Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 10, 2009

Sotomayor’s Confirmation “Not A Done Deal”

The confirmation hearing for Sonia Sotomayor begins on Monday. Where do we stand? Senate Judiciary Minority Leader Jeff Sessions says her confirmation is “not a done deal” and lists his concerns:

Sessions pointed to statements that Sotomayor made in 2001 — and repeated subsequently — in which she said that personal experiences affect how judges view the facts, as well as iterations of her oft-cited comment where she said that a “wise Latina woman” could sometimes reach better conclusions than white men. The senator also criticized her decision to join a ruling as an appeals court judge saying that the Second Amendment did not apply to states under long-standing precedent; her position in a New England firefighters’ case on race-based employment; her association with a Puerto Rican legal group; and what he said was her role as a “leading advocate” of the citation of foreign law in reaching decisions.   “For the most part, the statements she has made that give insight into her judicial philosophy were statements she volunteered,” Sessions said. “It’s those words that would cause difficulty in the confirmation process, not a knee-jerk political opposition. There are serious matters that need to be dealt with and questions that need to be answered. … I think her speeches and writings go further than originally expected and are more troubling than I expected.”

While Republicans are short on votes they have a plethora of issues, many of which resonate with the public at large. And indeed recent polling shows that voters aren’t that enamored of the “wise Latina” Supreme Court nominee. They approve of her confirmation by a modest 47-40% margin. (Recall that prior to his hearings, John Roberts had favorable poll numbers in the 60% range.) She’s actually closest to Robert Bork and Harriet Miers in polling.

That doesn’t mean her nomination is in peril, but it should remind Republicans (and the stray Democrat or two inclined not to rubber-stamp whomever Obama sends up to the Court) that there is no great political peril in doing their job thoroughly and without apology. She is up for a lifetime appointment. She has, after all, voiced views on judging and race that no other nominee has ever identified with. Can she put her admitted biases aside? Does she take seriously a judge’s responsibility of avoiding outcome-based decision-making and give both sides full and fair consideration?

That is what the hearing is designed to illuminate. And her performance will ultimately need to convince a majority of the Senate (perhaps a filibuster-proof majority) of her legal skill, impartiality, adherence to the rule of law, and respect for the structure of our constitutional system. At the very least, it will be enlightening as her defenders and critics explain their own views on racial preferences and judicial impartiality. The votersc can then see for themselves which side’s view come closest to their own. I suspect they will discover those elected to the majority in the Senate, as well as the president who nominated Sotomayor, are not in fact embracing anything remotely resembling a post-racial, let alone a colorblind, society.

The confirmation hearing for Sonia Sotomayor begins on Monday. Where do we stand? Senate Judiciary Minority Leader Jeff Sessions says her confirmation is “not a done deal” and lists his concerns:

Sessions pointed to statements that Sotomayor made in 2001 — and repeated subsequently — in which she said that personal experiences affect how judges view the facts, as well as iterations of her oft-cited comment where she said that a “wise Latina woman” could sometimes reach better conclusions than white men. The senator also criticized her decision to join a ruling as an appeals court judge saying that the Second Amendment did not apply to states under long-standing precedent; her position in a New England firefighters’ case on race-based employment; her association with a Puerto Rican legal group; and what he said was her role as a “leading advocate” of the citation of foreign law in reaching decisions.   “For the most part, the statements she has made that give insight into her judicial philosophy were statements she volunteered,” Sessions said. “It’s those words that would cause difficulty in the confirmation process, not a knee-jerk political opposition. There are serious matters that need to be dealt with and questions that need to be answered. … I think her speeches and writings go further than originally expected and are more troubling than I expected.”

While Republicans are short on votes they have a plethora of issues, many of which resonate with the public at large. And indeed recent polling shows that voters aren’t that enamored of the “wise Latina” Supreme Court nominee. They approve of her confirmation by a modest 47-40% margin. (Recall that prior to his hearings, John Roberts had favorable poll numbers in the 60% range.) She’s actually closest to Robert Bork and Harriet Miers in polling.

That doesn’t mean her nomination is in peril, but it should remind Republicans (and the stray Democrat or two inclined not to rubber-stamp whomever Obama sends up to the Court) that there is no great political peril in doing their job thoroughly and without apology. She is up for a lifetime appointment. She has, after all, voiced views on judging and race that no other nominee has ever identified with. Can she put her admitted biases aside? Does she take seriously a judge’s responsibility of avoiding outcome-based decision-making and give both sides full and fair consideration?

That is what the hearing is designed to illuminate. And her performance will ultimately need to convince a majority of the Senate (perhaps a filibuster-proof majority) of her legal skill, impartiality, adherence to the rule of law, and respect for the structure of our constitutional system. At the very least, it will be enlightening as her defenders and critics explain their own views on racial preferences and judicial impartiality. The votersc can then see for themselves which side’s view come closest to their own. I suspect they will discover those elected to the majority in the Senate, as well as the president who nominated Sotomayor, are not in fact embracing anything remotely resembling a post-racial, let alone a colorblind, society.

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Apologist in Chief

As far as I know, there is no word in English for the opposite of jingoist. But if there were, its entry in the dictionary would belong next to Barack Obama’s photograph. It seems he can’t set foot on foreign soil without apologizing for this country’s past sins and promising that it will sin no more under his leadership. In doing so, of course, he both disses his own country and praises himself by implication.

He apologized to the Arab Middle East in Cairo. He apologized for American carbon dioxide yesterday at the G-8 summit, managing to imply that it is somehow even more damaging to the environment than other people’s greenhouse gases. He has even apologized to the French for American arrogance and dismissiveness. That’s like some weekend duffer apologizing to Tiger Woods for occasionally playing golf.

If Obama has ever had a good word to say about America or any of this country’s myriad accomplishments (like, oh, leading the liberation France in 1944) and uncountable contributions to the betterment of humankind, I must have missed it.

Does he hate the country he leads? No, of course not. But Obama, like so many on the Left, is predisposed to see his country’s faults rather than its virtues,  its failures rather than its triumphs. In this he reminds me of some parents. They love their children, they just expect perfection from them. Therefore praise is never called for and criticism is constant. Their children, unable to meet their parents’ unmeetable standards, have anxiety-ridden, unhappy childhoods. And later the parents — their children grown up and gone — wonder why the kids never come to see them.

I wonder whether this is an element in Obama’s falling popularity. America is not a jingoistic country. But it is a great and a good one and its people know it. Someone should tell the President.

As far as I know, there is no word in English for the opposite of jingoist. But if there were, its entry in the dictionary would belong next to Barack Obama’s photograph. It seems he can’t set foot on foreign soil without apologizing for this country’s past sins and promising that it will sin no more under his leadership. In doing so, of course, he both disses his own country and praises himself by implication.

He apologized to the Arab Middle East in Cairo. He apologized for American carbon dioxide yesterday at the G-8 summit, managing to imply that it is somehow even more damaging to the environment than other people’s greenhouse gases. He has even apologized to the French for American arrogance and dismissiveness. That’s like some weekend duffer apologizing to Tiger Woods for occasionally playing golf.

If Obama has ever had a good word to say about America or any of this country’s myriad accomplishments (like, oh, leading the liberation France in 1944) and uncountable contributions to the betterment of humankind, I must have missed it.

Does he hate the country he leads? No, of course not. But Obama, like so many on the Left, is predisposed to see his country’s faults rather than its virtues,  its failures rather than its triumphs. In this he reminds me of some parents. They love their children, they just expect perfection from them. Therefore praise is never called for and criticism is constant. Their children, unable to meet their parents’ unmeetable standards, have anxiety-ridden, unhappy childhoods. And later the parents — their children grown up and gone — wonder why the kids never come to see them.

I wonder whether this is an element in Obama’s falling popularity. America is not a jingoistic country. But it is a great and a good one and its people know it. Someone should tell the President.

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Scrambling Over Health Care

Well, there seems to be trouble in the Democratic ranks:

Conservative Democrats in the House rebelled against their party leaders Thursday, raising concerns about the cost of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and seeking to put the brakes on legislation. The fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition planned to present a letter to House Democratic leaders asking for more time, members of the group told The Associated Press.

Democratic Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas said that if the Democrats’ liberal legislative plan came to the floor as proposed, an “overwhelming majority” of his group would oppose it. The Blue Dogs claim 52 members, so that could endanger the bill.

The move comes just as House Democratic leaders are trying to finalize the proposed legislation and unveil it Friday. Committees plan to vote next week and House leaders want to pass a bill before the August recess.

Over in the Senate, Chuck Schumer is now talking about getting a health-care bill to the president “by the end of the year.” And keep in mind these are Democrats who are in revolt. Today we hear that the House Democratic Leadership has delayed the unveiling of their grand plan indefinitely while they fight it out with the Blue Dogs.

It will be hard to paint this development as the antics of those mean Republicans always blocking universal care to the masses. The Democrats have the votes to pass health care — but not the type Schumer and Obama would like.

Perhaps Schumer and company will get their government take-over of health care passed by December. But by then unemployment will be worse, not better, and the deficit is likely to be larger, not smaller. The president’s popularity is heading south and so is his agenda. Recall that he was desperate to pass his agenda while he was riding high in the polls and before the public could wake up to the enormous government expansion underway. Looks like he didn’t act quite fast enough.

Perhaps Obama might instead declare a moratorium on hugely expensive power grabs by government until he gets unemployment down to low single digits. That would be a change many, even in his own party, could believe in.

Well, there seems to be trouble in the Democratic ranks:

Conservative Democrats in the House rebelled against their party leaders Thursday, raising concerns about the cost of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and seeking to put the brakes on legislation. The fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition planned to present a letter to House Democratic leaders asking for more time, members of the group told The Associated Press.

Democratic Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas said that if the Democrats’ liberal legislative plan came to the floor as proposed, an “overwhelming majority” of his group would oppose it. The Blue Dogs claim 52 members, so that could endanger the bill.

The move comes just as House Democratic leaders are trying to finalize the proposed legislation and unveil it Friday. Committees plan to vote next week and House leaders want to pass a bill before the August recess.

Over in the Senate, Chuck Schumer is now talking about getting a health-care bill to the president “by the end of the year.” And keep in mind these are Democrats who are in revolt. Today we hear that the House Democratic Leadership has delayed the unveiling of their grand plan indefinitely while they fight it out with the Blue Dogs.

It will be hard to paint this development as the antics of those mean Republicans always blocking universal care to the masses. The Democrats have the votes to pass health care — but not the type Schumer and Obama would like.

Perhaps Schumer and company will get their government take-over of health care passed by December. But by then unemployment will be worse, not better, and the deficit is likely to be larger, not smaller. The president’s popularity is heading south and so is his agenda. Recall that he was desperate to pass his agenda while he was riding high in the polls and before the public could wake up to the enormous government expansion underway. Looks like he didn’t act quite fast enough.

Perhaps Obama might instead declare a moratorium on hugely expensive power grabs by government until he gets unemployment down to low single digits. That would be a change many, even in his own party, could believe in.

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It’s Still Yesterday

First Iran and now China. It seems the surest way to get a malign regime to slaughter its citizens is to have the Obama administration offer it an outstretched hand and a guarantee of indifference toward human rights abuses. Welcome to the Land of Hope.

“Let’s put ideology aside; that is so yesterday,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in April. So, we put ideology aside. From China to Iran to Sudan to Cuba, the administration sought ways to ease pressure on human rights violators.

But none of these regimes, for their part, dropped ideology. Not the mullahs in Tehran, who rigged an election and killed protesters in order to preserve a fascist theocracy; not Cuba and Venezuela, both of which abetted Honduras’s would-be Castro in his bid to join the Latin American Dictator Club; and not the Chinese, who continue to defend the Communist Party by using deadly force against dissenters.

All this turmoil will rightfully blow up in the Obama administration’s face. At the same historic moment that the U.S. expressed a newfound acceptance of abusive foreign governance, abused citizens have convulsed in protest. The democratic revolt in Iran has been going on for nearly a month, and the recent Uighur protests in China, in which over 150 protesters were killed, are connected to a large and important liberation movement. It is in regard to those two countries that the administration made its most high-profile renunciations of human rights and democracy issues. Words, just words, now haunt the White House and the State Department. Here is Barack Obama speaking to the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime in March:

So in this season of new beginnings I would like to speak clearly to Iran’s leaders.  We have serious differences that have grown over time.  My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community.  This process will not be advanced by threats.  We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.

Here‘s Hillary Clinton on human rights in China, from February: “[O]ur pressing on those issues can’t interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the security crisis.”

The administration’s record of problematic comments goes beyond Iran and China. Secretary Clinton’s original “yesterday” line came in response to a question about building a closer relationship with Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. Here‘s President Obama after meeting with the Organization of American States (the organization that supports Manuel Zelaya’s attempted attack on Honduran democracy) in April: “What we showed here is that we can make progress when we’re willing to break free from some of the stale debates and old ideologies that have dominated and distorted the debate in this hemisphere for far too long.”

On the Honduras question, a new Gallup poll finds that 41 percent of Hondurans believe Zelaya’s ouster was justified and 28 percent are opposed to it. The Obama administration now finds itself aligned with Hugo Chavez and the Castros against the majority of a democratic country’s citizens. Is this how that post-ideology thing was supposed to play out?

In last month’s issue of Foreign Affairs, Leslie Gelb wrote, “Foreign policy is common sense, not rocket science. But it keeps getting overwhelmed by extravagant principles . . .” Never mind that in the most pressing cases (North Korea and Iran) foreign policy is literally a matter of rocket science; when did principles become an extravagance? The rest of the world runs on ideology and will continue to do so no matter how that inconveniences Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The extravagance only comes with the presumption that the U.S. can opt out of the freedom and democracy game because it’s got more pressing things to do.

First Iran and now China. It seems the surest way to get a malign regime to slaughter its citizens is to have the Obama administration offer it an outstretched hand and a guarantee of indifference toward human rights abuses. Welcome to the Land of Hope.

“Let’s put ideology aside; that is so yesterday,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in April. So, we put ideology aside. From China to Iran to Sudan to Cuba, the administration sought ways to ease pressure on human rights violators.

But none of these regimes, for their part, dropped ideology. Not the mullahs in Tehran, who rigged an election and killed protesters in order to preserve a fascist theocracy; not Cuba and Venezuela, both of which abetted Honduras’s would-be Castro in his bid to join the Latin American Dictator Club; and not the Chinese, who continue to defend the Communist Party by using deadly force against dissenters.

All this turmoil will rightfully blow up in the Obama administration’s face. At the same historic moment that the U.S. expressed a newfound acceptance of abusive foreign governance, abused citizens have convulsed in protest. The democratic revolt in Iran has been going on for nearly a month, and the recent Uighur protests in China, in which over 150 protesters were killed, are connected to a large and important liberation movement. It is in regard to those two countries that the administration made its most high-profile renunciations of human rights and democracy issues. Words, just words, now haunt the White House and the State Department. Here is Barack Obama speaking to the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime in March:

So in this season of new beginnings I would like to speak clearly to Iran’s leaders.  We have serious differences that have grown over time.  My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community.  This process will not be advanced by threats.  We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.

Here‘s Hillary Clinton on human rights in China, from February: “[O]ur pressing on those issues can’t interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the security crisis.”

The administration’s record of problematic comments goes beyond Iran and China. Secretary Clinton’s original “yesterday” line came in response to a question about building a closer relationship with Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. Here‘s President Obama after meeting with the Organization of American States (the organization that supports Manuel Zelaya’s attempted attack on Honduran democracy) in April: “What we showed here is that we can make progress when we’re willing to break free from some of the stale debates and old ideologies that have dominated and distorted the debate in this hemisphere for far too long.”

On the Honduras question, a new Gallup poll finds that 41 percent of Hondurans believe Zelaya’s ouster was justified and 28 percent are opposed to it. The Obama administration now finds itself aligned with Hugo Chavez and the Castros against the majority of a democratic country’s citizens. Is this how that post-ideology thing was supposed to play out?

In last month’s issue of Foreign Affairs, Leslie Gelb wrote, “Foreign policy is common sense, not rocket science. But it keeps getting overwhelmed by extravagant principles . . .” Never mind that in the most pressing cases (North Korea and Iran) foreign policy is literally a matter of rocket science; when did principles become an extravagance? The rest of the world runs on ideology and will continue to do so no matter how that inconveniences Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The extravagance only comes with the presumption that the U.S. can opt out of the freedom and democracy game because it’s got more pressing things to do.

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The Crusade Against the CIA

The Wall Street Journal editors illuminate the latest episode of Congressional mendacity regarding our intelligence community. It seems as though Nancy Pelosi has drummed up support from her House Intelligence Committee Chairman in her crusade to brand the CIA as a pack of ”liars”:

As political spectacles go, one would be hard pressed to find anything as ridiculous as the Washington Romper Room now starring Congressional Democrats and the CIA. If only the consequences weren’t potentially so damaging for national security.

The latest episode comes courtesy of Silvestre Reyes, Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence. In a letter leaked to the press on Wednesday, he claims the agency “misled” Congress about its activities after 9/11.  . . Mr. Panetta must feel burned. After the Pelosi blow-up, he has tried to repair relations with his own party’s Congressional leaders, and last month he reached out to the Intelligence Committee. On June 24, in a classified hearing, Mr. Panetta produced so-called new information about CIA counterterrorism efforts in the months after the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. We’re told that he informed the Members that the agency had considered, then abandoned, a major covert antiterror program. (Our sources wouldn’t say what it was.) Bush-era CIA officials didn’t tell Congress because it never got off the ground. But this is the “at least one case” Mr. Reyes claims his committee was “lied to” about in the Bush years.

As the Journal editors explain, this is the same crowd that wants to expand intelligence briefings beyond the “Gang of Eight.” Well, the ball is now in Panetta’s court. Does he allow the slander of his agency to continue or does he call out Congressional Democrats for their deceit and destructive behavior?

There was at one point a faint hope that with majority power would come greater maturity and more responsible behavior from liberals in Congress regarding matters of national security. That change for the better has yet to materialize. But Panetta, and ultimately the president, will be held accountable for the damage done to our intelligence community, should these shenanigans continue.

The president has one of those not-at-all false choices he is so fond of denigrating: does he become complicit in the liberal lawmakers’ apparent mission to see just how much damage one Congress can do to our intelligence community? Or does he, as he did (in a half-hearted sort of way) on the detainee-abuse photos, stand up to the netroot base and defend those who defend all of us? The country (which has clearly taken the CIA’s side in the Pelosi fight), and specifically the professionals in the CIA and other intelligence agencies, will be watching intently.

The Wall Street Journal editors illuminate the latest episode of Congressional mendacity regarding our intelligence community. It seems as though Nancy Pelosi has drummed up support from her House Intelligence Committee Chairman in her crusade to brand the CIA as a pack of ”liars”:

As political spectacles go, one would be hard pressed to find anything as ridiculous as the Washington Romper Room now starring Congressional Democrats and the CIA. If only the consequences weren’t potentially so damaging for national security.

The latest episode comes courtesy of Silvestre Reyes, Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence. In a letter leaked to the press on Wednesday, he claims the agency “misled” Congress about its activities after 9/11.  . . Mr. Panetta must feel burned. After the Pelosi blow-up, he has tried to repair relations with his own party’s Congressional leaders, and last month he reached out to the Intelligence Committee. On June 24, in a classified hearing, Mr. Panetta produced so-called new information about CIA counterterrorism efforts in the months after the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. We’re told that he informed the Members that the agency had considered, then abandoned, a major covert antiterror program. (Our sources wouldn’t say what it was.) Bush-era CIA officials didn’t tell Congress because it never got off the ground. But this is the “at least one case” Mr. Reyes claims his committee was “lied to” about in the Bush years.

As the Journal editors explain, this is the same crowd that wants to expand intelligence briefings beyond the “Gang of Eight.” Well, the ball is now in Panetta’s court. Does he allow the slander of his agency to continue or does he call out Congressional Democrats for their deceit and destructive behavior?

There was at one point a faint hope that with majority power would come greater maturity and more responsible behavior from liberals in Congress regarding matters of national security. That change for the better has yet to materialize. But Panetta, and ultimately the president, will be held accountable for the damage done to our intelligence community, should these shenanigans continue.

The president has one of those not-at-all false choices he is so fond of denigrating: does he become complicit in the liberal lawmakers’ apparent mission to see just how much damage one Congress can do to our intelligence community? Or does he, as he did (in a half-hearted sort of way) on the detainee-abuse photos, stand up to the netroot base and defend those who defend all of us? The country (which has clearly taken the CIA’s side in the Pelosi fight), and specifically the professionals in the CIA and other intelligence agencies, will be watching intently.

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The Future of Cyber-Security

Are the latest cyber-attacks directed against South Korea and the United States — presumably from North Korea — a major threat, or not? The Wall Street Journal touted them as “among the broadest and longest-lasting assaults perpetrated on government and commercial Web sites in both countries.” The New York Times was more dismissive:

The latest bout of attacks, which affected service on one government and six commercial Web sites in South Korea, was relatively minor, and all but two of the sites were fully functional within a few hours, an official from the state-run Korea Communications Commission said….

Officials and computer experts in the United States said Wednesday that the attacks, which began over the July 4 weekend, were unsophisticated and on a relatively small scale, and that their origins had not been determined. They said 50,000 to 65,000 computers had been commandeered by hackers and ordered to flood specific Web sites with access requests, causing them to slow or stall. Such robotic networks, or botnets, can involve more than a million computers.

Whatever the case, the attacks have focused attention on the issue of cyber security and that’s not a bad thing. Given how reliant the U.S. has become on computer networks, the ability to disrupt them represents a major vulnerability for our enemies to exploit. Both President Bush and President Obama recognized the problem and have been pouring more resources into the area. Cyber-warfare is now being elevated as a priority in the military and civilian bureaucracy.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is figuring out cyber-warfare intellectually.

When, for example, does hacking into computer networks constitute an act of war? And how should we respond? The answers are not at all obvious. We know what happens when hijackers ram aircraft into our buildings: We go to war. But would we send missiles flying and troops marching in response to a cyber attack? It sounds unlikely, but what if that attack brought down our electricity grid, paralyzed Wall Street, or incapacitated our air-traffic-control system?

Some kind of response would be called for, but what? The obvious answer is to hit the culprit’s own computer networks but what if they come from a country not as dependent on information systems as we are? What if we can’t even tell who they are or whether they are acting on their own as opposed to being sponsored by a foreign state? Should we hold suspected state sponsors of cyber-attacks responsible for the work of hackers the way we (sometimes) hold state sponsors of terrorism responsible for the actions of their proxies?

More questions: Should we have one set of responses for cyber-espionage and another for cyber-attacks designed to bring down our networks? And what should be our goal online: Should we strive for cyber-supremacy the same way we do in naval and aerial warfare? Or should we be satisfied with establishing a balance of terror with our enemies as we do in nuclear warfare?

I can’t claim to have good answers to any of these questions. Neither does anyone in the U.S. government that I’m aware of. When it comes to cyber-war, we are at the same stage, intellectually, as we were with nuclear warfare in the 1940′s: still waiting for bright thinkers to come along and propound doctrines such as Mutual Assured Destruction, counter-force targeting, and all the other ideas that governed American policy throughout the Cold War. We are waiting, in short, for the Albert Wohlstetters, Henry Kissingers, and Paul Nitzes of the cyber-age.

Are the latest cyber-attacks directed against South Korea and the United States — presumably from North Korea — a major threat, or not? The Wall Street Journal touted them as “among the broadest and longest-lasting assaults perpetrated on government and commercial Web sites in both countries.” The New York Times was more dismissive:

The latest bout of attacks, which affected service on one government and six commercial Web sites in South Korea, was relatively minor, and all but two of the sites were fully functional within a few hours, an official from the state-run Korea Communications Commission said….

Officials and computer experts in the United States said Wednesday that the attacks, which began over the July 4 weekend, were unsophisticated and on a relatively small scale, and that their origins had not been determined. They said 50,000 to 65,000 computers had been commandeered by hackers and ordered to flood specific Web sites with access requests, causing them to slow or stall. Such robotic networks, or botnets, can involve more than a million computers.

Whatever the case, the attacks have focused attention on the issue of cyber security and that’s not a bad thing. Given how reliant the U.S. has become on computer networks, the ability to disrupt them represents a major vulnerability for our enemies to exploit. Both President Bush and President Obama recognized the problem and have been pouring more resources into the area. Cyber-warfare is now being elevated as a priority in the military and civilian bureaucracy.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is figuring out cyber-warfare intellectually.

When, for example, does hacking into computer networks constitute an act of war? And how should we respond? The answers are not at all obvious. We know what happens when hijackers ram aircraft into our buildings: We go to war. But would we send missiles flying and troops marching in response to a cyber attack? It sounds unlikely, but what if that attack brought down our electricity grid, paralyzed Wall Street, or incapacitated our air-traffic-control system?

Some kind of response would be called for, but what? The obvious answer is to hit the culprit’s own computer networks but what if they come from a country not as dependent on information systems as we are? What if we can’t even tell who they are or whether they are acting on their own as opposed to being sponsored by a foreign state? Should we hold suspected state sponsors of cyber-attacks responsible for the work of hackers the way we (sometimes) hold state sponsors of terrorism responsible for the actions of their proxies?

More questions: Should we have one set of responses for cyber-espionage and another for cyber-attacks designed to bring down our networks? And what should be our goal online: Should we strive for cyber-supremacy the same way we do in naval and aerial warfare? Or should we be satisfied with establishing a balance of terror with our enemies as we do in nuclear warfare?

I can’t claim to have good answers to any of these questions. Neither does anyone in the U.S. government that I’m aware of. When it comes to cyber-war, we are at the same stage, intellectually, as we were with nuclear warfare in the 1940′s: still waiting for bright thinkers to come along and propound doctrines such as Mutual Assured Destruction, counter-force targeting, and all the other ideas that governed American policy throughout the Cold War. We are waiting, in short, for the Albert Wohlstetters, Henry Kissingers, and Paul Nitzes of the cyber-age.

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Out of the Goodness of Our Hearts

Over the last few years, quite a few members of Iran’s elite Quds forces have been captured in Iraq. They may have not been actively involved in killing Americans, but it’s been unquestionably established that, at the least, they have supported Iraqi insurgents and terrorists. They have provided training, materials, advice, intelligence, and miscellaneous forms of assistance to terrorist activities.

The Iranians are not overly eager to repatriate these troops. The incident would lead to awkward questions and even more awkward answers — covertly sending those forces to destabilize Iraq could be considered an act of war. Even if Iran disowned these troops and insisted they were acting independently of the Iranian government, and if the U.S., due to diplomatic considerations, decided not to challenge such a claim, the captured Quds forces could at least be treated as ordinary terrorists or criminals.

But the Obama administration has already figured out how to deal with them — hand them over to Iraq as a prelude to quietly sending them home.

In most cases, such action would be accompanied by some sort of reciprocal concession from Iran. In exchange for its troops, Iran could pull back all of its stealth forces in Iraq, release some politcal prisoners, or in some other way offer a quo in return for our quid.

But that’s not the “new” diplomacy. That’s not “smart power.”

Apparently, we are returning the Iranians we caught — “fair and square” — as a goodwill gesture. Perhaps Iran will now, in exchange, stop blaming us for the orchestration of massive protests by its own citizens, rebelling against the result of rigged elections. Perhaps now Iran will halt its nuclear program. Perhaps the mullahs will see the error of their ways and stop supporting terrorist cells across the Middle East, such as Hamas in the Palestinian territories, or Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Perhaps,.. perhaps,.. perhaps. Is Obama holding his breath?

Over the last few years, quite a few members of Iran’s elite Quds forces have been captured in Iraq. They may have not been actively involved in killing Americans, but it’s been unquestionably established that, at the least, they have supported Iraqi insurgents and terrorists. They have provided training, materials, advice, intelligence, and miscellaneous forms of assistance to terrorist activities.

The Iranians are not overly eager to repatriate these troops. The incident would lead to awkward questions and even more awkward answers — covertly sending those forces to destabilize Iraq could be considered an act of war. Even if Iran disowned these troops and insisted they were acting independently of the Iranian government, and if the U.S., due to diplomatic considerations, decided not to challenge such a claim, the captured Quds forces could at least be treated as ordinary terrorists or criminals.

But the Obama administration has already figured out how to deal with them — hand them over to Iraq as a prelude to quietly sending them home.

In most cases, such action would be accompanied by some sort of reciprocal concession from Iran. In exchange for its troops, Iran could pull back all of its stealth forces in Iraq, release some politcal prisoners, or in some other way offer a quo in return for our quid.

But that’s not the “new” diplomacy. That’s not “smart power.”

Apparently, we are returning the Iranians we caught — “fair and square” — as a goodwill gesture. Perhaps Iran will now, in exchange, stop blaming us for the orchestration of massive protests by its own citizens, rebelling against the result of rigged elections. Perhaps now Iran will halt its nuclear program. Perhaps the mullahs will see the error of their ways and stop supporting terrorist cells across the Middle East, such as Hamas in the Palestinian territories, or Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Perhaps,.. perhaps,.. perhaps. Is Obama holding his breath?

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Health Care Reform at Crossroads

David Brooks, who just recently was telling us that health-care reform was a done deal, is dismayed. His focus today is on the absence of any coherent plan for reining in health-care costs. He argues that the current ”comparative effectiveness research” proposal would fund research, “but negate the effects by allowing everybody to ignore the findings.” (Actually, ignoring the findings of bureaucrats trying to ration care is a good thing.) He also bemoans the apparent demise of a proposal to end the tax exemption on employer health benefits. (This development, without a corresponding tax credit for allowing people to buy their own insurance, is also a good thing.)

The public option plan they are considering, Brooks says won’t “really change the system.” And finally, he concludes, “Then there are all these mysterious deals the White House is cutting with industry groups. They sound good, but it’s not clear what the industry is getting in return, and they, too, would not alter the fundamental incentives.”

Now the real source of Brooks’s ire is that he wants higher taxes to help close the gaping deficit and doesn’t want all that tax revenue being used for health care:

To get our overall fiscal house in order, we’re going to need to raise taxes on the rich. The House bill would use that chit to pay for expanded coverage. We’re going to have to take a bite out of Medicare spending. The administration plan does that to pay for expanded coverage. We’re going to have to tax people in the middle class more. The Congressional bills effectively do that by mandating coverage and then failing to subsidize middle-class consumers. But that burden, too, is to pay for new coverage.

Instead of brightening the fiscal picture, these bills make it immeasurably worse.

Yes, massive, crippling taxes on every segment of society really shouldn’t be wasted on health care.

Well, there is plenty there for conservatives to disagree with. But despite the many differences conservatives would have with Brooks’s take, two central points he highlights would resonate with them. First, there is nothing in the Democrats’ plans that will actually address cost-containment, which – if one looks carefully at polling – is very high on the list of priorities for those who generally favor “reform.” And second, there is no agreement on how to pay for all of this.

There are, of course, ways to bring down health-care costs. Shifting from an employer-based to individually-purchased insurance and allowing interstate insurance sales will help. (Look at the car insurance market.) Real malpractice reform will help reduce unneeded tests and procedures that are the product of “defensive medicine.”

Reducing government mandates on health insurers (so that lower cost, basic-coverage plans can be more readily purchased by younger, healthier people) would also be a positive step. But these are antithetical to the Democrats’ vision of a one-size fits all, government-run health-care system. Thus Brooks is right on the big picture: if we want to reduce health-care costs, we should scrap everything coming out of Congress and start over again. Isn’t it about time to hit the reset button?

David Brooks, who just recently was telling us that health-care reform was a done deal, is dismayed. His focus today is on the absence of any coherent plan for reining in health-care costs. He argues that the current ”comparative effectiveness research” proposal would fund research, “but negate the effects by allowing everybody to ignore the findings.” (Actually, ignoring the findings of bureaucrats trying to ration care is a good thing.) He also bemoans the apparent demise of a proposal to end the tax exemption on employer health benefits. (This development, without a corresponding tax credit for allowing people to buy their own insurance, is also a good thing.)

The public option plan they are considering, Brooks says won’t “really change the system.” And finally, he concludes, “Then there are all these mysterious deals the White House is cutting with industry groups. They sound good, but it’s not clear what the industry is getting in return, and they, too, would not alter the fundamental incentives.”

Now the real source of Brooks’s ire is that he wants higher taxes to help close the gaping deficit and doesn’t want all that tax revenue being used for health care:

To get our overall fiscal house in order, we’re going to need to raise taxes on the rich. The House bill would use that chit to pay for expanded coverage. We’re going to have to take a bite out of Medicare spending. The administration plan does that to pay for expanded coverage. We’re going to have to tax people in the middle class more. The Congressional bills effectively do that by mandating coverage and then failing to subsidize middle-class consumers. But that burden, too, is to pay for new coverage.

Instead of brightening the fiscal picture, these bills make it immeasurably worse.

Yes, massive, crippling taxes on every segment of society really shouldn’t be wasted on health care.

Well, there is plenty there for conservatives to disagree with. But despite the many differences conservatives would have with Brooks’s take, two central points he highlights would resonate with them. First, there is nothing in the Democrats’ plans that will actually address cost-containment, which – if one looks carefully at polling – is very high on the list of priorities for those who generally favor “reform.” And second, there is no agreement on how to pay for all of this.

There are, of course, ways to bring down health-care costs. Shifting from an employer-based to individually-purchased insurance and allowing interstate insurance sales will help. (Look at the car insurance market.) Real malpractice reform will help reduce unneeded tests and procedures that are the product of “defensive medicine.”

Reducing government mandates on health insurers (so that lower cost, basic-coverage plans can be more readily purchased by younger, healthier people) would also be a positive step. But these are antithetical to the Democrats’ vision of a one-size fits all, government-run health-care system. Thus Brooks is right on the big picture: if we want to reduce health-care costs, we should scrap everything coming out of Congress and start over again. Isn’t it about time to hit the reset button?

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Re: G-8 Failure Illustrates Obama’s Iran Folly

Jonathan, Obama’s performance at the G-8 was underwhelming and dangerous on multiple levels. As you point out, his lack of leadership on Iran was perhaps the most visible shortcoming. But in fact, his entire approach to nuclear proliferation and his ability to resist and confront our adversaries are profoundly underwhelming. Charles Krauthammer observes:

Obama says that his START will be a great boon, setting an example to enable us to better pressure North Korea and Iran to give up their nuclear programs. That a man of Obama’s intelligence can believe such nonsense is beyond comprehension. There is not a shred of evidence that cuts by the great powers — the INF treaty, START I, the Treaty of Moscow (2002) — induced the curtailment of anyone’s programs. Moammar Gaddafi gave up his nukes the week we pulled Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole. No treaty involved. The very notion that Kim Jong Il or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will suddenly abjure nukes because of yet another U.S.-Russian treaty is comical.The pursuit of such an offensive weapons treaty could nonetheless be detrimental to us. Why? Because Obama’s hunger for a diplomatic success, such as it is, allowed the Russians to exact a price: linkage between offensive and defensive nuclear weapons.

And Obama seems willing to bargain away a missile shield for Eastern Europe and pussy-foot around Russian aggression. (“[A]s the reset master phrased it with such delicacy in his Kremlin news conference: ‘our disagreements on Georgia’s borders.’”) This is plainly not a president willing to say “no” either rhetorically or otherwise to the demands of muscle-flexers and international bullies. It is easy I suppose to “get along” with others when you simply relent on every issue of consequence. Indeed, America can please many nations by letting them run amok, acquire nuclear weapons, threaten their neighbors, oppress dissidents, and engage in other objectionable behaviors. It remains an open question whether the president lacks the understanding to recognize such behavior as objectionable (i.e. if one is a moral relativist, such issues are only differences of opinion) or the will to exert American influence, or the nerve to stand up to criticism, which inevitably follows when America opposes tyrants, bullies, and rogue states.

And then there is the possibility that the president, like Garbo, simply wants to be left alone — in his case, to work on his precious domestic agenda. (That’s not going so well these days but it clearly holds his interest.) Unfortunately, when the U.S. recedes from its international responsibilities, the world becomes a more dangerous and violent place. The president may shirk from confrontation but the rest of the world does not.

Jonathan, Obama’s performance at the G-8 was underwhelming and dangerous on multiple levels. As you point out, his lack of leadership on Iran was perhaps the most visible shortcoming. But in fact, his entire approach to nuclear proliferation and his ability to resist and confront our adversaries are profoundly underwhelming. Charles Krauthammer observes:

Obama says that his START will be a great boon, setting an example to enable us to better pressure North Korea and Iran to give up their nuclear programs. That a man of Obama’s intelligence can believe such nonsense is beyond comprehension. There is not a shred of evidence that cuts by the great powers — the INF treaty, START I, the Treaty of Moscow (2002) — induced the curtailment of anyone’s programs. Moammar Gaddafi gave up his nukes the week we pulled Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole. No treaty involved. The very notion that Kim Jong Il or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will suddenly abjure nukes because of yet another U.S.-Russian treaty is comical.The pursuit of such an offensive weapons treaty could nonetheless be detrimental to us. Why? Because Obama’s hunger for a diplomatic success, such as it is, allowed the Russians to exact a price: linkage between offensive and defensive nuclear weapons.

And Obama seems willing to bargain away a missile shield for Eastern Europe and pussy-foot around Russian aggression. (“[A]s the reset master phrased it with such delicacy in his Kremlin news conference: ‘our disagreements on Georgia’s borders.’”) This is plainly not a president willing to say “no” either rhetorically or otherwise to the demands of muscle-flexers and international bullies. It is easy I suppose to “get along” with others when you simply relent on every issue of consequence. Indeed, America can please many nations by letting them run amok, acquire nuclear weapons, threaten their neighbors, oppress dissidents, and engage in other objectionable behaviors. It remains an open question whether the president lacks the understanding to recognize such behavior as objectionable (i.e. if one is a moral relativist, such issues are only differences of opinion) or the will to exert American influence, or the nerve to stand up to criticism, which inevitably follows when America opposes tyrants, bullies, and rogue states.

And then there is the possibility that the president, like Garbo, simply wants to be left alone — in his case, to work on his precious domestic agenda. (That’s not going so well these days but it clearly holds his interest.) Unfortunately, when the U.S. recedes from its international responsibilities, the world becomes a more dangerous and violent place. The president may shirk from confrontation but the rest of the world does not.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Even the Gray Lady has figured it out: “Doubts About Obama’s Economic Recovery Plan Rise Along With Unemployment.”

Not only Obama’s poll numbers are sinking: “Voters now trust Republicans more than Democrats on eight out of 10 key electoral issues, including, for the second straight month, the top issue of the economy. They’ve also narrowed the gap on the remaining two issues, the traditionally Democratic strong suits of health care and education. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that voters trust the GOP more on economic issues 46% to 41%, showing little change from the six-point lead the party held last month. This is just the second time in over two years of polling the GOP has held the advantage on economic issues.”

Frank Ricci will testify against Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation, as will COMMENTARY contributor Linda Chavez.

Nancy Pelosi gets something right: no resolution for Michael Jackson.

Really not good: “Sen. John Ensign’s attorney acknowledged Thursday that the Nevada Republican’s parents paid nearly $100,000 to the family of his mistress around the time she and her husband left his staff in April 2008.” And they say “family values” are eroding.

More trouble in paradise: “The three House chairmen writing the chamber’s health care bill are warning the White House, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and industry groups that they are not on board with deals struck behind their back.Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) said Thursday he ‘didn’t care’ what agreements had been negotiated and made it clear he’s been left in the dark.’ All I know about the White House and deals are what I read in the paper,’ he said. ‘I can’t legislate that.’”

But we hardly knew ya! Roland Burris won’t run in 2010. Not to worry: now that Al Franken is there the Senate clown quota is filled through 2014.

You can’t make this stuff up: “Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) took direct aim at Rep. Joe Sestak (Pa.) for the first time Thursday, calling the two-term Congressman ‘a flagrant hypocrite’ for challenging him in the Senate Democratic primary. In a statement from his campaign, Specter cited Sestak’s past voting history in Pennsylvania in an effort to paint him as a political opportunist who only joined the Democratic Party in order to run for Congress.” Well, if anyone is an expert on hypocrisy and political opportunism, it is Specter.

Because it worked out so well last time, AIG is preparing for another round of bonuses. Whoever has the pitchfork-and-torch concession on Capitol Hill will be delighted.

Okay, he blew a presidential campaign, but Mark Penn has a point on what will happen when unemployment hits 10%: “If and when the country crosses that line, it will be the No. 1 news story for days, recent stock market gains could recede, and consumer confidence will fall. And whether or not the economic crisis is coming to an end, such a high unemployment level has the potential to undermine the hard-won confidence enjoyed by the Obama administration. The Republicans will quickly claim all we have is more debt and fewer jobs.” Actually, a lot of this has already happened, but he is right that it’s going to get much worse even though the difference between 9.9% unemployment and 10% isn’t all that significant (except to the additional jobless Americans). Sort of like “The First 100 Days.” But I’m betting the 10% mark won’t generate a spate of TV specials.

Even the Gray Lady has figured it out: “Doubts About Obama’s Economic Recovery Plan Rise Along With Unemployment.”

Not only Obama’s poll numbers are sinking: “Voters now trust Republicans more than Democrats on eight out of 10 key electoral issues, including, for the second straight month, the top issue of the economy. They’ve also narrowed the gap on the remaining two issues, the traditionally Democratic strong suits of health care and education. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that voters trust the GOP more on economic issues 46% to 41%, showing little change from the six-point lead the party held last month. This is just the second time in over two years of polling the GOP has held the advantage on economic issues.”

Frank Ricci will testify against Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation, as will COMMENTARY contributor Linda Chavez.

Nancy Pelosi gets something right: no resolution for Michael Jackson.

Really not good: “Sen. John Ensign’s attorney acknowledged Thursday that the Nevada Republican’s parents paid nearly $100,000 to the family of his mistress around the time she and her husband left his staff in April 2008.” And they say “family values” are eroding.

More trouble in paradise: “The three House chairmen writing the chamber’s health care bill are warning the White House, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and industry groups that they are not on board with deals struck behind their back.Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) said Thursday he ‘didn’t care’ what agreements had been negotiated and made it clear he’s been left in the dark.’ All I know about the White House and deals are what I read in the paper,’ he said. ‘I can’t legislate that.’”

But we hardly knew ya! Roland Burris won’t run in 2010. Not to worry: now that Al Franken is there the Senate clown quota is filled through 2014.

You can’t make this stuff up: “Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) took direct aim at Rep. Joe Sestak (Pa.) for the first time Thursday, calling the two-term Congressman ‘a flagrant hypocrite’ for challenging him in the Senate Democratic primary. In a statement from his campaign, Specter cited Sestak’s past voting history in Pennsylvania in an effort to paint him as a political opportunist who only joined the Democratic Party in order to run for Congress.” Well, if anyone is an expert on hypocrisy and political opportunism, it is Specter.

Because it worked out so well last time, AIG is preparing for another round of bonuses. Whoever has the pitchfork-and-torch concession on Capitol Hill will be delighted.

Okay, he blew a presidential campaign, but Mark Penn has a point on what will happen when unemployment hits 10%: “If and when the country crosses that line, it will be the No. 1 news story for days, recent stock market gains could recede, and consumer confidence will fall. And whether or not the economic crisis is coming to an end, such a high unemployment level has the potential to undermine the hard-won confidence enjoyed by the Obama administration. The Republicans will quickly claim all we have is more debt and fewer jobs.” Actually, a lot of this has already happened, but he is right that it’s going to get much worse even though the difference between 9.9% unemployment and 10% isn’t all that significant (except to the additional jobless Americans). Sort of like “The First 100 Days.” But I’m betting the 10% mark won’t generate a spate of TV specials.

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