Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 20, 2009

Passive Opaqueness

The president went to Langely for some damage repair today, telling the CIA employees he knows “the last few days have been difficult.” Here is a tip: when a speaker uses the passive voice he is hiding something.

If the president had been more candid, he would have said “I made your jobs more difficult in the last few days.” After all, it is not the discontinuation of the enhanced interrogation techniques that provoked the visit; that was done weeks ago. It was the president’s decision to disclose the particulars of those techniques and the threat of future litigation now hanging over Langely that required the visit. It is the disclosure to our enemies of the precise contours of our interrogation techniques that sent the president scurrying to Langely.

And most of all, what those who work in Langely are now coming to terms with is the realization that this administration has reneged on the heretofore unbroken promise kept by every administration since CIA’s inception – that one administration would not, for political expediency, reveal the national security secrets of its predecessor or reveal operational details of our agents’ work. For every employee in that building and everyone who will work there in the future this is the new reality. Their government’s ironclad promises of secrecy and support are not so ironclad.

The president chose the passive voice for a reason. Someone may want to know what he thought he was accomplishing by this.

The president went to Langely for some damage repair today, telling the CIA employees he knows “the last few days have been difficult.” Here is a tip: when a speaker uses the passive voice he is hiding something.

If the president had been more candid, he would have said “I made your jobs more difficult in the last few days.” After all, it is not the discontinuation of the enhanced interrogation techniques that provoked the visit; that was done weeks ago. It was the president’s decision to disclose the particulars of those techniques and the threat of future litigation now hanging over Langely that required the visit. It is the disclosure to our enemies of the precise contours of our interrogation techniques that sent the president scurrying to Langely.

And most of all, what those who work in Langely are now coming to terms with is the realization that this administration has reneged on the heretofore unbroken promise kept by every administration since CIA’s inception – that one administration would not, for political expediency, reveal the national security secrets of its predecessor or reveal operational details of our agents’ work. For every employee in that building and everyone who will work there in the future this is the new reality. Their government’s ironclad promises of secrecy and support are not so ironclad.

The president chose the passive voice for a reason. Someone may want to know what he thought he was accomplishing by this.

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Commentary of the Day

Hans Moleman, on Peter Wehner:

President Obama’s recent forays into the wider world have been positively Chamberlainesque (although there is no evidence that Chamberlain ever actually bowed to Hitler.) His humble apologies for our sins, his delicate refusal to criticize Iran’s warmongering or Saudi Arabia’s persecution of women or China’s dictatorship, his pious moral equivalence of Israel and Iran/Hamas/Hezbollah. And now the bi-lingual embrace of “mi amigo” Chavez.

Obama’s pre-presidential experience can be summed up as effective self-promotion. If he continues to think that the solutions to all problems is “More Obama,” then we are all in for a very rough time.

Hans Moleman, on Peter Wehner:

President Obama’s recent forays into the wider world have been positively Chamberlainesque (although there is no evidence that Chamberlain ever actually bowed to Hitler.) His humble apologies for our sins, his delicate refusal to criticize Iran’s warmongering or Saudi Arabia’s persecution of women or China’s dictatorship, his pious moral equivalence of Israel and Iran/Hamas/Hezbollah. And now the bi-lingual embrace of “mi amigo” Chavez.

Obama’s pre-presidential experience can be summed up as effective self-promotion. If he continues to think that the solutions to all problems is “More Obama,” then we are all in for a very rough time.

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Why We’re in Afghanistan

In a weekend interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN, Hamid Karzai made a very good point: He said that he agrees “with almost all the elements” of President Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy except for the president’s justification for the war, which is that we are in Afghanistan to disrupt Al Qaeda.

Karzai said:

Al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda was driven out of Afghanistan in 2001, by the combined forces of the United States, our other allies and the Afghan people. Of course, there may be al Qaeda-sent terrorists to Afghanistan that we should fight and we should defeat. But as you know, as we all know, Afghanistan does not have any al Qaeda base or center or any such structural presence.

That’s absolutely true, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight in Afghanistan. It does mean we have to be more honest about our rationale when our primary enemy is not Al Qaeda per se, but rather affiliated groups such as the Taliban and the Haqqani network. We have very good reasons for fighting them, because they are trying to turn Afghanistan into a center of jihadism and undo all the gains made from our defeat of the Taliban in the fall of 2001. If they were successful, it would be a major setback for the United States and would endanger the future of Pakistan as well. Meanwhile, as long as we remain in force in Afghanistan, we can project our power into Pakistan, bolster its civilian government, and disrupt terrorist operations there. If we were to give up on Afghanistan’s future, it is extremely doubtful that we could, from long distance, do serious damage to terrorist groups plotting against us and our allies.

So the existence of Al Qaeda is indeed related to our presence in Afghanistan but it’s not the only, or even the overriding, rationale for our war effort. I believe Obama knows this, but he didn’t bother explaining it when he unveiled his Afghanistan policy. On substantive grounds, his policy decisions are very good; but their rhetoric was too narrow, too focused on Al Qaeda, and not open enough about the need to engage in nation-building in Afghanistan as the best long-term strategy to prevent a terrorist takeover. At the moment, that’s a small enough problem but it could grow as Americans start to notice that most of the enemies our troops are fighting aren’t affiliated with Al Qaeda.

In a weekend interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN, Hamid Karzai made a very good point: He said that he agrees “with almost all the elements” of President Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy except for the president’s justification for the war, which is that we are in Afghanistan to disrupt Al Qaeda.

Karzai said:

Al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda was driven out of Afghanistan in 2001, by the combined forces of the United States, our other allies and the Afghan people. Of course, there may be al Qaeda-sent terrorists to Afghanistan that we should fight and we should defeat. But as you know, as we all know, Afghanistan does not have any al Qaeda base or center or any such structural presence.

That’s absolutely true, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight in Afghanistan. It does mean we have to be more honest about our rationale when our primary enemy is not Al Qaeda per se, but rather affiliated groups such as the Taliban and the Haqqani network. We have very good reasons for fighting them, because they are trying to turn Afghanistan into a center of jihadism and undo all the gains made from our defeat of the Taliban in the fall of 2001. If they were successful, it would be a major setback for the United States and would endanger the future of Pakistan as well. Meanwhile, as long as we remain in force in Afghanistan, we can project our power into Pakistan, bolster its civilian government, and disrupt terrorist operations there. If we were to give up on Afghanistan’s future, it is extremely doubtful that we could, from long distance, do serious damage to terrorist groups plotting against us and our allies.

So the existence of Al Qaeda is indeed related to our presence in Afghanistan but it’s not the only, or even the overriding, rationale for our war effort. I believe Obama knows this, but he didn’t bother explaining it when he unveiled his Afghanistan policy. On substantive grounds, his policy decisions are very good; but their rhetoric was too narrow, too focused on Al Qaeda, and not open enough about the need to engage in nation-building in Afghanistan as the best long-term strategy to prevent a terrorist takeover. At the moment, that’s a small enough problem but it could grow as Americans start to notice that most of the enemies our troops are fighting aren’t affiliated with Al Qaeda.

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Where Are They?

I was pleased to see from Reporters Without Borders an articulate and informative condemnation of the conviction of American journalist Roxana Saberi by an Iranian “court.” However, where is Amnesty International? Silence on its website. Human Rights Watch found time to criticize the U.S. for not attending the Israel-bashing in Switzerland, but its website is also devoid of criticism for Iran.

Such episodes make it plain that defense of ”human rights” (including journalist freedom) has been abandoned by left-leaning groups, which see human rights’ main utility as a club with which to beat the U.S. and Israel. I eagerly await the words of condemnation of Ms. Saberi’s conviction from such luminaries as Rep. John Conyers and the UN Human Rights Council.

I was pleased to see from Reporters Without Borders an articulate and informative condemnation of the conviction of American journalist Roxana Saberi by an Iranian “court.” However, where is Amnesty International? Silence on its website. Human Rights Watch found time to criticize the U.S. for not attending the Israel-bashing in Switzerland, but its website is also devoid of criticism for Iran.

Such episodes make it plain that defense of ”human rights” (including journalist freedom) has been abandoned by left-leaning groups, which see human rights’ main utility as a club with which to beat the U.S. and Israel. I eagerly await the words of condemnation of Ms. Saberi’s conviction from such luminaries as Rep. John Conyers and the UN Human Rights Council.

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Arthur Herman

Congratulations to COMMENTARY’s longtime contributor Arthur Herman, whose book Gandhi and Churchill was a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction.

Congratulations to COMMENTARY’s longtime contributor Arthur Herman, whose book Gandhi and Churchill was a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction.

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So Far, Not So Good

How’s the new outreach to Iran going? The president went on TV to curry favor with the “Islamic Republic of Iran.” We announced that we’d join our European allies in talks, and whispered that we might allow Iran to keep up with its nuclear development program while we all chat. And what have we gotten in return? Let’s see. Iran has ferried enriched uranium to North Korea. The Iranians have, as Noah pointed out, resumed their favorite ploy of nabbing Americans. Today we hear:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has accused Israel of being the “most cruel and racist regime,” sparking a walkout by angry Western diplomats at a U.N. racism conference and protests from others.

In a rambling speech, Ahmadinejad on Monday pointed the finger at the United States, Europe and Israel and said they were destabilizing the entire world.

Some European diplomats immediately walked out of the room when Ahmadinejad said Israel was created on the “pretext of Jewish suffering” from World War II.
A wigged protester shouting “Racist, racist” threw a soft red object at Ahmadinejad, hitting the podium and interrupting his speech.

Might it be that our actions are not melting the mullahs’ hearts but, rather, emboldening them? Could they be perceiving a green light to ramp up their aggressive behavior without fear of any consequences? That’s what Michael Ledeen suspects is going on:

[The president] doesn’t seem to realize that all his sweet talk is very provocative, it plays into the mullahs’ fantasy world in which they are routing us all over the world (they know it’s all about us, not about him), and soon the American president will kneel to the Supreme Leader.  He actually seems to believe that it is possible to convince the Iranian leaders to give up their nuclear program, when every major figure in the Islamic Republic has said that Iran will never, ever, abandon that program.  The only thing they are willing to discuss is how we will accommodate to the fact of a nuclear Iran.

Meanwhile, their agents and proxies are killing Americans from Egypt and Saudi Arabia to Iraq and Afghanistan.  And Obama does nothing in response, except to make gesture after gesture demonstrating his lack of will to confront those who have been killing Americans for thirty years.

Obama likes to think if he is “persistent” this will all pay off. One wonders what it will take, what facts might ever convince him that persistently projecting weakness is not the key to “progress” in our relationship with Iran.

How’s the new outreach to Iran going? The president went on TV to curry favor with the “Islamic Republic of Iran.” We announced that we’d join our European allies in talks, and whispered that we might allow Iran to keep up with its nuclear development program while we all chat. And what have we gotten in return? Let’s see. Iran has ferried enriched uranium to North Korea. The Iranians have, as Noah pointed out, resumed their favorite ploy of nabbing Americans. Today we hear:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has accused Israel of being the “most cruel and racist regime,” sparking a walkout by angry Western diplomats at a U.N. racism conference and protests from others.

In a rambling speech, Ahmadinejad on Monday pointed the finger at the United States, Europe and Israel and said they were destabilizing the entire world.

Some European diplomats immediately walked out of the room when Ahmadinejad said Israel was created on the “pretext of Jewish suffering” from World War II.
A wigged protester shouting “Racist, racist” threw a soft red object at Ahmadinejad, hitting the podium and interrupting his speech.

Might it be that our actions are not melting the mullahs’ hearts but, rather, emboldening them? Could they be perceiving a green light to ramp up their aggressive behavior without fear of any consequences? That’s what Michael Ledeen suspects is going on:

[The president] doesn’t seem to realize that all his sweet talk is very provocative, it plays into the mullahs’ fantasy world in which they are routing us all over the world (they know it’s all about us, not about him), and soon the American president will kneel to the Supreme Leader.  He actually seems to believe that it is possible to convince the Iranian leaders to give up their nuclear program, when every major figure in the Islamic Republic has said that Iran will never, ever, abandon that program.  The only thing they are willing to discuss is how we will accommodate to the fact of a nuclear Iran.

Meanwhile, their agents and proxies are killing Americans from Egypt and Saudi Arabia to Iraq and Afghanistan.  And Obama does nothing in response, except to make gesture after gesture demonstrating his lack of will to confront those who have been killing Americans for thirty years.

Obama likes to think if he is “persistent” this will all pay off. One wonders what it will take, what facts might ever convince him that persistently projecting weakness is not the key to “progress” in our relationship with Iran.

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Sam Beer, RIP

Harvard political scientist Samuel H. Beer, one of the foremost American scholars of British politics, died last week at the age of 97. The author of many books, he was perhaps best known among students of Britain for his influential 1965 study of “British Politics in the Collectivist Age,” and his widely-read textbook “Modern British Politics.”

British political scientist Michael Moran described Beer in 2006 as “probably the most distinguished foreign scholar of our system of government in the 20th century.” I met Beer only once, when my painfully long and almost unreadable doctoral thesis — in what I presume was a very thin field — won a prize named after him from the British Politics Group of the American Political Science Association. But just to be associated with his name was an honor: his students included Stanley Hoffman, Harvey Mansfield, Henry Kissinger, Michael Walzer, and Charles Tilly.

Contrary to academic mythology, faculty advisers are not responsible — well, not directly, at least — for what their students get up to. But that collection of names says something about Beer. All of them are difficult to place politically: they range from philosophic conservatives (Mansfield) to Rockefeller Republicans (Kissinger, who, remember, started as a Nelson Rockefeller supporter) to philosophic liberals (Walzer).

Beer himself was a Democrat throughout his life, writing speeches for Roosevelt in 1935 and 1936, serving as chairman of Americans for Democratic Action from 1959 to 1962, and testifying as a supporter of President Clinton during the impeachment hearings. But, as the Harvard Crimson points out, he was also an opponent of the student rebellions at Harvard in the 1960s.  That made him a representative — like many of his students — of an increasingly rare type in academia: the post-war liberal, definitely Democrat in inclination, but also an opponent of the New Left, which was violent in practice and uninterested in philosophy, history, and the possibility of knowledge by inclination.

And also unlike the New Left, which now dominates the academy, he was a tolerant man, genuinely devoted to teaching. An academy of Beers would be a liberal academy, but it would not be a propagandizing one. It would not make many conservatives out of the liberals, but it would also not go out of its way to convert the conservatives to liberalism. It would not be an academy that conservatives would admire, necessarily, but it would be one they could respect, for it would be true to the belief that universities exist to pass on the best that has been written and thought.

To die at 97, with health and mental vigor unimpaired until the very end, is not a tragedy. But Beer’s death is a loss nonetheless, not simply because of his own strengths as a scholar and teacher, but because there are so few of his kind left. He was a giant, and his greatness stands in sharper relief when viewed against the background of the contemporary academy.

Harvard political scientist Samuel H. Beer, one of the foremost American scholars of British politics, died last week at the age of 97. The author of many books, he was perhaps best known among students of Britain for his influential 1965 study of “British Politics in the Collectivist Age,” and his widely-read textbook “Modern British Politics.”

British political scientist Michael Moran described Beer in 2006 as “probably the most distinguished foreign scholar of our system of government in the 20th century.” I met Beer only once, when my painfully long and almost unreadable doctoral thesis — in what I presume was a very thin field — won a prize named after him from the British Politics Group of the American Political Science Association. But just to be associated with his name was an honor: his students included Stanley Hoffman, Harvey Mansfield, Henry Kissinger, Michael Walzer, and Charles Tilly.

Contrary to academic mythology, faculty advisers are not responsible — well, not directly, at least — for what their students get up to. But that collection of names says something about Beer. All of them are difficult to place politically: they range from philosophic conservatives (Mansfield) to Rockefeller Republicans (Kissinger, who, remember, started as a Nelson Rockefeller supporter) to philosophic liberals (Walzer).

Beer himself was a Democrat throughout his life, writing speeches for Roosevelt in 1935 and 1936, serving as chairman of Americans for Democratic Action from 1959 to 1962, and testifying as a supporter of President Clinton during the impeachment hearings. But, as the Harvard Crimson points out, he was also an opponent of the student rebellions at Harvard in the 1960s.  That made him a representative — like many of his students — of an increasingly rare type in academia: the post-war liberal, definitely Democrat in inclination, but also an opponent of the New Left, which was violent in practice and uninterested in philosophy, history, and the possibility of knowledge by inclination.

And also unlike the New Left, which now dominates the academy, he was a tolerant man, genuinely devoted to teaching. An academy of Beers would be a liberal academy, but it would not be a propagandizing one. It would not make many conservatives out of the liberals, but it would also not go out of its way to convert the conservatives to liberalism. It would not be an academy that conservatives would admire, necessarily, but it would be one they could respect, for it would be true to the belief that universities exist to pass on the best that has been written and thought.

To die at 97, with health and mental vigor unimpaired until the very end, is not a tragedy. But Beer’s death is a loss nonetheless, not simply because of his own strengths as a scholar and teacher, but because there are so few of his kind left. He was a giant, and his greatness stands in sharper relief when viewed against the background of the contemporary academy.

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The PLO and the Jewish State

Yesterday, David Hazony argued that in refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, the Palestinians were reserving a “pretext for future violence”:

It is not too hard to imagine that the Palestinian state would see itself as the champion of the rights of Israeli Arabs, who would now be depicted as oppressed under Israel’s ‘apartheid’ rule, giving all those anti-Israel forces around the world … something new to hate Israel for. But all this depends on the PA’s refusing to accept the very idea of a Jewish state – the very idea, that is, of Israel itself.

This may be true.  But whether or not the Palestinians are sincere in their desire for peace, the very structure of negotiations makes it very unlikely that the Palestinians would ever recognize Israel’s Jewish character. After all, in negotiations with Israel, the Palestinians are represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization — and not by the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, despite the fact that Mahmoud Abbas heads both bodies, the PA and PLO represent different constituencies — with vastly different interests.

In this vein, the PA governs Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, whose interests include economic development, freedom of movement, and sovereignty. While many within the PA’s constituency oppose Israel’s existence — e.g., those who voted for Hamas — it is possible to construct policy such that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state within the context of a two-state solution becomes a matter of Palestinian national interest. Indeed, so long as PA leaders can be convinced that Israel’s domestic character does not infringe on Palestinian development and sovereignty, there is no non-ideological reason for the PA to care whether or not Israel is a Jewish state, as David correctly noted.

Alternatively, the PLO claims to represent all Palestinians worldwide, and its interests acutely reflect this difference. For example, insofar as it is internationally recognized as representing Palestinians in Lebanese, Jordanian, and Syrian refugee camps, the PLO stands to lose a great deal of its legitimacy by negotiating away the so-called “right to return.” Similarly, insofar as it claims to represent Israeli-Arabs, recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would mean disassociating itself from approximately 10-15% of its declared constituency — something that a rationally behaving political entity is unlikely to do.

For this reason, I disagree with David’s claim that the Obama administration has “fallen into Abbas’s trap” by conceding that Palestinians need not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. If anything, the administration is operating realistically — i.e., with a clear understanding of the PLO’s institutionally derived bright lines.  Apparently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is working under the same understanding: as David noted, Netanyahu has dropped the Palestinians’ recognition of Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition for talks. Of course, none of this suggests that peace is nigh. Still, insofar as peacemaking has long been the enterprise of romanticizing policymakers, this sudden cool-headedness might be a welcome development.

Yesterday, David Hazony argued that in refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, the Palestinians were reserving a “pretext for future violence”:

It is not too hard to imagine that the Palestinian state would see itself as the champion of the rights of Israeli Arabs, who would now be depicted as oppressed under Israel’s ‘apartheid’ rule, giving all those anti-Israel forces around the world … something new to hate Israel for. But all this depends on the PA’s refusing to accept the very idea of a Jewish state – the very idea, that is, of Israel itself.

This may be true.  But whether or not the Palestinians are sincere in their desire for peace, the very structure of negotiations makes it very unlikely that the Palestinians would ever recognize Israel’s Jewish character. After all, in negotiations with Israel, the Palestinians are represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization — and not by the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, despite the fact that Mahmoud Abbas heads both bodies, the PA and PLO represent different constituencies — with vastly different interests.

In this vein, the PA governs Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, whose interests include economic development, freedom of movement, and sovereignty. While many within the PA’s constituency oppose Israel’s existence — e.g., those who voted for Hamas — it is possible to construct policy such that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state within the context of a two-state solution becomes a matter of Palestinian national interest. Indeed, so long as PA leaders can be convinced that Israel’s domestic character does not infringe on Palestinian development and sovereignty, there is no non-ideological reason for the PA to care whether or not Israel is a Jewish state, as David correctly noted.

Alternatively, the PLO claims to represent all Palestinians worldwide, and its interests acutely reflect this difference. For example, insofar as it is internationally recognized as representing Palestinians in Lebanese, Jordanian, and Syrian refugee camps, the PLO stands to lose a great deal of its legitimacy by negotiating away the so-called “right to return.” Similarly, insofar as it claims to represent Israeli-Arabs, recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would mean disassociating itself from approximately 10-15% of its declared constituency — something that a rationally behaving political entity is unlikely to do.

For this reason, I disagree with David’s claim that the Obama administration has “fallen into Abbas’s trap” by conceding that Palestinians need not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. If anything, the administration is operating realistically — i.e., with a clear understanding of the PLO’s institutionally derived bright lines.  Apparently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is working under the same understanding: as David noted, Netanyahu has dropped the Palestinians’ recognition of Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition for talks. Of course, none of this suggests that peace is nigh. Still, insofar as peacemaking has long been the enterprise of romanticizing policymakers, this sudden cool-headedness might be a welcome development.

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It Was Just a Handshake

My reaction to the sight of President Obama shaking hands with Hugo Chavez was a little different from that of many on the Right. Newt Gingrich, for one, compared Obama to Jimmy Carter and suggested that he was bolstering “the enemies of America.”

That’s a harsh and — I think — slightly premature judgment. All Obama did was shake the guy’s hand, and offer him a smile. Far from being a disaster, this could actually be a smart strategic move. Chavez, after all, derives much of his demagogic appeal from his claim to be an inveterate enemy of Uncle Sam. He thrives off provoking us and using the resulting reaction to “prove” that we are as bad as he claims.

Obama is a lot harder to demonize than George W. Bush, however, and by shaking hands with Chavez the president may be undercutting his appeal more effectively than anything Bush did. If Obama starts making substantive concessions to Chavez or other dictators, I will start to get worried. But I don’t think anyone should have a meltdown over a handshake.

My reaction to the sight of President Obama shaking hands with Hugo Chavez was a little different from that of many on the Right. Newt Gingrich, for one, compared Obama to Jimmy Carter and suggested that he was bolstering “the enemies of America.”

That’s a harsh and — I think — slightly premature judgment. All Obama did was shake the guy’s hand, and offer him a smile. Far from being a disaster, this could actually be a smart strategic move. Chavez, after all, derives much of his demagogic appeal from his claim to be an inveterate enemy of Uncle Sam. He thrives off provoking us and using the resulting reaction to “prove” that we are as bad as he claims.

Obama is a lot harder to demonize than George W. Bush, however, and by shaking hands with Chavez the president may be undercutting his appeal more effectively than anything Bush did. If Obama starts making substantive concessions to Chavez or other dictators, I will start to get worried. But I don’t think anyone should have a meltdown over a handshake.

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The Pawn

When the game of Chatrang arrived in Sassanid Persia from India, it quickly developed into what became present-day chess. Not only did the Persian exclamations “Shah!” and “Shah Mat” (“check!” and “check mate!”) enter the chess lexicon but, most important, the game became part and parcel of the education of nobility at the Persian court. Chess is deeply ingrained in Iranian culture — certainly also in how Iran plays diplomacy with the world.

Indeed, it should come as no surprise that Roxanna Saberi has become the latest pawn in Iran’s chess game. As Noah Pollak noted, she is “Iran’s latest hostage” in a game with many precedents. Saberi represents a perfect opportunity for the regime to push President Obama in a corner. She is an American citizen — former Miss North Dakota, no less! She is a journalist and a woman.

Imprisoning her forces the U.S. to take a stand for all it believes in — human rights, freedom of the press, protecting U.S. citizens abroad, due process, fair trial, etc. — and by so doing, risk spoiling current efforts of rapprochement and engagement with Iran. If the U.S. were to do that — Iran just counseled against it — it might give Iran a pretext to rebuke U.S. diplomatic efforts and up the ante. If it decides to forgo principle in the name of diplomatic expediency, the U.S. will emerge weakened and exposed to the charge of hypocrisy for having sacrificed Saberi to the diplomatic interests of the state.

One has to give it to the Iranians — they are masters at the game. Their opponent, so far, seems a bit of a novice, to say the least.

When the game of Chatrang arrived in Sassanid Persia from India, it quickly developed into what became present-day chess. Not only did the Persian exclamations “Shah!” and “Shah Mat” (“check!” and “check mate!”) enter the chess lexicon but, most important, the game became part and parcel of the education of nobility at the Persian court. Chess is deeply ingrained in Iranian culture — certainly also in how Iran plays diplomacy with the world.

Indeed, it should come as no surprise that Roxanna Saberi has become the latest pawn in Iran’s chess game. As Noah Pollak noted, she is “Iran’s latest hostage” in a game with many precedents. Saberi represents a perfect opportunity for the regime to push President Obama in a corner. She is an American citizen — former Miss North Dakota, no less! She is a journalist and a woman.

Imprisoning her forces the U.S. to take a stand for all it believes in — human rights, freedom of the press, protecting U.S. citizens abroad, due process, fair trial, etc. — and by so doing, risk spoiling current efforts of rapprochement and engagement with Iran. If the U.S. were to do that — Iran just counseled against it — it might give Iran a pretext to rebuke U.S. diplomatic efforts and up the ante. If it decides to forgo principle in the name of diplomatic expediency, the U.S. will emerge weakened and exposed to the charge of hypocrisy for having sacrificed Saberi to the diplomatic interests of the state.

One has to give it to the Iranians — they are masters at the game. Their opponent, so far, seems a bit of a novice, to say the least.

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Romer Is Vindicated

When the president and VP went to the Transportation Department last week to tout the 2000th program authorized under the stimulus, they got tripped up over just how much money had been spent. Now we know: not a lot. USA Today reports:

The federal government has committed $60 billion so far for projects from the $787 billion economic stimulus package President Obama signed two months ago, prompting concerns that the money isn’t moving fast enough to halt the deepening recession.

[. . .]

Critics say the government should speed up spending. “It’s disappointing, given the urgency … that we’ve only been able to spend $60 billion,” says Brookings Institution economist Isabel Sawhill. She says the government must hire contractors and get projects reviewed — safeguards that slow the flow of money.

At this rate the money will get spent in two years. Hmmm. Maybe this is further support for Christina Romer’s pre-Obama administration research, which showed these Keynesian schemes as ill-timed to lift us out of a recession. When they come back for another stimulus because this one isn’t “enough,” we should keep this in mind.

When the president and VP went to the Transportation Department last week to tout the 2000th program authorized under the stimulus, they got tripped up over just how much money had been spent. Now we know: not a lot. USA Today reports:

The federal government has committed $60 billion so far for projects from the $787 billion economic stimulus package President Obama signed two months ago, prompting concerns that the money isn’t moving fast enough to halt the deepening recession.

[. . .]

Critics say the government should speed up spending. “It’s disappointing, given the urgency … that we’ve only been able to spend $60 billion,” says Brookings Institution economist Isabel Sawhill. She says the government must hire contractors and get projects reviewed — safeguards that slow the flow of money.

At this rate the money will get spent in two years. Hmmm. Maybe this is further support for Christina Romer’s pre-Obama administration research, which showed these Keynesian schemes as ill-timed to lift us out of a recession. When they come back for another stimulus because this one isn’t “enough,” we should keep this in mind.

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Iraq Is Similar to Vietnam

In the new issue of Foreign Policy, Robert Kaplan begins his article with this well-worn nugget:

[T]he armed liberalism and the democracy-promoting neoconservatism of the 1990s shared the same universalist aspirations. But alas, when a fear of Munich leads to overreach the result is Vietnam-or in the current case, Iraq.

And thus began the rehabilitation of realism, and with it another intellectual cycle. “Realist” is now a mark of respect, “neocon” a term of derision. The Vietnam analogy has vanquished that of Munich.

Indeed, it has. But why? Can Kaplan cite a year, a period, a phase of Vietnam’s existence that resembles today’s Iraq?

Actually, I can. Vietnam, circa 2009. If Iraq bears any resemblance to Vietnam then it does so in regard to today’s Vietnam, not the lawless and flaming jungles of decades past. Don’t take my word for it. Freedomhouse in 2008 gave Iraq a score of six on political rights and a score of six on civil liberties. The same year, it gave Vietnam scores of seven and five, respectively. On average, in regard to freedom (not an insignificant indicator of national health), the two countries are identical.

However, the analogy between the two present-day states admittedly does crumble upon the airing of more data. The Economist’s democracy index from 2008 ranked Iraq at 116 out of 167 countries in terms of viable democracy, and places it in the class of “Hybrid Regimes.” It ranked Vietnam down at 149, and listed its government under “Authoritarian Regimes.”

Anyone want to wager on which of the two countries will climb more rapidly in the coming years?

So not only do comparisons between present-day Iraq and war-era Vietnam fail, but Iraq is quantifiably freer and more democratic than present-day Vietnam. Sorry, I got side-tracked. What’s Kaplan’s point about realists and neoconservatives, again . . .

In the new issue of Foreign Policy, Robert Kaplan begins his article with this well-worn nugget:

[T]he armed liberalism and the democracy-promoting neoconservatism of the 1990s shared the same universalist aspirations. But alas, when a fear of Munich leads to overreach the result is Vietnam-or in the current case, Iraq.

And thus began the rehabilitation of realism, and with it another intellectual cycle. “Realist” is now a mark of respect, “neocon” a term of derision. The Vietnam analogy has vanquished that of Munich.

Indeed, it has. But why? Can Kaplan cite a year, a period, a phase of Vietnam’s existence that resembles today’s Iraq?

Actually, I can. Vietnam, circa 2009. If Iraq bears any resemblance to Vietnam then it does so in regard to today’s Vietnam, not the lawless and flaming jungles of decades past. Don’t take my word for it. Freedomhouse in 2008 gave Iraq a score of six on political rights and a score of six on civil liberties. The same year, it gave Vietnam scores of seven and five, respectively. On average, in regard to freedom (not an insignificant indicator of national health), the two countries are identical.

However, the analogy between the two present-day states admittedly does crumble upon the airing of more data. The Economist’s democracy index from 2008 ranked Iraq at 116 out of 167 countries in terms of viable democracy, and places it in the class of “Hybrid Regimes.” It ranked Vietnam down at 149, and listed its government under “Authoritarian Regimes.”

Anyone want to wager on which of the two countries will climb more rapidly in the coming years?

So not only do comparisons between present-day Iraq and war-era Vietnam fail, but Iraq is quantifiably freer and more democratic than present-day Vietnam. Sorry, I got side-tracked. What’s Kaplan’s point about realists and neoconservatives, again . . .

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Orwell in Geneva

We all know that Durban II is full of insane doublespeak. Heck, it’s not even in Durban. But this really is an amazing video, courtesy of UN Watch. A Palestinian doctor who was tortured in Libya confronts the conference with Libya’s horrific human rights record, and the chairperson of the session, herself Libyan, is none too pleased at his repeatedly “taking the conference outside the bounds of its objectives.” Eventually she shuts him up. Take a look.

We all know that Durban II is full of insane doublespeak. Heck, it’s not even in Durban. But this really is an amazing video, courtesy of UN Watch. A Palestinian doctor who was tortured in Libya confronts the conference with Libya’s horrific human rights record, and the chairperson of the session, herself Libyan, is none too pleased at his repeatedly “taking the conference outside the bounds of its objectives.” Eventually she shuts him up. Take a look.

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Do We Need Isolated Outposts in Afghanistan?

C.J. Chivers, the former Marine turned New York Times-man, continues his gripping series of reports from the Korangal Valley of northeast Afghanistan. Previously he had chronicled a successful ambush of a Taliban column carried out by an American platoon. In the latest installment, he reports on the Taliban ambushing the Americans. The U.S. unit, as usual, gets the upper hand in the fight thanks to its ability to call in mortar and air strikes but, unfortunately, a soldier dies in the initial ambush.

The article has an up-close-and-personal feel that can only be achieved by going in harm’s way. Reading the article, it is impossible not to feel admiration, even awe, for the valor and skill of the men involved — not only the soldiers from Company B of the First Battalion, 26th Infantry, but also the two Times-men, Chivers and photographer Tyler Hicks. But it is also hard to avoid wondering whether it’s worth putting their lives on the line for the mission they have been given.

I don’t mean that I doubt whether Afghanistan is worth fighting for. I believe winning the war there has to be a major priority. But I am not sure that having American outposts in the isolated Korangal Valley
contributes much to our ultimate success — at least not enough to justify the considerable cost to our troops. (Chivers notes that one platoon has already lost four men in the past nine months. That’s
perhaps 10% of the entire platoon.)

As Chivers notes, the fight in the Korangal is fairly isolated from the major battle against the Taliban, al Qaeda, the Haqqani network, and related Islamist insurgent groups that will determine the success
or failure of our war effort:

Relatively few Arabs or foreigners come here, the company’s officers say. But the Korangalis, a hardened and isolated people with their own language, have managed to lock the American Army into a bloody standoff for a small space for more than three years.

The Korangalis have fought, the officers say, in part because they support the Taliban and in part because they are loggers and the Afghan government banned almost all timber cutting, putting local men out of work.

A number of officers I talked with on my last visit to Afghanistan suggested it would make sense to pull the isolated American combat outposts out of the Korangal and a few other areas. They have become
such bullet-magnets that they have to devote most of their resources to defending themselves and cannot generate much combat power on a regular basis “outside the wire.” Afghanistan has much more vital terrain for fighting — especially areas with high population density, high concentration of insurgents, or both. The Korangal Valley is neither. It does, however, have plenty of backward, xenophobic residents who will fire on any outsider who comes their way — and they regard Afghans who live a few valleys over as outsiders.

Fighting for the future of Afghanistan doesn’t have to mean fighting for every inch of the country. Commanders on the ground have to make difficult calculations and trade-offs that may result in pulling back some outposts while expanding others.

C.J. Chivers, the former Marine turned New York Times-man, continues his gripping series of reports from the Korangal Valley of northeast Afghanistan. Previously he had chronicled a successful ambush of a Taliban column carried out by an American platoon. In the latest installment, he reports on the Taliban ambushing the Americans. The U.S. unit, as usual, gets the upper hand in the fight thanks to its ability to call in mortar and air strikes but, unfortunately, a soldier dies in the initial ambush.

The article has an up-close-and-personal feel that can only be achieved by going in harm’s way. Reading the article, it is impossible not to feel admiration, even awe, for the valor and skill of the men involved — not only the soldiers from Company B of the First Battalion, 26th Infantry, but also the two Times-men, Chivers and photographer Tyler Hicks. But it is also hard to avoid wondering whether it’s worth putting their lives on the line for the mission they have been given.

I don’t mean that I doubt whether Afghanistan is worth fighting for. I believe winning the war there has to be a major priority. But I am not sure that having American outposts in the isolated Korangal Valley
contributes much to our ultimate success — at least not enough to justify the considerable cost to our troops. (Chivers notes that one platoon has already lost four men in the past nine months. That’s
perhaps 10% of the entire platoon.)

As Chivers notes, the fight in the Korangal is fairly isolated from the major battle against the Taliban, al Qaeda, the Haqqani network, and related Islamist insurgent groups that will determine the success
or failure of our war effort:

Relatively few Arabs or foreigners come here, the company’s officers say. But the Korangalis, a hardened and isolated people with their own language, have managed to lock the American Army into a bloody standoff for a small space for more than three years.

The Korangalis have fought, the officers say, in part because they support the Taliban and in part because they are loggers and the Afghan government banned almost all timber cutting, putting local men out of work.

A number of officers I talked with on my last visit to Afghanistan suggested it would make sense to pull the isolated American combat outposts out of the Korangal and a few other areas. They have become
such bullet-magnets that they have to devote most of their resources to defending themselves and cannot generate much combat power on a regular basis “outside the wire.” Afghanistan has much more vital terrain for fighting — especially areas with high population density, high concentration of insurgents, or both. The Korangal Valley is neither. It does, however, have plenty of backward, xenophobic residents who will fire on any outsider who comes their way — and they regard Afghans who live a few valleys over as outsiders.

Fighting for the future of Afghanistan doesn’t have to mean fighting for every inch of the country. Commanders on the ground have to make difficult calculations and trade-offs that may result in pulling back some outposts while expanding others.

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Showtime

The Washington Post reports:

President Obama plans to convene his Cabinet for the first time today, where he will order members to identify a combined $100 million in budget cuts over the next 90 days, according to a senior administration official.

The budget cuts, while they would account to a minuscule portion of federal spending, are intended to signal the president’s determination to cut spending and reform government, the official said.

This is noteworthy not only because it took nearly a hundred days to convene the cabinet but because it suggests the “What tea parties?” feigned ignorance by the Obama spin-machine is flimsy camouflage for growing concerns that the unwashed rabble may be on to something. Really, why now, out of the blue, find some tiny cost cutting measures? The president could, after all, have made the stimulus plan $100M less expensive or the $3.6 trillion budget a smidgen less irresponsible.

As one Capitol Hill staffer pointed out, $100M is about a day’s worth of interest on the stimulus plan. (CBO says the stimulus debt will be 347 billion over 10 years, which averages out to 34 billion a year or about $95 million a day.) Or as MarketWatch put it:

To get a handle on how insultingly trivial the announcement is, one need only compare the targeted cuts to the administration’s spending plan for 2010. With cuts in federal spending by $100 million, the government will save roughly 1/36,000 of the $3.6 trillion it expects to spend next year. Put another way, if the budget were a yardstick, the administration would be proposing to shorten it by 1/1000 of an inch. That’s 25.4 microns, or about half the width of a human hair.

So why do something this trivial? It seems obvious that the White House is concerned that the Republicans’ “taxes too much, spends too much, and borrows too much” characterization of Democrats is becoming too popular. So the administration will throw out some ludicrously small cuts to show the are “serious” about fiscal discipline. It matters not that it runs counter to their entire Keynesian spending plan, which is premised on the notion that spending — all kinds and for whatever purpose — is needed now. Like so much of what the Obama administration does, the latest search for pennies in the couch is only for show. But the mere fact that they feel compelled to put on a show speaks volumes about their assessment of the political landscape.

The Washington Post reports:

President Obama plans to convene his Cabinet for the first time today, where he will order members to identify a combined $100 million in budget cuts over the next 90 days, according to a senior administration official.

The budget cuts, while they would account to a minuscule portion of federal spending, are intended to signal the president’s determination to cut spending and reform government, the official said.

This is noteworthy not only because it took nearly a hundred days to convene the cabinet but because it suggests the “What tea parties?” feigned ignorance by the Obama spin-machine is flimsy camouflage for growing concerns that the unwashed rabble may be on to something. Really, why now, out of the blue, find some tiny cost cutting measures? The president could, after all, have made the stimulus plan $100M less expensive or the $3.6 trillion budget a smidgen less irresponsible.

As one Capitol Hill staffer pointed out, $100M is about a day’s worth of interest on the stimulus plan. (CBO says the stimulus debt will be 347 billion over 10 years, which averages out to 34 billion a year or about $95 million a day.) Or as MarketWatch put it:

To get a handle on how insultingly trivial the announcement is, one need only compare the targeted cuts to the administration’s spending plan for 2010. With cuts in federal spending by $100 million, the government will save roughly 1/36,000 of the $3.6 trillion it expects to spend next year. Put another way, if the budget were a yardstick, the administration would be proposing to shorten it by 1/1000 of an inch. That’s 25.4 microns, or about half the width of a human hair.

So why do something this trivial? It seems obvious that the White House is concerned that the Republicans’ “taxes too much, spends too much, and borrows too much” characterization of Democrats is becoming too popular. So the administration will throw out some ludicrously small cuts to show the are “serious” about fiscal discipline. It matters not that it runs counter to their entire Keynesian spending plan, which is premised on the notion that spending — all kinds and for whatever purpose — is needed now. Like so much of what the Obama administration does, the latest search for pennies in the couch is only for show. But the mere fact that they feel compelled to put on a show speaks volumes about their assessment of the political landscape.

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Re: No Leg to Stand On

Denying illegal migrants drivers licenses may make us feel better, but it’s not at all clear that it makes us safer. The problem, of course, is that there is no legal way for low-skilled immigrants to come to the United States, and like it or not, we still need such workers. Does it really make sense to insist that Americans who, on average, have 13-plus years of education work in poultry plants or slaughterhouses or pick lettuce and peaches?

The let’s-just-enforce-the-law approach ignores the fact that our legal immigration laws are ill-suited to our economy. We need workers at both ends of the skills spectrum — more engineers, mathematicians, computer software designers, etc., as well as more agricultural workers and semi-skilled laborers. And the hysteria over illegal immigration and amnesty has made it nearly impossible to make necessary changes to our immigration laws that would make them more responsive to market forces.

The groups screaming the loudest about illegal immigration, FAIR, Numbers USA, et al, also happen to be the ones most opposed to legal immigration. As Jason Riley points out today in the Wall Street Journal, the way to end illegal immigration is to admit more people legally, either as temporary workers or permanent residents.

Denying illegal migrants drivers licenses may make us feel better, but it’s not at all clear that it makes us safer. The problem, of course, is that there is no legal way for low-skilled immigrants to come to the United States, and like it or not, we still need such workers. Does it really make sense to insist that Americans who, on average, have 13-plus years of education work in poultry plants or slaughterhouses or pick lettuce and peaches?

The let’s-just-enforce-the-law approach ignores the fact that our legal immigration laws are ill-suited to our economy. We need workers at both ends of the skills spectrum — more engineers, mathematicians, computer software designers, etc., as well as more agricultural workers and semi-skilled laborers. And the hysteria over illegal immigration and amnesty has made it nearly impossible to make necessary changes to our immigration laws that would make them more responsive to market forces.

The groups screaming the loudest about illegal immigration, FAIR, Numbers USA, et al, also happen to be the ones most opposed to legal immigration. As Jason Riley points out today in the Wall Street Journal, the way to end illegal immigration is to admit more people legally, either as temporary workers or permanent residents.

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Handshakes, Apologies, Reset Buttons and Strategic Interests

At his press conference yesterday, President Obama was asked whether he was concerned that his interaction with Hugo Chavez might add to the president’s image as being too soft on foreign policy. Obama responded that:

It’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States. . . Even within this imaginative crowd, I think you would be hard-pressed to paint a scenario in which U.S. interests would be damaged [by a better relationship with Venezuela].

Hand me the brush.

The “polite conversation” (including the grin, the two-handed handshake, the multiple pictures, and the acceptance as a “gift” of a harshly anti-American book) follows the bowing to the King of Saudi Arabia, which followed the European apology tour, which followed the minimal response to the North Korean missile test, which followed budget cuts for missile defense, which followed the delivery of the reset button to Russia while the latter remains in Georgia, which followed the dispatch of the Secretary of State to China to downgrade human rights, which followed the apologetic interviews with Arab media marking the beginning of  Obama’s administration. Throughout this period, there has been no response to Iran’s weekly announcements of further nuclear progress other than to ask for “talks” and caution Israel against a response.

In the case of Venezuela, Chavez last month offered Russia unlimited use of a base for strategic bombers — a move that recalls a Soviet action early into the Nixon administration, when the Soviet Union took steps to build a base in Cuba suitable for servicing its nuclear submarines. The action was stopped by Nixon and Kissinger ordering naval concentrations off Cuba and sending several strong messages to the Soviets. In his memoirs, Kissinger recounts differing views in the American government about the significance of the Soviet action (and the State Department recommended “talks”), but notes that:

I saw the Soviet move as going beyond its military implications; it was a part of a process of testing under way in different parts of the world. . . . I strongly favored facing the challenge immediately lest the Soviets misunderstand our permissiveness . . . .

This time around, the State Department reaction to the Russian-Venezuelan report was a statement that it was “not much of a story” and a decline to answer whether Russian strategic bombers would “concern the United States.” For Chavez, it only added to the prestige of the presidential photo-op.

In the last three months, Obama has been painting a portrait of apology and apathy that encourages adversaries and worries allies. And a picture of weakness in the American president endangers the strategic interests of the United States.

At his press conference yesterday, President Obama was asked whether he was concerned that his interaction with Hugo Chavez might add to the president’s image as being too soft on foreign policy. Obama responded that:

It’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States. . . Even within this imaginative crowd, I think you would be hard-pressed to paint a scenario in which U.S. interests would be damaged [by a better relationship with Venezuela].

Hand me the brush.

The “polite conversation” (including the grin, the two-handed handshake, the multiple pictures, and the acceptance as a “gift” of a harshly anti-American book) follows the bowing to the King of Saudi Arabia, which followed the European apology tour, which followed the minimal response to the North Korean missile test, which followed budget cuts for missile defense, which followed the delivery of the reset button to Russia while the latter remains in Georgia, which followed the dispatch of the Secretary of State to China to downgrade human rights, which followed the apologetic interviews with Arab media marking the beginning of  Obama’s administration. Throughout this period, there has been no response to Iran’s weekly announcements of further nuclear progress other than to ask for “talks” and caution Israel against a response.

In the case of Venezuela, Chavez last month offered Russia unlimited use of a base for strategic bombers — a move that recalls a Soviet action early into the Nixon administration, when the Soviet Union took steps to build a base in Cuba suitable for servicing its nuclear submarines. The action was stopped by Nixon and Kissinger ordering naval concentrations off Cuba and sending several strong messages to the Soviets. In his memoirs, Kissinger recounts differing views in the American government about the significance of the Soviet action (and the State Department recommended “talks”), but notes that:

I saw the Soviet move as going beyond its military implications; it was a part of a process of testing under way in different parts of the world. . . . I strongly favored facing the challenge immediately lest the Soviets misunderstand our permissiveness . . . .

This time around, the State Department reaction to the Russian-Venezuelan report was a statement that it was “not much of a story” and a decline to answer whether Russian strategic bombers would “concern the United States.” For Chavez, it only added to the prestige of the presidential photo-op.

In the last three months, Obama has been painting a portrait of apology and apathy that encourages adversaries and worries allies. And a picture of weakness in the American president endangers the strategic interests of the United States.

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The Obama Doctrine

At a new conference yesterday, President Obama took a shot at defining the Obama Doctrine. Here’s my effort at defining it: The Obama Doctrine means criticizing past presidents, Democratic and Republican; apologizing for past American sins, real and imagined, to both allies and enemies of the United States, on domestic and, preferably, foreign soil — in the hope that doing so allows Obama to speak with greater moral force and clarity. The overriding goal of the Obama Doctrine is to make the person it is named after look good, rather than, and if necessary at the expense of, the nation he was elected to represent.

At a new conference yesterday, President Obama took a shot at defining the Obama Doctrine. Here’s my effort at defining it: The Obama Doctrine means criticizing past presidents, Democratic and Republican; apologizing for past American sins, real and imagined, to both allies and enemies of the United States, on domestic and, preferably, foreign soil — in the hope that doing so allows Obama to speak with greater moral force and clarity. The overriding goal of the Obama Doctrine is to make the person it is named after look good, rather than, and if necessary at the expense of, the nation he was elected to represent.

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United Opposition

Brit Hume on “Fox News Sunday” explained what Obama has done for the Republicans:

One of the things that the Obama program has clearly done in Washington is to unite the Republican Party in Congress which had been divided by the Bush years, by discomfort among many conservatives over the level of spending that Juan just correctly mentioned, and so on. Now comes some really big spending that dwarfs, really, what the Bush administration had done over time, and it has succeeded in uniting the Republican Party. Now it appears it is beginning to unite people around the country who would be disposed in favor of the Republican Party because of the striking comparison between what it did and what the Democratic Party in control of Washington is now doing.

It remains to be seen whether more than core conservatives unite around Republicans. The Obama agenda has provided Republicans with a clear focus domestically — opposition to Obama’s ambitious liberal agenda and preservation of free market capitalism. But many argue that it is not sufficient to revive their fortunes.

One school of thought is based on the 2006 experience. Opposition to Congressional corruption and a mishandled war was plenty sufficient for a Democratic sweep in 2006. No one remembers now (and few knew then) what specific agenda Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats were presenting. They trotted out multi-phase plans every few weeks, but the main thrust was: “not the other guys.”

The other school of thought is that the public wants “solutions,” and that simple opposition is not going to enable the Republicans to return to power. Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America helped nationalize the 1994 election and provide the public with the outline of a reform agenda. That’s what the Republicans should be striving toward, say some conservative analysts (including, not surprisingly, Gingrich himself).

But whichever model one believes more applicable, one thing is clear: Obama has not divided his opposition by playing to the center or by re-capturing the mantle of fiscal responsibility and government reform. There was a reason candidate Obama ran on promises to “go line by line through the budget,” lower taxes, and root out lobbyists. These are themes which have broad appeal to moderate Republicans, independents, and fiscally conservative Democrats.

Having jettisoned that approach in favor of an ultra-liberal program and hyper-partisan style of governance, Obama now will test whether the electorate has moved Left. If so (and more critically, if his policies revive the economy and smother unemployment), his taxation and spending plan may prove wildly popular and the voters will give their stamp of approval at the mid-term elections.  If not, the united Republican opposition may recover those voters who are now having second thoughts about one-party rule in the age of Obama. But there will certainly be, as Hume observed, a “striking comparison” to be made between the parties.

Brit Hume on “Fox News Sunday” explained what Obama has done for the Republicans:

One of the things that the Obama program has clearly done in Washington is to unite the Republican Party in Congress which had been divided by the Bush years, by discomfort among many conservatives over the level of spending that Juan just correctly mentioned, and so on. Now comes some really big spending that dwarfs, really, what the Bush administration had done over time, and it has succeeded in uniting the Republican Party. Now it appears it is beginning to unite people around the country who would be disposed in favor of the Republican Party because of the striking comparison between what it did and what the Democratic Party in control of Washington is now doing.

It remains to be seen whether more than core conservatives unite around Republicans. The Obama agenda has provided Republicans with a clear focus domestically — opposition to Obama’s ambitious liberal agenda and preservation of free market capitalism. But many argue that it is not sufficient to revive their fortunes.

One school of thought is based on the 2006 experience. Opposition to Congressional corruption and a mishandled war was plenty sufficient for a Democratic sweep in 2006. No one remembers now (and few knew then) what specific agenda Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats were presenting. They trotted out multi-phase plans every few weeks, but the main thrust was: “not the other guys.”

The other school of thought is that the public wants “solutions,” and that simple opposition is not going to enable the Republicans to return to power. Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America helped nationalize the 1994 election and provide the public with the outline of a reform agenda. That’s what the Republicans should be striving toward, say some conservative analysts (including, not surprisingly, Gingrich himself).

But whichever model one believes more applicable, one thing is clear: Obama has not divided his opposition by playing to the center or by re-capturing the mantle of fiscal responsibility and government reform. There was a reason candidate Obama ran on promises to “go line by line through the budget,” lower taxes, and root out lobbyists. These are themes which have broad appeal to moderate Republicans, independents, and fiscally conservative Democrats.

Having jettisoned that approach in favor of an ultra-liberal program and hyper-partisan style of governance, Obama now will test whether the electorate has moved Left. If so (and more critically, if his policies revive the economy and smother unemployment), his taxation and spending plan may prove wildly popular and the voters will give their stamp of approval at the mid-term elections.  If not, the united Republican opposition may recover those voters who are now having second thoughts about one-party rule in the age of Obama. But there will certainly be, as Hume observed, a “striking comparison” to be made between the parties.

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No Leg to Stand on

Here’s an old riddle: how many legs does an elephant have, if you call its trunk a leg? Four — just because you call a trunk a leg doesn’t make it so.

Someone needs to relay that riddle to certain police chiefs in Massachusetts, who are calling for illegal aliens to be made eligible for driver’s licenses in the Bay State.

To these chiefs, their encounters with illegal aliens at road stops are nuisances. If the driver is an illegal alien, they know he or she has no driver’s license and more than likely also lacks proper registration and proof of insurance. That means more work for the police, with the full knowledge that the alien in question will most likely not give a true name and address, or bother to show up for court.

The frustration of the police is understandable, but the solution is misdirected. We can’t simply pretend that the aliens are a little less illegal.

No, the solution is to treat everyone equally under the law — and that means all laws. This includes immigration laws, as well as driving laws, vehicle registration laws, labor laws, identity laws, forgery laws, and all the other laws that illegal aliens violate on a daily basis simply to get by.

Moreover, a driver’s license is a “gateway” document. With that license, one can get other documentation, as well as access to all sorts of services that depend on having a government-issued ID.

The proposed policy is capitulation. It allows illegal aliens to continue to exploit our system, with the added benefit of making some police chiefs’ jobs easier. Worse, it is being done at the expense of the legal immigrants, the ones who do obey the laws, follow the procedures, wait their turn in line, fill out all the forms, pay all the fees, and repeatedly demonstrate their respect for the nation, its laws and ways.

If the chiefs don’t care for the responsibilities of their jobs, then there are alternatives. I understand the local malls are always looking for security guards.

Here’s an old riddle: how many legs does an elephant have, if you call its trunk a leg? Four — just because you call a trunk a leg doesn’t make it so.

Someone needs to relay that riddle to certain police chiefs in Massachusetts, who are calling for illegal aliens to be made eligible for driver’s licenses in the Bay State.

To these chiefs, their encounters with illegal aliens at road stops are nuisances. If the driver is an illegal alien, they know he or she has no driver’s license and more than likely also lacks proper registration and proof of insurance. That means more work for the police, with the full knowledge that the alien in question will most likely not give a true name and address, or bother to show up for court.

The frustration of the police is understandable, but the solution is misdirected. We can’t simply pretend that the aliens are a little less illegal.

No, the solution is to treat everyone equally under the law — and that means all laws. This includes immigration laws, as well as driving laws, vehicle registration laws, labor laws, identity laws, forgery laws, and all the other laws that illegal aliens violate on a daily basis simply to get by.

Moreover, a driver’s license is a “gateway” document. With that license, one can get other documentation, as well as access to all sorts of services that depend on having a government-issued ID.

The proposed policy is capitulation. It allows illegal aliens to continue to exploit our system, with the added benefit of making some police chiefs’ jobs easier. Worse, it is being done at the expense of the legal immigrants, the ones who do obey the laws, follow the procedures, wait their turn in line, fill out all the forms, pay all the fees, and repeatedly demonstrate their respect for the nation, its laws and ways.

If the chiefs don’t care for the responsibilities of their jobs, then there are alternatives. I understand the local malls are always looking for security guards.

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