Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 24, 2009

We Have Only Begun

If CIA operatives were not already dispirited (and they are, according to a former CIA official) by the events of this week and the threat of ongoing litigation,  then the upcoming release of some 44 photos of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan will do the trick. The administration has chosen not to appeal a court ruling allowing the ACLU to obtain and publish these images. Former CIA Assistant Director Mark Lowenthal explains:

[T]he president’s moves in the last week have left many in the CIA dispirited, based on the undercurrent I’ve been getting from colleagues still in the building, or colleagues who have left not that long ago. We ask these people to do extremely dangerous things, things they’ve been ordered to do by legal authorities, with the understanding that they will get top cover if something goes wrong. . .They don’t believe they have that cover anymore.

If you are baffled as to why the administration would submit to this gratuitous display, the hapless Robert Gibbs  isn’t the person to begin to justify — or even explain — what the administration is thinking. (I would excerpt his response but it is so unintelligible that it deserves to be read in full so as to appreciate how atrociously he is performing at his job.)

Quite unintentionally, John Kerry  provides insight into what is going on. He concedes the release of the photos will hand our enemies a propaganda victory, but hastens to add that this is fine because it was on Bush’s watch. Are they so infantile as to believe it was not their country before 2009? Do they really believe that our enemies make any distinction based on who occupies the White House? If so, Americans have put in leadership individuals who are so egotistical and misguided as to believe their personal auras are more important than their country’s reputation.

And what of our intelligence community and their reputation? Such concerns are utterly irrelevant to those now running the country.

If CIA operatives were not already dispirited (and they are, according to a former CIA official) by the events of this week and the threat of ongoing litigation,  then the upcoming release of some 44 photos of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan will do the trick. The administration has chosen not to appeal a court ruling allowing the ACLU to obtain and publish these images. Former CIA Assistant Director Mark Lowenthal explains:

[T]he president’s moves in the last week have left many in the CIA dispirited, based on the undercurrent I’ve been getting from colleagues still in the building, or colleagues who have left not that long ago. We ask these people to do extremely dangerous things, things they’ve been ordered to do by legal authorities, with the understanding that they will get top cover if something goes wrong. . .They don’t believe they have that cover anymore.

If you are baffled as to why the administration would submit to this gratuitous display, the hapless Robert Gibbs  isn’t the person to begin to justify — or even explain — what the administration is thinking. (I would excerpt his response but it is so unintelligible that it deserves to be read in full so as to appreciate how atrociously he is performing at his job.)

Quite unintentionally, John Kerry  provides insight into what is going on. He concedes the release of the photos will hand our enemies a propaganda victory, but hastens to add that this is fine because it was on Bush’s watch. Are they so infantile as to believe it was not their country before 2009? Do they really believe that our enemies make any distinction based on who occupies the White House? If so, Americans have put in leadership individuals who are so egotistical and misguided as to believe their personal auras are more important than their country’s reputation.

And what of our intelligence community and their reputation? Such concerns are utterly irrelevant to those now running the country.

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Commentary of the Day

Mary, on Jennifer Rubin:

Hearings or no hearings, Obama’s vacillating has undermined our national security.

I doubt it was an aberration. Mr. Obama’s past indicates a lack of courage in dealing with sticky issues that could hurt him politically.

The average American who hears one thing one day and something different the next day is probably not going to be impressed with Mr. Obama’s indecisiveness.

Mary, on Jennifer Rubin:

Hearings or no hearings, Obama’s vacillating has undermined our national security.

I doubt it was an aberration. Mr. Obama’s past indicates a lack of courage in dealing with sticky issues that could hurt him politically.

The average American who hears one thing one day and something different the next day is probably not going to be impressed with Mr. Obama’s indecisiveness.

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Buy in Bulk!

If not for the on-off interrogation show trial debacle, the biggest presidential misstep of the week would have been the laughable effort to nibble $100M out of the federal budget. Not only conservatives are laughing, as this report explains:

“You’re cherry-picking the base of the tree on stuff that is not innovative,” said Paul C. Light, a scholar of federal bureaucracy at New York University. “Purchasing in bulk? Wow, that’s a bold idea! Teleconferencing? Holy moly! None of this stuff is the kind of bold sweep you’re hoping Obama will bring to the management of government.”

Isabel V. Sawhill, a Clinton administration budget official who directs the Budgeting for National Priorities project at the Brookings Institution, said she feared the cuts would be “lampooned” on late-night talk shows.

“I’m not sure I thought it was a good step towards convincing people that he cares about fiscal responsibility,” she said.

I’m not sure either. But this is what the Obama team is forced to resort to — silly symbolic efforts because of the trap they find themselves in, or rather, have put themselves in. They have created a massively irresponsible budget that will, over time, eat up more and more of the GDP and strain our ability to finance our debt. And the public, independent voters especially, are very nervous about it. Figuring that the public isn’t paying much attention to the number of zeroes, Obama throws out a number that used to sound like a lot of money — $100M. But the public is perhaps smarter than Obama reckons, and the administration’s critics aren’t playing along with the charade.

The result: everyone got a reminder of just how irresponsible the Obama fiscal policy is. Good thing for whomever thought this up that the news was swamped by the interrogation memo fiasco. Otherwise someone might be in trouble.

If not for the on-off interrogation show trial debacle, the biggest presidential misstep of the week would have been the laughable effort to nibble $100M out of the federal budget. Not only conservatives are laughing, as this report explains:

“You’re cherry-picking the base of the tree on stuff that is not innovative,” said Paul C. Light, a scholar of federal bureaucracy at New York University. “Purchasing in bulk? Wow, that’s a bold idea! Teleconferencing? Holy moly! None of this stuff is the kind of bold sweep you’re hoping Obama will bring to the management of government.”

Isabel V. Sawhill, a Clinton administration budget official who directs the Budgeting for National Priorities project at the Brookings Institution, said she feared the cuts would be “lampooned” on late-night talk shows.

“I’m not sure I thought it was a good step towards convincing people that he cares about fiscal responsibility,” she said.

I’m not sure either. But this is what the Obama team is forced to resort to — silly symbolic efforts because of the trap they find themselves in, or rather, have put themselves in. They have created a massively irresponsible budget that will, over time, eat up more and more of the GDP and strain our ability to finance our debt. And the public, independent voters especially, are very nervous about it. Figuring that the public isn’t paying much attention to the number of zeroes, Obama throws out a number that used to sound like a lot of money — $100M. But the public is perhaps smarter than Obama reckons, and the administration’s critics aren’t playing along with the charade.

The result: everyone got a reminder of just how irresponsible the Obama fiscal policy is. Good thing for whomever thought this up that the news was swamped by the interrogation memo fiasco. Otherwise someone might be in trouble.

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Re: Democrats Challenge Obama on Afghanistan

All I can say is: Imagine if a Republican were in the White House. Even with President Obama in charge, some leftist members of Congress are challenging the need to build up our forces in Afghanistan. “I’ve got the sinking feeling we are getting sucked into something we will never get out of,” says Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts. But such qualms are unlikely to have much practical impact because the leadership of Congress is solidly behind the war effort. The New York Times describes Nancy Pelosi’s views as follows:

“Afghanistan is where the terrorist threat exists to the world, not just the United States,” said the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who said the Bush administration’s decision to focus on Iraq left unfinished a mission in Afghanistan that originally had broad support in Congress.

Ms. Pelosi, Democrat of California, said she believed the administration had assembled a strong program for Afghanistan, focused not just on a military presence but also on civilian construction projects, enhanced intelligence gathering, and government improvements. She said any benchmarks would best be put on the use of military aid to Pakistan.

I would be willing to bet all the pot in her San Francisco district that if it were President McCain surging U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Speaker Pelosi would be singing a different tune. In all likelihood she would be bemoaning America’s involvement in nation building, demanding to know why we were going into the graveyard of empires, and insisting on benchmarks that could force a speedy withdrawal. President McCain probably would have still prevailed over Afghanistan but only with considerable difficulty. President Obama may face a little rough questioning of his appointees, such as Secretary of State Clinton, but that will be it. At least for the time being. If U.S. forces can’t produce progress in the next year, no doubt Congressional objections will rise, and not only from Democrats. But given Obama’s commanding position within the country at large and within his own party in particular, as long as he keeps his nerve, it is likely he can continue to make the difficult decisions necessary to turn around the situation in Afghanistan.

All I can say is: Imagine if a Republican were in the White House. Even with President Obama in charge, some leftist members of Congress are challenging the need to build up our forces in Afghanistan. “I’ve got the sinking feeling we are getting sucked into something we will never get out of,” says Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts. But such qualms are unlikely to have much practical impact because the leadership of Congress is solidly behind the war effort. The New York Times describes Nancy Pelosi’s views as follows:

“Afghanistan is where the terrorist threat exists to the world, not just the United States,” said the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who said the Bush administration’s decision to focus on Iraq left unfinished a mission in Afghanistan that originally had broad support in Congress.

Ms. Pelosi, Democrat of California, said she believed the administration had assembled a strong program for Afghanistan, focused not just on a military presence but also on civilian construction projects, enhanced intelligence gathering, and government improvements. She said any benchmarks would best be put on the use of military aid to Pakistan.

I would be willing to bet all the pot in her San Francisco district that if it were President McCain surging U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Speaker Pelosi would be singing a different tune. In all likelihood she would be bemoaning America’s involvement in nation building, demanding to know why we were going into the graveyard of empires, and insisting on benchmarks that could force a speedy withdrawal. President McCain probably would have still prevailed over Afghanistan but only with considerable difficulty. President Obama may face a little rough questioning of his appointees, such as Secretary of State Clinton, but that will be it. At least for the time being. If U.S. forces can’t produce progress in the next year, no doubt Congressional objections will rise, and not only from Democrats. But given Obama’s commanding position within the country at large and within his own party in particular, as long as he keeps his nerve, it is likely he can continue to make the difficult decisions necessary to turn around the situation in Afghanistan.

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New Iraq Withdrawal Questions

It’s been a worrisome few weeks in Iraq, capped off by a very worrisome few days: 150 killed in 24 hours. A coming American-Iraqi joint assessment of the country’s security will deliver recommendations on troop status to Prime Minister Maliki. This raises the specter of an altered timetable:

The security arrangement reached in November between Washington and Bagdad calls for US forces to pull out of cities June 30 ahead of a full withdrawal from the country by late 2011.

But US and Iraqi officials were not ruling out pushing back the June 30 date, particularly in the case of Mosul seen as the last urban bastion of Al-Qaeda.

If Barack Obama truly intends to withdraw troops responsibly (not politically), he’ll remain flexible and open to the advice of commanders on the ground. He has, after all, already signed on to the largest commitments of the status of forces agreement. A return to the politicizing of Iraq would prove more dangerous than the recent spike of violence in that country.

It’s been a worrisome few weeks in Iraq, capped off by a very worrisome few days: 150 killed in 24 hours. A coming American-Iraqi joint assessment of the country’s security will deliver recommendations on troop status to Prime Minister Maliki. This raises the specter of an altered timetable:

The security arrangement reached in November between Washington and Bagdad calls for US forces to pull out of cities June 30 ahead of a full withdrawal from the country by late 2011.

But US and Iraqi officials were not ruling out pushing back the June 30 date, particularly in the case of Mosul seen as the last urban bastion of Al-Qaeda.

If Barack Obama truly intends to withdraw troops responsibly (not politically), he’ll remain flexible and open to the advice of commanders on the ground. He has, after all, already signed on to the largest commitments of the status of forces agreement. A return to the politicizing of Iraq would prove more dangerous than the recent spike of violence in that country.

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What Happened?

If you are flummoxed and exhausted by the interrogation memo controversy, you are not alone. We started last Sunday with Rahm Emanuel firmly shutting the door to prosecution of former Bush officials. Then the memos were released, the Left began to holler, the president went to Langely, and the door was opened in a rambling presidential press availability. For a couple of days the controversy raged. It became apparent that to go through the door would be a national catastrophe and the end of any congressional comity for a very long time. Oh, and then Nancy Pelosi got caught in the web of “did she or did she not know what was going on?” On Thursday night the door was slammed shut. The president is very much opposed to a witch hunt, we are informed.

There are two explanations for what happened. One is that the president, without teleprompter and script, messed up — big time — when he blathered on at the press conference with the King of Jordan about the potential for show trials. He was trying to sound sophisticated or thoughtful and instead unleashed the furies. It was a blunder of rather startling proportions.

The other theory is that he changed his mind twice. After shutting the door on Monday he shifted after his CIA visit, trying to mollify the netroot base. He sounded quite sympathetic to the idea of investigations and prosecutions. But when it began to spin out of control he reversed course again and said we’ve had enough. He, in this scenario, is frightfully indecisive and guided by purely political considerations.

We are unlikely to know which it is, but neither paints an impressive picture of our president. Whatever his mindset, the president threw the entire government, media, political class, and intelligence community into a tizzy. He came off looking confused and utterly unpresidential. Say what you will about George W. Bush, but he was a decider. There was rarely any question as to what he was proposing.

And where do we go now? Nancy Pelosi seems determined to push forward with her show trial — unless convinced by yesterday’s events that the whole thing might turn out to be unpleasant for her personally (not to mention some other key Democrats). The Senate is less inclined to follow suit. So we’ll see if the genie can be put back in the bottle, if Eric Holder re-opens the door yet again and what, if anything, we have learned, not only about interrogation techniques, but about this president.

It has been the low point of his 100 Days — far more troubling than glad-handing Hugo Chavez or spending our grandchildren’s money. It raises questions about his competency and judgment, both of which in a time of war and economic crisis are essential to the country’s safety and well being. Let us hope it was an aberration never to be repeated.

If you are flummoxed and exhausted by the interrogation memo controversy, you are not alone. We started last Sunday with Rahm Emanuel firmly shutting the door to prosecution of former Bush officials. Then the memos were released, the Left began to holler, the president went to Langely, and the door was opened in a rambling presidential press availability. For a couple of days the controversy raged. It became apparent that to go through the door would be a national catastrophe and the end of any congressional comity for a very long time. Oh, and then Nancy Pelosi got caught in the web of “did she or did she not know what was going on?” On Thursday night the door was slammed shut. The president is very much opposed to a witch hunt, we are informed.

There are two explanations for what happened. One is that the president, without teleprompter and script, messed up — big time — when he blathered on at the press conference with the King of Jordan about the potential for show trials. He was trying to sound sophisticated or thoughtful and instead unleashed the furies. It was a blunder of rather startling proportions.

The other theory is that he changed his mind twice. After shutting the door on Monday he shifted after his CIA visit, trying to mollify the netroot base. He sounded quite sympathetic to the idea of investigations and prosecutions. But when it began to spin out of control he reversed course again and said we’ve had enough. He, in this scenario, is frightfully indecisive and guided by purely political considerations.

We are unlikely to know which it is, but neither paints an impressive picture of our president. Whatever his mindset, the president threw the entire government, media, political class, and intelligence community into a tizzy. He came off looking confused and utterly unpresidential. Say what you will about George W. Bush, but he was a decider. There was rarely any question as to what he was proposing.

And where do we go now? Nancy Pelosi seems determined to push forward with her show trial — unless convinced by yesterday’s events that the whole thing might turn out to be unpleasant for her personally (not to mention some other key Democrats). The Senate is less inclined to follow suit. So we’ll see if the genie can be put back in the bottle, if Eric Holder re-opens the door yet again and what, if anything, we have learned, not only about interrogation techniques, but about this president.

It has been the low point of his 100 Days — far more troubling than glad-handing Hugo Chavez or spending our grandchildren’s money. It raises questions about his competency and judgment, both of which in a time of war and economic crisis are essential to the country’s safety and well being. Let us hope it was an aberration never to be repeated.

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Linkage War

Two days ago, Israel’s deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, caused a little stir when he told the Washington Post:

The new Israeli government will not move ahead on the core issues of peace talks with the Palestinians until it sees progress in US efforts to stop Iran’s suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon and limit Teheran’s rising influence in the region.

The interview proved such an embarrassment that Ayalon felt compelled to immediately correct the record, so no one would interpret it as the Israeli government operating under “linkage theory,” thereby connecting Iran with the Palestinian issue. As I have previously explained, Israel has always been suspicious of linkage theory when brought up by third parties, but is slowly moving toward adopting a reverse-linkage — as exemplified by Ayalon’s statement.

First he said that “We will deal with the Palestinian issue as if there is no Iranian issue, and with the Iranian issue as if there is no Palestinian issue” — thus negating any linkage. But then he added that “if there is such a link, [sic] is a negative one. The Iranian influence [among the Palestinians] is destructive.” That would be linkage in reverse: not solving the Palestinian issue in order to tame Iran, but rather solving the Iran problem in order to pacify Palestinians.

Interestingly, when Ayalon gave his first interview to the Post, the Obama administration was dismissive toward attempts at establishing linkage: “U.S. officials are wary of linking the two issues,” the paper explained, then went ahead quoting an anonymous official:

We have to be pretty careful how you approach that kind of connection,” said a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “We are dealing with Iran because there are behaviors out there that are deeply troubling. We would be doing that regardless of other issues. By the same token, the Palestinian issue is an issue that obviously evokes a great deal in the region.

Well — that was then (two days ago), and this is now (yesterday). Apparently, the “official” didn’t clear his position with the Secretary of State before issuing his statement to the press. As Jennifer noted, according to the Clinton formula, espoused yesterday during an appearance before a panel of the House Appropriations Committee, linkage is the official American position:

“For Israel to get the kind of strong support it’s looking for vis-a-vis Iran it can’t stay on the sideline with respect to the Palestinian and the peace efforts, that they go hand-in-hand,” Clinton said.

For the first time, the cat is out of the bag. The linkage-denial of the past  several years is finally over. Now we’re onto all out linkage-war: The Obama administration is following the lead of the Baker-Hamilton report, which had stated that “the United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict” — Obama himself had spoken in similar terms during the campaign:

I think King, King Abdullah is as savvy a analyst of the region and player in the region as, as there is, one of the points that he made and I think a lot of people made, is that we’ve got to have an overarching strategy recognizing that all these issues are connected. If we can solve the Israeli/Palestinian process, then that will make it easier for Arab states and the Gulf states to support us when it comes to issues like Iraq and Afghanistan. It will also weaken Iran, which has been using Hamas and Hezbollah as a way to stir up mischief in the region. If we’ve gotten an Israeli/Palestinian peace deal, maybe at the same time peeling Syria out of the Iranian orbit, that makes it easier to isolate Iran so that they have a tougher time developing a nuclear weapon.

But the Israeli government is now fighting back: if there’s a linkage to be established, it will be the inverse of the Clinton-linkage. And here we are, back to the days when the all-too-frequently raised  question was whether the road to Baghdad runs through Jerusalem — or is it “the road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad”? Only this time it’s Tehran.

Two days ago, Israel’s deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, caused a little stir when he told the Washington Post:

The new Israeli government will not move ahead on the core issues of peace talks with the Palestinians until it sees progress in US efforts to stop Iran’s suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon and limit Teheran’s rising influence in the region.

The interview proved such an embarrassment that Ayalon felt compelled to immediately correct the record, so no one would interpret it as the Israeli government operating under “linkage theory,” thereby connecting Iran with the Palestinian issue. As I have previously explained, Israel has always been suspicious of linkage theory when brought up by third parties, but is slowly moving toward adopting a reverse-linkage — as exemplified by Ayalon’s statement.

First he said that “We will deal with the Palestinian issue as if there is no Iranian issue, and with the Iranian issue as if there is no Palestinian issue” — thus negating any linkage. But then he added that “if there is such a link, [sic] is a negative one. The Iranian influence [among the Palestinians] is destructive.” That would be linkage in reverse: not solving the Palestinian issue in order to tame Iran, but rather solving the Iran problem in order to pacify Palestinians.

Interestingly, when Ayalon gave his first interview to the Post, the Obama administration was dismissive toward attempts at establishing linkage: “U.S. officials are wary of linking the two issues,” the paper explained, then went ahead quoting an anonymous official:

We have to be pretty careful how you approach that kind of connection,” said a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “We are dealing with Iran because there are behaviors out there that are deeply troubling. We would be doing that regardless of other issues. By the same token, the Palestinian issue is an issue that obviously evokes a great deal in the region.

Well — that was then (two days ago), and this is now (yesterday). Apparently, the “official” didn’t clear his position with the Secretary of State before issuing his statement to the press. As Jennifer noted, according to the Clinton formula, espoused yesterday during an appearance before a panel of the House Appropriations Committee, linkage is the official American position:

“For Israel to get the kind of strong support it’s looking for vis-a-vis Iran it can’t stay on the sideline with respect to the Palestinian and the peace efforts, that they go hand-in-hand,” Clinton said.

For the first time, the cat is out of the bag. The linkage-denial of the past  several years is finally over. Now we’re onto all out linkage-war: The Obama administration is following the lead of the Baker-Hamilton report, which had stated that “the United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict” — Obama himself had spoken in similar terms during the campaign:

I think King, King Abdullah is as savvy a analyst of the region and player in the region as, as there is, one of the points that he made and I think a lot of people made, is that we’ve got to have an overarching strategy recognizing that all these issues are connected. If we can solve the Israeli/Palestinian process, then that will make it easier for Arab states and the Gulf states to support us when it comes to issues like Iraq and Afghanistan. It will also weaken Iran, which has been using Hamas and Hezbollah as a way to stir up mischief in the region. If we’ve gotten an Israeli/Palestinian peace deal, maybe at the same time peeling Syria out of the Iranian orbit, that makes it easier to isolate Iran so that they have a tougher time developing a nuclear weapon.

But the Israeli government is now fighting back: if there’s a linkage to be established, it will be the inverse of the Clinton-linkage. And here we are, back to the days when the all-too-frequently raised  question was whether the road to Baghdad runs through Jerusalem — or is it “the road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad”? Only this time it’s Tehran.

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Yeah, Right

Hillary Clinton will have to do better than that. “That” is her testimony to Congress concerning the new administration argument to Israel: don’t expect help from Arab states on Iran until you, Israel, make progress on the Palestinian question. Putting aside the fallacy that currently there is progress to be made on the Palestinian question, she is simply wrong.

A number of the Arab states were frankly rather supportive of Israel’s effort in Gaza specifically because they recognized it was a blow to Iran, which funds and encourages Hamas. Indeed, they could barely contain their glee as Iran suffered the set-back of seeing their protégés crushed. There was some surprising consensus that until Hamas and, in turn, its sponsor Iran, is defanged, there would be no progress toward Palestinian statehood. Egypt and Jordan, in words and deed, demonstrated that they understood linkage — but in the opposite direction suggested by Clinton.

Clinton’s line of argument ignores the reality that Arab states have every reason to oppose Iranian hegemony and aggression in the region. Surely, they continue to mouth the line that Palestinian grievances must be settled before . . . well, it used to be before Iraq was settled, but they will now identify something else. Yet one can see by their actions and public words (or silence during the Gaza invasion) that even they aren’t buying much of that rhetoric anymore. They, like Israel and the U.S., are aligned in their desire to contain Iran and prevent it from becoming a nuclear power.

So Clinton should come up with another line — or, better yet, begin to talk frankly about what is and isn’t possible regarding “progress” on the Palestinian question.

Hillary Clinton will have to do better than that. “That” is her testimony to Congress concerning the new administration argument to Israel: don’t expect help from Arab states on Iran until you, Israel, make progress on the Palestinian question. Putting aside the fallacy that currently there is progress to be made on the Palestinian question, she is simply wrong.

A number of the Arab states were frankly rather supportive of Israel’s effort in Gaza specifically because they recognized it was a blow to Iran, which funds and encourages Hamas. Indeed, they could barely contain their glee as Iran suffered the set-back of seeing their protégés crushed. There was some surprising consensus that until Hamas and, in turn, its sponsor Iran, is defanged, there would be no progress toward Palestinian statehood. Egypt and Jordan, in words and deed, demonstrated that they understood linkage — but in the opposite direction suggested by Clinton.

Clinton’s line of argument ignores the reality that Arab states have every reason to oppose Iranian hegemony and aggression in the region. Surely, they continue to mouth the line that Palestinian grievances must be settled before . . . well, it used to be before Iraq was settled, but they will now identify something else. Yet one can see by their actions and public words (or silence during the Gaza invasion) that even they aren’t buying much of that rhetoric anymore. They, like Israel and the U.S., are aligned in their desire to contain Iran and prevent it from becoming a nuclear power.

So Clinton should come up with another line — or, better yet, begin to talk frankly about what is and isn’t possible regarding “progress” on the Palestinian question.

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Right Analysis, Wrong Advice

Over at the Atlantic, Robert Kaplan gets to the heart of the problem with the Palestinians. After reading a piece by Jakub Grygiel in Policy Review, Kaplan understands that not all of the blame for the Middle East’s problems can be put on Israel.

Instead of actively seeking statehood to address their weakness, as Zionist Jews did in an earlier phase of history, groups like the Palestinians now embrace their statelessness as a source of power … But the most tempting aspect of statelessness is that it permits a people to savor the pleasures of religious zeal, extremist ideologies, and moral absolutes, without having to make the kinds of messy, mundane compromises that accompany the work of looking after a geographical space. … The Palestinians may never have a state, because at a deep psychological level, enough of them—or at least the groups that speak in their name—may not really want one. Statehood would mean openly compromising with Israel, and, because of the dictates of geography, living in an intimate political and economic relationship with it. Better the glory of victimhood, combined with the power of radical abstractions! As a stateless people, Palestinians can lob rockets into Israel, but not be wholly blamed in the eyes of the international community. Statehood would, perforce, put an end to such license.

Exactly right. But this realization does not cure Kaplan of his fixation on bullying Israel; the country which even he understands had offered Palestinians a state on a silver platter in the summer of 2000. Even though the Palestinians don’t actually want a state and, as he also acknowledges, further land given to them will be used (as Gaza has been since Israel gave it up in 2005) as a terrorist launching pad, Kaplan still wants the United States to pressure the Jewish state.

Even if Grygiel’s theory is right, the United States should apply ample pressure on the new Israeli government to compromise with the Palestinians—ratcheting up the rhetoric and slowing down arms deliveries if necessary. It should do this because it is the right thing to do, and because it will help the U.S. to reestablish credibility in the Muslim world.

But it is not the right thing to do. A more isolated and vulnerable Israel will only encourage Palestinian extremists to more violence. The only result of such a policy would be more bloodshed on both sides. Nor will it, as Barack Obama has learned during his apology world-tour, “reestablish” U.S. credibility in the Muslim world. America’s credibility rests on its willingness to loyally back its allies and restrain its enemies through strength. Abandoning an ally to terrorist attacks and asking it to make concessions to terrorist entities that have no interest in peace or statehood is unprincipled and illogical. But that’s the corner that people like Kaplan have painted themselves into on this issue.

Over at the Atlantic, Robert Kaplan gets to the heart of the problem with the Palestinians. After reading a piece by Jakub Grygiel in Policy Review, Kaplan understands that not all of the blame for the Middle East’s problems can be put on Israel.

Instead of actively seeking statehood to address their weakness, as Zionist Jews did in an earlier phase of history, groups like the Palestinians now embrace their statelessness as a source of power … But the most tempting aspect of statelessness is that it permits a people to savor the pleasures of religious zeal, extremist ideologies, and moral absolutes, without having to make the kinds of messy, mundane compromises that accompany the work of looking after a geographical space. … The Palestinians may never have a state, because at a deep psychological level, enough of them—or at least the groups that speak in their name—may not really want one. Statehood would mean openly compromising with Israel, and, because of the dictates of geography, living in an intimate political and economic relationship with it. Better the glory of victimhood, combined with the power of radical abstractions! As a stateless people, Palestinians can lob rockets into Israel, but not be wholly blamed in the eyes of the international community. Statehood would, perforce, put an end to such license.

Exactly right. But this realization does not cure Kaplan of his fixation on bullying Israel; the country which even he understands had offered Palestinians a state on a silver platter in the summer of 2000. Even though the Palestinians don’t actually want a state and, as he also acknowledges, further land given to them will be used (as Gaza has been since Israel gave it up in 2005) as a terrorist launching pad, Kaplan still wants the United States to pressure the Jewish state.

Even if Grygiel’s theory is right, the United States should apply ample pressure on the new Israeli government to compromise with the Palestinians—ratcheting up the rhetoric and slowing down arms deliveries if necessary. It should do this because it is the right thing to do, and because it will help the U.S. to reestablish credibility in the Muslim world.

But it is not the right thing to do. A more isolated and vulnerable Israel will only encourage Palestinian extremists to more violence. The only result of such a policy would be more bloodshed on both sides. Nor will it, as Barack Obama has learned during his apology world-tour, “reestablish” U.S. credibility in the Muslim world. America’s credibility rests on its willingness to loyally back its allies and restrain its enemies through strength. Abandoning an ally to terrorist attacks and asking it to make concessions to terrorist entities that have no interest in peace or statehood is unprincipled and illogical. But that’s the corner that people like Kaplan have painted themselves into on this issue.

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Not Living up to Expectations

David Brooks sounds a warning note after looking at polling that strongly suggests the public isn’t interested in bigger government:

The big lesson for the Obama administration is that the American people will continue to support its agenda as long as they think it is competent. It was not automatic that an administration led by a 47-year-old man with little Washington experience would run a professional, smoothly functioning operation. Yet he has. The administration has unveiled a dazzling array of proposals with a high degree of efficiency and managerial skill. This has inspired confidence in his team, if not in the government as a whole.

If that aura of nonideological competence fades, however, support for the agenda will crater. There is little philosophical backing for a government as activist as the one Obama is proposing. Middle-class voters are not willing to hand over higher taxes in exchange for more federal services. The public is significantly to Obama’s right on economic matters and needs constant evidence that he is not trespassing on personal freedom and individual responsibility.

What will dissuade the public that Obama is not all that “competent”? There is the stimulus package, which was premised on the notion it would keep unemployment below 8%. It hasn’t, and we’ve learned there’s no meaningful oversight of funds. We know that the funds are not being spent quickly enough to do much about the economy. Well, there is the budget. Is it “competent” to spend $3.6 trillion and plunge an entire generation of Americans into a pool of red ink? I’m not seeing the competence, if by competence we mean the execution of effective policies. (And let’s not get into the appointee snafus, the AIG bonus blunder, the interrogation memo disaster, and the ever-hapless Tim Geithner.)

The “aura of non-ideological competence” is based on the media’s marveling that Obama is “getting things done” — which largely consists of passing huge spending bills on strict party-line votes through a Democratic-controlled Congress. An odd sort of non-ideological achievement, indeed.

And what about the substance of his agenda? Nationalized healthcare and cap-and-trade don’t meet Brooks’s formula for success. Both involve tax hikes and significant increases in the size and scope of government. Obama could dump these in favor of more market-oriented policies, but shows no inclination to do so. Indeed, the Obama team is contemplating use of “reconciliation” to force through healthcare reform without the threat of a filibuster. Not very non-ideological, but very activist.

The bottom line: Brooks seems to argue that if Obama weren’t doing what Obama is doing — proposing a massive increase in the size of government, governing with no Republican input or support, and doing a rather mediocre job of restoring the economy — Obama (and all of us) would be in fine shape. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem that Obama is the Obama that Brooks had hoped for. Obama’s actions never really evidence political moderation or wisdom about the limits of government’s ability to refashion American society. Moderation and a love of non-ideological competence are Brooks’s trademarks, but unfortunately, not this president’s.

David Brooks sounds a warning note after looking at polling that strongly suggests the public isn’t interested in bigger government:

The big lesson for the Obama administration is that the American people will continue to support its agenda as long as they think it is competent. It was not automatic that an administration led by a 47-year-old man with little Washington experience would run a professional, smoothly functioning operation. Yet he has. The administration has unveiled a dazzling array of proposals with a high degree of efficiency and managerial skill. This has inspired confidence in his team, if not in the government as a whole.

If that aura of nonideological competence fades, however, support for the agenda will crater. There is little philosophical backing for a government as activist as the one Obama is proposing. Middle-class voters are not willing to hand over higher taxes in exchange for more federal services. The public is significantly to Obama’s right on economic matters and needs constant evidence that he is not trespassing on personal freedom and individual responsibility.

What will dissuade the public that Obama is not all that “competent”? There is the stimulus package, which was premised on the notion it would keep unemployment below 8%. It hasn’t, and we’ve learned there’s no meaningful oversight of funds. We know that the funds are not being spent quickly enough to do much about the economy. Well, there is the budget. Is it “competent” to spend $3.6 trillion and plunge an entire generation of Americans into a pool of red ink? I’m not seeing the competence, if by competence we mean the execution of effective policies. (And let’s not get into the appointee snafus, the AIG bonus blunder, the interrogation memo disaster, and the ever-hapless Tim Geithner.)

The “aura of non-ideological competence” is based on the media’s marveling that Obama is “getting things done” — which largely consists of passing huge spending bills on strict party-line votes through a Democratic-controlled Congress. An odd sort of non-ideological achievement, indeed.

And what about the substance of his agenda? Nationalized healthcare and cap-and-trade don’t meet Brooks’s formula for success. Both involve tax hikes and significant increases in the size and scope of government. Obama could dump these in favor of more market-oriented policies, but shows no inclination to do so. Indeed, the Obama team is contemplating use of “reconciliation” to force through healthcare reform without the threat of a filibuster. Not very non-ideological, but very activist.

The bottom line: Brooks seems to argue that if Obama weren’t doing what Obama is doing — proposing a massive increase in the size of government, governing with no Republican input or support, and doing a rather mediocre job of restoring the economy — Obama (and all of us) would be in fine shape. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem that Obama is the Obama that Brooks had hoped for. Obama’s actions never really evidence political moderation or wisdom about the limits of government’s ability to refashion American society. Moderation and a love of non-ideological competence are Brooks’s trademarks, but unfortunately, not this president’s.

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The UN’s Epic Fail in Geneva

The biggest loser at the United Nations Durban Review Conference on “racism” this week in Geneva was the United Nations itself. The United States unfairly got a lot of bad press and bad marks for walking out of the first UN “World Conference Against Racism” in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, even though that conference was little more than an anti-Semitic and anti-American hate festival. The media did a much better job this time around, though, as did the genuine anti-racist activists who showed up to protest. Those vilified by “Durban I” turned out to be the heroes of “Durban II.”

Most of the press coverage this week was appropriately critical. And few have done as outstanding a job covering the affair as Zvika Krieger in the New Republic. Every one of his dispatches from Geneva deserves a wide audience.

First he reminds us just how viciously bigoted the 2001 Durban conference was. “Jewish activists were harassed, abused, physically intimidated, taunted, and followed throughout the week,” he wrote. “Anyone who tried to object to the Israel hate-fest was booed off the stage with shouts of ‘Jew, Jew, Jew.’ The conference hall was overflowing with copies of ‘The Protocols of The Elders of Zion’ and pamphlets featuring pictures of Jews with long hooked noses and evil smiles, their serpent fangs soaked in blood and their military uniforms decorated with swastikas.”

Those singled out for the two-minute hate were vastly outnumbered by the hysterical bigots who set the tone in South Africa. This time, though, in Geneva, the bullies were on the defensive. “Unlike the scenes at Durban I,” he reported, “of Jewish students being swallowed by hordes of Israel haters, outnumbered 50-to-1, here in Geneva, I’ve witnessed dozens of debates between handfuls of pro-Israel activists evenly matched with their foes.”

Americans weren’t happy about the anti-American obscenities at “Durban I,” but at least “American” isn’t a race. Jews had even more reasons to be appalled at what happened. When the organizers of an “anti-racist” conference spend most of their energy denouncing and menacing Jews and Israelis, something has gone terribly wrong. Anti-Durban activists had years to prepare for this week’s sequel in Geneva, though, and it showed.

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The biggest loser at the United Nations Durban Review Conference on “racism” this week in Geneva was the United Nations itself. The United States unfairly got a lot of bad press and bad marks for walking out of the first UN “World Conference Against Racism” in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, even though that conference was little more than an anti-Semitic and anti-American hate festival. The media did a much better job this time around, though, as did the genuine anti-racist activists who showed up to protest. Those vilified by “Durban I” turned out to be the heroes of “Durban II.”

Most of the press coverage this week was appropriately critical. And few have done as outstanding a job covering the affair as Zvika Krieger in the New Republic. Every one of his dispatches from Geneva deserves a wide audience.

First he reminds us just how viciously bigoted the 2001 Durban conference was. “Jewish activists were harassed, abused, physically intimidated, taunted, and followed throughout the week,” he wrote. “Anyone who tried to object to the Israel hate-fest was booed off the stage with shouts of ‘Jew, Jew, Jew.’ The conference hall was overflowing with copies of ‘The Protocols of The Elders of Zion’ and pamphlets featuring pictures of Jews with long hooked noses and evil smiles, their serpent fangs soaked in blood and their military uniforms decorated with swastikas.”

Those singled out for the two-minute hate were vastly outnumbered by the hysterical bigots who set the tone in South Africa. This time, though, in Geneva, the bullies were on the defensive. “Unlike the scenes at Durban I,” he reported, “of Jewish students being swallowed by hordes of Israel haters, outnumbered 50-to-1, here in Geneva, I’ve witnessed dozens of debates between handfuls of pro-Israel activists evenly matched with their foes.”

Americans weren’t happy about the anti-American obscenities at “Durban I,” but at least “American” isn’t a race. Jews had even more reasons to be appalled at what happened. When the organizers of an “anti-racist” conference spend most of their energy denouncing and menacing Jews and Israelis, something has gone terribly wrong. Anti-Durban activists had years to prepare for this week’s sequel in Geneva, though, and it showed.

“It is hard to exaggerate how palpable the Jewish presence is here,” Krieger wrote. “The Jewish community of Geneva staged a massive Holocaust memorial (featuring Elie Wiesel) last night on the steps of the UN headquarters right outside the conference, and Jewish groups like the Simon Wiesenthal Center are organizing panels on anti-Semitism inside the conference building under auspices of the UN. Roaming the halls of the UN building, I’ve heard way more Hebrew than Arabic. When the Jewish community’s security force prevented the Jewish students from leaving the ‘Jewish Welcome Center’ because of a minor pro-Palestinian rally outside, the students balked at the ridiculousness of any security threat against them here — a stark contrast to the physical violence encountered by Jewish students in 2001.”

The first Durban conference was an anti-Semitic zoo. Take a look at the photo of a poster, reading that it would have been a “good thing” if Adolf Hitler had won World War II because there would be “no Israel.” Switzerland may be geopolitically neutral in many ways, but Geneva was in no mood this week to tolerate that kind of garbage at a conference it hosted. Krieger says a zero-tolerance policy against anti-Semitic propaganda appeared to be in place, and the small number of anti-Semitic demonstrators he did see were kicked out by security guards.

Even some of the discussions on the anti-Israel panels were tame compared with those last time, he reports. Moderate critics of Israel quite rightly suggested that accusing Israel of “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” alienates moderate supporters of Palestinians. Of course, there were plenty of immoderate haters there, too. At the end of the first day he saw a group of Iranian men slip in wearing baseball caps that read “Imam Khomeini: Israel must be wiped away.”

Iran, its incendiary president, and his goon squad, aren’t the only ones getting bad press. Libya deserves and is getting some, too. It is by far the most suffocating and oppressive country I have ever visited. Only two countries in the world – Turkmenistan and North Korea – are more thoroughly totalitarian than Libya. Every last Jew was driven out. Libya’s dictator, Moammar Qaddafi confiscated all Jewish property. Brutal suppression of the indigenous Berber population, including a ban on even the use of their language, continues apace. Yet Libya, absurdly, was elected by the United Nations to chair the preparatory committee for this week’s conference about racism and human rights. They might as well select Cuba or North Korea to head up a conference against communism while they’re at it.

A Palestinian doctor named Ashraf El Hagog took to the podium at one point. He didn’t, as many might have expected, use the opportunity to beat up on the “Zionist Entity,” as so many others in attendance have done. Instead, he lambasted Libya. Perhaps you remember his story. He was slightly famous a few years ago because he and several Bulgarian nurses were falsely accused by Qaddafi’s regime of deliberately spreading AIDS in the country. He and the Bulgarians were imprisoned and tortured for years. “It is disgusting for Libya to be the chair of a human-rights conference at the UN,” he said. “Shame on you, Libya.” Libyan ambassador Najjat Al-Hajjaji was apoplectic over Dr. Hagog’s performance, but she shouldn’t have expected him to say anything else. “While he was in prison,” Krieger wrote, “he could handle the hanging, deprivation of food and sleep, and being raped by a police dog; what finally broke him was when they ‘finally threatened to torture my family in front of me,’ he said.”

The Obama Administration was right not to legitimize this farcical conference by attending, but at the same time it’s good that others went so that we didn’t have to. Somebody needs to stand up to Libyan and Iranian thugs. They can’t do it in Tripoli or Tehran, but they can – and they did – do it in Geneva.

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Another Journalist Nabbed

The New York Times reports:

North Korea said Friday that it had decided to indict two American journalists who have been detained for more than five weeks on charges of illegally entering the country and committing “hostile acts.”

“Our related agency has completed its investigation of the American journalists,” North Korea’s state-run news agency, KCNA, reported. “It has formally decided to put them on trial based on confirmed criminal data.”

Both work for a media company founded by Al Gore and were “reporting on the North Korean refugees who fled hunger at home and were living in hiding in China.”

Well, why do we suppose this occurred? Could it be that North Koreans observed the Obama administration’s mealy-mouthed reaction to the nabbing of Roxana Saberi by Iran and figured they could get away with it, too? Was it perhaps a calculation that if we could only muster a belated UN resolution (after the North Korean missile shot) promising to get around to implementing sanctions, then we might not be inclined to confront them over something as “small” as the capture of two American citizens.

This is how totalitarian aggressors behave. They observe and pounce when they perceive weakness. And we know from experience more of this will follow unless our rhetoric and conduct suggest a heavy price to be paid for this sort of thing. The most fundamental responsibility the U.S. government owes its citizens is protection from hostile governments whether at home or traveling abroad. It is a sorry state of affairs to see that we are not fulfilling that basic function and that it is now open season on those, primarily journalists, traveling in hostile regimes. The president might want to hit the reset button on his strategy with rogue states.

The New York Times reports:

North Korea said Friday that it had decided to indict two American journalists who have been detained for more than five weeks on charges of illegally entering the country and committing “hostile acts.”

“Our related agency has completed its investigation of the American journalists,” North Korea’s state-run news agency, KCNA, reported. “It has formally decided to put them on trial based on confirmed criminal data.”

Both work for a media company founded by Al Gore and were “reporting on the North Korean refugees who fled hunger at home and were living in hiding in China.”

Well, why do we suppose this occurred? Could it be that North Koreans observed the Obama administration’s mealy-mouthed reaction to the nabbing of Roxana Saberi by Iran and figured they could get away with it, too? Was it perhaps a calculation that if we could only muster a belated UN resolution (after the North Korean missile shot) promising to get around to implementing sanctions, then we might not be inclined to confront them over something as “small” as the capture of two American citizens.

This is how totalitarian aggressors behave. They observe and pounce when they perceive weakness. And we know from experience more of this will follow unless our rhetoric and conduct suggest a heavy price to be paid for this sort of thing. The most fundamental responsibility the U.S. government owes its citizens is protection from hostile governments whether at home or traveling abroad. It is a sorry state of affairs to see that we are not fulfilling that basic function and that it is now open season on those, primarily journalists, traveling in hostile regimes. The president might want to hit the reset button on his strategy with rogue states.

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The Realist’s Guide to Categorizing Wars

In the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs, realist Zbigniew Brzezinski reviews realist Richard Haass’s book about the two Iraq wars — “War of Necessity, War of Choice” – and in the midst of praising it, effectively eviscerates the distinction that forms the title of the book:

Herein lies the problem: any decision to go to war, unless it is in response to an attack on one’s state, is the consequence of a judgment regarding the definition of “necessity” made in reaction to some ominous foreign event. Haass strongly supported the first war (because of the “necessity” resulting from Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait) and did not oppose the second one (because of the threat allegedly posed by the weapons of mass destruction, which Haass initially believed Saddam actually had).

Brzezinski is right about Haass’s unconvincing necessity/choice distinction, because neither Iraq war was a response to an attack on America; each was a choice (Margaret Thatcher initially thought Bush 41 might go wobbly and make the wrong one); each choice was perceived as compelling at the time (re-read the long list of reasons in the Congressional Authorization of the second Iraq war); and each was authorized by Congress after a full debate.  Many more Democrats voted for the 2003 “war of choice” than the 1991 “war of necessity.”

But Brzezinski’s own categories are no better.  For him, the distinction is between a war involving a “systematic weighing of options, deliberative analysis, and a careful examination of intelligence” and a war “abetted” by a “campaign to stimulate public fear, fueled by demagogic and undiscriminating language about ‘Islamofascists,’ ‘jihadists,’ and ‘Muslim terrorism'” that a “democratic society was stampeded into endorsing.”

I too prefer weighing, deliberating, and carefully examining to abetting, fueling, and stampeding, but I have more difficulty than Brzezinski in actually applying his categories.  The first Iraq war followed Bush 41’s informing the American public that Saddam was “worse than Hitler” and Secretary of State Baker telling them the war involved “jobs, jobs, jobs.”  The “stampede” leading to the second Iraq war followed 17 UN resolutions and a bipartisan Congressional vote, deposed a virulently anti-American dictator who “virtually everyone” (in Haass’s words) thought had WMD, and ultimately led to the establishment of a new democracy in the heart of the Arab world.

The second Iraq war was necessitated in part by the inconclusive ending to the first one.  They may be better viewed as two battles in a larger war not yet over, whose outlines will be clearer to future historians than they are to us.  But while we are in the middle of history, not at its end, it seems safe to say that historians trying to evaluate the two Iraq wars are going to need more sophisticated analyses than those provided by either Haass or Brzezinski.

In the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs, realist Zbigniew Brzezinski reviews realist Richard Haass’s book about the two Iraq wars — “War of Necessity, War of Choice” – and in the midst of praising it, effectively eviscerates the distinction that forms the title of the book:

Herein lies the problem: any decision to go to war, unless it is in response to an attack on one’s state, is the consequence of a judgment regarding the definition of “necessity” made in reaction to some ominous foreign event. Haass strongly supported the first war (because of the “necessity” resulting from Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait) and did not oppose the second one (because of the threat allegedly posed by the weapons of mass destruction, which Haass initially believed Saddam actually had).

Brzezinski is right about Haass’s unconvincing necessity/choice distinction, because neither Iraq war was a response to an attack on America; each was a choice (Margaret Thatcher initially thought Bush 41 might go wobbly and make the wrong one); each choice was perceived as compelling at the time (re-read the long list of reasons in the Congressional Authorization of the second Iraq war); and each was authorized by Congress after a full debate.  Many more Democrats voted for the 2003 “war of choice” than the 1991 “war of necessity.”

But Brzezinski’s own categories are no better.  For him, the distinction is between a war involving a “systematic weighing of options, deliberative analysis, and a careful examination of intelligence” and a war “abetted” by a “campaign to stimulate public fear, fueled by demagogic and undiscriminating language about ‘Islamofascists,’ ‘jihadists,’ and ‘Muslim terrorism'” that a “democratic society was stampeded into endorsing.”

I too prefer weighing, deliberating, and carefully examining to abetting, fueling, and stampeding, but I have more difficulty than Brzezinski in actually applying his categories.  The first Iraq war followed Bush 41’s informing the American public that Saddam was “worse than Hitler” and Secretary of State Baker telling them the war involved “jobs, jobs, jobs.”  The “stampede” leading to the second Iraq war followed 17 UN resolutions and a bipartisan Congressional vote, deposed a virulently anti-American dictator who “virtually everyone” (in Haass’s words) thought had WMD, and ultimately led to the establishment of a new democracy in the heart of the Arab world.

The second Iraq war was necessitated in part by the inconclusive ending to the first one.  They may be better viewed as two battles in a larger war not yet over, whose outlines will be clearer to future historians than they are to us.  But while we are in the middle of history, not at its end, it seems safe to say that historians trying to evaluate the two Iraq wars are going to need more sophisticated analyses than those provided by either Haass or Brzezinski.

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“They All Blur Together”

The latest Robert Gibbs comedy gold from Jake Tapper:

TAPPER: This week two different independent nonpartisan government watchdogs have — the Government Accountability Office and the inspector general for TARP — have expressed serious concerns about the amount of — or the lack of oversight into how money is being spent, both stimulus and the toxic assets program, and also TARP and other programs. These are people who do this for a living.  They are — they are watchdogs, and they conduct oversight, and they’re saying you guys are not doing enough. And specifically the inspector general for TARP said that the Treasury Department has told them that they will not follow their previous recommendations to demand that the banks account for all the use of TARP funds, set up internal controls to comply with the accounting and report periodically to Treasury on the results with sworn certifications.  Why are you — what are you guys going to do to follow these recommendations to conduct as much oversight as they’re recommending?

GIBBS:  Well, let me — I’ll ask Treasury for something specific on — on what you mentioned based on what GAO has mentioned. The president — the president is concerned and wants to ensure accountability in the process.  I — I will — like I said, I’ll look for a specific answer to what you mentioned there. But I think based on the testimony of Secretary Geithner, there is an inclination among all in the administration to pursue greater transparency and greater accountability. I don’t know about that specifically, but I’ll certainly check.

Well, you say, that’s no answer. All Gibbs said was that the president is committed to accountability, but Tapper is asking why that accountability isn’t being implemented. So Tapper gamely tries again:

TAPPER:  The inspector general for TARP on Monday testified that — that Treasury has blown off their recommendations that the bank, that they…

GIBBS:  I think Secretary Geithner addressed some of that on — I don’t know, I forget whether he was up there Monday or Tuesday.  Like I said, they all blur together. I’ll find something specifically on that.

On the transparency and accountability front, we have so far perhaps the most under-achieving administration ever. The promise to have legislation on line for five days before a vote? Nope. A list of ethics waivers? Never provided. Oversight for trillions in spending? Not remotely.

And Congress, which is only too anxious to begin investigating the last administration, shows no interest in fulfilling its oversight role. So unlike the Bush administration, which after 2006 had to face aggressive Democratic-controlled committees and explain itself on everything from firing U.S. attorneys to the Walter Reed scandal, this administration is neither inclined to, nor forced to, explain much of anything. And with Gibbs at the podium no member of the media is going to get any intelligible answers either.

The latest Robert Gibbs comedy gold from Jake Tapper:

TAPPER: This week two different independent nonpartisan government watchdogs have — the Government Accountability Office and the inspector general for TARP — have expressed serious concerns about the amount of — or the lack of oversight into how money is being spent, both stimulus and the toxic assets program, and also TARP and other programs. These are people who do this for a living.  They are — they are watchdogs, and they conduct oversight, and they’re saying you guys are not doing enough. And specifically the inspector general for TARP said that the Treasury Department has told them that they will not follow their previous recommendations to demand that the banks account for all the use of TARP funds, set up internal controls to comply with the accounting and report periodically to Treasury on the results with sworn certifications.  Why are you — what are you guys going to do to follow these recommendations to conduct as much oversight as they’re recommending?

GIBBS:  Well, let me — I’ll ask Treasury for something specific on — on what you mentioned based on what GAO has mentioned. The president — the president is concerned and wants to ensure accountability in the process.  I — I will — like I said, I’ll look for a specific answer to what you mentioned there. But I think based on the testimony of Secretary Geithner, there is an inclination among all in the administration to pursue greater transparency and greater accountability. I don’t know about that specifically, but I’ll certainly check.

Well, you say, that’s no answer. All Gibbs said was that the president is committed to accountability, but Tapper is asking why that accountability isn’t being implemented. So Tapper gamely tries again:

TAPPER:  The inspector general for TARP on Monday testified that — that Treasury has blown off their recommendations that the bank, that they…

GIBBS:  I think Secretary Geithner addressed some of that on — I don’t know, I forget whether he was up there Monday or Tuesday.  Like I said, they all blur together. I’ll find something specifically on that.

On the transparency and accountability front, we have so far perhaps the most under-achieving administration ever. The promise to have legislation on line for five days before a vote? Nope. A list of ethics waivers? Never provided. Oversight for trillions in spending? Not remotely.

And Congress, which is only too anxious to begin investigating the last administration, shows no interest in fulfilling its oversight role. So unlike the Bush administration, which after 2006 had to face aggressive Democratic-controlled committees and explain itself on everything from firing U.S. attorneys to the Walter Reed scandal, this administration is neither inclined to, nor forced to, explain much of anything. And with Gibbs at the podium no member of the media is going to get any intelligible answers either.

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Obama and the Angry Mob

Unlike candidate Barack Obama, President Barack Obama has been unable to use mob anger to his advantage. The White House position on a comprehensive release of terrorist interrogation materials and on potential prosecution of Bush administration officials is incoherent and stultifying. Casting himself as restorer of national decency, Obama first denounced tough interrogations as a betrayal of American ideals. Yet he recommended “reflection, not retribution,” vowing to “move forward” and not prosecute interrogators because “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” However, days later, he decided that laying blame for the past is actually up to the discretion of the attorney general and was therefore best the president not “pre-judge” the matter.

The salivating hordes pounced. But criminal proceedings risk tearing the country apart, vindicating those who were casually defamed, and even redounding poorly upon Obama intimates and other Democrats. A more thorough airing of details around CIA interrogations has revealed that controversial methods were both effective and widely encouraged by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

The Obama administration suddenly became less keen on exposing gory details.

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

Unlike candidate Barack Obama, President Barack Obama has been unable to use mob anger to his advantage. The White House position on a comprehensive release of terrorist interrogation materials and on potential prosecution of Bush administration officials is incoherent and stultifying. Casting himself as restorer of national decency, Obama first denounced tough interrogations as a betrayal of American ideals. Yet he recommended “reflection, not retribution,” vowing to “move forward” and not prosecute interrogators because “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” However, days later, he decided that laying blame for the past is actually up to the discretion of the attorney general and was therefore best the president not “pre-judge” the matter.

The salivating hordes pounced. But criminal proceedings risk tearing the country apart, vindicating those who were casually defamed, and even redounding poorly upon Obama intimates and other Democrats. A more thorough airing of details around CIA interrogations has revealed that controversial methods were both effective and widely encouraged by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

The Obama administration suddenly became less keen on exposing gory details.

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

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Never mind! “At a White House meeting Thursday, President Obama told Congressional leaders that he thinks it would be a mistake to set up a commission to investigate excesses of the Bush administration’s war on terror. ‘The president said that given all that’s on the agenda and the pressing issues facing the country, that a backward-looking investigation would not be productive,’ a White House official who attended the session said. ‘The president was very clear…that he believes it’s important that there’s not a witch hunt.'” And I’m opposed to violins on TV also.

Rep. Frank Wolf goes after Eric Holder for not releasing all the memos showing the intelligence results from enhanced interrogation techniques.

A very wise take on the whole ordeal by Marty Peretz.

One of Terry McAuliffe’s Democratic gubernatorial opponents raises his Global Crossing connection. (McAuliffe put in $100,000 and got $18M out before the company crumbled.) Yikes.

Charles Krauthammer: “In the service of his ultimate mission — the leveling of social inequalities — President Obama offers a tripartite social democratic agenda: nationalized health care, federalized education (ultimately guaranteed through college) and a cash-cow carbon tax (or its equivalent) to subsidize the other two. Problem is, the math doesn’t add up. Not even a carbon tax would pay for Obama’s vastly expanded welfare state. Nor will Midwest Democrats stand for a tax that would devastate their already crumbling region.” What’s coming, says Krauthammer, is healthcare rationing. Or the 2010 election, whichever arrives first.

Austan Goolsbee was right: “Three cheers for President Obama’s decision, announced quietly on Monday, to repudiate a campaign promise and not press for new labor and environmental regulations in the North American Free Trade Agreement. The last thing the Western Hemisphere needs are more trade barriers that would snarl supply chains and damage commerce.” Now the president has to give up the made-up complaints about Colombian labor violence and sign the free trade agreement with that country. It’s the least we can do after building up Hugo Chavez.

Victor Davis Hanson: “Nonsense is passed off as wisdom. Those who caused the financial meltdown walked away with millions in bonuses while taxpayers covered the debts they ran up. The big-spending government claims it may cut our annual $1.7 trillion deficit in half by 2012 – but only after piling up trillions more in national debt. In our Orwellian world, borrowing to spend what we don’t have has been renamed ‘stimulus.’ Those who pay no federal income taxes – almost half of Americans – can somehow be promised an income tax ‘cut.’ In the new borrowing of trillions of dollars here and trillions there, billions of dollars now sounds like pocket change.”

Hmm: “Fifty-eight percent (58%) believe the Obama administration’s recent release of CIA memos about the harsh interrogation methods used on terrorism suspects endangers the national security of the United States. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 28% believe the release of the memos helps America’s image abroad.”

The Washington Post editors opine: “The apparent confusion within the Obama administration about whether to prosecute officials of the previous administration for committing torture is not surprising.” Well, they mean because it’s such a hard question with conflicting interests so it’s hard not to be confused. But I thought all the easy questions were answered before they got to Obama. “It’s hard” doesn’t seem like a good excuse for incoherence and equivocation.

Chrysler is being “directed” to bankruptcy by the government. But fear not: “Treasury now has an agreement in principle with the U.A.W., whose members’ pensions and retiree health care benefits would be protected in the event of a bankruptcy filing.” Just in case you thought the fix for Big Labor wasn’t in, think again.

But those union-busting meanies at the New York Times are prepared to stick it to the Boston Globe’s employees.

An ex-CNN reporter says Susan Roesgen stepped over the line berating tea party interviewees.

Never mind! “At a White House meeting Thursday, President Obama told Congressional leaders that he thinks it would be a mistake to set up a commission to investigate excesses of the Bush administration’s war on terror. ‘The president said that given all that’s on the agenda and the pressing issues facing the country, that a backward-looking investigation would not be productive,’ a White House official who attended the session said. ‘The president was very clear…that he believes it’s important that there’s not a witch hunt.'” And I’m opposed to violins on TV also.

Rep. Frank Wolf goes after Eric Holder for not releasing all the memos showing the intelligence results from enhanced interrogation techniques.

A very wise take on the whole ordeal by Marty Peretz.

One of Terry McAuliffe’s Democratic gubernatorial opponents raises his Global Crossing connection. (McAuliffe put in $100,000 and got $18M out before the company crumbled.) Yikes.

Charles Krauthammer: “In the service of his ultimate mission — the leveling of social inequalities — President Obama offers a tripartite social democratic agenda: nationalized health care, federalized education (ultimately guaranteed through college) and a cash-cow carbon tax (or its equivalent) to subsidize the other two. Problem is, the math doesn’t add up. Not even a carbon tax would pay for Obama’s vastly expanded welfare state. Nor will Midwest Democrats stand for a tax that would devastate their already crumbling region.” What’s coming, says Krauthammer, is healthcare rationing. Or the 2010 election, whichever arrives first.

Austan Goolsbee was right: “Three cheers for President Obama’s decision, announced quietly on Monday, to repudiate a campaign promise and not press for new labor and environmental regulations in the North American Free Trade Agreement. The last thing the Western Hemisphere needs are more trade barriers that would snarl supply chains and damage commerce.” Now the president has to give up the made-up complaints about Colombian labor violence and sign the free trade agreement with that country. It’s the least we can do after building up Hugo Chavez.

Victor Davis Hanson: “Nonsense is passed off as wisdom. Those who caused the financial meltdown walked away with millions in bonuses while taxpayers covered the debts they ran up. The big-spending government claims it may cut our annual $1.7 trillion deficit in half by 2012 – but only after piling up trillions more in national debt. In our Orwellian world, borrowing to spend what we don’t have has been renamed ‘stimulus.’ Those who pay no federal income taxes – almost half of Americans – can somehow be promised an income tax ‘cut.’ In the new borrowing of trillions of dollars here and trillions there, billions of dollars now sounds like pocket change.”

Hmm: “Fifty-eight percent (58%) believe the Obama administration’s recent release of CIA memos about the harsh interrogation methods used on terrorism suspects endangers the national security of the United States. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 28% believe the release of the memos helps America’s image abroad.”

The Washington Post editors opine: “The apparent confusion within the Obama administration about whether to prosecute officials of the previous administration for committing torture is not surprising.” Well, they mean because it’s such a hard question with conflicting interests so it’s hard not to be confused. But I thought all the easy questions were answered before they got to Obama. “It’s hard” doesn’t seem like a good excuse for incoherence and equivocation.

Chrysler is being “directed” to bankruptcy by the government. But fear not: “Treasury now has an agreement in principle with the U.A.W., whose members’ pensions and retiree health care benefits would be protected in the event of a bankruptcy filing.” Just in case you thought the fix for Big Labor wasn’t in, think again.

But those union-busting meanies at the New York Times are prepared to stick it to the Boston Globe’s employees.

An ex-CNN reporter says Susan Roesgen stepped over the line berating tea party interviewees.

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Thank You, Lloyd Austin

Mike O’Hanlon pays well deserved tribute to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, who has just stepped down as the No. 2 U.S. military commander in Iraq. During his tenure running Multinational Corps-Iraq since February 2008, Austin oversaw the defeat of Shiite militants in Basra and Sadr City and a continuing fall in the overall level of violence. His role was not as dramatic as that of his predecessor (and subsequent boss), Gen. Ray Odierno, because the situation in Iraq was not as dire when Austin arrived. And of course he will never get the same attention as Gen. David Petraeus, the most successful American general since Matthew Ridgway. But he nevertheless gets considerable credit for building on the gains made during the first year of the surge. I thought Mike’s final paragraph makes a particularly important point, one that I have raised repeatedly since my visit to Afghanistan in February/March:

Finally, we now know unequivocally that with a challenge as daunting as pre-surge Iraq, or Afghanistan today, the No. 2 person is as critical to operational success as the person in charge. In Iraq during the surge, first Odierno and then Austin played crucial roles as operational commanders. No such person, no such command, exists in Afghanistan today. As effective as Petraeus is, he needed a strong No. 2 to succeed. And as good as Gen. David McKiernan is today in Afghanistan, he is being asked to do too much himself. He needs a similar operational commander – and soon.

It’s all well and good that we are sending more troops to Afghanistan. But as Mike notes we also need to have the correct command structure in place to make the best use of them. And that will require having a strong corps headquarters in Kabul led by a gifted operational commander like Lloyd Austin.

Mike O’Hanlon pays well deserved tribute to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, who has just stepped down as the No. 2 U.S. military commander in Iraq. During his tenure running Multinational Corps-Iraq since February 2008, Austin oversaw the defeat of Shiite militants in Basra and Sadr City and a continuing fall in the overall level of violence. His role was not as dramatic as that of his predecessor (and subsequent boss), Gen. Ray Odierno, because the situation in Iraq was not as dire when Austin arrived. And of course he will never get the same attention as Gen. David Petraeus, the most successful American general since Matthew Ridgway. But he nevertheless gets considerable credit for building on the gains made during the first year of the surge. I thought Mike’s final paragraph makes a particularly important point, one that I have raised repeatedly since my visit to Afghanistan in February/March:

Finally, we now know unequivocally that with a challenge as daunting as pre-surge Iraq, or Afghanistan today, the No. 2 person is as critical to operational success as the person in charge. In Iraq during the surge, first Odierno and then Austin played crucial roles as operational commanders. No such person, no such command, exists in Afghanistan today. As effective as Petraeus is, he needed a strong No. 2 to succeed. And as good as Gen. David McKiernan is today in Afghanistan, he is being asked to do too much himself. He needs a similar operational commander – and soon.

It’s all well and good that we are sending more troops to Afghanistan. But as Mike notes we also need to have the correct command structure in place to make the best use of them. And that will require having a strong corps headquarters in Kabul led by a gifted operational commander like Lloyd Austin.

Read Less




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