Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 5, 2008

But I Thought Iraq Was a Quagmire

Which deluded imperialist American Zionist neoconservative Likudnik had the following advice for Iran?

What Iran is doing stems simply from arrogance … In the event of a decision against Iran, this country will suffer the same outcome as Iraq … Iran is not any stronger than Iraq and won’t have the means to resist (a military attack) on its own … The challenges are greater and exceed Iran’s ability to reply

That would be Moammar Gaddafi.

Which deluded imperialist American Zionist neoconservative Likudnik had the following advice for Iran?

What Iran is doing stems simply from arrogance … In the event of a decision against Iran, this country will suffer the same outcome as Iraq … Iran is not any stronger than Iraq and won’t have the means to resist (a military attack) on its own … The challenges are greater and exceed Iran’s ability to reply

That would be Moammar Gaddafi.

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Re: Re: Social Worker Sadr

I don’t disagree with you, Abe, and you’re wise to issue the warning you did. I would certainly not now, and not ever, place my hopes on the good intentions of Muqtada al-Sadr. He is a dangerous and malevolent figure who plays the game of power politics very well. That is why I quoted the U.S. military spokesman who said that he will be judged on his deeds rather than his words.

My points was simply this: the fact that al-Sadr feels the need to repurpose, even for a time, the Mahdi Army into a “social-services organization” and that al-Sadr himself has shown a new-found interest in religious studies is a product not of choice but of necessity. The Mahdi Army is far weaker than it once was, for all the reasons I laid out in my piece, and al-Sadr is having to adjust to that new reality.

That doesn’t mean he wants to turn his swords into plowshares; but given the remarkable events of the last year, he appears to be (reluctantly) sheathing them. And while we surely haven’t heard the last of al-Sadr, what’s happening in Iraq and to the Mahdi Army is a remarkable and encouraging thing to behold.

I don’t disagree with you, Abe, and you’re wise to issue the warning you did. I would certainly not now, and not ever, place my hopes on the good intentions of Muqtada al-Sadr. He is a dangerous and malevolent figure who plays the game of power politics very well. That is why I quoted the U.S. military spokesman who said that he will be judged on his deeds rather than his words.

My points was simply this: the fact that al-Sadr feels the need to repurpose, even for a time, the Mahdi Army into a “social-services organization” and that al-Sadr himself has shown a new-found interest in religious studies is a product not of choice but of necessity. The Mahdi Army is far weaker than it once was, for all the reasons I laid out in my piece, and al-Sadr is having to adjust to that new reality.

That doesn’t mean he wants to turn his swords into plowshares; but given the remarkable events of the last year, he appears to be (reluctantly) sheathing them. And while we surely haven’t heard the last of al-Sadr, what’s happening in Iraq and to the Mahdi Army is a remarkable and encouraging thing to behold.

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Wave the Green Card for Linguists

The Christian Science Monitor reports that the U.S. army is contemplating paying whopping reenlistment bonuses to native linguists fluent in vital languages such as Arabic and Dari. That’s because there is such high demand for their services, with intelligence and law-enforcement agencies competing with the military. Many of the most valuable linguists are Arab-Americans or other hyphenated Americans who possess the kind of cultural and linguistic fluency that is almost impossible for a whitebread American to duplicate. There is already a program to fast-track such linguists for citizenship—but only if they have a Green Card already. Isn’t it time we lifted the Green Card requirement altogether? That step, which can be done with a stroke of the pen by the Defense Secretary, will vastly expand the pool of applicants—and perhaps save some money in enlistment bonuses.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that the U.S. army is contemplating paying whopping reenlistment bonuses to native linguists fluent in vital languages such as Arabic and Dari. That’s because there is such high demand for their services, with intelligence and law-enforcement agencies competing with the military. Many of the most valuable linguists are Arab-Americans or other hyphenated Americans who possess the kind of cultural and linguistic fluency that is almost impossible for a whitebread American to duplicate. There is already a program to fast-track such linguists for citizenship—but only if they have a Green Card already. Isn’t it time we lifted the Green Card requirement altogether? That step, which can be done with a stroke of the pen by the Defense Secretary, will vastly expand the pool of applicants—and perhaps save some money in enlistment bonuses.

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Speaking of Experience . . .

As the pundits plod through the season of VP speculation they sometimes reveal more about themselves and the tops of the tickets than the VP picks. This one from The New Republic is a case in point (and I think is not intended to be funny):

But ideology isn’t the only reason some of us are wary of Bayh. Another is his history of accomplishment–or relative lack thereof. I’ve been reading clips and calling around Captiol Hill lately, looking into Bayh’s record. And I’d be hard-pressed to name an issue on which he’s really distinguished himself. There’s no legislative agenda or intiative for which he is particularly famous. And there are no episodes in which he demonstrated particularly astute judgment.

Bayh may be smart, dedicated, and thoughtful. But the singular achievement for which he seems to be known is that he’s managed to get elected–and remain popular–in a state that’s not generally fond of Democrats. And even that is something for which he can’t take full credit himself, given that he is part of an Indiana political dynasty. If he had been born “Evan Smith” instead of “Evan Bayh,” would he have pulled this off?

This matters because–as I’ve written before–I think the most important criteria for picking a running mate is choosing somebody capable of serving as president in a time of crisis. It’s particularly important when choosing somebody as young as Bayh, since–if all goes well–he’ll become the heir apparent eight years hence. Accomplishments don’t necessairly equal readiness to be president. But, all other things being equal, I’d argue they are a decent indicator.

Whoa, there. No accomplishments? Experience is a “decent indicator” of ability to serve, especially in a crisis. You’re not thinking of . . . nah. And, mind you, this analysis concerns a man who has served two terms as governor and has been a U.S. Senator since 1998. Really, it’s bad form for the Obamaphiles to be bringing up accomplishments and experience now.

As the pundits plod through the season of VP speculation they sometimes reveal more about themselves and the tops of the tickets than the VP picks. This one from The New Republic is a case in point (and I think is not intended to be funny):

But ideology isn’t the only reason some of us are wary of Bayh. Another is his history of accomplishment–or relative lack thereof. I’ve been reading clips and calling around Captiol Hill lately, looking into Bayh’s record. And I’d be hard-pressed to name an issue on which he’s really distinguished himself. There’s no legislative agenda or intiative for which he is particularly famous. And there are no episodes in which he demonstrated particularly astute judgment.

Bayh may be smart, dedicated, and thoughtful. But the singular achievement for which he seems to be known is that he’s managed to get elected–and remain popular–in a state that’s not generally fond of Democrats. And even that is something for which he can’t take full credit himself, given that he is part of an Indiana political dynasty. If he had been born “Evan Smith” instead of “Evan Bayh,” would he have pulled this off?

This matters because–as I’ve written before–I think the most important criteria for picking a running mate is choosing somebody capable of serving as president in a time of crisis. It’s particularly important when choosing somebody as young as Bayh, since–if all goes well–he’ll become the heir apparent eight years hence. Accomplishments don’t necessairly equal readiness to be president. But, all other things being equal, I’d argue they are a decent indicator.

Whoa, there. No accomplishments? Experience is a “decent indicator” of ability to serve, especially in a crisis. You’re not thinking of . . . nah. And, mind you, this analysis concerns a man who has served two terms as governor and has been a U.S. Senator since 1998. Really, it’s bad form for the Obamaphiles to be bringing up accomplishments and experience now.

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China’s Olympic Diplomacy?

Today, the New York Times reports that China’s foreign policy has, in recent months, considerably softened on two fronts: Japan and Taiwan. Why the noticeable shift in Beijing?

Both nations have new China-friendly leaders, and this has helped. Yet, as history demonstrates, being friendly to China has been no guarantee of good relations with Beijing’s communist rulers. The article then identifies a factor that many analysts seem to feel is the real reason: the 17-day extravaganza that starts this Friday in the Chinese capital. “Beijing’s most important concern is to not destroy the Olympics,” argues Chang Jung-kung of Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang party. “China wants to use the Olympics as a turning point,” says Yang Bojiang of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

As explanations go, this one seems a bit shallow. These days, virtually every event and phenomena in the world’s most populous state is linked to the most interesting Olympics since 1936. A much better reason for the apparent change in foreign policy approach appears in another article in today’s Times: “Booming China Suddenly Worries That a Slowdown Is Taking Hold.” The article, which indicates that most sectors of the economy are headed south, forecasts that the country could lose a few percentage points of growth.

When my wife and I were in China in late June and early July, we noticed that people along China’s prosperous coast expected a more serious downtown. For instance, a well-known fund manager in Beijing told us that, although he’s not selling assets himself, all his acquaintances are, and even he thinks the coming downturn will be “very bad.” As widely reported, the ruling Politburo last month put the brakes on the government’s slow-the-economy program. Now it appears that Beijing is back to its pedal-to-the-metal mentality of economic growth.

There are fundamental reasons for a change in the direction of Chinese economic activity, but the point here is that the perception of slipping growth-or accelerating slide-must have some effect on the psychology of the Communist Party’s insecure autocrats. They undoubtedly feel confident these days that they can handle any single problem, but it’s not clear they think they can deal with a deteriorating economy and bad relationships with neighboring countries.

If China feels it must improve its ties with the Japanese and Taiwanese, then how about with us? There is, after all, no single country more important to the Chinese than America. The economic relationship between China and the United States is complex, but here’s one statistic that Chinese leaders must think about every day: of their overall trade surplus last year of $262 billion, all but $6 billion was attributable to sales to Americans. So it’s no time for President Bush to let Beijing’s leaders off the hook. There’s a lot of things Dubya wants them to do, and now, near the end of his term, is the time to get Chinese leaders to drop their obstructionism and to start helping him on critical issues.

Today, the New York Times reports that China’s foreign policy has, in recent months, considerably softened on two fronts: Japan and Taiwan. Why the noticeable shift in Beijing?

Both nations have new China-friendly leaders, and this has helped. Yet, as history demonstrates, being friendly to China has been no guarantee of good relations with Beijing’s communist rulers. The article then identifies a factor that many analysts seem to feel is the real reason: the 17-day extravaganza that starts this Friday in the Chinese capital. “Beijing’s most important concern is to not destroy the Olympics,” argues Chang Jung-kung of Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang party. “China wants to use the Olympics as a turning point,” says Yang Bojiang of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

As explanations go, this one seems a bit shallow. These days, virtually every event and phenomena in the world’s most populous state is linked to the most interesting Olympics since 1936. A much better reason for the apparent change in foreign policy approach appears in another article in today’s Times: “Booming China Suddenly Worries That a Slowdown Is Taking Hold.” The article, which indicates that most sectors of the economy are headed south, forecasts that the country could lose a few percentage points of growth.

When my wife and I were in China in late June and early July, we noticed that people along China’s prosperous coast expected a more serious downtown. For instance, a well-known fund manager in Beijing told us that, although he’s not selling assets himself, all his acquaintances are, and even he thinks the coming downturn will be “very bad.” As widely reported, the ruling Politburo last month put the brakes on the government’s slow-the-economy program. Now it appears that Beijing is back to its pedal-to-the-metal mentality of economic growth.

There are fundamental reasons for a change in the direction of Chinese economic activity, but the point here is that the perception of slipping growth-or accelerating slide-must have some effect on the psychology of the Communist Party’s insecure autocrats. They undoubtedly feel confident these days that they can handle any single problem, but it’s not clear they think they can deal with a deteriorating economy and bad relationships with neighboring countries.

If China feels it must improve its ties with the Japanese and Taiwanese, then how about with us? There is, after all, no single country more important to the Chinese than America. The economic relationship between China and the United States is complex, but here’s one statistic that Chinese leaders must think about every day: of their overall trade surplus last year of $262 billion, all but $6 billion was attributable to sales to Americans. So it’s no time for President Bush to let Beijing’s leaders off the hook. There’s a lot of things Dubya wants them to do, and now, near the end of his term, is the time to get Chinese leaders to drop their obstructionism and to start helping him on critical issues.

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Lecture Over

It wasn’t too long ago the British officers were lecturing their American counterparts on the finer points of counterinsurgency. (See, for instance, this article.) You don’t hear many such lectures any more. In part this is due to the signal success that the U.S. armed forces have been enjoying lately in Iraq. But it is also due to the growing realization that the Brits have, as they might put it, blotted their copybook. Or, to put it into Americanese, they screwed up.

The London papers are full today of the latest screw-up to come to light: Apparently British forces cut a deal with the Mahdist Army not to enter Basra, thus preventing them from coming to the aid of Iraqi forces when their offensive started earlier this year. American troops had to rush in to fill the void.

The Times article contains this damning passage:

Colonel Imad, who heads the 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division, the most experienced division, commanded one of the quick-reaction battalions summoned to assist British-trained local forces, who faltered from the outset because of inexperience and lack of support.

He said: “Without the support of the Americans we would not have accomplished the mission because the British Forces had done nothing there.

“I do not trust the British Forces. They did not want to lose any soldiers for the mission.”

In fairness to the British soldiers, they did not craft their own rules of engagement. Those were forced on them by a casualty-averse Labor government which, since the departure of Tony Blair, has shown at best tolerance, rather than outright support, for the mission in Iraq. The Brits are still among the best allies we have, and they are increasing their efforts in Afghanistan, where they are fighting and suffering casualties. Their armed forces also remain one of the most professional in the world. But Her Majesty’s forces are suffering increasingly from budgetary neglect and political pressures from a society ever more averse to warfare. The Basra misadventure is simply one more embarrassment for an army that once wrote the book on counterinsurgency with impressive successes from Malaya to Northern Ireland.

It wasn’t too long ago the British officers were lecturing their American counterparts on the finer points of counterinsurgency. (See, for instance, this article.) You don’t hear many such lectures any more. In part this is due to the signal success that the U.S. armed forces have been enjoying lately in Iraq. But it is also due to the growing realization that the Brits have, as they might put it, blotted their copybook. Or, to put it into Americanese, they screwed up.

The London papers are full today of the latest screw-up to come to light: Apparently British forces cut a deal with the Mahdist Army not to enter Basra, thus preventing them from coming to the aid of Iraqi forces when their offensive started earlier this year. American troops had to rush in to fill the void.

The Times article contains this damning passage:

Colonel Imad, who heads the 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division, the most experienced division, commanded one of the quick-reaction battalions summoned to assist British-trained local forces, who faltered from the outset because of inexperience and lack of support.

He said: “Without the support of the Americans we would not have accomplished the mission because the British Forces had done nothing there.

“I do not trust the British Forces. They did not want to lose any soldiers for the mission.”

In fairness to the British soldiers, they did not craft their own rules of engagement. Those were forced on them by a casualty-averse Labor government which, since the departure of Tony Blair, has shown at best tolerance, rather than outright support, for the mission in Iraq. The Brits are still among the best allies we have, and they are increasing their efforts in Afghanistan, where they are fighting and suffering casualties. Their armed forces also remain one of the most professional in the world. But Her Majesty’s forces are suffering increasingly from budgetary neglect and political pressures from a society ever more averse to warfare. The Basra misadventure is simply one more embarrassment for an army that once wrote the book on counterinsurgency with impressive successes from Malaya to Northern Ireland.

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Commentary of the Day

From J.E. Dyer, on Daniel Halper:

The public narrative on this is probably too well entrenched to ever be dislodged. But, once again, whatever it is you believed about Saddam and WMD, US intelligence did NOT believe Saddam had the stockpiles of mushroom-cloud producing warheads evoked by Colin Powell’s UN speech.

US intelligence believed Saddam had two basic things: an undetermined number of former-Soviet chemical rounds on-hand, along with an undetermined number of battlefield rockets and short-medium-range missiles to deliver them (the inventory never accounted for by UN inspectors); and a group of WMD programs. The WMD programs were believed to include nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs, along with the ballistic missile program to provide warhead delivery. Saddam was thought to have dual-use factories which could rapidly be converted from commercial production or research to WMD production. As stated repeatedly by President Bush, the concern about Saddam and these programs was the ease with which he might supply the quantities of WMD sufficient for terrorist attacks (which could be very small) to groups like Al Qaeda.

After the war, what we found — in spite of the months Saddam had had available to move items out of the country, whether you believe he did or not — was:

– More than former-Soviet 500 chemical rounds

– Documentation and pieces/parts of Saddam’s ballistic missile programs, including development of missiles with longer range than allowed by the UN sanctions

– A number of tons of partially enriched uranium (the precise number has not been reported to the public, and Canada accepted the uranium after the war), retained from the 1980s in defiance of UN sanctions

– Blueprints for a uranium-enrichment centrifuge, and documentation (see the Duelfer Report) of Saddam’s continuing retention of scientists, infrastructure, foreign contacts, and a funding line for a nuclear weapons program

– Containers of the chemical toxins sarin, VX, and mustard gas

– Documentation of the intended dual use of chemical factories for weapon production

What we found after the war largely validated our pre-war estimates. Those who insist otherwise simply don’t know what they are talking about.

From J.E. Dyer, on Daniel Halper:

The public narrative on this is probably too well entrenched to ever be dislodged. But, once again, whatever it is you believed about Saddam and WMD, US intelligence did NOT believe Saddam had the stockpiles of mushroom-cloud producing warheads evoked by Colin Powell’s UN speech.

US intelligence believed Saddam had two basic things: an undetermined number of former-Soviet chemical rounds on-hand, along with an undetermined number of battlefield rockets and short-medium-range missiles to deliver them (the inventory never accounted for by UN inspectors); and a group of WMD programs. The WMD programs were believed to include nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs, along with the ballistic missile program to provide warhead delivery. Saddam was thought to have dual-use factories which could rapidly be converted from commercial production or research to WMD production. As stated repeatedly by President Bush, the concern about Saddam and these programs was the ease with which he might supply the quantities of WMD sufficient for terrorist attacks (which could be very small) to groups like Al Qaeda.

After the war, what we found — in spite of the months Saddam had had available to move items out of the country, whether you believe he did or not — was:

– More than former-Soviet 500 chemical rounds

– Documentation and pieces/parts of Saddam’s ballistic missile programs, including development of missiles with longer range than allowed by the UN sanctions

– A number of tons of partially enriched uranium (the precise number has not been reported to the public, and Canada accepted the uranium after the war), retained from the 1980s in defiance of UN sanctions

– Blueprints for a uranium-enrichment centrifuge, and documentation (see the Duelfer Report) of Saddam’s continuing retention of scientists, infrastructure, foreign contacts, and a funding line for a nuclear weapons program

– Containers of the chemical toxins sarin, VX, and mustard gas

– Documentation of the intended dual use of chemical factories for weapon production

What we found after the war largely validated our pre-war estimates. Those who insist otherwise simply don’t know what they are talking about.

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RIP Peter Rodman

I can’t call Peter Rodman–the public intellectual and former assistant Secretary of Defense who died August 2nd–a friend. I wish I could. But I only met him five or six times (and spoke to him over the phone a couple more) in my capacity as the chief U.S. correspondent for Haaretz. I’m not even sure if he was happy to have these talks. He started them as a favor to a journalist he really was friends with–the late Zeev Schief, Israel’s most prolific defense writer ever. Rodman and I had formal meetings at his Pentagon office, and some less formal discussions after he left.

People who knew him much better, among them Henry Kissinger and William Kristol, have already paid tribute to his great contributions to America. After I read those articles detailing his achievements, I went back to my notebook to re-examine our last conversation. We had been talking about his testimony to the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. “The idea of splitting Syria from Iran seems like a no-brainer. This is the most important strategic argument that is often made for trying to improve the U.S. relationship with Syria,” he told the committee. “Why do you feel the need to express such skepticism,” I asked him. He said that he realized there are good arguments in favor of dealing with Damascus, but he wouldn’t want false ones to have an impact on the discussion.

Rodman told the Subcommittee that a “grand bargain” between the US and Syria will not be an easy sell: “What else could we give them, apart from helping them recover the Golan? We can’t ‘give them Lebanon’, or seem to. In 1991, the inclusion of Syria in the Madrid peace process was seen by some (including the Syrians) as a green light to step up their bullying in Lebanon. That’s not in the cards today.” But in the conversation we had, he emphasized the benefits of Syrian-Israeli talks: “Testing their intentions can be a good thing.”

However, he kept warning me and others about falling into a trap hidden by dreams of peace waiting just around the corner. Syria does not change, he said, and Lebanon is still the big prize, not the Golan Heights. (Some Israelis, he said in a surprisingly uncharacteristic moment of impoliteness “think that it’s all about them, but it’s really not.”) “Assad will be thinking strategically about his peacemaking efforts, and so should we,” he said (I think by “we” he meant both the U.S. and Israel).

Rodman believed Lebanon cannot be put up for sale–a belief recently weakened in some circles following the glowing reception this emerging democracy have had for the child-murderer Samir Kuntar. But I don’t think he would’ve changed his mind. Rodman–though he thought a free Lebanon would be better for the region than a more dangerous and cocky Syria–wasn’t enthusiastic about the prospects for democracy in Lebanon. So no dreams of his could have been shattered by recent events.

Reading through the notes of our last conversation this morning, I realized that for Rodman the one key message was this: Israel’s leaders (and the U.S.’s) should make sure that they not only “make the right decisions, but also that they are making them for the right reasons.” In other words: no self-delusion.

I can’t call Peter Rodman–the public intellectual and former assistant Secretary of Defense who died August 2nd–a friend. I wish I could. But I only met him five or six times (and spoke to him over the phone a couple more) in my capacity as the chief U.S. correspondent for Haaretz. I’m not even sure if he was happy to have these talks. He started them as a favor to a journalist he really was friends with–the late Zeev Schief, Israel’s most prolific defense writer ever. Rodman and I had formal meetings at his Pentagon office, and some less formal discussions after he left.

People who knew him much better, among them Henry Kissinger and William Kristol, have already paid tribute to his great contributions to America. After I read those articles detailing his achievements, I went back to my notebook to re-examine our last conversation. We had been talking about his testimony to the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. “The idea of splitting Syria from Iran seems like a no-brainer. This is the most important strategic argument that is often made for trying to improve the U.S. relationship with Syria,” he told the committee. “Why do you feel the need to express such skepticism,” I asked him. He said that he realized there are good arguments in favor of dealing with Damascus, but he wouldn’t want false ones to have an impact on the discussion.

Rodman told the Subcommittee that a “grand bargain” between the US and Syria will not be an easy sell: “What else could we give them, apart from helping them recover the Golan? We can’t ‘give them Lebanon’, or seem to. In 1991, the inclusion of Syria in the Madrid peace process was seen by some (including the Syrians) as a green light to step up their bullying in Lebanon. That’s not in the cards today.” But in the conversation we had, he emphasized the benefits of Syrian-Israeli talks: “Testing their intentions can be a good thing.”

However, he kept warning me and others about falling into a trap hidden by dreams of peace waiting just around the corner. Syria does not change, he said, and Lebanon is still the big prize, not the Golan Heights. (Some Israelis, he said in a surprisingly uncharacteristic moment of impoliteness “think that it’s all about them, but it’s really not.”) “Assad will be thinking strategically about his peacemaking efforts, and so should we,” he said (I think by “we” he meant both the U.S. and Israel).

Rodman believed Lebanon cannot be put up for sale–a belief recently weakened in some circles following the glowing reception this emerging democracy have had for the child-murderer Samir Kuntar. But I don’t think he would’ve changed his mind. Rodman–though he thought a free Lebanon would be better for the region than a more dangerous and cocky Syria–wasn’t enthusiastic about the prospects for democracy in Lebanon. So no dreams of his could have been shattered by recent events.

Reading through the notes of our last conversation this morning, I realized that for Rodman the one key message was this: Israel’s leaders (and the U.S.’s) should make sure that they not only “make the right decisions, but also that they are making them for the right reasons.” In other words: no self-delusion.

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Snobette

Still unclear about what liberal elitism looks like? Check out Wonkette’s post about John McCain’s stop at a biker rally.

That John McCain really is a “man of the people,” which is why he went out to the Sturgis biker rally in South Dakota yesterday to praise the slobs for their slavish dependence on Muslim Arab petroleum. “This is my first time here,” McCain told the crowd of fat, tattooed motorcycle fetishists from the suburbs, “but I recognize that sound. It’s the sound of freedom.” The sound, actually, was just these people revving their foreign-oil powered bikes for no reason at all beyond a childlike delight in destroying everybody else’s peace and quiet.

Something tells me it doesn’t take much to destroy Wonkette’s peace and quiet. And I confess to a childlike delight at the prospect of doing so. He goes on:

Oh, and then McCain offered Cindy to the motorcyclists, in a nod to the old Hells Angels’ tradition of letting everybody bang your old lady.

Oh, did he? How, exactly? From CNN:

Indeed, McCain felt so comfortable at the event that he even volunteered his wife for the rally’s traditional beauty pageant, an infamously debauched event that’s been known to feature topless women.

“I encouraged Cindy to compete,” McCain said to cheers. “I told her with a little luck she could be the only woman ever to serve as first lady and Miss Buffalo Chip.”

Not so much banging, I guess. This seems like a fairly standard populist stunt, of the kind that presidential candidates have been engaging in for decades. But it’s hard for me to see how Wonkette’s scorn can be reconciled with the idea that Obama is somehow the more inclusive candidate.

Still unclear about what liberal elitism looks like? Check out Wonkette’s post about John McCain’s stop at a biker rally.

That John McCain really is a “man of the people,” which is why he went out to the Sturgis biker rally in South Dakota yesterday to praise the slobs for their slavish dependence on Muslim Arab petroleum. “This is my first time here,” McCain told the crowd of fat, tattooed motorcycle fetishists from the suburbs, “but I recognize that sound. It’s the sound of freedom.” The sound, actually, was just these people revving their foreign-oil powered bikes for no reason at all beyond a childlike delight in destroying everybody else’s peace and quiet.

Something tells me it doesn’t take much to destroy Wonkette’s peace and quiet. And I confess to a childlike delight at the prospect of doing so. He goes on:

Oh, and then McCain offered Cindy to the motorcyclists, in a nod to the old Hells Angels’ tradition of letting everybody bang your old lady.

Oh, did he? How, exactly? From CNN:

Indeed, McCain felt so comfortable at the event that he even volunteered his wife for the rally’s traditional beauty pageant, an infamously debauched event that’s been known to feature topless women.

“I encouraged Cindy to compete,” McCain said to cheers. “I told her with a little luck she could be the only woman ever to serve as first lady and Miss Buffalo Chip.”

Not so much banging, I guess. This seems like a fairly standard populist stunt, of the kind that presidential candidates have been engaging in for decades. But it’s hard for me to see how Wonkette’s scorn can be reconciled with the idea that Obama is somehow the more inclusive candidate.

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Never Going to Thrill The Base

Conservative pundits may not like it when John McCain runs from George W. Bush. And they really don’t like it when he sounds like Mike Huckabee chastising big business and oil companies. But let’s get real here. McCain’s biggest political problem is the identification with a very unpopular president. Conservatives may or may not like it (and last time I checked many weren’t terribly enamored with the current administration’s handling of Iran, executive management skills and spending laxity) but that’s just Politics 101. It’s not a bad tactic for McCain to try to inoculate himself against the “Bush clone” tag and the “are you better off than you were 8 years ago?” query. His biggest problem is that it is very, very hard for a candidate to escape the shadow of his incumbent President, no matter how often he points out the differences and fights he has had with him.

On the economy, it should come as no surprise that McCain is not the second coming of Adam Smith. He likes more regulation and he harbors more animosity toward what he sees as the excesses big business than most fiscal conservatives. But by the same token, he has been a resolute free trader and he seems to understand the perils of high taxes. He even managed to avoid the temptation of CommonWealth Care and come up with an impressive market-based health-care plan. Still, there is no doubt that he’s always had a bit more Main Street than Wall Street Republican tendencies.

And this likely is not a bad thing when the key voters are in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania. He’s got to convince them that he’s not like the run-of-the-mill Republican or his poll numbers will start looking like a run-of-the-mill Republican. And as for frustrated fiscal conservatives, some pretty smart guys reminded their readers recently: “Conservatives should be willing to give McCain a fairly wide berth to accent his maverick credentials. ” And this won’t be the first time they’ll be asked to do just that.

Conservative pundits may not like it when John McCain runs from George W. Bush. And they really don’t like it when he sounds like Mike Huckabee chastising big business and oil companies. But let’s get real here. McCain’s biggest political problem is the identification with a very unpopular president. Conservatives may or may not like it (and last time I checked many weren’t terribly enamored with the current administration’s handling of Iran, executive management skills and spending laxity) but that’s just Politics 101. It’s not a bad tactic for McCain to try to inoculate himself against the “Bush clone” tag and the “are you better off than you were 8 years ago?” query. His biggest problem is that it is very, very hard for a candidate to escape the shadow of his incumbent President, no matter how often he points out the differences and fights he has had with him.

On the economy, it should come as no surprise that McCain is not the second coming of Adam Smith. He likes more regulation and he harbors more animosity toward what he sees as the excesses big business than most fiscal conservatives. But by the same token, he has been a resolute free trader and he seems to understand the perils of high taxes. He even managed to avoid the temptation of CommonWealth Care and come up with an impressive market-based health-care plan. Still, there is no doubt that he’s always had a bit more Main Street than Wall Street Republican tendencies.

And this likely is not a bad thing when the key voters are in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania. He’s got to convince them that he’s not like the run-of-the-mill Republican or his poll numbers will start looking like a run-of-the-mill Republican. And as for frustrated fiscal conservatives, some pretty smart guys reminded their readers recently: “Conservatives should be willing to give McCain a fairly wide berth to accent his maverick credentials. ” And this won’t be the first time they’ll be asked to do just that.

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Re: Social Worker Sadr

Pete, while I admit in the short term Sadr’s repurposing of the Mahdi Army is a clear indication of coalition success and Maliki’s legitimacy, the move has to be viewed with deep skepticism. Iran-backed terrorists are expert at being brazen when in control of a situation and working covertly when the situation demands. The Mahdi Army’s switch from militia to social services organization is chillingly reminiscent of Hezbollah’s modus operandi. Moreover, it bears a certain resemblance to the “wilderness” conception of jihad as prescribed by al Qaeda idea-man Abu-Bakar Naji.

Hezbollah was founded as a militia in the early 1980’s, but as they soon found themselves unable to match superior Israeli forces, they morphed into a comprehensive social services organization and political party. This allowed them to increase membership, expand their reach, drain the actual government of legitimacy, arm and train in greater secrecy, and garner misguided sympathy worldwide. While masquerading as legitimate defender of downtrodden Lebanese, Hezbollah practically built a shadow state in plain site.

Which brings me to the “wilderness.” Naji devised this approach specifically as a response to the West’s muscular tack since 9/11. According to Naji, under the circumstances imposed by the current War on Terror, jihad is more effectively waged by the establishment of unofficial Islamist states within states than through overt warfare. (And who now knows this better than Muqtada al-Sadr?) In the wilderness, terrorist operations are small-scale everyday occurrences. True, Sadr now claims killing is off the table, but he’s historically murky about starting and stopping ceasefires.

It seems clear that Sadr has accepted the fact of a democratic Iraqi state under the Maliki government. The question is whether he intends to function in that state as a cooperative Shi’ite leader or as founder of Hezbollah in Iraq. My money is on the latter.

Pete, while I admit in the short term Sadr’s repurposing of the Mahdi Army is a clear indication of coalition success and Maliki’s legitimacy, the move has to be viewed with deep skepticism. Iran-backed terrorists are expert at being brazen when in control of a situation and working covertly when the situation demands. The Mahdi Army’s switch from militia to social services organization is chillingly reminiscent of Hezbollah’s modus operandi. Moreover, it bears a certain resemblance to the “wilderness” conception of jihad as prescribed by al Qaeda idea-man Abu-Bakar Naji.

Hezbollah was founded as a militia in the early 1980’s, but as they soon found themselves unable to match superior Israeli forces, they morphed into a comprehensive social services organization and political party. This allowed them to increase membership, expand their reach, drain the actual government of legitimacy, arm and train in greater secrecy, and garner misguided sympathy worldwide. While masquerading as legitimate defender of downtrodden Lebanese, Hezbollah practically built a shadow state in plain site.

Which brings me to the “wilderness.” Naji devised this approach specifically as a response to the West’s muscular tack since 9/11. According to Naji, under the circumstances imposed by the current War on Terror, jihad is more effectively waged by the establishment of unofficial Islamist states within states than through overt warfare. (And who now knows this better than Muqtada al-Sadr?) In the wilderness, terrorist operations are small-scale everyday occurrences. True, Sadr now claims killing is off the table, but he’s historically murky about starting and stopping ceasefires.

It seems clear that Sadr has accepted the fact of a democratic Iraqi state under the Maliki government. The question is whether he intends to function in that state as a cooperative Shi’ite leader or as founder of Hezbollah in Iraq. My money is on the latter.

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Not All Is Well

Yes, Hillary Clinton is hitting the campaign trail for Barack Obama. Yet evidence abounds that her supporters aren’t buying her latest good-trooper routine. And if you didn’t know better you’d think Bill Clinton blew a few “dog whistles” (those subliminal messages Republicans are always accused of transmitting to their followers) in his interview in which he expressed how distressing it is to be labeled a racist and in which he essentially ducked the “Is Obama qualified?” question.

It is an open question how many of these ex-Hillary Clinton supporters are really going to defect. But in addition to anecdotal evidence there are bits of polling data which suggest that it may not be insignificant. And coincidentally or not, the recent messages which the McCain camp has been sharpening (e.g., Obama is an empty suit and egomaniac; he throws the race card when the heat is on; Obama isn’t a qualified commander-in-chief) are precisely the sorts of appeals that may resonate with the Hillary Clinton voters.

In some sense the aggrieved Clinton phenomenon may be a great leveler. Democrats have swelled their voting rolls and energized the base with a robust primary battle. But if a chunk of those voters (Hillary Clinton reminds us that 18 million of them voted for her) stay home or vote for McCain then that huge numbers advantage for the Democratic nominee is reduced. But let’s see how everyone feels in the fall. Time has a way of healing wounds. But not always.

Yes, Hillary Clinton is hitting the campaign trail for Barack Obama. Yet evidence abounds that her supporters aren’t buying her latest good-trooper routine. And if you didn’t know better you’d think Bill Clinton blew a few “dog whistles” (those subliminal messages Republicans are always accused of transmitting to their followers) in his interview in which he expressed how distressing it is to be labeled a racist and in which he essentially ducked the “Is Obama qualified?” question.

It is an open question how many of these ex-Hillary Clinton supporters are really going to defect. But in addition to anecdotal evidence there are bits of polling data which suggest that it may not be insignificant. And coincidentally or not, the recent messages which the McCain camp has been sharpening (e.g., Obama is an empty suit and egomaniac; he throws the race card when the heat is on; Obama isn’t a qualified commander-in-chief) are precisely the sorts of appeals that may resonate with the Hillary Clinton voters.

In some sense the aggrieved Clinton phenomenon may be a great leveler. Democrats have swelled their voting rolls and energized the base with a robust primary battle. But if a chunk of those voters (Hillary Clinton reminds us that 18 million of them voted for her) stay home or vote for McCain then that huge numbers advantage for the Democratic nominee is reduced. But let’s see how everyone feels in the fall. Time has a way of healing wounds. But not always.

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Social Worker Sadr

In the course of winning a war, there are many important moments. One of them may have been captured in today’s front page story in the Wall Street Journal. Titled “Radical Iraq Cleric in Retreat,” the piece opens this way:

Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr — long a thorn in the side of the U.S. military and Iraqi government — intends to disarm his once-dominant Mahdi Army militia and remake it as a social-services organization.

The story goes on to say this:

The transformation would represent a significant turnabout for a group that, as recently as earlier this year, was seen as one of the most destabilizing anti-American forces in Iraq. For much of the past several years, the Mahdi Army, headed by Mr. Sadr, a Shiite cleric, controlled sizable chunks of Baghdad and other cities. Its brand of pro-Shiite activism had the side effect of pitting Iraqis against each other, helping to stir worries of civil war.

Recently, however, the group has been hit by a largely successful Iraqi military crackdown against militia members operating as criminal gangs. At the same time, Mr. Sadr’s popular support is dwindling: Residents who once viewed the Mahdi Army as champions of the poor became alienated by what they saw as its thuggish behavior.

A new brochure, obtained by The Wall Street Journal and confirmed by Mr. Sadr’s chief spokesman, Sheik Salah al-Obeidi, states that the Mahdi Army will now be guided by Shiite spirituality instead of anti-American militancy. The group will focus on education, religion and social justice, according to the brochure, which is aimed at Mr. Sadr’s followers. The brochure also states that it “is not allowed to use arms at all.”

Posters have been put up in some areas of Baghdad saying a new direction for the Mahdi Army will be announced at this Friday’s prayers.

A U.S. military spokesman rightly reacted by saying that while the military welcomed the news, “the proof is always in the actions and not just the words, so we’ll take a wait-and-see approach.”

The reason for al Sadr’s newfound interest in social service organizing is clear enough: the Mahdi Army’s popular support is declining. Like AQI, the Mahdi Army has absorbed devastating military blows. The militia is now in disarray and Basra, long a stronghold for Sadr, is now under control of the Iraq army. According to the Journal, mortar attacks have fallen by close to 90 percent and the number of bodies that turn up in the city’s morgue each day has declined from 30 earlier this year to one or two today.

The Journal story follows on a July 27 story in the New York Times, in which

[t]he militia that was once the biggest defender of poor Shiites in Iraq, the Mahdi Army, has been profoundly weakened in a number of neighborhoods across Baghdad, in an important, if tentative, milestone for stability in Iraq.

It is a remarkable change from years past, when the militia, led by the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr, controlled a broad swath of Baghdad, including local governments and police forces. But its use of extortion and violence began alienating much of the Shiite population to the point that many quietly supported American military sweeps against the group.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki struck another blow this spring, when he led a military operation against it in Baghdad and in several southern cities.

The shift, if it holds, would solidify a transfer of power from Mr. Sadr, who had lorded his once broad political support over the government, to Mr. Maliki, who is increasingly seen as a true national leader.

According to the Times,

[t]he change is showing up in the lives of ordinary people. The price of cooking gas is less than a fifth of what it was when the militia controlled local gas stations, and kerosene for heating has also become much less expensive. In interviews, 17 Iraqis, including municipal officials, gas station workers and residents, described a pattern in which the militia’s control over the local economy and public services had ebbed. Merchants say they no longer have to pay protection money to militiamen. In some cases, employees with allegiances to the militia have been fired or transferred. Despite the militia’s weakened state, none of the Iraqis interviewed agreed to have their full names published for fear of retribution.

In a further sign of weakness, Shiite tribes in several neighborhoods are asking for compensation from militia members’ families for past wrongs.

…. Now neighborhoods are breathing more freely. A hairdresser in Ameen, a militia-controlled neighborhood in southeast Baghdad, said her clients no longer had to cover their faces when they left her house wearing makeup. Minibuses ferrying commuters in Sadr City are no longer required to play religious songs, said Abu Amjad, the civil servant, and now play songs about love, some even sung by women.

“They lost everything,” said the Sadr City government employee. “The Sadr movement has no power now. There is no militia control.”

This being Iraq, one wants to be cautious in drawing premature conclusions. The Mahdi Army, like AQI, is dangerous and capable of lethal acts. Iraq remains a fragile nation, having endured decades of unimaginable oppression followed by several years of chaos, fear, and a low-grade civil war. The extraordinary gains of the last year can still be undone if we jettison the strategy that has gotten us to this point.

On the other hand, it would be foolish not to appreciate, and to take sober satisfaction in, the magnitude of this development. Not long ago, Muqtada al-Sadr was one of the most powerful anti-American figures in Iraq and a tremendously destabilizing force. There were justifiable fears that he and his Mahdi Army would rip Iraq apart, prevent freedom from taking root, and hand Iran an enormous gift. The fact that Sadr appears to want to disarm his once-dominant militia is therefore a stunning and heartening turn of events. And it is further evidence–if any is needed at this point–of the wisdom of the surge and the achievements of the United States military, led by the incomparable David Petraeus. (Remind me again why Senator Obama insists, even in hindsight, he would still oppose the surge.)

What we are witnessing unfold in Iraq will one day be written about in history books, and not just military history books. To have taken a situation critics said was a mistake of historic proportions–the worst foreign policy debacle since the founding of the Republic–and to transform it into a victory, which is what is well under way, is among the more dramatic and important moments in American history. These have been exhausting years for our nation, ones during which tremendous errors in judgment were made. But they have been memorable and proud ones as well. And now, we can say with increasing confidence, they have been successful ones.

In the course of winning a war, there are many important moments. One of them may have been captured in today’s front page story in the Wall Street Journal. Titled “Radical Iraq Cleric in Retreat,” the piece opens this way:

Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr — long a thorn in the side of the U.S. military and Iraqi government — intends to disarm his once-dominant Mahdi Army militia and remake it as a social-services organization.

The story goes on to say this:

The transformation would represent a significant turnabout for a group that, as recently as earlier this year, was seen as one of the most destabilizing anti-American forces in Iraq. For much of the past several years, the Mahdi Army, headed by Mr. Sadr, a Shiite cleric, controlled sizable chunks of Baghdad and other cities. Its brand of pro-Shiite activism had the side effect of pitting Iraqis against each other, helping to stir worries of civil war.

Recently, however, the group has been hit by a largely successful Iraqi military crackdown against militia members operating as criminal gangs. At the same time, Mr. Sadr’s popular support is dwindling: Residents who once viewed the Mahdi Army as champions of the poor became alienated by what they saw as its thuggish behavior.

A new brochure, obtained by The Wall Street Journal and confirmed by Mr. Sadr’s chief spokesman, Sheik Salah al-Obeidi, states that the Mahdi Army will now be guided by Shiite spirituality instead of anti-American militancy. The group will focus on education, religion and social justice, according to the brochure, which is aimed at Mr. Sadr’s followers. The brochure also states that it “is not allowed to use arms at all.”

Posters have been put up in some areas of Baghdad saying a new direction for the Mahdi Army will be announced at this Friday’s prayers.

A U.S. military spokesman rightly reacted by saying that while the military welcomed the news, “the proof is always in the actions and not just the words, so we’ll take a wait-and-see approach.”

The reason for al Sadr’s newfound interest in social service organizing is clear enough: the Mahdi Army’s popular support is declining. Like AQI, the Mahdi Army has absorbed devastating military blows. The militia is now in disarray and Basra, long a stronghold for Sadr, is now under control of the Iraq army. According to the Journal, mortar attacks have fallen by close to 90 percent and the number of bodies that turn up in the city’s morgue each day has declined from 30 earlier this year to one or two today.

The Journal story follows on a July 27 story in the New York Times, in which

[t]he militia that was once the biggest defender of poor Shiites in Iraq, the Mahdi Army, has been profoundly weakened in a number of neighborhoods across Baghdad, in an important, if tentative, milestone for stability in Iraq.

It is a remarkable change from years past, when the militia, led by the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr, controlled a broad swath of Baghdad, including local governments and police forces. But its use of extortion and violence began alienating much of the Shiite population to the point that many quietly supported American military sweeps against the group.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki struck another blow this spring, when he led a military operation against it in Baghdad and in several southern cities.

The shift, if it holds, would solidify a transfer of power from Mr. Sadr, who had lorded his once broad political support over the government, to Mr. Maliki, who is increasingly seen as a true national leader.

According to the Times,

[t]he change is showing up in the lives of ordinary people. The price of cooking gas is less than a fifth of what it was when the militia controlled local gas stations, and kerosene for heating has also become much less expensive. In interviews, 17 Iraqis, including municipal officials, gas station workers and residents, described a pattern in which the militia’s control over the local economy and public services had ebbed. Merchants say they no longer have to pay protection money to militiamen. In some cases, employees with allegiances to the militia have been fired or transferred. Despite the militia’s weakened state, none of the Iraqis interviewed agreed to have their full names published for fear of retribution.

In a further sign of weakness, Shiite tribes in several neighborhoods are asking for compensation from militia members’ families for past wrongs.

…. Now neighborhoods are breathing more freely. A hairdresser in Ameen, a militia-controlled neighborhood in southeast Baghdad, said her clients no longer had to cover their faces when they left her house wearing makeup. Minibuses ferrying commuters in Sadr City are no longer required to play religious songs, said Abu Amjad, the civil servant, and now play songs about love, some even sung by women.

“They lost everything,” said the Sadr City government employee. “The Sadr movement has no power now. There is no militia control.”

This being Iraq, one wants to be cautious in drawing premature conclusions. The Mahdi Army, like AQI, is dangerous and capable of lethal acts. Iraq remains a fragile nation, having endured decades of unimaginable oppression followed by several years of chaos, fear, and a low-grade civil war. The extraordinary gains of the last year can still be undone if we jettison the strategy that has gotten us to this point.

On the other hand, it would be foolish not to appreciate, and to take sober satisfaction in, the magnitude of this development. Not long ago, Muqtada al-Sadr was one of the most powerful anti-American figures in Iraq and a tremendously destabilizing force. There were justifiable fears that he and his Mahdi Army would rip Iraq apart, prevent freedom from taking root, and hand Iran an enormous gift. The fact that Sadr appears to want to disarm his once-dominant militia is therefore a stunning and heartening turn of events. And it is further evidence–if any is needed at this point–of the wisdom of the surge and the achievements of the United States military, led by the incomparable David Petraeus. (Remind me again why Senator Obama insists, even in hindsight, he would still oppose the surge.)

What we are witnessing unfold in Iraq will one day be written about in history books, and not just military history books. To have taken a situation critics said was a mistake of historic proportions–the worst foreign policy debacle since the founding of the Republic–and to transform it into a victory, which is what is well under way, is among the more dramatic and important moments in American history. These have been exhausting years for our nation, ones during which tremendous errors in judgment were made. But they have been memorable and proud ones as well. And now, we can say with increasing confidence, they have been successful ones.

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The Real Problem

Barack Obama is getting his share of criticism as pundits wonder what happened to the blowout election of 2008. Alex Castellanos, longtime Republican strategist and former Mitt Romeny advisor, gets to the heart of the matter:

In the defining moment of his life, McCain was willing to give everything for one thing, and that one thing was his country. Contrast that with Obama, who has told America that he is “a proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world.” Obama is the talented salesman who seduced one state after another saying “Iowa, this is our moment,” “Virginia, this is our moment,” “Texas, this is our moment,” and then tells Europe, “people of Berlin, people of the world, this is our moment.” How many times can Barack Obama sell the same moment to everyone, before he becomes Mel Brooks in “The Producers”? Who is Barack Obama? His campaign, as it reupholsters him before our eyes, says we can never know — perhaps because Barack Obama does not know himself.

He continues on in explaining the Obama phenomenon:

He actually seems to transform himself, becoming what must be next. He has been called distant, aloof and somewhat unapproachable, perhaps because we cannot approach what he does not have, a solid core. His soul seems to be molten and made up of dreams, which is at once breathtakingly inspiring and forbiddingly indeterminate. When this young man with the flowing, passionate core, when this candidate without the solid-center changes positions and transforms himself as we watch, it leaves Americans much more in doubt about who he is and how he would lead us. It also reveals an Obama of unapproachable arrogance and inestimable self-regard: He appears confident voters will appreciate his superiority regardless of where he journeys or what he becomes to meet his political ambitions.

Well, if accurate, Obama has a difficult task. He can either develop a core — or come up with a darn good imitation of one — in the next 90 days or he can go ballistic and attack John McCain nonstop. I find the former not feasible and requiring a degree of self-awareness about his own shortcomings that we have yet to see from the man who “never” doubts himself. And that leaves the latter which will officially dispense with the New Politics, but no doubt be greeted with cheers by the Left who always believes that Democrats aren’t tough enough.

But one thing we know: Obama likely can’t ignore the problem. Through some clever humor and headline-grabbing attacks McCain has reached critical mass with his “The Emperor has no clothes” pitch. And from the Huffington Post to the New York Times (albeit via conservative columnists), even the Democrats know there’s an issue.

Barack Obama is getting his share of criticism as pundits wonder what happened to the blowout election of 2008. Alex Castellanos, longtime Republican strategist and former Mitt Romeny advisor, gets to the heart of the matter:

In the defining moment of his life, McCain was willing to give everything for one thing, and that one thing was his country. Contrast that with Obama, who has told America that he is “a proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world.” Obama is the talented salesman who seduced one state after another saying “Iowa, this is our moment,” “Virginia, this is our moment,” “Texas, this is our moment,” and then tells Europe, “people of Berlin, people of the world, this is our moment.” How many times can Barack Obama sell the same moment to everyone, before he becomes Mel Brooks in “The Producers”? Who is Barack Obama? His campaign, as it reupholsters him before our eyes, says we can never know — perhaps because Barack Obama does not know himself.

He continues on in explaining the Obama phenomenon:

He actually seems to transform himself, becoming what must be next. He has been called distant, aloof and somewhat unapproachable, perhaps because we cannot approach what he does not have, a solid core. His soul seems to be molten and made up of dreams, which is at once breathtakingly inspiring and forbiddingly indeterminate. When this young man with the flowing, passionate core, when this candidate without the solid-center changes positions and transforms himself as we watch, it leaves Americans much more in doubt about who he is and how he would lead us. It also reveals an Obama of unapproachable arrogance and inestimable self-regard: He appears confident voters will appreciate his superiority regardless of where he journeys or what he becomes to meet his political ambitions.

Well, if accurate, Obama has a difficult task. He can either develop a core — or come up with a darn good imitation of one — in the next 90 days or he can go ballistic and attack John McCain nonstop. I find the former not feasible and requiring a degree of self-awareness about his own shortcomings that we have yet to see from the man who “never” doubts himself. And that leaves the latter which will officially dispense with the New Politics, but no doubt be greeted with cheers by the Left who always believes that Democrats aren’t tough enough.

But one thing we know: Obama likely can’t ignore the problem. Through some clever humor and headline-grabbing attacks McCain has reached critical mass with his “The Emperor has no clothes” pitch. And from the Huffington Post to the New York Times (albeit via conservative columnists), even the Democrats know there’s an issue.

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Worse Than Pointless

In the Wall Street Journal, John Bolton explains why hanging hopes on talks with Iran is not just a waste of time, but a dangerous and self-defeating endeavor. “Every day that goes by allows Iran to increase the threat it poses, and the viability of the military option steadily declines over time,” Bolton writes.

As attempts at diplomacy with Iran sputter and fail, the Islamic Republic’s uranium enrichment moves swimmingly from phase to phase. As does the regime’s effort to hide materials and further bury their nuclear facilities. Moreover, each day finds Tehran boosting its own military capabilities and those of Syria and Hezbollah, so that counterstrikes will be more effective. As Bolton explains, the success of a military strike on Iran becomes less probable and more risky with each spurned offer and ignored deadline.

No wonder Iran is bragging about new weapons and threatening to close the Straits of Hormuz. The mullahs are experiencing a surge of confidence beyond their most ambitious dreams. Pacifist Westerners are fond of saying, “talk until you’re blue in the face,” but they don’t understand that your skin tone isn’t the only thing that changes while diplomacy fails.

However the Bush administration is no longer up to the task of changing course. For those who are distraught over what Bolton describes as the “total intellectual collapse” of this presidency, I offer a quote that may shed some light on the present mindset at the White House. Here’s how former State Department aide Dennis Ross describes the George H.W. Bush administration in the wake of the first Gulf War:

You had a very small circle of people, both at the top and then in the immediate second tier in the Gulf War, who, from August [1990] until the end of the war, went through an unbelievably intense, emotional, physical, exhausting experience. There was tremendous anxiety, especially when the Pentagon was making some of the predictions about what the casualties would be. I saw how it weighed on the president. But it wasn’t just the president. It was all those who were working on this. . . We could not generate the interest at the top because, in a sense, they were spent.

If that’s how that administration felt after a swift and decisive victory, just imagine what it’s like trying to get this administration, post-Iraq, to act on Iran.

In the Wall Street Journal, John Bolton explains why hanging hopes on talks with Iran is not just a waste of time, but a dangerous and self-defeating endeavor. “Every day that goes by allows Iran to increase the threat it poses, and the viability of the military option steadily declines over time,” Bolton writes.

As attempts at diplomacy with Iran sputter and fail, the Islamic Republic’s uranium enrichment moves swimmingly from phase to phase. As does the regime’s effort to hide materials and further bury their nuclear facilities. Moreover, each day finds Tehran boosting its own military capabilities and those of Syria and Hezbollah, so that counterstrikes will be more effective. As Bolton explains, the success of a military strike on Iran becomes less probable and more risky with each spurned offer and ignored deadline.

No wonder Iran is bragging about new weapons and threatening to close the Straits of Hormuz. The mullahs are experiencing a surge of confidence beyond their most ambitious dreams. Pacifist Westerners are fond of saying, “talk until you’re blue in the face,” but they don’t understand that your skin tone isn’t the only thing that changes while diplomacy fails.

However the Bush administration is no longer up to the task of changing course. For those who are distraught over what Bolton describes as the “total intellectual collapse” of this presidency, I offer a quote that may shed some light on the present mindset at the White House. Here’s how former State Department aide Dennis Ross describes the George H.W. Bush administration in the wake of the first Gulf War:

You had a very small circle of people, both at the top and then in the immediate second tier in the Gulf War, who, from August [1990] until the end of the war, went through an unbelievably intense, emotional, physical, exhausting experience. There was tremendous anxiety, especially when the Pentagon was making some of the predictions about what the casualties would be. I saw how it weighed on the president. But it wasn’t just the president. It was all those who were working on this. . . We could not generate the interest at the top because, in a sense, they were spent.

If that’s how that administration felt after a swift and decisive victory, just imagine what it’s like trying to get this administration, post-Iraq, to act on Iran.

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Pickens’s Plan

When the Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens unveiled his own energy plan focused on wind power and natural gas, I was skeptical, but not well informed enough to dismiss his proposal. This New York Times article by reporter Kate Galbraith only heightens my skepticism by quoting myriad experts pointing out myriad problems with Pickens’s proposed solutions.

To begin with, the article notes that “Mr. Pickens’s plan aligns with his own business interests”: He is “the majority shareholder in Clean Energy Fuels, a company that supplies fuel for natural gas vehicles,” as well as “one of the country’s biggest investors in wind generation.” Of course, that Pickens is willing to put his money where his mouth is isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it can be evidence that he is sincere. But sincere or not, his proposals seem more like, well, hot air than a serious way to curb our dependence on imported oil.

The biggest problem with his plan comes down to one word: infrastructure. We currently don’t have the infrastructure to run a lot of vehicles on natural gas (“now less than 1 percent of the country’s highway fleet”) or to generate a lot of electricity with wind, rather than natural gas. Converting millions of cars to natural gas would be prohibitively expensive. So would converting a lot of electrical generation and transmission to wind.

Near the end the article notes: “In his national plan, Mr. Pickens has pegged the cost of the wind turbines at roughly $1 trillion, not counting additional power lines. But that is wildly optimistic, contends Jamie Webster of PFC Energy, a consulting firm. To displace all generation from natural gas would require turbines costing as much as $14 trillion, he says.” That’s roughly the size of our entire annual Gross Domestic Product.

As for the other part of his plan, the article quotes David Friedman of the Union of Concerned Scientists as saying, “There’s a role for natural gas. It’s just that Pickens’s scale is way off the charts.”

In other words, there’s no free lunch. It would be nice if someone famous—someone like T. Boone Pickens or Al Gore—could offer a painless way to curb our dependence on imported oil, or even oil altogether. But such a solution doesn’t exist. Kicking our oil addiction will mean continuing research into alternative fuels and using nuclear energy as well as some renewable energy sources. But the biggest thing we can do in the immediate future is to increase vastly our exploitation of domestic energy resources, from offshore oil fields to continental shale sands. To drill or not to drill—that is still the question. Everything else is background noise.

When the Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens unveiled his own energy plan focused on wind power and natural gas, I was skeptical, but not well informed enough to dismiss his proposal. This New York Times article by reporter Kate Galbraith only heightens my skepticism by quoting myriad experts pointing out myriad problems with Pickens’s proposed solutions.

To begin with, the article notes that “Mr. Pickens’s plan aligns with his own business interests”: He is “the majority shareholder in Clean Energy Fuels, a company that supplies fuel for natural gas vehicles,” as well as “one of the country’s biggest investors in wind generation.” Of course, that Pickens is willing to put his money where his mouth is isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it can be evidence that he is sincere. But sincere or not, his proposals seem more like, well, hot air than a serious way to curb our dependence on imported oil.

The biggest problem with his plan comes down to one word: infrastructure. We currently don’t have the infrastructure to run a lot of vehicles on natural gas (“now less than 1 percent of the country’s highway fleet”) or to generate a lot of electricity with wind, rather than natural gas. Converting millions of cars to natural gas would be prohibitively expensive. So would converting a lot of electrical generation and transmission to wind.

Near the end the article notes: “In his national plan, Mr. Pickens has pegged the cost of the wind turbines at roughly $1 trillion, not counting additional power lines. But that is wildly optimistic, contends Jamie Webster of PFC Energy, a consulting firm. To displace all generation from natural gas would require turbines costing as much as $14 trillion, he says.” That’s roughly the size of our entire annual Gross Domestic Product.

As for the other part of his plan, the article quotes David Friedman of the Union of Concerned Scientists as saying, “There’s a role for natural gas. It’s just that Pickens’s scale is way off the charts.”

In other words, there’s no free lunch. It would be nice if someone famous—someone like T. Boone Pickens or Al Gore—could offer a painless way to curb our dependence on imported oil, or even oil altogether. But such a solution doesn’t exist. Kicking our oil addiction will mean continuing research into alternative fuels and using nuclear energy as well as some renewable energy sources. But the biggest thing we can do in the immediate future is to increase vastly our exploitation of domestic energy resources, from offshore oil fields to continental shale sands. To drill or not to drill—that is still the question. Everything else is background noise.

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Good Signs From Iraq

Current anti-war arguments (specifically, Francis Fukuyama’s) are outdated, dubious, and unreflective of conditions in Iraq, argues Bret Stephens in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Perhaps it’s worth considering what we have gained now that Iraq looks like a winner.

Here’s a partial list: Saddam is dead. Had he remained in power, we would likely still believe he had WMD. He would have been sitting on an oil bonanza priced at $140 a barrel. He would almost certainly have broken free from an already crumbling sanctions regime. The U.S. would be faced with not one, but two, major adversaries in the Persian Gulf. Iraqis would be living under a regime that, in an average year, was at least as murderous as the sectarian violence that followed its collapse. And the U.S. would have seemed powerless to shape events.

Instead, we now have a government that does not threaten its neighbors, does not sponsor terrorism, and is unlikely to again seek WMD. We have a democratic government, a first for the Arab world, and one that is increasingly capable of defending its people and asserting its interests.

It’s a persuasive piece. And just as importantly, this recent upswing in good fortune might explain why the only story on Iraq in the A section of today’s New York Times is about the end of an internal political struggle between Iraqi political leaders and the United Nations and American officials to agree on bylaws for the forthcoming democratic elections. Many suggest that Iraq needs political reconciliation. But an emergent politics itself might be the first sign of this reconciliation.

Current anti-war arguments (specifically, Francis Fukuyama’s) are outdated, dubious, and unreflective of conditions in Iraq, argues Bret Stephens in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Perhaps it’s worth considering what we have gained now that Iraq looks like a winner.

Here’s a partial list: Saddam is dead. Had he remained in power, we would likely still believe he had WMD. He would have been sitting on an oil bonanza priced at $140 a barrel. He would almost certainly have broken free from an already crumbling sanctions regime. The U.S. would be faced with not one, but two, major adversaries in the Persian Gulf. Iraqis would be living under a regime that, in an average year, was at least as murderous as the sectarian violence that followed its collapse. And the U.S. would have seemed powerless to shape events.

Instead, we now have a government that does not threaten its neighbors, does not sponsor terrorism, and is unlikely to again seek WMD. We have a democratic government, a first for the Arab world, and one that is increasingly capable of defending its people and asserting its interests.

It’s a persuasive piece. And just as importantly, this recent upswing in good fortune might explain why the only story on Iraq in the A section of today’s New York Times is about the end of an internal political struggle between Iraqi political leaders and the United Nations and American officials to agree on bylaws for the forthcoming democratic elections. Many suggest that Iraq needs political reconciliation. But an emergent politics itself might be the first sign of this reconciliation.

Read Less

Noise

Something is clearly different in the presidential race in the post-Obama Magical Mystery Tour environment. The polls are closer, the McCain camp is dominating on the energy issue, the more innovative ads and political gimmicks are coming from that side, and many Democrats and their media supporters are wondering where the heck their landslide is. It may come down to noise.

The McCain camp hears plenty of it (noise that is), I am sure, all day long. McCain is too nasty now. He should run on his wonderfulness. No, he should run on fiscal reform. No, he needs to make the race about Obama’s liberal voting record. No, no — McCain will only debase his “image” if he attacks. The McCain camp, which earlier in the spring and summer seemed to suffer from attention deficit disorder, flitting from one topic to the next and trying to do a little bit of everything, seems to have said, “Enough.”

McCain and his team are tuning out the ex-advisors, the media scolds and marching to their own newly aggressive, pop culture-sensitive message. Having figured out that the race is largely about Obama, they have decided to try to recast The Chosen One as The Arrogant One or The Empty Suited One. Forget the pristine McCain image, it’s time to rock and roll. (And it’s time to elevate the one indisputably winning issue: energy.)

And that’s where the other half of the noise equation comes in. The media obsession and clamor for Obama essentially had been drowning out McCain. You could go for hours on one of the cable news shows and barely hear or see McCain. The Washington Post confessed that they run far more pictures of Obama because, well you know, he’s so darn attractive and new. So how to cut throw the noise, the veritable din of pro-Obama coverage? The McCain team apparently has decided to use the noise to its advantage, mocking and tweaking the Obama-mania two-ring circus (with the media acrobats doing their part) to try to use the hoopla to sow seeds of doubt about Obama. Excitement is good, creepy non-thinking cults are not.

And in large part the McCain camp succeeded in the short term with tens of millions of YouTube views on the “celebrity” ad and late night comics finally getting in on the act. The candidates are effectively tied in national polling in a race the MSM decreed McCain should be losing by double digits.

In the end it may not all be enough. Some bits of convential wisdom actually are true: one is that Republicans should and will face a huge disadvantage this year. But by tuning out the noise directed at them and tuning up the noise surrounding Obama, the McCain camp is making this an unexpectedly close race. So when the Democratic Convention rolls around, the 100,000 “O-bam-a” chanters may be loud, but they may not be such a blessing for The One. Who would have thought?

Something is clearly different in the presidential race in the post-Obama Magical Mystery Tour environment. The polls are closer, the McCain camp is dominating on the energy issue, the more innovative ads and political gimmicks are coming from that side, and many Democrats and their media supporters are wondering where the heck their landslide is. It may come down to noise.

The McCain camp hears plenty of it (noise that is), I am sure, all day long. McCain is too nasty now. He should run on his wonderfulness. No, he should run on fiscal reform. No, he needs to make the race about Obama’s liberal voting record. No, no — McCain will only debase his “image” if he attacks. The McCain camp, which earlier in the spring and summer seemed to suffer from attention deficit disorder, flitting from one topic to the next and trying to do a little bit of everything, seems to have said, “Enough.”

McCain and his team are tuning out the ex-advisors, the media scolds and marching to their own newly aggressive, pop culture-sensitive message. Having figured out that the race is largely about Obama, they have decided to try to recast The Chosen One as The Arrogant One or The Empty Suited One. Forget the pristine McCain image, it’s time to rock and roll. (And it’s time to elevate the one indisputably winning issue: energy.)

And that’s where the other half of the noise equation comes in. The media obsession and clamor for Obama essentially had been drowning out McCain. You could go for hours on one of the cable news shows and barely hear or see McCain. The Washington Post confessed that they run far more pictures of Obama because, well you know, he’s so darn attractive and new. So how to cut throw the noise, the veritable din of pro-Obama coverage? The McCain team apparently has decided to use the noise to its advantage, mocking and tweaking the Obama-mania two-ring circus (with the media acrobats doing their part) to try to use the hoopla to sow seeds of doubt about Obama. Excitement is good, creepy non-thinking cults are not.

And in large part the McCain camp succeeded in the short term with tens of millions of YouTube views on the “celebrity” ad and late night comics finally getting in on the act. The candidates are effectively tied in national polling in a race the MSM decreed McCain should be losing by double digits.

In the end it may not all be enough. Some bits of convential wisdom actually are true: one is that Republicans should and will face a huge disadvantage this year. But by tuning out the noise directed at them and tuning up the noise surrounding Obama, the McCain camp is making this an unexpectedly close race. So when the Democratic Convention rolls around, the 100,000 “O-bam-a” chanters may be loud, but they may not be such a blessing for The One. Who would have thought?

Read Less

George Will’s Long View

Over the weekend, C-SPAN’s program “After Words” broadcast an interview with George Will, which was conducted by David Broder. It is a fascinating and wide-ranging interview; Will covers topics that include our increasing “impatience with the imperfection of life,” his belief as to why books are still the primary carrier of ideas, and his thoughts on the presidential race and conservative and liberal sensibilities. Will tells why he fears we are “saturated with the ephemeral,” argues that journalism is distorting reality, insists that Americans are not deeply divided with “daggers drawn and heading to the barricades,” and explains why campaign finance reform legislation is an assault on the first amendment. The interview is a reminder of why Will is among the finest and most informed columnists in generations.

Part of the interview focused on Iraq. Will was asked if he really believes, as he wrote in his book One Man’s America, that the Iraq war will qualify as “perhaps the worst foreign policy debacle in the nation’s history.” Will responded this way:

Well, to be fair to the current Administration, it is too soon to say. If five years from now, there is a functioning, multi-party democracy – a secular democracy in the heart of the Middle East, exerting a power of emulation on neighboring countries, then it was worth it. Otherwise, no.

He calls Iraq a “war of choice” and “colossally mismanaged,” and adds this:

Subject to correction by history – and I hope I am refuted by a happy outcome five to ten years from now – but subject to that, I think it ranks up there with Vietnam… perhaps over.

When asked what the odds are for a “happy outcome,” Will says that there is “some encouraging evidence that politics is breaking out in Iraq” and that what is sometimes reported as distressing news – contentious political debates among the Iraqi people – is in fact a healthy sign and the “transaction costs of freedom.”

Will’s comments are interesting for several reasons. It is, first of all, a good reminder why one ought to be cautious in making sweeping conclusions about a war that is still unfolding. People in the North could have said – and indeed, they were saying – much the same thing about Lincoln and the Civil War. There were periods in which the war seemed horribly mismanaged (which at times it was), far too costly (all told, more than 600,000 lives were lost in a nation of only 31 million; a war of equal magnitude today would kill roughly six million Americans), and worth giving up on.

By early July 1864, according to the Lincoln biographer David Herbert Donald, “a visitor found Lincoln deeply depressed. War weariness was spreading, and demands for negotiations to end the killing were becoming strident.” Yet Lincoln had made adjustments and persisted, the war was won, the union was preserved, and Lincoln has taken his place atop the list of our greatest presidents. War, like life, is contingent and can change quickly and dramatically.

Second, Will is framing things in exactly the right way. The judgment of Iraq depends on the final outcome, which is still uncertain. But a decent outcome, and even victory, is now within our grasp – and if we achieve it, the war will not only not qualify as the worst foreign policy mistake ever; it will have been, on balance, a net plus.

Third, Will has himself traveled a fascinating journey (as have many of us) as it relates to Iraq. He was a strong advocate for the war before it began, telling PBS’s Charlie Rose on October 8, 2002

Condoleezza Rice is quite right. She says there is an enormous condescension in saying that somehow the Arab world is just not up to democracy. And there’s an enormous ahistorical error when people say, “Well, we can’t go into war with Iraq until we know what postwar Iraq’s going to look like.” In 1942, a year after Pearl Harbor, did we have a clear idea what we were going to do with postwar Germany? With postwar Japan? Of course not. We made it up as we went along, and we did a very good job . . .

Will spoke in favor of bringing “instability” to the Middle East and even to Egypt (“What is so wonderful about the stability of Egypt?”). When asked, “Do you think [Iraq] will be a quick and easy conflict, if it comes to that,” Mr. Will answered, “Fairly quick, yes.” He also distinguished between Afghanistan and Iraq when it comes to nation-building, saying, “It’s different in Iraq because Iraq is a big, rich country with a middle class, with universities…”

Will then turned hard against the war, in part because he came to believe that Arab culture was incompatible with democracy. The problem with Iraq, Will said in a Manhattan Institute lecture, is that it “lacks a Washington, a Madison, a [John] Marshall – and it lacks the astonishingly rich social and cultural soil from which such people sprout.” There is no “existing democratic culture” that will allow liberty to succeed, he argued. And he scoffed at the assertion by President Bush that it is “cultural condescension” to claim that some peoples, cultures or religions are destined to despotism and unsuited for self-government.

Unlike many people who turned against the war, however, Will is willing to acknowledge the success of the surge, the encouraging political developments within Iraq, and to rethink his earlier judgment in light of new evidence.

George Will’s views on Iraq are much more ambiguous than they once were, which is true for most everyone who has written on the subject. The early hopes of an easy victory and a quick journey to democracy, and an early American exit, were dashed. The concern that Iraq was irredeemably lost, in turn, were wrong. And today there is widespread agreement among responsible voices that regardless of where one stood originally on the war, we now need to prosecute it to a successful end; and if we do, the war, despite the enormous mistakes along the way, will have been worth it.

George Will admits his claim that the Iraq war was the worst foreign policy debacle in American history is subject to correction by history. Thanks to President Bush’s surge and General Petraeus’s brilliantly executed strategy, that correction is under way. Will, a patriot who has been right on many of the important political questions of the last several decades, will be, I think we can say with some confidence, delighted to be proven wrong.

Over the weekend, C-SPAN’s program “After Words” broadcast an interview with George Will, which was conducted by David Broder. It is a fascinating and wide-ranging interview; Will covers topics that include our increasing “impatience with the imperfection of life,” his belief as to why books are still the primary carrier of ideas, and his thoughts on the presidential race and conservative and liberal sensibilities. Will tells why he fears we are “saturated with the ephemeral,” argues that journalism is distorting reality, insists that Americans are not deeply divided with “daggers drawn and heading to the barricades,” and explains why campaign finance reform legislation is an assault on the first amendment. The interview is a reminder of why Will is among the finest and most informed columnists in generations.

Part of the interview focused on Iraq. Will was asked if he really believes, as he wrote in his book One Man’s America, that the Iraq war will qualify as “perhaps the worst foreign policy debacle in the nation’s history.” Will responded this way:

Well, to be fair to the current Administration, it is too soon to say. If five years from now, there is a functioning, multi-party democracy – a secular democracy in the heart of the Middle East, exerting a power of emulation on neighboring countries, then it was worth it. Otherwise, no.

He calls Iraq a “war of choice” and “colossally mismanaged,” and adds this:

Subject to correction by history – and I hope I am refuted by a happy outcome five to ten years from now – but subject to that, I think it ranks up there with Vietnam… perhaps over.

When asked what the odds are for a “happy outcome,” Will says that there is “some encouraging evidence that politics is breaking out in Iraq” and that what is sometimes reported as distressing news – contentious political debates among the Iraqi people – is in fact a healthy sign and the “transaction costs of freedom.”

Will’s comments are interesting for several reasons. It is, first of all, a good reminder why one ought to be cautious in making sweeping conclusions about a war that is still unfolding. People in the North could have said – and indeed, they were saying – much the same thing about Lincoln and the Civil War. There were periods in which the war seemed horribly mismanaged (which at times it was), far too costly (all told, more than 600,000 lives were lost in a nation of only 31 million; a war of equal magnitude today would kill roughly six million Americans), and worth giving up on.

By early July 1864, according to the Lincoln biographer David Herbert Donald, “a visitor found Lincoln deeply depressed. War weariness was spreading, and demands for negotiations to end the killing were becoming strident.” Yet Lincoln had made adjustments and persisted, the war was won, the union was preserved, and Lincoln has taken his place atop the list of our greatest presidents. War, like life, is contingent and can change quickly and dramatically.

Second, Will is framing things in exactly the right way. The judgment of Iraq depends on the final outcome, which is still uncertain. But a decent outcome, and even victory, is now within our grasp – and if we achieve it, the war will not only not qualify as the worst foreign policy mistake ever; it will have been, on balance, a net plus.

Third, Will has himself traveled a fascinating journey (as have many of us) as it relates to Iraq. He was a strong advocate for the war before it began, telling PBS’s Charlie Rose on October 8, 2002

Condoleezza Rice is quite right. She says there is an enormous condescension in saying that somehow the Arab world is just not up to democracy. And there’s an enormous ahistorical error when people say, “Well, we can’t go into war with Iraq until we know what postwar Iraq’s going to look like.” In 1942, a year after Pearl Harbor, did we have a clear idea what we were going to do with postwar Germany? With postwar Japan? Of course not. We made it up as we went along, and we did a very good job . . .

Will spoke in favor of bringing “instability” to the Middle East and even to Egypt (“What is so wonderful about the stability of Egypt?”). When asked, “Do you think [Iraq] will be a quick and easy conflict, if it comes to that,” Mr. Will answered, “Fairly quick, yes.” He also distinguished between Afghanistan and Iraq when it comes to nation-building, saying, “It’s different in Iraq because Iraq is a big, rich country with a middle class, with universities…”

Will then turned hard against the war, in part because he came to believe that Arab culture was incompatible with democracy. The problem with Iraq, Will said in a Manhattan Institute lecture, is that it “lacks a Washington, a Madison, a [John] Marshall – and it lacks the astonishingly rich social and cultural soil from which such people sprout.” There is no “existing democratic culture” that will allow liberty to succeed, he argued. And he scoffed at the assertion by President Bush that it is “cultural condescension” to claim that some peoples, cultures or religions are destined to despotism and unsuited for self-government.

Unlike many people who turned against the war, however, Will is willing to acknowledge the success of the surge, the encouraging political developments within Iraq, and to rethink his earlier judgment in light of new evidence.

George Will’s views on Iraq are much more ambiguous than they once were, which is true for most everyone who has written on the subject. The early hopes of an easy victory and a quick journey to democracy, and an early American exit, were dashed. The concern that Iraq was irredeemably lost, in turn, were wrong. And today there is widespread agreement among responsible voices that regardless of where one stood originally on the war, we now need to prosecute it to a successful end; and if we do, the war, despite the enormous mistakes along the way, will have been worth it.

George Will admits his claim that the Iraq war was the worst foreign policy debacle in American history is subject to correction by history. Thanks to President Bush’s surge and General Petraeus’s brilliantly executed strategy, that correction is under way. Will, a patriot who has been right on many of the important political questions of the last several decades, will be, I think we can say with some confidence, delighted to be proven wrong.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

First, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, and now Hanna Montana. Who says vapid pop stars don’t count? You never hear anyone invoking Meryl Streep or Daniel Day Lewis.

David Brooks notes the light footprint problem and suspects that’s the reason for the close race.

It is getting bad for Barack Obama when the mainstream press notices that it is ” the second time in less than a week that he has modified a position on energy issues.” They must have missed the memo–he’s not a flip-flopper. Honest.

During his long run in the Senate there wasn’t anything Ted Stevens didn’t want in Alaska (useless bridges, preferential contracts and over three billion billion in earmarks.) After all that, he wants his trial there too. Naturally.

I think this is right. But wait, hasn’t it been a “miraculous fortnight” for Obama? And sorry, but Obama is not “treading water” in the polls — he’s sinking (badly in some polls) only ten days after the most fawning press coverage ever in modern presidential politics.

This seems to have all the fun and none of the downside of a Congressional session. Could they run it like this all the time? A week is way too short for this stunt.

Somehow I don’t think Obama wants to run as a combination of Jimmy Carter and Jerry Brown. But John McCain probably has an ad about that in the works.

Really doesn’t just about any other Democratic VP contender compare favorably to Tim Kaine? But Kaine leads in the all- important category of not outshining the top of the ticket with accomplishments or national security experience.

This is either really smart or a ridiculous waste of time and money. (Or it’s a head fake.) Alaska and Montana? A similar gambit didn’t work out that well in 1960 for Richard Nixon.

Ouch. But isn’t there a presidential candidate who share the same ailment of aspiring to great heights of moral empathy and “principle” without the realistic means to attain them?

If further evidence were needed of the miraculous transformation of Iraq try this headline: “Al-Sadr Plans to Turn Militia Into Civic Organization.” (I’m sure the Left will explain that this had nothing to do with the surge and represents the culmination of his life long desire to give back to his community.)

And the mainstream media wonders why no one trusts them.

Does Bill Clinton’s upset at being labeled a racist feed a pro-McCain meme (that Obama is trying to play the racial victim card)? Or has this Clinton’s influence entirely waned? It surely doesn’t help the Hillary Clinton fans “get over it.”

At the very least, we have somebody on the Left willing to admit that Obama fanned the racial angle in the primary and that “Deriding Obama’s identity as a guy who consistently opposed the Iraq War as a ‘fairy tale’ is not only fair, but actually kind of true.”

Dean Barnett is right: it was one heck of a confused, error-strewn, pompous speech. But I’m trying to recall any ones that weren’t. (The One does not need a fact checker on staff, it seems.) And can we all stipulate that his political positions have a half-life of two weeks?

Something is going on. And honest liberals know it.

The “president” logo on the chair sounds like something Karl Rove would make up. But this is quickly passing the funny stage and getting to the point of being downright bizarre. Really, who behaves like this?

Where did it go? And more importantly what was in it? (Frankincense or myrrh?)

First, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, and now Hanna Montana. Who says vapid pop stars don’t count? You never hear anyone invoking Meryl Streep or Daniel Day Lewis.

David Brooks notes the light footprint problem and suspects that’s the reason for the close race.

It is getting bad for Barack Obama when the mainstream press notices that it is ” the second time in less than a week that he has modified a position on energy issues.” They must have missed the memo–he’s not a flip-flopper. Honest.

During his long run in the Senate there wasn’t anything Ted Stevens didn’t want in Alaska (useless bridges, preferential contracts and over three billion billion in earmarks.) After all that, he wants his trial there too. Naturally.

I think this is right. But wait, hasn’t it been a “miraculous fortnight” for Obama? And sorry, but Obama is not “treading water” in the polls — he’s sinking (badly in some polls) only ten days after the most fawning press coverage ever in modern presidential politics.

This seems to have all the fun and none of the downside of a Congressional session. Could they run it like this all the time? A week is way too short for this stunt.

Somehow I don’t think Obama wants to run as a combination of Jimmy Carter and Jerry Brown. But John McCain probably has an ad about that in the works.

Really doesn’t just about any other Democratic VP contender compare favorably to Tim Kaine? But Kaine leads in the all- important category of not outshining the top of the ticket with accomplishments or national security experience.

This is either really smart or a ridiculous waste of time and money. (Or it’s a head fake.) Alaska and Montana? A similar gambit didn’t work out that well in 1960 for Richard Nixon.

Ouch. But isn’t there a presidential candidate who share the same ailment of aspiring to great heights of moral empathy and “principle” without the realistic means to attain them?

If further evidence were needed of the miraculous transformation of Iraq try this headline: “Al-Sadr Plans to Turn Militia Into Civic Organization.” (I’m sure the Left will explain that this had nothing to do with the surge and represents the culmination of his life long desire to give back to his community.)

And the mainstream media wonders why no one trusts them.

Does Bill Clinton’s upset at being labeled a racist feed a pro-McCain meme (that Obama is trying to play the racial victim card)? Or has this Clinton’s influence entirely waned? It surely doesn’t help the Hillary Clinton fans “get over it.”

At the very least, we have somebody on the Left willing to admit that Obama fanned the racial angle in the primary and that “Deriding Obama’s identity as a guy who consistently opposed the Iraq War as a ‘fairy tale’ is not only fair, but actually kind of true.”

Dean Barnett is right: it was one heck of a confused, error-strewn, pompous speech. But I’m trying to recall any ones that weren’t. (The One does not need a fact checker on staff, it seems.) And can we all stipulate that his political positions have a half-life of two weeks?

Something is going on. And honest liberals know it.

The “president” logo on the chair sounds like something Karl Rove would make up. But this is quickly passing the funny stage and getting to the point of being downright bizarre. Really, who behaves like this?

Where did it go? And more importantly what was in it? (Frankincense or myrrh?)

Read Less




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