Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 17, 2009

Inspiration in Afghanistan

C.J. Chivers, a former marine turned New York Times correspondent, has an inspirational story of how one platoon in the remote Korangal Valley of eastern Afghanistan managed to turn the tables on the insurgents who regularly attack them. He tells how an “American platoon surprised an armed Taliban column on a forested ridgeline at night, and killed at least 13 insurgents, and perhaps many more, with rifles, machine guns, Claymore mines, hand grenades and a knife.” The entire story is well worth reading.

The only thing I would add is that it’s a good thing that the U.S., despite considerable pressure to do so, has not signed the international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines. If we had, this platoon would not have been able to use Claymore mines around its ambush site. Some of the Taliban fighters might have escaped and wound up killing some of the American troops. Of course even if we did sign the treaty it would have no impact on the use of IEDs by insurgents in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. They would go right on killing our soldiers with their mines; but our soldiers could not use our much more discriminate mines to defend themselves.

C.J. Chivers, a former marine turned New York Times correspondent, has an inspirational story of how one platoon in the remote Korangal Valley of eastern Afghanistan managed to turn the tables on the insurgents who regularly attack them. He tells how an “American platoon surprised an armed Taliban column on a forested ridgeline at night, and killed at least 13 insurgents, and perhaps many more, with rifles, machine guns, Claymore mines, hand grenades and a knife.” The entire story is well worth reading.

The only thing I would add is that it’s a good thing that the U.S., despite considerable pressure to do so, has not signed the international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines. If we had, this platoon would not have been able to use Claymore mines around its ambush site. Some of the Taliban fighters might have escaped and wound up killing some of the American troops. Of course even if we did sign the treaty it would have no impact on the use of IEDs by insurgents in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. They would go right on killing our soldiers with their mines; but our soldiers could not use our much more discriminate mines to defend themselves.

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Clarity Is Good

This report is illuminating:

Two top Hamas leaders made their first appearances at public events since Israel’s Gaza war on Friday, signaling defiance of rival Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as he discussed peace prospects with a U.S. envoy.

“We cannot, we will not, and we will never recognize the enemy in any way, shape or form,” Mahmoud Zahar, one of the two leaders, said in a mosque sermon broadcast on the Islamist movement’s radio station.

Yet the president says that the democratic election of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu hasn’t made peace prospects “easier.” Had Kadima prevailed we’d be so much further along the road to peace, I suppose. And George Mitchell is out giving a “stern warning” to Israel that the two-state solution is the only way forward. So much for the triumphant return of the realists to the helm of American foreign policy.

This report is illuminating:

Two top Hamas leaders made their first appearances at public events since Israel’s Gaza war on Friday, signaling defiance of rival Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as he discussed peace prospects with a U.S. envoy.

“We cannot, we will not, and we will never recognize the enemy in any way, shape or form,” Mahmoud Zahar, one of the two leaders, said in a mosque sermon broadcast on the Islamist movement’s radio station.

Yet the president says that the democratic election of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu hasn’t made peace prospects “easier.” Had Kadima prevailed we’d be so much further along the road to peace, I suppose. And George Mitchell is out giving a “stern warning” to Israel that the two-state solution is the only way forward. So much for the triumphant return of the realists to the helm of American foreign policy.

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Commentary of the Day

Kent Lyon, on Abe Greenwald:

Perhaps the EPA will declare sunlight a hazard, as it not only causes global warming, but also cancer. Will there be a federal shade mandate? Perhaps reflective umbrellas could be unfurled all over the planet. Also, H2O is the largest contributor to global warming, so will that be restricted also? Perhaps that’s what Obama meant when he indicated his election would mark the point when the seas began to recede, a la Moses. And, by the way, how much are we to be required to cool the planet? Ice Age levels? Pleistocene temperatures? Or lower? Will a global thermostat be ordered by Congress? What atmospheric level of CO2 will be required? And will that level reduce crop yields and lead to starvation? Or the death of trees and other plants, with a result that O2 levels will fall to asphyxiation levels?

Kent Lyon, on Abe Greenwald:

Perhaps the EPA will declare sunlight a hazard, as it not only causes global warming, but also cancer. Will there be a federal shade mandate? Perhaps reflective umbrellas could be unfurled all over the planet. Also, H2O is the largest contributor to global warming, so will that be restricted also? Perhaps that’s what Obama meant when he indicated his election would mark the point when the seas began to recede, a la Moses. And, by the way, how much are we to be required to cool the planet? Ice Age levels? Pleistocene temperatures? Or lower? Will a global thermostat be ordered by Congress? What atmospheric level of CO2 will be required? And will that level reduce crop yields and lead to starvation? Or the death of trees and other plants, with a result that O2 levels will fall to asphyxiation levels?

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Re: It Was a Caterpillar

Abe, the caterpillar was never deployed but the report has set off a round of entirely expected wailing from all of the usual quarters. One wonders precisely what has them so apoplectic. It is not as if their ire is confined to waterboarding. Reasonable minds, I think, can differ on that one.

But they are apparently aghast by actions such as “slapping detainee’s face with fingers slightly spread” and “striking the abdomen with the back of an open hand.” They are mortified by “water dousing” — cold water poured on the detainee.” We are not talking about beating, kicking, starving, gouging, maiming, or any other activity which the term “torture” conjures up. We are talking about using these techniques under hyper-controlled circumstances, for a very limited group of people who are thought to have information that relates to a risk that Americans will die. (Even waterboarding is to be used only in the face of an “imminent attack,” with “substantial and credible indicators” that we can prevent or delay the attack and when other means of obtaining the information have failed.) And we shouldn’t do that or even slap someone on the chin “with fingers slightly spread” to save one or a hundred or a thousand Americans?

So now we will no longer slap and we will tell terrorist that we will not slap. Their minds can be put at ease. They won’t, like the football coach, be doused by a bucket of water and they need not fear that they might. We seem to have given up any pretense that we take the interrogation process seriously or comprehend the value of keeping our options open. Or is there some hidden loophole allowing the president to preen but reserving the right to chin-slap, just in case we grab someone who might provide a lead that would save dozens or hundreds of lives? If it comes down to that, let’s hope the president is a horrid hypocrite.

Abe, the caterpillar was never deployed but the report has set off a round of entirely expected wailing from all of the usual quarters. One wonders precisely what has them so apoplectic. It is not as if their ire is confined to waterboarding. Reasonable minds, I think, can differ on that one.

But they are apparently aghast by actions such as “slapping detainee’s face with fingers slightly spread” and “striking the abdomen with the back of an open hand.” They are mortified by “water dousing” — cold water poured on the detainee.” We are not talking about beating, kicking, starving, gouging, maiming, or any other activity which the term “torture” conjures up. We are talking about using these techniques under hyper-controlled circumstances, for a very limited group of people who are thought to have information that relates to a risk that Americans will die. (Even waterboarding is to be used only in the face of an “imminent attack,” with “substantial and credible indicators” that we can prevent or delay the attack and when other means of obtaining the information have failed.) And we shouldn’t do that or even slap someone on the chin “with fingers slightly spread” to save one or a hundred or a thousand Americans?

So now we will no longer slap and we will tell terrorist that we will not slap. Their minds can be put at ease. They won’t, like the football coach, be doused by a bucket of water and they need not fear that they might. We seem to have given up any pretense that we take the interrogation process seriously or comprehend the value of keeping our options open. Or is there some hidden loophole allowing the president to preen but reserving the right to chin-slap, just in case we grab someone who might provide a lead that would save dozens or hundreds of lives? If it comes down to that, let’s hope the president is a horrid hypocrite.

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They Were Supposed to Swoon, not Mock

So how did the president’s overseas trip really go? Let’s see. North Korea used the opportunity to figuratively send a missile over the bow of the SS Obama. Now they’re sulking and threatening not to come back to the six-party talks. We got virtually no help on Afghanistan. Iran declares the time to talk has passed. Our allies balked at his request for more stimulus spending. And we also incurred some contempt from one of our allies. The New York Times reports on President Sarkozy’s take:

In the world according to Sarko, President Obama is weak, inexperienced and badly briefed on climate change…

Mr. Obama, according to Mr. Sarkozy, “has a subtle mind, very intelligent and very charismatic. But he was elected two months ago and never ran a ministry in his life. He doesn’t have a position on a number of things.” Mr. Obama “is not always operating at a level of decision-making and efficiency,” according to the voluble Mr. Sarkozy.

Mr. Obama appeared unprepared on climate change when they met, according to Mr. Sarkozy, who told the legislators, “I told him, ‘I don’t think that you have quite understood what we are doing on carbon dioxide.’ ”

In the magazine L’Express, Mr. Sarkozy was quoted as joking about Mr. Obama’s sanctified image. Pressed by Mr. Sarkozy, Mr. Obama agreed to visit France in June for the anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy.
“I am going to ask him to walk on the Channel, and he’ll do it,” Mr. Sarkozy reportedly said.

In all fairness, Sarko doesn’t have good things to say about most of the other allies either. But Obama was supposed to dazzle and impress, not simply be held in the same low regard as the rest of France’s neighbors. The question remains: what was accomplished by the bow and scrape routine? If one of our allies finds the president’s performance laughable, what must the leaders of Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran be thinking? We’ll find out now that they’ve sized up the new president, observed his angst-ridden apologies, and heard his desire to stop insisting America get its way. On the last point they may be all too happy to oblige.

So how did the president’s overseas trip really go? Let’s see. North Korea used the opportunity to figuratively send a missile over the bow of the SS Obama. Now they’re sulking and threatening not to come back to the six-party talks. We got virtually no help on Afghanistan. Iran declares the time to talk has passed. Our allies balked at his request for more stimulus spending. And we also incurred some contempt from one of our allies. The New York Times reports on President Sarkozy’s take:

In the world according to Sarko, President Obama is weak, inexperienced and badly briefed on climate change…

Mr. Obama, according to Mr. Sarkozy, “has a subtle mind, very intelligent and very charismatic. But he was elected two months ago and never ran a ministry in his life. He doesn’t have a position on a number of things.” Mr. Obama “is not always operating at a level of decision-making and efficiency,” according to the voluble Mr. Sarkozy.

Mr. Obama appeared unprepared on climate change when they met, according to Mr. Sarkozy, who told the legislators, “I told him, ‘I don’t think that you have quite understood what we are doing on carbon dioxide.’ ”

In the magazine L’Express, Mr. Sarkozy was quoted as joking about Mr. Obama’s sanctified image. Pressed by Mr. Sarkozy, Mr. Obama agreed to visit France in June for the anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy.
“I am going to ask him to walk on the Channel, and he’ll do it,” Mr. Sarkozy reportedly said.

In all fairness, Sarko doesn’t have good things to say about most of the other allies either. But Obama was supposed to dazzle and impress, not simply be held in the same low regard as the rest of France’s neighbors. The question remains: what was accomplished by the bow and scrape routine? If one of our allies finds the president’s performance laughable, what must the leaders of Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran be thinking? We’ll find out now that they’ve sized up the new president, observed his angst-ridden apologies, and heard his desire to stop insisting America get its way. On the last point they may be all too happy to oblige.

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Bipartisan “Encouragement” for Tough Interrogations

In the context of the current debate about the release of the Bush Administration’s interrogation techniques, I thought it might be worth highlighting some excerpts from a December 9, 2007 Washington Post story, which said this:

In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA’s overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk. Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said. “The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough,” said a U.S. official who witnessed the exchange.

And this:

Yet long before “waterboarding” entered the public discourse, the CIA gave key legislative overseers about 30 private briefings, some of which included descriptions of that technique and other harsh interrogation methods, according to interviews with multiple U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge. With one known exception, no formal objections were raised by the lawmakers briefed about the harsh methods during the two years in which waterboarding was employed, from 2002 to 2003, said Democrats and Republicans with direct knowledge of the matter. The lawmakers who held oversight roles during the period included Pelosi and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), as well as Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan). Individual lawmakers’ recollections of the early briefings varied dramatically, but officials present during the meetings described the reaction as mostly quiet acquiescence, if not outright support. “Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing,” said Goss, who chaired the House intelligence committee from 1997 to 2004 and then served as CIA director from 2004 to 2006. “And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement.”

And this:

Pelosi declined to comment directly on her reaction to the classified briefings. But a congressional source familiar with Pelosi’s position on the matter said the California lawmaker did recall discussions about enhanced interrogation. The source said Pelosi recalls that techniques described by the CIA were still in the planning stage — they had been designed and cleared with agency lawyers but not yet put in practice — and acknowledged that Pelosi did not raise objections at the time.

“Not just approval, but encouragement”; “did not raise objections at the time”; and “the briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough.”

Those reactions are certainly worth taking into account in the context of this story, don’t you think?

In the context of the current debate about the release of the Bush Administration’s interrogation techniques, I thought it might be worth highlighting some excerpts from a December 9, 2007 Washington Post story, which said this:

In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA’s overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk. Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said. “The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough,” said a U.S. official who witnessed the exchange.

And this:

Yet long before “waterboarding” entered the public discourse, the CIA gave key legislative overseers about 30 private briefings, some of which included descriptions of that technique and other harsh interrogation methods, according to interviews with multiple U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge. With one known exception, no formal objections were raised by the lawmakers briefed about the harsh methods during the two years in which waterboarding was employed, from 2002 to 2003, said Democrats and Republicans with direct knowledge of the matter. The lawmakers who held oversight roles during the period included Pelosi and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), as well as Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan). Individual lawmakers’ recollections of the early briefings varied dramatically, but officials present during the meetings described the reaction as mostly quiet acquiescence, if not outright support. “Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing,” said Goss, who chaired the House intelligence committee from 1997 to 2004 and then served as CIA director from 2004 to 2006. “And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement.”

And this:

Pelosi declined to comment directly on her reaction to the classified briefings. But a congressional source familiar with Pelosi’s position on the matter said the California lawmaker did recall discussions about enhanced interrogation. The source said Pelosi recalls that techniques described by the CIA were still in the planning stage — they had been designed and cleared with agency lawyers but not yet put in practice — and acknowledged that Pelosi did not raise objections at the time.

“Not just approval, but encouragement”; “did not raise objections at the time”; and “the briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough.”

Those reactions are certainly worth taking into account in the context of this story, don’t you think?

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Great Moments in the History of Science

The EPA officially ruled today that CO2, one of the essential building blocks of the cosmos and all life, is a pollutant and a threat to public health.

Is this what Barack Obama meant by restoring science to its proper place? Talk about a “dark and painful chapter in our history.” But, like the non-guilty guilty who won’t face prosecution for assault with larvae, all human beings on the planet will get a free pass on breathing.

The EPA officially ruled today that CO2, one of the essential building blocks of the cosmos and all life, is a pollutant and a threat to public health.

Is this what Barack Obama meant by restoring science to its proper place? Talk about a “dark and painful chapter in our history.” But, like the non-guilty guilty who won’t face prosecution for assault with larvae, all human beings on the planet will get a free pass on breathing.

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Gibbs Cornered Again

Robert Gibbs declares that immigration reform isn’t happening without a “healthy bipartisan majority.” That sounds like a wonderful standard for governance. Really, passing legislation on strict-party line votes can lead to bad policy and destructive polarization. Oh, but wait. There was no healthy bipartisan majority on the stimulus plan, the omnibus spending bill, or the budget. On cap-and-trade there is a bipartisan majority, most likely, against it. On healthcare there is no healthy bipartisan majority for a “public option” or any other variation on nationalized coverage. If bipartisanship were really the standard, the Obama agenda would be utterly stalled.

So what happened to “I won”? I thought the spinners were out in force telling us bipartisanship is a crock. It seems there is an odd new immigration-only rule at work here.

Behind Gibbs’s clumsy double-talk lies the reality that there is no Democratic majority in favor of immigration reform, at least not one that wouldn’t put at risk numerous seats and induce heartburn in their Big Labor patrons (who helped nix the effort last time). When immigration reform was a club to beat the Republicans with it had some utility, but now it would only spell trouble for the Democrats.

So we shouldn’t get hopeful that Obama’s philosophy of governance has changed. A more candid press secretary quizzed about moving forward with immigration would simply have answered, “It is not at the top of our list.” A really candid one would have said, “You gotta be kidding.”

Robert Gibbs declares that immigration reform isn’t happening without a “healthy bipartisan majority.” That sounds like a wonderful standard for governance. Really, passing legislation on strict-party line votes can lead to bad policy and destructive polarization. Oh, but wait. There was no healthy bipartisan majority on the stimulus plan, the omnibus spending bill, or the budget. On cap-and-trade there is a bipartisan majority, most likely, against it. On healthcare there is no healthy bipartisan majority for a “public option” or any other variation on nationalized coverage. If bipartisanship were really the standard, the Obama agenda would be utterly stalled.

So what happened to “I won”? I thought the spinners were out in force telling us bipartisanship is a crock. It seems there is an odd new immigration-only rule at work here.

Behind Gibbs’s clumsy double-talk lies the reality that there is no Democratic majority in favor of immigration reform, at least not one that wouldn’t put at risk numerous seats and induce heartburn in their Big Labor patrons (who helped nix the effort last time). When immigration reform was a club to beat the Republicans with it had some utility, but now it would only spell trouble for the Democrats.

So we shouldn’t get hopeful that Obama’s philosophy of governance has changed. A more candid press secretary quizzed about moving forward with immigration would simply have answered, “It is not at the top of our list.” A really candid one would have said, “You gotta be kidding.”

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Yale Passes the Plate for “Service” Donations Among Students

A few weeks ago, I noted the many fallacies inherent in, and the politicization of, Yale’s so-called “Week of Service.” This week brings a coda to the story. The “Week of Service” was co-sponsored by the Yale College Council, the official student government body, and Dwight Hall, the home of Yale’s “community service and social justice groups,” as the Yale Daily News tellingly put it. The service activities were blatantly political, including, for example, lobbying the legislature to pass a specific bill creating universal health care in Connecticut. And, of course, all were equally partisan: no conservatives or conservative causes mentioned.

One of the defenses offered of this kind of activity is that, technically, Dwight Hall is independent from Yale. Of course, that does not apply to the Yale College Council, so regardless of Dwight Hall’s status, Yale undergraduate organizations were being provided with financial support from the university and encouragement from high ranking officials at Yale, to lobby openly for legislation. This was a violation of the university’s rules for funded undergraduate organizations, and could be construed as threatening the non-profit status of Yale itself.

But, as this week has shown, Dwight Hall’s ties with Yale run deep. Yesterday, for example, students in Silliman College received a message — the second in the series — from the Master of the College, Prof. Judith Krauss, urging them to “Check out a great opportunity to give back: the Dwight Hall Senior Class Gift!” And why should students give to Dwight Hall? Because, “With your help, the Yalies of tomorrow can get the experiences they need to become leaders and advocates for the public good.” Amusingly, Master Krauss ends her missive by stressing that “Dwight Hall is an independent organization.”

So if it’s independent, why is Yale officially encouraging students to give money to it? Shouldn’t that be left up to the students? Why is Yale eager to encourage students to give to an organization that espouses a relentlessly political and partisan vision of service?  Doesn’t that, yet again, imply that Yale endorses the causes this organization employs its money toward? And why does Master Krauss bestow her official blessing of “leadership” and “the public good” on these causes? Is that not a misuse of her office, which requires her to stand for her college as a whole, not to take official political positions which — inevitably — will not be shared by all her students?

What should Yale do? Stop it. Stop promoting service. If students want to do it — however they define it — on their own, that’s excellent. But any effort to promote “service” will be politically unbalanced. And even if Yale could somehow magically achieve balance, it should still not be in the business of funding — with dollars or encouragement — what amounts to political activity, be it liberal, communist, conservative, or libertarian.

What students do on their own time, with their own funds, is their business, as long as it doesn’t break the law. But universities have quite enough to do to educate their students. Instead of passing the plate for liberal “service” organizations, college masters — like the rest of Yale — should stick to the basics.  That is, stick to the books, and the rich and apolitical social and cultural life that, at its best, makes college at Yale such a rewarding experience.

A few weeks ago, I noted the many fallacies inherent in, and the politicization of, Yale’s so-called “Week of Service.” This week brings a coda to the story. The “Week of Service” was co-sponsored by the Yale College Council, the official student government body, and Dwight Hall, the home of Yale’s “community service and social justice groups,” as the Yale Daily News tellingly put it. The service activities were blatantly political, including, for example, lobbying the legislature to pass a specific bill creating universal health care in Connecticut. And, of course, all were equally partisan: no conservatives or conservative causes mentioned.

One of the defenses offered of this kind of activity is that, technically, Dwight Hall is independent from Yale. Of course, that does not apply to the Yale College Council, so regardless of Dwight Hall’s status, Yale undergraduate organizations were being provided with financial support from the university and encouragement from high ranking officials at Yale, to lobby openly for legislation. This was a violation of the university’s rules for funded undergraduate organizations, and could be construed as threatening the non-profit status of Yale itself.

But, as this week has shown, Dwight Hall’s ties with Yale run deep. Yesterday, for example, students in Silliman College received a message — the second in the series — from the Master of the College, Prof. Judith Krauss, urging them to “Check out a great opportunity to give back: the Dwight Hall Senior Class Gift!” And why should students give to Dwight Hall? Because, “With your help, the Yalies of tomorrow can get the experiences they need to become leaders and advocates for the public good.” Amusingly, Master Krauss ends her missive by stressing that “Dwight Hall is an independent organization.”

So if it’s independent, why is Yale officially encouraging students to give money to it? Shouldn’t that be left up to the students? Why is Yale eager to encourage students to give to an organization that espouses a relentlessly political and partisan vision of service?  Doesn’t that, yet again, imply that Yale endorses the causes this organization employs its money toward? And why does Master Krauss bestow her official blessing of “leadership” and “the public good” on these causes? Is that not a misuse of her office, which requires her to stand for her college as a whole, not to take official political positions which — inevitably — will not be shared by all her students?

What should Yale do? Stop it. Stop promoting service. If students want to do it — however they define it — on their own, that’s excellent. But any effort to promote “service” will be politically unbalanced. And even if Yale could somehow magically achieve balance, it should still not be in the business of funding — with dollars or encouragement — what amounts to political activity, be it liberal, communist, conservative, or libertarian.

What students do on their own time, with their own funds, is their business, as long as it doesn’t break the law. But universities have quite enough to do to educate their students. Instead of passing the plate for liberal “service” organizations, college masters — like the rest of Yale — should stick to the basics.  That is, stick to the books, and the rich and apolitical social and cultural life that, at its best, makes college at Yale such a rewarding experience.

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Who’s in the Mainstream?

Much of the punditocracy has snubbed the Tea Party attendees as a bunch of ill-informed rubes… Angry malcontents! Out of touch! But perhaps they are representative of the country’s majority on key issues. Bill Schneider writes:

In a CNN poll taken this month by Opinion Research, more than three-quarters of Americans said that if GM and Chrysler need more government money, Washington should rebuff them. In other words, let’em go bankrupt. That is the same thing most of the public is saying about banks and financial institutions: No more bailouts.

That was perhaps the most widely heard complaint at the rallies: no more bailouts, let the chips fall where they may and get back to personal responsibility. And although Robert Reich derided the protesters, he shares their  view that corporate welfare and bailouts should end. So perhaps the Tea Party protesters are right where the public is — which places the Obama bailout policies on thin ice, politically.

Another source of ire from the attendees: the Fed running financial policy outside of any appropriated funding by Congress. (Yes, the rubes are quite concerned with the Constitution and keep referring to it on signs and in speeches and interviews. Apparently the nation’s educational system isn’t a complete failure yet.) Some fairly well-school people on the Left take exactly the same view, especially with regard to the toxic asset purchase plan. Once again, the Tea Party folks seem to have seen through the financial and constitutional thicket to discover that Tim Geithner’s plan is a gift to a select few, delivered at  the taxpayers’ expense and specifically designed to avoid congressional — and hence public — input.

So perhaps there is a popular majority for at least some of what brought out hundreds of thousands of protesters. Whether it will have any influence on the Obama administration remains to be seen. But it might impact those 435 congressmen and 1/3 of the Senate that have to face voters in nineteen months.

Much of the punditocracy has snubbed the Tea Party attendees as a bunch of ill-informed rubes… Angry malcontents! Out of touch! But perhaps they are representative of the country’s majority on key issues. Bill Schneider writes:

In a CNN poll taken this month by Opinion Research, more than three-quarters of Americans said that if GM and Chrysler need more government money, Washington should rebuff them. In other words, let’em go bankrupt. That is the same thing most of the public is saying about banks and financial institutions: No more bailouts.

That was perhaps the most widely heard complaint at the rallies: no more bailouts, let the chips fall where they may and get back to personal responsibility. And although Robert Reich derided the protesters, he shares their  view that corporate welfare and bailouts should end. So perhaps the Tea Party protesters are right where the public is — which places the Obama bailout policies on thin ice, politically.

Another source of ire from the attendees: the Fed running financial policy outside of any appropriated funding by Congress. (Yes, the rubes are quite concerned with the Constitution and keep referring to it on signs and in speeches and interviews. Apparently the nation’s educational system isn’t a complete failure yet.) Some fairly well-school people on the Left take exactly the same view, especially with regard to the toxic asset purchase plan. Once again, the Tea Party folks seem to have seen through the financial and constitutional thicket to discover that Tim Geithner’s plan is a gift to a select few, delivered at  the taxpayers’ expense and specifically designed to avoid congressional — and hence public — input.

So perhaps there is a popular majority for at least some of what brought out hundreds of thousands of protesters. Whether it will have any influence on the Obama administration remains to be seen. But it might impact those 435 congressmen and 1/3 of the Senate that have to face voters in nineteen months.

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What’s in a Name?

Language can be very revealing. So far, the Obama administration has given clear indicators as to who it identifies as the nation’s real enemies.

First up, vague as the “War on Terror” was, it’s now a taboo term. The administration replaced it with “overseas contingency operations” — a phrase so devoid of content that it is the Olestra of the English language.

Next, terrorist attacks themselves were redefined into “man-caused disasters.” (Let’s overlook, for the moment, the inherent sexism of that phrase, although Bernardine Dohrn would take offense.)

Finally, the Obama administration found an area where they could use the term “terrorist” and “terrorism” freely — and that was in the Department of Homeland Security’s report on the threat of right-wing extremism. Now, they couldn’t find very much evidence to back up their broad generalities and concerns (Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing makes a very lonely data point), but they did manage to cast aspersions on such devious, subversive elements as returning veterans.

Meanwhile, other prominent Democrats reacted to this week’s Tea Parties with some very strong language — throwing around terms such as “despicable,” “racist,”  “AstroTurfed,” and the like.

Oddly enough, they didn’t employ those terms to describe the protests at the recent G-20 gathering in London, the routine domestic terrorism of the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front, or even the recent silencing of former Representative Tom Tancredo at the University of North Carolina.

The conclusion seems pretty clear: the real terrorists, the real threat to American security, are not Islamist militants who have vowed to destroy America. No, the real terrorists are those who didn’t vote for Democrats, who stubbornly assert their independence, who insist on placing a high value on their rights, who believe strongly in such heretical concepts as the 1st, 2nd, and 10th Amendments to the United States Constitution, and even those who have sought out training in weapons and tactics by enlisting in the U.S. military.

Thanks for clearing that up, folks.

Language can be very revealing. So far, the Obama administration has given clear indicators as to who it identifies as the nation’s real enemies.

First up, vague as the “War on Terror” was, it’s now a taboo term. The administration replaced it with “overseas contingency operations” — a phrase so devoid of content that it is the Olestra of the English language.

Next, terrorist attacks themselves were redefined into “man-caused disasters.” (Let’s overlook, for the moment, the inherent sexism of that phrase, although Bernardine Dohrn would take offense.)

Finally, the Obama administration found an area where they could use the term “terrorist” and “terrorism” freely — and that was in the Department of Homeland Security’s report on the threat of right-wing extremism. Now, they couldn’t find very much evidence to back up their broad generalities and concerns (Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing makes a very lonely data point), but they did manage to cast aspersions on such devious, subversive elements as returning veterans.

Meanwhile, other prominent Democrats reacted to this week’s Tea Parties with some very strong language — throwing around terms such as “despicable,” “racist,”  “AstroTurfed,” and the like.

Oddly enough, they didn’t employ those terms to describe the protests at the recent G-20 gathering in London, the routine domestic terrorism of the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front, or even the recent silencing of former Representative Tom Tancredo at the University of North Carolina.

The conclusion seems pretty clear: the real terrorists, the real threat to American security, are not Islamist militants who have vowed to destroy America. No, the real terrorists are those who didn’t vote for Democrats, who stubbornly assert their independence, who insist on placing a high value on their rights, who believe strongly in such heretical concepts as the 1st, 2nd, and 10th Amendments to the United States Constitution, and even those who have sought out training in weapons and tactics by enlisting in the U.S. military.

Thanks for clearing that up, folks.

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Krugman Is Right To Be Nervous

Paul Krugman is nervous about the recovery, or lack thereof. The stimulus wasn’t big enough. The toxic asset purchase plan is a get-rich-quick scheme for a few, and it comes at considerable cost to the taxpayer. Now one might attribute his lack of enthusiasm for the “glimmer of hope” rhetoric as a bit of sour grapesgiven that his advice hasn’t been followed. But his reasoning is relatively sound, even if you think his favored prescriptions are faulty. Aside from his nagging sense that improving bank numbers are cooked and “something” else could go wrong, he has two very compelling reasons to think we’re not nearly out of the woods.

First:

Things are still getting worse. Industrial production just hit a 10-year low. Housing starts remain incredibly weak. Foreclosures, which dipped as mortgage companies waited for details of the Obama administration’s housing plans, are surging again.

The most you can say is that there are scattered signs that things are getting worse more slowly — that the economy isn’t plunging quite as fast as it was. And I do mean scattered: the latest edition of the Beige Book, the Fed’s periodic survey of business conditions, reports that “five of the twelve Districts noted a moderation in the pace of decline.” Whoopee.

And even more troubling:

The 2001 recession officially lasted only eight months, ending in November of that year. But unemployment kept rising for another year and a half. The same thing happened after the 1990-91 recession. And there’s every reason to believe that it will happen this time too. Don’t be surprised if unemployment keeps rising right through 2010.

Why? “V-shaped” recoveries, in which employment comes roaring back, take place only when there’s a lot of pent-up demand. In 1982, for example, housing was crushed by high interest rates, so when the Fed eased up, home sales surged. That’s not what’s going on this time: today, the economy is depressed, loosely speaking, because we ran up too much debt and built too many shopping malls, and nobody is in the mood for a new burst of spending.

Well, what could we do? For starters, we could go back to some of the ideas the president blithely ignored on the stimulus bill, such as a payroll tax deduction or corporate or capital gains cuts or holidays. If people are nervous about losing their jobs and therefore slowing their purchases, it makes sense to increase the chances (by lightening the load on employers) that they will keep their jobs. Second, don’t junk all those defense programs quite yet. A halt in the F-22s, to take just one program, means 95,000 direct and indirect jobs will be lost. Is now the time to do this? And finally, so long as businesses see an agenda looming with healthcare mandates, cap-and-trade, and some “compromise” on card check, they are going to be reluctant to hire and invest. If the president insists on “pillars” of new obligations for businesses, they in turn will understandably be reluctant to staff up.

But it is unlikely, barring a great flash of insight, that the president will abandon his liberal wish list, or proposed defense cuts, or suddenly alleviate rather than add to the private sector’s burdens. So what then, of Krugman’s concerns? Unless Congress decides to change the course we are on, it seems we will be in for a longer recession with fewer jobs than many might have imagined.

Paul Krugman is nervous about the recovery, or lack thereof. The stimulus wasn’t big enough. The toxic asset purchase plan is a get-rich-quick scheme for a few, and it comes at considerable cost to the taxpayer. Now one might attribute his lack of enthusiasm for the “glimmer of hope” rhetoric as a bit of sour grapesgiven that his advice hasn’t been followed. But his reasoning is relatively sound, even if you think his favored prescriptions are faulty. Aside from his nagging sense that improving bank numbers are cooked and “something” else could go wrong, he has two very compelling reasons to think we’re not nearly out of the woods.

First:

Things are still getting worse. Industrial production just hit a 10-year low. Housing starts remain incredibly weak. Foreclosures, which dipped as mortgage companies waited for details of the Obama administration’s housing plans, are surging again.

The most you can say is that there are scattered signs that things are getting worse more slowly — that the economy isn’t plunging quite as fast as it was. And I do mean scattered: the latest edition of the Beige Book, the Fed’s periodic survey of business conditions, reports that “five of the twelve Districts noted a moderation in the pace of decline.” Whoopee.

And even more troubling:

The 2001 recession officially lasted only eight months, ending in November of that year. But unemployment kept rising for another year and a half. The same thing happened after the 1990-91 recession. And there’s every reason to believe that it will happen this time too. Don’t be surprised if unemployment keeps rising right through 2010.

Why? “V-shaped” recoveries, in which employment comes roaring back, take place only when there’s a lot of pent-up demand. In 1982, for example, housing was crushed by high interest rates, so when the Fed eased up, home sales surged. That’s not what’s going on this time: today, the economy is depressed, loosely speaking, because we ran up too much debt and built too many shopping malls, and nobody is in the mood for a new burst of spending.

Well, what could we do? For starters, we could go back to some of the ideas the president blithely ignored on the stimulus bill, such as a payroll tax deduction or corporate or capital gains cuts or holidays. If people are nervous about losing their jobs and therefore slowing their purchases, it makes sense to increase the chances (by lightening the load on employers) that they will keep their jobs. Second, don’t junk all those defense programs quite yet. A halt in the F-22s, to take just one program, means 95,000 direct and indirect jobs will be lost. Is now the time to do this? And finally, so long as businesses see an agenda looming with healthcare mandates, cap-and-trade, and some “compromise” on card check, they are going to be reluctant to hire and invest. If the president insists on “pillars” of new obligations for businesses, they in turn will understandably be reluctant to staff up.

But it is unlikely, barring a great flash of insight, that the president will abandon his liberal wish list, or proposed defense cuts, or suddenly alleviate rather than add to the private sector’s burdens. So what then, of Krugman’s concerns? Unless Congress decides to change the course we are on, it seems we will be in for a longer recession with fewer jobs than many might have imagined.

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Obama’s Support So Far

President Obama averaged a 63 percent approval rating in his first quarter in office, according to a new Gallup survey. That matches the historical average for elected presidents’ first quarters since President Eisenhower’s first term. More encouraging for Obama is that it is the fourth highest approval rating for a newly elected president since 1953 — and the highest since Jimmy Carter’s 69 percent in 1977. President Clinton’s 55 percent first-quarter average is the lowest for a recent president — and, according to Gallup, his approval rating sank to 44 percent in his second quarter in office. It’s worth noting, I suppose, that Carter lost his re-election bid in a landslide to Ronald Reagan — and Clinton won his re-election bid by an easy margin over Bob Dole.

As for the implications, Gallup puts it this way:

President Obama is off to a solid start as president, as far as his job approval ratings are concerned… Perhaps the biggest legislative accomplishment of his first quarter has been the passage of the economic stimulus bill. In the second quarter, Congress will likely begin work in earnest on his proposed budget. How that process plays out, whether the economy shows definite signs of improvement, and how well Obama deals with ongoing international challenges, will determine whether his ratings stay strong or begin to show decline.

That is certainly a fair (and obvious) judgment to make. On economic matters in particular, Obama has thrown his hat over the wall. We’ll see how it all plays out.

As for now, President Obama’s support among Democrats is very high and his support among independents is strong. That is certainly encouraging news for the Administration. Obama faces potential danger if the significant leakage of support he has experienced among Republicans — 16 points in a dozen weeks, according to Gallup — begins to bleed over into his support among independents. (According to the Pew Research Center, there is a 61-point gap in opinion between Democrats and Republicans about Obama’s job performance, leading researchers to conclude, “Barack Obama has the most polarized early job approval ratings of any president in the past four decades.”) So long as Obama retains the support of independents, he can deal easily enough with his low standing among Republicans. But if the sharp drop in support by Republicans is a foreshadowing of what might happen, to a more limited degree, with independents, that is an altogether different story. In addition, Obama’s personal rating is a good deal higher than the support for some of his key policies. At some point, that gap usually closes.

In this context, it’s probably worth noting the Rasmussen survey Jen wrote about yesterday, indicating that voters trust the Democratic Party over Republicans on the top issue of the economy by just a three-point margin this month (45 percent to 42 percent) — the closest the two parties have been on the issue since the first week of last September; Republicans now hold an eight-point lead on national security; and on taxes, voters trust Republicans more by a six point margin (45 percent to 39 percent). Republicans have also pulled within one point of Democrats last week in the Generic Congressional Ballot.

In sum: Obama seems to be doing a good deal better than his party. The first three months of his presidency is a reminder that Obama remains a very formidable political figure, in possession of some extraordinary political skills. The question is whether his policies are as wise as his political talents are obvious.

President Obama averaged a 63 percent approval rating in his first quarter in office, according to a new Gallup survey. That matches the historical average for elected presidents’ first quarters since President Eisenhower’s first term. More encouraging for Obama is that it is the fourth highest approval rating for a newly elected president since 1953 — and the highest since Jimmy Carter’s 69 percent in 1977. President Clinton’s 55 percent first-quarter average is the lowest for a recent president — and, according to Gallup, his approval rating sank to 44 percent in his second quarter in office. It’s worth noting, I suppose, that Carter lost his re-election bid in a landslide to Ronald Reagan — and Clinton won his re-election bid by an easy margin over Bob Dole.

As for the implications, Gallup puts it this way:

President Obama is off to a solid start as president, as far as his job approval ratings are concerned… Perhaps the biggest legislative accomplishment of his first quarter has been the passage of the economic stimulus bill. In the second quarter, Congress will likely begin work in earnest on his proposed budget. How that process plays out, whether the economy shows definite signs of improvement, and how well Obama deals with ongoing international challenges, will determine whether his ratings stay strong or begin to show decline.

That is certainly a fair (and obvious) judgment to make. On economic matters in particular, Obama has thrown his hat over the wall. We’ll see how it all plays out.

As for now, President Obama’s support among Democrats is very high and his support among independents is strong. That is certainly encouraging news for the Administration. Obama faces potential danger if the significant leakage of support he has experienced among Republicans — 16 points in a dozen weeks, according to Gallup — begins to bleed over into his support among independents. (According to the Pew Research Center, there is a 61-point gap in opinion between Democrats and Republicans about Obama’s job performance, leading researchers to conclude, “Barack Obama has the most polarized early job approval ratings of any president in the past four decades.”) So long as Obama retains the support of independents, he can deal easily enough with his low standing among Republicans. But if the sharp drop in support by Republicans is a foreshadowing of what might happen, to a more limited degree, with independents, that is an altogether different story. In addition, Obama’s personal rating is a good deal higher than the support for some of his key policies. At some point, that gap usually closes.

In this context, it’s probably worth noting the Rasmussen survey Jen wrote about yesterday, indicating that voters trust the Democratic Party over Republicans on the top issue of the economy by just a three-point margin this month (45 percent to 42 percent) — the closest the two parties have been on the issue since the first week of last September; Republicans now hold an eight-point lead on national security; and on taxes, voters trust Republicans more by a six point margin (45 percent to 39 percent). Republicans have also pulled within one point of Democrats last week in the Generic Congressional Ballot.

In sum: Obama seems to be doing a good deal better than his party. The first three months of his presidency is a reminder that Obama remains a very formidable political figure, in possession of some extraordinary political skills. The question is whether his policies are as wise as his political talents are obvious.

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It Was a Caterpillar

Bug-Gate is bad, folks, really bad. But I remain convinced that the only way we’ll ever bring this “dark and painful chapter in our history” to a close is to face the horror of it full on. Only then can we heal as a nation. So steel yourself for what comes next:

The Bybee memorandum, which was written on August 1, 2002, described the CIA’s plans for using insects this way:

“You [the CIA] would like to place Zubaydah in a cramped confinement box with an insect. You have informed us [the Department of Justice] that he appears to have a fear of insects. In particular, you would like to tell Zubaydah that you intend to place a stinging insect into the box with him. You would, however, place a harmless insect in the box. You have orally informed us that you would in fact place a harmless insect such as a caterpillar in the box with him.”

Does the sadism of Dick Cheney know no bounds!

I think we know the answer to that. As these memos are pored over in the hours and days ahead, we must be prepared to hear details about Operation Harmless Squishy Thing that may rock the very moral foundations of our country. The caterpillar is likely just the beginning. Slugs, inchworms, centipedes, millipedes — a whole backyard of horror could be unearthed.

But take solace in the knowledge that we’re no longer faced with the false choice between our security and the deployment of our garden pests. Remember the thoughtful words of President Obama: “This is a time for reflection, not retribution.” And some day, after much national soul searching, we will look at the caterpillar not as an instrument of torture, but as a future butterfly once again.

Bug-Gate is bad, folks, really bad. But I remain convinced that the only way we’ll ever bring this “dark and painful chapter in our history” to a close is to face the horror of it full on. Only then can we heal as a nation. So steel yourself for what comes next:

The Bybee memorandum, which was written on August 1, 2002, described the CIA’s plans for using insects this way:

“You [the CIA] would like to place Zubaydah in a cramped confinement box with an insect. You have informed us [the Department of Justice] that he appears to have a fear of insects. In particular, you would like to tell Zubaydah that you intend to place a stinging insect into the box with him. You would, however, place a harmless insect in the box. You have orally informed us that you would in fact place a harmless insect such as a caterpillar in the box with him.”

Does the sadism of Dick Cheney know no bounds!

I think we know the answer to that. As these memos are pored over in the hours and days ahead, we must be prepared to hear details about Operation Harmless Squishy Thing that may rock the very moral foundations of our country. The caterpillar is likely just the beginning. Slugs, inchworms, centipedes, millipedes — a whole backyard of horror could be unearthed.

But take solace in the knowledge that we’re no longer faced with the false choice between our security and the deployment of our garden pests. Remember the thoughtful words of President Obama: “This is a time for reflection, not retribution.” And some day, after much national soul searching, we will look at the caterpillar not as an instrument of torture, but as a future butterfly once again.

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Better Check Those “Reliable Sources,” Scott

Scott Horton, April 14: “The Bush Six to Be Indicted”

Spanish prosecutors have decided to press forward with a criminal investigation targeting former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five top associates over their role in the torture of five Spanish citizens held at Guantánamo, several reliable sources close to the investigation have told The Daily Beast.

Reality, April 16: “Prosecutor: Drop Case Against Those Bush Officials”

MADRID, Spain (CNN) — Prosecutors will recommend that a Spanish court drop its investigation of six former officials in the administration of U.S. George W. Bush for alleged torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Spain’s attorney general said Thursday.

David Frum has more on Horton’s “enthusiastic credulity and indifference to fact.”

Scott Horton, April 14: “The Bush Six to Be Indicted”

Spanish prosecutors have decided to press forward with a criminal investigation targeting former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five top associates over their role in the torture of five Spanish citizens held at Guantánamo, several reliable sources close to the investigation have told The Daily Beast.

Reality, April 16: “Prosecutor: Drop Case Against Those Bush Officials”

MADRID, Spain (CNN) — Prosecutors will recommend that a Spanish court drop its investigation of six former officials in the administration of U.S. George W. Bush for alleged torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Spain’s attorney general said Thursday.

David Frum has more on Horton’s “enthusiastic credulity and indifference to fact.”

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Cheney Was Right on This One

I must admit that when former Vice President Cheney said that the Obama administration’s policies on the war on terror were making us less safe I balked. Frankly, my view was that the Obama team had talked a good game of “change” for the benefit of their netroot base (e.g. “closing Guantanamo”) but done relatively little to actually change Bush-era anti-terrorism policies. That changed when Obama released the “torture memos.” And I am not alone in puzzling over why it was necessary.

It doesn’t happen often, but I generally agree with Joe Klein on this one. As he notes, there are powerful reasons not to give our enemies a road map to interrogation techniques and, more important, not “break faith” with CIA agents acting on legal advice. He writes:

The White House was aware of these concerns and I think Obama has taken some steps, in his statement on the release, to ameliorate the problems, but he and Leon Panetta may be facing a serious morale problem and a slew of retirements at a moment when the need for undercover work is extremely urgent, especially in the Iraqi and Af/Pak theaters.

But kind words and promises not to prosecute those who followed legal advice don’t really ameliorate these concerns. The damage has been done.

A former Bush official agrees:

It’s damaging because these are techniques that work, and by Obama’s action today, we are telling the terrorists what they are. . .We have laid it all out for our enemies. This is totally unnecessary. … Publicizing the techniques does grave damage to our national security by ensuring they can never be used again — even in a ticking-time- bomb scenario where thousands or even millions of American lives are at stake. . . I don’t believe Obama would intentionally endanger the nation, so it must be that he thinks either 1. the previous administration, including the CIA professionals who have defended this program, is lying about its importance and effectiveness, or 2. he believes we are no longer really at war and no longer face the kind of grave threat to our national security this program has protected against.

In a must-read column both  Michael Hayden and Michael Mukasy weigh in:

The release of these opinions was unnecessary as a legal matter, and is unsound as a matter of policy. Its effect will be to invite the kind of institutional timidity and fear of recrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past, and that we came sorely to regret on Sept. 11, 2001.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that for the sake of some sort of misguided soul-searching the Obama team has made it harder for national security officials to do their jobs and has given valuable information to the worst of the worst of America’s enemies. Vice President Cheney, it turns out, was right.

I must admit that when former Vice President Cheney said that the Obama administration’s policies on the war on terror were making us less safe I balked. Frankly, my view was that the Obama team had talked a good game of “change” for the benefit of their netroot base (e.g. “closing Guantanamo”) but done relatively little to actually change Bush-era anti-terrorism policies. That changed when Obama released the “torture memos.” And I am not alone in puzzling over why it was necessary.

It doesn’t happen often, but I generally agree with Joe Klein on this one. As he notes, there are powerful reasons not to give our enemies a road map to interrogation techniques and, more important, not “break faith” with CIA agents acting on legal advice. He writes:

The White House was aware of these concerns and I think Obama has taken some steps, in his statement on the release, to ameliorate the problems, but he and Leon Panetta may be facing a serious morale problem and a slew of retirements at a moment when the need for undercover work is extremely urgent, especially in the Iraqi and Af/Pak theaters.

But kind words and promises not to prosecute those who followed legal advice don’t really ameliorate these concerns. The damage has been done.

A former Bush official agrees:

It’s damaging because these are techniques that work, and by Obama’s action today, we are telling the terrorists what they are. . .We have laid it all out for our enemies. This is totally unnecessary. … Publicizing the techniques does grave damage to our national security by ensuring they can never be used again — even in a ticking-time- bomb scenario where thousands or even millions of American lives are at stake. . . I don’t believe Obama would intentionally endanger the nation, so it must be that he thinks either 1. the previous administration, including the CIA professionals who have defended this program, is lying about its importance and effectiveness, or 2. he believes we are no longer really at war and no longer face the kind of grave threat to our national security this program has protected against.

In a must-read column both  Michael Hayden and Michael Mukasy weigh in:

The release of these opinions was unnecessary as a legal matter, and is unsound as a matter of policy. Its effect will be to invite the kind of institutional timidity and fear of recrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past, and that we came sorely to regret on Sept. 11, 2001.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that for the sake of some sort of misguided soul-searching the Obama team has made it harder for national security officials to do their jobs and has given valuable information to the worst of the worst of America’s enemies. Vice President Cheney, it turns out, was right.

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Reinventing Zionism

In his important new book, Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War that May Never End, Daniel Gordis begins one of his chapters with a quotation from Israel Aumann, Israel’s 2005 Nobel Prize Laureate:

[T]he greatest [threat] of all . . . does not come from Iran, nor from terrorist groups, nor from any external source.  It comes from within us. . . .  Without motivation, we will not endure. . . . What are we aspiring to here?  Without [answers], we will not endure.

Like Aumann, Gordis sees a threat to Israel that’s more serious than neighbors bent on its destruction:  the inability of an increasing proportion of the citizenry to remember basic elements of Jewish history, to articulate why their country exists in the first place, and to comprehend the nature of their historic enterprise.  This inability is itself an existential threat.

Gordis’s book is an attempt to answer Aumann’s question, written from the perspective of someone who in his lifetime has voted for both Jesse Jackson and Ariel Sharon.  Raised in a suburban, Democrat-voting, liberal American household, Gordis moved to Israel in 1998 with his wife and three young children, at the height of the “peace process.”  A decade later — after a Palestinian terror war following Israel’s offer of a state, a Lebanon war following Israel’s complete withdrawal, and a Gaza war following Israel’s removal of every settlement and soldier — he no longer expects peace now, nor perhaps (as his subtitle indicates) ever.  But there are things more important than peace.

When he moved to Israel, his Israeli friends told him they could not understand how anyone could actually choose to leave the comforts of American life for a land where everything is “smaller, more expensive, more dangerous, and more tenuous.”  His answer:  to live in Israel was to be at the center of Jewish history, to be part not simply of a prosperous democracy, but a Jewish state.

He discusses with extraordinary insight and sensitivity the issues a Jewish state raises with respect to a significant non-Jewish minority, some of whom actively wish it ill.  He provides history and context that even those who consider themselves well-versed in Jewish culture and religion will find new.  He calls for a new, informed Zionist discourse.

In world-historical terms, Israel was created on a silver platter that has tarnished from years of excessive respect for the “other,” acceptance of competing “narratives” regardless of their basis in fact, indulgence in a post-Zionism that assumed history had ended, and secular and religious institutions equally in need of reinvigoration.  Engaged in a war that cannot be ended simply by wanting peace, Israel needs to recover a sense of its historic role, and to live it.  Gordis’s book is a major contribution to that effort.

In his important new book, Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War that May Never End, Daniel Gordis begins one of his chapters with a quotation from Israel Aumann, Israel’s 2005 Nobel Prize Laureate:

[T]he greatest [threat] of all . . . does not come from Iran, nor from terrorist groups, nor from any external source.  It comes from within us. . . .  Without motivation, we will not endure. . . . What are we aspiring to here?  Without [answers], we will not endure.

Like Aumann, Gordis sees a threat to Israel that’s more serious than neighbors bent on its destruction:  the inability of an increasing proportion of the citizenry to remember basic elements of Jewish history, to articulate why their country exists in the first place, and to comprehend the nature of their historic enterprise.  This inability is itself an existential threat.

Gordis’s book is an attempt to answer Aumann’s question, written from the perspective of someone who in his lifetime has voted for both Jesse Jackson and Ariel Sharon.  Raised in a suburban, Democrat-voting, liberal American household, Gordis moved to Israel in 1998 with his wife and three young children, at the height of the “peace process.”  A decade later — after a Palestinian terror war following Israel’s offer of a state, a Lebanon war following Israel’s complete withdrawal, and a Gaza war following Israel’s removal of every settlement and soldier — he no longer expects peace now, nor perhaps (as his subtitle indicates) ever.  But there are things more important than peace.

When he moved to Israel, his Israeli friends told him they could not understand how anyone could actually choose to leave the comforts of American life for a land where everything is “smaller, more expensive, more dangerous, and more tenuous.”  His answer:  to live in Israel was to be at the center of Jewish history, to be part not simply of a prosperous democracy, but a Jewish state.

He discusses with extraordinary insight and sensitivity the issues a Jewish state raises with respect to a significant non-Jewish minority, some of whom actively wish it ill.  He provides history and context that even those who consider themselves well-versed in Jewish culture and religion will find new.  He calls for a new, informed Zionist discourse.

In world-historical terms, Israel was created on a silver platter that has tarnished from years of excessive respect for the “other,” acceptance of competing “narratives” regardless of their basis in fact, indulgence in a post-Zionism that assumed history had ended, and secular and religious institutions equally in need of reinvigoration.  Engaged in a war that cannot be ended simply by wanting peace, Israel needs to recover a sense of its historic role, and to live it.  Gordis’s book is a major contribution to that effort.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Organizing for America — a funded organization with paid staffers — got 214,000 pledges. The tea parties got a whole lot more – to turn out, on a workday no less.

In case you needed another reason not to support NPR, here it is.

Not a good factoid for Democrats in Connecticut: “Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd appears to have looked everywhere but his home state to fuel what pundits anticipate will be one of the most hotly contested races in the nation in 2010. The five-term incumbent reported raising just $4,250 from five Connecticut residents during the first three months of the year while raking in $604,745 from nearly 400 individuals living outside the state.” Only five?

Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell lengthens his lead over all potential Democratic opponents and is the only one with a positive favorable/unfavorable rating. The president’s popularity in Virginia has dropped eight points since February. But it is April and the election is a long way away.

Uh oh: “More than a dozen defense contractors with business before U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), a member of the powerful House Appropriations defense subcommittee, have donated thousands of dollars to Moran’s younger brother Brian, a candidate for governor of Virginia.”

A worse uh oh: “Steven Rattner, the leader of the Obama administration’s auto task force, was one of the executives involved with payments under scrutiny in a probe of an alleged kickback scheme at New York state’s pension fund, according to a person familiar with the matter.”

Tom Donnelly reminds us those snipers who killed the Somali pirates were standing on a billion dollar destroyer. He comments on the defense budget cuts: “Gates has rightly been emphasizing the need to ensure that irregular warfare concerns have ‘a seat at the table’ in Pentagon program deliberations. But it’s increasingly clear that, given the large-scale cutbacks directed by President Obama, Gates’ rhetoric is becoming an excuse for budget cuts rather than an argument about the nature of the threats we face. If the administration’s commitment to irregular warfare were genuine, it would not have been content to simply confirm the land-force expansion plan completed under President Bush, but would, as Sens. Joseph Lieberman and John Cornyn have advocated, continue to grow the Army.” Read the whole the thing.

It seems that objectionable language about rightwing extremists in the DHS report was flagged, but the report was rushed out anyway. Shouldn’t someone get fired? (h/t Glenn Reynolds). That said, it appears that the firestorm, the apology, and the criticism by a prominent Democratic congressman show respect for civil liberties is alive and well.

Shocked — shocked — to find there isn’t much fraud prevention at the World Bank. “In the U.S., the Obama administration recently asked Congress to approve a three-year $3.7 billion contribution to the bank’s IDA program. A Democratic congressional staffer said it was too early to tell whether the report would make passage more difficult.” Because why would it matter if our money is being wasted or used for nefarious purposes, right?

Charles Krauthammer deconstructs Obama’s budget “sting,” noting: “The heart of Obama’s health-care reform is universality. Covering more people costs more money. That is why Obama’s budget sets aside an extra $634 billion in health-care spending, a down payment on an estimated additional spending of $1 trillion. How does the administration curtail the Medicare and Medicaid entitlement by adding yet another (now universal) health-care entitlement that its own estimate acknowledges increases costs by about $1 trillion?”

Organizing for America — a funded organization with paid staffers — got 214,000 pledges. The tea parties got a whole lot more – to turn out, on a workday no less.

In case you needed another reason not to support NPR, here it is.

Not a good factoid for Democrats in Connecticut: “Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd appears to have looked everywhere but his home state to fuel what pundits anticipate will be one of the most hotly contested races in the nation in 2010. The five-term incumbent reported raising just $4,250 from five Connecticut residents during the first three months of the year while raking in $604,745 from nearly 400 individuals living outside the state.” Only five?

Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell lengthens his lead over all potential Democratic opponents and is the only one with a positive favorable/unfavorable rating. The president’s popularity in Virginia has dropped eight points since February. But it is April and the election is a long way away.

Uh oh: “More than a dozen defense contractors with business before U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), a member of the powerful House Appropriations defense subcommittee, have donated thousands of dollars to Moran’s younger brother Brian, a candidate for governor of Virginia.”

A worse uh oh: “Steven Rattner, the leader of the Obama administration’s auto task force, was one of the executives involved with payments under scrutiny in a probe of an alleged kickback scheme at New York state’s pension fund, according to a person familiar with the matter.”

Tom Donnelly reminds us those snipers who killed the Somali pirates were standing on a billion dollar destroyer. He comments on the defense budget cuts: “Gates has rightly been emphasizing the need to ensure that irregular warfare concerns have ‘a seat at the table’ in Pentagon program deliberations. But it’s increasingly clear that, given the large-scale cutbacks directed by President Obama, Gates’ rhetoric is becoming an excuse for budget cuts rather than an argument about the nature of the threats we face. If the administration’s commitment to irregular warfare were genuine, it would not have been content to simply confirm the land-force expansion plan completed under President Bush, but would, as Sens. Joseph Lieberman and John Cornyn have advocated, continue to grow the Army.” Read the whole the thing.

It seems that objectionable language about rightwing extremists in the DHS report was flagged, but the report was rushed out anyway. Shouldn’t someone get fired? (h/t Glenn Reynolds). That said, it appears that the firestorm, the apology, and the criticism by a prominent Democratic congressman show respect for civil liberties is alive and well.

Shocked — shocked — to find there isn’t much fraud prevention at the World Bank. “In the U.S., the Obama administration recently asked Congress to approve a three-year $3.7 billion contribution to the bank’s IDA program. A Democratic congressional staffer said it was too early to tell whether the report would make passage more difficult.” Because why would it matter if our money is being wasted or used for nefarious purposes, right?

Charles Krauthammer deconstructs Obama’s budget “sting,” noting: “The heart of Obama’s health-care reform is universality. Covering more people costs more money. That is why Obama’s budget sets aside an extra $634 billion in health-care spending, a down payment on an estimated additional spending of $1 trillion. How does the administration curtail the Medicare and Medicaid entitlement by adding yet another (now universal) health-care entitlement that its own estimate acknowledges increases costs by about $1 trillion?”

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