Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 5, 2009

Re: Specter’s Terrible Monday

Tuesday is not turning out any better for Arlen Specter. Not surprisingly, Rep. Joe Sestak isn’t much impressed by the Specter Democratic roll-out and seems poised to jump into the race. This report of his appearance on a local radio show suggests we have a Democratic primary brewing:

Rather than step aside for the party-jumping Specter in next year’s Democratic primary, Sestak sounded ready to battle the 79-year-old senator, who has the backing of President Obama and Gov. Ed Rendell in a deal worked out in advance of the shocking announcement that he was leaving the Republican Party.

“The reason I got into politics was not to have the establishment re-establish the establishment — whether it’s my party or any party,” Sestak, a two-term congressman from the Philadelphia suburbs, said on the air. “This is about what are you doing for the people of Pennsylvania. It isn’t about Arlen. It isn’t about me. It isn’t about whether he is going to lose his job or not. Too many Pennsylvanians have lost their jobs.”

So what does the White House do now? The liberal base is disgusted, Big Labor is annoyed, and Specter’s polling numbers are unimpressive. But Obama pledges to campaign and raise money for Specter. Well, he didn’t say how much.

This is one of the rare cases in which the White House got the politics wrong. Now the trick will be to avoid spending too much of the president’s political capital on a poor investment.

Tuesday is not turning out any better for Arlen Specter. Not surprisingly, Rep. Joe Sestak isn’t much impressed by the Specter Democratic roll-out and seems poised to jump into the race. This report of his appearance on a local radio show suggests we have a Democratic primary brewing:

Rather than step aside for the party-jumping Specter in next year’s Democratic primary, Sestak sounded ready to battle the 79-year-old senator, who has the backing of President Obama and Gov. Ed Rendell in a deal worked out in advance of the shocking announcement that he was leaving the Republican Party.

“The reason I got into politics was not to have the establishment re-establish the establishment — whether it’s my party or any party,” Sestak, a two-term congressman from the Philadelphia suburbs, said on the air. “This is about what are you doing for the people of Pennsylvania. It isn’t about Arlen. It isn’t about me. It isn’t about whether he is going to lose his job or not. Too many Pennsylvanians have lost their jobs.”

So what does the White House do now? The liberal base is disgusted, Big Labor is annoyed, and Specter’s polling numbers are unimpressive. But Obama pledges to campaign and raise money for Specter. Well, he didn’t say how much.

This is one of the rare cases in which the White House got the politics wrong. Now the trick will be to avoid spending too much of the president’s political capital on a poor investment.

Read Less

Commentary of the Day

Eric Baum, on Jennifer Rubin:

Last Fall I read somewhere that releasing the Uighurs into the US was problematic for another reason: they are wanted by the Chinese as terrorists, and are apparently even unwilling to renounce the option of engaging in terrorism against China. So releasing them into the US puts us in the position of harboring terrorists wanted by the Chinese, which at the very least might encourage the Chinese to harbor terrorists aiming destruction against us, and if the Ughurs somehow succeed in pulling off a hostile act against the Chinese, the Chinese might tend to regard the US as actively complicit. What ever happened to this concern? I haven’t heard about it recently.

Eric Baum, on Jennifer Rubin:

Last Fall I read somewhere that releasing the Uighurs into the US was problematic for another reason: they are wanted by the Chinese as terrorists, and are apparently even unwilling to renounce the option of engaging in terrorism against China. So releasing them into the US puts us in the position of harboring terrorists wanted by the Chinese, which at the very least might encourage the Chinese to harbor terrorists aiming destruction against us, and if the Ughurs somehow succeed in pulling off a hostile act against the Chinese, the Chinese might tend to regard the US as actively complicit. What ever happened to this concern? I haven’t heard about it recently.

Read Less

Again, but Maybe Try Speaking Louder

Robert Gates tells us that he isn’t going to allow the absence of any positive reaction — or historical experience — to stand in the way of the administration’s engagement policy with Iran. This report explains:

Visiting Egypt, Gates said some of Iran’s statements in response to the administration of President Barack Obama had “not been very encouraging.” But he added: “We’re not willing to pull the hand back yet because we think there’s still some opportunity.” Obama’s efforts to engage with Tehran mark a break with the policy of his predecessor George W. Bush, who once labelled Iran as part of an “axis of evil.” But Gates said any dialogue would likely develop slowly, if it happened at all. He also sounded a note of caution about the prospects of a positive response from Iran. “I’ve been around long enough to see these efforts attempted before, and with no result,” said Gates, a former CIA director who has worked on U.S. national security issues since the 1960s.

Bill Clinton liked to observe that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. In fact, he claimed the phrase came from a book his wife Hillary gave him. She might want to pull it out about now.

Robert Gates tells us that he isn’t going to allow the absence of any positive reaction — or historical experience — to stand in the way of the administration’s engagement policy with Iran. This report explains:

Visiting Egypt, Gates said some of Iran’s statements in response to the administration of President Barack Obama had “not been very encouraging.” But he added: “We’re not willing to pull the hand back yet because we think there’s still some opportunity.” Obama’s efforts to engage with Tehran mark a break with the policy of his predecessor George W. Bush, who once labelled Iran as part of an “axis of evil.” But Gates said any dialogue would likely develop slowly, if it happened at all. He also sounded a note of caution about the prospects of a positive response from Iran. “I’ve been around long enough to see these efforts attempted before, and with no result,” said Gates, a former CIA director who has worked on U.S. national security issues since the 1960s.

Bill Clinton liked to observe that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. In fact, he claimed the phrase came from a book his wife Hillary gave him. She might want to pull it out about now.

Read Less

Re: Call Off the Drones?

There is a statistic in the David Kilcullen quote that Max excerpts below that I find absolutely arresting:

Since 2006, we’ve killed 14 senior Al Qaeda leaders using drone strikes; in the same time period, we’ve killed 700 Pakistani civilians in the same area.

I’m used to parsing the civilian-to-terrorist kill ratio as it is obsessively applied to Israel and its enemies, but even by those standards, we are dealing in Pakistan with a military campaign that far surpasses anything the IDF has done in its destructiveness to civilians. We’re talking about a 50:1 ratio of civilian to terrorist deaths. In the famed “Jenin massacre,” fully half the Palestinians killed were terrorists, for a 1:1 ratio. In 2004, Sheikh Yassin, the “spiritual leader” of Hamas, was killed along with two bodyguards and nine bystanders — a 3:1 ratio. At the time, the British foreign secretary denounced the operation, saying that Israel “is not entitled to go in for this kind of unlawful killing and we condemn it. It is unacceptable, it is unjustified and it is very unlikely to achieve its objectives.”

During the 2006 war with Hezbollah, Israel killed — exact numbers are unknown — around 1,100 civilians and 600 Hezbollah, for less than a 2:1 ratio. And during the recent Gaza war, out of around 1,200 Palestinian casualties, over 700 were terrorists — better than a 1:1 ratio, which is astonishingly good, given the way Hamas fought. The example of Israel and Hezbollah is, in this context, analogous to the United States and Al Qaeda: both face virulent terrorist organizations that thrive in territories uncontrolled by the weak governments of Pakistan and Lebanon. Now imagine that Israel had been conducting a Predator drone war over the past few years that had killed 14 Hezbollah leaders and 700 Lebanese civilians. Is there any chance that this would not be a constant source of global hysteria?

And so, as far as the U.S.’s drone war is concerned, I have a few questions: Where are the shrill denunciations of disproportionate force and extrajudicial killings? Where are the UN investigations? Where are the condemnations from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the UN Human Rights Council? Where are the front-page New York Times exposes of American war crimes? Where are the indictments of U.S. officials by European judges? Why hasn’t Pat Buchanan compared the United States to the Nazis? Why hasn’t the Guardian compared Waziristan to a concentration camp? Where are the bloody front-page pictures of dead Pakistani children? Where are the sympathetic stories of lives ruined and communities destroyed because of the United States’ indiscriminate use of force? Why hasn’t Andrew Sullivan commenced a discourse on America’s violations of international law? Where is the hand-wringing from liberals about how our attacks are only perpetuating the cycle of violence and recruiting more terrorists? Why aren’t Zbigniew Brzezinski and Steve Clemons lecturing us that diplomacy is the only solution? Why isn’t anybody detailing the outrageously disproportionate force the Army is employing against a group of rural tribesmen armed only with RPG’s and rifles?

I think there might be a double standard at work here.

(Edited to fix mathematical errors.)

There is a statistic in the David Kilcullen quote that Max excerpts below that I find absolutely arresting:

Since 2006, we’ve killed 14 senior Al Qaeda leaders using drone strikes; in the same time period, we’ve killed 700 Pakistani civilians in the same area.

I’m used to parsing the civilian-to-terrorist kill ratio as it is obsessively applied to Israel and its enemies, but even by those standards, we are dealing in Pakistan with a military campaign that far surpasses anything the IDF has done in its destructiveness to civilians. We’re talking about a 50:1 ratio of civilian to terrorist deaths. In the famed “Jenin massacre,” fully half the Palestinians killed were terrorists, for a 1:1 ratio. In 2004, Sheikh Yassin, the “spiritual leader” of Hamas, was killed along with two bodyguards and nine bystanders — a 3:1 ratio. At the time, the British foreign secretary denounced the operation, saying that Israel “is not entitled to go in for this kind of unlawful killing and we condemn it. It is unacceptable, it is unjustified and it is very unlikely to achieve its objectives.”

During the 2006 war with Hezbollah, Israel killed — exact numbers are unknown — around 1,100 civilians and 600 Hezbollah, for less than a 2:1 ratio. And during the recent Gaza war, out of around 1,200 Palestinian casualties, over 700 were terrorists — better than a 1:1 ratio, which is astonishingly good, given the way Hamas fought. The example of Israel and Hezbollah is, in this context, analogous to the United States and Al Qaeda: both face virulent terrorist organizations that thrive in territories uncontrolled by the weak governments of Pakistan and Lebanon. Now imagine that Israel had been conducting a Predator drone war over the past few years that had killed 14 Hezbollah leaders and 700 Lebanese civilians. Is there any chance that this would not be a constant source of global hysteria?

And so, as far as the U.S.’s drone war is concerned, I have a few questions: Where are the shrill denunciations of disproportionate force and extrajudicial killings? Where are the UN investigations? Where are the condemnations from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the UN Human Rights Council? Where are the front-page New York Times exposes of American war crimes? Where are the indictments of U.S. officials by European judges? Why hasn’t Pat Buchanan compared the United States to the Nazis? Why hasn’t the Guardian compared Waziristan to a concentration camp? Where are the bloody front-page pictures of dead Pakistani children? Where are the sympathetic stories of lives ruined and communities destroyed because of the United States’ indiscriminate use of force? Why hasn’t Andrew Sullivan commenced a discourse on America’s violations of international law? Where is the hand-wringing from liberals about how our attacks are only perpetuating the cycle of violence and recruiting more terrorists? Why aren’t Zbigniew Brzezinski and Steve Clemons lecturing us that diplomacy is the only solution? Why isn’t anybody detailing the outrageously disproportionate force the Army is employing against a group of rural tribesmen armed only with RPG’s and rifles?

I think there might be a double standard at work here.

(Edited to fix mathematical errors.)

Read Less

A Welcome Sneak Preview

The Wall Street Journal reports some early signs of encouragement for the U.S. counterinsurgency in Afghanistan:

A single company of fresh U.S. troops has turned this insurgent haven into a laboratory test for President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan troop surge.

Last year, it took a 150-man police escort to get Sayed Jawad Bahoner, the new subgovernor of this district, safely into Jalrez town to assume his post. He slept on the floor of his office building and rarely ventured more than 100 yards outside for fear of the insurgents who ruled the streets.

That was before February, when a company of American infantrymen dropped into town from helicopters and set up outposts along the Jalrez Valley. Mr. Bahoner feels so safe that in April, he summoned his wife and three children from their hideaway in Kabul and moved them into a house in town.

There are, of course, numerous concerns about how a “surge” will fare in a larger Afghan theater over an extended period of time. “Some locals are reluctant to cooperate with the U.S., for fear the Americans will leave the valley and leave them at the mercy of vengeful insurgents.” There is reason for optimism on this point, however. For it is exactly the challenge that a successful counterinsurgency is intended to meet. As U.S. troops spend more time at their outposts among the Afghan population, making it clear they’re not fleeing, cooperative relationships may form between soldiers and locals.

Here’s another concern: “And U.S. commanders worry they’re simply driving insurgents from one valley to another.” This, too, is answered by a solid counterinsurgency. Here’s how COIN expert David Kilcullen described the plan for Iraq in 2007: “Our concept is to knock over several insurgent safe havens simultaneously, in order to prevent terrorists relocating their infrastructure from one to another, and to create an operational synergy between what we’re doing in Baghdad and what’s happening outside. Unlike on previous occasions, we don’t plan to leave these areas once they’re secured.”

It is, of course, far too early to talk of success on any scale. But it’s not too early to note the indications that something similar to what was achieved in Iraq may stand a chance in Afghanistan. It is also heartening to point to a bit of good news that can be collectively credited to George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Gen. Petraeus, and the United States Armed Forces.

The Wall Street Journal reports some early signs of encouragement for the U.S. counterinsurgency in Afghanistan:

A single company of fresh U.S. troops has turned this insurgent haven into a laboratory test for President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan troop surge.

Last year, it took a 150-man police escort to get Sayed Jawad Bahoner, the new subgovernor of this district, safely into Jalrez town to assume his post. He slept on the floor of his office building and rarely ventured more than 100 yards outside for fear of the insurgents who ruled the streets.

That was before February, when a company of American infantrymen dropped into town from helicopters and set up outposts along the Jalrez Valley. Mr. Bahoner feels so safe that in April, he summoned his wife and three children from their hideaway in Kabul and moved them into a house in town.

There are, of course, numerous concerns about how a “surge” will fare in a larger Afghan theater over an extended period of time. “Some locals are reluctant to cooperate with the U.S., for fear the Americans will leave the valley and leave them at the mercy of vengeful insurgents.” There is reason for optimism on this point, however. For it is exactly the challenge that a successful counterinsurgency is intended to meet. As U.S. troops spend more time at their outposts among the Afghan population, making it clear they’re not fleeing, cooperative relationships may form between soldiers and locals.

Here’s another concern: “And U.S. commanders worry they’re simply driving insurgents from one valley to another.” This, too, is answered by a solid counterinsurgency. Here’s how COIN expert David Kilcullen described the plan for Iraq in 2007: “Our concept is to knock over several insurgent safe havens simultaneously, in order to prevent terrorists relocating their infrastructure from one to another, and to create an operational synergy between what we’re doing in Baghdad and what’s happening outside. Unlike on previous occasions, we don’t plan to leave these areas once they’re secured.”

It is, of course, far too early to talk of success on any scale. But it’s not too early to note the indications that something similar to what was achieved in Iraq may stand a chance in Afghanistan. It is also heartening to point to a bit of good news that can be collectively credited to George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Gen. Petraeus, and the United States Armed Forces.

Read Less

What’s Next?

I thought I had inadvertently clicked on the Onion this morning when I saw the headline: “Lesbian Lawyers Eyed for Supreme Court.” But no, it was Politico. Shortly thereafter it was changed to the tamer: “Groups push for first gay justice.” Putting aside whether Politico is living up (down?) to its reputation of lacking in journalistic gravitas, one has to question whether we have now reached the ludicrous outer limits of judicial-nomination-by-bean-counting. What is next — “AARP Pushes For Geezer On The Bench”?

But this, I suppose, is what comes from treating the Court like a policy seminar. If the Court is not simply going to determine what the law says but make it up, groups are right in some sense to push for “their person” on the bench. If the name of the game is for judges to find the most deserving of empathy, then you want to make sure those deciding have your interests in mind.

The result is the annihilation of rule of law. It is all about “who has the votes”. And that, sadly, is really what the headline should be.

I thought I had inadvertently clicked on the Onion this morning when I saw the headline: “Lesbian Lawyers Eyed for Supreme Court.” But no, it was Politico. Shortly thereafter it was changed to the tamer: “Groups push for first gay justice.” Putting aside whether Politico is living up (down?) to its reputation of lacking in journalistic gravitas, one has to question whether we have now reached the ludicrous outer limits of judicial-nomination-by-bean-counting. What is next — “AARP Pushes For Geezer On The Bench”?

But this, I suppose, is what comes from treating the Court like a policy seminar. If the Court is not simply going to determine what the law says but make it up, groups are right in some sense to push for “their person” on the bench. If the name of the game is for judges to find the most deserving of empathy, then you want to make sure those deciding have your interests in mind.

The result is the annihilation of rule of law. It is all about “who has the votes”. And that, sadly, is really what the headline should be.

Read Less

Re: Hamas Channels Arafat

Talk about a self-refuting article. As Jonathan Tobin noted, the New York Times obtained an interview with Hamas head Khaled Meshal. The lede claims that he “reached out in a limited way to the Obama administration and others in the West, saying the movement was seeking a state only in the areas Israel won in 1967.”

Really? Hamas has renounced its charter demanding the destruction of the state of Israel? It’s willing to accept a Palestinian state only in Gaza and the West Bank? If so, that would be big news. But of course
that’s not what Meshal said at all.

Here is the fine print:

He repeated that he would not recognize Israel, saying to fellow Arab leaders, “There is only one enemy in the region, and that is Israel….

[H]e urged outsiders to ignore the Hamas charter, which calls for the obliteration of Israel through jihad and cites as fact the infamous anti-Semitic forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Mr. Meshal did not offer to revoke the charter, but said it was 20 years old, adding, “We are shaped by our experiences.”….

And, as Jonathan mentioned:

On the two-state solution sought by the Americans, he said: “We are with a state on the 1967 borders, based on a long-term truce. This includes East Jerusalem, the dismantling of settlements and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.” Asked what “long-term” meant, he said 10 years.

So it turns out Meshal actually isn’t willing to accept Israel’s existence or a limited Palestinian state in only part of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. He’s most assuredly not willing to give up the “right of return” which if enacted would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. All he’s saying is what he’s said before — that he is willing to accept a temporary hudna (or truce) prior to the final destruction of Israel.

That’s not news except insofar as the interview is an indication of how eager Hamas is to court the new American administration. I only hope that President Obama doesn’t use these faux concessions as an
excuse to extend a helping hand to this noxious terrorist organization.

Talk about a self-refuting article. As Jonathan Tobin noted, the New York Times obtained an interview with Hamas head Khaled Meshal. The lede claims that he “reached out in a limited way to the Obama administration and others in the West, saying the movement was seeking a state only in the areas Israel won in 1967.”

Really? Hamas has renounced its charter demanding the destruction of the state of Israel? It’s willing to accept a Palestinian state only in Gaza and the West Bank? If so, that would be big news. But of course
that’s not what Meshal said at all.

Here is the fine print:

He repeated that he would not recognize Israel, saying to fellow Arab leaders, “There is only one enemy in the region, and that is Israel….

[H]e urged outsiders to ignore the Hamas charter, which calls for the obliteration of Israel through jihad and cites as fact the infamous anti-Semitic forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Mr. Meshal did not offer to revoke the charter, but said it was 20 years old, adding, “We are shaped by our experiences.”….

And, as Jonathan mentioned:

On the two-state solution sought by the Americans, he said: “We are with a state on the 1967 borders, based on a long-term truce. This includes East Jerusalem, the dismantling of settlements and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.” Asked what “long-term” meant, he said 10 years.

So it turns out Meshal actually isn’t willing to accept Israel’s existence or a limited Palestinian state in only part of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. He’s most assuredly not willing to give up the “right of return” which if enacted would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. All he’s saying is what he’s said before — that he is willing to accept a temporary hudna (or truce) prior to the final destruction of Israel.

That’s not news except insofar as the interview is an indication of how eager Hamas is to court the new American administration. I only hope that President Obama doesn’t use these faux concessions as an
excuse to extend a helping hand to this noxious terrorist organization.

Read Less

The Tax Scam

The president announced a plan for “cracking down” on corporate and individual tax havens. It is not surprising that the business community has screamed about raising taxes in a recession or even that Sen. Max Baucus wants to take a good hard look at the details. It is surprising that even some in the mainstream press are seeing this for what it is: the first step in the Obama effort to raise taxes on most everyone it can find.

The Washington Post editors acknowledge that the Byzantine corporate tax code is in need of reform. Nevertheless, they write:

[S]ome of the changes the administration is contemplating could harm U.S. competitiveness. Higher tax burdens would put U.S. corporations at a disadvantage compared with foreign competitors that do not face the double tax regime to which some corporations would be subject. The administration cited numbers showing that in 2004, U.S. multinationals paid $16 billion in taxes on $700 billion in foreign earnings, but it did not mention the $120 billion in foreign taxes they paid that year. Trade groups will argue that the increased cost of doing business will lead to job losses in the United States, not the gains promised by Mr. Obama.

And, of course, the biggest problem with the corporate tax code is that the top rate is too high and therefore has become internationally uncompetitive — even with Europe. The obvious solution, as the Post suggests, is a lower, flatter tax with fewer deductions on corporations. But that’s not what Obama has in mind at all.

The president is on the prowl for more revenue and populist brownie points so he’ll sock it to the corporations. (No, corporations don’t really pay taxes since consumers, shareholder, and employees bear the cost in the form of higher prices and reduced profits, dividends and salaries. But that routinely escapes notice of those looking for unpopular tax victims.) The impact on the economy comes in the form of lost jobs, lost growth, and, in turn, lost long-term revenue to the government.

The Obama administration has reneged on its no-new-tax pledge already by raising taxes on tobacco and proposing a $3,100 (or $3,900, depending on the calculation) per family energy tax. With this move, the administration has made it clear: we are going back to the future with tax-and-spend liberal economics. We’ll see if it works any better this time around.

The president announced a plan for “cracking down” on corporate and individual tax havens. It is not surprising that the business community has screamed about raising taxes in a recession or even that Sen. Max Baucus wants to take a good hard look at the details. It is surprising that even some in the mainstream press are seeing this for what it is: the first step in the Obama effort to raise taxes on most everyone it can find.

The Washington Post editors acknowledge that the Byzantine corporate tax code is in need of reform. Nevertheless, they write:

[S]ome of the changes the administration is contemplating could harm U.S. competitiveness. Higher tax burdens would put U.S. corporations at a disadvantage compared with foreign competitors that do not face the double tax regime to which some corporations would be subject. The administration cited numbers showing that in 2004, U.S. multinationals paid $16 billion in taxes on $700 billion in foreign earnings, but it did not mention the $120 billion in foreign taxes they paid that year. Trade groups will argue that the increased cost of doing business will lead to job losses in the United States, not the gains promised by Mr. Obama.

And, of course, the biggest problem with the corporate tax code is that the top rate is too high and therefore has become internationally uncompetitive — even with Europe. The obvious solution, as the Post suggests, is a lower, flatter tax with fewer deductions on corporations. But that’s not what Obama has in mind at all.

The president is on the prowl for more revenue and populist brownie points so he’ll sock it to the corporations. (No, corporations don’t really pay taxes since consumers, shareholder, and employees bear the cost in the form of higher prices and reduced profits, dividends and salaries. But that routinely escapes notice of those looking for unpopular tax victims.) The impact on the economy comes in the form of lost jobs, lost growth, and, in turn, lost long-term revenue to the government.

The Obama administration has reneged on its no-new-tax pledge already by raising taxes on tobacco and proposing a $3,100 (or $3,900, depending on the calculation) per family energy tax. With this move, the administration has made it clear: we are going back to the future with tax-and-spend liberal economics. We’ll see if it works any better this time around.

Read Less

“The Bipartisan Thing”

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood displays an . . . uncommon degree of modesty:

Ray LaHood, the secretary of transportation, is not one to toot his own horn over how much he knows about planes, trains and automobile bailouts. On the contrary.

“I don’t think they picked me because they thought I’d be that great a transportation person,” Mr. LaHood says with refreshing indifference as to how this admission might play if, say, he were ever to bungle a bridge collapse.

[ . . .]

Mr. LaHood posits a theory. “They picked me because of the bipartisan thing,” he explained, “and the Congressional thing, and the friendship thing.”

Competence, it seems, is not the main qualifier for a job in the Obama Administration.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood displays an . . . uncommon degree of modesty:

Ray LaHood, the secretary of transportation, is not one to toot his own horn over how much he knows about planes, trains and automobile bailouts. On the contrary.

“I don’t think they picked me because they thought I’d be that great a transportation person,” Mr. LaHood says with refreshing indifference as to how this admission might play if, say, he were ever to bungle a bridge collapse.

[ . . .]

Mr. LaHood posits a theory. “They picked me because of the bipartisan thing,” he explained, “and the Congressional thing, and the friendship thing.”

Competence, it seems, is not the main qualifier for a job in the Obama Administration.

Read Less

When and Where?

As Andy McCarthy relates, the buzz has increased over the seventeen Uighurs about to be released from Guantanamo. Rep. Frank Wolf is up in arms, not only because he is understandably concerned about the release onto U.S. soil of individuals who have undergone terrorist training, but because the “most transparent administration in history” has utterly stonewalled his requests for information. Most troubling, the administration has declined to release any information concerning the threat assessment on these detainees.

How dangerous are they? The public doesn’t know. Will the public be told where they are to be released? That would set off a firestorm in that locale, but there is no guarantee these people will stay put once released. So the entire country can fret about whether the curious group of newcomers on their block are in fact people who received terror-training in Afghanistan.

All of this — the political outrage, the security risk, the public panic — is utterly unnecessary. The fact that the Obama administration would contemplate such a move, putting the peace of mind and safety of Americans at risk, shows how fixated they have become with the “not Bush” campaign rhetoric. They have made a misbegotten PR stunt (“Close Guantanamo!”) the primary focus of their efforts.

Congress does have recourse — cutting off funding, calling for hearings, passing sense of the Congress resolutions and the like — if they don’t agree with this approach. Perhaps some of Rep. Wolf’s friends will contemplate whether they want to remain mute while the administration pursues its plan to unleash trained terrorists on the American people.

As Andy McCarthy relates, the buzz has increased over the seventeen Uighurs about to be released from Guantanamo. Rep. Frank Wolf is up in arms, not only because he is understandably concerned about the release onto U.S. soil of individuals who have undergone terrorist training, but because the “most transparent administration in history” has utterly stonewalled his requests for information. Most troubling, the administration has declined to release any information concerning the threat assessment on these detainees.

How dangerous are they? The public doesn’t know. Will the public be told where they are to be released? That would set off a firestorm in that locale, but there is no guarantee these people will stay put once released. So the entire country can fret about whether the curious group of newcomers on their block are in fact people who received terror-training in Afghanistan.

All of this — the political outrage, the security risk, the public panic — is utterly unnecessary. The fact that the Obama administration would contemplate such a move, putting the peace of mind and safety of Americans at risk, shows how fixated they have become with the “not Bush” campaign rhetoric. They have made a misbegotten PR stunt (“Close Guantanamo!”) the primary focus of their efforts.

Congress does have recourse — cutting off funding, calling for hearings, passing sense of the Congress resolutions and the like — if they don’t agree with this approach. Perhaps some of Rep. Wolf’s friends will contemplate whether they want to remain mute while the administration pursues its plan to unleash trained terrorists on the American people.

Read Less

Call Off the Drones?

Dave Kilcullen, author of the new book The Accidental Guerrilla (which I reviewed here), is one of our best counterinsurgency experts. So when he says something it’s worth paying attention, even if you don’t necessarily agree.

He just told Congress that “we need to call off the drones” that are being used to target Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan. According to the L.A. Times:

“I realize that they do damage to the Al Qaeda leadership,” he told the House Armed Services Committee. But that, he said, was not enough to justify the program. “Since 2006, we’ve killed 14 senior Al Qaeda leaders using drone strikes; in the same time period, we’ve killed 700 Pakistani civilians in the same area. The drone strikes are highly unpopular. They are deeply aggravating to the population. And they’ve given rise to a feeling of anger that coalesces the population around the extremists and leads to spikes of extremism. … The current path that we are on is leading us to loss of Pakistani government control over its own population.”

Another problem, Kilcullen says, is that “using robots from the air … looks both cowardly and weak.”

The concerns Kilcullen raises are legitimate. In a better world I too would favor calling off the drones. As I have argued repeatedly, long-range precision strikes are not a very effective tool for counterinsurgency. If we can put a lot of boots on the ground, that’s a strategy much more likely to succeed. That’s why I’ve favored the surges in Iraq and Afghanistan and rejected limited counter-terrorism strategies as urged by the likes of Joe Biden.

But in Pakistan we don’t have the option of putting a lot of boots on the ground. We aren’t going to send large numbers of U.S. ground forces unless there is another 9/11-type attack planned from Pakistan.
We want the Pakistani army to clean out the jihadists but we have repeatedly discovered that the Pakistanis are unwilling or unable to do the job. Efforts to bolster the Pakistani military should continue
but probably will not pay dividends anytime soon.

That leaves only one viable strategy if we want to degrade Al Qaeda in the short-term. That’s right: drone attacks. For all their imperfections, I don’t think we have any choice. And there is evidence that they are having a positive impact. The New York Times, for instance, obtained an interview with a man who claims to be a facilitator for the Pakistani Taliban. According to the Times:

“The drones are very effective,” he said, acknowledging that they had thinned the top leadership of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the area. He said 29 of his friends had been killed in the strikes.

His friends were no friends of ours.

UPDATE: In response to my initial post, a friend who served in the Bush administration offers a further thought that strikes me as spot on: “The attacks have been devastatingly effective and it is a little bit hard to understand the argument about anti-Americanism in Pakistan. It was pretty rife long before we started the current drone campaign a year ago.”

Dave Kilcullen, author of the new book The Accidental Guerrilla (which I reviewed here), is one of our best counterinsurgency experts. So when he says something it’s worth paying attention, even if you don’t necessarily agree.

He just told Congress that “we need to call off the drones” that are being used to target Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan. According to the L.A. Times:

“I realize that they do damage to the Al Qaeda leadership,” he told the House Armed Services Committee. But that, he said, was not enough to justify the program. “Since 2006, we’ve killed 14 senior Al Qaeda leaders using drone strikes; in the same time period, we’ve killed 700 Pakistani civilians in the same area. The drone strikes are highly unpopular. They are deeply aggravating to the population. And they’ve given rise to a feeling of anger that coalesces the population around the extremists and leads to spikes of extremism. … The current path that we are on is leading us to loss of Pakistani government control over its own population.”

Another problem, Kilcullen says, is that “using robots from the air … looks both cowardly and weak.”

The concerns Kilcullen raises are legitimate. In a better world I too would favor calling off the drones. As I have argued repeatedly, long-range precision strikes are not a very effective tool for counterinsurgency. If we can put a lot of boots on the ground, that’s a strategy much more likely to succeed. That’s why I’ve favored the surges in Iraq and Afghanistan and rejected limited counter-terrorism strategies as urged by the likes of Joe Biden.

But in Pakistan we don’t have the option of putting a lot of boots on the ground. We aren’t going to send large numbers of U.S. ground forces unless there is another 9/11-type attack planned from Pakistan.
We want the Pakistani army to clean out the jihadists but we have repeatedly discovered that the Pakistanis are unwilling or unable to do the job. Efforts to bolster the Pakistani military should continue
but probably will not pay dividends anytime soon.

That leaves only one viable strategy if we want to degrade Al Qaeda in the short-term. That’s right: drone attacks. For all their imperfections, I don’t think we have any choice. And there is evidence that they are having a positive impact. The New York Times, for instance, obtained an interview with a man who claims to be a facilitator for the Pakistani Taliban. According to the Times:

“The drones are very effective,” he said, acknowledging that they had thinned the top leadership of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the area. He said 29 of his friends had been killed in the strikes.

His friends were no friends of ours.

UPDATE: In response to my initial post, a friend who served in the Bush administration offers a further thought that strikes me as spot on: “The attacks have been devastatingly effective and it is a little bit hard to understand the argument about anti-Americanism in Pakistan. It was pretty rife long before we started the current drone campaign a year ago.”

Read Less

Hamas Channels Arafat Via the Times

Hamas leader Khaled Meshal had his differences with the late Yasser Arafat, but it appears that he has decided to try and advance his cause by copying Arafat’s playbook. The head of the Palestinian Islamist terrorist movement granted New York Times reporter Taghreed El-Khodary a five-hour interview in his home office in Damascus as part of what can only be termed a Hamas charm offensive whose target is the Obama administration.

“I promise the American administration and the international community that we will be part of the solution, period,” Meshal pledged. He went on to claim that Hamas is no longer shooting missiles at southern Israel and that it is willing to accept a two-state solution. He also says that his Iranian sponsors don’t control his moves and that Westerners should “ignore” the Hamas charter, a document that quotes liberally from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and which calls for the eradication of Israel and the massacre/expulsion of its Jewish population.

That is, of course, exactly what Obama, whom Meshal praises, wants to hear. It should be pointed out that even in this make-nice interview the Hamas chieftain cited terms for “peace” that are more than a little problematic: “We are with a state on the 1967 borders, based on a long-term truce. This includes East Jerusalem, the dismantling of settlements and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.”

The report then stated: “Asked what ‘long-term’ meant, he said 10 years.”

So, even if we were to believe him, what he is asking for is a complete Israeli withdrawal from all of the territories, the expulsion of every Jew from the West Bank and half of Jerusalem, the flooding of the State of Israel with millions of Palestinians who claim descent from the Palestinian refugees of 1948, and that this “peace” would expire ten years later.

This sort of statement will help Hamas gain recognition from the West for both its mini-state in Gaza and its efforts to take over the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank via a coalition agreement with the toothless Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah. It will also provide fodder for those Americans who want to pressure Israel to surrender more territory to the Palestinians and to negotiate along terms which the Times considers similar to the so-called Saudi/Arab League peace proposal.

But the main point to be gleaned from this interview is that Meshal has finally understood that if he wants Western pressure on Israel, he has to tell the Western press what it wants to hear. That’s what Yasser Arafat did during the Oslo era when he popped off about a “peace of the brave” in English to the foreign press, while at the same time repeating the ultimate goal of “jihad” against the Jewish state when speaking in Arabic to Muslim audiences. For those who followed and believed what he said to his own people, Arafat’s refusal to accept peace or cease support for terror was no surprise, even though true believers in peace in both Washington and Jerusalem spent the 1990s in denial.

Contrary to Meshal’s claim that Arafat’s talk about peace gained him nothing, it brought the PLO back to the territories. The Hamasistan in Gaza is an indirect result of the Israeli concessions that were purchased cheaply with such insincere words.

There is no reason to believe Meshal or to revise the United States’ designation of Hamas as a terrorist group with which it will not talk. But it remains to be seen whether Obama and his foreign policy team are sufficiently naive or so intent on pressuring Israel that they will fall for this same lame trick that worked so well for Arafat.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshal had his differences with the late Yasser Arafat, but it appears that he has decided to try and advance his cause by copying Arafat’s playbook. The head of the Palestinian Islamist terrorist movement granted New York Times reporter Taghreed El-Khodary a five-hour interview in his home office in Damascus as part of what can only be termed a Hamas charm offensive whose target is the Obama administration.

“I promise the American administration and the international community that we will be part of the solution, period,” Meshal pledged. He went on to claim that Hamas is no longer shooting missiles at southern Israel and that it is willing to accept a two-state solution. He also says that his Iranian sponsors don’t control his moves and that Westerners should “ignore” the Hamas charter, a document that quotes liberally from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and which calls for the eradication of Israel and the massacre/expulsion of its Jewish population.

That is, of course, exactly what Obama, whom Meshal praises, wants to hear. It should be pointed out that even in this make-nice interview the Hamas chieftain cited terms for “peace” that are more than a little problematic: “We are with a state on the 1967 borders, based on a long-term truce. This includes East Jerusalem, the dismantling of settlements and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.”

The report then stated: “Asked what ‘long-term’ meant, he said 10 years.”

So, even if we were to believe him, what he is asking for is a complete Israeli withdrawal from all of the territories, the expulsion of every Jew from the West Bank and half of Jerusalem, the flooding of the State of Israel with millions of Palestinians who claim descent from the Palestinian refugees of 1948, and that this “peace” would expire ten years later.

This sort of statement will help Hamas gain recognition from the West for both its mini-state in Gaza and its efforts to take over the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank via a coalition agreement with the toothless Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah. It will also provide fodder for those Americans who want to pressure Israel to surrender more territory to the Palestinians and to negotiate along terms which the Times considers similar to the so-called Saudi/Arab League peace proposal.

But the main point to be gleaned from this interview is that Meshal has finally understood that if he wants Western pressure on Israel, he has to tell the Western press what it wants to hear. That’s what Yasser Arafat did during the Oslo era when he popped off about a “peace of the brave” in English to the foreign press, while at the same time repeating the ultimate goal of “jihad” against the Jewish state when speaking in Arabic to Muslim audiences. For those who followed and believed what he said to his own people, Arafat’s refusal to accept peace or cease support for terror was no surprise, even though true believers in peace in both Washington and Jerusalem spent the 1990s in denial.

Contrary to Meshal’s claim that Arafat’s talk about peace gained him nothing, it brought the PLO back to the territories. The Hamasistan in Gaza is an indirect result of the Israeli concessions that were purchased cheaply with such insincere words.

There is no reason to believe Meshal or to revise the United States’ designation of Hamas as a terrorist group with which it will not talk. But it remains to be seen whether Obama and his foreign policy team are sufficiently naive or so intent on pressuring Israel that they will fall for this same lame trick that worked so well for Arafat.

Read Less

Lose-Lose

The Chrysler deal cobbled together by the government illustrates why this sort of statism (or “crony capitalism,” or whatever you want to call it) is bad for both the public and the company at issue. Reports now show that even if the government deal goes through the bankruptcy court, Chrysler won’t be profitable until 2012. That’s a stretch, considering last year it lost $16.8B and this year it will lose another $4.7B. (Even that figure, as Mickey Kaus points out, doesn’t pass the smell test.)

How can something as unprofitable as this company survive? Well, through a rigged system of subsidies and loans. Like Amtrak, it seems likely to stay on the dole for years to come.

But such arrangements also corrupt the private firms involved. This from the Wall Street Journal  is telling:

On Monday, a group of secured lenders filed a motion to block the sale of assets to Fiat, claiming the U.S. government-led restructuring of Chrysler violates federal law.

The group, which includes investment funds holding a small portion of Chrysler’s $6.9 billion in secured debt, claimed the planned sale was reached without bidding by other potential buyers and was “orchestrated” by the U.S. Treasury Department and “foisted upon” Chrysler under “extreme pressure” by the government.

[. . .]
About half of Chrysler’s 46 secured lenders have agreed to forgive most of the secured debt. Some of those include large banks such as J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. that have received tens of billions of dollars in bailout money from the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. The lenders objecting to the sale of Chrysler assets include about 20 investment funds that haven’t received TARP money.

In other words, those who have received government funds and are now beholden to the government must no longer act with their shareholders’ interests in mind. They have dual loyalties and the shareholders in those firms get less than they are entitled to. (How long before the shareholder lawsuits begin?)

If you wanted to devise a system in which the taxpayers, the affected company, the employees, and the shareholders of multiple companies all suffer, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a “better” example than the Chrysler deal. It is the worst of all worlds, and a peek at the future of the post-capitalist economy in the age of Obama.

The Chrysler deal cobbled together by the government illustrates why this sort of statism (or “crony capitalism,” or whatever you want to call it) is bad for both the public and the company at issue. Reports now show that even if the government deal goes through the bankruptcy court, Chrysler won’t be profitable until 2012. That’s a stretch, considering last year it lost $16.8B and this year it will lose another $4.7B. (Even that figure, as Mickey Kaus points out, doesn’t pass the smell test.)

How can something as unprofitable as this company survive? Well, through a rigged system of subsidies and loans. Like Amtrak, it seems likely to stay on the dole for years to come.

But such arrangements also corrupt the private firms involved. This from the Wall Street Journal  is telling:

On Monday, a group of secured lenders filed a motion to block the sale of assets to Fiat, claiming the U.S. government-led restructuring of Chrysler violates federal law.

The group, which includes investment funds holding a small portion of Chrysler’s $6.9 billion in secured debt, claimed the planned sale was reached without bidding by other potential buyers and was “orchestrated” by the U.S. Treasury Department and “foisted upon” Chrysler under “extreme pressure” by the government.

[. . .]
About half of Chrysler’s 46 secured lenders have agreed to forgive most of the secured debt. Some of those include large banks such as J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. that have received tens of billions of dollars in bailout money from the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. The lenders objecting to the sale of Chrysler assets include about 20 investment funds that haven’t received TARP money.

In other words, those who have received government funds and are now beholden to the government must no longer act with their shareholders’ interests in mind. They have dual loyalties and the shareholders in those firms get less than they are entitled to. (How long before the shareholder lawsuits begin?)

If you wanted to devise a system in which the taxpayers, the affected company, the employees, and the shareholders of multiple companies all suffer, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a “better” example than the Chrysler deal. It is the worst of all worlds, and a peek at the future of the post-capitalist economy in the age of Obama.

Read Less

Specter’s Terrible Monday

Arlen Specter had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Monday. Democrats were expressing bewilderment as to why the president would contemplate giving his support to Specter for nothing, that is, without firm commitment on key portions of the president’s agenda. Then there was more bad polling news for Specter showing him losing to Tom Ridge and only narrowly beating Pat Toomey.

Clearly, Democrats had every reason to get nervous. Politico summed it up: a serious case of buyer’s remorse. But the day got worse. Andy Stern piped up in an evening interview with ABC’s Rick Klein (who earlier in the day reported another labor leader’s simmering annoyance with Specter):

“There’s no way they’re ever going to be supporting someone who is seen as thwarting this opportunity,” Stern told ABC. “It is hard to imagine any union supporting a candidate in the Democratic Party for the US Senate who doesn’t have strong positions on both healthcare and Employee Free Choice.”

Stern stressed that he is not endorsing any candidate. Though Specter has maintained his opposition to EFCA — a position he reiterated yesterday on the Sunday talk shows — Stern said he hopes Specter will ultimately support a compromise.

“No one’s going to get exactly what they want,” he said. “So the question is, where is his flexibility, on not letting his idea of perfection stand in the way of progress.”

Labor leaders in Pennsylvania, Stern said, “will evaluate where he stands not just based on what he says, but what he does.” [Rep. Joe] Sestak supports the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it far easier for workers to form unions, but which is fiercely opposed by business interests that are casting the bill as a job-killer.

Well, perhaps the Democrats won’t take Specter as their standard-bearer if he doesn’t toe the line. (Or if he does, and the voters cannot stomach such duplicity.) Then what — an independent run, maybe? There’s always the Green Party.

Arlen Specter had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Monday. Democrats were expressing bewilderment as to why the president would contemplate giving his support to Specter for nothing, that is, without firm commitment on key portions of the president’s agenda. Then there was more bad polling news for Specter showing him losing to Tom Ridge and only narrowly beating Pat Toomey.

Clearly, Democrats had every reason to get nervous. Politico summed it up: a serious case of buyer’s remorse. But the day got worse. Andy Stern piped up in an evening interview with ABC’s Rick Klein (who earlier in the day reported another labor leader’s simmering annoyance with Specter):

“There’s no way they’re ever going to be supporting someone who is seen as thwarting this opportunity,” Stern told ABC. “It is hard to imagine any union supporting a candidate in the Democratic Party for the US Senate who doesn’t have strong positions on both healthcare and Employee Free Choice.”

Stern stressed that he is not endorsing any candidate. Though Specter has maintained his opposition to EFCA — a position he reiterated yesterday on the Sunday talk shows — Stern said he hopes Specter will ultimately support a compromise.

“No one’s going to get exactly what they want,” he said. “So the question is, where is his flexibility, on not letting his idea of perfection stand in the way of progress.”

Labor leaders in Pennsylvania, Stern said, “will evaluate where he stands not just based on what he says, but what he does.” [Rep. Joe] Sestak supports the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it far easier for workers to form unions, but which is fiercely opposed by business interests that are casting the bill as a job-killer.

Well, perhaps the Democrats won’t take Specter as their standard-bearer if he doesn’t toe the line. (Or if he does, and the voters cannot stomach such duplicity.) Then what — an independent run, maybe? There’s always the Green Party.

Read Less

It’s About Time

Now President Obama is battling House Democrats on closing Guantanamo Bay:

Top House Democrats raised tensions with the White House on a key foreign policy goal, rebuffing a request for funding to begin closing the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

President Barack Obama has sought $80 million to begin the process of closing the controversial detention facility, as part of broader legislation needed to continue funding for the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unveiling the House version of war spending bill, House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D., Wisc.) didn’t include the funds, complaining that the administration has not yet developed a clear plan to wind down operations at Guantanamo and relocate the detainees, either abroad or in the U.S.

You can’t argue with that. It’s about time someone asked for some clarification on this runaway policy. The planned shuttering of Guantanamo was declared in an executive order without Obama having ever given a single specific reason:

In view of the significant concerns raised by these detentions, both within the United States and internationally, prompt and appropriate disposition of the individuals currently detained at Guantánamo and closure of the facilities in which they are detained would further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice.

“Significant concerns” isn’t much of a justification, but there it is. It was a chilling failure of American public discourse that let this decision go by without so much as a raised eyebrow. On top of the decision, of course, come the myriad problems of actually closing the place and relocating detainees. Other countries might have shared Obama’s “significant concerns,” but they are unwilling to share the burden of housing dangerous terror suspects. Moreover, the legal tangle of trying these suspects as regular criminals has the Obama team now reconsidering the military court system the Bush administration used to try Guantanamo detainees.

As David Obey said, “When they have a plan, they’re welcome to come back and talk to us.” It will be a while.

Now President Obama is battling House Democrats on closing Guantanamo Bay:

Top House Democrats raised tensions with the White House on a key foreign policy goal, rebuffing a request for funding to begin closing the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

President Barack Obama has sought $80 million to begin the process of closing the controversial detention facility, as part of broader legislation needed to continue funding for the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unveiling the House version of war spending bill, House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D., Wisc.) didn’t include the funds, complaining that the administration has not yet developed a clear plan to wind down operations at Guantanamo and relocate the detainees, either abroad or in the U.S.

You can’t argue with that. It’s about time someone asked for some clarification on this runaway policy. The planned shuttering of Guantanamo was declared in an executive order without Obama having ever given a single specific reason:

In view of the significant concerns raised by these detentions, both within the United States and internationally, prompt and appropriate disposition of the individuals currently detained at Guantánamo and closure of the facilities in which they are detained would further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice.

“Significant concerns” isn’t much of a justification, but there it is. It was a chilling failure of American public discourse that let this decision go by without so much as a raised eyebrow. On top of the decision, of course, come the myriad problems of actually closing the place and relocating detainees. Other countries might have shared Obama’s “significant concerns,” but they are unwilling to share the burden of housing dangerous terror suspects. Moreover, the legal tangle of trying these suspects as regular criminals has the Obama team now reconsidering the military court system the Bush administration used to try Guantanamo detainees.

As David Obey said, “When they have a plan, they’re welcome to come back and talk to us.” It will be a while.

Read Less

Did Rahm Say That?

This story from the Jerusalem Post, claiming Rahm Emanuel told a group of 300 AIPAC donors that “[t]hwarting Iran’s nuclear program is conditional on progress in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” has raised eyebrows and renewed concerns about the Obama administration’s approach to Israel. It sounds, of course, quite a bit like Hillary Clinton’s comments last month.

However, in this case a source with knowledge of the meeting says that “what he said was the seeming to make progress by having negotiations will make it easier to build a regional coalition to stop Iran.  There was no notion or mention of conditionality or hinging [Palestinian talks to Iran].  This is purely false.”

In this case, it seems unlikely that Emanuel would make the sort of in-your-face comment attributed to him by the Post to a group so obviously hostile to just such a message. While Emanuel is no shrinking violet, he certainly would be smart enough to avoid throwing a grenade into a room of pro-Israeli activists while the president is meeting with Israeli leaders.

None of this is to say that the Obama administration doesn’t conceive of just such a linkage. However, I find it unlikely Emanuel would take it upon himself to pick a fight with 300 articulate and committed activists — all of whom would have access to relay the same to newspapers, radio outlets, and TV stations.

Serious concerns remain about whether the Obama team is realistic and savvy when it comes to the Middle East. But Emanuel is certainly savvy enough not to say something this provocative to hundreds of activists. And if he did, we are in for a very, very rocky U.S.-Israeli relationship which is in neither country’s interest.

This story from the Jerusalem Post, claiming Rahm Emanuel told a group of 300 AIPAC donors that “[t]hwarting Iran’s nuclear program is conditional on progress in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” has raised eyebrows and renewed concerns about the Obama administration’s approach to Israel. It sounds, of course, quite a bit like Hillary Clinton’s comments last month.

However, in this case a source with knowledge of the meeting says that “what he said was the seeming to make progress by having negotiations will make it easier to build a regional coalition to stop Iran.  There was no notion or mention of conditionality or hinging [Palestinian talks to Iran].  This is purely false.”

In this case, it seems unlikely that Emanuel would make the sort of in-your-face comment attributed to him by the Post to a group so obviously hostile to just such a message. While Emanuel is no shrinking violet, he certainly would be smart enough to avoid throwing a grenade into a room of pro-Israeli activists while the president is meeting with Israeli leaders.

None of this is to say that the Obama administration doesn’t conceive of just such a linkage. However, I find it unlikely Emanuel would take it upon himself to pick a fight with 300 articulate and committed activists — all of whom would have access to relay the same to newspapers, radio outlets, and TV stations.

Serious concerns remain about whether the Obama team is realistic and savvy when it comes to the Middle East. But Emanuel is certainly savvy enough not to say something this provocative to hundreds of activists. And if he did, we are in for a very, very rocky U.S.-Israeli relationship which is in neither country’s interest.

Read Less

One Reason, Seven Reasons, Four Reasons

One of the most provocative panels at the AIPAC Policy Conference this week was the session entitled “Ticking Time Bomb: A Nuclear Iran at the Center of the Middle East,” featuring former Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, former U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Assistant Director Brad Gordon, and Washington Institute for Near East Policy Deputy Director Patrick Clawson.

Sneh explained the reasons Israel cannot live with a nuclear Iran:  “Actually,” he said, “I can give one reason which is good enough:  it is our recent historic experience that whenever someone says he wants us out, we have to take him seriously, and not allow him to have the means to carry out what he is promising to do.”

For some people, he said wryly, this argument is not good enough – so he proceeded to list seven more:  seven threats to Israel resulting from Iran simply having nuclear weapons, even if they are not actually used:

First, immigration to Israel would evaporate – why would anyone come to live under a continual threat of nuclear annihilation?  Second, Israelis themselves would increasingly choose to emigrate, if they had options (and the most highly educated and productive Israelis would have options).  Third, investment in Israel, and the resulting economic impact, would dramatically drop.  Fourth, with the backing of a nuclear-armed power, terrorism would significantly increase.  Fifth, Arab leaders willing to negotiate with Israel would be intimidated by Iran and resist doing so.  Sixth, even lower-level acts of Israeli self-defense (such as retaliation for rockets from Gaza) would be hindered by the fear of provoking a nuclear reaction.  Seventh, Israel would soon face multiple nuclear dangers as Saudi Arabia and then Egypt acquired nuclear weapons in response.  He repeated his statement from last year’s AIPAC conference that no Israeli government will allow a nuclear-armed Iran to happen.

Gordon and Clawson put the issue in broader terms – emphasizing that the issue was in fact not primarily an Israeli one, but an American (and international) one.   It was clear from their presentations that even if Israel were removed from the strategic equation, Iranian nuclear weapons – coming after two U.S. presidents (from each party) repeatedly called them “unacceptable” – would be a strategic disaster for the United States.  There may not be seven reasons, but there are at least four:

The failure to stop Iran would be a critical blow to U.S. prestige (and a corresponding uplift to the stature of Iran) – an incontrovertible demonstration that the only power that might have resisted Iranian hegemony lacked the will or ability (or both).  It would set off multiple chain reactions, as erstwhile American allies made their separate peace with the new hegemon – or developed their own nuclear weapons rather than rely on the “superpower” that failed to act.  The international structure for nuclear non-proliferation would be irreparably damaged, and proliferation would geometrically increase the chances that the nuclear weapons would eventually be used (intentionally, inadvertently, or after diversion to non-state actors).  Finally, the humbled superpower would find the critical resource of its economy under the sway of a hostile regional superpower able to impact both prices and supply – a kind of economic nuclear weapon.

One of the insights from the session was that the very clarity of the existential threat to Israel may cloud an even broader, more fundamental issue of world geopolitics.  The U.S. must appreciate – and it was clear from Gordon and Clawson’s comments about their discussions with government officials that some elements in the U.S. government currently do not – that there are compelling American reasons for precluding Iranian nuclear weapons, not just Israeli ones.

One of the most provocative panels at the AIPAC Policy Conference this week was the session entitled “Ticking Time Bomb: A Nuclear Iran at the Center of the Middle East,” featuring former Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, former U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Assistant Director Brad Gordon, and Washington Institute for Near East Policy Deputy Director Patrick Clawson.

Sneh explained the reasons Israel cannot live with a nuclear Iran:  “Actually,” he said, “I can give one reason which is good enough:  it is our recent historic experience that whenever someone says he wants us out, we have to take him seriously, and not allow him to have the means to carry out what he is promising to do.”

For some people, he said wryly, this argument is not good enough – so he proceeded to list seven more:  seven threats to Israel resulting from Iran simply having nuclear weapons, even if they are not actually used:

First, immigration to Israel would evaporate – why would anyone come to live under a continual threat of nuclear annihilation?  Second, Israelis themselves would increasingly choose to emigrate, if they had options (and the most highly educated and productive Israelis would have options).  Third, investment in Israel, and the resulting economic impact, would dramatically drop.  Fourth, with the backing of a nuclear-armed power, terrorism would significantly increase.  Fifth, Arab leaders willing to negotiate with Israel would be intimidated by Iran and resist doing so.  Sixth, even lower-level acts of Israeli self-defense (such as retaliation for rockets from Gaza) would be hindered by the fear of provoking a nuclear reaction.  Seventh, Israel would soon face multiple nuclear dangers as Saudi Arabia and then Egypt acquired nuclear weapons in response.  He repeated his statement from last year’s AIPAC conference that no Israeli government will allow a nuclear-armed Iran to happen.

Gordon and Clawson put the issue in broader terms – emphasizing that the issue was in fact not primarily an Israeli one, but an American (and international) one.   It was clear from their presentations that even if Israel were removed from the strategic equation, Iranian nuclear weapons – coming after two U.S. presidents (from each party) repeatedly called them “unacceptable” – would be a strategic disaster for the United States.  There may not be seven reasons, but there are at least four:

The failure to stop Iran would be a critical blow to U.S. prestige (and a corresponding uplift to the stature of Iran) – an incontrovertible demonstration that the only power that might have resisted Iranian hegemony lacked the will or ability (or both).  It would set off multiple chain reactions, as erstwhile American allies made their separate peace with the new hegemon – or developed their own nuclear weapons rather than rely on the “superpower” that failed to act.  The international structure for nuclear non-proliferation would be irreparably damaged, and proliferation would geometrically increase the chances that the nuclear weapons would eventually be used (intentionally, inadvertently, or after diversion to non-state actors).  Finally, the humbled superpower would find the critical resource of its economy under the sway of a hostile regional superpower able to impact both prices and supply – a kind of economic nuclear weapon.

One of the insights from the session was that the very clarity of the existential threat to Israel may cloud an even broader, more fundamental issue of world geopolitics.  The U.S. must appreciate – and it was clear from Gordon and Clawson’s comments about their discussions with government officials that some elements in the U.S. government currently do not – that there are compelling American reasons for precluding Iranian nuclear weapons, not just Israeli ones.

Read Less

A Judicial Test

Commenting on the prospects for a new Supreme Court justice and the recent New Haven firefighters’ racial preference case (which threw out the result of white firefighter Frank Ricci’s exam and denied him the promotion when no African Americans passed the test), Richard Cohen writes:

Blatant affirmative action always entailed a disturbing and ex post facto changing of the rules — oops, you’re white. Sorry, not what we wanted. As a consequence, it was not racists who were punished but all whites. There is no need to cling to such a remedy anymore.

Indeed. And as Cohen says, “Obama’s Supreme Court nominee ought to be able to look the New Haven fireman in the eye and tell him whether he has been treated fairly or not. There’s a litmus test for you.”

We also have the pending case raising the issue of whether we still need the federal government, pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, to ride herd on certain states and jurisdictions based on racial conditions dating back to 1965.

At the core of these cases is whether we are going to perpetuate this pernicious “divvying us up by race,” as Chief Justice Roberts calls it. What does “equal protection” mean, if not the right to be treated equally on a government-administered exam without regard to race? And when the factual record is devoid of evidence of voting discrimination on the basis of race, what justification does the federal government have for intruding into the operation of state and local elections? These are hard cases, but frankly not that hard.

And here too we see the fallacy of judging by empathy. Who deserves the most empathy — the African Americans who failed the firefighting test or the dyslexic white firefighter who struggled to pass it? African Americans who fear the return of voting discrimination in the age of Obama or localities that want to manage their own affairs? Ordinary people differ, but it hardly seems the basis on which to decide upon the meaning of the Constitution. After all, the Supreme Court is not an afternoon talk show where the audience votes on the best sob story.

These cases, and others like them,  provide a basis for examining whether a Supreme Court nominee is committed to discerning the language and meaning of the Constitution or some other style of judging. And it certainly tests whether the justice is committed “to administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the
rich,” which is part of the oath the new justice must take before assuming office.

Commenting on the prospects for a new Supreme Court justice and the recent New Haven firefighters’ racial preference case (which threw out the result of white firefighter Frank Ricci’s exam and denied him the promotion when no African Americans passed the test), Richard Cohen writes:

Blatant affirmative action always entailed a disturbing and ex post facto changing of the rules — oops, you’re white. Sorry, not what we wanted. As a consequence, it was not racists who were punished but all whites. There is no need to cling to such a remedy anymore.

Indeed. And as Cohen says, “Obama’s Supreme Court nominee ought to be able to look the New Haven fireman in the eye and tell him whether he has been treated fairly or not. There’s a litmus test for you.”

We also have the pending case raising the issue of whether we still need the federal government, pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, to ride herd on certain states and jurisdictions based on racial conditions dating back to 1965.

At the core of these cases is whether we are going to perpetuate this pernicious “divvying us up by race,” as Chief Justice Roberts calls it. What does “equal protection” mean, if not the right to be treated equally on a government-administered exam without regard to race? And when the factual record is devoid of evidence of voting discrimination on the basis of race, what justification does the federal government have for intruding into the operation of state and local elections? These are hard cases, but frankly not that hard.

And here too we see the fallacy of judging by empathy. Who deserves the most empathy — the African Americans who failed the firefighting test or the dyslexic white firefighter who struggled to pass it? African Americans who fear the return of voting discrimination in the age of Obama or localities that want to manage their own affairs? Ordinary people differ, but it hardly seems the basis on which to decide upon the meaning of the Constitution. After all, the Supreme Court is not an afternoon talk show where the audience votes on the best sob story.

These cases, and others like them,  provide a basis for examining whether a Supreme Court nominee is committed to discerning the language and meaning of the Constitution or some other style of judging. And it certainly tests whether the justice is committed “to administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the
rich,” which is part of the oath the new justice must take before assuming office.

Read Less

What To Do About Pakistan’s Nukes

Crises are the engine of history, and the one unfolding right now in Pakistan provides an opportunity to do something about the ever-present threat of Pakistani “loose nukes” — the danger that the country’s nuclear arsenal will fall into the hands of the Taliban, or that parts of it will be distributed to rogue actors, or — well, choose your own nightmare.

The current chaos could provide a pretext for a U.S. operation to seize or destroy the Pakistani arsenal. I realize that there is as much chance of President Obama approving such a mission as there is that Rahm Emanuel is going to break down and cry on the Oprah Winfrey show, but at the very least it would be in keeping with Obama’s professed concern for proliferation. And if successful, its benefits would be immense:

1. Pakistan would lose its unconventional deterrence against India. In other words, no more safe haven for Pakistani terrorists who attack India. Similarly, with the terrifying prospect of a destabilized, nuclear Pakistan removed, the United States would have more freedom to pursue Al Qaeda and the Taliban across the Afghan border. The nuclear umbrella that today de facto protects numerous terror groups would disappear.

2. India would emerge as South Asia’s undisputed superpower, striking a blow for stability and democracy in the region. And the world would no longer need worry about a nuclear war between Pakistan and India.

3. The most dangerous source of nuclear proliferation this side of North Korea would be eliminated, leaving only that country plus Iran to deal with (only!).

4. Pakistan, as one of the world’s failing states, could be placed much lower on the list of international crises that require attention — where it most assuredly belongs — because the threat posed by its incompetence, chaos, and disunity no longer comes in a nuclear context.

5. The United States would have more freedom to pursue its relationship with India, the world’s largest democracy, an emerging economic power, and a vital future ally and counterbalance to China.

6. The message such an operation would send to Iran would be unmistakable: the United States is serious about preventing nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of Islamic fanatics. If Obama is looking for leverage in his talks with Tehran, this would be a bold way to get it.

As Rahm Emanuel recently said, never let a serious crisis go to waste.

Crises are the engine of history, and the one unfolding right now in Pakistan provides an opportunity to do something about the ever-present threat of Pakistani “loose nukes” — the danger that the country’s nuclear arsenal will fall into the hands of the Taliban, or that parts of it will be distributed to rogue actors, or — well, choose your own nightmare.

The current chaos could provide a pretext for a U.S. operation to seize or destroy the Pakistani arsenal. I realize that there is as much chance of President Obama approving such a mission as there is that Rahm Emanuel is going to break down and cry on the Oprah Winfrey show, but at the very least it would be in keeping with Obama’s professed concern for proliferation. And if successful, its benefits would be immense:

1. Pakistan would lose its unconventional deterrence against India. In other words, no more safe haven for Pakistani terrorists who attack India. Similarly, with the terrifying prospect of a destabilized, nuclear Pakistan removed, the United States would have more freedom to pursue Al Qaeda and the Taliban across the Afghan border. The nuclear umbrella that today de facto protects numerous terror groups would disappear.

2. India would emerge as South Asia’s undisputed superpower, striking a blow for stability and democracy in the region. And the world would no longer need worry about a nuclear war between Pakistan and India.

3. The most dangerous source of nuclear proliferation this side of North Korea would be eliminated, leaving only that country plus Iran to deal with (only!).

4. Pakistan, as one of the world’s failing states, could be placed much lower on the list of international crises that require attention — where it most assuredly belongs — because the threat posed by its incompetence, chaos, and disunity no longer comes in a nuclear context.

5. The United States would have more freedom to pursue its relationship with India, the world’s largest democracy, an emerging economic power, and a vital future ally and counterbalance to China.

6. The message such an operation would send to Iran would be unmistakable: the United States is serious about preventing nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of Islamic fanatics. If Obama is looking for leverage in his talks with Tehran, this would be a bold way to get it.

As Rahm Emanuel recently said, never let a serious crisis go to waste.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Five things Joe Biden shouldn’t say at AIPAC.

No joke here: more New Yorkers prefer Eliot Spitzer over David Paterson. I wonder if Paterson would beat Blago.

Some smart Democrats don’t think much of the most frequently mentioned Supreme Court pick.

Mitt Romney is putting forth conservative ideas on healthcare — some of what he tried in Massachusetts, but also a batch of John McCain’s ideas (e.g. tax credits and ending “discrimination” in tax treatment between employer-provided plans and individually purchased ones.)

Steve Calabresi nails it: “The goal of the health care plan under discussion is to force us all on to one government health care plan so the government can ration health care. If someone over the age of 65 needs an expensive procedure, they will be out of luck. Bureaucrats in Washington will decide what operations, medical procedures, and prescribed medicines you can buy instead of you and your doctor making those decisions.” Read the whole thing, as they say.

Obama finally met an industry he wouldn’t bailout: the newspaper biz. Talk about taking your most fervent supporters for granted. Sheesh.

Congress isn’t about to encourage — or fund — the Obama release-from-Guantanamo-and-put-them-on-the-public-dole policy. Michael Goldfarb thinks Obama is blaming the Bush administration to distract from his own lack of policy initiatives on the war on terror.

Sen. Tom Harkin owns up to reality — the votes aren’t there for card check.

A Senate hearing on the “future of journalism” is going to include Arianna Huffington, David Simon (The Wire, Baltimore Sun), Marissa Mayer (Google), Albert Ibarguen (Knight Foundation), Steve Coll (New America Foundation), and James Moroney (Dallas Morning News). Hmm. What’s missing? Ah, any conservative outlet and/or  print newspaper with a steady or increasing readership.

As for the future of education reform: “President Obama and his Education Secretary have repeatedly promised to support “what works,” regardless of ideology. The teachers unions adamantly oppose school vouchers, whether or not they work. Ergo, Messrs. Obama and Duncan decide to end a D.C. school voucher program that works and force poor kids back into schools where Messrs. Obama and Duncan would never send their own children. What a disgrace.”

Five things Joe Biden shouldn’t say at AIPAC.

No joke here: more New Yorkers prefer Eliot Spitzer over David Paterson. I wonder if Paterson would beat Blago.

Some smart Democrats don’t think much of the most frequently mentioned Supreme Court pick.

Mitt Romney is putting forth conservative ideas on healthcare — some of what he tried in Massachusetts, but also a batch of John McCain’s ideas (e.g. tax credits and ending “discrimination” in tax treatment between employer-provided plans and individually purchased ones.)

Steve Calabresi nails it: “The goal of the health care plan under discussion is to force us all on to one government health care plan so the government can ration health care. If someone over the age of 65 needs an expensive procedure, they will be out of luck. Bureaucrats in Washington will decide what operations, medical procedures, and prescribed medicines you can buy instead of you and your doctor making those decisions.” Read the whole thing, as they say.

Obama finally met an industry he wouldn’t bailout: the newspaper biz. Talk about taking your most fervent supporters for granted. Sheesh.

Congress isn’t about to encourage — or fund — the Obama release-from-Guantanamo-and-put-them-on-the-public-dole policy. Michael Goldfarb thinks Obama is blaming the Bush administration to distract from his own lack of policy initiatives on the war on terror.

Sen. Tom Harkin owns up to reality — the votes aren’t there for card check.

A Senate hearing on the “future of journalism” is going to include Arianna Huffington, David Simon (The Wire, Baltimore Sun), Marissa Mayer (Google), Albert Ibarguen (Knight Foundation), Steve Coll (New America Foundation), and James Moroney (Dallas Morning News). Hmm. What’s missing? Ah, any conservative outlet and/or  print newspaper with a steady or increasing readership.

As for the future of education reform: “President Obama and his Education Secretary have repeatedly promised to support “what works,” regardless of ideology. The teachers unions adamantly oppose school vouchers, whether or not they work. Ergo, Messrs. Obama and Duncan decide to end a D.C. school voucher program that works and force poor kids back into schools where Messrs. Obama and Duncan would never send their own children. What a disgrace.”

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.