Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 16, 2008

Cuba Abandons Egalitarianism

Last Friday, Raul Castro, Cuba’s president, appeared to reorient his country by specifically abandoning one of brother Fidel’s core beliefs. “Socialism means social justice and equality, but equality of rights, of opportunities, not of income,” he said at the closing session of the country’s rubberstamp legislature in an address broadcast nationally. “Equality is not egalitarianism.”

The ditching of egalitarianism came in the same speech in which Raul proclaimed that his government would “preserve the principles achieved by the Revolution.” Language like this is obligatory for communist parties, which have trouble admitting failure. Cubans in the government, like their counterparts in China and North Korea, deny that any changes are taking place. “We’re simply perfecting what we already have, tweaking our socialist system,” said one official recently. “Fidel will be with us forever. His legacy will transcend time. Cubans will never leave Fidel behind.”

They already have. “I now think for myself,” said a factory worker. “That’s truly revolutionary, knowing that you’re responsible for your own destiny.” Because poor folk like him see things differently, Raul, who succeeded his brother in February, has had to make cosmetic changes and tweak ideology. Yet even minor changes are important in transitional communist societies like Cuba. They signal that real change is coming, and those signals in turn accelerate changes in the thinking of the masses. As one American diplomat said, Cubans are already burying Fidel’s legend and have “moved on.”

As a result, the European Union is lifting symbolic sanctions on Cuba. Brussels’s move, intended to encourage further change, is certainly premature. In fact, Raul has yet to implement structural economic reform and has maintained the state’s infrastructure of repression. But Europe’s mistake may not matter much. Cuban society is progressing, and Raul has just been forced to redefine socialism. His theoretical leap, although important to ideologues, is almost irrelevant because Cuba is now developing beyond his control.

Last Friday, Raul Castro, Cuba’s president, appeared to reorient his country by specifically abandoning one of brother Fidel’s core beliefs. “Socialism means social justice and equality, but equality of rights, of opportunities, not of income,” he said at the closing session of the country’s rubberstamp legislature in an address broadcast nationally. “Equality is not egalitarianism.”

The ditching of egalitarianism came in the same speech in which Raul proclaimed that his government would “preserve the principles achieved by the Revolution.” Language like this is obligatory for communist parties, which have trouble admitting failure. Cubans in the government, like their counterparts in China and North Korea, deny that any changes are taking place. “We’re simply perfecting what we already have, tweaking our socialist system,” said one official recently. “Fidel will be with us forever. His legacy will transcend time. Cubans will never leave Fidel behind.”

They already have. “I now think for myself,” said a factory worker. “That’s truly revolutionary, knowing that you’re responsible for your own destiny.” Because poor folk like him see things differently, Raul, who succeeded his brother in February, has had to make cosmetic changes and tweak ideology. Yet even minor changes are important in transitional communist societies like Cuba. They signal that real change is coming, and those signals in turn accelerate changes in the thinking of the masses. As one American diplomat said, Cubans are already burying Fidel’s legend and have “moved on.”

As a result, the European Union is lifting symbolic sanctions on Cuba. Brussels’s move, intended to encourage further change, is certainly premature. In fact, Raul has yet to implement structural economic reform and has maintained the state’s infrastructure of repression. But Europe’s mistake may not matter much. Cuban society is progressing, and Raul has just been forced to redefine socialism. His theoretical leap, although important to ideologues, is almost irrelevant because Cuba is now developing beyond his control.

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Obscene Art

In reaching out to Islam, French President Nicolas Sarkozy could have extended his arm at random and found a far better hand to shake than that of Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. Today, Sarkozy invited Prince Alwaleed to lay the first stone of the Louvre museum’s new Islamic art section and said

This will be an opportunity for the French and all visitors to the Louvre to see that Islam is progress, science, finesse, modernity, and that fanaticism in the name of Islam is a corruption of Islam.

Not according to Sarkozy’s honored guest. For this is the same Prince Alwaleed bin Talal who surveyed ground zero a month after the attacks and announced that the United States

should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stand toward the Palestinian cause.

While the U.N. passed clear resolutions numbered 242 and 338 calling for the Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip decades ago, our Palestinian brethren continue to be slaughtered at the hands of Israelis while the world turns the other cheek.

Why is it that Sarkozy can find no better representative of Islam than a Saudi royal who justifies the September 11 attacks by blaming the U.S. and Israel? Good old Saudi oil money.

The Saudi prince, one of the world’s richest men, is contributing 17 million euros, while oil giant Total and Lafarge will put up 8.5 million euros each, with the remainder to be covered by the government.

If Sarkozy is as big a fan of the U.S. as he claims, he should follow Rudolph Giuliani’s example and tell Prince Alwaleed to keep his money and go back whence he came.

In reaching out to Islam, French President Nicolas Sarkozy could have extended his arm at random and found a far better hand to shake than that of Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. Today, Sarkozy invited Prince Alwaleed to lay the first stone of the Louvre museum’s new Islamic art section and said

This will be an opportunity for the French and all visitors to the Louvre to see that Islam is progress, science, finesse, modernity, and that fanaticism in the name of Islam is a corruption of Islam.

Not according to Sarkozy’s honored guest. For this is the same Prince Alwaleed bin Talal who surveyed ground zero a month after the attacks and announced that the United States

should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stand toward the Palestinian cause.

While the U.N. passed clear resolutions numbered 242 and 338 calling for the Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip decades ago, our Palestinian brethren continue to be slaughtered at the hands of Israelis while the world turns the other cheek.

Why is it that Sarkozy can find no better representative of Islam than a Saudi royal who justifies the September 11 attacks by blaming the U.S. and Israel? Good old Saudi oil money.

The Saudi prince, one of the world’s richest men, is contributing 17 million euros, while oil giant Total and Lafarge will put up 8.5 million euros each, with the remainder to be covered by the government.

If Sarkozy is as big a fan of the U.S. as he claims, he should follow Rudolph Giuliani’s example and tell Prince Alwaleed to keep his money and go back whence he came.

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March 14th’s Terrorism Problem–and Ours

Today, Lebanon’s March 14th movement cast itself into an abyss of moral depravity that the bloc’s supporters — myself included — never thought possible. The exchange this morning of bodies for terrorists between Israel and Hezbollah presented March 14’s leaders with what should have been an easy choice: applaud the return to Lebanon of a grotesque child-murderer; say nothing; or denounce him and Hezbollah’s freelance deal-making, which made his return possible.

Two of March 14th’s leaders — Fouad Siniora, the Sunni prime minister of Lebanon, and Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon’s Druze, both of whom are embraced as American allies — have answered that question not just by acquiescing to the return of Samir Kuntar, whose sadistic butchery of an Israeli family in 1979 is infamous, but by celebrating his arrival as a great victory for all of Lebanon. The prospect his return was greeted by Siniora with the following statement:

The success of Hizbullah in the negotiations led by a third party is a national success for the party and for the struggle of the Lebanese because it secured national goals which Israel always refused to respect.

Jumblatt promised that a delegation from his party would welcome and congratulate Kuntar, and called his return a “national occasion.” The Lebanese government, including the March 14 bloc, staged a red-carpet welcoming celebration for Kuntar and his four Hezbollah compatriots at the Beirut airport. The government has declared today a “national holiday,” and awaiting the return of these killers at the airport were the Lebanese President, Prime Minister, Speaker of Parliament, cabinet, the Iranian ambassador, and the heads of all the branches of the Lebanese security services.

All of this is not just disgraceful, but should trigger nothing less than a crisis in U.S.-Lebanon relations. If being a safe haven for child-murderers is something the Lebanese prime minister considers a “national goal,” the United States should reevaluate its support for Lebanon’s government, which both rhetorically and symbolically has made itself an ally of Hezbollah in defining Lebanon as a state which exults in terrorism against Israel. Such a crisis in relations will not happen, of course, and it is perversely ironic that on the same day the Lebanese government was popping corks with Hezbollah, the Bush administration announced an increase of over $32 million in aid to the Lebanese army.

Various excuses for this behavior will no doubt be proffered: the March 14 bloc does not want to give Hezbollah any advantage in attracting domestic support; March 14 does not want to allow Hezbollah a propaganda victory at the expense of the government, which seeks to reduce Hezbollah’s efficacy as an armed militia in Lebanon; etc. But March 14 has always faced these dilemmas, and will continue to do so in the future.

If Siniora and Jumblatt wish to bring Lebanon into alliance with the western world, their leadership in both style and substance must refuse to celebrate terrorists or join Hezbollah in rejoicing over the slaughter of Jews. March 14 has not just betrayed its western allies and supporters; it has betrayed its own mission in Lebanon. How can March 14 rail against the presence of Hezbollah if it simultaneously praises Hezbollah’s terrorism? Lebanon will never be able to repudiate Hezbollah by becoming more like Hezbollah.

For those of us who have been ardent supporters of March 14 and who have placed great hopes in the bloc’s promise to transform Lebanon, today’s events come as terrible and disappointing news. So disappointing, in fact, that I suspect many March 14 adherents will reevaluate their support of Lebanon’s putative reformers until they decide whether they wish to lead their country toward peace and democracy, or toward a dark future of terrorism and death-worship. Unquestionably, there are hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who share these sentiments. I hope their views will one day prevail.

Today, Lebanon’s March 14th movement cast itself into an abyss of moral depravity that the bloc’s supporters — myself included — never thought possible. The exchange this morning of bodies for terrorists between Israel and Hezbollah presented March 14’s leaders with what should have been an easy choice: applaud the return to Lebanon of a grotesque child-murderer; say nothing; or denounce him and Hezbollah’s freelance deal-making, which made his return possible.

Two of March 14th’s leaders — Fouad Siniora, the Sunni prime minister of Lebanon, and Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon’s Druze, both of whom are embraced as American allies — have answered that question not just by acquiescing to the return of Samir Kuntar, whose sadistic butchery of an Israeli family in 1979 is infamous, but by celebrating his arrival as a great victory for all of Lebanon. The prospect his return was greeted by Siniora with the following statement:

The success of Hizbullah in the negotiations led by a third party is a national success for the party and for the struggle of the Lebanese because it secured national goals which Israel always refused to respect.

Jumblatt promised that a delegation from his party would welcome and congratulate Kuntar, and called his return a “national occasion.” The Lebanese government, including the March 14 bloc, staged a red-carpet welcoming celebration for Kuntar and his four Hezbollah compatriots at the Beirut airport. The government has declared today a “national holiday,” and awaiting the return of these killers at the airport were the Lebanese President, Prime Minister, Speaker of Parliament, cabinet, the Iranian ambassador, and the heads of all the branches of the Lebanese security services.

All of this is not just disgraceful, but should trigger nothing less than a crisis in U.S.-Lebanon relations. If being a safe haven for child-murderers is something the Lebanese prime minister considers a “national goal,” the United States should reevaluate its support for Lebanon’s government, which both rhetorically and symbolically has made itself an ally of Hezbollah in defining Lebanon as a state which exults in terrorism against Israel. Such a crisis in relations will not happen, of course, and it is perversely ironic that on the same day the Lebanese government was popping corks with Hezbollah, the Bush administration announced an increase of over $32 million in aid to the Lebanese army.

Various excuses for this behavior will no doubt be proffered: the March 14 bloc does not want to give Hezbollah any advantage in attracting domestic support; March 14 does not want to allow Hezbollah a propaganda victory at the expense of the government, which seeks to reduce Hezbollah’s efficacy as an armed militia in Lebanon; etc. But March 14 has always faced these dilemmas, and will continue to do so in the future.

If Siniora and Jumblatt wish to bring Lebanon into alliance with the western world, their leadership in both style and substance must refuse to celebrate terrorists or join Hezbollah in rejoicing over the slaughter of Jews. March 14 has not just betrayed its western allies and supporters; it has betrayed its own mission in Lebanon. How can March 14 rail against the presence of Hezbollah if it simultaneously praises Hezbollah’s terrorism? Lebanon will never be able to repudiate Hezbollah by becoming more like Hezbollah.

For those of us who have been ardent supporters of March 14 and who have placed great hopes in the bloc’s promise to transform Lebanon, today’s events come as terrible and disappointing news. So disappointing, in fact, that I suspect many March 14 adherents will reevaluate their support of Lebanon’s putative reformers until they decide whether they wish to lead their country toward peace and democracy, or toward a dark future of terrorism and death-worship. Unquestionably, there are hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who share these sentiments. I hope their views will one day prevail.

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Bunglawala’s Lame Iran Defense

Back at the Guardian‘s comment is free, Inayat Bunglawala writes the usual “in defense of Iran” piece. This he does cleverly, insinuating that we should be skeptical about all this Iran talk and focus instead on the “real” threat:

The one thing I do know, however, is that over the years a number of our UK-based newspapers have been more than willing to play up the threat of alleged Iranian weapons while downplaying the danger of the very real Israeli ones.

Clearly, Bunglawala must have missed an article by yet another journalist–the Guardian‘s Ian Black–who on Thursday of last week wrote a news analysis headlined “Arabs fear fallout from nuclear conflict.” The main message was that ‘Nervous Arab states fear a war in the Gulf but a nuclear-armed Iran is an even greater concern.’ Clearly, in the Gulf the ‘danger of the very real’ Israeli bombs does not keep many people awake at night. It has not done so among any of the moderate regional powers who recognize, albeit grudgingly, that Israel as a status quo power has the bomb to deter its enemies, not to blow everyone up in the attempt to export Zionism to the Gulf. Iran, on the other hand, is a revolutionary power whose ambitions are to change the face of the region. The bomb would greatly enhance the country’s power to disrupt the existing order.

And one need not befriend spies to know that something is up in Iran. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s reports on Iran are a treasure trove of information about why we need to worry about Iran’s nuclear program, as the last report by IAEA Director General, Dr Mohammad El Baradei, shows very clearly and worryingly.

So why is Bunglawala writing this column, when the IAEA says such incriminating things? It is hard to figure, and we can only guess. One thing is known: Bunglawala is the assistant-secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, a Sunni Muslim organization with a long record of flirting with radicalism–more on the credentials of both MCB and Bunglawala can be found here, here, and here.

So perhaps it is what manages to unite Sunni and Shia radicals across their otherwise great sectarian divide, namely the hatred for Israel. After all, if there is anything to be learned from today’s sad headlines, it is that a Sunni pro-Western Lebanese prime minister has proclaimed today a national holiday to celebrate the release of a child murderer; that a “moderate” and “secular” Palestinian President has offered this “hero” his most heartfelt congratulations, while his fundamentalist Hamas nemesis, Gaza’s Prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, expressed similar joy. All rushing to celebrate, congratulate, applaud, and exalt a Shiite, Iranian-backed Hezbollah leader–Hassan Nasrallah. Strange bedfellows, indeed.

Back at the Guardian‘s comment is free, Inayat Bunglawala writes the usual “in defense of Iran” piece. This he does cleverly, insinuating that we should be skeptical about all this Iran talk and focus instead on the “real” threat:

The one thing I do know, however, is that over the years a number of our UK-based newspapers have been more than willing to play up the threat of alleged Iranian weapons while downplaying the danger of the very real Israeli ones.

Clearly, Bunglawala must have missed an article by yet another journalist–the Guardian‘s Ian Black–who on Thursday of last week wrote a news analysis headlined “Arabs fear fallout from nuclear conflict.” The main message was that ‘Nervous Arab states fear a war in the Gulf but a nuclear-armed Iran is an even greater concern.’ Clearly, in the Gulf the ‘danger of the very real’ Israeli bombs does not keep many people awake at night. It has not done so among any of the moderate regional powers who recognize, albeit grudgingly, that Israel as a status quo power has the bomb to deter its enemies, not to blow everyone up in the attempt to export Zionism to the Gulf. Iran, on the other hand, is a revolutionary power whose ambitions are to change the face of the region. The bomb would greatly enhance the country’s power to disrupt the existing order.

And one need not befriend spies to know that something is up in Iran. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s reports on Iran are a treasure trove of information about why we need to worry about Iran’s nuclear program, as the last report by IAEA Director General, Dr Mohammad El Baradei, shows very clearly and worryingly.

So why is Bunglawala writing this column, when the IAEA says such incriminating things? It is hard to figure, and we can only guess. One thing is known: Bunglawala is the assistant-secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, a Sunni Muslim organization with a long record of flirting with radicalism–more on the credentials of both MCB and Bunglawala can be found here, here, and here.

So perhaps it is what manages to unite Sunni and Shia radicals across their otherwise great sectarian divide, namely the hatred for Israel. After all, if there is anything to be learned from today’s sad headlines, it is that a Sunni pro-Western Lebanese prime minister has proclaimed today a national holiday to celebrate the release of a child murderer; that a “moderate” and “secular” Palestinian President has offered this “hero” his most heartfelt congratulations, while his fundamentalist Hamas nemesis, Gaza’s Prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, expressed similar joy. All rushing to celebrate, congratulate, applaud, and exalt a Shiite, Iranian-backed Hezbollah leader–Hassan Nasrallah. Strange bedfellows, indeed.

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Re: Race and the Times

Linda, whatever faults one can find in the Times poll and related analysis, the paper seems to have gotten the main and most important point right, which has greatly disturbed the Obama camp: less than a third of whites have a favorable opinion of Barack Obama. And the campaign’s efforts at pushback demonstrate that they are aware of the badness of this news. (When Hillary Clinton brought this phenomenon up there was hell to pay, but the facts are the facts.)

Do only 31% of whites have a favorable opinion of Obama because of his race or are blacks (83%) rallying to him only because of his race? Or is there some of both going on? When the actual voting numbers (as opposed to general approval numbers) are examined, Obama gets support of 37% of whites vs. 89% of blacks. That was the polarization which the Clinton team, first indirectly and then directly, harped on.

And there is good reason why the Obama camp is so sensitive. After Reverend Wright, Trinity United, and Father Pfleger the mystique of a post-racial candidate evaporated. And they don’t want further erosion, or the perception to take hold that Obama isn’t a candidate with wide appeal. Whether Obama can construct a coalition of blacks, Hispanics, young voters (whose enthusiasm is waning, we learned), and urban elites remains to be seen. But arguing about a Times article, and thereby highlighting the sore point, probably won’t make things any better. (Maybe they should listen to Jon Stewart on rapid response.)

Linda, whatever faults one can find in the Times poll and related analysis, the paper seems to have gotten the main and most important point right, which has greatly disturbed the Obama camp: less than a third of whites have a favorable opinion of Barack Obama. And the campaign’s efforts at pushback demonstrate that they are aware of the badness of this news. (When Hillary Clinton brought this phenomenon up there was hell to pay, but the facts are the facts.)

Do only 31% of whites have a favorable opinion of Obama because of his race or are blacks (83%) rallying to him only because of his race? Or is there some of both going on? When the actual voting numbers (as opposed to general approval numbers) are examined, Obama gets support of 37% of whites vs. 89% of blacks. That was the polarization which the Clinton team, first indirectly and then directly, harped on.

And there is good reason why the Obama camp is so sensitive. After Reverend Wright, Trinity United, and Father Pfleger the mystique of a post-racial candidate evaporated. And they don’t want further erosion, or the perception to take hold that Obama isn’t a candidate with wide appeal. Whether Obama can construct a coalition of blacks, Hispanics, young voters (whose enthusiasm is waning, we learned), and urban elites remains to be seen. But arguing about a Times article, and thereby highlighting the sore point, probably won’t make things any better. (Maybe they should listen to Jon Stewart on rapid response.)

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On Kagan, Kagan, and Keane

Frederick W. Kagan, Kimberly Kagan, and retired General Jack Keane, who recently returned from Iraq, published an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal.

According to the trio (Michael Totten observes the same developments in his COMMENTARY piece “Is the War Over?”),

All of the most important objectives of the surge have been accomplished in Iraq. The sectarian civil war is ended; al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has been dealt a devastating blow; and the Sadrist militia and other Iranian-backed militant groups have been disrupted.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government has accomplished almost all of the legislative benchmarks set by the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration. More important, it is gaining wider legitimacy among the population. The attention of Iraqis across the country is focused on the upcoming provincial elections, which will be a pivotal moment in Iraq’s development.

They point out that there have been virtually no sectarian killings recorded for the past 10 weeks. The Sunni insurgency, they write, as well as AQI, has been severely disrupted, and the Shiite militias have been broken apart. But they point out that while none of these networks can conduct operations that could seriously destabilize the Iraqi government, “both al Qaeda and the Iranians are working hard to refit their networks.”

Kagan, Kagan, and Keane also wisely warn that

Now is exactly the time to continue the pressure to keep them from regaining their equilibrium. It need not, and probably will not, require large numbers of American casualties to keep this pressure on. But it will require a considerable number of American troops through 2009… While victory in war is never certain until the war is over, the odds are strongly with us for once – provided we do the right thing. That is to stand by our best ally in the war against al Qaeda, and the struggle to contain Iran.

The Kagans and General Keane have an impressive track record when it comes to Iraq. They recognized early on – in fact, soon after the war began — that the Phase IV plan we had in place was badly flawed and needed to be fundamentally revised. And I can testify from my time in the White House that they were key figures in supporting what became known as the surge.

I recall attending their 2006 briefing on how to secure Baghdad at the American Enterprise Institute and reporting back to senior White House aides on their plan, its key features (which included deploying more troops whose mission was to secure the population), and its obvious wisdom. Those in the White House who supported the surge looked to them for guidance and support. We got that, and more (including NSC and Pentagon briefings), in spades.

Because the surge is now almost universally recognized as a success, and perhaps one of even historic proportions, I suspect the plan will have a thousand fathers. But the reality is that the number of people who supported the surge in the difficult days of 2006, when Iraq was in a death spiral and many people were saying it was irredeemably lost, could just about fit in a large phone booth.

The person who deserves the greatest credit for embracing the surge is the President, who at that time was battered and weakened and close to facing a revolt over Iraq in his own party. There are others — including Senators McCain and Lieberman, Steve Hadley, J.D. Crouch, Peter Feaver, Brett McGurk, and Meghan O’Sullivan at the NSC, White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten, and a few others – who were key figures in giving birth to the surge and preventing it from being strangled in its policy crib. But Fred Kagan and Jack Keane, joined by William Kristol, were in particular vital voices outside of government, both publicly and in their private counsel. They were right, and all honor is due them.

Frederick W. Kagan, Kimberly Kagan, and retired General Jack Keane, who recently returned from Iraq, published an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal.

According to the trio (Michael Totten observes the same developments in his COMMENTARY piece “Is the War Over?”),

All of the most important objectives of the surge have been accomplished in Iraq. The sectarian civil war is ended; al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has been dealt a devastating blow; and the Sadrist militia and other Iranian-backed militant groups have been disrupted.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government has accomplished almost all of the legislative benchmarks set by the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration. More important, it is gaining wider legitimacy among the population. The attention of Iraqis across the country is focused on the upcoming provincial elections, which will be a pivotal moment in Iraq’s development.

They point out that there have been virtually no sectarian killings recorded for the past 10 weeks. The Sunni insurgency, they write, as well as AQI, has been severely disrupted, and the Shiite militias have been broken apart. But they point out that while none of these networks can conduct operations that could seriously destabilize the Iraqi government, “both al Qaeda and the Iranians are working hard to refit their networks.”

Kagan, Kagan, and Keane also wisely warn that

Now is exactly the time to continue the pressure to keep them from regaining their equilibrium. It need not, and probably will not, require large numbers of American casualties to keep this pressure on. But it will require a considerable number of American troops through 2009… While victory in war is never certain until the war is over, the odds are strongly with us for once – provided we do the right thing. That is to stand by our best ally in the war against al Qaeda, and the struggle to contain Iran.

The Kagans and General Keane have an impressive track record when it comes to Iraq. They recognized early on – in fact, soon after the war began — that the Phase IV plan we had in place was badly flawed and needed to be fundamentally revised. And I can testify from my time in the White House that they were key figures in supporting what became known as the surge.

I recall attending their 2006 briefing on how to secure Baghdad at the American Enterprise Institute and reporting back to senior White House aides on their plan, its key features (which included deploying more troops whose mission was to secure the population), and its obvious wisdom. Those in the White House who supported the surge looked to them for guidance and support. We got that, and more (including NSC and Pentagon briefings), in spades.

Because the surge is now almost universally recognized as a success, and perhaps one of even historic proportions, I suspect the plan will have a thousand fathers. But the reality is that the number of people who supported the surge in the difficult days of 2006, when Iraq was in a death spiral and many people were saying it was irredeemably lost, could just about fit in a large phone booth.

The person who deserves the greatest credit for embracing the surge is the President, who at that time was battered and weakened and close to facing a revolt over Iraq in his own party. There are others — including Senators McCain and Lieberman, Steve Hadley, J.D. Crouch, Peter Feaver, Brett McGurk, and Meghan O’Sullivan at the NSC, White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten, and a few others – who were key figures in giving birth to the surge and preventing it from being strangled in its policy crib. But Fred Kagan and Jack Keane, joined by William Kristol, were in particular vital voices outside of government, both publicly and in their private counsel. They were right, and all honor is due them.

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Re: Don’t Blink

Consistency is really not the forte of Barack Obama or his cheering section, Abe. We have this today from Andrew Sullivan about the Iraq vs. Afghanistan debate:

I don’t buy a zero sum argument that we cannot do both, but the drain in resources in Iraq cannot be sustained indefinitely, especially as the Taliban seems to be regrouping in parts of Afghanistan.

His point about not sustaining two large fronts indefinitely without adjusting the size of the military is well taken (although John McCain’s answer is to expand our armed forces.) But not “doing both” is the sine qua non of the Obama approach to this issue. At every turn (or at least once in each sentence) he tells us of the distraction of Iraq and the harmful impact our deployment of troops there had and continues to have on Afghanistan.

Perhaps if Obama won’t listen to Michael O’Hanlon or Lee Hamilton or Christopher Hitchens or the Kagans on the subject of Iraq’s impact on the wider war against Al Qaeda, he’ll listen to Andrew. (He reads blogs, you know. Or maybe he doesn’t. Another shift in emphasis perhaps.)

Consistency is really not the forte of Barack Obama or his cheering section, Abe. We have this today from Andrew Sullivan about the Iraq vs. Afghanistan debate:

I don’t buy a zero sum argument that we cannot do both, but the drain in resources in Iraq cannot be sustained indefinitely, especially as the Taliban seems to be regrouping in parts of Afghanistan.

His point about not sustaining two large fronts indefinitely without adjusting the size of the military is well taken (although John McCain’s answer is to expand our armed forces.) But not “doing both” is the sine qua non of the Obama approach to this issue. At every turn (or at least once in each sentence) he tells us of the distraction of Iraq and the harmful impact our deployment of troops there had and continues to have on Afghanistan.

Perhaps if Obama won’t listen to Michael O’Hanlon or Lee Hamilton or Christopher Hitchens or the Kagans on the subject of Iraq’s impact on the wider war against Al Qaeda, he’ll listen to Andrew. (He reads blogs, you know. Or maybe he doesn’t. Another shift in emphasis perhaps.)

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I Agree

I don’t usually agree with editorials in the Financial Times, but I think this editorial is right on: “Stand up to Russia over Georgia.”

I don’t usually agree with editorials in the Financial Times, but I think this editorial is right on: “Stand up to Russia over Georgia.”

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Some Vision . . .

A few weeks before being elected Prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, then acting PM, gave an interview to Ha’aretz where he outlined his vision for Israel’s future under his premiership. In light of today’s exchange of child murderer Samir Kuntar for the bodies of two slain Israeli soldiers, two things stand out. Asked about whether a leader must “give a personal example to his nation,” he said “most definitely.”

Asked about what the future held for Israel, he added,

It will be a country with less external violence and more personal security. A country that is dealing more effectively with the social ills . . . It will be a country that is fun to live in.

How fun will it be tonight in Israel? and what example has Mr. Olmert set for his nation?

A few weeks before being elected Prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, then acting PM, gave an interview to Ha’aretz where he outlined his vision for Israel’s future under his premiership. In light of today’s exchange of child murderer Samir Kuntar for the bodies of two slain Israeli soldiers, two things stand out. Asked about whether a leader must “give a personal example to his nation,” he said “most definitely.”

Asked about what the future held for Israel, he added,

It will be a country with less external violence and more personal security. A country that is dealing more effectively with the social ills . . . It will be a country that is fun to live in.

How fun will it be tonight in Israel? and what example has Mr. Olmert set for his nation?

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Don’t Blink or You’ll Miss It

Is Barack Obama now flip-flopping within a single sentence?

The fact of the matter is on the big issues — ending the war in Iraq, universal health care plan, a tax code that is fair for every American, having a serious plan to deal with this foreclosure crisis, capping the emission of greenhouse gases, increasing fuel efficiency standards on cars, investing in our infrastructure, increasing troops in Iraq, getting serious about a whole host of issues around civil liberties like closing Guantanamo and restoring habeas corpus — on those big issues that are going to determine the future of this country and whether or not ordinary Americans can achieve the American dream, I have been entirely consistent not just during this campaign, but through most of my adult life.

And in a sentence about him being consistent, yet!

Is Barack Obama now flip-flopping within a single sentence?

The fact of the matter is on the big issues — ending the war in Iraq, universal health care plan, a tax code that is fair for every American, having a serious plan to deal with this foreclosure crisis, capping the emission of greenhouse gases, increasing fuel efficiency standards on cars, investing in our infrastructure, increasing troops in Iraq, getting serious about a whole host of issues around civil liberties like closing Guantanamo and restoring habeas corpus — on those big issues that are going to determine the future of this country and whether or not ordinary Americans can achieve the American dream, I have been entirely consistent not just during this campaign, but through most of my adult life.

And in a sentence about him being consistent, yet!

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Homecoming

Few contrasts are as jarring as that between the Israeli expressions of sorrow and angst following today’s prisoner exchange with Hezbollah, and those coming from north of the border. While the Israeli media were full of sympathy with the families of the two soldiers — who came home in coffins — and anger at their government’s having allowed a murderer free in exchange for what turned out to be long-dead soldiers; on the Lebanese side, the return of Samir Kuntar — whose greatest achievement in life was butchering the Haran family in a terror attack in 1979, including a four-year-old girl — was greeted with elation, celebration, and declarations of victory over the Zionist enemy.

In today’s Ynet, veteran commentator Ron Ben-Yishai responds to this contrast, and sends his own personal message to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Even your foolish followers know that the Kuntar festival, which is taking place now in Beirut, is another classic media spin meant to retroactively justify the disaster brought upon Lebanon by your misjudgment and arrogance . . . No celebration or rally and no impassioned speech will cover up the deaths of more than a 1,000 Lebanese civilians and hundreds of your loyal and skilled men, who were killed in this needless war, which ultimately benefited Israel no less than damaging it.

Ben-Yishai goes on to enumerate the benefits Israel gained from the war — most notably the discovery of how mismanaged the military was, and the opportunity to fix it, and concludes with a warning to Kuntar: Pay attention to how other terrorists, who seem to get away with the worst of crimes, often end up dying unnatural deaths. It’s not the most elegant of endings, but it offers a snapshot of the raw emotions prevailing in Israel on a day in which open wounds were opened further still.

Few contrasts are as jarring as that between the Israeli expressions of sorrow and angst following today’s prisoner exchange with Hezbollah, and those coming from north of the border. While the Israeli media were full of sympathy with the families of the two soldiers — who came home in coffins — and anger at their government’s having allowed a murderer free in exchange for what turned out to be long-dead soldiers; on the Lebanese side, the return of Samir Kuntar — whose greatest achievement in life was butchering the Haran family in a terror attack in 1979, including a four-year-old girl — was greeted with elation, celebration, and declarations of victory over the Zionist enemy.

In today’s Ynet, veteran commentator Ron Ben-Yishai responds to this contrast, and sends his own personal message to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Even your foolish followers know that the Kuntar festival, which is taking place now in Beirut, is another classic media spin meant to retroactively justify the disaster brought upon Lebanon by your misjudgment and arrogance . . . No celebration or rally and no impassioned speech will cover up the deaths of more than a 1,000 Lebanese civilians and hundreds of your loyal and skilled men, who were killed in this needless war, which ultimately benefited Israel no less than damaging it.

Ben-Yishai goes on to enumerate the benefits Israel gained from the war — most notably the discovery of how mismanaged the military was, and the opportunity to fix it, and concludes with a warning to Kuntar: Pay attention to how other terrorists, who seem to get away with the worst of crimes, often end up dying unnatural deaths. It’s not the most elegant of endings, but it offers a snapshot of the raw emotions prevailing in Israel on a day in which open wounds were opened further still.

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Iraq and Afghanistan

John McCain tried yesterday to argue that Barack Obama is setting up a false choice between Iraq and Afghanistan. Christopher Hitchens does a better job of it today, explaining “any attempt to play off the two wars against each other is little more than a small-minded and zero-sum exercise.” Hitchens argues that the problem of Afghanistan is not one of simply too few troops which might be eased by shifting troops from elsewhere. And then he concludes:

Another consideration obtrudes itself. If it is true, as yesterday’s three-decker front-page headline in the New York Times had it, that “U.S. Considering Stepping Up Pace of Iraq Pullout/ Fall in Violence Cited/ More Troops Could Be Freed for Operations in Afghanistan,” then this can only be because al-Qaida in Iraq has been subjected to a battlefield defeat at our hands—a military defeat accompanied by a political humiliation in which its fanatics have been angrily repudiated by the very people they falsely claimed to be fighting for. If we had left Iraq according to the timetable of the anti-war movement, the situation would be the precise reverse: The Iraqi people would now be excruciatingly tyrannized by the gloating sadists of al-Qaida, who could further boast of having inflicted a battlefield defeat on the United States. I dare say the word of that would have spread to Afghanistan fast enough and, indeed, to other places where the enemy operates. Bear this in mind next time you hear any easy talk about “the hunt for the real enemy” or any loose babble that suggests that we can only confront our foes in one place at a time.

That, I think, is what Obama would do well to address if he is really trying to set a reasoned national security policy (and not just calm his netroot base while maintaining the veneer of credibility on national security). Does he think we can afford to let Iraq slip back into chaos? And what is he prepared to do to prevent that from happening, if he acknowledges that there are dire consequences which would arise from our departing Iraq prematurely? He hasn’t gone near that yet, and pundits are starting to wonder. That was what had the Washington Post editors fretting today.

Perhaps Obama’s attention will be focused when he goes to Iraq later this month, although I may be too optimistic. An Iraqi official may be closer to the truth: “The issue of Iraq is important and a key issue in the U.S. elections. . . . But I think his visit just represents election propaganda.” Let’s hope not. Let’s hope he thinks more seriously about the impact of the outcome in Iraq not just on Afghanistan but on our interests throughout the Middle East and the world at large.

But it is an election after all. So today the opposing camps picked up where we left off. The Obama team had its call contending McCain has no plan for Afghanistan or has flip-flopped. (The latter charge I really don’t understand since McCain has been rather dogged on Iraq and Afghanistan, and will test how credible an offense you must have to serve as a good defense.). More credibly, they raise the issue of the need for a large military and the desire to balance the budget. McCain’s tea, in response, sent around some press reviews:

I think it has hurt him… The surge was a success. It’s widely accepted as a success, has moved politics along in Iraq. But what they did was they took his criticism of the surge off the web page. What it feeds into is that notion that Barack Obama’s just another sort of politician and they know they have to be careful about that because he’s running as something very different.

–Candy Crowley, CNN, 8:02 AM, 07/16/08

… [F]rankly, I think it was a big mistake to give the speech before he went… Not only does it open him to ridicule from McCain saying ‘you know, you haven’t even been to Afghanistan, you haven’t met with General Petraeus, you missed hearings on Afghanistan,’ but it boxes him in policy-wise. Because here he is saying, I want to withdraw from Iraq responsibly…and we know from what commanders are saying on the ground already…saying it is very dangerous, quote, unquote, to impose a timetable…he gave this major policy speech today and when he comes back, it doesn’t leave him a lot of wiggle room to adjust to his policies.

Nina Easton, FOX News, 6:41 PM, 07/15/08

A funny thing happened over on the Barack Obama campaign website in the last few days. The parts that stressed his opposition to the 2007 troop surge and his statement that more troops would make no difference in a civil war have somehow disappeared… some might see the updating as part of Obama’s skip to the political center now that he’s secured the Democratic nomination.

–Andrew Malcolm, Los Angeles Times, 07/16/08

Obama has struggled in recent weeks to explain his call for an Iraq withdrawal in the face of military gains. His campaign removed from its Web site his strongest criticisms of the troop increases, now acknowledging ‘an improved security situation’… McCain has leapt to the attack, accusing Obama of refusing to acknowledge facts on the ground.

–Carolyn Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle, 07/16/08

You get the point.

John McCain tried yesterday to argue that Barack Obama is setting up a false choice between Iraq and Afghanistan. Christopher Hitchens does a better job of it today, explaining “any attempt to play off the two wars against each other is little more than a small-minded and zero-sum exercise.” Hitchens argues that the problem of Afghanistan is not one of simply too few troops which might be eased by shifting troops from elsewhere. And then he concludes:

Another consideration obtrudes itself. If it is true, as yesterday’s three-decker front-page headline in the New York Times had it, that “U.S. Considering Stepping Up Pace of Iraq Pullout/ Fall in Violence Cited/ More Troops Could Be Freed for Operations in Afghanistan,” then this can only be because al-Qaida in Iraq has been subjected to a battlefield defeat at our hands—a military defeat accompanied by a political humiliation in which its fanatics have been angrily repudiated by the very people they falsely claimed to be fighting for. If we had left Iraq according to the timetable of the anti-war movement, the situation would be the precise reverse: The Iraqi people would now be excruciatingly tyrannized by the gloating sadists of al-Qaida, who could further boast of having inflicted a battlefield defeat on the United States. I dare say the word of that would have spread to Afghanistan fast enough and, indeed, to other places where the enemy operates. Bear this in mind next time you hear any easy talk about “the hunt for the real enemy” or any loose babble that suggests that we can only confront our foes in one place at a time.

That, I think, is what Obama would do well to address if he is really trying to set a reasoned national security policy (and not just calm his netroot base while maintaining the veneer of credibility on national security). Does he think we can afford to let Iraq slip back into chaos? And what is he prepared to do to prevent that from happening, if he acknowledges that there are dire consequences which would arise from our departing Iraq prematurely? He hasn’t gone near that yet, and pundits are starting to wonder. That was what had the Washington Post editors fretting today.

Perhaps Obama’s attention will be focused when he goes to Iraq later this month, although I may be too optimistic. An Iraqi official may be closer to the truth: “The issue of Iraq is important and a key issue in the U.S. elections. . . . But I think his visit just represents election propaganda.” Let’s hope not. Let’s hope he thinks more seriously about the impact of the outcome in Iraq not just on Afghanistan but on our interests throughout the Middle East and the world at large.

But it is an election after all. So today the opposing camps picked up where we left off. The Obama team had its call contending McCain has no plan for Afghanistan or has flip-flopped. (The latter charge I really don’t understand since McCain has been rather dogged on Iraq and Afghanistan, and will test how credible an offense you must have to serve as a good defense.). More credibly, they raise the issue of the need for a large military and the desire to balance the budget. McCain’s tea, in response, sent around some press reviews:

I think it has hurt him… The surge was a success. It’s widely accepted as a success, has moved politics along in Iraq. But what they did was they took his criticism of the surge off the web page. What it feeds into is that notion that Barack Obama’s just another sort of politician and they know they have to be careful about that because he’s running as something very different.

–Candy Crowley, CNN, 8:02 AM, 07/16/08

… [F]rankly, I think it was a big mistake to give the speech before he went… Not only does it open him to ridicule from McCain saying ‘you know, you haven’t even been to Afghanistan, you haven’t met with General Petraeus, you missed hearings on Afghanistan,’ but it boxes him in policy-wise. Because here he is saying, I want to withdraw from Iraq responsibly…and we know from what commanders are saying on the ground already…saying it is very dangerous, quote, unquote, to impose a timetable…he gave this major policy speech today and when he comes back, it doesn’t leave him a lot of wiggle room to adjust to his policies.

Nina Easton, FOX News, 6:41 PM, 07/15/08

A funny thing happened over on the Barack Obama campaign website in the last few days. The parts that stressed his opposition to the 2007 troop surge and his statement that more troops would make no difference in a civil war have somehow disappeared… some might see the updating as part of Obama’s skip to the political center now that he’s secured the Democratic nomination.

–Andrew Malcolm, Los Angeles Times, 07/16/08

Obama has struggled in recent weeks to explain his call for an Iraq withdrawal in the face of military gains. His campaign removed from its Web site his strongest criticisms of the troop increases, now acknowledging ‘an improved security situation’… McCain has leapt to the attack, accusing Obama of refusing to acknowledge facts on the ground.

–Carolyn Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle, 07/16/08

You get the point.

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We’ve Been Engaging, and Engaging, and Engaging

The whole debate on whether or not to talk to Iran is based on a misconception: namely, that the Bush administration has refused to engage Tehran diplomatically. Today’s New York Times keeps the myth going strong:

The decision by the Bush administration to send a senior American official to participate in international talks with Iran this weekend reflects a double policy shift in the struggle to resolve the impasse over the country’s nuclear program.

Is Condoleezza Rice senior enough? Because over a year ago the New York Times reported the following about the Secretary of State’s thoughts on talking face-to-face with Iranian officials during an upcoming conference in Egypt:

Ms. Rice said today that she could hold talks with Iranian government officials on the sidelines of the meeting, but she emphasized that the main thrust of the talks there would be discussion of how to stabilizing Iraq.

“I would not rule it out,” Ms. Rice said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” today, referring to a possible meeting with Iranian representatives. “We will be there, not to talk about U.S.-Iranian issues, but to talk about Iraq, and how Iraq’s neighbors can help to stabilize Iraq. And I won’t rule it out.”

[…]

Ms. Rice did not specifically rule out discussing the nuclear issue with the Iranians at the meeting in Egypt, but she said in the television interview that the proper conduit for such discussions was the European Union‘s representative, Javier Solana.

This must be that calcified foreign policy arrogance Barack Obama keeps mentioning. If only it were true that the Bush administration had taken a stubborn stance with Iran these past years. Instead they’ve committed themselves to the same fatal error that’s characterized preceding Republican and Democrat administrations: treating Iran like a classically motivated nation-state instead of the world’s most formidable doomsday cult.

And now undersecretary of state for political affairs William J. Burns will head to Geneva for Iranian talks presided over by none other than the very Javier Solana to whom Condoleezza Rice referred last year, pushing this ridiculous tradition through to the end of Bush presidency. The mullahs always relish the opportunity to imitate reasonable actors. The U.S. will once again provide a stage for the kind of show diplomacy that has bought Tehran years of nuclear development. Contra the New York Times, no policy “shift” is in the offing.

The whole debate on whether or not to talk to Iran is based on a misconception: namely, that the Bush administration has refused to engage Tehran diplomatically. Today’s New York Times keeps the myth going strong:

The decision by the Bush administration to send a senior American official to participate in international talks with Iran this weekend reflects a double policy shift in the struggle to resolve the impasse over the country’s nuclear program.

Is Condoleezza Rice senior enough? Because over a year ago the New York Times reported the following about the Secretary of State’s thoughts on talking face-to-face with Iranian officials during an upcoming conference in Egypt:

Ms. Rice said today that she could hold talks with Iranian government officials on the sidelines of the meeting, but she emphasized that the main thrust of the talks there would be discussion of how to stabilizing Iraq.

“I would not rule it out,” Ms. Rice said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” today, referring to a possible meeting with Iranian representatives. “We will be there, not to talk about U.S.-Iranian issues, but to talk about Iraq, and how Iraq’s neighbors can help to stabilize Iraq. And I won’t rule it out.”

[…]

Ms. Rice did not specifically rule out discussing the nuclear issue with the Iranians at the meeting in Egypt, but she said in the television interview that the proper conduit for such discussions was the European Union‘s representative, Javier Solana.

This must be that calcified foreign policy arrogance Barack Obama keeps mentioning. If only it were true that the Bush administration had taken a stubborn stance with Iran these past years. Instead they’ve committed themselves to the same fatal error that’s characterized preceding Republican and Democrat administrations: treating Iran like a classically motivated nation-state instead of the world’s most formidable doomsday cult.

And now undersecretary of state for political affairs William J. Burns will head to Geneva for Iranian talks presided over by none other than the very Javier Solana to whom Condoleezza Rice referred last year, pushing this ridiculous tradition through to the end of Bush presidency. The mullahs always relish the opportunity to imitate reasonable actors. The U.S. will once again provide a stage for the kind of show diplomacy that has bought Tehran years of nuclear development. Contra the New York Times, no policy “shift” is in the offing.

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Olmert’s Graft

Today, Israel exchanged Samir Kuntar and other terrorists for two dead soldiers. Another deal brokered by Olmert, with Israel’s enemies, in an attempt to save his political skin. After this, and his recent declaration that “we have never been as close to the possibility of reaching an [peace] agreement,” one can only conclude that he is delusional, self-interested and egomaniacal—but who realized it was to such a disturbing degree? And it’s difficult to imagine Olmert stepping aside. He’s so politically damaged that he could never recover by leaving the political scene now. Instead, it seems that he’s hoping to polish his legacy.

Which is terrible. As veteran COMMENTARY contributor Hillel Halkin writes in the New York Sun:

[Olmert] genuinely seems to believe that if he can convince Israel’s police or attorney general that he “only” broke a few electoral financing laws and wasn’t involved in personal graft, or “only” double or triple-billed various organizations for his travel expenses without pocketing the extra money for himself — two “onlies,” it must be said, that are looking highly unlikely — he is perfectly qualified to remain in office. If he hasn’t done anything that would have landed him in jail as a private individual, why should his public life have to suffer?

New York State Senator George Washington Plunkitt famously said, “Nobody thinks of drawin’ the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft … There’s an honest graft, and I’m an example of how it works.” If Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert muttered substantively the same lines, I might half-forgive him. But his problem is that he won’t even come close to admitting his indiscretions. Instead, he plunges into political deals of dubious tactical and strategical value. Plunkitt’s quotation, from above, continues:

I see my opportunity and I take it. I go to that place and I buy up all the land I can in the neighborhood. Then the board of this or that makes its plan public, and there is a rush to get my land, which nobody cared particular for.

Ain’t it perfectly honest to charge a good price and make a profit on my investment and foresight? Of course, it is. Well, that’s honest graft and I’m lookin’ for it every day in the year. I will tell you frankly that I’ve got a good lot of it, too.

Plunkitt’s virtue was that he came forward and admitted his own corruption. Olmert’s vice is his complete inability to do the same–and the Israeli electorate’s passivity isn’t helping.

Today, Israel exchanged Samir Kuntar and other terrorists for two dead soldiers. Another deal brokered by Olmert, with Israel’s enemies, in an attempt to save his political skin. After this, and his recent declaration that “we have never been as close to the possibility of reaching an [peace] agreement,” one can only conclude that he is delusional, self-interested and egomaniacal—but who realized it was to such a disturbing degree? And it’s difficult to imagine Olmert stepping aside. He’s so politically damaged that he could never recover by leaving the political scene now. Instead, it seems that he’s hoping to polish his legacy.

Which is terrible. As veteran COMMENTARY contributor Hillel Halkin writes in the New York Sun:

[Olmert] genuinely seems to believe that if he can convince Israel’s police or attorney general that he “only” broke a few electoral financing laws and wasn’t involved in personal graft, or “only” double or triple-billed various organizations for his travel expenses without pocketing the extra money for himself — two “onlies,” it must be said, that are looking highly unlikely — he is perfectly qualified to remain in office. If he hasn’t done anything that would have landed him in jail as a private individual, why should his public life have to suffer?

New York State Senator George Washington Plunkitt famously said, “Nobody thinks of drawin’ the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft … There’s an honest graft, and I’m an example of how it works.” If Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert muttered substantively the same lines, I might half-forgive him. But his problem is that he won’t even come close to admitting his indiscretions. Instead, he plunges into political deals of dubious tactical and strategical value. Plunkitt’s quotation, from above, continues:

I see my opportunity and I take it. I go to that place and I buy up all the land I can in the neighborhood. Then the board of this or that makes its plan public, and there is a rush to get my land, which nobody cared particular for.

Ain’t it perfectly honest to charge a good price and make a profit on my investment and foresight? Of course, it is. Well, that’s honest graft and I’m lookin’ for it every day in the year. I will tell you frankly that I’ve got a good lot of it, too.

Plunkitt’s virtue was that he came forward and admitted his own corruption. Olmert’s vice is his complete inability to do the same–and the Israeli electorate’s passivity isn’t helping.

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Popularity Ain’t What She Used to Be

Barack Obama loves to tell us that he’ll repair relations with our allies and make America loved again. Well, aside from the fact he’s already knocking china off the shelf and upsetting our friends, there is reason to question what he really has in mind and what he is going to do to earn praise from around the planet.

In a must-read column, Thomas Friedman makes the argument that there are more important things than earning applause or making ourselves inconspicuous. He writes:

Maybe Asians, Europeans, Latin Americans and Africans don’t like a world of too much American power — “Mr. Big” got a little too big for them. But how would they like a world of too little American power? With America’s overextended military and overextended banks, that is the world into which we may be heading. Welcome to a world of too much Russian and Chinese power. I am neither a Russia-basher nor a China-basher. But there was something truly filthy about Russia’s and China’s vetoes of the American-led U.N. Security Council effort to impose targeted sanctions on Robert Mugabe’s ruling clique in Zimbabwe.

After a much needed recap of the latest U.N. circus and the vile behavior it thereby permitted to continue in Zimbabwe, Friedman gets to the nub of the matter:

Which brings me back to America. Perfect we are not, but America still has some moral backbone. There are travesties we will not tolerate. The U.N. vote on Zimbabwe demonstrates that this is not true for these “popular” countries — called Russia or China or South Africa — who have no problem siding with a man who is pulverizing his own people.So, yes, we’re not so popular in Europe and Asia anymore. I guess they would prefer a world in which America was weaker, where leaders with the values of Vladimir Putin and Thabo Mbeki had a greater say, and where the desperate voices for change in Zimbabwe would, well, just shut up.

It brings to mind Obama’s warning that Hillary Clinton’s vow to bomb Iran if it launched a nuclear attack on Israel would just drum up “sympathy” for Iran at the U.N. So she would should, Obama argued, pipe down. If earning kudos at the U.N. and avoiding the ire of tin-pot dictators is our aim, Obama certainly will mark a change in our foreign policy, and not one for the better.

And that I think is what is troubling about Obama’s formulation — that we have somehow made it oh-so-hard to be loved by the world. If we are really looking out for our own and the world’s best interests, we are going to ask our allies to do things they had rather not — like contribute more troops to Afghanistan and draw the line with tyrants and bullies. And we’re going to do a whole lot of things that our adversaries don’t like, such as impose sanctions and use military force when needed. That doesn’t mean we can’t be constructive, cooperative, and cordial in getting our allies on board, or go the extra mile to avoid military conflict with our foes. But this notion that we can get everyone to like us by simply sending George W. Bush into retirement is hooey.

We can and should be firm (like which world leaders we will meet with), predictable (with regard to seeing through our military and moral commitments in a war, for instance), respectful of our agreements (trade agreements, even) and look for common ground. But unless we put our own interests on the back burner and allow the world to run amok, as Friedman puts it, a lot of countries aren’t going to like what we’re doing. And being resented or even disliked? Not always a bad thing.

Barack Obama loves to tell us that he’ll repair relations with our allies and make America loved again. Well, aside from the fact he’s already knocking china off the shelf and upsetting our friends, there is reason to question what he really has in mind and what he is going to do to earn praise from around the planet.

In a must-read column, Thomas Friedman makes the argument that there are more important things than earning applause or making ourselves inconspicuous. He writes:

Maybe Asians, Europeans, Latin Americans and Africans don’t like a world of too much American power — “Mr. Big” got a little too big for them. But how would they like a world of too little American power? With America’s overextended military and overextended banks, that is the world into which we may be heading. Welcome to a world of too much Russian and Chinese power. I am neither a Russia-basher nor a China-basher. But there was something truly filthy about Russia’s and China’s vetoes of the American-led U.N. Security Council effort to impose targeted sanctions on Robert Mugabe’s ruling clique in Zimbabwe.

After a much needed recap of the latest U.N. circus and the vile behavior it thereby permitted to continue in Zimbabwe, Friedman gets to the nub of the matter:

Which brings me back to America. Perfect we are not, but America still has some moral backbone. There are travesties we will not tolerate. The U.N. vote on Zimbabwe demonstrates that this is not true for these “popular” countries — called Russia or China or South Africa — who have no problem siding with a man who is pulverizing his own people.So, yes, we’re not so popular in Europe and Asia anymore. I guess they would prefer a world in which America was weaker, where leaders with the values of Vladimir Putin and Thabo Mbeki had a greater say, and where the desperate voices for change in Zimbabwe would, well, just shut up.

It brings to mind Obama’s warning that Hillary Clinton’s vow to bomb Iran if it launched a nuclear attack on Israel would just drum up “sympathy” for Iran at the U.N. So she would should, Obama argued, pipe down. If earning kudos at the U.N. and avoiding the ire of tin-pot dictators is our aim, Obama certainly will mark a change in our foreign policy, and not one for the better.

And that I think is what is troubling about Obama’s formulation — that we have somehow made it oh-so-hard to be loved by the world. If we are really looking out for our own and the world’s best interests, we are going to ask our allies to do things they had rather not — like contribute more troops to Afghanistan and draw the line with tyrants and bullies. And we’re going to do a whole lot of things that our adversaries don’t like, such as impose sanctions and use military force when needed. That doesn’t mean we can’t be constructive, cooperative, and cordial in getting our allies on board, or go the extra mile to avoid military conflict with our foes. But this notion that we can get everyone to like us by simply sending George W. Bush into retirement is hooey.

We can and should be firm (like which world leaders we will meet with), predictable (with regard to seeing through our military and moral commitments in a war, for instance), respectful of our agreements (trade agreements, even) and look for common ground. But unless we put our own interests on the back burner and allow the world to run amok, as Friedman puts it, a lot of countries aren’t going to like what we’re doing. And being resented or even disliked? Not always a bad thing.

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Adios Afghanistan

According to Barack Obama’s own logic and criteria, it’s high time the U.S. gets out of Afghanistan. On Tuesday, Obama said

This war diminishes our security, our standing in the world, our military, our economy, and the resources that we need to confront the challenges of the 21st century.

He was talking about the war in Iraq. But every item in his indictment could just as easily apply to the Afghanistan conflict.

Diminishes our security. May and June of this year saw more U.S. troop deaths in Afghanistan than in Iraq. This past Sunday, nine American soldiers were killed in a Taliban attack in Kunar province. With American troops getting killed in increasing numbers and our enemy, the Taliban, finding surer footing and more solicitous regional allies, we are looking at the very definition of decreased American security.

Our standing in the world. When the planet’s lone superpower swoops into a wretched country bringing 30,000 exquisitely trained troops and hundreds of billions in state-of-the-art weaponry, and can’t defeat a band of mountain fighters after more than six years, people notice. In 2001, the U.S. went into Afghanistan promising to achieve what the British and the Soviet superpowers could not: victory over the ragtag warriors of the Hindu Kush. Both America’s friends and enemies are keenly aware that the promise remains unfulfilled and they are calibrating accordingly.

Our military. With over 30,000 Americans sent, and thousands more on the way, Afghanistan is obviously making enormous demands on our armed forces.

Our economy. So far, we’ve sunk a staggering $200 billion into the war in Afghanistan with virtually no financial return in terms of industry, labor, or resources. This is to say nothing of the vast increase in humanitarian aid to that country since the war began.

The parallels above only follow from the most recent and readily available iteration of Obama’s anti-Iraq argument. We can find much more extrapolative support for “ending” the Afghanistan War if we consider a larger sample of Obama’s Iraq talking points. Take this assertion from September 2007:

The best way to protect our security and to pressure Iraq’s leaders to resolve their civil war is to immediately begin to remove our combat troops.

If immediate withdrawal was the best way to inspire Iraqis to sort out their own bloody differences, does that not hold for Afghans? After all, we’ve been in Afghanistan longer than in Iraq and the question of civil war there is so academic it’s not even questioned.

By staying on this long, are we not broadcasting our willingness to do the Afghans’ hard work for them? Why have no benchmarks been drawn up to gauge Afghan progress and hasten our exit?

In July 2007, Obama said, the risks of increasing violence in Iraq “are even greater if we continue to occupy Iraq and serve as a magnet for not only terrorist activity but also irresponsible behavior by Iraqi factions.” If he’s worried about American presence as a “terrorist magnet,” then he has yet another reason to want out of Afghanistan. On July 10, the New York Times reported that jihadists have recently been flocking to the tribal areas of Pakistan, “seeking to take up arms against the West,” — namely coalition forces in Afghanistan. Why not leave?

Of course, Barack Obama has referred to “the distraction of the war in Iraq at a time when we could have pinned down the people who actually committed 9/11.” But the people who “committed 9/11″ are, by all reputable accounts, not in Afghanistan. The surviving few are in Pakistan. And though Obama likes to conflate a troop increase in Afghanistan with a plan to take control of Pakistan’s tribal region, the two are not the same. He simply has no plan for the latter.

Though one might argue that the U.S. has a humanitarian obligation to see the Afghans through to the other side of their struggle, Barack Obama feels differently about such things. In 2007, the AP reported

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Thursday the United States cannot use its military to solve humanitarian problems and that preventing a potential genocide in Iraq isn’t a good enough reason to keep U.S. forces there.

The carnage in Afghanistan doesn’t even qualify as genocide so it is certainly beyond America’s military mandate to stay for the sake of subduing such a relatively small level of violence .

From the tactical to the strategic to the ethical, Barack Obama’s own words on Iraq form a comprehensive argument for bringing the Afghanistan War to a close. However, because Obama was wrong about Iraq it would be wrong to apply his heuristic to Afghanistan. As time has proved, most of what he cited in his opposition to the Iraq War were time-sensitive challenges, not enduring obstacles. The rest of his objections represent a worrisome lack of ideology on matters of statecraft and ethics. We should, of course, stay in Afghanistan because the Taliban are our sworn enemy and because Afghans deserve a future free of tyranny.

While his mistaken judgment on Iraq makes a strong case for staying in Afghanistan, one question remains: Why does Obama himself seem so enthusiastic about continuing the fight against the Taliban?

Barack Obama has banked a good deal of his political fortune on failure in Iraq. If Iraq is no longer a demonstrable failure, he hopes to still label it a distraction. To make that case, he needs Afghanistan to be the great abandoned cause. But if his past pronouncements are anything to go by, it is a President Obama who will abandon the challenge of Afghanistan’s liberation the first chance he gets.

According to Barack Obama’s own logic and criteria, it’s high time the U.S. gets out of Afghanistan. On Tuesday, Obama said

This war diminishes our security, our standing in the world, our military, our economy, and the resources that we need to confront the challenges of the 21st century.

He was talking about the war in Iraq. But every item in his indictment could just as easily apply to the Afghanistan conflict.

Diminishes our security. May and June of this year saw more U.S. troop deaths in Afghanistan than in Iraq. This past Sunday, nine American soldiers were killed in a Taliban attack in Kunar province. With American troops getting killed in increasing numbers and our enemy, the Taliban, finding surer footing and more solicitous regional allies, we are looking at the very definition of decreased American security.

Our standing in the world. When the planet’s lone superpower swoops into a wretched country bringing 30,000 exquisitely trained troops and hundreds of billions in state-of-the-art weaponry, and can’t defeat a band of mountain fighters after more than six years, people notice. In 2001, the U.S. went into Afghanistan promising to achieve what the British and the Soviet superpowers could not: victory over the ragtag warriors of the Hindu Kush. Both America’s friends and enemies are keenly aware that the promise remains unfulfilled and they are calibrating accordingly.

Our military. With over 30,000 Americans sent, and thousands more on the way, Afghanistan is obviously making enormous demands on our armed forces.

Our economy. So far, we’ve sunk a staggering $200 billion into the war in Afghanistan with virtually no financial return in terms of industry, labor, or resources. This is to say nothing of the vast increase in humanitarian aid to that country since the war began.

The parallels above only follow from the most recent and readily available iteration of Obama’s anti-Iraq argument. We can find much more extrapolative support for “ending” the Afghanistan War if we consider a larger sample of Obama’s Iraq talking points. Take this assertion from September 2007:

The best way to protect our security and to pressure Iraq’s leaders to resolve their civil war is to immediately begin to remove our combat troops.

If immediate withdrawal was the best way to inspire Iraqis to sort out their own bloody differences, does that not hold for Afghans? After all, we’ve been in Afghanistan longer than in Iraq and the question of civil war there is so academic it’s not even questioned.

By staying on this long, are we not broadcasting our willingness to do the Afghans’ hard work for them? Why have no benchmarks been drawn up to gauge Afghan progress and hasten our exit?

In July 2007, Obama said, the risks of increasing violence in Iraq “are even greater if we continue to occupy Iraq and serve as a magnet for not only terrorist activity but also irresponsible behavior by Iraqi factions.” If he’s worried about American presence as a “terrorist magnet,” then he has yet another reason to want out of Afghanistan. On July 10, the New York Times reported that jihadists have recently been flocking to the tribal areas of Pakistan, “seeking to take up arms against the West,” — namely coalition forces in Afghanistan. Why not leave?

Of course, Barack Obama has referred to “the distraction of the war in Iraq at a time when we could have pinned down the people who actually committed 9/11.” But the people who “committed 9/11″ are, by all reputable accounts, not in Afghanistan. The surviving few are in Pakistan. And though Obama likes to conflate a troop increase in Afghanistan with a plan to take control of Pakistan’s tribal region, the two are not the same. He simply has no plan for the latter.

Though one might argue that the U.S. has a humanitarian obligation to see the Afghans through to the other side of their struggle, Barack Obama feels differently about such things. In 2007, the AP reported

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Thursday the United States cannot use its military to solve humanitarian problems and that preventing a potential genocide in Iraq isn’t a good enough reason to keep U.S. forces there.

The carnage in Afghanistan doesn’t even qualify as genocide so it is certainly beyond America’s military mandate to stay for the sake of subduing such a relatively small level of violence .

From the tactical to the strategic to the ethical, Barack Obama’s own words on Iraq form a comprehensive argument for bringing the Afghanistan War to a close. However, because Obama was wrong about Iraq it would be wrong to apply his heuristic to Afghanistan. As time has proved, most of what he cited in his opposition to the Iraq War were time-sensitive challenges, not enduring obstacles. The rest of his objections represent a worrisome lack of ideology on matters of statecraft and ethics. We should, of course, stay in Afghanistan because the Taliban are our sworn enemy and because Afghans deserve a future free of tyranny.

While his mistaken judgment on Iraq makes a strong case for staying in Afghanistan, one question remains: Why does Obama himself seem so enthusiastic about continuing the fight against the Taliban?

Barack Obama has banked a good deal of his political fortune on failure in Iraq. If Iraq is no longer a demonstrable failure, he hopes to still label it a distraction. To make that case, he needs Afghanistan to be the great abandoned cause. But if his past pronouncements are anything to go by, it is a President Obama who will abandon the challenge of Afghanistan’s liberation the first chance he gets.

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Now That’s Funny!

Can His Changeliness tolerate humor? (Even Maureen Dowd thinks he should lighten up.) Well, this should help. The Obama portion of the latest Jib-Jab offering is better than any negative ad you are likely to see this campaign season. (And if you think they are kidding about Hillary’s impending return –think again. She’s already squirreling away money for 2012, just in case.)

But as Dowd observed, the “Ye shall not mock” directive is part of the cultic celebration of Obama (which the candidate has encouraged). Even friendly comics have observed their audiences’ aversion to laughing at Obama’s expense.

This is all, of course, part of the grave awe and reverence with which we are to regard Obama. He is no mere politician. He’s the Agent of Change. Michael Medved wonders: “How can intelligent and responsible people fall for this mass hysteria over a politician whose only real accomplishment in 47 years of living has been to build up the mass hysteria and messianic expectations surrounding this campaign?” Well, if you have to ask, you’ll never know. (Obviously.) But when a refusal to be mocked (and the campaign’s main slogan) become the subject of mocking, then perhaps the spell is lifting.

Can His Changeliness tolerate humor? (Even Maureen Dowd thinks he should lighten up.) Well, this should help. The Obama portion of the latest Jib-Jab offering is better than any negative ad you are likely to see this campaign season. (And if you think they are kidding about Hillary’s impending return –think again. She’s already squirreling away money for 2012, just in case.)

But as Dowd observed, the “Ye shall not mock” directive is part of the cultic celebration of Obama (which the candidate has encouraged). Even friendly comics have observed their audiences’ aversion to laughing at Obama’s expense.

This is all, of course, part of the grave awe and reverence with which we are to regard Obama. He is no mere politician. He’s the Agent of Change. Michael Medved wonders: “How can intelligent and responsible people fall for this mass hysteria over a politician whose only real accomplishment in 47 years of living has been to build up the mass hysteria and messianic expectations surrounding this campaign?” Well, if you have to ask, you’ll never know. (Obviously.) But when a refusal to be mocked (and the campaign’s main slogan) become the subject of mocking, then perhaps the spell is lifting.

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Is the War Over?

Independent reporter Michael Yon has spent more time in Iraq embedded with combat soldiers than any other journalist in the world, and a few days ago he boldly declared the war over:

Barring any major and unexpected developments (like an Israeli air strike on Iran and the retaliations that would follow), a fair-minded person could say with reasonable certainty that the war has ended. A new and better nation is growing legs. What’s left is messy politics that likely will be punctuated by low-level violence and the occasional spectacular attack. Yet, the will of the Iraqi people has changed, and the Iraqi military has dramatically improved, so those spectacular attacks are diminishing along with the regular violence. Now it’s time to rebuild the country, and create a pluralistic, stable and peaceful Iraq. That will be long, hard work. But by my estimation, the Iraq War is over. We won. Which means the Iraqi people won.

I’m reluctant to say “the war has ended,” as he did, but everything else he wrote is undoubtedly true. The war in Iraq is all but over right now, and it will be officially over if the current trends in violence continue their downward slide. That is a mathematical fact.

If you doubt it, look at the data.

Read the rest of the COMMENTARY web exclusive here.

Independent reporter Michael Yon has spent more time in Iraq embedded with combat soldiers than any other journalist in the world, and a few days ago he boldly declared the war over:

Barring any major and unexpected developments (like an Israeli air strike on Iran and the retaliations that would follow), a fair-minded person could say with reasonable certainty that the war has ended. A new and better nation is growing legs. What’s left is messy politics that likely will be punctuated by low-level violence and the occasional spectacular attack. Yet, the will of the Iraqi people has changed, and the Iraqi military has dramatically improved, so those spectacular attacks are diminishing along with the regular violence. Now it’s time to rebuild the country, and create a pluralistic, stable and peaceful Iraq. That will be long, hard work. But by my estimation, the Iraq War is over. We won. Which means the Iraqi people won.

I’m reluctant to say “the war has ended,” as he did, but everything else he wrote is undoubtedly true. The war in Iraq is all but over right now, and it will be officially over if the current trends in violence continue their downward slide. That is a mathematical fact.

If you doubt it, look at the data.

Read the rest of the COMMENTARY web exclusive here.

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Re: More On Jerusalem and Realism

John, Richman’s fine piece left me scratching my head, which I suspect I will do more of as I try to follow the bouncing ball of Barack Obama’s policy announcements.

So is the real Obama position the one Richman sketches out? If yes, it is the polar opposite of the position outlined in the AIPAC speech. It seems positively Clintonian to go and give an impassioned address advocating the exact opposite of what you really want to do. Or has he migrated in views and now has some mushy middle? The Wall Street Journal quotes former Israeli negotiator Daniel Levy, who opines: “One hopes he isn’t going to be hounded on the Jerusalem question the whole time and force to make qualification.”

Maybe hounding is a good thing. Obama is so maddeningly opaque and so obviously eager to please, retreat, feint and recalibrate depending on the audience (Kyl-Liberman, anyone?) that is is impossible to divine what he really thinks. Richman’s take is very plausible. But there are a variety of other reads and–more importantly–the distinct possibility that Obama has no idea what he thinks or wants to do, that it’s just all words.

John, Richman’s fine piece left me scratching my head, which I suspect I will do more of as I try to follow the bouncing ball of Barack Obama’s policy announcements.

So is the real Obama position the one Richman sketches out? If yes, it is the polar opposite of the position outlined in the AIPAC speech. It seems positively Clintonian to go and give an impassioned address advocating the exact opposite of what you really want to do. Or has he migrated in views and now has some mushy middle? The Wall Street Journal quotes former Israeli negotiator Daniel Levy, who opines: “One hopes he isn’t going to be hounded on the Jerusalem question the whole time and force to make qualification.”

Maybe hounding is a good thing. Obama is so maddeningly opaque and so obviously eager to please, retreat, feint and recalibrate depending on the audience (Kyl-Liberman, anyone?) that is is impossible to divine what he really thinks. Richman’s take is very plausible. But there are a variety of other reads and–more importantly–the distinct possibility that Obama has no idea what he thinks or wants to do, that it’s just all words.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Was he watching Gentle Ben re-runs?

It is a bit unnerving when I agree entirely with Maureen Dowd: “But he does not want the ‘take’ on him to become that he’s so tightly wrapped, overcalculated and circumspect that he can’t even allow anyone to make jokes about him, and that his supporters are so evangelical and eager for a champion to rescue America that their response to any razzing is a sanctimonious: Don’t mess with our messiah.”

Speaking of over-active response teams, is Barack Obama’s failure to hold a subcommittee hearing really what the McCain team wants voters to focus on? As any veteran C-SPAN watcher knows, most of these ordeals are comical or useless, or both.

George W. Bush is still running laps around Congress in popularity.

This is disappointing news. TV news, nothing to write home about at the beginning of the year, was already heading downhill with the the loss of Tony Snow and Tim Russert.

From overseas comes word that the Brits don’t much like Obama’s Iraq stance: “Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, made plain his distaste for withdrawal timetables from Iraq, saying that they do ‘not serve any of us’.” Making friends is harder than it seems.

Democrats who worried that Obama was losing his cross-racial appeal have something new to fret about. Can he win with just 30% of the white vote? Well, it’s a good thing he has all those excited young voters. Oh, maybe not as many.

Was he watching Gentle Ben re-runs?

It is a bit unnerving when I agree entirely with Maureen Dowd: “But he does not want the ‘take’ on him to become that he’s so tightly wrapped, overcalculated and circumspect that he can’t even allow anyone to make jokes about him, and that his supporters are so evangelical and eager for a champion to rescue America that their response to any razzing is a sanctimonious: Don’t mess with our messiah.”

Speaking of over-active response teams, is Barack Obama’s failure to hold a subcommittee hearing really what the McCain team wants voters to focus on? As any veteran C-SPAN watcher knows, most of these ordeals are comical or useless, or both.

George W. Bush is still running laps around Congress in popularity.

This is disappointing news. TV news, nothing to write home about at the beginning of the year, was already heading downhill with the the loss of Tony Snow and Tim Russert.

From overseas comes word that the Brits don’t much like Obama’s Iraq stance: “Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, made plain his distaste for withdrawal timetables from Iraq, saying that they do ‘not serve any of us’.” Making friends is harder than it seems.

Democrats who worried that Obama was losing his cross-racial appeal have something new to fret about. Can he win with just 30% of the white vote? Well, it’s a good thing he has all those excited young voters. Oh, maybe not as many.

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