Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 14, 2008

Who Won?

From the news accounts and the tenor of both team’s surrogates you got the distinct impression that John McCain and company were delighted to spend most of today on Iraq. And the Obama team, despite the fact it was their guy’s op-ed which set the whole day in motion, was on defense. Every day spent on Iraq arguing about the surge’s success is not an optimal day for team Obama. Not only does it emphasize the candidate’s major error on national security, but it distracts him from his domestic message.

Part of the problem stems from the hesitancy and slowness of his policy shift. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, the policy reversal was not delayed until he made his Iraq trip. That was the purpose of the trip, right? It was to give him cover, provide a nice forum to show him in a flattering light, and avoid endless angst over when he would switch and what his policy would be. So why give the McCain camp days and days before the trip to beat up on Obama?

The Iraq shift (like the flurry of position changes on other issues) seems to smack of over-confidence that Obama can simply charm everyone into a stupor and avoid scrutiny. That might have been the case in a Democratic primary. But July is not February. Everyone except his campaign seems to realize that.

From the news accounts and the tenor of both team’s surrogates you got the distinct impression that John McCain and company were delighted to spend most of today on Iraq. And the Obama team, despite the fact it was their guy’s op-ed which set the whole day in motion, was on defense. Every day spent on Iraq arguing about the surge’s success is not an optimal day for team Obama. Not only does it emphasize the candidate’s major error on national security, but it distracts him from his domestic message.

Part of the problem stems from the hesitancy and slowness of his policy shift. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, the policy reversal was not delayed until he made his Iraq trip. That was the purpose of the trip, right? It was to give him cover, provide a nice forum to show him in a flattering light, and avoid endless angst over when he would switch and what his policy would be. So why give the McCain camp days and days before the trip to beat up on Obama?

The Iraq shift (like the flurry of position changes on other issues) seems to smack of over-confidence that Obama can simply charm everyone into a stupor and avoid scrutiny. That might have been the case in a Democratic primary. But July is not February. Everyone except his campaign seems to realize that.

Read Less

Re: Obama on the War

Peter has already offered a trenchant response to Barack Obama’s New York Times op-ed, “My Plan For Iraq.” But the article is filled with so many misstatements and distortions that I feel compelled to weigh in as well. Herewith some thoughts on specific passages, from someone who is admittedly part of the McCain team of foreign policy advisers. Obama’s statements are in italics; my responses follow:

The call by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a timetable for the removal of American troops from Iraq presents an enormous opportunity. We should seize this moment to begin the phased redeployment of combat troops that I have long advocated.

The lead paragraph of Obama’s article makes it sound as if the Iraqi leader has endorsed the Democratic candidate’s call for withdrawing all U.S. brigades from Iraq within 16 months of assuming office. He has done no such thing. Iraqi leaders have kept talk of timetables vague on purpose because they know how much they still depend on American assistance.

I opposed the war in Iraq before it began, and would end it as president. I believed it was a grave mistake to allow ourselves to be distracted from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban by invading a country that posed no imminent threat and had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

The question of how much of a threat Saddam Hussein posed is certainly debatable. If their public statements are anything to judge by, Bill Clinton and senior members of his administration had a much graver view of the threat than did Obama. So did many Democratic members of the Senate, including Tom Daschle, Joe Biden, John Edwards, and Hillary Clinton, who voted to give President Bush the authority to invade Iraq. None of them connected Saddam Hussein with 9/11 (neither did George W. Bush) but they believed, as Bill Clinton put it in 1998, “The community of nations may see more and more of the very kind of threat Iraq poses now: a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, ready to use them or provide them to terrorists. If we fail to respond today, Saddam and all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow.”

Moreover if Obama only favors military action against those who had something to do “with the 9/11 attacks,” why is he proposing an expanded American commitment in Afghanistan? The few Al Qaeda terrorists who have not already been caught or killed and who were connected to the 9/11 plot remain safely ensconced in Pakistan. They are not fighting us in Afghanistan. The enemy there is largely composed of Taliban fighters who had nothing to do with 9/11 and who also pose “no imminent threat” to the United States.

Read More

Peter has already offered a trenchant response to Barack Obama’s New York Times op-ed, “My Plan For Iraq.” But the article is filled with so many misstatements and distortions that I feel compelled to weigh in as well. Herewith some thoughts on specific passages, from someone who is admittedly part of the McCain team of foreign policy advisers. Obama’s statements are in italics; my responses follow:

The call by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a timetable for the removal of American troops from Iraq presents an enormous opportunity. We should seize this moment to begin the phased redeployment of combat troops that I have long advocated.

The lead paragraph of Obama’s article makes it sound as if the Iraqi leader has endorsed the Democratic candidate’s call for withdrawing all U.S. brigades from Iraq within 16 months of assuming office. He has done no such thing. Iraqi leaders have kept talk of timetables vague on purpose because they know how much they still depend on American assistance.

I opposed the war in Iraq before it began, and would end it as president. I believed it was a grave mistake to allow ourselves to be distracted from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban by invading a country that posed no imminent threat and had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

The question of how much of a threat Saddam Hussein posed is certainly debatable. If their public statements are anything to judge by, Bill Clinton and senior members of his administration had a much graver view of the threat than did Obama. So did many Democratic members of the Senate, including Tom Daschle, Joe Biden, John Edwards, and Hillary Clinton, who voted to give President Bush the authority to invade Iraq. None of them connected Saddam Hussein with 9/11 (neither did George W. Bush) but they believed, as Bill Clinton put it in 1998, “The community of nations may see more and more of the very kind of threat Iraq poses now: a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, ready to use them or provide them to terrorists. If we fail to respond today, Saddam and all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow.”

Moreover if Obama only favors military action against those who had something to do “with the 9/11 attacks,” why is he proposing an expanded American commitment in Afghanistan? The few Al Qaeda terrorists who have not already been caught or killed and who were connected to the 9/11 plot remain safely ensconced in Pakistan. They are not fighting us in Afghanistan. The enemy there is largely composed of Taliban fighters who had nothing to do with 9/11 and who also pose “no imminent threat” to the United States.

But the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true. The strain on our military has grown, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated and we’ve spent nearly $200 billion more in Iraq than we had budgeted. Iraq’s leaders have failed to invest tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues in rebuilding their own country, and they have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge.

It’s nice that Obama is not denying his misguided opposition to the surge. It’s not so nice that he is still denying the surge’s success. He can no longer claim that the surge has failed militarily-as he predicted it would. But he’s still claiming that the surge has failed politically. It’s almost as if he is unaware of the recent report from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad which found that the Iraqis have met 15 of 18 benchmarks. As summed up by the Washington Post: “The embassy judged that the only remaining shortfalls were the Baghdad government’s failure to enact and implement laws governing the oil industry and the disarmament of militia and insurgent groups, and continuing problems with the professionalism of the Iraqi police. All other goals — including preparations for upcoming elections, reform of de-Baathification and disarmament laws, progress on enacting and spending Iraq’s budget, and the capabilities of the Iraqi army — were rated “satisfactory.” And, while Iraq has not passed an oil law, its parliament is dividing oil revenues among the provinces.

It’s true that not all of Iraq’s political problems have been solved. But then we haven’t solved all of our own political problems in the past 18 months either. The Iraqis are certainly making more progress than opponents-and even many supporters-of the surge expected.

The good news is that Iraq’s leaders want to take responsibility for their country by negotiating a timetable for the removal of American troops. Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. James Dubik, the American officer in charge of training Iraq’s security forces, estimates that the Iraqi Army and police will be ready to assume responsibility for security in 2009.

This is a fundamental misreading of what Lt. Gen. Dubik told the House Armed Services Committed on July 9. Anyone who reads the transcript will see that the committee chairman, Ike Skelton, asked Dubik to tell him “when will the Iraqis be able to handle their own security so our troops will no longer have to do it?” Dubik repeatedly refused to give a date: “I would not put an X on a calendar, Mr. Chairman.” When pressed by Skelton he responded, “The ground forces will mostly be done by middle of next year.”

That is the very ambiguous statement that Obama is now citing as evidence that Iraqi troops can defend their country with almost no help from us by 2009. But all Dubik said is that the expected allotment of Iraqi ground troops will be fully trained and equipped by the middle of next year. He said nothing about other branches of the Iraqi armed services, such as the air force, which continue to lag considerably behind. Imagine a modern army operating without air cover. It’s hard to imagine, but in Iraq, if the Iraqi Security Forces are going to have air cover (to include close air support, surveillance, and medical evacuation), it will have to come largely from the United States. That will require the presence of lots of American airmen in the country, who in turn will have to be defended and supplied by lots of American ground troops.

But that’s only a small part of the role that American forces will have to continue to play. While Iraqis are fielding lots of ground troops who are ready and eager to take the fight to the enemy, they lag behind not only in air support but also in many of the higher level, more sophisticated functions needed to support ground troops in action-functions such as planning, intelligence gathering, reconnaissance, logistics, and procurement. U.S. personnel continue to provide vital help in these and other areas, and they in turn need protection to operate safely within Iraq.

Even the Iraqi ground forces, while more capable, still require considerable advising and mentoring from American troops. Even if the entire Iraqi ground force will be certified as trained and equipped in 2009 (and similar deadlines have slipped in the past), that doesn’t mean they can operate on their own. To operate effectively they will need a considerable presence of embedded American advisers, who, too, will require American ground forces for their protection. Some of the most effective training for Iraqi troops comes from having the ability to operate alongside American troops. So maintaining U.S. combat brigades in the country not only delivers direct benefits in terms of added security, it also plays a vital role in the maturation of their Iraqi counterparts.

U.S. troops play yet another vital function: They serve as a buffer between competing sectarian groups which are still understandably suspicious of one another since Iraq is less than 18 months removed from the brink of an all-out civil war. Remove the societal glue provided by U.S. troops and who knows what may happen. It is for this reason that U.S. troops remain stationed in Kosovo nine years after they first arrived, and why it’s important for them to remain stationed in Iraq for some time to come.

Only by redeploying our troops can we press the Iraqis to reach comprehensive political accommodation and achieve a successful transition to Iraqis’ taking responsibility for the security and stability of their country.

This is the mantra that Obama and other opponents of the war effort recited in opposing the surge: They claimed that increasing the number of U.S. troops would take the pressure off Iraqis to forge political compromises. In fact, as we know now, exactly the opposite happened: As supporters of the surge expected, an increase in security provided breathing room for Iraqi politicians to make compromises, allowing them to achieve 15 of 18 benchmarks. The theory that withdrawing U.S. troops would lead to even greater compromises flies in the face of history: We were in fact taking U.S. troops off the streets in 2005-2006. The result was not “political accommodation” but an alarming increase in blood-letting. Obama seems to have learned nothing from that very recent history.

Instead of seizing the moment and encouraging Iraqis to step up, the Bush administration and Senator McCain are refusing to embrace this transition – despite their previous commitments to respect the will of Iraq’s sovereign government. They call any timetable for the removal of American troops “surrender,” even though we would be turning Iraq over to a sovereign Iraqi government.

This is malicious slander against the architects of the surge which has vastly increased the security of Iraq and hence the ability of its government to exercise its sovereign powers. In fact neither President Bush nor Senator McCain has done anything that goes against “the will of Iraq’s sovereign government.” Yet that is precisely what Obama did when he advocated a pull-out of U.S. troops in 2007. That was definitely against the will of Iraq’s government.

The notion that a premature pullout could not be a “surrender” because “we would be turning Iraq over to a sovereign Iraqi government” is laughable. The question is whether that sovereign government will have the ability on its own, even if denied vital American support, to defeat all of the enemies that it faces. Since the answer up until now has been a resounding no, pulling out American forces on the Obama timeline would in fact amount to a surrender, however unintended.

But this is not a strategy for success – it is a strategy for staying that runs contrary to the will of the Iraqi people, the American people and the security interests of the United States.

Obama is right that most Americans don’t want our troops to remain in Iraq, although the percentage who favor an immediate pullout has been falling with the success of the surge. (In a June Pew poll, 43% said we should keep troops in Iraq until it’s stabilized while 53% said we should bring them home as soon as possible-a fall of four points since the previous poll in April.) Looking at Iraqi public opinion, a poll released in March by ABC, BBC, and other Western news organizations found that only 38% think that coalition forces should “leave now.” Fully 62% said that U.S. forces should remain until the Iraqi government and its security forces are stronger. So keeping troops in Iraq is not exactly contrary to the will of the Iraqi people-as Obama will no doubt discover when he finally visits Iraq for the second time.

As I’ve said many times, we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 – two years from now, and more than seven years after the war began.

Obama’s faith in his withdrawal plan is at odds with the views of soldiers who have spent a bit more time in Iraq than the senator has. Martha Raddatz of ABC News recently interviewed Major General Jeffrey Hammond, commander of Multi-National Division-Baghdad. He said that any withdrawal plan would have to be conditions-based-exactly on what Senator McCain has said. Raddatz asked him if it would be dangerous to pull out troops based not on conditions but on a timeline-the Obama approach. His reply: “It’s very dangerous. I’ll speak for the coalition forces, men and women of character and moral courage; we have a mission, and it’s not until the mission is done that I can look my leader in the eye and say, ‘Sir, Ma’am, mission accomplished,’ and I think it is dangerous to leave anything a little early.” His view was confirmed by other soldiers Raddatz interviewed, such as Captain Josh West, who told her, “If we pull out of here too early, it’s going to establish a vacuum of power that violent criminal groups will be able to fill once we leave.”

Whatever its political impact, soldiers told Raddatz that Obama’s drawdown plan was simply impractical: “Physically removing the combat brigades within that kind of time frame would be difficult,” she reports, because so much equipment would have to be hauled out of a war zone. Raddatz concludes: “several commanders who looked at the Obama plan told ABC News, on background, that there was ‘no way’ it could work logistically.”

After this redeployment, a residual force in Iraq would perform limited missions: going after any remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, protecting American service members and, so long as the Iraqis make political progress, training Iraqi security forces. That would not be a precipitous withdrawal.

Obama has never said how large this “residual force” would have to be. Colin Kahl, one of his chief Iraq advisors, has estimated we might keep 60,000 to 80,000 troops in Iraq through 2010. If that’s the size of the “residual force” that Obama has in mind, and assuming that Iraq continues to progress as rapidly as it has, his plan might not jeopardize Iraqi security. But then that would hardly constitute the kind of withdrawal that he has promised his supporters. If he has in mind a much smaller force, it is doubtful that it could perform all the necessary tasks while maintaining requirements for “force protection.” Moreover, it is a fantasy to think that, if the security situation gets worse after a U.S. pull-out, we could still safeguard our interests with a small “strike force” targeted against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Our Special Operations Forces are the best in the world but in the past they could not stop Al Qaeda from establishing bases under their noses in Anbar and Diyala provinces. Only a surge of U.S. and Iraqi forces increased security on the ground, giving local residents confidence to rat out the terrorists without fear of losing their lives. This in turn made it possible to drive the terrorists out of their old strongholds. Obama’s notion seems to be that we should risk letting Al Qaeda re-establish itself and then, if necessary, dispatch a few commandos to deal with them. That is the height of folly.

Iraq is not the central front in the war on terrorism, and it never has been.

That may be Obama’s view, but two knowledgeable observers disagree. In a message released on December 28, 2006, Osama bin Laden declared: “The most important and serious issue today for the whole world is this Third World War, which the Crusader-Zionist coalition began against the Islamic nation. It is raging in the land of the two rivers [Iraq]. The world’s millstone and pillar is in Baghdad, the capital of the caliphate.” From the other side of the battlefield, General David Petraeus said on September 12, 2007 that Iraq is “the central front of al Qaeda’s global war of terror.” What does Obama know that they don’t?

But for far too long, those responsible for the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy have ignored useful debate in favor of making false charges about flip-flops and surrender.

On what basis does Obama reiterate the tired talking point about Iraq being “the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy”? Given the success of the surge, that assertion has passed its sell-by date. That claim may still come true, however, if we pull out while the situation remains as precarious as it is today.

It’s time to end this war.

I realize it’s hopeless to argue with bumper-sticker banalities, but Obama should realize that neither he nor any other American president could “end this war.” At most he could end American involvement. But unless Sunni and Shiite extremists give up the battle when we leave (and why would they?), a unilateral American pullout would notend the war. It would result in a defeat for the Untied States and an expansion of the war. That’s what would have happened if Obama had been able to implement his 16-month withdrawal timetable in 2007, as he originally wanted. It is likely that would happen still if he were to implement his plan next year.

Read Less

The Battle Is On

Dueling media calls between the Obama and McCain camps took place today. The subject: Barack Obama’s New York Times op-ed. The gist is here and the complete McCain call is here. The McCain spokespeople, led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and McCain foreign policy advisers Randy Scheunemann and Kori Schake, essentially made three arguments.

First, Graham and Scheuneman pressed home the point that Obama is “brazen” in his attempt to rewrite the past, he opposed the surge, and he made it harder for the surge to be implemented. And they contend that all of this — most especially his decision to “pull out” — would have left Iraq in chaos. Upping the ante, they accused Obama of playing politics at the expense of the country. Second, the McCain team claims that Obama still doesn’t get it. Graham was especially harsh, contending that Obama still doesn’t see that Iraqis a major battleground in the war on terror. Finally, the McCain team went after Obama for, as Scheunemann put it, “trying to have it both ways.” As Peter and I have pointed out, Obama’s ope-ed is a mix of denial, feigned shifts, status quo and opaqueness. What does he really mean and is he still sticking to his withdrawal at all costs plan?

On the Democratic side, the response seems to be: forget all that, McCain voted for the war. Before you point out that this is not relevant to the current discussion and doesn’t excuse Obama’s poor judgment and obfuscation, remember that the war is still not popular. And for those not following closely, that line may be fairly effective. (Not surprisingly the McCain team hit Obama spokesman Joe Biden for his determined advocacy for one of the worst ideas of the war: forcible partition of Iraq.)

The McCain team is doing all it can to turn Iraq (both on the merits and on Obama’s reaction to the surge’s success) into a broader issue of judgment, credibility and ultimately devotion to country above party. Scheunemann came right out and said it: Obama was banking on losing a war to win an election. Strong stuff.

Dueling media calls between the Obama and McCain camps took place today. The subject: Barack Obama’s New York Times op-ed. The gist is here and the complete McCain call is here. The McCain spokespeople, led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and McCain foreign policy advisers Randy Scheunemann and Kori Schake, essentially made three arguments.

First, Graham and Scheuneman pressed home the point that Obama is “brazen” in his attempt to rewrite the past, he opposed the surge, and he made it harder for the surge to be implemented. And they contend that all of this — most especially his decision to “pull out” — would have left Iraq in chaos. Upping the ante, they accused Obama of playing politics at the expense of the country. Second, the McCain team claims that Obama still doesn’t get it. Graham was especially harsh, contending that Obama still doesn’t see that Iraqis a major battleground in the war on terror. Finally, the McCain team went after Obama for, as Scheunemann put it, “trying to have it both ways.” As Peter and I have pointed out, Obama’s ope-ed is a mix of denial, feigned shifts, status quo and opaqueness. What does he really mean and is he still sticking to his withdrawal at all costs plan?

On the Democratic side, the response seems to be: forget all that, McCain voted for the war. Before you point out that this is not relevant to the current discussion and doesn’t excuse Obama’s poor judgment and obfuscation, remember that the war is still not popular. And for those not following closely, that line may be fairly effective. (Not surprisingly the McCain team hit Obama spokesman Joe Biden for his determined advocacy for one of the worst ideas of the war: forcible partition of Iraq.)

The McCain team is doing all it can to turn Iraq (both on the merits and on Obama’s reaction to the surge’s success) into a broader issue of judgment, credibility and ultimately devotion to country above party. Scheunemann came right out and said it: Obama was banking on losing a war to win an election. Strong stuff.

Read Less

That Clears Everything Up

Why is he allowed to get away with this?

ZAKARIA: But you could imagine a situation where, if the Iraqi government wanted it, 30,000 American troops are still in 10 years from now.

OBAMA: You know, I have been very careful not to put numbers on what a residual force would look like. What I am absolutely convinced of is that, to maintain permanent bases, to have ongoing combat forces, to have an open-ended commitment of the sort that John McCain and George Bush have advocated, is a mistake. It is a strategic mistake.

In other words, he’s trying to leave things open-ended because it’s a mistake to leave things . . . open-ended.

Why is he allowed to get away with this?

ZAKARIA: But you could imagine a situation where, if the Iraqi government wanted it, 30,000 American troops are still in 10 years from now.

OBAMA: You know, I have been very careful not to put numbers on what a residual force would look like. What I am absolutely convinced of is that, to maintain permanent bases, to have ongoing combat forces, to have an open-ended commitment of the sort that John McCain and George Bush have advocated, is a mistake. It is a strategic mistake.

In other words, he’s trying to leave things open-ended because it’s a mistake to leave things . . . open-ended.

Read Less

Hagel Is The Best He Can Do?

Mickey Kaus points out that bringing Chuck Hagel along to Iraq may not be the best choice: he’s another one who blew the call on the surge. But really, who is Barack Obama going to travel with? All the Democrats opposed the surge and the Republicans, even the ones previously ambivalent, are seeing the light and aren’t about to help Obama climb out of his cul de sac.

Still, Hagel may be a worse choice than others. His prominence in the Obama foreign policy crew has set off another flare from Jewish voters. Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition puts out a press release declaring, “Of all the senators with whom Obama could have traveled with, Hagel’s record on Israel is one of the worst. ” And as proof, they cite a list of votes and actions — previously put out by the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Let me guess the response: Hagel is just an advisor who doesn’t share Obama’s views. (But he’s vouching for Obama on Iraq– that’s different somehow?) Hagel can get in line with Tony McPeak, Robert Malley, and Zbig Brzezinski as yet another person from whom Obama takes advice, but claims is not really all that important and whom, when necessary, can be minimized as an “informal” or “occasional” advisor. One only hopes that on Iraq Hagel’s views and his atrocious record of predicting the surge’s demise will, upon further reflection, earn Hagel a shove under the proverbial bus.

Mickey Kaus points out that bringing Chuck Hagel along to Iraq may not be the best choice: he’s another one who blew the call on the surge. But really, who is Barack Obama going to travel with? All the Democrats opposed the surge and the Republicans, even the ones previously ambivalent, are seeing the light and aren’t about to help Obama climb out of his cul de sac.

Still, Hagel may be a worse choice than others. His prominence in the Obama foreign policy crew has set off another flare from Jewish voters. Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition puts out a press release declaring, “Of all the senators with whom Obama could have traveled with, Hagel’s record on Israel is one of the worst. ” And as proof, they cite a list of votes and actions — previously put out by the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Let me guess the response: Hagel is just an advisor who doesn’t share Obama’s views. (But he’s vouching for Obama on Iraq– that’s different somehow?) Hagel can get in line with Tony McPeak, Robert Malley, and Zbig Brzezinski as yet another person from whom Obama takes advice, but claims is not really all that important and whom, when necessary, can be minimized as an “informal” or “occasional” advisor. One only hopes that on Iraq Hagel’s views and his atrocious record of predicting the surge’s demise will, upon further reflection, earn Hagel a shove under the proverbial bus.

Read Less

No “Causal Connection”

This is why the job of “policing the world” falls to the U.S. From an article about the waning fortunes of jihadists, by Britta Sandberg in Der Spiegel:

If one imagines al-Qaida as experts have characterized it — as a system of terror franchises with branches worldwide — then there is clearly an uprising taking place among many branch managers. They are distancing themselves from the icons of terror, and from their goals and methods. So far, it apparently remains an internal process, disputes within the various groups that have been smoldering for some time and are now rising to the surface. And there is little to indicate a causal connection between this development and the United States-led war on global terrorism.

Yeah, not much at all. Just a war against al Qaeda’s main state sponsor, the Taliban, and another against sponsor and collaborator Saddam Hussein and the facts that coalition forces have killed or captured thousands of jihadists in Iraq and helped make liberty a viable option for millions of Muslims and U.S. intelligence has choked off terrorist funds globally and foiled countless terrorist plots here and overseas. None of that had a thing to do with the crumbing of the jihad. Al Qaeda’s demise is much better understood as the inevitable revolt of bank managers.

That the ideological and strategic cracks within al Qaeda are the results of pressure applied by the U.S. matters not at all to Sandberg. Consider this excerpt:

On the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Saudi [Sheikh Salman al-Oudah] went on the television channel MBS to publicly demand of bin Laden how many innocents had already been killed in the name of al-Qaida. Oudah also wanted to know how bin Laden planned to face the almighty with hundreds, even thousands, of innocent lives on his conscience.

Why the soul-searching on the sixth anniversary of the attacks? Why not on September 12, 2001, when bin Laden had already killed thousands of innocents? The answer is, of course, that Oudah grew sick over the thousands of innocents killed as a result of the War on Terror. Seems to me, Oudah and other Muslims are coming around to that old John Kerry nugget: “Who will be the last to die for a mistake?”

This is why the job of “policing the world” falls to the U.S. From an article about the waning fortunes of jihadists, by Britta Sandberg in Der Spiegel:

If one imagines al-Qaida as experts have characterized it — as a system of terror franchises with branches worldwide — then there is clearly an uprising taking place among many branch managers. They are distancing themselves from the icons of terror, and from their goals and methods. So far, it apparently remains an internal process, disputes within the various groups that have been smoldering for some time and are now rising to the surface. And there is little to indicate a causal connection between this development and the United States-led war on global terrorism.

Yeah, not much at all. Just a war against al Qaeda’s main state sponsor, the Taliban, and another against sponsor and collaborator Saddam Hussein and the facts that coalition forces have killed or captured thousands of jihadists in Iraq and helped make liberty a viable option for millions of Muslims and U.S. intelligence has choked off terrorist funds globally and foiled countless terrorist plots here and overseas. None of that had a thing to do with the crumbing of the jihad. Al Qaeda’s demise is much better understood as the inevitable revolt of bank managers.

That the ideological and strategic cracks within al Qaeda are the results of pressure applied by the U.S. matters not at all to Sandberg. Consider this excerpt:

On the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Saudi [Sheikh Salman al-Oudah] went on the television channel MBS to publicly demand of bin Laden how many innocents had already been killed in the name of al-Qaida. Oudah also wanted to know how bin Laden planned to face the almighty with hundreds, even thousands, of innocent lives on his conscience.

Why the soul-searching on the sixth anniversary of the attacks? Why not on September 12, 2001, when bin Laden had already killed thousands of innocents? The answer is, of course, that Oudah grew sick over the thousands of innocents killed as a result of the War on Terror. Seems to me, Oudah and other Muslims are coming around to that old John Kerry nugget: “Who will be the last to die for a mistake?”

Read Less

Some Friendly Advice

Mark Halperin suggests that Barack Obama would do well to have a town hall debate now, to lessen the potential impact of a flub on Iraq in the fall debates. I’m not sure the former will help the latter problem. If Obama messes up in October, the dim memory of a handful of viewers of his performance in the summer won’t help. But there is a sense now beyond pundits that he is “hiding” from voters. Military and Hispanic groups want to hear from him and others may follow suit.

There are good reasons to avoid these settings, particularly if Obama is nervous about operating without a script and teleprompter among unfriendly voters. But at some point he has to clear the bar with voters, show that he lives beyond the Change Agent cocoon and has both the toughness and knowledge to mix it up with McCain. Really, would it be that hard for him?

Mark Halperin suggests that Barack Obama would do well to have a town hall debate now, to lessen the potential impact of a flub on Iraq in the fall debates. I’m not sure the former will help the latter problem. If Obama messes up in October, the dim memory of a handful of viewers of his performance in the summer won’t help. But there is a sense now beyond pundits that he is “hiding” from voters. Military and Hispanic groups want to hear from him and others may follow suit.

There are good reasons to avoid these settings, particularly if Obama is nervous about operating without a script and teleprompter among unfriendly voters. But at some point he has to clear the bar with voters, show that he lives beyond the Change Agent cocoon and has both the toughness and knowledge to mix it up with McCain. Really, would it be that hard for him?

Read Less

Statecraft as High-School drama

Reuters:

As Olmert entered the main hall of the Paris Grand Palais, a Reuters photographer captured him casting glances toward the tall Syrian leader. But Assad turned away, raising one hand to his face as if to block off any eye contact with the Israeli.

The photograph sequence then shows Assad skirting the far wall, where interpreters sat in plexiglass booths, as Olmert turned to talk to another delegate.

Assad totally declined Olmert’s Facebook friend request, too.

Reuters:

As Olmert entered the main hall of the Paris Grand Palais, a Reuters photographer captured him casting glances toward the tall Syrian leader. But Assad turned away, raising one hand to his face as if to block off any eye contact with the Israeli.

The photograph sequence then shows Assad skirting the far wall, where interpreters sat in plexiglass booths, as Olmert turned to talk to another delegate.

Assad totally declined Olmert’s Facebook friend request, too.

Read Less

Indicting Genocide

Today, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court filed genocide charges against Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Sudan’s president. “Prosecution evidence shows that Bashir masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups on account of their ethnicity,” said Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor, in a news conference. The charges are the first in that court against a sitting head of state.

Diplomats, especially China’s Wang Guangya, have said that the move will jeopardize peace talks, and that is undoubtedly true, but negotiations were going nowhere. In the meantime, the Janjaweed militia has, one way or another, killed an estimated 300,000 people in Darfur and displaced another 2.2 million since February 2003 when conflict erupted. Ocampo has done the right thing because, despite the political consequences, the world’s worst criminals must be brought to justice. “Charging President al-Bashir for the hideous crimes in Darfur shows that no one is above the law,” says Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch.

Well, not quite. As Dicker also noted, “It is the prosecutor’s job to follow the evidence wherever it leads.” And at this moment there are still other malefactors who have yet to be named. Bashir was able to mastermind and implement these past years because he had friends. And he had no more important backer than Beijing, Khartoum’s largest arms supplier and principal commercial partner.

Last week revealed just how close the two governments are. A couple days ago the BBC charged that China “is fueling war in Darfur.” Apparently the Chinese have been supplying military trucks and providing pilot training in violation of a United Nations arms embargo. And a few days before that the Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese oil companies are preparing to go exploring for oil in Darfur.

So going after Bashir is only a first step. Ocampo should finish his job by bringing charges against Khartoum’s collaborators. It would be especially sweet if he could do that before August 8, the date of the opening ceremonies of the world’s premier sporting event. After all, they don’t call this extravaganza the “Genocide Olympics” for nothing.

Today, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court filed genocide charges against Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Sudan’s president. “Prosecution evidence shows that Bashir masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups on account of their ethnicity,” said Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor, in a news conference. The charges are the first in that court against a sitting head of state.

Diplomats, especially China’s Wang Guangya, have said that the move will jeopardize peace talks, and that is undoubtedly true, but negotiations were going nowhere. In the meantime, the Janjaweed militia has, one way or another, killed an estimated 300,000 people in Darfur and displaced another 2.2 million since February 2003 when conflict erupted. Ocampo has done the right thing because, despite the political consequences, the world’s worst criminals must be brought to justice. “Charging President al-Bashir for the hideous crimes in Darfur shows that no one is above the law,” says Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch.

Well, not quite. As Dicker also noted, “It is the prosecutor’s job to follow the evidence wherever it leads.” And at this moment there are still other malefactors who have yet to be named. Bashir was able to mastermind and implement these past years because he had friends. And he had no more important backer than Beijing, Khartoum’s largest arms supplier and principal commercial partner.

Last week revealed just how close the two governments are. A couple days ago the BBC charged that China “is fueling war in Darfur.” Apparently the Chinese have been supplying military trucks and providing pilot training in violation of a United Nations arms embargo. And a few days before that the Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese oil companies are preparing to go exploring for oil in Darfur.

So going after Bashir is only a first step. Ocampo should finish his job by bringing charges against Khartoum’s collaborators. It would be especially sweet if he could do that before August 8, the date of the opening ceremonies of the world’s premier sporting event. After all, they don’t call this extravaganza the “Genocide Olympics” for nothing.

Read Less

Just Ask Your Friends

At the Corner, Byron York plucked out this gem from the New Yorker story on Obama. Here were Obama’s thoughts about the attacks of September 11, four days afterward:

The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others. Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity. It may find expression in a particular brand of violence, and may be channeled by particular demagogues or fanatics. Most often, though, it grows out of a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair.

“[P]overty and ignorance, helplessness and despair.” Strange, considering our attackers were wealthy and educated, connected and ecstatic. You know, if Obama is going to keep ex-terrorists around, he should at least utilize them. He could have asked Bill Ayers, “Bill, did your ‘failure of empathy’ stem from your impoverished upbringing as the son of the CEO of Commonwealth Edison?”

At the Corner, Byron York plucked out this gem from the New Yorker story on Obama. Here were Obama’s thoughts about the attacks of September 11, four days afterward:

The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others. Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity. It may find expression in a particular brand of violence, and may be channeled by particular demagogues or fanatics. Most often, though, it grows out of a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair.

“[P]overty and ignorance, helplessness and despair.” Strange, considering our attackers were wealthy and educated, connected and ecstatic. You know, if Obama is going to keep ex-terrorists around, he should at least utilize them. He could have asked Bill Ayers, “Bill, did your ‘failure of empathy’ stem from your impoverished upbringing as the son of the CEO of Commonwealth Edison?”

Read Less

Where Is Obama Going?

Toward the end of a painfully long exchange, Tom Brokaw finally got this out of Sen. Claire McCaskill on Meet The Press:

MR. BROKAW: But, let me be clear about this, he says he’ll listen to commanders on the ground. He’s going there. But before he goes there, he says, “The day after I’m inaugurated, I’ll have Joint Chiefs in the office with instructions to get them out in 16 months.”

SEN. McCASKILL: But…

MR. BROKAW: So the real question is why even go if you know that you want to do that in advance?

SEN. McCASKILL: Well, of course. He, he has a goal of 16 months, but obviously, the most important thing in getting out…

MR. BROKAW: But that could stretch.

SEN. McCASKILL: …is to do it carefully. It–I mean, obviously, a goal is a goal, and he’s been very clear that that’s a goal. He’s been very clear that he wants to be careful and reasonable about the way–in fact, his phrase is, “I want to be the opposite of what we were when we went in. We were reckless and careless when we went in. We didn’t plan.” And by the way, there is–talk about a shifting position, I mean, John McCain used to be very positive about George Bush’s leadership in Iraq.

MR. BROKAW: Mm-hmm.

SEN. McCASKILL: As he gets closer to this presidential election, he was not as positive. And, and I hope we have a chance to transition back to the economy for a minute…

MR. BROKAW: We will.

MR. BROKAW: But for–just so that we can clarify, the 16 months is his goal, not a promise to the American people?

SEN. McCASKILL: Sixteen months is his goal. It would be irresponsible for a commander in chief to set in stone a date. But he believes, based on the best of military advice that he has gotten, that one to two brigades a month is reasonable. And I believe that that is his commitment to the American people, and he will keep that commitment to the American people.

So what we thought was a promise was a goal. What we thought was an unqualified timetable is not. What we thought was his determination to issue new orders really wasn’t. But whatever he committed to the American people he is still committing. (There are only so many questions one can ask, but Brokaw might have asked how his vote to cut off funding immediately figured into all of this.)

Can you imagine if he had said this during the primary? Hillary Clinton would be the one with the White House redecorating plans now. (I can understand why McCaskill was pleading to get back to the economy.)

However, what we don’t hear, and I am beginning to wonder if we will, is any recognition from the Obama that we need to build upon the success of the surge and not allow Iraq to drift back into chaos. From his op-ed in the New York Times the answer appears to be “no.” Notice how he shies from any causal connection between the surge and gains we have achieved: “the Sunni tribes have rejected Al Qaeda.” And why was that? Could it be because the U.S. troops gave them confidence that we would remain and fight to defend the population? And his timetable of 16 months, a little squishier, seems to be in place. (And if his plan is dangerous, as commanders keep telling the media, does that matter?) In his world, Maliki hasn’t gotten his act together, nor does Obama recognize that Al Qaeda is in fact suffering a momentous defeat right there in Iraq.

Obama may have said it to the Iraqi foreign minister, but he isn’t yet saying to the voters that he is committing to success in Iraq. And when he says that McCain didn’t learn anything from his trips to Iraq? It makes you wonder whether Obama still can’t find any permanent benefit from the surge or reason to build on the success (which McCain recognized on those supposedly useless trips). Is he is just playing word games with “goals vs. timetables,” trying to wriggle out from a firm commitment?

If so, that would seem to be the worst of both political worlds. If he’s going to annoy the netroots, he might as well commit to success and get some credit for recognizing reality.

Noemie Emery writes:

But Iraq now, by almost every metric, is on the way up. Bush’s successor will have to work hard to lose it, and do so against the loud public protests of the troops who have done so much to win it.

But actually, it is fairly easy to give up the gains we have made: leave too early, appear irresolute, do nothing to assist in the second and third level issues that are cropping up, etc. And that is why is matters deeply whether Obama is serious about prevailing or just adhering as closely as possible to his withdrawal plans so as to avoid political embarrassment. Another candidate said he would rather lose an election than a war. It is far from clear that Obama feels the same way.

Toward the end of a painfully long exchange, Tom Brokaw finally got this out of Sen. Claire McCaskill on Meet The Press:

MR. BROKAW: But, let me be clear about this, he says he’ll listen to commanders on the ground. He’s going there. But before he goes there, he says, “The day after I’m inaugurated, I’ll have Joint Chiefs in the office with instructions to get them out in 16 months.”

SEN. McCASKILL: But…

MR. BROKAW: So the real question is why even go if you know that you want to do that in advance?

SEN. McCASKILL: Well, of course. He, he has a goal of 16 months, but obviously, the most important thing in getting out…

MR. BROKAW: But that could stretch.

SEN. McCASKILL: …is to do it carefully. It–I mean, obviously, a goal is a goal, and he’s been very clear that that’s a goal. He’s been very clear that he wants to be careful and reasonable about the way–in fact, his phrase is, “I want to be the opposite of what we were when we went in. We were reckless and careless when we went in. We didn’t plan.” And by the way, there is–talk about a shifting position, I mean, John McCain used to be very positive about George Bush’s leadership in Iraq.

MR. BROKAW: Mm-hmm.

SEN. McCASKILL: As he gets closer to this presidential election, he was not as positive. And, and I hope we have a chance to transition back to the economy for a minute…

MR. BROKAW: We will.

MR. BROKAW: But for–just so that we can clarify, the 16 months is his goal, not a promise to the American people?

SEN. McCASKILL: Sixteen months is his goal. It would be irresponsible for a commander in chief to set in stone a date. But he believes, based on the best of military advice that he has gotten, that one to two brigades a month is reasonable. And I believe that that is his commitment to the American people, and he will keep that commitment to the American people.

So what we thought was a promise was a goal. What we thought was an unqualified timetable is not. What we thought was his determination to issue new orders really wasn’t. But whatever he committed to the American people he is still committing. (There are only so many questions one can ask, but Brokaw might have asked how his vote to cut off funding immediately figured into all of this.)

Can you imagine if he had said this during the primary? Hillary Clinton would be the one with the White House redecorating plans now. (I can understand why McCaskill was pleading to get back to the economy.)

However, what we don’t hear, and I am beginning to wonder if we will, is any recognition from the Obama that we need to build upon the success of the surge and not allow Iraq to drift back into chaos. From his op-ed in the New York Times the answer appears to be “no.” Notice how he shies from any causal connection between the surge and gains we have achieved: “the Sunni tribes have rejected Al Qaeda.” And why was that? Could it be because the U.S. troops gave them confidence that we would remain and fight to defend the population? And his timetable of 16 months, a little squishier, seems to be in place. (And if his plan is dangerous, as commanders keep telling the media, does that matter?) In his world, Maliki hasn’t gotten his act together, nor does Obama recognize that Al Qaeda is in fact suffering a momentous defeat right there in Iraq.

Obama may have said it to the Iraqi foreign minister, but he isn’t yet saying to the voters that he is committing to success in Iraq. And when he says that McCain didn’t learn anything from his trips to Iraq? It makes you wonder whether Obama still can’t find any permanent benefit from the surge or reason to build on the success (which McCain recognized on those supposedly useless trips). Is he is just playing word games with “goals vs. timetables,” trying to wriggle out from a firm commitment?

If so, that would seem to be the worst of both political worlds. If he’s going to annoy the netroots, he might as well commit to success and get some credit for recognizing reality.

Noemie Emery writes:

But Iraq now, by almost every metric, is on the way up. Bush’s successor will have to work hard to lose it, and do so against the loud public protests of the troops who have done so much to win it.

But actually, it is fairly easy to give up the gains we have made: leave too early, appear irresolute, do nothing to assist in the second and third level issues that are cropping up, etc. And that is why is matters deeply whether Obama is serious about prevailing or just adhering as closely as possible to his withdrawal plans so as to avoid political embarrassment. Another candidate said he would rather lose an election than a war. It is far from clear that Obama feels the same way.

Read Less

Bookshelf

Television can make you famous, but it can’t keep you famous. Once the red light goes off, the half-life of the small-screen star is likely to be dismayingly short indeed. A mere quarter-century ago, Harry Reasoner was a famous man, but now he is almost entirely forgotten, though he was one of the brightest people ever to anchor an evening newscast and-when he took the trouble to knock out his own scripts-a stylish writer.

It was Reasoner’s practice to end his TV newscasts with a brief, pithy commentary on some aspect of the day’s events. Usually his “end pieces” were dryly witty, but not always. When Ernie Kovacs died in a car crash in 1962, Reasoner wrapped up “The CBS Evening News” with these poignant words:

All prayer books ask for protection from sudden death. It is nice to think we will have a warning, time to think things out and go in bed, in honor and in love. Somebody dies in an unprepared hurry and you are touched with a dozen quick and recent memories: the sweetness of last evening, the uselessness of a mean word or an undone promise. It could be you, with all those untidy memories of recent days never to be straightened out. There’s a shiver in the sunlight, touching the warmth of life that you’ve been reminded you hold only for a moment.

It’s been a long time since anybody said anything remotely like that on a nightly newscast, which may help to explain why fewer and fewer people bother to watch TV news these days.

A handful of Reasoner’s end pieces made it into Before the Colors Fade, his slight but graceful 1983 memoir, and a few more are to be found in Douglass K. Daniel’s Harry Reasoner: A Life in the News (University of Texas, 270 pp., $29.95), a book that has the distinction of being, so far as I know, the first non-gossipy primary-source biography of a TV newsman other than Edward R. Murrow ever to make it into print. Frankly, I’m surprised that anybody bothered to write such a book about Reasoner, who died in 1991 and is now remembered, if at all, for having been one of the original co-anchors of “60 Minutes,” along with a better-known gent by the name of Mike Wallace. For all his not-inconsiderable gifts, Reasoner’s celebrity was almost entirely a function of the fact that he appeared on TV, and once the appearances came to an end, so did the celebrity. Such is the inevitable fate of all who chooses to earn their livings by talking into a TV camera.

If you’re old enough to recall Harry Reasoner and curious about what he was like off camera, A Life in the News will tell you everything you want to know, along with a fair amount that you’ll be sorry to learn. Reasoner, it turns out, was a lazy, somewhat aimless man who drifted into electronic journalism for lack of anything better to do. His bosses at CBS discovered that his penny-plain Midwestern accent and straightforward, slightly amused demeanor were hugely appealing to viewers, and Reasoner soon became, after Walter Cronkite, the best-loved figure in TV news. He was so popular that he didn’t have to work very hard for a living: all he had to do was show up and read what was written for him, and over the years he grew increasingly willing to let other people ghost-write his scripts. It was, to be sure, a common enough practice-Peggy Noonan got her start writing Dan Rather’s radio commentaries-but I was sorely disappointed to learn that Reasoner was one of the many talking heads of TV news who ended up being little more than just that.

Douglass K. Daniel tells Reasoner’s story plainly and without frills, making no effort to posthumously inflate him into something other than what he was, acknowledging his talent but also making room for the devastating summing-up of George Herman, one of his colleagues at CBS: “He was extraordinarily lazy. Harry was one of the best news readers in the business and, I thought, an excellent writer. But he didn’t have the nose for news and the drive and the inquisitiveness and whatever else it takes to be a good reporter, I don’t think.” All of which strikes me as a not-unjust epitaph for network TV news itself, which even in its glory days was never much more than a headline service and is now fast approaching its well-deserved demise.

As for Reasoner, he died a few weeks after retiring from CBS, perhaps from disappointment as much as anything else. He had been a hard drinker who in middle age turned into a full-fledged alcoholic, no doubt because he found his well-paid professional life to be more than a little bit unsatisfactory. His fate reminds me of the equally bleak tale of the decline and fall of Robert Benchley, a wonderfully witty essayist and drama critic who spent his last years playing himself in Hollywood movies and drinking to devastating excess, no longer capable of writing anything more than bits and pieces of dialogue. Like Benchley, Harry Reasoner must have known better than to believe that a talented writer who lets others do his work for him is anything other than a fraud. After such knowledge, the grave looks good.

Television can make you famous, but it can’t keep you famous. Once the red light goes off, the half-life of the small-screen star is likely to be dismayingly short indeed. A mere quarter-century ago, Harry Reasoner was a famous man, but now he is almost entirely forgotten, though he was one of the brightest people ever to anchor an evening newscast and-when he took the trouble to knock out his own scripts-a stylish writer.

It was Reasoner’s practice to end his TV newscasts with a brief, pithy commentary on some aspect of the day’s events. Usually his “end pieces” were dryly witty, but not always. When Ernie Kovacs died in a car crash in 1962, Reasoner wrapped up “The CBS Evening News” with these poignant words:

All prayer books ask for protection from sudden death. It is nice to think we will have a warning, time to think things out and go in bed, in honor and in love. Somebody dies in an unprepared hurry and you are touched with a dozen quick and recent memories: the sweetness of last evening, the uselessness of a mean word or an undone promise. It could be you, with all those untidy memories of recent days never to be straightened out. There’s a shiver in the sunlight, touching the warmth of life that you’ve been reminded you hold only for a moment.

It’s been a long time since anybody said anything remotely like that on a nightly newscast, which may help to explain why fewer and fewer people bother to watch TV news these days.

A handful of Reasoner’s end pieces made it into Before the Colors Fade, his slight but graceful 1983 memoir, and a few more are to be found in Douglass K. Daniel’s Harry Reasoner: A Life in the News (University of Texas, 270 pp., $29.95), a book that has the distinction of being, so far as I know, the first non-gossipy primary-source biography of a TV newsman other than Edward R. Murrow ever to make it into print. Frankly, I’m surprised that anybody bothered to write such a book about Reasoner, who died in 1991 and is now remembered, if at all, for having been one of the original co-anchors of “60 Minutes,” along with a better-known gent by the name of Mike Wallace. For all his not-inconsiderable gifts, Reasoner’s celebrity was almost entirely a function of the fact that he appeared on TV, and once the appearances came to an end, so did the celebrity. Such is the inevitable fate of all who chooses to earn their livings by talking into a TV camera.

If you’re old enough to recall Harry Reasoner and curious about what he was like off camera, A Life in the News will tell you everything you want to know, along with a fair amount that you’ll be sorry to learn. Reasoner, it turns out, was a lazy, somewhat aimless man who drifted into electronic journalism for lack of anything better to do. His bosses at CBS discovered that his penny-plain Midwestern accent and straightforward, slightly amused demeanor were hugely appealing to viewers, and Reasoner soon became, after Walter Cronkite, the best-loved figure in TV news. He was so popular that he didn’t have to work very hard for a living: all he had to do was show up and read what was written for him, and over the years he grew increasingly willing to let other people ghost-write his scripts. It was, to be sure, a common enough practice-Peggy Noonan got her start writing Dan Rather’s radio commentaries-but I was sorely disappointed to learn that Reasoner was one of the many talking heads of TV news who ended up being little more than just that.

Douglass K. Daniel tells Reasoner’s story plainly and without frills, making no effort to posthumously inflate him into something other than what he was, acknowledging his talent but also making room for the devastating summing-up of George Herman, one of his colleagues at CBS: “He was extraordinarily lazy. Harry was one of the best news readers in the business and, I thought, an excellent writer. But he didn’t have the nose for news and the drive and the inquisitiveness and whatever else it takes to be a good reporter, I don’t think.” All of which strikes me as a not-unjust epitaph for network TV news itself, which even in its glory days was never much more than a headline service and is now fast approaching its well-deserved demise.

As for Reasoner, he died a few weeks after retiring from CBS, perhaps from disappointment as much as anything else. He had been a hard drinker who in middle age turned into a full-fledged alcoholic, no doubt because he found his well-paid professional life to be more than a little bit unsatisfactory. His fate reminds me of the equally bleak tale of the decline and fall of Robert Benchley, a wonderfully witty essayist and drama critic who spent his last years playing himself in Hollywood movies and drinking to devastating excess, no longer capable of writing anything more than bits and pieces of dialogue. Like Benchley, Harry Reasoner must have known better than to believe that a talented writer who lets others do his work for him is anything other than a fraud. After such knowledge, the grave looks good.

Read Less

Just About Immigration?

ABC reports on John McCain’s La Raza speech today, highlighting this portion of his remarks:

But he suggested in his speeches there and here, that I turned my back on comprehensive reform out of political necessity. I feel I must, as they say, correct the record. At a moment of great difficulty in my campaign, when my critics said it would be political suicide for me to do so, I helped author with Senator Kennedy comprehensive immigration reform, and fought for its passage. I cast a lot of hard votes, as did the other Republicans and Democrats who joined our bipartisan effort. So did Senator Kennedy. I took my lumps for it without complaint. My campaign was written off as a lost cause. I did so not just because I believed it was the right thing to do for Hispanic Americans. It was the right thing to do for all Americans. Senator Obama declined to cast some of those tough votes. He voted for and even sponsored amendments that were intended to kill the legislation, amendments that Senator Kennedy and I voted against. I never ask for any special privileges from anyone just for having done the right thing. Doing my duty to my country is its own reward. But I do ask for your trust that when I say, I remain committed to fair, practical and comprehensive immigration reform.

Jake Tapper, as Lynn Sweet recently did, gives McCain a boost, reminding readers:

There was a cohesive bipartisan group led by Sens. McCain and Ted Kennedy, D-Mass, that worked to defeat amendments that would hurt the overall bill’s chance of final passage — amendments that were too liberal for the Republicans and too conservative for the Democrats. And on at least five occasions, Obama voted for amendments against the wishes of the bipartisan group, including Kennedy.

Now, immigration reform is a hive-inducing topic for some on the Right, but it is smart for McCain to bring this up, and to do it in this way.

First, he is going to need to appeal to Hispanic voters in Florida and New Mexico and his stance (i.e. border control first but comittment to comprehensive immigration reform) is one that likely pleases many independent voters. Second, this example fits nicely into McCain’s theme that Obama is a phony bipartisan and a non-achiever. Like the Gang of 14 (another sore point with the Right), McCain took a position his base didn’t like, joined with Democrats, and aimed to end stalemate. Where was Obama on these? Nowhere. And finally, for those on the Right who think the MSM gives Obama a free pass, here is an instance in which two mainstream news organizations (ABC and the Chicago Sun-Times) are calling Obama on the carpet. While not every outlet is so exacting, Obama’s team should take note: it is getting a lot harder to lie about his record.

ABC reports on John McCain’s La Raza speech today, highlighting this portion of his remarks:

But he suggested in his speeches there and here, that I turned my back on comprehensive reform out of political necessity. I feel I must, as they say, correct the record. At a moment of great difficulty in my campaign, when my critics said it would be political suicide for me to do so, I helped author with Senator Kennedy comprehensive immigration reform, and fought for its passage. I cast a lot of hard votes, as did the other Republicans and Democrats who joined our bipartisan effort. So did Senator Kennedy. I took my lumps for it without complaint. My campaign was written off as a lost cause. I did so not just because I believed it was the right thing to do for Hispanic Americans. It was the right thing to do for all Americans. Senator Obama declined to cast some of those tough votes. He voted for and even sponsored amendments that were intended to kill the legislation, amendments that Senator Kennedy and I voted against. I never ask for any special privileges from anyone just for having done the right thing. Doing my duty to my country is its own reward. But I do ask for your trust that when I say, I remain committed to fair, practical and comprehensive immigration reform.

Jake Tapper, as Lynn Sweet recently did, gives McCain a boost, reminding readers:

There was a cohesive bipartisan group led by Sens. McCain and Ted Kennedy, D-Mass, that worked to defeat amendments that would hurt the overall bill’s chance of final passage — amendments that were too liberal for the Republicans and too conservative for the Democrats. And on at least five occasions, Obama voted for amendments against the wishes of the bipartisan group, including Kennedy.

Now, immigration reform is a hive-inducing topic for some on the Right, but it is smart for McCain to bring this up, and to do it in this way.

First, he is going to need to appeal to Hispanic voters in Florida and New Mexico and his stance (i.e. border control first but comittment to comprehensive immigration reform) is one that likely pleases many independent voters. Second, this example fits nicely into McCain’s theme that Obama is a phony bipartisan and a non-achiever. Like the Gang of 14 (another sore point with the Right), McCain took a position his base didn’t like, joined with Democrats, and aimed to end stalemate. Where was Obama on these? Nowhere. And finally, for those on the Right who think the MSM gives Obama a free pass, here is an instance in which two mainstream news organizations (ABC and the Chicago Sun-Times) are calling Obama on the carpet. While not every outlet is so exacting, Obama’s team should take note: it is getting a lot harder to lie about his record.

Read Less

It’s a Cartoon (Laugh) Riot

The cover of the upcoming issue of the New Yorker (by Barry Blitt) shows Barack and Michelle Obama done up as Osama bin Laden and Angela Davis respectively, celebrating their seizure of the White House with an American flag burning in the fireplace above which hangs a portrait of the actual bin Laden. The joke (I think?) is supposed to be at the expense of the paranoid Right. But in the end all the wrong targets get slimed. That’s what happens with lazily conceived art.

Those on the non-paranoid Right should be thankful. We should be thankful that someone gives shape to the cartoonish imaginings of the unimaginative Left. How valuable to see the full inventory of the opposition’s shortcomings. For example, on May 10, 2004, the cover of the New Yorker bared an illustration of an oil derrick spurting not oil but blood over Middle Eastern sands. We knew then that the Left’s best argument against the Iraq War was as hysterical and unlettered as its worst. And after President Bush introduced the troop surge, the New Yorker ran an April 9, 2007 cover illustration showing 1040 tax forms folded into paper tanks and fighter plans. We could then confirm that the intelligent Left was not serious about the War.That the New Yorker crowd thinks the main issue of Barack Obama’s candidacy is one of racist rightwing demonization is, for a GOP strategist, a heartening revelation. It means the Left is blind to Obama’s non-cartoonish problems: his inexperience, his gaffe-based policies, his abysmal judgment, and the motivation behind his flip-flops, to name a few. The most salient Obama issue is not that the Right suspects him of militant Islamism, but rather that the entire electorate is beginning to wonder what he’s made of. In assuming that the serious Right seeks to burlesque Obama as the embodiment of our anti-American nightmares, the New Yorker burlesques itself. They are broadcasting a lack of understanding of both their opposition and their own candidate. Just as they were proved wrong in casting the Iraq War as a blood-soaked oil grab and proved wrong about the troop surge being a waste of tax payer money, so they will be proved wrong about this.

The cover of the upcoming issue of the New Yorker (by Barry Blitt) shows Barack and Michelle Obama done up as Osama bin Laden and Angela Davis respectively, celebrating their seizure of the White House with an American flag burning in the fireplace above which hangs a portrait of the actual bin Laden. The joke (I think?) is supposed to be at the expense of the paranoid Right. But in the end all the wrong targets get slimed. That’s what happens with lazily conceived art.

Those on the non-paranoid Right should be thankful. We should be thankful that someone gives shape to the cartoonish imaginings of the unimaginative Left. How valuable to see the full inventory of the opposition’s shortcomings. For example, on May 10, 2004, the cover of the New Yorker bared an illustration of an oil derrick spurting not oil but blood over Middle Eastern sands. We knew then that the Left’s best argument against the Iraq War was as hysterical and unlettered as its worst. And after President Bush introduced the troop surge, the New Yorker ran an April 9, 2007 cover illustration showing 1040 tax forms folded into paper tanks and fighter plans. We could then confirm that the intelligent Left was not serious about the War.That the New Yorker crowd thinks the main issue of Barack Obama’s candidacy is one of racist rightwing demonization is, for a GOP strategist, a heartening revelation. It means the Left is blind to Obama’s non-cartoonish problems: his inexperience, his gaffe-based policies, his abysmal judgment, and the motivation behind his flip-flops, to name a few. The most salient Obama issue is not that the Right suspects him of militant Islamism, but rather that the entire electorate is beginning to wonder what he’s made of. In assuming that the serious Right seeks to burlesque Obama as the embodiment of our anti-American nightmares, the New Yorker burlesques itself. They are broadcasting a lack of understanding of both their opposition and their own candidate. Just as they were proved wrong in casting the Iraq War as a blood-soaked oil grab and proved wrong about the troop surge being a waste of tax payer money, so they will be proved wrong about this.

Read Less

Obama on the War

In his New York Times op-ed today on Iraq, Barack Obama makes several claims worth examining.

In his opening paragraph, Obama writes

The call by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a timetable for the removal of American troops from Iraq presents an enormous opportunity. We should seize this moment to begin the phased redeployment of combat troops that I have long advocated, and that is needed for long-term success in Iraq and the security interests of the United States.

A phased redeployment of combat troops can now be done in the context of a victory in Iraq, whereas when Obama first called for the complete withdrawal of all combat troops in Iraq by March 2008, it would have led to an American defeat. It is because President Bush endorsed a counterinsurgency plan which Senator Obama fiercely opposed that we are in a position to both withdraw additional combat troops and prevail in Iraq.

Obama goes on to write

In the 18 months since President Bush announced the surge, our troops have performed heroically in bringing down the level of violence. New tactics have protected the Iraqi population, and the Sunni tribes have rejected Al Qaeda – greatly weakening its effectiveness.

But the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true. The strain on our military has grown, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated and we’ve spent nearly $200 billion more in Iraq than we had budgeted. Iraq’s leaders have failed to invest tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues in rebuilding their own country, and they have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge . . . Only by redeploying our troops can we press the Iraqis to reach comprehensive political accommodation and achieve a successful transition to Iraqis’ taking responsibility for the security and stability of their country.

This point cannot be emphasized enough: Obama, in opposing the surge, was wrong on the most important politico-military decision since the war began. He not only opposed the surge, he predicted in advance that it could not succeed and that it would not lead to a decrease in violence (on January 10, 2007, the night President Bush announced the surge, Obama declared he saw nothing in the plan that would “make a significant dent in the sectarian violence that’s taking place there.” A week later, he repeated the point emphatically: the surge strategy would “not prove to be one that changes the dynamics significantly.”)

Both predictions were demonstrably wrong. And for Obama to state that Iraq’s leaders “have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge” is misleading and false. Iraqi leaders have reached comprehensive political accommodations, including passing key laws having to do with provincial elections, the distribution of resources, amnesty, pensions, investment, and de-Ba’athification. In fact, a report card issued in May judged that Iraq’s efforts on 15 of 18 benchmarks are “satisfactory”–almost twice of what it determined to be the case a year ago. Is Obama unaware of these achievements? Does he care at all about them?

In addition, Prime Minister Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, has taken to lead in opposing Shiite militia throughout Iraq, which in turn has led in a rallying of political support for Maliki throughout Iraq and respect for him among other Arab leaders.

The successful, Iraqi-led operations in Basra, Sadr City, and elsewhere completely subvert Obama’s claim that “only be redeploying our troops” can these things be achieved. They are in fact being achieved, something which would have been impossible if Obama’s “redeployment” plan had been put in place.

Obama writes this as well:

for far too long, those responsible for the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy have ignored useful debate in favor of making false charges about flip-flops and surrender.

In fact, it is far from clear that Iraq will be judged a strategic blunder at all, let alone the “greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy.” It is now plausible to argue that the Iraq war will lead to a defeat of historic proportions for al Qaeda. It has already triggered a massive Sunni Muslim uprising against al Qaeda, a repudiation of violent jihadism from some of its original architects, and a significant shift within the Muslim world against the brutal tactics of jihadists. Iraq is also, right now, the only authentic democracy in the Arab world. And Saddam Hussein, the most aggressive and destabilizing force in the Middle East for the last several decades, is dead, and his genocidal regime is now but an awful, infamous memory.

This is not to deny that huge mistakes and miscalculations were made in the Phase IV planning of the war; it is to say, however, that those mistakes have been rectified and that we are now on the road to success in Iraq. None of this would have been possible if Senator Obama’s recommendations had been followed. It’s worth adding, I suppose, that if Obama’s recommendations had been followed, the results would qualify as the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy.

Finally, Obama writes this:

on my first day in office, I would give the military a new mission: ending this war.

This is in some ways the most revealing statement written by Obama. He still cannot bring himself to say that the mission in Iraq is success, even when success is clearly within our grasp. For Obama the mission is, and since his presidential announcement in February 2007 has been, to end the war, even if it means an American loss of epic proportions. And if Obama had had his way, that is exactly what would have come to pass.

Among the most striking things about Obama’s op-ed is how intellectually dishonest it is, particularly for a man who once proudly proclaimed that he would let facts rather than preconceived views dictate his positions on Iraq.Obama’s op-ed is the effort of an arrogant and intellectually rigid man, one who disdains empirical evidence and is attempting to justify the fact that he has been consistently wrong on Iraq since the war began (for more, see my April 2008 article in Commentary, “Obama’s War“).

Senator Obama is once again practicing the “old politics” he claims to stand against, which is bad enough. But that Obama would have allowed America to lose, al Qaeda and Iran to win, and the Iraqi people to suffer mass death and possibly genocide because of his ideological opposition to the war is far worse. On those grounds alone, he ought to be disqualified from being America’s next commander-in-chief.

In his New York Times op-ed today on Iraq, Barack Obama makes several claims worth examining.

In his opening paragraph, Obama writes

The call by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a timetable for the removal of American troops from Iraq presents an enormous opportunity. We should seize this moment to begin the phased redeployment of combat troops that I have long advocated, and that is needed for long-term success in Iraq and the security interests of the United States.

A phased redeployment of combat troops can now be done in the context of a victory in Iraq, whereas when Obama first called for the complete withdrawal of all combat troops in Iraq by March 2008, it would have led to an American defeat. It is because President Bush endorsed a counterinsurgency plan which Senator Obama fiercely opposed that we are in a position to both withdraw additional combat troops and prevail in Iraq.

Obama goes on to write

In the 18 months since President Bush announced the surge, our troops have performed heroically in bringing down the level of violence. New tactics have protected the Iraqi population, and the Sunni tribes have rejected Al Qaeda – greatly weakening its effectiveness.

But the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true. The strain on our military has grown, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated and we’ve spent nearly $200 billion more in Iraq than we had budgeted. Iraq’s leaders have failed to invest tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues in rebuilding their own country, and they have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge . . . Only by redeploying our troops can we press the Iraqis to reach comprehensive political accommodation and achieve a successful transition to Iraqis’ taking responsibility for the security and stability of their country.

This point cannot be emphasized enough: Obama, in opposing the surge, was wrong on the most important politico-military decision since the war began. He not only opposed the surge, he predicted in advance that it could not succeed and that it would not lead to a decrease in violence (on January 10, 2007, the night President Bush announced the surge, Obama declared he saw nothing in the plan that would “make a significant dent in the sectarian violence that’s taking place there.” A week later, he repeated the point emphatically: the surge strategy would “not prove to be one that changes the dynamics significantly.”)

Both predictions were demonstrably wrong. And for Obama to state that Iraq’s leaders “have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge” is misleading and false. Iraqi leaders have reached comprehensive political accommodations, including passing key laws having to do with provincial elections, the distribution of resources, amnesty, pensions, investment, and de-Ba’athification. In fact, a report card issued in May judged that Iraq’s efforts on 15 of 18 benchmarks are “satisfactory”–almost twice of what it determined to be the case a year ago. Is Obama unaware of these achievements? Does he care at all about them?

In addition, Prime Minister Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, has taken to lead in opposing Shiite militia throughout Iraq, which in turn has led in a rallying of political support for Maliki throughout Iraq and respect for him among other Arab leaders.

The successful, Iraqi-led operations in Basra, Sadr City, and elsewhere completely subvert Obama’s claim that “only be redeploying our troops” can these things be achieved. They are in fact being achieved, something which would have been impossible if Obama’s “redeployment” plan had been put in place.

Obama writes this as well:

for far too long, those responsible for the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy have ignored useful debate in favor of making false charges about flip-flops and surrender.

In fact, it is far from clear that Iraq will be judged a strategic blunder at all, let alone the “greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy.” It is now plausible to argue that the Iraq war will lead to a defeat of historic proportions for al Qaeda. It has already triggered a massive Sunni Muslim uprising against al Qaeda, a repudiation of violent jihadism from some of its original architects, and a significant shift within the Muslim world against the brutal tactics of jihadists. Iraq is also, right now, the only authentic democracy in the Arab world. And Saddam Hussein, the most aggressive and destabilizing force in the Middle East for the last several decades, is dead, and his genocidal regime is now but an awful, infamous memory.

This is not to deny that huge mistakes and miscalculations were made in the Phase IV planning of the war; it is to say, however, that those mistakes have been rectified and that we are now on the road to success in Iraq. None of this would have been possible if Senator Obama’s recommendations had been followed. It’s worth adding, I suppose, that if Obama’s recommendations had been followed, the results would qualify as the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy.

Finally, Obama writes this:

on my first day in office, I would give the military a new mission: ending this war.

This is in some ways the most revealing statement written by Obama. He still cannot bring himself to say that the mission in Iraq is success, even when success is clearly within our grasp. For Obama the mission is, and since his presidential announcement in February 2007 has been, to end the war, even if it means an American loss of epic proportions. And if Obama had had his way, that is exactly what would have come to pass.

Among the most striking things about Obama’s op-ed is how intellectually dishonest it is, particularly for a man who once proudly proclaimed that he would let facts rather than preconceived views dictate his positions on Iraq.Obama’s op-ed is the effort of an arrogant and intellectually rigid man, one who disdains empirical evidence and is attempting to justify the fact that he has been consistently wrong on Iraq since the war began (for more, see my April 2008 article in Commentary, “Obama’s War“).

Senator Obama is once again practicing the “old politics” he claims to stand against, which is bad enough. But that Obama would have allowed America to lose, al Qaeda and Iran to win, and the Iraqi people to suffer mass death and possibly genocide because of his ideological opposition to the war is far worse. On those grounds alone, he ought to be disqualified from being America’s next commander-in-chief.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Is Barack Obama pushing the stock market down?

A network news outlet has the guts to admit Phil Gramm had a point.

Servicemen shouldn’t feel so bad–Obama doesn’t want to answer questions from Hispanics, either.

An eloquent tribute to Tony Snow’s sense of gratitude. In a town dominated by huge egos, ingrates and backstabbers he was extraordinary, wasn’t he?

Obama says of the Bradenburg Gate kerfuffle “We didn’t have a particular site in mind.” Huh? If so, that’s a whole lot of inaccurate reporting and bizarre leaks from his campaign. He couldn’t be lying, could he?

What was the New Yorker thinking? Conservative publications would never have made the error since they are accustomed to anticipating outrage, but liberals think they can do no wrong. How can they possibly insult and offend when their motives are so pure?

Left largely unsaid in the Tony Snow tributes: the White House was in its defensive crouch in large part due to the utterly incompetent press secretary who preceded Snow.

It is fairly easy to spot the inaccuracy in this post from Andrew Sullivan about the surge’s success: “This is a major achievement, and it would be churlish and wrong to deny the Bush administration credit – at least for the past year or so. At the same time, it confirms everything Obama has said about this conflict from the beginning and much that McCain said over a year ago about the surge.” Confirms everything Obama has said? Except for the part about the surge not working, the desirability of immediately cutting off funds for U.S. troops, the surge’s non-impact on Al Qaeda and the unimportance of Iraq as a battlefield in the war on terror. Small stuff.

Is the bloom off the waffle?

Is Barack Obama pushing the stock market down?

A network news outlet has the guts to admit Phil Gramm had a point.

Servicemen shouldn’t feel so bad–Obama doesn’t want to answer questions from Hispanics, either.

An eloquent tribute to Tony Snow’s sense of gratitude. In a town dominated by huge egos, ingrates and backstabbers he was extraordinary, wasn’t he?

Obama says of the Bradenburg Gate kerfuffle “We didn’t have a particular site in mind.” Huh? If so, that’s a whole lot of inaccurate reporting and bizarre leaks from his campaign. He couldn’t be lying, could he?

What was the New Yorker thinking? Conservative publications would never have made the error since they are accustomed to anticipating outrage, but liberals think they can do no wrong. How can they possibly insult and offend when their motives are so pure?

Left largely unsaid in the Tony Snow tributes: the White House was in its defensive crouch in large part due to the utterly incompetent press secretary who preceded Snow.

It is fairly easy to spot the inaccuracy in this post from Andrew Sullivan about the surge’s success: “This is a major achievement, and it would be churlish and wrong to deny the Bush administration credit – at least for the past year or so. At the same time, it confirms everything Obama has said about this conflict from the beginning and much that McCain said over a year ago about the surge.” Confirms everything Obama has said? Except for the part about the surge not working, the desirability of immediately cutting off funds for U.S. troops, the surge’s non-impact on Al Qaeda and the unimportance of Iraq as a battlefield in the war on terror. Small stuff.

Is the bloom off the waffle?

Read Less

Oh, So That’s What He Meant!

Barack Obama is now clarifying further his stance on Jerusalem. Last month he told the AIPAC policy conference that he believed Jerusalem should remain “undivided.” In Jewish historical terms, this is a very loaded term: It means that the Jewish people’s historical capital city, home of the Temple of Solomon and the biblical Jerusalem, a city whose ancient precincts were cut off from Jewish worshipers for 19 years between 1948 and 1967, which was finally reunited in the Six Day War — that this city will remain exclusively part of the Jewish state under any future agreement with the Palestinians. Undivided — what it sounds like.

Later that day, it became clear to Obama’s handlers that he had been mishandled, and they issued a clarification, that of course, suggesting that he hadn’t really meant to take any position that might “prejudice” the “final status.” But apparently this was not clear enough, so now Obama is once again clarifying. As the Jerusalem Post reports, Obama told Fareed Zakaria on CNN on Sunday that his handlers were right, and he was wrong. His speech was “poorly phrased.” His actual position:

The point we were simply making was, is that we don’t want barbed wire running through Jerusalem, similar to the way it was prior to the ’67 war, that it is possible for us to create a Jerusalem that is cohesive and coherent. I was not trying to predetermine what are essentially final-status issues.

As clarifications go, this one’s a doozy. What could it possibly mean to want a “coherent” city that is the capital of two different countries, one of which has been teaching its entire population to hate the other and commit suicide bombings in its restaurants for 15 years now — and all this without a proper border? I live in Jerusalem. The border between Israel and the Palestinians, wherever it may run, and no matter how long peace reigns, will never be like that between Massachusetts and Connecticut. It is unlikely ever even to be like the one between Arizona and Mexico. If there is ever a division of Jerusalem, there will be more than just barbed wire separating the two halves of the city. We are talking about different worlds entirely, and security arrangements will reflect this.

So either Obama understands all of this, and is not being honest with voters when he backtracks from the “undivided” position. Or he doesn’t understand this, in which case he was better off not clarifying. It would be nice if an interviewer would push him hard on this point. We might learn something new.

Barack Obama is now clarifying further his stance on Jerusalem. Last month he told the AIPAC policy conference that he believed Jerusalem should remain “undivided.” In Jewish historical terms, this is a very loaded term: It means that the Jewish people’s historical capital city, home of the Temple of Solomon and the biblical Jerusalem, a city whose ancient precincts were cut off from Jewish worshipers for 19 years between 1948 and 1967, which was finally reunited in the Six Day War — that this city will remain exclusively part of the Jewish state under any future agreement with the Palestinians. Undivided — what it sounds like.

Later that day, it became clear to Obama’s handlers that he had been mishandled, and they issued a clarification, that of course, suggesting that he hadn’t really meant to take any position that might “prejudice” the “final status.” But apparently this was not clear enough, so now Obama is once again clarifying. As the Jerusalem Post reports, Obama told Fareed Zakaria on CNN on Sunday that his handlers were right, and he was wrong. His speech was “poorly phrased.” His actual position:

The point we were simply making was, is that we don’t want barbed wire running through Jerusalem, similar to the way it was prior to the ’67 war, that it is possible for us to create a Jerusalem that is cohesive and coherent. I was not trying to predetermine what are essentially final-status issues.

As clarifications go, this one’s a doozy. What could it possibly mean to want a “coherent” city that is the capital of two different countries, one of which has been teaching its entire population to hate the other and commit suicide bombings in its restaurants for 15 years now — and all this without a proper border? I live in Jerusalem. The border between Israel and the Palestinians, wherever it may run, and no matter how long peace reigns, will never be like that between Massachusetts and Connecticut. It is unlikely ever even to be like the one between Arizona and Mexico. If there is ever a division of Jerusalem, there will be more than just barbed wire separating the two halves of the city. We are talking about different worlds entirely, and security arrangements will reflect this.

So either Obama understands all of this, and is not being honest with voters when he backtracks from the “undivided” position. Or he doesn’t understand this, in which case he was better off not clarifying. It would be nice if an interviewer would push him hard on this point. We might learn something new.

Read Less

Not-So-Sweet Charity

This Politico story–”McCain has no national service plan”–is presented as if it were some sort of scoop. But it’s really little more than an Obama press release. Here’s the lede:

Despite past support of Americorps and other service programs, John McCain will not commit to a plan to increase service opportunities.

John McCain, who’s predicated his presidential run in no small part on his distinguished military record, frequently exhorts Americans — and especially young Americans — to serve their country. Despite that appeal, he has yet to offer any proposals to expand or transform national service outside of the military.

McCain is contrasted unfavorably to Barack Obama, who, the story tells us, “has proposed dramatically expanding Americorps and the Peace Corps, adding 65,000 members to the military and creating an annual $4,000 tax credit for post-secondary education in exchange for 100 hours of community service.”

McCain also wants to expand the size of the military, so really all we’re left with is Obama’s support for more federal government spending in the realm of national service and doubling the size of the Peace Corps by 2011. I’m not opposed to expanding the Peace Corps in principle, yet I do think the fact that the Obama campaign is making such a big deal out of this issue is indicative of his rosy world view. But what’s really odd about this piece is that it treats government funded “national service” schemes as if they were programs that everybody wants to expand. McCain, as the piece notes, has been a “prominent supporter of Americorps.” Yet the fact that he hasn’t proposed, like Obama, to quadruple the size of the program is somehow treated as “news.” The notion that McCain and other conservatives may believe that private philanthropic efforts are more effective in serving the public good than government bureaucracies is never recognized as a legitimate point of view.

Americans, as countless studies and polls have demonstrated, are without question the most charitable and volunteer-oriented people in the world. Partly because of our lack of a socialized economy, and partly because of traits unique to the American “can-do” spirit, Americans give more to charity and devote more hours to service than any other people on the planet. We don’t need billions of dollars in more government spending to pay us to do what we already and gladly do gratis.

This Politico story–”McCain has no national service plan”–is presented as if it were some sort of scoop. But it’s really little more than an Obama press release. Here’s the lede:

Despite past support of Americorps and other service programs, John McCain will not commit to a plan to increase service opportunities.

John McCain, who’s predicated his presidential run in no small part on his distinguished military record, frequently exhorts Americans — and especially young Americans — to serve their country. Despite that appeal, he has yet to offer any proposals to expand or transform national service outside of the military.

McCain is contrasted unfavorably to Barack Obama, who, the story tells us, “has proposed dramatically expanding Americorps and the Peace Corps, adding 65,000 members to the military and creating an annual $4,000 tax credit for post-secondary education in exchange for 100 hours of community service.”

McCain also wants to expand the size of the military, so really all we’re left with is Obama’s support for more federal government spending in the realm of national service and doubling the size of the Peace Corps by 2011. I’m not opposed to expanding the Peace Corps in principle, yet I do think the fact that the Obama campaign is making such a big deal out of this issue is indicative of his rosy world view. But what’s really odd about this piece is that it treats government funded “national service” schemes as if they were programs that everybody wants to expand. McCain, as the piece notes, has been a “prominent supporter of Americorps.” Yet the fact that he hasn’t proposed, like Obama, to quadruple the size of the program is somehow treated as “news.” The notion that McCain and other conservatives may believe that private philanthropic efforts are more effective in serving the public good than government bureaucracies is never recognized as a legitimate point of view.

Americans, as countless studies and polls have demonstrated, are without question the most charitable and volunteer-oriented people in the world. Partly because of our lack of a socialized economy, and partly because of traits unique to the American “can-do” spirit, Americans give more to charity and devote more hours to service than any other people on the planet. We don’t need billions of dollars in more government spending to pay us to do what we already and gladly do gratis.

Read Less

Meet The Critics

On Meet The Press, there was a fair bit of unanimity on Barack Obama’s political shifting from two people who don’t always agree on political analysis.

From Mike Murphy:

The question is do you race for the center so quick that people begin to think that you can slide under a closed door? Then it becomes kind of a character issue on where do you stand. So I think, I think that’s up in the air right now. I think in some ways what Barack has done, he’s getting closer to John McCain on the issues. It’s almost an endorsement.

From Andrea Mitchell:

And one problem he has in moving to the center and perhaps not doing it as artfully as he might have, is the net roots, the left wing of the party, the liberal wing of the party. If it becomes a character issue, they will be much less passionate. The young voters who’ve been mobilized may not turn out. He has to tap into that enthusiasm. And already 22,000 people were utilizing his own Web site to complain about that vote on wiretapping. And, you know, his–using his own technology against him. So he’s got to worry about that.

What neither of them spent any time pondering was his contention (and those of some pundit apologists) that he hasn’t really moved at all. That argument is so patently absurd that the media mavens, whether from the MSM or from the Right, spend no time on it. But if Obama sticks to his guns, insisting nothing has changed at all, does he eventually become the subject of ridicule even from the MSM?

It has become very popular to paint Republicans as out of touch and out to lunch, be it on the economy or Iraq. But the danger for Obama is that on Iraq, and even about himself, he seems to be in denial. That’s a dangerous place to be, as any Democrat will tell you.

On Meet The Press, there was a fair bit of unanimity on Barack Obama’s political shifting from two people who don’t always agree on political analysis.

From Mike Murphy:

The question is do you race for the center so quick that people begin to think that you can slide under a closed door? Then it becomes kind of a character issue on where do you stand. So I think, I think that’s up in the air right now. I think in some ways what Barack has done, he’s getting closer to John McCain on the issues. It’s almost an endorsement.

From Andrea Mitchell:

And one problem he has in moving to the center and perhaps not doing it as artfully as he might have, is the net roots, the left wing of the party, the liberal wing of the party. If it becomes a character issue, they will be much less passionate. The young voters who’ve been mobilized may not turn out. He has to tap into that enthusiasm. And already 22,000 people were utilizing his own Web site to complain about that vote on wiretapping. And, you know, his–using his own technology against him. So he’s got to worry about that.

What neither of them spent any time pondering was his contention (and those of some pundit apologists) that he hasn’t really moved at all. That argument is so patently absurd that the media mavens, whether from the MSM or from the Right, spend no time on it. But if Obama sticks to his guns, insisting nothing has changed at all, does he eventually become the subject of ridicule even from the MSM?

It has become very popular to paint Republicans as out of touch and out to lunch, be it on the economy or Iraq. But the danger for Obama is that on Iraq, and even about himself, he seems to be in denial. That’s a dangerous place to be, as any Democrat will tell you.

Read Less

Raddatz’s Questions

It is so unusual to see the media treat Barack Obama’s policy proposals with skepticism, let alone as a cause for journalistic inquiry, that when it does happen, the moment assumes a sort of man-bites-dog quality.

So it is with a Martha Raddatz report that aired on ABC News’ Good Morning America. Raddatz asks two simple questions about Obama’s Iraq withdrawal plan: “Is it possible to get all those troops and all that equipment out of [Iraq] that fast, and if you could, what would happen after they left?” Raddatz went to Iraq for answers. Watch it all below. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Z4ba2KkIwI[/youtube]

It is so unusual to see the media treat Barack Obama’s policy proposals with skepticism, let alone as a cause for journalistic inquiry, that when it does happen, the moment assumes a sort of man-bites-dog quality.

So it is with a Martha Raddatz report that aired on ABC News’ Good Morning America. Raddatz asks two simple questions about Obama’s Iraq withdrawal plan: “Is it possible to get all those troops and all that equipment out of [Iraq] that fast, and if you could, what would happen after they left?” Raddatz went to Iraq for answers. Watch it all below. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Z4ba2KkIwI[/youtube]

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.