCain 2’s message in a very damaging way. If it is vital to drill offshore to do something about the oil crisis, then it can be no less vital to do so in ANWR — in fact, it is surely more vital to do so in ANWR, as it is far easier to extract the stuff from the ground than it is from the depths of the ocean floor. And, ironically, more environmentally sound as well.

And here’s the (even deeper) irony. McCain 1 didn’t vote against ANWR out of some deep environmentalist principle. He did so to show his concern for the environment, as a public-piety display. And, I suspect, he did it to give a special zetz to former oilman George W. Bush, who had made drilling in ANWR the centerpiece of an energy policy that really doesn’t look as foolish right now in 2008 as it did to many back in 2001 and 2002. McCain 1 was still furious over his loss in the 2000 presidential nomination contest.

So, in acting out of a combination of holier-than-thou piety and political pique, McCain 1 has made it all but impossible for McCain 2 to run with this issue and go on the offensive with Obama on a matter of central concern to the American people.

John McCain is shouldering many burdens. The GOP is very unpopular. President Bush is very unpopular. The war in Iraq is unpopular. The economy is unpopular. And he has to contend with a person from his recent past who is making his life as a presidential candidate more difficult. That person from his recent past is John McCain. Call him McCain I, and the presidential candidate McCain 2.

McCain 2 finally has an issue on which he can outflank Barack Obama on multiple fronts — as a populist, as someone with an answer to a key economic problem, as a national-security matter. That issue is oil. The Democratic Party is trying to turn the jump in oil prices into an anti-corporate and anti-Bush matter, but that is not likely to work the longer oil prices remain high because of increasing world-wide demand and the weakness of the dollar. Even voters inclined to conspiracy theorizing won’t long accept the notion that the spike in oil prices is due to nefarious boardroom dealing. McCain 2 has been receiving the best advice of his campaign — to advocate an immediate and dramatic increase in American efforts to harvest oil from domestic reserves offshore and in Alaska, and to offer incentives for the building of new refineries to turn the crude into usable gasoline. This is not an option open to Democrats because of the central importance of the environmental movement to the party’s base.

So McCain 2 makes a big speech about offshore oil drilling and the need for it. Fine. But the message is muted and confused. Why? Because McCain 1 voted against oil exploration and field development in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, and McCain 2 doesn’t want to look like a flip-flopper by changing his stand on the matter.

That’s the safe play. But it steps on McCain 2’s message in a very damaging way. If it is vital to drill offshore to do something about the oil crisis, then it can be no less vital to do so in ANWR — in fact, it is surely more vital to do so in ANWR, as it is far easier to extract the stuff from the ground than it is from the depths of the ocean floor. And, ironically, more environmentally sound as well.

And here’s the (even deeper) irony. McCain 1 didn’t vote against ANWR out of some deep environmentalist principle. He did so to show his concern for the environment, as a public-piety display. And, I suspect, he did it to give a special zetz to former oilman George W. Bush, who had made drilling in ANWR the centerpiece of an energy policy that really doesn’t look as foolish right now in 2008 as it did to many back in 2001 and 2002. McCain 1 was still furious over his loss in the 2000 presidential nomination contest.

So, in acting out of a combination of holier-than-thou piety and political pique, McCain 1 has made it all but impossible for McCain 2 to run with this issue and go on the offensive with Obama on a matter of central concern to the American people.

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Rudy Joins The Fray

The McCain camp, sensing an opening, has deployed Rudy Giuliani to turn up the the heat on Barack Obama’s praise of the Supreme Court’s case granting Guantanamo detainees habeas corpus rights and praising the 1993 trial of the world trade center bombing as the model for handling these prisoners.

Giuliani and McCain advisor Randy Scheunemann held a conference call this morning to continue the debate. The Mayor stressed repeatedly that it was a “very, very important” debate and this emphasizes his frequently made point during his campaign that Obama is on “defense” and McCain on “offense.” He said that this is not the politics of “fear,” but the “politics of reality.” He explained that Obama’s advisors’ comments that Osama bin Laden would deserve habeas corpus rights is “startling.” He emphasized that McCain had always favored a military procedure for processing prisoners but what the Supreme Court did was “create a new right that didn’t exist the day before” — namely extending to enemy combatants held outside the U.S. full habeas corpus rights. He said he didn’t understand why we would want to do that during the war on terror, remarking that it “reminds me of the Warren Court which created new rights for criminals.” He then sharpened the knife a bit, reminding the press that it was Hillary Clinton who often said that Obama was “naive” and “irresponsible” when it came to the war on terror.

An AP reporter then asked a question. Actually she made a statement, parroting the Obama talking point that there was “no evidence” that Obama supported merely a criminal justice proceeding (reminding those on the call that Obama favored bombing Pakistan) and why wasn’t that clear to the McCain camp. (Really, it is startling that the comment was phrased as a given fact and not “the Obama camp contends…”) She also asked when the criminal justice system would be appropriate. Giuliani disagreed with her premise about Obama’s view of the criminal justice system and noted that Obama lauded the 1993 trial as the model for dealing with these terror suspects. He recounted a number of other instances in which he contends Obama revealed that he is on the defense on the war on terror (e.g. a response to Brian Williams in a debate in which Obama said his first response to destruction of two cities would be to make sure we had an adequate emergency response, wanting to meet without preconditions with dictators who support terror and now granting Osama bin Laden habeas corpus rights.)

Bottom Line: The McCain camp is convinced this is a winning issue and doesn’t intend to let Obama wriggle out of the accusation that he likes a Supreme Court decision giving Osama bin Laden full access to the U.S. courts.

The McCain camp, sensing an opening, has deployed Rudy Giuliani to turn up the the heat on Barack Obama’s praise of the Supreme Court’s case granting Guantanamo detainees habeas corpus rights and praising the 1993 trial of the world trade center bombing as the model for handling these prisoners.

Giuliani and McCain advisor Randy Scheunemann held a conference call this morning to continue the debate. The Mayor stressed repeatedly that it was a “very, very important” debate and this emphasizes his frequently made point during his campaign that Obama is on “defense” and McCain on “offense.” He said that this is not the politics of “fear,” but the “politics of reality.” He explained that Obama’s advisors’ comments that Osama bin Laden would deserve habeas corpus rights is “startling.” He emphasized that McCain had always favored a military procedure for processing prisoners but what the Supreme Court did was “create a new right that didn’t exist the day before” — namely extending to enemy combatants held outside the U.S. full habeas corpus rights. He said he didn’t understand why we would want to do that during the war on terror, remarking that it “reminds me of the Warren Court which created new rights for criminals.” He then sharpened the knife a bit, reminding the press that it was Hillary Clinton who often said that Obama was “naive” and “irresponsible” when it came to the war on terror.

An AP reporter then asked a question. Actually she made a statement, parroting the Obama talking point that there was “no evidence” that Obama supported merely a criminal justice proceeding (reminding those on the call that Obama favored bombing Pakistan) and why wasn’t that clear to the McCain camp. (Really, it is startling that the comment was phrased as a given fact and not “the Obama camp contends…”) She also asked when the criminal justice system would be appropriate. Giuliani disagreed with her premise about Obama’s view of the criminal justice system and noted that Obama lauded the 1993 trial as the model for dealing with these terror suspects. He recounted a number of other instances in which he contends Obama revealed that he is on the defense on the war on terror (e.g. a response to Brian Williams in a debate in which Obama said his first response to destruction of two cities would be to make sure we had an adequate emergency response, wanting to meet without preconditions with dictators who support terror and now granting Osama bin Laden habeas corpus rights.)

Bottom Line: The McCain camp is convinced this is a winning issue and doesn’t intend to let Obama wriggle out of the accusation that he likes a Supreme Court decision giving Osama bin Laden full access to the U.S. courts.

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The Olmert Show

Let us count the ways in which the Israeli prime minister is attempting to manufacture political relevance for himself:

He has agreed to a tahdiyya with Hamas, but notably without the release of Gilad Shalit, which up until this moment had been the central (and non-negotiable) condition of any such agreement. Amazingly, the party that ended up unable to withstand the Gaza blockade was not the Hamas government, but Israel’s. Weapons will flow into Gaza from Egypt, Shalit will remain in captivity, Hamas will be given breathing room to organize and arm itself, and the problem of Gaza will fester until the next crisis. When that crisis arrives, the battle in Gaza will be bloodier than if there had never been a cease-fire. Score one for Hamas.

Then there is the peace gambit with Syria, which Olmert has been smugly pursuing despite Syria’s open denial of any intention of removing itself from alliance with Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. The talks make Israel look deluded and desperate at the same time as they rescue Assad from isolation, undermine three years of American policy toward Syria, rob momentum from the Hariri tribunal, distract from Syria’s systematic contravention of UN Resolutions 1559 and 1701, and put the March 14 coalition on notice that Israel is prepared to sell Lebanese sovereignty down the river for a false peace. Score several points for Assad and Tehran.

And now Olmert is making peace overtures to Lebanon, giving the Lebanese prime minister the opportunity to reject negotiations and castigate Israel for its depredations against peace and justice while he’s at it. Meanwhile, we learn that Olmert was hoping to be seated at the same table as Bashar Assad at an upcoming conference in France, in order that he might personally entreat the Syrian butcher to kindly accept Israel’s gift of the Golan Heights.

Olmert is making a pathetic spectacle of his remaining days in office, hoping that his manic, flailing diplomacy will be mistaken for boldness in pursuit of peacemaking. It is true that in all of these examples there are nuances and complicating factors, many of which have origins in domestic Israeli politics. Yet it is also true that those domestic considerations, especially Olmert’s tepid hold on power, are largely of Olmert’s own making. His successor will be forced to devote a not inconsiderable amount of time to charting a course out of the many predicaments into which Olmert has dragged his country.

Let us count the ways in which the Israeli prime minister is attempting to manufacture political relevance for himself:

He has agreed to a tahdiyya with Hamas, but notably without the release of Gilad Shalit, which up until this moment had been the central (and non-negotiable) condition of any such agreement. Amazingly, the party that ended up unable to withstand the Gaza blockade was not the Hamas government, but Israel’s. Weapons will flow into Gaza from Egypt, Shalit will remain in captivity, Hamas will be given breathing room to organize and arm itself, and the problem of Gaza will fester until the next crisis. When that crisis arrives, the battle in Gaza will be bloodier than if there had never been a cease-fire. Score one for Hamas.

Then there is the peace gambit with Syria, which Olmert has been smugly pursuing despite Syria’s open denial of any intention of removing itself from alliance with Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. The talks make Israel look deluded and desperate at the same time as they rescue Assad from isolation, undermine three years of American policy toward Syria, rob momentum from the Hariri tribunal, distract from Syria’s systematic contravention of UN Resolutions 1559 and 1701, and put the March 14 coalition on notice that Israel is prepared to sell Lebanese sovereignty down the river for a false peace. Score several points for Assad and Tehran.

And now Olmert is making peace overtures to Lebanon, giving the Lebanese prime minister the opportunity to reject negotiations and castigate Israel for its depredations against peace and justice while he’s at it. Meanwhile, we learn that Olmert was hoping to be seated at the same table as Bashar Assad at an upcoming conference in France, in order that he might personally entreat the Syrian butcher to kindly accept Israel’s gift of the Golan Heights.

Olmert is making a pathetic spectacle of his remaining days in office, hoping that his manic, flailing diplomacy will be mistaken for boldness in pursuit of peacemaking. It is true that in all of these examples there are nuances and complicating factors, many of which have origins in domestic Israeli politics. Yet it is also true that those domestic considerations, especially Olmert’s tepid hold on power, are largely of Olmert’s own making. His successor will be forced to devote a not inconsiderable amount of time to charting a course out of the many predicaments into which Olmert has dragged his country.

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Friedman Is Paying Attention

Despite the fact his newspaper has ignored coverage of Iraq’s political and military progress and missed the immense changes there in the last year, Thomas Friedman has been paying attention. He writes:

Clearly, the surge has helped to dampen the internal conflict. Clearly, the Iraqi Army is performing better. Clearly, Iraq’s Prime Minister Maliki, by cracking down on rogue Shiite groups from his own community, has established himself as more of a national leader. Clearly, the Sunnis have decided to take part in the coming parliamentary elections. Clearly, Kurdistan continues to operate as an island of decency and free markets. Clearly, Al Qaeda in Iraq has been hurt. Clearly, some Arab countries are coming to terms with the changes there by reopening embassies in Baghdad.

He notes that “the reconciliation process inside Iraq — almost five years after our invasion — still has not reached a point where Iraq’s stability is self-sustaining.” See that’s not so hard to admit, is it? Nor is his attempt to be even-handed (Barack Obama’s threat to leave puts pressure on the Iraqis while it would be a mistake for John McCain “to give up his goal of salvaging something in Iraq.”) very different from that offered by other informed observers. I take issue with his notion that McCain wants to be there “indefinitely” — he actually just wants to be there as long as it takes to secure the gains made — but that is a small quibble.

It seems that common sense is breaking out all over. Isn’t it time for the Democratic presidential candidate and Congressional leaders to take the plunge too and start admitting they haven’t missed the last year of developments on the ground? (Well for Obama, he might at least share with the American people the same level-headed assessment he supposedly provided to the Iraqi Foreign Minister.)

Despite the fact his newspaper has ignored coverage of Iraq’s political and military progress and missed the immense changes there in the last year, Thomas Friedman has been paying attention. He writes:

Clearly, the surge has helped to dampen the internal conflict. Clearly, the Iraqi Army is performing better. Clearly, Iraq’s Prime Minister Maliki, by cracking down on rogue Shiite groups from his own community, has established himself as more of a national leader. Clearly, the Sunnis have decided to take part in the coming parliamentary elections. Clearly, Kurdistan continues to operate as an island of decency and free markets. Clearly, Al Qaeda in Iraq has been hurt. Clearly, some Arab countries are coming to terms with the changes there by reopening embassies in Baghdad.

He notes that “the reconciliation process inside Iraq — almost five years after our invasion — still has not reached a point where Iraq’s stability is self-sustaining.” See that’s not so hard to admit, is it? Nor is his attempt to be even-handed (Barack Obama’s threat to leave puts pressure on the Iraqis while it would be a mistake for John McCain “to give up his goal of salvaging something in Iraq.”) very different from that offered by other informed observers. I take issue with his notion that McCain wants to be there “indefinitely” — he actually just wants to be there as long as it takes to secure the gains made — but that is a small quibble.

It seems that common sense is breaking out all over. Isn’t it time for the Democratic presidential candidate and Congressional leaders to take the plunge too and start admitting they haven’t missed the last year of developments on the ground? (Well for Obama, he might at least share with the American people the same level-headed assessment he supposedly provided to the Iraqi Foreign Minister.)

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Bookshelf

Anyone familiar with the war-related films made by the U.S. government during World War II–all of which are in the public domain and can be seen from time to time on TCM and the Documentary Channel–knows that the best of them are priceless cultural time capsules. In recent weeks I’ve watched “Resisting Enemy Interrogation,” “With the Marines at Tarawa,” the first part of Frank Capra’s “Why We Fight” and John Huston’s “The Battle of San Pietro” and “Let There Be Light.” I found them all to be both immensely interesting and (if this is the right way to put it) hugely entertaining. Thus I made a special point of requesting a review copy of Instructions for American Servicemen in France During World War II (University of Chicago, 72 pp., $12), a hard-bound facsimile edition of the pocket guide that was distributed to every American soldier in England just prior to D-Day. It is, like the training films those soldiers watched, a powerfully evocative souvenir of an America that no longer exists save in the deeply etched memories of the gray-headed men who long ago risked their lives to save the West.

A Pocket Guide to France (to call the book by its original title) is a concise, clearly written manual that crackles with no-nonsense idealism from the first page onward:

You are about to play a personal part in pushing the Germans out of France. Whatever part you take–rifleman, hospital orderly, mechanic, pilot, clerk, gunner, truck driver–you will be an essential factor in a great effort . . . The Allies are going to open up conquered France, re-establish the old Allied liberties and destroy the Nazi regime everywhere. Hitler asked for it.

Note the utter straightforwardness of that introduction. No moral relativism, no postmodern irony, no doubts of any kind whatsoever: World War II was worth fighting, period.

No less bracing is the Pocket Guide‘s equally unequivocal assertion that “the French have what might be called a national character. . . . To them property represents the result of work. To destroy property means to belittle work.” Contemporary readers will doubtless smile at such simplifications, but I was struck by how deftly the anonymous author sketched the bourgeois virtues of prewar France:

If you are billeted with a French family, you will be in a more personal relation than if you were in barracks or a hotel. Remember that the man of the house may be a prisoner of the Nazis, along with a million and one half others like him. Treat the women in the house the way you want the women of your family treated by other men while you’re away….A whole French family would spend less on pleasure in a month than you would over a week-end. The French reputation for gayety was principally built on the civilized French way of doing things; by the French people’s good taste; by their interest in quality, not quantity; and by the lively energy of their minds. The French are intelligent, have mostly had a sensible education, without frills, are industrious, shrewd and frugal.

No doubt there were plenty of “ugly Americans” then, just as there are today, but any soldier who read A Pocket Guide to France and took it to heart would have come away with a realistic respect for the country he was fighting to liberate.

To be sure, one inevitably wonders in retrospect just how realistic it was. The Pocket Guide, as it happens, has strikingly little to say about the French collabos. That was the way we did things in World War II: allies were allies, enemies enemies. Perhaps it was naïve of us to think that way, but a world in which naïveté is no longer possible is one in which it is not very pleasant to live. Small wonder that Americans of my generation (I was born in 1956) continue to idealize the generation that brought us into the world. Our parents, after all, were capable of writing books like “A Pocket Guide to France”–and acting on them.

Anyone familiar with the war-related films made by the U.S. government during World War II–all of which are in the public domain and can be seen from time to time on TCM and the Documentary Channel–knows that the best of them are priceless cultural time capsules. In recent weeks I’ve watched “Resisting Enemy Interrogation,” “With the Marines at Tarawa,” the first part of Frank Capra’s “Why We Fight” and John Huston’s “The Battle of San Pietro” and “Let There Be Light.” I found them all to be both immensely interesting and (if this is the right way to put it) hugely entertaining. Thus I made a special point of requesting a review copy of Instructions for American Servicemen in France During World War II (University of Chicago, 72 pp., $12), a hard-bound facsimile edition of the pocket guide that was distributed to every American soldier in England just prior to D-Day. It is, like the training films those soldiers watched, a powerfully evocative souvenir of an America that no longer exists save in the deeply etched memories of the gray-headed men who long ago risked their lives to save the West.

A Pocket Guide to France (to call the book by its original title) is a concise, clearly written manual that crackles with no-nonsense idealism from the first page onward:

You are about to play a personal part in pushing the Germans out of France. Whatever part you take–rifleman, hospital orderly, mechanic, pilot, clerk, gunner, truck driver–you will be an essential factor in a great effort . . . The Allies are going to open up conquered France, re-establish the old Allied liberties and destroy the Nazi regime everywhere. Hitler asked for it.

Note the utter straightforwardness of that introduction. No moral relativism, no postmodern irony, no doubts of any kind whatsoever: World War II was worth fighting, period.

No less bracing is the Pocket Guide‘s equally unequivocal assertion that “the French have what might be called a national character. . . . To them property represents the result of work. To destroy property means to belittle work.” Contemporary readers will doubtless smile at such simplifications, but I was struck by how deftly the anonymous author sketched the bourgeois virtues of prewar France:

If you are billeted with a French family, you will be in a more personal relation than if you were in barracks or a hotel. Remember that the man of the house may be a prisoner of the Nazis, along with a million and one half others like him. Treat the women in the house the way you want the women of your family treated by other men while you’re away….A whole French family would spend less on pleasure in a month than you would over a week-end. The French reputation for gayety was principally built on the civilized French way of doing things; by the French people’s good taste; by their interest in quality, not quantity; and by the lively energy of their minds. The French are intelligent, have mostly had a sensible education, without frills, are industrious, shrewd and frugal.

No doubt there were plenty of “ugly Americans” then, just as there are today, but any soldier who read A Pocket Guide to France and took it to heart would have come away with a realistic respect for the country he was fighting to liberate.

To be sure, one inevitably wonders in retrospect just how realistic it was. The Pocket Guide, as it happens, has strikingly little to say about the French collabos. That was the way we did things in World War II: allies were allies, enemies enemies. Perhaps it was naïve of us to think that way, but a world in which naïveté is no longer possible is one in which it is not very pleasant to live. Small wonder that Americans of my generation (I was born in 1956) continue to idealize the generation that brought us into the world. Our parents, after all, were capable of writing books like “A Pocket Guide to France”–and acting on them.

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What Are We In For?

Thanks to five Supreme Court justices we are heading for habeas corpus trials for hundreds of Guantanamo prisoners. As Peter Wehner explained in a column today:

Indeed, we are bestowing on unlawful enemy combatants rights that have never before been extended to prisoners of war, who are (unlike terrorists) abiding by international norms. To extend habeas rights to unlawful enemy combatants, the Court broke precedent with the Eisentrager decision — and then attempted to fundamentally reinterpret Eisentrager in order to save itself the task of explaining why it was overruling it. The Court, in other words, wrongly and imperiously carved out responsibility for itself in an area it has never before had jurisdiction — and in the process it invalidated laws (the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act and the 2006 Military Commissions Act) the Court had recently insisted Congress legislate. The Court has, in the words of Chief Justice John Roberts, made Congress “the victim of a constitutional bait and switch.”

But what rules and procedures will apply and what Constitutional rights apply once we get there? I asked a few constitutional law gurus. One responded bluntly, “Basically we are in an area of law that has been invented by Justice Kennedy so he can continue to invent it however he sees fit.” What that means is the federal courts get to make it up. Does the 4th Amendment apply to the evidence acquired on the battlefield? Maybe. Can terrorists subpoena CIA intelligence materials and call generals off the battlefield to testify? Perhaps. If the court orders the government to turn over documents which the government believes are too sensitive to release must the government let the prisoner go to protect national security? Very likely.

We are in judicial territory uncharted and bizarre. What about the interrogation procedures used–do they get tossed under the 5th and 14th Amendments? A law professor answered my query today: ” Who knows? I guess it is up to Justice Kennedy.”

Each of these questions will need to be answered and if they don’t afford the maximum protection to the detainees you can bet they will be appealed. Years from now the Supreme Court may be deciding whether a full Miranda warning wasn’t really needed, after all, for these prisoners.

Andy McCarthy, who prosecuted the 1993 World Trade Center bombing case, implores Congress to step in rather than let the courts make it up. He writes:

Bear in mind, even in the civilian-justice system, where the judicial competence is generally undeniable, it is Congress that enacts rules of procedure and evidence. We do not leave judges free to make it up as they go along. How much less should we do so with respect to combatant detention — a war power as to which judges have no institutional competence?

McCarthy has many sane ideas modeled on the rules for pretrial detention in criminal civilian proceedings:

Congress could provide for the presentation of evidence by hearsay, proffer, and affidavit — with a directive that the court may not compel the government (particularly, the military and intelligence community) to produce witnesses for testimony in court. It could provide for classified intelligence to be presented to the judge ex parte, with only a non-classified summary provided to the combatant. It could require the court to give deference during wartime to the conclusion of combatant status review tribunals already conducted by the military (allowing judges to disregard those conclusions only upon a showing that the conclusion was irrational — the same standard that compels federal appeals courts, in every single civilian criminal case, to refrain from disturbing a trial court’s findings of fact).

But, of course ,there is no guarantee that Justice Kennedy will like those rules any more than the military tribunal set up he tossed out in Boumediene. And why would the Democrats in Congress even agree to such an idea after lauding the notion that Kennedy had empowered district courts to make up the rules? After all that is what the liberal legal establishment seeks in all aspects of constitutional law — the untrammeled right of the non-elected branch to make up rules and extend the greatest possible protections for accused, whether domestic or foreign, in derrogation of the desires of the elected branches and in the absence of any precedent or constitutional directive.

We have now reached the freakish (but entirely logical) conclusion of rule by the judiciary.

Thanks to five Supreme Court justices we are heading for habeas corpus trials for hundreds of Guantanamo prisoners. As Peter Wehner explained in a column today:

Indeed, we are bestowing on unlawful enemy combatants rights that have never before been extended to prisoners of war, who are (unlike terrorists) abiding by international norms. To extend habeas rights to unlawful enemy combatants, the Court broke precedent with the Eisentrager decision — and then attempted to fundamentally reinterpret Eisentrager in order to save itself the task of explaining why it was overruling it. The Court, in other words, wrongly and imperiously carved out responsibility for itself in an area it has never before had jurisdiction — and in the process it invalidated laws (the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act and the 2006 Military Commissions Act) the Court had recently insisted Congress legislate. The Court has, in the words of Chief Justice John Roberts, made Congress “the victim of a constitutional bait and switch.”

But what rules and procedures will apply and what Constitutional rights apply once we get there? I asked a few constitutional law gurus. One responded bluntly, “Basically we are in an area of law that has been invented by Justice Kennedy so he can continue to invent it however he sees fit.” What that means is the federal courts get to make it up. Does the 4th Amendment apply to the evidence acquired on the battlefield? Maybe. Can terrorists subpoena CIA intelligence materials and call generals off the battlefield to testify? Perhaps. If the court orders the government to turn over documents which the government believes are too sensitive to release must the government let the prisoner go to protect national security? Very likely.

We are in judicial territory uncharted and bizarre. What about the interrogation procedures used–do they get tossed under the 5th and 14th Amendments? A law professor answered my query today: ” Who knows? I guess it is up to Justice Kennedy.”

Each of these questions will need to be answered and if they don’t afford the maximum protection to the detainees you can bet they will be appealed. Years from now the Supreme Court may be deciding whether a full Miranda warning wasn’t really needed, after all, for these prisoners.

Andy McCarthy, who prosecuted the 1993 World Trade Center bombing case, implores Congress to step in rather than let the courts make it up. He writes:

Bear in mind, even in the civilian-justice system, where the judicial competence is generally undeniable, it is Congress that enacts rules of procedure and evidence. We do not leave judges free to make it up as they go along. How much less should we do so with respect to combatant detention — a war power as to which judges have no institutional competence?

McCarthy has many sane ideas modeled on the rules for pretrial detention in criminal civilian proceedings:

Congress could provide for the presentation of evidence by hearsay, proffer, and affidavit — with a directive that the court may not compel the government (particularly, the military and intelligence community) to produce witnesses for testimony in court. It could provide for classified intelligence to be presented to the judge ex parte, with only a non-classified summary provided to the combatant. It could require the court to give deference during wartime to the conclusion of combatant status review tribunals already conducted by the military (allowing judges to disregard those conclusions only upon a showing that the conclusion was irrational — the same standard that compels federal appeals courts, in every single civilian criminal case, to refrain from disturbing a trial court’s findings of fact).

But, of course ,there is no guarantee that Justice Kennedy will like those rules any more than the military tribunal set up he tossed out in Boumediene. And why would the Democrats in Congress even agree to such an idea after lauding the notion that Kennedy had empowered district courts to make up the rules? After all that is what the liberal legal establishment seeks in all aspects of constitutional law — the untrammeled right of the non-elected branch to make up rules and extend the greatest possible protections for accused, whether domestic or foreign, in derrogation of the desires of the elected branches and in the absence of any precedent or constitutional directive.

We have now reached the freakish (but entirely logical) conclusion of rule by the judiciary.

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Maureen, Could You Hold the Cheap Shots Until January?

Today, Maureen Dowd delivered her end-of-Bush-era assessment. So that you won’t be held in suspense, let me summarize her conclusion: “W.,” as she calls the leader of the free world, has utterly failed. After she notes that he had rejected the notion that only “white-guy Methodists” are capable of self-government, she writes this: “If there’s one thing that W. and Cheney have proved, beyond a sliver of a shadow of a doubt, it’s that at least two white-guy Methodists are not capable of self-government.”

Could we please have a moratorium on cheap shots until after the President leaves office? At this moment, he is trying to prevent the world from falling apart. His recently concluded mission to Europe, which provided so much of the fodder for her piece, was largely about Iran. And Europe may be where the Iran issue is won or lost, as the perceptive Ilan Berman noted in today’s Guardian. While on his so-called “farewell tour,” the President won pledges from Britain and the European Union to immediately tighten sanctions. We may soon be past the point where sanctions can affect the behavior of the Iranian regime, but Bush’s diplomacy brought the members of the Atlantic Alliance closer together at a time when the theocrats needed to see Western unity.

No one would ever confuse me for a supporter of the current administration in Washington, but I think this would be an excellent time to rally around an embattled leader engaged in extremely consequential matters. We are at a more perilous moment than the days following September 11, for instance.

All this is not to say that we should hold off the criticisms of President Bush’s policies. We shouldn’t hesitate to discuss alternative approaches at this crucial moment, but no American should feel safe if the leadership of the country is weakened. Let Dowd give the Bushies a hard time when they leave office, but in the meantime let’s get back to substantive discussions on the most immediate challenge the international community faces. After all, this could be the moment where we write our history for the next hundred years.

Today, Maureen Dowd delivered her end-of-Bush-era assessment. So that you won’t be held in suspense, let me summarize her conclusion: “W.,” as she calls the leader of the free world, has utterly failed. After she notes that he had rejected the notion that only “white-guy Methodists” are capable of self-government, she writes this: “If there’s one thing that W. and Cheney have proved, beyond a sliver of a shadow of a doubt, it’s that at least two white-guy Methodists are not capable of self-government.”

Could we please have a moratorium on cheap shots until after the President leaves office? At this moment, he is trying to prevent the world from falling apart. His recently concluded mission to Europe, which provided so much of the fodder for her piece, was largely about Iran. And Europe may be where the Iran issue is won or lost, as the perceptive Ilan Berman noted in today’s Guardian. While on his so-called “farewell tour,” the President won pledges from Britain and the European Union to immediately tighten sanctions. We may soon be past the point where sanctions can affect the behavior of the Iranian regime, but Bush’s diplomacy brought the members of the Atlantic Alliance closer together at a time when the theocrats needed to see Western unity.

No one would ever confuse me for a supporter of the current administration in Washington, but I think this would be an excellent time to rally around an embattled leader engaged in extremely consequential matters. We are at a more perilous moment than the days following September 11, for instance.

All this is not to say that we should hold off the criticisms of President Bush’s policies. We shouldn’t hesitate to discuss alternative approaches at this crucial moment, but no American should feel safe if the leadership of the country is weakened. Let Dowd give the Bushies a hard time when they leave office, but in the meantime let’s get back to substantive discussions on the most immediate challenge the international community faces. After all, this could be the moment where we write our history for the next hundred years.

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Darfur Is Part of The War on Terror

For years now, Sudan has not only been the locale of the planet’s bloodiest exercise in mass violence, but also the West’s most neglected front in the War on Terror. We have resisted understanding the ongoing massacre in Darfur for what it is — not some impenetrable tribal rivalry, but rather a prolonged irruption of Islamist terrorism in its most unapologetic form. Abdel Whaid Al-Nur, chairman of the Sudan Liberation Movement wrote an opinion piece for today’s Wall Street Journal that should go some way in changing this misperception.

In 1989 Gen. Omar al-Bashir’s National Islamic Front seized power in a military coup, established Islamic law and went about prosecuting a “brutal jihad against the African population in South Sudan, in the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains regions:”

Over 400,000 civilians, including women and children, have been slaughtered, raped or robbed. Millions of people were chased from their land to make space for Arab settlers. By using Arab militias, the Janjaweeds, to perpetrate most of the massacres, Khartoum hoped to be able to avoid international condemnation. It was a rather transparent ploy to misrepresent the conflict as some sort of civil war beyond the regime’s control.

It must be understood that the National Islamic Front bears every last telltale sign of Islamist terrorism: an authoritarian power structure, a commitment to slaughtering innocents, the institution of sharia, intolerance of secularism, cooperation with other Islamist organizations and, above all, Qur’anic justification for violence. Al-Nur writes:

Some Western “realists” believe rather cynically that the “stability” Khartoum could bring about by force is preferable to our continued fight for freedom. What these people are really saying is that democracy is a Western prerogative and that we Sudanese should feel grateful for merely being allowed to live.

This is not an African civil war. As in Afghanistan and Iraq, this is a struggle between freedom-loving citizens and their Islamist oppressors. Here’s Al-Nur on the stakes :

We must prevail to eliminate the presence of terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda and Hamas, which are guests of the regime in Khartoum. We must prevail to stabilize the region and spread democracy.

We must prevail to help Sudan return to its natural, legitimate geopolitical place — which is the African continent and not the Arab or Muslim world. At the same time, we must forge new alliances, no longer based upon race or religion, but upon shared values of freedom and democracy. This is why we opened a representative office in Israel last February.

Can there be any doubt that Darfur is a criminally neglected front in the War on Terror and that the U.S. needs to support the Sudan Liberation Movement in every way possible? The SLM is a formidable fighting force that once nearly brought the NIF to its knees. The Sunni Awakening in Iraq has demonstrated that a native population eager to throw off the yoke of Islamism can be America’s best ally. What are we waiting for?

For years now, Sudan has not only been the locale of the planet’s bloodiest exercise in mass violence, but also the West’s most neglected front in the War on Terror. We have resisted understanding the ongoing massacre in Darfur for what it is — not some impenetrable tribal rivalry, but rather a prolonged irruption of Islamist terrorism in its most unapologetic form. Abdel Whaid Al-Nur, chairman of the Sudan Liberation Movement wrote an opinion piece for today’s Wall Street Journal that should go some way in changing this misperception.

In 1989 Gen. Omar al-Bashir’s National Islamic Front seized power in a military coup, established Islamic law and went about prosecuting a “brutal jihad against the African population in South Sudan, in the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains regions:”

Over 400,000 civilians, including women and children, have been slaughtered, raped or robbed. Millions of people were chased from their land to make space for Arab settlers. By using Arab militias, the Janjaweeds, to perpetrate most of the massacres, Khartoum hoped to be able to avoid international condemnation. It was a rather transparent ploy to misrepresent the conflict as some sort of civil war beyond the regime’s control.

It must be understood that the National Islamic Front bears every last telltale sign of Islamist terrorism: an authoritarian power structure, a commitment to slaughtering innocents, the institution of sharia, intolerance of secularism, cooperation with other Islamist organizations and, above all, Qur’anic justification for violence. Al-Nur writes:

Some Western “realists” believe rather cynically that the “stability” Khartoum could bring about by force is preferable to our continued fight for freedom. What these people are really saying is that democracy is a Western prerogative and that we Sudanese should feel grateful for merely being allowed to live.

This is not an African civil war. As in Afghanistan and Iraq, this is a struggle between freedom-loving citizens and their Islamist oppressors. Here’s Al-Nur on the stakes :

We must prevail to eliminate the presence of terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda and Hamas, which are guests of the regime in Khartoum. We must prevail to stabilize the region and spread democracy.

We must prevail to help Sudan return to its natural, legitimate geopolitical place — which is the African continent and not the Arab or Muslim world. At the same time, we must forge new alliances, no longer based upon race or religion, but upon shared values of freedom and democracy. This is why we opened a representative office in Israel last February.

Can there be any doubt that Darfur is a criminally neglected front in the War on Terror and that the U.S. needs to support the Sudan Liberation Movement in every way possible? The SLM is a formidable fighting force that once nearly brought the NIF to its knees. The Sunni Awakening in Iraq has demonstrated that a native population eager to throw off the yoke of Islamism can be America’s best ally. What are we waiting for?

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Israeli-Lebanese Peace?

Given regional realities, there was good reason to doubt the usefulness of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to the Middle East this past weekend. However, it seems as though Rice has finally produced a development of sorts, though not in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere.

Today, Israel announced its readiness to begin peace talks with Lebanon, apparently agreeing to negotiate on the Sheba Farms thanks to Rice’s prodding. The strategic benefits for the U.S. and Israel are fairly straightforward. Indeed, ever since Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in May 2000, Hezbollah has justified its militancy as “resistance” to Israel’s occupation of the Sheba Farms–a small territory that Israel claims is Syrian. As Syria has renounced its claims to the Sheba Farms, conceding this territory to the Siniora government would remove Hezbollah’s last argument for maintaining its well-equipped militia, and thus weaken it politically.

But don’t be fooled by this quick-fix solution: for all of Hezbollah’s bluster, resolving the status of this disputed territory won’t resolve the many issues that underlie Israeli-Lebanese tensions. In this vein, the biggest stumbling block of all has gone entirely unmentioned: the fate of the approximately 400,000 Palestinians in Lebanon, approximately half of whom live in refugee camps scattered throughout the country. This population is of great concern to the Lebanese for two reasons.

First, Palestinians–who are not citizens of Lebanon and are barred from practicing over 70 vocations–threaten Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance. Since 90% of Lebanon’s Palestinians are Sunni, the Maronite Christians fear that granting Palestinians citizenship would dilute their dwindling numbers further. Shiites–who are believed to comprise a plurality within Lebanon–also typically resent the Palestinians, as refugee camps are often concentrated within Shiites strongholds.

Second, in recent years, the Palestinian refugee camps have become a serious security threat. Last May, the Lebanese army engaged in a standoff with the al-Qaeda affiliated Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr el-Bared camp-a deadly battle in which at least sixty people were killed. Although the Lebanese Army ultimately prevailed by shelling the camp, the confrontation revealed frightening discrepancies between its capabilities and those of domestic Palestinian terrorist organizations. In this vein, the NY Times reported that Fatah al-Islam had used antiaircraft guns, mortars, night-vision goggles, and other “relatively sophisticated equipment” that the Lebanese army lacked entirely.

In short, Lebanon’s domestic Palestinian population will be a major issue if Jerusalem seriously pursues contacts with Beirut. This means that Israeli-Palestinian peace-which creates a Palestinian state in which Lebanon’s Palestinians can settle-is likely a prerequisite for Israeli-Lebanese peace.

But, even if Israeli-Palestinian peace magically occurred tomorrow, the Siniora government would probably be in no mood to negotiate with Israel. After all, as a result of last month’s Doha agreement, the March 14th coalition will be focused on drafting a new elections law with Hezbollah’s active involvement. As a result, there has never been a politically less opportune time for Siniora to start dealing with Israel.

For Rice–who voiced her support for the Doha agreement during her visit to Beirut–this means that a meaningful Middle East breakthrough for which she can take credit is still nowhere in sight.

Given regional realities, there was good reason to doubt the usefulness of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to the Middle East this past weekend. However, it seems as though Rice has finally produced a development of sorts, though not in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere.

Today, Israel announced its readiness to begin peace talks with Lebanon, apparently agreeing to negotiate on the Sheba Farms thanks to Rice’s prodding. The strategic benefits for the U.S. and Israel are fairly straightforward. Indeed, ever since Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in May 2000, Hezbollah has justified its militancy as “resistance” to Israel’s occupation of the Sheba Farms–a small territory that Israel claims is Syrian. As Syria has renounced its claims to the Sheba Farms, conceding this territory to the Siniora government would remove Hezbollah’s last argument for maintaining its well-equipped militia, and thus weaken it politically.

But don’t be fooled by this quick-fix solution: for all of Hezbollah’s bluster, resolving the status of this disputed territory won’t resolve the many issues that underlie Israeli-Lebanese tensions. In this vein, the biggest stumbling block of all has gone entirely unmentioned: the fate of the approximately 400,000 Palestinians in Lebanon, approximately half of whom live in refugee camps scattered throughout the country. This population is of great concern to the Lebanese for two reasons.

First, Palestinians–who are not citizens of Lebanon and are barred from practicing over 70 vocations–threaten Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance. Since 90% of Lebanon’s Palestinians are Sunni, the Maronite Christians fear that granting Palestinians citizenship would dilute their dwindling numbers further. Shiites–who are believed to comprise a plurality within Lebanon–also typically resent the Palestinians, as refugee camps are often concentrated within Shiites strongholds.

Second, in recent years, the Palestinian refugee camps have become a serious security threat. Last May, the Lebanese army engaged in a standoff with the al-Qaeda affiliated Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr el-Bared camp-a deadly battle in which at least sixty people were killed. Although the Lebanese Army ultimately prevailed by shelling the camp, the confrontation revealed frightening discrepancies between its capabilities and those of domestic Palestinian terrorist organizations. In this vein, the NY Times reported that Fatah al-Islam had used antiaircraft guns, mortars, night-vision goggles, and other “relatively sophisticated equipment” that the Lebanese army lacked entirely.

In short, Lebanon’s domestic Palestinian population will be a major issue if Jerusalem seriously pursues contacts with Beirut. This means that Israeli-Palestinian peace-which creates a Palestinian state in which Lebanon’s Palestinians can settle-is likely a prerequisite for Israeli-Lebanese peace.

But, even if Israeli-Palestinian peace magically occurred tomorrow, the Siniora government would probably be in no mood to negotiate with Israel. After all, as a result of last month’s Doha agreement, the March 14th coalition will be focused on drafting a new elections law with Hezbollah’s active involvement. As a result, there has never been a politically less opportune time for Siniora to start dealing with Israel.

For Rice–who voiced her support for the Doha agreement during her visit to Beirut–this means that a meaningful Middle East breakthrough for which she can take credit is still nowhere in sight.

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He Wants Examples

Barack Obama can’t believe there is any credible scenario under which granting habeas corpus rights to terror suspects could be dangerous. Come on. The court could release a bunch of them, right? The court could disallow hearsay evidence critical to the government’s case. The suspect could convince the court that his rights against self-incrimination were violated (perhaps he was not given his Miranda warnings) and that the court is obligated to abide by the Sixth Amendment. (You think it implausible to apply the rest of the Bill of Rights to the detainees? Why should the court stop at habeas corpus when it comes to extending constitutional protections to non-citizens detained offshore in wartime?) The terrorist’s lawyers could demand documents they contend are essential to the suspect’s defense and the government could be forced to let the suspect go rather than compromise national security. There are dozens more. And, as Obama’s adviser Richard Clarke conceded, those suspects with full habeas corpus rights would include Osama bin Laden.

It is not like courts are great at keeping terror suspects locked up. British courts are a prime example. And as Andy McCarthy, one of the prosecutors of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing points out, Obama was flat wrong when he said all the 1993 suspects were locked up. McCarthy explains:

In point of fact, while the government managed to prosecute many people responsible for the 1993 WTC bombing, many also escaped prosecution because of the limits on civilian criminal prosecution. Some who contributed to the attack, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, continued to operate freely because they were beyond the system’s capacity to apprehend. Abdul Rahman Yasin was released prematurely because there was not sufficient evidence to hold him — he fled to Iraq, where he was harbored for a decade (and has never been apprehended).

A smart lawyer like Obama can’t come up with any scenerio by which suspected terrrorists wouldn’t be released to kill again? After all, more than 30 already have been under more limited military tribunals. It seems like just yesterday that Democrats lauded the findings of the 9/11 Commission, which found that a “failure of imagination” was responsible for the attacks–i.e., the inability to perceive the nature of the threats to the U.S. and devise appropriate institutional and policy responses. How quickly everyone forgets.

Barack Obama can’t believe there is any credible scenario under which granting habeas corpus rights to terror suspects could be dangerous. Come on. The court could release a bunch of them, right? The court could disallow hearsay evidence critical to the government’s case. The suspect could convince the court that his rights against self-incrimination were violated (perhaps he was not given his Miranda warnings) and that the court is obligated to abide by the Sixth Amendment. (You think it implausible to apply the rest of the Bill of Rights to the detainees? Why should the court stop at habeas corpus when it comes to extending constitutional protections to non-citizens detained offshore in wartime?) The terrorist’s lawyers could demand documents they contend are essential to the suspect’s defense and the government could be forced to let the suspect go rather than compromise national security. There are dozens more. And, as Obama’s adviser Richard Clarke conceded, those suspects with full habeas corpus rights would include Osama bin Laden.

It is not like courts are great at keeping terror suspects locked up. British courts are a prime example. And as Andy McCarthy, one of the prosecutors of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing points out, Obama was flat wrong when he said all the 1993 suspects were locked up. McCarthy explains:

In point of fact, while the government managed to prosecute many people responsible for the 1993 WTC bombing, many also escaped prosecution because of the limits on civilian criminal prosecution. Some who contributed to the attack, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, continued to operate freely because they were beyond the system’s capacity to apprehend. Abdul Rahman Yasin was released prematurely because there was not sufficient evidence to hold him — he fled to Iraq, where he was harbored for a decade (and has never been apprehended).

A smart lawyer like Obama can’t come up with any scenerio by which suspected terrrorists wouldn’t be released to kill again? After all, more than 30 already have been under more limited military tribunals. It seems like just yesterday that Democrats lauded the findings of the 9/11 Commission, which found that a “failure of imagination” was responsible for the attacks–i.e., the inability to perceive the nature of the threats to the U.S. and devise appropriate institutional and policy responses. How quickly everyone forgets.

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Obama and 9/11

Jennifer Rubin has already commented on the criticisms from the McCain campaign (which I advise on foreign policy) of Barack Obama for exhibiting a “September 10 mindset.” It’s also worth noting Obama’s response. Here, according to Reuters, is what he had to say:

“These are the same guys who helped engineer the distraction of the war in Iraq at a time when we could have pinned down the people who actually committed 9/11,” Obama said on his campaign plane.

“What they’re trying to do is to do what they’ve done every election cycle, which is to use terrorism as a club to make the American people afraid,” Obama said.

That response is noteworthy on a couple of levels. First, in trying to refute the notion that he has a “September 10 mindset,” Obama actually confirms it by dismissing the threat of terrorism-the No. 1 national security threat we confront today–as a “club” used by Republicans “to make the American people afraid,” presumably for partisan political advantage.

Second, Obama commits a lapse of fact and logic when he blames U.S. commitment in Iraq for our failure to “have pinned down the people who actually committed 9/11.” We did pin done many of the culprits, notably plot mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, who has now been awarded habeas corpus rights by a Supreme Court decision that Obama applauds. It is true that U.S. forces allowed Osama bin Laden and other top Al Qaeda leaders to escape at Tora Bora in December 2001 because of our unwillingness to put more troops on the ground. (Something that I and others warned of in November 2001, but that I don’t recall Obama commenting on at the time.) And it is true that the Iraq War has drained resources that might otherwise have gone into Afghanistan. But that does not mean that the Iraq War was not worth fighting, or, more importantly, now that we have committed to fighting it that we can withdraw, as Obama suggests, without suffering terrible repercussions.

More to the point, it does not mean that we failed to finish off al Qaeda because we went into Iraq. Our best opportunity to finish off its senior leadership occurred, as previously noted, in December 2001-more than a year before we became embroiled in Iraq. By all accounts Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri are now hiding out in the rugged frontier regions of Pakistan. How exactly does Obama think we could have tracked them down if we weren’t in Iraq? Perhaps we could have committed more surveillance technology and more commandos to the task, but we’ve already devoted plenty of resources and we’ve found that all of our ultra-expensive systems are helpless to find two men hiding in a cave. We would increase our odds of success, while of course creating fresh problems, if we sent large numbers of American troops into Pakistan to hunt down bin Laden and Zawahiri as they previously hunted down Saddam Hussein in his rathole in Iraq. Is this what Obama thinks we should have done? Invaded Pakistan rather than invaded Iraq?

That seems unlikely. More likely he is simply repeating clichéd criticisms of the Bush administration whose implications he has not fully digested. During the primary campaign he could expect nothing but adulation for such sentiments from liberal audiences. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the country reacts.

Jennifer Rubin has already commented on the criticisms from the McCain campaign (which I advise on foreign policy) of Barack Obama for exhibiting a “September 10 mindset.” It’s also worth noting Obama’s response. Here, according to Reuters, is what he had to say:

“These are the same guys who helped engineer the distraction of the war in Iraq at a time when we could have pinned down the people who actually committed 9/11,” Obama said on his campaign plane.

“What they’re trying to do is to do what they’ve done every election cycle, which is to use terrorism as a club to make the American people afraid,” Obama said.

That response is noteworthy on a couple of levels. First, in trying to refute the notion that he has a “September 10 mindset,” Obama actually confirms it by dismissing the threat of terrorism-the No. 1 national security threat we confront today–as a “club” used by Republicans “to make the American people afraid,” presumably for partisan political advantage.

Second, Obama commits a lapse of fact and logic when he blames U.S. commitment in Iraq for our failure to “have pinned down the people who actually committed 9/11.” We did pin done many of the culprits, notably plot mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, who has now been awarded habeas corpus rights by a Supreme Court decision that Obama applauds. It is true that U.S. forces allowed Osama bin Laden and other top Al Qaeda leaders to escape at Tora Bora in December 2001 because of our unwillingness to put more troops on the ground. (Something that I and others warned of in November 2001, but that I don’t recall Obama commenting on at the time.) And it is true that the Iraq War has drained resources that might otherwise have gone into Afghanistan. But that does not mean that the Iraq War was not worth fighting, or, more importantly, now that we have committed to fighting it that we can withdraw, as Obama suggests, without suffering terrible repercussions.

More to the point, it does not mean that we failed to finish off al Qaeda because we went into Iraq. Our best opportunity to finish off its senior leadership occurred, as previously noted, in December 2001-more than a year before we became embroiled in Iraq. By all accounts Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri are now hiding out in the rugged frontier regions of Pakistan. How exactly does Obama think we could have tracked them down if we weren’t in Iraq? Perhaps we could have committed more surveillance technology and more commandos to the task, but we’ve already devoted plenty of resources and we’ve found that all of our ultra-expensive systems are helpless to find two men hiding in a cave. We would increase our odds of success, while of course creating fresh problems, if we sent large numbers of American troops into Pakistan to hunt down bin Laden and Zawahiri as they previously hunted down Saddam Hussein in his rathole in Iraq. Is this what Obama thinks we should have done? Invaded Pakistan rather than invaded Iraq?

That seems unlikely. More likely he is simply repeating clichéd criticisms of the Bush administration whose implications he has not fully digested. During the primary campaign he could expect nothing but adulation for such sentiments from liberal audiences. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the country reacts.

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Re: Obama and Zebari

Conservative and mainstream media are on to the clash between Barack Obama and the Iraqi Foreign Minister’s accounts of their meeting. Aside from the credibility of Obama in accurately relating the meeting there is it seems a more central issue: has Obama in fact come around to the McCain surge position and is willing to tell Zebari but not the voters?

If Obama is, as Zebari contends, now opposed to “any irresponsible, reckless, sudden decisions or action to endanger your gains, your achievements, your stability or security,” that would suggest he has fundamentally rethought the position of withdrawing a brigade or two a month as soon as he is in office. Maybe Samantha Power deserves to get her job back.

Conservative and mainstream media are on to the clash between Barack Obama and the Iraqi Foreign Minister’s accounts of their meeting. Aside from the credibility of Obama in accurately relating the meeting there is it seems a more central issue: has Obama in fact come around to the McCain surge position and is willing to tell Zebari but not the voters?

If Obama is, as Zebari contends, now opposed to “any irresponsible, reckless, sudden decisions or action to endanger your gains, your achievements, your stability or security,” that would suggest he has fundamentally rethought the position of withdrawing a brigade or two a month as soon as he is in office. Maybe Samantha Power deserves to get her job back.

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Re: Remaking Michelle

Abe, the problem with the Obama campaign’s effort to remake Michelle Obama goes beyond her gaffes and attacks on America. Another problem for the campaign is that Michelle Obama’s life story runs counter to Barack Obama’s effort to defuse race as an issue. Where he proclaimed in his 2004 Democratic convention keynote address that “[t]here’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America,” she does not see America as one nation or Americans as one people. Race is the centerpiece of her self-identification. With no apparent irony, the Times notes

. . . she has spent much of her adult life trying to address racial resentment.

In her freshman year at Princeton, a white roommate’s mother agitated for her daughter to swap rooms. Mrs. Obama was among a handful of blacks at a prestigious Chicago law firm. As a hospital executive, she navigated the often tense line between a predominantly white-run institution and a suspicious black community.

In fact, Michelle Obama’s life is a case study in affirmative action. I don’t mean that as an insult, at all–I think Michelle would admit as much and proponents would point to her as a shining example of affirmative action’s success. At every step of her career, race has been central to her own identification and upward mobility. Judging from the quality of thinking and writing exhibited in her Princeton thesis, Michelle would not likely have been admitted to Princeton (and later Harvard Law) had she been white. And of course affirmative action opened up jobs, first in a prestigious law firm and later as the vice president of community affairs at the University of Chicago medical center-earning $300,000 a year. She made it her first task at the hospital to steer more contracts to minority contractors. “She revised the contracting system, sending so much business to firms owned by women and other minorities that the hospital won awards,” the Times says.

But Michelle’s story may not sit well with the very voters her husband must win in order to become president. Affirmative action, though well-entrenched in American society, is still controversial. Only 27% of whites now support affirmative action if it means giving preference to minorities, while 57% of blacks favor such support, according to an analysis of polling data by Pew Research. And the gap between white disapproval and black support for affirmative action preferences has remained wide for decades. It will take more than

a subtle makeover, with a new speech in the works to emphasize her humble roots and a tough new chief of staff

to turn Michelle Obama from a symbol of affirmative action into her husband’s partner in transcending race.

Abe, the problem with the Obama campaign’s effort to remake Michelle Obama goes beyond her gaffes and attacks on America. Another problem for the campaign is that Michelle Obama’s life story runs counter to Barack Obama’s effort to defuse race as an issue. Where he proclaimed in his 2004 Democratic convention keynote address that “[t]here’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America,” she does not see America as one nation or Americans as one people. Race is the centerpiece of her self-identification. With no apparent irony, the Times notes

. . . she has spent much of her adult life trying to address racial resentment.

In her freshman year at Princeton, a white roommate’s mother agitated for her daughter to swap rooms. Mrs. Obama was among a handful of blacks at a prestigious Chicago law firm. As a hospital executive, she navigated the often tense line between a predominantly white-run institution and a suspicious black community.

In fact, Michelle Obama’s life is a case study in affirmative action. I don’t mean that as an insult, at all–I think Michelle would admit as much and proponents would point to her as a shining example of affirmative action’s success. At every step of her career, race has been central to her own identification and upward mobility. Judging from the quality of thinking and writing exhibited in her Princeton thesis, Michelle would not likely have been admitted to Princeton (and later Harvard Law) had she been white. And of course affirmative action opened up jobs, first in a prestigious law firm and later as the vice president of community affairs at the University of Chicago medical center-earning $300,000 a year. She made it her first task at the hospital to steer more contracts to minority contractors. “She revised the contracting system, sending so much business to firms owned by women and other minorities that the hospital won awards,” the Times says.

But Michelle’s story may not sit well with the very voters her husband must win in order to become president. Affirmative action, though well-entrenched in American society, is still controversial. Only 27% of whites now support affirmative action if it means giving preference to minorities, while 57% of blacks favor such support, according to an analysis of polling data by Pew Research. And the gap between white disapproval and black support for affirmative action preferences has remained wide for decades. It will take more than

a subtle makeover, with a new speech in the works to emphasize her humble roots and a tough new chief of staff

to turn Michelle Obama from a symbol of affirmative action into her husband’s partner in transcending race.

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Remaking Michelle

So, Michelle Obama is getting a makeover. She’s hired a new strategist, will be doing all sorts of appearances, and giving speeches emphasizing her patriotism and her humble roots. Michael Powell and Jodi Kantor, writing in today’s New York Times, observe: “Mrs. Obama has already had to check her brutally honest approach to talking about race.”

Brutal honesty on race? To what can Powell and Kantor be referring? For all the hoopla surrounding Michelle Obama’s gaffes, she hasn’t really said much directly about race. But in terms of brutal honesty about America, she’s been heavy on the brutal and pretty light on the honesty. This is from a New Yorker profile earlier this year:

[Michelle] Obama begins with a broad assessment of life in America in 2008, and life is not good: we’re a divided country, we’re a country that is “just downright mean,” we are “guided by fear,” we’re a nation of cynics, sloths, and complacents. “We have become a nation of struggling folks who are barely making it every day,” she said, as heads bobbed in the pews. “Folks are just jammed up, and it’s gotten worse over my lifetime. And, doggone it, I’m young. Forty-four!”

From these bleak generalities, Obama moves into specific complaints. Used to be, she will say, that you could count on a decent education in the neighborhood. But now there are all these charter schools and magnet schools that you have to “finagle” to get into. (Obama herself attended a magnet school, but never mind.) Health care is out of reach (“Let me tell you, don’t get sick in America”), pensions are disappearing, college is too expensive, and even if you can figure out a way to go to college you won’t be able to recoup the cost of the degree in many of the professions for which you needed it in the first place. “You’re looking at a young couple that’s just a few years out of debt,” Obama said.

This makeover is not about the unfortunate need to silence a speaker of truth, so as not to offend the public’s naïve sensibilities. It’s about reining in a woman who aggressively flaunts her indignity over this or that American crime. Moreover, it’s about getting her to stop playing fast and loose with the facts and admit the truth: America is not all that bad. Mrs. Obama’s new strategist Stephanie Cutter has all her work ahead of her.

So, Michelle Obama is getting a makeover. She’s hired a new strategist, will be doing all sorts of appearances, and giving speeches emphasizing her patriotism and her humble roots. Michael Powell and Jodi Kantor, writing in today’s New York Times, observe: “Mrs. Obama has already had to check her brutally honest approach to talking about race.”

Brutal honesty on race? To what can Powell and Kantor be referring? For all the hoopla surrounding Michelle Obama’s gaffes, she hasn’t really said much directly about race. But in terms of brutal honesty about America, she’s been heavy on the brutal and pretty light on the honesty. This is from a New Yorker profile earlier this year:

[Michelle] Obama begins with a broad assessment of life in America in 2008, and life is not good: we’re a divided country, we’re a country that is “just downright mean,” we are “guided by fear,” we’re a nation of cynics, sloths, and complacents. “We have become a nation of struggling folks who are barely making it every day,” she said, as heads bobbed in the pews. “Folks are just jammed up, and it’s gotten worse over my lifetime. And, doggone it, I’m young. Forty-four!”

From these bleak generalities, Obama moves into specific complaints. Used to be, she will say, that you could count on a decent education in the neighborhood. But now there are all these charter schools and magnet schools that you have to “finagle” to get into. (Obama herself attended a magnet school, but never mind.) Health care is out of reach (“Let me tell you, don’t get sick in America”), pensions are disappearing, college is too expensive, and even if you can figure out a way to go to college you won’t be able to recoup the cost of the degree in many of the professions for which you needed it in the first place. “You’re looking at a young couple that’s just a few years out of debt,” Obama said.

This makeover is not about the unfortunate need to silence a speaker of truth, so as not to offend the public’s naïve sensibilities. It’s about reining in a woman who aggressively flaunts her indignity over this or that American crime. Moreover, it’s about getting her to stop playing fast and loose with the facts and admit the truth: America is not all that bad. Mrs. Obama’s new strategist Stephanie Cutter has all her work ahead of her.

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Obama and Zebari, II

I speculated that something seemed odd about Barack Obama’s account of his conversation with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshay Zebari. Obama said that Zebari didn’t express any concern about Obama’s immediate withdrawal plans. Well, according to Zebari that is a lie.  Washington Post editors sat down with Zebari and this is what he said:

The foreign minister said “my message” to Mr. Obama “was very clear. . . . Really, we are making progress. I hope any actions you will take will not endanger this progress.” He said he was reassured by the candidate’s response, which caused him to think that Mr. Obama might not differ all that much from Mr. McCain. Mr. Zebari said that in addition to promising a visit, Mr. Obama said that “if there would be a Democratic administration, it will not take any irresponsible, reckless, sudden decisions or action to endanger your gains, your achievements, your stability or security. Whatever decision he will reach will be made through close consultation with the Iraqi government and U.S. military commanders in the field.”

So not only did Zebari express concern but Obama’s private comments suggested his immediate withdrawal plans, which he still adheres to publicly, may not be so immediate. What does Zebari think about a sudden withdrawal? According to the Post:

In a meeting with Post editors and reporters Tuesday, he said that after all the pain and sacrifices of the past five years, “we are just turning the corner in Iraq.” A precipitous withdrawal, he said, “would create a huge vacuum and undo all the gains and achievements. And the others” — enemies of the United States — “would celebrate.”

There seems little reason for Zebari to lie about his private meeting with Obama. That leaves us to conclude that Obama either didn’t listen to or didn’t understand what Zebari said or misrepresented what he heard from the Foreign Minister. That is deeply troubling. An explanation seems in order from Obama.

I speculated that something seemed odd about Barack Obama’s account of his conversation with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshay Zebari. Obama said that Zebari didn’t express any concern about Obama’s immediate withdrawal plans. Well, according to Zebari that is a lie.  Washington Post editors sat down with Zebari and this is what he said:

The foreign minister said “my message” to Mr. Obama “was very clear. . . . Really, we are making progress. I hope any actions you will take will not endanger this progress.” He said he was reassured by the candidate’s response, which caused him to think that Mr. Obama might not differ all that much from Mr. McCain. Mr. Zebari said that in addition to promising a visit, Mr. Obama said that “if there would be a Democratic administration, it will not take any irresponsible, reckless, sudden decisions or action to endanger your gains, your achievements, your stability or security. Whatever decision he will reach will be made through close consultation with the Iraqi government and U.S. military commanders in the field.”

So not only did Zebari express concern but Obama’s private comments suggested his immediate withdrawal plans, which he still adheres to publicly, may not be so immediate. What does Zebari think about a sudden withdrawal? According to the Post:

In a meeting with Post editors and reporters Tuesday, he said that after all the pain and sacrifices of the past five years, “we are just turning the corner in Iraq.” A precipitous withdrawal, he said, “would create a huge vacuum and undo all the gains and achievements. And the others” — enemies of the United States — “would celebrate.”

There seems little reason for Zebari to lie about his private meeting with Obama. That leaves us to conclude that Obama either didn’t listen to or didn’t understand what Zebari said or misrepresented what he heard from the Foreign Minister. That is deeply troubling. An explanation seems in order from Obama.

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Didn’t Realize What He Was Saying?

An advisor, Daniel Kurtzer, to Barack Obama says that Obama didn’t realize what he was saying to AIPAC when he used the term”undivided” in reference to Jerusalem. According to Kurtzer, Obama had “a picture in his mind of Jerusalem before 1967 with barbed wires and minefields and demilitarized zones.” Kurtzer says that only after the speech did Obama realize it was a “code word” to use the phrase, “but it does not indicate any kind of naivete about foreign affairs.”

Not understanding that a key term is a code word, not having a current picture of Jerusalem, and not anticipating the implications of having to reverse field within 24 hours sure sounds naive. Even more so, if the advisor says Obama didn’t understand what he was saying. But wait a minute. Didn’t Obama have advisors on Israel assisting him with the speech? Where were they? Once again, this suggests that there is too little adult supervision of a candidate unaccustomed to speaking on the world stage about issues in which there are lots of code words, indeed in which every word (e.g. “preconditons,” “immediate withdrawal”) has meaning to Americans’ foes and friends.

An advisor, Daniel Kurtzer, to Barack Obama says that Obama didn’t realize what he was saying to AIPAC when he used the term”undivided” in reference to Jerusalem. According to Kurtzer, Obama had “a picture in his mind of Jerusalem before 1967 with barbed wires and minefields and demilitarized zones.” Kurtzer says that only after the speech did Obama realize it was a “code word” to use the phrase, “but it does not indicate any kind of naivete about foreign affairs.”

Not understanding that a key term is a code word, not having a current picture of Jerusalem, and not anticipating the implications of having to reverse field within 24 hours sure sounds naive. Even more so, if the advisor says Obama didn’t understand what he was saying. But wait a minute. Didn’t Obama have advisors on Israel assisting him with the speech? Where were they? Once again, this suggests that there is too little adult supervision of a candidate unaccustomed to speaking on the world stage about issues in which there are lots of code words, indeed in which every word (e.g. “preconditons,” “immediate withdrawal”) has meaning to Americans’ foes and friends.

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