Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 4, 2008

Iran Says No to Diplomacy (Someone tell Barack Obama)

The deadline for an Iranian response to the opulent package of incentives the regime was offered two weeks ago passed on Saturday, and was accompanied by three answers:

1. Iran will not give up “a single iota of its nuclear rights.” That is, Iran will never voluntarily abandon the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

2. Iran says it tested a new anti-ship missile, and the head of the Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Ali Jafari, said that “Enemies know that we are easily able to block the Straits of Hormuz for unlimited period.” (I am highly skeptical of both claims.)

3. According to the AP, Ahmadinejad yesterday said that “diplomacy is the only way out of his country’s standoff with the West over its disputed nuclear program and insisted he was serious about negotiations.”

It would seem obvious today — it’s been obvious for several years now, hasn’t it? — that there is not an incentive in existence that Iran would be willing to accept in exchange for the cessation of its nuclear program. So who is still working under the fantasy that fruitful “engagement” is still possible? Ahmadinejad’s calls for diplomacy must be intended to provide cover for someone, right?

One such person is the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, who was on the phone today with Iran’s nuclear “negotiator,” Saeed Jalili. What is the extent of Solana’s desire to keep the West in suspended animation? It appears unlimited:

Iranian state-run television reported that in the telephone conversation, “both sides agreed to continue talks.”

‘They also emphasised that preserving this path (talks) needs a positive and constructive atmosphere,’ the television report said without elaborating.

This is unsurprising. Javier Solana has always had only one weapon in his arsenal — phone calls — and his interlocutors know it. It has also long been evident that Solana’s actual goal in his talks is not the prevention of Iranian nuclear weapons, but the prevention of the cessation of talks about Iranian nuclear weapons. This is tautological diplomacy at its finest, in which the maintenance of talks has itself become the purpose of diplomacy.

I can think of another important person who remains unmoved by the failure of diplomacy, and who insists that if talking was employed just a little bit differently, perhaps at a higher level of representation, and if the diplomacy was also both “tough” and “smart,” the Iranian nuclear bomb could be defused. That person of course is Barack Obama. In terms of his stubborn unwillingness to allow plain facts to interfere with his foreign policy prescriptions, the failure of diplomacy with Iran should be added to Obama’s refusal to acknowledge the success of the surge as reason for skepticism about his suitability for the presidency.

The deadline for an Iranian response to the opulent package of incentives the regime was offered two weeks ago passed on Saturday, and was accompanied by three answers:

1. Iran will not give up “a single iota of its nuclear rights.” That is, Iran will never voluntarily abandon the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

2. Iran says it tested a new anti-ship missile, and the head of the Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Ali Jafari, said that “Enemies know that we are easily able to block the Straits of Hormuz for unlimited period.” (I am highly skeptical of both claims.)

3. According to the AP, Ahmadinejad yesterday said that “diplomacy is the only way out of his country’s standoff with the West over its disputed nuclear program and insisted he was serious about negotiations.”

It would seem obvious today — it’s been obvious for several years now, hasn’t it? — that there is not an incentive in existence that Iran would be willing to accept in exchange for the cessation of its nuclear program. So who is still working under the fantasy that fruitful “engagement” is still possible? Ahmadinejad’s calls for diplomacy must be intended to provide cover for someone, right?

One such person is the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, who was on the phone today with Iran’s nuclear “negotiator,” Saeed Jalili. What is the extent of Solana’s desire to keep the West in suspended animation? It appears unlimited:

Iranian state-run television reported that in the telephone conversation, “both sides agreed to continue talks.”

‘They also emphasised that preserving this path (talks) needs a positive and constructive atmosphere,’ the television report said without elaborating.

This is unsurprising. Javier Solana has always had only one weapon in his arsenal — phone calls — and his interlocutors know it. It has also long been evident that Solana’s actual goal in his talks is not the prevention of Iranian nuclear weapons, but the prevention of the cessation of talks about Iranian nuclear weapons. This is tautological diplomacy at its finest, in which the maintenance of talks has itself become the purpose of diplomacy.

I can think of another important person who remains unmoved by the failure of diplomacy, and who insists that if talking was employed just a little bit differently, perhaps at a higher level of representation, and if the diplomacy was also both “tough” and “smart,” the Iranian nuclear bomb could be defused. That person of course is Barack Obama. In terms of his stubborn unwillingness to allow plain facts to interfere with his foreign policy prescriptions, the failure of diplomacy with Iran should be added to Obama’s refusal to acknowledge the success of the surge as reason for skepticism about his suitability for the presidency.

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Iran Threatens War

Readers may recall the hyperbolic cries of the Hands Off Iran coalition not long ago over a non-binding House resolution calling for tougher sanctions on the Islamic Republic, which, the group erroneously claimed, called for a naval blockade and thus amounted to a declaration of war. The resolution did no such thing, but such are the concerns of those peacemakers in the United States that we might “provoke” the Iranians into doing something ill-considered that any step — other than offering the Iranians “incentives” — is deemed an act of warmongering.

Today, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz, a major route for transporting oil from the Persian Gulf to market. He also boasted of a new, long-range missile capable of striking at American warships in the Gulf. These actual provocations follow a high-level meeting between diplomats representing United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany and Iranian counterparts at which Iran was offered a string of incentives to stop enriching uranium.

Reports the Times:

Specifically, the world powers wanted Iran to accept a formula known as freeze-for-freeze. Under this plan, Iran would not expand its nuclear program, and the United States and other powers would not seek new international sanctions for six weeks to pave the way for formal negotiations. The proposal, first offered last year, is intended to give Iran economic and political incentives to stop enriching uranium.

Iran dismissed the deadline and on Saturday President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed that Iran would not move an inch on its nuclear rights, although he said it welcomed talks.

Will the Left acknowledge this failed diplomacy? Will the “engagement” crowd finally acknowledge that the presence of America’s number three diplomat bearing concessions failed to win over the Iranians?

Iran’s threat to block the Straits of Hormuz is effectively a threat to declare war. But don’t expect the Hands Off Iran caucus to have the intellectual consistency or moral clarity to admit as such.

Readers may recall the hyperbolic cries of the Hands Off Iran coalition not long ago over a non-binding House resolution calling for tougher sanctions on the Islamic Republic, which, the group erroneously claimed, called for a naval blockade and thus amounted to a declaration of war. The resolution did no such thing, but such are the concerns of those peacemakers in the United States that we might “provoke” the Iranians into doing something ill-considered that any step — other than offering the Iranians “incentives” — is deemed an act of warmongering.

Today, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz, a major route for transporting oil from the Persian Gulf to market. He also boasted of a new, long-range missile capable of striking at American warships in the Gulf. These actual provocations follow a high-level meeting between diplomats representing United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany and Iranian counterparts at which Iran was offered a string of incentives to stop enriching uranium.

Reports the Times:

Specifically, the world powers wanted Iran to accept a formula known as freeze-for-freeze. Under this plan, Iran would not expand its nuclear program, and the United States and other powers would not seek new international sanctions for six weeks to pave the way for formal negotiations. The proposal, first offered last year, is intended to give Iran economic and political incentives to stop enriching uranium.

Iran dismissed the deadline and on Saturday President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed that Iran would not move an inch on its nuclear rights, although he said it welcomed talks.

Will the Left acknowledge this failed diplomacy? Will the “engagement” crowd finally acknowledge that the presence of America’s number three diplomat bearing concessions failed to win over the Iranians?

Iran’s threat to block the Straits of Hormuz is effectively a threat to declare war. But don’t expect the Hands Off Iran caucus to have the intellectual consistency or moral clarity to admit as such.

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A Method in Their Madness

Yes, the McCain team is having fun passing out tire gauges to remind everyone of Barack Obama’s silly claim that we could save as much gas with properly inflated tires as we could gain from offshore drilling. But there is a serious message and the first concerted attempt to tie Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats refusal to even vote on drilling around Obama. McCain’s query is a reasonable one: if Obama is the leader of his party now, why not get them back and hash out the drilling issue now?

There is no real answer to that, which is why it’s the most effective type of political attack. The real question that is troubling Democrats and their blogosphere fan club is what happened to Obama’s message control? Why is every day now an exercise in seeing what the McCain team is up to? And when is Obama ever going to get the floor back to talk about issues which help him, like the economy and health care?

Perhaps the overseas Ego Trip was more than a giant distraction; it was an opportunity for McCain to gain the rhetorical advantage and more importantly to dominate the domestic policy debate. It is not likely to last forever, but Obama is going to have to do better than flip-flopping on another issue (the strategic petroleum reserve, this time) to demonstrate that he has control of the race.

Yes, the McCain team is having fun passing out tire gauges to remind everyone of Barack Obama’s silly claim that we could save as much gas with properly inflated tires as we could gain from offshore drilling. But there is a serious message and the first concerted attempt to tie Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats refusal to even vote on drilling around Obama. McCain’s query is a reasonable one: if Obama is the leader of his party now, why not get them back and hash out the drilling issue now?

There is no real answer to that, which is why it’s the most effective type of political attack. The real question that is troubling Democrats and their blogosphere fan club is what happened to Obama’s message control? Why is every day now an exercise in seeing what the McCain team is up to? And when is Obama ever going to get the floor back to talk about issues which help him, like the economy and health care?

Perhaps the overseas Ego Trip was more than a giant distraction; it was an opportunity for McCain to gain the rhetorical advantage and more importantly to dominate the domestic policy debate. It is not likely to last forever, but Obama is going to have to do better than flip-flopping on another issue (the strategic petroleum reserve, this time) to demonstrate that he has control of the race.

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A Distraction from Distraction

At the New York Times‘ Caucus blog, Michael Powell writes that Barack Obama’s fundamental challenge is “getting his message through.”

Getting his message through??? I imagine, and this is serious, that there are babies out there whose first words sound something like “Obamachange” (and whose mental faculties are more than adequate to wrestle with the “meaning” of the fluffy utterance.) The only thing to look forward to about the Olympics is that the 24/7 coverage may push Obama ‘s “America Is In Tatters” tour off a few pages and screens for a few precious seconds.

What Powell is really complaining about is that the McCain team bested Obama with a few recent ads, and that Obama’s attempt to paint the McCain camp as race-baiters backfired. Powell (and Obama) label these blows “distractions.” Here’s Obama:

If you think about this week, what they’ve been good at is distraction. You’ve got statistics saying we lost another 50,000 jobs. That Florida is in recession for the first time in a decade and a half. And what was being talked about was Paris and Britney.

Not true, Senator. What was being talked about was you and whether or not you were more a pop culture phenomenon or a leader of depth and seriousness. The commercial served to steer the discussion of you in that direction, that’s all. If anything, the commercial helped viewers away from the distraction of mellifluous speeches and utopian promises so that they could focus on important considerations.

But, Obama is employing a cute tactic here: When something comes up that calls your abilities or qualifications into question, you point to it as a distraction from ruinous Republican leadership. It’s cute, but it’s a sure loser. Real cracks are starting to show.

At the New York Times‘ Caucus blog, Michael Powell writes that Barack Obama’s fundamental challenge is “getting his message through.”

Getting his message through??? I imagine, and this is serious, that there are babies out there whose first words sound something like “Obamachange” (and whose mental faculties are more than adequate to wrestle with the “meaning” of the fluffy utterance.) The only thing to look forward to about the Olympics is that the 24/7 coverage may push Obama ‘s “America Is In Tatters” tour off a few pages and screens for a few precious seconds.

What Powell is really complaining about is that the McCain team bested Obama with a few recent ads, and that Obama’s attempt to paint the McCain camp as race-baiters backfired. Powell (and Obama) label these blows “distractions.” Here’s Obama:

If you think about this week, what they’ve been good at is distraction. You’ve got statistics saying we lost another 50,000 jobs. That Florida is in recession for the first time in a decade and a half. And what was being talked about was Paris and Britney.

Not true, Senator. What was being talked about was you and whether or not you were more a pop culture phenomenon or a leader of depth and seriousness. The commercial served to steer the discussion of you in that direction, that’s all. If anything, the commercial helped viewers away from the distraction of mellifluous speeches and utopian promises so that they could focus on important considerations.

But, Obama is employing a cute tactic here: When something comes up that calls your abilities or qualifications into question, you point to it as a distraction from ruinous Republican leadership. It’s cute, but it’s a sure loser. Real cracks are starting to show.

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Re: Death of an Oak

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was an almost impossibly large figure for us to comprehend, a man who shaped both the literary and political world in ways that are extremely rare in history. And the tributes to him, like this elegant one by John, are well deserved. Solzhenitsyn helped to vanquish one of the mightiest and most wicked regimes the world has ever known, and he did it not with armies or weapons, but with the power of words.

It was an extraordinary achievement.

He was not simply a writer of unparalleled power, but a beautiful, gifted one, able to make piercing insights about the human condition. There are far too many words he has written over the years for us to re-read and reflect upon. But consider just these, from The Gulag Archipelago (in Volume II, in the chapter “The Ascent”):

It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains… an unuprooted small corner of evil….

When people express vexation, in my presence, over the West’s tendency to crumble, its political shortsightedness, its divisiveness, its confusion – I recall too: “Were we, before passing through the Archipelago, more steadfast? Firmer in our thoughts?”

And that is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: “Bless you, prison!“… All the writers who wrote about prison but who did not themselves serve time there considered it their duty to express sympathy for prisoners and to curse prison. I… have served enough time there. I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: “Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!” (And from beyond the grave come replies: It is very well for you to say that – when you came out of it alive!) [emphasis in the original]

And this, from his 1970 Nobel Prize Lecture:

In mounting this platform to deliver my Noble Prize Lecture, I appreciate that this is a chance made available to by no means every writer, and then only once in a lifetime. And it is not by three or four well-carpeted steps that I have climbed up on this stage, but by hundreds or even thousands of them, steep, unyielding steps, slippery with ice, up out of the darkness and the cold which it was my fate to survive while others, perhaps more gifted and more powerful men than I, lost their lives…

And this (also from his Nobel Lecture):

Dostoyevsky once made the mysterious remark, “The world will be saved by beauty.” What does it mean? For a long time I thought it was just a phrase. For how is it possible? When in our blood-stained history has beauty saved anyone from anything? Beauty has ennobled and elevated, yes, but whom has it ever saved?

However, there is this characteristic in the essence of beauty, this characteristic in the position of Art: a truly artistic work is completely, irrefutably convincing and bends to its will even the heart which resists it. A political speech, a piece of one-sided journalism, a plan for a new social system or a new philosophy – all of these can be smoothly and efficiently composed, it seems on the basis of a mistake or a lie. Nor is it immediately clear what has been distorted or hidden. And then some quite contradictory speech, newspaper article or plan appears, some quite differently structured philosophy, all just as smoothly and efficiently presented, just as flawless. This is why people trust these things – and yet they do not trust them.

It is useless to state what one’s heart does not feel.

But a work of art carries in itself its own checking system. Strained, invented concepts do not withstand the image test. Both the concepts and the images collapse. They are shown up as pale and feeble. They convince nobody. But works which have drawn upon the truth and presented it to us in live, concentrated form capture us and draw us compulsively in. And never, even centuries later, will anyone be able to refute them.

Can it be that the old trinity – Truth, Goodness and Beauty – is something more than a well-worn, forlorn cliché, as it seemed to us in the days of our self-reliant, materialistic youth? The wise men of old used to say that the crowns of these three trees merge, while the branches of the Truth tree and the Goodness tree, being too obvious and too straight, are crushed, lopped off and not allowed to grow. But if this is the case, maybe the fantastic, unpredictable, unexpected branches of the Beauty tree could fight their way through the rest and right up to the same place, and thus achieve the task of all three?

Then surely Dostoyevsky’s words, “The world will be saved by beauty,” will emerge not as a slip of the tongue but as a prophecy. For it was given to him to see many things. He was amazingly inspired.

And then perhaps Art and literature really will be able to help today’s world?

These are the words of a giant among men.

I do think it’s fair to say, though, that with the benefit of hindsight, his 1978 Harvard commencement address, “A World Split Apart,” looks to have been far too pessimistic in its assessment of the West in general, and of America in particular. If you read the speech in its entirety, there is an unmistakable sense that the West is a place of mediocrity and moral chaos, lacking both will and character, and on a steep, downward trajectory toward decay. He saw all of our failures, it seems, and none of our strengths. There is also an underlying contempt for democracy and freedom which failed to take into account, I think, why liberty, despite its shortcomings, often leads to human flourishing and excellence. There is a reason the United States, and Solzhenitsyn himself, outlived Soviet communism. And so I agree with others that on the crucial question of the merits of liberal democracy, Solzhenitsyn’s fellow dissident, Andrei Sakharov, was more prescient and wise.

Nevertheless, Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard address, like everything he wrote, is worth reading, and reading again. Despite its unremitting hostility toward the West, it contains deep and moving insights. And there can be no question that Solzhenitsyn was, as his sometimes critic Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. said at the time, a man of exemplary nobility and extreme bravery.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was among the handful of the most significant and estimable people of the 20th century, and his words and his contributions will be remembered by every generation that follows. He was that important.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was an almost impossibly large figure for us to comprehend, a man who shaped both the literary and political world in ways that are extremely rare in history. And the tributes to him, like this elegant one by John, are well deserved. Solzhenitsyn helped to vanquish one of the mightiest and most wicked regimes the world has ever known, and he did it not with armies or weapons, but with the power of words.

It was an extraordinary achievement.

He was not simply a writer of unparalleled power, but a beautiful, gifted one, able to make piercing insights about the human condition. There are far too many words he has written over the years for us to re-read and reflect upon. But consider just these, from The Gulag Archipelago (in Volume II, in the chapter “The Ascent”):

It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains… an unuprooted small corner of evil….

When people express vexation, in my presence, over the West’s tendency to crumble, its political shortsightedness, its divisiveness, its confusion – I recall too: “Were we, before passing through the Archipelago, more steadfast? Firmer in our thoughts?”

And that is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: “Bless you, prison!“… All the writers who wrote about prison but who did not themselves serve time there considered it their duty to express sympathy for prisoners and to curse prison. I… have served enough time there. I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: “Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!” (And from beyond the grave come replies: It is very well for you to say that – when you came out of it alive!) [emphasis in the original]

And this, from his 1970 Nobel Prize Lecture:

In mounting this platform to deliver my Noble Prize Lecture, I appreciate that this is a chance made available to by no means every writer, and then only once in a lifetime. And it is not by three or four well-carpeted steps that I have climbed up on this stage, but by hundreds or even thousands of them, steep, unyielding steps, slippery with ice, up out of the darkness and the cold which it was my fate to survive while others, perhaps more gifted and more powerful men than I, lost their lives…

And this (also from his Nobel Lecture):

Dostoyevsky once made the mysterious remark, “The world will be saved by beauty.” What does it mean? For a long time I thought it was just a phrase. For how is it possible? When in our blood-stained history has beauty saved anyone from anything? Beauty has ennobled and elevated, yes, but whom has it ever saved?

However, there is this characteristic in the essence of beauty, this characteristic in the position of Art: a truly artistic work is completely, irrefutably convincing and bends to its will even the heart which resists it. A political speech, a piece of one-sided journalism, a plan for a new social system or a new philosophy – all of these can be smoothly and efficiently composed, it seems on the basis of a mistake or a lie. Nor is it immediately clear what has been distorted or hidden. And then some quite contradictory speech, newspaper article or plan appears, some quite differently structured philosophy, all just as smoothly and efficiently presented, just as flawless. This is why people trust these things – and yet they do not trust them.

It is useless to state what one’s heart does not feel.

But a work of art carries in itself its own checking system. Strained, invented concepts do not withstand the image test. Both the concepts and the images collapse. They are shown up as pale and feeble. They convince nobody. But works which have drawn upon the truth and presented it to us in live, concentrated form capture us and draw us compulsively in. And never, even centuries later, will anyone be able to refute them.

Can it be that the old trinity – Truth, Goodness and Beauty – is something more than a well-worn, forlorn cliché, as it seemed to us in the days of our self-reliant, materialistic youth? The wise men of old used to say that the crowns of these three trees merge, while the branches of the Truth tree and the Goodness tree, being too obvious and too straight, are crushed, lopped off and not allowed to grow. But if this is the case, maybe the fantastic, unpredictable, unexpected branches of the Beauty tree could fight their way through the rest and right up to the same place, and thus achieve the task of all three?

Then surely Dostoyevsky’s words, “The world will be saved by beauty,” will emerge not as a slip of the tongue but as a prophecy. For it was given to him to see many things. He was amazingly inspired.

And then perhaps Art and literature really will be able to help today’s world?

These are the words of a giant among men.

I do think it’s fair to say, though, that with the benefit of hindsight, his 1978 Harvard commencement address, “A World Split Apart,” looks to have been far too pessimistic in its assessment of the West in general, and of America in particular. If you read the speech in its entirety, there is an unmistakable sense that the West is a place of mediocrity and moral chaos, lacking both will and character, and on a steep, downward trajectory toward decay. He saw all of our failures, it seems, and none of our strengths. There is also an underlying contempt for democracy and freedom which failed to take into account, I think, why liberty, despite its shortcomings, often leads to human flourishing and excellence. There is a reason the United States, and Solzhenitsyn himself, outlived Soviet communism. And so I agree with others that on the crucial question of the merits of liberal democracy, Solzhenitsyn’s fellow dissident, Andrei Sakharov, was more prescient and wise.

Nevertheless, Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard address, like everything he wrote, is worth reading, and reading again. Despite its unremitting hostility toward the West, it contains deep and moving insights. And there can be no question that Solzhenitsyn was, as his sometimes critic Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. said at the time, a man of exemplary nobility and extreme bravery.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was among the handful of the most significant and estimable people of the 20th century, and his words and his contributions will be remembered by every generation that follows. He was that important.

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Commentary of the Day

We want to start highlighting the best of the many excellent reader comments we receive here at CONTENTIONS. So, without further ado, the Commentary of the Day, from Lawrence Gulotta, on John Podhoretz’s post “Death of an Oak“:

A thoughtful piece of writing by Messr. John Podhoretz: “He stood athwart the greatest evil the world has ever known, and, by the grace of God, he outlived that evil, by 16 years.”

I stopped giving the former USSR any benefit of the doubt after reading and hearing Alexander Solzhenitsyn, as a student and young adult during the early 1970s. He methodically pulled apart the Soviet’s false ideological defenses one-by-one in his works and talks. I was privileged to hear Solzhenitsyn speak in Manhattan, at a long speach sponsored by the NY AFL-CIO trade unionists. Sol “Chik” Chaiken chaired the meeting. Solzhenitsyn spoke for nearly two-hours, reading from index cards and extemporizing. One stanza at a time, he demolished the philosophical underpinnings of Soviet Marxism.

Seated at my table was an Afro-American trade unionist, among others. A good hour into Solzhenitsyn’s talk, the black trade unionist looked up and remarked, ” You know,” he said to me, “there are serious problems in Mississippi, too.” I was startled by his remark. Could Mississippi, at its worst, equal the horrors of Stalinist Russia? I’ve never felt that there existed an “equivalence” between the two systems, yet my table partner obviously felt that too much time was spent attacking Russia’s evil system and insufficient time denouncing the evils in Mississippi.

Solzhenitsyn spoke at great length. The AFL-CIO gave him his long sought after podium in the USA. Sol “Chik” Chaiken began rolling his eyes toward the ceiling after 90 minutes of stand-up bravery, intoned with a Russian Orthodox priestly cadence and accent. During that two-hour talk, Solzhenitsyn was our patriarch or mentor. My table partner did stay for the whole talk, stirring somewhat uncomfortable in his chair. Alexandre Solzhenitsyn filled the room with his voice and his truth. Solzhenitsyn’s works allowed me to reach the truth concerning the barbaric nature of the former USSR. As a young political activist, I was fortunate to have received the invitation to hear this great figure in person talk about defying the odds in the gulag.

We want to start highlighting the best of the many excellent reader comments we receive here at CONTENTIONS. So, without further ado, the Commentary of the Day, from Lawrence Gulotta, on John Podhoretz’s post “Death of an Oak“:

A thoughtful piece of writing by Messr. John Podhoretz: “He stood athwart the greatest evil the world has ever known, and, by the grace of God, he outlived that evil, by 16 years.”

I stopped giving the former USSR any benefit of the doubt after reading and hearing Alexander Solzhenitsyn, as a student and young adult during the early 1970s. He methodically pulled apart the Soviet’s false ideological defenses one-by-one in his works and talks. I was privileged to hear Solzhenitsyn speak in Manhattan, at a long speach sponsored by the NY AFL-CIO trade unionists. Sol “Chik” Chaiken chaired the meeting. Solzhenitsyn spoke for nearly two-hours, reading from index cards and extemporizing. One stanza at a time, he demolished the philosophical underpinnings of Soviet Marxism.

Seated at my table was an Afro-American trade unionist, among others. A good hour into Solzhenitsyn’s talk, the black trade unionist looked up and remarked, ” You know,” he said to me, “there are serious problems in Mississippi, too.” I was startled by his remark. Could Mississippi, at its worst, equal the horrors of Stalinist Russia? I’ve never felt that there existed an “equivalence” between the two systems, yet my table partner obviously felt that too much time was spent attacking Russia’s evil system and insufficient time denouncing the evils in Mississippi.

Solzhenitsyn spoke at great length. The AFL-CIO gave him his long sought after podium in the USA. Sol “Chik” Chaiken began rolling his eyes toward the ceiling after 90 minutes of stand-up bravery, intoned with a Russian Orthodox priestly cadence and accent. During that two-hour talk, Solzhenitsyn was our patriarch or mentor. My table partner did stay for the whole talk, stirring somewhat uncomfortable in his chair. Alexandre Solzhenitsyn filled the room with his voice and his truth. Solzhenitsyn’s works allowed me to reach the truth concerning the barbaric nature of the former USSR. As a young political activist, I was fortunate to have received the invitation to hear this great figure in person talk about defying the odds in the gulag.

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Dueling on Energy and VP’s

Mitt Romney, for all his faults, is better than nearly any candidate in recent memory in staying on message. And he did this morning again and again in pushing back on the new Barack Obama ad which, the McCain team contends, is misleading in several respects. Romney was blunt: Obama is dishonest because no “oil company” has or can legally give money to John McCain (or any candidate) and the “tax cut for Exxon” isn’t a special tax cut for big oil but a mischaracterization of McCain’s across the board corporate tax. (At least in this segment Romney doesn’t mention that Obama is now talking about a corporate tax cut.)

Meanwhile, the new kid on the VP consideration block, Eric Cantor, does his energy pushback/surrogate try out on a media call of his own. Unlike his fellow Virginian Tim Kaine, he’s mum about his VP chances. But it’s clear that his profile has risen in the McCain camp.

What to make of this? Three things, I think. First, Obama’s ads really are problematic and he repeats the mistake of earlier efforts in believing that no one will notice. At a time when he’s fighting off an onslaught of attacks from McCain and skepticism from pundits as to whether his New Politics is a canard, this is a risky approach. Second, his ad suggests that the Obama camp is more than a little nervous about the energy issue. They have been thrown on defense and the strain is apparent. And finally, we see once again that it helps to have good surrogates. But frankly that’s not the only thing to look for in a VP. Either one of the two potential VP’s can make an argument and both can continue doing so in the future. It’s not the sole consideration for picking a VP (especially when the surrogate himself may be subject to criticism), but it is a good skill for him to have. And it seems that the McCain camp wants to make sure whomever they pick has that talent in his repertoire.

Mitt Romney, for all his faults, is better than nearly any candidate in recent memory in staying on message. And he did this morning again and again in pushing back on the new Barack Obama ad which, the McCain team contends, is misleading in several respects. Romney was blunt: Obama is dishonest because no “oil company” has or can legally give money to John McCain (or any candidate) and the “tax cut for Exxon” isn’t a special tax cut for big oil but a mischaracterization of McCain’s across the board corporate tax. (At least in this segment Romney doesn’t mention that Obama is now talking about a corporate tax cut.)

Meanwhile, the new kid on the VP consideration block, Eric Cantor, does his energy pushback/surrogate try out on a media call of his own. Unlike his fellow Virginian Tim Kaine, he’s mum about his VP chances. But it’s clear that his profile has risen in the McCain camp.

What to make of this? Three things, I think. First, Obama’s ads really are problematic and he repeats the mistake of earlier efforts in believing that no one will notice. At a time when he’s fighting off an onslaught of attacks from McCain and skepticism from pundits as to whether his New Politics is a canard, this is a risky approach. Second, his ad suggests that the Obama camp is more than a little nervous about the energy issue. They have been thrown on defense and the strain is apparent. And finally, we see once again that it helps to have good surrogates. But frankly that’s not the only thing to look for in a VP. Either one of the two potential VP’s can make an argument and both can continue doing so in the future. It’s not the sole consideration for picking a VP (especially when the surrogate himself may be subject to criticism), but it is a good skill for him to have. And it seems that the McCain camp wants to make sure whomever they pick has that talent in his repertoire.

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If Victory Doesn’t Matter

The biggest hurdle the U.S. faces in Afghanistan is American civilian indifference to victory in Iraq. If we can’t get excited about a victory in progress, where are we going to find the will to turn a losing situation into a future triumph? Especially once we start seeing the familiar and ugly images of ratcheted-up warfare. Right now, Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer say they are pleased to see national security refocused from Iraq onto Afghanistan, but their enthusiasm will be put to the test if Afghanistan casualties, IED’s, and suicide bombings become daily front-page fodder.

Barack Obama has said that even though the troop surge has worked in Iraq, he does not regret opposing it from the start. Nancy Pelosi would refuse to acknowledge Iraqi political progress even if that country successfully adopted the U.S. constitution as its own. When American leaders are this – what’s the word? — annoyed by American success, it’s only natural that American citizens shrug it off too. It is somehow inconceivable that — no matter the outcome in Iraq — the U.S. will ever see a victory parade for the troops who liberated millions. A new CNN poll shows that most Americans (52 percent) believe that the surge is a success, but success seems to be beside the point. A new Rasmussen poll shows that only around 35 percent feel the troops should stay until the mission is complete. A nation that doesn’t care about its military victories is going to have a hard time enduring further wars long enough to win.

Not surprisingly, the chorus calling for withdrawal from Afghanistan is already getting louder. Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski said, “I think we’re literally running the risk of unintentionally doing what the Russians did. And that, if it happens, would be a tragedy.” Brzezinski added that U.S. operations carried out “with little regard for civilian casualties” in Afghanistan are beginning to turn Afghans against the U.S.

This is Iraqspeak and it’s music to the antiwar crowd’s ears. Predictably, Juan Cole writes,

If the Afghanistan gambit is sincere, I don’t think it is good geostrategy. Afghanistan is far more unwinnable even than Iraq. . . Afghan tribes are fractious. They feud. Their territory is vast and rugged, and they know it like the back of their hands. Afghans are Jeffersonians in the sense that they want a light touch from the central government, and heavy handedness drives them into rebellion. Stand up Karzai’s army and air force and give him some billions to bribe the tribal chiefs, and let him apply carrot and stick himself. We need to get out of there.

What’s more is when the redoubled fighting gets ugly, the antiwar folks will pull out a ready-made, polished off excuse for wanting to cut and run: the Bush administration’s “distraction” in Iraq has left the Afghanistan front to fester for so long that victory is impossible.

Americans don’t have to like what victory looks like in Iraq, but they ignore its importance at their own peril. Without the success of the surge, Iraq would not only have fallen prey to al Qaeda nihilism, but ultimately to Iranian control. If Americans are indifferent about deposing Saddam, breaking al Qaeda’s back, halting Iranian hegemony, and midwifing consensual government in the heart of Mesopotamia, it’s hard to imagine why they’d care about the Taliban, Hamid Karzai and peace in Afghanistan. (Why not just adopt Brzezinski’s plan — bribe warlords and flee?) It’s hard to imagine a fight Americans will ever consider “worth it” again.

The biggest hurdle the U.S. faces in Afghanistan is American civilian indifference to victory in Iraq. If we can’t get excited about a victory in progress, where are we going to find the will to turn a losing situation into a future triumph? Especially once we start seeing the familiar and ugly images of ratcheted-up warfare. Right now, Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer say they are pleased to see national security refocused from Iraq onto Afghanistan, but their enthusiasm will be put to the test if Afghanistan casualties, IED’s, and suicide bombings become daily front-page fodder.

Barack Obama has said that even though the troop surge has worked in Iraq, he does not regret opposing it from the start. Nancy Pelosi would refuse to acknowledge Iraqi political progress even if that country successfully adopted the U.S. constitution as its own. When American leaders are this – what’s the word? — annoyed by American success, it’s only natural that American citizens shrug it off too. It is somehow inconceivable that — no matter the outcome in Iraq — the U.S. will ever see a victory parade for the troops who liberated millions. A new CNN poll shows that most Americans (52 percent) believe that the surge is a success, but success seems to be beside the point. A new Rasmussen poll shows that only around 35 percent feel the troops should stay until the mission is complete. A nation that doesn’t care about its military victories is going to have a hard time enduring further wars long enough to win.

Not surprisingly, the chorus calling for withdrawal from Afghanistan is already getting louder. Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski said, “I think we’re literally running the risk of unintentionally doing what the Russians did. And that, if it happens, would be a tragedy.” Brzezinski added that U.S. operations carried out “with little regard for civilian casualties” in Afghanistan are beginning to turn Afghans against the U.S.

This is Iraqspeak and it’s music to the antiwar crowd’s ears. Predictably, Juan Cole writes,

If the Afghanistan gambit is sincere, I don’t think it is good geostrategy. Afghanistan is far more unwinnable even than Iraq. . . Afghan tribes are fractious. They feud. Their territory is vast and rugged, and they know it like the back of their hands. Afghans are Jeffersonians in the sense that they want a light touch from the central government, and heavy handedness drives them into rebellion. Stand up Karzai’s army and air force and give him some billions to bribe the tribal chiefs, and let him apply carrot and stick himself. We need to get out of there.

What’s more is when the redoubled fighting gets ugly, the antiwar folks will pull out a ready-made, polished off excuse for wanting to cut and run: the Bush administration’s “distraction” in Iraq has left the Afghanistan front to fester for so long that victory is impossible.

Americans don’t have to like what victory looks like in Iraq, but they ignore its importance at their own peril. Without the success of the surge, Iraq would not only have fallen prey to al Qaeda nihilism, but ultimately to Iranian control. If Americans are indifferent about deposing Saddam, breaking al Qaeda’s back, halting Iranian hegemony, and midwifing consensual government in the heart of Mesopotamia, it’s hard to imagine why they’d care about the Taliban, Hamid Karzai and peace in Afghanistan. (Why not just adopt Brzezinski’s plan — bribe warlords and flee?) It’s hard to imagine a fight Americans will ever consider “worth it” again.

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Facts Are Always Helpful

Stephen Biddle, Michael O’Hanlon, and Kenneth Pollack provide a cogent analysis, devoid of partisan rancor and filled with facts, of the current situation in Iraq and the way forward.

First, they dispel the myth that the Sunni awakening just “happened” and that the surge proponents in essence got “lucky.” This “by magic” theory is popular, of course, among those who would rather not credit the surge for the phenomenal turnaround in Iraq. The authors explain:

The surge, and especially its new emphasis on the provision of direct population security by U.S. forces, enabled the Sunnis to survive this realignment in the face of AQI’s[Al Qaeda in Iraq] inevitable counterattacks. In Anbar, U.S. firepower, combined with a persistent troop presence and Sunni knowledge of whom and where to strike, essentially expelled AQI from the province. News of this “Anbar model” spread rapidly among disaffected Sunnis elsewhere. In just a few months, the result was a large-scale stand-down of the Sunni insurgency and the decimation of AQI throughout western and central Iraq. Cease-fires with Sunnis in turn facilitated cease-fires with key Shiite militias. Sadr’s JAM[ Jaish al-Mahdi ] militia thugs (many of whom seemed mostly concerned with extorting personal profit) grew, Shiite support for JAM plummeted — especially since the U.S. military buildup in Baghdad and the cease-fires with the Sunnis gave the United States enough troop strength to offer the Shiites security without gangsterism. Sadr, his popularity declining and his control over his own fighters increasingly tenuous, chose to stand down rather than confront the strengthened U.S. force.

The authors make clear, however, that the progress of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) is not complete and remains dependent on the presence of U.S. troops:

The Basra campaign would have ended in disaster if not for support from coalition firepower and the arrival of ISF units with U.S. military- and police-training teams. In short, the ISF have improved to the point where they have become a powerful partner to U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, but they will require outside support for at least some time to come.

As for political progress, the authors note that “thanks to reduced violence, diminished sectarian warfare, weakened militias, and the prospect of upcoming elections for which Sunnis and others who boycotted the last round are expected to turn out in force, the old patterns of Iraqi political life are giving way to new ones.” They acknowledge political progress is slow but warn against trying to threaten the parties into speeding up the process of reconciliation:

Some argue that to do this, the United States must withdraw, or threaten to withdraw, its troops. They believe this would force Iraqi leaders to put their differences aside and reach a grand compromise on reconciliation, because Iraqis would need to solve their own problems either without a U.S. military crutch or in order to preserve a U.S. presence as a reward for reconciliation. There is some merit to this logic. It is true that the presence of U.S. forces reduces the stakes for Iraqi politicians, since it limits violence. And if Iraq faced chaos otherwise, a threat of withdrawal would certainly be worth trying. But withdrawal is a risky gambit. And progress is now being made without it: violence is down dramatically, and political change, although slow, is under way. Threatening withdrawal might speed this progress, but today it seems more likely to derail it instead.

Their bottom line: we are on the right course but significant reductions in U.S. forces are still a two or three years away:

Drawdowns on this scale in Iraq cannot be rushed without serious risk. For now, a substantial U.S. presence is essential to stabilize a system of local cease-fires and maintain an environment in which gradual compromise can proceed without gambling on a single grand bargain among wary rivals in Baghdad. This is not to say that today’s troop count can or should be maintained until 2010 — modest near-term withdrawals to below the pre-surge levels will be necessary to establish a sustainable posture. The 130,000 troops and 15 brigades of the pre-2007 force may be too large to maintain into 2009 without unacceptable damage to the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps. But if the United States can maintain a substantial force in Iraq through the critical period of the next two to three years, there is now a credible basis for believing that major drawdowns after that can be enabled by success rather than mandated by failure.

Of course, much could still go wrong. And if an electoral crisis or some other event returns Iraq to civil war, it would be very hard to justify another troop surge to try to stabilize Iraq. Containment — withdrawing all U.S. troops while working to prevent the chaos in Iraq from spilling over to the rest of the region — would then become the United States’ only realistic option.

What is plain from the entirety of their analysis is that none of the progress we see now would have been possible without the surge. Contending otherwise is the last refuge of politicians who hand anticipated, if not banked on, defeat. And the authors’ assessment of the future suggests that if we fail to appreciate the circumstances which brought about the improved state of affairs, we will not have the patience or wisdom to guide us in the future. Finally, one can’t read their report without being sobered by the prospect that gains are not permanent and that the next President will, in large part, determine whether a remarkable success can, after all the political fury dies down, be secured in Iraq. In that regard, it probably helps to have someone who thinks there is value in success.

Stephen Biddle, Michael O’Hanlon, and Kenneth Pollack provide a cogent analysis, devoid of partisan rancor and filled with facts, of the current situation in Iraq and the way forward.

First, they dispel the myth that the Sunni awakening just “happened” and that the surge proponents in essence got “lucky.” This “by magic” theory is popular, of course, among those who would rather not credit the surge for the phenomenal turnaround in Iraq. The authors explain:

The surge, and especially its new emphasis on the provision of direct population security by U.S. forces, enabled the Sunnis to survive this realignment in the face of AQI’s[Al Qaeda in Iraq] inevitable counterattacks. In Anbar, U.S. firepower, combined with a persistent troop presence and Sunni knowledge of whom and where to strike, essentially expelled AQI from the province. News of this “Anbar model” spread rapidly among disaffected Sunnis elsewhere. In just a few months, the result was a large-scale stand-down of the Sunni insurgency and the decimation of AQI throughout western and central Iraq. Cease-fires with Sunnis in turn facilitated cease-fires with key Shiite militias. Sadr’s JAM[ Jaish al-Mahdi ] militia thugs (many of whom seemed mostly concerned with extorting personal profit) grew, Shiite support for JAM plummeted — especially since the U.S. military buildup in Baghdad and the cease-fires with the Sunnis gave the United States enough troop strength to offer the Shiites security without gangsterism. Sadr, his popularity declining and his control over his own fighters increasingly tenuous, chose to stand down rather than confront the strengthened U.S. force.

The authors make clear, however, that the progress of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) is not complete and remains dependent on the presence of U.S. troops:

The Basra campaign would have ended in disaster if not for support from coalition firepower and the arrival of ISF units with U.S. military- and police-training teams. In short, the ISF have improved to the point where they have become a powerful partner to U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, but they will require outside support for at least some time to come.

As for political progress, the authors note that “thanks to reduced violence, diminished sectarian warfare, weakened militias, and the prospect of upcoming elections for which Sunnis and others who boycotted the last round are expected to turn out in force, the old patterns of Iraqi political life are giving way to new ones.” They acknowledge political progress is slow but warn against trying to threaten the parties into speeding up the process of reconciliation:

Some argue that to do this, the United States must withdraw, or threaten to withdraw, its troops. They believe this would force Iraqi leaders to put their differences aside and reach a grand compromise on reconciliation, because Iraqis would need to solve their own problems either without a U.S. military crutch or in order to preserve a U.S. presence as a reward for reconciliation. There is some merit to this logic. It is true that the presence of U.S. forces reduces the stakes for Iraqi politicians, since it limits violence. And if Iraq faced chaos otherwise, a threat of withdrawal would certainly be worth trying. But withdrawal is a risky gambit. And progress is now being made without it: violence is down dramatically, and political change, although slow, is under way. Threatening withdrawal might speed this progress, but today it seems more likely to derail it instead.

Their bottom line: we are on the right course but significant reductions in U.S. forces are still a two or three years away:

Drawdowns on this scale in Iraq cannot be rushed without serious risk. For now, a substantial U.S. presence is essential to stabilize a system of local cease-fires and maintain an environment in which gradual compromise can proceed without gambling on a single grand bargain among wary rivals in Baghdad. This is not to say that today’s troop count can or should be maintained until 2010 — modest near-term withdrawals to below the pre-surge levels will be necessary to establish a sustainable posture. The 130,000 troops and 15 brigades of the pre-2007 force may be too large to maintain into 2009 without unacceptable damage to the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps. But if the United States can maintain a substantial force in Iraq through the critical period of the next two to three years, there is now a credible basis for believing that major drawdowns after that can be enabled by success rather than mandated by failure.

Of course, much could still go wrong. And if an electoral crisis or some other event returns Iraq to civil war, it would be very hard to justify another troop surge to try to stabilize Iraq. Containment — withdrawing all U.S. troops while working to prevent the chaos in Iraq from spilling over to the rest of the region — would then become the United States’ only realistic option.

What is plain from the entirety of their analysis is that none of the progress we see now would have been possible without the surge. Contending otherwise is the last refuge of politicians who hand anticipated, if not banked on, defeat. And the authors’ assessment of the future suggests that if we fail to appreciate the circumstances which brought about the improved state of affairs, we will not have the patience or wisdom to guide us in the future. Finally, one can’t read their report without being sobered by the prospect that gains are not permanent and that the next President will, in large part, determine whether a remarkable success can, after all the political fury dies down, be secured in Iraq. In that regard, it probably helps to have someone who thinks there is value in success.

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Israeli Generals Talk Tough

But maybe they shouldn’t. Just two years after the IDF embarrassed itself in Lebanon, Israel’s top brass have begun talking tough again. Today IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi let slip that Israel knows the precise whereabouts of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, as well as the identities of his captors. His handlers have been quick to downplay what appears to be a serious gaffe — if the IDF knows where he is and who they are, the only possible outcome of admitting it is (a) to force the captors to relocate him, and (b) to alert them to Israeli intelligence agents that have found out.

In the meantime, the new commander of the IDF’s armored corps, Agai Yehezkel, told YNet that “The process the IDF had undergone since the end of the war, mainly that of training and combat readiness, positions us in a different place that we were two years ago . . . I don’t think Hizbullah would be a match for us.” Perhaps the IDF is much better than it was two years ago, and perhaps Israel has taken better advantage of the cease-fire than has Hizbullzah. But this kind of rhetoric sounds too much like the old IDF–the one that talked tough but could not defeat its enemy in the field.

But maybe they shouldn’t. Just two years after the IDF embarrassed itself in Lebanon, Israel’s top brass have begun talking tough again. Today IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi let slip that Israel knows the precise whereabouts of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, as well as the identities of his captors. His handlers have been quick to downplay what appears to be a serious gaffe — if the IDF knows where he is and who they are, the only possible outcome of admitting it is (a) to force the captors to relocate him, and (b) to alert them to Israeli intelligence agents that have found out.

In the meantime, the new commander of the IDF’s armored corps, Agai Yehezkel, told YNet that “The process the IDF had undergone since the end of the war, mainly that of training and combat readiness, positions us in a different place that we were two years ago . . . I don’t think Hizbullah would be a match for us.” Perhaps the IDF is much better than it was two years ago, and perhaps Israel has taken better advantage of the cease-fire than has Hizbullzah. But this kind of rhetoric sounds too much like the old IDF–the one that talked tough but could not defeat its enemy in the field.

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Dicey on Drilling

The Wall Street Journal welcomes Barack Obama’s recent, albeit not very logical, semi-conversion on offshore drilling :

Even as he proposes to arbitrarily soak the profits from oil exploration . . . Barack Obama is finally beginning to bend on offshore drilling. Late last week he said he could perhaps support more U.S. energy exploration, so long as it was part of a larger “bipartisan” deal that presumably includes more rules for conservation, subsidies for noncarbon fuels, and other favorites of his green backers. Leave aside the economic contradiction in allowing more drilling to find more oil only to strip the profits from companies that succeed in finding it. The real news here is political, as Mr. Obama and his advisers have begun to see the polls move against them on energy. With gas at $4 a gallon, voters even in such drilling-averse states as Florida increasingly see the need for more domestic oil supplies. So Mr. Obama is now doing a modified, limited switcheroo to block any John McCain traction on the issue.

But what started out as a low rumble of discontent has turned to shrieks of protest from his base. Really, there is nothing more sacred (other than retreat from Iraq and perhaps abortion rights) on the Left than environmental absolutism. And just as on FISA, the Left is shocked, shocked to find The One has turned on them.

So how’s he going to pull this off? Luckily, Nancy Pelosi and Congress slipped out of town, putting off any vote that might force Obama to take a stand. The Republican minority has finally awoken and is having one heck of a good time without the Democrats. (Did Saturday Night Live or Comedy Central run tutorials for the McCain campaign and Congressional leadership on “Having Fun At Your Political Opponent’s Expense”?) But eventually they will return and Obama will have to let us know whether he really means to support domestic drilling or not.

And more telling, we’ll see if he has any of those vaunted bipartisan deal-making skills. The compromise “gangs” — 14 on judges and 10 on energy – never seem to include him. Odd for such a bridge-builder. But for now it’s plain to see that Obama is racing to catch up to the groundswell of support for domestic energy development. Unfortunately for him, you can’t be both for and against offshore drilling. So stay tuned.

The Wall Street Journal welcomes Barack Obama’s recent, albeit not very logical, semi-conversion on offshore drilling :

Even as he proposes to arbitrarily soak the profits from oil exploration . . . Barack Obama is finally beginning to bend on offshore drilling. Late last week he said he could perhaps support more U.S. energy exploration, so long as it was part of a larger “bipartisan” deal that presumably includes more rules for conservation, subsidies for noncarbon fuels, and other favorites of his green backers. Leave aside the economic contradiction in allowing more drilling to find more oil only to strip the profits from companies that succeed in finding it. The real news here is political, as Mr. Obama and his advisers have begun to see the polls move against them on energy. With gas at $4 a gallon, voters even in such drilling-averse states as Florida increasingly see the need for more domestic oil supplies. So Mr. Obama is now doing a modified, limited switcheroo to block any John McCain traction on the issue.

But what started out as a low rumble of discontent has turned to shrieks of protest from his base. Really, there is nothing more sacred (other than retreat from Iraq and perhaps abortion rights) on the Left than environmental absolutism. And just as on FISA, the Left is shocked, shocked to find The One has turned on them.

So how’s he going to pull this off? Luckily, Nancy Pelosi and Congress slipped out of town, putting off any vote that might force Obama to take a stand. The Republican minority has finally awoken and is having one heck of a good time without the Democrats. (Did Saturday Night Live or Comedy Central run tutorials for the McCain campaign and Congressional leadership on “Having Fun At Your Political Opponent’s Expense”?) But eventually they will return and Obama will have to let us know whether he really means to support domestic drilling or not.

And more telling, we’ll see if he has any of those vaunted bipartisan deal-making skills. The compromise “gangs” — 14 on judges and 10 on energy – never seem to include him. Odd for such a bridge-builder. But for now it’s plain to see that Obama is racing to catch up to the groundswell of support for domestic energy development. Unfortunately for him, you can’t be both for and against offshore drilling. So stay tuned.

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News from Damascus

Puzzlingly, this story has flown completely under the radar, despite its importance. Two days ago, a brigadier general named Mohammad Suleiman was shot in the head at a seaside resort in Syria. Suleiman was the Syrian government’s liaison with Hezbollah:

A Syrian opposition Web site said Suleiman, a confidant of President Bashar al-Assad, had been shot in the head in his seaside villa. Another site said the shots had been fired by a sniper from a boat. The resort was cordoned off for hours and local media did not report the killing.

Assad was visiting Iran on Saturday. His brother Maher al-Assad, head of the Republican Guards, and other senior officers were at Suleiman’s funeral in the town of Dreikish, east of Tartous, sources said.

The presence of Maher al-Assad, one of the most powerful figures in Syria, indicated Suleiman’s pivotal role in the Syrian hierarchy and the high regard he enjoyed among members of the ruling class.

“This is earth-shattering. Since when do we hear of assassinations taking place like this in Syria? Suleiman was privy to many things,” one of the sources told Reuters.

Arab media, including Lebanon’s Future television station, had earlier reported the killing. There was no comment from the Syrian authorities, who pride themselves on maintaining stability in the country of 19 million people.

Bashar Assad has now absorbed three unanswered blows which have been struck either by Israel, or which are perceived as having been struck by Israel: the airstrike in September, 2007; the assassination of Imad Mughniyah in February of this year; and now the assassination of the government’s point man on Hezbollah. Whether the two recent killings were in fact Israeli operations is more or less irrelevant. What’s important is that they reveal the true nature of the Syrian regime. Regardless of his ability to convince many people to the contrary, Bashar Assad is demonstrably weak and vulnerable.

Puzzlingly, this story has flown completely under the radar, despite its importance. Two days ago, a brigadier general named Mohammad Suleiman was shot in the head at a seaside resort in Syria. Suleiman was the Syrian government’s liaison with Hezbollah:

A Syrian opposition Web site said Suleiman, a confidant of President Bashar al-Assad, had been shot in the head in his seaside villa. Another site said the shots had been fired by a sniper from a boat. The resort was cordoned off for hours and local media did not report the killing.

Assad was visiting Iran on Saturday. His brother Maher al-Assad, head of the Republican Guards, and other senior officers were at Suleiman’s funeral in the town of Dreikish, east of Tartous, sources said.

The presence of Maher al-Assad, one of the most powerful figures in Syria, indicated Suleiman’s pivotal role in the Syrian hierarchy and the high regard he enjoyed among members of the ruling class.

“This is earth-shattering. Since when do we hear of assassinations taking place like this in Syria? Suleiman was privy to many things,” one of the sources told Reuters.

Arab media, including Lebanon’s Future television station, had earlier reported the killing. There was no comment from the Syrian authorities, who pride themselves on maintaining stability in the country of 19 million people.

Bashar Assad has now absorbed three unanswered blows which have been struck either by Israel, or which are perceived as having been struck by Israel: the airstrike in September, 2007; the assassination of Imad Mughniyah in February of this year; and now the assassination of the government’s point man on Hezbollah. Whether the two recent killings were in fact Israeli operations is more or less irrelevant. What’s important is that they reveal the true nature of the Syrian regime. Regardless of his ability to convince many people to the contrary, Bashar Assad is demonstrably weak and vulnerable.

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A Rough Landing For Wenner

Rolling Stone founder and editor Jann Wenner opened a July 10 profile of Barack Obama with this fawning assessment of Obama’s campaign airplane:

The first thing I notice about the plane is how low-key it is, all coach seating from back (the press) to front (the candidate). There is no separate compartment for this potential president; he just holds down the second row for himself and his newspapers.

The message here is égalité reigns on Air Force Change — so unlike the egomaniacal and hierarchical trappings of standard campaigns. I wonder how Wenner took the following report from CBS News:

Barack Obama’s new campaign plane is nothing short of grand. Well, for the candidate that is.

Obama’s section of the plane rivals that of any first class. Recently the front cabin of the Boeing 757 was retrofitted to install four individual chairs that resemble La-Z-Boys. They are free-standing and made of plush leather with pockets on the sides. There is also a booth which seats four for a meeting or a meal.

His chair has his name and campaign logo embroidered on the back top — “Obama ‘08″ on one line and “President” underneath.

Not even a “for” wedged between the two. That’s really “low-key,” eh, Jann? The non-presidential area is divided between business and coach. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Obama’s tricked-out campaign jet. I don’t even think there’s anything wrong with the flying flip-flop. I just can’t get over the folly of those who foolishly read greatness and virtue into every aspect of Barack Obama’s existence, no matter how trivial.

Rolling Stone founder and editor Jann Wenner opened a July 10 profile of Barack Obama with this fawning assessment of Obama’s campaign airplane:

The first thing I notice about the plane is how low-key it is, all coach seating from back (the press) to front (the candidate). There is no separate compartment for this potential president; he just holds down the second row for himself and his newspapers.

The message here is égalité reigns on Air Force Change — so unlike the egomaniacal and hierarchical trappings of standard campaigns. I wonder how Wenner took the following report from CBS News:

Barack Obama’s new campaign plane is nothing short of grand. Well, for the candidate that is.

Obama’s section of the plane rivals that of any first class. Recently the front cabin of the Boeing 757 was retrofitted to install four individual chairs that resemble La-Z-Boys. They are free-standing and made of plush leather with pockets on the sides. There is also a booth which seats four for a meeting or a meal.

His chair has his name and campaign logo embroidered on the back top — “Obama ‘08″ on one line and “President” underneath.

Not even a “for” wedged between the two. That’s really “low-key,” eh, Jann? The non-presidential area is divided between business and coach. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Obama’s tricked-out campaign jet. I don’t even think there’s anything wrong with the flying flip-flop. I just can’t get over the folly of those who foolishly read greatness and virtue into every aspect of Barack Obama’s existence, no matter how trivial.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

For the Hillary Clinton fans, you can imagine how infuriating this must be: all the reasons for denying a full count for Michigan and Florida, it is now plain, were just excuses while the race was on to deny her momentum, the basis for a “popular vote” win and the appearance of a near-tie primary.

Americans are apparently less gulible than Barack Obama thinks they are. Yes, it would be hard not to be.

If you thought George Stephanopoulos was tough in that Philadelphia debate, get a load of this. GOP candidates should be handing out DVD’s of that interview. Yikes.

We learn about Air Obama: “Air Force One may seem a tad claustrophobic.” Well, it’s not like it’s part of a pattern, right?

Now he’s done it– Paris’ mom is miffed.

When will we accept “no” for an answer?

We knew he won’t admit error, is an ideologue, and isn’t moved by new facts (other than poll numbers), and now we learn his organization operates on secrecy. When will people believe that the “third Bush term ” isn’t far off the mark?

Lindsey Graham says: “I can’t translate an Obama speech. I don’t know what he’s saying.”(I don’t know isn’t “We are the ones we have been waiting for” crystal clear? ) But he really nails the recent flap: “Because Senator Obama did something no one has ever done that I know of — go overseas, and have a rally in front of 200,000 adoring fans, and talk like you’re the embodiment of America, that — he is, in fact, living off celebrity, not ideas, and one of the campaign issues is credibility. To say that Barack Obama did not intentionally inject the idea that he was going to be a victim of his name and his race is a lie.”

Chuck Todd thinks McCain isn’t specific enough on policy, but “the good news for the McCain campaign is they may have found the right strategy, which is–of how to defeat Obama, how to bring him down a notch. Hit him as an elitist, hit him as soft, sort of on, on his readiness to be president. ”

Juan Williams sums up Obama: “He wants to be the unifier. He wants to bring people together. He doesn’t want to remind them that he’s the black guy in the race. So he did play the race card. McCain responded and, I think, responded fairly.And I must say I’m struck by the idea that so many of the Clinton people have come to McCain’s defense and said, ‘You know what? This is what they did to us.’ Suddenly, any criticism of Obama becomes a racist attack.”

Andrea Mitchell on Meet The Press: “The problem with Kaine, though, is that it does double down on inexperience. When you combine the two of them, they’ve both been only in public life on the national level for a couple of years.” Forget about the VP, isn’t that a bigger problem for the top of the ticket?

She was really on a tear: “Nancy Pelosi was playing to her home base in California and not permitting a vote on offshore drilling, trying to protect Barack Obama, the candidacy, the platform against offshore drilling. And now Obama has shifted, even though he says it’s not a shift, which is yet another example of him trying to… tweak that on a Friday night.”

If you get the sense the Sunday talk shows weren’t kind to Obama, you’re right.

For the Hillary Clinton fans, you can imagine how infuriating this must be: all the reasons for denying a full count for Michigan and Florida, it is now plain, were just excuses while the race was on to deny her momentum, the basis for a “popular vote” win and the appearance of a near-tie primary.

Americans are apparently less gulible than Barack Obama thinks they are. Yes, it would be hard not to be.

If you thought George Stephanopoulos was tough in that Philadelphia debate, get a load of this. GOP candidates should be handing out DVD’s of that interview. Yikes.

We learn about Air Obama: “Air Force One may seem a tad claustrophobic.” Well, it’s not like it’s part of a pattern, right?

Now he’s done it– Paris’ mom is miffed.

When will we accept “no” for an answer?

We knew he won’t admit error, is an ideologue, and isn’t moved by new facts (other than poll numbers), and now we learn his organization operates on secrecy. When will people believe that the “third Bush term ” isn’t far off the mark?

Lindsey Graham says: “I can’t translate an Obama speech. I don’t know what he’s saying.”(I don’t know isn’t “We are the ones we have been waiting for” crystal clear? ) But he really nails the recent flap: “Because Senator Obama did something no one has ever done that I know of — go overseas, and have a rally in front of 200,000 adoring fans, and talk like you’re the embodiment of America, that — he is, in fact, living off celebrity, not ideas, and one of the campaign issues is credibility. To say that Barack Obama did not intentionally inject the idea that he was going to be a victim of his name and his race is a lie.”

Chuck Todd thinks McCain isn’t specific enough on policy, but “the good news for the McCain campaign is they may have found the right strategy, which is–of how to defeat Obama, how to bring him down a notch. Hit him as an elitist, hit him as soft, sort of on, on his readiness to be president. ”

Juan Williams sums up Obama: “He wants to be the unifier. He wants to bring people together. He doesn’t want to remind them that he’s the black guy in the race. So he did play the race card. McCain responded and, I think, responded fairly.And I must say I’m struck by the idea that so many of the Clinton people have come to McCain’s defense and said, ‘You know what? This is what they did to us.’ Suddenly, any criticism of Obama becomes a racist attack.”

Andrea Mitchell on Meet The Press: “The problem with Kaine, though, is that it does double down on inexperience. When you combine the two of them, they’ve both been only in public life on the national level for a couple of years.” Forget about the VP, isn’t that a bigger problem for the top of the ticket?

She was really on a tear: “Nancy Pelosi was playing to her home base in California and not permitting a vote on offshore drilling, trying to protect Barack Obama, the candidacy, the platform against offshore drilling. And now Obama has shifted, even though he says it’s not a shift, which is yet another example of him trying to… tweak that on a Friday night.”

If you get the sense the Sunday talk shows weren’t kind to Obama, you’re right.

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Gershom Gorenberg Crack-Up Watch

The Israeli post office issued a stamp commemorating the Gush Katif settlement in Gaza, which was evacuated in 2005. The stamp has a picture of tomatoes on it, and kids jumping rope. Gorenberg’s reaction:

What’s next? A U.S. commemorative stamp for the KKK?

I always enjoy these moments of clarity.

The Israeli post office issued a stamp commemorating the Gush Katif settlement in Gaza, which was evacuated in 2005. The stamp has a picture of tomatoes on it, and kids jumping rope. Gorenberg’s reaction:

What’s next? A U.S. commemorative stamp for the KKK?

I always enjoy these moments of clarity.

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A Lesson Learned From The al-Dura Affair?

Network news stations have remarkably few reservations when it comes to replaying video footage obtained from sources close to terrorists. But with recent attention on the Muhammad al-Dura affair (that is, attention paid by the blogosphere and publications like The Weekly Standard, not network news stations), perhaps times are changing. The blog Augean Stables reports that CNN and BBC are–for now–not picking up on footage recently released by Reuters of terrorists in Gaza training and bomb-making:

Interestingly, CNN and BBC seem to have chosen to avoid showing this new Reuters footage, even though they regularly air the anti-Israel footage which Reuters has previously pumped out.

But though CNN and BBC appear to have reservations (at least, with this particular video), Reuters still maintains a healthy enough relationship with terrorists to obtain such a video.

Network news stations have remarkably few reservations when it comes to replaying video footage obtained from sources close to terrorists. But with recent attention on the Muhammad al-Dura affair (that is, attention paid by the blogosphere and publications like The Weekly Standard, not network news stations), perhaps times are changing. The blog Augean Stables reports that CNN and BBC are–for now–not picking up on footage recently released by Reuters of terrorists in Gaza training and bomb-making:

Interestingly, CNN and BBC seem to have chosen to avoid showing this new Reuters footage, even though they regularly air the anti-Israel footage which Reuters has previously pumped out.

But though CNN and BBC appear to have reservations (at least, with this particular video), Reuters still maintains a healthy enough relationship with terrorists to obtain such a video.

Read Less




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