Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 21, 2008

The Heck With Elections – They Cost Money!

Donna Brazile brought on howls of derision from George Will and Sam Donaldson on ABC’s This Week for her suggesting that Illinois Democrats didn’t want to hold a special election for the open senate seat simply because it was expensive. Yes, democracy and elections do cost money. But of course the real reason for denying Illinois its second senator in a timely fashion is that it raises the possibility of a Republican win. And that simply won’t do for Brazile and her fellow Democrats.

Over time Brazile’s contempt for democracy may become more than a joke. As Blago’s impeachment proceeding drags on and on, the drumbeat will continue: why won’t the Democrats let Illinois voters pick a Senator? And it places the Obama administration in a sticky spot. How long can they simply defer to the party bosses in the President-elect’s former state? At some point it becomes painfully obvious that Obama is (once again), deferring to the party machine rather than insisting on real reform and that famed “bottom up” democracy.

Republicans in Congress can certainly offer to “help” by offering federal funds — ’tis the season for bailouts after all — for federal elections in 2009. And Republicans will continue to press the point that once again the Illinois Democratic machine talks a good game but never cleans up its act.

Coupled with the shenanigans in Delaware and New York, it is quite a splash of cold water in the faces of those expecting something more changey in the era of Obama. As Rich Lowry noted,”If the recent Senate maneuverings are any indication, the ‘new politics’ of the Obama Democrats is convenient cover while they take care of their own as the powerful have always done down through the ages.” We’ll see in the weeks and months ahead whether voters share Brazile’s disdain for elections. Unfortunately for the Illinois Democrats, they’ll be no getting around the one in 2010.

Donna Brazile brought on howls of derision from George Will and Sam Donaldson on ABC’s This Week for her suggesting that Illinois Democrats didn’t want to hold a special election for the open senate seat simply because it was expensive. Yes, democracy and elections do cost money. But of course the real reason for denying Illinois its second senator in a timely fashion is that it raises the possibility of a Republican win. And that simply won’t do for Brazile and her fellow Democrats.

Over time Brazile’s contempt for democracy may become more than a joke. As Blago’s impeachment proceeding drags on and on, the drumbeat will continue: why won’t the Democrats let Illinois voters pick a Senator? And it places the Obama administration in a sticky spot. How long can they simply defer to the party bosses in the President-elect’s former state? At some point it becomes painfully obvious that Obama is (once again), deferring to the party machine rather than insisting on real reform and that famed “bottom up” democracy.

Republicans in Congress can certainly offer to “help” by offering federal funds — ’tis the season for bailouts after all — for federal elections in 2009. And Republicans will continue to press the point that once again the Illinois Democratic machine talks a good game but never cleans up its act.

Coupled with the shenanigans in Delaware and New York, it is quite a splash of cold water in the faces of those expecting something more changey in the era of Obama. As Rich Lowry noted,”If the recent Senate maneuverings are any indication, the ‘new politics’ of the Obama Democrats is convenient cover while they take care of their own as the powerful have always done down through the ages.” We’ll see in the weeks and months ahead whether voters share Brazile’s disdain for elections. Unfortunately for the Illinois Democrats, they’ll be no getting around the one in 2010.

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Preparing for the Last War

Generals and admirals, they say, always prepare for the last war. Why? One reason is that civilians urge them to do so.  For example, this morning, the New York Times, in a long editorial entitled “How to Pay for a 21st-Century Military,” urged the Obama administration to gut high-tech, big-ticket programs, like the F-22 fighter, the Zumwalt class destroyer, and the Virginia class submarine.  They are, the paper assures us, “costly and unneeded weapons.”  Moreover, the Pentagon should scale back the Navy by a carrier group and the Air Force by two air wings.

The premise is that the United States is not going to be fighting major conflicts in the foreseeable future.  Unfortunately, that’s an assumption we should not make.  After all, history teaches us to be wary: both World War II and Korea started for us with surprise attacks.

The Times also assumes that no big power is going to take us on.  Is that so?  China, with a rapidly modernizing military, wants Taiwan and islands belonging to others in its surrounding seas.  Moreover, it is configuring its military to fight us.  Moreover, a desperate North Korea continues to covet South Korea.  And is it really inconceivable that an aggressive Russia will try to grab more neighboring land?

As the Times points out, we need to win the two wars we are fighting.  But we also need to be able to fight and prevail in the conflicts that are already foreseeable.  Building Cold War-era weapons systems-that’s the way the Times generally characterizes them-are expensive, but they are not nearly as costly as fighting the next major war.  We may have to do that if our adversaries think, due to the degradation of our capabilities, they might prevail.  This is blindingly obvious-except to the New York Times and all the others who think major war is a thing of the past.

Generals and admirals, they say, always prepare for the last war. Why? One reason is that civilians urge them to do so.  For example, this morning, the New York Times, in a long editorial entitled “How to Pay for a 21st-Century Military,” urged the Obama administration to gut high-tech, big-ticket programs, like the F-22 fighter, the Zumwalt class destroyer, and the Virginia class submarine.  They are, the paper assures us, “costly and unneeded weapons.”  Moreover, the Pentagon should scale back the Navy by a carrier group and the Air Force by two air wings.

The premise is that the United States is not going to be fighting major conflicts in the foreseeable future.  Unfortunately, that’s an assumption we should not make.  After all, history teaches us to be wary: both World War II and Korea started for us with surprise attacks.

The Times also assumes that no big power is going to take us on.  Is that so?  China, with a rapidly modernizing military, wants Taiwan and islands belonging to others in its surrounding seas.  Moreover, it is configuring its military to fight us.  Moreover, a desperate North Korea continues to covet South Korea.  And is it really inconceivable that an aggressive Russia will try to grab more neighboring land?

As the Times points out, we need to win the two wars we are fighting.  But we also need to be able to fight and prevail in the conflicts that are already foreseeable.  Building Cold War-era weapons systems-that’s the way the Times generally characterizes them-are expensive, but they are not nearly as costly as fighting the next major war.  We may have to do that if our adversaries think, due to the degradation of our capabilities, they might prevail.  This is blindingly obvious-except to the New York Times and all the others who think major war is a thing of the past.

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In Honor of Conor Cruise O’Brien

The New York Times ran a long obituary Saturday for Conor Cruise O’Brien, who died Thursday at the age of 91, recognizing him as a distinguished Irish diplomat, politician, educator, historian, man of letters and public intellectual and noting that he wrote many books, mentioning nine of them by name.

But the Times, as Marty Peretz has observed, managed to omit any reference to what was perhaps O’Brien’s finest book:  “The Siege:  The Saga of Israel and Zionism” – published in 1986 and still, 22 years later, one of the finest books ever written about Israel.

How did such a book come to be written by an Irish author?  In the Prologue to the book, O’Brien recounted that he had represented Ireland at the UN for five years during the mid-1950s, and found himself – since the delegates were seated alphabetically – between the delegate of Iraq on his left and the delegate of Israel on his right.  For five years, he sat through the annual debate on “The Palestine Refugees” – a “bitter, sterile and static debate, taken up in the main by heated attacks on Israel by every Arab delegation.”

My own contribution to the debate . . . was emollient and “balanced”; something in it for both sides, but not much.  As I came out of the debating chamber after my first intervention on this item, I met a friend, an American newspaperwoman.  She asked me how my speech had gone over.  I told her I had been thanked by both my neighbors, the delegates of Iraq and Israel.

“Christ!” she said.  “Was it as bad as that?”

Over time, he struck up a friendship with both his adjoining delegates.  He recounted this vignette of a moment during a particularly bad speech by Adlai Stevenson, denying any American involvement in the Bay of Pigs:

While this performance dragged on, Gideon Rafael [of Israel], in the chair beside me on my right, was doodling on his pad, his face impassive.  The Caribbean is not a region of the highest priority for Israel.  When the time came, Gideon would cast his vote with the United States, keeping his personal opinion about the Bay of Pigs to himself.

Adlai’s peroration was even more embarrassing than the rest of his speech.  “I have told you,” he said, “of Castro’s crimes against man.  But there is even worse:  the record of Castro’s crimes against God.”

Several delegates looked faintly sick.

“Fidel Castro has” – Adlai here turned his page and peered at the new one – “Castro has . . . circumcised the freedoms of the Catholics of Cuba . . .”

Gideon looked up sharply and turned to me.  “I always knew,” he said, “that we should be blamed for this, sooner or later.”

His relationship with the Iraqi delegate resulted in many conversations during 1956 and 1957, at a time when there were some pro-Western circles in the Iraqi government.  But after the Iraqi revolution of July 14, 1958, his Iraqi friend did not return to the General Assembly:

Rather naively, no doubt, in the circumstances, I asked my new neighbor, the head of the new Iraqi delegation on the committee, whether he had any news of his predecessor.  Without moving a muscle, and with his gaze firmly directed into space, my new neighbor pronounced the single word:  “Hanged!”

It was the only word he ever addressed to me, if it was addressed to me.

After he left the UN in 1961, O’Brien did not pay much attention to the Middle East, but in 1981, after he retired as editor in chief of The Observer, he decided to go to the region “and have a look for myself and form my own opinions, without undue deference to the opinions of specialists, or any deference at all to collegiate opinions.”

The following year, he decided write a short “current affairs” book about the area, but as he studied and read, the book evolved in ways he did not foresee.  He put together a masterpiece of meticulous research and beautiful writing that is much more than a popular history.  In his Prologue, he wrote that:

The story I tell is a true story, told with due respect to chronology – master of all things – without invention, or propagandist intent, or added color:  there is color enough there, in the material, without need of addition.

The first sentence in the first chapter of his book was “Does Israel have a right to exist?” and the last sentence, 661 pages later, noted that while there was a momentary abatement in violence in view, “What is not in sight is an end to the siege.”  Twenty-two years later, the siege continues, and the book he wrote is still relevant and revelatory.

The New York Times ran a long obituary Saturday for Conor Cruise O’Brien, who died Thursday at the age of 91, recognizing him as a distinguished Irish diplomat, politician, educator, historian, man of letters and public intellectual and noting that he wrote many books, mentioning nine of them by name.

But the Times, as Marty Peretz has observed, managed to omit any reference to what was perhaps O’Brien’s finest book:  “The Siege:  The Saga of Israel and Zionism” – published in 1986 and still, 22 years later, one of the finest books ever written about Israel.

How did such a book come to be written by an Irish author?  In the Prologue to the book, O’Brien recounted that he had represented Ireland at the UN for five years during the mid-1950s, and found himself – since the delegates were seated alphabetically – between the delegate of Iraq on his left and the delegate of Israel on his right.  For five years, he sat through the annual debate on “The Palestine Refugees” – a “bitter, sterile and static debate, taken up in the main by heated attacks on Israel by every Arab delegation.”

My own contribution to the debate . . . was emollient and “balanced”; something in it for both sides, but not much.  As I came out of the debating chamber after my first intervention on this item, I met a friend, an American newspaperwoman.  She asked me how my speech had gone over.  I told her I had been thanked by both my neighbors, the delegates of Iraq and Israel.

“Christ!” she said.  “Was it as bad as that?”

Over time, he struck up a friendship with both his adjoining delegates.  He recounted this vignette of a moment during a particularly bad speech by Adlai Stevenson, denying any American involvement in the Bay of Pigs:

While this performance dragged on, Gideon Rafael [of Israel], in the chair beside me on my right, was doodling on his pad, his face impassive.  The Caribbean is not a region of the highest priority for Israel.  When the time came, Gideon would cast his vote with the United States, keeping his personal opinion about the Bay of Pigs to himself.

Adlai’s peroration was even more embarrassing than the rest of his speech.  “I have told you,” he said, “of Castro’s crimes against man.  But there is even worse:  the record of Castro’s crimes against God.”

Several delegates looked faintly sick.

“Fidel Castro has” – Adlai here turned his page and peered at the new one – “Castro has . . . circumcised the freedoms of the Catholics of Cuba . . .”

Gideon looked up sharply and turned to me.  “I always knew,” he said, “that we should be blamed for this, sooner or later.”

His relationship with the Iraqi delegate resulted in many conversations during 1956 and 1957, at a time when there were some pro-Western circles in the Iraqi government.  But after the Iraqi revolution of July 14, 1958, his Iraqi friend did not return to the General Assembly:

Rather naively, no doubt, in the circumstances, I asked my new neighbor, the head of the new Iraqi delegation on the committee, whether he had any news of his predecessor.  Without moving a muscle, and with his gaze firmly directed into space, my new neighbor pronounced the single word:  “Hanged!”

It was the only word he ever addressed to me, if it was addressed to me.

After he left the UN in 1961, O’Brien did not pay much attention to the Middle East, but in 1981, after he retired as editor in chief of The Observer, he decided to go to the region “and have a look for myself and form my own opinions, without undue deference to the opinions of specialists, or any deference at all to collegiate opinions.”

The following year, he decided write a short “current affairs” book about the area, but as he studied and read, the book evolved in ways he did not foresee.  He put together a masterpiece of meticulous research and beautiful writing that is much more than a popular history.  In his Prologue, he wrote that:

The story I tell is a true story, told with due respect to chronology – master of all things – without invention, or propagandist intent, or added color:  there is color enough there, in the material, without need of addition.

The first sentence in the first chapter of his book was “Does Israel have a right to exist?” and the last sentence, 661 pages later, noted that while there was a momentary abatement in violence in view, “What is not in sight is an end to the siege.”  Twenty-two years later, the siege continues, and the book he wrote is still relevant and revelatory.

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The Power of the Purse

George Will excoriates President Bush for his unauthorized use of TARP funds on the auto industry. Lost in the holiday shuffle and hollering from the Right has been any adequate discussion of the decision’s legality. Will writes:

On Friday the president gave the two automakers access to money Congress explicitly did not authorize. More money — up to $17.4 billion — than had been debated, thereby calling to mind Winston Churchill on naval appropriations: “The Admiralty had demanded six ships: the economists offered four: and we finally compromised on eight.”

The president is dispensing money from the $700 billion Congress provided for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The unfounded assertion of a right to do this is notably brazen, given the indisputable fact that if Congress had known that TARP — supposedly a measure for scouring “toxic” assets from financial institutions — was to become an instrument for unconstrained industrial policy, it would not have been passed.

And it’s more brazen than that, of course. President Bush himself for weeks asserted that he hadn’t the authority to spend TARP funds on an industrial firm’s bailout. Will sees this as part of a larger Bush pattern of aggrandizement of power in the executive branch, largely in the realm of national security.

Regardless of legitimate disputes regarding the extent of the commander-in-chief’s powers in wartime, it is hard to argue that the power to appropriate billions for a new domestic venture (propping up car companies) doesn’t entirely reside in Congress.  There is nothing in the powers, purpose, and definitions set out in the TARP statutory language that remotely applies to loans to two failing car companies. (You don’t need to read all 451 pages to see that the car companies don’t meet the definition of “financial institutions.”) It is a blatant bait-and-switch, transforming a bill for purchasing “troubled assets” from financial institutions into a cash give away to car companies. (And for those getting into the weeds of TARP, the broad “considerations” sketched out in Section 103 do not constitute additional free-floating powers for the Treasury Secretary. They are just that — factors to be considered by the Treasury Secretary whose powers are circumscribed by “the authorities granted in this Act.”)

Will sums up:

With the automakers, however, executive branch overreaching now extends to the essence of domestic policy — spending — and traduces a core constitutional principle, the separation of powers.

Most members of the House and Senate want the automakers to get the money, so they probably are pleased that the administration has disregarded Congress’s institutional dignity. History, however, teaches that it is difficult for Congress to be only intermittently invertebrate.

It is unlikely given the time of year, the Republicans’ weakened condition, and the dawning of a new administration that any brave soul in Congress would attempt a legal challenge to the usurpation of the legislative branch’s spending power. But it would be nice to know that someone still cares about such things. In the past, executive attempts to grab power in the form of the line item veto and “impoundment” of budgeted funds were defeated in court actions. But there is nary a voice now to confront  even an egregious usurpation of Congressional authority (i.e. Congress refuses to pass authorizing legislation the President says is needed, so the President spends the money anyway). It’s a shame — some day Congressmen may regret that they did not defend their power of the purse.

George Will excoriates President Bush for his unauthorized use of TARP funds on the auto industry. Lost in the holiday shuffle and hollering from the Right has been any adequate discussion of the decision’s legality. Will writes:

On Friday the president gave the two automakers access to money Congress explicitly did not authorize. More money — up to $17.4 billion — than had been debated, thereby calling to mind Winston Churchill on naval appropriations: “The Admiralty had demanded six ships: the economists offered four: and we finally compromised on eight.”

The president is dispensing money from the $700 billion Congress provided for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The unfounded assertion of a right to do this is notably brazen, given the indisputable fact that if Congress had known that TARP — supposedly a measure for scouring “toxic” assets from financial institutions — was to become an instrument for unconstrained industrial policy, it would not have been passed.

And it’s more brazen than that, of course. President Bush himself for weeks asserted that he hadn’t the authority to spend TARP funds on an industrial firm’s bailout. Will sees this as part of a larger Bush pattern of aggrandizement of power in the executive branch, largely in the realm of national security.

Regardless of legitimate disputes regarding the extent of the commander-in-chief’s powers in wartime, it is hard to argue that the power to appropriate billions for a new domestic venture (propping up car companies) doesn’t entirely reside in Congress.  There is nothing in the powers, purpose, and definitions set out in the TARP statutory language that remotely applies to loans to two failing car companies. (You don’t need to read all 451 pages to see that the car companies don’t meet the definition of “financial institutions.”) It is a blatant bait-and-switch, transforming a bill for purchasing “troubled assets” from financial institutions into a cash give away to car companies. (And for those getting into the weeds of TARP, the broad “considerations” sketched out in Section 103 do not constitute additional free-floating powers for the Treasury Secretary. They are just that — factors to be considered by the Treasury Secretary whose powers are circumscribed by “the authorities granted in this Act.”)

Will sums up:

With the automakers, however, executive branch overreaching now extends to the essence of domestic policy — spending — and traduces a core constitutional principle, the separation of powers.

Most members of the House and Senate want the automakers to get the money, so they probably are pleased that the administration has disregarded Congress’s institutional dignity. History, however, teaches that it is difficult for Congress to be only intermittently invertebrate.

It is unlikely given the time of year, the Republicans’ weakened condition, and the dawning of a new administration that any brave soul in Congress would attempt a legal challenge to the usurpation of the legislative branch’s spending power. But it would be nice to know that someone still cares about such things. In the past, executive attempts to grab power in the form of the line item veto and “impoundment” of budgeted funds were defeated in court actions. But there is nary a voice now to confront  even an egregious usurpation of Congressional authority (i.e. Congress refuses to pass authorizing legislation the President says is needed, so the President spends the money anyway). It’s a shame — some day Congressmen may regret that they did not defend their power of the purse.

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The Hamas-Mumbai Connection

Just in case you were wondering whether it’s time to talk to Hamas, Powerline recently picked up a report
from Dan Diker of the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs, who quotes a Palestinian Authority official who told him that Hamas recently received a 2 million dollar donation from Lashkar e Taibe, the Pakistani terrorist group behind the Mumbai attack. Some of us, more than others, will find newsworthy this additional revelation of the international interconnectedness of jihadist terror. But it serves as a nice reminder as to who everybody is, and on which side — a reminder that is crucial as more an more people suggest that Israel or the U.S. hold direct talks with Hamas.

There are those who say: Terrorism is evil, wretched, and should be boycotted at every turn — every turn, that is, until the terrorists get a lot of power, or begin to look like sovereign states. At that point, the only way to deal with them is through talking. Power triumphs over principle, realpolitik trumps moral revulsion.

We can understand where this is coming from. After all, the Soviet Union was a very bad regime, and the West only defeated them through a combination of the soft walk and the big stick. But Hamas and Iran are much, much smaller creatures, and it seems that the bar for negotiation has been drastically lowered. Every time we legitimize such regimes through negotiation, we are overcoming an extremely important moral sensibility in ourselves, diluting it and weakening it. We are also drastically incentivizing the terrorists’ rise to power. The West used to say to its enemies: Stay small, below the radar, and we’ll mostly ignore you. Now it’s saying: Get yourself a piece of land and something that looks like an army, and the West will suddenly soften its posture.

Just in case you were wondering whether it’s time to talk to Hamas, Powerline recently picked up a report
from Dan Diker of the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs, who quotes a Palestinian Authority official who told him that Hamas recently received a 2 million dollar donation from Lashkar e Taibe, the Pakistani terrorist group behind the Mumbai attack. Some of us, more than others, will find newsworthy this additional revelation of the international interconnectedness of jihadist terror. But it serves as a nice reminder as to who everybody is, and on which side — a reminder that is crucial as more an more people suggest that Israel or the U.S. hold direct talks with Hamas.

There are those who say: Terrorism is evil, wretched, and should be boycotted at every turn — every turn, that is, until the terrorists get a lot of power, or begin to look like sovereign states. At that point, the only way to deal with them is through talking. Power triumphs over principle, realpolitik trumps moral revulsion.

We can understand where this is coming from. After all, the Soviet Union was a very bad regime, and the West only defeated them through a combination of the soft walk and the big stick. But Hamas and Iran are much, much smaller creatures, and it seems that the bar for negotiation has been drastically lowered. Every time we legitimize such regimes through negotiation, we are overcoming an extremely important moral sensibility in ourselves, diluting it and weakening it. We are also drastically incentivizing the terrorists’ rise to power. The West used to say to its enemies: Stay small, below the radar, and we’ll mostly ignore you. Now it’s saying: Get yourself a piece of land and something that looks like an army, and the West will suddenly soften its posture.

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Unsure if Bin Laden’s Alive

Today, Vice President Dick Cheney said in an interview on Fox News that he’s not sure whether or not Osama bin Laden is alive: “I don’t know and I’m guessing he is. We’ve had certain pieces of evidence become available from time to time, there’ll be a photograph released or something that allows the intelligence community to judge that he is still alive.”

This is the deliberately careful language of an administration with too many premature declarations on its record. After George W. Bush’s almost pre-war “mission accomplished” and Cheney’s own unfortunate declaration that the Iraqi insurgency was in its “last throes,” nothing short of bin Laden’s identifiable corpse could spur the announcement of his death.

This is why the Vice President’s “I don’t know and I’m guessing  . . .” carries considerable weight. It’s as far as he can risk going in a public statement, but there must be some reason behind his not simply saying, “yes.” If you’re not a member of a P.R.-traumatized administration, one compelling reason is easily identified, even without access to classified intelligence: since 2004, Osama bin Laden has not released a video in which he is seen discussing current events. Even the September 2007 “black beard” video, considered fresh evidence of his existence, freezes whenever the ranting turns to contemporary issues.

The most recent, and convincing, indication that Osama bin Laden is dead came when al Qaeda’s supposed number two, Ayman al Zawahiri released the group’s official message to President-elect Obama. If bin Laden were alive, he’d be isolated and operationally impotent, and his sole utility would exist in delivering just such a message. That it came instead from Zawahiri is monumental. And that Zawahiri has released a string of verifiable videos during the period of time in which bin Laden has not done so is deeply puzzling. How could al Qaeda’s number two have better equipment and a more reliable media channel than the world’s preeminent jihadist?

The Bush administration has been exceedingly inept at public relations. The President and Vice President’s habit of crowing prematurely is coupled by their inability to capitalize on, or even convey, positive developments in the war on terror. The issue of bin Laden’s death is one they will have to suck-up forever. And the American public is stuck reading between the lines indefinitely.

The parries and postures of the next administration are likely to provide little more than hints about the status of America’s number one enemy. If President Bush painted himself into a silent corner, Barack Obama has turned bin Laden’s capture into a political football.  Even if justice has been served, (and I think it has), Americans, particularly the families of the victims of 9/11, will never have closure on the matter.

Today, Vice President Dick Cheney said in an interview on Fox News that he’s not sure whether or not Osama bin Laden is alive: “I don’t know and I’m guessing he is. We’ve had certain pieces of evidence become available from time to time, there’ll be a photograph released or something that allows the intelligence community to judge that he is still alive.”

This is the deliberately careful language of an administration with too many premature declarations on its record. After George W. Bush’s almost pre-war “mission accomplished” and Cheney’s own unfortunate declaration that the Iraqi insurgency was in its “last throes,” nothing short of bin Laden’s identifiable corpse could spur the announcement of his death.

This is why the Vice President’s “I don’t know and I’m guessing  . . .” carries considerable weight. It’s as far as he can risk going in a public statement, but there must be some reason behind his not simply saying, “yes.” If you’re not a member of a P.R.-traumatized administration, one compelling reason is easily identified, even without access to classified intelligence: since 2004, Osama bin Laden has not released a video in which he is seen discussing current events. Even the September 2007 “black beard” video, considered fresh evidence of his existence, freezes whenever the ranting turns to contemporary issues.

The most recent, and convincing, indication that Osama bin Laden is dead came when al Qaeda’s supposed number two, Ayman al Zawahiri released the group’s official message to President-elect Obama. If bin Laden were alive, he’d be isolated and operationally impotent, and his sole utility would exist in delivering just such a message. That it came instead from Zawahiri is monumental. And that Zawahiri has released a string of verifiable videos during the period of time in which bin Laden has not done so is deeply puzzling. How could al Qaeda’s number two have better equipment and a more reliable media channel than the world’s preeminent jihadist?

The Bush administration has been exceedingly inept at public relations. The President and Vice President’s habit of crowing prematurely is coupled by their inability to capitalize on, or even convey, positive developments in the war on terror. The issue of bin Laden’s death is one they will have to suck-up forever. And the American public is stuck reading between the lines indefinitely.

The parries and postures of the next administration are likely to provide little more than hints about the status of America’s number one enemy. If President Bush painted himself into a silent corner, Barack Obama has turned bin Laden’s capture into a political football.  Even if justice has been served, (and I think it has), Americans, particularly the families of the victims of 9/11, will never have closure on the matter.

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Above Suspicion?

This week we have been promised the Obama transition team’s accounting of its contacts with Blagojevich. It is likely that Rahm Emanuel will be a prominent player. The latest press report explains:

Emanuel did contact the governor’s office about the appointment, and left Blagojevich with the impression that he was pushing Valerie Jarrett, a close Obama friend, so he wouldn’t have to compete with her in the White House for Obama’s attention, said a person close to Blagojevich. The person was not authorized to talk about the governor’s discussions regarding the vacancy and requested anonymity.

It was not clear whether Blagojevich inferred Emanuel’s motive for advocating Jarrett, or whether Emanuel discussed the appointment with Blagojevich directly or with John Harris, the governor’s then-chief of staff who also is charged in the case, according to the source.

The MSM’s Obama-defenders repeat ad nauseam, there is no evidence yet that Emanuel received or solicited what amounts to a bribe (e.g. a cabinet seat for Valerie Jarrett’s appointment to the Senate). But is that really the standard politically for a chief of staff? Let’s look at it differently. Suppose that the Blago criminal complaint and reports of twenty conversations with Emanuel had come out before the latter was formally selected as chief of staff. Under those circumstances would President-elect Obama have picked him? It seems unlikely he would have willingly taken on a distraction that may go on for weeks and months, if not longer, as Blago slowly sucks up every political bystander in his path. After all, President-elect Obama was not known during the campaign for sticking by allies when they got into hot water. (“X is not the X I knew” became the go-to refrain as he tossed each offender under the proverbial bus.)

For the chief of staff, like Caesar’s wife, the standard is to be above suspicion. But suspicion abounds in the Blago case. (Why was Emanuel dickering with Blago, who was known to be under investigation? Did Emanuel smell a rat and turn him in? And if not, isn’t that problematic?) U.S. Attorney Patrick Fiztgerald seems to think the  standard for public officials is not simply to do no wrong, but to tolerate no wrong:

Obama already has insisted that his aides did no bartering with Blagojevich to advance candidates for the appointment. But refusing the deal is only the first step to fighting corruption in a political culture that promotes it when others look the other way, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said earlier when announcing the charges against Blagojevich.

“We’re not going to end corruption in Illinois by arrests and indictments alone,” the prosecutor said. “What’s going to make the difference is when people who are approached to ‘pay to play’ first say no, and, second, report it.”

The full accounting of the transition team’s contacts and the Blago tapes themselves will reveal whether Emanuel is in any legal peril. But really, lack of criminal liability is an awfully low bar to hop over — especially in the age of New Politics. Throughout the campaign, Obama argued that we should expect much more of those in government. We’ll see how serious he was about that standard — and how much tolerance he has for distraction as he begins his presidency.

This week we have been promised the Obama transition team’s accounting of its contacts with Blagojevich. It is likely that Rahm Emanuel will be a prominent player. The latest press report explains:

Emanuel did contact the governor’s office about the appointment, and left Blagojevich with the impression that he was pushing Valerie Jarrett, a close Obama friend, so he wouldn’t have to compete with her in the White House for Obama’s attention, said a person close to Blagojevich. The person was not authorized to talk about the governor’s discussions regarding the vacancy and requested anonymity.

It was not clear whether Blagojevich inferred Emanuel’s motive for advocating Jarrett, or whether Emanuel discussed the appointment with Blagojevich directly or with John Harris, the governor’s then-chief of staff who also is charged in the case, according to the source.

The MSM’s Obama-defenders repeat ad nauseam, there is no evidence yet that Emanuel received or solicited what amounts to a bribe (e.g. a cabinet seat for Valerie Jarrett’s appointment to the Senate). But is that really the standard politically for a chief of staff? Let’s look at it differently. Suppose that the Blago criminal complaint and reports of twenty conversations with Emanuel had come out before the latter was formally selected as chief of staff. Under those circumstances would President-elect Obama have picked him? It seems unlikely he would have willingly taken on a distraction that may go on for weeks and months, if not longer, as Blago slowly sucks up every political bystander in his path. After all, President-elect Obama was not known during the campaign for sticking by allies when they got into hot water. (“X is not the X I knew” became the go-to refrain as he tossed each offender under the proverbial bus.)

For the chief of staff, like Caesar’s wife, the standard is to be above suspicion. But suspicion abounds in the Blago case. (Why was Emanuel dickering with Blago, who was known to be under investigation? Did Emanuel smell a rat and turn him in? And if not, isn’t that problematic?) U.S. Attorney Patrick Fiztgerald seems to think the  standard for public officials is not simply to do no wrong, but to tolerate no wrong:

Obama already has insisted that his aides did no bartering with Blagojevich to advance candidates for the appointment. But refusing the deal is only the first step to fighting corruption in a political culture that promotes it when others look the other way, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said earlier when announcing the charges against Blagojevich.

“We’re not going to end corruption in Illinois by arrests and indictments alone,” the prosecutor said. “What’s going to make the difference is when people who are approached to ‘pay to play’ first say no, and, second, report it.”

The full accounting of the transition team’s contacts and the Blago tapes themselves will reveal whether Emanuel is in any legal peril. But really, lack of criminal liability is an awfully low bar to hop over — especially in the age of New Politics. Throughout the campaign, Obama argued that we should expect much more of those in government. We’ll see how serious he was about that standard — and how much tolerance he has for distraction as he begins his presidency.

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It’s Grown-up Time

Both the pro-Obama New Republic and the Obama-skeptic Weekly Standard begin articles on Rick Warren’s inaugural invocation with the reminder that this is not Barack Obama’s first pastor problem. In Alan Wolfe’s New Republic piece, the headline is the only place Jeremiah Wright is mentioned. In the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol is more explicit throughout:

Until last week, the most important and most famous man of the cloth with whom Barack Obama was associated was the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, his longtime pastor from Chicago’s South Side. Today, that distinction belongs to the Reverend Rick Warren, best-selling evangelical author (The Purpose Driven Life) and pastor of Saddleback Church, thanks to Obama’s inviting him to deliver the invocation at the Inauguration. Talk about growing in office! Obama’s growing even before he assumes office.

Kristol believes that the Warren selection might be more than a matter of “smart politics”:

[T]he selection of Rick Warren may turn out to have significance beyond short-term political maneuvering. One can see this from the hysteria on the left and among gay activists. They sense that Obama isn’t willing to sign on to their campaign to delegitimize, to cast out beyond the pale of polite society, anyone who opposes same-sex marriage–and in particular, anyone (like Warren) who supported Proposition 8 in California, the initiative that overturned the California Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage.

Wolfe in TNR insists that the left-wing media’s focus on Obama’s  choice is upside down:

[T]he left has been focusing on Obama’s decision to offer, while the right has been focusing on Warren’s decision to accept. The right has it right… Warren’s decision to accept an invitation from a liberal president is as clear a symbol of the entry of evangelicals into mainstream culture as one can imagine. In the conservative Christian subculture, liberals are treated with scorn. In the real world, they control the White House and Congress. How many evangelical preachers will be able to demonize Obama once Mr. Evangelical himself has blessed him? By opposing Warren’s choice with such vehemence, the left seems determined to drive evangelicals back to the world of victimology and conspiracy-mongering. This is not wise.

Kristol and Wolfe both refer to the possibility of healthy maturity in the relationship between liberals and evangelicals. Both parties can continue to disagree on many issues, while cooperating on others, and evincing respect for one another.

These are the grown-ups – surrounded by the angry juveniles of the not-yet-reeducated political left. The interesting thing about this instinctive negative reaction on the far left is the extent to which it’s not at all surprising. That’s exactly the point: Obama knew it was coming – and has decided in advance to ignore the hurt feelings and the broken hearts of his staunchest supporters, his political best friends. Admirable – but also somewhat scary: Harry Truman famously said that one’s only friend in Washington is one’s dog – and we already know Obama is going to get one.

Both the pro-Obama New Republic and the Obama-skeptic Weekly Standard begin articles on Rick Warren’s inaugural invocation with the reminder that this is not Barack Obama’s first pastor problem. In Alan Wolfe’s New Republic piece, the headline is the only place Jeremiah Wright is mentioned. In the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol is more explicit throughout:

Until last week, the most important and most famous man of the cloth with whom Barack Obama was associated was the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, his longtime pastor from Chicago’s South Side. Today, that distinction belongs to the Reverend Rick Warren, best-selling evangelical author (The Purpose Driven Life) and pastor of Saddleback Church, thanks to Obama’s inviting him to deliver the invocation at the Inauguration. Talk about growing in office! Obama’s growing even before he assumes office.

Kristol believes that the Warren selection might be more than a matter of “smart politics”:

[T]he selection of Rick Warren may turn out to have significance beyond short-term political maneuvering. One can see this from the hysteria on the left and among gay activists. They sense that Obama isn’t willing to sign on to their campaign to delegitimize, to cast out beyond the pale of polite society, anyone who opposes same-sex marriage–and in particular, anyone (like Warren) who supported Proposition 8 in California, the initiative that overturned the California Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage.

Wolfe in TNR insists that the left-wing media’s focus on Obama’s  choice is upside down:

[T]he left has been focusing on Obama’s decision to offer, while the right has been focusing on Warren’s decision to accept. The right has it right… Warren’s decision to accept an invitation from a liberal president is as clear a symbol of the entry of evangelicals into mainstream culture as one can imagine. In the conservative Christian subculture, liberals are treated with scorn. In the real world, they control the White House and Congress. How many evangelical preachers will be able to demonize Obama once Mr. Evangelical himself has blessed him? By opposing Warren’s choice with such vehemence, the left seems determined to drive evangelicals back to the world of victimology and conspiracy-mongering. This is not wise.

Kristol and Wolfe both refer to the possibility of healthy maturity in the relationship between liberals and evangelicals. Both parties can continue to disagree on many issues, while cooperating on others, and evincing respect for one another.

These are the grown-ups – surrounded by the angry juveniles of the not-yet-reeducated political left. The interesting thing about this instinctive negative reaction on the far left is the extent to which it’s not at all surprising. That’s exactly the point: Obama knew it was coming – and has decided in advance to ignore the hurt feelings and the broken hearts of his staunchest supporters, his political best friends. Admirable – but also somewhat scary: Harry Truman famously said that one’s only friend in Washington is one’s dog – and we already know Obama is going to get one.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Geraldine Ferraro thinks that the next New York Senator should know the issues and something about legislating. And, no, sitting on the board of the ballet and collecting your mother’s favorite poetry doesn’t count.

Mickey Kaus on the car bailout: “How does the UAW’s Gettelfinger get away with saying these terms are ‘singling out workers’? The deal calls for creditors to convert two thirds of their debt into equity. There are also limits on executive compensation. Maybe they’re mostly toothless in practice–but the terms directed at the UAW are explicitly toothless. They’re just ‘targets.'” Now, if the UAW has this much of a fit when there are no binding give-backs, imagine when they are asking to make a binding deal.  At some point (post-Rick Wagoner I suspect), the GM board of directors will decide they want bankruptcy. And why not? They could dump their UAW obligations while Ford has to live with theirs.

Whatever the poll numbers, I don’t see Sarah Palin going to Washington. Stay in Alaska where she can bone up on the issues, remain the darling of the Right and enhance her executive skills or become one of a dwindling minority of Republicans in the Senate and listen to Dick Durbin and Harry Reid all day? Not even a close call.

Claudia Rossett outdoes herself with the Blago version of Kipling’s “If.”

It is hard to fathom how the RNC could stick with its existing Chairman after the last couple of years: “[Mike]Duncan has been the Invisible Chairman, installed in January 2007 by Karl Rove to be unobtrusive — a mission he has carried out brilliantly. . . But Duncan is basing his reelection campaign on his experience as RNC chairman. How can he take credit for any success while escaping any responsibility for reversals on his watch? It’s like a weatherman taking credit fort the sunshine but saying he has no control over the rain.” Ouch.

Thomas Friedman opines: “China is not going to rescue us or the world economy. We’re going to have to get out of this crisis the old-fashioned way: by digging inside ourselves and getting back to basics — improving U.S. productivity, saving more, studying harder and inventing more stuff to export. ” Well, if that’s the bitter pill for individuals why isn’t it also true for the federal government  — which, among other things, will be propping up car companies that aren’t “getting back to basics”?

The Washington Post editors think the Obama administration is “buying itself a heap of trouble” by allowing Bill Clinton to continue his fundraising from foreign individuals and corporations.

Paul Mirengoff nails this:”[I]t’s pretty clear that the path to gaining African-American support for Republicans is not to be found in selecting a National Committee chair who, like [Katon] Dawson, belonged for 12 years to a country club that does not admit black members. .  . It’s difficult to believe that a long-time member of a club would not know that it excluded blacks from membership (we would be extremely skeptical of a Democrat who invoked this excuse). In any case, I would expect a political leader to find out about something this politically sensitive and morally important.” (And if you are getting the sense that there are no great choices for the head of the RNC, you probably aren’t alone.)

Marc Ambinder thinks card check legislation might have to wait until 2010. But if you are trying to capture nervous lawmakers, it seems that it would be best to vote on it as far from election time as possible. On the other hand bringing it up now, when lots of voters know what the UAW wage rates and works rules did to the car companies, doesn’t seem smart either. Perhaps “never” is the best time (Big Labor can join netroots and gays in the “Stiffed by Obama” line.)

Geraldine Ferraro thinks that the next New York Senator should know the issues and something about legislating. And, no, sitting on the board of the ballet and collecting your mother’s favorite poetry doesn’t count.

Mickey Kaus on the car bailout: “How does the UAW’s Gettelfinger get away with saying these terms are ‘singling out workers’? The deal calls for creditors to convert two thirds of their debt into equity. There are also limits on executive compensation. Maybe they’re mostly toothless in practice–but the terms directed at the UAW are explicitly toothless. They’re just ‘targets.'” Now, if the UAW has this much of a fit when there are no binding give-backs, imagine when they are asking to make a binding deal.  At some point (post-Rick Wagoner I suspect), the GM board of directors will decide they want bankruptcy. And why not? They could dump their UAW obligations while Ford has to live with theirs.

Whatever the poll numbers, I don’t see Sarah Palin going to Washington. Stay in Alaska where she can bone up on the issues, remain the darling of the Right and enhance her executive skills or become one of a dwindling minority of Republicans in the Senate and listen to Dick Durbin and Harry Reid all day? Not even a close call.

Claudia Rossett outdoes herself with the Blago version of Kipling’s “If.”

It is hard to fathom how the RNC could stick with its existing Chairman after the last couple of years: “[Mike]Duncan has been the Invisible Chairman, installed in January 2007 by Karl Rove to be unobtrusive — a mission he has carried out brilliantly. . . But Duncan is basing his reelection campaign on his experience as RNC chairman. How can he take credit for any success while escaping any responsibility for reversals on his watch? It’s like a weatherman taking credit fort the sunshine but saying he has no control over the rain.” Ouch.

Thomas Friedman opines: “China is not going to rescue us or the world economy. We’re going to have to get out of this crisis the old-fashioned way: by digging inside ourselves and getting back to basics — improving U.S. productivity, saving more, studying harder and inventing more stuff to export. ” Well, if that’s the bitter pill for individuals why isn’t it also true for the federal government  — which, among other things, will be propping up car companies that aren’t “getting back to basics”?

The Washington Post editors think the Obama administration is “buying itself a heap of trouble” by allowing Bill Clinton to continue his fundraising from foreign individuals and corporations.

Paul Mirengoff nails this:”[I]t’s pretty clear that the path to gaining African-American support for Republicans is not to be found in selecting a National Committee chair who, like [Katon] Dawson, belonged for 12 years to a country club that does not admit black members. .  . It’s difficult to believe that a long-time member of a club would not know that it excluded blacks from membership (we would be extremely skeptical of a Democrat who invoked this excuse). In any case, I would expect a political leader to find out about something this politically sensitive and morally important.” (And if you are getting the sense that there are no great choices for the head of the RNC, you probably aren’t alone.)

Marc Ambinder thinks card check legislation might have to wait until 2010. But if you are trying to capture nervous lawmakers, it seems that it would be best to vote on it as far from election time as possible. On the other hand bringing it up now, when lots of voters know what the UAW wage rates and works rules did to the car companies, doesn’t seem smart either. Perhaps “never” is the best time (Big Labor can join netroots and gays in the “Stiffed by Obama” line.)

Read Less




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