Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 30, 2008

So Much For The DLC

The Democratic Leadership Council was at one time thought to be the way forward for the Democratic Party — an alternative to the ultra-Left domestic policies and the McGovernite wing of the party on foreign policy. But if you had any doubt about what has happened to them, this report from DailyKos can set you straight. Use of an expletive about Senator Joe Lieberman now engenders cheers from a DLC gathering. Yes, I agree with Kos on this one that this “means something.” What it means is that there is virtually no voice in the Democratic establishment for a responsible, robust foreign policy.

Lieberman laid it out very clearly in his Commentary Fund address. (Which may explain why the DLC is so mad at him.) We have lost, at least for now, any hope of a bipartisan consensus on America’s indispensable role in the world. It is ironic that Lieberman said in his speech:

I continue to be a Democrat because I believe there is a critical need for two great American political parties with strong national security wings. We need a Democratic Party whose national security strategy isn’t subject to editorial review by Moveon.org and Daily Kos.

One can admire Lieberman’s optimism while noting how thin a reed it rests upon. What we know for sure is that one significant source of adult supervision and responsible rhetoric for the Democratic Party is now reduced to cheering an obsenity about a U.S. Senator. Perhaps it’s time to reassess the Democratic Party’s prospects for improvement.

The Democratic Leadership Council was at one time thought to be the way forward for the Democratic Party — an alternative to the ultra-Left domestic policies and the McGovernite wing of the party on foreign policy. But if you had any doubt about what has happened to them, this report from DailyKos can set you straight. Use of an expletive about Senator Joe Lieberman now engenders cheers from a DLC gathering. Yes, I agree with Kos on this one that this “means something.” What it means is that there is virtually no voice in the Democratic establishment for a responsible, robust foreign policy.

Lieberman laid it out very clearly in his Commentary Fund address. (Which may explain why the DLC is so mad at him.) We have lost, at least for now, any hope of a bipartisan consensus on America’s indispensable role in the world. It is ironic that Lieberman said in his speech:

I continue to be a Democrat because I believe there is a critical need for two great American political parties with strong national security wings. We need a Democratic Party whose national security strategy isn’t subject to editorial review by Moveon.org and Daily Kos.

One can admire Lieberman’s optimism while noting how thin a reed it rests upon. What we know for sure is that one significant source of adult supervision and responsible rhetoric for the Democratic Party is now reduced to cheering an obsenity about a U.S. Senator. Perhaps it’s time to reassess the Democratic Party’s prospects for improvement.

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Re: Bad Deal

A couple of belated thoughts on Israel’s approval of a prisoner swap with Hezbollah, to add to Eric and Emanuele‘s posts:

1. The Israeli cabinet agreed to trade live prisoners for two Israelis whose status as alive or dead is known to Hezbollah, but has not been revealed to Israel. In other words, the Israeli negotiators did not make the disclosure of the status of Regev and Goldwasser a prerequisite for the prisoner swap. This has created a precedent that will give Israel’s enemies every incentive to kill abductees: If the Israeli government will agree to a prisoner swap without insisting on verifying whether Israeli captives are alive or dead, why should Hezbollah bother keeping its prisoners alive?

2. The awful reality is that Regev and Goldwasser are almost certainly dead. Yet the Israeli cabinet chose to swap numerous live prisoners for what is expected to be two corpses. Once again, the government has removed the disincentive for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah to keep Israeli captives alive. One sympathizes profoundly with the families of the abducted, and one can only shudder at the thought of the unspeakable horrors that must have been visited on the captives. But the cabinet’s vote removes the central reason why a terror organization would keep abducted Israelis alive: Israel’s insistence on trading the living for the living.

3. The prisoner deal is terrible for the Lebanese government. In the years since the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, and accelerating in the wake of the events in Lebanon of May 2008, Hezbollah has experienced a significant weakening of its popularity in Lebanon, especially among non-Shia. Having waged a short-duration war against Lebanon — something Nasrallah promised the “resistance” would never, ever do — Hezbollah is increasingly being viewed not just as an Iranian militia antagonistic to Lebanon’s interests, but one which threatens to drag the country back to civil war. The recent talk of handing the Shaba Farms to the Lebanese government was met with hysterics by Hezbollah, which feared that its last remaining excuse for keeping its arms was being removed (which was exactly the point).

By making a deal with Nasrallah, Israel threw a lifeline to Hezbollah; allowed Nasrallah to claim once again the salience of his militia; and, in agreeing to the inclusion of Palestinians, allowed Nasrallah to once again position Hezbollah across the Shia-Sunni divide, which, of course, is a primary Iranian objective (the Iranians do this on their own, for example, by sponsoring Hamas and Islamic Jihad).

Of course, Israel should not make prisoner-swap decisions largely on the basis of how such swaps affect the internal politics of neighboring states. But given the other serious problems with the deal, the aid and comfort it gives to Nasrallah should have been given more consideration.

A couple of belated thoughts on Israel’s approval of a prisoner swap with Hezbollah, to add to Eric and Emanuele‘s posts:

1. The Israeli cabinet agreed to trade live prisoners for two Israelis whose status as alive or dead is known to Hezbollah, but has not been revealed to Israel. In other words, the Israeli negotiators did not make the disclosure of the status of Regev and Goldwasser a prerequisite for the prisoner swap. This has created a precedent that will give Israel’s enemies every incentive to kill abductees: If the Israeli government will agree to a prisoner swap without insisting on verifying whether Israeli captives are alive or dead, why should Hezbollah bother keeping its prisoners alive?

2. The awful reality is that Regev and Goldwasser are almost certainly dead. Yet the Israeli cabinet chose to swap numerous live prisoners for what is expected to be two corpses. Once again, the government has removed the disincentive for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah to keep Israeli captives alive. One sympathizes profoundly with the families of the abducted, and one can only shudder at the thought of the unspeakable horrors that must have been visited on the captives. But the cabinet’s vote removes the central reason why a terror organization would keep abducted Israelis alive: Israel’s insistence on trading the living for the living.

3. The prisoner deal is terrible for the Lebanese government. In the years since the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, and accelerating in the wake of the events in Lebanon of May 2008, Hezbollah has experienced a significant weakening of its popularity in Lebanon, especially among non-Shia. Having waged a short-duration war against Lebanon — something Nasrallah promised the “resistance” would never, ever do — Hezbollah is increasingly being viewed not just as an Iranian militia antagonistic to Lebanon’s interests, but one which threatens to drag the country back to civil war. The recent talk of handing the Shaba Farms to the Lebanese government was met with hysterics by Hezbollah, which feared that its last remaining excuse for keeping its arms was being removed (which was exactly the point).

By making a deal with Nasrallah, Israel threw a lifeline to Hezbollah; allowed Nasrallah to claim once again the salience of his militia; and, in agreeing to the inclusion of Palestinians, allowed Nasrallah to once again position Hezbollah across the Shia-Sunni divide, which, of course, is a primary Iranian objective (the Iranians do this on their own, for example, by sponsoring Hamas and Islamic Jihad).

Of course, Israel should not make prisoner-swap decisions largely on the basis of how such swaps affect the internal politics of neighboring states. But given the other serious problems with the deal, the aid and comfort it gives to Nasrallah should have been given more consideration.

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Six-Year-Olds Playing Soccer

The New York Times, and now the New Yorker, have confessed that things are so much improved in Iraq that it bears little resemblance to the situation a year or so ago. The New Yorker went a step further saying:

In February, 2007, when Barack Obama declared that he was running for President, violence in Iraq had reached apocalyptic levels, and he based his candidacy, in part, on a bold promise to begin a rapid withdrawal of American forces upon taking office. At the time, this pledge represented conventional thinking among Democrats and was guaranteed to play well with primary voters. But in the year and a half since then two improbable, though not unforeseeable, events have occurred: Obama has won the Democratic nomination, and Iraq, despite myriad crises, has begun to stabilize. With the general election four months away, Obama’s rhetoric on the topic now seems outdated and out of touch, and the nominee-apparent may have a political problem concerning the very issue that did so much to bring him this far. . . He doubtless realizes that his original plan, if implemented now, could revive the badly wounded Al Qaeda in Iraq, reënergize the Sunni insurgency, embolden Moqtada al-Sadr to recoup his militia’s recent losses to the Iraqi Army, and return the central government to a state of collapse. The question is whether Obama will publicly change course before November. So far, he has offered nothing more concrete than this: “We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in.” . . . Yet, as exhausted as the public is with the war, a candidate who seems heedless of progress in Iraq will be vulnerable to the charge of defeatism, which John McCain’s campaign will connect to its broader theme of Obama’s inexperience in and weakness on national security. The relative success of the surge is one of the few issues going McCain’s way; we’ll be hearing about it more and more between now and November, and it might sway some centrist voters who have doubts about Obama.

So now other MSM outlets can get into the act. MSNBC tips its hand by saying, “This isn’t the Weekly Standard writing about this.” And other mainstream media sources likewise rush to confirm that, my gosh, Obama has a problem.

Perhaps if mainstream media reporters and pundits actually read something other than each other’s publications they might learn something new. Seriously, they tell us that the same facts reported months ago by Weekly Standard wasn’t worth a mention but a belated account from the New Yorker is? There could be no better proof that the worst victim of the media cocoon is the mainstream media itself.

And now that the “truth” may come out, because liberal outlets, not just conservative ones, confess that Iraq is entirely changed and Obama looks out to lunch unless he adopts a more realistic approach. The MSM outlets, like six-year-olds chasing the soccer ball, will race toward the story. A flurry of reports is likely to follow. Who knew that things were so different in Iraq? The entire Right blogosphere, military bloggers, independent experts, and numerous government officials. But now that the New Yorker has spoken, we can all hear about it.

The New York Times, and now the New Yorker, have confessed that things are so much improved in Iraq that it bears little resemblance to the situation a year or so ago. The New Yorker went a step further saying:

In February, 2007, when Barack Obama declared that he was running for President, violence in Iraq had reached apocalyptic levels, and he based his candidacy, in part, on a bold promise to begin a rapid withdrawal of American forces upon taking office. At the time, this pledge represented conventional thinking among Democrats and was guaranteed to play well with primary voters. But in the year and a half since then two improbable, though not unforeseeable, events have occurred: Obama has won the Democratic nomination, and Iraq, despite myriad crises, has begun to stabilize. With the general election four months away, Obama’s rhetoric on the topic now seems outdated and out of touch, and the nominee-apparent may have a political problem concerning the very issue that did so much to bring him this far. . . He doubtless realizes that his original plan, if implemented now, could revive the badly wounded Al Qaeda in Iraq, reënergize the Sunni insurgency, embolden Moqtada al-Sadr to recoup his militia’s recent losses to the Iraqi Army, and return the central government to a state of collapse. The question is whether Obama will publicly change course before November. So far, he has offered nothing more concrete than this: “We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in.” . . . Yet, as exhausted as the public is with the war, a candidate who seems heedless of progress in Iraq will be vulnerable to the charge of defeatism, which John McCain’s campaign will connect to its broader theme of Obama’s inexperience in and weakness on national security. The relative success of the surge is one of the few issues going McCain’s way; we’ll be hearing about it more and more between now and November, and it might sway some centrist voters who have doubts about Obama.

So now other MSM outlets can get into the act. MSNBC tips its hand by saying, “This isn’t the Weekly Standard writing about this.” And other mainstream media sources likewise rush to confirm that, my gosh, Obama has a problem.

Perhaps if mainstream media reporters and pundits actually read something other than each other’s publications they might learn something new. Seriously, they tell us that the same facts reported months ago by Weekly Standard wasn’t worth a mention but a belated account from the New Yorker is? There could be no better proof that the worst victim of the media cocoon is the mainstream media itself.

And now that the “truth” may come out, because liberal outlets, not just conservative ones, confess that Iraq is entirely changed and Obama looks out to lunch unless he adopts a more realistic approach. The MSM outlets, like six-year-olds chasing the soccer ball, will race toward the story. A flurry of reports is likely to follow. Who knew that things were so different in Iraq? The entire Right blogosphere, military bloggers, independent experts, and numerous government officials. But now that the New Yorker has spoken, we can all hear about it.

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Obama’s Childhood Memories

You know a trip down memory lane with Barack Obama can be pretty confusing. Take this childhood memory that he shared today with the people of Independence, Missouri during a speech titled “The America We Love.”

I remember, when living for four years in Indonesia as a child, listening to my mother reading me the first lines of the Declaration of Independence – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I remember her explaining how this declaration applied to every American, black and white and brown alike; how those words, and words of the United States Constitution, protected us from the injustices that we witnessed other people suffering during those years abroad. That’s my idea of America.

It’s a lucky thing Obama has such a good memory: his mother sure gave him a lot of material on America. Consider this somewhat different childhood memory concerning Obama’s mother, from his autobiography Dreams from My Father:

She had always encouraged my rapid acculturation in Indonesia … She had taught me to disdain the blend of ignorance and arrogance that too often characterized Americans abroad. But she now had learned . . . the chasm that separated the life chances of an American from those of an Indonesian. She knew which side of the divide she wanted her child to be on. I was an American, she decided, and my true life lay elsewhere.

So: In “The America We Love” version, his mother teaches him about the beautiful promises of the Constitution and in the Dreams from My Father version, his mother teaches him that America is a nation of dumb people who live longer.

In today’s speech, Obama claimed that “As I got older, that gut instinct – that America is the greatest country on earth – would survive my growing awareness of our nation’s imperfections.” If that’s the case someone should tell the blogger on Obama’s official website who specifically praises the Dreams from My Father version, writing, “. . . has any other candidate grown up with such a direct encounter with a country under massive political repression or seen the cynical face of the US Empire? He has experienced it.”

You know a trip down memory lane with Barack Obama can be pretty confusing. Take this childhood memory that he shared today with the people of Independence, Missouri during a speech titled “The America We Love.”

I remember, when living for four years in Indonesia as a child, listening to my mother reading me the first lines of the Declaration of Independence – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I remember her explaining how this declaration applied to every American, black and white and brown alike; how those words, and words of the United States Constitution, protected us from the injustices that we witnessed other people suffering during those years abroad. That’s my idea of America.

It’s a lucky thing Obama has such a good memory: his mother sure gave him a lot of material on America. Consider this somewhat different childhood memory concerning Obama’s mother, from his autobiography Dreams from My Father:

She had always encouraged my rapid acculturation in Indonesia … She had taught me to disdain the blend of ignorance and arrogance that too often characterized Americans abroad. But she now had learned . . . the chasm that separated the life chances of an American from those of an Indonesian. She knew which side of the divide she wanted her child to be on. I was an American, she decided, and my true life lay elsewhere.

So: In “The America We Love” version, his mother teaches him about the beautiful promises of the Constitution and in the Dreams from My Father version, his mother teaches him that America is a nation of dumb people who live longer.

In today’s speech, Obama claimed that “As I got older, that gut instinct – that America is the greatest country on earth – would survive my growing awareness of our nation’s imperfections.” If that’s the case someone should tell the blogger on Obama’s official website who specifically praises the Dreams from My Father version, writing, “. . . has any other candidate grown up with such a direct encounter with a country under massive political repression or seen the cynical face of the US Empire? He has experienced it.”

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Re: Clark Attack

John McCain’s team is careful to remind anyone who will ask that General Clark’s mega-faux pas is not the first time Obama surrogates have insulted his war service. McCain takes the semi-high ground, shifting to issues but definitely not excusing Clark or those who preceded him in slurring McCain’s record. But his team is not leaving it alone: it’s become a media feeding frenzy. Interestingly, Obama takes the opportunity to disparage–albeit ever so passively and without identifying the organization–MoveOn.org’s “Betray-Us” ad. (Although when the chips were down and the netroots were critical to his primary effort he couldn’t manage to pipe up or even show up for the vote.)

I don’t doubt that it is possible that Clark– never known for discretion or interpersonal skills–was freelancing when he went after McCain. After all, the flap entirely crushed Obama’s patriotism message. But the question remains why the issue keeps popping up. Is this a peek at the warped thinking of the Left which has invested its hopes in Obama?

If you take the absolutely most charitable version of events — that Clark in no way represents Obama’s thinking or strategy — one is left to conclude that the Obama campaign’s messaging and choice of representatives is atrocious. And that’s the best you can say.

John McCain’s team is careful to remind anyone who will ask that General Clark’s mega-faux pas is not the first time Obama surrogates have insulted his war service. McCain takes the semi-high ground, shifting to issues but definitely not excusing Clark or those who preceded him in slurring McCain’s record. But his team is not leaving it alone: it’s become a media feeding frenzy. Interestingly, Obama takes the opportunity to disparage–albeit ever so passively and without identifying the organization–MoveOn.org’s “Betray-Us” ad. (Although when the chips were down and the netroots were critical to his primary effort he couldn’t manage to pipe up or even show up for the vote.)

I don’t doubt that it is possible that Clark– never known for discretion or interpersonal skills–was freelancing when he went after McCain. After all, the flap entirely crushed Obama’s patriotism message. But the question remains why the issue keeps popping up. Is this a peek at the warped thinking of the Left which has invested its hopes in Obama?

If you take the absolutely most charitable version of events — that Clark in no way represents Obama’s thinking or strategy — one is left to conclude that the Obama campaign’s messaging and choice of representatives is atrocious. And that’s the best you can say.

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Get Into The Game

ABC had this report from a John McCain fundraiser Saturday night:

“You know, this election is about trust, and trusting people’s word” McCain told a crowd of donors to his campaign. “And unfortunately, apparently, on several items, Sen. Obama’s word cannot be trusted.” McCain’s remark came at the conclusion of a number of examples of what McCain said were Obama’s changes in position. McCain cited a proposal that he and Obama appear together at town hall meetings -– which Obama originally seemed to be in favor of, but has not agreed to yet -– and Obama’s reversal on whether or not to take federal financing for his campaign as signs that Obama’s word could not be trusted.

On rare occasions McCain has personally gone after Obama on an issue of integrity or judgment. But more often than not, and especially at critical junctures like the emergence of Reverend Wright, McCain has shied away from getting his own hands dirty, evidencing a hesitancy to take on his opponent. So does this latest comment by McCain suggest a new tactic, one more consistent with what his campaign staff and surrogates are trying to do (i.e. raise fundamental questions about Obama’s character and judgment)? Or is it an exception, soon to be blunted by some bland comment about his respect and admiration for his foe?

Certainly, a candidate shouldn’t get into a verbal fistfight with his opponent at every turn. But often the candidate himself is the only one to capture the media’s attention on an attack. Moreover, McCain can’t very well step on his own campaign’s lines by rushing to assure the public that he really thinks the world of his opponent. It seems he has the perfect opportunity now to point to Obama’s series of position changes and simply ask which position was the real one and how will we know which one will stick. With the media echoing those same queries McCain can hardly be blamed for calling voters’ attention to the ever-evolving Obama.

And perhaps McCain will feel more at ease on this particular issue than on Reverend Wright, for example. After all, McCain was hardly quite effective attacking on this very issue in the primary against his main opponent, when he declared during a debate:

I haven’t changed my position on even-numbered years or have changed because of the different offices that I may be running for.

Going after an ill-defined, slippery opponent with gobs of money wasn’t easy. But McCain eventually became his campaign’s most effective needler. It might work again.

ABC had this report from a John McCain fundraiser Saturday night:

“You know, this election is about trust, and trusting people’s word” McCain told a crowd of donors to his campaign. “And unfortunately, apparently, on several items, Sen. Obama’s word cannot be trusted.” McCain’s remark came at the conclusion of a number of examples of what McCain said were Obama’s changes in position. McCain cited a proposal that he and Obama appear together at town hall meetings -– which Obama originally seemed to be in favor of, but has not agreed to yet -– and Obama’s reversal on whether or not to take federal financing for his campaign as signs that Obama’s word could not be trusted.

On rare occasions McCain has personally gone after Obama on an issue of integrity or judgment. But more often than not, and especially at critical junctures like the emergence of Reverend Wright, McCain has shied away from getting his own hands dirty, evidencing a hesitancy to take on his opponent. So does this latest comment by McCain suggest a new tactic, one more consistent with what his campaign staff and surrogates are trying to do (i.e. raise fundamental questions about Obama’s character and judgment)? Or is it an exception, soon to be blunted by some bland comment about his respect and admiration for his foe?

Certainly, a candidate shouldn’t get into a verbal fistfight with his opponent at every turn. But often the candidate himself is the only one to capture the media’s attention on an attack. Moreover, McCain can’t very well step on his own campaign’s lines by rushing to assure the public that he really thinks the world of his opponent. It seems he has the perfect opportunity now to point to Obama’s series of position changes and simply ask which position was the real one and how will we know which one will stick. With the media echoing those same queries McCain can hardly be blamed for calling voters’ attention to the ever-evolving Obama.

And perhaps McCain will feel more at ease on this particular issue than on Reverend Wright, for example. After all, McCain was hardly quite effective attacking on this very issue in the primary against his main opponent, when he declared during a debate:

I haven’t changed my position on even-numbered years or have changed because of the different offices that I may be running for.

Going after an ill-defined, slippery opponent with gobs of money wasn’t easy. But McCain eventually became his campaign’s most effective needler. It might work again.

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Exposing the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

The Washington Post continues its long-running series “Defending the Agent of Change against Scurrilous Attacks by Ignorant Right Wingers.” The latest installment, by Eli Saslow, suggests that voters in Findlay, Ohio–a city the House of Representatives has officially designated as Flag City USA–just don’t know what to believe about Barack Obama. Take Jim Peterman,

a retired worker at Cooper Tire, a father of two, an Air Force veteran and a self-described patriot

Peterman wants to vote for a candidate who will bring the troops home, but

[f]irst, he must pick the version of Obama on which he will stake his vote. Does he choose to trust a TV commercial in which Obama talks about his “love of country”? Or his neighbor of 40 years, Don LeMaster, a Navy veteran who heard from a friend in Toledo that Obama refuses to wear an American-flag pin?

I wonder where anyone would get the crazy idea Obama refused to wear a flag pin. And of course Peterman keeps hearing about Obama being a radical Muslim.

“I’ll admit that I probably don’t follow all of the election news like maybe I should,” Peterman said. “I haven’t read his books or studied up more than a little bit. But it’s hard to ignore what you hear when everybody you know is saying it. These are good people, smart people, so can they really all be wrong?”

Well, you get the gist. These yahoos in Flag City USA are being duped into believing all the lies being perpetrated by the vast right-wing conspiracy and, once again, they’ll probably vote on the basis of prejudice instead of voting their economic self-interest. According to Saslow, they don’t much like “change” in Findlay, at least when it comes to color,

What was the story behind the handful of African Americans who had moved into a town that is 93 percent white? Why were Japanese businessmen coming in to run the local manufacturing plants? Who in the world was this Obama character, running for president with that funny-sounding last name?

I wonder how long this new WaPo series will run–from now to the Election Day, probably.

The Washington Post continues its long-running series “Defending the Agent of Change against Scurrilous Attacks by Ignorant Right Wingers.” The latest installment, by Eli Saslow, suggests that voters in Findlay, Ohio–a city the House of Representatives has officially designated as Flag City USA–just don’t know what to believe about Barack Obama. Take Jim Peterman,

a retired worker at Cooper Tire, a father of two, an Air Force veteran and a self-described patriot

Peterman wants to vote for a candidate who will bring the troops home, but

[f]irst, he must pick the version of Obama on which he will stake his vote. Does he choose to trust a TV commercial in which Obama talks about his “love of country”? Or his neighbor of 40 years, Don LeMaster, a Navy veteran who heard from a friend in Toledo that Obama refuses to wear an American-flag pin?

I wonder where anyone would get the crazy idea Obama refused to wear a flag pin. And of course Peterman keeps hearing about Obama being a radical Muslim.

“I’ll admit that I probably don’t follow all of the election news like maybe I should,” Peterman said. “I haven’t read his books or studied up more than a little bit. But it’s hard to ignore what you hear when everybody you know is saying it. These are good people, smart people, so can they really all be wrong?”

Well, you get the gist. These yahoos in Flag City USA are being duped into believing all the lies being perpetrated by the vast right-wing conspiracy and, once again, they’ll probably vote on the basis of prejudice instead of voting their economic self-interest. According to Saslow, they don’t much like “change” in Findlay, at least when it comes to color,

What was the story behind the handful of African Americans who had moved into a town that is 93 percent white? Why were Japanese businessmen coming in to run the local manufacturing plants? Who in the world was this Obama character, running for president with that funny-sounding last name?

I wonder how long this new WaPo series will run–from now to the Election Day, probably.

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All the Violent Young Men

Mara Hvistendahl has a great piece at the New Republic speculating on why China’s youth crime rate has more than doubled in the past ten years. Hvistendahl points to decades of China’s one-child policy in combination with gender-based abortions as the precondition for the jump in aggression. She notes

China now has the largest gender imbalance in the world, with 37 million more men than women and almost 20 percent more newborn boys than girls nationwide.

In other words, Chinese men, unable to find mates, are taking out their frustrations on everyone in the form of aimless violence. Hvistendahl suggests that a real biological dynamic is behind the manifestations of violence and she cites the findings of 19989 study of Vietnam veterans to make her case:

The subjects’ testosterone levels, which are linked to aggression and violence, dropped when they married and increased when they divorced. Eternally single men, by extension, maintain high levels of testosterone–a recipe for violent civil unrest.

I suspect there is something to this, but there may be something else at work here as well. In 2003, German social scientist Gunnar Heinsohn proposed his “youth bulge” theory, which contends that societies with a surfeit of young men face mass killings, civil war, or terrorism in their near future because there are not enough opportunities for for the young men to attain positions of status and prestige, and accomplishment through violence is a natural alternative.

At first blush, there is a problem in applying youth bulge theory to China. Heinson maintains that youth bulge conditions occur when 15 to 29-year-olds make up more than 30 percent of the population. With one of the fastest aging populations on the planet, China looks nothing like this. However, the violence to which Hvistendahl refers is taking place in China’s cities, and the picture there is more complicated.

Since Deng Xiaoping’s institution of economic reforms, the Chinese government has been moving droves of young able-bodied Chinese from rural China into booming Chinese cities. Needless to say, this an overwhelmingly male population. Add to this the fact that 2008 will see 5.59 million college graduates in China, a rise of 640,000 from 2007 when over 70 percent got jobs. A fierce competition for power positions is now in place among young urban male Chinese. Amazingly, while greater China is facing financial challenges due to its aging population, urban China may be mimicking youth bulge conditions. Watching present-day China is not so much a matter of spotting the ways in which its open markets will lead to continued growth, but spotting the converging hairline cracks in a gigantic dam.

Mara Hvistendahl has a great piece at the New Republic speculating on why China’s youth crime rate has more than doubled in the past ten years. Hvistendahl points to decades of China’s one-child policy in combination with gender-based abortions as the precondition for the jump in aggression. She notes

China now has the largest gender imbalance in the world, with 37 million more men than women and almost 20 percent more newborn boys than girls nationwide.

In other words, Chinese men, unable to find mates, are taking out their frustrations on everyone in the form of aimless violence. Hvistendahl suggests that a real biological dynamic is behind the manifestations of violence and she cites the findings of 19989 study of Vietnam veterans to make her case:

The subjects’ testosterone levels, which are linked to aggression and violence, dropped when they married and increased when they divorced. Eternally single men, by extension, maintain high levels of testosterone–a recipe for violent civil unrest.

I suspect there is something to this, but there may be something else at work here as well. In 2003, German social scientist Gunnar Heinsohn proposed his “youth bulge” theory, which contends that societies with a surfeit of young men face mass killings, civil war, or terrorism in their near future because there are not enough opportunities for for the young men to attain positions of status and prestige, and accomplishment through violence is a natural alternative.

At first blush, there is a problem in applying youth bulge theory to China. Heinson maintains that youth bulge conditions occur when 15 to 29-year-olds make up more than 30 percent of the population. With one of the fastest aging populations on the planet, China looks nothing like this. However, the violence to which Hvistendahl refers is taking place in China’s cities, and the picture there is more complicated.

Since Deng Xiaoping’s institution of economic reforms, the Chinese government has been moving droves of young able-bodied Chinese from rural China into booming Chinese cities. Needless to say, this an overwhelmingly male population. Add to this the fact that 2008 will see 5.59 million college graduates in China, a rise of 640,000 from 2007 when over 70 percent got jobs. A fierce competition for power positions is now in place among young urban male Chinese. Amazingly, while greater China is facing financial challenges due to its aging population, urban China may be mimicking youth bulge conditions. Watching present-day China is not so much a matter of spotting the ways in which its open markets will lead to continued growth, but spotting the converging hairline cracks in a gigantic dam.

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Motivating Iran

Yesterday, Ivo Daalder and Philip Gordon defended the notion of unconditional negotiations with Tehran. “A U.S. willingness to talk to Iran, without preconditions, on the full range of issues dividing the two countries offers the best hope of rescuing a failed policy,” they write in the Washington Post. And what do they mean by “failed policy”? The pair is referring to the West’s refusal to begin formal discussions until the Iranians suspend their enrichment of uranium.

Implicit in their argument is the notion that the Iranians can be talked out of their nuclear program. Yet the mullahs seem to have no purpose for negotiations other than to buy time until their technicians have constructed Iran’s first atomic device. So is there a way that discussions could actually result in the end of the Iranian nuclear program? I think there are two situations. First, talks could succeed if the entire international community honors a total trade embargo and imposes complete financial sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Unfortunately, the world is not ready to implement measures of this sort. Second, the Iranians probably would be willing to dismantle every last centrifuge if they knew the alternative was the destruction of their nuclear facilities and the elimination of the regime and its armed forces.

Seymour Hersh, in the latest issue of the New Yorker, reports that the Bush administration has significantly stepped up covert operations in Iran to prepare the battlefield. And Noah Pollak notes that Pat Buchanan is worried that the President will lead the United States into another war in the Middle East.

Perhaps Hersh and Buchanan should look at the military preparations as merely laying the groundwork for successful negotiations with Tehran. After all, talks will succeed only if Iran’s leaders feel they have something to lose by stonewalling the international community. Up to now, the world has hoped to convince the Iranians to drop their enrichment activities by offering enhanced packages of benefits. That has not worked as we have learned in recent weeks, so now is the time to change course if we want to begin negotiations, unconditional or otherwise. We seem to have forgotten that nothing beats fear as a tool to motivate our adversaries to adopt more accommodating positions.

Yesterday, Ivo Daalder and Philip Gordon defended the notion of unconditional negotiations with Tehran. “A U.S. willingness to talk to Iran, without preconditions, on the full range of issues dividing the two countries offers the best hope of rescuing a failed policy,” they write in the Washington Post. And what do they mean by “failed policy”? The pair is referring to the West’s refusal to begin formal discussions until the Iranians suspend their enrichment of uranium.

Implicit in their argument is the notion that the Iranians can be talked out of their nuclear program. Yet the mullahs seem to have no purpose for negotiations other than to buy time until their technicians have constructed Iran’s first atomic device. So is there a way that discussions could actually result in the end of the Iranian nuclear program? I think there are two situations. First, talks could succeed if the entire international community honors a total trade embargo and imposes complete financial sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Unfortunately, the world is not ready to implement measures of this sort. Second, the Iranians probably would be willing to dismantle every last centrifuge if they knew the alternative was the destruction of their nuclear facilities and the elimination of the regime and its armed forces.

Seymour Hersh, in the latest issue of the New Yorker, reports that the Bush administration has significantly stepped up covert operations in Iran to prepare the battlefield. And Noah Pollak notes that Pat Buchanan is worried that the President will lead the United States into another war in the Middle East.

Perhaps Hersh and Buchanan should look at the military preparations as merely laying the groundwork for successful negotiations with Tehran. After all, talks will succeed only if Iran’s leaders feel they have something to lose by stonewalling the international community. Up to now, the world has hoped to convince the Iranians to drop their enrichment activities by offering enhanced packages of benefits. That has not worked as we have learned in recent weeks, so now is the time to change course if we want to begin negotiations, unconditional or otherwise. We seem to have forgotten that nothing beats fear as a tool to motivate our adversaries to adopt more accommodating positions.

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Wesley Clark’s Hypocrisy

One would think that the Democratic Party would have locked Wesley Clark away somewhere after his infamous “New York Money People” remark last year. But he was on the Face the Nation yesterday morning, where he said the following about John McCain:

“He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn’t held executive responsibility. That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded — that wasn’t a wartime squadron,” Clark said.

“I don’t think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.”

I’m not sure where Clark gets the idea that McCain is running primarily on his Vietnam experience (hmm, which recent presidential candidate did that?). But do the Democrats really want to make “experience,” of any sort, an issue in this election? Barack Obama, after all, has very little experience doing much of anything resembling “executive” capacity, unless you count “community organizing,” whatever that is. And doesn’t Clark see the hypocrisy in this smear? His own presidential campaign in 2004 was based entirely on his military career, as he had no political experience whatsoever (as compared to McCain’s over two decades in the House and Senate).

It’s also curious that Clark, of all people, would question anything regarding John McCain’s war record. Say what you will about McCain. At least the guy didn’t nearly start the “Third World War.”

One would think that the Democratic Party would have locked Wesley Clark away somewhere after his infamous “New York Money People” remark last year. But he was on the Face the Nation yesterday morning, where he said the following about John McCain:

“He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn’t held executive responsibility. That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded — that wasn’t a wartime squadron,” Clark said.

“I don’t think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.”

I’m not sure where Clark gets the idea that McCain is running primarily on his Vietnam experience (hmm, which recent presidential candidate did that?). But do the Democrats really want to make “experience,” of any sort, an issue in this election? Barack Obama, after all, has very little experience doing much of anything resembling “executive” capacity, unless you count “community organizing,” whatever that is. And doesn’t Clark see the hypocrisy in this smear? His own presidential campaign in 2004 was based entirely on his military career, as he had no political experience whatsoever (as compared to McCain’s over two decades in the House and Senate).

It’s also curious that Clark, of all people, would question anything regarding John McCain’s war record. Say what you will about McCain. At least the guy didn’t nearly start the “Third World War.”

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The Worst Politician Ever?

It’s virtually unanimous: everyone from Hassan Nasrallah to Mossad Chief Meir Dagan seems to agree that Israel’s prisoner swap deal with Hezbollah marks a significant strategic setback for the Jewish state.

After all, in exchange for two captured soldiers who are likely dead, Israel has agreed to release Samir Kuntar, a notorious member of the Palestine Liberation Front who crushed a 4 year-old girl’s head on beach rocks after killing her young father in 1979. As Kuntar has long been among Israel’s most coveted bargaining chips in previous prisoner swap negotiations with Hezbollah, Israel is paying a high price for the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in releasing him. And, as my CONTENTIONS colleague Emanuele Ottolenghi has noted, Kuntar is merely the latest cost that Israel has accepted in its bid to rescue these two soldiers–adding to the 130 Israelis who died during the 2006 Lebanon War.

Still, one might expect Israel’s political leadership–which overwhelmingly approved the deal yesterday–to declare that Israel is achieving some sort of strategic benefit through the prisoner swap. After all, a prisoner swap only becomes a strategic liability when the adversary believes that it could achieve the release of more prisoners–and all the political benefits that come with it–through future kidnapping raids. For this reason, leaders typically spin prisoner swap deals as somehow enhancing their states’ strategic outlook, aiming to undermine support for future raids among the enemy’s constituency.

Yet Ehud Olmert is hardly your typical leader. Indeed, rather than making any argument for Israeli strength in the aftermath of the prisoner swap, Olmert has declared total failure, saying:

There will be much sadness in Israel, much humiliation considering the celebrations that will be held on the other side.

Israeli “humiliation”? “Celebrations” among Hezbollah’s supporters, perhaps broadcast on satellite television across the Arab world? Quite literally, Hezbollah would kill for these prizes. With these words, Olmert has guaranteed that this latest prisoner swap will be a substantial strategic liability, with Hezbollah gunning for more Israeli “humiliation” as soon as it senses an opening.

It’s virtually unanimous: everyone from Hassan Nasrallah to Mossad Chief Meir Dagan seems to agree that Israel’s prisoner swap deal with Hezbollah marks a significant strategic setback for the Jewish state.

After all, in exchange for two captured soldiers who are likely dead, Israel has agreed to release Samir Kuntar, a notorious member of the Palestine Liberation Front who crushed a 4 year-old girl’s head on beach rocks after killing her young father in 1979. As Kuntar has long been among Israel’s most coveted bargaining chips in previous prisoner swap negotiations with Hezbollah, Israel is paying a high price for the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in releasing him. And, as my CONTENTIONS colleague Emanuele Ottolenghi has noted, Kuntar is merely the latest cost that Israel has accepted in its bid to rescue these two soldiers–adding to the 130 Israelis who died during the 2006 Lebanon War.

Still, one might expect Israel’s political leadership–which overwhelmingly approved the deal yesterday–to declare that Israel is achieving some sort of strategic benefit through the prisoner swap. After all, a prisoner swap only becomes a strategic liability when the adversary believes that it could achieve the release of more prisoners–and all the political benefits that come with it–through future kidnapping raids. For this reason, leaders typically spin prisoner swap deals as somehow enhancing their states’ strategic outlook, aiming to undermine support for future raids among the enemy’s constituency.

Yet Ehud Olmert is hardly your typical leader. Indeed, rather than making any argument for Israeli strength in the aftermath of the prisoner swap, Olmert has declared total failure, saying:

There will be much sadness in Israel, much humiliation considering the celebrations that will be held on the other side.

Israeli “humiliation”? “Celebrations” among Hezbollah’s supporters, perhaps broadcast on satellite television across the Arab world? Quite literally, Hezbollah would kill for these prizes. With these words, Olmert has guaranteed that this latest prisoner swap will be a substantial strategic liability, with Hezbollah gunning for more Israeli “humiliation” as soon as it senses an opening.

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About Time

If John McCain is coming out with a beefed up economic plan, it comes not a moment too soon. First, the economy is fast becoming the key issue in the election. Second, McCain’s adherence to the Bush tax cuts makes him sound like he is only offering more of the same. Third, he has so far no theme that holds all his economic ideas and proposals together. Is he “leveling the playing field”? Is he “growing America”? Is he “spreading the prosperity”? Right now it is a grab bag of populist rhetoric and conservative policy, but its not clear in what direction he wants to take the country.

McCain made a fairly good run at demonstrating that he takes energy policy seriously. Now he needs to do at least as well on an issue that is even more critical to most voters. And he might start by trying to count up the Obama tax increases and spending proposals as a point of comparison. No one has done that yet. Moreover, the public is not entranced with income re-distribution, so it might help McCain to point out that this is the main focus of Obama’s plans.

If John McCain is coming out with a beefed up economic plan, it comes not a moment too soon. First, the economy is fast becoming the key issue in the election. Second, McCain’s adherence to the Bush tax cuts makes him sound like he is only offering more of the same. Third, he has so far no theme that holds all his economic ideas and proposals together. Is he “leveling the playing field”? Is he “growing America”? Is he “spreading the prosperity”? Right now it is a grab bag of populist rhetoric and conservative policy, but its not clear in what direction he wants to take the country.

McCain made a fairly good run at demonstrating that he takes energy policy seriously. Now he needs to do at least as well on an issue that is even more critical to most voters. And he might start by trying to count up the Obama tax increases and spending proposals as a point of comparison. No one has done that yet. Moreover, the public is not entranced with income re-distribution, so it might help McCain to point out that this is the main focus of Obama’s plans.

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Tired Idea of the Week

In his New York Times column yesterday, Nicholas Kristof proposes a solution for the crisis in Zimbabwe:

One option would be for him to “retire” honorably — “for health reasons” after some face-saving claims of heart trouble — at a lovely estate in South Africa, taking top aides with him. He would be received respectfully and awarded a $5 million bank account to assure his comfort for the remainder of his days.

Does Kristof really think that something like this hasn’t already been proposed to Mugabe? Or that, if Mugabe were even interested in riches, that $5 million would convince him to step down? Mugabe is an ideological thug, always has been, always will be. He really believes it when he calls his domestic political opponent — a black trade unionist — a lackey of white imperialism. A bag of cash and a house in Cape Town aren’t going to get rid of him.

In his New York Times column yesterday, Nicholas Kristof proposes a solution for the crisis in Zimbabwe:

One option would be for him to “retire” honorably — “for health reasons” after some face-saving claims of heart trouble — at a lovely estate in South Africa, taking top aides with him. He would be received respectfully and awarded a $5 million bank account to assure his comfort for the remainder of his days.

Does Kristof really think that something like this hasn’t already been proposed to Mugabe? Or that, if Mugabe were even interested in riches, that $5 million would convince him to step down? Mugabe is an ideological thug, always has been, always will be. He really believes it when he calls his domestic political opponent — a black trade unionist — a lackey of white imperialism. A bag of cash and a house in Cape Town aren’t going to get rid of him.

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Krugman Is Stumped, Too

Hey, it’s not just Republican surrogates who are making the point that Barack Obama is “unprincipled and opportunistic.” Joining fellow New York Times columnist David Brooks on the list of those Obama has utterly confused, Paul Krugman debates with himself whether Obama is more like Ronald Reagan (an ideological, transformative politician) or Bill Clinton ( a poll-driven prgamatist). He writes:

The candidate’s defenders argue that he’s just being pragmatic — that he needs to do whatever it takes to win, and win big, so that he has the power to effect major change. But critics argue that by engaging in the same “triangulation and poll-driven politics” he denounced during the primary, Mr. Obama actually hurts his election prospects, because voters prefer candidates who take firm stands. In any case, what about after the election? The Reagan-Clinton comparison suggests that a candidate who runs on a clear agenda is more likely to achieve fundamental change than a candidate who runs on the promise of change but isn’t too clear about what that change would involve. Of course, there’s always the possibility that Mr. Obama really is a centrist, after all.

It is remarkable that now two savvy guys like Krugman and Brooks can’t figure out what Obama is. And neither seems to be playing coy to make a rhetorical point — they really don’t know.

But maybe that’s no accident. Obama has told us there is no there, there. In his book he wrote: “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” So perhaps searching for Obama’s “core” is a fool’s errand. He is glib and clever and seized upon a clever formulation (Agent of Change) to attract young and idealistic people longing for meaning. But perhaps that is all there is.

We don’t know how he will act under pressure and in real circumstances demanding definitive action because he has never developed, stuck with and acted upon a fixed set of principles. So voters will have to figure out for themselves which polar opposite vision of Obama is the real one. The fact that both could be in contention is startling and sobering.

Hey, it’s not just Republican surrogates who are making the point that Barack Obama is “unprincipled and opportunistic.” Joining fellow New York Times columnist David Brooks on the list of those Obama has utterly confused, Paul Krugman debates with himself whether Obama is more like Ronald Reagan (an ideological, transformative politician) or Bill Clinton ( a poll-driven prgamatist). He writes:

The candidate’s defenders argue that he’s just being pragmatic — that he needs to do whatever it takes to win, and win big, so that he has the power to effect major change. But critics argue that by engaging in the same “triangulation and poll-driven politics” he denounced during the primary, Mr. Obama actually hurts his election prospects, because voters prefer candidates who take firm stands. In any case, what about after the election? The Reagan-Clinton comparison suggests that a candidate who runs on a clear agenda is more likely to achieve fundamental change than a candidate who runs on the promise of change but isn’t too clear about what that change would involve. Of course, there’s always the possibility that Mr. Obama really is a centrist, after all.

It is remarkable that now two savvy guys like Krugman and Brooks can’t figure out what Obama is. And neither seems to be playing coy to make a rhetorical point — they really don’t know.

But maybe that’s no accident. Obama has told us there is no there, there. In his book he wrote: “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” So perhaps searching for Obama’s “core” is a fool’s errand. He is glib and clever and seized upon a clever formulation (Agent of Change) to attract young and idealistic people longing for meaning. But perhaps that is all there is.

We don’t know how he will act under pressure and in real circumstances demanding definitive action because he has never developed, stuck with and acted upon a fixed set of principles. So voters will have to figure out for themselves which polar opposite vision of Obama is the real one. The fact that both could be in contention is startling and sobering.

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Johann Hari Channels Nicholson Baker

In a column last week, Johann Hari of the London Independent holds forth on “our infantile search for heroic leaders.” Using the sacred cows of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, and Winston Churchill, Hari makes the (unremarkable) point that collectively venerated figures are not perfect, and their faults should be studied and understood along with their virtues. Yet in the course of listing Churchill’s supposed faults, Hari writes:

In the 1920s, Iraqis rose up against British imperial rule, and Churchill as Colonial Secretary thought of a good solution: gas them. He wrote: “I do not understand this squeamishness . . . I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.” It would “spread a lively terror”

It seems that Hari found this quote in Nicholson Baker’s poisonous (no pun intended) new book Human Smoke (reviewed in COMMENTARY by David Pryce-Jones). For, like Baker, Hari reports this quote utterly out of context. Here’s Andrew Roberts setting the record straight in the New Criterion:

Similarly, Baker rips two sentences from a letter from Churchill to the head of the RAF, Hugh Trenchard, to imply that Churchill wanted mustard gas used to kill Britain’s enemies in Iraq in 1920. “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes,” Baker quotes, but if one returns to the original memorandum, found in the Churchill Papers in Cambridge, it goes on to make it clear that the idea was not to use “deadly gasses” against the enemy, but rather ones aimed at “making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory [i.e., tear] gas.” Churchill goes on to write: “The moral effect should be so good as to keep loss of life reduced to a minimum” and “Gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror yet would leave no serious permanent effect on most of those affected.” Can one imagine Hitler writing such a thing to Himmler? Anyone who can’t tell the difference between tear gas and Zyklon B should not be writing history books, and The New York Times should have given this book to an historian rather than a novelist for review.

Hari concludes, “We will never reach a point where we find the good leader and can sigh, sit back, and relax. If you care about the state of the world, you have to keep watching and pressuring and fighting, forever.” Amidst all that “watching and pressuring and fighting,” perhaps Hari could pause a few minutes to do some research.

In a column last week, Johann Hari of the London Independent holds forth on “our infantile search for heroic leaders.” Using the sacred cows of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, and Winston Churchill, Hari makes the (unremarkable) point that collectively venerated figures are not perfect, and their faults should be studied and understood along with their virtues. Yet in the course of listing Churchill’s supposed faults, Hari writes:

In the 1920s, Iraqis rose up against British imperial rule, and Churchill as Colonial Secretary thought of a good solution: gas them. He wrote: “I do not understand this squeamishness . . . I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.” It would “spread a lively terror”

It seems that Hari found this quote in Nicholson Baker’s poisonous (no pun intended) new book Human Smoke (reviewed in COMMENTARY by David Pryce-Jones). For, like Baker, Hari reports this quote utterly out of context. Here’s Andrew Roberts setting the record straight in the New Criterion:

Similarly, Baker rips two sentences from a letter from Churchill to the head of the RAF, Hugh Trenchard, to imply that Churchill wanted mustard gas used to kill Britain’s enemies in Iraq in 1920. “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes,” Baker quotes, but if one returns to the original memorandum, found in the Churchill Papers in Cambridge, it goes on to make it clear that the idea was not to use “deadly gasses” against the enemy, but rather ones aimed at “making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory [i.e., tear] gas.” Churchill goes on to write: “The moral effect should be so good as to keep loss of life reduced to a minimum” and “Gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror yet would leave no serious permanent effect on most of those affected.” Can one imagine Hitler writing such a thing to Himmler? Anyone who can’t tell the difference between tear gas and Zyklon B should not be writing history books, and The New York Times should have given this book to an historian rather than a novelist for review.

Hari concludes, “We will never reach a point where we find the good leader and can sigh, sit back, and relax. If you care about the state of the world, you have to keep watching and pressuring and fighting, forever.” Amidst all that “watching and pressuring and fighting,” perhaps Hari could pause a few minutes to do some research.

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Almost Never On A Sunday

It is not every Sunday that John McCain’s campaign sends out quotes from Arianna Huffington and NBC’s political news director. But they did this Sunday because they are on to an inkling of a theme that is penetrating the MSM. The theme of the day: why is Obama shredding his own credibility with so many flip flops?

From Huffington on ABC’s This Week, who proves yet again that there are few pundits as biting as she:

The problem has to do with, is this a winning strategy? I think it’s undercutting his brand. His brand is he’s a leader who stands up for what he believes, who can motivate people to work with him. And when he puts his finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing, it is undercutting the Obama brand.

From Chuck Todd on Meet the Press:

[W]hat it has allowed McCain to begin to paint is this narrative of, ‘You know what? This guy, Obama, you know, he makes all these promises and then suddenly he acts like a typical politician.’ And I think that a couple of more of these things and suddenly McCain might be able to sell this message that, you know, as much as you might think Obama’s going to be the guy that might challenge his Party, look at John McCain. He’s a guy that has been challenging his Party for seven years… [I]t allows McCain to start saying, ‘You know what? He’s flipping on this, he’s now flipping on guns, he’s now flipping on this other issues,’ and it possibly paints a picture of a guy who will just say and do anything to get elected.

Yowser. On Fox News Sunday, Brit Hume was exceptionally harsh as well and even Mara Liason had to concede that being the Agent of Change would have to, well, change and would take a “backseat” to some new practical political approach. (And aside from the flip-floppery issue, Joe Lieberman and Tim Pawlenty got in a few licks on the experience front as well.)

Did Obama go a flip or a flop too far? And has the media discovered Obama is not actually the harbinger of a new era in politics? I have a few theories to explain what’s going on in the media coverage. First, once Hillary Clinton departed (and they were freed from the dread of covering the Clintons for another election or potentially four or eight years) the mainstream media outlets were liberated to evaluate Obama more objectively. Now that they need not worry about helping Hillary, it really is okay to point out he’s no less craven than she. (Indeed, he is arguably even more so, since she never claimed to be holier than every politician in history.) Second, the prolonged Democratic primary made Obama’s pivot to the general election very treacherous. Believing the media would give him a pass, Obama reversed course on too many items, too quickly. The flip flop portrait was easy to paint and too hard to ignore.

And finally, let’s not forget that the Obama campaign has had a rotten run for many months. Since late February the agenda has been set by others (Hillary’s come back and demise, the flap over unconditional meetings with rogue state leaders, etc.) He didn’t end the primary strongly and he hasn’t regained control of the narrative since then. It is a truism that if a candidate doesn’t control the narrative, others will. McCain, aided by the media’s new sense of independence, has been able to keep Obama on the defensive ever since the nomination was sealed. Absent any compelling news coming from the Obama camp they remain on the receiving end of barbs and criticisms. Unless the Obama team has something new and positive to say, the space is filled up by other, far less helpful storylines. (Two words for Obama: Fred Thompson. Remember his campaign came out of an expectations-high summer with not enough to say to keep the media from dwelling on the campaign’s operational woes.) As Hume said, “One of the downsides of that is when you are a blank slate, you are open to being defined by your opponent if you can’t define yourself satisfactorily to voters before he does that.”

And then there is the tasteless propensity of the Obama surrogates to criticize McCain’s war record. It seems insane, a virtual death wish played out in the national media, but they keep repeating it. Sunday was Wesley Clark’s turn and the McCain camp, of course, made the most of it. It is stupid on multiple levels for the Obama team to keep this up. First, it reinforces the very narrative now plaguing Obama: he’s a phony  who is not in the least above mean-spirited slurs on his opponent. Second, it just is not a great idea to emphasize the noble character and heroic service of your opponent. Third, it reminds everyone that Obama has done nothing comprable in his life.

So why do it? Some may conclude that the Obama team is unable to control its surrogates and “stuff just happens.” Hmm. Others may suspect that the Obama camp really hasn’t clued into the notion that it can’t say anything it wants and get away with it. Whether you buy into the inept explanation or the arrogant explanation it’s clearly giving McCain the ability to call foul. Loudly and effectively.

The mega-embarrasing Clark invective coupled with the developing meme from the MSM that Obama is killing his own brand made for a painful Sunday for Obama. The coverage is hardly ever this hostile to him. It suggests the Obama camp will need to rethink how to stop the bleeding and get back on the offensive.

It is not every Sunday that John McCain’s campaign sends out quotes from Arianna Huffington and NBC’s political news director. But they did this Sunday because they are on to an inkling of a theme that is penetrating the MSM. The theme of the day: why is Obama shredding his own credibility with so many flip flops?

From Huffington on ABC’s This Week, who proves yet again that there are few pundits as biting as she:

The problem has to do with, is this a winning strategy? I think it’s undercutting his brand. His brand is he’s a leader who stands up for what he believes, who can motivate people to work with him. And when he puts his finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing, it is undercutting the Obama brand.

From Chuck Todd on Meet the Press:

[W]hat it has allowed McCain to begin to paint is this narrative of, ‘You know what? This guy, Obama, you know, he makes all these promises and then suddenly he acts like a typical politician.’ And I think that a couple of more of these things and suddenly McCain might be able to sell this message that, you know, as much as you might think Obama’s going to be the guy that might challenge his Party, look at John McCain. He’s a guy that has been challenging his Party for seven years… [I]t allows McCain to start saying, ‘You know what? He’s flipping on this, he’s now flipping on guns, he’s now flipping on this other issues,’ and it possibly paints a picture of a guy who will just say and do anything to get elected.

Yowser. On Fox News Sunday, Brit Hume was exceptionally harsh as well and even Mara Liason had to concede that being the Agent of Change would have to, well, change and would take a “backseat” to some new practical political approach. (And aside from the flip-floppery issue, Joe Lieberman and Tim Pawlenty got in a few licks on the experience front as well.)

Did Obama go a flip or a flop too far? And has the media discovered Obama is not actually the harbinger of a new era in politics? I have a few theories to explain what’s going on in the media coverage. First, once Hillary Clinton departed (and they were freed from the dread of covering the Clintons for another election or potentially four or eight years) the mainstream media outlets were liberated to evaluate Obama more objectively. Now that they need not worry about helping Hillary, it really is okay to point out he’s no less craven than she. (Indeed, he is arguably even more so, since she never claimed to be holier than every politician in history.) Second, the prolonged Democratic primary made Obama’s pivot to the general election very treacherous. Believing the media would give him a pass, Obama reversed course on too many items, too quickly. The flip flop portrait was easy to paint and too hard to ignore.

And finally, let’s not forget that the Obama campaign has had a rotten run for many months. Since late February the agenda has been set by others (Hillary’s come back and demise, the flap over unconditional meetings with rogue state leaders, etc.) He didn’t end the primary strongly and he hasn’t regained control of the narrative since then. It is a truism that if a candidate doesn’t control the narrative, others will. McCain, aided by the media’s new sense of independence, has been able to keep Obama on the defensive ever since the nomination was sealed. Absent any compelling news coming from the Obama camp they remain on the receiving end of barbs and criticisms. Unless the Obama team has something new and positive to say, the space is filled up by other, far less helpful storylines. (Two words for Obama: Fred Thompson. Remember his campaign came out of an expectations-high summer with not enough to say to keep the media from dwelling on the campaign’s operational woes.) As Hume said, “One of the downsides of that is when you are a blank slate, you are open to being defined by your opponent if you can’t define yourself satisfactorily to voters before he does that.”

And then there is the tasteless propensity of the Obama surrogates to criticize McCain’s war record. It seems insane, a virtual death wish played out in the national media, but they keep repeating it. Sunday was Wesley Clark’s turn and the McCain camp, of course, made the most of it. It is stupid on multiple levels for the Obama team to keep this up. First, it reinforces the very narrative now plaguing Obama: he’s a phony  who is not in the least above mean-spirited slurs on his opponent. Second, it just is not a great idea to emphasize the noble character and heroic service of your opponent. Third, it reminds everyone that Obama has done nothing comprable in his life.

So why do it? Some may conclude that the Obama team is unable to control its surrogates and “stuff just happens.” Hmm. Others may suspect that the Obama camp really hasn’t clued into the notion that it can’t say anything it wants and get away with it. Whether you buy into the inept explanation or the arrogant explanation it’s clearly giving McCain the ability to call foul. Loudly and effectively.

The mega-embarrasing Clark invective coupled with the developing meme from the MSM that Obama is killing his own brand made for a painful Sunday for Obama. The coverage is hardly ever this hostile to him. It suggests the Obama camp will need to rethink how to stop the bleeding and get back on the offensive.

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