Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 19, 2008

Maliki’s Gift to Obama

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s vocal support for Barack Obama’s 16-month withdrawal timetable goes to show how distorted the Iraq drawdown argument has become in light of the election narrative.

Of course a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq becomes less preposterous as security increases in that country — because during that transition the idea of timetables stops being purely artificial and becomes more reality-based. To think otherwise is a logical absurdity, and that’s what the popular state of this discussion has become.

As a war draws to a close, individual soldiers don’t start calling travel agents and packing bags and a 150,000-strong force doesn’t leave in some magical instant that the last bad guy is killed: an army exits in groups and on a schedule. At some point, a viable exit is 16 months away. The real issue here–and the McCain camp took their eyes off it–is that Obama has believed us to be at that point for over a year and a half. Obama first introduced legislation for a fixed withdrawal plan on January 30, 2007. According to that plan, all combat brigades would have been out of Iraq by March 31, 2008; that’s 14 months–more or less the same time frame he proposes now. He would have been wrong. Iraq would have seen chaos, not calm and not political reconciliation. That plan would have ensured a monumental historic defeat for the U.S. and a civilian slaughter of biblical proportions in Iraq. If in January 2007, you had asked Nouri al-Maliki how he felt about a 14-month U.S. withdrawal timetable, he would have thought you were mad.

Which brings up another issue. The better part of McCain’s reluctance to talk about timetables was founded in the fear that we’d be giving the enemy a heads-up as to when their job would get easier. Doubtless American commanders were mindful of the same. Maliki’s suddenly loosened tongue might prove to be a very dangerous betrayal of this elementary precaution. In other words, even if Maliki’s time frame is doable (and about that there’s massive debate), its advance broadcast is just stupid.

Nonetheless, over the past few months, John McCain’s line on withdrawal should have gone something like this: “If at some point, this kind of progress in Iraq makes for genuinely stable circumstances then “timetables” will simply be a non-loaded description of how the U.S. troops come home. But Senator Obama has been proposing arbitrary timetables for a year-and-a-half now. The important thing is that we’re seeing sea-changes in Iraq and that would not have been the case if Obama’s withdrawal mantra had been heeded.” Instead, by letting the media’s version of his position frame the tone of his rhetoric, John McCain has handed Obama a false victory.

In any case, if Maliki truly wants U.S. combat forces out in 16 months, then we should leave. If he’s right — and Iraq sees a continued reduction in violence and progress as a viable state in the absence of American troops — then that certifies a gargantuan victory for America in the Iraq War. If he’s wrong, the world pays an incalculable price for a bad decision.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s vocal support for Barack Obama’s 16-month withdrawal timetable goes to show how distorted the Iraq drawdown argument has become in light of the election narrative.

Of course a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq becomes less preposterous as security increases in that country — because during that transition the idea of timetables stops being purely artificial and becomes more reality-based. To think otherwise is a logical absurdity, and that’s what the popular state of this discussion has become.

As a war draws to a close, individual soldiers don’t start calling travel agents and packing bags and a 150,000-strong force doesn’t leave in some magical instant that the last bad guy is killed: an army exits in groups and on a schedule. At some point, a viable exit is 16 months away. The real issue here–and the McCain camp took their eyes off it–is that Obama has believed us to be at that point for over a year and a half. Obama first introduced legislation for a fixed withdrawal plan on January 30, 2007. According to that plan, all combat brigades would have been out of Iraq by March 31, 2008; that’s 14 months–more or less the same time frame he proposes now. He would have been wrong. Iraq would have seen chaos, not calm and not political reconciliation. That plan would have ensured a monumental historic defeat for the U.S. and a civilian slaughter of biblical proportions in Iraq. If in January 2007, you had asked Nouri al-Maliki how he felt about a 14-month U.S. withdrawal timetable, he would have thought you were mad.

Which brings up another issue. The better part of McCain’s reluctance to talk about timetables was founded in the fear that we’d be giving the enemy a heads-up as to when their job would get easier. Doubtless American commanders were mindful of the same. Maliki’s suddenly loosened tongue might prove to be a very dangerous betrayal of this elementary precaution. In other words, even if Maliki’s time frame is doable (and about that there’s massive debate), its advance broadcast is just stupid.

Nonetheless, over the past few months, John McCain’s line on withdrawal should have gone something like this: “If at some point, this kind of progress in Iraq makes for genuinely stable circumstances then “timetables” will simply be a non-loaded description of how the U.S. troops come home. But Senator Obama has been proposing arbitrary timetables for a year-and-a-half now. The important thing is that we’re seeing sea-changes in Iraq and that would not have been the case if Obama’s withdrawal mantra had been heeded.” Instead, by letting the media’s version of his position frame the tone of his rhetoric, John McCain has handed Obama a false victory.

In any case, if Maliki truly wants U.S. combat forces out in 16 months, then we should leave. If he’s right — and Iraq sees a continued reduction in violence and progress as a viable state in the absence of American troops — then that certifies a gargantuan victory for America in the Iraq War. If he’s wrong, the world pays an incalculable price for a bad decision.

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They Are Still Worried

There is another report that Barack Obama is “still struggling to convince some wary Jewish voters to close ranks behind his campaign despite their traditional support for Democratic candidates.” The director of The Forward, hardly a right-wing publication, explains:

“There is a fear particularly among older Jews and the more traditionally religious, that he might be less sympathetic toward Israel or sympathetic toward the Palestinians, or at the very least neutral on the Middle East question, which to many Jews is as bad as anti-Israel, since they view Israel as fighting for its life against an overwhelmingly hostile Muslim world.”

In Israel, the same skepticism about Obama’s ability to stand up to Israel’s enemies runs rampant. (That skepticism did not extend to Hillary Clinton who polled well there when she was a candidate.)

Perhaps Obama can dispel some of this wariness both here and in Israel by showing he can draw some moral distinctions and can discern where the source of violence and unrest in the Middle East lies — not from the “constant sore” of the unresolved (and at this point unresolvable) Palestinian-Israeli conflict — but from the brutality and hostility of the enemies of both the U.S. and Israel. But if you are afraid to even identify evil, you are ill-equipped to fight it.

And that is why so many in the U.S. –Jews and non-Jews — and in Israel continue to fret. Is Obama equipped to stand up to terrorists and terror-sponsoring states? The jury is out.

There is another report that Barack Obama is “still struggling to convince some wary Jewish voters to close ranks behind his campaign despite their traditional support for Democratic candidates.” The director of The Forward, hardly a right-wing publication, explains:

“There is a fear particularly among older Jews and the more traditionally religious, that he might be less sympathetic toward Israel or sympathetic toward the Palestinians, or at the very least neutral on the Middle East question, which to many Jews is as bad as anti-Israel, since they view Israel as fighting for its life against an overwhelmingly hostile Muslim world.”

In Israel, the same skepticism about Obama’s ability to stand up to Israel’s enemies runs rampant. (That skepticism did not extend to Hillary Clinton who polled well there when she was a candidate.)

Perhaps Obama can dispel some of this wariness both here and in Israel by showing he can draw some moral distinctions and can discern where the source of violence and unrest in the Middle East lies — not from the “constant sore” of the unresolved (and at this point unresolvable) Palestinian-Israeli conflict — but from the brutality and hostility of the enemies of both the U.S. and Israel. But if you are afraid to even identify evil, you are ill-equipped to fight it.

And that is why so many in the U.S. –Jews and non-Jews — and in Israel continue to fret. Is Obama equipped to stand up to terrorists and terror-sponsoring states? The jury is out.

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Bigotry in Beijing

Yesterday, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported that authorities in Beijing are forcing some bars to refuse service to disfavored groups. “Uniformed Public Security Bureau officers came into the bar recently and told me not to serve black people or Mongolians,” said the co-owner of an establishment near the centrally located Workers’ Stadium. Bar owners have been forced to sign pledges on various matters in recent days, and officials have allowed them to keep copies of their promises except for those relating to such refusal of service.

The police deny their security campaign is targeting any particular racial group, but Africans report increased harassment and discrimination in bars. “There’s no human rights here,” said one Liberian woman who is part owner of a Beijing hair solon. “It’s racist and it makes me feel very bad.”

Despite professed solidarity with Africa and Africans, the Chinese government has always treated blacks in Beijing harshly. Last September, for instance, police swooped down on the Sanlitun bar district, rounded up three dozen blacks, and beat some of them severely. Grenada filed a complaint with the Foreign Ministry over the clubbing of its ambassador’s son, who had suffered a concussion and required hospitalization.

The abhorrent discrimination against Africans and other blacks is not the worst aspect of the Chinese government’s obsessive pre-Olympics security sweep–after all, the victims were not shot at a public execution as three Muslim Uighurs were on July 9–yet the incident shows that China should not be hosting the Summer Olympics. Shanghai officials recently admitted to a friend of mine that the International Olympic Committee should have waited a decade before awarding the Games to China.

Of course, none of this matters to President Bush, who next month will travel half way around the world to watch a three-and-a-half-hour spectacle glorifying Chinese communism–and help legitimize a regime that grows uglier by the day.

Yesterday, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported that authorities in Beijing are forcing some bars to refuse service to disfavored groups. “Uniformed Public Security Bureau officers came into the bar recently and told me not to serve black people or Mongolians,” said the co-owner of an establishment near the centrally located Workers’ Stadium. Bar owners have been forced to sign pledges on various matters in recent days, and officials have allowed them to keep copies of their promises except for those relating to such refusal of service.

The police deny their security campaign is targeting any particular racial group, but Africans report increased harassment and discrimination in bars. “There’s no human rights here,” said one Liberian woman who is part owner of a Beijing hair solon. “It’s racist and it makes me feel very bad.”

Despite professed solidarity with Africa and Africans, the Chinese government has always treated blacks in Beijing harshly. Last September, for instance, police swooped down on the Sanlitun bar district, rounded up three dozen blacks, and beat some of them severely. Grenada filed a complaint with the Foreign Ministry over the clubbing of its ambassador’s son, who had suffered a concussion and required hospitalization.

The abhorrent discrimination against Africans and other blacks is not the worst aspect of the Chinese government’s obsessive pre-Olympics security sweep–after all, the victims were not shot at a public execution as three Muslim Uighurs were on July 9–yet the incident shows that China should not be hosting the Summer Olympics. Shanghai officials recently admitted to a friend of mine that the International Olympic Committee should have waited a decade before awarding the Games to China.

Of course, none of this matters to President Bush, who next month will travel half way around the world to watch a three-and-a-half-hour spectacle glorifying Chinese communism–and help legitimize a regime that grows uglier by the day.

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Trying To Drum Up Support

Now that Barack Obama’s position on Iraq — basically stick to the 16-month timetable — has been revealed to be at odds with the advice of U.S. commanders and other foreign leaders and his view of political non-progress is painfully at odds with the development of the Maliki government as a truly national, sovereign regime, the U.S. media is once again trying to ease Obama’s political quandry. So we have a spate of “Iraqis divided” stories which attempt to suggest that some Iraqis want the U.S. to stay, but some favor Obama’s approach. But, wait. The actual Iraqis interviewed for these stories never say they support a fixed timetable.

Take a look at the New York Times article on this topic. Lots of Iraqis oppose a precipitous withdrawal but despite the headline not a single one is quoted for the proposition that a fixed timetable is a good idea. (They do quote one poor women whose sister was killed who just wants Americans “to go to hell.”)

The Washington Post is even more blatant in trying to concoct an artificial balance between Iraqis who support the Obama approach and those who support McCain’s (that latter would be the “we’ll-stay-as-long-as it-takes-to-win” position.) Watch this sleight of hand:

As Sen. Barack Obama prepares for his second visit to Iraq, Iraqis are divided over his plan to withdraw U.S. combat troops in 16 months should he be elected president. “Iraq will be in hell, and we will find ourselves at the gates of civil war,” said Maied Rashed al-Nuaemi, a provincial council member in Mosul, a city in northern Iraq where Iraqi forces are battling the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. “The American presence in Iraq is the safety valve to keep this country quiet. If they withdraw, that will lead to calamity.” But Mosul’s deputy governor said he feels otherwise. “The U.S. presence in Iraq is useful now, but if the security situation gets better, I think it’s not necessary to keep all these big numbers of soldiers here,” Khasru Koraan said.

But wait the deputy governor doesn’t really “feel otherwise” — he is paraphrasing McCain’s position that only facts on the ground can dictate our withdrawal schedule. And even then he is saying only that “these big numbers” might not be needed. Then down a number of paragraphs into the piece you read:

While most Iraqis are against what they see as the continuing U.S. occupation, many also view the U.S. military as a bulwark against Shiite militias and Sunni extremists, as well as the growing regional influence of Iran. In polls, a majority of Iraqis say they want U.S. forces to leave, but only a minority say they want the forces to leave immediately. Some of the more than two dozen Iraqis interviewed for this article said Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is naive in wanting to withdraw U.S. combat troops by the summer of 2010. Others viewed his position as a political calculation to win votes from a populace tired of war.

So the real headlines for these pieces should have been “Try as we might, we couldn’t find a single Iraqi who supported Obama’s plan.” Yes, many Iraqis like him personally or think ” a black man in America might give him more empathy for others who feel oppressed by a powerful West. ” Even Gail Collins figured it out:

The Iraqis who talked to The Times were less enthusiastic about Obama’s position on — well, Iraq. Although most of the people interviewed wanted the Americans gone, they also wanted assurance they would still have the pathetic modicum of security and stability they have now. Which requires the American troops. That seems to put them closer to John McCain’s position. But they like Barack better.

So when it comes to Obama’s actual policy position, the Iraqis willing to be quoted think its hooey. This seems to be the representative feeling:

Mohammed Sulaiman, 56, a retired government employee in Baghdad, said: “The proposal of Obama to pull out the troops by summer 2010 is foolish. If the United States withdraws from Iraq, I think its credibility among the international countries would collapse.”

When the U.S. media hit the streets of Baghdad this week and maybe get a moment on the plane with Obama they might want to ask why Obama thinks that Mr. Sulaiman is wrong. And if they find some Iraqis who actually do believe a fixed timetable, announced in advance, is the way to go they should let us know. They haven’t found them yet.

Now that Barack Obama’s position on Iraq — basically stick to the 16-month timetable — has been revealed to be at odds with the advice of U.S. commanders and other foreign leaders and his view of political non-progress is painfully at odds with the development of the Maliki government as a truly national, sovereign regime, the U.S. media is once again trying to ease Obama’s political quandry. So we have a spate of “Iraqis divided” stories which attempt to suggest that some Iraqis want the U.S. to stay, but some favor Obama’s approach. But, wait. The actual Iraqis interviewed for these stories never say they support a fixed timetable.

Take a look at the New York Times article on this topic. Lots of Iraqis oppose a precipitous withdrawal but despite the headline not a single one is quoted for the proposition that a fixed timetable is a good idea. (They do quote one poor women whose sister was killed who just wants Americans “to go to hell.”)

The Washington Post is even more blatant in trying to concoct an artificial balance between Iraqis who support the Obama approach and those who support McCain’s (that latter would be the “we’ll-stay-as-long-as it-takes-to-win” position.) Watch this sleight of hand:

As Sen. Barack Obama prepares for his second visit to Iraq, Iraqis are divided over his plan to withdraw U.S. combat troops in 16 months should he be elected president. “Iraq will be in hell, and we will find ourselves at the gates of civil war,” said Maied Rashed al-Nuaemi, a provincial council member in Mosul, a city in northern Iraq where Iraqi forces are battling the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. “The American presence in Iraq is the safety valve to keep this country quiet. If they withdraw, that will lead to calamity.” But Mosul’s deputy governor said he feels otherwise. “The U.S. presence in Iraq is useful now, but if the security situation gets better, I think it’s not necessary to keep all these big numbers of soldiers here,” Khasru Koraan said.

But wait the deputy governor doesn’t really “feel otherwise” — he is paraphrasing McCain’s position that only facts on the ground can dictate our withdrawal schedule. And even then he is saying only that “these big numbers” might not be needed. Then down a number of paragraphs into the piece you read:

While most Iraqis are against what they see as the continuing U.S. occupation, many also view the U.S. military as a bulwark against Shiite militias and Sunni extremists, as well as the growing regional influence of Iran. In polls, a majority of Iraqis say they want U.S. forces to leave, but only a minority say they want the forces to leave immediately. Some of the more than two dozen Iraqis interviewed for this article said Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is naive in wanting to withdraw U.S. combat troops by the summer of 2010. Others viewed his position as a political calculation to win votes from a populace tired of war.

So the real headlines for these pieces should have been “Try as we might, we couldn’t find a single Iraqi who supported Obama’s plan.” Yes, many Iraqis like him personally or think ” a black man in America might give him more empathy for others who feel oppressed by a powerful West. ” Even Gail Collins figured it out:

The Iraqis who talked to The Times were less enthusiastic about Obama’s position on — well, Iraq. Although most of the people interviewed wanted the Americans gone, they also wanted assurance they would still have the pathetic modicum of security and stability they have now. Which requires the American troops. That seems to put them closer to John McCain’s position. But they like Barack better.

So when it comes to Obama’s actual policy position, the Iraqis willing to be quoted think its hooey. This seems to be the representative feeling:

Mohammed Sulaiman, 56, a retired government employee in Baghdad, said: “The proposal of Obama to pull out the troops by summer 2010 is foolish. If the United States withdraws from Iraq, I think its credibility among the international countries would collapse.”

When the U.S. media hit the streets of Baghdad this week and maybe get a moment on the plane with Obama they might want to ask why Obama thinks that Mr. Sulaiman is wrong. And if they find some Iraqis who actually do believe a fixed timetable, announced in advance, is the way to go they should let us know. They haven’t found them yet.

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Bookshelf

One of the things I learned in the course of writing Rhythm Man, my forthcoming biography of Louis Armstrong, is that surprisingly few full-length books about jazz can be read with both profit and pleasure. Serious jazz scholarship is itself a fairly recent phenomenon, and most of the scholars who write about jazz are better at amassing and interpreting facts than in setting them down on paper stylishly. From the beginning, my goal in writing Rhythm Man was to produce a biography of Armstrong comparable in size, scope and literary quality to a “definitive” literary biography like, say, W. Jackson Bate’s Samuel Johnson. No such book exists, though Bix: Man and Legend, the 1974 biography of Bix Beiderbecke by Richard M. Sudhalter and Philip R. Evans, comes close. As for the rest, the bibliography of Rhythm Man lists nearly two hundred books, the vast majority of which are about jazz in whole or part. These are the five I most enjoyed reading:

Gunther Schuller, Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development (1968). The first fully scholarly study of jazz to see print, and one of the best, though later scholarship has superseded some of Schuller’s findings. The insightful chapter on Louis Armstrong’s early development is still invaluable, but Schuller, a high modernist, never managed to come to terms with Armstrong’s musical populism, a defect of sensibility that mars The Swing Era, his 1989 sequel to Early Jazz.

Otis Ferguson, The Otis Ferguson Reader (1952, reprinted in 1997 as In the Spirit of Jazz). Ferguson, who wrote about jazz and movies for The New Republic in the 30′s, was the first journalistic jazz critic to produce a good-sized body of work that remains readable today. Not only has his Chandleresque tough-guy style kept much of its old-fashioned period charm, but time has proved his musical judgment to be consistently sound.

Max Harrison, Charles Fox and Eric Thacker, The Essential Jazz Records, Vol. 1: Ragtime to Swing (1984). A hard-headed, exceptionally well-written survey of major jazz recordings from the beginning to bebop. Harrison, the best of the three contributors, was one of the finest jazz critics of the 20th century, sometimes a bit cranky but impeccably knowledgeable. I drew on his contributions to this volume time and again in writing Rhythm Man.

Ross Firestone, Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life and Times of Benny Goodman (1993). Not a scholarly biography in the ordinary sense of the word–Firestone inexplicably omitted source notes–but thorough, vividly written, and meticulous in every other way. Goodman was a famously difficult personality, and Firestone portrays him with skill and sympathy. I can think of no full-length jazz biography that I’ve read with greater pleasure.

Richard M. Sudhalter, Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945 (1999). Hugely controversial when it was first published, Lost Chords has since come to be accepted by most (though not all) scholars as a landmark contribution to the literature of jazz. Sudhalter’s critical discussions of the music of such key figures as Red Norvo, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Miff Mole, Pee Wee Russell, Artie Shaw and Jack Teagarden are unfailingly penetrating.

All of these books are still in print except for Lost Chords (which is easy to find) and The Otis Ferguson Reader (which isn’t, alas).

One of the things I learned in the course of writing Rhythm Man, my forthcoming biography of Louis Armstrong, is that surprisingly few full-length books about jazz can be read with both profit and pleasure. Serious jazz scholarship is itself a fairly recent phenomenon, and most of the scholars who write about jazz are better at amassing and interpreting facts than in setting them down on paper stylishly. From the beginning, my goal in writing Rhythm Man was to produce a biography of Armstrong comparable in size, scope and literary quality to a “definitive” literary biography like, say, W. Jackson Bate’s Samuel Johnson. No such book exists, though Bix: Man and Legend, the 1974 biography of Bix Beiderbecke by Richard M. Sudhalter and Philip R. Evans, comes close. As for the rest, the bibliography of Rhythm Man lists nearly two hundred books, the vast majority of which are about jazz in whole or part. These are the five I most enjoyed reading:

Gunther Schuller, Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development (1968). The first fully scholarly study of jazz to see print, and one of the best, though later scholarship has superseded some of Schuller’s findings. The insightful chapter on Louis Armstrong’s early development is still invaluable, but Schuller, a high modernist, never managed to come to terms with Armstrong’s musical populism, a defect of sensibility that mars The Swing Era, his 1989 sequel to Early Jazz.

Otis Ferguson, The Otis Ferguson Reader (1952, reprinted in 1997 as In the Spirit of Jazz). Ferguson, who wrote about jazz and movies for The New Republic in the 30′s, was the first journalistic jazz critic to produce a good-sized body of work that remains readable today. Not only has his Chandleresque tough-guy style kept much of its old-fashioned period charm, but time has proved his musical judgment to be consistently sound.

Max Harrison, Charles Fox and Eric Thacker, The Essential Jazz Records, Vol. 1: Ragtime to Swing (1984). A hard-headed, exceptionally well-written survey of major jazz recordings from the beginning to bebop. Harrison, the best of the three contributors, was one of the finest jazz critics of the 20th century, sometimes a bit cranky but impeccably knowledgeable. I drew on his contributions to this volume time and again in writing Rhythm Man.

Ross Firestone, Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life and Times of Benny Goodman (1993). Not a scholarly biography in the ordinary sense of the word–Firestone inexplicably omitted source notes–but thorough, vividly written, and meticulous in every other way. Goodman was a famously difficult personality, and Firestone portrays him with skill and sympathy. I can think of no full-length jazz biography that I’ve read with greater pleasure.

Richard M. Sudhalter, Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945 (1999). Hugely controversial when it was first published, Lost Chords has since come to be accepted by most (though not all) scholars as a landmark contribution to the literature of jazz. Sudhalter’s critical discussions of the music of such key figures as Red Norvo, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Miff Mole, Pee Wee Russell, Artie Shaw and Jack Teagarden are unfailingly penetrating.

All of these books are still in print except for Lost Chords (which is easy to find) and The Otis Ferguson Reader (which isn’t, alas).

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Silly Us

We have been wondering how Barack Obama would get by overseas with unscripted moments, in new settings to which he is unaccustomed. I think I have it: he isn’t going to speak in public unless it is scripted. Today from Afghanistan: “I’m more interested in listening than doing a lot of talking.” And from the Wall Street Journal:

 Facing Republican attacks that Sen. Barack Obama’s coming overseas trip is a political stunt, the Obama campaign said the Democratic presidential contender will hold private meetings with Middle Eastern and European leaders, and avoid public appearances that could be perceived as campaigning.

It could be percevied as having to handle topics he is ill-equipped to opine upon, with no teleprompter. He has already stiffed the foreign press which is notoriously aggressive and unmanageable. In other words he’s there to look around and take some pictures to show back home. Is he on a tourist visa?

Well, he will give his big talk in Germany. But like a stereotypical American tourist who tries to re-create America overseas, this is no more than a U.S.-style stadium rally, with speech firmly in hand. The question is whether the U.S. media will do its job, press Obama for some real answers and take him out of his comfort zone. Otherwise, we’ll have only the photo album with which to assess the trip. And that, of course, was the point all along.

We have been wondering how Barack Obama would get by overseas with unscripted moments, in new settings to which he is unaccustomed. I think I have it: he isn’t going to speak in public unless it is scripted. Today from Afghanistan: “I’m more interested in listening than doing a lot of talking.” And from the Wall Street Journal:

 Facing Republican attacks that Sen. Barack Obama’s coming overseas trip is a political stunt, the Obama campaign said the Democratic presidential contender will hold private meetings with Middle Eastern and European leaders, and avoid public appearances that could be perceived as campaigning.

It could be percevied as having to handle topics he is ill-equipped to opine upon, with no teleprompter. He has already stiffed the foreign press which is notoriously aggressive and unmanageable. In other words he’s there to look around and take some pictures to show back home. Is he on a tourist visa?

Well, he will give his big talk in Germany. But like a stereotypical American tourist who tries to re-create America overseas, this is no more than a U.S.-style stadium rally, with speech firmly in hand. The question is whether the U.S. media will do its job, press Obama for some real answers and take him out of his comfort zone. Otherwise, we’ll have only the photo album with which to assess the trip. And that, of course, was the point all along.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Barack Obama could learn market capitalism from the Europeans?

I know conservatives love Phil Gramm and hate capitulating to a feeding frenzy, but did McCain really need a cranky, older Washington insider as a surrogate?

Stressing “soft power” is probably not going to help Barack Obama win over Israelis. Although the latter don’t vote, they have friends and relatives who do.

This is goofier than the “strike force.”

Count me as unshocked that the liberal elites at the Aspen Ideas Festival don’t give a fig about the hostages freed from FARC terrorists. (“Tellingly, the dramatic rescue of three American military contractors from a five-and-a-half-year-long captivity in the Colombian jungles, as prisoners of the narco-terrorist group, FARC, elicited little or no chatter among the conference participants – even though the rescue in and of itself dealt a major strategic blow to the anti-American left throughout South America.”) Well, I could have told you that dealing a major strategic blow to the anti-American left anywhere is not high on the Aspen attendees’ priority list.

You tell ‘em, Senator Feinstein. Don’t let them budge one inch on offshore drilling. Not once inch.

A not well-kept secret getting more ink: the NRA wasn’t thrilled for some time about pursuing DC v. Heller. Sometimes it really is worth the risk to vindicate the Bill of Rights.

David Brooks really wants Obama to be better than he is: “In my view he’d open eyes if he admitted he was wrong about the surge not being able to reduce violence and halfway wrong when he said the surge wouldn’t produce political gains. It might cause heartburn among some die-hard surge haters, but most of the country would see a guy who can respond to obvious facts and learn from them. That’s what normal people do.” Alas, that’s not the Obama we have.

This New York Times headline (“Bush, in Shift, Accepts Idea of Iraq Timeline”) is replete with irony. President Bush is the flexible one, able to adjust to the real world now. But Obama? Not so much.

Of all the reasons to drop the exclusionary rule (“the constable stumbles, the criminal goes free”), the law in foreign countries is not likely to rank high with conservative jurists. On the other hand, Justice Kennedy is very fond of foreign law.

Barack Obama could learn market capitalism from the Europeans?

I know conservatives love Phil Gramm and hate capitulating to a feeding frenzy, but did McCain really need a cranky, older Washington insider as a surrogate?

Stressing “soft power” is probably not going to help Barack Obama win over Israelis. Although the latter don’t vote, they have friends and relatives who do.

This is goofier than the “strike force.”

Count me as unshocked that the liberal elites at the Aspen Ideas Festival don’t give a fig about the hostages freed from FARC terrorists. (“Tellingly, the dramatic rescue of three American military contractors from a five-and-a-half-year-long captivity in the Colombian jungles, as prisoners of the narco-terrorist group, FARC, elicited little or no chatter among the conference participants – even though the rescue in and of itself dealt a major strategic blow to the anti-American left throughout South America.”) Well, I could have told you that dealing a major strategic blow to the anti-American left anywhere is not high on the Aspen attendees’ priority list.

You tell ‘em, Senator Feinstein. Don’t let them budge one inch on offshore drilling. Not once inch.

A not well-kept secret getting more ink: the NRA wasn’t thrilled for some time about pursuing DC v. Heller. Sometimes it really is worth the risk to vindicate the Bill of Rights.

David Brooks really wants Obama to be better than he is: “In my view he’d open eyes if he admitted he was wrong about the surge not being able to reduce violence and halfway wrong when he said the surge wouldn’t produce political gains. It might cause heartburn among some die-hard surge haters, but most of the country would see a guy who can respond to obvious facts and learn from them. That’s what normal people do.” Alas, that’s not the Obama we have.

This New York Times headline (“Bush, in Shift, Accepts Idea of Iraq Timeline”) is replete with irony. President Bush is the flexible one, able to adjust to the real world now. But Obama? Not so much.

Of all the reasons to drop the exclusionary rule (“the constable stumbles, the criminal goes free”), the law in foreign countries is not likely to rank high with conservative jurists. On the other hand, Justice Kennedy is very fond of foreign law.

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Never Happy

When the Obama camp thought Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki might be pressing for a firm deadline for a U.S. troop withdrawal, they were delighted and insisted the Bush administration come up with a fixed exit schedule. Now that a general understanding based on long term conditions and facts on the ground ( “a general time horizon“) has been reached, Barack Obama is back to threatening and bad-mouthing the Maliki government. In a statement, Obama (in words that sound like they were lifted from 2006) declares:

Now, instead of vague illusions to a ‘general time horizon,’ it’s time to pressure Iraq’s leaders to reach the political accommodation necessary for long-term stability, and to refocus on strengthening our military and finishing the fight in Afghanistan.

Rather than seize on the new understanding as the best possible news (after all didn’t Obama fear John McCain would have us stay in Iraq “indefinitely“?) he plays once again to his base, insisting on “pressuring” the Maliki government. To do what exactly? They have already reached 15 of the 18 benchmarks.

McCain, by contrast, seems pleased as punch, noting this is evidence of the surge’s success and declaring:

When a further conditions-based withdrawal of U.S. forces is possible, it will be because we and our Iraqi partners built on the successes of the surge strategy, which Senator Obama opposed, predicted would fail, voted against and campaigned against in the primary. When we withdraw, we will withdraw with honor and victory. An honorable and victorious withdrawal would not be possible if Senator Obama’s views had prevailed. . . If we had followed Senator Obama’s policy, Iraq would have descended into chaos, American casualties would be far higher, and the region would be destabilized.”

It will be interesting to see what Obama will say to Maliki and what will he hear on his trip. Will Obama tell him what he allegedly told the Iraqi foreign minister (that he won’t abandon the Iraqis or sacrifice gains we have made), or will he read him the New York Times op-ed? And if Maliki, like General Petraeus, tells him that we can’t possibly adhere to Obama’s 16-month timetable, Obama will be faced with the prospect of ignoring him too (or flip-flopping once more).

Again, when you make up your mind in advance, facts and contrary advice have a way of catching up with you. Surely one of those 300 foreign policy staffers must have told him that.

When the Obama camp thought Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki might be pressing for a firm deadline for a U.S. troop withdrawal, they were delighted and insisted the Bush administration come up with a fixed exit schedule. Now that a general understanding based on long term conditions and facts on the ground ( “a general time horizon“) has been reached, Barack Obama is back to threatening and bad-mouthing the Maliki government. In a statement, Obama (in words that sound like they were lifted from 2006) declares:

Now, instead of vague illusions to a ‘general time horizon,’ it’s time to pressure Iraq’s leaders to reach the political accommodation necessary for long-term stability, and to refocus on strengthening our military and finishing the fight in Afghanistan.

Rather than seize on the new understanding as the best possible news (after all didn’t Obama fear John McCain would have us stay in Iraq “indefinitely“?) he plays once again to his base, insisting on “pressuring” the Maliki government. To do what exactly? They have already reached 15 of the 18 benchmarks.

McCain, by contrast, seems pleased as punch, noting this is evidence of the surge’s success and declaring:

When a further conditions-based withdrawal of U.S. forces is possible, it will be because we and our Iraqi partners built on the successes of the surge strategy, which Senator Obama opposed, predicted would fail, voted against and campaigned against in the primary. When we withdraw, we will withdraw with honor and victory. An honorable and victorious withdrawal would not be possible if Senator Obama’s views had prevailed. . . If we had followed Senator Obama’s policy, Iraq would have descended into chaos, American casualties would be far higher, and the region would be destabilized.”

It will be interesting to see what Obama will say to Maliki and what will he hear on his trip. Will Obama tell him what he allegedly told the Iraqi foreign minister (that he won’t abandon the Iraqis or sacrifice gains we have made), or will he read him the New York Times op-ed? And if Maliki, like General Petraeus, tells him that we can’t possibly adhere to Obama’s 16-month timetable, Obama will be faced with the prospect of ignoring him too (or flip-flopping once more).

Again, when you make up your mind in advance, facts and contrary advice have a way of catching up with you. Surely one of those 300 foreign policy staffers must have told him that.

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