Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 16, 2008

Maybe, This Week, You’d Rather You Had Done Worse in the Polls Last Week

John McCain is now seeing the disadvantage of having surged into the lead in this race — because as the leader, his reactions to the various forms of meltdown and bailout going on this week are clearly the dominant story, not Barack Obama’s. And this is one matter in which a political candidate does not want to be the focal point, because nobody quite knows what to do or what the consequences of action or inaction are. Given the unthinkable shift that has just gone on in relation to the insurance giant AIG — with the federal government and the Fed absolutely refusing even to consider the possibility of helping out on Saturday to an 80 percent takeover for $75 billion on Tuesday — it’s fair to say that the most knowledgeable, skilled, and educated people in the world on these matters are doing something that has never been done before. They’re practicing Improvisatory Macroeconomics. And if there’s one thing macroeconomics is not supposed to partake of, it’s improvisation.

McCain and Obama are falling back on their points of comfort. McCain is talking about greed and lack of accountability — all of which are long-standing talking points of his, though they are usually applied to Washington and not to Wall Street. He is also attacking Obama’s tax-increase plan, which is sound, but a little off to the side when the issue is the shakeout in the markets. Obama is talking about how it’s all George Bush’s fault and that John McCain would be more of the same, which is a perfectly fine line of attack if you’re a Democrat, but since it is the entirety of Obama’s case against McCain, has a little less oomph in this case than it might otherwise.

They need more, both of them. And in this case, McCain needs more. Which is to say, he needs more economic advice than he’s getting from Douglas Holtz-Eakin, his chief econ hand, who enmeshed his candidate today in an entirely unnecessary mini-joke-controversy over his role in the popularity of the Blackberry.

John McCain is now seeing the disadvantage of having surged into the lead in this race — because as the leader, his reactions to the various forms of meltdown and bailout going on this week are clearly the dominant story, not Barack Obama’s. And this is one matter in which a political candidate does not want to be the focal point, because nobody quite knows what to do or what the consequences of action or inaction are. Given the unthinkable shift that has just gone on in relation to the insurance giant AIG — with the federal government and the Fed absolutely refusing even to consider the possibility of helping out on Saturday to an 80 percent takeover for $75 billion on Tuesday — it’s fair to say that the most knowledgeable, skilled, and educated people in the world on these matters are doing something that has never been done before. They’re practicing Improvisatory Macroeconomics. And if there’s one thing macroeconomics is not supposed to partake of, it’s improvisation.

McCain and Obama are falling back on their points of comfort. McCain is talking about greed and lack of accountability — all of which are long-standing talking points of his, though they are usually applied to Washington and not to Wall Street. He is also attacking Obama’s tax-increase plan, which is sound, but a little off to the side when the issue is the shakeout in the markets. Obama is talking about how it’s all George Bush’s fault and that John McCain would be more of the same, which is a perfectly fine line of attack if you’re a Democrat, but since it is the entirety of Obama’s case against McCain, has a little less oomph in this case than it might otherwise.

They need more, both of them. And in this case, McCain needs more. Which is to say, he needs more economic advice than he’s getting from Douglas Holtz-Eakin, his chief econ hand, who enmeshed his candidate today in an entirely unnecessary mini-joke-controversy over his role in the popularity of the Blackberry.

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Re: Accepted Wisdom

Brit Hume picks up on the sex education ad story and finds what others did who have bothered to read the bill in question:

“It is widely agreed in the mainstream media that John McCain falsely accused Barack Obama of supporting a bill that provided sex education for kindergarteners. The McCain campaign made the assertion in a campaign ad released last week. The Washington Post called the ad ‘dishonest and deceptive.’ The New York Times said, quote, ‘At most, kindergarteners were to be taught the dangers of sexual predators.’

“But it appears those critics have not read the bill which Obama backed as an Illinois State Senator in 2003. It says curriculum in, quote, ‘Any of grades K through 12 shall include instruction on the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including the prevention, transmission and spread of HIV,’ end quote. The Obama camp maintains the bill was intended to teach kindergarteners only about inappropriate touching, but Byron York, at the National Review after doing some reporting, writes, quote, ‘the “touching” provision did not have the prominence that Team Obama has suggested it had, and certainly wasn’t the bill’s main purpose.’”

At some point will the MSM need to report the facts — the content of the bill, the McCain rebuttal, etc.? I doubt it. Once the storyline (“McCain is a bigger liar”) is set they rarely retreat.

Brit Hume picks up on the sex education ad story and finds what others did who have bothered to read the bill in question:

“It is widely agreed in the mainstream media that John McCain falsely accused Barack Obama of supporting a bill that provided sex education for kindergarteners. The McCain campaign made the assertion in a campaign ad released last week. The Washington Post called the ad ‘dishonest and deceptive.’ The New York Times said, quote, ‘At most, kindergarteners were to be taught the dangers of sexual predators.’

“But it appears those critics have not read the bill which Obama backed as an Illinois State Senator in 2003. It says curriculum in, quote, ‘Any of grades K through 12 shall include instruction on the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including the prevention, transmission and spread of HIV,’ end quote. The Obama camp maintains the bill was intended to teach kindergarteners only about inappropriate touching, but Byron York, at the National Review after doing some reporting, writes, quote, ‘the “touching” provision did not have the prominence that Team Obama has suggested it had, and certainly wasn’t the bill’s main purpose.’”

At some point will the MSM need to report the facts — the content of the bill, the McCain rebuttal, etc.? I doubt it. Once the storyline (“McCain is a bigger liar”) is set they rarely retreat.

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Re: McCain Says

Eric, perhaps some of that McCain sarcasm caught the attention of the usually compliant Obama media fan club. From Reuters:

So what does Barack Obama do after a hard day of defending the common man during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression? Throw a $28,500-a-head fundraising dinner, of course.

But leave it to Hollywood mogul/producer Mike Medavoy to assure us via the New York Times that they are just regular folk:

Mr. Medavoy, perhaps recalling the backlash that has sometimes been triggered by Hollywood’s political efforts, argued that the evening was not really about star power, Ms. Streisand’s presence on the stage notwithstanding.“They keep wanting to say, people out there are just celebrities,” said Mr. Medavoy, speaking by telephone on Tuesday afternoon. “They’re more than that,” he said. “A lot of people that nobody knows will be there. People may work in the industry, but that doesn’t make them celebrities.”

Days of speeches, hours of morning show appearances and dozens of email blasts trying to assign blame for the financial crisis don’t have the impact of moments like this. Think Michael Dukakis in the tank.

Eric, perhaps some of that McCain sarcasm caught the attention of the usually compliant Obama media fan club. From Reuters:

So what does Barack Obama do after a hard day of defending the common man during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression? Throw a $28,500-a-head fundraising dinner, of course.

But leave it to Hollywood mogul/producer Mike Medavoy to assure us via the New York Times that they are just regular folk:

Mr. Medavoy, perhaps recalling the backlash that has sometimes been triggered by Hollywood’s political efforts, argued that the evening was not really about star power, Ms. Streisand’s presence on the stage notwithstanding.“They keep wanting to say, people out there are just celebrities,” said Mr. Medavoy, speaking by telephone on Tuesday afternoon. “They’re more than that,” he said. “A lot of people that nobody knows will be there. People may work in the industry, but that doesn’t make them celebrities.”

Days of speeches, hours of morning show appearances and dozens of email blasts trying to assign blame for the financial crisis don’t have the impact of moments like this. Think Michael Dukakis in the tank.

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McCain Says: Shut Up and Sing

According to CNN, John McCain took aim at Barack Obama today for flying “off to Hollywood for a fundraiser with Barbra Streisand and his celebrity friends.”

Leave it to CNN to completely miss the greater context of this story: namely, McCain’s longtime–and hillarious–use of Streisand as his foil.

According to CNN, John McCain took aim at Barack Obama today for flying “off to Hollywood for a fundraiser with Barbra Streisand and his celebrity friends.”

Leave it to CNN to completely miss the greater context of this story: namely, McCain’s longtime–and hillarious–use of Streisand as his foil.

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Arianna Huffington’s Double Standard

Interested in the neoconservative plight? Don’t read COMMENTARY–read Arianna Huffington. For all the nefarious details, see her most recent post:

Sarah Palin may not have known what the Bush Doctrine was, but we’re getting a pretty good idea of what the Palin Doctrine is. Or will be — because it’s still currently under construction. And what is it going to look like? Let’s just say, it’s going to seem familiar.

According to London’s Daily Telegraph, the architects of the Palin Doctrine are a group of people who have been singularly wrong about virtually everything in the last decade — the neocons, who have been briefing Palin for weeks.

As predicted, the fact that she didn’t know anything wasn’t a bug, it was a feature. She’s perfect for the neocons: likeable on the outside, a blank slate on the inside. To borrow from an old cliché, if Sarah Palin didn’t exist, the neocons would have had to invent her.

Of course, the place her neocon mentors hope she’s going is the White House. Given their dismal track record, they’re smart enough to figure that the American public wouldn’t be too keen on letting them in the front door again, so they are trying to sneak in hidden behind Palin’s skirt. The Trojan Moose approaches.

Excuse my ignorance, Arianna, but are you suggesting that a conservative politician is getting briefed on policy issues by other conservatives? For shame! A sure sign of a cabal!

Huffington levies a charge of guilt by association: since Palin has political ties to neoconservatives (the guilty, in her perverse mind) she, too, must be guilty. Fine. But she can’t have it both ways. Why has she failed to comment on Obama’s ties to people who are actually guilty of hate-mongering and terrorism (Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, respectively)?

Interested in the neoconservative plight? Don’t read COMMENTARY–read Arianna Huffington. For all the nefarious details, see her most recent post:

Sarah Palin may not have known what the Bush Doctrine was, but we’re getting a pretty good idea of what the Palin Doctrine is. Or will be — because it’s still currently under construction. And what is it going to look like? Let’s just say, it’s going to seem familiar.

According to London’s Daily Telegraph, the architects of the Palin Doctrine are a group of people who have been singularly wrong about virtually everything in the last decade — the neocons, who have been briefing Palin for weeks.

As predicted, the fact that she didn’t know anything wasn’t a bug, it was a feature. She’s perfect for the neocons: likeable on the outside, a blank slate on the inside. To borrow from an old cliché, if Sarah Palin didn’t exist, the neocons would have had to invent her.

Of course, the place her neocon mentors hope she’s going is the White House. Given their dismal track record, they’re smart enough to figure that the American public wouldn’t be too keen on letting them in the front door again, so they are trying to sneak in hidden behind Palin’s skirt. The Trojan Moose approaches.

Excuse my ignorance, Arianna, but are you suggesting that a conservative politician is getting briefed on policy issues by other conservatives? For shame! A sure sign of a cabal!

Huffington levies a charge of guilt by association: since Palin has political ties to neoconservatives (the guilty, in her perverse mind) she, too, must be guilty. Fine. But she can’t have it both ways. Why has she failed to comment on Obama’s ties to people who are actually guilty of hate-mongering and terrorism (Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, respectively)?

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No News Is Bad News

The Democrats will have to be patient if they want a complete economic meltdown. On news that the Fed is holding interest rates steady, the NYSE regained some lost ground. Democrats couldn’t be rooting for bad news, could they? Oh yes–as one of the more candid MSM reporters, Candy Crowley let on–they certainly are. Not only were they hoping this would occur, according to Crowley, but they are so brazen as to tell reporters as much.

This contains shades of the Democrats’ treatment of the Iraq war where every good bit of news was greeted by eye-rolling and every setback lauded as proof positive of their own political acumen. There is, of course, something unseemly about delighting in the suffering of your fellow citizens, but it is hardly new.

The Democrats have made a full-time industry of despair. And both Barack Obama and Joe Biden gave stirring speeches in Denver lamenting how awful things are. The mere suggestion by John McCain that the fundamentals of our economy are sound brings howls of derision. How could he! Yet we’ve had a 3.3% quarter of growth, the market seems to be bouncing up, consumer prices are down, etc. But none of that matters in the gloom-and-doom portrait the Democrats would like us to observe. For them, the worse the news the better the election.

The Democrats will have to be patient if they want a complete economic meltdown. On news that the Fed is holding interest rates steady, the NYSE regained some lost ground. Democrats couldn’t be rooting for bad news, could they? Oh yes–as one of the more candid MSM reporters, Candy Crowley let on–they certainly are. Not only were they hoping this would occur, according to Crowley, but they are so brazen as to tell reporters as much.

This contains shades of the Democrats’ treatment of the Iraq war where every good bit of news was greeted by eye-rolling and every setback lauded as proof positive of their own political acumen. There is, of course, something unseemly about delighting in the suffering of your fellow citizens, but it is hardly new.

The Democrats have made a full-time industry of despair. And both Barack Obama and Joe Biden gave stirring speeches in Denver lamenting how awful things are. The mere suggestion by John McCain that the fundamentals of our economy are sound brings howls of derision. How could he! Yet we’ve had a 3.3% quarter of growth, the market seems to be bouncing up, consumer prices are down, etc. But none of that matters in the gloom-and-doom portrait the Democrats would like us to observe. For them, the worse the news the better the election.

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The Will and the Means

From the AP:

Iran and North Korea both have the capability to produce nuclear weapons but al-Qaida is the CIA’s top nuclear concern because it is most likely to use them, agency director Michael Hayden said Tuesday.

“There is no greater national security threat facing the United States than al-Qaida and its associates,” Hayden said, according to a copy of his remarks prepared for the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.

With regard to North Korea, a known nuclear power, and Iran, Hayden said: “The question is not of capability, but intent.”

The point about intent over technology is an astute one. It’s the will to annihilate that made al Qaeda so dangerous to begin with. I never understood all that talk of “genius” and “brilliance” in regard to 9/11. Anyone with enough cash to put a team through a Florida flight school could have done the same thing. The genius comes in designing flying machines and constructing hundred-story buildings. (Even King Kong was able to throw one into the other.)

The planning involved in pulling off a nuclear attack calls for a much greater degree of operational proficiency than what was brought to bear on 9/11. The purchase, transfer, and detonation of a nuclear device (to say nothing of the construction of one) would require that al Qaeda get a series of absurdly challenging steps exactly right. It’s not box-cutters and seating arrangements. For this reason, it’s as critical that the U.S. goes after technologically advanced potential al Qaeda collaborators as it for us to take down al Qaeda itself.

From the AP:

Iran and North Korea both have the capability to produce nuclear weapons but al-Qaida is the CIA’s top nuclear concern because it is most likely to use them, agency director Michael Hayden said Tuesday.

“There is no greater national security threat facing the United States than al-Qaida and its associates,” Hayden said, according to a copy of his remarks prepared for the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.

With regard to North Korea, a known nuclear power, and Iran, Hayden said: “The question is not of capability, but intent.”

The point about intent over technology is an astute one. It’s the will to annihilate that made al Qaeda so dangerous to begin with. I never understood all that talk of “genius” and “brilliance” in regard to 9/11. Anyone with enough cash to put a team through a Florida flight school could have done the same thing. The genius comes in designing flying machines and constructing hundred-story buildings. (Even King Kong was able to throw one into the other.)

The planning involved in pulling off a nuclear attack calls for a much greater degree of operational proficiency than what was brought to bear on 9/11. The purchase, transfer, and detonation of a nuclear device (to say nothing of the construction of one) would require that al Qaeda get a series of absurdly challenging steps exactly right. It’s not box-cutters and seating arrangements. For this reason, it’s as critical that the U.S. goes after technologically advanced potential al Qaeda collaborators as it for us to take down al Qaeda itself.

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The Frozen World of H.D.S. Greenway

H.D.S. Greenway of the Boston Globe accuses Robert Kagan of having a “frozen worldview.” Why? Because the “McCain guru” apparently disagrees with the notion that “human nature can be curbed and modified, and nations do change.” Kagan certainly doesn’t need me to defend him, but there are several points in Greenway’s piece that require clarification.

In defending realists, Greenway writes:

I know of no realists who believe that diplomacy is always sufficient without being backed up by potential force.

And I know of no serious critics of realists who accuse them of not believing this. More ridiculous, however, is the following assertion:

As for Russia, it cannot be excused for its lunge into Georgia, but it was the US-trained Georgian Army that upset the status quo in South Ossetia. Nations, like human beings, can feel threatened and lash out when attacked, but hostility is not an immutable trait.

If that’s not an “excuse” for Russia’s invasion of Georgia, I don’t know what is. Never mind the lie that Georgia “upset the status quo in South Ossetia.” And never mind the fact that the status quo–the presence of Russian “peacekeepers” in sovereign Georgian territory–was unjustified. How is it that mighty Russia felt “threatened” by tiny Georgia’s actions? And while “hostility” intrinsically “is not an immutable trait” in a country’s foreign policy, it is as long as that government is authoritarian, as Russia is today under Dmitri Medvedev and Vladimir Putin.

And then there’s this little bit of moral equivalence:

It would do no harm to recognize that Russia has an interest in what happens in the countries along its southern flank as does the United States on this continent.

The only “interest” Russia has in Georgia and its “near abroad” is stoking ethnic rivalries and undermining democratically-elected governments that wish to free themselves of Russian bullying. Its relationship with countries in the region is hardly comparable to that of the United States, which has friendly bonds with every country in the Western hemisphere that is democratic and embraces open markets.

Greenway closes with:

It is the dependence on military power, and the bluster of the neoconservatives, that has weakened America’s ability to achieve its goals, and it would be misguided indeed if this were to continue beyond the life of the present administration.

The “bluster of the neoconservatives”? Were Nancy Pelosi and Bill Clinton “blustering” when they railed against the “Butchers of Beijing?” That it’s only “neoconservatives” who use moral language in describing geopolitics is a falsehood. But it’s a rhetorically useful one when a Republican administration happens to be in power. Does Greenway believe that there is something an Obama administration will be able to say that will suddenly make the Russians good faith actors on the international stage? Or that will convince the Iranian regime to end its nuclear program? Highly doubtful. So what then, H.D.S?

H.D.S. Greenway of the Boston Globe accuses Robert Kagan of having a “frozen worldview.” Why? Because the “McCain guru” apparently disagrees with the notion that “human nature can be curbed and modified, and nations do change.” Kagan certainly doesn’t need me to defend him, but there are several points in Greenway’s piece that require clarification.

In defending realists, Greenway writes:

I know of no realists who believe that diplomacy is always sufficient without being backed up by potential force.

And I know of no serious critics of realists who accuse them of not believing this. More ridiculous, however, is the following assertion:

As for Russia, it cannot be excused for its lunge into Georgia, but it was the US-trained Georgian Army that upset the status quo in South Ossetia. Nations, like human beings, can feel threatened and lash out when attacked, but hostility is not an immutable trait.

If that’s not an “excuse” for Russia’s invasion of Georgia, I don’t know what is. Never mind the lie that Georgia “upset the status quo in South Ossetia.” And never mind the fact that the status quo–the presence of Russian “peacekeepers” in sovereign Georgian territory–was unjustified. How is it that mighty Russia felt “threatened” by tiny Georgia’s actions? And while “hostility” intrinsically “is not an immutable trait” in a country’s foreign policy, it is as long as that government is authoritarian, as Russia is today under Dmitri Medvedev and Vladimir Putin.

And then there’s this little bit of moral equivalence:

It would do no harm to recognize that Russia has an interest in what happens in the countries along its southern flank as does the United States on this continent.

The only “interest” Russia has in Georgia and its “near abroad” is stoking ethnic rivalries and undermining democratically-elected governments that wish to free themselves of Russian bullying. Its relationship with countries in the region is hardly comparable to that of the United States, which has friendly bonds with every country in the Western hemisphere that is democratic and embraces open markets.

Greenway closes with:

It is the dependence on military power, and the bluster of the neoconservatives, that has weakened America’s ability to achieve its goals, and it would be misguided indeed if this were to continue beyond the life of the present administration.

The “bluster of the neoconservatives”? Were Nancy Pelosi and Bill Clinton “blustering” when they railed against the “Butchers of Beijing?” That it’s only “neoconservatives” who use moral language in describing geopolitics is a falsehood. But it’s a rhetorically useful one when a Republican administration happens to be in power. Does Greenway believe that there is something an Obama administration will be able to say that will suddenly make the Russians good faith actors on the international stage? Or that will convince the Iranian regime to end its nuclear program? Highly doubtful. So what then, H.D.S?

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The Hamas Rumor Mill

Was Hamas politburo chief Khalid Meshal’s personal secretary assassinated in Damascus sometime last week? Yesterday, the U.S.-based Reform Party of Syria reported as much, saying that the Syrian government whacked Hisham al-Labadani to send Hamas a strong message that it should cease its cooperation with Iran. Hamas, on the other hand, has denied this outright, while a state-run Iranian television station used the occasion to blame Israel.

Frankly, there are many reasons to believe Hamas on this one. First and foremost, a Syrian move against Iranian interests seems highly unlikely, particularly given the extent to which Syria went to bat for Hezbollah during the Lebanese presidential crisis earlier this year. Moreover, despite reported progress in Turkish-mediated Syrian-Israeli peace talks, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has remained publicly committed to maintaining his ties with Tehran, reaffirming earlier today that, “Syria will stand with Iran on all major strategic issues.” Finally, even if Syria has come to understand that it will have to cease its patronage of Hamas in the course of peace negotiations with Israel, there is no evidence that Damascus is already prepared to move militarily against Khalid Meshal’s office – particularly while Israel’s domestic political situation remains in flux.

Yet it’s hard to discount entirely the Syrian dissidents’ report. This is, after all, the second time this month that we’re hearing of a high-level rift between Hamas and Syria. Just two weeks ago, the Kuwaiti daily al-Rai reported that Meshal had relocated to Sudan at Syria’s request. For the moment, this also appears untrue: Hamas denied it and, as recently as three days ago, multiple networks had spotted Meshal in Damascus. Still the sudden trickle of these reports–and Hamas’ apparent belief that it needs to immediately respond to them–indicates that something is happening.

Stay tuned for the next rumor.

Was Hamas politburo chief Khalid Meshal’s personal secretary assassinated in Damascus sometime last week? Yesterday, the U.S.-based Reform Party of Syria reported as much, saying that the Syrian government whacked Hisham al-Labadani to send Hamas a strong message that it should cease its cooperation with Iran. Hamas, on the other hand, has denied this outright, while a state-run Iranian television station used the occasion to blame Israel.

Frankly, there are many reasons to believe Hamas on this one. First and foremost, a Syrian move against Iranian interests seems highly unlikely, particularly given the extent to which Syria went to bat for Hezbollah during the Lebanese presidential crisis earlier this year. Moreover, despite reported progress in Turkish-mediated Syrian-Israeli peace talks, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has remained publicly committed to maintaining his ties with Tehran, reaffirming earlier today that, “Syria will stand with Iran on all major strategic issues.” Finally, even if Syria has come to understand that it will have to cease its patronage of Hamas in the course of peace negotiations with Israel, there is no evidence that Damascus is already prepared to move militarily against Khalid Meshal’s office – particularly while Israel’s domestic political situation remains in flux.

Yet it’s hard to discount entirely the Syrian dissidents’ report. This is, after all, the second time this month that we’re hearing of a high-level rift between Hamas and Syria. Just two weeks ago, the Kuwaiti daily al-Rai reported that Meshal had relocated to Sudan at Syria’s request. For the moment, this also appears untrue: Hamas denied it and, as recently as three days ago, multiple networks had spotted Meshal in Damascus. Still the sudden trickle of these reports–and Hamas’ apparent belief that it needs to immediately respond to them–indicates that something is happening.

Stay tuned for the next rumor.

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Rangel Does His Part

Charlie Rangel, who is hip deep in a scandal over non-payment of taxes, is refusing to fall on his sword–specifically he’s not giving up his Chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee. Oh, Congressional Republicans, where are you? I don’t seem or hear them yet but if they have an ounce of political sense they will recognize this as the second gift they’ve received this year. The first was Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid’s refusal to vote on drilling earlier in the summer. (Not clear if they will manage to correct that error in time for the Congressional recess.)

And now this. This, Republicans, is how you lost the majority in 2006. Corruption, self-dealing, and lack of accountability. The Ways and Means Chairman is not some back bencher and this has some MSM attention already. If they can’t figure out how to package this with Nancy “I’m busy saving the planet” Pelosi and a few other scandals (e.g. Rep. William Jefferson’s frozen cash) then they deserve to slide into further political oblivion.

And the McCain camp? One would think the prospect of Rangel holding on to Ways and Means and the largesse given to Obama by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would give them some ad ideas. Opportunities like this don’t come along everyday in an election year.

Charlie Rangel, who is hip deep in a scandal over non-payment of taxes, is refusing to fall on his sword–specifically he’s not giving up his Chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee. Oh, Congressional Republicans, where are you? I don’t seem or hear them yet but if they have an ounce of political sense they will recognize this as the second gift they’ve received this year. The first was Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid’s refusal to vote on drilling earlier in the summer. (Not clear if they will manage to correct that error in time for the Congressional recess.)

And now this. This, Republicans, is how you lost the majority in 2006. Corruption, self-dealing, and lack of accountability. The Ways and Means Chairman is not some back bencher and this has some MSM attention already. If they can’t figure out how to package this with Nancy “I’m busy saving the planet” Pelosi and a few other scandals (e.g. Rep. William Jefferson’s frozen cash) then they deserve to slide into further political oblivion.

And the McCain camp? One would think the prospect of Rangel holding on to Ways and Means and the largesse given to Obama by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would give them some ad ideas. Opportunities like this don’t come along everyday in an election year.

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The Jersey Gap

In 2004 there were signs that Bush could have carried the Garden State, but it eventually went blue, as usual. So this bit of news should not be overestimated: John McCain seems as if he is closing the New Jersey gap:

In this latest survey, white voters back Sen. McCain 56 – 37 percent, up from 50 – 42 percent August 13. Black voters support the Democrat 93 – 7 percent, compared to 94 – 1 percent. Men back McCain 53 – 40 percent, reversing a 48 – 45 percent Obama lead, while women stay with Obama 54 – 38 percent, compared to 53 – 38 percent. But white women back McCain 50 – 42 percent, compared to 46 – 44 percent for Obama Aug. 13. Independent voters shift from 45 – 42 percent for Obama to 47 – 43 percent for McCain.

Bottom line? “McCain has narrowed a 10-point gap and now trails Democratic Sen. Barack Obama 48 – 45 percent among New Jersey likely voters”

Winning New Jersey would not offset a possible McCain loss of Virginia, but McCain’s improved numbers there will force Obama to spend more money (not a problem) and time (always a problem) in New Jersey.

In 2004 there were signs that Bush could have carried the Garden State, but it eventually went blue, as usual. So this bit of news should not be overestimated: John McCain seems as if he is closing the New Jersey gap:

In this latest survey, white voters back Sen. McCain 56 – 37 percent, up from 50 – 42 percent August 13. Black voters support the Democrat 93 – 7 percent, compared to 94 – 1 percent. Men back McCain 53 – 40 percent, reversing a 48 – 45 percent Obama lead, while women stay with Obama 54 – 38 percent, compared to 53 – 38 percent. But white women back McCain 50 – 42 percent, compared to 46 – 44 percent for Obama Aug. 13. Independent voters shift from 45 – 42 percent for Obama to 47 – 43 percent for McCain.

Bottom line? “McCain has narrowed a 10-point gap and now trails Democratic Sen. Barack Obama 48 – 45 percent among New Jersey likely voters”

Winning New Jersey would not offset a possible McCain loss of Virginia, but McCain’s improved numbers there will force Obama to spend more money (not a problem) and time (always a problem) in New Jersey.

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Experience and Character

There is a lot of discussion these days about Sarah Palin and her qualifications to be Vice President. The fair-minded skeptics are represented by writers like David Brooks; he argues that good governance requires acquired skills and, most of all, prudence. And prudence, in turn, is acquired through experience.

Over the years my own views have evolved somewhat away from David’s. I still believe possessing experience is better than not. But experience is not itself the sine qua non for success in a national leader, and inexperience is not necessarily a big drawback.

In my estimation, experience matters less than character and temperament in selecting a president. Here I define character and temperament fairly broadly, having to do not only with honesty and integrity (which are crucial), but one’s disposition and mind-set, equanimity and self-possession, courage and calmness, a lack of pettiness and resentment, the mix of steadfastness and flexibility, and the willingness to re-assess one’s own decisions in light of evidence.

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There is a lot of discussion these days about Sarah Palin and her qualifications to be Vice President. The fair-minded skeptics are represented by writers like David Brooks; he argues that good governance requires acquired skills and, most of all, prudence. And prudence, in turn, is acquired through experience.

Over the years my own views have evolved somewhat away from David’s. I still believe possessing experience is better than not. But experience is not itself the sine qua non for success in a national leader, and inexperience is not necessarily a big drawback.

In my estimation, experience matters less than character and temperament in selecting a president. Here I define character and temperament fairly broadly, having to do not only with honesty and integrity (which are crucial), but one’s disposition and mind-set, equanimity and self-possession, courage and calmness, a lack of pettiness and resentment, the mix of steadfastness and flexibility, and the willingness to re-assess one’s own decisions in light of evidence.

It involves the capacity to put oneself in the place of others and marshal their talents, absorbing new information and acting wisely on incomplete information, the ability to discern the currents of history and shape them in a constructive way, and the capacity to understand, and act on, the great moral issues of an era. This list, while long, is not itself exhaustive. But it does touch on the qualities that can be vital to leadership.

It’s very hard to know in advance which leaders will possess these (and other) traits, or even what the best training ground to learn them might be. One would have thought that based on their experience, Lincoln would have been, at best, an average President (he turned out to be our greatest one), and Madison, the “father of the Constitution” and one of our most impressive founders, would have been in the top rank of presidents (he is not). One would have thought Lyndon Johnson would excel, and Harry Truman would fail. Yet the opposite happened. Ulysses Grant was able to win a war, but he couldn’t run an Administration. As governor, Ronald Reagan had very little national security experience – but it turned out that his instincts and insights were more correct than Henry Kissinger’s when it came to the matter of détente and, more broadly, the strength of the West in its struggle against Soviet Communism.

Joseph Biden has a huge amount of national security experience–but as I tried to demonstrate here, his judgment has been consistently wrong. I would argue the same about Obama; his inexperience is a legitimate issue, as it is with Palin; but Obama’s philosophy, stances on policy, and decisions in office worry me a good deal more. To put it another way: one’s judgment, attitudes, and world view matter more than experience. So does executive temperament, which is something quite different than experience.

The truth is that most people, including those serving in government, didn’t know nearly enough about al Qaeda before the September 11th attacks or the dispute over South Ossetia and Abkhazia before the invasion by Russia to make an immediate decision about what to do. What often matters isn’t prior knowledge; it’s what you do once you are briefed by national security experts.

Too often we speak with certitude about what we should look for in a leader. The truth is that the qualities we want are often hard to discern in a person in advance; that some inexperienced people possess them and some experienced people don’t; and that different times require different traits. For example, the qualities needed in times of war are less important in times of peace and tranquility.

It gets even more complicated. When President Bush stuck with the wrong plan in Iraq for too long, he was castigated for being stubborn and polarizing. But because he was right in championing the surge in the face of enormous opposition, he now looks principled and gutsy. The qualities in the man were the same; what is different is the outcome. If you are successful, weaknesses transmute into strengths, and vice-versa.

Another example: Ronald Reagan’s innate optimism looked to be out of touch to many people during the recession of 1981-1982; when the economy was going gang-busters in 1984, “Morning in America” had enormous appeal. The truth is that results are what matter most. If things are going well, the qualities we see in our leaders almost by definition are worthy of praise – and if things are going poorly, the qualities we see in our leaders are almost by definition ones we tire of.

People on all sides have weighed in with assurance about how qualified Sarah Palin is and how successful a Vice President she would be. But the truth is, we don’t really know. In government and in most of life, we have to act on incomplete information. When it comes to Governor Palin, it’s certainly fair to base our judgment on the available evidence, which includes her record, her philosophical orientation, and her character and temperament. But our judgment about her, and to varying degrees about others, should be preliminary. Even though we speak as if it were otherwise, there is no ready-made template we can reach for in determining how effective a person will be once they are thrust with the duties and burdens of high office. It is among life’s unknowables–and one of the things that makes the political life of a great nation interesting and unpredictable.

UPDATE: I want to clear up what I think is an unfair charge by David in the column I write about above.

Brooks claims that he would have more sympathy for the view that the nation needs uncertified citizens to hold the highest offices in the land “if I hadn’t just lived through the last eight years. For if the Bush administration was anything, it was the anti-establishment attitude put into executive practice. And the problem with this attitude is that, especially in the first term, it made Bush inept at governance.”

To say that if the Bush administration was anything–anything!–it was built on an “anti-establishment attitude” is false and based on a caricature. The truth is that in the first term the Administration was filled with many establishment figures, including, for starters, Vice President Cheney, Secretary Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld, and National Security Advisor Rice. Who exactly were the first term anti-establishment figures David has in mind?

Second, the Bush Administration was fairly efficient in the first term. It executed many policies well, which helps explain why the President won reelection. The bi-partisan Medicare prescription drug plan, for example, was an enormously complicated one, and it was implemented with tremendous efficiency. The bi-partisan No Child Left Behind Act, the most important education legislation in generations, while far from perfect, has still been an important step forward in education policy. The quality of the judges and justices appointed by President Bush are first rate. The economic policies he put in place in the aftermath of the recession he inherited and the attacks on 9/11, which dealt a tremendous jolt to the economy, were right and wise. The President’s decision on embryonic stem cells, which was extremely controversial, has been vindicated. The Proliferation Security Initiative is an outstanding achievement, as are the trade agreements that were initiative and completed. So was the President’s global AIDS initiative and the Patriot Act. I could go on, but won’t. Suffice it to say that these are impressive achievements and subvert David’s claim of “inept governance.”

Third, the main “competence” problem of the Bush Administration was Iraq–and arguably the main problem here was that the President deferred too much to experienced hands from both the civilian and military realm, who turned out to be wrong.

If anything, it was President Bush standing up to the “establishment”–meaning the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as Generals Casey and Abizaid–which is responsible for the success we’ve seen in the form of the surge. The Petraeus approach was the one that shook the system and challenged prevailing assumptions.

David is among the brightest writers around, and I’ve defended him against some of his more malicious critics. But in this instance, his anti-Bush assertion doesn’t correspond to reality.

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“Shrank”?

From the AP:

Crucial Arctic sea ice this summer shrank to its second lowest level on record, continuing an alarming trend, scientists said Tuesday.

The ice covered 1.74 million square miles on Friday, marking a low point for this summer, according to NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. Last summer, the sea ice covered only 1.59 million square miles, the lowest since record-keeping began in 1979.

Wow, the second smallest amount of ice since disco!

Look, I’m no scientist, but I’m pretty sure this year’s 1.74 million is greater than last year’s 1.59 million. If this “alarming trend” continues the planet will be frozen solid within my lifetime. 

From the AP:

Crucial Arctic sea ice this summer shrank to its second lowest level on record, continuing an alarming trend, scientists said Tuesday.

The ice covered 1.74 million square miles on Friday, marking a low point for this summer, according to NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. Last summer, the sea ice covered only 1.59 million square miles, the lowest since record-keeping began in 1979.

Wow, the second smallest amount of ice since disco!

Look, I’m no scientist, but I’m pretty sure this year’s 1.74 million is greater than last year’s 1.59 million. If this “alarming trend” continues the planet will be frozen solid within my lifetime. 

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Iran Nukes: “At a Dead End”

Yesterday, the International Atomic Energy Agency issued its most recent report on Iran’s nuclear program. There are three significant findings. First, in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, Iran is continuing the enrichment of uranium and is making substantial progress on improving its centrifuges. Second, the country might have received “foreign expertise” in testing a detonator for a nuclear weapon. Third, Iranian personnel are not fully cooperating with IAEA inspectors.

In fact, the Iranians are hardly cooperating at all. “Gridlocked” is the word a high-level official close to the IAEA used to describe the standoff between the U.N. nuclear watchdog and the Islamic Republic. “We seem to be at a dead end,” said a senior United Nations official describing the IAEA report.

In response, China urged the Iranians to cooperate with the IAEA but indicated it was not in favor of ratcheting up “tensions,” an apparent reference to calls from Washington, London, and Paris for even more U.N. sanctions. And five former secretaries of state–Madeleine Albright, James Baker, Warren Christopher, Henry Kissinger, and Colin Powell–urged Washington to conduct talks with the theocracy. “I believe we need to engage with Iran,” Albright said. “I think the whole point is you try to engage and deal with countries that you have problems with.”

Okay, Madame Secretary, just what do you think the IAEA has been trying to do since the early part of this decade? Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the organization, has given the Iranians every opportunity to comply, making every concession possible. Now, the U.N. agency has come to the end of the line. The Iranians have made it clear they will not answer the tough questions or let inspectors into secret facilities. Moreover, the mullahs, over the course of years, have rejected all proposals from the United States, Europe, and Russia. What exactly do you intend to say that has not already been said–many times–before?

As long as the IAEA has inspectors in Iran, the international community can be assured the Iranians will not be able to divert uranium from their declared civilian program to a covert military one. But we cannot be confident that Iran at this moment is not buying a bomb or fissile material from foreign sources or is not maintaining hidden facilities, either in country or elsewhere. With its obvious work on bomb technology and its apparent foreign links, there is simply no more time for engaging and talking.

That leaves, in descending order of preference, sanctioning, fighting, or acquiescing.

Yesterday, the International Atomic Energy Agency issued its most recent report on Iran’s nuclear program. There are three significant findings. First, in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, Iran is continuing the enrichment of uranium and is making substantial progress on improving its centrifuges. Second, the country might have received “foreign expertise” in testing a detonator for a nuclear weapon. Third, Iranian personnel are not fully cooperating with IAEA inspectors.

In fact, the Iranians are hardly cooperating at all. “Gridlocked” is the word a high-level official close to the IAEA used to describe the standoff between the U.N. nuclear watchdog and the Islamic Republic. “We seem to be at a dead end,” said a senior United Nations official describing the IAEA report.

In response, China urged the Iranians to cooperate with the IAEA but indicated it was not in favor of ratcheting up “tensions,” an apparent reference to calls from Washington, London, and Paris for even more U.N. sanctions. And five former secretaries of state–Madeleine Albright, James Baker, Warren Christopher, Henry Kissinger, and Colin Powell–urged Washington to conduct talks with the theocracy. “I believe we need to engage with Iran,” Albright said. “I think the whole point is you try to engage and deal with countries that you have problems with.”

Okay, Madame Secretary, just what do you think the IAEA has been trying to do since the early part of this decade? Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the organization, has given the Iranians every opportunity to comply, making every concession possible. Now, the U.N. agency has come to the end of the line. The Iranians have made it clear they will not answer the tough questions or let inspectors into secret facilities. Moreover, the mullahs, over the course of years, have rejected all proposals from the United States, Europe, and Russia. What exactly do you intend to say that has not already been said–many times–before?

As long as the IAEA has inspectors in Iran, the international community can be assured the Iranians will not be able to divert uranium from their declared civilian program to a covert military one. But we cannot be confident that Iran at this moment is not buying a bomb or fissile material from foreign sources or is not maintaining hidden facilities, either in country or elsewhere. With its obvious work on bomb technology and its apparent foreign links, there is simply no more time for engaging and talking.

That leaves, in descending order of preference, sanctioning, fighting, or acquiescing.

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Obama Wins a Round

We finally know what a community organizer does. Watching the journalism community come together and mobilize under the able command of Barack Obama so that they may achieve the goal of branding John McCain an unscrupulous liar has me convinced: Community organizers are formidable executives. And Obama is undoubtedly the best of the bunch.

He took a needy population (after the post-convention GOP bounce the liberal media needed a new anti-McCain angle), gave them an objective (the labeling of McCain as liar) enabled them with tools (his own word that McCain is a liar), and sent them off to go about their task.

And the results, frankly, have been tremendous. Even though McCain’s charge that Obama supported a bill to extend sex education to kindergarteners is a fact, the understanding that it is a dirty filthy lie has reached no less a GOP celebrity than Mitt Romney, who supports his opinion thusly: “The New York Times, the Washington Post, Time magazine, Bill Bennett, everybody has said what he said was just simply wrong, reprehensible . . .” Heaven forbid Romney reads the bill itself. (UPDATE: The Romney comment is old and does not reference this issue. But the fact that I first found the clip at a major media outlet, where it was picked up no-questions-asked, speaks volumes about the larger point.)

Nice work, community!

Historically, Obama practiced his community organizing in church communities, and there’s no question he’s adept at exploiting the mystical inclinations of true believers. For he thinks he can assign properties to phenomena by the power of mere accusation and he’s had mixed results with this in the past. When he accused George W. Bush of attacking him in a speech before the Knesset, lo! It was so. The same goes for his accusation that John McCain wanted a hundred-year war in Iraq. But when he accused Republicans of peddling rumors that he was a Muslim, the flock pushed back. This time the faithful have bought his reality tweaks hook, line, and sinker, and as this meme finds greater purchase, we may very well see a shift in the polls.

It has to be said that some of the staying power of this specific charge was enabled by the McCain camp’s silly insistence that Obama meant to insult Sarah Palin with the “lipstick on a pig” remark. That farce cost McCain credibility and got him nothing in return. But it’s making pigs fly that’s Obama’s true specialty and he seems to have regained some footing by organizing his community into pushing fantasies once more.

We finally know what a community organizer does. Watching the journalism community come together and mobilize under the able command of Barack Obama so that they may achieve the goal of branding John McCain an unscrupulous liar has me convinced: Community organizers are formidable executives. And Obama is undoubtedly the best of the bunch.

He took a needy population (after the post-convention GOP bounce the liberal media needed a new anti-McCain angle), gave them an objective (the labeling of McCain as liar) enabled them with tools (his own word that McCain is a liar), and sent them off to go about their task.

And the results, frankly, have been tremendous. Even though McCain’s charge that Obama supported a bill to extend sex education to kindergarteners is a fact, the understanding that it is a dirty filthy lie has reached no less a GOP celebrity than Mitt Romney, who supports his opinion thusly: “The New York Times, the Washington Post, Time magazine, Bill Bennett, everybody has said what he said was just simply wrong, reprehensible . . .” Heaven forbid Romney reads the bill itself. (UPDATE: The Romney comment is old and does not reference this issue. But the fact that I first found the clip at a major media outlet, where it was picked up no-questions-asked, speaks volumes about the larger point.)

Nice work, community!

Historically, Obama practiced his community organizing in church communities, and there’s no question he’s adept at exploiting the mystical inclinations of true believers. For he thinks he can assign properties to phenomena by the power of mere accusation and he’s had mixed results with this in the past. When he accused George W. Bush of attacking him in a speech before the Knesset, lo! It was so. The same goes for his accusation that John McCain wanted a hundred-year war in Iraq. But when he accused Republicans of peddling rumors that he was a Muslim, the flock pushed back. This time the faithful have bought his reality tweaks hook, line, and sinker, and as this meme finds greater purchase, we may very well see a shift in the polls.

It has to be said that some of the staying power of this specific charge was enabled by the McCain camp’s silly insistence that Obama meant to insult Sarah Palin with the “lipstick on a pig” remark. That farce cost McCain credibility and got him nothing in return. But it’s making pigs fly that’s Obama’s true specialty and he seems to have regained some footing by organizing his community into pushing fantasies once more.

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Israel’s Election Blahs

A new Israeli Prime Minister will be elected tomorrow, and the fact is that one can hardly detect any political frenzy in Israel’s streets. The two main candidates to replace Prime Minister Olmert as head of the Kadima Party – hence, to be the next Prime Minister – are maintaining their upbeat, optimistic facade: Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz says he will form a new coalition within weeks, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has the polls on her side (this does not ensure her victory).

Whoever wins, he/she will soon assume – at least for a while – one of the most challenging, most difficult, positions the world can offer. But Israelis seem somewhat disengaged.

Why? Take your pick:

A. Because only a couple tens of thousands of Kadima members will be the ones actually making the choice. The rest of us aren’t really part of the game.

B. Because no matter who wins, most Israelis believe that the new government will only survive for a couple of months until a new election is called.

C. Because Israelis are sick and tired of their politicians, and quite exhausted by the need to keep replacing them every two years or so.

D. Because on most issues Israelis can barely see a difference between the candidates’ world views.

E. All of the above.

A new Israeli Prime Minister will be elected tomorrow, and the fact is that one can hardly detect any political frenzy in Israel’s streets. The two main candidates to replace Prime Minister Olmert as head of the Kadima Party – hence, to be the next Prime Minister – are maintaining their upbeat, optimistic facade: Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz says he will form a new coalition within weeks, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has the polls on her side (this does not ensure her victory).

Whoever wins, he/she will soon assume – at least for a while – one of the most challenging, most difficult, positions the world can offer. But Israelis seem somewhat disengaged.

Why? Take your pick:

A. Because only a couple tens of thousands of Kadima members will be the ones actually making the choice. The rest of us aren’t really part of the game.

B. Because no matter who wins, most Israelis believe that the new government will only survive for a couple of months until a new election is called.

C. Because Israelis are sick and tired of their politicians, and quite exhausted by the need to keep replacing them every two years or so.

D. Because on most issues Israelis can barely see a difference between the candidates’ world views.

E. All of the above.

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Accepted Wisdom

The MSM, as John notes, is now fully into “McCain is a bigger liar” mode. There is no stopping them, the MSM that is. “Exhibit A” in the indictment is McCain’s ad noting that Barack Obama supported a Senate bill which provided for “comprehensive sex education for kindergarteners.” Well, McCain is right — the text of the bill can be read and, as Byron York documents, the bill specifically extended AIDS instruction from grades 6-12 down to K-12.

Now what does this remind you of? The Born Alive Infants Protection Act. The same elements are evident: the MSM doesn’t bother with the legislative details, the facts are not on Obama’s side, Obama either cast a reflexive, uniformed vote with liberal activists or actually supported a far-Left agenda, and those who challenge Obama are “liars.”

One thing we know: the louder the Obama camp screams, the more problematic the issue. And they are screaming very loud on this one.

The MSM, as John notes, is now fully into “McCain is a bigger liar” mode. There is no stopping them, the MSM that is. “Exhibit A” in the indictment is McCain’s ad noting that Barack Obama supported a Senate bill which provided for “comprehensive sex education for kindergarteners.” Well, McCain is right — the text of the bill can be read and, as Byron York documents, the bill specifically extended AIDS instruction from grades 6-12 down to K-12.

Now what does this remind you of? The Born Alive Infants Protection Act. The same elements are evident: the MSM doesn’t bother with the legislative details, the facts are not on Obama’s side, Obama either cast a reflexive, uniformed vote with liberal activists or actually supported a far-Left agenda, and those who challenge Obama are “liars.”

One thing we know: the louder the Obama camp screams, the more problematic the issue. And they are screaming very loud on this one.

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Time: Out of Its Mind

In Time, Bobby Ghosh, the magazine’s world editor, has written perhaps the single most morally vacuous piece about the War on Terror since the attacks of September 11. Ghosh took a trip to Saudi Arabia and while there he decided not to dwell on 9/11 because “It seemed unfair to burden Riyadh with the legacy of its most notorious son – especially since the city wants so badly to expurgate him from its self-image.”

It seems completely fair to me. Without the combination of the Saudi oil oligarchy and the royal family’s indefatigable effort to spread Wahabism around the globe, Osama bin Laden would have had to settle for the usual brand of mid-life crisis, not the clash of civilizations kind, with its attendant 3000 dead. But this is sanity itself compared to Ghosh’s main point:

But while counterterrorism experts in the West take this opportunity to bemoan the resurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it’s worth noting that Saudi Arabia is one of the few places where jihadism is on the wane – with relatively little help from the Bush Administration’s “global war on terror.”

[..]

How did the Saudis do it? They used a combination of brute force and subtle persuasion. Few details are available on the crackdown on terrorist groups because the authorities here don’t much like talking about it. So it’s a fair guess that many of the means they used wouldn’t pass any Western human-rights test. Riyadhis speak in whispers about midnight raids, arrests, torture and summary executions. The government also put the squeeze on al-Qaeda’s sources of funding by imposing rules on previously unmonitored religious charities. In private, officials boast that bin Laden’s organization receives no money from his homeland.

So Ghosh is belittling the U.S. War on Terror ( or “war on terror”) as ineffective, but praising the Saudis for torturing and executing their way out of the jihadist threat? Read through the whole thing and you’ll see no condemnation of Saudi methods, just kudos for their results.

Of course the idea that the Saudis decided to suddenly crackdown on jihad for the heck of it after thirty years of fomenting it is itself quite a claim. But anything (including allying oneself with torturers) is better than giving Bush credit:

Saudis also benefited from the overall decline in bin Laden’s prestige across the Arab world. Opinion polls in the region show that al-Qaeda’s brand of jihad has lost much of its appeal, especially after suicide bombers began to target Muslims – most horrendously in Iraq but also in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco, Algeria and, of course, Saudi Arabia.

Ah, and why exactly were suicide bombers attacking “most horrendously in Iraq”? Could it be because American troops were there carrying out their little dog-and-pony “war on terror” show?

I have to admit, after hearing for five years about how America has descended into a torture state, it is at least refreshing to have someone come out and say it’s torturing in earnest that gets the job done.

In Time, Bobby Ghosh, the magazine’s world editor, has written perhaps the single most morally vacuous piece about the War on Terror since the attacks of September 11. Ghosh took a trip to Saudi Arabia and while there he decided not to dwell on 9/11 because “It seemed unfair to burden Riyadh with the legacy of its most notorious son – especially since the city wants so badly to expurgate him from its self-image.”

It seems completely fair to me. Without the combination of the Saudi oil oligarchy and the royal family’s indefatigable effort to spread Wahabism around the globe, Osama bin Laden would have had to settle for the usual brand of mid-life crisis, not the clash of civilizations kind, with its attendant 3000 dead. But this is sanity itself compared to Ghosh’s main point:

But while counterterrorism experts in the West take this opportunity to bemoan the resurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it’s worth noting that Saudi Arabia is one of the few places where jihadism is on the wane – with relatively little help from the Bush Administration’s “global war on terror.”

[..]

How did the Saudis do it? They used a combination of brute force and subtle persuasion. Few details are available on the crackdown on terrorist groups because the authorities here don’t much like talking about it. So it’s a fair guess that many of the means they used wouldn’t pass any Western human-rights test. Riyadhis speak in whispers about midnight raids, arrests, torture and summary executions. The government also put the squeeze on al-Qaeda’s sources of funding by imposing rules on previously unmonitored religious charities. In private, officials boast that bin Laden’s organization receives no money from his homeland.

So Ghosh is belittling the U.S. War on Terror ( or “war on terror”) as ineffective, but praising the Saudis for torturing and executing their way out of the jihadist threat? Read through the whole thing and you’ll see no condemnation of Saudi methods, just kudos for their results.

Of course the idea that the Saudis decided to suddenly crackdown on jihad for the heck of it after thirty years of fomenting it is itself quite a claim. But anything (including allying oneself with torturers) is better than giving Bush credit:

Saudis also benefited from the overall decline in bin Laden’s prestige across the Arab world. Opinion polls in the region show that al-Qaeda’s brand of jihad has lost much of its appeal, especially after suicide bombers began to target Muslims – most horrendously in Iraq but also in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco, Algeria and, of course, Saudi Arabia.

Ah, and why exactly were suicide bombers attacking “most horrendously in Iraq”? Could it be because American troops were there carrying out their little dog-and-pony “war on terror” show?

I have to admit, after hearing for five years about how America has descended into a torture state, it is at least refreshing to have someone come out and say it’s torturing in earnest that gets the job done.

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The Wars of John McCain

While many of his colleagues in the media have decided to focus on fairly trivial matters–even as they lacerate themselves for doing so–Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic decided to engage in some serious journalism. It comes in the form of his cover story in the current issue of The Atlantic, titled “The Wars of John McCain.”

Goldberg tells us about the “obvious, even eerie, parallels between Admiral John McCain’s steadfast commitment to victory in Vietnam, and Senator John McCain’s dogged pursuit of victory in Iraq.” McCain’s reflections on Vietnam are fascinating and at times piercing. McCain explains how losing the Vietnam war had a disintegrating effect on the military, including a spike in drug use, discipline problems, and racial tensions. This explains in part why McCain is so determined not to allow us to lose in Iraq. We also read about McCain’s intense unhappiness with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and General George Casey, who preceded General Petraeus as commander of American forces in Iraq (McCain tells Goldberg that Casey reminded him of a modern-day William Westmoreland). And Goldberg’s essay demonstrates that on the doctrine of preemption, McCain continues to hold firm. “For McCain, the doctrine of preemption clearly falls outside the realm of mere politics,” Goldberg writes, “as does the need to ‘win,’ rather than ‘end,’ wars; the safety of America demands that they be fought, and honor demands that they be won.”

Goldberg’s piece also includes this observation:

In my conversations with McCain, however, he never appeared greatly troubled by his shifts and reversals [on certain policies]. It’s not difficult to understand why: tax policy, or health care, or even off-shore oil drilling are for him all matters of mere politics, and politics calls for ideological plasticity. It is only in the realm of national defense, and of American honor–two notions that for McCain are thoroughly entwined–that he becomes truly unbending.

And this one (courtesy of Henry Kissinger):

“When I was in Vietnam for negotiations on implementing the Paris Agreement, the North Vietnamese prime minister had a dinner-I was leaving the next day-and he said if I wanted to take McCain on my flight, it could be arranged,” [Kissinger] said. “I told him that I won’t take McCain or anyone else on my plane. The prisoner release would have to happen on a schedule previously agreed. Somehow McCain heard about this and months later, at the White House reception for returned prisoners, he said to me, ‘I want to thank you for saving my honor.’ What McCain did not tell me at that time was that he had refused to be released two years earlier unless all were released with him. It was better for him to remain in jail in order to preserve his honor and American honor than to come home on my plane.”

McCain also reminded Goldberg of something I had forgotten about: On July 8, 2007, the New York Times endorsed an immediate pullout of America troops–even if one consequence of such a withdrawal would be genocide. According to the Times editorial, “Americans must be clear that Iraq, and the region around it, could be even bloodier and more chaotic after Americans leave. There could be reprisals against those who worked with American forces, further ethnic cleansing, even genocide.”

For those who have already forgotten how reckless some individuals and institutions were regarding the Iraq war, post-surge, this stunning editorial is worth recalling again. John McCain is a complicated figure. It’s nice that in the midst of a presidential election, a few insightful pieces on the candidates are still being published. This is one of them.

While many of his colleagues in the media have decided to focus on fairly trivial matters–even as they lacerate themselves for doing so–Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic decided to engage in some serious journalism. It comes in the form of his cover story in the current issue of The Atlantic, titled “The Wars of John McCain.”

Goldberg tells us about the “obvious, even eerie, parallels between Admiral John McCain’s steadfast commitment to victory in Vietnam, and Senator John McCain’s dogged pursuit of victory in Iraq.” McCain’s reflections on Vietnam are fascinating and at times piercing. McCain explains how losing the Vietnam war had a disintegrating effect on the military, including a spike in drug use, discipline problems, and racial tensions. This explains in part why McCain is so determined not to allow us to lose in Iraq. We also read about McCain’s intense unhappiness with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and General George Casey, who preceded General Petraeus as commander of American forces in Iraq (McCain tells Goldberg that Casey reminded him of a modern-day William Westmoreland). And Goldberg’s essay demonstrates that on the doctrine of preemption, McCain continues to hold firm. “For McCain, the doctrine of preemption clearly falls outside the realm of mere politics,” Goldberg writes, “as does the need to ‘win,’ rather than ‘end,’ wars; the safety of America demands that they be fought, and honor demands that they be won.”

Goldberg’s piece also includes this observation:

In my conversations with McCain, however, he never appeared greatly troubled by his shifts and reversals [on certain policies]. It’s not difficult to understand why: tax policy, or health care, or even off-shore oil drilling are for him all matters of mere politics, and politics calls for ideological plasticity. It is only in the realm of national defense, and of American honor–two notions that for McCain are thoroughly entwined–that he becomes truly unbending.

And this one (courtesy of Henry Kissinger):

“When I was in Vietnam for negotiations on implementing the Paris Agreement, the North Vietnamese prime minister had a dinner-I was leaving the next day-and he said if I wanted to take McCain on my flight, it could be arranged,” [Kissinger] said. “I told him that I won’t take McCain or anyone else on my plane. The prisoner release would have to happen on a schedule previously agreed. Somehow McCain heard about this and months later, at the White House reception for returned prisoners, he said to me, ‘I want to thank you for saving my honor.’ What McCain did not tell me at that time was that he had refused to be released two years earlier unless all were released with him. It was better for him to remain in jail in order to preserve his honor and American honor than to come home on my plane.”

McCain also reminded Goldberg of something I had forgotten about: On July 8, 2007, the New York Times endorsed an immediate pullout of America troops–even if one consequence of such a withdrawal would be genocide. According to the Times editorial, “Americans must be clear that Iraq, and the region around it, could be even bloodier and more chaotic after Americans leave. There could be reprisals against those who worked with American forces, further ethnic cleansing, even genocide.”

For those who have already forgotten how reckless some individuals and institutions were regarding the Iraq war, post-surge, this stunning editorial is worth recalling again. John McCain is a complicated figure. It’s nice that in the midst of a presidential election, a few insightful pieces on the candidates are still being published. This is one of them.

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The Last of Olmert?

Tomorrow is the Kadima primary, which will decide who will replace Ehud Olmert as Prime Minister. Olmert has promised he will resign his post when a new leader is picked. Most Israelis see this as the long-awaited end to Olmert’s less-than-stellar political career (unless we count falling stars). But is it?

Two things make me wonder whether he is really leaving us after all. First, Olmert has continued making bold statements about the peace process, yesterday veering sharply to the Left, warning Israelis that a peace agreement with the Palestinians will require some kind of land exchange, in which Israel gets to keep large settlement blocs in exchange for territory on the pre-1967 side of the border, announcing that Israel would participate in some kind of international plan for the refugees, which really means agreeing to absorb some fairly small number in order to give the Palestinians the ability to say they had “returned” refugees to their 1948 homeland. He also apologized for the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948.

The second is that he yesterday told members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, who wished to give him an honorable farewell, that no good-byes are needed, since “I’ll still be here.”

The most striking conclusion is that he has no intention of going anywhere. In other words, even if he quits his post as Prime Minister, Olmert has every intention of continuing to play a vital role in the Israeli government, either as Foreign Minister or, more likely, in a major advisory role in Israeli foreign policy. Given his power in the party, it’s entirely possible that he has already worked out such a deal with the most likely candidate to replace him, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. As a major government minister, Olmert would be under huge pressure to quit if he were indicted on the multiple corruption charges he currently faces. But as an informal advisor, he could conceivably stick around until convicted–a process that could take much longer.

Meanwhile, events on the ground suggest that both the PA and Syria are trying to take steps towards a deal. A Syrian opposition group reports that the sidekick of Hamas leader Khaled Mashal was gunned down in Syria, and this follows on the heels of Syria’s reported expulsion of Mashal himself, to the Sudan. And Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas has started compromising on the question of refugees, for the first time recognizing that it is unreasonable to demand that Israel accept the 4 million people currently listed by the UN as Palestinian refugees.

One of the sharpest differences between American and Israeli politics is that in America, a single scandal will often destroy a politician’s career; whereas in Israel, it seems that very little can happen to keep a talented politician away for too long. As the case of Aryeh Deri has shown, even jail time need not mark the end of a career. Nobody should count Olmert out.

Tomorrow is the Kadima primary, which will decide who will replace Ehud Olmert as Prime Minister. Olmert has promised he will resign his post when a new leader is picked. Most Israelis see this as the long-awaited end to Olmert’s less-than-stellar political career (unless we count falling stars). But is it?

Two things make me wonder whether he is really leaving us after all. First, Olmert has continued making bold statements about the peace process, yesterday veering sharply to the Left, warning Israelis that a peace agreement with the Palestinians will require some kind of land exchange, in which Israel gets to keep large settlement blocs in exchange for territory on the pre-1967 side of the border, announcing that Israel would participate in some kind of international plan for the refugees, which really means agreeing to absorb some fairly small number in order to give the Palestinians the ability to say they had “returned” refugees to their 1948 homeland. He also apologized for the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948.

The second is that he yesterday told members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, who wished to give him an honorable farewell, that no good-byes are needed, since “I’ll still be here.”

The most striking conclusion is that he has no intention of going anywhere. In other words, even if he quits his post as Prime Minister, Olmert has every intention of continuing to play a vital role in the Israeli government, either as Foreign Minister or, more likely, in a major advisory role in Israeli foreign policy. Given his power in the party, it’s entirely possible that he has already worked out such a deal with the most likely candidate to replace him, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. As a major government minister, Olmert would be under huge pressure to quit if he were indicted on the multiple corruption charges he currently faces. But as an informal advisor, he could conceivably stick around until convicted–a process that could take much longer.

Meanwhile, events on the ground suggest that both the PA and Syria are trying to take steps towards a deal. A Syrian opposition group reports that the sidekick of Hamas leader Khaled Mashal was gunned down in Syria, and this follows on the heels of Syria’s reported expulsion of Mashal himself, to the Sudan. And Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas has started compromising on the question of refugees, for the first time recognizing that it is unreasonable to demand that Israel accept the 4 million people currently listed by the UN as Palestinian refugees.

One of the sharpest differences between American and Israeli politics is that in America, a single scandal will often destroy a politician’s career; whereas in Israel, it seems that very little can happen to keep a talented politician away for too long. As the case of Aryeh Deri has shown, even jail time need not mark the end of a career. Nobody should count Olmert out.

Read Less




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