Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 18, 2008

Commentary of the Day

CK MacLeod, on Jennifer Rubin:

You know, if some of you McCain critics with your ridiculous amazement at the fact that McCain answers questions crisply and quickly actually watched him at town hall, you wouldn’t find his performance the other night very unusual. That’s how he is. That’s what he does. He’s used to answering every kind of question. Newsflash: Unlike your guy, he’s actually an experienced politician who’s been answering questions of all types for 30 years. Unlike your guy, he’s been giving town halls almost daily, sometimes more than one time a day, for months. In the meantime, unlike your guy, for most of that time up until fairly recently, he was so open with the press that rightwingers referred to the media as his “real base.” This is John McCain. He doesn’t need the questions ahead of time. If he had them ahead of time, he’d probably be at a disadvantage since he and his staff would try to contrive responses and he’s not as good at following a script.

He could do this in his sleep. You guys are hilarious. You hate and despise him, and are willing to make all sorts of wild accusations – even, in the height of hypocrisy, accusing him of being dishonorable, on the basis of no evidence – and you don’t even know him! If you could force yourself to watch just one of his townhalls the next time one is broadcast, you’d know, and you wouldn’t embarrass yourselves with this childish malarkey.

You’re as arrogant as your candidate. Big surprise.

CK MacLeod, on Jennifer Rubin:

You know, if some of you McCain critics with your ridiculous amazement at the fact that McCain answers questions crisply and quickly actually watched him at town hall, you wouldn’t find his performance the other night very unusual. That’s how he is. That’s what he does. He’s used to answering every kind of question. Newsflash: Unlike your guy, he’s actually an experienced politician who’s been answering questions of all types for 30 years. Unlike your guy, he’s been giving town halls almost daily, sometimes more than one time a day, for months. In the meantime, unlike your guy, for most of that time up until fairly recently, he was so open with the press that rightwingers referred to the media as his “real base.” This is John McCain. He doesn’t need the questions ahead of time. If he had them ahead of time, he’d probably be at a disadvantage since he and his staff would try to contrive responses and he’s not as good at following a script.

He could do this in his sleep. You guys are hilarious. You hate and despise him, and are willing to make all sorts of wild accusations – even, in the height of hypocrisy, accusing him of being dishonorable, on the basis of no evidence – and you don’t even know him! If you could force yourself to watch just one of his townhalls the next time one is broadcast, you’d know, and you wouldn’t embarrass yourselves with this childish malarkey.

You’re as arrogant as your candidate. Big surprise.

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Re: Stop Digging

Barack Obama supporters clearly have a bizarre view of what will move voters. Claim the other guy cheated at the Rick Warren forum! Impugn the POW’s wartime memory! (Oh, and they’ll have to go after the witnesses, too.) How happy are the McCain folks to have the Obama team led into the fever swamp? So happy they are putting it up on their own website.

This takes the Wesley Clark and surrogate smears to whole new level of absurdity. It tells us more about the Left blogosphere than anything else. But it also is a telling sign that panic is spreading and that the Obama forces are not shooing away such talk. Are the Obama fans so desperate that they would resort to this sort of nonsense in the hopes of distracting voters and the media from other topics? Something has gone terribly awry in Obama-land.

What’s worse: reminding people of John McCain’s POW service or conveying to voters that Obama’s supporters are nuts? It’s a close call.

Barack Obama supporters clearly have a bizarre view of what will move voters. Claim the other guy cheated at the Rick Warren forum! Impugn the POW’s wartime memory! (Oh, and they’ll have to go after the witnesses, too.) How happy are the McCain folks to have the Obama team led into the fever swamp? So happy they are putting it up on their own website.

This takes the Wesley Clark and surrogate smears to whole new level of absurdity. It tells us more about the Left blogosphere than anything else. But it also is a telling sign that panic is spreading and that the Obama forces are not shooing away such talk. Are the Obama fans so desperate that they would resort to this sort of nonsense in the hopes of distracting voters and the media from other topics? Something has gone terribly awry in Obama-land.

What’s worse: reminding people of John McCain’s POW service or conveying to voters that Obama’s supporters are nuts? It’s a close call.

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Who’s the “New Face”?

The most emotionally resonant case for Barack Obama is that he will bring something fresh to American politics — that his relatively young age, relatively limited experience, and relatively short time in Washington constitute a plus rather than a minus because they mean he is untainted by the messes of the last decade or so. By contrast with John McCain, who has been in public office for a quarter-century and in Washington for several years before that, Obama is a new face.

Fine. But by the time November rolls around, will Obama seem like a new face?

He will have been running for president for almost two years by then. He became one of the most famous people in America the moment he declared himself a candidate in February 2007. His weekends with Oprah in the late fall of 2007 made him a celebrity. And the propulsive nature of his candidacy from December through February made him some kind of new American icon. It is now more than seven months since he devastated Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucuses. In that time, he has received, by some accounts, nearly three times the press coverage that his rival has — not to mention the current president of the United States, whom he has left in the dust.

The fact that half the respondents in a recent Pew poll said they had already heard too much about Obama suggests that the “fresh new” angle is no longer doing for him what it once did. That is only going to get worse as the campaign progresses into the fall. Obama’s domination of the news for the past year may mean that when John McCain takes center stage at his convention in two weeks, he might be in the position of seeming, oddly enough, like the newer face, in part because he isn’t quite as familiar a presence as Obama has become.

And in making himself more famiilar, McCain can only benefit himself. How many Americans actually know the story of McCain’s years as a POW? How many of those who do know it know only the broad outlines of that story and not the details — the refusal to accept an offer to leave early, the broken limbs, the Morse code conversations? The convention is sure to center itself on McCain’s biography. It’s one of the most moving American stories of the past forty years, and if the convention and McCain tell it well — and McCain has already, in his memoir — it might enhance the public’s sense that while they know everything there is to know about Obama, they have only just scratched the surface with McCain, and that they will want to get to know him even better. At that point, the 72 year-old man may seem far fresher than the dynamic 47 year-old who practically has the word “change” etched into his forehead.

The most emotionally resonant case for Barack Obama is that he will bring something fresh to American politics — that his relatively young age, relatively limited experience, and relatively short time in Washington constitute a plus rather than a minus because they mean he is untainted by the messes of the last decade or so. By contrast with John McCain, who has been in public office for a quarter-century and in Washington for several years before that, Obama is a new face.

Fine. But by the time November rolls around, will Obama seem like a new face?

He will have been running for president for almost two years by then. He became one of the most famous people in America the moment he declared himself a candidate in February 2007. His weekends with Oprah in the late fall of 2007 made him a celebrity. And the propulsive nature of his candidacy from December through February made him some kind of new American icon. It is now more than seven months since he devastated Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucuses. In that time, he has received, by some accounts, nearly three times the press coverage that his rival has — not to mention the current president of the United States, whom he has left in the dust.

The fact that half the respondents in a recent Pew poll said they had already heard too much about Obama suggests that the “fresh new” angle is no longer doing for him what it once did. That is only going to get worse as the campaign progresses into the fall. Obama’s domination of the news for the past year may mean that when John McCain takes center stage at his convention in two weeks, he might be in the position of seeming, oddly enough, like the newer face, in part because he isn’t quite as familiar a presence as Obama has become.

And in making himself more famiilar, McCain can only benefit himself. How many Americans actually know the story of McCain’s years as a POW? How many of those who do know it know only the broad outlines of that story and not the details — the refusal to accept an offer to leave early, the broken limbs, the Morse code conversations? The convention is sure to center itself on McCain’s biography. It’s one of the most moving American stories of the past forty years, and if the convention and McCain tell it well — and McCain has already, in his memoir — it might enhance the public’s sense that while they know everything there is to know about Obama, they have only just scratched the surface with McCain, and that they will want to get to know him even better. At that point, the 72 year-old man may seem far fresher than the dynamic 47 year-old who practically has the word “change” etched into his forehead.

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No Flip-Flop on the Missile Shield

The Citizen of the World has found himself at odds with an important American ally. On Thursday, Poland–startled into reality by Russia’s attack on Georgia–formally agreed to a U.S. missile defense shield on Polish soil. Sadly, the missile shield is one area in which Barack Obama is resisting a flip-flop, regardless of the threat introduced by Russia (looks like I got this one wrong). Obama spokesperson Wendy Morigi recently said “Congress will not and should not fund a system until testing has proven that it works, and that testing will not be completed until 2010 at the earliest.”

I don’t have the technical wherewithal to say whether or not our missile defenses work as they should. But I do know that Ronald Reagan’s copious funding of unproven anti-missile systems helped bring down the Berlin Wall without the U.S. firing a shot. Warsaw knows it, too. And the last thing they want to hear from an American presidential candidate is a renunciation of our ability to protect allies. Putin and Medvedev (and Ahmadinejad), on the other hand, are doubtlessly thrilled. Perhaps Obama should have saved up his policy reversals and employed them at critical moments. With all his switcheroos, he may now be locked into a defensive posture whereby he cannot be seen as bendable–no matter how great the need to bend.

The Citizen of the World has found himself at odds with an important American ally. On Thursday, Poland–startled into reality by Russia’s attack on Georgia–formally agreed to a U.S. missile defense shield on Polish soil. Sadly, the missile shield is one area in which Barack Obama is resisting a flip-flop, regardless of the threat introduced by Russia (looks like I got this one wrong). Obama spokesperson Wendy Morigi recently said “Congress will not and should not fund a system until testing has proven that it works, and that testing will not be completed until 2010 at the earliest.”

I don’t have the technical wherewithal to say whether or not our missile defenses work as they should. But I do know that Ronald Reagan’s copious funding of unproven anti-missile systems helped bring down the Berlin Wall without the U.S. firing a shot. Warsaw knows it, too. And the last thing they want to hear from an American presidential candidate is a renunciation of our ability to protect allies. Putin and Medvedev (and Ahmadinejad), on the other hand, are doubtlessly thrilled. Perhaps Obama should have saved up his policy reversals and employed them at critical moments. With all his switcheroos, he may now be locked into a defensive posture whereby he cannot be seen as bendable–no matter how great the need to bend.

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Stop Digging Already

The Obama camp seems intent on making their candidate’s performance on Saturday an even bigger issue. By crying foul with, of course, zero proof of any cheating by the McCain camp they have done three things: made the event seem more important that it was, made Barack Obama seem like a paranoid sore loser, and given every indication that the Obama team is in panic mode.

Is this the behavior of a confident candidate and a campaign in control? Or has the netroot, tin-foil hat crowd finally taken over at camp Obama? It seems remarkable that they would go down this road. But they are indeed digging their hole ever bigger. Someone should tell them to stop before their mainstream media allies think they can no longer defend The One.

The Obama camp seems intent on making their candidate’s performance on Saturday an even bigger issue. By crying foul with, of course, zero proof of any cheating by the McCain camp they have done three things: made the event seem more important that it was, made Barack Obama seem like a paranoid sore loser, and given every indication that the Obama team is in panic mode.

Is this the behavior of a confident candidate and a campaign in control? Or has the netroot, tin-foil hat crowd finally taken over at camp Obama? It seems remarkable that they would go down this road. But they are indeed digging their hole ever bigger. Someone should tell them to stop before their mainstream media allies think they can no longer defend The One.

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Bergen Sings a New(ish) Tune

Peter Bergen, a fellow at the New America Foundation and author of The Osama bin Laden I Know, wrote a New Republic cover story on October 22, 2007 titled, “War of Error: How Osama bin Laden Beat George W. Bush.” In it Bergen concluded this:

America’s most formidable foe – once practically dead – is back. This is one of the most historically significant legacies of President Bush. At nearly every turn, he has made the wrong strategic choices in battling Al Qaeda. To understand the terror network’s resurgence – and its continued ability to harm us – we need to reexamine all the ways in which the administration has failed to crush it. . . . If, as the president explained in a speech [in 2006], the United States is today engaged “in the decisive ideological struggle of the twenty-first century,” right now we are on the losing side of the battle of ideas.

Yesterday, Bergen published a piece in the Washington Post’s Outlook Section which, while pointing out that al Qaeda is gaining strength on the Afghan-Pakistani border, says this:

But [al Qaeda’s] grand project — to transform the Muslim world into a militant Islamist caliphate — has been, by any measure, a resounding failure. In large part, that’s because Osama bin Laden‘s strategy for arriving at this Promised Land is a fantasy. Al-Qaeda‘s leader prides himself on being a big-think strategist, but for all his brains, leadership skills and charisma, he has fastened on an overall strategy that is self-defeating.

Bin Laden’s main goal is to bring about regime change in the Middle East and to replace the governments in Cairo and Riyadh with Taliban-style theocracies. He believes that the way to accomplish this is to attack the “far enemy” (the United States), then watch as the supposedly impious, U.S.-backed Muslim regimes he calls the “near enemy” crumble.

This might have worked if the United States had turned out to be a paper tiger that could sustain only a few blows from al-Qaeda. But it didn’t. Bin Laden’s analysis showed no understanding of the vital interests — oil, Israel and regional stability — that undergird U.S. engagement in the Middle East, let alone the intensity of American outrage that would follow the first direct attack on the continental United States since the British burned the White House in 1814.

In fact, bin Laden’s plan resulted in the direct opposite of a U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East. The United States now occupies Iraq, and NATO soldiers patrol the streets of Kandahar, the old de facto capital of bin Laden’s Taliban allies. Relations between the United States and most authoritarian Arab regimes, meanwhile, are stronger than ever, based on their shared goal of defeating violent Islamists out for American blood and the regimes’ power.

For most leaders, such a complete strategic failure would require a rethinking. Not for bin Laden.

… No matter what bin Laden’s fate, Muslims around the world are increasingly taking a dim view of his group and its suicide operations. In the late 1990s, bin Laden was a folk hero to many Muslims. But since 2003, as al-Qaeda and its affiliates have killed Muslim civilians by the thousands from Casablanca to Kabul, support for bin Laden has nose-dived, according to Pew polls taken in key Muslim countries such as Indonesia and Pakistan.

So back in October, according to Bergen, Osama bin Laden wasn’t simply in the process of defeating George W. Bush; bin Laden had already beaten Bush, and bin Laden’s victory was due to Bush’s failure. But today, with al Qaeda’s “grand project” being judged “a resounding failure,” with its popularity plummeting, with bin Laden having overseen “a complete strategic failure,” and with America having shown itself not to be a paper tiger (which was the case, according to bin Laden, in Vietnam, Beirut, and Somalia), the one name that does not appear in Bergen’s piece is . . . George W. Bush. Having laid the blame at Bush’s feet earlier, Bergen is unwilling to credit Bush for a single good development.

To see just how tendentious Bergen’s analysis can be, consider these two paragraphs:

Until 2006, hardcore European jihadists would have traveled to Iraq. But the numbers doing so now have dwindled to almost zero, according to several European counterterrorism officials. That’s because al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq has committed something tantamount to suicide.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq once held vast swaths of Sunni-dominated turf and helped spark a civil war by targeting Iraqi Shiites. But when the group imposed Taliban-style measures, such as banning smoking and shaving, on Iraq’s Sunni population and started killing other insurgents who didn’t share its ultra-fundamentalist views, other Sunnis turned against it. Today al-Qaeda in Iraq is dead, at least as an insurgent organization capable of imposing its will on the wider population. It can still perpetrate large-scale atrocities, of course, and could yet spoil Iraq’s fragile truce by again attacking Iraqi Shiites. But for the moment, al-Qaeda in Iraq is on the run, demoralized and surrounded by enemies.

Can you guess what’s missing from this analysis? How about the word “surge”? Nowhere does Bergen credit the decision by President Bush, announced in January 2007, to change strategy in Iraq. Nor does Bergen mention the name “Petraeus” or credit the United States military for the devastating route al Qaeda has experienced. This is not to say that the surge is wholly responsible for the progress we’ve made against AQI; the “Anbar Awakening” predated it. But even those with minimal understanding about events on the ground know that the surge provided a huge assist to the Sunni population which turned on AQI. And to ignore this reality is an example of thinking that is at best sloppy and at worst intellectually dishonest.

Mr. Bergen is living proof that anti-Bush sentiments can cloud the thinking of even intelligent individuals. It’s fine that Peter Bergen has finally caught up with what many others have seen and commented on for some time now. But even in (finally) recognizing the obvious, Bergen’s analysis is simplistic and flawed. He cannot escape his own political prejudices.

Peter Bergen, a fellow at the New America Foundation and author of The Osama bin Laden I Know, wrote a New Republic cover story on October 22, 2007 titled, “War of Error: How Osama bin Laden Beat George W. Bush.” In it Bergen concluded this:

America’s most formidable foe – once practically dead – is back. This is one of the most historically significant legacies of President Bush. At nearly every turn, he has made the wrong strategic choices in battling Al Qaeda. To understand the terror network’s resurgence – and its continued ability to harm us – we need to reexamine all the ways in which the administration has failed to crush it. . . . If, as the president explained in a speech [in 2006], the United States is today engaged “in the decisive ideological struggle of the twenty-first century,” right now we are on the losing side of the battle of ideas.

Yesterday, Bergen published a piece in the Washington Post’s Outlook Section which, while pointing out that al Qaeda is gaining strength on the Afghan-Pakistani border, says this:

But [al Qaeda’s] grand project — to transform the Muslim world into a militant Islamist caliphate — has been, by any measure, a resounding failure. In large part, that’s because Osama bin Laden‘s strategy for arriving at this Promised Land is a fantasy. Al-Qaeda‘s leader prides himself on being a big-think strategist, but for all his brains, leadership skills and charisma, he has fastened on an overall strategy that is self-defeating.

Bin Laden’s main goal is to bring about regime change in the Middle East and to replace the governments in Cairo and Riyadh with Taliban-style theocracies. He believes that the way to accomplish this is to attack the “far enemy” (the United States), then watch as the supposedly impious, U.S.-backed Muslim regimes he calls the “near enemy” crumble.

This might have worked if the United States had turned out to be a paper tiger that could sustain only a few blows from al-Qaeda. But it didn’t. Bin Laden’s analysis showed no understanding of the vital interests — oil, Israel and regional stability — that undergird U.S. engagement in the Middle East, let alone the intensity of American outrage that would follow the first direct attack on the continental United States since the British burned the White House in 1814.

In fact, bin Laden’s plan resulted in the direct opposite of a U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East. The United States now occupies Iraq, and NATO soldiers patrol the streets of Kandahar, the old de facto capital of bin Laden’s Taliban allies. Relations between the United States and most authoritarian Arab regimes, meanwhile, are stronger than ever, based on their shared goal of defeating violent Islamists out for American blood and the regimes’ power.

For most leaders, such a complete strategic failure would require a rethinking. Not for bin Laden.

… No matter what bin Laden’s fate, Muslims around the world are increasingly taking a dim view of his group and its suicide operations. In the late 1990s, bin Laden was a folk hero to many Muslims. But since 2003, as al-Qaeda and its affiliates have killed Muslim civilians by the thousands from Casablanca to Kabul, support for bin Laden has nose-dived, according to Pew polls taken in key Muslim countries such as Indonesia and Pakistan.

So back in October, according to Bergen, Osama bin Laden wasn’t simply in the process of defeating George W. Bush; bin Laden had already beaten Bush, and bin Laden’s victory was due to Bush’s failure. But today, with al Qaeda’s “grand project” being judged “a resounding failure,” with its popularity plummeting, with bin Laden having overseen “a complete strategic failure,” and with America having shown itself not to be a paper tiger (which was the case, according to bin Laden, in Vietnam, Beirut, and Somalia), the one name that does not appear in Bergen’s piece is . . . George W. Bush. Having laid the blame at Bush’s feet earlier, Bergen is unwilling to credit Bush for a single good development.

To see just how tendentious Bergen’s analysis can be, consider these two paragraphs:

Until 2006, hardcore European jihadists would have traveled to Iraq. But the numbers doing so now have dwindled to almost zero, according to several European counterterrorism officials. That’s because al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq has committed something tantamount to suicide.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq once held vast swaths of Sunni-dominated turf and helped spark a civil war by targeting Iraqi Shiites. But when the group imposed Taliban-style measures, such as banning smoking and shaving, on Iraq’s Sunni population and started killing other insurgents who didn’t share its ultra-fundamentalist views, other Sunnis turned against it. Today al-Qaeda in Iraq is dead, at least as an insurgent organization capable of imposing its will on the wider population. It can still perpetrate large-scale atrocities, of course, and could yet spoil Iraq’s fragile truce by again attacking Iraqi Shiites. But for the moment, al-Qaeda in Iraq is on the run, demoralized and surrounded by enemies.

Can you guess what’s missing from this analysis? How about the word “surge”? Nowhere does Bergen credit the decision by President Bush, announced in January 2007, to change strategy in Iraq. Nor does Bergen mention the name “Petraeus” or credit the United States military for the devastating route al Qaeda has experienced. This is not to say that the surge is wholly responsible for the progress we’ve made against AQI; the “Anbar Awakening” predated it. But even those with minimal understanding about events on the ground know that the surge provided a huge assist to the Sunni population which turned on AQI. And to ignore this reality is an example of thinking that is at best sloppy and at worst intellectually dishonest.

Mr. Bergen is living proof that anti-Bush sentiments can cloud the thinking of even intelligent individuals. It’s fine that Peter Bergen has finally caught up with what many others have seen and commented on for some time now. But even in (finally) recognizing the obvious, Bergen’s analysis is simplistic and flawed. He cannot escape his own political prejudices.

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Musharraf Resigns

Today, Pervez Musharraf resigned as Pakistan’s president. Referring to the impeachment proceedings he faced if he had decided to stay, the embattled leader had this to say in an hour-long address to his country: “Whether I win or lose, the nation will lose.”

Will his nation lose? Its economy is crumbling and the coalition arrayed against him is now bound to break apart, ensuring political instability for the indefinite future. Islamic militants are certain to make further inroads into the country and gain even more latitude to inflict harm. Relations with India, already tense, will probably deteriorate. Musharraf, for all his faults, was seen in many quarters as the best hope for stability.

Pakistan, it seems, always manages to get worse, so times of transition are particularly perilous. Yet there are three reasons for optimism at this particularly uncertain moment. First, Musharraf came to power through a military coup, but he’s leaving in a manner prescribed by the country’s constitution. He did not even receive the immunity he wanted. All this represents progress for the country’s fragile notions of representative governance.

Second, it is proper that he should go. He overthrew democracy in Pakistan and, in so doing, ultimately prolonged crisis. Somehow, the people–and their badly damaged political system–ended up achieving the right result.

Third, Musharraf’s departure lays the groundwork for a more stable society. Things will certainly get worse in the days ahead because this is, after all, Pakistan. Yet now there is at least the possibility that the country can come together after weathering initial turmoil. As long as Musharraf clung to power, there was no realistic possibility of sustainable improvement. He had lost popular support over time, especially in March of last year by suspending Iftikhar Chaudhry, the Supreme Court’s chief justice, and trying to force him to resign. Since then, one calamity after another, including the December assassination of Benazir Bhutto, has befallen the country.

Why is Pakistan so unstable? One factor is that other countries have sought to solve the problem of the day and supported whatever atrocious leader Pakistan had at the time. While Washington and others accepted short-term compromises with autocrats, Pakistanis became more resentful and the country became more unstable.

And what is the way forward? The reinforcement of democratic institutions. A democratic Pakistan may not be our friend, but we will all be better off in the long run when the country comes to equilibrium under popularly elected leaders. The country has a moderate center, and it should hold.

Today, Pervez Musharraf resigned as Pakistan’s president. Referring to the impeachment proceedings he faced if he had decided to stay, the embattled leader had this to say in an hour-long address to his country: “Whether I win or lose, the nation will lose.”

Will his nation lose? Its economy is crumbling and the coalition arrayed against him is now bound to break apart, ensuring political instability for the indefinite future. Islamic militants are certain to make further inroads into the country and gain even more latitude to inflict harm. Relations with India, already tense, will probably deteriorate. Musharraf, for all his faults, was seen in many quarters as the best hope for stability.

Pakistan, it seems, always manages to get worse, so times of transition are particularly perilous. Yet there are three reasons for optimism at this particularly uncertain moment. First, Musharraf came to power through a military coup, but he’s leaving in a manner prescribed by the country’s constitution. He did not even receive the immunity he wanted. All this represents progress for the country’s fragile notions of representative governance.

Second, it is proper that he should go. He overthrew democracy in Pakistan and, in so doing, ultimately prolonged crisis. Somehow, the people–and their badly damaged political system–ended up achieving the right result.

Third, Musharraf’s departure lays the groundwork for a more stable society. Things will certainly get worse in the days ahead because this is, after all, Pakistan. Yet now there is at least the possibility that the country can come together after weathering initial turmoil. As long as Musharraf clung to power, there was no realistic possibility of sustainable improvement. He had lost popular support over time, especially in March of last year by suspending Iftikhar Chaudhry, the Supreme Court’s chief justice, and trying to force him to resign. Since then, one calamity after another, including the December assassination of Benazir Bhutto, has befallen the country.

Why is Pakistan so unstable? One factor is that other countries have sought to solve the problem of the day and supported whatever atrocious leader Pakistan had at the time. While Washington and others accepted short-term compromises with autocrats, Pakistanis became more resentful and the country became more unstable.

And what is the way forward? The reinforcement of democratic institutions. A democratic Pakistan may not be our friend, but we will all be better off in the long run when the country comes to equilibrium under popularly elected leaders. The country has a moderate center, and it should hold.

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UNIFIL: Objectively Pro-Hezbollah

That’s the only thing one can conclude after reading things like this:

Ambassador Dan Carmon, head of Israel’s UN delegation, met with the commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano on Friday over the remarks he made about Israel.

On Thursday Graziano accused Israel of unilaterally violating United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, the cease-fire agreement that ended the 34-day Second Lebanon War between Israel and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah. . . .

The Italian general, meanwhile, said that Hezbollah recognizes Resolution 1701, and that the militant Lebanese group and UNIFIL forces enjoy excellent cooperation with one another. He added that apart from UN and Lebanese soldiers and local hunters, no one is armed south of the Litani River.

When asked about the smuggling of weapons into Lebanon, Graziano said he could not ensure that the area under his jurisdiction would be impenetrable, though he said there is no evidence of arms smuggling nor has there been movement of armed gunmen.

This is, of course, fantasy-talk of a high order. Even Lebanese groups are exasperated with Graziano’s constant apologies for Hezbollah. But I don’t think such statements are caused by any special animus toward Israel. They are caused by pure fear — the fear that if UNIFIL should say or do anything to upset the delicate and self-preservational dance between blue helmets and yellow flags in Lebanon, peacekeepers will be killed, and UNIFIL’s failure and corruption will become front-page news.

UNIFIL has long been captive to the familiar bureaucratic imperative of ensuring, first and foremost, its own survival, both physical and institutional. UNIFIL’s mission thus becomes not the implementation of UN Resolution 1701, but the prevention of a Hezbollah attack on its forces. This requires UNIFIL’s commander to say that Hezbollah is complying just perfectly with 1701, whereas the Israelis, who do not express their dissatisfaction by slaughtering peacekeepers, are violating it every time they fly a plane over Lebanon to take pictures of . . . well, of Hezbollah’s violations of 1701.

That’s the only thing one can conclude after reading things like this:

Ambassador Dan Carmon, head of Israel’s UN delegation, met with the commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano on Friday over the remarks he made about Israel.

On Thursday Graziano accused Israel of unilaterally violating United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, the cease-fire agreement that ended the 34-day Second Lebanon War between Israel and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah. . . .

The Italian general, meanwhile, said that Hezbollah recognizes Resolution 1701, and that the militant Lebanese group and UNIFIL forces enjoy excellent cooperation with one another. He added that apart from UN and Lebanese soldiers and local hunters, no one is armed south of the Litani River.

When asked about the smuggling of weapons into Lebanon, Graziano said he could not ensure that the area under his jurisdiction would be impenetrable, though he said there is no evidence of arms smuggling nor has there been movement of armed gunmen.

This is, of course, fantasy-talk of a high order. Even Lebanese groups are exasperated with Graziano’s constant apologies for Hezbollah. But I don’t think such statements are caused by any special animus toward Israel. They are caused by pure fear — the fear that if UNIFIL should say or do anything to upset the delicate and self-preservational dance between blue helmets and yellow flags in Lebanon, peacekeepers will be killed, and UNIFIL’s failure and corruption will become front-page news.

UNIFIL has long been captive to the familiar bureaucratic imperative of ensuring, first and foremost, its own survival, both physical and institutional. UNIFIL’s mission thus becomes not the implementation of UN Resolution 1701, but the prevention of a Hezbollah attack on its forces. This requires UNIFIL’s commander to say that Hezbollah is complying just perfectly with 1701, whereas the Israelis, who do not express their dissatisfaction by slaughtering peacekeepers, are violating it every time they fly a plane over Lebanon to take pictures of . . . well, of Hezbollah’s violations of 1701.

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Russia’s Sweatheart Deal

What kind of ceasefire allows for the mobilization of missile launchers in the warring region? The New York Times’s Michael R. Gordon reports:

Even as Russia pledged to begin withdrawing its forces from neighboring Georgia on Monday, American officials said the Russian military had been moving launchers for short-range ballistic missiles into South Ossetia, a step that appeared intended to tighten its hold on the breakaway territory.

The Russian military deployed several SS-21 missile launchers and supply vehicles to South Ossetia on Friday, according to American officials familiar with intelligence reports. From the new launching positions north of Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, the missiles can reach much of Georgia, including Tbilisi, the capital.

Blame falls squarely on Nicolas Sarkozy, who negotiated the six-point agreement. Look at the toothlessness of said six-points (with some Fisking by me) :

- No recourse to the use of force.

Just preparation for the use of force.

- A lasting cessation of hostilities.

How exactly is “lasting” defined?

- Unfettered access for humanitarian aid providers.

And for Russian missile launcher personnel.

- Georgian forces must withdraw to their usual barracks.

Sure, where else should they be while Russian troops freely roam their cities.

- Russian forces must go back to positions they held prior to the outbreak of hostilities. Pending an international peace monitoring mechanism, Russian peacekeepers will take additional security measures.

Russian forces haven’t gone back anywhere. And I nominate “international peace monitoring mechanism” for silliest world peace non-sequitur of the year. Look for it in an Obama speech coming to you soon.

- Launch of international discussions on security and stability arrangements for Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Nothing says “solution” like international discussion. Just look at the UN’s record.

For Moscow, this was not so much a ceasefire as a lease extension. Sarkozy’s deal allows the Russians to replace foot soldiers with missile launchers while Georgian forces twiddle their thumbs in the barracks. Additionally, there isn’t a word about the future of Georgia’s territorial integrity. Moscow has dictated every step of the action thus far and continues to do so. I hope Condoleezza Rice has a chance to enjoy all the lovely sights of Brussels during her stay in Belgium.

What kind of ceasefire allows for the mobilization of missile launchers in the warring region? The New York Times’s Michael R. Gordon reports:

Even as Russia pledged to begin withdrawing its forces from neighboring Georgia on Monday, American officials said the Russian military had been moving launchers for short-range ballistic missiles into South Ossetia, a step that appeared intended to tighten its hold on the breakaway territory.

The Russian military deployed several SS-21 missile launchers and supply vehicles to South Ossetia on Friday, according to American officials familiar with intelligence reports. From the new launching positions north of Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, the missiles can reach much of Georgia, including Tbilisi, the capital.

Blame falls squarely on Nicolas Sarkozy, who negotiated the six-point agreement. Look at the toothlessness of said six-points (with some Fisking by me) :

- No recourse to the use of force.

Just preparation for the use of force.

- A lasting cessation of hostilities.

How exactly is “lasting” defined?

- Unfettered access for humanitarian aid providers.

And for Russian missile launcher personnel.

- Georgian forces must withdraw to their usual barracks.

Sure, where else should they be while Russian troops freely roam their cities.

- Russian forces must go back to positions they held prior to the outbreak of hostilities. Pending an international peace monitoring mechanism, Russian peacekeepers will take additional security measures.

Russian forces haven’t gone back anywhere. And I nominate “international peace monitoring mechanism” for silliest world peace non-sequitur of the year. Look for it in an Obama speech coming to you soon.

- Launch of international discussions on security and stability arrangements for Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Nothing says “solution” like international discussion. Just look at the UN’s record.

For Moscow, this was not so much a ceasefire as a lease extension. Sarkozy’s deal allows the Russians to replace foot soldiers with missile launchers while Georgian forces twiddle their thumbs in the barracks. Additionally, there isn’t a word about the future of Georgia’s territorial integrity. Moscow has dictated every step of the action thus far and continues to do so. I hope Condoleezza Rice has a chance to enjoy all the lovely sights of Brussels during her stay in Belgium.

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Uh-Oh

When you call your political opponents “liars,” you better be right. Barack Obama wasn’t right. It seems that pro-life groups and conservative journalists had it right about Obama’s opposition to the Illinois Infant Born Alive Act. He did vote against a bill identical to a later federal bill and his explanation that the bills were different–an excuse he’s been giving out for some time–is just wrong. What does this say?

First, his campaign is beyond sloppy. They are arrogant and don’t bother to question The One’s utterances. They learned the hard way that The One is apparently not honest about his own record.

Second, The One took an issue of interest to one segment of the electorate and converted it into an issue of credibility and honesty which may trouble a broader segment of voters, namely anyone who cares about the character.

Third, once again — I know it’s stunning — the MSM never covered the issue up to now so if they are going to do so they first must explain what everyone is talking about, shirk questions about why they weren’t following this at all, and then decide if they are going to cover aggressively a story adverse to the Chosen One. Once again the MSM’s bias and ineptitude are obvious.

Will this matter? If voters come to see Obama as not just evasive and slick but downright dishonest, it will. Stay tuned.

When you call your political opponents “liars,” you better be right. Barack Obama wasn’t right. It seems that pro-life groups and conservative journalists had it right about Obama’s opposition to the Illinois Infant Born Alive Act. He did vote against a bill identical to a later federal bill and his explanation that the bills were different–an excuse he’s been giving out for some time–is just wrong. What does this say?

First, his campaign is beyond sloppy. They are arrogant and don’t bother to question The One’s utterances. They learned the hard way that The One is apparently not honest about his own record.

Second, The One took an issue of interest to one segment of the electorate and converted it into an issue of credibility and honesty which may trouble a broader segment of voters, namely anyone who cares about the character.

Third, once again — I know it’s stunning — the MSM never covered the issue up to now so if they are going to do so they first must explain what everyone is talking about, shirk questions about why they weren’t following this at all, and then decide if they are going to cover aggressively a story adverse to the Chosen One. Once again the MSM’s bias and ineptitude are obvious.

Will this matter? If voters come to see Obama as not just evasive and slick but downright dishonest, it will. Stay tuned.

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Who’s to Blame for the Caucasus Crisis?

According to Gerhard Schroeder, it’s clearly Georgia:

The hostilities undoubtedly have their historic causes, as well, and the conflict has had several historic precursors. But the moment that triggered the current armed hostilities was the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia. This should not be glossed over.

Clearly it should not. To say that Georgia invaded South Ossetia is a bit like saying that the United States invaded Rhode Island or that Germany invaded Frankfurt. I blogged earlier today about the new “useful idiots” and their defense of evil in the world–picking on the Guardian columnist Seumas Milne as a perfect example. But in fairness to Schroeder, at least the former German Chancellor is being amply rewarded for his effort. How’s your Russian, Mr. Schroeder? Your explanation sounds like it came straight out of a Russian script . . .

According to Gerhard Schroeder, it’s clearly Georgia:

The hostilities undoubtedly have their historic causes, as well, and the conflict has had several historic precursors. But the moment that triggered the current armed hostilities was the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia. This should not be glossed over.

Clearly it should not. To say that Georgia invaded South Ossetia is a bit like saying that the United States invaded Rhode Island or that Germany invaded Frankfurt. I blogged earlier today about the new “useful idiots” and their defense of evil in the world–picking on the Guardian columnist Seumas Milne as a perfect example. But in fairness to Schroeder, at least the former German Chancellor is being amply rewarded for his effort. How’s your Russian, Mr. Schroeder? Your explanation sounds like it came straight out of a Russian script . . .

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Bookshelf

Film, we’re told, is a serious art form, but it certainly hasn’t produced much of a serious literature, least of all when it comes to books about movie stars. Most Hollywood biographies, for instance, are ill-written compilations of gossip, while “filmographies” (to use the ugly but inevitable neologism) tend to be the work of fawning, obsessively compulsive fans. So it is a treat to report that Robert Nott’s The Films of Randolph Scott (McFarland & Company, 235 pp., $39.95 paper) is as discriminating as it is thorough, a worthy tribute to an insufficiently remembered actor whose best work is much deserving of revival.

As a young man Scott made movies of all kinds, but after 1947 he specialized exclusively in the Western, a once-beloved genre that has all but died out in recent years. His on-screen demeanor, as I wrote in a 2002 essay collected in A Terry Teachout Reader, was distinctive to the highest possible degree:

He always played the same character, a lanky, dryly amusing cowboy with a Virginian accent who spoke only when spoken to and shot only when shot at, and you could take it for granted that he’d do the right thing in any given situation. If he’d been younger and prettier, he would have been too good to be true, but Scott was no dresser’s dummy: he had a thin-lipped mouth and a hawk-like profile, and wasn’t afraid to act his age on screen. Nobody in Hollywood, not even John Wayne, looked more believable in a Stetson.

Most of Scott’s later movies were variously satisfying but predictable B- to B-plus Westerns in which he stuck closely to the heroic stereotype that made him popular. In the final years of his screen career, though, he made a number of films, most of them directed by Budd Boetticher, that were tougher in tone and austere to the point of stoicism. Boetticher’s “Seven Men from Now,” “Ride Lonesome,” and “Comanche Station” are all masterly variations on the same no-nonsense theme, terse moral tales of a vengeful drifter who seeks to right a wrong, and Scott’s disillusioned, flint-faced presence is a large part of what makes them so memorable.

Robert Nott, an arts and entertainment writer for the Santa Fe New Mexican, is a Western-loving film buff who has gone to the not-inconsiderable trouble of watching and writing about every surviving film that Randolph Scott made, not a few of which, he freely admits, weren’t worth the trouble: “You can be a fan of Scott’s and yet not be a fan of all of his movies. . . . For diehard Western film fans, part of the challenge of focusing on Randolph Scott’s film canon is sitting through the melodramatic misfires and embarrassing epics he made outside of the sagebrush genre.” Yet he somehow manages to write interestingly and amusingly about even the least of Scott’s efforts, and when the film under consideration is a good one, he always rises to the occasion. No matter how much you think you know about Randolph Scott’s oeuvre, Nott’s unpretentious synopses, which incorporate both original interview material and pointed excerpts from contemporary newspaper and magazine reviews, will point you in the direction of unfamiliar films that are worth watching (I can’t wait to get a look at “Carson City” after reading about it in The Films of Randolph Scott) and enhance your appreciation of the ones you’ve already seen.

It’s currently being whispered in film-buff circles that all of the Westerns Scott made with Budd Boetticher in the 50’s have been transferred to DVD and will be released as a boxed set this fall. I’ll believe that when I see it, but should these wonderful films finally be made available on home video, I strongly suggest that you acquire a copy of The Films of Randolph Scott to go along with them.


Film, we’re told, is a serious art form, but it certainly hasn’t produced much of a serious literature, least of all when it comes to books about movie stars. Most Hollywood biographies, for instance, are ill-written compilations of gossip, while “filmographies” (to use the ugly but inevitable neologism) tend to be the work of fawning, obsessively compulsive fans. So it is a treat to report that Robert Nott’s The Films of Randolph Scott (McFarland & Company, 235 pp., $39.95 paper) is as discriminating as it is thorough, a worthy tribute to an insufficiently remembered actor whose best work is much deserving of revival.

As a young man Scott made movies of all kinds, but after 1947 he specialized exclusively in the Western, a once-beloved genre that has all but died out in recent years. His on-screen demeanor, as I wrote in a 2002 essay collected in A Terry Teachout Reader, was distinctive to the highest possible degree:

He always played the same character, a lanky, dryly amusing cowboy with a Virginian accent who spoke only when spoken to and shot only when shot at, and you could take it for granted that he’d do the right thing in any given situation. If he’d been younger and prettier, he would have been too good to be true, but Scott was no dresser’s dummy: he had a thin-lipped mouth and a hawk-like profile, and wasn’t afraid to act his age on screen. Nobody in Hollywood, not even John Wayne, looked more believable in a Stetson.

Most of Scott’s later movies were variously satisfying but predictable B- to B-plus Westerns in which he stuck closely to the heroic stereotype that made him popular. In the final years of his screen career, though, he made a number of films, most of them directed by Budd Boetticher, that were tougher in tone and austere to the point of stoicism. Boetticher’s “Seven Men from Now,” “Ride Lonesome,” and “Comanche Station” are all masterly variations on the same no-nonsense theme, terse moral tales of a vengeful drifter who seeks to right a wrong, and Scott’s disillusioned, flint-faced presence is a large part of what makes them so memorable.

Robert Nott, an arts and entertainment writer for the Santa Fe New Mexican, is a Western-loving film buff who has gone to the not-inconsiderable trouble of watching and writing about every surviving film that Randolph Scott made, not a few of which, he freely admits, weren’t worth the trouble: “You can be a fan of Scott’s and yet not be a fan of all of his movies. . . . For diehard Western film fans, part of the challenge of focusing on Randolph Scott’s film canon is sitting through the melodramatic misfires and embarrassing epics he made outside of the sagebrush genre.” Yet he somehow manages to write interestingly and amusingly about even the least of Scott’s efforts, and when the film under consideration is a good one, he always rises to the occasion. No matter how much you think you know about Randolph Scott’s oeuvre, Nott’s unpretentious synopses, which incorporate both original interview material and pointed excerpts from contemporary newspaper and magazine reviews, will point you in the direction of unfamiliar films that are worth watching (I can’t wait to get a look at “Carson City” after reading about it in The Films of Randolph Scott) and enhance your appreciation of the ones you’ve already seen.

It’s currently being whispered in film-buff circles that all of the Westerns Scott made with Budd Boetticher in the 50’s have been transferred to DVD and will be released as a boxed set this fall. I’ll believe that when I see it, but should these wonderful films finally be made available on home video, I strongly suggest that you acquire a copy of The Films of Randolph Scott to go along with them.


		

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Obama’s Error Has Legs

The Wall Street Journal goes after Barack Obama’s gaffe on Justice Clarence Thomas at the Rick Warren forum. The editors write:

Barack Obama likes to portray himself as a centrist politician who wants to unite the country, but occasionally his postpartisan mask slips. That was the case at Saturday night’s Saddleback Church forum, when Mr. Obama chose to demean Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Pastor Rick Warren asked each Presidential candidate which Justices he would not have nominated. Mr. McCain said, “with all due respect” the four most liberal sitting Justices because of his different judicial philosophy.

Mr. Obama took a lower road, replying first that “that’s a good one,” and then adding that “I would not have nominated Clarence Thomas. I don’t think that he, I don’t think that he was a strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time for that elevation. Setting aside the fact that I profoundly disagree with his interpretation of a lot of the Constitution.” The Democrat added that he also wouldn’t have appointed Antonin Scalia, and perhaps not John Roberts, though he assured the audience that at least they were smart enough for the job.

But, as I and others noted, the gaffe tells us more about Obama’s character and level of civility than Thomas’s credentials:

Even more troubling is what the Illinois Democrat’s answer betrays about his political habits of mind. Asked a question he didn’t expect at a rare unscripted event, the rookie candidate didn’t merely say he disagreed with Justice Thomas. Instead, he instinctively reverted to the leftwing cliché that the Court’s black conservative isn’t up to the job while his white conservative colleagues are.

So much for civility in politics and bringing people together. And no wonder Mr. Obama’s advisers have refused invitations for more such open forums, preferring to keep him in front of a teleprompter, where he won’t let slip what he really believes.

Obama has never had a viable political opponent who held ideological views vastly different from his own. He doesn’t have a track record of engaging and sparring with intellectual opponents. And he doesn’t get much tough questioning from the media. (When he does, as when Charlie Gibson pointed out that raising capital gains rates actually lowers revenue, he is utterly nonplussed.) So it isn’t surprising that he gets personal in confronting intellectual opposition under pressure. But it sure is revealing.

The Wall Street Journal goes after Barack Obama’s gaffe on Justice Clarence Thomas at the Rick Warren forum. The editors write:

Barack Obama likes to portray himself as a centrist politician who wants to unite the country, but occasionally his postpartisan mask slips. That was the case at Saturday night’s Saddleback Church forum, when Mr. Obama chose to demean Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Pastor Rick Warren asked each Presidential candidate which Justices he would not have nominated. Mr. McCain said, “with all due respect” the four most liberal sitting Justices because of his different judicial philosophy.

Mr. Obama took a lower road, replying first that “that’s a good one,” and then adding that “I would not have nominated Clarence Thomas. I don’t think that he, I don’t think that he was a strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time for that elevation. Setting aside the fact that I profoundly disagree with his interpretation of a lot of the Constitution.” The Democrat added that he also wouldn’t have appointed Antonin Scalia, and perhaps not John Roberts, though he assured the audience that at least they were smart enough for the job.

But, as I and others noted, the gaffe tells us more about Obama’s character and level of civility than Thomas’s credentials:

Even more troubling is what the Illinois Democrat’s answer betrays about his political habits of mind. Asked a question he didn’t expect at a rare unscripted event, the rookie candidate didn’t merely say he disagreed with Justice Thomas. Instead, he instinctively reverted to the leftwing cliché that the Court’s black conservative isn’t up to the job while his white conservative colleagues are.

So much for civility in politics and bringing people together. And no wonder Mr. Obama’s advisers have refused invitations for more such open forums, preferring to keep him in front of a teleprompter, where he won’t let slip what he really believes.

Obama has never had a viable political opponent who held ideological views vastly different from his own. He doesn’t have a track record of engaging and sparring with intellectual opponents. And he doesn’t get much tough questioning from the media. (When he does, as when Charlie Gibson pointed out that raising capital gains rates actually lowers revenue, he is utterly nonplussed.) So it isn’t surprising that he gets personal in confronting intellectual opposition under pressure. But it sure is revealing.

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Reluctant Victors

In today’s Financial Times, Clive Crook expounds upon Washington’s slow and safe response to Russian aggression:

The US feels anything but strong these days. Iraq has strained its armed forces to such a point that it cannot commit adequate resources even to its struggle to stabilise Afghanistan, which would otherwise be an immediate and high priority. Aside from the human cost of the Iraq mission, Americans are also preoccupied with its enormous fiscal burden. Just last week, Barack Obama’s campaign again underlined how much it is counting on savings from a withdrawal from Iraq to pay for expanded domestic spending. The country has a new set of priorities.

He’s right that the”US feels anything but strong these days.” But that has less to do with armed forces “strained” by Iraq, and more to do with Americans uncomfortable with their country’s superpower status. The U.S. isn’t in a post-Iraq funk because things went bad there. (In fact, there’s every indication that Iraq is shaping up to be a U.S. victory.) The truth is that Americans are absurdly humble winners. Forget about what the deadly slog of Iraq 2003-2008 has done to the American psyche. Consider the quick and decisive victory over Saddam in 1991, the dissolution of the Soviet Union shortly thereafter, and the subsequent change of mindset in the U.S. In March of 1995, the New York Times ran a contest asking readers to write in suggested names for the age in which they were living. In response they got things like “Age of Uncertainty,” “Age of Fragmentation,” “Age of Anxiety,” and “Age of Disillusion (and Dissolution.)”

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, President George H. W. Bush was criticized for his lack of enthusiasm about victory. And after a few parades for Norman Schwarzkopf and the troops, the American military almost immediately shrank into itself. Overblown anxieties about the economy and other domestic issues–then as now–took center stage. And we now know what trouble was brewing for the U.S. in other lands while we scolded ourselves at home.

In today’s Financial Times, Clive Crook expounds upon Washington’s slow and safe response to Russian aggression:

The US feels anything but strong these days. Iraq has strained its armed forces to such a point that it cannot commit adequate resources even to its struggle to stabilise Afghanistan, which would otherwise be an immediate and high priority. Aside from the human cost of the Iraq mission, Americans are also preoccupied with its enormous fiscal burden. Just last week, Barack Obama’s campaign again underlined how much it is counting on savings from a withdrawal from Iraq to pay for expanded domestic spending. The country has a new set of priorities.

He’s right that the”US feels anything but strong these days.” But that has less to do with armed forces “strained” by Iraq, and more to do with Americans uncomfortable with their country’s superpower status. The U.S. isn’t in a post-Iraq funk because things went bad there. (In fact, there’s every indication that Iraq is shaping up to be a U.S. victory.) The truth is that Americans are absurdly humble winners. Forget about what the deadly slog of Iraq 2003-2008 has done to the American psyche. Consider the quick and decisive victory over Saddam in 1991, the dissolution of the Soviet Union shortly thereafter, and the subsequent change of mindset in the U.S. In March of 1995, the New York Times ran a contest asking readers to write in suggested names for the age in which they were living. In response they got things like “Age of Uncertainty,” “Age of Fragmentation,” “Age of Anxiety,” and “Age of Disillusion (and Dissolution.)”

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, President George H. W. Bush was criticized for his lack of enthusiasm about victory. And after a few parades for Norman Schwarzkopf and the troops, the American military almost immediately shrank into itself. Overblown anxieties about the economy and other domestic issues–then as now–took center stage. And we now know what trouble was brewing for the U.S. in other lands while we scolded ourselves at home.

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A Gap or A Chasm

Barack Obama isn’t getting much help convincing Americans he can be a credible commander-in-chief. This report notes that not even an informal advisor of his thinks he is doing a very good job:

Obama’s first statement, by contrast, delicately avoided the question of responsibility. “Now is the time for Georgia and Russia to show restraint, and to avoid an escalation to full-scale war,” he said. Later that day, Obama blamed Russia for the invasion. By Saturday, the Democrat had moved still closer to McCain’s position: “Russia has escalated the crisis in Georgia through its clear and continued violation of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” To Zbigniew Brzezinski, former President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser [from whom Obama has said he receives informal and limited advice], the moment had echoes of the 1980 race between Carter and Ronald Reagan. Carter, the sitting president, played defense on national security issues throughout the race, as he was dogged the Iran hostage crisis, conservative criticism that he was too conciliatory on issues such as renegotiating America’s lease on the Panama Canal, and rhetoric like that in a 1977 speech in which he famously spoke of “an inordinate fear of communism.” “Reagan was able to polarize the situation verbally and to some extent McCain is doing just that vis-a-vis Obama,” Brzezinski said. Brzezinski added, “I thought that the first comments” by Obama “were perhaps too general and didn’t perhaps address sharply enough the moral and strategic dimensions of the problem.” Obama’s later statements, he said, struck the right tone. “In the meantime, McCain was able to leap into the timing gap,” Brzezinski continued. “Timing in all these things, timing, tone and ability to crystallize the issue sharply, is what is important.”

The piece concludes that McCain has reopened the “national security gap.” At least with regard to Obama, that gap was never narrowed. Hillary Clinton knew it, but couldn’t quite convince primary voters that she was any more credible. And the issue remained dormant until the surge’s success became too obvious for the mainstream media to ignore and the Georgia crisis popped up.

But the question is whether national security is one of many, and not even the most important, issue which voters weigh, or whether there is a bare minimum level of comfort most voters must have on this issue before they go on to evaluate other issues as well as matters of character. If the latter, Obama may be in serious trouble. It might be that pollsters underestimate the importance of national security as a discrete issue. Perhaps, in the end, voters won’t even consider a candidate who they think isn’t up to par on that critical issue.

For now, what is painfully obvious is that even some of Obama’s supporters think he hasn’t passed the 3 AM test. Imagine what voters must be thinking.

Barack Obama isn’t getting much help convincing Americans he can be a credible commander-in-chief. This report notes that not even an informal advisor of his thinks he is doing a very good job:

Obama’s first statement, by contrast, delicately avoided the question of responsibility. “Now is the time for Georgia and Russia to show restraint, and to avoid an escalation to full-scale war,” he said. Later that day, Obama blamed Russia for the invasion. By Saturday, the Democrat had moved still closer to McCain’s position: “Russia has escalated the crisis in Georgia through its clear and continued violation of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” To Zbigniew Brzezinski, former President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser [from whom Obama has said he receives informal and limited advice], the moment had echoes of the 1980 race between Carter and Ronald Reagan. Carter, the sitting president, played defense on national security issues throughout the race, as he was dogged the Iran hostage crisis, conservative criticism that he was too conciliatory on issues such as renegotiating America’s lease on the Panama Canal, and rhetoric like that in a 1977 speech in which he famously spoke of “an inordinate fear of communism.” “Reagan was able to polarize the situation verbally and to some extent McCain is doing just that vis-a-vis Obama,” Brzezinski said. Brzezinski added, “I thought that the first comments” by Obama “were perhaps too general and didn’t perhaps address sharply enough the moral and strategic dimensions of the problem.” Obama’s later statements, he said, struck the right tone. “In the meantime, McCain was able to leap into the timing gap,” Brzezinski continued. “Timing in all these things, timing, tone and ability to crystallize the issue sharply, is what is important.”

The piece concludes that McCain has reopened the “national security gap.” At least with regard to Obama, that gap was never narrowed. Hillary Clinton knew it, but couldn’t quite convince primary voters that she was any more credible. And the issue remained dormant until the surge’s success became too obvious for the mainstream media to ignore and the Georgia crisis popped up.

But the question is whether national security is one of many, and not even the most important, issue which voters weigh, or whether there is a bare minimum level of comfort most voters must have on this issue before they go on to evaluate other issues as well as matters of character. If the latter, Obama may be in serious trouble. It might be that pollsters underestimate the importance of national security as a discrete issue. Perhaps, in the end, voters won’t even consider a candidate who they think isn’t up to par on that critical issue.

For now, what is painfully obvious is that even some of Obama’s supporters think he hasn’t passed the 3 AM test. Imagine what voters must be thinking.

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Re: The Return of Useful Idiots

Speaking of useful idiots, last week activist website The Struggle published an appeal in defense of Iran and against a military attack on the Islamic Republic, signed by 150 Jewish activists, intellectuals and other such types–including the ever-mobilized Noam Chomsky, Uri Davis, Moshe Machover, Avi Shlaim and Antony Loewenstein.

The communiqué, the organizational affiliations of some of its signatories, and the comments included require little additional comment beyond what’s been said in the past about these “Good” Jews and their morbid obsession with victimhood. I’d just like to note here that among the signatories there is one Professor Bertell Ollman. Ollman, in the pages of Tikkun, published in 2005 a “Letter of Resignation from the Jewish People.” In it, he said that he “was appalled to finish my life with my umbilical cord still tied to a people with whom I can no longer identify.” So how come he’s now signing himself as a Jew?

Speaking of useful idiots, last week activist website The Struggle published an appeal in defense of Iran and against a military attack on the Islamic Republic, signed by 150 Jewish activists, intellectuals and other such types–including the ever-mobilized Noam Chomsky, Uri Davis, Moshe Machover, Avi Shlaim and Antony Loewenstein.

The communiqué, the organizational affiliations of some of its signatories, and the comments included require little additional comment beyond what’s been said in the past about these “Good” Jews and their morbid obsession with victimhood. I’d just like to note here that among the signatories there is one Professor Bertell Ollman. Ollman, in the pages of Tikkun, published in 2005 a “Letter of Resignation from the Jewish People.” In it, he said that he “was appalled to finish my life with my umbilical cord still tied to a people with whom I can no longer identify.” So how come he’s now signing himself as a Jew?

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Iran Boasts

Iran’s air force commander announced on Sunday that its fighter jets have now an increased range–they can fly 3,000 kilometers without refueling. If true, it’s possible that Iran would be able to strike Israeli targets (a mere 1,000 kilometers away) and report back to base. It is hard to evaluate Iran’s air force capability, since its procurements are rather opaque, and military supplies come from countries such as China, Russia, and North Korea–not exactly the most transparent ones. Reporting back to base is also a secondary matter in a culture that glorifies martyrdom. If planes could carry a deadly payload of non-conventional weapons, why should Iran’s air force commander worry too much about their returning to Iran after a successful strike? Nevertheless, such boastful claims have been dismissed by military experts, who noted the difference between merely flying such a length and carrying out a successful military operation while doing so.

Iran’s air force commander announced on Sunday that its fighter jets have now an increased range–they can fly 3,000 kilometers without refueling. If true, it’s possible that Iran would be able to strike Israeli targets (a mere 1,000 kilometers away) and report back to base. It is hard to evaluate Iran’s air force capability, since its procurements are rather opaque, and military supplies come from countries such as China, Russia, and North Korea–not exactly the most transparent ones. Reporting back to base is also a secondary matter in a culture that glorifies martyrdom. If planes could carry a deadly payload of non-conventional weapons, why should Iran’s air force commander worry too much about their returning to Iran after a successful strike? Nevertheless, such boastful claims have been dismissed by military experts, who noted the difference between merely flying such a length and carrying out a successful military operation while doing so.

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What If He’s This Good In The Debates?

Michael Gerson joined a parade of pundits who praised John McCain’s performance at the Rick Warren forum. Gerson dispelled one myth and raised an intriguing possibility.

The myth? That by appearing thoughtful and respectful toward religious right voters, Obama would win many of them over. Gerson explains why this will be near-impossible. He writes:

His outreach to evangelical voters is obviously sincere, but he doesn’t actually agree with them on much. In the course of the forum, he endorsed federal funding for embryonic stem cell research in spite of the existence of humane and promising alternatives. He proposed controversial government regulations on faith-based charities that accept federal funds. He attacked Justice Clarence Thomas as unqualified and defended his vote against the confirmation of the widely admired Chief Justice John Roberts. Obama deserves points for honesty on all these issues, but it is possible to be honestly off-putting.

Obama’s response on abortion — the issue that remains his largest obstacle to evangelical support — bordered on a gaffe. Asked by Warren at what point in its development a baby gains “human rights,” Obama said that such determinations were “above my pay grade” — a silly answer to a sophisticated question. If Obama is genuinely unsure about this matter, he (and the law) should err in favor of protecting innocent life. If Obama believes that a baby in the womb lacks human rights, he should say so — pro-choice men and women must affirm (as many sincerely do) that developing life has a lesser status. Here the professor failed the test of logic.

For many evangelicals, the theoretical Obama — the Obama of hope and unity — is intriguing, even appealing. But this opinion is not likely to improve upon closer inspection of his policy views. Obama is one of those rare political figures who seems to grow smaller the closer we approach him. “I want people to know me well,” Obama said at the forum. Among religious conservatives, that may not be an advantage.

In other words, people whose lives are devoted to religious principles take those principles seriously enough not to support a candidate who opposes those same principles. They are not easily bamboozled.

But Gerson raises a more intriguing point: McCain may be really good in a debate setting. And that might be the key to a stunning political upset. He writes:

Republicans have spent the past few weeks pleasantly surprised at the closeness of the presidential race. But they have generally chalked this up to Obama’s weakness, not McCain’s strength. After Saturday night, even Republicans most skeptical of McCain must conclude: “Perhaps we aren’t doomed after all.”

It is not just that McCain is more fluent on issues. It is that a long stretch of time before the camera without a script (at least not a detailed one) benefits the candidate with more real life experience and more proficiency at drawing concrete examples. Debates, by and large, don’t consist of long, eloquent speeches. And concessions that issues are “hard” or above one’s “pay grade” may sound good in a short TV interview, but they stick out in a debate as evasive and unsatisfying. (And getting peeved at pesky questions as Obama did in the Philadelphia debate or in the David Brody interview is a potential disaster when the entire electorate is looking on.)

All that said, I find it hard to believe that Obama won’t learn from this outing and be more impressive in the fall debates than he was Saturday. Because McCain has shown himself to be capable of conveying that he is not only up to the job, but a more credible leader and more compelling person, Obama had better do some intense preparation for those debates. Unless Obama is honest with himself about the shortcomings of his performance, Saturday night may prove to be not just a fluke but the beginning of the Obama mystique’s unraveling.

Michael Gerson joined a parade of pundits who praised John McCain’s performance at the Rick Warren forum. Gerson dispelled one myth and raised an intriguing possibility.

The myth? That by appearing thoughtful and respectful toward religious right voters, Obama would win many of them over. Gerson explains why this will be near-impossible. He writes:

His outreach to evangelical voters is obviously sincere, but he doesn’t actually agree with them on much. In the course of the forum, he endorsed federal funding for embryonic stem cell research in spite of the existence of humane and promising alternatives. He proposed controversial government regulations on faith-based charities that accept federal funds. He attacked Justice Clarence Thomas as unqualified and defended his vote against the confirmation of the widely admired Chief Justice John Roberts. Obama deserves points for honesty on all these issues, but it is possible to be honestly off-putting.

Obama’s response on abortion — the issue that remains his largest obstacle to evangelical support — bordered on a gaffe. Asked by Warren at what point in its development a baby gains “human rights,” Obama said that such determinations were “above my pay grade” — a silly answer to a sophisticated question. If Obama is genuinely unsure about this matter, he (and the law) should err in favor of protecting innocent life. If Obama believes that a baby in the womb lacks human rights, he should say so — pro-choice men and women must affirm (as many sincerely do) that developing life has a lesser status. Here the professor failed the test of logic.

For many evangelicals, the theoretical Obama — the Obama of hope and unity — is intriguing, even appealing. But this opinion is not likely to improve upon closer inspection of his policy views. Obama is one of those rare political figures who seems to grow smaller the closer we approach him. “I want people to know me well,” Obama said at the forum. Among religious conservatives, that may not be an advantage.

In other words, people whose lives are devoted to religious principles take those principles seriously enough not to support a candidate who opposes those same principles. They are not easily bamboozled.

But Gerson raises a more intriguing point: McCain may be really good in a debate setting. And that might be the key to a stunning political upset. He writes:

Republicans have spent the past few weeks pleasantly surprised at the closeness of the presidential race. But they have generally chalked this up to Obama’s weakness, not McCain’s strength. After Saturday night, even Republicans most skeptical of McCain must conclude: “Perhaps we aren’t doomed after all.”

It is not just that McCain is more fluent on issues. It is that a long stretch of time before the camera without a script (at least not a detailed one) benefits the candidate with more real life experience and more proficiency at drawing concrete examples. Debates, by and large, don’t consist of long, eloquent speeches. And concessions that issues are “hard” or above one’s “pay grade” may sound good in a short TV interview, but they stick out in a debate as evasive and unsatisfying. (And getting peeved at pesky questions as Obama did in the Philadelphia debate or in the David Brody interview is a potential disaster when the entire electorate is looking on.)

All that said, I find it hard to believe that Obama won’t learn from this outing and be more impressive in the fall debates than he was Saturday. Because McCain has shown himself to be capable of conveying that he is not only up to the job, but a more credible leader and more compelling person, Obama had better do some intense preparation for those debates. Unless Obama is honest with himself about the shortcomings of his performance, Saturday night may prove to be not just a fluke but the beginning of the Obama mystique’s unraveling.

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Who Really Wants Two States?

The NYT, who always knows best, preaches in an editorial today for electing a new Israeli leader who believes in the two-state solution:

Mr. Olmert does, however, understand that a two-state solution with the Palestinians is vital for Israel’s security. We hope that his successor does as well and brings a greater sense of urgency to the negotiations.

Of course, one might argue that there’s nothing wrong with such leader, but it seems as if the NYT is a bit out of touch. In recent months, there have been more Palestinian leaders than Israeli ones expressing doubt regarding this formula for peace. On the other hand, very few Israeli leaders seriously argued for abandonment of the two-state solution. True, many of them are not as enthusiastic about it as Prime Minister Olmert–and can you blame them? But the NYT misrepresents the contours of the current Israeli political camps in pursuit of its goal (helping elect an Israeli PM of the right tendencies):

Those now maneuvering to succeed Mr. Olmert also need to behave responsibly. Two of the main contenders – Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni from Mr. Olmert’s Kadima Party and the Labor Party leader, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, favor a two-state solution. The other two – Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, also from Kadima, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud Party leader and former prime minister – do not. They need to think again.

So favoring the two-state solution is the litmus test. But who’s really going to pass it?

Read the rest of this COMMENTARY web exclusive here.

The NYT, who always knows best, preaches in an editorial today for electing a new Israeli leader who believes in the two-state solution:

Mr. Olmert does, however, understand that a two-state solution with the Palestinians is vital for Israel’s security. We hope that his successor does as well and brings a greater sense of urgency to the negotiations.

Of course, one might argue that there’s nothing wrong with such leader, but it seems as if the NYT is a bit out of touch. In recent months, there have been more Palestinian leaders than Israeli ones expressing doubt regarding this formula for peace. On the other hand, very few Israeli leaders seriously argued for abandonment of the two-state solution. True, many of them are not as enthusiastic about it as Prime Minister Olmert–and can you blame them? But the NYT misrepresents the contours of the current Israeli political camps in pursuit of its goal (helping elect an Israeli PM of the right tendencies):

Those now maneuvering to succeed Mr. Olmert also need to behave responsibly. Two of the main contenders – Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni from Mr. Olmert’s Kadima Party and the Labor Party leader, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, favor a two-state solution. The other two – Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, also from Kadima, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud Party leader and former prime minister – do not. They need to think again.

So favoring the two-state solution is the litmus test. But who’s really going to pass it?

Read the rest of this COMMENTARY web exclusive here.

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Fighting The Last War?

The Obama team has gotten skittish and possibly confused. Having read all those Mark Penn emails, they are convinced their biggest problem is that Barack Obama is too “foreign.” And that’s what they are going to spend a lot of time focusing on–that he is so American–at the convention. That, at least, is what the New York Times tells us. If true, this strikes me as monumentally silly for several reasons. (It also sounds a heck of a lot like John Kerry’s regrettable “reporting for duty” meme.)

First, it is literally fighting the last campaign against Hillary Clinton (or part of that split-personality campaign). It is backward-looking, entirely defensive, and completely irrelevant. It is a sign of how the Clintons have gotten inside the heads of the Obama team that they are now thinking up defenses to non-issues or second-level problems.

Second, by worrying about all that, they have missed the more serious problems that have become apparent as the summer wore on. National security, experience and gravitas may be back in fashion. Convincing voters that he really is patriotic is a colossal waste of time and a distraction from attending to these much more acute issues.

Third, remember all those pundits fretting that if the election is about Obama he will lose? Well it sounds like the election and the convention will be a lot about Obama. It’s hard to run a convention not about the candidate, but the danger is that the convention devoted to proving the candidate is “American” devolves into a frothy, substance-less broth of empty slogans and mush.

Maybe the Times got it wrong, or exaggerated the degree to which Obama is going to obsess about proving his patriotic bona fides, but this is one story the McCain team is hoping the Grey Lady got right.

The Obama team has gotten skittish and possibly confused. Having read all those Mark Penn emails, they are convinced their biggest problem is that Barack Obama is too “foreign.” And that’s what they are going to spend a lot of time focusing on–that he is so American–at the convention. That, at least, is what the New York Times tells us. If true, this strikes me as monumentally silly for several reasons. (It also sounds a heck of a lot like John Kerry’s regrettable “reporting for duty” meme.)

First, it is literally fighting the last campaign against Hillary Clinton (or part of that split-personality campaign). It is backward-looking, entirely defensive, and completely irrelevant. It is a sign of how the Clintons have gotten inside the heads of the Obama team that they are now thinking up defenses to non-issues or second-level problems.

Second, by worrying about all that, they have missed the more serious problems that have become apparent as the summer wore on. National security, experience and gravitas may be back in fashion. Convincing voters that he really is patriotic is a colossal waste of time and a distraction from attending to these much more acute issues.

Third, remember all those pundits fretting that if the election is about Obama he will lose? Well it sounds like the election and the convention will be a lot about Obama. It’s hard to run a convention not about the candidate, but the danger is that the convention devoted to proving the candidate is “American” devolves into a frothy, substance-less broth of empty slogans and mush.

Maybe the Times got it wrong, or exaggerated the degree to which Obama is going to obsess about proving his patriotic bona fides, but this is one story the McCain team is hoping the Grey Lady got right.

Read Less




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