Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 2009

A Very Tough Last Question

The State Department, which has yet to post the promised answer to the question of whether the Obama administration considers itself bound by the letter given to Israel in exchange for the Gaza disengagement, faced another puzzler today. Here is the colloquy with spokesman Ian Kelly:

QUESTION: The Jerusalem Post has a poll that showed that only 6 percent of Israelis actually support and think that the — President Obama is pro-Israel. Does that concern you at all?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think that our support for Israel and the President’s support for Israel is unwavering. I haven’t seen the results of that poll, but I think that the people of Israel know who stands with them.

QUESTION: Do you think that Secretary Clinton may think that a more balanced Mideast policy would be more appropriate?

MR. KELLY: You’re asking a very tough last question, I have to say. I’ll defer comment and – thank you very much.

Note that Kelly really did not answer the first question either, since the question was not whether Obama’s support is “unwavering” (he has already given his let-me-be-clear answer to that) but whether Obama is concerned that the percentage of Israelis who believe him is so far down that it approaches the margin of error.

At least Kelly only “deferred” his answer to the “very tough last question,” indicating that perhaps he’ll supply an answer after he checks — just as with the unanswered question about the shelf life of presidential letters.

The State Department, which has yet to post the promised answer to the question of whether the Obama administration considers itself bound by the letter given to Israel in exchange for the Gaza disengagement, faced another puzzler today. Here is the colloquy with spokesman Ian Kelly:

QUESTION: The Jerusalem Post has a poll that showed that only 6 percent of Israelis actually support and think that the — President Obama is pro-Israel. Does that concern you at all?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think that our support for Israel and the President’s support for Israel is unwavering. I haven’t seen the results of that poll, but I think that the people of Israel know who stands with them.

QUESTION: Do you think that Secretary Clinton may think that a more balanced Mideast policy would be more appropriate?

MR. KELLY: You’re asking a very tough last question, I have to say. I’ll defer comment and – thank you very much.

Note that Kelly really did not answer the first question either, since the question was not whether Obama’s support is “unwavering” (he has already given his let-me-be-clear answer to that) but whether Obama is concerned that the percentage of Israelis who believe him is so far down that it approaches the margin of error.

At least Kelly only “deferred” his answer to the “very tough last question,” indicating that perhaps he’ll supply an answer after he checks — just as with the unanswered question about the shelf life of presidential letters.

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Just How Cruel?

Pundits describe August as “cruel” or “disastrous” for Obama. Just how bad was it? Rasmussen tells us:

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Monday shows that 30% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-one percent (41%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -11.

[. . .]

Overall, 46% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance. That’s the lowest level of total approval yet measured for Obama. Fifty-three percent (53%) now disapprove. Eighty-one percent (81%) of Democrats approve while 83% of Republicans disapprove. As for those not affiliated with either major party, 66% disapprove.

And Politico tells us:

Some of the most prominent and respected handicappers can now envision an election in which Democrats suffer double-digit losses in the House — not enough to provide the 40 seats necessary to return the GOP to power but enough to put them within striking distance.

Top political analyst Charlie Cook, in a special August 20 update to subscribers, wrote that “the situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and congressional Democrats.”

“Many veteran congressional election watchers, including Democratic ones, report an eerie sense of déjà vu, with a consensus forming that the chances of Democratic losses going higher than 20 seats is just as good as the chances of Democratic losses going lower than 20 seats,” he wrote.

We are more than a year away from the 2010 elections, but the cumulative impact of this data will be felt by critical swing-state senators, vulnerable House members, and nearly every freshman lawmakers. If Obama is now perceived as a drag on their own election prospects, it’s every lawmaker for himself. Forget about “winning one for Teddy”; they have to save themselves.

The result may be a health-care debate that stalls before it starts. Perhaps the safest course is a slower, more deliberative one with full-blown hearings. That’s what some of the lawmakers from less secure districts and states are urging. Obama might do well to listen to the nervous congressmen and senators from his own party—or he’ll have a lot fewer of them for the last two years of his term.

Pundits describe August as “cruel” or “disastrous” for Obama. Just how bad was it? Rasmussen tells us:

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Monday shows that 30% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-one percent (41%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -11.

[. . .]

Overall, 46% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance. That’s the lowest level of total approval yet measured for Obama. Fifty-three percent (53%) now disapprove. Eighty-one percent (81%) of Democrats approve while 83% of Republicans disapprove. As for those not affiliated with either major party, 66% disapprove.

And Politico tells us:

Some of the most prominent and respected handicappers can now envision an election in which Democrats suffer double-digit losses in the House — not enough to provide the 40 seats necessary to return the GOP to power but enough to put them within striking distance.

Top political analyst Charlie Cook, in a special August 20 update to subscribers, wrote that “the situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and congressional Democrats.”

“Many veteran congressional election watchers, including Democratic ones, report an eerie sense of déjà vu, with a consensus forming that the chances of Democratic losses going higher than 20 seats is just as good as the chances of Democratic losses going lower than 20 seats,” he wrote.

We are more than a year away from the 2010 elections, but the cumulative impact of this data will be felt by critical swing-state senators, vulnerable House members, and nearly every freshman lawmakers. If Obama is now perceived as a drag on their own election prospects, it’s every lawmaker for himself. Forget about “winning one for Teddy”; they have to save themselves.

The result may be a health-care debate that stalls before it starts. Perhaps the safest course is a slower, more deliberative one with full-blown hearings. That’s what some of the lawmakers from less secure districts and states are urging. Obama might do well to listen to the nervous congressmen and senators from his own party—or he’ll have a lot fewer of them for the last two years of his term.

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Emasculating American Intelligence

Andrew Sullivan, a writer for whom I once had great respect but whose work I long ago ceased following, throws his usual fit over my recent item on how the CIA is being reshackled in the war on terror. He claims that my reference to “aggressive interrogation of captured terrorists” is “The Latest Euphemism From the Torture Party” and challenges me to defend these interrogation practices in plain English.

All I can say is that I am not offended by the authorized techniques laid out in the CIA inspector general’s report—techniques such as sleep deprivation, shackling, and on a few occasions waterboarding, all of it carefully supervised by medical personnel so as not to cause physical harm. I might add that the CIA techniques were very different from the gross abuses at Abu Ghraib. Notwithstanding Andrew’s unsupported claim that Abu Ghraib was “one of the test-sites for Cheney’s methods,” the actions there were carried out by a few wayward, low-level military personnel at this facility in Iraq and had no connection to the CIA’s high-level interrogation efforts, as numerous reports have shown.

(That is a different question from whether General Rick Sanchez, General John Abizaid, Secretary Don Rumsfeld, and other senior officials should have been disciplined for the failures at Abu Ghraib and in Iraq in general. I believe they should have been and wrote at the time in favor of Rumsfeld’s resignation, even thought there is not a whit of evidence that he, much less Vice President Cheney, authorized the techniques employed at Abu Ghraib. Rumsfeld was guilty of negligence and lack of resourcing—not of ordering prisoner abuse.)

Were the CIA methods even “torture”? Perhaps, but a far milder sort of torture than that word usually suggests, with its connotations of fingernails pulled, electrodes attached to genitals, and suspects beaten to a pulp. Even the more restrained measures employed by the CIA are and were seen to be exceptional—to be used only on hard-core terrorists with information that we desperately had to get to save lives. Andrew claims “there is no evidence, as Bush DHS official Frances Townsend and every neutral observer has noted, that the intelligence, if accurate, could not have been achieved by legal, American and ethical means.” Equally, there is no evidence that it could have been obtained by the standard police interrogation techniques, complete with Miranda warnings. All we do know for sure is that, as the CIA inspector general found, Khalid Sheik Mohammed wasn’t saying anything useful before he was waterboarded, but afterward he provided vital intelligence used to break up numerous plots. Perhaps that information could have been obtained by other techniques, but that’s an unsupported foray into “alternative history.” And if intelligence officers had relied on these methods after 9/11, they would have been taking risks with the public welfare that few would have supported—including Andrew back in his more hawkish days.

Andrew ends his tour de force of hyperventilation with what he imagines is a clever swipe at those of us who greatly admire Ronald Reagan:

As for “Carter-style emasculation,” let us also remember that the return to ethical, legal treatment of prisoners is just as easily described as “Reagan-style emasculation.” It was Reagan who signed the UN Convention on Torture which these neocons have torn up and despise. It is his legacy of American support for human rights that they reject. Indeed it is every president before Bush that they describe as emasculating US defense, because no president until Bush authorized and enforced torture and abuse of war prisoners as a national policy.

You want a “Reagan-style emasculation” of American intelligence? Support Obama.

I hate to break the news to Andrew, but the war on terrorism under Reagan was a total bust. With Iranian support, Hezbollah killed and kidnapped numerous Americans in Lebanon—and in return, we secretly sold missiles to Iran. For details, you can see Bob Baer’s memoir, See No Evil. Baer recounts that as a hard-charging CIA operative, in the 1980s and 1990s, he was constantly shackled by his superiors (the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations), who weren’t willing to take, well, aggressive actions against terrorists. We know where that led. After 9/11, thankfully, the shackles came off and steps such as targeted killings and aggressive interrogations were allowed. The result: no more 9/11s. My fear is that we are now going back to the pre-9/11 status quo, one for which, in all fairness, we should blame not only Democrats like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton but also Republicans like Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

The point isn’t just whether certain interrogation techniques are allowed or not. The real problem—and one that Andrew totally fails to address—is the demoralization reportedly setting in among the ranks of intelligence officers because they are now being investigated by the Justice Department for doing what a previous administration told them to do. This is the real flashback to the 1970s—the era of the Church Committee and of Admiral Stansfield Turner’s mass firings of CIA officers. In belaboring his obsessions about “torture,” Andrew misses the bigger picture.

Andrew Sullivan, a writer for whom I once had great respect but whose work I long ago ceased following, throws his usual fit over my recent item on how the CIA is being reshackled in the war on terror. He claims that my reference to “aggressive interrogation of captured terrorists” is “The Latest Euphemism From the Torture Party” and challenges me to defend these interrogation practices in plain English.

All I can say is that I am not offended by the authorized techniques laid out in the CIA inspector general’s report—techniques such as sleep deprivation, shackling, and on a few occasions waterboarding, all of it carefully supervised by medical personnel so as not to cause physical harm. I might add that the CIA techniques were very different from the gross abuses at Abu Ghraib. Notwithstanding Andrew’s unsupported claim that Abu Ghraib was “one of the test-sites for Cheney’s methods,” the actions there were carried out by a few wayward, low-level military personnel at this facility in Iraq and had no connection to the CIA’s high-level interrogation efforts, as numerous reports have shown.

(That is a different question from whether General Rick Sanchez, General John Abizaid, Secretary Don Rumsfeld, and other senior officials should have been disciplined for the failures at Abu Ghraib and in Iraq in general. I believe they should have been and wrote at the time in favor of Rumsfeld’s resignation, even thought there is not a whit of evidence that he, much less Vice President Cheney, authorized the techniques employed at Abu Ghraib. Rumsfeld was guilty of negligence and lack of resourcing—not of ordering prisoner abuse.)

Were the CIA methods even “torture”? Perhaps, but a far milder sort of torture than that word usually suggests, with its connotations of fingernails pulled, electrodes attached to genitals, and suspects beaten to a pulp. Even the more restrained measures employed by the CIA are and were seen to be exceptional—to be used only on hard-core terrorists with information that we desperately had to get to save lives. Andrew claims “there is no evidence, as Bush DHS official Frances Townsend and every neutral observer has noted, that the intelligence, if accurate, could not have been achieved by legal, American and ethical means.” Equally, there is no evidence that it could have been obtained by the standard police interrogation techniques, complete with Miranda warnings. All we do know for sure is that, as the CIA inspector general found, Khalid Sheik Mohammed wasn’t saying anything useful before he was waterboarded, but afterward he provided vital intelligence used to break up numerous plots. Perhaps that information could have been obtained by other techniques, but that’s an unsupported foray into “alternative history.” And if intelligence officers had relied on these methods after 9/11, they would have been taking risks with the public welfare that few would have supported—including Andrew back in his more hawkish days.

Andrew ends his tour de force of hyperventilation with what he imagines is a clever swipe at those of us who greatly admire Ronald Reagan:

As for “Carter-style emasculation,” let us also remember that the return to ethical, legal treatment of prisoners is just as easily described as “Reagan-style emasculation.” It was Reagan who signed the UN Convention on Torture which these neocons have torn up and despise. It is his legacy of American support for human rights that they reject. Indeed it is every president before Bush that they describe as emasculating US defense, because no president until Bush authorized and enforced torture and abuse of war prisoners as a national policy.

You want a “Reagan-style emasculation” of American intelligence? Support Obama.

I hate to break the news to Andrew, but the war on terrorism under Reagan was a total bust. With Iranian support, Hezbollah killed and kidnapped numerous Americans in Lebanon—and in return, we secretly sold missiles to Iran. For details, you can see Bob Baer’s memoir, See No Evil. Baer recounts that as a hard-charging CIA operative, in the 1980s and 1990s, he was constantly shackled by his superiors (the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations), who weren’t willing to take, well, aggressive actions against terrorists. We know where that led. After 9/11, thankfully, the shackles came off and steps such as targeted killings and aggressive interrogations were allowed. The result: no more 9/11s. My fear is that we are now going back to the pre-9/11 status quo, one for which, in all fairness, we should blame not only Democrats like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton but also Republicans like Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

The point isn’t just whether certain interrogation techniques are allowed or not. The real problem—and one that Andrew totally fails to address—is the demoralization reportedly setting in among the ranks of intelligence officers because they are now being investigated by the Justice Department for doing what a previous administration told them to do. This is the real flashback to the 1970s—the era of the Church Committee and of Admiral Stansfield Turner’s mass firings of CIA officers. In belaboring his obsessions about “torture,” Andrew misses the bigger picture.

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Temperament Revealed

George Will writes:

Barack Obama in August became a Huey for today, a rabble rouser with a better tailor, an unrumpled and modulated tribune of downtrodden Americans, telling them that opponents of his reform plan—which actually does not yet exist—are fearmongers employing scare tactics. He also told Americans to be afraid, very afraid of health-insurance providers because they are dishonest (and will remain so until there is a “public option” to make them “honest”). And to be afraid, very afraid of pediatricians who unnecessarily extract children’s tonsils for monetary rather than medical reasons. And to be afraid, very afraid of doctors generally because so many of them are so rapacious that they prefer lopping off limbs of diabetes patients rather than engaging in lifestyle counseling that for “a pittance” could prevent diabetes.

I wonder how the “temperament” cheerleaders feel now. That temperament, according to many pundits, was the primary justification for voting for the seriously under-qualified candidate. No, he didn’t have legislative accomplishments nor any executive experience. He had written memoirs, not policy books. But that was OK, we were assured. He had judgment and a superior temperament — calm under fire and the uncanny ability to remain above the fray. While John McCain suspended and unsuspended his campaign, Obama was serene during the financial meltdown.

Well now he’s “shrill,” as Will puts it, an angry and frantic figure full of accusation and fear-mongering. The candidate whose “judgment” was to make up for a deficit in experience has made a host of judgment errors — from deferring to Congress on legislative drafting, to believing that the recession changed Americans’ fundamental political aversion to big government, to sullying the White House with a lot of classless name-calling.

Among the many things the media cheerleaders got wrong (Obama’s political “moderation” is the other great canard), the fawning over Obama’s temperament turns out to be one of the most glaring. He is, with regard to his predecessor and political opponents, among the least gracious presidents in memory, rivaling perhaps only Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon in smallness of spirit. He hasn’t demonstrated any of the promised ability to rise above the fray.

In short, Obama has turned out to be, well, just not very presidential. Maybe next time the voters will see that temperament isn’t merely a campaign pose. It can only be revealed and developed over a lifetime of real-world experience. Unfortunately, now is no time for an on-the-job self-improvement class for the president.

George Will writes:

Barack Obama in August became a Huey for today, a rabble rouser with a better tailor, an unrumpled and modulated tribune of downtrodden Americans, telling them that opponents of his reform plan—which actually does not yet exist—are fearmongers employing scare tactics. He also told Americans to be afraid, very afraid of health-insurance providers because they are dishonest (and will remain so until there is a “public option” to make them “honest”). And to be afraid, very afraid of pediatricians who unnecessarily extract children’s tonsils for monetary rather than medical reasons. And to be afraid, very afraid of doctors generally because so many of them are so rapacious that they prefer lopping off limbs of diabetes patients rather than engaging in lifestyle counseling that for “a pittance” could prevent diabetes.

I wonder how the “temperament” cheerleaders feel now. That temperament, according to many pundits, was the primary justification for voting for the seriously under-qualified candidate. No, he didn’t have legislative accomplishments nor any executive experience. He had written memoirs, not policy books. But that was OK, we were assured. He had judgment and a superior temperament — calm under fire and the uncanny ability to remain above the fray. While John McCain suspended and unsuspended his campaign, Obama was serene during the financial meltdown.

Well now he’s “shrill,” as Will puts it, an angry and frantic figure full of accusation and fear-mongering. The candidate whose “judgment” was to make up for a deficit in experience has made a host of judgment errors — from deferring to Congress on legislative drafting, to believing that the recession changed Americans’ fundamental political aversion to big government, to sullying the White House with a lot of classless name-calling.

Among the many things the media cheerleaders got wrong (Obama’s political “moderation” is the other great canard), the fawning over Obama’s temperament turns out to be one of the most glaring. He is, with regard to his predecessor and political opponents, among the least gracious presidents in memory, rivaling perhaps only Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon in smallness of spirit. He hasn’t demonstrated any of the promised ability to rise above the fray.

In short, Obama has turned out to be, well, just not very presidential. Maybe next time the voters will see that temperament isn’t merely a campaign pose. It can only be revealed and developed over a lifetime of real-world experience. Unfortunately, now is no time for an on-the-job self-improvement class for the president.

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More Needs to Be Done in Afghanistan

My fellow traveler Tony Cordesman has an excellent op-ed in the Washington Post. “Fellow traveler” should be taken literally: we’ve gone on a couple of trips together to Israel to assess the security situation there. He is by no means a “fellow traveler” in the ideological sense, as he shows with an offhand and inaccurate reference to George W. Bush as a “failed wartime president.” (Last I checked, we are still winning in Iraq and have by no means lost in Afghanistan.) But that makes his findings all the more powerful and persuasive when he writes, after having served on an advisory panel to Gen. Stan McChrystal, that we need more U.S. troops, more civilians, and more funding in Afghanistan.

He adds:

Unfortunately, strong elements in the White House, State Department and other agencies seem determined to ignore these realities. They are pressuring the president to direct Eikenberry and McChrystal to come to Washington to present a broad set of strategic concepts rather than specific requests for troops, more civilians, money and an integrated civil-military plan for action. They are pushing to prevent a fully integrated civil-military effort, and to avoid giving Eikenberry and McChrystal all the authority they need to try to force more unity of effort from allied forces and the U.N.-led aid effort.

If these elements succeed, President Obama will be as much a failed wartime president as George W. Bush. He may succeed in lowering the political, military and financial profile of the war for up to a year, but in the process he will squander our last hope of winning. This would only trade one set of political problems for a far worse set in the future and leave us with an enduring regional mess and sanctuary for extremism. We have a reasonable chance of victory if we properly outfit and empower our new team in Afghanistan; we face certain defeat if we do not.

So far President Obama has heeded warnings that he needed to do more to salvage a failing war effort in Afghanistan. Let us hope that he pays attention again and takes actions that are sure to be unpopular in the short term, especially with the left-wing of his own party (which is now calling for a “flexible timetable to bring our brave troops out of Afghanistan”).

Only by adding more resources can Obama offer the prospect of long-term victory in a war effort that he himself has deemed a “war of necessity.”

My fellow traveler Tony Cordesman has an excellent op-ed in the Washington Post. “Fellow traveler” should be taken literally: we’ve gone on a couple of trips together to Israel to assess the security situation there. He is by no means a “fellow traveler” in the ideological sense, as he shows with an offhand and inaccurate reference to George W. Bush as a “failed wartime president.” (Last I checked, we are still winning in Iraq and have by no means lost in Afghanistan.) But that makes his findings all the more powerful and persuasive when he writes, after having served on an advisory panel to Gen. Stan McChrystal, that we need more U.S. troops, more civilians, and more funding in Afghanistan.

He adds:

Unfortunately, strong elements in the White House, State Department and other agencies seem determined to ignore these realities. They are pressuring the president to direct Eikenberry and McChrystal to come to Washington to present a broad set of strategic concepts rather than specific requests for troops, more civilians, money and an integrated civil-military plan for action. They are pushing to prevent a fully integrated civil-military effort, and to avoid giving Eikenberry and McChrystal all the authority they need to try to force more unity of effort from allied forces and the U.N.-led aid effort.

If these elements succeed, President Obama will be as much a failed wartime president as George W. Bush. He may succeed in lowering the political, military and financial profile of the war for up to a year, but in the process he will squander our last hope of winning. This would only trade one set of political problems for a far worse set in the future and leave us with an enduring regional mess and sanctuary for extremism. We have a reasonable chance of victory if we properly outfit and empower our new team in Afghanistan; we face certain defeat if we do not.

So far President Obama has heeded warnings that he needed to do more to salvage a failing war effort in Afghanistan. Let us hope that he pays attention again and takes actions that are sure to be unpopular in the short term, especially with the left-wing of his own party (which is now calling for a “flexible timetable to bring our brave troops out of Afghanistan”).

Only by adding more resources can Obama offer the prospect of long-term victory in a war effort that he himself has deemed a “war of necessity.”

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Syrian Noncompliance and Nuclear Proliferation

Speaking of Syria, the IAEA released its progress report on Syria’s nuclear activities on Friday, alongside the much more publicized document on Iran. It should be required reading both in Washington among supporters of re-engaging Damascus and in Brussels among supporters of finalizing the frozen Association Agreement between the EU and Syria. The agreement includes a nonproliferation clause that commits Syria to “fulfill existing obligations under disarmament and non-proliferation instruments.”

The IAEA report says that

Syria has not yet provided the necessary cooperation to permit the Agency to determine the origin of the anthropogenic natural uranium particles found in samples taken at the Dair Alzour site. Syria also did not cooperate with the Agency to confirm Syria’s statements regarding the non-nuclear nature of the destroyed building on the Dair Alzour site and to determine what, if any, functional relationship existed between the Dair Alzour site and three other locations, or to substantiate Syria’s claims regarding certain procurement efforts and its alleged foreign nuclear cooperation.

Even in the bland diplomat-ese spoken and written at the IAEA, this is not exactly an endorsement of Syrian compliance.

Is this not enough, then, for the EU to backpedal on the Association Agreement and for Washington to rethink its engagement with Damascus?

Speaking of Syria, the IAEA released its progress report on Syria’s nuclear activities on Friday, alongside the much more publicized document on Iran. It should be required reading both in Washington among supporters of re-engaging Damascus and in Brussels among supporters of finalizing the frozen Association Agreement between the EU and Syria. The agreement includes a nonproliferation clause that commits Syria to “fulfill existing obligations under disarmament and non-proliferation instruments.”

The IAEA report says that

Syria has not yet provided the necessary cooperation to permit the Agency to determine the origin of the anthropogenic natural uranium particles found in samples taken at the Dair Alzour site. Syria also did not cooperate with the Agency to confirm Syria’s statements regarding the non-nuclear nature of the destroyed building on the Dair Alzour site and to determine what, if any, functional relationship existed between the Dair Alzour site and three other locations, or to substantiate Syria’s claims regarding certain procurement efforts and its alleged foreign nuclear cooperation.

Even in the bland diplomat-ese spoken and written at the IAEA, this is not exactly an endorsement of Syrian compliance.

Is this not enough, then, for the EU to backpedal on the Association Agreement and for Washington to rethink its engagement with Damascus?

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What Would Be the Point?

Dick Cheney in an extraordinary interview on Fox News Sunday made all the key points on the decision to reinvestigate CIA operatives who conducted enhanced interrogations: we are damaging our intelligence capacity, the president is ducking responsibility, and the new interagency setup for interrogating high-value suspects is a disaster waiting to happen.

He was most effective, and most detailed, in describing the  latter, which has in some sense been overshadowed by the controversial and colossally misguided decision to investigate (for a second time) CIA interrogators:

“It’s not even clear who’s responsible. . . . The Justice Department is, then they claim they aren’t. The FBI is responsible, and they claim they aren’t. It’s some kind of interagency process by which they’re going to be responsible for interrogating high-value detainees. If we had tried to do that back in the aftermath of 9/11, when we captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, we’d have gotten no place. . . . They’re going to have to have meetings and decide who gets to ask what question and who’s going to Mirandize the witness. I think it’s silly. It makes no sense. It doesn’t appear to be a serious move in terms of being able to deal with the nation’s security.”

But if you aren’t serious about interrogating terrorists and don’t believe there is much to be gained by trying, it’s the perfect system for doing nothing. And keep in mind that the interrogation-by-committee is going to be limited by the Army Field Manual. So the committee presumably will be supervising nothing much at all.

If  you wanted to construct rules and a bureaucracy to prevent the U.S. from gaining information from terrorists, you’d be hard pressed to do “better” than the Obama team. And one suspects they won’t be capturing many of these terrorists anymore. What would be the point?

Dick Cheney in an extraordinary interview on Fox News Sunday made all the key points on the decision to reinvestigate CIA operatives who conducted enhanced interrogations: we are damaging our intelligence capacity, the president is ducking responsibility, and the new interagency setup for interrogating high-value suspects is a disaster waiting to happen.

He was most effective, and most detailed, in describing the  latter, which has in some sense been overshadowed by the controversial and colossally misguided decision to investigate (for a second time) CIA interrogators:

“It’s not even clear who’s responsible. . . . The Justice Department is, then they claim they aren’t. The FBI is responsible, and they claim they aren’t. It’s some kind of interagency process by which they’re going to be responsible for interrogating high-value detainees. If we had tried to do that back in the aftermath of 9/11, when we captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, we’d have gotten no place. . . . They’re going to have to have meetings and decide who gets to ask what question and who’s going to Mirandize the witness. I think it’s silly. It makes no sense. It doesn’t appear to be a serious move in terms of being able to deal with the nation’s security.”

But if you aren’t serious about interrogating terrorists and don’t believe there is much to be gained by trying, it’s the perfect system for doing nothing. And keep in mind that the interrogation-by-committee is going to be limited by the Army Field Manual. So the committee presumably will be supervising nothing much at all.

If  you wanted to construct rules and a bureaucracy to prevent the U.S. from gaining information from terrorists, you’d be hard pressed to do “better” than the Obama team. And one suspects they won’t be capturing many of these terrorists anymore. What would be the point?

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Will a Disastrous August Turn into a Disastrous Fall?

The Washington Post‘s editors declare ObamaCare dead and go looking for an alternative:

The Obama administration and other advocates of comprehensive health reform knew that August was going to be a perilous month. It’s turned out to be disastrous. As lawmakers return to work and President Obama ends his vacation, the health reform enterprise is in rough shape. So what is the proper course of treatment?

Spend a few hundred billion less they suggest. (But to do what?) Cut costs — by taxing employer benefits and empowering Medicare panels to really slash payments. (Wait — isn’t this what many are already objecting to?) And get behind the Senate Finance Plan. (No, you didn’t miss it — there isn’t one.)

Well, the diagnosis here (ObamaCare is kaput) is sounder than the cure. But the Post editors are right about one thing: Obama has to dump Plan A and start again. August proved his undoing, and unless he wants September, October, and all the months to follow to continue the downward trajectory of his presidency, he would do well to tell Americans he has heard them loud and clear. The longer he pursues his moribund plan, the worse it will get and the longer it will take to revive his standing with the voters.

The Washington Post‘s editors declare ObamaCare dead and go looking for an alternative:

The Obama administration and other advocates of comprehensive health reform knew that August was going to be a perilous month. It’s turned out to be disastrous. As lawmakers return to work and President Obama ends his vacation, the health reform enterprise is in rough shape. So what is the proper course of treatment?

Spend a few hundred billion less they suggest. (But to do what?) Cut costs — by taxing employer benefits and empowering Medicare panels to really slash payments. (Wait — isn’t this what many are already objecting to?) And get behind the Senate Finance Plan. (No, you didn’t miss it — there isn’t one.)

Well, the diagnosis here (ObamaCare is kaput) is sounder than the cure. But the Post editors are right about one thing: Obama has to dump Plan A and start again. August proved his undoing, and unless he wants September, October, and all the months to follow to continue the downward trajectory of his presidency, he would do well to tell Americans he has heard them loud and clear. The longer he pursues his moribund plan, the worse it will get and the longer it will take to revive his standing with the voters.

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The EU and Anti-Semitism

The EU has come up with a brilliant idea to wrap up the spat with Israel over the Swedish “organ harvesting” blood libel recently published in its tabloid Aftonbladet. At the next foreign ministers’ meeting, apparently, a declaration will be issued condemning anti-Semitism.

Clearly, before one can comments on the initiative, one must see the text of the statement. But if we may offer a modest word of advice to the EU: Perhaps the best way to demonstrate commitment and put the controversy to rest is not just to condemn, in the usual lofty and generic terms, a prejudice that everyone in Europe loathes in the abstract. How about putting some meat to the bone by condemning Hamas for its Holocaust denial and reaffirming the EU’s firm opposition to any dialogue with the terrorist organization?

The diplomatic gathering also comes hard on the heels of Hamas’s rejection of a proposal to teach Gaza schoolchildren about the Holocaust — an obvious ploy to inculcate the youth with “a lie invented by the Zionists.”

The EU has come up with a brilliant idea to wrap up the spat with Israel over the Swedish “organ harvesting” blood libel recently published in its tabloid Aftonbladet. At the next foreign ministers’ meeting, apparently, a declaration will be issued condemning anti-Semitism.

Clearly, before one can comments on the initiative, one must see the text of the statement. But if we may offer a modest word of advice to the EU: Perhaps the best way to demonstrate commitment and put the controversy to rest is not just to condemn, in the usual lofty and generic terms, a prejudice that everyone in Europe loathes in the abstract. How about putting some meat to the bone by condemning Hamas for its Holocaust denial and reaffirming the EU’s firm opposition to any dialogue with the terrorist organization?

The diplomatic gathering also comes hard on the heels of Hamas’s rejection of a proposal to teach Gaza schoolchildren about the Holocaust — an obvious ploy to inculcate the youth with “a lie invented by the Zionists.”

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No Peace Without Syria

“No war without Egypt, no peace without Syria.” — Henry Kissinger

Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, flew to Damascus this weekend to cajole Syria into re-entering peace talks with Israel. He’s going to go home disappointed, if not now then later, just as every other Western diplomat before him has failed to put an end to the perpetual Arab-Israeli conflict. Bashar Assad couldn’t sign a peace treaty with Israel even if he wanted to — and he doesn’t want to.

Assad and his late father and former president Hafez Assad have justified the dictatorial “emergency rule,” on the books since 1963, by pointing to the never-ending war with the state of Israel. Many Syrians have grown weary of this excuse after more than four decades of crisis, but Assad would nevertheless face more pressure to loosen up his Soviet-style system without it.

An official state of war costs Assad very little. His army does not have to fight. His father learned the hard way in 1967 that Israel could beat three Arab armies, including Syria’s own, in six days. Assad can only fight Israel through proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah, but that suits him just fine. Gaza and Lebanon absorb Israel’s incoming fire when the fighting heats up.

Assad gains a lot, though, by buying himself some legitimacy with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Syria’s fundamentalist Sunnis have long detested his Baath party regime, not only because it’s secular and oppressive but also because its leaders are considered heretics. The Assads and most of the Baathist elites belong to the Alawite religious minority, descendants of the followers of Muhammad ibn Nusayr, who took them out of mainstream Twelver Shiite Islam in the 10th century. Their religion has as much in common with Christianity and Gnosticism as it does with Islam, and most Syrians find it both bizarre and offensive that the Alawites are in charge of the country instead of the majority Sunnis.

In 1982, the Muslim Brotherhood took up arms against the regime in the city of Hama. The elder Assad dispatched the Alawite-dominated military and destroyed most of the old city with air strikes, tanks, and artillery. Rifaat Assad, the former president’s younger brother, boasted that 38,000 people were killed in a single day. Not once since then have the Muslim Brothers tried to rise up again.

In his book From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman dubbed the senior Assad’s rules of engagement “Hama Rules.” They are the Syrian stick. The carrot is Assad’s steadfast “resistance” against Israel. No Arab government in the world is as stridently anti-Israel, in both action and rhetoric, as Assad’s. There is no better way for a detested Alawite regime to curry favor with Sunnis in Syria and the Arab world as a whole than by adopting the anti-Zionist cause as its own.

Earlier this year, I met with Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who asserted that the Alawite regime is actually afraid of signing a peace treaty with Israel. As the leader of a religious minority himself, Jumblatt knows better than most how risky it can be to cross the majority.

“Suppose,” he said, “we go ultimately to the so-called peace. Then later on, what is the purpose of the Syrian regime? What is Assad going to tell his people? Especially, mind you, he is a member of the Alawite minority. This minority could be accused of treason. It’s not like Egypt or Jordan whereby the government has some legitimacy. Here you get accused of treason by the masses, by the Sunnis. So using classic slogans like ‘Palestine will liberate the Golan with Hezbollah’ is a must for him to stay in power.” Syria’s Alawite elites understand this very well, even if Western diplomats like Javier Solana do not.

“When Hafez Assad was about to fix up the so-called settlement through Bill Clinton,” Jumblatt continued, “and before they met him in Geneva, a prominent Alawite officer in the Syrian army came to Assad and said, ‘What are you doing? We will be lost if you make peace. We will be accused of treason.’ ”

I don’t know for sure whether Syria’s Sunni Arabs — who make up around 70 percent of the population — would actually accuse Assad of treason and seriously threaten to remove him from power if he signed a peace treaty. But that’s how many Alawites see it. As “infidels” they don’t feel they have the legitimacy to force Sunni Arabs to make peace with Israel. That is a risky business even for Sunni Arab leaders, as the assassination of Egypt’s Anwar Sadat shows.

Most of Syria’s Alawites live along the Mediterranean coast, away from the Sunni heartland. They could, at least theoretically, be separated from Syria into their own Alawite nation. The Middle East would probably be a safer place if they were. They did have their own semiautonomous government under the French Mandate between 1930 and 1937, and again from 1939 to 1944, but their Latakia region has been a part of Syria ever since.

Such a nation almost certainly would make peace with Israel, at least eventually, if it wasn’t ruled by Assad and his thuggish clan. Arab nationalism would lose its appeal among a people that would no longer need to demonstrate belonging to an ethnic majority to make up for its status as a religious minority. The strident anti-Zionism of the Sunni “street” could likewise ease. A free Alawite state might even be a natural ally of Israel for the same reasons the Middle East’s Christians and Kurds tend to be.

In the meantime, the Assad regime rules a country that’s 70 percent Sunni Arab, and it must govern accordingly. Leading the Arab charge against Israel works for him, which is the reason he does it. And as long as he fears the Sunni “street” and the Muslim Brotherhood more than he fears the Israelis, he isn’t likely to change.

“No war without Egypt, no peace without Syria.” — Henry Kissinger

Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, flew to Damascus this weekend to cajole Syria into re-entering peace talks with Israel. He’s going to go home disappointed, if not now then later, just as every other Western diplomat before him has failed to put an end to the perpetual Arab-Israeli conflict. Bashar Assad couldn’t sign a peace treaty with Israel even if he wanted to — and he doesn’t want to.

Assad and his late father and former president Hafez Assad have justified the dictatorial “emergency rule,” on the books since 1963, by pointing to the never-ending war with the state of Israel. Many Syrians have grown weary of this excuse after more than four decades of crisis, but Assad would nevertheless face more pressure to loosen up his Soviet-style system without it.

An official state of war costs Assad very little. His army does not have to fight. His father learned the hard way in 1967 that Israel could beat three Arab armies, including Syria’s own, in six days. Assad can only fight Israel through proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah, but that suits him just fine. Gaza and Lebanon absorb Israel’s incoming fire when the fighting heats up.

Assad gains a lot, though, by buying himself some legitimacy with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Syria’s fundamentalist Sunnis have long detested his Baath party regime, not only because it’s secular and oppressive but also because its leaders are considered heretics. The Assads and most of the Baathist elites belong to the Alawite religious minority, descendants of the followers of Muhammad ibn Nusayr, who took them out of mainstream Twelver Shiite Islam in the 10th century. Their religion has as much in common with Christianity and Gnosticism as it does with Islam, and most Syrians find it both bizarre and offensive that the Alawites are in charge of the country instead of the majority Sunnis.

In 1982, the Muslim Brotherhood took up arms against the regime in the city of Hama. The elder Assad dispatched the Alawite-dominated military and destroyed most of the old city with air strikes, tanks, and artillery. Rifaat Assad, the former president’s younger brother, boasted that 38,000 people were killed in a single day. Not once since then have the Muslim Brothers tried to rise up again.

In his book From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman dubbed the senior Assad’s rules of engagement “Hama Rules.” They are the Syrian stick. The carrot is Assad’s steadfast “resistance” against Israel. No Arab government in the world is as stridently anti-Israel, in both action and rhetoric, as Assad’s. There is no better way for a detested Alawite regime to curry favor with Sunnis in Syria and the Arab world as a whole than by adopting the anti-Zionist cause as its own.

Earlier this year, I met with Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who asserted that the Alawite regime is actually afraid of signing a peace treaty with Israel. As the leader of a religious minority himself, Jumblatt knows better than most how risky it can be to cross the majority.

“Suppose,” he said, “we go ultimately to the so-called peace. Then later on, what is the purpose of the Syrian regime? What is Assad going to tell his people? Especially, mind you, he is a member of the Alawite minority. This minority could be accused of treason. It’s not like Egypt or Jordan whereby the government has some legitimacy. Here you get accused of treason by the masses, by the Sunnis. So using classic slogans like ‘Palestine will liberate the Golan with Hezbollah’ is a must for him to stay in power.” Syria’s Alawite elites understand this very well, even if Western diplomats like Javier Solana do not.

“When Hafez Assad was about to fix up the so-called settlement through Bill Clinton,” Jumblatt continued, “and before they met him in Geneva, a prominent Alawite officer in the Syrian army came to Assad and said, ‘What are you doing? We will be lost if you make peace. We will be accused of treason.’ ”

I don’t know for sure whether Syria’s Sunni Arabs — who make up around 70 percent of the population — would actually accuse Assad of treason and seriously threaten to remove him from power if he signed a peace treaty. But that’s how many Alawites see it. As “infidels” they don’t feel they have the legitimacy to force Sunni Arabs to make peace with Israel. That is a risky business even for Sunni Arab leaders, as the assassination of Egypt’s Anwar Sadat shows.

Most of Syria’s Alawites live along the Mediterranean coast, away from the Sunni heartland. They could, at least theoretically, be separated from Syria into their own Alawite nation. The Middle East would probably be a safer place if they were. They did have their own semiautonomous government under the French Mandate between 1930 and 1937, and again from 1939 to 1944, but their Latakia region has been a part of Syria ever since.

Such a nation almost certainly would make peace with Israel, at least eventually, if it wasn’t ruled by Assad and his thuggish clan. Arab nationalism would lose its appeal among a people that would no longer need to demonstrate belonging to an ethnic majority to make up for its status as a religious minority. The strident anti-Zionism of the Sunni “street” could likewise ease. A free Alawite state might even be a natural ally of Israel for the same reasons the Middle East’s Christians and Kurds tend to be.

In the meantime, the Assad regime rules a country that’s 70 percent Sunni Arab, and it must govern accordingly. Leading the Arab charge against Israel works for him, which is the reason he does it. And as long as he fears the Sunni “street” and the Muslim Brotherhood more than he fears the Israelis, he isn’t likely to change.

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Go Left! Well, Farther Left!

Howard Kurtz catalogs the unhappy pundits on the Left. Obama isn’t thrilling them anymore. He’s “selling out his base” and he “lacks leadership.” And, oh my, Frank Rich lets on: “He was never going to be the messiah.” What are they so mad at? He’s spent a boatload of money on domestic goodies, he’s put the Defense Department on a strict diet, he was very happy about a gigantic cap-and-trade regulatory bill, he apologizes for America whenever overseas, he’s done nothing to reduce the number of abortions, and he loves the public option. What more could these people want?

Well, they wanted him to be not just the most liberal president ever but also an effective one. The first they got; the second, not even remotely. It turns out that while Obama might agree with them, the American people do not. Obama isn’t winning the debate, because he’s been unable to convince Americans to think like New York Times columnists.

So the Left is mad — really mad. They accuse him of not leading or of compromising. But perhaps they should be (and really are) mad at the voters and all the congressmen and senators who aren’t going along with Obama’s big-government agenda. The complainers on the Left might consider that it is not that Obama has been insufficiently liberal but excessively so. If they want to get a fraction of what they want and hold the Congress, they might think of a course adjustment. But alas, they seem to be in no mood to compromise.

If Obama is smart, he’ll ignore the whining from the Left and figure out how to recapture the center of the political spectrum. Should he instead choose to spend his time trying to reassure and get back in the good graces of the likes of Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, and Eugene Robinson, he may in a few months look back longingly at the days when his approval rating hovered around 50 percent. There is, after all, much farther he could fall if he chooses to prove his liberal bona fides rather than solve the credibility and ideology gap between himself and the center-right country he is trying to lead.

Howard Kurtz catalogs the unhappy pundits on the Left. Obama isn’t thrilling them anymore. He’s “selling out his base” and he “lacks leadership.” And, oh my, Frank Rich lets on: “He was never going to be the messiah.” What are they so mad at? He’s spent a boatload of money on domestic goodies, he’s put the Defense Department on a strict diet, he was very happy about a gigantic cap-and-trade regulatory bill, he apologizes for America whenever overseas, he’s done nothing to reduce the number of abortions, and he loves the public option. What more could these people want?

Well, they wanted him to be not just the most liberal president ever but also an effective one. The first they got; the second, not even remotely. It turns out that while Obama might agree with them, the American people do not. Obama isn’t winning the debate, because he’s been unable to convince Americans to think like New York Times columnists.

So the Left is mad — really mad. They accuse him of not leading or of compromising. But perhaps they should be (and really are) mad at the voters and all the congressmen and senators who aren’t going along with Obama’s big-government agenda. The complainers on the Left might consider that it is not that Obama has been insufficiently liberal but excessively so. If they want to get a fraction of what they want and hold the Congress, they might think of a course adjustment. But alas, they seem to be in no mood to compromise.

If Obama is smart, he’ll ignore the whining from the Left and figure out how to recapture the center of the political spectrum. Should he instead choose to spend his time trying to reassure and get back in the good graces of the likes of Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, and Eugene Robinson, he may in a few months look back longingly at the days when his approval rating hovered around 50 percent. There is, after all, much farther he could fall if he chooses to prove his liberal bona fides rather than solve the credibility and ideology gap between himself and the center-right country he is trying to lead.

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Al-Megrahi and a “Minor” Oil Deal

True to form, London’s Sunday Times revealed yesterday that the release of the Lockerbie bomber might have to do with a “minor” oil deal — worth a reported 15 billion British pounds.

Her Majesty’s government has now provided an elaborate response to the accusation: yes, the government agreed to include the Lockerbie bomber in a PTA (Prisoner Transfer Agreement), which would have made Abdelbaset al-Megrahi eligible for transfer to Libya, where he would have to complete his sentence. Why would Mr. al-Megrahi want to end his life in a Libyan jail, as opposed to the Internet- and TV-equipped comfortable Scottish jailhouse that was hosting him remains a mystery. Regardless, HM’s government agreed to the inclusion of al-Megrahi into the PTA. But the final decision was up to Scotland, whose government rejected the PTA application.

Now, as we know, al-Megrahi was released on “compassionate grounds.” Still, something remains unclear. The British government wanted to release him to a Libyan jail (how long do you think he’d stay, once he arrived in Tripoli?), but the Scottish government thought the notion unbecoming. So the Scottish government rejected al-Megrahi’s inclusion in the PTA with Libya and released him instead on the aforementioned compassionate grounds.

Jack Straw, speaking this morning on CNN, said that “this debate is academic” because, clearly, it was not under his jurisdiction to release the man — it was his Scottish counterpart’s call.

Fair enough — but whose jurisdiction is it to control the international borders of the UK? Do we really believe that because the Scottish justice minister told his justice system to release al-Megrahi that British airport authorities, immigration police, and so on could not stop him at the international border?

And while we’re at it, enough with the shock about the hero’s welcome at Tripoli’s airport. Muammar Qaddafi is an Arab dictator. What’s more to add to this pity?

True to form, London’s Sunday Times revealed yesterday that the release of the Lockerbie bomber might have to do with a “minor” oil deal — worth a reported 15 billion British pounds.

Her Majesty’s government has now provided an elaborate response to the accusation: yes, the government agreed to include the Lockerbie bomber in a PTA (Prisoner Transfer Agreement), which would have made Abdelbaset al-Megrahi eligible for transfer to Libya, where he would have to complete his sentence. Why would Mr. al-Megrahi want to end his life in a Libyan jail, as opposed to the Internet- and TV-equipped comfortable Scottish jailhouse that was hosting him remains a mystery. Regardless, HM’s government agreed to the inclusion of al-Megrahi into the PTA. But the final decision was up to Scotland, whose government rejected the PTA application.

Now, as we know, al-Megrahi was released on “compassionate grounds.” Still, something remains unclear. The British government wanted to release him to a Libyan jail (how long do you think he’d stay, once he arrived in Tripoli?), but the Scottish government thought the notion unbecoming. So the Scottish government rejected al-Megrahi’s inclusion in the PTA with Libya and released him instead on the aforementioned compassionate grounds.

Jack Straw, speaking this morning on CNN, said that “this debate is academic” because, clearly, it was not under his jurisdiction to release the man — it was his Scottish counterpart’s call.

Fair enough — but whose jurisdiction is it to control the international borders of the UK? Do we really believe that because the Scottish justice minister told his justice system to release al-Megrahi that British airport authorities, immigration police, and so on could not stop him at the international border?

And while we’re at it, enough with the shock about the hero’s welcome at Tripoli’s airport. Muammar Qaddafi is an Arab dictator. What’s more to add to this pity?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Steve Chapman: “The 44th president apparently thought he had a mandate for the expansion of federal power and responsibility, which he has used on everything from bailing out automakers to showering the economy with stimulus dollars to trying to overhaul health insurance. . .What they forgot is that the surest way to mobilize American political opposition, irrational as well as rational, is to enlarge the government’s role in our lives.” Perhaps Obama knew this all too well — and therefore knew he needed to do it all fast before everyone woke up.

Dick Cheney on Fox News Sunday didn’t sound pleased at all about Bush’s Iran policy: “I think it was very important that the military option be on the table. I thought that negotiations could not possibly succeed unless the Iranians really believed we were prepared to use military force. . . . As I say I was an advocate of a more robust policy than any of my colleagues, but I didn’t make the decision. . . . The president made the decision and, obviously, we pursued the diplomatic avenues.” And he thinks Bill Clinton’s visit to North Korea only rewarded “bad behavior.”

A revealing panel on Fox News Sunday: the liberals are utterly unable to defend Holder’s reversal of the decision of career prosecutors not to investigate low-level CIA operatives. Chris Wallace’s sardonic closing line on the Bush approach to the war on terror — that it must be “purely coincidental” we weren’t attacked in eight years — is worth waiting for.

And the Obama decision to investigate the CIA is having expected results: “Morale has sagged at the CIA following the release of additional portions of an inspector general’s review of the agency’s interrogation program and the announcement that the Justice Department would investigate possible abuses by interrogators, according to former intelligence officials, especially those associated with the program.”

Even Dianne Feinstein is upset with Holder. Lots of senators are, in fact. Whoever in the White House thought the CIA witch hunt was a good idea got the politics very, very wrong.

When Obama gives a lackluster eulogy, devoid of any memorable lines, he is simply being “intentionally understated.” Nice to have the media watching your back, isn’t it?

Tom Ridge says he didn’t mean to accuse his Cabinet colleagues of playing politics with the nation’s threat level when he accused them of playing politics with the threat level. He’s not “second-guessing” anyone. No, he’s selling books.

Do we really think the Obama administration would let this impede their desire to throw themselves at the Syrians’ feet? “A spate of deadly bombs in Iraq this month that killed dozens of people has also significantly hampered the US-Syrian rapprochement. . . . The US believes some of those responsible for the wave of attacks, as well as some of the explosives that were used to carry them out, came across the border from Syria, and Washington wants to see Syria take much stronger action to seal its border with Iraq.” But it seems Assad is getting a lot of attention without doing anything about his border.

Steve Chapman: “The 44th president apparently thought he had a mandate for the expansion of federal power and responsibility, which he has used on everything from bailing out automakers to showering the economy with stimulus dollars to trying to overhaul health insurance. . .What they forgot is that the surest way to mobilize American political opposition, irrational as well as rational, is to enlarge the government’s role in our lives.” Perhaps Obama knew this all too well — and therefore knew he needed to do it all fast before everyone woke up.

Dick Cheney on Fox News Sunday didn’t sound pleased at all about Bush’s Iran policy: “I think it was very important that the military option be on the table. I thought that negotiations could not possibly succeed unless the Iranians really believed we were prepared to use military force. . . . As I say I was an advocate of a more robust policy than any of my colleagues, but I didn’t make the decision. . . . The president made the decision and, obviously, we pursued the diplomatic avenues.” And he thinks Bill Clinton’s visit to North Korea only rewarded “bad behavior.”

A revealing panel on Fox News Sunday: the liberals are utterly unable to defend Holder’s reversal of the decision of career prosecutors not to investigate low-level CIA operatives. Chris Wallace’s sardonic closing line on the Bush approach to the war on terror — that it must be “purely coincidental” we weren’t attacked in eight years — is worth waiting for.

And the Obama decision to investigate the CIA is having expected results: “Morale has sagged at the CIA following the release of additional portions of an inspector general’s review of the agency’s interrogation program and the announcement that the Justice Department would investigate possible abuses by interrogators, according to former intelligence officials, especially those associated with the program.”

Even Dianne Feinstein is upset with Holder. Lots of senators are, in fact. Whoever in the White House thought the CIA witch hunt was a good idea got the politics very, very wrong.

When Obama gives a lackluster eulogy, devoid of any memorable lines, he is simply being “intentionally understated.” Nice to have the media watching your back, isn’t it?

Tom Ridge says he didn’t mean to accuse his Cabinet colleagues of playing politics with the nation’s threat level when he accused them of playing politics with the threat level. He’s not “second-guessing” anyone. No, he’s selling books.

Do we really think the Obama administration would let this impede their desire to throw themselves at the Syrians’ feet? “A spate of deadly bombs in Iraq this month that killed dozens of people has also significantly hampered the US-Syrian rapprochement. . . . The US believes some of those responsible for the wave of attacks, as well as some of the explosives that were used to carry them out, came across the border from Syria, and Washington wants to see Syria take much stronger action to seal its border with Iraq.” But it seems Assad is getting a lot of attention without doing anything about his border.

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Honduran Democracy Takes The Fall

Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes:

This administration needs a win. Or more accurately, it can’t bear another loss right now. Most especially it can’t afford to be defeated by the government of a puny Central American country that doesn’t seem to know its place in the world and dares to defy the imperial orders of Uncle Sam.

I’m referring, of course, to Honduras, which despite two months of intense pressure from Washington is still refusing to reinstate Manuel Zelaya, its deposed president. Last week the administration took off the gloves and sent a message that it would use everything it has to break the neck of the Honduran democracy. Its bullying might work. But it will never be able to brag about what it has done.

The Obama administration, of course, blew this one, backing the wrong horse and leaping to the conclusion that there had been a “coup” without regard to the Honduran constitution, the wishes of the Honduran people (to prevent a Chavez-like power grab by Zelaya), and the views of church officials and business leaders, who all back the actions of the Honduran supreme court and legislature in upholding the constitutional term-limit provisions.

But instead the Obama administration is doubling down, seeking to pressure the Honduran government to accept Zelaya by rallying regional support against the interim government and cutting off critical U.S. aid.

It is the antithesis of a respectful foreign policy — the listening and humble approach that Obama promised. The desire to “restore America’s image” did not, it seems, extend to Honduras. Apparently, respect for leaders is reserved for the likes of North Korea and Iran, while democracies get bullied. But to what end is all this aggression directed? Hugo Chavez must be delighted that we are destabilizing constitutional restrictions on his followers. And a faithful ally is thrown under the Obama bus, the victim of an ignorant and misguided policy.

It is hard to fathom what Obama hopes to achieve, but perhaps (as O’Grady suggests) he simply wants to show he can “win” at something. And thus the full force of American foreign policy is reduced to sparing Obama from yet another humiliation. We are, as O’Grady says, now reduced to the role of the “neighborhood thug” — which was precisely the image which so spooked the White House into opposing the interim government. There have been more dangerous and serious missteps by the Obama administration, but few are as shameful as this one.

Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes:

This administration needs a win. Or more accurately, it can’t bear another loss right now. Most especially it can’t afford to be defeated by the government of a puny Central American country that doesn’t seem to know its place in the world and dares to defy the imperial orders of Uncle Sam.

I’m referring, of course, to Honduras, which despite two months of intense pressure from Washington is still refusing to reinstate Manuel Zelaya, its deposed president. Last week the administration took off the gloves and sent a message that it would use everything it has to break the neck of the Honduran democracy. Its bullying might work. But it will never be able to brag about what it has done.

The Obama administration, of course, blew this one, backing the wrong horse and leaping to the conclusion that there had been a “coup” without regard to the Honduran constitution, the wishes of the Honduran people (to prevent a Chavez-like power grab by Zelaya), and the views of church officials and business leaders, who all back the actions of the Honduran supreme court and legislature in upholding the constitutional term-limit provisions.

But instead the Obama administration is doubling down, seeking to pressure the Honduran government to accept Zelaya by rallying regional support against the interim government and cutting off critical U.S. aid.

It is the antithesis of a respectful foreign policy — the listening and humble approach that Obama promised. The desire to “restore America’s image” did not, it seems, extend to Honduras. Apparently, respect for leaders is reserved for the likes of North Korea and Iran, while democracies get bullied. But to what end is all this aggression directed? Hugo Chavez must be delighted that we are destabilizing constitutional restrictions on his followers. And a faithful ally is thrown under the Obama bus, the victim of an ignorant and misguided policy.

It is hard to fathom what Obama hopes to achieve, but perhaps (as O’Grady suggests) he simply wants to show he can “win” at something. And thus the full force of American foreign policy is reduced to sparing Obama from yet another humiliation. We are, as O’Grady says, now reduced to the role of the “neighborhood thug” — which was precisely the image which so spooked the White House into opposing the interim government. There have been more dangerous and serious missteps by the Obama administration, but few are as shameful as this one.

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As Our Enemies Rejoice . . .

Let’s pretend we are a foreign intelligence service trying to assess the state of American counterterrorism efforts. Piece together several recent bits of open-source information:

Source A: This Washington Post article, which notes that Khalid Sheik Mohammed was transformed from an uncooperative detainee, who provided only bits of information that were “outdated, inaccurate or incomplete,” into the CIA’s “preeminent source” on al-Qaeda after he “was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques.” Following this ordeal, he even lectured agency officers for hours in 2005 and 2006 on the inner workings of al-Qaeda.

Source B: Another Washington Post article, which notes that:

Morale has sagged at the CIA following the release of additional portions of an inspector general’s review of the agency’s interrogation program and the announcement that the Justice Department would investigate possible abuses by interrogators, according to former intelligence officials, especially those associated with the program. . . .

A retired former senior CIA official said that since the announcement that the Justice Department would investigate the agency’s interrogation tactics, he has received many calls from serving intelligence officers, some in high management positions, seeking advice about new jobs or lawyers. “This is a bad one,” he said.

Source C: A Wall Street Journal article by former spook Reuel Gerecht:

Langley, once again, probably cannot field a competent group of counterterrorist interrogators. It’s a very good guess that the organization right now has no volunteers coming forward for this work, and those who are currently indentured will free themselves from this profession as soon as possible. . . .

A good case officer with Middle Eastern languages and a penchant for understanding Islamic radicalism would now have to be insane to accept an assignment that detailed him to interrogate Islamic terrorist suspects. No self-respecting case officer wants to be constantly surveilled by his boss. That’s not the way the intelligence business works, which is, when it works, an idiosyncratic, intimate affair. We should be horrified by the idea that holy warriors will now be questioned by operatives who tolerate all the cover-your-tush paperwork, who don’t mind being videoed when they go to work, who want to be second-guessed by their CIA bosses, let alone by FBI agents, and intelligence-committee Congressional staffers, and now White House officials.

If you were forced to reach a conclusion –or an “estimate,” in intelligence parlance — what would it be? It would be easy to conclude with a “high degree of confidence” that one of the most effective intelligence-gathering tactics in the war on terrorism — the aggressive interrogation of captured terrorists — has been eliminated and, along the way, the agency charged with being on the front lines of the war has been severely degraded in operational effectiveness. In other words, the Obama administration has taken some of the most effective changes implemented by the Bush administration and reversed them in what could be a Carter-style emasculation of American intelligence capabilities.

If you are a foreign intelligence service hostile to the United States, you cannot but rejoice. And if you are friendly, you cannot but weep.

Let’s pretend we are a foreign intelligence service trying to assess the state of American counterterrorism efforts. Piece together several recent bits of open-source information:

Source A: This Washington Post article, which notes that Khalid Sheik Mohammed was transformed from an uncooperative detainee, who provided only bits of information that were “outdated, inaccurate or incomplete,” into the CIA’s “preeminent source” on al-Qaeda after he “was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques.” Following this ordeal, he even lectured agency officers for hours in 2005 and 2006 on the inner workings of al-Qaeda.

Source B: Another Washington Post article, which notes that:

Morale has sagged at the CIA following the release of additional portions of an inspector general’s review of the agency’s interrogation program and the announcement that the Justice Department would investigate possible abuses by interrogators, according to former intelligence officials, especially those associated with the program. . . .

A retired former senior CIA official said that since the announcement that the Justice Department would investigate the agency’s interrogation tactics, he has received many calls from serving intelligence officers, some in high management positions, seeking advice about new jobs or lawyers. “This is a bad one,” he said.

Source C: A Wall Street Journal article by former spook Reuel Gerecht:

Langley, once again, probably cannot field a competent group of counterterrorist interrogators. It’s a very good guess that the organization right now has no volunteers coming forward for this work, and those who are currently indentured will free themselves from this profession as soon as possible. . . .

A good case officer with Middle Eastern languages and a penchant for understanding Islamic radicalism would now have to be insane to accept an assignment that detailed him to interrogate Islamic terrorist suspects. No self-respecting case officer wants to be constantly surveilled by his boss. That’s not the way the intelligence business works, which is, when it works, an idiosyncratic, intimate affair. We should be horrified by the idea that holy warriors will now be questioned by operatives who tolerate all the cover-your-tush paperwork, who don’t mind being videoed when they go to work, who want to be second-guessed by their CIA bosses, let alone by FBI agents, and intelligence-committee Congressional staffers, and now White House officials.

If you were forced to reach a conclusion –or an “estimate,” in intelligence parlance — what would it be? It would be easy to conclude with a “high degree of confidence” that one of the most effective intelligence-gathering tactics in the war on terrorism — the aggressive interrogation of captured terrorists — has been eliminated and, along the way, the agency charged with being on the front lines of the war has been severely degraded in operational effectiveness. In other words, the Obama administration has taken some of the most effective changes implemented by the Bush administration and reversed them in what could be a Carter-style emasculation of American intelligence capabilities.

If you are a foreign intelligence service hostile to the United States, you cannot but rejoice. And if you are friendly, you cannot but weep.

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Deeds Runs into the Obama Backlash

In the Washington Post, a panel of state political watchers and politicians mull over whether Virginia’s gubernatorial race will turn on state or national issues. A year ago Democrats would have been happy to make it a national referendum; now they are hoping to separate Creigh Deeds from the Obama slide and growing antipathy among independents and conservative Democrats about his big-government agenda. Former congressman Tom Davis highlights the Republicans’ desire to make this about Obama’s overreach. He writes:

The race will be largely determined by national atmospherics. The last eight gubernatorial elections have been won by the opposite party of the sitting president. Virginia voters have used the election to send a message to Washington.

For eight years, George W. Bush was Democrats’ energy source. From Bush v. Gore through Iraq to Hurricane Katrina and the economic meltdown, loathing of Bush drove Democratic turnout. Republicans were on the defensive, and Democrats made gains at the state and national levels.

Deeds tying himself to Obama, polarizing the abortion issue and attempting to run against Bush is a strategic misread and a formula for defeat. His troubles are multiplied by the state’s economic downturn and Gov. Tim Kaine’s disappointing part-time tenure, leaving few state accomplishments to run on.

As Larry Sabato reminds us, “It is no accident that the results of every gubernatorial election in Virginia since 1977 (and since 1989 in New Jersey, the other state with this election schedule) have been predicted by one simple variable — the party label of the president. The opposite party has won the statehouse every time.” We’ll see if this year breaks the string, but Deeds may turn out to have had the misfortune of running at precisely the time that moderate and conservative voters want nothing more than to send a message to Obama and the national Democrats. Timing, in politics as in life, is everything.

In the Washington Post, a panel of state political watchers and politicians mull over whether Virginia’s gubernatorial race will turn on state or national issues. A year ago Democrats would have been happy to make it a national referendum; now they are hoping to separate Creigh Deeds from the Obama slide and growing antipathy among independents and conservative Democrats about his big-government agenda. Former congressman Tom Davis highlights the Republicans’ desire to make this about Obama’s overreach. He writes:

The race will be largely determined by national atmospherics. The last eight gubernatorial elections have been won by the opposite party of the sitting president. Virginia voters have used the election to send a message to Washington.

For eight years, George W. Bush was Democrats’ energy source. From Bush v. Gore through Iraq to Hurricane Katrina and the economic meltdown, loathing of Bush drove Democratic turnout. Republicans were on the defensive, and Democrats made gains at the state and national levels.

Deeds tying himself to Obama, polarizing the abortion issue and attempting to run against Bush is a strategic misread and a formula for defeat. His troubles are multiplied by the state’s economic downturn and Gov. Tim Kaine’s disappointing part-time tenure, leaving few state accomplishments to run on.

As Larry Sabato reminds us, “It is no accident that the results of every gubernatorial election in Virginia since 1977 (and since 1989 in New Jersey, the other state with this election schedule) have been predicted by one simple variable — the party label of the president. The opposite party has won the statehouse every time.” We’ll see if this year breaks the string, but Deeds may turn out to have had the misfortune of running at precisely the time that moderate and conservative voters want nothing more than to send a message to Obama and the national Democrats. Timing, in politics as in life, is everything.

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Ted Kennedy and the Logan Act

Former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson reminds us of an “arresting” document that London Times reporter Tim Sebastian dug up in the Soviet archives in 1991. It was a memorandum from the head of the KGB to the then leader of the Soviet Union, Yuri Andropov, detailing a message that had been sent from Ted Kennedy via a friend and former senator who was visiting Moscow in 1983. The content of that message was, as Robinson aptly characterizes it, a “quid pro quo.” Kennedy offered, in the KGB man’s description, “to arm Soviet officials with explanations regarding problems of nuclear disarmament so they may be better prepared and more convincing during appearances in the U.S.A.” In return, Kennedy would broker a series of television interviews with Andropov on the major American networks.

Even if the motive for Kennedy’s freelance diplomacy had been solely his sincere displeasure with the policies of the Reagan administration, his action would have been ethically improper. But the memo indicates that what primarily drove Kennedy was not disagreement with the administration — which, according to the Constitution, is charged with directing foreign policy — but political ambition:

“Tunney remarked that the senator wants to run for president in 1988,” the memorandum continued. “Kennedy does not discount that during the 1984 campaign, the Democratic Party may officially turn to him to lead the fight against the Republicans and elect their candidate president.”

I’ve written previously in this space about the Logan Act, which prohibits U.S. citizens “directly or indirectly commenc[ing] or carr[ying] on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States.” The cause of my earlier invocation of the law — which has never been enforced — was Jimmy Carter’s meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Damascus last year (though Carter could have been brought up on charges of violating the act for any of the freelance diplomatic trips he has performed in the nearly three decades since he left the White House).

The episode of which Robinson reminds us had been revealed many years earlier and was largely ignored by the media at the time, perhaps because the fall of the Soviet Union obviated the salience of a senator’s by then eight-year-old attempt to undercut the foreign policy of a democratically elected president. But the brazenness of this act galls nonetheless, not least because it is so discordant with the behavior of Ted’s brothers, staunch anti-Communists both. As we contemplate the legacy of Ted Kennedy this week, this event should certainly rank highly in our collective assessment.

Former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson reminds us of an “arresting” document that London Times reporter Tim Sebastian dug up in the Soviet archives in 1991. It was a memorandum from the head of the KGB to the then leader of the Soviet Union, Yuri Andropov, detailing a message that had been sent from Ted Kennedy via a friend and former senator who was visiting Moscow in 1983. The content of that message was, as Robinson aptly characterizes it, a “quid pro quo.” Kennedy offered, in the KGB man’s description, “to arm Soviet officials with explanations regarding problems of nuclear disarmament so they may be better prepared and more convincing during appearances in the U.S.A.” In return, Kennedy would broker a series of television interviews with Andropov on the major American networks.

Even if the motive for Kennedy’s freelance diplomacy had been solely his sincere displeasure with the policies of the Reagan administration, his action would have been ethically improper. But the memo indicates that what primarily drove Kennedy was not disagreement with the administration — which, according to the Constitution, is charged with directing foreign policy — but political ambition:

“Tunney remarked that the senator wants to run for president in 1988,” the memorandum continued. “Kennedy does not discount that during the 1984 campaign, the Democratic Party may officially turn to him to lead the fight against the Republicans and elect their candidate president.”

I’ve written previously in this space about the Logan Act, which prohibits U.S. citizens “directly or indirectly commenc[ing] or carr[ying] on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States.” The cause of my earlier invocation of the law — which has never been enforced — was Jimmy Carter’s meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Damascus last year (though Carter could have been brought up on charges of violating the act for any of the freelance diplomatic trips he has performed in the nearly three decades since he left the White House).

The episode of which Robinson reminds us had been revealed many years earlier and was largely ignored by the media at the time, perhaps because the fall of the Soviet Union obviated the salience of a senator’s by then eight-year-old attempt to undercut the foreign policy of a democratically elected president. But the brazenness of this act galls nonetheless, not least because it is so discordant with the behavior of Ted’s brothers, staunch anti-Communists both. As we contemplate the legacy of Ted Kennedy this week, this event should certainly rank highly in our collective assessment.

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The Stalling Game

The Israeli government is calling foul, claiming the International Atomic Energy Agency is hiding the ball on the full extent of Iran’s nuclear program:

The statement alleges that an IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear energy program released on Friday “does not reflect the entirety of the information the IAEA holds on Iran’s efforts to advance their military program, nor their continued efforts to conceal and deceive and their refusal to cooperate with the IAEA and the international community.”

[. . .]

The statement also accuses Iran of “foot-dragging” and continuing to ignore IAEA questions about its nuclear program and “continues to avoid adhering to Security Council demands to stop enriching uranium.”

In the IAEA report released Friday, the UN nuclear watchdog says Iran’s nuclear energy program may contain “military dimensions.”

In other words, the IAEA report states that Iran may be working towards acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. The report was issued just prior to the annual meeting of IAEA member states which is scheduled to convene next month in Vienna.

According to this news account, the IAEA report is worded “ambiguously” with regard to Iran’s military ambitions and potential uses. The IAEA pleads that Iran is stonewalling; the Israelis say the IAEA isn’t doing its job.

The Jerusalem Post also reports:

IAEA officials said Iran was stonewalling the agency about “possible military dimensions” to its program. In the report, the IAEA said it has pressed Iran to clarify its uranium enrichment activities and reassure the world that it’s not trying to build an atomic weapon.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said in a prepared statement that the latest IAEA report, released Friday, “accuses Iran of defying [UN] Security Council decisions, but at the same time hides actual Iranian violations on its path toward military nuclear capability,” “This is a harsh report, but it does not reflect all the information possessed by the IAEA on Iranian efforts to advance its military program, on its continuing efforts to hide and deceive, and on [Iran’s] noncooperation with the IAEA and the demands of the international community,” the statement read.

Well, you can see where this is heading — endless rounds of protestations by the Iranians, meek objections by the IAEA, and Israeli demands for clarity from the IAEA and action by the U.S. and the West. The ball will be in the Obama administration’s court. Will they get sucked into an endless round of arguments about what should be in the IAEA report and whether Iran has defied its obligations — or will the Obama team finally draw a line in the sand?

And then what? We’ve been waiting to see that “smart diplomacy” in action and find out how Obama can translate his dreamy persona into diplomatic progress. So let’s see if he has both the nerve and the skill to put an end to Iran’s jockeying and line up the international community behind some meaningful action to deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions, provided, of course, there is any action at this stage that might be meaningful.

The Israeli government is calling foul, claiming the International Atomic Energy Agency is hiding the ball on the full extent of Iran’s nuclear program:

The statement alleges that an IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear energy program released on Friday “does not reflect the entirety of the information the IAEA holds on Iran’s efforts to advance their military program, nor their continued efforts to conceal and deceive and their refusal to cooperate with the IAEA and the international community.”

[. . .]

The statement also accuses Iran of “foot-dragging” and continuing to ignore IAEA questions about its nuclear program and “continues to avoid adhering to Security Council demands to stop enriching uranium.”

In the IAEA report released Friday, the UN nuclear watchdog says Iran’s nuclear energy program may contain “military dimensions.”

In other words, the IAEA report states that Iran may be working towards acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. The report was issued just prior to the annual meeting of IAEA member states which is scheduled to convene next month in Vienna.

According to this news account, the IAEA report is worded “ambiguously” with regard to Iran’s military ambitions and potential uses. The IAEA pleads that Iran is stonewalling; the Israelis say the IAEA isn’t doing its job.

The Jerusalem Post also reports:

IAEA officials said Iran was stonewalling the agency about “possible military dimensions” to its program. In the report, the IAEA said it has pressed Iran to clarify its uranium enrichment activities and reassure the world that it’s not trying to build an atomic weapon.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said in a prepared statement that the latest IAEA report, released Friday, “accuses Iran of defying [UN] Security Council decisions, but at the same time hides actual Iranian violations on its path toward military nuclear capability,” “This is a harsh report, but it does not reflect all the information possessed by the IAEA on Iranian efforts to advance its military program, on its continuing efforts to hide and deceive, and on [Iran’s] noncooperation with the IAEA and the demands of the international community,” the statement read.

Well, you can see where this is heading — endless rounds of protestations by the Iranians, meek objections by the IAEA, and Israeli demands for clarity from the IAEA and action by the U.S. and the West. The ball will be in the Obama administration’s court. Will they get sucked into an endless round of arguments about what should be in the IAEA report and whether Iran has defied its obligations — or will the Obama team finally draw a line in the sand?

And then what? We’ve been waiting to see that “smart diplomacy” in action and find out how Obama can translate his dreamy persona into diplomatic progress. So let’s see if he has both the nerve and the skill to put an end to Iran’s jockeying and line up the international community behind some meaningful action to deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions, provided, of course, there is any action at this stage that might be meaningful.

Read Less

ElBaradei’s Swan Song

Over the years, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, has not been especially effective in stifling would-be nuclear proliferators. First, there was his adamant opposition to the war in Iraq — although Iraq’s history of concealment of WMD programs in the 1980s, its cat-and-mouse games with IAEA inspectors in the 90s, and its foreclosing of inspections between 1998 and 2002 might have counseled more circumspection. Then there was the embarrassing discovery of Libya’s nuclear program, which was surrendered to the U.S. by Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, not on account of the IAEA’s work, but out of Qaddafi’s fear that he could end up like his chum Saddam and out of his desire to see economic sanctions lifted. ElBaradei’s successor, the current Japanese rep to the IAEA Ambassador Yukiya Amano, is due to take office officially in December, and he will inherit three tricky files, Syria, Iran, and North Korea.

This past Friday, ElBaradei delivered what could be his last IAEA report on Iran before leaving the agency. It notes that Iran is stalling on critical and sensitive aspects of its military nuclear program, but at the same time much of the emphasis is on Iran’s recent (and belated and limited) compliance on a number of issues. The report hints at some important and potentially damning things about the military dimensions of Iran’s program, but then it goes on to shift focus and put the burden of proof on countries that have supplied critical intelligence to the agency. This last touch is somewhat ironic, given that Western governments have been pressing the agency to make its information public. As the New York Times put it last week,

To help win over Russia and China, Western powers want the IAEA to release with the report a classified summary of its inquiry into Western intelligence reports alleging Iran illicitly studied how to design a nuclear bomb, diplomats said.

A diplomat close to the IAEA said this was being considered, after a year of Iranian stonewalling that has stalled the inquiry, with Tehran dismissing the intelligence material as forgeries. But the IAEA has no evidence showing undeniably that Iran has a bomb agenda, he said, and IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei was loath to publish the summary for fear it could be used for political ends and make the agency look biased against Iran.

ElBaradei’s swan song is thus typical — diffuse, noncommittal, and befogging to the end. It praises Iran for token gestures and delicately refuses to compromise its evenhandedness by taking on the mullahs’ more serious stonewalling or countering their claims that evidence about their nuclear program is fabricated. Nevertheless, four important points emerge:

1. Iran is still not answering questions about the military dimensions of its program, which evidence in the hands of the IAEA shows cannot be denied.

2. Iran is accumulating low-enriched uranium (LEU) at a rate of approximately 2.77 kgs a day, which means it will have enough LEU for a second weapon by February 2010. At the current pace, it is producing enough LEU to yield enough weapons-grade material, once the LEU is reprocessed, to build one weapon a year.

3. Iran’s installed centrifuges currently number 8,308 — a steady increase in machinery (though not in active machines) over the past few months.

4. Iran refuses to apply the revised code of its safeguards agreement with regard to designs of new facilities and modifications of existing ones. (Iran is required to provide speedy communication of such plans to the agency.) This is especially worrisome when it comes to the power plant scheduled to be built in Darkhovin, the designs of which IAEA inspectors have not seen.

The good news is that ElBaradei is about to be replaced. The bad news is that the foot draggers in the international community will seize upon his last report to delay further any concerted strategy to deal with Iran. And the appetite for joint U.S.-European action or the like is even lower here in Western Europe than it is in Washington.

Over the years, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, has not been especially effective in stifling would-be nuclear proliferators. First, there was his adamant opposition to the war in Iraq — although Iraq’s history of concealment of WMD programs in the 1980s, its cat-and-mouse games with IAEA inspectors in the 90s, and its foreclosing of inspections between 1998 and 2002 might have counseled more circumspection. Then there was the embarrassing discovery of Libya’s nuclear program, which was surrendered to the U.S. by Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, not on account of the IAEA’s work, but out of Qaddafi’s fear that he could end up like his chum Saddam and out of his desire to see economic sanctions lifted. ElBaradei’s successor, the current Japanese rep to the IAEA Ambassador Yukiya Amano, is due to take office officially in December, and he will inherit three tricky files, Syria, Iran, and North Korea.

This past Friday, ElBaradei delivered what could be his last IAEA report on Iran before leaving the agency. It notes that Iran is stalling on critical and sensitive aspects of its military nuclear program, but at the same time much of the emphasis is on Iran’s recent (and belated and limited) compliance on a number of issues. The report hints at some important and potentially damning things about the military dimensions of Iran’s program, but then it goes on to shift focus and put the burden of proof on countries that have supplied critical intelligence to the agency. This last touch is somewhat ironic, given that Western governments have been pressing the agency to make its information public. As the New York Times put it last week,

To help win over Russia and China, Western powers want the IAEA to release with the report a classified summary of its inquiry into Western intelligence reports alleging Iran illicitly studied how to design a nuclear bomb, diplomats said.

A diplomat close to the IAEA said this was being considered, after a year of Iranian stonewalling that has stalled the inquiry, with Tehran dismissing the intelligence material as forgeries. But the IAEA has no evidence showing undeniably that Iran has a bomb agenda, he said, and IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei was loath to publish the summary for fear it could be used for political ends and make the agency look biased against Iran.

ElBaradei’s swan song is thus typical — diffuse, noncommittal, and befogging to the end. It praises Iran for token gestures and delicately refuses to compromise its evenhandedness by taking on the mullahs’ more serious stonewalling or countering their claims that evidence about their nuclear program is fabricated. Nevertheless, four important points emerge:

1. Iran is still not answering questions about the military dimensions of its program, which evidence in the hands of the IAEA shows cannot be denied.

2. Iran is accumulating low-enriched uranium (LEU) at a rate of approximately 2.77 kgs a day, which means it will have enough LEU for a second weapon by February 2010. At the current pace, it is producing enough LEU to yield enough weapons-grade material, once the LEU is reprocessed, to build one weapon a year.

3. Iran’s installed centrifuges currently number 8,308 — a steady increase in machinery (though not in active machines) over the past few months.

4. Iran refuses to apply the revised code of its safeguards agreement with regard to designs of new facilities and modifications of existing ones. (Iran is required to provide speedy communication of such plans to the agency.) This is especially worrisome when it comes to the power plant scheduled to be built in Darkhovin, the designs of which IAEA inspectors have not seen.

The good news is that ElBaradei is about to be replaced. The bad news is that the foot draggers in the international community will seize upon his last report to delay further any concerted strategy to deal with Iran. And the appetite for joint U.S.-European action or the like is even lower here in Western Europe than it is in Washington.

Read Less

Advice for the Forlorn

The Washington Post is running an advice column for the floundering president: what is to be done? Well, it’s never a good sign when mainstream papers are running symposiums to examine what, if anything, can be done to save the remainder of the president’s term.

If the problem is that the president is doing too much and stressing everyone out, then he should follow Donna Brazile’s advice and tell Americans not to worry about deficits, focus on health care (which is going to reduce the deficit or make it worse?), and get back to the bipartisan appeal that worked during the campaign. Harold Ford suggests that Obama downscale health-care reform and work on insurance regulation. But Newt Gingrich gets to the core issue and the real choice for the president:

Obama faces a choice: He can attempt to run a left-wing government against the American people. Or he can govern from the center with a large majority of Americans supporting him. He can have either his left angry or the American people angry. We will know in September which choice he has made.

And that is really what it’s all about. Analysts and pollsters will give suggestions on rhetoric or strategy, but Obama’s dilemma is a philosophical one. He’s shown himself to be a far-Left liberal, and the country doesn’t like it. He can keep at it and try to muscle through the top agenda items on the liberal wish list, putting at risk his congressional majority and his own popularity (what remains of it). Or he can swing back to the center, start over on health care, put aside cap-and-trade, come up with a tax-reform and tax-relief plan, and get serious about spending control. That would require a heartfelt realization that his agenda is too radical and will, over time, erode his standing and potentially render him a one-term president.

I suspect that so long as there are allies and advisers whispering in his ear that all he needs is some rhetorical tweaking, we won’t see anything approaching a substantive revision of his agenda. If the president doesn’t correct course, the voters may do it for him in 2010. But for now, don’t get your hopes up for a swing to the center. After all, Obama is being told, and no doubt believes, that the mantle of liberalism has been passed to him from Ted Kennedy. He won’t give it up—unless the voters force him to.

The Washington Post is running an advice column for the floundering president: what is to be done? Well, it’s never a good sign when mainstream papers are running symposiums to examine what, if anything, can be done to save the remainder of the president’s term.

If the problem is that the president is doing too much and stressing everyone out, then he should follow Donna Brazile’s advice and tell Americans not to worry about deficits, focus on health care (which is going to reduce the deficit or make it worse?), and get back to the bipartisan appeal that worked during the campaign. Harold Ford suggests that Obama downscale health-care reform and work on insurance regulation. But Newt Gingrich gets to the core issue and the real choice for the president:

Obama faces a choice: He can attempt to run a left-wing government against the American people. Or he can govern from the center with a large majority of Americans supporting him. He can have either his left angry or the American people angry. We will know in September which choice he has made.

And that is really what it’s all about. Analysts and pollsters will give suggestions on rhetoric or strategy, but Obama’s dilemma is a philosophical one. He’s shown himself to be a far-Left liberal, and the country doesn’t like it. He can keep at it and try to muscle through the top agenda items on the liberal wish list, putting at risk his congressional majority and his own popularity (what remains of it). Or he can swing back to the center, start over on health care, put aside cap-and-trade, come up with a tax-reform and tax-relief plan, and get serious about spending control. That would require a heartfelt realization that his agenda is too radical and will, over time, erode his standing and potentially render him a one-term president.

I suspect that so long as there are allies and advisers whispering in his ear that all he needs is some rhetorical tweaking, we won’t see anything approaching a substantive revision of his agenda. If the president doesn’t correct course, the voters may do it for him in 2010. But for now, don’t get your hopes up for a swing to the center. After all, Obama is being told, and no doubt believes, that the mantle of liberalism has been passed to him from Ted Kennedy. He won’t give it up—unless the voters force him to.

Read Less




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