Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 17, 2009

Re: And The Hits

Abe, what is so remarkable about the statement — other than the reversal of another campaign pledge and another knife in the back to his base — is President-elect Obama’s newfound appreciation for the importance of the legislative branch in resolving nettlesome culture and social issues. He opines:

Well, if we can do something legislative then I usually prefer a legislative process because those are the people’s representatives. And I think that on embryonic stem cell research, the fact that you have a bipartisan support around that issue, the fact that you have Republicans like Orrin Hatch who are fierce opponents of abortion and yet recognize that there is a moral and ethical mechanism to ensure that people with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s can actually find potentially some hope out there, you know, I think that sends a powerful message.

So we’re still examining what things we’ll do through executive order. But I like the idea of the American people’s representatives expressing their views on an issue like this.

What an eloquent defense of the democratic process — one that might be applied to abortion, marriage, gay rights and lots of other issue that liberals have heretofore bundled off to the courts in favor of “better” outcomes. Wouldn’t that defense of democratic solutions apply equally to all of those topics? Hmmm. I suspect the heartfelt appreciation for democracy will be a bit more selectively applied.

This is politics dressed up as principle. It likely is a tactical effort to put his party in a better political light and force Republicans into tougher votes. But given the advances in stem cell research and the new avenues for non-embryonic stem cell research, I’m not sure the politics plays out as well as it used to for the Democrats.

But come to think of it, he’s an elected official too, so it is not as if it would be undemocratic for him to decide. Is this issue just too hard for him — above his pay grade, if you will?  Let’s be positive: legislative decisions generally do resolve hard issues through compromise and debate. That’s a change in approach we can believe in.

Abe, what is so remarkable about the statement — other than the reversal of another campaign pledge and another knife in the back to his base — is President-elect Obama’s newfound appreciation for the importance of the legislative branch in resolving nettlesome culture and social issues. He opines:

Well, if we can do something legislative then I usually prefer a legislative process because those are the people’s representatives. And I think that on embryonic stem cell research, the fact that you have a bipartisan support around that issue, the fact that you have Republicans like Orrin Hatch who are fierce opponents of abortion and yet recognize that there is a moral and ethical mechanism to ensure that people with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s can actually find potentially some hope out there, you know, I think that sends a powerful message.

So we’re still examining what things we’ll do through executive order. But I like the idea of the American people’s representatives expressing their views on an issue like this.

What an eloquent defense of the democratic process — one that might be applied to abortion, marriage, gay rights and lots of other issue that liberals have heretofore bundled off to the courts in favor of “better” outcomes. Wouldn’t that defense of democratic solutions apply equally to all of those topics? Hmmm. I suspect the heartfelt appreciation for democracy will be a bit more selectively applied.

This is politics dressed up as principle. It likely is a tactical effort to put his party in a better political light and force Republicans into tougher votes. But given the advances in stem cell research and the new avenues for non-embryonic stem cell research, I’m not sure the politics plays out as well as it used to for the Democrats.

But come to think of it, he’s an elected official too, so it is not as if it would be undemocratic for him to decide. Is this issue just too hard for him — above his pay grade, if you will?  Let’s be positive: legislative decisions generally do resolve hard issues through compromise and debate. That’s a change in approach we can believe in.

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Thoughts On The Cease-Fire

The Israeli cabinet met tonight and approved a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza set to take effect at 2AM, Israel time. Hamas is responding to the announcement with fresh barrages of rocket fire. Israel has recently been under immense international pressure to stop the offensive, including substantial pressure from the U.S. The unilateral nature of the cease-fire should be read in the context of Israel’s (and Egypt’s) desire to avoid direct Israeli negotiations with, and thereby the legitimization of, Hamas. By acting unilaterally, Israel affirms this policy of diplomatic isolation.

Opposition to the cease-fire has come principally from the IDF, which is furious at the politicians for stopping what has so far been a lopsided and successful operation that has seen far fewer IDF casualties than expected. The other source of dissent is public opinion, which remains overwhelmingly in favor of finishing the job, and especially against ceasing the operation without the recovery of Gilad Shalit. It is hard to see how Livni and Barak will benefit from all of this in the national elections scheduled for February 10th.

As has been reported elsewhere, when the cease-fire goes into effect the IDF will remain in Gaza and will return fire in response to any minor provocations. My sources say that if Hamas does anything beyond minor provocations — such as rocket attacks — the cease-fire will be voided and the IDF will go back into action.

Color me skeptical. Just as war creates its own momentum, so do cease-fires. It’s going to take tremendous political willpower for Israel to pause Cast Lead and then resume it again. If Hamas’ leaders have any capacity for strategic thinking, they will halt their attacks for a week and ensure an Israeli withdrawal — and then hold victory parades, resume firing rockets, and test whether Israel is prepared to commence Cast Lead II a week after its first iteration was dismantled. In this way, the Israeli rout of Hamas the world witnessed over the past three weeks can be quickly transformed into an exemplar of jihadist bravery and steadfastness. The humiliation of Israel will be complete.

An optimistic way of looking at the cease-fire is that it is an Israeli ploy designed to regain a favorable diplomatic position so that the war can be continued. If Hamas fires rockets at Israel after the cease-fire, Israel will be left with a compelling response to its detractors in Europe and America: No matter what we do, Hamas attacks us. They are forcing us to fight. Of course, world opinion will not be satisfied with a resumption of the operation, just as world opinion declared its dissatisfaction with the original operation approximately five minutes after it started. But the diplomats who administer international pressure might prove to be more understanding.

From here, the war hinges on one thing: whether Israel will make good on its promise to resume Cast Lead if Hamas continues firing rockets. It’s hard to imagine that Israel would consummate three weeks of military mastery with a display of abject capitulation in the face of new attacks. But given the presence of Livni and Barak, anything is possible.

The Israeli cabinet met tonight and approved a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza set to take effect at 2AM, Israel time. Hamas is responding to the announcement with fresh barrages of rocket fire. Israel has recently been under immense international pressure to stop the offensive, including substantial pressure from the U.S. The unilateral nature of the cease-fire should be read in the context of Israel’s (and Egypt’s) desire to avoid direct Israeli negotiations with, and thereby the legitimization of, Hamas. By acting unilaterally, Israel affirms this policy of diplomatic isolation.

Opposition to the cease-fire has come principally from the IDF, which is furious at the politicians for stopping what has so far been a lopsided and successful operation that has seen far fewer IDF casualties than expected. The other source of dissent is public opinion, which remains overwhelmingly in favor of finishing the job, and especially against ceasing the operation without the recovery of Gilad Shalit. It is hard to see how Livni and Barak will benefit from all of this in the national elections scheduled for February 10th.

As has been reported elsewhere, when the cease-fire goes into effect the IDF will remain in Gaza and will return fire in response to any minor provocations. My sources say that if Hamas does anything beyond minor provocations — such as rocket attacks — the cease-fire will be voided and the IDF will go back into action.

Color me skeptical. Just as war creates its own momentum, so do cease-fires. It’s going to take tremendous political willpower for Israel to pause Cast Lead and then resume it again. If Hamas’ leaders have any capacity for strategic thinking, they will halt their attacks for a week and ensure an Israeli withdrawal — and then hold victory parades, resume firing rockets, and test whether Israel is prepared to commence Cast Lead II a week after its first iteration was dismantled. In this way, the Israeli rout of Hamas the world witnessed over the past three weeks can be quickly transformed into an exemplar of jihadist bravery and steadfastness. The humiliation of Israel will be complete.

An optimistic way of looking at the cease-fire is that it is an Israeli ploy designed to regain a favorable diplomatic position so that the war can be continued. If Hamas fires rockets at Israel after the cease-fire, Israel will be left with a compelling response to its detractors in Europe and America: No matter what we do, Hamas attacks us. They are forcing us to fight. Of course, world opinion will not be satisfied with a resumption of the operation, just as world opinion declared its dissatisfaction with the original operation approximately five minutes after it started. But the diplomats who administer international pressure might prove to be more understanding.

From here, the war hinges on one thing: whether Israel will make good on its promise to resume Cast Lead if Hamas continues firing rockets. It’s hard to imagine that Israel would consummate three weeks of military mastery with a display of abject capitulation in the face of new attacks. But given the presence of Livni and Barak, anything is possible.

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It Didn’t End, We Won

The President-elect gave a lovely speech as he departed by train from Philadelphia for his trip to D.C. Summoning us to take up the spirit of the Founders, he called for a “new declaration of independence.” Yes, the content of that is a bit vague, but its hard to quibble with a call to take up the work of “perfecting the union.”

Still, I do have one bone to pick. He insists on this formulation of our current war efforts: “Two wars, one that needs to be ended responsibly, one that needs to be waged wisely.” And later he spoke of  “welcoming back our loved ones from a war in Iraq that we’ve brought to an end.” Why can’t he recognize that the war in Iraq is ending in victory? We get that he didn’t support that war. We understand he doesn’t think it was “worth it,” but with the campaign won I see nothing to be gained by ignoring reality and diminishing the tremendous accomplishments of our troops. It is churlish and unwise not to celebrate America’s success.

I hope as he steps into the shoes of the commander-in-chief the new president will celebrate and tout the achievements of those he will be leading, and not denigrate or ignore them. Not only our troops, but the country and world at large should take note of what we have done– liberated tens of millions of Muslims, defeated al Qaeda in a major battlefield in the war on terror, and demonstrated that a democracy can function in a region of the world where autocrats are falsely revered as “strong men.” The Leader of the Free World shouldn’t be ashamed of that.

The President-elect gave a lovely speech as he departed by train from Philadelphia for his trip to D.C. Summoning us to take up the spirit of the Founders, he called for a “new declaration of independence.” Yes, the content of that is a bit vague, but its hard to quibble with a call to take up the work of “perfecting the union.”

Still, I do have one bone to pick. He insists on this formulation of our current war efforts: “Two wars, one that needs to be ended responsibly, one that needs to be waged wisely.” And later he spoke of  “welcoming back our loved ones from a war in Iraq that we’ve brought to an end.” Why can’t he recognize that the war in Iraq is ending in victory? We get that he didn’t support that war. We understand he doesn’t think it was “worth it,” but with the campaign won I see nothing to be gained by ignoring reality and diminishing the tremendous accomplishments of our troops. It is churlish and unwise not to celebrate America’s success.

I hope as he steps into the shoes of the commander-in-chief the new president will celebrate and tout the achievements of those he will be leading, and not denigrate or ignore them. Not only our troops, but the country and world at large should take note of what we have done– liberated tens of millions of Muslims, defeated al Qaeda in a major battlefield in the war on terror, and demonstrated that a democracy can function in a region of the world where autocrats are falsely revered as “strong men.” The Leader of the Free World shouldn’t be ashamed of that.

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A Worrisome Endorsement of Panetta

In an interesting report on Leon Panetta’s role in implementing President Bill Clinton’s extraordinary rendition program, Washington Times reporter Eli Lake brings to light a worrisome endorsement of Panetta for CIA Director:

Samuel R. Berger, who was deputy national security adviser in the first Clinton term and national security adviser in the second, also would not comment on Mr. Panetta’s role, apart from praising him as “someone with tremendous integrity who will have the confidence of the president” and who was “a consumer of intelligence at the highest level” when he served Mr. Clinton.

As one might recall, it would be entirely inappropriate to suggest that Berger himself is “someone with tremendous integrity.” This is the same man, after all, who was caught sneaking sensitive national security documents out of the National Archives. Berger’s endorsement of Panetta’s character hardly reassures those skeptical of Obama’s nominee.

In an interesting report on Leon Panetta’s role in implementing President Bill Clinton’s extraordinary rendition program, Washington Times reporter Eli Lake brings to light a worrisome endorsement of Panetta for CIA Director:

Samuel R. Berger, who was deputy national security adviser in the first Clinton term and national security adviser in the second, also would not comment on Mr. Panetta’s role, apart from praising him as “someone with tremendous integrity who will have the confidence of the president” and who was “a consumer of intelligence at the highest level” when he served Mr. Clinton.

As one might recall, it would be entirely inappropriate to suggest that Berger himself is “someone with tremendous integrity.” This is the same man, after all, who was caught sneaking sensitive national security documents out of the National Archives. Berger’s endorsement of Panetta’s character hardly reassures those skeptical of Obama’s nominee.

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Let’s Be Clear About What Peace Process Means

Many wonder just what the new President will do regarding the fictitious “peace process” in the Middle East.  He gave some indication (which is straight out of the Dennis Ross, post-Arafat playbook of “Lessons Learned at Camp David”) this week:

Whether or not the Gaza fight has ended, Mr. Obama has promised a quick start by his administration on Middle East diplomacy. In a meeting with The Post’s editorial board on Thursday, Mr. Obama said that he didn’t believe his administration would “have that luxury” of standing back from the deteriorating situation. Yet the president-elect appeared to have a healthy appreciation of the limits of what U.S. diplomacy might be able to accomplish. “That doesn’t mean we close a deal or we have some big, grand . . . Camp David-type event early in my administration,” he said. “The notion is not that the United States can dictate the terms of an agreement.”

Mr. Obama pointed out that “most people have a pretty good sense about what the outlines of a compromise would be.” The problem is political weakness on both sides. So, he said, his aim would be “to provide a space where trust can be built”; he cited the suggestion of former British prime minister Tony Blair “to build some concrete deliverables that people can see,” such as greater security for Israelis and economic benefits for Palestinians.

That is modest enough, and if we were dealing with the Middle East before the emergence of Hamas it might actually be a path to “peace.” But we should all be honest. This is a stall, a holding maneuver to throw crumbs to the international community, please the Arab powers who insist this sort of thing be done to quiet their own “Arab street,” and — most importantly — just buy time. But let’s be clear: this isn’t a “peace process.”

For “peace,” as Mort Zuckerman put it, “Hamas, in short, must be made to fail and be seen to fail. ” We’ll see if the Gaza war moves us in that direction. When Hamas is decimated and the lesson of its destruction internalized then a real peace process might begin. By signing off on the robustly worded Memorandum of Understanding between Israel and and the U.S. yesterday — which made clear the extent of the U.S.’s support for Israel, identified Hamas as the instigator of the violence, and the pointed to the continued support (read: from Iran) for Hamas as the continuing cause of the violence and state of war –the new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested she understands this as well.  That is a good thing indeed.

We are a long way from peace. But recognizing that is the first step.

Many wonder just what the new President will do regarding the fictitious “peace process” in the Middle East.  He gave some indication (which is straight out of the Dennis Ross, post-Arafat playbook of “Lessons Learned at Camp David”) this week:

Whether or not the Gaza fight has ended, Mr. Obama has promised a quick start by his administration on Middle East diplomacy. In a meeting with The Post’s editorial board on Thursday, Mr. Obama said that he didn’t believe his administration would “have that luxury” of standing back from the deteriorating situation. Yet the president-elect appeared to have a healthy appreciation of the limits of what U.S. diplomacy might be able to accomplish. “That doesn’t mean we close a deal or we have some big, grand . . . Camp David-type event early in my administration,” he said. “The notion is not that the United States can dictate the terms of an agreement.”

Mr. Obama pointed out that “most people have a pretty good sense about what the outlines of a compromise would be.” The problem is political weakness on both sides. So, he said, his aim would be “to provide a space where trust can be built”; he cited the suggestion of former British prime minister Tony Blair “to build some concrete deliverables that people can see,” such as greater security for Israelis and economic benefits for Palestinians.

That is modest enough, and if we were dealing with the Middle East before the emergence of Hamas it might actually be a path to “peace.” But we should all be honest. This is a stall, a holding maneuver to throw crumbs to the international community, please the Arab powers who insist this sort of thing be done to quiet their own “Arab street,” and — most importantly — just buy time. But let’s be clear: this isn’t a “peace process.”

For “peace,” as Mort Zuckerman put it, “Hamas, in short, must be made to fail and be seen to fail. ” We’ll see if the Gaza war moves us in that direction. When Hamas is decimated and the lesson of its destruction internalized then a real peace process might begin. By signing off on the robustly worded Memorandum of Understanding between Israel and and the U.S. yesterday — which made clear the extent of the U.S.’s support for Israel, identified Hamas as the instigator of the violence, and the pointed to the continued support (read: from Iran) for Hamas as the continuing cause of the violence and state of war –the new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested she understands this as well.  That is a good thing indeed.

We are a long way from peace. But recognizing that is the first step.

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And the Hits Keep on Coming . . .

The question of the week is: What’s biting the dust faster — the demonizing myths surrounding George W. Bush’s policies or Barack Obama’s word?

President-elect Barack Obama signaled Friday that he might not use his executive authority to reverse Bush-era limits on stem cell research, but instead might wait for Congress to change the policy.

Obama pledged during the campaign to lift the restrictions, and political observers had expected him to move swiftly to reverse President Bush’s 2001 executive order – most likely with his own executive order. But the president-elect suggested Friday that he would wait for Congress to weigh in on the issue.

“Well, if we can do something legislative then I usually prefer a legislative process because those are the people’s representatives,” Obama said in a CNN interview.

He might want to start Twittering these reversals to keep the public updated.

The question of the week is: What’s biting the dust faster — the demonizing myths surrounding George W. Bush’s policies or Barack Obama’s word?

President-elect Barack Obama signaled Friday that he might not use his executive authority to reverse Bush-era limits on stem cell research, but instead might wait for Congress to change the policy.

Obama pledged during the campaign to lift the restrictions, and political observers had expected him to move swiftly to reverse President Bush’s 2001 executive order – most likely with his own executive order. But the president-elect suggested Friday that he would wait for Congress to weigh in on the issue.

“Well, if we can do something legislative then I usually prefer a legislative process because those are the people’s representatives,” Obama said in a CNN interview.

He might want to start Twittering these reversals to keep the public updated.

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Chinese Sales to Iran’s Missile Program

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese companies have been selling to Iran high-performance metals apparently intended for the Islamic Republic’s missile program.  These materials include tungsten copper ingots and aluminum and titanium sheets.  Some of these items are not subject to international bans and all of them are dual use.  Beijing has denied any wrongdoing in this instance.  China, the Foreign Ministry claims, “has been strictly implementing” international rules against sales of prohibited items.

Due to U.S. and UN sanctions, Iran has had to resort to using front companies to source components for its various weapons programs.  Now, as in the past, Chinese companies have been willing to make sales, both prohibited and otherwise, to the Iranians.  Virtually all of these companies are owned by the Chinese government, and that raises the issue of Beijing’s culpability.

Many excuse Chinese officials, arguing they cannot control all the country’s factories, especially now that their managers are expected to run profitable operations.  Yet China is still a one-party state that can, when it applies itself, track down a wanted dissident to an upland hamlet a thousand miles from Beijing.  It is inconceivable that the Chinese government does not know about sales across China’s borders of sensitive items from its own enterprises to a country like Iran.

Especially when the sales are continuous.  This decade, the United States has, on numerous occasions, sanctioned Chinese missile-related sales to Iran.  Washington, however, refuses to do anything effective about them, like imposing meaningful penalties on the Chinese central government itself.  Instead, we announce slap-on-the-wrist measures on its low-level instrumentalities.  In these circumstances, Beijing officials know we’re not serious about defending ourselves, so they continue to sell items to Iran.

We have the power to stop these sales, but we are refusing to do so.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese companies have been selling to Iran high-performance metals apparently intended for the Islamic Republic’s missile program.  These materials include tungsten copper ingots and aluminum and titanium sheets.  Some of these items are not subject to international bans and all of them are dual use.  Beijing has denied any wrongdoing in this instance.  China, the Foreign Ministry claims, “has been strictly implementing” international rules against sales of prohibited items.

Due to U.S. and UN sanctions, Iran has had to resort to using front companies to source components for its various weapons programs.  Now, as in the past, Chinese companies have been willing to make sales, both prohibited and otherwise, to the Iranians.  Virtually all of these companies are owned by the Chinese government, and that raises the issue of Beijing’s culpability.

Many excuse Chinese officials, arguing they cannot control all the country’s factories, especially now that their managers are expected to run profitable operations.  Yet China is still a one-party state that can, when it applies itself, track down a wanted dissident to an upland hamlet a thousand miles from Beijing.  It is inconceivable that the Chinese government does not know about sales across China’s borders of sensitive items from its own enterprises to a country like Iran.

Especially when the sales are continuous.  This decade, the United States has, on numerous occasions, sanctioned Chinese missile-related sales to Iran.  Washington, however, refuses to do anything effective about them, like imposing meaningful penalties on the Chinese central government itself.  Instead, we announce slap-on-the-wrist measures on its low-level instrumentalities.  In these circumstances, Beijing officials know we’re not serious about defending ourselves, so they continue to sell items to Iran.

We have the power to stop these sales, but we are refusing to do so.

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A Time For Truth

Give Peter Beinart credit: he admits the surge worked and he’s urging Democrats to admit it too:

It’s no longer a close call: President Bush was right about the surge. According to Michael O’Hanlon and Jason Campbell of the Brookings Institution, the number of Iraqi war dead was 500 in November of 2008, compared with 3,475 in November of 2006. That same month, 69 Americans died in Iraq; in November 2008, 12 did.

Violence in Anbar province is down more than 90 percent over the past two years, the New York Times reports. Returning to Iraq after long absences, respected journalists Anthony Shadid and Dexter Filkins say they barely recognize the place.

He isn’t willing to acknowledge the connection between the surge and the Anbar Awakening nor recognize the overall benefit of the Iraq victory in the war on terror (and, like most liberals, insists that physical WMD stockpiles were the war’s sole justification). But he is fulsome in his praise of Bush’s decision to implement the surge and honest in his evaluation:

Moreover, even if the calm endures, that still doesn’t justify the Bush administration’s initial decision to go to war, which remains one of the great blunders in American foreign policy history. But if Iraq overall represents a massive stain on Bush’s record, his decision to increase America’s troop presence in late 2006 now looks like his finest hour. Given the mood in Washington and the country as a whole, it would have been far easier to do the opposite. Politically, Bush took the path of most resistance. He endured an avalanche of scorn, and now he has been vindicated. He was not only right; he was courageous.

It’s time for Democrats to say so. During the campaign they rarely did for fear of jeopardizing Barack Obama’s chances of winning the presidency. But today, the hesitation is less tactical than emotional. Most Democrats think Bush has been an atrocious president, and they want to usher him out of office with the jeers he so richly deserves. Even if they suspect, in their heart of hearts, that he was right about the surge, they don’t want to give him the satisfaction.

Yet they should — not for his sake but for their own. Because Bush has been such an unusually bad president, an entire generation of Democrats now takes it for granted that on the big questions, the right is always wrong. Older liberals remember the Persian Gulf War, which most congressional Democrats opposed and most congressional Republicans supported — and the Republicans were proven right. They also remember the welfare reform debate of the mid-1990s, when prominent liberals predicted disaster, and disaster didn’t happen.

His recognition that refusal to acknowledge the surge’s (and in turn Bush’s) achievements was largely dishonest — a campaign tactic to deprive Bush and the surge’s most vigilant senatorial spokesman their due — is long in coming but nevertheless appreciated by those who knew this was the case. He concludes:

That’s why it’s important to admit that Bush was right about the surge. Doing so would remind Democrats that no one political party, or ideological perspective, has a monopoly on wisdom. That recognition can be the difference between ambition — which the Obama presidency must exhibit — and hubris, which it can ill afford.

Being proven right too many times is dangerous. It breeds intellectual arrogance and complacency. As the Democrats prepare to take over Washington, they should publicly acknowledge that on the surge, they were wrong. That acknowledgment may not do much for Bush’s legacy, but it could do wonders for their own.

But really, the only way for this to come about is for the new President to make the very acknowledgment Beinart recommends. Isn’t that the ultimate healing act, the true sign he is not an ideologue but an intellectually honest man of reason? Yes, it would concede that he was wrong, but that’s the point of Beinart’s suggestion: lift intellectual honesty over pride. Let’s see if he does it. It would be a good sign indeed if he does.

Give Peter Beinart credit: he admits the surge worked and he’s urging Democrats to admit it too:

It’s no longer a close call: President Bush was right about the surge. According to Michael O’Hanlon and Jason Campbell of the Brookings Institution, the number of Iraqi war dead was 500 in November of 2008, compared with 3,475 in November of 2006. That same month, 69 Americans died in Iraq; in November 2008, 12 did.

Violence in Anbar province is down more than 90 percent over the past two years, the New York Times reports. Returning to Iraq after long absences, respected journalists Anthony Shadid and Dexter Filkins say they barely recognize the place.

He isn’t willing to acknowledge the connection between the surge and the Anbar Awakening nor recognize the overall benefit of the Iraq victory in the war on terror (and, like most liberals, insists that physical WMD stockpiles were the war’s sole justification). But he is fulsome in his praise of Bush’s decision to implement the surge and honest in his evaluation:

Moreover, even if the calm endures, that still doesn’t justify the Bush administration’s initial decision to go to war, which remains one of the great blunders in American foreign policy history. But if Iraq overall represents a massive stain on Bush’s record, his decision to increase America’s troop presence in late 2006 now looks like his finest hour. Given the mood in Washington and the country as a whole, it would have been far easier to do the opposite. Politically, Bush took the path of most resistance. He endured an avalanche of scorn, and now he has been vindicated. He was not only right; he was courageous.

It’s time for Democrats to say so. During the campaign they rarely did for fear of jeopardizing Barack Obama’s chances of winning the presidency. But today, the hesitation is less tactical than emotional. Most Democrats think Bush has been an atrocious president, and they want to usher him out of office with the jeers he so richly deserves. Even if they suspect, in their heart of hearts, that he was right about the surge, they don’t want to give him the satisfaction.

Yet they should — not for his sake but for their own. Because Bush has been such an unusually bad president, an entire generation of Democrats now takes it for granted that on the big questions, the right is always wrong. Older liberals remember the Persian Gulf War, which most congressional Democrats opposed and most congressional Republicans supported — and the Republicans were proven right. They also remember the welfare reform debate of the mid-1990s, when prominent liberals predicted disaster, and disaster didn’t happen.

His recognition that refusal to acknowledge the surge’s (and in turn Bush’s) achievements was largely dishonest — a campaign tactic to deprive Bush and the surge’s most vigilant senatorial spokesman their due — is long in coming but nevertheless appreciated by those who knew this was the case. He concludes:

That’s why it’s important to admit that Bush was right about the surge. Doing so would remind Democrats that no one political party, or ideological perspective, has a monopoly on wisdom. That recognition can be the difference between ambition — which the Obama presidency must exhibit — and hubris, which it can ill afford.

Being proven right too many times is dangerous. It breeds intellectual arrogance and complacency. As the Democrats prepare to take over Washington, they should publicly acknowledge that on the surge, they were wrong. That acknowledgment may not do much for Bush’s legacy, but it could do wonders for their own.

But really, the only way for this to come about is for the new President to make the very acknowledgment Beinart recommends. Isn’t that the ultimate healing act, the true sign he is not an ideologue but an intellectually honest man of reason? Yes, it would concede that he was wrong, but that’s the point of Beinart’s suggestion: lift intellectual honesty over pride. Let’s see if he does it. It would be a good sign indeed if he does.

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Let’s Pretend

Might the terrorists of Guantánamo Bay be coming to a town near you?

Pentagon officials have inspected several military bases in the United States that could potentially replace the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, if President-elect Barack Obama fulfills his pledge to close the camp there. The sites visited included Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and Camp Pendleton, Calif., military sources said.

The visits were part of a formal review of military bases and prisons initiated several weeks ago in response to public statements by Mr. Obama.

This is frowned upon in pop psychology circles as, “the geographic cure.” “You can’t run away from your problems,” they say. “Your problems will just come running after you.”

But maybe Obama can run away from his Guantánamo problem. If the problem is cosmetic, then a change of scenery might do the trick. To be sure, keeping enemy combatants at Guantánamo does create a real headache in terms of balancing military criminal justice, the civilian legal system, and national security. But the yes-we-canners were never really interested in all the legal incidentals. They just object to the symbolic downer of Guantánamo Bay: the fictionally flushed Qur’an, the myth of innocents being kept in solitary confinement, etc.

The point, for the Left, is not to get bogged down in national and international law, but to erase the impression of ugliness. Don’t believe me? Take Nicholas Kristof’s proposed solution to Guantanamo Bay:

We should not only close the Guantánamo prison but also turn it into an international center for research on tropical diseases that afflict poor countries. It could thus become an example of multilateral humanitarianism.

Sure, it could. At least until Kristof starts complaining about America the bacterial imperialist housing diseases in poor, tiny Cuba.  And then the next president will promise to move the disease center onto American soil.

Because it’s all about pretending we can continue to be the most powerful country in the world while also being the biggest pushovers in history. It’s about pretending to fight terrorism without taking the gloves off. Iraq? Barack Obama pretends he’s ending the war while extending it. Tough interrogation? Barack Obama pretends he’s ending it while drafting loopholes for “extraordinary” situations. Wiretapping? Barack Obama’s A.G. pick Eric Holder pretends to denounce it while keeping it as part of the arsenal. Guantánamo Bay? Barack Obama will move it, and pretend it disappeared.

As it turns out, moving the detention facility to a military base in the U.S. doesn’t erase legal complications, but probably compounds them. G.O.P. officials are opposed to the idea, as it could go some distance in giving detainees access to American civilian courts. But ultimately, for the Obama administration to make good on its promise, it’s going to have to gloss over the inevitable legal complexities and pretend that we’ve moved on.

Might the terrorists of Guantánamo Bay be coming to a town near you?

Pentagon officials have inspected several military bases in the United States that could potentially replace the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, if President-elect Barack Obama fulfills his pledge to close the camp there. The sites visited included Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and Camp Pendleton, Calif., military sources said.

The visits were part of a formal review of military bases and prisons initiated several weeks ago in response to public statements by Mr. Obama.

This is frowned upon in pop psychology circles as, “the geographic cure.” “You can’t run away from your problems,” they say. “Your problems will just come running after you.”

But maybe Obama can run away from his Guantánamo problem. If the problem is cosmetic, then a change of scenery might do the trick. To be sure, keeping enemy combatants at Guantánamo does create a real headache in terms of balancing military criminal justice, the civilian legal system, and national security. But the yes-we-canners were never really interested in all the legal incidentals. They just object to the symbolic downer of Guantánamo Bay: the fictionally flushed Qur’an, the myth of innocents being kept in solitary confinement, etc.

The point, for the Left, is not to get bogged down in national and international law, but to erase the impression of ugliness. Don’t believe me? Take Nicholas Kristof’s proposed solution to Guantanamo Bay:

We should not only close the Guantánamo prison but also turn it into an international center for research on tropical diseases that afflict poor countries. It could thus become an example of multilateral humanitarianism.

Sure, it could. At least until Kristof starts complaining about America the bacterial imperialist housing diseases in poor, tiny Cuba.  And then the next president will promise to move the disease center onto American soil.

Because it’s all about pretending we can continue to be the most powerful country in the world while also being the biggest pushovers in history. It’s about pretending to fight terrorism without taking the gloves off. Iraq? Barack Obama pretends he’s ending the war while extending it. Tough interrogation? Barack Obama pretends he’s ending it while drafting loopholes for “extraordinary” situations. Wiretapping? Barack Obama’s A.G. pick Eric Holder pretends to denounce it while keeping it as part of the arsenal. Guantánamo Bay? Barack Obama will move it, and pretend it disappeared.

As it turns out, moving the detention facility to a military base in the U.S. doesn’t erase legal complications, but probably compounds them. G.O.P. officials are opposed to the idea, as it could go some distance in giving detainees access to American civilian courts. But ultimately, for the Obama administration to make good on its promise, it’s going to have to gloss over the inevitable legal complexities and pretend that we’ve moved on.

Read Less

Really Not Changey At All

When Attorney General nominee Eric Holder testifies that he wouldn’t waterboard a terrorist even if tens of thousand of Americans could die, I questioned whether he could really be serious. After all, no one could really be this morally obtuse, right? Right I was:

President-elect Barack Obama is preparing to prohibit the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques by ordering the CIA to follow military rules for questioning prisoners, according to two U.S. officials familiar with drafts of the plans. Still under debate is whether to allow exceptions in extraordinary cases.

The proposal Obama is considering would require all CIA interrogators to follow conduct outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual, the officials said. The plans would also have the effect of shutting down secret “black site” prisons around the world where the CIA has questioned terror suspects — with all future interrogations taking place inside American military facilities.

However, Obama’s changes may not be absolute. His advisers are considering adding a classified loophole to the rules that could allow the CIA to use some interrogation methods not specifically authorized by the Pentagon, the officials said. They said the intent is not to use that as an opening for possible use of waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning.

So let me get this right. The Obama adminsitration is going to fufill its campaign pledge by concealing the “real” rule from the American people:

For Obama, who repeatedly insisted during the 2008 presidential campaign and the transition period that “America doesn’t torture,” a classified loophole would allow him to follow through on his promise to end harsh interrogations while retaining a full range of presidential options in conducting the war against terrorism.

The proposed loophole, which could come in the form of a classified annex to the manual, is designed to satisfy intelligence experts who fear that an outright ban of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques would limit the government in obtaining threat information that could save American lives. It would also preserve Obama’s flexibility to authorize any interrogation tactics he might deem necessary for national security.

However, such a move would frustrate Senate Democrats and human rights, retired military and religious groups that have pressed for a government-wide prohibition on methods they describe as torture.

There are (at least) two delicious ironies. First, under this scheme, the Obama administration would be less transparent than the Bush administration. Second, like the slooow closing of Guantanamo, the completion of the war in Iraq, and retention of FISA it seems that continuity on the war on terror is breaking out as far as the eye can see. We joke, but this is a good development which should reassure all Americans that the new administration has cast aside the netroot rhetoric and understands the national security ramifications of the war on terror.

So what should we call the loophole? I’d propose: The Cheney Clause.

When Attorney General nominee Eric Holder testifies that he wouldn’t waterboard a terrorist even if tens of thousand of Americans could die, I questioned whether he could really be serious. After all, no one could really be this morally obtuse, right? Right I was:

President-elect Barack Obama is preparing to prohibit the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques by ordering the CIA to follow military rules for questioning prisoners, according to two U.S. officials familiar with drafts of the plans. Still under debate is whether to allow exceptions in extraordinary cases.

The proposal Obama is considering would require all CIA interrogators to follow conduct outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual, the officials said. The plans would also have the effect of shutting down secret “black site” prisons around the world where the CIA has questioned terror suspects — with all future interrogations taking place inside American military facilities.

However, Obama’s changes may not be absolute. His advisers are considering adding a classified loophole to the rules that could allow the CIA to use some interrogation methods not specifically authorized by the Pentagon, the officials said. They said the intent is not to use that as an opening for possible use of waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning.

So let me get this right. The Obama adminsitration is going to fufill its campaign pledge by concealing the “real” rule from the American people:

For Obama, who repeatedly insisted during the 2008 presidential campaign and the transition period that “America doesn’t torture,” a classified loophole would allow him to follow through on his promise to end harsh interrogations while retaining a full range of presidential options in conducting the war against terrorism.

The proposed loophole, which could come in the form of a classified annex to the manual, is designed to satisfy intelligence experts who fear that an outright ban of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques would limit the government in obtaining threat information that could save American lives. It would also preserve Obama’s flexibility to authorize any interrogation tactics he might deem necessary for national security.

However, such a move would frustrate Senate Democrats and human rights, retired military and religious groups that have pressed for a government-wide prohibition on methods they describe as torture.

There are (at least) two delicious ironies. First, under this scheme, the Obama administration would be less transparent than the Bush administration. Second, like the slooow closing of Guantanamo, the completion of the war in Iraq, and retention of FISA it seems that continuity on the war on terror is breaking out as far as the eye can see. We joke, but this is a good development which should reassure all Americans that the new administration has cast aside the netroot rhetoric and understands the national security ramifications of the war on terror.

So what should we call the loophole? I’d propose: The Cheney Clause.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Charles Krauthammer sums up the Bush legacy: “I think he will be remembered for three things. He disseminated Al Qaeda. He turned Iraq from an enemy to an ally. And he established the tools combating the terrorism. And the key element in that was the change of the idea about what our threat was. In the 90’s everyone looked at acts of terror as law enforcement issues, and he turned it into a matter of war.And that’s why he instituted all of these elements—wiretapping, rendition, the interrogations and the detention without trial, which you have in war, and which you don’t have in peace. And that’s why it’s now under attack. I hope Obama will continue, and understand that even though we are in a period of calm, the war remains, and he will not undo all of this infrastructure which has kept us safe for these seven years.”

And the Wall Street Journal editors on the economic record: “Mr. Bush and his team did many things right after inheriting one bubble. They were ruined by monetary excess that created a second, more dangerous credit mania. They forgot one of the main lessons of Reaganomics, which is the importance of stable money.”

And most Americans think we are winning the war on terror. Who, I wonder, could have been responsible for that?

RNC chair candidate Katon Dawson says he’ll be the new president’s “worst nightmare.” Sigh. Yes, I suppose if they were competing in a high school election or facing off in a basketball game that sort of talk might be effective. On Meet the Press? Not so much.

The IDF racks up some notable successes in Gaza including obliteration of Hamas’s “Iranian Unit.”

Will Senators get an earful about Tim Geithner’s tax problems over the weekend?

In Louisiana they aren’t buying his excuses.

Rep. John Boehner is prepared to offer a choice, not an echo he tells Larry Kudlow. And then he sends the President-elect a letter.

Republicans should take note: rubber-stamping government bailouts isn’t appealing to Senate Democrats up for re-election in 2010.

Jon Henke has a bright idea for conservatives: don’t spend time excoriating one of the more effective Republicans in Washington. As big a challenge as Barack Obama is for conservatives, he is nothing compared to their own misdirected anger.

A clear-eyed explanation (and it’s not from a Republican hollering “We were robbed!”) of how Norm Coleman could win or get a new election. That Bush v. Gore (requiring uniformity in vote counting) which was supposed to be a “one-time only” sort of exception may have a long reach.

About that New Deal model? Rich Lowry reminds us: “Most analysts agree that World War II ended the Depression. The Left tries to appropriate the war for the New Deal by characterizing it as simply a public-works program writ large—as if global cataclysm, with millions killed, countries overrun by invading armies, and major cities reduced to rubble were just the thing we needed to get an economy moving again. During World War II, 12 million men were conscripted into the military, food was rationed, and people couldn’t buy consumer goods like cars and appliances. Suffice it to say, its utility as a model for economic recovery is quite limited.”

The President-elect does his best to end Bush Hatred.

A fine way for the Bush State Department to go out — condemning Iran’s practice of stoning. Condoleezza and Co. frustrated us to no end — but it’s the little things we may miss. Let’s hope this steely-eyed determination to call it as we see it on human rights abuses in the Middle East (the ones the UN conveniently ignores) is on the “continuity” list for the Obama team.

And also on the last day, the U.S. and Israel signed the Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and Israel in which the U.S. reiterated its “steadfast committment” to Israel’s security, pledged to provide assistance in securing against importing weapons into Gaza and laid blame on those (i.e. Iran) responsible for “the continued supply of armaments to Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza, including by some in the region, [which] is a direct cause of current hostilities.”  Hillary Clinton was reported to have “signed off” on the agreement. Another sign that “change” is really “continuity” for the new administration?

Not even the Oval Office rug is changing.

Senate Republicans contemplate a “hold” on the Labor Secretary nominee who wouldn’t answer questions. If so, why not place one on Holder until Sen. Pat Leahy agrees to those subpoenas?

Big Labor gets snippy over card check’s diminishing prospects so they run an ad in the days before the inauguration, during the height of Obamamania. Maybe they have money to burn, but this seems awfully silly. (But good news if you like secret ballots: Harry Reid won’t put the bill on the calendar unless he has the votes — so he’s not putting the bill on the calendar.)

It doesn’t surprise me that This Week beat out Meet the Press, just that it took so long. There really is no reason since Tim Russert’s passing to watch the latter. Deadly dull, unprovocative questions, and mediocre panelists. They treat MTP like it belongs in a museum — and it seems as if it does.

Of all the things to blame President Bush for, David Broder selects not raising taxes to pay for the war as the worst error. And he invokes the poor grandchildren who will be paying for it. Actually, the kids will be paying for that and the grandkids for the Obama stimulus bill.

Charles Krauthammer sums up the Bush legacy: “I think he will be remembered for three things. He disseminated Al Qaeda. He turned Iraq from an enemy to an ally. And he established the tools combating the terrorism. And the key element in that was the change of the idea about what our threat was. In the 90’s everyone looked at acts of terror as law enforcement issues, and he turned it into a matter of war.And that’s why he instituted all of these elements—wiretapping, rendition, the interrogations and the detention without trial, which you have in war, and which you don’t have in peace. And that’s why it’s now under attack. I hope Obama will continue, and understand that even though we are in a period of calm, the war remains, and he will not undo all of this infrastructure which has kept us safe for these seven years.”

And the Wall Street Journal editors on the economic record: “Mr. Bush and his team did many things right after inheriting one bubble. They were ruined by monetary excess that created a second, more dangerous credit mania. They forgot one of the main lessons of Reaganomics, which is the importance of stable money.”

And most Americans think we are winning the war on terror. Who, I wonder, could have been responsible for that?

RNC chair candidate Katon Dawson says he’ll be the new president’s “worst nightmare.” Sigh. Yes, I suppose if they were competing in a high school election or facing off in a basketball game that sort of talk might be effective. On Meet the Press? Not so much.

The IDF racks up some notable successes in Gaza including obliteration of Hamas’s “Iranian Unit.”

Will Senators get an earful about Tim Geithner’s tax problems over the weekend?

In Louisiana they aren’t buying his excuses.

Rep. John Boehner is prepared to offer a choice, not an echo he tells Larry Kudlow. And then he sends the President-elect a letter.

Republicans should take note: rubber-stamping government bailouts isn’t appealing to Senate Democrats up for re-election in 2010.

Jon Henke has a bright idea for conservatives: don’t spend time excoriating one of the more effective Republicans in Washington. As big a challenge as Barack Obama is for conservatives, he is nothing compared to their own misdirected anger.

A clear-eyed explanation (and it’s not from a Republican hollering “We were robbed!”) of how Norm Coleman could win or get a new election. That Bush v. Gore (requiring uniformity in vote counting) which was supposed to be a “one-time only” sort of exception may have a long reach.

About that New Deal model? Rich Lowry reminds us: “Most analysts agree that World War II ended the Depression. The Left tries to appropriate the war for the New Deal by characterizing it as simply a public-works program writ large—as if global cataclysm, with millions killed, countries overrun by invading armies, and major cities reduced to rubble were just the thing we needed to get an economy moving again. During World War II, 12 million men were conscripted into the military, food was rationed, and people couldn’t buy consumer goods like cars and appliances. Suffice it to say, its utility as a model for economic recovery is quite limited.”

The President-elect does his best to end Bush Hatred.

A fine way for the Bush State Department to go out — condemning Iran’s practice of stoning. Condoleezza and Co. frustrated us to no end — but it’s the little things we may miss. Let’s hope this steely-eyed determination to call it as we see it on human rights abuses in the Middle East (the ones the UN conveniently ignores) is on the “continuity” list for the Obama team.

And also on the last day, the U.S. and Israel signed the Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and Israel in which the U.S. reiterated its “steadfast committment” to Israel’s security, pledged to provide assistance in securing against importing weapons into Gaza and laid blame on those (i.e. Iran) responsible for “the continued supply of armaments to Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza, including by some in the region, [which] is a direct cause of current hostilities.”  Hillary Clinton was reported to have “signed off” on the agreement. Another sign that “change” is really “continuity” for the new administration?

Not even the Oval Office rug is changing.

Senate Republicans contemplate a “hold” on the Labor Secretary nominee who wouldn’t answer questions. If so, why not place one on Holder until Sen. Pat Leahy agrees to those subpoenas?

Big Labor gets snippy over card check’s diminishing prospects so they run an ad in the days before the inauguration, during the height of Obamamania. Maybe they have money to burn, but this seems awfully silly. (But good news if you like secret ballots: Harry Reid won’t put the bill on the calendar unless he has the votes — so he’s not putting the bill on the calendar.)

It doesn’t surprise me that This Week beat out Meet the Press, just that it took so long. There really is no reason since Tim Russert’s passing to watch the latter. Deadly dull, unprovocative questions, and mediocre panelists. They treat MTP like it belongs in a museum — and it seems as if it does.

Of all the things to blame President Bush for, David Broder selects not raising taxes to pay for the war as the worst error. And he invokes the poor grandchildren who will be paying for it. Actually, the kids will be paying for that and the grandkids for the Obama stimulus bill.

Read Less




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