Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 18, 2009

Obama’s New Linkage

The good news from the Obama-Netanyahu press conference today is that the president indicated his engagement with Iran would not be endless, which is nice to hear — but the sense of relief that this has caused indicates a bar that couldn’t be set lower for Obama if it was held off the floor by a couple of Legos.

The bad news is that Obama reiterated his endorsement of “linkage,” or as it’s known around here, the myth of linkage. He said:

If there is a linkage between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I personally believe it actually runs the other way. To the extent that we can make peace with the Palestinians — between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with the potential Iranian threat.

This of course gives rise to a predictable set of questions, such as: what if Israeli-Palestinian peace will take many years to accomplish, but the Iranian nuclear bomb will only take a year or two to accomplish? Obama essentially proposes that America will race the Iranians — our peace process versus their nuclear program. Does anyone wonder who will win?

There are lots more problems with all of this, many of which are discussed with great clarity in the myth of linkage link above. But I’d be surprised if Obama himself believes that the kind of cosmetic progress that might be accomplished in the peace process over the next year will actually create leverage on Iran. Rather, I suspect that his invocation of linkage serves a different purpose: to incorporate the peace process into the U.S.’s dealings with Iran, enabling Obama to extract the maximum possible concessions from Israel in the course of his fruitless attempt to talk the Iranians out of nuclear weapons. It won’t work, but it is shrewd. And it is linkage, albeit of a new kind.

The good news from the Obama-Netanyahu press conference today is that the president indicated his engagement with Iran would not be endless, which is nice to hear — but the sense of relief that this has caused indicates a bar that couldn’t be set lower for Obama if it was held off the floor by a couple of Legos.

The bad news is that Obama reiterated his endorsement of “linkage,” or as it’s known around here, the myth of linkage. He said:

If there is a linkage between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I personally believe it actually runs the other way. To the extent that we can make peace with the Palestinians — between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with the potential Iranian threat.

This of course gives rise to a predictable set of questions, such as: what if Israeli-Palestinian peace will take many years to accomplish, but the Iranian nuclear bomb will only take a year or two to accomplish? Obama essentially proposes that America will race the Iranians — our peace process versus their nuclear program. Does anyone wonder who will win?

There are lots more problems with all of this, many of which are discussed with great clarity in the myth of linkage link above. But I’d be surprised if Obama himself believes that the kind of cosmetic progress that might be accomplished in the peace process over the next year will actually create leverage on Iran. Rather, I suspect that his invocation of linkage serves a different purpose: to incorporate the peace process into the U.S.’s dealings with Iran, enabling Obama to extract the maximum possible concessions from Israel in the course of his fruitless attempt to talk the Iranians out of nuclear weapons. It won’t work, but it is shrewd. And it is linkage, albeit of a new kind.

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Juan Cole Fails the Analogy Section, Again

It’s been a while since I’ve commented on Juan Cole’s absolute ineptitude with analogies — a major shortcoming even the New York Times noticed in its otherwise positive review of his most recent book.  Well, the historical analogy he employs in his most recent blog post is so asinine I couldn’t possibly let it go:

Far rightwing Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is meeting Monday with President Barack Obama in Washington. It is the most fateful encounter of two world leaders since Kennedy met Khrushchev. And Obama absolutely must not allow himself to be cowed or misunderstood as timid by Netanyahu, who is a notorious bully and warmonger.

In the vapid analysis that follows, Cole anticipates disagreements between Obama and Netanyahu on Palestinian statehood and Iran. Of course, this begs the question: are these disagreements between the U.S. and Israel — allies, by the way — really analogous to the disagreements between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War? Does Cole actually think that the outcome of today’s Obama-Netanyahu talks can potentially impact the planet’s geostrategic outlook in the way the fateful Kennedy-Khrushchev meeting in April 1961 did? Does Cole truly believe that Netanyahu might respond to a lack of toughness from Obama — whatever that might look like — by threatening the United States, much as Khrushchev responded to Kennedy’s weakness by placing nuclear missiles in Cuba?

Either way, this is scary stuff coming from a University of Michigan history professor, who has presumably read a book or two about the Cold War. Still, at least Cole isn’t a psychiatrist, because his analysis of — and prescription for — Israeli society is even worse than his analogizing:

I like Israelis, but they are understandably traumatized by all the things that have happened to them since the 1930s and have developed an unhealthy hysteria and tendency to shoot first and ask questions later.  …  Obama must impress on them that the answer to every problem is not a bombing raid. The good thing about having Rahm Emmanuel in the White House is that he will be able to phrase the instruction colorfully enough for it to be understood unambiguously.

Just to be clear: the way to treat a nervous foreign public is to have the White House chief-of-staff curse at them. Chalk up another “informed comment” for Dr. Cole!

It’s been a while since I’ve commented on Juan Cole’s absolute ineptitude with analogies — a major shortcoming even the New York Times noticed in its otherwise positive review of his most recent book.  Well, the historical analogy he employs in his most recent blog post is so asinine I couldn’t possibly let it go:

Far rightwing Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is meeting Monday with President Barack Obama in Washington. It is the most fateful encounter of two world leaders since Kennedy met Khrushchev. And Obama absolutely must not allow himself to be cowed or misunderstood as timid by Netanyahu, who is a notorious bully and warmonger.

In the vapid analysis that follows, Cole anticipates disagreements between Obama and Netanyahu on Palestinian statehood and Iran. Of course, this begs the question: are these disagreements between the U.S. and Israel — allies, by the way — really analogous to the disagreements between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War? Does Cole actually think that the outcome of today’s Obama-Netanyahu talks can potentially impact the planet’s geostrategic outlook in the way the fateful Kennedy-Khrushchev meeting in April 1961 did? Does Cole truly believe that Netanyahu might respond to a lack of toughness from Obama — whatever that might look like — by threatening the United States, much as Khrushchev responded to Kennedy’s weakness by placing nuclear missiles in Cuba?

Either way, this is scary stuff coming from a University of Michigan history professor, who has presumably read a book or two about the Cold War. Still, at least Cole isn’t a psychiatrist, because his analysis of — and prescription for — Israeli society is even worse than his analogizing:

I like Israelis, but they are understandably traumatized by all the things that have happened to them since the 1930s and have developed an unhealthy hysteria and tendency to shoot first and ask questions later.  …  Obama must impress on them that the answer to every problem is not a bombing raid. The good thing about having Rahm Emmanuel in the White House is that he will be able to phrase the instruction colorfully enough for it to be understood unambiguously.

Just to be clear: the way to treat a nervous foreign public is to have the White House chief-of-staff curse at them. Chalk up another “informed comment” for Dr. Cole!

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Re: Don’t Let the Door Hit You. . .

Well it must be “Failed Political Consultant” day. We heard from Mark Penn, and now John Weaver, who was booted from the McCain campaign and continued to bedevil him from the sidelines, is out opining on the 2012 GOP prospects. He’s greatly miffed about Jon Huntsman exiting the race. But aside from the silliness of predicting who is toxic and who is not for the GOP three and a half years ahead (I offer no opinion on those he named) one has to wonder whether the advice isn’t suspect. A friend passes on this reminder of just how devoted Weaver is to the future of the Republican Party:

In early 2002, Weaver reregistered as a Democrat. And even that doesn’t do justice to his alienation. Soon after crossing the aisle, he signed contracts with the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (dccc)–two organizations deeply committed to the defeat of Republican candidates. He joined the inner circle of consultants planning Dick Gephardt’s presidential campaign. (Had he not developed cancer, he would have likely remained active in that campaign.) And, to almost any reporter who called, he articulated a stinging critique of the Bushies.

Anyone can — and certainly does — offer political advice these days. But when Penn and Weaver pop up, one should take their missives with a large grain of salt. Granted, the media are starved for “experts” to provide sourcing for political handicapping, but it seems the first requirement is for such experts to have some track record of expertise and minimal devotion to the side they are pretending to “help.”

Well it must be “Failed Political Consultant” day. We heard from Mark Penn, and now John Weaver, who was booted from the McCain campaign and continued to bedevil him from the sidelines, is out opining on the 2012 GOP prospects. He’s greatly miffed about Jon Huntsman exiting the race. But aside from the silliness of predicting who is toxic and who is not for the GOP three and a half years ahead (I offer no opinion on those he named) one has to wonder whether the advice isn’t suspect. A friend passes on this reminder of just how devoted Weaver is to the future of the Republican Party:

In early 2002, Weaver reregistered as a Democrat. And even that doesn’t do justice to his alienation. Soon after crossing the aisle, he signed contracts with the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (dccc)–two organizations deeply committed to the defeat of Republican candidates. He joined the inner circle of consultants planning Dick Gephardt’s presidential campaign. (Had he not developed cancer, he would have likely remained active in that campaign.) And, to almost any reporter who called, he articulated a stinging critique of the Bushies.

Anyone can — and certainly does — offer political advice these days. But when Penn and Weaver pop up, one should take their missives with a large grain of salt. Granted, the media are starved for “experts” to provide sourcing for political handicapping, but it seems the first requirement is for such experts to have some track record of expertise and minimal devotion to the side they are pretending to “help.”

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Nothing to Fight About

From the news reports coming from the meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu it is safe to say the alarmist predictions of a blow up or confrontation proved to be unfounded. As Elliott Abrams predicted in his useful piece a week or so ago, the mainstream press is sizing the body language to look for “signs.” But neither leader is desirous of a blowup. The JTA headline offers: “Obama: Won’t Talk Forever on Iran.” Well, that’s a relief because forever is a long time. And of course Obama said firm but nonthreatening things about settlements, and, as one might expect, Netanyahu talked favorably of “the full range of discussions with the Palestinians.”

Consider the can kicked down the road. But what does this mean and what plan does Obama have for actually halting Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons? Well, I suspect he does not have one. The grim reality may be that there is no plan, that the time for sanctions and serious diplomatic pressure is running out — or already has. There will be hard choices for Israel and the U.S. down the road but not today.

Another reality: so long as a viable partner with full authority to negotiate a lasting peace on behalf of the Palestinians is absent, the “pressure” on Israel is ephemeral. To whom exactly is Israel supposed to talk and about what? At this point the “peace process” devolves, if one is honest, to (at most) the sort of confidence-building and economic discussions Netanyahu has touted.

For now Obama has more than enough foreign policy dilemmas crowding out his cherished domestic agenda. The last thing he wanted was a needless public fight with Israel. And so he avoided it.

From the news reports coming from the meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu it is safe to say the alarmist predictions of a blow up or confrontation proved to be unfounded. As Elliott Abrams predicted in his useful piece a week or so ago, the mainstream press is sizing the body language to look for “signs.” But neither leader is desirous of a blowup. The JTA headline offers: “Obama: Won’t Talk Forever on Iran.” Well, that’s a relief because forever is a long time. And of course Obama said firm but nonthreatening things about settlements, and, as one might expect, Netanyahu talked favorably of “the full range of discussions with the Palestinians.”

Consider the can kicked down the road. But what does this mean and what plan does Obama have for actually halting Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons? Well, I suspect he does not have one. The grim reality may be that there is no plan, that the time for sanctions and serious diplomatic pressure is running out — or already has. There will be hard choices for Israel and the U.S. down the road but not today.

Another reality: so long as a viable partner with full authority to negotiate a lasting peace on behalf of the Palestinians is absent, the “pressure” on Israel is ephemeral. To whom exactly is Israel supposed to talk and about what? At this point the “peace process” devolves, if one is honest, to (at most) the sort of confidence-building and economic discussions Netanyahu has touted.

For now Obama has more than enough foreign policy dilemmas crowding out his cherished domestic agenda. The last thing he wanted was a needless public fight with Israel. And so he avoided it.

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Commentary of the Day

Joe, on Jennifer Rubin:

The whole closing of Gitmo was a terrible idea, done as some political circus to appease the Soros wing of the party. Webb is right, we spent millions upgrading Guantanamo and in many ways detainees there get better legal representation than citizen criminals. Placing these detainees in U.S. facilities, even supermax facilities, is just not justified.

Webb will be the first but watch the Dems and Obama pivot on this issue. And pivot they should.

Joe, on Jennifer Rubin:

The whole closing of Gitmo was a terrible idea, done as some political circus to appease the Soros wing of the party. Webb is right, we spent millions upgrading Guantanamo and in many ways detainees there get better legal representation than citizen criminals. Placing these detainees in U.S. facilities, even supermax facilities, is just not justified.

Webb will be the first but watch the Dems and Obama pivot on this issue. And pivot they should.

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NPT Redux

Ten days ago, as I was writing about the U.S., Israel and the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), I recommended a study by Emily Landau of the Israeli Institute For National Security Studies:

[I]n this 2004 paper, she points to one of the NPT’s most disturbing failures: “the gap between continued expectations of the NPT’s role in preventing nuclear proliferation and its real ability to confront emerging international realities in the guise of states seeking nuclear capability widened.” This happened not because the NPT was poorly implemented, but because the NPT is inherently incapable of halting the spread of nuclear proliferation.

Since this is a fairly old study, I feel obligated to report that Landau just wrote a new one addressing the question on everyone’s minds: The U.S. and the NPT: Israel on the Line?

This question was catalyzed by a statement from Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller. Gottermoeller said that “universal adherence to the NPT itself, including by India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea — also remains a fundamental objective of the United States.” Well, does the Obama administration intend to pick a fight with Israel over an issue that is most sensitive and essential to Israel’s security?

Landau’s updated answer is yes and no.

The “no” is a short-termistic:

[T]he immediate context of the statement underscores that it does not in itself indicate a break with past positions. The timing of the speech was determined by the NPT PrepCom cycle, and within this context it is standard US practice to express support for the NPT, including the hope that all states eventually join.

The “yes” applies to the long-term:

[I]t is difficult to disconnect Gottemoeller’s words from the broader disarmament agenda that President Obama has embraced of late, especially with regard to the expressed need for greater balance of emphasis among the three pillars of the NPT.

And Landau doesn’t forget to explain why an attempt to broker Iran’s denuclearization in exchange for Israel’s denuclearization would not be sensible:

Because proliferation issues are strategic and political, equating Israel with Iran is highly problematic. There are many important differences that distinguish between these two states, not least the fact that Iran cheated for years on its commitment to remain non-nuclear: according to the 2007 NIE, it was actively working on a nuclear weapons program from the 1980s up until at least 2003, while party to the NPT. Moreover, not only has Iran targeted Israel as a state it would like to see eliminated (whereas Israel has never issued any such threats), but it is threatening to disrupt the entire region due to its hegemonic agenda. Israel’s nuclear deterrent is a central linchpin of its defense against an existential threat that Iran is seeking to put in place with its own nuclear activity.

Will this convince “the Sullivans of the blogsphere”? One wonders.

Ten days ago, as I was writing about the U.S., Israel and the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), I recommended a study by Emily Landau of the Israeli Institute For National Security Studies:

[I]n this 2004 paper, she points to one of the NPT’s most disturbing failures: “the gap between continued expectations of the NPT’s role in preventing nuclear proliferation and its real ability to confront emerging international realities in the guise of states seeking nuclear capability widened.” This happened not because the NPT was poorly implemented, but because the NPT is inherently incapable of halting the spread of nuclear proliferation.

Since this is a fairly old study, I feel obligated to report that Landau just wrote a new one addressing the question on everyone’s minds: The U.S. and the NPT: Israel on the Line?

This question was catalyzed by a statement from Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller. Gottermoeller said that “universal adherence to the NPT itself, including by India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea — also remains a fundamental objective of the United States.” Well, does the Obama administration intend to pick a fight with Israel over an issue that is most sensitive and essential to Israel’s security?

Landau’s updated answer is yes and no.

The “no” is a short-termistic:

[T]he immediate context of the statement underscores that it does not in itself indicate a break with past positions. The timing of the speech was determined by the NPT PrepCom cycle, and within this context it is standard US practice to express support for the NPT, including the hope that all states eventually join.

The “yes” applies to the long-term:

[I]t is difficult to disconnect Gottemoeller’s words from the broader disarmament agenda that President Obama has embraced of late, especially with regard to the expressed need for greater balance of emphasis among the three pillars of the NPT.

And Landau doesn’t forget to explain why an attempt to broker Iran’s denuclearization in exchange for Israel’s denuclearization would not be sensible:

Because proliferation issues are strategic and political, equating Israel with Iran is highly problematic. There are many important differences that distinguish between these two states, not least the fact that Iran cheated for years on its commitment to remain non-nuclear: according to the 2007 NIE, it was actively working on a nuclear weapons program from the 1980s up until at least 2003, while party to the NPT. Moreover, not only has Iran targeted Israel as a state it would like to see eliminated (whereas Israel has never issued any such threats), but it is threatening to disrupt the entire region due to its hegemonic agenda. Israel’s nuclear deterrent is a central linchpin of its defense against an existential threat that Iran is seeking to put in place with its own nuclear activity.

Will this convince “the Sullivans of the blogsphere”? One wonders.

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Legislators Pose as Opponents of Hate

Boston Globe columnist, and COMMENTARY contributor Jeff Jacoby hit one out of the park on Sunday when he took on the drive to pass federal hate crimes legislation.

This is a cause that has been embraced by a great many well-meaning groups, including most of the organized Jewish community. But it is, as Jeff so ably points out, absolutely pointless.

If enacted, the law will almost certainly be challenged in court. The Constitution does not grant the federal government any general police power — prosecuting crime is primarily a state and local responsibility — and it is far from clear that the Supreme Court would go along with a congressional attempt to federalize such a broad swath of criminal law.

Which is just as well, since the new law will not serve any legitimate criminal-justice end. Every crime that would be covered by the bill is already a felony under state law. Each one can already be prosecuted and punished. Its name notwithstanding, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act will not prevent any hate crimes. Nor is there anything it could have added to the prosecution of Shepard’s killers, both of whom were convicted of murder and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.

So why pass such legislation? Like a great many other activities politicians engage in, it has to do with them pretending they are fighting against things people dislike without actually having to do anything meaningful. In other words, it is nothing more than a pose. As such, we might just all shrug and let it go as a harmless piece of nonsense. But there is a cost.

Hate-crime laws serve a symbolic function, not a practical one: They proclaim that crimes fueled by certain types of bias are especially repugnant. But that is the same as proclaiming that crimes fueled by other types of bias, or by motives having nothing to do with bias, are not quite as awful. Is that a message any decent society should wish to promote?

Suppose Matthew Shepard’s murderers had killed him for his wallet, or to prove their toughness to a gang, or out of sheer sadistic bloodlust. Would his death have been any less horrific? Would his family have shed fewer tears? Is it somehow better when a thrill-seeker burns a church than when a bigot does so? If James Byrd had been lynched by three black men, would his slaughter not have been as monstrous?

The obvious answer should be no, which is what our answer to those who advocate for this well-meaning piece of foolishness should also be.

Boston Globe columnist, and COMMENTARY contributor Jeff Jacoby hit one out of the park on Sunday when he took on the drive to pass federal hate crimes legislation.

This is a cause that has been embraced by a great many well-meaning groups, including most of the organized Jewish community. But it is, as Jeff so ably points out, absolutely pointless.

If enacted, the law will almost certainly be challenged in court. The Constitution does not grant the federal government any general police power — prosecuting crime is primarily a state and local responsibility — and it is far from clear that the Supreme Court would go along with a congressional attempt to federalize such a broad swath of criminal law.

Which is just as well, since the new law will not serve any legitimate criminal-justice end. Every crime that would be covered by the bill is already a felony under state law. Each one can already be prosecuted and punished. Its name notwithstanding, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act will not prevent any hate crimes. Nor is there anything it could have added to the prosecution of Shepard’s killers, both of whom were convicted of murder and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.

So why pass such legislation? Like a great many other activities politicians engage in, it has to do with them pretending they are fighting against things people dislike without actually having to do anything meaningful. In other words, it is nothing more than a pose. As such, we might just all shrug and let it go as a harmless piece of nonsense. But there is a cost.

Hate-crime laws serve a symbolic function, not a practical one: They proclaim that crimes fueled by certain types of bias are especially repugnant. But that is the same as proclaiming that crimes fueled by other types of bias, or by motives having nothing to do with bias, are not quite as awful. Is that a message any decent society should wish to promote?

Suppose Matthew Shepard’s murderers had killed him for his wallet, or to prove their toughness to a gang, or out of sheer sadistic bloodlust. Would his death have been any less horrific? Would his family have shed fewer tears? Is it somehow better when a thrill-seeker burns a church than when a bigot does so? If James Byrd had been lynched by three black men, would his slaughter not have been as monstrous?

The obvious answer should be no, which is what our answer to those who advocate for this well-meaning piece of foolishness should also be.

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Fake Columns and False Confessions

The strangest thing about Josh Marshall’s observation on the suspicious timing of enhanced interrogations is not that Maureen Dowd’s friend passed it off as her own before Maureen Dowd did the same; it’s that anyone would want to take credit for this bit of illogical paranoia. Here’s the twice-published line:

More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when we were looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.

The assertion is that U.S. officials waterboarded in order to get detainees to confess to an al Qaeda-Iraq connection. Well, officials sure got a lot of extraneous information out of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed while trying to do this: He copped to masterminding the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, 9/11, the Bali nightclub bombing, and Richard Reid’s failed attempt to blow up a commercial passenger plane in flight. But nothing on Iraq.

The same is true of the other two waterboarded detainees. Abu Zubaydah yielded less. He gave up Jose Padilla’s identity and information that may or may not have led to the capture of KSM. Yet, no Iraq smoking gun. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri revealed his involvement in the Cole bombing, but nothing to justify the toppling of Saddam.

What a terrible record for a procedure that’s notorious for getting people to say whatever you want to hear. All that water and not one false confession to shut up the war critics. But, then, what a waste of energy it was in the first place for an administration that supposedly didn’t worry about finding evidence to corroborate its assertions. I mean, I thought if George W. Bush and Dick Cheney wanted to get something done they simply lied, right?

It’s all very confusing. I’ll have to wait until Josh Marshall figures it out and Maureen Dowd does a cut-and-paste job in the New York Times. 

The strangest thing about Josh Marshall’s observation on the suspicious timing of enhanced interrogations is not that Maureen Dowd’s friend passed it off as her own before Maureen Dowd did the same; it’s that anyone would want to take credit for this bit of illogical paranoia. Here’s the twice-published line:

More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when we were looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.

The assertion is that U.S. officials waterboarded in order to get detainees to confess to an al Qaeda-Iraq connection. Well, officials sure got a lot of extraneous information out of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed while trying to do this: He copped to masterminding the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, 9/11, the Bali nightclub bombing, and Richard Reid’s failed attempt to blow up a commercial passenger plane in flight. But nothing on Iraq.

The same is true of the other two waterboarded detainees. Abu Zubaydah yielded less. He gave up Jose Padilla’s identity and information that may or may not have led to the capture of KSM. Yet, no Iraq smoking gun. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri revealed his involvement in the Cole bombing, but nothing to justify the toppling of Saddam.

What a terrible record for a procedure that’s notorious for getting people to say whatever you want to hear. All that water and not one false confession to shut up the war critics. But, then, what a waste of energy it was in the first place for an administration that supposedly didn’t worry about finding evidence to corroborate its assertions. I mean, I thought if George W. Bush and Dick Cheney wanted to get something done they simply lied, right?

It’s all very confusing. I’ll have to wait until Josh Marshall figures it out and Maureen Dowd does a cut-and-paste job in the New York Times. 

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Second Thoughts

Michael Crowley makes an interesting observation:

I wonder if Obama may now wish he’d come down differently in the reportedly “intense” White House debate over releasing those OLC torture memos. I rather suspect Nancy Pelosi does.

Well, it’s not like conservatives didn’t try to warn the president that this would open a period of destructive recrimination. And it’s not as if there was no argument made that this would be harmful to morale at the CIA. But I suppose the Rahm-Axelrod-Obama team felt this would be a sort of political coup, raising the ire of the public and getting in one last shot at the Bushies. Instead, it’s left some of their ardent fans wondering if the whole thing wasn’t a mistake after all.

Next time an explosive national security decision is looming, maybe the White House should consult with Dick Cheney. It seems he was offering some sage advice on this one.

Michael Crowley makes an interesting observation:

I wonder if Obama may now wish he’d come down differently in the reportedly “intense” White House debate over releasing those OLC torture memos. I rather suspect Nancy Pelosi does.

Well, it’s not like conservatives didn’t try to warn the president that this would open a period of destructive recrimination. And it’s not as if there was no argument made that this would be harmful to morale at the CIA. But I suppose the Rahm-Axelrod-Obama team felt this would be a sort of political coup, raising the ire of the public and getting in one last shot at the Bushies. Instead, it’s left some of their ardent fans wondering if the whole thing wasn’t a mistake after all.

Next time an explosive national security decision is looming, maybe the White House should consult with Dick Cheney. It seems he was offering some sage advice on this one.

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Yale’s Jackson Institute and “Public Service”

Last week, Yale announced that it has received “a $50 million gift from John W. ’67 and Susan G. Jackson to establish the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.”  This is a big deal in the field of education in international affairs: it signals that Yale, in its own words, is going to challenge the MA programs at Harvard and Johns Hopkins and attempt to “build . . . the premier program of its type.” As Mr. Jackson tells it, the purpose of the Institute is to “inspire students to pursue careers in diplomacy and public service.”

But what does “public service” mean? ‘Service’ appeared again in the message that announced the Jackson gift, in a reminder that Saturday was Yale’s “Global Day of Community Service.” As I’ve pointed out, sometimes “community service” is all about partisan politics. But academia’s confusion over “service” is often subtle. The reminder, for instance, stated that “Yale has a long, proud tradition of community service, dating back to its founding in 1701 as a ‘Collegiate School’ to prepare students ‘for Publick employment both in Church & Civil State.'”

Yes, that’s right: “For God, For Country, and for Yale” is a community service motto. Serving in the clergy, or working for the government, is part of the same “tradition of community service” as picking up trash.  Now, I have no gripe with many of the “Community Service” activities on Yale’s site, but Yale’s broader argument is doubly fallacious: government is both more serious than “community service” and less all-encompassing than civil society, of which I suppose “community service” is a small part.

The two announcements reminded me of the lawsuit by the Robertson Family against Princeton University, over the control of the funds for the Woodrow Wilson School. That School was funded by the Family to encourage students to pursue a career in the diplomatic service. Over time, it came to emphasize careers on Wall Street, so the Robertsons sued to get their money back. There are many lessons to be drawn from this story, but James Piereson gets a central one right: it is dangerous to “[award] endowment gifts to . . . universities in order to achieve some well defined purpose,” because the gift always outlasts the purpose.

The Jacksons have done exactly what Piereson advises against. I wish them, and the International Relations program that will benefit from their generosity (and for which I worked for four years), all the good will in the world. But nothing Yale writes instills much confidence in me that it will, over the coming decades, treat their gift as the Jacksons state they want it to be treated, because they do not
appear to mean the same thing by “service” as Yale does. So this is not just an argument about terms.  It has implications for how the university educates its students and respects the intent of its donors.

Last week, Yale announced that it has received “a $50 million gift from John W. ’67 and Susan G. Jackson to establish the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.”  This is a big deal in the field of education in international affairs: it signals that Yale, in its own words, is going to challenge the MA programs at Harvard and Johns Hopkins and attempt to “build . . . the premier program of its type.” As Mr. Jackson tells it, the purpose of the Institute is to “inspire students to pursue careers in diplomacy and public service.”

But what does “public service” mean? ‘Service’ appeared again in the message that announced the Jackson gift, in a reminder that Saturday was Yale’s “Global Day of Community Service.” As I’ve pointed out, sometimes “community service” is all about partisan politics. But academia’s confusion over “service” is often subtle. The reminder, for instance, stated that “Yale has a long, proud tradition of community service, dating back to its founding in 1701 as a ‘Collegiate School’ to prepare students ‘for Publick employment both in Church & Civil State.'”

Yes, that’s right: “For God, For Country, and for Yale” is a community service motto. Serving in the clergy, or working for the government, is part of the same “tradition of community service” as picking up trash.  Now, I have no gripe with many of the “Community Service” activities on Yale’s site, but Yale’s broader argument is doubly fallacious: government is both more serious than “community service” and less all-encompassing than civil society, of which I suppose “community service” is a small part.

The two announcements reminded me of the lawsuit by the Robertson Family against Princeton University, over the control of the funds for the Woodrow Wilson School. That School was funded by the Family to encourage students to pursue a career in the diplomatic service. Over time, it came to emphasize careers on Wall Street, so the Robertsons sued to get their money back. There are many lessons to be drawn from this story, but James Piereson gets a central one right: it is dangerous to “[award] endowment gifts to . . . universities in order to achieve some well defined purpose,” because the gift always outlasts the purpose.

The Jacksons have done exactly what Piereson advises against. I wish them, and the International Relations program that will benefit from their generosity (and for which I worked for four years), all the good will in the world. But nothing Yale writes instills much confidence in me that it will, over the coming decades, treat their gift as the Jacksons state they want it to be treated, because they do not
appear to mean the same thing by “service” as Yale does. So this is not just an argument about terms.  It has implications for how the university educates its students and respects the intent of its donors.

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Liberal Dissidents are Listening

Last week, I went down to Washington, D.C. to work with Egyptian pro-democracy dissidents on a series of briefings regarding Cairo’s ongoing crackdown against its liberal opponents. (My presentation before Hill appropriations staffers focused on the Mubarak regime’s infiltration of opposition parties and cooptation of liberal movements.) One evening, while discussing recent developments over coffee, the conversation suddenly shifted toward an entirely different part of the globe.

“What’s with Obama’s policy on China?” the director of a Cairo-based NGO asked.

I was a bit confused. I thought we were talking about Egypt.

“Yeah,” another democracy activist chimed in. “Hillary Clinton went to China and said that global warming is more important than human rights. How could she say something like that?” The rest of the dissidents agreed that they were deeply disappointed by Clinton’s remarks in Beijing, fearing that it signaled the Obama administration’s broader refusal to advance the cause of freedom — whether in China or in the Middle East.

Indeed, in an increasingly globalized world, a diplomatic victory for China’s leaders becomes a loss for Egyptian liberals. For this reason, the Obama administration needs to tread very carefully — too much enthusiasm for dictators anywhere easily translates into despair for pro-democratic forces everywhere.

Unfortunately, the administration is doing quite the opposite — it is chasing dictators like a desperate schoolgirl. The details of its courtships (and growing black book) read like tabloid fodder: the envoy dispatched to reassure Cairo and Damascus the very week that Obama was elected; the bow before Saudi King Abdullah; the smile with Hugo Chavez; the forthcoming visit of Hosni Mubarak; and, in the next few months, engagement with Iran — among the most repressive regimes on the planet (h/t Abe).

In turn, Egyptian dissidents — and presumably dissidents elsewhere — are quickly losing faith in our Agent of Change. Most amazingly, many of them quietly long for the Bush administration and its short-lived “freedom agenda,” which — at the very least — gave them sufficient hope to continue their struggle.

Last week, I went down to Washington, D.C. to work with Egyptian pro-democracy dissidents on a series of briefings regarding Cairo’s ongoing crackdown against its liberal opponents. (My presentation before Hill appropriations staffers focused on the Mubarak regime’s infiltration of opposition parties and cooptation of liberal movements.) One evening, while discussing recent developments over coffee, the conversation suddenly shifted toward an entirely different part of the globe.

“What’s with Obama’s policy on China?” the director of a Cairo-based NGO asked.

I was a bit confused. I thought we were talking about Egypt.

“Yeah,” another democracy activist chimed in. “Hillary Clinton went to China and said that global warming is more important than human rights. How could she say something like that?” The rest of the dissidents agreed that they were deeply disappointed by Clinton’s remarks in Beijing, fearing that it signaled the Obama administration’s broader refusal to advance the cause of freedom — whether in China or in the Middle East.

Indeed, in an increasingly globalized world, a diplomatic victory for China’s leaders becomes a loss for Egyptian liberals. For this reason, the Obama administration needs to tread very carefully — too much enthusiasm for dictators anywhere easily translates into despair for pro-democratic forces everywhere.

Unfortunately, the administration is doing quite the opposite — it is chasing dictators like a desperate schoolgirl. The details of its courtships (and growing black book) read like tabloid fodder: the envoy dispatched to reassure Cairo and Damascus the very week that Obama was elected; the bow before Saudi King Abdullah; the smile with Hugo Chavez; the forthcoming visit of Hosni Mubarak; and, in the next few months, engagement with Iran — among the most repressive regimes on the planet (h/t Abe).

In turn, Egyptian dissidents — and presumably dissidents elsewhere — are quickly losing faith in our Agent of Change. Most amazingly, many of them quietly long for the Bush administration and its short-lived “freedom agenda,” which — at the very least — gave them sufficient hope to continue their struggle.

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Mark Twain and the Peace Process

According to Ha’aretz, the gift Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is bringing to the White House for President Obama is a copy of “Pleasure Excursion to the Holy Land,” from Mark Twain’s book “The Innocents Abroad.”

Twain’s recollections of his post Civil War tour of the Mediterranean are an apt subject of reflection for Obama as he attempts to force Netanyahu to accept a Palestinian state. The Palestine Twain visited was a backwater of the Ottoman Empire whose inhabitants had no sense of a separate national identity.  Though Palestinian nationalism is a reality that Israel must contend with today, it originated and gained traction solely as a reaction to the return of large numbers of Jews to the country. And this is the problem with making a peace deal with the Palestinians and the reason they have turned down every chance for peace so far. Since their national identity is wholly bound up with negating Zionism, the two-state solution everybody in Europe and Washington believes will bring peace doesn’t appeal that much to them.

On the other hand, I wonder what Bibi will get from Obama. For his sake, let’s hope it’s better than that terrible collection of DVDs the president gave to Gordon Brown.

According to Ha’aretz, the gift Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is bringing to the White House for President Obama is a copy of “Pleasure Excursion to the Holy Land,” from Mark Twain’s book “The Innocents Abroad.”

Twain’s recollections of his post Civil War tour of the Mediterranean are an apt subject of reflection for Obama as he attempts to force Netanyahu to accept a Palestinian state. The Palestine Twain visited was a backwater of the Ottoman Empire whose inhabitants had no sense of a separate national identity.  Though Palestinian nationalism is a reality that Israel must contend with today, it originated and gained traction solely as a reaction to the return of large numbers of Jews to the country. And this is the problem with making a peace deal with the Palestinians and the reason they have turned down every chance for peace so far. Since their national identity is wholly bound up with negating Zionism, the two-state solution everybody in Europe and Washington believes will bring peace doesn’t appeal that much to them.

On the other hand, I wonder what Bibi will get from Obama. For his sake, let’s hope it’s better than that terrible collection of DVDs the president gave to Gordon Brown.

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A Foolish Consistency

Last week, President Obama gave the commencement speech at Arizona State University. He advised the graduates to avoid accumulating too much debt, to not live beyond their means.

This is sound advice. Unfortunately, it’s advice Obama doesn’t seem to believe in himself.

Obama’s spending is sending the public debt levels into uncharted territory, forcing accountants and artists to collaborate on new shades of red to describe the ink he’s using.

At least, however, he’s consistent. A recent study of the Obama family finances for the last decade or so shows they were not only living high on the hog, but high on a borrowed hog. Indeed, if it weren’t for a few key windfalls — Barack Obama’s bestselling book and his election to the Senate, Michele Obama’s receiving a 160% raise after he was elected to the Senate (shortly before he steered a seven-figure earmark to her employer) —  the Obamas could have been poster-children for the bursting of the housing bubble.

At least Obama is smart enough to surround himself with people who know what they’re doing, right?

Not so much. Several of his top picks couldn’t even manage to pay their own taxes (in fact, his Treasury Secretary was busted as a tax cheat). And his vice-president, Joe Biden, has a rather hefty mountain of debt of his own — estimates put it as much as twice his annual salary.

I’m not too concerned for Biden. His living expenses for the next few years are going to be drastically lowered. Free housing and transportation alone (meaning he could sell off his cars and rent out his house) will save a nice chunk of change he could use to pay down his debts.

Perhaps that’s the secret part of Obama’s recovery plan for America: we will all just write a best-selling book, and get elected to a high-paying office from which we can steer money to our spouses. (He might have learned that trick from Dianne Feinstein.)

Of course, this leaves us wondering who will buy all those books, and who will be paying the taxes to support all of our high-paying government jobs, but that’s what the next generation is for…

After all, kids can’t vote.

Last week, President Obama gave the commencement speech at Arizona State University. He advised the graduates to avoid accumulating too much debt, to not live beyond their means.

This is sound advice. Unfortunately, it’s advice Obama doesn’t seem to believe in himself.

Obama’s spending is sending the public debt levels into uncharted territory, forcing accountants and artists to collaborate on new shades of red to describe the ink he’s using.

At least, however, he’s consistent. A recent study of the Obama family finances for the last decade or so shows they were not only living high on the hog, but high on a borrowed hog. Indeed, if it weren’t for a few key windfalls — Barack Obama’s bestselling book and his election to the Senate, Michele Obama’s receiving a 160% raise after he was elected to the Senate (shortly before he steered a seven-figure earmark to her employer) —  the Obamas could have been poster-children for the bursting of the housing bubble.

At least Obama is smart enough to surround himself with people who know what they’re doing, right?

Not so much. Several of his top picks couldn’t even manage to pay their own taxes (in fact, his Treasury Secretary was busted as a tax cheat). And his vice-president, Joe Biden, has a rather hefty mountain of debt of his own — estimates put it as much as twice his annual salary.

I’m not too concerned for Biden. His living expenses for the next few years are going to be drastically lowered. Free housing and transportation alone (meaning he could sell off his cars and rent out his house) will save a nice chunk of change he could use to pay down his debts.

Perhaps that’s the secret part of Obama’s recovery plan for America: we will all just write a best-selling book, and get elected to a high-paying office from which we can steer money to our spouses. (He might have learned that trick from Dianne Feinstein.)

Of course, this leaves us wondering who will buy all those books, and who will be paying the taxes to support all of our high-paying government jobs, but that’s what the next generation is for…

After all, kids can’t vote.

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Don’t Let the Door Hit You. . .

I realize taking political advice from Mark Penn is like taking advice on interviews from, you know, Caroline Kennedy, but Penn tosses out a suggestion: Nancy Pelosi should “shut the door” on the “CIA lied” tale. Hmmm. How does she do that, exactly? Well, I suppose she could say, “I made a mistake; I was told about waterboarding.” But that’s not really an option if she wants to preserve the patina of political respectability. I guess she could say again what she did on Friday which is, in effect: “Well, when I said the CIA lied, I didn’t mean the CIA was lying. I meant Bush lied.” So far that hasn’t flown and Republicans, the Sunday talk shows, the mainstream media and, come to think of it, Mark Penn are all still buzzing about it.

So long as Pelosi is Speaker and so long as Democrats are buzzing about a Truth Commission and the punishment of Bush administration officials it will be hard to close the door on this one. But I hand it to Penn — it’s a better idea (albeit with no plan to execute) than “run Hillary as the experience candidate in a change election year.”

I realize taking political advice from Mark Penn is like taking advice on interviews from, you know, Caroline Kennedy, but Penn tosses out a suggestion: Nancy Pelosi should “shut the door” on the “CIA lied” tale. Hmmm. How does she do that, exactly? Well, I suppose she could say, “I made a mistake; I was told about waterboarding.” But that’s not really an option if she wants to preserve the patina of political respectability. I guess she could say again what she did on Friday which is, in effect: “Well, when I said the CIA lied, I didn’t mean the CIA was lying. I meant Bush lied.” So far that hasn’t flown and Republicans, the Sunday talk shows, the mainstream media and, come to think of it, Mark Penn are all still buzzing about it.

So long as Pelosi is Speaker and so long as Democrats are buzzing about a Truth Commission and the punishment of Bush administration officials it will be hard to close the door on this one. But I hand it to Penn — it’s a better idea (albeit with no plan to execute) than “run Hillary as the experience candidate in a change election year.”

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An Ominous Turn in Elite Opinion

When Roger Cohen, the foreign-affairs columnist for the New York Times, traveled to Iran in January and February, the country he found was a revelation. Unlike the images of raging crowds chanting “Death to America” and fanatical Islam familiar to the West, what Cohen claimed to have discovered was a land whose bazaars were rich with the fragrance of incense and whose people were “sensual” as well as “educated” and “tolerant.”

In a series of op-ed columns published in February and March, and at an appearance at a Los Angeles synagogue during which he was confronted by Iranian exiles, Cohen’s determination to debunk what he sees as the distorted reputation of the Islamic Republic was undaunted by outrage from Jews and other observers more mindful of Tehran’s record of tyranny at home and support for terrorism abroad. Though he acknowledged that Iran was an “unfree society,” Cohen believes confrontation with it—even over its drive to acquire nuclear weapons—is not merely misguided but wrong.

Despite the regime’s promulgation of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, he thinks the popular conception of Iran is overblown and lacking in “nuance.” Comparisons of the Iranian government and its leaders to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were, he wrote, absurd if not an insult to the six million victims of the Holocaust. The focus on Iran’s behavior and nuclear ambitions was, he said, a distraction for American foreign-policy planners who would be more usefully employed promoting recognition of the Hamas and Hizballah terrorist groups as legitimate players in the Middle East with whom the State of Israel—which, according to Cohen, is in no position to criticize Iran for human rights violations—ought to be made to negotiate concessions.

Click here to read the rest of this article from the May 2009 issue of COMMENTARY.

When Roger Cohen, the foreign-affairs columnist for the New York Times, traveled to Iran in January and February, the country he found was a revelation. Unlike the images of raging crowds chanting “Death to America” and fanatical Islam familiar to the West, what Cohen claimed to have discovered was a land whose bazaars were rich with the fragrance of incense and whose people were “sensual” as well as “educated” and “tolerant.”

In a series of op-ed columns published in February and March, and at an appearance at a Los Angeles synagogue during which he was confronted by Iranian exiles, Cohen’s determination to debunk what he sees as the distorted reputation of the Islamic Republic was undaunted by outrage from Jews and other observers more mindful of Tehran’s record of tyranny at home and support for terrorism abroad. Though he acknowledged that Iran was an “unfree society,” Cohen believes confrontation with it—even over its drive to acquire nuclear weapons—is not merely misguided but wrong.

Despite the regime’s promulgation of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, he thinks the popular conception of Iran is overblown and lacking in “nuance.” Comparisons of the Iranian government and its leaders to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were, he wrote, absurd if not an insult to the six million victims of the Holocaust. The focus on Iran’s behavior and nuclear ambitions was, he said, a distraction for American foreign-policy planners who would be more usefully employed promoting recognition of the Hamas and Hizballah terrorist groups as legitimate players in the Middle East with whom the State of Israel—which, according to Cohen, is in no position to criticize Iran for human rights violations—ought to be made to negotiate concessions.

Click here to read the rest of this article from the May 2009 issue of COMMENTARY.

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Lying for what Purpose?

The Fix reports that a new poll conducted for Resurgent Republic shows substantial support for using enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorists:

Asked whether such tactics were justified, 53 percent of the overall sample said they were and 34 percent said they were not. While Democrats strongly opposed the use of these controversial methods and Republicans strongly supported them, independent voters were slightly more divided than partisans of each side, with 51 percent expressing support for the tactics and 31 percent opposing them.

On the question of whether such techniques have yielded information that has made the country safer, 52 percent of all respondents said they had while 39 percent said they had not. Independents’ views on the issue mirrored the overall sample, with 51 percent saying the tactics had made the country safer and 39 percent saying they had not.

So once again one is left to ponder what the Democrats have to gain by perpetuating a witch hunt against those who devised policies a majority of Americans approve of and believe kept us safe. Unlike the 9-11 commission, which sought to lay blame for those who failed us, the self-styled “Truth” Commission seems bent on blaming those who succeeded. Odd indeed.

And this highlights the corner Democrats now find themselves in. Had Pelosi been cagey — and brave enough to stand up to her netroot base — she would have said, “Yes, the CIA briefed me and I was tough enough to say — ‘By God, do what you have to in order to keep Americans safe!'” Actually, that is what some, including Porter Goss, say happened — so it would have the benefit of being true. Let’s also stipulate that the “Where did I put page two of my script?” Pelosi performance revealed that it’s hard to put to memory as convoluted a lie as the one she is spinning.

But now the Democrats are in the uncomfortable spot of trying to disprove that they supported a policy that Americans support. Only in the skewed world of netroot politics could we come to a point where it is better to lie in order to align yourself with a minority view, than to come clean and be on the “winning” side of the issue. In the end, Pelosi and the others briefed by the CIA will have the unfortunate task of defending their credibility, as well as a policy stance most Americans oppose. No wonder the president wanted to look forward.

The Fix reports that a new poll conducted for Resurgent Republic shows substantial support for using enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorists:

Asked whether such tactics were justified, 53 percent of the overall sample said they were and 34 percent said they were not. While Democrats strongly opposed the use of these controversial methods and Republicans strongly supported them, independent voters were slightly more divided than partisans of each side, with 51 percent expressing support for the tactics and 31 percent opposing them.

On the question of whether such techniques have yielded information that has made the country safer, 52 percent of all respondents said they had while 39 percent said they had not. Independents’ views on the issue mirrored the overall sample, with 51 percent saying the tactics had made the country safer and 39 percent saying they had not.

So once again one is left to ponder what the Democrats have to gain by perpetuating a witch hunt against those who devised policies a majority of Americans approve of and believe kept us safe. Unlike the 9-11 commission, which sought to lay blame for those who failed us, the self-styled “Truth” Commission seems bent on blaming those who succeeded. Odd indeed.

And this highlights the corner Democrats now find themselves in. Had Pelosi been cagey — and brave enough to stand up to her netroot base — she would have said, “Yes, the CIA briefed me and I was tough enough to say — ‘By God, do what you have to in order to keep Americans safe!'” Actually, that is what some, including Porter Goss, say happened — so it would have the benefit of being true. Let’s also stipulate that the “Where did I put page two of my script?” Pelosi performance revealed that it’s hard to put to memory as convoluted a lie as the one she is spinning.

But now the Democrats are in the uncomfortable spot of trying to disprove that they supported a policy that Americans support. Only in the skewed world of netroot politics could we come to a point where it is better to lie in order to align yourself with a minority view, than to come clean and be on the “winning” side of the issue. In the end, Pelosi and the others briefed by the CIA will have the unfortunate task of defending their credibility, as well as a policy stance most Americans oppose. No wonder the president wanted to look forward.

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Bad Numbers Among Israeli Arabs

A new survey demonstrates the extent to which Jewish-Arab relations within Israel have been deteriorating in recent months. According to the findings, only 41% of Israeli Arabs support the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state, compared to 65.6% in 2003.

The poll predates operation Cast Lead in Gaza, so we can only imagine how the numbers look today.

The study, conducted by a Haifa University professor, reveals that  “53.7% of Israeli Arabs recognize the right of Israel to exist as an independent state, compared to 81.1% who recognized that in 2003.”

And even more astonishing, “40.5% of Arab Israelis believe the Holocaust never happened” — or so they say. Prof. Sammy Smooha, who conducted the survey, doesn’t actually believe them. He says, “the 40.5 percent denial rate reflects a protest more than actual disbelief in the Holocaust.”

In a radio interview this morning the scholar seemed sympathetic to the view expressed by the “alienated” population of Arab Israelis. One can, however, trust his statistical skills without having to draw the same conclusions. Israeli Jews will likely be disturbed by these findings — but will not blame themselves, or their state for Arab alienation. There is no shortage of Arab leaders’ offensive statements and Arab mobs’ violent demonstrations to remind them of  Jewish estrangement.

The numbers presented today will, no doubt, lead some voters to support the party most focused on suppressing Israel-Arab resistance to Israel’s well being — Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu.

It’s worth remembering that denial is an all too easy form of provocation: Yasir Arafat once denied that a Jewish Temple existed in Jerusalem, saying: “For 34 years they have dug tunnels, the most dangerous of which is the great tunnel. They found not a single stone proving that the Temple of Solomon was there, because historically the Temple was not in Palestine [at all]. They found only remnants of a shrine of the Roman Herod.” This stupidity never ends.

A new survey demonstrates the extent to which Jewish-Arab relations within Israel have been deteriorating in recent months. According to the findings, only 41% of Israeli Arabs support the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state, compared to 65.6% in 2003.

The poll predates operation Cast Lead in Gaza, so we can only imagine how the numbers look today.

The study, conducted by a Haifa University professor, reveals that  “53.7% of Israeli Arabs recognize the right of Israel to exist as an independent state, compared to 81.1% who recognized that in 2003.”

And even more astonishing, “40.5% of Arab Israelis believe the Holocaust never happened” — or so they say. Prof. Sammy Smooha, who conducted the survey, doesn’t actually believe them. He says, “the 40.5 percent denial rate reflects a protest more than actual disbelief in the Holocaust.”

In a radio interview this morning the scholar seemed sympathetic to the view expressed by the “alienated” population of Arab Israelis. One can, however, trust his statistical skills without having to draw the same conclusions. Israeli Jews will likely be disturbed by these findings — but will not blame themselves, or their state for Arab alienation. There is no shortage of Arab leaders’ offensive statements and Arab mobs’ violent demonstrations to remind them of  Jewish estrangement.

The numbers presented today will, no doubt, lead some voters to support the party most focused on suppressing Israel-Arab resistance to Israel’s well being — Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu.

It’s worth remembering that denial is an all too easy form of provocation: Yasir Arafat once denied that a Jewish Temple existed in Jerusalem, saying: “For 34 years they have dug tunnels, the most dangerous of which is the great tunnel. They found not a single stone proving that the Temple of Solomon was there, because historically the Temple was not in Palestine [at all]. They found only remnants of a shrine of the Roman Herod.” This stupidity never ends.

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Two Approaches to Guantanamo

The closing of Guantanamo and worries about where to put the detainees have become an interesting dilemma which forces politicians on both sides to reveal how they will address these issues. Over the weekend we saw two contrasting approaches.

Sen. Jim Webb, who was mute as fellow Virginian Rep. Jim Moran cheerfully offered up Alexandria as a detainee destination, has had second thoughts on the whole notion of closing Guantanamo. The Hill reports:

Webb, appearing on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” with Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, said that after reviewing Obama’s plans to close the facility within one year, he doesn’t agree with the president’s time schedule and he opposes bringing any detainees to U.S. soil.

“We spend hundreds of millions of dollars building an appropriate facility with all security precautions in Guantanamo to try these cases,” Webb said. “There are cases against international law. These aren’t people who were in the United States, committing a crime in the United States.  These are people who were brought to Guantanamo for international terrorism.  I do not believe they should be tried in the United States.”

When pressed on the year deadline, Webb suggested the administration might have to be more flexible as it figures out where to send detainees.

“They’ve said a lot of things and taken a look and said some other things,” Webb said. “So let’s process these people in a very careful way and then take care of it.”

Webb is Virginia’s first prominent Democrat to come out in opposition to the president’s scheme — a move that will only highlight the reticence of other Democrats (e.g. Rep. Gerry Connolly, Gov. Tim Kaine, Sen. Mark Warner) to oppose the administration. Webb has apparently figured out that the decision to close Guantanamo, forged in the fire of a campaign, is now increasingly seen as politically toxic and, frankly, a dumb idea. As Bill Kristol pointed out:

Some people are not going to be able to be tried, and he’s going to hold them, and the only thing different is that he intends to hold them at Leavenworth instead of Guantanamo.

And I’m not sure he’s going to reverse — not going to reverse on that, because I think at some point the American public says, “So you’re holding these people, and you’re closing a $200 million state- of-the-art facility to move them 1,000 or 2,000 miles to a new facility we’re going to have to build? For what? What’s the point…”

But that realization  hasn’t struck all politicians. The issue is has now made it into New Jersey’s gubernatorial primary. Steve Lonegan who likes to fancy himself as the hardcore conservative (despite his tax hike plan) had this exchange with former U.S. attorney Chris Christie in a debate on Saturday:

Christie: “Steve you should answer my question, are you pledging that you  as governor would prevent any terrorist from Guantanamo Bay from coming  to a New Jersey prison?….

Lonegan:  “I want them in prison and if that terrorist has to be in prison in New Jersey that is where they belong.”

Christie: So you are going to welcome terrorists to New Jersey prisons. Good glad we cleared that up.

Not surprisingly Christie has now jumped on the issue, using it to highlight his own law-and-order credentials. The lesson: even in a state race, a candidate’s position on this issue may become critical.

Politicians around the country will need to choose the Webb route or the Lonegan/Moran one. And then voters will decide whether they want their elected leaders rolling out the welcome mat for the detainees. As the White House observes this unfold, they will take note of the political consequences and assess whether that one-year deadline to close Guantanamo is one which should be allowed to pass quietly.

The closing of Guantanamo and worries about where to put the detainees have become an interesting dilemma which forces politicians on both sides to reveal how they will address these issues. Over the weekend we saw two contrasting approaches.

Sen. Jim Webb, who was mute as fellow Virginian Rep. Jim Moran cheerfully offered up Alexandria as a detainee destination, has had second thoughts on the whole notion of closing Guantanamo. The Hill reports:

Webb, appearing on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” with Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, said that after reviewing Obama’s plans to close the facility within one year, he doesn’t agree with the president’s time schedule and he opposes bringing any detainees to U.S. soil.

“We spend hundreds of millions of dollars building an appropriate facility with all security precautions in Guantanamo to try these cases,” Webb said. “There are cases against international law. These aren’t people who were in the United States, committing a crime in the United States.  These are people who were brought to Guantanamo for international terrorism.  I do not believe they should be tried in the United States.”

When pressed on the year deadline, Webb suggested the administration might have to be more flexible as it figures out where to send detainees.

“They’ve said a lot of things and taken a look and said some other things,” Webb said. “So let’s process these people in a very careful way and then take care of it.”

Webb is Virginia’s first prominent Democrat to come out in opposition to the president’s scheme — a move that will only highlight the reticence of other Democrats (e.g. Rep. Gerry Connolly, Gov. Tim Kaine, Sen. Mark Warner) to oppose the administration. Webb has apparently figured out that the decision to close Guantanamo, forged in the fire of a campaign, is now increasingly seen as politically toxic and, frankly, a dumb idea. As Bill Kristol pointed out:

Some people are not going to be able to be tried, and he’s going to hold them, and the only thing different is that he intends to hold them at Leavenworth instead of Guantanamo.

And I’m not sure he’s going to reverse — not going to reverse on that, because I think at some point the American public says, “So you’re holding these people, and you’re closing a $200 million state- of-the-art facility to move them 1,000 or 2,000 miles to a new facility we’re going to have to build? For what? What’s the point…”

But that realization  hasn’t struck all politicians. The issue is has now made it into New Jersey’s gubernatorial primary. Steve Lonegan who likes to fancy himself as the hardcore conservative (despite his tax hike plan) had this exchange with former U.S. attorney Chris Christie in a debate on Saturday:

Christie: “Steve you should answer my question, are you pledging that you  as governor would prevent any terrorist from Guantanamo Bay from coming  to a New Jersey prison?….

Lonegan:  “I want them in prison and if that terrorist has to be in prison in New Jersey that is where they belong.”

Christie: So you are going to welcome terrorists to New Jersey prisons. Good glad we cleared that up.

Not surprisingly Christie has now jumped on the issue, using it to highlight his own law-and-order credentials. The lesson: even in a state race, a candidate’s position on this issue may become critical.

Politicians around the country will need to choose the Webb route or the Lonegan/Moran one. And then voters will decide whether they want their elected leaders rolling out the welcome mat for the detainees. As the White House observes this unfold, they will take note of the political consequences and assess whether that one-year deadline to close Guantanamo is one which should be allowed to pass quietly.

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Another Sadat

As Obama and Netanyahu prepare to have their first meeting in office (though not their first meeting), historical analogies are flying.

Martin van Creveld, the eccentric Israeli military historian, thinks that Barack Obama should emulate Jimmy Carter (“the president who did most for Israel”) in his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. His reasoning:

Whatever they may say in public, for many years now both sides in the Middle East have been secretly waiting for a second Carter.

His task is to bang their heads together and force them to do what they themselves are unable to do: namely, give up their more extreme claims and reach some kind of agreement.

Meanwhile, an Obama administration official, pressed as to why prospects for peace talks are not unreservedly bleak, told me privately that Bibi might be prepared to do a “Nixon in China”–i.e., to make concessions from the right. That is what Menachem Begin did in the Camp David talks.

But the historical figure we should be invoking is not Nixon, Carter, or any other U.S. president. It is Anwar Sadat.

Israel has long indicated its willingness to settle for a two-state solution. Even Netanyahu, I am certain, would endorse such a setup if he were confident that the Palestinian state thereby brought into being would be a peaceful, responsible neighbor. No one can have any such assurance today when Gaza is under the control of the fanatical Israel-haters of Hamas and the West Bank is under the control of the weak and corrupt Palestinian Authority. The P.A. has nominally accepted Israel’s right to exist but has never given up the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees, which, if carried out, would mean the end of Israel’s existence as a Jewish State.

Where, oh where, is the Palestinian Sadat–i.e., a responsible negotiating partner who can make peace and mean it? Until such a statesman arises, there is little or nothing that either Israeli or American leaders can do to bring a final resolution of the never-ending peace process.

As Obama and Netanyahu prepare to have their first meeting in office (though not their first meeting), historical analogies are flying.

Martin van Creveld, the eccentric Israeli military historian, thinks that Barack Obama should emulate Jimmy Carter (“the president who did most for Israel”) in his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. His reasoning:

Whatever they may say in public, for many years now both sides in the Middle East have been secretly waiting for a second Carter.

His task is to bang their heads together and force them to do what they themselves are unable to do: namely, give up their more extreme claims and reach some kind of agreement.

Meanwhile, an Obama administration official, pressed as to why prospects for peace talks are not unreservedly bleak, told me privately that Bibi might be prepared to do a “Nixon in China”–i.e., to make concessions from the right. That is what Menachem Begin did in the Camp David talks.

But the historical figure we should be invoking is not Nixon, Carter, or any other U.S. president. It is Anwar Sadat.

Israel has long indicated its willingness to settle for a two-state solution. Even Netanyahu, I am certain, would endorse such a setup if he were confident that the Palestinian state thereby brought into being would be a peaceful, responsible neighbor. No one can have any such assurance today when Gaza is under the control of the fanatical Israel-haters of Hamas and the West Bank is under the control of the weak and corrupt Palestinian Authority. The P.A. has nominally accepted Israel’s right to exist but has never given up the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees, which, if carried out, would mean the end of Israel’s existence as a Jewish State.

Where, oh where, is the Palestinian Sadat–i.e., a responsible negotiating partner who can make peace and mean it? Until such a statesman arises, there is little or nothing that either Israeli or American leaders can do to bring a final resolution of the never-ending peace process.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Maureen Dowd gets caught lifting a passage from Josh Marshall. Granted she isn’t known for eye-popping originality of thought — or unique insights — but this is a new low, even for her.

Ben Smith is the first to invoke Joe Biden. That really is a low blow.

Others point out that Dowd’s excuse is odd: she lifted the paragraph from an emailer, not realizing it was Marshall’s work. So she plagiarized someone else? I’m imagining a press conference  in the Pelosi-style.  (“Now where did I put my notes. . .  Let me read my statement again. I did not, I repeat I did not realize I was copying someone who was so widely read.”)

A peek into the collapse of a liberal Democratic welfare state – California is broke and the voters are rejecting new taxes.

Sen. Mitch McConnell on the about-faces in Obama’s national security policy: “Well, these are serious issues. And I think it’s noteworthy that in the last week the president himself has been adjusting his positions. He’s no longer decided to release additional photos from Abu Ghraib. He has revisited the issue of whether or not the military commissions that we passed a couple of years ago are an appropriate way to try terrorists. We know he changed his mind in Iraq and decided to follow the advice of the military generals. And we also know that he’s now ordered a surge in Afghanistan just like the one that was successful in Iraq. So I think the administration has responded to the critique of the vice president and others that it might have had the — might be drifting off in the wrong direction on national security issues.”

And is this a vindication of George W. Bush’s policies? “Absolutely. I mean, it’s no accident that we’ve been safe since 9/11. The policies of the Bush administration in the war on terror kept us safe since 9/11. It’s not in dispute.”

Commenting on the Pelosi-Panetta duel, Nina Easton observes that ” if she thought Leon Panetta was going to throw her a lifeline, he instead, I think, threw her an anchor. Leon Panetta’s not a CIA careerist. He’s an Obama appointee. He’s a Democratic pol.”

The president of the association of former intelligence officers isn’t amused by Pelosi’s performance.

Rep. John Boehner calls for Pelosi to “come clean” — come up with the evidence to support her claim or apologize. Neither is happening, so the issue just lingers. Perhaps the media will start to give up the notion the Dick Cheney is a dark cloud hanging over the GOP and realize Pelosi now fits that description for her party.

“What did Rahm Emanuel know and when did he know it?” Bill Kristol wonders. Perhaps both the White House and the GOP benefit from a weakened Pelosi.

Two key Red state Democrats throw cold water on the idea a card check compromise is imminent.

Maureen Dowd gets caught lifting a passage from Josh Marshall. Granted she isn’t known for eye-popping originality of thought — or unique insights — but this is a new low, even for her.

Ben Smith is the first to invoke Joe Biden. That really is a low blow.

Others point out that Dowd’s excuse is odd: she lifted the paragraph from an emailer, not realizing it was Marshall’s work. So she plagiarized someone else? I’m imagining a press conference  in the Pelosi-style.  (“Now where did I put my notes. . .  Let me read my statement again. I did not, I repeat I did not realize I was copying someone who was so widely read.”)

A peek into the collapse of a liberal Democratic welfare state – California is broke and the voters are rejecting new taxes.

Sen. Mitch McConnell on the about-faces in Obama’s national security policy: “Well, these are serious issues. And I think it’s noteworthy that in the last week the president himself has been adjusting his positions. He’s no longer decided to release additional photos from Abu Ghraib. He has revisited the issue of whether or not the military commissions that we passed a couple of years ago are an appropriate way to try terrorists. We know he changed his mind in Iraq and decided to follow the advice of the military generals. And we also know that he’s now ordered a surge in Afghanistan just like the one that was successful in Iraq. So I think the administration has responded to the critique of the vice president and others that it might have had the — might be drifting off in the wrong direction on national security issues.”

And is this a vindication of George W. Bush’s policies? “Absolutely. I mean, it’s no accident that we’ve been safe since 9/11. The policies of the Bush administration in the war on terror kept us safe since 9/11. It’s not in dispute.”

Commenting on the Pelosi-Panetta duel, Nina Easton observes that ” if she thought Leon Panetta was going to throw her a lifeline, he instead, I think, threw her an anchor. Leon Panetta’s not a CIA careerist. He’s an Obama appointee. He’s a Democratic pol.”

The president of the association of former intelligence officers isn’t amused by Pelosi’s performance.

Rep. John Boehner calls for Pelosi to “come clean” — come up with the evidence to support her claim or apologize. Neither is happening, so the issue just lingers. Perhaps the media will start to give up the notion the Dick Cheney is a dark cloud hanging over the GOP and realize Pelosi now fits that description for her party.

“What did Rahm Emanuel know and when did he know it?” Bill Kristol wonders. Perhaps both the White House and the GOP benefit from a weakened Pelosi.

Two key Red state Democrats throw cold water on the idea a card check compromise is imminent.

Read Less




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