Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 8, 2009

Obama’s “Respect” for Islam

Well, it’s official: President Barack Obama will deliver his long-rumored address to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 4th. Early reports suggest that Obama chose “The City of One-Thousand Minarets” for this speech to bolster U.S.-Egyptian ties, which have been chilly ever since the Bush administration called on the Mubarak regime to hold competitive elections in 2005.

If so, the irony is astounding.  After all, showing respect for Islam and embracing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak are mutually exclusive activities.  Indeed, how does one show respect to Muslims while cozying up to a dictator who represses nearly 70 million of them?  Alternatively, how does one reassure a secular Arab dictator of his relationship with Washington while also telling his citizens that the U.S. has a “stake” in their well being?

In short, if Obama believes that the choice between Muslim publics and their secular authoritarian leaders is another “false” one, he’s about to be disappointed.  Make no mistake: the moment our Agent of Change is seen standing next to Misr Stability, millions of Muslims will conclude – rightly – that Obama is no different from his Hosni-loving predecessors.  Actually, many Muslims might conclude that Obama is worse, since none of his predecessors had the temerity to claim that their relationship with Mubarak was in the name of cross-cultural respect.

This is public diplomacy at its most asinine.

Well, it’s official: President Barack Obama will deliver his long-rumored address to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 4th. Early reports suggest that Obama chose “The City of One-Thousand Minarets” for this speech to bolster U.S.-Egyptian ties, which have been chilly ever since the Bush administration called on the Mubarak regime to hold competitive elections in 2005.

If so, the irony is astounding.  After all, showing respect for Islam and embracing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak are mutually exclusive activities.  Indeed, how does one show respect to Muslims while cozying up to a dictator who represses nearly 70 million of them?  Alternatively, how does one reassure a secular Arab dictator of his relationship with Washington while also telling his citizens that the U.S. has a “stake” in their well being?

In short, if Obama believes that the choice between Muslim publics and their secular authoritarian leaders is another “false” one, he’s about to be disappointed.  Make no mistake: the moment our Agent of Change is seen standing next to Misr Stability, millions of Muslims will conclude – rightly – that Obama is no different from his Hosni-loving predecessors.  Actually, many Muslims might conclude that Obama is worse, since none of his predecessors had the temerity to claim that their relationship with Mubarak was in the name of cross-cultural respect.

This is public diplomacy at its most asinine.

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Commentary of the Day

Hans Moleman, on Jonathan Tobin:

Wikipedia defines Appeasement as “granting from fear or cowardice unwarranted concessions in order to buy temporary peace at someone else’s expense.”

“Someone else” often seems to be some small, inconveniently-located democratic state. It helps when there is a strong current of barely subterranean prejudice against them.

The roots of 1930’s appeasement were deep-rooted in the horrors of the First World War and the pervasive pacifism it generated among the victors.

The roots of the Democratic Party’s appeasement reflex must be found elsewhere. Can it be that their post-nationalist sense of America as a global sinner makes them suspicious of anyone that would take our side? Do they naturally empathize only with those who feel contempt for America? Do our true allies (like Israel) make them uncomfortable because they don’t share our…anti-Americanism?

Is this some bizarre version of the Marxist (Groucho) joke about not joining any club that would have us as a member?

Hans Moleman, on Jonathan Tobin:

Wikipedia defines Appeasement as “granting from fear or cowardice unwarranted concessions in order to buy temporary peace at someone else’s expense.”

“Someone else” often seems to be some small, inconveniently-located democratic state. It helps when there is a strong current of barely subterranean prejudice against them.

The roots of 1930’s appeasement were deep-rooted in the horrors of the First World War and the pervasive pacifism it generated among the victors.

The roots of the Democratic Party’s appeasement reflex must be found elsewhere. Can it be that their post-nationalist sense of America as a global sinner makes them suspicious of anyone that would take our side? Do they naturally empathize only with those who feel contempt for America? Do our true allies (like Israel) make them uncomfortable because they don’t share our…anti-Americanism?

Is this some bizarre version of the Marxist (Groucho) joke about not joining any club that would have us as a member?

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Has There Ever Been One to Top This?

In recent political history, politicians have had some rotten weeks. Usually, one bad thing happens and the rest of the week is lost. Think Lehman Brothers and the John McCain campaign meltdown. Or one of the presidential debate gaffes. But I’m hard pressed to think of a person who had as many bad days, one after another, as Arlen Specter did this week. And Friday is no exception. Talking Points Memo tells us:

As if the situation with Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) couldn’t be a bigger mess, he is now disputing Harry Reid’s contention that he’ll be a solid procedural vote for the Democrats.
Yesterday, you’ll recall, Reid said on MSNBC yesterday, “on procedural votes he’ll be with us all the time.”

Well, Fox News caught up with Specter today and asked him about that: “Specter merely smiled and repeated several times, ‘I’m going to have to talk to Sen. Reid about that.'”

So just to clarify: whether on substance or procedure, whether on radio or TV, Specter will be a constant thorn in the Democrats’ side. Why? Well, like the scorpion in the parable, it is just his nature. Democrats will have to decide whether they can do better and the president will have to decide if Specter is worth his time and fund-raising efforts.

In recent political history, politicians have had some rotten weeks. Usually, one bad thing happens and the rest of the week is lost. Think Lehman Brothers and the John McCain campaign meltdown. Or one of the presidential debate gaffes. But I’m hard pressed to think of a person who had as many bad days, one after another, as Arlen Specter did this week. And Friday is no exception. Talking Points Memo tells us:

As if the situation with Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) couldn’t be a bigger mess, he is now disputing Harry Reid’s contention that he’ll be a solid procedural vote for the Democrats.
Yesterday, you’ll recall, Reid said on MSNBC yesterday, “on procedural votes he’ll be with us all the time.”

Well, Fox News caught up with Specter today and asked him about that: “Specter merely smiled and repeated several times, ‘I’m going to have to talk to Sen. Reid about that.'”

So just to clarify: whether on substance or procedure, whether on radio or TV, Specter will be a constant thorn in the Democrats’ side. Why? Well, like the scorpion in the parable, it is just his nature. Democrats will have to decide whether they can do better and the president will have to decide if Specter is worth his time and fund-raising efforts.

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Real Afghanistan Casualty Numbers

Yochi Drezen has a scoop on the Wall Street Journal‘s website. He reports:

U.S. military investigators have concluded that roughly 50 people — including at least 20 militants — died in a controversial American air strike in western Afghanistan this week, disputing Afghan and Red Cross reports of a much higher civilian death toll, according to senior American officials.

The investigators have also found evidence that Taliban fighters prevented some families from evacuating their houses during the nearly 12-hour firefight, effectively assuring civilian casualties, the officials said.

In the aftermath of the Monday air strikes in the village of Granai, Afghan officials said that as many as 120 civilians had been killed, which would have made the incident one of the bloodiest since the start of the U.S.-led war in 2001. The International Committee of the Red Cross largely backed the Afghan claims….

In other words, assuming this report is accurate, civilian casualties were probably 30, not 120. That’s quite a discrepancy. Don’t expect such findings to quiet the hysteria over American-caused casualties — any more than facts will spoil outrage over alleged Israeli-caused casualties. But at least it would be nice if, for a change, Afghan President Hamid Karzai tried to dampen this hysteria rather than stoking it. It would also be nice if there were half as much outrage over the civilian casualties deliberately caused by groups like the Taliban or Hamas. I know, I know. Dream on.

Yochi Drezen has a scoop on the Wall Street Journal‘s website. He reports:

U.S. military investigators have concluded that roughly 50 people — including at least 20 militants — died in a controversial American air strike in western Afghanistan this week, disputing Afghan and Red Cross reports of a much higher civilian death toll, according to senior American officials.

The investigators have also found evidence that Taliban fighters prevented some families from evacuating their houses during the nearly 12-hour firefight, effectively assuring civilian casualties, the officials said.

In the aftermath of the Monday air strikes in the village of Granai, Afghan officials said that as many as 120 civilians had been killed, which would have made the incident one of the bloodiest since the start of the U.S.-led war in 2001. The International Committee of the Red Cross largely backed the Afghan claims….

In other words, assuming this report is accurate, civilian casualties were probably 30, not 120. That’s quite a discrepancy. Don’t expect such findings to quiet the hysteria over American-caused casualties — any more than facts will spoil outrage over alleged Israeli-caused casualties. But at least it would be nice if, for a change, Afghan President Hamid Karzai tried to dampen this hysteria rather than stoking it. It would also be nice if there were half as much outrage over the civilian casualties deliberately caused by groups like the Taliban or Hamas. I know, I know. Dream on.

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The Ultimate NIMBY Issue

Attoney General Eric Holder was grilled by a bipartisan array of senators on his promise not to release “terrorists” into the U.S. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, that depends on whether we know they are terrorists, because if so, we wouldn’t do that, says Holder. He remained agonizingly cagey on the possible release of those who received terrorist training — which leaves wide open the issue of the Uighurs. When Congress is stonewalled, the usual recourse is the power of the purse and the subpoena. But it remains unclear whether the Democratic leadership has the will to insist on some answers and place some meaningful limitations on release of the people we are talking about — starting with the seventeen Uighurs who were trained in Afghanistan as terrorists.

And now, as a preview of what is to come, the issue has made its way into the Virginia gubernatorial race. It seems some Democrats  in the blogosphere are nervous that Republican Bob McDonnell is supporting the Keep Terrorists Out of America Act. (As word has buzzed around that Virginia might be the Uighurs destination, fellow Virginia Republican Rep. Frank Wolf  became an outspoken critic of the White House’s refusal to share its plans.) Democrats could support it too, which would void the matter as an election issue, I suppose. But if they don’t (and the three Democratic challengers, not to mention the two Virginia U.S. Senators, remain mute) then I see how it becomes a problem.

As Charles Krauthammer says:

Well, what I love is the name of the bill. Imagine if you have to vote against the Keep Terrorists out of America Act. And, you know, the mainstream media portraying this as Republicans desperately seizing on an issue as a way to embarrass the Obama administration. Well, that’s what an opposition does. And it isn’t as if terrorists running around in America is not a serious issue.

In fact, this seems destined to become an issue in every gubernatorial, House, Senate, and statehouse race. Who is going to insist the White House keep terrorists out of [fill in the community name]? And because the White House has been mum on the location of the potential release, it becomes an issue everywhere. Is it the top issue on voters’ minds? Not yet. But it will rank pretty high if the White House goes along with its plan.

Attoney General Eric Holder was grilled by a bipartisan array of senators on his promise not to release “terrorists” into the U.S. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, that depends on whether we know they are terrorists, because if so, we wouldn’t do that, says Holder. He remained agonizingly cagey on the possible release of those who received terrorist training — which leaves wide open the issue of the Uighurs. When Congress is stonewalled, the usual recourse is the power of the purse and the subpoena. But it remains unclear whether the Democratic leadership has the will to insist on some answers and place some meaningful limitations on release of the people we are talking about — starting with the seventeen Uighurs who were trained in Afghanistan as terrorists.

And now, as a preview of what is to come, the issue has made its way into the Virginia gubernatorial race. It seems some Democrats  in the blogosphere are nervous that Republican Bob McDonnell is supporting the Keep Terrorists Out of America Act. (As word has buzzed around that Virginia might be the Uighurs destination, fellow Virginia Republican Rep. Frank Wolf  became an outspoken critic of the White House’s refusal to share its plans.) Democrats could support it too, which would void the matter as an election issue, I suppose. But if they don’t (and the three Democratic challengers, not to mention the two Virginia U.S. Senators, remain mute) then I see how it becomes a problem.

As Charles Krauthammer says:

Well, what I love is the name of the bill. Imagine if you have to vote against the Keep Terrorists out of America Act. And, you know, the mainstream media portraying this as Republicans desperately seizing on an issue as a way to embarrass the Obama administration. Well, that’s what an opposition does. And it isn’t as if terrorists running around in America is not a serious issue.

In fact, this seems destined to become an issue in every gubernatorial, House, Senate, and statehouse race. Who is going to insist the White House keep terrorists out of [fill in the community name]? And because the White House has been mum on the location of the potential release, it becomes an issue everywhere. Is it the top issue on voters’ minds? Not yet. But it will rank pretty high if the White House goes along with its plan.

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Will Obama Punt on Iran?

The anti-Israel Left has to be encouraged by recent signals from Washington that the Obama administration is preparing to turn the screws on Israel. A report in today’s Ha’aretz claims that routine cooperation and consultation between the United States and Israel has declined in recent months.

While some focused on the inconsistent and largely misleading statements of Vice President Biden at the AIPAC conference earlier this week, more troubling — and an even bigger surprise to Jerusalem — was the less-heralded statement of Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller in which she called on Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Gottemoeller’s decision to talk openly about this issue shows there are some in the administration whose strategy to deal with the existential threat of Iranian nukes is to try and simply change the topic. The point being if they can deflect the conversation toward the question of democratic Israel’s right to a nuclear deterrent, it will lessen the pressure on them to do something about Islamist extremists in Tehran gaining the ability to make good on their threats to exterminate the Jewish state.

No one should doubt the attraction that the futile quest for a Palestinian state (one that Israel’s supporters want more than the Palestinians) holds for the State Department and other Middle East “realists.” But it may ultimately be a clever way to continue prevaricating about Iran. Since no one can really believe that either Hamas or the powerless Palestinian Authority are the least bit interested in actually agreeing to a viable two-state solution at this point, what is the point in putting the screws to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about this? If, as recent reports claim, Obama insists on a strategy that makes the quixotic Palestinian track a higher priority than the Iranian issue, he is setting up a scenario that guarantees Tehran will wind up with nuclear weapons.

Newsweek’s Michael Hirsh predicts that what Obama is planning will be a “new strategic approach” on Iran that won’t be unveiled until after the Iranian presidential elections. The administration is hoping that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be defeated by another candidates (who has been pre-approved by the ayatollahs) and that this will serve as the justification for Obama to walk away from his own pre-election pledges to stop Iran from getting the bomb. That would leave Israel’s government with the choice of sitting back and waiting for their country to be put under a nuclear death sentence or to act on their own and precipitate a major break with their only ally.

What Obama needs to understand is that punting on the Iranian threat will spike any hope for the sort of international quiet that he needs in order to concentrate on his ambitious domestic agenda. If he chooses not to act on Iran, while provoking a needless breach with our Israeli allies, it will go a long way toward answering the question of whether or not he is the leftist ideologue that some on the Left hoped for — and that some on the Right have feared — rather than the pragmatist most Americans believed they were electing last November.

The anti-Israel Left has to be encouraged by recent signals from Washington that the Obama administration is preparing to turn the screws on Israel. A report in today’s Ha’aretz claims that routine cooperation and consultation between the United States and Israel has declined in recent months.

While some focused on the inconsistent and largely misleading statements of Vice President Biden at the AIPAC conference earlier this week, more troubling — and an even bigger surprise to Jerusalem — was the less-heralded statement of Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller in which she called on Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Gottemoeller’s decision to talk openly about this issue shows there are some in the administration whose strategy to deal with the existential threat of Iranian nukes is to try and simply change the topic. The point being if they can deflect the conversation toward the question of democratic Israel’s right to a nuclear deterrent, it will lessen the pressure on them to do something about Islamist extremists in Tehran gaining the ability to make good on their threats to exterminate the Jewish state.

No one should doubt the attraction that the futile quest for a Palestinian state (one that Israel’s supporters want more than the Palestinians) holds for the State Department and other Middle East “realists.” But it may ultimately be a clever way to continue prevaricating about Iran. Since no one can really believe that either Hamas or the powerless Palestinian Authority are the least bit interested in actually agreeing to a viable two-state solution at this point, what is the point in putting the screws to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about this? If, as recent reports claim, Obama insists on a strategy that makes the quixotic Palestinian track a higher priority than the Iranian issue, he is setting up a scenario that guarantees Tehran will wind up with nuclear weapons.

Newsweek’s Michael Hirsh predicts that what Obama is planning will be a “new strategic approach” on Iran that won’t be unveiled until after the Iranian presidential elections. The administration is hoping that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be defeated by another candidates (who has been pre-approved by the ayatollahs) and that this will serve as the justification for Obama to walk away from his own pre-election pledges to stop Iran from getting the bomb. That would leave Israel’s government with the choice of sitting back and waiting for their country to be put under a nuclear death sentence or to act on their own and precipitate a major break with their only ally.

What Obama needs to understand is that punting on the Iranian threat will spike any hope for the sort of international quiet that he needs in order to concentrate on his ambitious domestic agenda. If he chooses not to act on Iran, while provoking a needless breach with our Israeli allies, it will go a long way toward answering the question of whether or not he is the leftist ideologue that some on the Left hoped for — and that some on the Right have feared — rather than the pragmatist most Americans believed they were electing last November.

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Let’s Call the Whole Thing off, Says Nelson

Sen. Tom Harkin is busy trying to craft a compromise on the Employee Free Choice Act. But at least one Democrat, Ben Nelson, is throwing cold water on the whole thing:

“You take away the arbitration issue, and you still have the ‘card check’, so that doesn’t work. You take away the ‘card check’ and you still have the arbitration problem. And if both go away, you’re left with nothing. It’s a fool’s errand to do this. I just don’t see an agreement happening,” Nelson said.

Harkin must please a number of skeptical Dem colleagues in the Senate, among them, Dianne Feinstein (CA), Jim Webb (VA), Blanche Lincoln (AR), Mark Warner (VA), and Mike Bennet (CO).

One of them, who asked to remain anonymous because of the intense lobbying campaign underway by big Labor, tells Fox, “You cannot find a way to make this work. I’ve heard all the arguments, and I just don’t see it.”

There is, however, plenty of room for legislative mischief which would, for example, provide for punitive fines on employers (but not unions), or mandate that employers allow their property to be used by union organizers (after all, property rights don’t really matter, right?). But it certainly wouldn’t have the pizazz of “free choice.” And the dilemma would be the same for Nelson and the other red state Democrats: is carrying Big Labor’s water going to hurt or help their re-election prospects? Coming on the heels of the Chrysler and GM fiascos, the public may be even less inclined to think Big Labor is deserving of more special treatment.

Sen. Tom Harkin is busy trying to craft a compromise on the Employee Free Choice Act. But at least one Democrat, Ben Nelson, is throwing cold water on the whole thing:

“You take away the arbitration issue, and you still have the ‘card check’, so that doesn’t work. You take away the ‘card check’ and you still have the arbitration problem. And if both go away, you’re left with nothing. It’s a fool’s errand to do this. I just don’t see an agreement happening,” Nelson said.

Harkin must please a number of skeptical Dem colleagues in the Senate, among them, Dianne Feinstein (CA), Jim Webb (VA), Blanche Lincoln (AR), Mark Warner (VA), and Mike Bennet (CO).

One of them, who asked to remain anonymous because of the intense lobbying campaign underway by big Labor, tells Fox, “You cannot find a way to make this work. I’ve heard all the arguments, and I just don’t see it.”

There is, however, plenty of room for legislative mischief which would, for example, provide for punitive fines on employers (but not unions), or mandate that employers allow their property to be used by union organizers (after all, property rights don’t really matter, right?). But it certainly wouldn’t have the pizazz of “free choice.” And the dilemma would be the same for Nelson and the other red state Democrats: is carrying Big Labor’s water going to hurt or help their re-election prospects? Coming on the heels of the Chrysler and GM fiascos, the public may be even less inclined to think Big Labor is deserving of more special treatment.

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An Unclean House

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has suddenly discovered an important federal principle: the separation of powers. And she is eager to apply it to help avoid any potential crises when the Justice Department (part of the Executive branch) starts poking around in the affairs of members of Congress (the Legislative branch).

In principle, this isn’t a wholly terrible idea. The Constitution sets up very important balances between the three branches, with each branch having a large degree of autonomy, but still able to be checked by the others in very specific ways. And the Constitution doesn’t explicitly spell out that “the Executive Branch can have its agents harassing and arresting Legislators willy-nilly.”

In practice, federal law enforcement has done a fairly good job at balancing their charge with the limitations expressed in the Constitution. With Abscam, the FBI set up and took down a sitting U.S. Senator and five sitting Representatives. More recently, in the case of former Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA), the FBI managed to win a conviction. Similarly, in the case of former Representative Mark Foley (R-FL), it was largely confirmed that he had never quite managed to break the law while he was pursuing young male congressional pages.

On the other hand, there have been some cases in recent years of such investigations not going so smoothly. When the FBI wanted to search the offices of former Representative William Jefferson (D-LA), he put up such a stink, it nearly triggered a Constitutional crisis.

Currently, as the Washington Times editorial notes, there are quite a few members of Congress whose ethics are undergoing legal scrutiny. Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) is trying very hard not to answer questions about his relationship with Countrywide Mortgage and his tax situation in general. Representative Charles Schumer (D-NY), the powerful chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, has some serious tax questions of his own he’d like unasked. Representative John Murtha (D-PA) has certain lucrative ties with lobbyists and defense contractors. Representative Jesse Jackson (D-IL) may have had a few too many dealings with impeached former governor Rod Blagojevich (D) over who would assume Barack Obama’s Senate seat.

There are sound Constitutional principles to be used to justify Speaker Pelosi’s (D-CA) move to insulate Congress from the Justice Department. Unfortunately, they quickly fade into the facade when the record is examined: when Republicans are targeted, the process seems to work. (Cunningham is in jail, Foley is utterly disgraced.) When it comes to Democrats, the record is more complicated. (Dodd is still held in fairly good regard, Schumer and Murtha still hold powerful chairmanships that relate directly to the charges of corruption against them.)

Perhaps Madame Speaker ought to focus her attention on the miscreants over whom she has nominal authority. If she and her colleagues were a smidgen better at policing their own and cleaning up their own messes, the Justice Department wouldn’t have to step in so frequently.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has suddenly discovered an important federal principle: the separation of powers. And she is eager to apply it to help avoid any potential crises when the Justice Department (part of the Executive branch) starts poking around in the affairs of members of Congress (the Legislative branch).

In principle, this isn’t a wholly terrible idea. The Constitution sets up very important balances between the three branches, with each branch having a large degree of autonomy, but still able to be checked by the others in very specific ways. And the Constitution doesn’t explicitly spell out that “the Executive Branch can have its agents harassing and arresting Legislators willy-nilly.”

In practice, federal law enforcement has done a fairly good job at balancing their charge with the limitations expressed in the Constitution. With Abscam, the FBI set up and took down a sitting U.S. Senator and five sitting Representatives. More recently, in the case of former Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA), the FBI managed to win a conviction. Similarly, in the case of former Representative Mark Foley (R-FL), it was largely confirmed that he had never quite managed to break the law while he was pursuing young male congressional pages.

On the other hand, there have been some cases in recent years of such investigations not going so smoothly. When the FBI wanted to search the offices of former Representative William Jefferson (D-LA), he put up such a stink, it nearly triggered a Constitutional crisis.

Currently, as the Washington Times editorial notes, there are quite a few members of Congress whose ethics are undergoing legal scrutiny. Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) is trying very hard not to answer questions about his relationship with Countrywide Mortgage and his tax situation in general. Representative Charles Schumer (D-NY), the powerful chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, has some serious tax questions of his own he’d like unasked. Representative John Murtha (D-PA) has certain lucrative ties with lobbyists and defense contractors. Representative Jesse Jackson (D-IL) may have had a few too many dealings with impeached former governor Rod Blagojevich (D) over who would assume Barack Obama’s Senate seat.

There are sound Constitutional principles to be used to justify Speaker Pelosi’s (D-CA) move to insulate Congress from the Justice Department. Unfortunately, they quickly fade into the facade when the record is examined: when Republicans are targeted, the process seems to work. (Cunningham is in jail, Foley is utterly disgraced.) When it comes to Democrats, the record is more complicated. (Dodd is still held in fairly good regard, Schumer and Murtha still hold powerful chairmanships that relate directly to the charges of corruption against them.)

Perhaps Madame Speaker ought to focus her attention on the miscreants over whom she has nominal authority. If she and her colleagues were a smidgen better at policing their own and cleaning up their own messes, the Justice Department wouldn’t have to step in so frequently.

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Re: Think Again

I suggested that Democrats who now control both elected branches might want to reconsider the merits of judicial restraint. For the president this is especially true in an area of jurisprudence which has not been the focus of much pre-nomination chatter: national security. Now that he is in the White House Obama may not want to be micromanaged by the Supreme Court. In a thoughtful analysis, Stuart Taylor observes:

Meanwhile, in moving from campaign mode to the presidency, Obama has had many reasons to worry about such judicial second-guessing. One federal District judge has rejected the administration’s claim that it can detain suspected jihadist fighters captured outside Afghanistan at Bagram Air Base without judicial oversight. A federal Appeals Court has rejected the White House’s efforts to use the “state secrets” doctrine to block lawsuits by former detainees who claim they were tortured.

Still other lawsuits demand the release of any detainees in the war on terrorism who cannot be convicted of crimes, and publication of classified CIA documents that Obama would rather keep under wraps. A reported, perhaps tentative plan by administration officials to use “military commissions” instead of ordinary courts to try some of the detainees for war crimes would surely bring more legal attacks. And for the foreseeable future, squadrons of liberal lawyers will be suing a range of companies for cooperating with the president on matters such as wiretaps, “renditions” of suspected terrorists to other countries, and other actions deemed by Obama to be vital to national security.

The more the courts smile on such lawsuits, the harder it will be for the president to protect the country. Indeed, some human-rights and civil-liberties activists have done their best to hamstring virtually all of the surveillance, search-and-seizure, detention, and related powers on which the government depends to find and disable suspected terrorists.

It is unclear how high this concern will rank or whether there even is a “liberal” justice who will be inclined to follow Obama’s empathy edict while showing deference to the executive branch on matters of national security. But now that he is in the White House and must navigate through the thicket of ACLU lawsuits, keep his netroot base at bay, and maintain the flexibility to protect the country, he may want to think twice about nominees inclined to micromanage national defense policy.

Judicial restraint has its benefits — for the country and for a commander-in-chief trying to balance a host of competing interests. From Obama’s perspective, he has reasons to want to preserve his options on everything from surveillance to detainee treatment — without the complicating factor of justices who lack expertise to run the war on terror from the bench. If he intends to keep those options open he’ll have every reason to find a justice inclined to let the executive branch run the national security show.

I suggested that Democrats who now control both elected branches might want to reconsider the merits of judicial restraint. For the president this is especially true in an area of jurisprudence which has not been the focus of much pre-nomination chatter: national security. Now that he is in the White House Obama may not want to be micromanaged by the Supreme Court. In a thoughtful analysis, Stuart Taylor observes:

Meanwhile, in moving from campaign mode to the presidency, Obama has had many reasons to worry about such judicial second-guessing. One federal District judge has rejected the administration’s claim that it can detain suspected jihadist fighters captured outside Afghanistan at Bagram Air Base without judicial oversight. A federal Appeals Court has rejected the White House’s efforts to use the “state secrets” doctrine to block lawsuits by former detainees who claim they were tortured.

Still other lawsuits demand the release of any detainees in the war on terrorism who cannot be convicted of crimes, and publication of classified CIA documents that Obama would rather keep under wraps. A reported, perhaps tentative plan by administration officials to use “military commissions” instead of ordinary courts to try some of the detainees for war crimes would surely bring more legal attacks. And for the foreseeable future, squadrons of liberal lawyers will be suing a range of companies for cooperating with the president on matters such as wiretaps, “renditions” of suspected terrorists to other countries, and other actions deemed by Obama to be vital to national security.

The more the courts smile on such lawsuits, the harder it will be for the president to protect the country. Indeed, some human-rights and civil-liberties activists have done their best to hamstring virtually all of the surveillance, search-and-seizure, detention, and related powers on which the government depends to find and disable suspected terrorists.

It is unclear how high this concern will rank or whether there even is a “liberal” justice who will be inclined to follow Obama’s empathy edict while showing deference to the executive branch on matters of national security. But now that he is in the White House and must navigate through the thicket of ACLU lawsuits, keep his netroot base at bay, and maintain the flexibility to protect the country, he may want to think twice about nominees inclined to micromanage national defense policy.

Judicial restraint has its benefits — for the country and for a commander-in-chief trying to balance a host of competing interests. From Obama’s perspective, he has reasons to want to preserve his options on everything from surveillance to detainee treatment — without the complicating factor of justices who lack expertise to run the war on terror from the bench. If he intends to keep those options open he’ll have every reason to find a justice inclined to let the executive branch run the national security show.

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Iran Back in Iraq?

This comes amid other reports that Iran has ratcheted up its meddling in Iraq:

A senior Iraqi Kurdish official has said that Iran is shelling border villages in northern Iraq despite a warning by the Iraqi government to desist, RFE/RL’s Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

[…]

He added that Iran’s latest spate of shelling started on May 2 with gunships and artillery targeting villages east of Suleimaniyah in northeastern Iraqi Kurdistan.

Many observers interpret the recent increase in Iraqi violence as a sign of the insurgents’ unbeatable stamina. But maybe while Barack Obama is talking to Tehran about our supposed common interests, the mullahs are taking advantage of their newly received “respect” to undermine us next door. Al Qaeda in Iraq has been decimated and cannot pull off a countrywide campaign, and a Sunni-Shia civil war was only ever the unfulfilled concoction of a stronger AQI. If Iran is once again actively working to bring chaos to Iraq, that’s one more reason for Obama to abandon his hopeless kid gloves treatment of the mullahs — not that it will convince him to change course or anything.

This comes amid other reports that Iran has ratcheted up its meddling in Iraq:

A senior Iraqi Kurdish official has said that Iran is shelling border villages in northern Iraq despite a warning by the Iraqi government to desist, RFE/RL’s Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

[…]

He added that Iran’s latest spate of shelling started on May 2 with gunships and artillery targeting villages east of Suleimaniyah in northeastern Iraqi Kurdistan.

Many observers interpret the recent increase in Iraqi violence as a sign of the insurgents’ unbeatable stamina. But maybe while Barack Obama is talking to Tehran about our supposed common interests, the mullahs are taking advantage of their newly received “respect” to undermine us next door. Al Qaeda in Iraq has been decimated and cannot pull off a countrywide campaign, and a Sunni-Shia civil war was only ever the unfulfilled concoction of a stronger AQI. If Iran is once again actively working to bring chaos to Iraq, that’s one more reason for Obama to abandon his hopeless kid gloves treatment of the mullahs — not that it will convince him to change course or anything.

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The Charade Ends

Politico, following on ABC’s report, tells us:

An intelligence report sent recently to Capitol Hill shows that members of Congress were briefed 40 times since 2002 on aspects of the so-called “enhanced interrogation” program. Many have decried the techniques used in the program as torture.

The list seems to contradict the claim by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), then-minority leader and ranking member on the House intelligence committee, that she was never told at a 2002 briefing that waterboarding had been used or would been used, only that legal opinions approving of its use had been issued.

And on the handy chart that is now available, we see Jay Rockefeller’s name on the list for multiple briefings. It seems we’ve had a widespread and unseemly charade going on. As Congress calls for a witch hunt for those who drafted and carried out policies that protected us, they should consider just how abhorrent the public may find their feigned outrage.

Administration attorneys who are contemplating bar complaints against the Bush administration lawyers who drafted the interrogation memos on the premise that “of course” they knew their advice was ill-founded (and that the methods “obviously” met the definition of torture) might want to consult with members of Congress as to whether the techniques on which they were briefed “shocked their conscience.” Notes of those sessions  might be illuminating. But the nature of the investigative techniques have ceased to be the most shocking thing about this entire tawdry effort to vilify those who sought to protect their fellow citizens when they needed it most.

Politico, following on ABC’s report, tells us:

An intelligence report sent recently to Capitol Hill shows that members of Congress were briefed 40 times since 2002 on aspects of the so-called “enhanced interrogation” program. Many have decried the techniques used in the program as torture.

The list seems to contradict the claim by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), then-minority leader and ranking member on the House intelligence committee, that she was never told at a 2002 briefing that waterboarding had been used or would been used, only that legal opinions approving of its use had been issued.

And on the handy chart that is now available, we see Jay Rockefeller’s name on the list for multiple briefings. It seems we’ve had a widespread and unseemly charade going on. As Congress calls for a witch hunt for those who drafted and carried out policies that protected us, they should consider just how abhorrent the public may find their feigned outrage.

Administration attorneys who are contemplating bar complaints against the Bush administration lawyers who drafted the interrogation memos on the premise that “of course” they knew their advice was ill-founded (and that the methods “obviously” met the definition of torture) might want to consult with members of Congress as to whether the techniques on which they were briefed “shocked their conscience.” Notes of those sessions  might be illuminating. But the nature of the investigative techniques have ceased to be the most shocking thing about this entire tawdry effort to vilify those who sought to protect their fellow citizens when they needed it most.

Read Less

The Big Blur

Noted Churchill scholar Andrew Sullivan:

Here’s a question for Abe Greenwald. Since he seems to believe that none of the Bush-approved interrogation techniques are torture or abuse or barred by Geneva, and “no decent person wants to see a picture of Lynndie England for the umpteenth time,” does he favor pardoning those who were scapegoated? If not, why not?

That comes from a post entitled “Pardon for Graner?” which one needs to know when translating from the original Torturese. In other words, does my defense of CIA enhanced interrogation meld into a defense of Abu Ghraib abusers Lynndie England, Megan Ambuhl, Sabrina Harman, Charles Graner, and company?

If Sullivan really wanted to know the answer we’d be getting somewhere. But that involves making the kind of distinctions that would leave his outrage slightly less complete.

The answer is “no,” for two reasons. First, the legal: the Abu Ghraib sadists were not authorized to do any of the things they did. It was a case of not following orders (hence the Dereliction of Duty charges). Second, the moral: Graner and his friends strangled, burned, punched, and sexually abused prisoners. CIA interrogators did none of these things.

It is intellectually dishonest to lump CIA interrogations together with Abu Ghraib and call it all official Bush policy. Doing so has obscured the whole discussion, and made it harder both to keep the country safe and to nail down the acceptable limits of needed interrogation techniques. Moreover, it has sunk the anti-enhanced interrogation side of the debate.

Noted Churchill scholar Andrew Sullivan:

Here’s a question for Abe Greenwald. Since he seems to believe that none of the Bush-approved interrogation techniques are torture or abuse or barred by Geneva, and “no decent person wants to see a picture of Lynndie England for the umpteenth time,” does he favor pardoning those who were scapegoated? If not, why not?

That comes from a post entitled “Pardon for Graner?” which one needs to know when translating from the original Torturese. In other words, does my defense of CIA enhanced interrogation meld into a defense of Abu Ghraib abusers Lynndie England, Megan Ambuhl, Sabrina Harman, Charles Graner, and company?

If Sullivan really wanted to know the answer we’d be getting somewhere. But that involves making the kind of distinctions that would leave his outrage slightly less complete.

The answer is “no,” for two reasons. First, the legal: the Abu Ghraib sadists were not authorized to do any of the things they did. It was a case of not following orders (hence the Dereliction of Duty charges). Second, the moral: Graner and his friends strangled, burned, punched, and sexually abused prisoners. CIA interrogators did none of these things.

It is intellectually dishonest to lump CIA interrogations together with Abu Ghraib and call it all official Bush policy. Doing so has obscured the whole discussion, and made it harder both to keep the country safe and to nail down the acceptable limits of needed interrogation techniques. Moreover, it has sunk the anti-enhanced interrogation side of the debate.

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GM Takes the Money and Runs

I admit I laughed when I saw this headline: “Under Restructuring, GM To Build More Cars Overseas.” Well, of course GM is going to produce more overseas — to escape its union obligations and minimize its regulatory burdens. Robert Reich explains:

It’s an almost impossible dilemma. . GM is a global company — so for that matter is AIG and the biggest Wall Street banks. That means that bailing them out doesn’t necessarily redound to the benefit of the U.S. or American workers.

More significantly, it raises fundamental questions about the purpose of bailing out these big companies. If GM is going to do more of its production overseas, then why exactly are we saving GM?

Well, that’s a tough one. We’re going to spend billions and billions in taxpayer subsidies to see jobs go to other countries because that’s the only way GM can survive. So the government and UAW have two options. They can decide not to let GM do that and hasten GM’s demise. Or they will go along and we’ll have a  subsidized GM helping drive down the rate of unemployment in Canada, Mexico and South Korea (a worthy goal but not how the bailout was sold).

Welcome to the world of the nationalized car industry. And we’re only just beginning.

I admit I laughed when I saw this headline: “Under Restructuring, GM To Build More Cars Overseas.” Well, of course GM is going to produce more overseas — to escape its union obligations and minimize its regulatory burdens. Robert Reich explains:

It’s an almost impossible dilemma. . GM is a global company — so for that matter is AIG and the biggest Wall Street banks. That means that bailing them out doesn’t necessarily redound to the benefit of the U.S. or American workers.

More significantly, it raises fundamental questions about the purpose of bailing out these big companies. If GM is going to do more of its production overseas, then why exactly are we saving GM?

Well, that’s a tough one. We’re going to spend billions and billions in taxpayer subsidies to see jobs go to other countries because that’s the only way GM can survive. So the government and UAW have two options. They can decide not to let GM do that and hasten GM’s demise. Or they will go along and we’ll have a  subsidized GM helping drive down the rate of unemployment in Canada, Mexico and South Korea (a worthy goal but not how the bailout was sold).

Welcome to the world of the nationalized car industry. And we’re only just beginning.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

I know you’re shocked but Nancy Pelosi lied about her 2002 CIA briefing on interrogation. Perhaps she should offer an explanation for years of misleading the public and her colleagues.

You knew this was coming from Rick Santorum: “Sen. Arlen Specter said after his switch to the Democratic Party last week that he would not be a “party-line voter” or “an automatic 60th vote” to head off a Republican filibuster. He put an exclamation point on those pronouncements by voting against President Obama’s $3.5 trillion budget.I know Arlen Specter. Arlen is a friend of mine. And I believe him when he says he will be as much of a pain to Democratic leaders as he was to Republican leaders.”

Pennsylvania Democratic activists aren’t impressed by Specter.

About time: “The chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York resigned Thursday, days after coming under attack for his continuing involvement in a company regulated by the institution. Stephen Friedman received a waiver to remain on the board of Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street firm that became a bank holding company amid September’s financial frenzy, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal on Monday. He also holds a substantial amount of shares in the company and continued to buy more even after Goldman came under the Fed’s supervision.” How did this ever happen? Perhaps the Fed should regulate itself before trying to run the whole economy.

Jeffrey Rosen reels in (just a bit) his criticism of Sonia Sotomayer: “Sotomayor is an able candidate–at least as able as some of the current Supreme Court justices–and if Obama is convinced she is the best candidate on his short list, he should pick her.”

The upshot of this New York Times column: the president should replace Souter with someone with a personality and the ability to write. Well, Obama did promise change.

And Jan Crawford Greenburg confirms that the White House is aware of Sotomayer’s intellectual and temperamental shortcomings. But Rahm Emanuel wants her anyway.

Tom Ridge is keeping his ballot secret and his mind open on a GOP Senate candidate in Pennsylvania. This suggests the field is not yet set.

Best headline yet: “Specter Clouseau.”

Professor Bradley Smith: ” ‘Empathy’  is not judging, and it is not law.” Well,  at least not until the Obama Supreme Court nominee is confirmed.

The best kept secret in Washington? Sens. Burr and Coburn have an attractive free-market alternative to healthcare.

Who’s in worse shape than the GOP? The MSM says Dana Perino: “The media plays a critical role in our political system, and I hope it finds its way out of its wilderness before too long. But unlike the Republican party, which is working together to emerge as a stronger party, there are days when it’s really hard to see how the media plan to get themselves out of the mess they’ve helped get themselves into.”

Some of the 9-11 families aren’t pleased at all with Obama’s approach to the war on terror.

A detailed and interesting look at the nuanced messages to Capitol Hill, coming from AIPAC activists.

Perhaps Marty Peretz is right: “I believe that Bibi Netanyahu and Michael Oren are working on a significant package of reciprocal steps that the principals will have to take to get anything going.” If so, that will add some specific context to what is now an extremely oblique dance.

I know you’re shocked but Nancy Pelosi lied about her 2002 CIA briefing on interrogation. Perhaps she should offer an explanation for years of misleading the public and her colleagues.

You knew this was coming from Rick Santorum: “Sen. Arlen Specter said after his switch to the Democratic Party last week that he would not be a “party-line voter” or “an automatic 60th vote” to head off a Republican filibuster. He put an exclamation point on those pronouncements by voting against President Obama’s $3.5 trillion budget.I know Arlen Specter. Arlen is a friend of mine. And I believe him when he says he will be as much of a pain to Democratic leaders as he was to Republican leaders.”

Pennsylvania Democratic activists aren’t impressed by Specter.

About time: “The chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York resigned Thursday, days after coming under attack for his continuing involvement in a company regulated by the institution. Stephen Friedman received a waiver to remain on the board of Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street firm that became a bank holding company amid September’s financial frenzy, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal on Monday. He also holds a substantial amount of shares in the company and continued to buy more even after Goldman came under the Fed’s supervision.” How did this ever happen? Perhaps the Fed should regulate itself before trying to run the whole economy.

Jeffrey Rosen reels in (just a bit) his criticism of Sonia Sotomayer: “Sotomayor is an able candidate–at least as able as some of the current Supreme Court justices–and if Obama is convinced she is the best candidate on his short list, he should pick her.”

The upshot of this New York Times column: the president should replace Souter with someone with a personality and the ability to write. Well, Obama did promise change.

And Jan Crawford Greenburg confirms that the White House is aware of Sotomayer’s intellectual and temperamental shortcomings. But Rahm Emanuel wants her anyway.

Tom Ridge is keeping his ballot secret and his mind open on a GOP Senate candidate in Pennsylvania. This suggests the field is not yet set.

Best headline yet: “Specter Clouseau.”

Professor Bradley Smith: ” ‘Empathy’  is not judging, and it is not law.” Well,  at least not until the Obama Supreme Court nominee is confirmed.

The best kept secret in Washington? Sens. Burr and Coburn have an attractive free-market alternative to healthcare.

Who’s in worse shape than the GOP? The MSM says Dana Perino: “The media plays a critical role in our political system, and I hope it finds its way out of its wilderness before too long. But unlike the Republican party, which is working together to emerge as a stronger party, there are days when it’s really hard to see how the media plan to get themselves out of the mess they’ve helped get themselves into.”

Some of the 9-11 families aren’t pleased at all with Obama’s approach to the war on terror.

A detailed and interesting look at the nuanced messages to Capitol Hill, coming from AIPAC activists.

Perhaps Marty Peretz is right: “I believe that Bibi Netanyahu and Michael Oren are working on a significant package of reciprocal steps that the principals will have to take to get anything going.” If so, that will add some specific context to what is now an extremely oblique dance.

Read Less




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