Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 31, 2009

Commentary of the Day

Dan Simon, on Michael J. Totten:

Many people accuse the U.S. of being the world’s “bully,” but that analogy only demonstrates a basic lack of understanding of bullies. A real bully is painfully insecure and ashamed of his weakness. He eagerly seeks out even weaker, less secure victims and ruthlessly torments them, while fawning on anyone strong and resolute enough not to be intimidated.

Having descended from world-dominating imperialism to embarrassing global irrelevance, Europe has chosen to embrace the classic bully strategy: Monstrous regimes and organizations–such as Hezbollah–can earn Europe’s respect and friendship simply by declaring their lack of interest in Europe’s approval, and unwillingness to bend an inch to win it. On the other hand, countries that show the slightest sign of discomfort at European hostility–such as Israel and even America–are incessantly pilloried over minor nits, in the hope that the targets will give in, and Europeans will thereby be able to claim to have salvaged some tiny crumbs of international influence.

Dan Simon, on Michael J. Totten:

Many people accuse the U.S. of being the world’s “bully,” but that analogy only demonstrates a basic lack of understanding of bullies. A real bully is painfully insecure and ashamed of his weakness. He eagerly seeks out even weaker, less secure victims and ruthlessly torments them, while fawning on anyone strong and resolute enough not to be intimidated.

Having descended from world-dominating imperialism to embarrassing global irrelevance, Europe has chosen to embrace the classic bully strategy: Monstrous regimes and organizations–such as Hezbollah–can earn Europe’s respect and friendship simply by declaring their lack of interest in Europe’s approval, and unwillingness to bend an inch to win it. On the other hand, countries that show the slightest sign of discomfort at European hostility–such as Israel and even America–are incessantly pilloried over minor nits, in the hope that the targets will give in, and Europeans will thereby be able to claim to have salvaged some tiny crumbs of international influence.

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Here We Go

Well this didn’t take long:

On the heels of the resignation of General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner, the Service Employees International Union is urging President Barack Obama to oust Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis.

“It defies logic, common-sense, and responsible governance to punish the auto industry while letting financial institutions off the hook,” SEIU President Andy Stern said, announcing his call for Lewis’s job Tuesday.

The SEIU has begun circulating an online petition, calling on the administration to “show the door to CEO Ken Lewis.”

What’s next — campaigns pro and con on which CEOs get canned? Once business decisions become political ones there is really no turning back. The president kicked out GM’s CEO in advance of a potential bankruptcy — where such a move would have been removed from partisan political concerns. Obama promised to take the “politics out of science” — but plainly not out of business.

Well this didn’t take long:

On the heels of the resignation of General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner, the Service Employees International Union is urging President Barack Obama to oust Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis.

“It defies logic, common-sense, and responsible governance to punish the auto industry while letting financial institutions off the hook,” SEIU President Andy Stern said, announcing his call for Lewis’s job Tuesday.

The SEIU has begun circulating an online petition, calling on the administration to “show the door to CEO Ken Lewis.”

What’s next — campaigns pro and con on which CEOs get canned? Once business decisions become political ones there is really no turning back. The president kicked out GM’s CEO in advance of a potential bankruptcy — where such a move would have been removed from partisan political concerns. Obama promised to take the “politics out of science” — but plainly not out of business.

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Holbrooke Has Cordial Meeting With Iranian

Congratulations go to Richard Holbrooke, president Obama’s pro-consul for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who had the dubious honor of being the first member of the administration to have a public face-to-face meeting with a representative of Iran.

Holbrooke had expressed some skepticism about Obama’s outreach plan to Iran over the weekend but apparently has now done his part to advance goodwill with the mullahs while attending a one-day international conference about the future of Afghanistan. According to Secretary of State Clinton, the meeting with Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Mohammad Mehdi Akhondzadeh, was “cordial, unplanned, and they agreed to stay in touch.”

Communication with Iran about the conflict in Afghanistan, as well as the fate of two Americans who are currently missing in Iran, is understandable. What appears to be missing from the administration’s agenda with Iran is conveying to Tehran just how seriously Washington takes their ongoing push for nuclear weapons. There are a lot of things on Obama’s plate right now, including economic disaster and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But as much as he seems to want to pretend Iranian nukes are not a pressing problem, they are now potentially even more dangerous and destabilizing.  Obama’s only hope of avoiding an outsized disaster on this front is a strong stand now. The longer he waits to deal with this issue, the smaller the chances of a satisfactory outcome.

Congratulations go to Richard Holbrooke, president Obama’s pro-consul for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who had the dubious honor of being the first member of the administration to have a public face-to-face meeting with a representative of Iran.

Holbrooke had expressed some skepticism about Obama’s outreach plan to Iran over the weekend but apparently has now done his part to advance goodwill with the mullahs while attending a one-day international conference about the future of Afghanistan. According to Secretary of State Clinton, the meeting with Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Mohammad Mehdi Akhondzadeh, was “cordial, unplanned, and they agreed to stay in touch.”

Communication with Iran about the conflict in Afghanistan, as well as the fate of two Americans who are currently missing in Iran, is understandable. What appears to be missing from the administration’s agenda with Iran is conveying to Tehran just how seriously Washington takes their ongoing push for nuclear weapons. There are a lot of things on Obama’s plate right now, including economic disaster and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But as much as he seems to want to pretend Iranian nukes are not a pressing problem, they are now potentially even more dangerous and destabilizing.  Obama’s only hope of avoiding an outsized disaster on this front is a strong stand now. The longer he waits to deal with this issue, the smaller the chances of a satisfactory outcome.

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Human Rights Council, Here We Come

There had been hints, but now it’s official: The U.S. will seek election to the UN Human Rights Council. This is the body that just passed a resolution internationalizing Islamic blasphemy laws in order to give Muslim nations cover when their governments . . . violate human rights. The Obama administration has already indicated its comfort with this kind of sanctified hypocrisy. The president speaks eloquently of our need to reclaim our finest principles while he sends Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to China with the message that Chinese human rights aren’t a priority.

The whole present-day human rights endeavor is a mash-up of Orwell, Kafka, and Sayyid Qutb. Definitions are inverted, innocent individuals are targeted to run an incoherent legal gauntlet, and the most extreme brand of Islam is universally sacred. Moreover, this preposterous undertaking has met with enormous success. The term Human Rights now means, to all but a few academics and politicos from a bygone age, the rights of certain Muslims to act inhumanely without molestation. The term Human Rights violation now means Israeli action. While member countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia chair the Council in rotation, only Israel has come under fire for, say, violation of women’s rights. This body will soon boast of the imprimatur of the United States government.

There had been hints, but now it’s official: The U.S. will seek election to the UN Human Rights Council. This is the body that just passed a resolution internationalizing Islamic blasphemy laws in order to give Muslim nations cover when their governments . . . violate human rights. The Obama administration has already indicated its comfort with this kind of sanctified hypocrisy. The president speaks eloquently of our need to reclaim our finest principles while he sends Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to China with the message that Chinese human rights aren’t a priority.

The whole present-day human rights endeavor is a mash-up of Orwell, Kafka, and Sayyid Qutb. Definitions are inverted, innocent individuals are targeted to run an incoherent legal gauntlet, and the most extreme brand of Islam is universally sacred. Moreover, this preposterous undertaking has met with enormous success. The term Human Rights now means, to all but a few academics and politicos from a bygone age, the rights of certain Muslims to act inhumanely without molestation. The term Human Rights violation now means Israeli action. While member countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia chair the Council in rotation, only Israel has come under fire for, say, violation of women’s rights. This body will soon boast of the imprimatur of the United States government.

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Money Doesn’t Buy You Everything

A new poll in the Virginia gubernatorial race is out showing former House Delegate Brian Moran leading former DNC Chairman and Clinton confidante Terry McAuliffe 22-18%, with Craig Deeds trailing at 14%. Last month McAuliffe was leading slightly. What is more noteworthy is the continued high negatives McAuliffe draws among Democrats: “Moran is polling at 34/15 favorability, Deeds has 31/12 favorability, and McAuliffe is polling at a 32/29 split.”

This comes at a time the Washington Post runs another story on the two-edged sword for McAufille — his background as a national high-stakes fundraiser:

McAuliffe, who spent decades building a reputation as one of the world’s most successful political fundraisers, has traveled to New York, Hollywood, San Francisco, Houston, Miami and Syracuse, N.Y., for events often organized by those who count Bill and Hillary Clinton as close friends.

Although McAuliffe’s national contacts will help him raise millions, his energetic fundraising outside the state risks giving ammunition to rivals who say he is an outsider in Virginia, out of touch with state politics and residents’ concerns. But McAuliffe says he sees no problems with the out-of-state money.

It is hard to tell  at this stage, of course, the underlying cause behind McAuliffe’s difficulties in pulling away from the pack, something many expected would happen as a big-name well-financed figure stepped into the race. The percentage of undecided voters remains high and the primary is a couple of months away. Virginia political guru Larry Sabato tells me, “Primaries in Virginia (other than presidential) attract little sustained voter attention until the last 3-4 weeks. Most people, including many party activists, are exhausted from the politics of 2008, and they are resisting getting involved or even informed.” So perhaps not too much should be read into this.

But should McAuliffe, with all his name recognition and money, fail to win his race, it will certainly be another sign that the Clinton political era is over. And it will surely be one of the bigger primary race upsets in recent memory.

A new poll in the Virginia gubernatorial race is out showing former House Delegate Brian Moran leading former DNC Chairman and Clinton confidante Terry McAuliffe 22-18%, with Craig Deeds trailing at 14%. Last month McAuliffe was leading slightly. What is more noteworthy is the continued high negatives McAuliffe draws among Democrats: “Moran is polling at 34/15 favorability, Deeds has 31/12 favorability, and McAuliffe is polling at a 32/29 split.”

This comes at a time the Washington Post runs another story on the two-edged sword for McAufille — his background as a national high-stakes fundraiser:

McAuliffe, who spent decades building a reputation as one of the world’s most successful political fundraisers, has traveled to New York, Hollywood, San Francisco, Houston, Miami and Syracuse, N.Y., for events often organized by those who count Bill and Hillary Clinton as close friends.

Although McAuliffe’s national contacts will help him raise millions, his energetic fundraising outside the state risks giving ammunition to rivals who say he is an outsider in Virginia, out of touch with state politics and residents’ concerns. But McAuliffe says he sees no problems with the out-of-state money.

It is hard to tell  at this stage, of course, the underlying cause behind McAuliffe’s difficulties in pulling away from the pack, something many expected would happen as a big-name well-financed figure stepped into the race. The percentage of undecided voters remains high and the primary is a couple of months away. Virginia political guru Larry Sabato tells me, “Primaries in Virginia (other than presidential) attract little sustained voter attention until the last 3-4 weeks. Most people, including many party activists, are exhausted from the politics of 2008, and they are resisting getting involved or even informed.” So perhaps not too much should be read into this.

But should McAuliffe, with all his name recognition and money, fail to win his race, it will certainly be another sign that the Clinton political era is over. And it will surely be one of the bigger primary race upsets in recent memory.

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Arab States Unite . . . to Support Mass Murderer

If you wanted to find a single story that summed up everything wrong about the politics of the Arab and Islamic world, it is this little item from the New York Times about the Arab summit meeting in Doha, Qatar.

As the Times puts it, the Arabs are divided about everything … except their support for Sudan’s Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the architect of a campaign of rape and murder in Darfur that earned him an indictment from the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. There may be a warrant for al-Bashir’s arrest sitting in The Hague but he got nothing but hugs, kisses, and statements of support from fellow Arab leaders.

As far as the Islamic world is concerned, the hubbub about genocide in Darfur is strictly a Western plot. They even have the chutzpah to compare the unpleasantness in Darfur to Israel’s counter-attack against the non-stop firing of missiles on civilians in southern Israel. (They are okay with the Palestinians’ attempts to murder Jews; it is the Jews’ attempts to defend themselves that constitute the real war crime.).

The point is the Arab and Islamic world couldn’t care less about how many hundreds of thousands of Darfurians are massacred by their Sudanese pals. Of course, they don’t care about the Palestinians either. If they did, they would push them to give up their irredentist hopes of destroying the Jewish State and to concentrate on improving their own lives and making peace.

But, of course, what’s really interesting about this is the virtual silence from human-rights groups and international non-governmental organizations who are dedicated to demonizing Israel while they won’t lift a finger to hold the governments who support Sudan accountable for their behavior.

If you wanted to find a single story that summed up everything wrong about the politics of the Arab and Islamic world, it is this little item from the New York Times about the Arab summit meeting in Doha, Qatar.

As the Times puts it, the Arabs are divided about everything … except their support for Sudan’s Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the architect of a campaign of rape and murder in Darfur that earned him an indictment from the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. There may be a warrant for al-Bashir’s arrest sitting in The Hague but he got nothing but hugs, kisses, and statements of support from fellow Arab leaders.

As far as the Islamic world is concerned, the hubbub about genocide in Darfur is strictly a Western plot. They even have the chutzpah to compare the unpleasantness in Darfur to Israel’s counter-attack against the non-stop firing of missiles on civilians in southern Israel. (They are okay with the Palestinians’ attempts to murder Jews; it is the Jews’ attempts to defend themselves that constitute the real war crime.).

The point is the Arab and Islamic world couldn’t care less about how many hundreds of thousands of Darfurians are massacred by their Sudanese pals. Of course, they don’t care about the Palestinians either. If they did, they would push them to give up their irredentist hopes of destroying the Jewish State and to concentrate on improving their own lives and making peace.

But, of course, what’s really interesting about this is the virtual silence from human-rights groups and international non-governmental organizations who are dedicated to demonizing Israel while they won’t lift a finger to hold the governments who support Sudan accountable for their behavior.

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The Conservative Reaction

Patrick Ruffini observes:

If nothing else, the first 70 days of Obama — with an assist from the last 4 months of Bush — has left government economic policy so off-kilter that it may take a decade or more to fix. Remember that exhausted to-do list? Not a problem any more. . .

Though it has apparently triumphed, this is a dangerous moment for liberalism. Long-planned moves toward redistribution like universal health care or the repeal of the Bush tax cuts are being conflated with and to some extent elbowed aside by emergency nationalizations and Mr.  Geithner’s experiments.

Ironically, liberals in their moment of triumph may be exposed as never before while conservatives at their low ebb electorally have, to a large degree, not been as energized since the 1980 election.

Since their electoral thumping in November, conservatives have had many internal arguments and debates, some of which go to substance and others, to tactics. But as we make our way through the First 100 Days there is remarkable cohesion around the notion of “not Obamaism.” (We’re not supposed to call it socialism.) That is not to say, opposition to him personally, but to the dizzying policies he is pursuing. The glimpse of statism is alarming to those who value individual liberty and free markets. And in some sense the actions we are witnessing go beyond conservatives’ worst fears.

They expected that under Obama government spending would grow and liberal pet projects would increase. But fewer of them believed the rule of law would be at risk (e.g., cramming down mortgages, government seizures of business, bonus claw-backs) or that Obama’s team would seek to micromanage hiring, compensation, and other aspects of the day-to-day operation of corporate America. And Obama’s rush to do it all (from health-care to cap-and-trade) and do it fast with nary a concern for constitutional niceties has left many on the Right slack-jawed at the sheer scope of Obama’s ambition.

To say there has been a visceral reaction against the enormous acquisition of government authority would be a vast understatement. Suddenly conservatives are forced to articulate why market capitalism is preferable to state-directed economies. They have been, by circumstances, driven to explain the benefits of decentralized decision-making and the connection between markets and personal liberty. (Conservatives love this sort of thing so there is a revived sense of purpose in the ranks despite their dismal political condition.)

Had Obama chosen a moderate centrist course, I rather doubt such a robust conservative discussion would be raging. But Obama is no moderate — and in that sense he has provided the incentive and opportunity for conservatives to make their case. By populating his administration with implausible and hapless functionaries, he has presented conservatives with the opening to explain the folly that comes from presuming that the “best and the brightest” can run a modern, globalized economy.

Will conservatives succeed in beating back Obamaism? Much depends on how committed Obama is to his Leftist course and how disastrous the results are. Unemployment rates, bond auctions, deficit figures, and other economic indicators will have much to do with the success of conservatives’ attempted revival. Americans are an immensely practical people, and are perhaps more likely to be persuaded by “Look what a mess!” arguments than by appeals on purely ideological grounds. After all, had Jimmy Carter not made such hash out of the economy, there may have been no Reagan Revolution.

For now, conservatives are having a brief interlude to make their philosophical principles clear. We’ll see in the era of Obama if the public perks up.

Patrick Ruffini observes:

If nothing else, the first 70 days of Obama — with an assist from the last 4 months of Bush — has left government economic policy so off-kilter that it may take a decade or more to fix. Remember that exhausted to-do list? Not a problem any more. . .

Though it has apparently triumphed, this is a dangerous moment for liberalism. Long-planned moves toward redistribution like universal health care or the repeal of the Bush tax cuts are being conflated with and to some extent elbowed aside by emergency nationalizations and Mr.  Geithner’s experiments.

Ironically, liberals in their moment of triumph may be exposed as never before while conservatives at their low ebb electorally have, to a large degree, not been as energized since the 1980 election.

Since their electoral thumping in November, conservatives have had many internal arguments and debates, some of which go to substance and others, to tactics. But as we make our way through the First 100 Days there is remarkable cohesion around the notion of “not Obamaism.” (We’re not supposed to call it socialism.) That is not to say, opposition to him personally, but to the dizzying policies he is pursuing. The glimpse of statism is alarming to those who value individual liberty and free markets. And in some sense the actions we are witnessing go beyond conservatives’ worst fears.

They expected that under Obama government spending would grow and liberal pet projects would increase. But fewer of them believed the rule of law would be at risk (e.g., cramming down mortgages, government seizures of business, bonus claw-backs) or that Obama’s team would seek to micromanage hiring, compensation, and other aspects of the day-to-day operation of corporate America. And Obama’s rush to do it all (from health-care to cap-and-trade) and do it fast with nary a concern for constitutional niceties has left many on the Right slack-jawed at the sheer scope of Obama’s ambition.

To say there has been a visceral reaction against the enormous acquisition of government authority would be a vast understatement. Suddenly conservatives are forced to articulate why market capitalism is preferable to state-directed economies. They have been, by circumstances, driven to explain the benefits of decentralized decision-making and the connection between markets and personal liberty. (Conservatives love this sort of thing so there is a revived sense of purpose in the ranks despite their dismal political condition.)

Had Obama chosen a moderate centrist course, I rather doubt such a robust conservative discussion would be raging. But Obama is no moderate — and in that sense he has provided the incentive and opportunity for conservatives to make their case. By populating his administration with implausible and hapless functionaries, he has presented conservatives with the opening to explain the folly that comes from presuming that the “best and the brightest” can run a modern, globalized economy.

Will conservatives succeed in beating back Obamaism? Much depends on how committed Obama is to his Leftist course and how disastrous the results are. Unemployment rates, bond auctions, deficit figures, and other economic indicators will have much to do with the success of conservatives’ attempted revival. Americans are an immensely practical people, and are perhaps more likely to be persuaded by “Look what a mess!” arguments than by appeals on purely ideological grounds. After all, had Jimmy Carter not made such hash out of the economy, there may have been no Reagan Revolution.

For now, conservatives are having a brief interlude to make their philosophical principles clear. We’ll see in the era of Obama if the public perks up.

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Bibi Sworn In

Bibi’s equivalent of an inaugural address — his speech to the Knesset at the ceremony for the swearing in of the new government — just ended. It began with a call for unity – of government (embodied by his new cabinet, which Netanyahu’s opponents call a “right-wing government joined by Labor”) and of purpose.

Further on, he talked at length about the challenges to Israel’s relations with Arabs. Undeterred by any concerns over sounding old-fashioned or blunt, he spoke plainly about “radical Islam” and the danger it poses to Israel and the world. He reiterated that Israel doesn’t want to rule the Palestinians; that Israelis have no desire to be occupiers. But he didn’t shy away from naming the obvious obstacle to lasting peace: the lack of a credible Palestinian partner with whom to settle a final status agreement. We will work toward peace, the new PM has promised, but he also reminded his audience that all attempts at finding shortcuts to the desired outcome have thus far ended in disaster.

As I was listening to his speech, I was amazed that there are people still portraying his message as “extreme” or “radical.” It could be safely characterized as mainstream. Any supporters drawn to a bolder, more revolutionary, Netanyahu might have been disappointed. Netanyahu — political maneuvering and coalition-opposition games aside — was sworn in espousing a message very few Israelis would object to: consensual, pragmatic, and sober.

“What’s the headline,” a TV anchor asked? “No headlines,” the political correspondent said. The new Netanyahu doesn’t want to be headlined. He doesn’t give many interviews, and when he does, he doesn’t try to amaze, or enrage, or shock. Headlines, Netanyahu seems to have learned, can be disruptive.

Bibi’s equivalent of an inaugural address — his speech to the Knesset at the ceremony for the swearing in of the new government — just ended. It began with a call for unity – of government (embodied by his new cabinet, which Netanyahu’s opponents call a “right-wing government joined by Labor”) and of purpose.

Further on, he talked at length about the challenges to Israel’s relations with Arabs. Undeterred by any concerns over sounding old-fashioned or blunt, he spoke plainly about “radical Islam” and the danger it poses to Israel and the world. He reiterated that Israel doesn’t want to rule the Palestinians; that Israelis have no desire to be occupiers. But he didn’t shy away from naming the obvious obstacle to lasting peace: the lack of a credible Palestinian partner with whom to settle a final status agreement. We will work toward peace, the new PM has promised, but he also reminded his audience that all attempts at finding shortcuts to the desired outcome have thus far ended in disaster.

As I was listening to his speech, I was amazed that there are people still portraying his message as “extreme” or “radical.” It could be safely characterized as mainstream. Any supporters drawn to a bolder, more revolutionary, Netanyahu might have been disappointed. Netanyahu — political maneuvering and coalition-opposition games aside — was sworn in espousing a message very few Israelis would object to: consensual, pragmatic, and sober.

“What’s the headline,” a TV anchor asked? “No headlines,” the political correspondent said. The new Netanyahu doesn’t want to be headlined. He doesn’t give many interviews, and when he does, he doesn’t try to amaze, or enrage, or shock. Headlines, Netanyahu seems to have learned, can be disruptive.

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UN Tribunals Doing Their Jobs

Let’s hear it for the United Nations and its systems of international tribunals. That thought was prompted by news of the trial now being held by a special international tribunal for Cambodia. In the dock is an odious former Khmer Rouge prison commandant who was responsible for countless deaths. Meanwhile other special UN tribunals continue to investigate war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Lebanon, and the International Criminal Court has courageously issued an arrest warrant for Omar Bashir, the president of Sudan, who has presided over genocide in Darfur. When I was in Lebanon recently, members of the March 14th movement told me they thought the indictment had already had a positive impact in chastening Syrian president Bashir Assad and dissuading him, at least for the time being, from further political assassinations that may wind up getting him indicted.

From where I sit, these tribunals are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing — and not what many opponents feared they would. Critics have claimed that international courts would become unaccountable tools of an anti-American, anti-Israel agenda. That is certainly possible, but to date that danger has not materialized.

Instead politicized prosecutions have so far come exclusively from national courts which, if you listen to the arguments of pro-sovereignty conservatives, are supposed to be repositories of democratic virtue and accountability. So how to explain that a Spanish judge is pursuing a crackpot case charging Bush administration officials such as Alberto Gonzalez, John Yoo, and Douglas Feith with supposed human-rights violations at Guantanamo? Clearly there is a lack of accountability for Spanish judges. Similar problems have arisen in other European courts where attempts have been made to prosecute American and Israeli officials.

It is sometimes in America’s interest to give up some sovereignty in order to promote our broader interests. That’s not a terribly hard sell when it comes to NAFTA or the WTO; conservatives are naturally sympathetic to international systems for trade accountability. But if we can hold nations accountable for unfairly raising tariffs, why shouldn’t we hold them accountable for far more serious breaches of human rights?

Let’s hear it for the United Nations and its systems of international tribunals. That thought was prompted by news of the trial now being held by a special international tribunal for Cambodia. In the dock is an odious former Khmer Rouge prison commandant who was responsible for countless deaths. Meanwhile other special UN tribunals continue to investigate war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Lebanon, and the International Criminal Court has courageously issued an arrest warrant for Omar Bashir, the president of Sudan, who has presided over genocide in Darfur. When I was in Lebanon recently, members of the March 14th movement told me they thought the indictment had already had a positive impact in chastening Syrian president Bashir Assad and dissuading him, at least for the time being, from further political assassinations that may wind up getting him indicted.

From where I sit, these tribunals are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing — and not what many opponents feared they would. Critics have claimed that international courts would become unaccountable tools of an anti-American, anti-Israel agenda. That is certainly possible, but to date that danger has not materialized.

Instead politicized prosecutions have so far come exclusively from national courts which, if you listen to the arguments of pro-sovereignty conservatives, are supposed to be repositories of democratic virtue and accountability. So how to explain that a Spanish judge is pursuing a crackpot case charging Bush administration officials such as Alberto Gonzalez, John Yoo, and Douglas Feith with supposed human-rights violations at Guantanamo? Clearly there is a lack of accountability for Spanish judges. Similar problems have arisen in other European courts where attempts have been made to prosecute American and Israeli officials.

It is sometimes in America’s interest to give up some sovereignty in order to promote our broader interests. That’s not a terribly hard sell when it comes to NAFTA or the WTO; conservatives are naturally sympathetic to international systems for trade accountability. But if we can hold nations accountable for unfairly raising tariffs, why shouldn’t we hold them accountable for far more serious breaches of human rights?

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What Administration Is He Watching?

Roger Simon at Politico proclaims: “In a startling departure, the Obama administration has decided that the price of failure in America should be failure.” I’m not sure what administration Simon is observing but it isn’t this one.

If the Obama administration decided the price of failure should be failure, it wouldn’t have a committee of car company novices constructing plans for the beleaguered companies (“You merge; you over there, fire your CEO.”). It would not be offering GM more and more taxpayer subsidies. If the price of failure were failure, failing companies would be heading to bankruptcy court (where they may still wind up with a whole lot of meddling along the way.)

Richard Haass had it right when he explained:

This is the Brave New World.  What we have are public-private partnerships across the US economy.  What used to be called the private sector is now the public-private sector. And this is not the last of this sort of thing we’re going to see.  There’s no way the United States gives tens of billions of dollars to what used to be called private firms and doesn’t have strings attached. Get used to this.

The notion that Obama has now shown himself to be some sort of defender of market discipline is ludicrous. He is demonstrating that the price of failure in America is the government moving in, taking over your business, firing your CEO, spending taxpayers’ money, and imposing a hodgepodge of social policies.

Roger Simon at Politico proclaims: “In a startling departure, the Obama administration has decided that the price of failure in America should be failure.” I’m not sure what administration Simon is observing but it isn’t this one.

If the Obama administration decided the price of failure should be failure, it wouldn’t have a committee of car company novices constructing plans for the beleaguered companies (“You merge; you over there, fire your CEO.”). It would not be offering GM more and more taxpayer subsidies. If the price of failure were failure, failing companies would be heading to bankruptcy court (where they may still wind up with a whole lot of meddling along the way.)

Richard Haass had it right when he explained:

This is the Brave New World.  What we have are public-private partnerships across the US economy.  What used to be called the private sector is now the public-private sector. And this is not the last of this sort of thing we’re going to see.  There’s no way the United States gives tens of billions of dollars to what used to be called private firms and doesn’t have strings attached. Get used to this.

The notion that Obama has now shown himself to be some sort of defender of market discipline is ludicrous. He is demonstrating that the price of failure in America is the government moving in, taking over your business, firing your CEO, spending taxpayers’ money, and imposing a hodgepodge of social policies.

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He’s not the Barack Obama Europe Knew

Where Ronald Reagan tore down a wall, Barack Obama has hit one — and it’s made of bricks. European support for the American president is suffering. As Gregor Peter Schmitz asserts in Der Spiegel, “it has become clear that the most contentious issues [between the U.S. and Europe] have been shelved.” This means Obama is no longer asking Europe to replicate his idea of a stimulus plan and he’s not pushing for military help in Afghanistan. On both issues European leaders have declared, “No we can’t.”

And people say Bush squandered the world’s sympathy? Anyone remember nuggets like this from the Obama Summer of Love? 

Spend a few days in western Europe talking about American politics and you discover that you are in deepest Obamaland. Not much different from Berkeley, California, or the South Side of Chicago.

As a woman put it to me in Paris: “We want America back.”

Sure they do – preferably as a collection of taxpaying colonies. And on the campaign trail, Obama probably would have considered ruling that out bad form. Back then Former French Cultural Minister Jack Lang said, Obama is “the America we love …”; but the truth is Obama campaigned as the Europe Europeans love: anti-Bush, anti-war, pro-state, pro-green, and ever disgusted with American power. Europeans’ problem now is that, even though Obama is still Obama, he became “America” once he took office.

For starters, America cannot afford to casually “end” a war it is winning.  Obama’s anti-Iraq War agenda has evaporated. European publics are disappointed, but their leaders will let it slide so long as they don’t have to send troops. This is why Afghanistan is a problem. Obama can call the war on terror whatever he wants, but any concerted use of force against Muslims will be, from a combat standpoint, largely unilateral. European leaders have lost the will and the political capital to risk domestic Islamist upheaval should they raise guns in Muslim lands.  The war on terror’s biggest motivational challenge is not linguistic or stylistic, but demographic. 

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

Where Ronald Reagan tore down a wall, Barack Obama has hit one — and it’s made of bricks. European support for the American president is suffering. As Gregor Peter Schmitz asserts in Der Spiegel, “it has become clear that the most contentious issues [between the U.S. and Europe] have been shelved.” This means Obama is no longer asking Europe to replicate his idea of a stimulus plan and he’s not pushing for military help in Afghanistan. On both issues European leaders have declared, “No we can’t.”

And people say Bush squandered the world’s sympathy? Anyone remember nuggets like this from the Obama Summer of Love? 

Spend a few days in western Europe talking about American politics and you discover that you are in deepest Obamaland. Not much different from Berkeley, California, or the South Side of Chicago.

As a woman put it to me in Paris: “We want America back.”

Sure they do – preferably as a collection of taxpaying colonies. And on the campaign trail, Obama probably would have considered ruling that out bad form. Back then Former French Cultural Minister Jack Lang said, Obama is “the America we love …”; but the truth is Obama campaigned as the Europe Europeans love: anti-Bush, anti-war, pro-state, pro-green, and ever disgusted with American power. Europeans’ problem now is that, even though Obama is still Obama, he became “America” once he took office.

For starters, America cannot afford to casually “end” a war it is winning.  Obama’s anti-Iraq War agenda has evaporated. European publics are disappointed, but their leaders will let it slide so long as they don’t have to send troops. This is why Afghanistan is a problem. Obama can call the war on terror whatever he wants, but any concerted use of force against Muslims will be, from a combat standpoint, largely unilateral. European leaders have lost the will and the political capital to risk domestic Islamist upheaval should they raise guns in Muslim lands.  The war on terror’s biggest motivational challenge is not linguistic or stylistic, but demographic. 

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

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Olmert Saying Goodbye

Ehud Olmert just concluded his parting remarks as Prime Minister, thus marking the start of the initiatory ceremony during which the new government will be sworn in. His speech was long and boring: Olmert was counting his achievements one by one, including some events and policies (like the Lebanon War) the public is not inclined to view as accomplishments.

His message for the newly elected Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his partner-in-chief, Defense Minister Ehud Barak: “working tirelessly toward peace enabled me and my government to use force when was necessary.” This is a treacherous argument for two reasons:

1.       Stating in public that the greatest result of peace initiatives was attaining  leverage toward the use of force discredits Olmert’s efforts to advance peace, and  diminishes the credibility of future Israeli governments in working toward that goal.

2.       There’s an argument to be made that Olmert’s blind pursuit of peace seeded the conditions that made the use of force necessary.

Ehud Olmert just concluded his parting remarks as Prime Minister, thus marking the start of the initiatory ceremony during which the new government will be sworn in. His speech was long and boring: Olmert was counting his achievements one by one, including some events and policies (like the Lebanon War) the public is not inclined to view as accomplishments.

His message for the newly elected Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his partner-in-chief, Defense Minister Ehud Barak: “working tirelessly toward peace enabled me and my government to use force when was necessary.” This is a treacherous argument for two reasons:

1.       Stating in public that the greatest result of peace initiatives was attaining  leverage toward the use of force discredits Olmert’s efforts to advance peace, and  diminishes the credibility of future Israeli governments in working toward that goal.

2.       There’s an argument to be made that Olmert’s blind pursuit of peace seeded the conditions that made the use of force necessary.

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Hezbollah Doesn’t Have Wings

A few weeks ago Britain decided to unfreeze “diplomatic relations” with Hezbollah, and the nonsensical phrases “political wing” and “military wing” have been used to describe the Iranian-backed militia ever since. Britain now says it’s okay to meet with members of Hezbollah’s “political wing” while maintaining the blacklisting of its “military wing,” but these “wings” don’t exist in any meaningful sense. If Hezbollah were actually two distinct entities with separate policies it might make sense for British diplomats to do business with one and not the other, but that’s not how Hezbollah is structured. Of course Hezbollah’s fighters and members of parliament aren’t the same individuals, but Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah is the leader of the entire organization.

The Obama Administration knows better. One U.S. official wants Britain to explain “the difference between the political, social and military wings of Hezbollah because we don’t see the difference between the integrated leadership that they see.” “The US does not distinguish between military, cultural and political wings of Hezbollah,” another U.S. official said, “and our decision to avoid making such a distinction is premised on accurate available information indicating that all Hezbollah wings and branches share finances, personnel and unified leadership and they all support violence.”

Christopher Hitchens published a compelling piece in next month’s Vanity Fair wherein he compares and contrasts two rallies he attended in Beirut in February — one commemorating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, and the other commemorating the assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mugniyeh last year in Damascus.

“Try picturing a Shiite-Muslim mega-church,” he wrote of the Hezbollah rally, “in a huge downtown tent, with separate entrances for men and women and separate seating (with the women all covered in black). A huge poster of a nuclear mushroom cloud surmounts the scene, with the inscription OH ZIONISTS, IF YOU WANT THIS TYPE OF WAR THEN SO BE IT! During the warm-up, an onstage Muslim Milli Vanilli orchestra and choir lip-synchs badly to a repetitive, robotic music video that shows lurid scenes of martyrdom and warfare. There is keening and wailing, while the aisles are patrolled by gray-uniformed male stewards and black-chador’d crones. Key words keep repeating themselves with thumping effect: shahid (martyr), jihad (holy war), yehud (Jew). In the special section for guests there sits a group of uniformed and be-medaled officials representing the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Was the Mugniyeh rally staged and attended by Hezbollah’s “political wing” or its “military wing?” It doesn’t make any difference. The question doesn’t even make sense because Hezbollah doesn’t have wings.

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A few weeks ago Britain decided to unfreeze “diplomatic relations” with Hezbollah, and the nonsensical phrases “political wing” and “military wing” have been used to describe the Iranian-backed militia ever since. Britain now says it’s okay to meet with members of Hezbollah’s “political wing” while maintaining the blacklisting of its “military wing,” but these “wings” don’t exist in any meaningful sense. If Hezbollah were actually two distinct entities with separate policies it might make sense for British diplomats to do business with one and not the other, but that’s not how Hezbollah is structured. Of course Hezbollah’s fighters and members of parliament aren’t the same individuals, but Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah is the leader of the entire organization.

The Obama Administration knows better. One U.S. official wants Britain to explain “the difference between the political, social and military wings of Hezbollah because we don’t see the difference between the integrated leadership that they see.” “The US does not distinguish between military, cultural and political wings of Hezbollah,” another U.S. official said, “and our decision to avoid making such a distinction is premised on accurate available information indicating that all Hezbollah wings and branches share finances, personnel and unified leadership and they all support violence.”

Christopher Hitchens published a compelling piece in next month’s Vanity Fair wherein he compares and contrasts two rallies he attended in Beirut in February — one commemorating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, and the other commemorating the assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mugniyeh last year in Damascus.

“Try picturing a Shiite-Muslim mega-church,” he wrote of the Hezbollah rally, “in a huge downtown tent, with separate entrances for men and women and separate seating (with the women all covered in black). A huge poster of a nuclear mushroom cloud surmounts the scene, with the inscription OH ZIONISTS, IF YOU WANT THIS TYPE OF WAR THEN SO BE IT! During the warm-up, an onstage Muslim Milli Vanilli orchestra and choir lip-synchs badly to a repetitive, robotic music video that shows lurid scenes of martyrdom and warfare. There is keening and wailing, while the aisles are patrolled by gray-uniformed male stewards and black-chador’d crones. Key words keep repeating themselves with thumping effect: shahid (martyr), jihad (holy war), yehud (Jew). In the special section for guests there sits a group of uniformed and be-medaled officials representing the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Was the Mugniyeh rally staged and attended by Hezbollah’s “political wing” or its “military wing?” It doesn’t make any difference. The question doesn’t even make sense because Hezbollah doesn’t have wings.

Matthew Levitt at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy points out the absurdity of this kind of hair-splitting. “The European Union,” he wrote, “has not yet designated any part of Hezbollah — military, political or otherwise — although it did label Imad Mughniyeh, the late Hezbollah chief of external operations, and several other Hezbollah members involved in specific acts of terrorism.”

The European Union thinks the “military wing” of Hezbollah isn’t a terrorist organization, even while declaring its deceased commander Imad Mugniyeh a terrorist. How can a terrorist commander’s lieutenants and other subordinates not themselves be terrorists?

It’s unlikely that the British and European governments are imagining things or don’t know what they’re doing. They’re just seeking a way to make themselves look slightly less ridiculous to people who don’t know any better. The meaningless phrases “political wing” and “military wing” are catching on now in the media, though, so more people than ever won’t know any better.

Worse is Britain’s Orwellian excuse for re-establishing ties in the first place. The Foreign Office said it was encouraged by “positive recent political developments in Lebanon.”

One of the “positive recent political developments” the office referred to is the “national unity” government formed after Hezbollah’s violent seizure of West Beirut last year. Hezbollah acquired veto power in the Lebanese government’s cabinet by shooting up and terrorizing the most liberal and cosmopolitan neighborhood in the entire country. Hezbollah’s “political wing” seized power by deploying its “military wing.” You don’t need to be an expert on Lebanese politics to see that it’s a single organization or that an organization’s killing its way into a national unity government isn’t a positive development.

If Britain and the European Union want to talk to Hezbollah, they’ll discover soon enough that the Party of God hasn’t changed for the better, that it’s part of the problem and not the solution. It would be better, though, if they admitted what they’re doing, with whom, and why, instead of pretending Hezbollah is something it isn’t.

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Yeah, You Guys Could Be Next

It is taking some time for the management of financial institutions to realize what they have done by “accepting” (in some case being bludgeoned into receiving) government assistance. The Washington Post reports:

The administration’s display of authority sent U.S. stocks tumbling and raised questions about whether the government would take similar steps against top executives at U.S. banks that are also receiving government bailout funds.

[. . .]

The administration’s decision to oust G. Richard Wagoner Jr. sharply ratchets up its control over companies receiving government assistance in the face of criticism about a lack of accountability over billions of taxpayer dollars. The government demanded Wagoner’s departure even though it does not own a stake in the automaker. The three companies the government does control — American International Group, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae — were required to replace their chief executives. The government has not, however, required any banks in which it took smaller stakes to replace its top executives. It did pressure Citigroup to replace several members of its board of directors.

And some of those executives at financial institutions are now fretting. The government can set salaries, rip up contracts, force out management, determine business plans, use threats of exposure (your bonus or your name?) from the bully pulpit to boss you around. Oh, and if you think the decisions will be made “on the merits” think again — or have a talk with Reps. Barney Frank or Maxine Waters.

In place of bankruptcy courts we have a creepy form of corporate socialism, where taxpayers fund the bill and carry the risk. (Victor Davis Hanson observes that at least rhetorically it is “first person socialism.”) In the Brave New World of Obamaism decisions are made by political appointees — or even worse, by committees of political appointees. No wonder the banks want to give back the TARP money. But that won’t save them now. No, the Obama team is on a roll and intends to exercise new powers even over firms it hasn’t yet funded.

Today GM, tomorrow Bank of America. Those bank execs have good reason to worry.

It is taking some time for the management of financial institutions to realize what they have done by “accepting” (in some case being bludgeoned into receiving) government assistance. The Washington Post reports:

The administration’s display of authority sent U.S. stocks tumbling and raised questions about whether the government would take similar steps against top executives at U.S. banks that are also receiving government bailout funds.

[. . .]

The administration’s decision to oust G. Richard Wagoner Jr. sharply ratchets up its control over companies receiving government assistance in the face of criticism about a lack of accountability over billions of taxpayer dollars. The government demanded Wagoner’s departure even though it does not own a stake in the automaker. The three companies the government does control — American International Group, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae — were required to replace their chief executives. The government has not, however, required any banks in which it took smaller stakes to replace its top executives. It did pressure Citigroup to replace several members of its board of directors.

And some of those executives at financial institutions are now fretting. The government can set salaries, rip up contracts, force out management, determine business plans, use threats of exposure (your bonus or your name?) from the bully pulpit to boss you around. Oh, and if you think the decisions will be made “on the merits” think again — or have a talk with Reps. Barney Frank or Maxine Waters.

In place of bankruptcy courts we have a creepy form of corporate socialism, where taxpayers fund the bill and carry the risk. (Victor Davis Hanson observes that at least rhetorically it is “first person socialism.”) In the Brave New World of Obamaism decisions are made by political appointees — or even worse, by committees of political appointees. No wonder the banks want to give back the TARP money. But that won’t save them now. No, the Obama team is on a roll and intends to exercise new powers even over firms it hasn’t yet funded.

Today GM, tomorrow Bank of America. Those bank execs have good reason to worry.

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Re: General Petraeus’s Staff Made Me Do It

As if determined to show how self-destructive a blog can be in the hands of a perennially angry man, Joe Klein has decided to respond to my posting. You can read the exchange for yourself and see if I was “berserking another big lie” about Klein or simply pointing out the core argument he made, which he now wishes to back away from.

I’d add just one other substantive point to the back-and-forth between Klein and me. Back in the July 9, 2007 issue of the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol wrote an editorial, “Richard Lugar,
Meet David Kilcullen,” where he draws attention to a very intelligent June 26, 2007 posting by Kilcullen on his smallwarsjournal.com blog. In it, Kilcullen reports a comment he made 10 days earlier to Austin Bay:

I know some people in the media are already starting to sort of write off the “surge” and say ‘Hey, hang on: we’ve been going since January, we haven’t seen a massive turnaround; it mustn’t be working’. What we’ve been doing to date is putting forces into position. We haven’t actually started what I would call the “surge” yet. All we’ve been doing is building up forces and trying to secure the population. And what I would say to people who say that it’s already failed is “watch this space”. Because you’re going to see, in fairly short order, some changes in the way we’re operating that will make what’s been happening over the past few months look like what it is-just a preliminary build up.

After a very intelligent explanation of the theory behind the surge, Kilcullen turned to the practice of it:

The practice, as always, has been mixed. Personally, I think we are doing reasonably well and casualties have been lower so far than I feared…. It will be a long, hard summer, with much pain and loss to come, and things could still go either way. But the population-centric approach is the beginning of a process that aims to put the overall campaign onto a sustainable long-term footing. The politics of the matter then can be decisive, provided the Iraqis use the time we have bought for them to reach the essential accommodation. The Embassy and MNF-I continue to work on these issues at the highest levels but fundamentally, this is something that only Iraqis can resolve: our role is to provide an environment in which it becomes possible.

These are the wise, measured words of a man who knows of what he speaks. They are manifestly not the words of Klein, who just two months before Kilcullen wrote his analysis was saying that Bush was:

adding troops and employing counterinsurgency tactics inappropriate to the situation on the ground…. As with Bush’s invasion of Iraq, the decision to surge was made unilaterally, without adequate respect for history or military doctrine.

Either way, I am delighted to see Joe moonwalk away from his initial claim that, in his words, “my doubts about the surge came as a result of long conversations with members of the Petraeus staff. Key members of the team opposed the operation, including Petraeus’s top counterinsurgency adviser David Kilcullen and others, whose names will remain private because our conversations were.”

So we have now, perhaps, arrived at that all important common ground. It is indeed refreshing to hear Joe Klein take responsibility for his consistently disastrous judgments on Iraq.

As if determined to show how self-destructive a blog can be in the hands of a perennially angry man, Joe Klein has decided to respond to my posting. You can read the exchange for yourself and see if I was “berserking another big lie” about Klein or simply pointing out the core argument he made, which he now wishes to back away from.

I’d add just one other substantive point to the back-and-forth between Klein and me. Back in the July 9, 2007 issue of the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol wrote an editorial, “Richard Lugar,
Meet David Kilcullen,” where he draws attention to a very intelligent June 26, 2007 posting by Kilcullen on his smallwarsjournal.com blog. In it, Kilcullen reports a comment he made 10 days earlier to Austin Bay:

I know some people in the media are already starting to sort of write off the “surge” and say ‘Hey, hang on: we’ve been going since January, we haven’t seen a massive turnaround; it mustn’t be working’. What we’ve been doing to date is putting forces into position. We haven’t actually started what I would call the “surge” yet. All we’ve been doing is building up forces and trying to secure the population. And what I would say to people who say that it’s already failed is “watch this space”. Because you’re going to see, in fairly short order, some changes in the way we’re operating that will make what’s been happening over the past few months look like what it is-just a preliminary build up.

After a very intelligent explanation of the theory behind the surge, Kilcullen turned to the practice of it:

The practice, as always, has been mixed. Personally, I think we are doing reasonably well and casualties have been lower so far than I feared…. It will be a long, hard summer, with much pain and loss to come, and things could still go either way. But the population-centric approach is the beginning of a process that aims to put the overall campaign onto a sustainable long-term footing. The politics of the matter then can be decisive, provided the Iraqis use the time we have bought for them to reach the essential accommodation. The Embassy and MNF-I continue to work on these issues at the highest levels but fundamentally, this is something that only Iraqis can resolve: our role is to provide an environment in which it becomes possible.

These are the wise, measured words of a man who knows of what he speaks. They are manifestly not the words of Klein, who just two months before Kilcullen wrote his analysis was saying that Bush was:

adding troops and employing counterinsurgency tactics inappropriate to the situation on the ground…. As with Bush’s invasion of Iraq, the decision to surge was made unilaterally, without adequate respect for history or military doctrine.

Either way, I am delighted to see Joe moonwalk away from his initial claim that, in his words, “my doubts about the surge came as a result of long conversations with members of the Petraeus staff. Key members of the team opposed the operation, including Petraeus’s top counterinsurgency adviser David Kilcullen and others, whose names will remain private because our conversations were.”

So we have now, perhaps, arrived at that all important common ground. It is indeed refreshing to hear Joe Klein take responsibility for his consistently disastrous judgments on Iraq.

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Too Busy Running the Economy

Dana Milbank (with equal measures of snark and alarm) summarizes the role of car salesman-in-chief:

Playing car salesman is an unusual role for a president of the United States — but, then again, Obama has taken the presidency to many unusual places in his 70 days on the job. Republicans are howling about a “power grab” and “dictatorial” powers that, they say, would allow the Treasury secretary to take over private businesses at will. Even congressional Democrats are balking at Obama’s broad plans to expand the government’s role in energy and health care and increase its ownership of the banking industry.

Now Obama is taking a turn behind the wheel of the automotive trade. In exchange for more bailout funds, Obama ordered the ouster of GM chief executive Rick Wagoner and the merger of Chrysler with Europe’s Fiat. And, in the federal government’s first foray into the muffler-and-brake-pad business, the White House announced a “Warranty Commitment Program” under which the federal government would “stand behind new cars purchased from GM or Chrysler.”

When Obama, preceded by a sales team of a dozen economic aides, entered the Grand Foyer yesterday morning, he offered assurances that “we have no intention of running GM.” But, in the rest of his 18-minute speech, he sounded as if he was doing just that. He ordered up “a better business plan” from GM and asserted that “Chrysler needs a partner to remain viable.” In both cases, the restructuring “may mean using our bankruptcy code.”

The hubris is remarkable — even for someone who ran as a messianic figure. The government is using some odd combination of bankruptcy and bullying to dictate the type of cars, the labor agreements, and the executive team for an industry, on which the government has already wreacked a fair share of havoc (via CAFE standards and permitting state emissions standards, for example). Really the government’s “Path to Viability” for the car companies sounds like the rough draft of a five-year industrial plan from the Soviet Union.

Some lawmakers are a bit upset they weren’t consulted. But why should Obama bother with that small stuff like constitutional comity let alone congressional appropriation ? He has banks, car companies, healthcare, and lots and lots of other things to run. When he says he doesn’t like “big government” there is a measure of truth. It’s a big presidency he adores.

Dana Milbank (with equal measures of snark and alarm) summarizes the role of car salesman-in-chief:

Playing car salesman is an unusual role for a president of the United States — but, then again, Obama has taken the presidency to many unusual places in his 70 days on the job. Republicans are howling about a “power grab” and “dictatorial” powers that, they say, would allow the Treasury secretary to take over private businesses at will. Even congressional Democrats are balking at Obama’s broad plans to expand the government’s role in energy and health care and increase its ownership of the banking industry.

Now Obama is taking a turn behind the wheel of the automotive trade. In exchange for more bailout funds, Obama ordered the ouster of GM chief executive Rick Wagoner and the merger of Chrysler with Europe’s Fiat. And, in the federal government’s first foray into the muffler-and-brake-pad business, the White House announced a “Warranty Commitment Program” under which the federal government would “stand behind new cars purchased from GM or Chrysler.”

When Obama, preceded by a sales team of a dozen economic aides, entered the Grand Foyer yesterday morning, he offered assurances that “we have no intention of running GM.” But, in the rest of his 18-minute speech, he sounded as if he was doing just that. He ordered up “a better business plan” from GM and asserted that “Chrysler needs a partner to remain viable.” In both cases, the restructuring “may mean using our bankruptcy code.”

The hubris is remarkable — even for someone who ran as a messianic figure. The government is using some odd combination of bankruptcy and bullying to dictate the type of cars, the labor agreements, and the executive team for an industry, on which the government has already wreacked a fair share of havoc (via CAFE standards and permitting state emissions standards, for example). Really the government’s “Path to Viability” for the car companies sounds like the rough draft of a five-year industrial plan from the Soviet Union.

Some lawmakers are a bit upset they weren’t consulted. But why should Obama bother with that small stuff like constitutional comity let alone congressional appropriation ? He has banks, car companies, healthcare, and lots and lots of other things to run. When he says he doesn’t like “big government” there is a measure of truth. It’s a big presidency he adores.

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Words, Words, Words

The Christian Science Monitor has a column by Chris Seiple, the president of the Institute for Global Engagement, in which Mr. Seiple outlines the problem with ten common words and phrases used in discussing Muslim extremism.

The words and phrases:  “The Clash of Civilizations,” “Secular, “Assimilation,” “Reformation,” “Jihadi, “Moderate,” “Interfaith,” “Freedom,” “Religious Freedom,” and “Tolerance.”

Jeff Goldstein has his own take on the subject, but  there are other points to be made. Several of these terms have lengthy histories that predate their current application, and we should not abandon them simply because some people have decided they don’t like them.

For example, “secular.” According to Mr. Seiple, this term is interpreted as “Godless” and is so incomprehensible to Islamists that it is offensive.

Or “assimilation.” This refers to the process whereby one who moves to an area alters their behavior to comply with local mores and traditions, and does not demand that locals yield to the ways of the newcomer. It means that when you join a society, you make a good-faith effort to fit in with your new neighbors.

“Moderate.” That’s simply a counterpart to “extremist.” Maybe we need a better term to differentiate the crazies from the not-crazies, but until a better one comes along, I say we stick with “moderate.” Especially considering how most cultures consider “moderation” a virtue.

“Freedom.” There should be no compromising with this one. Period.

“Religious freedom.” The basic concept of this is that all should be able to practice their religion freely, without outside interference — or live their lives completely free of religion — without the government interfering, or allowing others to impose their religious (or irreligious) beliefs. If others are misinterpreting that, then we need to explain the concept more clearly — not give up on the term.

Finally, “tolerance.”  Seiple urges that be replaced with “respect.” There are actually some beliefs which should not be tolerated or respected. Rather, they should be denounced and lambasted — such as the Islamist treatment of women. Our “tolerance” of that should extend to allowing women who wish to submit to that to do so, but we should never grant any respect to the culture that demands women be treated as property of male relatives.

Mr. Seiple’s argument is flawed I have never seen a single sign from an Islamist that they want to understand our culture, our society, our beliefs, or our way of life — just endless demands that we  yield to their way of thinking.

No thanks. When we agree to discuss these matters strictly on their terms, in their contexts, with their language, we have essentially lost the argument.

The Christian Science Monitor has a column by Chris Seiple, the president of the Institute for Global Engagement, in which Mr. Seiple outlines the problem with ten common words and phrases used in discussing Muslim extremism.

The words and phrases:  “The Clash of Civilizations,” “Secular, “Assimilation,” “Reformation,” “Jihadi, “Moderate,” “Interfaith,” “Freedom,” “Religious Freedom,” and “Tolerance.”

Jeff Goldstein has his own take on the subject, but  there are other points to be made. Several of these terms have lengthy histories that predate their current application, and we should not abandon them simply because some people have decided they don’t like them.

For example, “secular.” According to Mr. Seiple, this term is interpreted as “Godless” and is so incomprehensible to Islamists that it is offensive.

Or “assimilation.” This refers to the process whereby one who moves to an area alters their behavior to comply with local mores and traditions, and does not demand that locals yield to the ways of the newcomer. It means that when you join a society, you make a good-faith effort to fit in with your new neighbors.

“Moderate.” That’s simply a counterpart to “extremist.” Maybe we need a better term to differentiate the crazies from the not-crazies, but until a better one comes along, I say we stick with “moderate.” Especially considering how most cultures consider “moderation” a virtue.

“Freedom.” There should be no compromising with this one. Period.

“Religious freedom.” The basic concept of this is that all should be able to practice their religion freely, without outside interference — or live their lives completely free of religion — without the government interfering, or allowing others to impose their religious (or irreligious) beliefs. If others are misinterpreting that, then we need to explain the concept more clearly — not give up on the term.

Finally, “tolerance.”  Seiple urges that be replaced with “respect.” There are actually some beliefs which should not be tolerated or respected. Rather, they should be denounced and lambasted — such as the Islamist treatment of women. Our “tolerance” of that should extend to allowing women who wish to submit to that to do so, but we should never grant any respect to the culture that demands women be treated as property of male relatives.

Mr. Seiple’s argument is flawed I have never seen a single sign from an Islamist that they want to understand our culture, our society, our beliefs, or our way of life — just endless demands that we  yield to their way of thinking.

No thanks. When we agree to discuss these matters strictly on their terms, in their contexts, with their language, we have essentially lost the argument.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Dog bites man story: charter school without union contracts and rigid work rules can hire more teachers. (h/t Mickey Kaus). Next thing you know high union rates and cumbersome work rules will hobble the U.S. auto industry.

Angela Merkel joins critics of Tim Geithner’s toxic asset clean-up plan: “Politically we have to be careful that in the spirit of justice we don’t reach a point where the taxpayer bears the bad risks and the privately functioning banks in the end have all the good opportunities.”

Richard Cohen has had enough of car bailouts and Geithner: “Recall his confused explanations of how he learned of those AIG bonuses. Those of us who cannot find our keys in the morning ought to have nothing but sympathy for a man who is now running a large part of the American economy. Of course, he might not have been paying attention. He can’t pay attention to everything.”

A preview of what’s in store at the national level? New York’s state budget is out and “spending and tax both soar.” $10 billion in new taxes and fees — for one state, mind you.

The wit and wisdom of Jack Murtha: “If I’m corrupt, it’s because I take care of my district.” And: “The stimulus package is the earmarks of the administration.”

Big Labor bets on Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia gubernatorial race.

The pro-card check blogging is getting a bit wacky. They lost Senators Specter, Lincoln, Nelson and probably Feinstein but everything is fine, perfectly fine, and they are battling for those undecided senators? So they can get to the magic number of 56, I guess.

Well, this is one way to spin it: “A mark of the scale of Organizing for America’s drive for pledges in support of Obama’s budget: A source sends over a pledge form from Senator Tom Harkin, whom volunteers signed up at outside a DSCC event in San Francisco last night.” Another view: this “movement” isn’t doing anything productive if they are signing up Democratic Senators. Of their 100,000 pledges of support for the Obama budget I wonder how many were not Democratic elected officials, former staffers or died-in-the-wool Obama fans.

Nate Silver says Obama needs a 65% approval rating to hold ground in the congressional mid-terms. But he’s around 58% and trending downward so if that keeps up isn’t it a real problem for the Democrats? Well, I guess they are betting unemployment will be down by then, the deficit will be shrinking and those middle class tax cuts will be a hit. (But don’t count on the tax cuts.)

Larry Kudlow has it right: “As for Detroit, the carmakers should have been in bankruptcy months ago. And it is a bankruptcy court that should have fired GM’s Wagoner and his board. Along with some serious pain for bondholders, bankruptcy would have broken the high-cost labor contracts with the UAW as well as carmaker contracts with dealers across the country. That’s what bankruptcy courts are for. . . . And why isn’t Obama’s special auto task force ordering a replacement for Ron Gettelfinger, the UAW’s president? Weren’t their oversized pay and benefit packages a big part of the problem? Well, that’s never gonna happen. The election power of the union is too strong.”

The salient point: “From now on, GM and Chrysler are Mr. Obama’s companies, and taxpayers should hold him accountable for every dollar they are forced to spend to save jobs for the UAW and to make cars that Americans don’t necessarily want.” Good luck with that.

David Brooks wryly summed up: “Well, the president certainly acted tough on Monday. In a show of force, he released plans from his Office of People Who Are Much Smarter Than You Are. These plans insert the government into the car business in all sorts of ways. They pick winners (new C.E.O. Fritz Henderson) and losers (Rick Wagoner). They basically send Chrysler off into the sunset. Joe Biden will be doing car commercials within weeks.” The Office of People Who Are Much Smarter Than You Are is awfully busy these days — setting compensation, running bank bailouts, devising healthcare, etc.

Dog bites man story: charter school without union contracts and rigid work rules can hire more teachers. (h/t Mickey Kaus). Next thing you know high union rates and cumbersome work rules will hobble the U.S. auto industry.

Angela Merkel joins critics of Tim Geithner’s toxic asset clean-up plan: “Politically we have to be careful that in the spirit of justice we don’t reach a point where the taxpayer bears the bad risks and the privately functioning banks in the end have all the good opportunities.”

Richard Cohen has had enough of car bailouts and Geithner: “Recall his confused explanations of how he learned of those AIG bonuses. Those of us who cannot find our keys in the morning ought to have nothing but sympathy for a man who is now running a large part of the American economy. Of course, he might not have been paying attention. He can’t pay attention to everything.”

A preview of what’s in store at the national level? New York’s state budget is out and “spending and tax both soar.” $10 billion in new taxes and fees — for one state, mind you.

The wit and wisdom of Jack Murtha: “If I’m corrupt, it’s because I take care of my district.” And: “The stimulus package is the earmarks of the administration.”

Big Labor bets on Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia gubernatorial race.

The pro-card check blogging is getting a bit wacky. They lost Senators Specter, Lincoln, Nelson and probably Feinstein but everything is fine, perfectly fine, and they are battling for those undecided senators? So they can get to the magic number of 56, I guess.

Well, this is one way to spin it: “A mark of the scale of Organizing for America’s drive for pledges in support of Obama’s budget: A source sends over a pledge form from Senator Tom Harkin, whom volunteers signed up at outside a DSCC event in San Francisco last night.” Another view: this “movement” isn’t doing anything productive if they are signing up Democratic Senators. Of their 100,000 pledges of support for the Obama budget I wonder how many were not Democratic elected officials, former staffers or died-in-the-wool Obama fans.

Nate Silver says Obama needs a 65% approval rating to hold ground in the congressional mid-terms. But he’s around 58% and trending downward so if that keeps up isn’t it a real problem for the Democrats? Well, I guess they are betting unemployment will be down by then, the deficit will be shrinking and those middle class tax cuts will be a hit. (But don’t count on the tax cuts.)

Larry Kudlow has it right: “As for Detroit, the carmakers should have been in bankruptcy months ago. And it is a bankruptcy court that should have fired GM’s Wagoner and his board. Along with some serious pain for bondholders, bankruptcy would have broken the high-cost labor contracts with the UAW as well as carmaker contracts with dealers across the country. That’s what bankruptcy courts are for. . . . And why isn’t Obama’s special auto task force ordering a replacement for Ron Gettelfinger, the UAW’s president? Weren’t their oversized pay and benefit packages a big part of the problem? Well, that’s never gonna happen. The election power of the union is too strong.”

The salient point: “From now on, GM and Chrysler are Mr. Obama’s companies, and taxpayers should hold him accountable for every dollar they are forced to spend to save jobs for the UAW and to make cars that Americans don’t necessarily want.” Good luck with that.

David Brooks wryly summed up: “Well, the president certainly acted tough on Monday. In a show of force, he released plans from his Office of People Who Are Much Smarter Than You Are. These plans insert the government into the car business in all sorts of ways. They pick winners (new C.E.O. Fritz Henderson) and losers (Rick Wagoner). They basically send Chrysler off into the sunset. Joe Biden will be doing car commercials within weeks.” The Office of People Who Are Much Smarter Than You Are is awfully busy these days — setting compensation, running bank bailouts, devising healthcare, etc.

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From the Guy Who Brought You the Facebook Haggadah (Below)

Here’s the Graduate Student Haggadah.

Here’s the Graduate Student Haggadah.

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