Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 1, 2009

Commentary of the Day

thucydidesjr, on Eric Trager:

Gates’ point regarding the use of force clearly refers to the most (politically) plausible type of attack, some kind of stand-off strike with air power or cruise missiles. Clearly if the US had as a preeminent foreign policy objective the elimination of Iran’s nuclear program and regime change, it is within its capabilities to do so. As you rightly point out, Eric, no president should take the latter option off the table. I wouldn’t play it up, either, since I doubt such a threat would be perceived as credible.

However, what’s missing from Gates’ analysis (and yours, at least in this post, and I’d be curious to hear your opinion) is whether or not delaying the Iranian program for several years is a good idea. Gates seems to think that the timing of Iran acquiring nukes is irrelevant. With changing political forces in the country, I disagree–a difference of three years may be fruitless, but if in three years we’re able to strike again (say, sabotage if they move underground… we’d have years to work on that plan) that could buy us yet another few years. Of course, we’d be taking a perception hit among the Iranian population with each strike, so we’d have to hope that in relative terms the elusive Iranian moderate were to gain more than his hard-line brothers.

This all leaves open the question of how good our intel on the program is. It is nasty to think about, but if we know the scientists in Iran who are working on the program, then I’d suggest it doesn’t matter what’s buried in the desert if no one in Iran capable of using it is still breathing.

thucydidesjr, on Eric Trager:

Gates’ point regarding the use of force clearly refers to the most (politically) plausible type of attack, some kind of stand-off strike with air power or cruise missiles. Clearly if the US had as a preeminent foreign policy objective the elimination of Iran’s nuclear program and regime change, it is within its capabilities to do so. As you rightly point out, Eric, no president should take the latter option off the table. I wouldn’t play it up, either, since I doubt such a threat would be perceived as credible.

However, what’s missing from Gates’ analysis (and yours, at least in this post, and I’d be curious to hear your opinion) is whether or not delaying the Iranian program for several years is a good idea. Gates seems to think that the timing of Iran acquiring nukes is irrelevant. With changing political forces in the country, I disagree–a difference of three years may be fruitless, but if in three years we’re able to strike again (say, sabotage if they move underground… we’d have years to work on that plan) that could buy us yet another few years. Of course, we’d be taking a perception hit among the Iranian population with each strike, so we’d have to hope that in relative terms the elusive Iranian moderate were to gain more than his hard-line brothers.

This all leaves open the question of how good our intel on the program is. It is nasty to think about, but if we know the scientists in Iran who are working on the program, then I’d suggest it doesn’t matter what’s buried in the desert if no one in Iran capable of using it is still breathing.

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Not Remotely Right

In his statement on the retirement of Justice Souter the president included these perfectly predictable sentiments:

I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book.  It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives — whether they can make a living and care for their families; whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation.

I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving as just decisions and outcomes.  I will seek somebody who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors our constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role.

Once again he is confusing the public about what it is that judges do. The making of laws, which is a legislative function, is all about “the daily realities of people’s lives — whether they can make a living and care for their families; whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation.” Federal judges decide what those laws mean and whether they conflict with the Constitution. If we want gurus on how we make our living we should appoint economists to the high court, not judges who are spectacularly ill-equipped and untrained to make pronouncements on that topic. Courts are mandated to divine the meaning of our laws and Constitution.

And then of course we get the “empathy” appeal. Again, a perfectly reasonable quality to look for in legislators and even presidents, but not judges. How do we know how empathic they are? (More charitable giving than Joe Biden?) And who gets that sort of empathy — the unborn or the mother, the property owner or the state, the child rapist or his victim, the business or the employee? You see, empathy is a code word for favoring criminal defendants, plaintiffs, labor and other groups which happen to match up with the liberal policy agenda. It’s a peculiar sort of empathy, otherwise known as bias for litigants based on their identity rather than the merit of their claims.

Legal conservatives have their work cut out for them. No, they likely won’t defeat the nominee sporting a portfolio of empathy and brimming with ideas about how we can make a living. They don’t have the votes in the Senate. The real task is to remind the public that the foundation of our democracy rests not in investing judges with the power to search the landscape for empathy recipients, but to ensure that policy decisions are made by the elected branches of government within the parameters of the Constitution.

In his statement on the retirement of Justice Souter the president included these perfectly predictable sentiments:

I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book.  It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives — whether they can make a living and care for their families; whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation.

I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving as just decisions and outcomes.  I will seek somebody who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors our constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role.

Once again he is confusing the public about what it is that judges do. The making of laws, which is a legislative function, is all about “the daily realities of people’s lives — whether they can make a living and care for their families; whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation.” Federal judges decide what those laws mean and whether they conflict with the Constitution. If we want gurus on how we make our living we should appoint economists to the high court, not judges who are spectacularly ill-equipped and untrained to make pronouncements on that topic. Courts are mandated to divine the meaning of our laws and Constitution.

And then of course we get the “empathy” appeal. Again, a perfectly reasonable quality to look for in legislators and even presidents, but not judges. How do we know how empathic they are? (More charitable giving than Joe Biden?) And who gets that sort of empathy — the unborn or the mother, the property owner or the state, the child rapist or his victim, the business or the employee? You see, empathy is a code word for favoring criminal defendants, plaintiffs, labor and other groups which happen to match up with the liberal policy agenda. It’s a peculiar sort of empathy, otherwise known as bias for litigants based on their identity rather than the merit of their claims.

Legal conservatives have their work cut out for them. No, they likely won’t defeat the nominee sporting a portfolio of empathy and brimming with ideas about how we can make a living. They don’t have the votes in the Senate. The real task is to remind the public that the foundation of our democracy rests not in investing judges with the power to search the landscape for empathy recipients, but to ensure that policy decisions are made by the elected branches of government within the parameters of the Constitution.

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Beirut’s Literary Choices

In today’s Wall Street Journal, William Marling notes the Orwellian irony of UNESCO naming Beirut, Lebanon the 2009 “World Book Capital City.” Lebanon, after all, maintains a long list of banned books: The Diary of Anne Frank (blacklisted because it portrays Jews favorably); The Da Vinci Code (protested by the Catholic Information Center); From Beirut to Jerusalem (portrays Zionism favorably); a variety of books critiquing Islam (protested by Dar al-Fatwa); and many, many more.

Of course, the books that Beirutis do read are just as important as the ones that are prohibited. In this vein, here’s a rundown of some titles that I picked up from the bookstores that surround the American University of Beirut’s campus when I studied there during the summer of 2004: How the Jews Made the Holocaust, by Norman Finkelstein; Secrets of the Wicked: The Jews, The Secret Organizations, and the Pursuit of World Dominance; The Zionist Threat to Lebanon; Iraq First: Israel’s Blitzkrieg on the Middle East’s Oil (Operation Shekhinah); and Uncle Sam’s Talmud: The Hebrew Myths Upon Which America Was Founded. (To get a sense of the flagrantly anti-Semitic imagery with which even Beirut’s best educated are inundated on a daily basis, click on the links I’ve provided, which show each book’s disturbing cover art.)

Lebanon’s exceedingly low standards for censorship — any of the country’s major sects can request that a book be banned — make it nearly impossible to challenge its pervasive prejudices. But insofar as these titles sit prominently in bookstore windows surrounding the Arab world’s top university, this seems to be the point — to protect hatred for hatred’s sake.

No wonder they hate us, indeed.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, William Marling notes the Orwellian irony of UNESCO naming Beirut, Lebanon the 2009 “World Book Capital City.” Lebanon, after all, maintains a long list of banned books: The Diary of Anne Frank (blacklisted because it portrays Jews favorably); The Da Vinci Code (protested by the Catholic Information Center); From Beirut to Jerusalem (portrays Zionism favorably); a variety of books critiquing Islam (protested by Dar al-Fatwa); and many, many more.

Of course, the books that Beirutis do read are just as important as the ones that are prohibited. In this vein, here’s a rundown of some titles that I picked up from the bookstores that surround the American University of Beirut’s campus when I studied there during the summer of 2004: How the Jews Made the Holocaust, by Norman Finkelstein; Secrets of the Wicked: The Jews, The Secret Organizations, and the Pursuit of World Dominance; The Zionist Threat to Lebanon; Iraq First: Israel’s Blitzkrieg on the Middle East’s Oil (Operation Shekhinah); and Uncle Sam’s Talmud: The Hebrew Myths Upon Which America Was Founded. (To get a sense of the flagrantly anti-Semitic imagery with which even Beirut’s best educated are inundated on a daily basis, click on the links I’ve provided, which show each book’s disturbing cover art.)

Lebanon’s exceedingly low standards for censorship — any of the country’s major sects can request that a book be banned — make it nearly impossible to challenge its pervasive prejudices. But insofar as these titles sit prominently in bookstore windows surrounding the Arab world’s top university, this seems to be the point — to protect hatred for hatred’s sake.

No wonder they hate us, indeed.

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Good Luck, Fellas

Greg Sargent observes that it’s not clear how Arlen Specter would weigh one of the judges doubtless on the shortlist for the Souter seat:

Earlier this year, Specter came out strongly against the nomination of Elena Kagan, Obama’s pick for the post of Solicitor General. Kagan is one of several people who’s being talked about as a potential Supreme Court pick for Obama.

This doesn’t bode well for Dems. Specter raised concerns about Kagan’s positions on the death penalty, her earlier work for Ruth Bader Ginsberg, her claim that Ginsberg is a “moderate,” her views on judicial activism, and other things, according to his written questions for her at the time.
While Specter didn’t ultimately pass judgment on her answers, he rejected her because he maintained she hadn’t answered his questions to his satisfaction, and his line of questioning suggests a hostility to anyone with liberal to moderate legal views.
Indeed, Specter was pretty elusive on why he opposed her, which also suggests that he’d be unreliable at best as an ally in the Supreme Court fight.

But, of course, he could change his mind, just like he did about his heartfelt desire to be a Republican. And really, who knows what he thinks?  What is his philosophy? This report calls him schizophrenic.

But I’m sure Specter is smart enough to know that if he hopes to win the Democrats’ support in Pennsylvania he’ll need to put aside whatever views he has (he does have them, I suppose) to support the pick of his new party’s president. It’s one thing to vote against Obama’s budget and cram-down mortgages, and oppose card check; it’s another to vote against a Supreme Court nominee. Democrats have some standards, after all.

Greg Sargent observes that it’s not clear how Arlen Specter would weigh one of the judges doubtless on the shortlist for the Souter seat:

Earlier this year, Specter came out strongly against the nomination of Elena Kagan, Obama’s pick for the post of Solicitor General. Kagan is one of several people who’s being talked about as a potential Supreme Court pick for Obama.

This doesn’t bode well for Dems. Specter raised concerns about Kagan’s positions on the death penalty, her earlier work for Ruth Bader Ginsberg, her claim that Ginsberg is a “moderate,” her views on judicial activism, and other things, according to his written questions for her at the time.
While Specter didn’t ultimately pass judgment on her answers, he rejected her because he maintained she hadn’t answered his questions to his satisfaction, and his line of questioning suggests a hostility to anyone with liberal to moderate legal views.
Indeed, Specter was pretty elusive on why he opposed her, which also suggests that he’d be unreliable at best as an ally in the Supreme Court fight.

But, of course, he could change his mind, just like he did about his heartfelt desire to be a Republican. And really, who knows what he thinks?  What is his philosophy? This report calls him schizophrenic.

But I’m sure Specter is smart enough to know that if he hopes to win the Democrats’ support in Pennsylvania he’ll need to put aside whatever views he has (he does have them, I suppose) to support the pick of his new party’s president. It’s one thing to vote against Obama’s budget and cram-down mortgages, and oppose card check; it’s another to vote against a Supreme Court nominee. Democrats have some standards, after all.

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Delara Darabi and Our “False Choice”

Today, Iran’s regime has executed Delara Darabi, a young woman wrongly convicted of a murder she did not commit when she was just seventeen. The relevant international conventions prohibit the death penalty for people who were underage when they committed the crime for which they are being punished. In killing Darabi, Iran keeps its record as the country with the highest number of child executions in the world in sterling condition — and in clear contravention of its obligations under international law.

Now, “realists” will argue that though a terrible thing, there are tyrants everywhere and we must realize we can’t impose democracy and human rights all over the place. It’s an attitude that one could come to terms with and understand — sort of — if it came from people who did not get so offended by water-boarding and other such practices. But this convenient contradiction should not be allowed to overshadow a central tenet of what a U.S. president recently called “the false choice between our security and our ideals.”

If our ideals entail the defense of human rights — indeed, if we believe rights to be “human” and therefore, inherent attributes of the human condition — we should not be as sanctimonious about their defense at home as abroad. If on the other hand, all this brutal execution will get from Western leaders is a letter of condemnation, then we should admit that the choice is not so false, and the rights of an innocent child can never stand in the way of our nation’s supreme interests.

Today, Iran’s regime has executed Delara Darabi, a young woman wrongly convicted of a murder she did not commit when she was just seventeen. The relevant international conventions prohibit the death penalty for people who were underage when they committed the crime for which they are being punished. In killing Darabi, Iran keeps its record as the country with the highest number of child executions in the world in sterling condition — and in clear contravention of its obligations under international law.

Now, “realists” will argue that though a terrible thing, there are tyrants everywhere and we must realize we can’t impose democracy and human rights all over the place. It’s an attitude that one could come to terms with and understand — sort of — if it came from people who did not get so offended by water-boarding and other such practices. But this convenient contradiction should not be allowed to overshadow a central tenet of what a U.S. president recently called “the false choice between our security and our ideals.”

If our ideals entail the defense of human rights — indeed, if we believe rights to be “human” and therefore, inherent attributes of the human condition — we should not be as sanctimonious about their defense at home as abroad. If on the other hand, all this brutal execution will get from Western leaders is a letter of condemnation, then we should admit that the choice is not so false, and the rights of an innocent child can never stand in the way of our nation’s supreme interests.

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Dear Mr. Holder

Andy McCarthy, the lead prosecutor in the conviction of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (“the Blind Sheik”) and his associates in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing case pens a remarkable letter to Attorney General Eric Holder declining to participate in the dog-and-pony round-table meeting with the President’s Task Force on Detention Policy of current and former prosecutors. McCarthy points out that this is a charade which will in all likelihood be used to justify the administration’s preordained conclusions about release of Guantanamo detainees.

His central point, one which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has recently taken up, is that the Obama administration, for purely political reasons, announced its intention to close Guantanamo with no plan as to what to do with the detainees who can’t be returned to their home country or tried in Article III courts or military tribunals. Moreover, the president made his call before Holder visited and confirmed that detainees were well-treated in a professionally-managed facility.

McCarthy is in the camp of those who contend, “Foreign terrorists trained to execute mass-murder attacks cannot simply be released while the war ensues and Americans are still being targeted.” For good measure, he warns those who might give advice to this administration that they are at risk:

[I]t is dismayingly clear that, under your leadership, the Justice Department takes the position that a lawyer who in good faith offers legal advice to government policy makers—like the government lawyers who offered good faith advice on interrogation policy—may be subject to investigation and prosecution for the content of that advice, in addition to empty but professionally damaging accusations of ethical misconduct.

Quite a letter! But there is a group that, unlike McCarthy, does have some weight to throw around. What say you, Congress? Will they rubber stamp and fund this policy? They already seem nervous about enabling the Obama team’s approach to Guantanamo and may defund relocation efforts.  Oversight hearings for the Justice Department are needed. We can start with some questions for the attorney general about those soon-to-be released detainees (Where are they going to live? What amount of the taxpayer stipend they will receive? Why is this not a violation of federal law?).

But the bigger question for the Obama administration is: why are they doing this if Guantanamo is a safe, secure, and well-run facility that entirely meets domestic and international standards?

Andy McCarthy, the lead prosecutor in the conviction of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (“the Blind Sheik”) and his associates in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing case pens a remarkable letter to Attorney General Eric Holder declining to participate in the dog-and-pony round-table meeting with the President’s Task Force on Detention Policy of current and former prosecutors. McCarthy points out that this is a charade which will in all likelihood be used to justify the administration’s preordained conclusions about release of Guantanamo detainees.

His central point, one which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has recently taken up, is that the Obama administration, for purely political reasons, announced its intention to close Guantanamo with no plan as to what to do with the detainees who can’t be returned to their home country or tried in Article III courts or military tribunals. Moreover, the president made his call before Holder visited and confirmed that detainees were well-treated in a professionally-managed facility.

McCarthy is in the camp of those who contend, “Foreign terrorists trained to execute mass-murder attacks cannot simply be released while the war ensues and Americans are still being targeted.” For good measure, he warns those who might give advice to this administration that they are at risk:

[I]t is dismayingly clear that, under your leadership, the Justice Department takes the position that a lawyer who in good faith offers legal advice to government policy makers—like the government lawyers who offered good faith advice on interrogation policy—may be subject to investigation and prosecution for the content of that advice, in addition to empty but professionally damaging accusations of ethical misconduct.

Quite a letter! But there is a group that, unlike McCarthy, does have some weight to throw around. What say you, Congress? Will they rubber stamp and fund this policy? They already seem nervous about enabling the Obama team’s approach to Guantanamo and may defund relocation efforts.  Oversight hearings for the Justice Department are needed. We can start with some questions for the attorney general about those soon-to-be released detainees (Where are they going to live? What amount of the taxpayer stipend they will receive? Why is this not a violation of federal law?).

But the bigger question for the Obama administration is: why are they doing this if Guantanamo is a safe, secure, and well-run facility that entirely meets domestic and international standards?

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Do Jewish Liberals Oppose the War?

A couple of days ago, James Kirchick and I both wrote about the dissenting position taken by the dovish Jewish lobby on the Gaza operation. Here’s Kirchick:

[A]t a time when the vast majority of Israelis and American Jews support what Israel is doing, J Street steps out of the shadows as the voice of communal dissent, joined by the likes of the United Nations and the Guardian editorial board (even the Arab League tacitly supports what Israel is doing, seeing that Hamas is an Iranian front). J Street has the right to its extreme leftist, capitulationist opinions, but it does not have the right to claim, as Ben-Ami once did, that it represents the “broad, sensible mainstream of pro-Israel American Jews.”

An article in the Jewish Forward, written by rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism — a liberal Jewish organization, no doubt — proves that Kirchick was right: J Street can’t claim to represent the American Jewish majority. It can’t even claim to represent the view of a liberal Jewish majority. Yoffie, a liberal himself, as even J Street acknowledges, writes this:

It is not easy for me to write these words. I welcomed the founding of J Street and know many of those involved in its leadership. Furthermore, I am a dove myself. I support a two-state solution, believe that military action by Israel should be a last resort and welcome an active American role in promoting peace between Israel and her neighbors. But I know a mistake when I see one, and this time J Street got it very wrong.

The handlers of J Street didn’t like Yoffie’s article, to put it mildly:

It is hard for us to understand how the leading reform rabbi in North America could call our effort to articulate a nuanced view on these difficult issues “morally deficient.” If our views are “naïve” and “morally deficient”, then so are the views of scores of Israeli journalists, security analysts, distinguished authors, and retired IDF officers who have posed the same questions about the Gaza attack as we have.

Yet they provide little evidence or sources regarding these “analysts” and “authors.” Do they even exist? In fact, when the operation started, most dovish Israelis, among them authors Amos Oz and A.B Yehushua — the Left’s unofficial deans — supported it. Truth be told, a growing camp within the Israeli Left now supports a cease-fire — but very few opposed the operation in its initial stages the way J Street did. As I’ve shown here, even the left-wing Meretz Party supported the operation when it started.

And even assuming that Meretz’s position is more in sync with the one espoused by J Street today, it is still not the position of Israel’s Left — not even by a stretch — unless by the Left what we really mean is the radical Left. The centrist Kadima and the center-left Labor are part of the coalition managing the war. Meretz — according to most polls — represents barely 5% of Israel’s population. If J Street argues that a similar percentage — or even double that percentage — or even five times that percentage of American Jews agree with them — it is still far from the “broad mainstream” they claim to represent.

A couple of days ago, James Kirchick and I both wrote about the dissenting position taken by the dovish Jewish lobby on the Gaza operation. Here’s Kirchick:

[A]t a time when the vast majority of Israelis and American Jews support what Israel is doing, J Street steps out of the shadows as the voice of communal dissent, joined by the likes of the United Nations and the Guardian editorial board (even the Arab League tacitly supports what Israel is doing, seeing that Hamas is an Iranian front). J Street has the right to its extreme leftist, capitulationist opinions, but it does not have the right to claim, as Ben-Ami once did, that it represents the “broad, sensible mainstream of pro-Israel American Jews.”

An article in the Jewish Forward, written by rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism — a liberal Jewish organization, no doubt — proves that Kirchick was right: J Street can’t claim to represent the American Jewish majority. It can’t even claim to represent the view of a liberal Jewish majority. Yoffie, a liberal himself, as even J Street acknowledges, writes this:

It is not easy for me to write these words. I welcomed the founding of J Street and know many of those involved in its leadership. Furthermore, I am a dove myself. I support a two-state solution, believe that military action by Israel should be a last resort and welcome an active American role in promoting peace between Israel and her neighbors. But I know a mistake when I see one, and this time J Street got it very wrong.

The handlers of J Street didn’t like Yoffie’s article, to put it mildly:

It is hard for us to understand how the leading reform rabbi in North America could call our effort to articulate a nuanced view on these difficult issues “morally deficient.” If our views are “naïve” and “morally deficient”, then so are the views of scores of Israeli journalists, security analysts, distinguished authors, and retired IDF officers who have posed the same questions about the Gaza attack as we have.

Yet they provide little evidence or sources regarding these “analysts” and “authors.” Do they even exist? In fact, when the operation started, most dovish Israelis, among them authors Amos Oz and A.B Yehushua — the Left’s unofficial deans — supported it. Truth be told, a growing camp within the Israeli Left now supports a cease-fire — but very few opposed the operation in its initial stages the way J Street did. As I’ve shown here, even the left-wing Meretz Party supported the operation when it started.

And even assuming that Meretz’s position is more in sync with the one espoused by J Street today, it is still not the position of Israel’s Left — not even by a stretch — unless by the Left what we really mean is the radical Left. The centrist Kadima and the center-left Labor are part of the coalition managing the war. Meretz — according to most polls — represents barely 5% of Israel’s population. If J Street argues that a similar percentage — or even double that percentage — or even five times that percentage of American Jews agree with them — it is still far from the “broad mainstream” they claim to represent.

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The Price One Pays

In a tour de force column, Charles Krauthammer does what the White House press corps was incapable or unwilling to do: drill down on the absurd interrogation comments of the president, who is smart but not wise enough to know better:

There are two problems with the “good cop” technique. KSM, the mastermind of 9/11 who knew more about more plots than anyone else, did not seem very inclined to respond to polite inquiries about future plans. The man who boasted of personally beheading Daniel Pearl with a butcher knife answered questions about plots with “soon you will know” — meaning, when you count the bodies in the morgue and find horribly disfigured burn victims in hospitals, you will know then what we are planning now.

The other problem is one of timing. The good cop routine can take weeks or months or years. We didn’t have that luxury in the aftermath of 9/11 when waterboarding, for example, was in use. We’d been caught totally blind. We knew there were more plots out there, and we knew almost nothing about them. We needed to find out fast. We found out a lot.

The president likes to tell us our choices are false, but it is his construct for avoiding hard choices that is false. We couldn’t get the information any other way. He and the Washington press corps, who both presumably read the released memos and are familiar with Admiral Dennis Blair’s views on the matter, know that. Yet they are collectively engaged in an exercise in denial. They strike grand poses that assume President Bush and his advisors were dunces and didn’t realize the information could promptly have been gathered without mussing KSM’s hair.

Frankly, one prefers Jon Stewart’s candor on the subject. Yeah, Americans were going to die and what of it, he in essence argues. He at least doesn’t insult us by making up a hypothetical that removes the key facts.

In a parallel universe in which the mainstream media does its job, one of the reporters would have asked the president, “But since we couldn’t get the information any other way, might President Bush have made the right call to save American lives?” Then the president could have made clear: would he have done the same or did we elect a president who, like Stewart, thinks dozens or hundreds or thousands of American lives are the price one pays for a “free society.”

In a tour de force column, Charles Krauthammer does what the White House press corps was incapable or unwilling to do: drill down on the absurd interrogation comments of the president, who is smart but not wise enough to know better:

There are two problems with the “good cop” technique. KSM, the mastermind of 9/11 who knew more about more plots than anyone else, did not seem very inclined to respond to polite inquiries about future plans. The man who boasted of personally beheading Daniel Pearl with a butcher knife answered questions about plots with “soon you will know” — meaning, when you count the bodies in the morgue and find horribly disfigured burn victims in hospitals, you will know then what we are planning now.

The other problem is one of timing. The good cop routine can take weeks or months or years. We didn’t have that luxury in the aftermath of 9/11 when waterboarding, for example, was in use. We’d been caught totally blind. We knew there were more plots out there, and we knew almost nothing about them. We needed to find out fast. We found out a lot.

The president likes to tell us our choices are false, but it is his construct for avoiding hard choices that is false. We couldn’t get the information any other way. He and the Washington press corps, who both presumably read the released memos and are familiar with Admiral Dennis Blair’s views on the matter, know that. Yet they are collectively engaged in an exercise in denial. They strike grand poses that assume President Bush and his advisors were dunces and didn’t realize the information could promptly have been gathered without mussing KSM’s hair.

Frankly, one prefers Jon Stewart’s candor on the subject. Yeah, Americans were going to die and what of it, he in essence argues. He at least doesn’t insult us by making up a hypothetical that removes the key facts.

In a parallel universe in which the mainstream media does its job, one of the reporters would have asked the president, “But since we couldn’t get the information any other way, might President Bush have made the right call to save American lives?” Then the president could have made clear: would he have done the same or did we elect a president who, like Stewart, thinks dozens or hundreds or thousands of American lives are the price one pays for a “free society.”

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Specter’s Trump Card Against Sestak

As has been widely reported, one of Arlen Specter’s potential Democratic challengers, Rep. Joe Sestak, doesn’t sound intimidated by his party’s embrace of the former Republican. Sestak is a retired Navy admiral who was first elected to the House in the 2006 Democratic sweep. But though he was a determined foe of the Iraq War — the key Democratic issue that fall — his victory had a lot more to do with the ethical scandals plaguing Rep. Curt Weldon, the man he defeated.

Though something of a political novice, Sestak is articulate and a hard worker. And he is popular on the Left because of his anti-war positions. That will stand him in good stead if he decides to risk a relatively safe House seat in the hopes of defeating Specter in a Democratic primary.

But though such a primary is almost a year away, you can bet that the wily Specter will unearth one particularly unpleasant skeleton in Sestak’s political closet if the two clash.

Back in the spring of 2007, Sestak spoke at a fundraiser for the Philadelphia branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). The decision (which Sestak subsequently blamed on the inexperience and incompetence of a staffer who, it turns out, was herself a former CAIR activist) caused Sestak no end of trouble with his Jewish constituents. They, not surprisingly, took a dim view of their congressman helping to raise money for a group that was founded as a Hamas front organization. Though he knew it was a political mistake, Sestak chose to disregard the evidence of CAIR’s criminal involvements. CAIR’s involvement with the Holy Land Foundation, a group that raised money for Hamas, was brought up in court during the successful federal prosecution of the the latter group.

Despite pressure to cancel, Sestak went ahead and spoke at the fundraiser. Since then he has gone out of his way to express support for Israel and the local Jewish community at every possible occasion. And since the GOP was unable to raise enough money to give his Republican opponent a fighting chance in 2008, local pro-Israel activists either sat out the race or supported Sestak.

This incident may not deter Sestak’s fans on the left, including the MoveOn.org types who likely can’t stomach Specter and are hardly pro-Israel stalwarts. But you can bet that if Sestak decides to challenge Specter, the former admiral’s evening with CAIR will be featured in the senator’s efforts to discredit his opponent.

As has been widely reported, one of Arlen Specter’s potential Democratic challengers, Rep. Joe Sestak, doesn’t sound intimidated by his party’s embrace of the former Republican. Sestak is a retired Navy admiral who was first elected to the House in the 2006 Democratic sweep. But though he was a determined foe of the Iraq War — the key Democratic issue that fall — his victory had a lot more to do with the ethical scandals plaguing Rep. Curt Weldon, the man he defeated.

Though something of a political novice, Sestak is articulate and a hard worker. And he is popular on the Left because of his anti-war positions. That will stand him in good stead if he decides to risk a relatively safe House seat in the hopes of defeating Specter in a Democratic primary.

But though such a primary is almost a year away, you can bet that the wily Specter will unearth one particularly unpleasant skeleton in Sestak’s political closet if the two clash.

Back in the spring of 2007, Sestak spoke at a fundraiser for the Philadelphia branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). The decision (which Sestak subsequently blamed on the inexperience and incompetence of a staffer who, it turns out, was herself a former CAIR activist) caused Sestak no end of trouble with his Jewish constituents. They, not surprisingly, took a dim view of their congressman helping to raise money for a group that was founded as a Hamas front organization. Though he knew it was a political mistake, Sestak chose to disregard the evidence of CAIR’s criminal involvements. CAIR’s involvement with the Holy Land Foundation, a group that raised money for Hamas, was brought up in court during the successful federal prosecution of the the latter group.

Despite pressure to cancel, Sestak went ahead and spoke at the fundraiser. Since then he has gone out of his way to express support for Israel and the local Jewish community at every possible occasion. And since the GOP was unable to raise enough money to give his Republican opponent a fighting chance in 2008, local pro-Israel activists either sat out the race or supported Sestak.

This incident may not deter Sestak’s fans on the left, including the MoveOn.org types who likely can’t stomach Specter and are hardly pro-Israel stalwarts. But you can bet that if Sestak decides to challenge Specter, the former admiral’s evening with CAIR will be featured in the senator’s efforts to discredit his opponent.

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Nuclear Iran Will “Neutralize” Israel

Hans Blix thinks that perhaps the rationale for Iran’s nuclear enrichment program “could be simply to demonstrate the capability for enrichment.” But even if the mullahs are building nuclear weapons there’s a bright side:

Nuclear arms in Iran would neutralize the threat of the Israeli nuclear weapons. I do not see that as a disaster; these weapons should not have been developed in the first place.

So in the formulation of Mr. Disarmament, mullahs with nukes will keep the region safe from Israeli aggression.

What to make of the new brazenness of Israel’s more ridiculous critics? Yes, it may be better to get these sentiments out in the open so that reasonable people don’t have to wade through bad-faith arguments or sly insinuations before dismissing untenable positions. But collectively, the Blixes and Freemans have a normalizing effect on ignorance and paranoia. Chas Freeman went down in flames, but not before Dennis Blair defended him and not before Fareed Zakaria grinned and nodded as his guest, Freeman, talked about America’s “Likud lobby.”

Blix is still seen as an intellectual hero on the Left, an even-tempered internationalist whose sage advice on Iraq went tragically unheeded. (Never mind that he got mostly everything wrong: Saddam would never have agreed to full weapons inspections, regardless of what he actually had, and member of Jacques Chirac’s government have since admitted that France was un-persuadable on the Saddam issue.) To have him legitimatize the notion of a bullying nuclear Jewish state can hardly lead to a more enlightened understanding of the Middle East.

Exposing bigots and sophists is only beneficial if they are consequentially derided. In the political climate of today’s West it’s hard not to see these unchallenged allegations as a net loss for the forces of reason.

Hans Blix thinks that perhaps the rationale for Iran’s nuclear enrichment program “could be simply to demonstrate the capability for enrichment.” But even if the mullahs are building nuclear weapons there’s a bright side:

Nuclear arms in Iran would neutralize the threat of the Israeli nuclear weapons. I do not see that as a disaster; these weapons should not have been developed in the first place.

So in the formulation of Mr. Disarmament, mullahs with nukes will keep the region safe from Israeli aggression.

What to make of the new brazenness of Israel’s more ridiculous critics? Yes, it may be better to get these sentiments out in the open so that reasonable people don’t have to wade through bad-faith arguments or sly insinuations before dismissing untenable positions. But collectively, the Blixes and Freemans have a normalizing effect on ignorance and paranoia. Chas Freeman went down in flames, but not before Dennis Blair defended him and not before Fareed Zakaria grinned and nodded as his guest, Freeman, talked about America’s “Likud lobby.”

Blix is still seen as an intellectual hero on the Left, an even-tempered internationalist whose sage advice on Iraq went tragically unheeded. (Never mind that he got mostly everything wrong: Saddam would never have agreed to full weapons inspections, regardless of what he actually had, and member of Jacques Chirac’s government have since admitted that France was un-persuadable on the Saddam issue.) To have him legitimatize the notion of a bullying nuclear Jewish state can hardly lead to a more enlightened understanding of the Middle East.

Exposing bigots and sophists is only beneficial if they are consequentially derided. In the political climate of today’s West it’s hard not to see these unchallenged allegations as a net loss for the forces of reason.

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Reich Is on a Roll

Robert Reich talks sense on the car bailout:

GM just announced it was laying of 21,000 more of its workers, as a means of assurring the Treasury Department the company is worthy of more bailout money. A Treasury official was quoted as saying approvingly that the goal is a “slimmed-down” GM.

What? Having General Motors or Chrysler cut tens of thousands of jobs in order to be eligible for a government bailout reminds me of “saving” Vietnam by bombing it to smithereens. Aren’t we giving these companies billions of taxpayer dollars to save jobs? If not, we’re just transferring money from taxpayers to GM and Chrysler bondholders and shareholders.

I agree with those who say the United States needs an auto industry. But there’s no point spending tens of billions of taxpayer dollars for an auto industry that’s a tiny fragment of what it was before. We could achieve that objective by doing nothing.

Well, that’s right. But the object here is a grand experiment in union-statism, or whatever you want to call the alliance between the Obama administration and the new management at Chrysler, and likely GM, — which is the UAW. (Gives “union bosses” a whole new meaning.)

This is  likely to be extremely unpopular with the voters who don’t like bailouts one bit. But we’ll also see the grand experiment plays out before our eyes. A company with fewer employees run for and by unions with a huge taxpayer subsidy. — wow! If you didn’t know better you’d think Big Labor’s political influence trumps all other considerations in this administration.

Robert Reich talks sense on the car bailout:

GM just announced it was laying of 21,000 more of its workers, as a means of assurring the Treasury Department the company is worthy of more bailout money. A Treasury official was quoted as saying approvingly that the goal is a “slimmed-down” GM.

What? Having General Motors or Chrysler cut tens of thousands of jobs in order to be eligible for a government bailout reminds me of “saving” Vietnam by bombing it to smithereens. Aren’t we giving these companies billions of taxpayer dollars to save jobs? If not, we’re just transferring money from taxpayers to GM and Chrysler bondholders and shareholders.

I agree with those who say the United States needs an auto industry. But there’s no point spending tens of billions of taxpayer dollars for an auto industry that’s a tiny fragment of what it was before. We could achieve that objective by doing nothing.

Well, that’s right. But the object here is a grand experiment in union-statism, or whatever you want to call the alliance between the Obama administration and the new management at Chrysler, and likely GM, — which is the UAW. (Gives “union bosses” a whole new meaning.)

This is  likely to be extremely unpopular with the voters who don’t like bailouts one bit. But we’ll also see the grand experiment plays out before our eyes. A company with fewer employees run for and by unions with a huge taxpayer subsidy. — wow! If you didn’t know better you’d think Big Labor’s political influence trumps all other considerations in this administration.

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Other People’s Money

Yesterday, Chrysler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. And the representative of one major investor in Chrysler was not pleased with some other creditors. President Obama criticized hedge funds for their refusal to accept a debt settlement that had them writing off 80% of the money Chrysler owes them.

“A group of investment firms and hedge funds decided to hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout,” Obama said, clearly annoyed that his plans had been ruined. “I don’t stand with those who held out when everybody else is making sacrifices.”

The hedge funds were unrepentant about their move. They were unhappy with the Obama plan that artificially puts down them further down the food chain than they’d normally be. Their counter offer involved offering to write off 60% to 70% of the debt and taking 20 to 30 cents on the dollar — but that was rejected.

The hedge fund managers defended their decision with a simple explanation: the money they were being  asked to write off wasn’t their own money. They had obligations — legal and moral — to protect as much of their investors’ funds as they could, and they were worried about the consequences of accepting a worse deal than they could expect in any other case that didn’t involve the federal government horning in and trying to engineer the “perfect” solution.

President Obama, in this case, is exemplifying the present-day definition of a liberal: one who is exceptionally generous with other people’s money. He used our money — the American people’s money — to buy into Chrysler (as well as GM and many banks) and is now attempting to restructure those companies. In the process, he is trying to bully other companies and groups to play along with his plan for their money, as well.

This runs the risk of bringing a classic quote to life: Margaret Thatcher’s declaration that “the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

Yesterday, Chrysler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. And the representative of one major investor in Chrysler was not pleased with some other creditors. President Obama criticized hedge funds for their refusal to accept a debt settlement that had them writing off 80% of the money Chrysler owes them.

“A group of investment firms and hedge funds decided to hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout,” Obama said, clearly annoyed that his plans had been ruined. “I don’t stand with those who held out when everybody else is making sacrifices.”

The hedge funds were unrepentant about their move. They were unhappy with the Obama plan that artificially puts down them further down the food chain than they’d normally be. Their counter offer involved offering to write off 60% to 70% of the debt and taking 20 to 30 cents on the dollar — but that was rejected.

The hedge fund managers defended their decision with a simple explanation: the money they were being  asked to write off wasn’t their own money. They had obligations — legal and moral — to protect as much of their investors’ funds as they could, and they were worried about the consequences of accepting a worse deal than they could expect in any other case that didn’t involve the federal government horning in and trying to engineer the “perfect” solution.

President Obama, in this case, is exemplifying the present-day definition of a liberal: one who is exceptionally generous with other people’s money. He used our money — the American people’s money — to buy into Chrysler (as well as GM and many banks) and is now attempting to restructure those companies. In the process, he is trying to bully other companies and groups to play along with his plan for their money, as well.

This runs the risk of bringing a classic quote to life: Margaret Thatcher’s declaration that “the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

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An Inconsistent Car Company Goes Bankrupt

On Tuesday, my lament regarding GM’s decision to kill Pontiac brought a surprising number of car enthusiasts out of the CONTENTIONS woodwork. So, with that in mind, I present my purely aesthetic reaction to Chrysler’s declaration of bankruptcy.

My immediate — and, again, purely aesthetic — reaction is indifference. Chrysler was, after all, a car company that was hard to get excited about — mostly because it consistently failed to get its branding straight during the past two decades.

In this vein, it spent most of the 1990s producing car models that were nearly impossible to distinguish from one another — brownie points for anyone who can honestly tell the difference between a Chrysler Imperial and a Chrysler Fifth Avenue, or between a Chrysler Concorde and a Chrysler Sebring. And then there were the cars that were impossible to confuse, such as the remarkably ugly first-generation Chrysler LHS, or the please-don’t-pick-me-up-from-soccer-baseball-practice-in-that-thing Chrysler Town and Country.

Yet the company really lost me after it merged with Daimler in 1998 and began producing the popular PT Cruiser — not an ugly car per se, but a bit too German-looking for its American heritage. The briefly-produced Plymouth Prowler also seemed strangely out of place with Chrysler’s other offerings — it was almost too distinctive, particularly when it came in eggplant (and even more so when Gene Simmons was in it).

Chrysler’s Dodge division similarly suffered from inconsistent branding. Indeed, after decades of producing downright ordinary cars, such as the Stratus and Neon, Dodge finally put together a decent line-up. Check out the Caliber, Avenger, Journey, and Charger — nice-looking cars that were unified by a potentially iconic quadripartite grille. Unfortunately, it was all too late: having already jumped to equally unexciting Toyotas (zzzzz) during Dodge’s long era of boringness, Americans failed to notice Dodge’s sudden stylistic resurgence.

Of course, one Chrysler division deserves praise for its consistent excellence: Jeep, which was the first mass-market off-road vehicle and the catalyst of the SUV craze. (I have fond memories of riding in my aunt’s Grand Cherokee.) Still, Jeep suffered from a major non-aesthetic defect — poor fuel economy, which became a major liability as gas prices skyrocketed last summer.

Given Chrysler’s historic inconsistencies, it’s hard to know what we can expect now that it has merged with Fiat. Will it suddenly produce an Italian-looking model, much as it produced the German-looking PT Cruiser upon merging with Daimler? Will it still offer Jeeps? (Probably.) Will it still produce Dodge sedans? And, if it doesn’t, will anyone notice?

On Tuesday, my lament regarding GM’s decision to kill Pontiac brought a surprising number of car enthusiasts out of the CONTENTIONS woodwork. So, with that in mind, I present my purely aesthetic reaction to Chrysler’s declaration of bankruptcy.

My immediate — and, again, purely aesthetic — reaction is indifference. Chrysler was, after all, a car company that was hard to get excited about — mostly because it consistently failed to get its branding straight during the past two decades.

In this vein, it spent most of the 1990s producing car models that were nearly impossible to distinguish from one another — brownie points for anyone who can honestly tell the difference between a Chrysler Imperial and a Chrysler Fifth Avenue, or between a Chrysler Concorde and a Chrysler Sebring. And then there were the cars that were impossible to confuse, such as the remarkably ugly first-generation Chrysler LHS, or the please-don’t-pick-me-up-from-soccer-baseball-practice-in-that-thing Chrysler Town and Country.

Yet the company really lost me after it merged with Daimler in 1998 and began producing the popular PT Cruiser — not an ugly car per se, but a bit too German-looking for its American heritage. The briefly-produced Plymouth Prowler also seemed strangely out of place with Chrysler’s other offerings — it was almost too distinctive, particularly when it came in eggplant (and even more so when Gene Simmons was in it).

Chrysler’s Dodge division similarly suffered from inconsistent branding. Indeed, after decades of producing downright ordinary cars, such as the Stratus and Neon, Dodge finally put together a decent line-up. Check out the Caliber, Avenger, Journey, and Charger — nice-looking cars that were unified by a potentially iconic quadripartite grille. Unfortunately, it was all too late: having already jumped to equally unexciting Toyotas (zzzzz) during Dodge’s long era of boringness, Americans failed to notice Dodge’s sudden stylistic resurgence.

Of course, one Chrysler division deserves praise for its consistent excellence: Jeep, which was the first mass-market off-road vehicle and the catalyst of the SUV craze. (I have fond memories of riding in my aunt’s Grand Cherokee.) Still, Jeep suffered from a major non-aesthetic defect — poor fuel economy, which became a major liability as gas prices skyrocketed last summer.

Given Chrysler’s historic inconsistencies, it’s hard to know what we can expect now that it has merged with Fiat. Will it suddenly produce an Italian-looking model, much as it produced the German-looking PT Cruiser upon merging with Daimler? Will it still offer Jeeps? (Probably.) Will it still produce Dodge sedans? And, if it doesn’t, will anyone notice?

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The Beginning of Wisdom on “Afpak”

Whenever a new administration takes power, officials always find that some of their going-in assumptions don’t stand up to the test of events. That’s been the case with the Obama administration and its much vaunted focus on “Afpak,” their acronym for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The point of this coinage was that they were going to treat the two problems as inextricably linked. More than that: They would try to stabilize Afghanistan by focusing on Pakistan first. This was supposed to be a reversal of the Bush administration’s wrong-headed priorities. But it turns out not to be as simple as the Obama-ites imagined. Now they are conceding:

“We’re no longer looking at how Pakistan could help Afghanistan,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. “We’re looking at what we could do to help Pakistan get through this period.”

This is the beginning of wisdom — the realization that Pakistan is such a mess that it’s unrealistic to expect that we can solve its problems first and then focus on Afghanistan. If we hold Afghanistan hostage to positive developments in Pakistan we might as well run up the white flag and let the extremists take over. The good news is that we can make substantial progress against the Afghan insurgency even if Pakistan remains a turbulent, unsettled place — as it will be for the foreseeable future. It’s true that insurgents receive valuable bases, equipment, and training in Pakistan but they also have plenty of base areas in Afghanistan in provinces where there have been, until now, few, if any, coalition troops. Overall, the number of Pakistanis, Arabs, Uzbeks, and other foreigners involved in the the fighting in Afghanistan is small — probably less than 5% of the total (and that’s a generous estimate). Almost all the insurgents are Afghans, and almost all of their money comes from Afghanistan in the form of profits from the drug trade. With more troops and a better strategy we can make substantial headway against the insurgents inside Afghanistan.

In the long run we might even be able to turn the “Afpak” strategy on its head: Instead of trying to stabilize Afghanistan through Pakistan, we may be able to stabilize Pakistan through Afghanistan. The same tribes inhabit the border regions of both countries, after all, and if we can bring a modicum of security and economic development to the Afghan side of the Durand Line, we may start to generate some stability and progress that spills over into Pakistan’s frontier regions. Admittedly that’s a long shot but it’s a less improbable strategy than the administration’s previous hopes that with a little more aid we can somehow nudge Pakistan into clamping down on extremists who are threatening neighboring states. As the events of the past few weeks have shown, the government in Islamabad is hanging on by its fingernails. It can barely handle insurgents threatening its own existence much less that of its neighbors.

Whenever a new administration takes power, officials always find that some of their going-in assumptions don’t stand up to the test of events. That’s been the case with the Obama administration and its much vaunted focus on “Afpak,” their acronym for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The point of this coinage was that they were going to treat the two problems as inextricably linked. More than that: They would try to stabilize Afghanistan by focusing on Pakistan first. This was supposed to be a reversal of the Bush administration’s wrong-headed priorities. But it turns out not to be as simple as the Obama-ites imagined. Now they are conceding:

“We’re no longer looking at how Pakistan could help Afghanistan,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. “We’re looking at what we could do to help Pakistan get through this period.”

This is the beginning of wisdom — the realization that Pakistan is such a mess that it’s unrealistic to expect that we can solve its problems first and then focus on Afghanistan. If we hold Afghanistan hostage to positive developments in Pakistan we might as well run up the white flag and let the extremists take over. The good news is that we can make substantial progress against the Afghan insurgency even if Pakistan remains a turbulent, unsettled place — as it will be for the foreseeable future. It’s true that insurgents receive valuable bases, equipment, and training in Pakistan but they also have plenty of base areas in Afghanistan in provinces where there have been, until now, few, if any, coalition troops. Overall, the number of Pakistanis, Arabs, Uzbeks, and other foreigners involved in the the fighting in Afghanistan is small — probably less than 5% of the total (and that’s a generous estimate). Almost all the insurgents are Afghans, and almost all of their money comes from Afghanistan in the form of profits from the drug trade. With more troops and a better strategy we can make substantial headway against the insurgents inside Afghanistan.

In the long run we might even be able to turn the “Afpak” strategy on its head: Instead of trying to stabilize Afghanistan through Pakistan, we may be able to stabilize Pakistan through Afghanistan. The same tribes inhabit the border regions of both countries, after all, and if we can bring a modicum of security and economic development to the Afghan side of the Durand Line, we may start to generate some stability and progress that spills over into Pakistan’s frontier regions. Admittedly that’s a long shot but it’s a less improbable strategy than the administration’s previous hopes that with a little more aid we can somehow nudge Pakistan into clamping down on extremists who are threatening neighboring states. As the events of the past few weeks have shown, the government in Islamabad is hanging on by its fingernails. It can barely handle insurgents threatening its own existence much less that of its neighbors.

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Nervous Yet?

If you weren’t scared about healthcare reform before, this report from the New York Times should do the trick. It recaps the president’s conversation about his grandmother’s care,  which led conservatives to think he was talking about rationing. But, in perfect double-speak, we’re told that’s not right:

Advocates on the other side of the debate reject the label. “I think Obama was trying to invoke the notion of tradeoffs more than rationing,” said Len Nichols, who directs the health care program at the New America Foundation, a Washington research organization. “Curative care for his grandmother was futile. Rationing is when efficacious care is denied to save money, perhaps to provide basic care to another, but nevertheless consciously denied.”

So  then “trade-off’s” are when . . . when what exactly? When we have to accept long waits? Or when doctors’ pay is cut so severely as to send people into different professions? Not clear. But prepare to hear about “trade-offs.” They must have found out that “rationing” focus-tests really badly.

And then mull over this from the president:

“There is going to have to be a conversation that is guided by doctors, scientists, ethicists,” Mr. Obama said. “And then there is going to have to be a very difficult democratic conversation that takes place. It is very difficult to imagine the country making those decisions just through normal political channels. And that’s part of why you have to have some independent group that can give you guidance. It’s not determinative, but I think has to be able to give you some guidance.”

We’ll now have a panel of wise men telling us whether grandma really needs the hip replacement, or if it’s more important to have abortion coverage than hospice coverage. What we won’t have apparently is you  purchasing your own coverage, deciding with your own doctor on your own care, or making choices without “government guidance.” Nervous yet?

If you weren’t scared about healthcare reform before, this report from the New York Times should do the trick. It recaps the president’s conversation about his grandmother’s care,  which led conservatives to think he was talking about rationing. But, in perfect double-speak, we’re told that’s not right:

Advocates on the other side of the debate reject the label. “I think Obama was trying to invoke the notion of tradeoffs more than rationing,” said Len Nichols, who directs the health care program at the New America Foundation, a Washington research organization. “Curative care for his grandmother was futile. Rationing is when efficacious care is denied to save money, perhaps to provide basic care to another, but nevertheless consciously denied.”

So  then “trade-off’s” are when . . . when what exactly? When we have to accept long waits? Or when doctors’ pay is cut so severely as to send people into different professions? Not clear. But prepare to hear about “trade-offs.” They must have found out that “rationing” focus-tests really badly.

And then mull over this from the president:

“There is going to have to be a conversation that is guided by doctors, scientists, ethicists,” Mr. Obama said. “And then there is going to have to be a very difficult democratic conversation that takes place. It is very difficult to imagine the country making those decisions just through normal political channels. And that’s part of why you have to have some independent group that can give you guidance. It’s not determinative, but I think has to be able to give you some guidance.”

We’ll now have a panel of wise men telling us whether grandma really needs the hip replacement, or if it’s more important to have abortion coverage than hospice coverage. What we won’t have apparently is you  purchasing your own coverage, deciding with your own doctor on your own care, or making choices without “government guidance.” Nervous yet?

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AIPAC Case Dropped — A Shameful Chapter is Closed

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that the Justice Department has finally done the right thing and dropped its prosecution of two former AIPAC analysts.

This was long overdue. The problem here was not just that court rulings had made convictions impossible. It was that there was no case to begin with. The idea that the government could prosecute two private individuals under the 1917 Espionage Act for passing along government leaks was absurd. The whole point of the exercise was obviously an attempt on the part of some people in the FBI to embarrass the pro-Israel lobby. But what they wound up doing was something that potentially made every off-the-record communication between people in the government and journalists or lobbyists a crime. That was never going to fly as a matter of law or justice.

But the threat to journalistic freedom didn’t deter many in the press from promoting this misguided setup as a “spy story.” That was, if you recall, the way it was originally put forward in a government leak to CBS News. On August 27, 2004, CBS broke a story about an FBI investigation into a possible spy in the U.S. Department of Defense working for Israel. The story reported that the FBI had uncovered a spy working as a policy analyst for Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith and then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. The country thought this was a repeat of the Jonathan Pollard spy scandal with connections to two prominent “neo-cons” in the government.

But what was really going on was that the government was spying on AIPAC, not the other way around. The case against Rosen and Weissman was based on a government “sting,” in which Larry Franklin, a defense department official who was bullied into accepting a guilty plea and was later sentenced to over 12 years in prison, passed on false information to them about threats from Iran.

Unfortunately for Rosen and Weissman, the government bullied AIPAC into abandoning them to their fate. The two were fired. Initially, it appeared that the organization was refusing to pay their defense costs, though they eventually gave in on that point. Rosen is suing his former employer for his wrongful termination. AIPAC is going to need to settle that suit pronto.

Now after almost five years, Rosen and Weissman are finally off the hook and can get on with the rest of their lives. Both deserve credit for having the courage to resist the enormous pressure that was placed on them to give in and plead guilty.

But questions need to be asked about why so much time, energy, and money was expended by the government on a case that never had much of a basis in law, fact, or morality. The real scandal was not the false story about Israeli spies that the government leaked, but about a Justice Department that sought to use its power to destroy the lives of a couple of pro-Israel analysts/lobbyists and to stigmatize the entire pro-Israel community, (not to mention those who were alarmed about the danger from Iran).

A shameful chapter in American judicial history is closed but the recriminations over this outrage should just be getting started.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that the Justice Department has finally done the right thing and dropped its prosecution of two former AIPAC analysts.

This was long overdue. The problem here was not just that court rulings had made convictions impossible. It was that there was no case to begin with. The idea that the government could prosecute two private individuals under the 1917 Espionage Act for passing along government leaks was absurd. The whole point of the exercise was obviously an attempt on the part of some people in the FBI to embarrass the pro-Israel lobby. But what they wound up doing was something that potentially made every off-the-record communication between people in the government and journalists or lobbyists a crime. That was never going to fly as a matter of law or justice.

But the threat to journalistic freedom didn’t deter many in the press from promoting this misguided setup as a “spy story.” That was, if you recall, the way it was originally put forward in a government leak to CBS News. On August 27, 2004, CBS broke a story about an FBI investigation into a possible spy in the U.S. Department of Defense working for Israel. The story reported that the FBI had uncovered a spy working as a policy analyst for Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith and then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. The country thought this was a repeat of the Jonathan Pollard spy scandal with connections to two prominent “neo-cons” in the government.

But what was really going on was that the government was spying on AIPAC, not the other way around. The case against Rosen and Weissman was based on a government “sting,” in which Larry Franklin, a defense department official who was bullied into accepting a guilty plea and was later sentenced to over 12 years in prison, passed on false information to them about threats from Iran.

Unfortunately for Rosen and Weissman, the government bullied AIPAC into abandoning them to their fate. The two were fired. Initially, it appeared that the organization was refusing to pay their defense costs, though they eventually gave in on that point. Rosen is suing his former employer for his wrongful termination. AIPAC is going to need to settle that suit pronto.

Now after almost five years, Rosen and Weissman are finally off the hook and can get on with the rest of their lives. Both deserve credit for having the courage to resist the enormous pressure that was placed on them to give in and plead guilty.

But questions need to be asked about why so much time, energy, and money was expended by the government on a case that never had much of a basis in law, fact, or morality. The real scandal was not the false story about Israeli spies that the government leaked, but about a Justice Department that sought to use its power to destroy the lives of a couple of pro-Israel analysts/lobbyists and to stigmatize the entire pro-Israel community, (not to mention those who were alarmed about the danger from Iran).

A shameful chapter in American judicial history is closed but the recriminations over this outrage should just be getting started.

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The Military Option Discredited

Preserving the military option against Iran has long been a key lynchpin of the U.S.’s effort for halting Tehran’s nuclear program. The strategic thinking is obvious: even as the Obama administration attempts to engage Iran diplomatically, it must retain the credible threat of military force so that Iran believes it faces severe consequences if diplomacy fails. Indeed, the only safe way to experiment with soft power — and that is precisely what Obama has been doing — is to reinforce it with the overt possibility of destructive hard power.

Yet yesterday, this strategy collapsed. In his remarks before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated that military action for halting Iran’s nuclear program would be ineffective, and would merely send the Iranian nuclear program further underground. Given Gates’s high rank and bipartisan domestic credibility, this amounts to a virtual declaration that America simply has no military option vis-à-vis Iran whatsoever. After all, how can Obama maintain a military option that his top defense official has declared counterproductive and wasteful?

None of this is to say that Gates’s expert opinion on the viability of the U.S.’s military option against Iran is off-base. Rather, the key point is that Gates’s position on this matter has its appropriate place — behind closed doors. When top policymakers speak openly about the limits of American power, they substantially undermine our credibility to our adversaries. In turn, our adversaries become even less likely to respond to our “soft” overtures.

For this reason, Tehran is now breathing much more easily. With the threat of U.S. military action against it discredited, it stands to lose very little if talks with Washington fail. And insofar as most Iranians support the acquisition of nuclear weapons, negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program are as doomed as ever.

Preserving the military option against Iran has long been a key lynchpin of the U.S.’s effort for halting Tehran’s nuclear program. The strategic thinking is obvious: even as the Obama administration attempts to engage Iran diplomatically, it must retain the credible threat of military force so that Iran believes it faces severe consequences if diplomacy fails. Indeed, the only safe way to experiment with soft power — and that is precisely what Obama has been doing — is to reinforce it with the overt possibility of destructive hard power.

Yet yesterday, this strategy collapsed. In his remarks before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated that military action for halting Iran’s nuclear program would be ineffective, and would merely send the Iranian nuclear program further underground. Given Gates’s high rank and bipartisan domestic credibility, this amounts to a virtual declaration that America simply has no military option vis-à-vis Iran whatsoever. After all, how can Obama maintain a military option that his top defense official has declared counterproductive and wasteful?

None of this is to say that Gates’s expert opinion on the viability of the U.S.’s military option against Iran is off-base. Rather, the key point is that Gates’s position on this matter has its appropriate place — behind closed doors. When top policymakers speak openly about the limits of American power, they substantially undermine our credibility to our adversaries. In turn, our adversaries become even less likely to respond to our “soft” overtures.

For this reason, Tehran is now breathing much more easily. With the threat of U.S. military action against it discredited, it stands to lose very little if talks with Washington fail. And insofar as most Iranians support the acquisition of nuclear weapons, negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program are as doomed as ever.

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Why Didn’t They Think of this Sooner?

Sen. Arlen Specter was a source of great angst to Republicans. But since switching parties he’s voted with them on two big issues — the budget and cram-down mortgages. In neither case was Specter the deciding vote. Nevertheless, he gives cover, or applies pressure depending on your point of view, to other moderate or conservative Democrats to flex their independent muscles. And, of course, he helps Republicans make the case that opposition to the president’s liberal agenda is not simply a partisan affair.

I’m sure the Democrats are happy to have Specter. But maybe a little less happy after these two votes. If they think they have a reliable supporter of the president’s agenda they may want to reconsider. And if they can predict where he’ll wind up on any given issue they are better mind-readers than their Republican colleagues.

Sen. Arlen Specter was a source of great angst to Republicans. But since switching parties he’s voted with them on two big issues — the budget and cram-down mortgages. In neither case was Specter the deciding vote. Nevertheless, he gives cover, or applies pressure depending on your point of view, to other moderate or conservative Democrats to flex their independent muscles. And, of course, he helps Republicans make the case that opposition to the president’s liberal agenda is not simply a partisan affair.

I’m sure the Democrats are happy to have Specter. But maybe a little less happy after these two votes. If they think they have a reliable supporter of the president’s agenda they may want to reconsider. And if they can predict where he’ll wind up on any given issue they are better mind-readers than their Republican colleagues.

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Back to Mackinder. Really?

Robert Kaplan’s cover story in the latest issue of Foreign Policy — their “Big Think” issue — centers on “The Return of Geography.” The premise is that this is the era of realism, which brings with it the “revenge of geography in the most old-fashioned sense.” Indeed, Kaplan argues, realism is based on geography, the “bluntest, most uncomfortable, and most deterministic” of all realities. And that is a good thing, for the time has come for a return to the Victorian era when “mountains and the men who grow out of them were the first order of reality; ideas, however uplifting, were only the second.”

As a description of the Victorian era, this leaves a good deal to be desired: Marx, the issue’s cover boy and for many years a resident of the Victorian British Library, would not have agreed that geography was destiny. But once you get past Kaplan’s 2007-era fixation with how badly the Iraq War is going, and if you ignore his bizarre claims that, for instance, “local, ethnic, and religious sources of identity . . . are best explained by reference to geography,” the essay settles down. After passing by Fernand Braudel, Alfred Thayer Mahan, and Nicholas Spykman in quick review, Kaplan lays the crown of modern realism on the head of Sir Halford Mackinder, the great British scholar of geopolitics and author of, among other works, an influential 1904 essay on “The Geographical Pivot of History.”

Mackinder divided the world — in 1904 — into three areas: the pivot (the landlocked portions of Russia), the inner circle (Britain, Europe, the Middle East, India, South East Asia, and Japan), and the outer circle (the Americas). The story of history was the pressure the pivot brought to bear on the inner circle, and the efforts of the inner circle — aided by the outer — to resist. For Mackinder, the crucial geopolitical development was the rise of railways, and industrialization more generally, which were reducing the historic advantage of sea-power, and, specifically, of Britain’s hegemony over the inner circle. The flash point, he believed, was the border of India, for it was there that Britain and Russia would meet.

Kaplan is trying to update Mackinder for the modern age, while retaining his emphasis on the controlling role of geography. As he puts it, today we need the “authors who thought the map determined nearly everything, leaving little room for human agency.” Understandably, Kaplan points to Eurasia — extending from Japan through the Middle East, and north into Russia — as the zone of destiny. It might be objected that including everything except Europe, the Americas, and Africa does not provide much focus, but, for Kaplan, that is the problem: “contra Mackinder, Eurasia has been reconfigured into an organic whole.”  The division between the pivot and the inner circle has been erased, and “A Eurasia of vast urban areas, overlapping missile ranges, and sensational media  . . .[with] constantly enraged crowds” constitutes the “shatter zone” of the future, with the familiar array of problems — from Syrian meddling in Lebanon to the rise of the Chinese navy — all fitting into it.

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Robert Kaplan’s cover story in the latest issue of Foreign Policy — their “Big Think” issue — centers on “The Return of Geography.” The premise is that this is the era of realism, which brings with it the “revenge of geography in the most old-fashioned sense.” Indeed, Kaplan argues, realism is based on geography, the “bluntest, most uncomfortable, and most deterministic” of all realities. And that is a good thing, for the time has come for a return to the Victorian era when “mountains and the men who grow out of them were the first order of reality; ideas, however uplifting, were only the second.”

As a description of the Victorian era, this leaves a good deal to be desired: Marx, the issue’s cover boy and for many years a resident of the Victorian British Library, would not have agreed that geography was destiny. But once you get past Kaplan’s 2007-era fixation with how badly the Iraq War is going, and if you ignore his bizarre claims that, for instance, “local, ethnic, and religious sources of identity . . . are best explained by reference to geography,” the essay settles down. After passing by Fernand Braudel, Alfred Thayer Mahan, and Nicholas Spykman in quick review, Kaplan lays the crown of modern realism on the head of Sir Halford Mackinder, the great British scholar of geopolitics and author of, among other works, an influential 1904 essay on “The Geographical Pivot of History.”

Mackinder divided the world — in 1904 — into three areas: the pivot (the landlocked portions of Russia), the inner circle (Britain, Europe, the Middle East, India, South East Asia, and Japan), and the outer circle (the Americas). The story of history was the pressure the pivot brought to bear on the inner circle, and the efforts of the inner circle — aided by the outer — to resist. For Mackinder, the crucial geopolitical development was the rise of railways, and industrialization more generally, which were reducing the historic advantage of sea-power, and, specifically, of Britain’s hegemony over the inner circle. The flash point, he believed, was the border of India, for it was there that Britain and Russia would meet.

Kaplan is trying to update Mackinder for the modern age, while retaining his emphasis on the controlling role of geography. As he puts it, today we need the “authors who thought the map determined nearly everything, leaving little room for human agency.” Understandably, Kaplan points to Eurasia — extending from Japan through the Middle East, and north into Russia — as the zone of destiny. It might be objected that including everything except Europe, the Americas, and Africa does not provide much focus, but, for Kaplan, that is the problem: “contra Mackinder, Eurasia has been reconfigured into an organic whole.”  The division between the pivot and the inner circle has been erased, and “A Eurasia of vast urban areas, overlapping missile ranges, and sensational media  . . .[with] constantly enraged crowds” constitutes the “shatter zone” of the future, with the familiar array of problems — from Syrian meddling in Lebanon to the rise of the Chinese navy — all fitting into it.

These problems do exist. But Kaplan’s thesis that Eurasia is now an organic whole sorts ill with his claim that geography matters more than ever. Just because something happens in physical space does not make it geography, and all Kaplan’s supposedly unifying developments — urbanization, religious radicalism, and bad governments here, there, and everywhere — are very much driven by people and ideas. His praise for Mackinder is therefore curiously appropriate, because Mackinder was one of those rare authors who combined great sense and tremendous nonsense in very close proximity. His insight into the declining advantage of sea power, and the advantages of industrialization, were keen — much keener than those of his contemporary, the great navalist Mahan. But when it came right down to it, he was simply reiterating the conventional wisdom of his day: that Britain’s greatest strategic challenge was the Russian threat to India, enabled by the expansion of the Russian railway system.

This was entirely wrong. The greatest threat to Britain turned out to lie on the Franco-German border, a location to which Mackinder devoted no attention whatsoever. When in 1919, in a book on Democratic Ideals and Reality, which still repays reading, he turned to the question of what should be done to secure Europe after the Great War, Mackinder tacitly recognized his earlier failure. In 1904, what mattered to him was the pivot area. By 1919, Mackinder evolved an entirely new thesis, which he presented as a logical development of his old one: as he put it, who controlled Eastern Europe controlled the pivot, who controlled the pivot controlled Eurasia, and who controlled Eurasia controlled the world. In other words, the key to world power lay in Poland and the Balkans, and in the rivalry between the German and Slav, the rivalry that had sparked the Great War.

In 1919, that — again — was conventional wisdom, dressed up as insight derived from careful study of the enduring features of geography. In fifteen years, Mackinder moved from emphasizing the centrality of controlling Siberia and the threat to India to emphasizing the centrality of German-Russian rivalry and the importance of Poland. Any theory supposedly based on immutable realities that can jump around so rapidly, and so obviously in response to the concerns of the day, is not worth very much. Mackinder was not wrong about everything — the emphasis on Poland looked pretty good in 1939 — but that simply goes to show that, like Kaplan, he was intelligent, well-informed, and wrote about a lot of problems. Anyone with those qualifications who does the same is likely to get similar results, even if they are mostly dispensing the verities of the day.

Mackinder made real and enduring contributions in a few areas — centrally, the creation of the British institutional emphasis on geography — and he did advance a few insights of enduring value. But in essence, he was a fairly standard-issue late Victorian imperialist of the Joseph Chamberlain school of imperial unity through protectionism. His recommendations were, mostly, the conventional wisdom of that school, though enlivened by a sweep and authority of presentation that few contemporaries matched. He is still read today, and that, too, is a real achievement: not many from that school can say the same.  And it’s a good thing that he’s read: he is no more irrelevant to our day than many of the other great Victorian thinkers. But to place him the pillar as the key to his age and ours is more than he, or any other single thinker, deserves.

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Souter to Retire?

So say the news reports. On one hand, you could say it doesn’t matter that much. Justice Souter is a down-the-line un-originalist, pro-activist judge to whom no great legal opinions or insights can be attributed. (He will likely be best remembered for his weepy reaction to the result in Bush v. Gore.) His replacement will certainly be equally unconcerned with the text and/or meaning of Constitutional language. He or she will speak in glowing terms of the “living Constitution” and the ever-evolving standards of justice that only nine lifetime appointees can divine. And “fairness” and “compassion” will be real important too, because of course it matters not what the text of statutes or the Constitution mean but how much the justice cares. (How do we measure that, by the way?)

But on the other hand, it matters quite a bit. An energetic, articulate and bright advocate of that brand of judicial thought will shape the Court’s opinions and potentially draw in the ever-wavering Justice Kennedy. And of course a young justice who remains on the Court for decades to come can at some point become the decisive vote.

So be prepared to hear Democrats now extol the president’s prerogative to nominate whomever he pleases. Wait for the speeches that ideology is really off bounds. And of course, buckle up your seat belt for the fastest confirmation process ever. No need to study or research, no reason to wait. Hurry up, hurry up! That’ll be the shout.

But what we won’t have is Senator Joe Biden endlessly pontificating on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He won’t have that dumb grin or the questions that leave no time for answers. We won’t have the unintentionally hilarious pomposity. Well, let’s be glad for small favors.

So say the news reports. On one hand, you could say it doesn’t matter that much. Justice Souter is a down-the-line un-originalist, pro-activist judge to whom no great legal opinions or insights can be attributed. (He will likely be best remembered for his weepy reaction to the result in Bush v. Gore.) His replacement will certainly be equally unconcerned with the text and/or meaning of Constitutional language. He or she will speak in glowing terms of the “living Constitution” and the ever-evolving standards of justice that only nine lifetime appointees can divine. And “fairness” and “compassion” will be real important too, because of course it matters not what the text of statutes or the Constitution mean but how much the justice cares. (How do we measure that, by the way?)

But on the other hand, it matters quite a bit. An energetic, articulate and bright advocate of that brand of judicial thought will shape the Court’s opinions and potentially draw in the ever-wavering Justice Kennedy. And of course a young justice who remains on the Court for decades to come can at some point become the decisive vote.

So be prepared to hear Democrats now extol the president’s prerogative to nominate whomever he pleases. Wait for the speeches that ideology is really off bounds. And of course, buckle up your seat belt for the fastest confirmation process ever. No need to study or research, no reason to wait. Hurry up, hurry up! That’ll be the shout.

But what we won’t have is Senator Joe Biden endlessly pontificating on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He won’t have that dumb grin or the questions that leave no time for answers. We won’t have the unintentionally hilarious pomposity. Well, let’s be glad for small favors.

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