Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 20, 2009

What They Have Done

David Rifkin and Lee Casey cut through the fog of feigned outrage on the interrogation memos:

All of these interrogation methods have been adapted from the U.S. military’s own Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (or SERE) training program, and have been used for years on thousands of American service members with the full knowledge of Congress. This has created a large body of information about the effect of these techniques, on which the CIA was able to draw in assessing the likely impact on the detainees and ensuring that no severe pain or long term psychological impact would result. The actual intelligence benefits of the CIA program are also detailed in these memos. The CIA believed, evidently with good reason, that the enhanced interrogation program had indeed produced actionable intelligence about al Qaeda’s plans. . . The interrogation techniques described in these memos are indisputably harsh, but they fall well short of ‘torture.’ They were developed and deployed at a time of supreme peril, as a means of preventing future attacks on innocent civilians both in the U.S. and abroad.

Those who express outrage over the techniques described in the memos would like us to believe that we gained nothing from employing them. If so, they reason, the enhanced interrogation techniques can be cast off without worrying that we will impair our intelligence gathering in the future. This is a convenient political argument, allowing critics to pose as moral superiors and to feel serenely confident that the rejection of these techniques will do us no harm. The facts are otherwise.

General Hayden on Fox News Sunday in a measured and impressive performance made clear that we did gain information and that release of the memos will curtail our ability to combat terrorism going forward:

“It’s difficult for me to judge the president,” Hayden said. “I don’t think I would do that.  But [White House Press Secretary Robert] Gibbs’ comments [that ‘it is the use of those techniques, the use of those techniques in the view of the world, that have made us less safe’] bring another reality fully in front of us.  It’s what I’ll call, without meaning any irreverence to anybody, a really inconvenient truth.”
Most of the people who oppose these techniques want to be able to say, “‘I don’t want my nation doing this, which is a purely honorable position,” Hayden continued. “The facts of the case are that the use of these techniques against these terrorists made us safer.  It really did work.  The president’s speech, President Bush in September of ’06, outlined how one detainee led to another, led to another, with the use of these techniques.”

And as for the notion that this information was already known, Hayden explains there is a world of difference between generalized rumor and a detailed explanation of precise techniques.

One searches in vain for some countervailing rationale which would justify not just halting measures which provided useful intelligence, but releasing the “valuable information” in the memos. We have put in limbo the operations’ officials, who now must face the ongoing threat of prosecution and litigation. We have told terrorists precisely what they can expect. Aside from more moral preening, it seems the Obama administration has accomplished nothing. (“Transparency” was not achieved since, they claim, all was known.) Perhaps the president will take questions from the crowd when he visits the CIA today and will explain why putting them and future operatives at risk was so necessary. A townhall at the CIA would make for riveting TV.

David Rifkin and Lee Casey cut through the fog of feigned outrage on the interrogation memos:

All of these interrogation methods have been adapted from the U.S. military’s own Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (or SERE) training program, and have been used for years on thousands of American service members with the full knowledge of Congress. This has created a large body of information about the effect of these techniques, on which the CIA was able to draw in assessing the likely impact on the detainees and ensuring that no severe pain or long term psychological impact would result. The actual intelligence benefits of the CIA program are also detailed in these memos. The CIA believed, evidently with good reason, that the enhanced interrogation program had indeed produced actionable intelligence about al Qaeda’s plans. . . The interrogation techniques described in these memos are indisputably harsh, but they fall well short of ‘torture.’ They were developed and deployed at a time of supreme peril, as a means of preventing future attacks on innocent civilians both in the U.S. and abroad.

Those who express outrage over the techniques described in the memos would like us to believe that we gained nothing from employing them. If so, they reason, the enhanced interrogation techniques can be cast off without worrying that we will impair our intelligence gathering in the future. This is a convenient political argument, allowing critics to pose as moral superiors and to feel serenely confident that the rejection of these techniques will do us no harm. The facts are otherwise.

General Hayden on Fox News Sunday in a measured and impressive performance made clear that we did gain information and that release of the memos will curtail our ability to combat terrorism going forward:

“It’s difficult for me to judge the president,” Hayden said. “I don’t think I would do that.  But [White House Press Secretary Robert] Gibbs’ comments [that ‘it is the use of those techniques, the use of those techniques in the view of the world, that have made us less safe’] bring another reality fully in front of us.  It’s what I’ll call, without meaning any irreverence to anybody, a really inconvenient truth.”
Most of the people who oppose these techniques want to be able to say, “‘I don’t want my nation doing this, which is a purely honorable position,” Hayden continued. “The facts of the case are that the use of these techniques against these terrorists made us safer.  It really did work.  The president’s speech, President Bush in September of ’06, outlined how one detainee led to another, led to another, with the use of these techniques.”

And as for the notion that this information was already known, Hayden explains there is a world of difference between generalized rumor and a detailed explanation of precise techniques.

One searches in vain for some countervailing rationale which would justify not just halting measures which provided useful intelligence, but releasing the “valuable information” in the memos. We have put in limbo the operations’ officials, who now must face the ongoing threat of prosecution and litigation. We have told terrorists precisely what they can expect. Aside from more moral preening, it seems the Obama administration has accomplished nothing. (“Transparency” was not achieved since, they claim, all was known.) Perhaps the president will take questions from the crowd when he visits the CIA today and will explain why putting them and future operatives at risk was so necessary. A townhall at the CIA would make for riveting TV.

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Iran’s Latest Hostage

In the Islamic world, and especially among the Iranian revolutionaries, there is much greater emphasis placed on the abject humiliation of one’s enemies than there is in the West. It is a demonstration of your power and audacity, and of your enemy’s helplessness, regardless of how capable he might appear on paper. Abductions have been one of the pillars of Iranian foreign policy since the 1979 revolution — one of whose first acts was taking hostage the staff of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

This was followed by several years of abductions of Americans by Iranian proxies in Lebanon, by the abduction in 2006 of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah and one by Hamas, the abduction and imprisonment of Haleh Esfendiari also in 2006, by the 2007 seizure of 15 British sailors, and so on. After the sailors crisis, celebrated Iranian moderate Mohamad Khatami declared, “Anyone who saw this action as inappropriate has become accustomed to seeing the Islamic and Arab world as weak, as not defending itself from harm.” Or as this idea was articulated in 1981 by Iran’s chief negotiator after the American embassy hostages had finally been released: “We rubbed dirt in the nose of the world’s greatest superpower.”

It is especially interesting that such abductions typically happen at moments of attempted American entente with Iran: Esfendiari was seized three weeks after the Iraq Study Group report recommended engagement, at a moment when calls for negotiations had reached a crescendo. Similarly, the arrest of Roxana Saberi in February occurred a few weeks after President Obama announced on Al-Arabiya his intention to commence diplomacy with Iran in the coming months.

Why does the Iranian regime have such a penchant for abductions? And why are they often timed to follow American announcements of a desire for diplomacy? Because in the eyes of the Islamic revolutionaries, the overthrow of the American-backed shah in 1979 was proof not only of the revolution’s divine ordination, but of America’s weakness and the ease with which the Great Satan could be disgraced. The regime has never paid a price for the provocations that started at our embassy in Tehran — the Marine Corps barracks bombings in Lebanon in 1983, the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people, its campaign of assassinations and bombings in Europe during the 1980’s, its sponsorship of Hezbollah and Hamas, etc.

The mullahs, since the earliest days of their rule, have seen almost every act of murder, terrorism, and hostage-taking go unanswered. American passivity has thus vindicated in practical terms one of the revolution’s most important ideological tenets: that the West, and America in particular, is a brittle facade, economically powerful and technologically sophisticated but weak-willed, indecisive, risk-averse, and easily intimidated. The way the Obama administration is handling Iran’s latest provocation — expressing befuddled consternation while taking no action — is a perfect confirmation to the mullahs that America is still a nation worthy of their contempt.

In the Islamic world, and especially among the Iranian revolutionaries, there is much greater emphasis placed on the abject humiliation of one’s enemies than there is in the West. It is a demonstration of your power and audacity, and of your enemy’s helplessness, regardless of how capable he might appear on paper. Abductions have been one of the pillars of Iranian foreign policy since the 1979 revolution — one of whose first acts was taking hostage the staff of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

This was followed by several years of abductions of Americans by Iranian proxies in Lebanon, by the abduction in 2006 of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah and one by Hamas, the abduction and imprisonment of Haleh Esfendiari also in 2006, by the 2007 seizure of 15 British sailors, and so on. After the sailors crisis, celebrated Iranian moderate Mohamad Khatami declared, “Anyone who saw this action as inappropriate has become accustomed to seeing the Islamic and Arab world as weak, as not defending itself from harm.” Or as this idea was articulated in 1981 by Iran’s chief negotiator after the American embassy hostages had finally been released: “We rubbed dirt in the nose of the world’s greatest superpower.”

It is especially interesting that such abductions typically happen at moments of attempted American entente with Iran: Esfendiari was seized three weeks after the Iraq Study Group report recommended engagement, at a moment when calls for negotiations had reached a crescendo. Similarly, the arrest of Roxana Saberi in February occurred a few weeks after President Obama announced on Al-Arabiya his intention to commence diplomacy with Iran in the coming months.

Why does the Iranian regime have such a penchant for abductions? And why are they often timed to follow American announcements of a desire for diplomacy? Because in the eyes of the Islamic revolutionaries, the overthrow of the American-backed shah in 1979 was proof not only of the revolution’s divine ordination, but of America’s weakness and the ease with which the Great Satan could be disgraced. The regime has never paid a price for the provocations that started at our embassy in Tehran — the Marine Corps barracks bombings in Lebanon in 1983, the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people, its campaign of assassinations and bombings in Europe during the 1980’s, its sponsorship of Hezbollah and Hamas, etc.

The mullahs, since the earliest days of their rule, have seen almost every act of murder, terrorism, and hostage-taking go unanswered. American passivity has thus vindicated in practical terms one of the revolution’s most important ideological tenets: that the West, and America in particular, is a brittle facade, economically powerful and technologically sophisticated but weak-willed, indecisive, risk-averse, and easily intimidated. The way the Obama administration is handling Iran’s latest provocation — expressing befuddled consternation while taking no action — is a perfect confirmation to the mullahs that America is still a nation worthy of their contempt.

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The Agenda Is Coming Down With Something

The New York Times reports:

President Obama is running into stiff Congressional resistance to his plans to raise money for his ambitious agenda, and the resulting hole in the budget is threatening a major health care overhaul and other policy initiatives.

The administration’s central revenue proposal — limiting the value of affluent Americans’ itemized deductions, including the one for charitable giving — fell flat in Congress, leaving the White House, at least for now, without $318 billion that it wants to set aside to help cover uninsured Americans. At the same time, lawmakers of both parties have warned against moving too quickly on a plan to auction carbon emission permits to produce more than $600 billion.

Well, it seems the administration is stumped. Who knew there would be a limit to the amount Congress would be willing to tax and spend? The Congress — Democrats included — are getting nervous about raising taxes to pay for a huge new domestic agenda. When  Sen. Kent Conrad cautions that we are talking about “hundreds of billions” for healthcare, one senses that there is perhaps greater distance between the Congress and the White House on spending than between the Congress and all those tea party protesters. Maybe the fact that 435 congressmen and one third of the Senate must face the public in less than two years has the legislators’ enthusiasm for another round of spending (and the required tax hikes) running thin.

So you can understand the White House’s peevish reaction to the “unhealthy” tea parties. Yes, they may be contagious. And worse, the sentiment in favor of fiscal sobriety so clearly expressed by those in attendance may spell an early demise to the Obama agenda.

The New York Times reports:

President Obama is running into stiff Congressional resistance to his plans to raise money for his ambitious agenda, and the resulting hole in the budget is threatening a major health care overhaul and other policy initiatives.

The administration’s central revenue proposal — limiting the value of affluent Americans’ itemized deductions, including the one for charitable giving — fell flat in Congress, leaving the White House, at least for now, without $318 billion that it wants to set aside to help cover uninsured Americans. At the same time, lawmakers of both parties have warned against moving too quickly on a plan to auction carbon emission permits to produce more than $600 billion.

Well, it seems the administration is stumped. Who knew there would be a limit to the amount Congress would be willing to tax and spend? The Congress — Democrats included — are getting nervous about raising taxes to pay for a huge new domestic agenda. When  Sen. Kent Conrad cautions that we are talking about “hundreds of billions” for healthcare, one senses that there is perhaps greater distance between the Congress and the White House on spending than between the Congress and all those tea party protesters. Maybe the fact that 435 congressmen and one third of the Senate must face the public in less than two years has the legislators’ enthusiasm for another round of spending (and the required tax hikes) running thin.

So you can understand the White House’s peevish reaction to the “unhealthy” tea parties. Yes, they may be contagious. And worse, the sentiment in favor of fiscal sobriety so clearly expressed by those in attendance may spell an early demise to the Obama agenda.

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Obama’s Varying Clarity

Over the past few months, I’ve frequently been troubled by the tone of President Barack Obama’s statements towards the Muslim world.  At his best, Obama has typically skirted important issues that divide the U.S. from many Muslim populations — including our divergent views on terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran, theocracy, and the treatment of women.  At his worst, the President has paid lip service to the conspiratorial belief – common in the Muslim world – that Americans doubt Muslims’ humanity, thereby promoting a negative image of the very people who elected him.

But after announcing Saturday that the United States would boycott this week’s United Nations-sponsored World Conference on Racism, Obama finally spoke with a level of moral clarity that befits the leader of the free world:

‘I would love to be involved in a useful conference that addressed continuing issues of racism and discrimination around the globe,’ Obama said in Trinidad on Sunday after attending the Summit of the Americas.

But he said the language of the UN’s draft declaration ‘raised a whole set of objectionable provisions’ and risked a reprise of the 2001 predecessor summit in Durban, ‘which became a session through which folks expressed antagonism toward Israel in ways that were often times completely hypocritical and counterproductive.’ …

‘We expressed in the run-up to this conference our concerns that if you adopted all of the language from 2001, that’s not something we can sign up for,’ Obama said on Sunday. ‘Our participation would have involved putting our imprimatur on something we just didn’t believe in.’

Indeed, the argument that those who advance blatant hatred for Israel under the pretense of “combating racism” are hypocritical is an important one.

Still, I only wish that Obama would demonstrate similar clarity in defending his own country against its most vitriolic detractors.  Pathetically, the President declined to do so earlier yesterday morning, when he sat silently through Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s mindless, 50-minute diatribe against “terroristic U.S. aggression in Central America.”  

Over the past few months, I’ve frequently been troubled by the tone of President Barack Obama’s statements towards the Muslim world.  At his best, Obama has typically skirted important issues that divide the U.S. from many Muslim populations — including our divergent views on terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran, theocracy, and the treatment of women.  At his worst, the President has paid lip service to the conspiratorial belief – common in the Muslim world – that Americans doubt Muslims’ humanity, thereby promoting a negative image of the very people who elected him.

But after announcing Saturday that the United States would boycott this week’s United Nations-sponsored World Conference on Racism, Obama finally spoke with a level of moral clarity that befits the leader of the free world:

‘I would love to be involved in a useful conference that addressed continuing issues of racism and discrimination around the globe,’ Obama said in Trinidad on Sunday after attending the Summit of the Americas.

But he said the language of the UN’s draft declaration ‘raised a whole set of objectionable provisions’ and risked a reprise of the 2001 predecessor summit in Durban, ‘which became a session through which folks expressed antagonism toward Israel in ways that were often times completely hypocritical and counterproductive.’ …

‘We expressed in the run-up to this conference our concerns that if you adopted all of the language from 2001, that’s not something we can sign up for,’ Obama said on Sunday. ‘Our participation would have involved putting our imprimatur on something we just didn’t believe in.’

Indeed, the argument that those who advance blatant hatred for Israel under the pretense of “combating racism” are hypocritical is an important one.

Still, I only wish that Obama would demonstrate similar clarity in defending his own country against its most vitriolic detractors.  Pathetically, the President declined to do so earlier yesterday morning, when he sat silently through Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s mindless, 50-minute diatribe against “terroristic U.S. aggression in Central America.”  

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Christopher Buckley has had it with the sanctimonious reaction over release of the “torture” memos: “These techniques, we learn, included ‘Sleep deprivation,’ ‘Nudity,’ ‘Dietary Manipulation,’ ‘Abdominal Slap,’ ‘Attention Grasp,’ ‘Waterboarding,’ ‘Water Dousing,” ‘Confinement With Insects,’ and ‘Walling.’ This last one is when the interrogator ‘quickly and firmly pushes the individual into the wall…The head and neck are supported with a rolled hood or towel … to help prevent whiplash.’ I think I remember that one, from boarding school—only the senior boys left out the rolled hoods and towels.”

Larry Summers rails against credit card marketing and says we have to save more. Then the whole stimulus thing is a counterproductive boondoggle. Does he really want Americans to squirrel away their Making Work Pay credit, or does he want them to go spend it? Until now we’ve been led to believe that consumer spending is essential to the Obama demand-creating recovery scheme.

So long as this keeps up Michael Steele’s job is probably safe: “The DNC’s first quarter take: $11,857,000, plus $2 million transferred to the group from Organizing for America. That’s well behind the RNC’s $25.3 million in total first quarter receipts (which includes a large transfer from the McCain-Palin victory committee in January.)”

Sen. John Ensign calls the president’s grip-and-grin with Hugo Chavez “irresponsible.” The president can’t imagine how this would be a bad thing for the U.S.  He really doesn’t understand the propaganda value to Chavez both internally and in the hemisphere?

This has it right: “If President Barack Obama’s goal at the fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago this weekend was to be better liked by the region’s dictators and left-wing populists than his predecessor George W. Bush, the White House can chalk up a win.” For reasons not yet clear, the president seems unwilling to use his popularity to advance human rights, put dictators back on their heels, or provide encouragement to regional advocates of democracy.

Congressional hypocrisy is on display once again, this time with regard to the DC school voucher plan: “The measure was defeated by the Senate 58 to 39; it would have passed if senators who exercised school choice for their own children had voted in favor. Alas, the [Heritage Foundation] survey doesn’t name names, save for singling out Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), architect of the language that threatens the program, for sending his children to private school and attending private school himself. ”

Susan Rice is either lying or uniformed when she says the UN resolution on North Korea is “legally binding”: “Last week’s statement on North Korea is binding only in the sense that it calls on member states ‘to comply fully’ with their obligations under Resolution 1718, which bans sales of weapons, weapons parts and luxury goods to North Korea. Resolution 1718 is legally binding, but it has never been enforced.” Feel safer yet?

Jackson Diehl’s must-read: what happens when Obama can’t charm rogue states or blame Bush anymore? (One keeps hoping that Obama doesn’t really think that handshakes, bows, and dissing his predecessor are going to get him anywhere, but so far there’s no “Plan B” on the horizon.)

David Axelrod says Cuban-American relations are looking up. Well, Cuba is pleased with what they have gotten, but what did we get? I suppose “improved relations” means the dictatorial regime is happy.

Mary Matalin isn’t buying Richard Armitage’s line that had he known about the enhanced interrogation techniques he would have resigned. (By the way, Colin Powell has been awful quiet — what does he think of all this? ) She throws in for good measure: “We know he has no courage . . .This is the man who leaked Valerie Plame’s name, knew he leaked it, let the president spin and the administration spin in the wind for two years. Many of his colleagues spent hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars, a valued colleague of his, his life is ruined, Scooter Libby, and he was the one who did it and let nobody know the whole time.”

Christopher Buckley has had it with the sanctimonious reaction over release of the “torture” memos: “These techniques, we learn, included ‘Sleep deprivation,’ ‘Nudity,’ ‘Dietary Manipulation,’ ‘Abdominal Slap,’ ‘Attention Grasp,’ ‘Waterboarding,’ ‘Water Dousing,” ‘Confinement With Insects,’ and ‘Walling.’ This last one is when the interrogator ‘quickly and firmly pushes the individual into the wall…The head and neck are supported with a rolled hood or towel … to help prevent whiplash.’ I think I remember that one, from boarding school—only the senior boys left out the rolled hoods and towels.”

Larry Summers rails against credit card marketing and says we have to save more. Then the whole stimulus thing is a counterproductive boondoggle. Does he really want Americans to squirrel away their Making Work Pay credit, or does he want them to go spend it? Until now we’ve been led to believe that consumer spending is essential to the Obama demand-creating recovery scheme.

So long as this keeps up Michael Steele’s job is probably safe: “The DNC’s first quarter take: $11,857,000, plus $2 million transferred to the group from Organizing for America. That’s well behind the RNC’s $25.3 million in total first quarter receipts (which includes a large transfer from the McCain-Palin victory committee in January.)”

Sen. John Ensign calls the president’s grip-and-grin with Hugo Chavez “irresponsible.” The president can’t imagine how this would be a bad thing for the U.S.  He really doesn’t understand the propaganda value to Chavez both internally and in the hemisphere?

This has it right: “If President Barack Obama’s goal at the fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago this weekend was to be better liked by the region’s dictators and left-wing populists than his predecessor George W. Bush, the White House can chalk up a win.” For reasons not yet clear, the president seems unwilling to use his popularity to advance human rights, put dictators back on their heels, or provide encouragement to regional advocates of democracy.

Congressional hypocrisy is on display once again, this time with regard to the DC school voucher plan: “The measure was defeated by the Senate 58 to 39; it would have passed if senators who exercised school choice for their own children had voted in favor. Alas, the [Heritage Foundation] survey doesn’t name names, save for singling out Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), architect of the language that threatens the program, for sending his children to private school and attending private school himself. ”

Susan Rice is either lying or uniformed when she says the UN resolution on North Korea is “legally binding”: “Last week’s statement on North Korea is binding only in the sense that it calls on member states ‘to comply fully’ with their obligations under Resolution 1718, which bans sales of weapons, weapons parts and luxury goods to North Korea. Resolution 1718 is legally binding, but it has never been enforced.” Feel safer yet?

Jackson Diehl’s must-read: what happens when Obama can’t charm rogue states or blame Bush anymore? (One keeps hoping that Obama doesn’t really think that handshakes, bows, and dissing his predecessor are going to get him anywhere, but so far there’s no “Plan B” on the horizon.)

David Axelrod says Cuban-American relations are looking up. Well, Cuba is pleased with what they have gotten, but what did we get? I suppose “improved relations” means the dictatorial regime is happy.

Mary Matalin isn’t buying Richard Armitage’s line that had he known about the enhanced interrogation techniques he would have resigned. (By the way, Colin Powell has been awful quiet — what does he think of all this? ) She throws in for good measure: “We know he has no courage . . .This is the man who leaked Valerie Plame’s name, knew he leaked it, let the president spin and the administration spin in the wind for two years. Many of his colleagues spent hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars, a valued colleague of his, his life is ruined, Scooter Libby, and he was the one who did it and let nobody know the whole time.”

Read Less




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