Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 25, 2009

The Question Erekat Wouldn’t Answer

I would guess there weren’t too many people online when Haaretz today had an open Q&A with Saeb Erekat, the eloquent senior Palestinian official. It was, after all, around lunchtime in Jerusalem, which is very early in the morning in the U.S. The lack of traffic was also suggested by the very small number of questions that ended up getting answered—just seven.

So it was a funny thing to discover that when I submitted a question I considered something of a softball, it was ignored or perhaps rejected. It was short. It went like this:

Do you unequivocally denounce the use of violent attacks against civilians, including attacks carried out by Palestinians against Israelis?

No answer. Funny, I thought the Palestinians had repudiated terrorism, at least officially.

I would guess there weren’t too many people online when Haaretz today had an open Q&A with Saeb Erekat, the eloquent senior Palestinian official. It was, after all, around lunchtime in Jerusalem, which is very early in the morning in the U.S. The lack of traffic was also suggested by the very small number of questions that ended up getting answered—just seven.

So it was a funny thing to discover that when I submitted a question I considered something of a softball, it was ignored or perhaps rejected. It was short. It went like this:

Do you unequivocally denounce the use of violent attacks against civilians, including attacks carried out by Palestinians against Israelis?

No answer. Funny, I thought the Palestinians had repudiated terrorism, at least officially.

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Carville Gets One Right

I don’t often quote James Carville, but on the decision to name a special prosecutor to look at criminal charges against CIA operatives who utilized enhanced interrogation techniques, he is certainly worth hearing. His main concern is the political blowback that may ensue from the decision to go after the CIA:

Well, the first thing is this is terrible politics for the Obama administration and Democrats. The country—having said that, people go out and give speeches about we’re a nation of laws and somebody in the justice department actually believes that and they believe they’re warranted to open a preliminary investigation by way of Republican career prosecutors. So, I know the politics of this, a lot of people wish it would go away, be, as long as people believe speeches of being a nation of laws you run into this danger.

[. . .]

And, look, if it were up to me, I would say I kind of agree with the former CIA general counsel who said, you know, we ought to punish these people and move on. Somebody in there believes these speeches, and they’re pretty—they seem to be fairly adamant about pursuing it. Politically, I think it’s not very wise. Leon Panetta, the head of the CIA, according to reports that I read today, was very, very upset about this. And, look, but somebody, again, we don’t know all the facts and a preliminary investigation, they seem to be bound and determined to proceed with this.

This is a Democrat—one who won a couple of big elections and saw how a very messy impeachment did great political damage to the accusers. Carville is warning the administration: turn back. But Holder and Obama know better. They are in “Get the Bushies” mode. The country, however, is not and now barely tolerates the president. What will they think when the full force of the U.S. government is arrayed against low-level operatives who were trying their best to extract critical data from the worst of the worst terrorists? Why they might get the idea that the president cares more about his left-wing base than about protecting and supporting the intelligence community.

And Carville knows it.

I don’t often quote James Carville, but on the decision to name a special prosecutor to look at criminal charges against CIA operatives who utilized enhanced interrogation techniques, he is certainly worth hearing. His main concern is the political blowback that may ensue from the decision to go after the CIA:

Well, the first thing is this is terrible politics for the Obama administration and Democrats. The country—having said that, people go out and give speeches about we’re a nation of laws and somebody in the justice department actually believes that and they believe they’re warranted to open a preliminary investigation by way of Republican career prosecutors. So, I know the politics of this, a lot of people wish it would go away, be, as long as people believe speeches of being a nation of laws you run into this danger.

[. . .]

And, look, if it were up to me, I would say I kind of agree with the former CIA general counsel who said, you know, we ought to punish these people and move on. Somebody in there believes these speeches, and they’re pretty—they seem to be fairly adamant about pursuing it. Politically, I think it’s not very wise. Leon Panetta, the head of the CIA, according to reports that I read today, was very, very upset about this. And, look, but somebody, again, we don’t know all the facts and a preliminary investigation, they seem to be bound and determined to proceed with this.

This is a Democrat—one who won a couple of big elections and saw how a very messy impeachment did great political damage to the accusers. Carville is warning the administration: turn back. But Holder and Obama know better. They are in “Get the Bushies” mode. The country, however, is not and now barely tolerates the president. What will they think when the full force of the U.S. government is arrayed against low-level operatives who were trying their best to extract critical data from the worst of the worst terrorists? Why they might get the idea that the president cares more about his left-wing base than about protecting and supporting the intelligence community.

And Carville knows it.

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More Disapprove

A milestone has been reached in the Obama presidency: in not just one poll but in an average of those publicly available at Pollster.com, Obama’s job approval has dropped below 50 percent. Most Americans now disapprove of the job he is doing.

It would be a mistake to think this is permanent, but neither is it insignificant. Nor is this the bottom. The voters are, some literally, screaming for Obama to stop, slow down, and can the radical leftism. They are scared by the deficit that gets adjusted daily. They don’t want an über-government running their health care. Obama can refuse to listen, but one must imagine the trend will then continue as more and more voters sense he is not only engaged in some grand experiment but doesn’t even care what they think.

Presidents can reverse losing streaks. But they first have to reverse the trajectory of their presidency. It remains an open question whether this all-too-confident president will do so.

UPDATE: To clarify, individual polls have shown a larger number disapprove than approve but while Obama’s poll average has dropped below 50 percent, it is a combined total of undecideds and disapproving voters that outweighs those who approve. It is more accurate to say that a majority no longer approve of the job Obama is doing.

A milestone has been reached in the Obama presidency: in not just one poll but in an average of those publicly available at Pollster.com, Obama’s job approval has dropped below 50 percent. Most Americans now disapprove of the job he is doing.

It would be a mistake to think this is permanent, but neither is it insignificant. Nor is this the bottom. The voters are, some literally, screaming for Obama to stop, slow down, and can the radical leftism. They are scared by the deficit that gets adjusted daily. They don’t want an über-government running their health care. Obama can refuse to listen, but one must imagine the trend will then continue as more and more voters sense he is not only engaged in some grand experiment but doesn’t even care what they think.

Presidents can reverse losing streaks. But they first have to reverse the trajectory of their presidency. It remains an open question whether this all-too-confident president will do so.

UPDATE: To clarify, individual polls have shown a larger number disapprove than approve but while Obama’s poll average has dropped below 50 percent, it is a combined total of undecideds and disapproving voters that outweighs those who approve. It is more accurate to say that a majority no longer approve of the job Obama is doing.

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National Security Council Reloaded

President Obama is adding quite a bit to the portfolio of the National Security Council (NSC). The latest addition, announced August 24, is supervision of the new interagency task force for interrogating high-value detainees. The High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) will operate from FBI headquarters but be supervised by the NSC. Such assignment of an “operational” role to the NSC has opened some eyes inside the Beltway, evoking memories of Iran-Contra and congressional fury.

But Obama has already expanded the NSC’s purview in two major reorganizations. In March he added much of the Cabinet to the NSC “Principals Group,” the baseline membership established in the National Security Act of 1947. To the vice president and secretaries of state and defense, Obama has added the attorney general and secretaries of energy, treasury, and homeland security, among others. In May he merged the Homeland Security Council (HSC), created by George W. Bush as a separate entity, with the NSC, essentially fusing the functions of these councils as well as their staff (although the homeland security adviser remains a separate appointee on a level with the national security adviser). The May reorganization also saw the creation of a new “Global Engagement Directorate” with the purpose of driving “comprehensive engagement policies that leverage diplomacy, communications, international development and assistance, and domestic engagement and outreach in pursuit of a host of national security objectives” (emphasis added).

Much think-tank commentary, like that of the Global Leadership Coalition (see last link), has applauded the trend of Obama’s reorganization efforts (see here and here, for example). The Project for National Security Reform (of which National Security Adviser James Jones and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair are both alumni) has long argued for an even more comprehensive reorganization of the executive branch to improve interagency processes. Advice such as that of former Joint Chiefs Chairman General Peter Pace is frequently invoked to make the case that reorganization will improve interagency cooperation to the benefit of national policy. The reorganizations undertaken by Obama have a strong whiff about them of this “good government” focus—even the creation of HIG, with its orchestrated interagency character and chain of command originating from the Executive Office of the President (EOP).

Congress may well have a different view, however. Someone may remind them on the Hill that the ACLU urged Congress little more than a year ago to investigate the National Security Council’s allegedly central role in authorizing torture. As National Journal’s Shane Harris points out, the NSC official with oversight of the HIG is John Brennan, whose early candidacy for Obama’s CIA director angered left-wing pundits because of Brennan’s association with enhanced interrogation techniques. Congress’s authority and oversight are murkier with EOP entities than with the executive departments, as demonstrated in instances from Iran-Contra to the humorously convoluted history of funding for the Homeland Security Council. Even exercising the power of the purse is a challenge for Congress with the EOP organization.

Civil libertarians and federalists can also justly be concerned about the implications of merging the HSC and NSC, and creating a Global Engagement Directorate chartered with both foreign and domestic “outreach.” Blurring lines between domestic- and foreign-agency charters creates troubling opportunities to undermine the authority of state and local governments, as writer Paul Stockton outlines in this policy article in the Washington Quarterly, which takes an avowedly contrarian view of the impetus to “streamline.” Today a number of security issues must cross the functional lines between foreign- and domestic-agency purviews, but the question whether domestic mechanisms, voices, and expectations should impede certain directions in national-security policy ought to be decided politically, with congressional involvement, and not by fiat of the executive branch.

Long-time national-security observers have been skeptical about whether Obama’s reorganizations are sufficient to change much about how national-security business is done. We can hope, from certain standpoints, that this view proves valid. But a rapidly expanding National Security Council, with a new charter to merge foreign and domestic “engagement and outreach,” as well as to oversee terrorist interrogations, is beginning to look like a special prosecution waiting to happen. Congress should interest itself in this matter sooner rather than later.

President Obama is adding quite a bit to the portfolio of the National Security Council (NSC). The latest addition, announced August 24, is supervision of the new interagency task force for interrogating high-value detainees. The High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) will operate from FBI headquarters but be supervised by the NSC. Such assignment of an “operational” role to the NSC has opened some eyes inside the Beltway, evoking memories of Iran-Contra and congressional fury.

But Obama has already expanded the NSC’s purview in two major reorganizations. In March he added much of the Cabinet to the NSC “Principals Group,” the baseline membership established in the National Security Act of 1947. To the vice president and secretaries of state and defense, Obama has added the attorney general and secretaries of energy, treasury, and homeland security, among others. In May he merged the Homeland Security Council (HSC), created by George W. Bush as a separate entity, with the NSC, essentially fusing the functions of these councils as well as their staff (although the homeland security adviser remains a separate appointee on a level with the national security adviser). The May reorganization also saw the creation of a new “Global Engagement Directorate” with the purpose of driving “comprehensive engagement policies that leverage diplomacy, communications, international development and assistance, and domestic engagement and outreach in pursuit of a host of national security objectives” (emphasis added).

Much think-tank commentary, like that of the Global Leadership Coalition (see last link), has applauded the trend of Obama’s reorganization efforts (see here and here, for example). The Project for National Security Reform (of which National Security Adviser James Jones and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair are both alumni) has long argued for an even more comprehensive reorganization of the executive branch to improve interagency processes. Advice such as that of former Joint Chiefs Chairman General Peter Pace is frequently invoked to make the case that reorganization will improve interagency cooperation to the benefit of national policy. The reorganizations undertaken by Obama have a strong whiff about them of this “good government” focus—even the creation of HIG, with its orchestrated interagency character and chain of command originating from the Executive Office of the President (EOP).

Congress may well have a different view, however. Someone may remind them on the Hill that the ACLU urged Congress little more than a year ago to investigate the National Security Council’s allegedly central role in authorizing torture. As National Journal’s Shane Harris points out, the NSC official with oversight of the HIG is John Brennan, whose early candidacy for Obama’s CIA director angered left-wing pundits because of Brennan’s association with enhanced interrogation techniques. Congress’s authority and oversight are murkier with EOP entities than with the executive departments, as demonstrated in instances from Iran-Contra to the humorously convoluted history of funding for the Homeland Security Council. Even exercising the power of the purse is a challenge for Congress with the EOP organization.

Civil libertarians and federalists can also justly be concerned about the implications of merging the HSC and NSC, and creating a Global Engagement Directorate chartered with both foreign and domestic “outreach.” Blurring lines between domestic- and foreign-agency charters creates troubling opportunities to undermine the authority of state and local governments, as writer Paul Stockton outlines in this policy article in the Washington Quarterly, which takes an avowedly contrarian view of the impetus to “streamline.” Today a number of security issues must cross the functional lines between foreign- and domestic-agency purviews, but the question whether domestic mechanisms, voices, and expectations should impede certain directions in national-security policy ought to be decided politically, with congressional involvement, and not by fiat of the executive branch.

Long-time national-security observers have been skeptical about whether Obama’s reorganizations are sufficient to change much about how national-security business is done. We can hope, from certain standpoints, that this view proves valid. But a rapidly expanding National Security Council, with a new charter to merge foreign and domestic “engagement and outreach,” as well as to oversee terrorist interrogations, is beginning to look like a special prosecution waiting to happen. Congress should interest itself in this matter sooner rather than later.

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Sweden’s Double Standard

Sweden’s government refused to intervene on the matter of Aftonbladet‘s libelous article on grounds of press freedom: they will not tell papers what to do, they will not punish them for doing the wrong thing.

Freedom of the press is not absolute in Europe, but still, we’d appreciate Sweden’s commitment to such lofty principles if it were consistent with past behavior. Not so. As pointed out by CiFWatch, a new blog recently launched to monitor the London Guardian‘s worst excesses against Israel, Sweden moved to shut down an electronic publication of its far-Right party back in 2006, in the midst of the Danish-cartoons furor.

What might explain the difference? Could it be that Israel and its supporters abroad might express their anger, at most, by sending letters and taking a few demonstrative diplomatic steps, while those protesting the Danish cartoons burned the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Syria and killed more than a few people around the globe?

Sweden’s government refused to intervene on the matter of Aftonbladet‘s libelous article on grounds of press freedom: they will not tell papers what to do, they will not punish them for doing the wrong thing.

Freedom of the press is not absolute in Europe, but still, we’d appreciate Sweden’s commitment to such lofty principles if it were consistent with past behavior. Not so. As pointed out by CiFWatch, a new blog recently launched to monitor the London Guardian‘s worst excesses against Israel, Sweden moved to shut down an electronic publication of its far-Right party back in 2006, in the midst of the Danish-cartoons furor.

What might explain the difference? Could it be that Israel and its supporters abroad might express their anger, at most, by sending letters and taking a few demonstrative diplomatic steps, while those protesting the Danish cartoons burned the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Syria and killed more than a few people around the globe?

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Not Measuring Up

Fouad Ajami’s must-read piece describes the descent of Obama from iconic candidate to crabby president. But it is not simply the loss of that vaunted “temperament”—it is Obama’s abject intolerance for dissent that is hypocritical in the extreme and unnerving to a free society. He explains:

President Barack Obama himself, the community organizer par excellence, is full of lament that the “loudest voices” are running away with the national debate. Liberalism in righteous opposition, liberalism in power: The rules have changed. It was true to script, and to necessity, that Mr. Obama would try to push through his sweeping program—the change in the health-care system, a huge budget deficit, the stimulus package, the takeover of the automotive industry—in record time. He and his handlers must have feared that the spell would soon be broken, that the coalition that carried Mr. Obama to power was destined to come apart, that a country anxious and frightened in the fall of 2008 could recover its poise and self-confidence. Historically, this republic, unlike the Old World and the command economies of the Third World, had trusted the society rather than the state. In a perilous moment, that balance had shifted, and Mr. Obama was the beneficiary of that shift.

So our new president wanted a fundamental overhaul of the health-care system—17% of our GDP—without a serious debate and without “loud voices.” It is akin to government by emergency decrees. How dare those townhallers (the voters) heckle Arlen Specter! Americans eager to rein in this runaway populism were now guilty of lèse-majesté by talking back to the political class.

Ajami also picks up on a tonal failing that can be deadly for a president. FDR, Ronald Reagan, and, yes, Bill Clinton shared an outward cheeriness about America and a much remarked upon optimism. They liked America and Americans and generally avoided (with the exception of that horrid, finger-wagging moment by Clinton—”I did not have . . .”) chewing out the voters or blaming them for their own inability to achieve all their political aims. Not so with Obama.

Obama’s tone—and yes temperament—now reeks of haughtiness and irritation. The rubes don’t get it: it’s time to reinvent America! Ajami again:

There is joylessness in Mr. Obama. He is a scold, the “Yes we can!” mantra is shallow, and at any rate, it is about the coming to power of a man, and a political class, invested in its own sense of smarts and wisdom, and its right to alter the social contract of the land. In this view, the country had lost its way and the new leader and the political class arrayed around him will bring it back to the right path.

Thus the moment of crisis would become an opportunity to push through a political economy of redistribution and a foreign policy of American penance. The independent voters were the first to break ranks. They hadn’t underwritten this fundamental change in the American polity when they cast their votes for Mr. Obama.

Forget effective—is Obama even likable any more? When he’s not condescending to us on race or chastising activists or making up tales of tonsil-stealing docs, he’s apologizing for America and hanging out with cultural elites who harbor a similarly dim view of their fellow citizens. Maybe the real question is: does he like us? Certainly not the segment of us that shows up at town-hall meetings or that likes America pretty much the way it is. Certainly not that segment of Americans that defended the rest of us during the darkest days after 9/11.

No wonder Obama seems so grumpy lately—we just aren’t living up to his expectations.

Fouad Ajami’s must-read piece describes the descent of Obama from iconic candidate to crabby president. But it is not simply the loss of that vaunted “temperament”—it is Obama’s abject intolerance for dissent that is hypocritical in the extreme and unnerving to a free society. He explains:

President Barack Obama himself, the community organizer par excellence, is full of lament that the “loudest voices” are running away with the national debate. Liberalism in righteous opposition, liberalism in power: The rules have changed. It was true to script, and to necessity, that Mr. Obama would try to push through his sweeping program—the change in the health-care system, a huge budget deficit, the stimulus package, the takeover of the automotive industry—in record time. He and his handlers must have feared that the spell would soon be broken, that the coalition that carried Mr. Obama to power was destined to come apart, that a country anxious and frightened in the fall of 2008 could recover its poise and self-confidence. Historically, this republic, unlike the Old World and the command economies of the Third World, had trusted the society rather than the state. In a perilous moment, that balance had shifted, and Mr. Obama was the beneficiary of that shift.

So our new president wanted a fundamental overhaul of the health-care system—17% of our GDP—without a serious debate and without “loud voices.” It is akin to government by emergency decrees. How dare those townhallers (the voters) heckle Arlen Specter! Americans eager to rein in this runaway populism were now guilty of lèse-majesté by talking back to the political class.

Ajami also picks up on a tonal failing that can be deadly for a president. FDR, Ronald Reagan, and, yes, Bill Clinton shared an outward cheeriness about America and a much remarked upon optimism. They liked America and Americans and generally avoided (with the exception of that horrid, finger-wagging moment by Clinton—”I did not have . . .”) chewing out the voters or blaming them for their own inability to achieve all their political aims. Not so with Obama.

Obama’s tone—and yes temperament—now reeks of haughtiness and irritation. The rubes don’t get it: it’s time to reinvent America! Ajami again:

There is joylessness in Mr. Obama. He is a scold, the “Yes we can!” mantra is shallow, and at any rate, it is about the coming to power of a man, and a political class, invested in its own sense of smarts and wisdom, and its right to alter the social contract of the land. In this view, the country had lost its way and the new leader and the political class arrayed around him will bring it back to the right path.

Thus the moment of crisis would become an opportunity to push through a political economy of redistribution and a foreign policy of American penance. The independent voters were the first to break ranks. They hadn’t underwritten this fundamental change in the American polity when they cast their votes for Mr. Obama.

Forget effective—is Obama even likable any more? When he’s not condescending to us on race or chastising activists or making up tales of tonsil-stealing docs, he’s apologizing for America and hanging out with cultural elites who harbor a similarly dim view of their fellow citizens. Maybe the real question is: does he like us? Certainly not the segment of us that shows up at town-hall meetings or that likes America pretty much the way it is. Certainly not that segment of Americans that defended the rest of us during the darkest days after 9/11.

No wonder Obama seems so grumpy lately—we just aren’t living up to his expectations.

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What Happens When the Cult Ends?

Richard Cohen is disappointed. Obama isn’t making use of his “teachable” moments. What—the grand teacher, the magnificent orator, isn’t imparting wisdom to us or convincing us on racial-profiling or health care or much of anything else? Not really. Cohen doesn’t say a lot about the content of Obama’s messages, but he sure has plenty to say about Obama himself—such as “his distinct coolness [and] an above-the-fray mien that does not communicate empathy.” I think he means Obama is a snob.

Cohen can’t quite bring himself to put it in those terms, but he does concede that “the country needs health-care reform and success in Afghanistan, and both efforts are going in the wrong direction. The message needs to be fixed, and so, with some tough introspection, does the man.”

The irony here is great. Obama won an election campaign conducted to a greater degree than any in recent memory based on a cult of personality. John McCain tried to ridicule it, but it remained the central focus of the election. Obama the reformer! Obama the heralder of New Politics! Obama was going to stem the rise of the oceans (or was it part the sea?). Columnists cooed about his temperament. Pundits marveled at his rhetoric. The iconography was creepy and it was omnipresent.

But what happens when the cult ends and the personality at the center of it becomes off-putting? Cohen essentially concedes that Obama has failed to communicate and, moreover, failed to bond with the American people. So now what?

Ironically, conservatives, who were never much enamored with Obama’s frothy rhetoric, didn’t swoon then and don’t put much stock in his charisma-deficit now. They, unlike Obama’s fans, tend to focus on what Obama is selling, not on how he’s selling it. For them it’s about the reality of Obama’s agenda sinking in and not the allure of the man wearing off.

There is a measure of truth to both perceptions. Obama has become ill-tempered and increasingly irritated as his agenda has faltered. His gaffe quotient is going up and is more regularly reported. It turns out he’s not that grand a persuader or explainer after all. But at bottom, he suffers from a disconnect with the public on the merits of his ideas. It seems that the public isn’t up for a leftward lurch.

Obama can try to fix his persona or fix his agenda—or both. But a “sort of God” isn’t inclined, as Cohen hopes, for that tough introspection. As long as Obama is convinced the problem lies with Republicans or cranky citizens or “special interests,” he’s not likely to fix anything.

Richard Cohen is disappointed. Obama isn’t making use of his “teachable” moments. What—the grand teacher, the magnificent orator, isn’t imparting wisdom to us or convincing us on racial-profiling or health care or much of anything else? Not really. Cohen doesn’t say a lot about the content of Obama’s messages, but he sure has plenty to say about Obama himself—such as “his distinct coolness [and] an above-the-fray mien that does not communicate empathy.” I think he means Obama is a snob.

Cohen can’t quite bring himself to put it in those terms, but he does concede that “the country needs health-care reform and success in Afghanistan, and both efforts are going in the wrong direction. The message needs to be fixed, and so, with some tough introspection, does the man.”

The irony here is great. Obama won an election campaign conducted to a greater degree than any in recent memory based on a cult of personality. John McCain tried to ridicule it, but it remained the central focus of the election. Obama the reformer! Obama the heralder of New Politics! Obama was going to stem the rise of the oceans (or was it part the sea?). Columnists cooed about his temperament. Pundits marveled at his rhetoric. The iconography was creepy and it was omnipresent.

But what happens when the cult ends and the personality at the center of it becomes off-putting? Cohen essentially concedes that Obama has failed to communicate and, moreover, failed to bond with the American people. So now what?

Ironically, conservatives, who were never much enamored with Obama’s frothy rhetoric, didn’t swoon then and don’t put much stock in his charisma-deficit now. They, unlike Obama’s fans, tend to focus on what Obama is selling, not on how he’s selling it. For them it’s about the reality of Obama’s agenda sinking in and not the allure of the man wearing off.

There is a measure of truth to both perceptions. Obama has become ill-tempered and increasingly irritated as his agenda has faltered. His gaffe quotient is going up and is more regularly reported. It turns out he’s not that grand a persuader or explainer after all. But at bottom, he suffers from a disconnect with the public on the merits of his ideas. It seems that the public isn’t up for a leftward lurch.

Obama can try to fix his persona or fix his agenda—or both. But a “sort of God” isn’t inclined, as Cohen hopes, for that tough introspection. As long as Obama is convinced the problem lies with Republicans or cranky citizens or “special interests,” he’s not likely to fix anything.

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He’s Got Their Backs All Right

The Wall Street Journal editors aptly analyze the decision to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate CIA operatives:

‘It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.” —Attorney General Eric Holder, April 2009

“Justice Department Names Prosecutor to Reopen CIA Abuse Cases” —Wall Street Journal, yesterday

Mr. Holder had it right the first time. His about-face yesterday, compounded by his release of a 2004 internal CIA report on that agency’s handling of terrorists, opens a political war that President Obama, the CIA and above all the country will live to regret.

This is a trap the Administration set for itself. Mr. Obama and his team have attempted to appease their political left by publicly denouncing the Bush Administration’s national security policies, even as they claimed to want to forget the past. Their disparagement has only fed the liberal demand for Bush prosecutions and increased the pressure on Mr. Holder to appoint a prosecutor.

There is, of course, the added factor of timing. The decision, one of monumental significance to our intelligence community and national security, is announced while the president is closeted away in Martha’s Vineyard. This is political courage and transparency? Really, Obama is president—not Eric Holder—and should have the nerve to come forward, explain his decision, and tell us why we should not interpret his words to those assembled earlier at Langley as bald-faced lies. Then he pledged to the CIA employees that he intended to look forward, not back, and expressed that he would “need them more than ever.” Then he was vowing to have their backs. Now he and his attorney general have stabbed those same agents in the back.

As a colleague expressed to me yesterday, “this is a form of madness.” The Obama administration sees the CIA as the enemy, not the terrorists. It chooses to employ the full force of the federal government against our own protectors, not those who seek to murder Americans. This has long been the pathology of the Left, a conviction that efforts to defend ourselves are evil and that our enemies are figments of our imagination. The difference is that now this conviction is held by the president and his attorney general.

It is therefore not simply the CIA that should feel betrayed, but all Americans. We lack leaders who are serious and committed to defending us against implacable enemies. There is no greater failing for a president.

The Wall Street Journal editors aptly analyze the decision to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate CIA operatives:

‘It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.” —Attorney General Eric Holder, April 2009

“Justice Department Names Prosecutor to Reopen CIA Abuse Cases” —Wall Street Journal, yesterday

Mr. Holder had it right the first time. His about-face yesterday, compounded by his release of a 2004 internal CIA report on that agency’s handling of terrorists, opens a political war that President Obama, the CIA and above all the country will live to regret.

This is a trap the Administration set for itself. Mr. Obama and his team have attempted to appease their political left by publicly denouncing the Bush Administration’s national security policies, even as they claimed to want to forget the past. Their disparagement has only fed the liberal demand for Bush prosecutions and increased the pressure on Mr. Holder to appoint a prosecutor.

There is, of course, the added factor of timing. The decision, one of monumental significance to our intelligence community and national security, is announced while the president is closeted away in Martha’s Vineyard. This is political courage and transparency? Really, Obama is president—not Eric Holder—and should have the nerve to come forward, explain his decision, and tell us why we should not interpret his words to those assembled earlier at Langley as bald-faced lies. Then he pledged to the CIA employees that he intended to look forward, not back, and expressed that he would “need them more than ever.” Then he was vowing to have their backs. Now he and his attorney general have stabbed those same agents in the back.

As a colleague expressed to me yesterday, “this is a form of madness.” The Obama administration sees the CIA as the enemy, not the terrorists. It chooses to employ the full force of the federal government against our own protectors, not those who seek to murder Americans. This has long been the pathology of the Left, a conviction that efforts to defend ourselves are evil and that our enemies are figments of our imagination. The difference is that now this conviction is held by the president and his attorney general.

It is therefore not simply the CIA that should feel betrayed, but all Americans. We lack leaders who are serious and committed to defending us against implacable enemies. There is no greater failing for a president.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The Evin diet plan: “A close aide to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested that Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a reformist critic of the president, appeared so gaunt during his televised confession this month because he himself had decided to take off some weight. ‘It’s natural that when someone has become fat, in prison he understands that his fatness harmed his body and spirit,’ said Ali Akbar Javanfekr. . . . ‘So maybe Mr. Abtahi took advantage of this opportunity to lose weight.’ The president’s advisor on media affairs spoke to the Iranian Labor News Agency. Observers were stunned when Abtahi . . . who served as a vice president for former reformist President Mohammad Khatami, publicly confessed to conspiring against Ahmadinejad. It wasn’t just that his words appeared to be copied verbatim from Iran’s hardline press. But the 51-year-old looked terrible.”

Sens. Lieberman and McConnell object to prosecuting CIA operatives. (Sens. Bond, Sessions, and Kyl do as well.) Rep. Pete Hoekstra isn’t pleased either.

This sums up where we are: “Appointing a prosecutor to harass CIA interrogators exposes this administration’s priorities: The global war on terror takes a back seat to terrorizing some of America’s most selfless warriors.”

Even the Washington Post editors are uneasy: “There is something unsettling about telling operatives that they are off the hook, only to have that stance change with a new administration. For another, the report underscores what little appetite the CIA had for getting back into the business of ugly interrogation (it had been so burned that it changed the term, at one point, to “human resource exploitation”); the agency was clamoring constantly for guidance.”

I know you are shocked that the White House deficit numbers might not be accurate: “Former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin says the Obama administration’s claim that Obama’s updated figures on the deficit that will be released Tuesday are ‘spin and nothing more.” ‘ Holtz-Eakin, who was a top advisor to the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., sent a memo Monday to House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, accusing Obama of manipulating the numbers about future bailout costs in making the claim that the deficit will shrink by more than $260 billion from what was predicted three months ago. ‘Bottom line, the budget outlook is worse, and dangerous,’ Holtz-Eakin writes to Boehner.”

A peak at those documents that Vice President Dick Cheney says show the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation techniques turns out to show the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation techniques. The same techniques we will no longer employ.

And Cheney blasts the Obama administration.

Gov. David Paterson’s poll numbers remain grim.

Little wonder then that Rudy Giuliani is contemplating a run—although in all likelihood his opponent would be Andrew Cuomo. Talk about your heavyweight battles.

Bill McGurn thinks Obama needs to move to the right in order to save his presidency, like Bill Clinton did. Maybe he needs to lose the Democratic congressional majority too.

The Evin diet plan: “A close aide to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested that Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a reformist critic of the president, appeared so gaunt during his televised confession this month because he himself had decided to take off some weight. ‘It’s natural that when someone has become fat, in prison he understands that his fatness harmed his body and spirit,’ said Ali Akbar Javanfekr. . . . ‘So maybe Mr. Abtahi took advantage of this opportunity to lose weight.’ The president’s advisor on media affairs spoke to the Iranian Labor News Agency. Observers were stunned when Abtahi . . . who served as a vice president for former reformist President Mohammad Khatami, publicly confessed to conspiring against Ahmadinejad. It wasn’t just that his words appeared to be copied verbatim from Iran’s hardline press. But the 51-year-old looked terrible.”

Sens. Lieberman and McConnell object to prosecuting CIA operatives. (Sens. Bond, Sessions, and Kyl do as well.) Rep. Pete Hoekstra isn’t pleased either.

This sums up where we are: “Appointing a prosecutor to harass CIA interrogators exposes this administration’s priorities: The global war on terror takes a back seat to terrorizing some of America’s most selfless warriors.”

Even the Washington Post editors are uneasy: “There is something unsettling about telling operatives that they are off the hook, only to have that stance change with a new administration. For another, the report underscores what little appetite the CIA had for getting back into the business of ugly interrogation (it had been so burned that it changed the term, at one point, to “human resource exploitation”); the agency was clamoring constantly for guidance.”

I know you are shocked that the White House deficit numbers might not be accurate: “Former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin says the Obama administration’s claim that Obama’s updated figures on the deficit that will be released Tuesday are ‘spin and nothing more.” ‘ Holtz-Eakin, who was a top advisor to the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., sent a memo Monday to House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, accusing Obama of manipulating the numbers about future bailout costs in making the claim that the deficit will shrink by more than $260 billion from what was predicted three months ago. ‘Bottom line, the budget outlook is worse, and dangerous,’ Holtz-Eakin writes to Boehner.”

A peak at those documents that Vice President Dick Cheney says show the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation techniques turns out to show the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation techniques. The same techniques we will no longer employ.

And Cheney blasts the Obama administration.

Gov. David Paterson’s poll numbers remain grim.

Little wonder then that Rudy Giuliani is contemplating a run—although in all likelihood his opponent would be Andrew Cuomo. Talk about your heavyweight battles.

Bill McGurn thinks Obama needs to move to the right in order to save his presidency, like Bill Clinton did. Maybe he needs to lose the Democratic congressional majority too.

Read Less




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