Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 24, 2008

Let’s Be Frank

My colleague Daniel Halper passes on this unintentionally hysterical interview by the Tufts Daily of Barney Frank. Of particular interest is his answer in response to a question about why government policy pushing “affordable housing” wasn’t at the root of the housing meltdown:

No, because the government did not force banks to lend money to high-risk people, but rather to poorer neighborhoods. The Community Reinvestment Act [CRA] is the legislation in question. The act only applies to banks. The loans that caused the trouble were on a whole not made by banks. They were made by mortgage finance companies. … Over the course of the last 30 years, new entities rose up. Mortgage finance companies and others were unregulated, and they made loans. If only entities covered by the CRA made loans, we would not have the subprime problem.

Hmmm. You don’t suppose that high-risk borrowers live in those poor neighborhoods do you? And it’s fine to say that banks made only a fraction of subprime loans. But Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, under his regulatory watch, went whole-hog into this business. Those were the ones who “rose up” to guarantee and spawn the subprime frenzy.

But isn’t it a problem that he and others took gobs of money from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae? Oh no! Everyone does it:

Everyone donates money to congressmen. Labor unions give you money, grocery stores give you money, so why would you single out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

Those millions taken from trial lawyers probably don’t have anything to do with the failure to pass tort reform. I’m sure the hundreds of millions in Big Labor donations don’t have anything to do with card check legislation. And certainly, Frank and his ilk — including the Friend of Angelo Chris Dodd — weren’t influenced by all that campaign cash to look the other way when Freddie and Fannie went awry. It all works out perfectly fine. Really.

And what are his priorities?

Well, pulling out from Iraq and simultaneously producing an economic stimulus plan for the recession are the most essential. Those two tasks alone are going to be difficult. In the short term, spend to simulate the economy over the next year and half and make that up by getting out of Iraq. The war in Iraq has cost $600 billion.

Ah, pay for the stimulus,which is an immediate bill of, say, $700B, by a gradual phase down of U.S. troops in Iraq, while also, according to the President-elect, building up forces in Afghanistan. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Can’t wait to see the accounting on that one.

If this all sounds out of touch and downright silly, get used to it. There’s plenty more where that came from.

My colleague Daniel Halper passes on this unintentionally hysterical interview by the Tufts Daily of Barney Frank. Of particular interest is his answer in response to a question about why government policy pushing “affordable housing” wasn’t at the root of the housing meltdown:

No, because the government did not force banks to lend money to high-risk people, but rather to poorer neighborhoods. The Community Reinvestment Act [CRA] is the legislation in question. The act only applies to banks. The loans that caused the trouble were on a whole not made by banks. They were made by mortgage finance companies. … Over the course of the last 30 years, new entities rose up. Mortgage finance companies and others were unregulated, and they made loans. If only entities covered by the CRA made loans, we would not have the subprime problem.

Hmmm. You don’t suppose that high-risk borrowers live in those poor neighborhoods do you? And it’s fine to say that banks made only a fraction of subprime loans. But Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, under his regulatory watch, went whole-hog into this business. Those were the ones who “rose up” to guarantee and spawn the subprime frenzy.

But isn’t it a problem that he and others took gobs of money from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae? Oh no! Everyone does it:

Everyone donates money to congressmen. Labor unions give you money, grocery stores give you money, so why would you single out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

Those millions taken from trial lawyers probably don’t have anything to do with the failure to pass tort reform. I’m sure the hundreds of millions in Big Labor donations don’t have anything to do with card check legislation. And certainly, Frank and his ilk — including the Friend of Angelo Chris Dodd — weren’t influenced by all that campaign cash to look the other way when Freddie and Fannie went awry. It all works out perfectly fine. Really.

And what are his priorities?

Well, pulling out from Iraq and simultaneously producing an economic stimulus plan for the recession are the most essential. Those two tasks alone are going to be difficult. In the short term, spend to simulate the economy over the next year and half and make that up by getting out of Iraq. The war in Iraq has cost $600 billion.

Ah, pay for the stimulus,which is an immediate bill of, say, $700B, by a gradual phase down of U.S. troops in Iraq, while also, according to the President-elect, building up forces in Afghanistan. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Can’t wait to see the accounting on that one.

If this all sounds out of touch and downright silly, get used to it. There’s plenty more where that came from.

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Re: A Short Crisis?

Gordon, David Boaz of CATO shares your skepticism:

Some economists talk of “stimulating” the economy. But we’re already headed for a trillion-dollar deficit. If that won’t stimulate the economy in the view of Keynesian theory, what will? A $1.2 trillion deficit? $1.5 trillion? Whatever happened to the Democrats’ denunciations of Bush’s fiscal irresponsibility? The money for the stimulus must come from taxes, which will then mean someone has less to spend and invest; or from borrowing, which will just transfer the money from one party to another; or from yet more money creation, which at these levels would threaten a roaring inflation. As Russell Roberts said on NPR, “if politicians know how to stimulate the economy, why wait for a recession? If you can make the economy grow, why wait for bad times?” The answer is that they don’t know. It was politicians trying to manipulate the economy and homeownership rates that got us into this mess. From now on, they should remember the principle that doctors are taught: First, do no harm.

Grover Norquist is more biting:

They think you can tax work without causing unemployment. They think raising the capital gains tax will raise money and not hurt capital investment. They think regulatory costs are paid by Santa Clause or Tinkerbell.

It remains to be seen whether the fondness for tax hikes that permeated Candidate Obama’s campaign rhetoric will make its way into the agenda of President Obama. He was exceptionally vague and inarticulate on the subject today. See if you can figure out what he is saying:

Q: Thank you. This question is about taxes. Will you let the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2010 or will you use legislation to repeal them before that?

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Well, I said during the campaign that my plan represented a net tax cut. And that’s important to remember. Ninety-five percent of workers in this country would receive a net tax cut under my plan.

Now, the reason that’s important is not only is that good for families who are struggling, but it’s also part and parcel of what we need when it comes to stimulus. We’re going to be putting money into people’s pockets so that they can spend on buying a new computer for their kids’ school, so that they can, you know, make sure that they are able to deal with heat and groceries and all the other strains on family budgets.

Now, what I’ve also said during the course of this campaign is, we’ve got to restore some balance to our tax code. And the Bush tax cuts were disproportionately targeted towards the very wealthiest Americans. Those who are making more than a quarter million dollars a year can afford to pay a little bit more.

And it is important, if we’re going to help pay for some of these expenditures that are absolutely necessary to get our economy back on track, that those who are in a position to pay a little bit more do so.

Whether that’s done through repeal or whether that’s done because the Bush tax cuts are not renewed is something that my economic team will be providing me a recommendation on.

But the basic principle is that we’re going to provide tax cuts to the vast majority of Americans, the middle class that have been struggling over the last eight years; that those who have benefitted disproportionately over the last eight years, the very wealthiest among us, will pay a little bit more in order for us to be able to invest in the economy and get it back on track.

Huh?

Getting back to the enthusiasm for more and more spending (that’s what it is, but “stimulus” sounds so much more justified):  what is missing is a compelling  case that historically this has proved effective. That would be hard to  come by. Also absent is any proper appreciation for the reality that government technocrats  are really no better decision-makers than those in the private sector.  Just look at the last few months: We must buy toxic assets. No, that won’t work. Okay, for Citigroup we really must. Is it any wonder investors are paralyzed?

That is not to say that government should do nothing. The public won’t stand for inactivity, and there are positive steps the government could take (including immediately ruling out any tax increases). It is a plea to those with great political popularity that they act with a proper appreciation of their own limitations and the adverse consequences that come from unbridled and constant fiddling from government. That would be change we can believe in.

Gordon, David Boaz of CATO shares your skepticism:

Some economists talk of “stimulating” the economy. But we’re already headed for a trillion-dollar deficit. If that won’t stimulate the economy in the view of Keynesian theory, what will? A $1.2 trillion deficit? $1.5 trillion? Whatever happened to the Democrats’ denunciations of Bush’s fiscal irresponsibility? The money for the stimulus must come from taxes, which will then mean someone has less to spend and invest; or from borrowing, which will just transfer the money from one party to another; or from yet more money creation, which at these levels would threaten a roaring inflation. As Russell Roberts said on NPR, “if politicians know how to stimulate the economy, why wait for a recession? If you can make the economy grow, why wait for bad times?” The answer is that they don’t know. It was politicians trying to manipulate the economy and homeownership rates that got us into this mess. From now on, they should remember the principle that doctors are taught: First, do no harm.

Grover Norquist is more biting:

They think you can tax work without causing unemployment. They think raising the capital gains tax will raise money and not hurt capital investment. They think regulatory costs are paid by Santa Clause or Tinkerbell.

It remains to be seen whether the fondness for tax hikes that permeated Candidate Obama’s campaign rhetoric will make its way into the agenda of President Obama. He was exceptionally vague and inarticulate on the subject today. See if you can figure out what he is saying:

Q: Thank you. This question is about taxes. Will you let the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2010 or will you use legislation to repeal them before that?

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Well, I said during the campaign that my plan represented a net tax cut. And that’s important to remember. Ninety-five percent of workers in this country would receive a net tax cut under my plan.

Now, the reason that’s important is not only is that good for families who are struggling, but it’s also part and parcel of what we need when it comes to stimulus. We’re going to be putting money into people’s pockets so that they can spend on buying a new computer for their kids’ school, so that they can, you know, make sure that they are able to deal with heat and groceries and all the other strains on family budgets.

Now, what I’ve also said during the course of this campaign is, we’ve got to restore some balance to our tax code. And the Bush tax cuts were disproportionately targeted towards the very wealthiest Americans. Those who are making more than a quarter million dollars a year can afford to pay a little bit more.

And it is important, if we’re going to help pay for some of these expenditures that are absolutely necessary to get our economy back on track, that those who are in a position to pay a little bit more do so.

Whether that’s done through repeal or whether that’s done because the Bush tax cuts are not renewed is something that my economic team will be providing me a recommendation on.

But the basic principle is that we’re going to provide tax cuts to the vast majority of Americans, the middle class that have been struggling over the last eight years; that those who have benefitted disproportionately over the last eight years, the very wealthiest among us, will pay a little bit more in order for us to be able to invest in the economy and get it back on track.

Huh?

Getting back to the enthusiasm for more and more spending (that’s what it is, but “stimulus” sounds so much more justified):  what is missing is a compelling  case that historically this has proved effective. That would be hard to  come by. Also absent is any proper appreciation for the reality that government technocrats  are really no better decision-makers than those in the private sector.  Just look at the last few months: We must buy toxic assets. No, that won’t work. Okay, for Citigroup we really must. Is it any wonder investors are paralyzed?

That is not to say that government should do nothing. The public won’t stand for inactivity, and there are positive steps the government could take (including immediately ruling out any tax increases). It is a plea to those with great political popularity that they act with a proper appreciation of their own limitations and the adverse consequences that come from unbridled and constant fiddling from government. That would be change we can believe in.

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Missing Obama’s Meaning

Barack Obama’s being elected President of the United States serves as an example of what talented Americans can achieve if they work hard, regardless of race or social status, right? Right?

[Political activist, Rev. Lennox] Yearwood said Obama’s election inspired a lot of young blacks to vote and get involved in the campaign. He is now encouraging young activists to use the same enthusiasm to lobby the government for more jobs in poor neighborhoods and better health care for those who can’t afford it.

If Obama’s election is seen foremost as a catalyst for minority communities to ask the government for more things, then the significance of November 4, 2008 will have been squandered in the most tragically ironic fashion. Obama’s talents flourished, in part, because they were free of the insulting and demoralizing effects of handouts. Whatever you may think of him, Obama is clearly a man who spent his time focused on what he could accomplish, not on what he couldn’t. His success is also attributable to the fact that institutional racism in America is not the barricade to opportunity it once was.

In John McWhorter’s list of things “Obama means for Black America,” he included,

the idea that for black people, underdoggism is higher awareness is obsolete.

One of the strangest things about reading black writings of the old days is the ingrained optimism. W.E.B. DuBois in the aughts highlighted blacks making the best of themselves despite obstacles. Zora Neale Hurston bristled at being expected to write of lynchings rather than self-regard and triumph. Many black literati disowned Richard Wright’s Native Son as too pessimistic.

But in the late ’60s, just as segregation and bigotry began a rapid retreat, it became fashionable to treat black identity as plangent, wary of celebration where whites could hear it, glumly obsessed with tabulating ever-fraying strands of racism. No matter how successful many blacks are, no matter how many interracial couples there are, no matter how few “firsts” are left, we always have much longer to go than we have come. A shoe still hasn’t dropped.

Well, it just did.

A black man is president, and black Americans seem to feel like it really means something. As such, we will expect a sea change in the tone of what is considered the authentic black voice. Pollyanna, no. But it will be positive and constructive–as Obama has been on the topic of race–in the way that anyone would assume of a group that truly seeks progress.

Many have supposed that what black America needs was a second revolution in how white people think. Barack Obama’s election showed that white people’s thoughts weren’t so retrograde after all. White people voted with those thoughts–and now, even without a revolution, much of what black America needs to happen will be a reality.

It would be nice if a new type of social activism takes shape after the fashion of our new President-elect. Non-demagogic, not obsessed with victimhood, and fiercely focused on individual achievement. In fact, severely allergic to underdoggism.

Barack Obama’s being elected President of the United States serves as an example of what talented Americans can achieve if they work hard, regardless of race or social status, right? Right?

[Political activist, Rev. Lennox] Yearwood said Obama’s election inspired a lot of young blacks to vote and get involved in the campaign. He is now encouraging young activists to use the same enthusiasm to lobby the government for more jobs in poor neighborhoods and better health care for those who can’t afford it.

If Obama’s election is seen foremost as a catalyst for minority communities to ask the government for more things, then the significance of November 4, 2008 will have been squandered in the most tragically ironic fashion. Obama’s talents flourished, in part, because they were free of the insulting and demoralizing effects of handouts. Whatever you may think of him, Obama is clearly a man who spent his time focused on what he could accomplish, not on what he couldn’t. His success is also attributable to the fact that institutional racism in America is not the barricade to opportunity it once was.

In John McWhorter’s list of things “Obama means for Black America,” he included,

the idea that for black people, underdoggism is higher awareness is obsolete.

One of the strangest things about reading black writings of the old days is the ingrained optimism. W.E.B. DuBois in the aughts highlighted blacks making the best of themselves despite obstacles. Zora Neale Hurston bristled at being expected to write of lynchings rather than self-regard and triumph. Many black literati disowned Richard Wright’s Native Son as too pessimistic.

But in the late ’60s, just as segregation and bigotry began a rapid retreat, it became fashionable to treat black identity as plangent, wary of celebration where whites could hear it, glumly obsessed with tabulating ever-fraying strands of racism. No matter how successful many blacks are, no matter how many interracial couples there are, no matter how few “firsts” are left, we always have much longer to go than we have come. A shoe still hasn’t dropped.

Well, it just did.

A black man is president, and black Americans seem to feel like it really means something. As such, we will expect a sea change in the tone of what is considered the authentic black voice. Pollyanna, no. But it will be positive and constructive–as Obama has been on the topic of race–in the way that anyone would assume of a group that truly seeks progress.

Many have supposed that what black America needs was a second revolution in how white people think. Barack Obama’s election showed that white people’s thoughts weren’t so retrograde after all. White people voted with those thoughts–and now, even without a revolution, much of what black America needs to happen will be a reality.

It would be nice if a new type of social activism takes shape after the fashion of our new President-elect. Non-demagogic, not obsessed with victimhood, and fiercely focused on individual achievement. In fact, severely allergic to underdoggism.

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Commentary of the Day

J.E. Dyer, on Gordon G. Chang:

Wow, an awful lot of NOT remembering Bill Clinton here. I can’t agree that either Bush has been worse than Clinton in terms of giving away the store to China. One would like to think GOP presidents would perform better in that regard, but China has always been a special case, handled with equal lack of integrity or strategic vision by presidents of both parties.

Nixon at least left East Asia with a sustainable way forward that did not exist when he entered office. We’re basically still operating on the Nixon plan there. In not updating our strategic vision, and resting on decades-old laurels, we are treating China, and all of East Asia, as cavalierly as Western Europe treats the Caucasus and the Levant today.

Obama shows no signs of changing that pattern. Many conservatives are taking comfort from the centrist nature of his cabinet and advisory picks, but of course, it was foreign policy centrists who made all the West’s decisions prior to the world wars of the last century, and centrists who made most of the decisions that prolonged the Cold War for decades. Centrists procrastinate, concede, and make the defensive decisions that draw us into conflicts on the opponent’s terms. The prospect of more foreign policy by centrists should not comfort us at all, least of all regarding China.

J.E. Dyer, on Gordon G. Chang:

Wow, an awful lot of NOT remembering Bill Clinton here. I can’t agree that either Bush has been worse than Clinton in terms of giving away the store to China. One would like to think GOP presidents would perform better in that regard, but China has always been a special case, handled with equal lack of integrity or strategic vision by presidents of both parties.

Nixon at least left East Asia with a sustainable way forward that did not exist when he entered office. We’re basically still operating on the Nixon plan there. In not updating our strategic vision, and resting on decades-old laurels, we are treating China, and all of East Asia, as cavalierly as Western Europe treats the Caucasus and the Levant today.

Obama shows no signs of changing that pattern. Many conservatives are taking comfort from the centrist nature of his cabinet and advisory picks, but of course, it was foreign policy centrists who made all the West’s decisions prior to the world wars of the last century, and centrists who made most of the decisions that prolonged the Cold War for decades. Centrists procrastinate, concede, and make the defensive decisions that draw us into conflicts on the opponent’s terms. The prospect of more foreign policy by centrists should not comfort us at all, least of all regarding China.

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Syria’s IAEA Enablers

Remember Syria? Less than a week ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency circulated its report on Syria among member states. And though its language was studiously cautious and non-committal, one can find plenty of cause for alarm if one reads between the lines. IAEA’s Director General Mohammad ElBaradei’s findings suggest that the destroyed site was likely to be a nuclear power plant, as U.S. intelligence had indicated as early as April of this year. It also suggests that the Syrians have much to hide. After all, why would they remove significant material from the site soon after a request for a visit was filed by the IAEA? Why would they deny access to other sites the Agency wishes to visit?

So it should come as a surprise that barely a week after the report was circulated, the IAEA would even consider Syria’s request for technical assistance to identify the most suitable site for a future nuclear power plant to be built in Syria. Incidentally, the request for support of this feasibility study was submitted three weeks before Israel bombed the suspected Syrian site.

Yet, in the world of UN agencies, nothing should be a surprise.  Nor is it surprising that China, Russia and other developing nations defended Syria’s request alongside ElBaradei. This makes sense for China and Russia, as a nuclear Syria helps their interests. But El Baradei? He cannot possibly be serious when he defends Syria by saying that nothing is conclusively proven about its destroyed facility. That nothing is conclusively proven does not prove innocence. And giving the green light for a feasibility study for a nuclear plant in Syria is the worst possible political message the international community could send to Syria and other likely proliferators.

Remember Syria? Less than a week ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency circulated its report on Syria among member states. And though its language was studiously cautious and non-committal, one can find plenty of cause for alarm if one reads between the lines. IAEA’s Director General Mohammad ElBaradei’s findings suggest that the destroyed site was likely to be a nuclear power plant, as U.S. intelligence had indicated as early as April of this year. It also suggests that the Syrians have much to hide. After all, why would they remove significant material from the site soon after a request for a visit was filed by the IAEA? Why would they deny access to other sites the Agency wishes to visit?

So it should come as a surprise that barely a week after the report was circulated, the IAEA would even consider Syria’s request for technical assistance to identify the most suitable site for a future nuclear power plant to be built in Syria. Incidentally, the request for support of this feasibility study was submitted three weeks before Israel bombed the suspected Syrian site.

Yet, in the world of UN agencies, nothing should be a surprise.  Nor is it surprising that China, Russia and other developing nations defended Syria’s request alongside ElBaradei. This makes sense for China and Russia, as a nuclear Syria helps their interests. But El Baradei? He cannot possibly be serious when he defends Syria by saying that nothing is conclusively proven about its destroyed facility. That nothing is conclusively proven does not prove innocence. And giving the green light for a feasibility study for a nuclear plant in Syria is the worst possible political message the international community could send to Syria and other likely proliferators.

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Kouchner Warns Obama

In late October, Emanuele pointed out that French President Nicholas Sarkozy criticized Barack Obama’s talk-intensive approach to Iran as “utterly immature.” The French government may be taking a more cautious tone these days in its criticism of our President-elect, but the message is the same. Now French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warns:

“We have negotiated at great length. People came to France, we sent people to Iran, we met them, and unfortunately this dialogue produced nothing. And so, one must be careful.”

[. . .]

Kouchner said his concern is that direct talks between Washington and Tehran could hurt the unity of the major powers that presented the offers to Iran and have imposed sanctions against it – France, Britain, Germany, the United States, Russia and China.

It’s as good a time as any to wonder if Obama’s slide from far-Left fantasist to center-Left pragmatist extends past domestic concerns and into foreign policy. Obama’s recent appointments, and his camp’s calculated leaks, reveal a political maturity that wasn’t there for the majority of the campaign season. Taken in concert with his multiple attempts at denying he’d meet unconditionally with Tehran, Obama’s post-election posturing gives one reason to hope (provided Obama is done with “hope”) that attempts at blindly searching for common ground with our sworn enemies will never materialize.

There is, after all, common ground with our allies to think about. And as Kouchner more or less makes clear, disrupting even the woefully ineffective international sanctions against Iran would truly constitute “cowboy diplomacy.”

In late October, Emanuele pointed out that French President Nicholas Sarkozy criticized Barack Obama’s talk-intensive approach to Iran as “utterly immature.” The French government may be taking a more cautious tone these days in its criticism of our President-elect, but the message is the same. Now French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warns:

“We have negotiated at great length. People came to France, we sent people to Iran, we met them, and unfortunately this dialogue produced nothing. And so, one must be careful.”

[. . .]

Kouchner said his concern is that direct talks between Washington and Tehran could hurt the unity of the major powers that presented the offers to Iran and have imposed sanctions against it – France, Britain, Germany, the United States, Russia and China.

It’s as good a time as any to wonder if Obama’s slide from far-Left fantasist to center-Left pragmatist extends past domestic concerns and into foreign policy. Obama’s recent appointments, and his camp’s calculated leaks, reveal a political maturity that wasn’t there for the majority of the campaign season. Taken in concert with his multiple attempts at denying he’d meet unconditionally with Tehran, Obama’s post-election posturing gives one reason to hope (provided Obama is done with “hope”) that attempts at blindly searching for common ground with our sworn enemies will never materialize.

There is, after all, common ground with our allies to think about. And as Kouchner more or less makes clear, disrupting even the woefully ineffective international sanctions against Iran would truly constitute “cowboy diplomacy.”

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A Short Crisis?

Do you know how long the current global downturn will last? “We are convinced that we can overcome this crisis in a period of 18 months,” said President Bush and the other leaders attending the APEC summit in a joint declaration this weekend. “We have already taken urgent and extraordinary steps to stabilize our financial sectors and strengthen economic growth.”

That’s good to know. But does a year and a half seem too long to you? “Certainly, some in the region may think that recovery may take 18 months,” said Dan Price, one of Dubya’s aides, as he and his boss winged their way back to Washington. “President Bush believes that the actions we are taking now will begin to produce results in the much nearer term.”

Thank you, Mr. Price, but, frankly, no one pays much attention to what the American president says these days about the economy. And I’m not just referring to the Bush-bashing community. People intuitively know that politicians and economists are clueless when it comes to the greatest downturn they have ever witnessed. For example, this morning Bill Kristol noted that Senator Chuck Schumer does not have a “well-grounded view” or even a “well-informed clue” about how much stimulus is needed, a subject on which the New York senator pontificated in front of ABC’s cameras yesterday.

Forget Schumer. I know how much stimulus is needed. The amount is not “between five and seven hundred billion dollars”–his answer. The answer is none at all. Stimulus, in a situation like we are now facing, just postpones necessary change and makes the eventual reckoning even more painful. This economy needs to deleverage, eliminate failing participants, and wring out imbalances. And until it does all these things–which will take far longer than 18 months–it will continue to falter. Japan tried to stimulate its way out of its massive problems last decade only to prolong agony. China is now going the stimulus route, and it will suffer an even worse fate.

We do not need optimistic words–of the type President Bush reflexively makes–or serious-sounding pronouncements-which Senator Schumer is so good at delivering. We need Trumanesque plain-speaking. There’s no point in talking to us like we’re children, especially because most of us sense the worst is yet to come and that the period of adjustment will take years. Because our elected leaders won’t tell us the truth, we have to speak honest words to one another. Pass the message along.

Do you know how long the current global downturn will last? “We are convinced that we can overcome this crisis in a period of 18 months,” said President Bush and the other leaders attending the APEC summit in a joint declaration this weekend. “We have already taken urgent and extraordinary steps to stabilize our financial sectors and strengthen economic growth.”

That’s good to know. But does a year and a half seem too long to you? “Certainly, some in the region may think that recovery may take 18 months,” said Dan Price, one of Dubya’s aides, as he and his boss winged their way back to Washington. “President Bush believes that the actions we are taking now will begin to produce results in the much nearer term.”

Thank you, Mr. Price, but, frankly, no one pays much attention to what the American president says these days about the economy. And I’m not just referring to the Bush-bashing community. People intuitively know that politicians and economists are clueless when it comes to the greatest downturn they have ever witnessed. For example, this morning Bill Kristol noted that Senator Chuck Schumer does not have a “well-grounded view” or even a “well-informed clue” about how much stimulus is needed, a subject on which the New York senator pontificated in front of ABC’s cameras yesterday.

Forget Schumer. I know how much stimulus is needed. The amount is not “between five and seven hundred billion dollars”–his answer. The answer is none at all. Stimulus, in a situation like we are now facing, just postpones necessary change and makes the eventual reckoning even more painful. This economy needs to deleverage, eliminate failing participants, and wring out imbalances. And until it does all these things–which will take far longer than 18 months–it will continue to falter. Japan tried to stimulate its way out of its massive problems last decade only to prolong agony. China is now going the stimulus route, and it will suffer an even worse fate.

We do not need optimistic words–of the type President Bush reflexively makes–or serious-sounding pronouncements-which Senator Schumer is so good at delivering. We need Trumanesque plain-speaking. There’s no point in talking to us like we’re children, especially because most of us sense the worst is yet to come and that the period of adjustment will take years. Because our elected leaders won’t tell us the truth, we have to speak honest words to one another. Pass the message along.

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The Jig Is Up

From The Nation:

Not a single, solitary, actual dyed-in-the-wool progressive has, as far as I can tell, even been mentioned for a position in the new administration. Not one. Remember this is the movement that was right about Iraq, right about wage stagnation and inequality, right about financial deregulation, right about global warming and right about health care. And I don’t just mean in that in a sectarian way. I mean to say that the emerging establishment consensus on all of these issues came from the left. There’s tons of things the left is right about that aren’t even close to mainstream (taking a hatchet to the national security state and ending the prison industrial complex to name just two), but hopefully we’re moving there. And yet, no one who comes from the part of American political and intellectual life that has given birth to all of these ideas is anywhere to be found within miles of the Obama cabinet thus far.

These Leftist ideas, you may recall, were promptly dumped once candidate Barack Obama secured the nomination. FISA position? Reversed. Protectionism? Overblown rhetoric, we’re told. Repealing the Bush tax cuts? Can’t raise taxes in a recession!

President-elect Obama now actually has to protect the country, govern, and get Demcorats re-elected in 2010 and again in 2012. Does the Left’s temper tantrum matter? Not in the short run, especially if a centrist governing style proves successful. But eventually the Democrats will need once again at election time to “turn out the base” and then it will get quite interesting. For now, it’s just old-fashioned schadenfreude for the Right.

From The Nation:

Not a single, solitary, actual dyed-in-the-wool progressive has, as far as I can tell, even been mentioned for a position in the new administration. Not one. Remember this is the movement that was right about Iraq, right about wage stagnation and inequality, right about financial deregulation, right about global warming and right about health care. And I don’t just mean in that in a sectarian way. I mean to say that the emerging establishment consensus on all of these issues came from the left. There’s tons of things the left is right about that aren’t even close to mainstream (taking a hatchet to the national security state and ending the prison industrial complex to name just two), but hopefully we’re moving there. And yet, no one who comes from the part of American political and intellectual life that has given birth to all of these ideas is anywhere to be found within miles of the Obama cabinet thus far.

These Leftist ideas, you may recall, were promptly dumped once candidate Barack Obama secured the nomination. FISA position? Reversed. Protectionism? Overblown rhetoric, we’re told. Repealing the Bush tax cuts? Can’t raise taxes in a recession!

President-elect Obama now actually has to protect the country, govern, and get Demcorats re-elected in 2010 and again in 2012. Does the Left’s temper tantrum matter? Not in the short run, especially if a centrist governing style proves successful. But eventually the Democrats will need once again at election time to “turn out the base” and then it will get quite interesting. For now, it’s just old-fashioned schadenfreude for the Right.

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Moral Depravity Exemplified

Throughout most of civilization, killing a man in front of his four-year-old daughter–and then fatally smashing the young girl’s head against a rock–is considered a crime of the highest order. Few would be sympathetic to the murderer’s motivations for committing this crime, and it is unlikely that anyone beyond the murderer’s immediate family would await his ultimate release from prison–assuming that day ever even arrived.

Still, you probably already knew that Samir Kuntar was a special case. After all, despite committing the very crime mentioned above, Kuntar was welcomed in Lebanon with wild celebrations when Israel released him as part of its misguided July prisoner swap with Hezbollah. Indeed, even Lebanon’s supposedly pro-western leaders–including Sunni Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt–joined in Hezbollah’s homecoming celebration, making Kuntar the rare recipient of symbolically unanimous Lebanese affections. Naturally, Lebanon’s apologists chalked this warm reception up to each leader’s political weakness vis-à-vis Hezbollah–the typical excuse that one hears whenever a Lebanese leader fails to stand up for what’s right.

Well, moral depravity isn’t limited to weak Lebanese leaders–it infects domestically strong Syrian dictators as well. Yesterday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad outdid Beirut, presenting Kuntar with his nation’s highest medal at a ceremony in Damascus. In a press release, Assad hailed Kuntar’s “legacy of struggle and steadfastness,” further praising him as “a symbol of struggle and freedom throughout the Arab world.” It is further worth noting that the press release refers to Nahariya – the Israeli coastal city from which Kuntar and his associates staged their attack–as a “settlement.” The implication is clear: attacks on Israelis–toddlers or not, uniformed or not, in “Israel proper” or not–are 100% kosher.

One hopes that our Chicago-based administration-to-be is watching these developments closely. But I’m not too optimistic. After all, while on the campaign trail, President-elect Obama indicated that he would be willing to meet with Assad. Meanwhile, there have been whisperings that Robert Malley–a one-time Obama foreign policy adviser expected to serve in the administration– met with Assad only two days after the election, promising that Syrian interests would be better “taken into account.”

But if the Obama administration is as serious about public diplomacy as it promised it would be, Syrian-American rapprochement will be postponed indefinitely. For all of the ink that has been spilled claiming that the war in Iraq has hurt our standing abroad, there is one thing that would be even more harmful: sending mixed messages regarding where we stand on the most basic moral issues. In this vein, nothing would be more counterproductive than engaging leaders who grant ruthless murderers their highest national honors.

Throughout most of civilization, killing a man in front of his four-year-old daughter–and then fatally smashing the young girl’s head against a rock–is considered a crime of the highest order. Few would be sympathetic to the murderer’s motivations for committing this crime, and it is unlikely that anyone beyond the murderer’s immediate family would await his ultimate release from prison–assuming that day ever even arrived.

Still, you probably already knew that Samir Kuntar was a special case. After all, despite committing the very crime mentioned above, Kuntar was welcomed in Lebanon with wild celebrations when Israel released him as part of its misguided July prisoner swap with Hezbollah. Indeed, even Lebanon’s supposedly pro-western leaders–including Sunni Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt–joined in Hezbollah’s homecoming celebration, making Kuntar the rare recipient of symbolically unanimous Lebanese affections. Naturally, Lebanon’s apologists chalked this warm reception up to each leader’s political weakness vis-à-vis Hezbollah–the typical excuse that one hears whenever a Lebanese leader fails to stand up for what’s right.

Well, moral depravity isn’t limited to weak Lebanese leaders–it infects domestically strong Syrian dictators as well. Yesterday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad outdid Beirut, presenting Kuntar with his nation’s highest medal at a ceremony in Damascus. In a press release, Assad hailed Kuntar’s “legacy of struggle and steadfastness,” further praising him as “a symbol of struggle and freedom throughout the Arab world.” It is further worth noting that the press release refers to Nahariya – the Israeli coastal city from which Kuntar and his associates staged their attack–as a “settlement.” The implication is clear: attacks on Israelis–toddlers or not, uniformed or not, in “Israel proper” or not–are 100% kosher.

One hopes that our Chicago-based administration-to-be is watching these developments closely. But I’m not too optimistic. After all, while on the campaign trail, President-elect Obama indicated that he would be willing to meet with Assad. Meanwhile, there have been whisperings that Robert Malley–a one-time Obama foreign policy adviser expected to serve in the administration– met with Assad only two days after the election, promising that Syrian interests would be better “taken into account.”

But if the Obama administration is as serious about public diplomacy as it promised it would be, Syrian-American rapprochement will be postponed indefinitely. For all of the ink that has been spilled claiming that the war in Iraq has hurt our standing abroad, there is one thing that would be even more harmful: sending mixed messages regarding where we stand on the most basic moral issues. In this vein, nothing would be more counterproductive than engaging leaders who grant ruthless murderers their highest national honors.

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Obama at the Podium

At today’s press conference, President-elect Barack Obama announced his team and confirmed his essential approach: a big, big stimulus package is coming. The description of an “economic crisis of historic proportions” sets the predicate for what is certain to be a huge government effort to “jolt” the economy.

We learned several noteworthy things. First, the emphasis on Tim Geithner’s international experience and vision confirms this is not a protectionist, inward-looking team. Second, Obama is clearly struggling to lower expectations, warning that things “are likely to get worse before they get better.” Third, in the question section, he gave a perfectly awful, rambling answer on taxes (during which the market dropped 40 points). He seemed reluctant to give up the notion of a tax increase, but allowed that he would rely on his advisors as to whether he would simply wait for the Bush tax cuts to expire. Fourth, he politely declined to criticize Hank Paulson, but did promsie that his administration would offer more clarity so that taxpayers and businesses understood their efforts to revive the economy. Fifth, he plainly wants to do an auto bailout, but was “surprised”–as he delicately put it–that the auto companies didn’t come with a plan to explain how the money would be spent. And finally, he clearly wants to have a final stimulus plan ready to sign in January.

My overall impression: He is emphasizing bipartisanship. Which makes sense. He will need all the support he can get for what will plainly be the most extensive government intervention into the economy in a generation.

At today’s press conference, President-elect Barack Obama announced his team and confirmed his essential approach: a big, big stimulus package is coming. The description of an “economic crisis of historic proportions” sets the predicate for what is certain to be a huge government effort to “jolt” the economy.

We learned several noteworthy things. First, the emphasis on Tim Geithner’s international experience and vision confirms this is not a protectionist, inward-looking team. Second, Obama is clearly struggling to lower expectations, warning that things “are likely to get worse before they get better.” Third, in the question section, he gave a perfectly awful, rambling answer on taxes (during which the market dropped 40 points). He seemed reluctant to give up the notion of a tax increase, but allowed that he would rely on his advisors as to whether he would simply wait for the Bush tax cuts to expire. Fourth, he politely declined to criticize Hank Paulson, but did promsie that his administration would offer more clarity so that taxpayers and businesses understood their efforts to revive the economy. Fifth, he plainly wants to do an auto bailout, but was “surprised”–as he delicately put it–that the auto companies didn’t come with a plan to explain how the money would be spent. And finally, he clearly wants to have a final stimulus plan ready to sign in January.

My overall impression: He is emphasizing bipartisanship. Which makes sense. He will need all the support he can get for what will plainly be the most extensive government intervention into the economy in a generation.

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Obama and Netanyahu

Some call it “analysis.” Others admit it is mostly a political talking point. But whatever one decides to call it, the trend of speculating about possible Obama/Bibi Netanyahu interactions has caught up with media outlets and pundits all over. Just Google Obama + Bibi and see for yourself.

Will they be able to cooperate? Will America’s relations with Israel under respective Obama and Netanyahu governments be a “disaster,” as this article asks? These questions started right after Election Day, and are getting more traction by the day, especially since Netanyahu’s lead in Israeli polls has increased. They are now common assumptions among reporters and columnists, like the knowledgeable Amir Oren. He suggested today that the Scowcroft-Brzezinski plan presented in the Washington Post Friday (on which I wrote) will make Bibi’s life almost impossible:

Kadima, Labor and Meretz could adopt the four-point plan, which the Likud, in its current composition of Bibi-Benny-Bogey (Netanyahu, Begin and Ya’alon) cannot do. Obama or Bibi – that is what Scowcroft and Brzezinski are indirectly asking, in calling on Obama to immediately act in challenging the Israeli public to take a position.

In essence, what Israelis (and Americans) opposed to Netanyahu want is for Obama to help Livni get elected. Namely by making Israelis wary about having a Prime Minister who wouldn’t be able to get along with the next U.S. administration. But by inviting intervention, they assume a risk: If Netanyahu is elected anyway, this will complicate relations between Netanyahu and Obama even more.

But suspecting that relations between the Obama administration and a Netanyahu government might be strained is not unreasonable. Likud governments, in general, have a harder time with American Presidents: think of Begin and Reagan, or Shamir and George H. W. Bush. Netanyahu himself had a hard time with the Clinton administration, and many Clinton players are coming back–including his former nemeses Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright. Obama has also expressed, in the past, a skepticism toward Likud, saying that one does not need a “pro-Likud approach” in order to be pro-Israel.

However, ignoring the possible positives of such a development is one-sided. Here are a couple of reasons why Netanyahu and Obama should be able to work it out:

1. Obama will not want to be seen as someone looking for a fight with the Israeli government. It would give a lot of people an opportunity to say “we told you so.”

2. Netanyahu learned a lesson in 1999, when the Clinton administration helped bring about the end of his government. He will try to avoid similar mistakes.

3. Clinton of 2008 is not the Clinton of 2000. The collapse of Camp David and the second Intifada have taught her (and most other people) that one can’t force a peace by fiat.

4. Rhetoric aside, the differences between Netanyahu, Livni, and Barak are not hugely significant. Netanyahu himself won’t be nearly as important as the coalition he forms. And a centrist coalition headed by Netanyahu can do just fine.

Having said all that, bad feelings and old animosities could still hurt Netanyahu, both in the administration and even more so in Congress (Netanyahu was very close with Newt Gingrich, something Congressional Democrats are unlikely to forget). There are also many Jewish leaders who don’t like the idea of Netanyahu as Prime Minister.

The bottom line? I don’t think the possibility of a Netanyahu-Obama clash will hurt the Likud Party at the polls, because most Israelis attuned to such nuances are already in the anti-Bibi camp. This means that Netanyahu–if he manages to win, as polls predict–will have one challenge to overcome rather quickly. But then, so will the Obama administration.

Some call it “analysis.” Others admit it is mostly a political talking point. But whatever one decides to call it, the trend of speculating about possible Obama/Bibi Netanyahu interactions has caught up with media outlets and pundits all over. Just Google Obama + Bibi and see for yourself.

Will they be able to cooperate? Will America’s relations with Israel under respective Obama and Netanyahu governments be a “disaster,” as this article asks? These questions started right after Election Day, and are getting more traction by the day, especially since Netanyahu’s lead in Israeli polls has increased. They are now common assumptions among reporters and columnists, like the knowledgeable Amir Oren. He suggested today that the Scowcroft-Brzezinski plan presented in the Washington Post Friday (on which I wrote) will make Bibi’s life almost impossible:

Kadima, Labor and Meretz could adopt the four-point plan, which the Likud, in its current composition of Bibi-Benny-Bogey (Netanyahu, Begin and Ya’alon) cannot do. Obama or Bibi – that is what Scowcroft and Brzezinski are indirectly asking, in calling on Obama to immediately act in challenging the Israeli public to take a position.

In essence, what Israelis (and Americans) opposed to Netanyahu want is for Obama to help Livni get elected. Namely by making Israelis wary about having a Prime Minister who wouldn’t be able to get along with the next U.S. administration. But by inviting intervention, they assume a risk: If Netanyahu is elected anyway, this will complicate relations between Netanyahu and Obama even more.

But suspecting that relations between the Obama administration and a Netanyahu government might be strained is not unreasonable. Likud governments, in general, have a harder time with American Presidents: think of Begin and Reagan, or Shamir and George H. W. Bush. Netanyahu himself had a hard time with the Clinton administration, and many Clinton players are coming back–including his former nemeses Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright. Obama has also expressed, in the past, a skepticism toward Likud, saying that one does not need a “pro-Likud approach” in order to be pro-Israel.

However, ignoring the possible positives of such a development is one-sided. Here are a couple of reasons why Netanyahu and Obama should be able to work it out:

1. Obama will not want to be seen as someone looking for a fight with the Israeli government. It would give a lot of people an opportunity to say “we told you so.”

2. Netanyahu learned a lesson in 1999, when the Clinton administration helped bring about the end of his government. He will try to avoid similar mistakes.

3. Clinton of 2008 is not the Clinton of 2000. The collapse of Camp David and the second Intifada have taught her (and most other people) that one can’t force a peace by fiat.

4. Rhetoric aside, the differences between Netanyahu, Livni, and Barak are not hugely significant. Netanyahu himself won’t be nearly as important as the coalition he forms. And a centrist coalition headed by Netanyahu can do just fine.

Having said all that, bad feelings and old animosities could still hurt Netanyahu, both in the administration and even more so in Congress (Netanyahu was very close with Newt Gingrich, something Congressional Democrats are unlikely to forget). There are also many Jewish leaders who don’t like the idea of Netanyahu as Prime Minister.

The bottom line? I don’t think the possibility of a Netanyahu-Obama clash will hurt the Likud Party at the polls, because most Israelis attuned to such nuances are already in the anti-Bibi camp. This means that Netanyahu–if he manages to win, as polls predict–will have one challenge to overcome rather quickly. But then, so will the Obama administration.

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Swashbuckling Capitalism

You just knew this was going to happen: “Somali Pirates in Discussions to Acquire Citigroup.”

You just knew this was going to happen: “Somali Pirates in Discussions to Acquire Citigroup.”

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Time to Turn up the Heat

The New York Times reports:

Representative Charles B. Rangel’s legal team is reviewing his tax records to determine whether the congressman received a homestead exemption on a house he owned in Washington while living in several rent-stabilized apartments in New York City.The situation is potentially troublesome for Mr. Rangel, a Harlem Democrat who is already the subject of a wide-ranging internal House investigation stemming from an assortment of ethical concerns.
. . .

Republicans have criticized Mr. Rangel, claiming that he has made a mockery of the Democratic Party’s promise to reform Washington’s political culture when it took control of the House in 2006. Republicans have demanded that he step down as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which writes the nation’s tax laws and is one of the most powerful panels in Congress.

Granted the Republicans have had their hands full, losing another election and fighting among themselves, but this seems like it should be a bigger deal than it has been. The Chairman of Ways and Means is a tax scofflaw, and the Democrats don’t seem to be a bit concerned. If the not-so-new Republican Congressional leadership is intent on doing its job (curbing the worst excesses of the majority and gaining credibility), they should shine a bright spotlight on Rangel. And start asking why he remains in one of the most prominent Democratic leadership posts.

The New York Times reports:

Representative Charles B. Rangel’s legal team is reviewing his tax records to determine whether the congressman received a homestead exemption on a house he owned in Washington while living in several rent-stabilized apartments in New York City.The situation is potentially troublesome for Mr. Rangel, a Harlem Democrat who is already the subject of a wide-ranging internal House investigation stemming from an assortment of ethical concerns.
. . .

Republicans have criticized Mr. Rangel, claiming that he has made a mockery of the Democratic Party’s promise to reform Washington’s political culture when it took control of the House in 2006. Republicans have demanded that he step down as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which writes the nation’s tax laws and is one of the most powerful panels in Congress.

Granted the Republicans have had their hands full, losing another election and fighting among themselves, but this seems like it should be a bigger deal than it has been. The Chairman of Ways and Means is a tax scofflaw, and the Democrats don’t seem to be a bit concerned. If the not-so-new Republican Congressional leadership is intent on doing its job (curbing the worst excesses of the majority and gaining credibility), they should shine a bright spotlight on Rangel. And start asking why he remains in one of the most prominent Democratic leadership posts.

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Barak on the Hezbollah Threat

Today, Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister and Labor party head, presented a grim report on the state of Hezbollah’s rearmament. Barak reports that the enemy in Southern Lebanon now has 42,000 missiles–about three times what it had before the start of the 2006 Lebanon war–some of which are capable of reaching as far south as Dimona.

What is behind Barak’s pronouncements? After all, it seems a little odd, during an election campaign, for Barak to be admitting what is essentially a massive failure of the Israeli government to protect its citizens. Perhaps he is oddly humble? Abundantly professional? Preparing the public for a pre-election war?

None of the above. Scratch the surface, and you will find the hidden campaign speech you were looking for. The real problem, Barak says, is UN resolution 1701, which governs the deployment of UNIFIL troops, the end of hostilities, and above all, the prevention of arms smuggling to Hezbollah. “In practice,” Barak says, “UN Resolution 1701 isn’t working . . .” That resolution, of course, is what Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was pushing for throughout the war, and to date she presents it as more or less her only major achievement in office.

But let’s say that Barak is right (and he almost certainly is) about the failure of 1701. It certainly hurts his main election opponent, Livni, who heads the left-center Kadima party. But will it help Barak? Or will it, on the contrary, send Kadima votes even further to the Right?

Today, Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister and Labor party head, presented a grim report on the state of Hezbollah’s rearmament. Barak reports that the enemy in Southern Lebanon now has 42,000 missiles–about three times what it had before the start of the 2006 Lebanon war–some of which are capable of reaching as far south as Dimona.

What is behind Barak’s pronouncements? After all, it seems a little odd, during an election campaign, for Barak to be admitting what is essentially a massive failure of the Israeli government to protect its citizens. Perhaps he is oddly humble? Abundantly professional? Preparing the public for a pre-election war?

None of the above. Scratch the surface, and you will find the hidden campaign speech you were looking for. The real problem, Barak says, is UN resolution 1701, which governs the deployment of UNIFIL troops, the end of hostilities, and above all, the prevention of arms smuggling to Hezbollah. “In practice,” Barak says, “UN Resolution 1701 isn’t working . . .” That resolution, of course, is what Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was pushing for throughout the war, and to date she presents it as more or less her only major achievement in office.

But let’s say that Barak is right (and he almost certainly is) about the failure of 1701. It certainly hurts his main election opponent, Livni, who heads the left-center Kadima party. But will it help Barak? Or will it, on the contrary, send Kadima votes even further to the Right?

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Change the Right Can Believe In

Bill Kristol commented on the new Obama national security team:

I like all these choices, you know? I mean, I’m not much of a hope and change guy, so it’s no problem. If I were a hope and change guy, I’d be a little bit distressed, perhaps. . . I mean, why her rather than some of the more conventional picks? Because she has been a little more hawkish than the mainstream of the Democratic Party, voted for the war in Iraq, gave a very fine speech I went and looked up last night, which I recommend that everyone — I think liberals especially, left-wing antiwar activists who think Bush was such a horrible president, who invented WMDs and all that — they should go read Hillary Clinton’s October 10th, 2002 Senate floor speech, a very good justification for the war in Iraq, which she’s never retracted, to my knowledge, tough on Iran. And that’s fine with me if she’s going to be secretary of state. And Jim Jones, who served on the Clinton and Bush administrations at very high levels in the military, obviously, as national security adviser – - that would be — that would be interesting.

For those expecting the dawning of a new age in (or a New Age) national security policy, Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, and James L. Jones likely don’t send a thrill up their legs. But if you are wary of a foreign policy excessively reliant on “soft power,” if you want the victory in Iraq secured and Afghanistan won, and if roll your eyes in disgust at the thought of an American President try to charm Ahmadinejad you are resting easier with this line-up in the wings.

What does the Left get from President-elect Obama? A big jobs program, primarily. (And perhaps, if they can find a trillion spare dollars or so, a nationalized health care policy.) Certainly, with the Clinton Restoration, it is not the beginning of New Politics. It isn’t what the netroots had in mind when they cheered for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, opposition to FISA and personal presidential engagement with rogue state dictators. But it is the beginning of a new administration which plainly doesn’t feel bound by rhetoric from the campaign nor compelled to do much for its liberal base.

Had you been told the new administration would have Jones at NSC and Gates at Defense, would be keeping the Bush tax cuts, would leave in place “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and would have zero truly fresh faces in the cabinet, you’d be certain that John McCain had won. It might not be everything that conservatives want, but it is more than they had any right to expect.

Bill Kristol commented on the new Obama national security team:

I like all these choices, you know? I mean, I’m not much of a hope and change guy, so it’s no problem. If I were a hope and change guy, I’d be a little bit distressed, perhaps. . . I mean, why her rather than some of the more conventional picks? Because she has been a little more hawkish than the mainstream of the Democratic Party, voted for the war in Iraq, gave a very fine speech I went and looked up last night, which I recommend that everyone — I think liberals especially, left-wing antiwar activists who think Bush was such a horrible president, who invented WMDs and all that — they should go read Hillary Clinton’s October 10th, 2002 Senate floor speech, a very good justification for the war in Iraq, which she’s never retracted, to my knowledge, tough on Iran. And that’s fine with me if she’s going to be secretary of state. And Jim Jones, who served on the Clinton and Bush administrations at very high levels in the military, obviously, as national security adviser – - that would be — that would be interesting.

For those expecting the dawning of a new age in (or a New Age) national security policy, Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, and James L. Jones likely don’t send a thrill up their legs. But if you are wary of a foreign policy excessively reliant on “soft power,” if you want the victory in Iraq secured and Afghanistan won, and if roll your eyes in disgust at the thought of an American President try to charm Ahmadinejad you are resting easier with this line-up in the wings.

What does the Left get from President-elect Obama? A big jobs program, primarily. (And perhaps, if they can find a trillion spare dollars or so, a nationalized health care policy.) Certainly, with the Clinton Restoration, it is not the beginning of New Politics. It isn’t what the netroots had in mind when they cheered for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, opposition to FISA and personal presidential engagement with rogue state dictators. But it is the beginning of a new administration which plainly doesn’t feel bound by rhetoric from the campaign nor compelled to do much for its liberal base.

Had you been told the new administration would have Jones at NSC and Gates at Defense, would be keeping the Bush tax cuts, would leave in place “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and would have zero truly fresh faces in the cabinet, you’d be certain that John McCain had won. It might not be everything that conservatives want, but it is more than they had any right to expect.

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Bin Ladenism on the Decline

A new study by American intelligence agencies, “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World,” covers the global landscape, including a significant section on terrorism and al Qaeda.

According to the Global Trends report, “As long as turmoil and societal disruptions, generated by resource scarcities, poor governance, ethnic rivalries, or environmental degradation, increase in the Middle East, conditions will remain conducive to the spread of radicalism and insurgencies.” But it goes on to say this:

Al-Qa’ida’s weaknesses-unachievable strategic objectives, inability to attract broad-based support, and self-destructive actions-might cause it to decay sooner than many people think… Despite sympathy for some of its ideas and the rise of affiliated groups in places like the Mahgreb, al-Qa’ida has not achieved broad support in the Islamic World. Its harsh pan-Islamist ideology and policies appeal only to a tiny minority of Muslims.

According to one study of public attitudes toward extremist violence, there is little support for al-Qa’ida in any of the countries surveyed-Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. The report also found that majorities in all Arab countries oppose jihadi violence, by any group, on their own soil.

Al-Qa’ida is alienating former Muslim supporters by killing Muslims in its attacks…

The roughly 40-year cycle of terrorist waves suggests that the dreams that inspire terrorist group members’ fathers to join particular groups are not attractive to succeeding generations. The prospect that al-Qa’ida will be among the small number of groups able to transcend the generational timeline is not high, given its harsh ideology, unachievable strategic objectives, and inability to become a mass movement.

In relying almost exclusively on terrorism as a means to achieve its strategic objectives … al-Qa’ida is using a stratagem that rarely is successful… support for terrorist networks in the Muslim world appears to be declining. To succeed, terrorist groups need a large number of passive supporters who sympathize with terrorists’ objectives. Reducing those numbers is key to lessening the appeal within societies. Analysis of terrorists’ communications among themselves indicates they see themselves in a “losing” battle with Western materialistic values. Surveys and analysis of jihadist websites indicate growing popular dissatisfaction with civilian casualties-particularly of fellow Muslims-caused by terrorist actions.

While conceding that the global Islamic terrorist movement will outlast al Qaeda as a group, Mathew J. Burrows, head of long-range analysis in the office of the director of national intelligence and the report’s lead author, says, “The appeal of terrorism is waning.”

This is something some of us have been writing about for a while now, given that it is among the most important and under-reported developments in recent years. The U.S. has made tremendous progress in what was the core commitment of the Bush presidency: to confront and eventually defeat global jihadists. And that progress has occurred during, and in important respects because of, the Iraq war.

Not all that long ago, it was the overwhelming consensus of foreign policy experts that the Iraq war was a massive strategic mistake, that it had served as the greatest recruiting mechanism for jihadists possible, and that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were much stronger because of the enormous errors of the Bush Administration.

This view was embodied in the words of Peter Bergen, an author and CNN terrorism expert. In October 2007, he wrote a lead article for the New Republic, entitled “War of Error: How Osama bin Laden Beat George W. Bush.” In it, Bergen wrote,

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.

It turns out Bergen, and most of the national security establishment, was exactly wrong. It is true, of course, that the repudiation of al Qaeda has been driven in large measure by its own savagery. But it is just as true that America’s relentless pressure on al Qaeda and the global jihadist network has taken a terrible toll on them. The “Anbar Awakening” is a perfect example. It was an organic Sunni uprising against al Qaeda which received decisive assistance from the United States. And if we had followed the counsel of most people in opposing the “surge” and prematurely withdrawing from Iraq, it would have led to the most important victory for jihadists in their history. Its consequences would have been catastrophic.

The way to win the “war of ideas” against al Qaeda and global jihadists has always been to win the actual war itself, to defeat them on the battlefield of their own choosing. For a movement which felt it had God’s mandate, which depended on the appearance of strength, and which fed off the appearance of American weakness, the Iraq war was pivotal. And there is now no question that al Qaeda has been decimated in Iraq, and that defeat has had radiating consequences throughout the world.

We ought not make the mistake of Bergen and others by making premature (and in his case, massively ill-informed) judgments. The struggle against al Qaeda and militant Islam is not over. We face a difficult task in (among other places) Afghanistan and Pakistan. But it is fair to say that as the Bush presidency comes to a close, America is in much stronger shape than bin Laden and al Qaeda. The appeal of bin Ladenism is waning — and if you had predicted such a thing in the days immediately after 9/11, you would have said that George W. Bush would succeed in achieving the fundamental purpose of his presidency. And in fact, he has.

A new study by American intelligence agencies, “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World,” covers the global landscape, including a significant section on terrorism and al Qaeda.

According to the Global Trends report, “As long as turmoil and societal disruptions, generated by resource scarcities, poor governance, ethnic rivalries, or environmental degradation, increase in the Middle East, conditions will remain conducive to the spread of radicalism and insurgencies.” But it goes on to say this:

Al-Qa’ida’s weaknesses-unachievable strategic objectives, inability to attract broad-based support, and self-destructive actions-might cause it to decay sooner than many people think… Despite sympathy for some of its ideas and the rise of affiliated groups in places like the Mahgreb, al-Qa’ida has not achieved broad support in the Islamic World. Its harsh pan-Islamist ideology and policies appeal only to a tiny minority of Muslims.

According to one study of public attitudes toward extremist violence, there is little support for al-Qa’ida in any of the countries surveyed-Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. The report also found that majorities in all Arab countries oppose jihadi violence, by any group, on their own soil.

Al-Qa’ida is alienating former Muslim supporters by killing Muslims in its attacks…

The roughly 40-year cycle of terrorist waves suggests that the dreams that inspire terrorist group members’ fathers to join particular groups are not attractive to succeeding generations. The prospect that al-Qa’ida will be among the small number of groups able to transcend the generational timeline is not high, given its harsh ideology, unachievable strategic objectives, and inability to become a mass movement.

In relying almost exclusively on terrorism as a means to achieve its strategic objectives … al-Qa’ida is using a stratagem that rarely is successful… support for terrorist networks in the Muslim world appears to be declining. To succeed, terrorist groups need a large number of passive supporters who sympathize with terrorists’ objectives. Reducing those numbers is key to lessening the appeal within societies. Analysis of terrorists’ communications among themselves indicates they see themselves in a “losing” battle with Western materialistic values. Surveys and analysis of jihadist websites indicate growing popular dissatisfaction with civilian casualties-particularly of fellow Muslims-caused by terrorist actions.

While conceding that the global Islamic terrorist movement will outlast al Qaeda as a group, Mathew J. Burrows, head of long-range analysis in the office of the director of national intelligence and the report’s lead author, says, “The appeal of terrorism is waning.”

This is something some of us have been writing about for a while now, given that it is among the most important and under-reported developments in recent years. The U.S. has made tremendous progress in what was the core commitment of the Bush presidency: to confront and eventually defeat global jihadists. And that progress has occurred during, and in important respects because of, the Iraq war.

Not all that long ago, it was the overwhelming consensus of foreign policy experts that the Iraq war was a massive strategic mistake, that it had served as the greatest recruiting mechanism for jihadists possible, and that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were much stronger because of the enormous errors of the Bush Administration.

This view was embodied in the words of Peter Bergen, an author and CNN terrorism expert. In October 2007, he wrote a lead article for the New Republic, entitled “War of Error: How Osama bin Laden Beat George W. Bush.” In it, Bergen wrote,

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.

It turns out Bergen, and most of the national security establishment, was exactly wrong. It is true, of course, that the repudiation of al Qaeda has been driven in large measure by its own savagery. But it is just as true that America’s relentless pressure on al Qaeda and the global jihadist network has taken a terrible toll on them. The “Anbar Awakening” is a perfect example. It was an organic Sunni uprising against al Qaeda which received decisive assistance from the United States. And if we had followed the counsel of most people in opposing the “surge” and prematurely withdrawing from Iraq, it would have led to the most important victory for jihadists in their history. Its consequences would have been catastrophic.

The way to win the “war of ideas” against al Qaeda and global jihadists has always been to win the actual war itself, to defeat them on the battlefield of their own choosing. For a movement which felt it had God’s mandate, which depended on the appearance of strength, and which fed off the appearance of American weakness, the Iraq war was pivotal. And there is now no question that al Qaeda has been decimated in Iraq, and that defeat has had radiating consequences throughout the world.

We ought not make the mistake of Bergen and others by making premature (and in his case, massively ill-informed) judgments. The struggle against al Qaeda and militant Islam is not over. We face a difficult task in (among other places) Afghanistan and Pakistan. But it is fair to say that as the Bush presidency comes to a close, America is in much stronger shape than bin Laden and al Qaeda. The appeal of bin Ladenism is waning — and if you had predicted such a thing in the days immediately after 9/11, you would have said that George W. Bush would succeed in achieving the fundamental purpose of his presidency. And in fact, he has.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

With the presidential election wrapped up, no need to keep up church attendance. But gym time is a must. I don’t suppose the press will give President Obama a hard time about his fitness regime the way they mocked President Bush. Now, it’s a smart and needed respite from the pressures of high office.

The Gray Lady provides this contorted explanation of the President elect’s plans to leave the Bush tax cuts in place: “Mr. Obama would not be open to the charge from Republicans and other critics that he is raising taxes in a recession [Wait -- wouldn't he be in fact raising taxes and not just "open to the charge"?], which many believe is counterproductive. His Republican presidential rival, Senator John McCain of Arizona, had raised that argument during the campaign. ” Okay, the translation: Obama is conceding McCain’s central point that it is economic madness to raise taxes in a recession.

A useful recap of the Marc Rich affair. Interestingly, at the time, Eric Holder believed that it had ended his public career. What he didn’t appreciate was the public amnesia and the MSM’s willingness to protect their dream-come-true President.

The “Secretary of Bailouts“? Ouch. The Wall Street Journal  editors comment on the Tim Geithner’s nomination: “Having been present at the creation of the current mess, he can help clean it up by avoiding some of the same mistakes.”

If the President-elect tapped Hillary Clinton to be challenged and get savvy national security advice, what is Joe Biden going to do? It is hard to ignore the conclusion that Biden’s stock has fallen. (His performance on the campaign trail was hardly a confidence-builder.) And where is Biden –in a secure, undisclosed location?

If you change the first word to “all,” this would be an accurate description of MSNBC: “None of our hosts have to fall into the category of flag-wavers for Obama.” As is, the quote is unintentionally hilarious.

Victor Davis Hanson masterfully describes the plight of California: “We did not invest in many dams, canals, rails, and airports (though we use them all to excess); we sued each other rather than planned; wrote impact statements rather than left behind infrastructure; we redistributed, indulged, blamed, and so managed all at once to create a state with about the highest income and sales taxes and the worst schools, roads, hospitals, and airports.” Read the whole thing. And hope California also has lost its status as a trailblazer for the nation.

The thwarted purchaser of Wachovia is now itself a bailout recipient. The trick in getting help from Washington appears to be showing up in front of Congress only after you have gotten the cash. If you show up beforehand, people will want to know why the taxpayers are giving mismanaged businesses billions without any hope of getting their money back.

Now that George W. Bush is leaving, it is safe for the MSM once again to tout promotion of democracy abroad – what they used to be in favor of, when Democrats were in the White House.

With the presidential election wrapped up, no need to keep up church attendance. But gym time is a must. I don’t suppose the press will give President Obama a hard time about his fitness regime the way they mocked President Bush. Now, it’s a smart and needed respite from the pressures of high office.

The Gray Lady provides this contorted explanation of the President elect’s plans to leave the Bush tax cuts in place: “Mr. Obama would not be open to the charge from Republicans and other critics that he is raising taxes in a recession [Wait -- wouldn't he be in fact raising taxes and not just "open to the charge"?], which many believe is counterproductive. His Republican presidential rival, Senator John McCain of Arizona, had raised that argument during the campaign. ” Okay, the translation: Obama is conceding McCain’s central point that it is economic madness to raise taxes in a recession.

A useful recap of the Marc Rich affair. Interestingly, at the time, Eric Holder believed that it had ended his public career. What he didn’t appreciate was the public amnesia and the MSM’s willingness to protect their dream-come-true President.

The “Secretary of Bailouts“? Ouch. The Wall Street Journal  editors comment on the Tim Geithner’s nomination: “Having been present at the creation of the current mess, he can help clean it up by avoiding some of the same mistakes.”

If the President-elect tapped Hillary Clinton to be challenged and get savvy national security advice, what is Joe Biden going to do? It is hard to ignore the conclusion that Biden’s stock has fallen. (His performance on the campaign trail was hardly a confidence-builder.) And where is Biden –in a secure, undisclosed location?

If you change the first word to “all,” this would be an accurate description of MSNBC: “None of our hosts have to fall into the category of flag-wavers for Obama.” As is, the quote is unintentionally hilarious.

Victor Davis Hanson masterfully describes the plight of California: “We did not invest in many dams, canals, rails, and airports (though we use them all to excess); we sued each other rather than planned; wrote impact statements rather than left behind infrastructure; we redistributed, indulged, blamed, and so managed all at once to create a state with about the highest income and sales taxes and the worst schools, roads, hospitals, and airports.” Read the whole thing. And hope California also has lost its status as a trailblazer for the nation.

The thwarted purchaser of Wachovia is now itself a bailout recipient. The trick in getting help from Washington appears to be showing up in front of Congress only after you have gotten the cash. If you show up beforehand, people will want to know why the taxpayers are giving mismanaged businesses billions without any hope of getting their money back.

Now that George W. Bush is leaving, it is safe for the MSM once again to tout promotion of democracy abroad – what they used to be in favor of, when Democrats were in the White House.

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What’s In A Word?

Of all the atrocities committed during the Israeli-Palestinian (and, by extension, the Israeli-Arab) conflict, some of the worst have been committed against language. Words and phrases with clear, long-established definitions have been twisted and perverted into whole new meanings — and worse, no one seems to want to point that out.

For example, “cease-fire.” In most cases, this means that two conflicting sides both stop shooting. In this case, it means that Israel stops shooting back. In the current “cease-fire,” rockets and mortar shells are fired daily from the Gaza Strip into Israel, yet it is only when Israel shoots back that the “fragile cease-fire is threatened.”

Another such phrase is “good faith gesture.” This is usually a part of troubled negotiations, when one side takes the first step and offers the first concession. Usually, this is done by the side that has shown bad faith in the past.

Here, it means “Israel is releasing more prisoners.”  This is a standard part of the ever-pointless cycle of negotiations; it will not be greeted as an actual good-faith gesture, it will not be reciprocated, and it will not advance matters one whit towards an actual peace agreement.

And, of course, there is the ever-popular redefinition of terms like “genocide” and “Holocaust.” Those are often tossed around to describe Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, most often in a truly dazzling display of linguistic jiu-jitsu: downplaying or outright denying the actual Holocaust while appropriating the term for use against the Israelis. This would have to be the first “genocide” or “holocaust” that resulted in a sustained increase in population among the targeted populace.

This may be why the peace process has been so bogged down for all this time. They have to spend all their time rewriting the language, and never get around actually to discussing the issues.

Of all the atrocities committed during the Israeli-Palestinian (and, by extension, the Israeli-Arab) conflict, some of the worst have been committed against language. Words and phrases with clear, long-established definitions have been twisted and perverted into whole new meanings — and worse, no one seems to want to point that out.

For example, “cease-fire.” In most cases, this means that two conflicting sides both stop shooting. In this case, it means that Israel stops shooting back. In the current “cease-fire,” rockets and mortar shells are fired daily from the Gaza Strip into Israel, yet it is only when Israel shoots back that the “fragile cease-fire is threatened.”

Another such phrase is “good faith gesture.” This is usually a part of troubled negotiations, when one side takes the first step and offers the first concession. Usually, this is done by the side that has shown bad faith in the past.

Here, it means “Israel is releasing more prisoners.”  This is a standard part of the ever-pointless cycle of negotiations; it will not be greeted as an actual good-faith gesture, it will not be reciprocated, and it will not advance matters one whit towards an actual peace agreement.

And, of course, there is the ever-popular redefinition of terms like “genocide” and “Holocaust.” Those are often tossed around to describe Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, most often in a truly dazzling display of linguistic jiu-jitsu: downplaying or outright denying the actual Holocaust while appropriating the term for use against the Israelis. This would have to be the first “genocide” or “holocaust” that resulted in a sustained increase in population among the targeted populace.

This may be why the peace process has been so bogged down for all this time. They have to spend all their time rewriting the language, and never get around actually to discussing the issues.

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The Forgotten Achievement

Michael Barone recognizes some of the foreign policy achievements of George W. Bush’s presidency:

He liberated Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and, after an agonizingly long period of muddle, seems to have achieved success — the establishment of a stable and at least somewhat democratic and friendly government in the heart of the Middle East.

He set in motion an astonishingly generous program to combat AIDS and an effective foreign aid program in Africa. Building on the work of the Clinton administration, he has established close ties that amount to something like an alliance with a rapidly growing India. Our relations with most European nations, with Pacific allies like Japan and Australia, and with the Latin American giants Brazil and Mexico are good, for all the carping of their chattering classes.

Barone recognizes the shortcomings as well (e.g. misjudging Putin, the failure to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions), but the Bush foreign policy legacy is not the picture of horror the Left would like us to remember.

There is, however, one item not on this list of accomplishments. It is one easily omitted (I frequently do so myself and am routinely reminded as such by colleagues who worked in the Bush Administration): we were not attacked on U.S. soil after 2001. That is remarkable, and was beyond our expectations at the time of the 9/11 attacks. There are serious debates about the policy choices which the Bush administration made in the war on terror. We can argue about whether other choices and a different approach with Congress would have, in retrospect, been preferable. But the fact remains: our intelligence community and national security officials foiled plot after plot and kept the homeland safe.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey reminded us of this in his (unfortunately interrupted) speech last week. He predicted that there will be more continuity than critics imagine in the next administration with regard to homeland security policy. We will see how than pans out. But for now, as Americans, including many conservatives, are bemoaning the legacy of the Bush presidency (and in particular his domestic record), we should remember that his greatest achievement may have been what did not occur. And unfortunately for President Bush, that is why it is easily forgotten.

Michael Barone recognizes some of the foreign policy achievements of George W. Bush’s presidency:

He liberated Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and, after an agonizingly long period of muddle, seems to have achieved success — the establishment of a stable and at least somewhat democratic and friendly government in the heart of the Middle East.

He set in motion an astonishingly generous program to combat AIDS and an effective foreign aid program in Africa. Building on the work of the Clinton administration, he has established close ties that amount to something like an alliance with a rapidly growing India. Our relations with most European nations, with Pacific allies like Japan and Australia, and with the Latin American giants Brazil and Mexico are good, for all the carping of their chattering classes.

Barone recognizes the shortcomings as well (e.g. misjudging Putin, the failure to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions), but the Bush foreign policy legacy is not the picture of horror the Left would like us to remember.

There is, however, one item not on this list of accomplishments. It is one easily omitted (I frequently do so myself and am routinely reminded as such by colleagues who worked in the Bush Administration): we were not attacked on U.S. soil after 2001. That is remarkable, and was beyond our expectations at the time of the 9/11 attacks. There are serious debates about the policy choices which the Bush administration made in the war on terror. We can argue about whether other choices and a different approach with Congress would have, in retrospect, been preferable. But the fact remains: our intelligence community and national security officials foiled plot after plot and kept the homeland safe.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey reminded us of this in his (unfortunately interrupted) speech last week. He predicted that there will be more continuity than critics imagine in the next administration with regard to homeland security policy. We will see how than pans out. But for now, as Americans, including many conservatives, are bemoaning the legacy of the Bush presidency (and in particular his domestic record), we should remember that his greatest achievement may have been what did not occur. And unfortunately for President Bush, that is why it is easily forgotten.

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