Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 26, 2009

A Georgia Anniversary in Context

An anniversary appears to be passing peacefully: that of Russia’s August 26, 2008, recognition of Georgian provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent nations. Dmitry Medvedev is, of course, taking this opportunity to renew his call for recognition of the provinces’ independence by other nations. Georgia last week detained a Turkish-operated fuel tanker delivering cargo to Abkhazia in violation of Georgian law, an assertion of sovereignty that might be expected to anger Moscow. Meanwhile, about 70 U.S. Marines have arrived in Georgia to train its forces for a deployment to Afghanistan, a development Moscow views with disfavor (and of which the U.S. embassy in Georgia is careful to say “No weapons will be provided to the Georgians as part of this training”).

Nevertheless, the anniversary is passing without incident. Moscow has even announced, after saber-rattling and rumored troop buildups in the disputed provinces in early August, that Russian forces are drawing down their current level in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Western analysts, we should note, believe Russia has at least 10,000 troops in the provinces rather than the 4,000-5,000 claimed by Moscow. The EU monitoring mission is unable to confirm numbers because its movements in the provinces are restricted by Russian troops. Can this be a triumph for “smart power” diplomacy?

A broader view gives us cause to doubt it, for at least three reasons. One is that Russia is currently facing a renewed spate of violence from separatist groups in the northern Caucasus, in which analysts discern increased sophistication and diversification of tactics. The violence is likely to subside with the onset of autumn, but Russia may want to shift troops to the Chechen region now to deal with it.

Moscow has fewer troops to pull from elsewhere for reason No. 2: the two major military exercises underway on Russia’s northern and western frontiers. Like the earlier exercise “Kavkaz-2009,” conducted in the Caucasus in June and July, “Ladoga-2009” and “Zapad-2009” are the largest of their kind since the 1980s. Together they are putting 60,000 ground troops through their paces, along with naval and air-defense forces, bombers, special forces, and the border guard, operating across Russia from the Far East to Arctic Siberia and into the Baltic region and Belarus. Uneasy Europeans are focused on the analysis that Russia is practicing to defend its Baltic Sea gas pipeline (against whom is not obvious).

But the scope of the exercises is also feeding Canada’s growing concern about Russian activities in the Arctic, which Canada is countering this month with a major Arctic exercise of its own. The Ladoga and Zapad exercises are too big and complex to be predicated on a single regional task and are reminiscent of the Moscow-directed “theater of war” exercises in the Soviet era. Russia’s current force readiness need not be exaggerated in order for the unique post-Soviet scope of the exercises to be properly appreciated—and their signal understood.

It is in this context that the third reason to hold off on praising “smart power” should be viewed: Russia’s renewed diplomatic campaign against Ukraine. An IMF loan in July forestalled Kiev’s pending default on its natural-gas bill from Russia, but on August 11 Medvedev announced he would not be sending his newly appointed ambassador to Ukraine owing to President Viktor Yushchenko’s “anti-Russian course.” Along with continuing complaints about Ukraine arming Georgia, Moscow leveled the charge this week that Ukrainians actually fought for Georgia in the 2008 war. Coming on top of Medvedev’s explicit hope that Ukrainians will reject Yushchenko in their January 2010 election, this series of diplomatic jabs argues that Russia has shifted not its Black Sea policies but its current target, from Georgia to Ukraine.

Perhaps Georgia can breathe a little easier for now (although the Russian-troop situation there remains unclear). But with Russian exercises alarming our NATO allies and Ukraine (which finds itself under renewed diplomatic assault), we might wonder which of Russia or the U.S. is using “smart power” more effectively.

An anniversary appears to be passing peacefully: that of Russia’s August 26, 2008, recognition of Georgian provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent nations. Dmitry Medvedev is, of course, taking this opportunity to renew his call for recognition of the provinces’ independence by other nations. Georgia last week detained a Turkish-operated fuel tanker delivering cargo to Abkhazia in violation of Georgian law, an assertion of sovereignty that might be expected to anger Moscow. Meanwhile, about 70 U.S. Marines have arrived in Georgia to train its forces for a deployment to Afghanistan, a development Moscow views with disfavor (and of which the U.S. embassy in Georgia is careful to say “No weapons will be provided to the Georgians as part of this training”).

Nevertheless, the anniversary is passing without incident. Moscow has even announced, after saber-rattling and rumored troop buildups in the disputed provinces in early August, that Russian forces are drawing down their current level in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Western analysts, we should note, believe Russia has at least 10,000 troops in the provinces rather than the 4,000-5,000 claimed by Moscow. The EU monitoring mission is unable to confirm numbers because its movements in the provinces are restricted by Russian troops. Can this be a triumph for “smart power” diplomacy?

A broader view gives us cause to doubt it, for at least three reasons. One is that Russia is currently facing a renewed spate of violence from separatist groups in the northern Caucasus, in which analysts discern increased sophistication and diversification of tactics. The violence is likely to subside with the onset of autumn, but Russia may want to shift troops to the Chechen region now to deal with it.

Moscow has fewer troops to pull from elsewhere for reason No. 2: the two major military exercises underway on Russia’s northern and western frontiers. Like the earlier exercise “Kavkaz-2009,” conducted in the Caucasus in June and July, “Ladoga-2009” and “Zapad-2009” are the largest of their kind since the 1980s. Together they are putting 60,000 ground troops through their paces, along with naval and air-defense forces, bombers, special forces, and the border guard, operating across Russia from the Far East to Arctic Siberia and into the Baltic region and Belarus. Uneasy Europeans are focused on the analysis that Russia is practicing to defend its Baltic Sea gas pipeline (against whom is not obvious).

But the scope of the exercises is also feeding Canada’s growing concern about Russian activities in the Arctic, which Canada is countering this month with a major Arctic exercise of its own. The Ladoga and Zapad exercises are too big and complex to be predicated on a single regional task and are reminiscent of the Moscow-directed “theater of war” exercises in the Soviet era. Russia’s current force readiness need not be exaggerated in order for the unique post-Soviet scope of the exercises to be properly appreciated—and their signal understood.

It is in this context that the third reason to hold off on praising “smart power” should be viewed: Russia’s renewed diplomatic campaign against Ukraine. An IMF loan in July forestalled Kiev’s pending default on its natural-gas bill from Russia, but on August 11 Medvedev announced he would not be sending his newly appointed ambassador to Ukraine owing to President Viktor Yushchenko’s “anti-Russian course.” Along with continuing complaints about Ukraine arming Georgia, Moscow leveled the charge this week that Ukrainians actually fought for Georgia in the 2008 war. Coming on top of Medvedev’s explicit hope that Ukrainians will reject Yushchenko in their January 2010 election, this series of diplomatic jabs argues that Russia has shifted not its Black Sea policies but its current target, from Georgia to Ukraine.

Perhaps Georgia can breathe a little easier for now (although the Russian-troop situation there remains unclear). But with Russian exercises alarming our NATO allies and Ukraine (which finds itself under renewed diplomatic assault), we might wonder which of Russia or the U.S. is using “smart power” more effectively.

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The “Lyrical Left”

Michael Barone has an article in today’s Washington Examiner that is—like all he writes—thought-provoking and worthy of a read. Titled “Obama’s lyrical Left struggles with liberalism,” it argues that Obama is a member of the “lyrical Left”—basically, a dove. But it wasn’t a dovish foreign policy that made the state big, argues Barone: it was the undovish liberals like Wilson and FDR who fought wars, because wars grow the state. As Barone concludes, “A big-government president, Obama is learning, needs to be a war president first.”

Well, maybe. I doubt Obama is learning any such thing: he doesn’t seem like the type much interested in fighting big wars, or in learning. The term “lyrical Left” is new to me, and while it makes sense, I’ve always thought of Obama not as a dove but rather as a college professor. He has the cool, above-it-all, slightly condescending attitude of a tenured member of the Harvard faculty. Not so much lyrical as holier than thou.

But Barone is definitely right about the “lyrical Left.” His case study is Randolph Bourne, a writer for the New Republic who opposed U.S. entry into the Great War on the grounds that it would give too much power to the state to interfere in private enterprise and private opinions. Indeed, that was largely the reason that Wilson himself delayed and delayed going to war, so Barone’s characterization of him as part of the “unlyrical warlike Left” is not precisely right, though fair enough as a retrospective summary.

What Barone is writing about is Gladstonian liberalism: averse to war abroad and averse to the big state at home. Not that the Grand Old Man didn’t fight and legislate, of course. But the liberal argument in the 19th century had it that the purpose of state action was to remove restraints it had previously imposed, be it on trade or voting rights, usually at the behest of powerful vested interests. The problem, in other words, was the state itself, and its capture by the aristocracy. Liberals then were the optimists.

But that is not today’s Left. The generation of the 1960s may have been pacifists abroad, but while they were supposedly in favor of freedom at home, they defined freedom as liberty from inherited morality. The past was a nightmare from which, at least rhetorically, they were trying to escape. And that attitude dovetailed perfectly with a massively expanded state, which existed not to undue its previous errors but to remedy the inherited wrongs of society at large. Skeptical and pacifist about the U.S. abroad, skeptical and interventionist about it at home. It isn’t Gladstonian or lyrical, but it’s undeniably coherent. Liberals today are the pessimists.

It would be wonderful if Barone were right. If so, the Left today would either be pacifist abroad and libertarian at home, or activist abroad and activist at home. Neither of those would be entirely to my liking, but in any case it would at least be one out of two, and that’s not bad. But the fact that the Left has existed for more than 40 years as pacifist abroad and activist at home suggests that the “basic contradiction” Barone sees between the Democratic party and liberalism is really a contradiction between the old liberalism and the new—even if the latter is now more than two generations old.

Michael Barone has an article in today’s Washington Examiner that is—like all he writes—thought-provoking and worthy of a read. Titled “Obama’s lyrical Left struggles with liberalism,” it argues that Obama is a member of the “lyrical Left”—basically, a dove. But it wasn’t a dovish foreign policy that made the state big, argues Barone: it was the undovish liberals like Wilson and FDR who fought wars, because wars grow the state. As Barone concludes, “A big-government president, Obama is learning, needs to be a war president first.”

Well, maybe. I doubt Obama is learning any such thing: he doesn’t seem like the type much interested in fighting big wars, or in learning. The term “lyrical Left” is new to me, and while it makes sense, I’ve always thought of Obama not as a dove but rather as a college professor. He has the cool, above-it-all, slightly condescending attitude of a tenured member of the Harvard faculty. Not so much lyrical as holier than thou.

But Barone is definitely right about the “lyrical Left.” His case study is Randolph Bourne, a writer for the New Republic who opposed U.S. entry into the Great War on the grounds that it would give too much power to the state to interfere in private enterprise and private opinions. Indeed, that was largely the reason that Wilson himself delayed and delayed going to war, so Barone’s characterization of him as part of the “unlyrical warlike Left” is not precisely right, though fair enough as a retrospective summary.

What Barone is writing about is Gladstonian liberalism: averse to war abroad and averse to the big state at home. Not that the Grand Old Man didn’t fight and legislate, of course. But the liberal argument in the 19th century had it that the purpose of state action was to remove restraints it had previously imposed, be it on trade or voting rights, usually at the behest of powerful vested interests. The problem, in other words, was the state itself, and its capture by the aristocracy. Liberals then were the optimists.

But that is not today’s Left. The generation of the 1960s may have been pacifists abroad, but while they were supposedly in favor of freedom at home, they defined freedom as liberty from inherited morality. The past was a nightmare from which, at least rhetorically, they were trying to escape. And that attitude dovetailed perfectly with a massively expanded state, which existed not to undue its previous errors but to remedy the inherited wrongs of society at large. Skeptical and pacifist about the U.S. abroad, skeptical and interventionist about it at home. It isn’t Gladstonian or lyrical, but it’s undeniably coherent. Liberals today are the pessimists.

It would be wonderful if Barone were right. If so, the Left today would either be pacifist abroad and libertarian at home, or activist abroad and activist at home. Neither of those would be entirely to my liking, but in any case it would at least be one out of two, and that’s not bad. But the fact that the Left has existed for more than 40 years as pacifist abroad and activist at home suggests that the “basic contradiction” Barone sees between the Democratic party and liberalism is really a contradiction between the old liberalism and the new—even if the latter is now more than two generations old.

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Clubbing the CIA into Submission

David Ignatius explains just how “successful” the Obama team has been in utterly demoralizing the CIA. He writes:

Talking to CIA veterans this week, I sensed a genuine relief that the agency — however dazed and demoralized by the post-mortems on interrogation — can finally get back to the business of spying.

“The agency is glad to be out of it,” admitted one senior CIA official. The FBI will now run interrogations, with CIA officers in the field advising whether a captive should be played back as a double agent, “rendered” to a third country or questioned in the United States. Stephen Kappes, the career officer who serves as the CIA’s deputy director, “doesn’t want to have anything to do with interrogation,” said one White House official. “He wants to let this go.”

Translation: “Thank goodness we no longer have to do the dangerous, thankless job of defending America.” And of course the notion that someone else is going to “run interrogations” is ludicrous. With the Army Field Manual clutched firmly in their hands, the new “elite” interrogators (housed at FBI actually, run by the NSC) won’t have a whole lot to do. How long does it take to ask, “Is your cell warm enough? Would you tell us your name?”

We see the greatest offense by the Obama administration — reversing Bush-era policies and posing as the defenders of “American values” while neutering our intelligence community. The message to interrogators has been sent loud and clear: no one will defend you, so don’t do anything that some left-wing activist might find troubling. The Obama team is convinced we don’t need effective interrogation of terrorists, perhaps because they think the terrorists aren’t a threat or because they persist in denying that enhanced interrogation techniques worked.

Some president, maybe even this one, may one day need public servants willing to extract vital information to save thousands (or more) Americans. Good luck finding anyone.

David Ignatius explains just how “successful” the Obama team has been in utterly demoralizing the CIA. He writes:

Talking to CIA veterans this week, I sensed a genuine relief that the agency — however dazed and demoralized by the post-mortems on interrogation — can finally get back to the business of spying.

“The agency is glad to be out of it,” admitted one senior CIA official. The FBI will now run interrogations, with CIA officers in the field advising whether a captive should be played back as a double agent, “rendered” to a third country or questioned in the United States. Stephen Kappes, the career officer who serves as the CIA’s deputy director, “doesn’t want to have anything to do with interrogation,” said one White House official. “He wants to let this go.”

Translation: “Thank goodness we no longer have to do the dangerous, thankless job of defending America.” And of course the notion that someone else is going to “run interrogations” is ludicrous. With the Army Field Manual clutched firmly in their hands, the new “elite” interrogators (housed at FBI actually, run by the NSC) won’t have a whole lot to do. How long does it take to ask, “Is your cell warm enough? Would you tell us your name?”

We see the greatest offense by the Obama administration — reversing Bush-era policies and posing as the defenders of “American values” while neutering our intelligence community. The message to interrogators has been sent loud and clear: no one will defend you, so don’t do anything that some left-wing activist might find troubling. The Obama team is convinced we don’t need effective interrogation of terrorists, perhaps because they think the terrorists aren’t a threat or because they persist in denying that enhanced interrogation techniques worked.

Some president, maybe even this one, may one day need public servants willing to extract vital information to save thousands (or more) Americans. Good luck finding anyone.

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Saving Honduran Democracy from the People

Yesterday the delegation of the Organization of American States (OAS) foreign ministers visiting Honduras to push the “San Jose Accord”—which calls for the amnesty and reinstatement of former President Manuel Zelaya—issued a statement expressing regret for its inability to obtain backing for the accord (except from Zelaya, whose representatives told the delegation he wants to “sign it immediately”).

The Honduran Supreme Court last week rejected the OAS plan, holding that the current Honduran government was lawfully installed as part of a “constitutional succession” and that Zelaya is subject to prosecution if he returns. The previously scheduled electoral campaign starts on September 1, with elections in November.

It is clear from the OAS statement that the foreign ministers struck out after talking to all the “powers and organs of the State”:

On August 24 and 25 the Mission held broad and frank talks through meetings with representatives of the Government of President Manuel Zelaya; the powers and organs of the State (the National Congress, Supreme Court of Justice, Supreme Electoral Tribunal, Justice Department, and the Department of Defense and Armed Forces); and with all of the presidential candidates, leaders of the Catholic Church, representatives of Evangelical churches, business owners, representatives of civil society and the high ranks of the Armed Forces. The Mission also met with Mr. Roberto Micheletti.

It turns out that the “powers and organs of the State” are still opposed to the central demands of the OAS plan:

The powers and organs of the State expressed reservations about two points: one relating to the amnesty established in Article 205 point 16 of the Constitution of Honduras; and one which refers to the return to the powers of the State before June 28, 2009, which implies the return of José Manuel Zelaya Rosales to the Presidency of the Republic until January 27, 2010.

In addition, the “representatives of civil society” are also opposed:

For their part, the representatives of civil society opposing the Government of President Zelaya expressed fear of the consequences that his return to power could have for the peace and social stability of the country.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly was asked Monday to state the U.S. view about the continuing effort to return the former Honduran president to office, when he would in any case leave office in a few months when faced with elections:

QUESTION: What is the U.S. Government’s view of the visit by the OAS foreign ministers to Honduras? And we’re now two and a half months, I think—

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — away from their planned elections.

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: — if those elections go forward, essentially, the coup instigators will have won, as it were.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, yeah.

It is a strange “coup” that is endorsed by the Supreme Court, the Honduran Congress, the other “organs” of the State, and the representatives of civil society; an even stranger one that holds elections on time a few months later; and the strangest one of all that generates continued State Department opposition on grounds that if the people get to vote, the coup instigators will have won.

Yesterday the delegation of the Organization of American States (OAS) foreign ministers visiting Honduras to push the “San Jose Accord”—which calls for the amnesty and reinstatement of former President Manuel Zelaya—issued a statement expressing regret for its inability to obtain backing for the accord (except from Zelaya, whose representatives told the delegation he wants to “sign it immediately”).

The Honduran Supreme Court last week rejected the OAS plan, holding that the current Honduran government was lawfully installed as part of a “constitutional succession” and that Zelaya is subject to prosecution if he returns. The previously scheduled electoral campaign starts on September 1, with elections in November.

It is clear from the OAS statement that the foreign ministers struck out after talking to all the “powers and organs of the State”:

On August 24 and 25 the Mission held broad and frank talks through meetings with representatives of the Government of President Manuel Zelaya; the powers and organs of the State (the National Congress, Supreme Court of Justice, Supreme Electoral Tribunal, Justice Department, and the Department of Defense and Armed Forces); and with all of the presidential candidates, leaders of the Catholic Church, representatives of Evangelical churches, business owners, representatives of civil society and the high ranks of the Armed Forces. The Mission also met with Mr. Roberto Micheletti.

It turns out that the “powers and organs of the State” are still opposed to the central demands of the OAS plan:

The powers and organs of the State expressed reservations about two points: one relating to the amnesty established in Article 205 point 16 of the Constitution of Honduras; and one which refers to the return to the powers of the State before June 28, 2009, which implies the return of José Manuel Zelaya Rosales to the Presidency of the Republic until January 27, 2010.

In addition, the “representatives of civil society” are also opposed:

For their part, the representatives of civil society opposing the Government of President Zelaya expressed fear of the consequences that his return to power could have for the peace and social stability of the country.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly was asked Monday to state the U.S. view about the continuing effort to return the former Honduran president to office, when he would in any case leave office in a few months when faced with elections:

QUESTION: What is the U.S. Government’s view of the visit by the OAS foreign ministers to Honduras? And we’re now two and a half months, I think—

MR. KELLY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — away from their planned elections.

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: — if those elections go forward, essentially, the coup instigators will have won, as it were.

MR. KELLY: Yeah, yeah.

It is a strange “coup” that is endorsed by the Supreme Court, the Honduran Congress, the other “organs” of the State, and the representatives of civil society; an even stranger one that holds elections on time a few months later; and the strangest one of all that generates continued State Department opposition on grounds that if the people get to vote, the coup instigators will have won.

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The Buck Stops Short of the Vineyard

Among the most despicable aspects of appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the conduct of CIA operatives in applying enhanced interrogation techniques is the abject refusal of the president to take responsibility for the decision. This is of course a policy decision—whether to reverse a decision already made to not prosecute these alleged crimes and, in the president’s words, to look forward and not backward.

Commenting on the criticisms by Vice President Dick Cheney, the Washington Post reports:

A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, called Cheney’s comments “off base” and took umbrage at the idea that Obama had personally allowed Durham to expand his inquiry. “This was not something the White House allowed, this was something the AG decided,” the official said, referring to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

This is bizarre and simply false. Obama is the president and can make the call to—well, look forward instead of backward. If in fact Holder is acting contrary to the president’s wishes in relitigating cases, further imperiling our intelligence agencies, and setting a dangerous precedent that prosecutorial decisions are never final, then he should be fired. But one would have to be foolish indeed to believe that on an issue of such consequence Holder is defying the White House.

The announcement was timed just when the president was hiding at Martha’s Vineyard. But he’s can’t escape blame for this one. Whatever fallout occurs is his responsibility.

Among the most despicable aspects of appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the conduct of CIA operatives in applying enhanced interrogation techniques is the abject refusal of the president to take responsibility for the decision. This is of course a policy decision—whether to reverse a decision already made to not prosecute these alleged crimes and, in the president’s words, to look forward and not backward.

Commenting on the criticisms by Vice President Dick Cheney, the Washington Post reports:

A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, called Cheney’s comments “off base” and took umbrage at the idea that Obama had personally allowed Durham to expand his inquiry. “This was not something the White House allowed, this was something the AG decided,” the official said, referring to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

This is bizarre and simply false. Obama is the president and can make the call to—well, look forward instead of backward. If in fact Holder is acting contrary to the president’s wishes in relitigating cases, further imperiling our intelligence agencies, and setting a dangerous precedent that prosecutorial decisions are never final, then he should be fired. But one would have to be foolish indeed to believe that on an issue of such consequence Holder is defying the White House.

The announcement was timed just when the president was hiding at Martha’s Vineyard. But he’s can’t escape blame for this one. Whatever fallout occurs is his responsibility.

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Qaddafi Can Celebrate His Filthy Regime Without Us

The British government has been roundly criticized for freeing Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan national convicted of murdering 270 people when he blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. The Libyan government, meanwhile, has been roundly criticized by even the British for hailing him as a hero when he returned to his homeland. Britain has no leg to stand on, however—not because the government released a convicted terrorist out of “mercy” last week but because it is still considering its plan to dispatch the Duke of York to Libya next week for Moammar Qaddafi’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of his seizure of power.

Qaddafi was Megrahi’s boss when that plane exploded over Lockerbie. The only reason he isn’t in jail is that it’s as hard to arrest him as it is to arrest Sudan’s genocidal Omar Bashir, even after an international warrant has been issued against him. (Bashir, by the way, will be attending Qaddafi’s party without fear of capture.)

Britain is “reconsidering” its decision to send a member of its royal family to toast a Stalinist and a terrorist. That’s something. But as Gene put it at the British blog Harry’s Place, “What’s disturbing is not that the plans are being reconsidered, but rather that there were plans in the first place.”

The Duke of York’s scheduled appearance at Qaddafi’s gala is unseemly, but that’s “diplomacy” for you. Plenty of diplomats from democratic countries attend events hosted by dictators.

Qaddafi’s one-man rule, however, is almost uniquely grotesque. He closely studied Nicolae Ceauşescu’s vicious regime in Romania and imposed the same system on Libyans after he overthrew King Idris in 1969. His government is so repressive that the Islamic Republic of Iran looks libertarian by comparison. Unlike in Iran and even in Burma, there are no protests against government power in Libya ever. State control over the people is absolute.

Freedom House gives Libya scores of 7 in political rights and civil liberties—the lowest possible scores in each category, with a score of 1 being the highest. Iran, by contrast, scores 6 in each category. Saudi Arabia is slightly less free than Iran, as is Syria, but both are freer than Libya. Only seven countries in the entire world are as miserably oppressive according to Freedom House: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Somalia, Equatorial Guinea, Burma, Sudan, and North Korea.

I’m one of the very few Americans who has visited Libya since Qaddafi seized power. (Setting foot there was illegal until recently.) And I can attest that it is, indeed, one of the most thoroughly totalitarian countries on the face of the earth.

The place stinks of oppression. You can’t escape the state without leaving the country or going off-road and into the desert. Informers and secret police are omnipresent and all but omniscient. Hotel rooms are bugged. No one can travel from one city to another without a thick stack of permits and papers. I saw propaganda posters and billboards literally everywhere, even alongside roads in the wilderness where nobody lived. State propaganda is even carved into the sides of the mountains. Pictures of Qaddafi hang inside every building, and an entire floor of the museum in the capital is dedicated to glorifying him personally. Libya even looks like a communist country, with its Stalinist tower blocks outside Tripoli’s old city center and its socialist-realist paintings depicting happy proletarians in their Workers’ Paradise.

No one I met would talk about politics if there was the slightest chance anyone might overhear us. Those who did open up when we were safely in private were unanimous in their hatred, fear, and loathing of the regime. And they made sure to tell me that their entire families would be thrown in prison if I repeated what they said to anyone.

I visited several bookstores and found only four types of books in two genres: the Koran, commentaries on the Koran, Qaddafi’s Green Book and other works supposedly authored by him, and state-approved commentaries on his manifestos. If other genres were in circulation—fiction, poetry, economics, history—I couldn’t find them. And I quickly gave up trying to locate an international newspaper or any other source of information that didn’t belong to Qaddafi.

I’m not even convinced that the large number of Libyans who welcomed the Lockerbie bomber at the airport last week weren’t ordered by government agents to go down there, or else. It’s possible that they showed up voluntarily, but Libya is the kind of place where public demonstrations are routinely state-managed, just as they are in North Korea and just as they were in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in charge.

If the people in the crowd did greet Megrahi because they wanted to hail him as a hero, I’m not convinced they even knew what they were doing. They don’t have access to international media, and it’s highly unlikely that Qaddafi TV told them he murdered 270 innocent people.

Qaddafi deserved his former status as an international pariah, but he was allowed in from the cold when he renounced terrorism, paid millions of dollars to the families of his victims, and abandoned his weapons-of-mass-destruction program. Maybe white-listing him was the right call, even though he’s still a tyrant at home. Human-rights considerations are often sacrificed to the gods of foreign-policy “realism” for the sake of diplomacy, though we like to pretend otherwise.

Vice President Joe Biden visited Libya in 2004 when he was still in the Senate, and Qaddafi asked him why relations between our countries were strained. According to the vice president’s account at the time, Biden said: “That’s easy. You’re a terrorist. You killed people we like.”

Britain should take note. Westerners often negotiate with filthy regimes and even do business with them. But we don’t have to do it politely, and we don’t have to go to their parties.

The British government has been roundly criticized for freeing Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan national convicted of murdering 270 people when he blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. The Libyan government, meanwhile, has been roundly criticized by even the British for hailing him as a hero when he returned to his homeland. Britain has no leg to stand on, however—not because the government released a convicted terrorist out of “mercy” last week but because it is still considering its plan to dispatch the Duke of York to Libya next week for Moammar Qaddafi’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of his seizure of power.

Qaddafi was Megrahi’s boss when that plane exploded over Lockerbie. The only reason he isn’t in jail is that it’s as hard to arrest him as it is to arrest Sudan’s genocidal Omar Bashir, even after an international warrant has been issued against him. (Bashir, by the way, will be attending Qaddafi’s party without fear of capture.)

Britain is “reconsidering” its decision to send a member of its royal family to toast a Stalinist and a terrorist. That’s something. But as Gene put it at the British blog Harry’s Place, “What’s disturbing is not that the plans are being reconsidered, but rather that there were plans in the first place.”

The Duke of York’s scheduled appearance at Qaddafi’s gala is unseemly, but that’s “diplomacy” for you. Plenty of diplomats from democratic countries attend events hosted by dictators.

Qaddafi’s one-man rule, however, is almost uniquely grotesque. He closely studied Nicolae Ceauşescu’s vicious regime in Romania and imposed the same system on Libyans after he overthrew King Idris in 1969. His government is so repressive that the Islamic Republic of Iran looks libertarian by comparison. Unlike in Iran and even in Burma, there are no protests against government power in Libya ever. State control over the people is absolute.

Freedom House gives Libya scores of 7 in political rights and civil liberties—the lowest possible scores in each category, with a score of 1 being the highest. Iran, by contrast, scores 6 in each category. Saudi Arabia is slightly less free than Iran, as is Syria, but both are freer than Libya. Only seven countries in the entire world are as miserably oppressive according to Freedom House: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Somalia, Equatorial Guinea, Burma, Sudan, and North Korea.

I’m one of the very few Americans who has visited Libya since Qaddafi seized power. (Setting foot there was illegal until recently.) And I can attest that it is, indeed, one of the most thoroughly totalitarian countries on the face of the earth.

The place stinks of oppression. You can’t escape the state without leaving the country or going off-road and into the desert. Informers and secret police are omnipresent and all but omniscient. Hotel rooms are bugged. No one can travel from one city to another without a thick stack of permits and papers. I saw propaganda posters and billboards literally everywhere, even alongside roads in the wilderness where nobody lived. State propaganda is even carved into the sides of the mountains. Pictures of Qaddafi hang inside every building, and an entire floor of the museum in the capital is dedicated to glorifying him personally. Libya even looks like a communist country, with its Stalinist tower blocks outside Tripoli’s old city center and its socialist-realist paintings depicting happy proletarians in their Workers’ Paradise.

No one I met would talk about politics if there was the slightest chance anyone might overhear us. Those who did open up when we were safely in private were unanimous in their hatred, fear, and loathing of the regime. And they made sure to tell me that their entire families would be thrown in prison if I repeated what they said to anyone.

I visited several bookstores and found only four types of books in two genres: the Koran, commentaries on the Koran, Qaddafi’s Green Book and other works supposedly authored by him, and state-approved commentaries on his manifestos. If other genres were in circulation—fiction, poetry, economics, history—I couldn’t find them. And I quickly gave up trying to locate an international newspaper or any other source of information that didn’t belong to Qaddafi.

I’m not even convinced that the large number of Libyans who welcomed the Lockerbie bomber at the airport last week weren’t ordered by government agents to go down there, or else. It’s possible that they showed up voluntarily, but Libya is the kind of place where public demonstrations are routinely state-managed, just as they are in North Korea and just as they were in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in charge.

If the people in the crowd did greet Megrahi because they wanted to hail him as a hero, I’m not convinced they even knew what they were doing. They don’t have access to international media, and it’s highly unlikely that Qaddafi TV told them he murdered 270 innocent people.

Qaddafi deserved his former status as an international pariah, but he was allowed in from the cold when he renounced terrorism, paid millions of dollars to the families of his victims, and abandoned his weapons-of-mass-destruction program. Maybe white-listing him was the right call, even though he’s still a tyrant at home. Human-rights considerations are often sacrificed to the gods of foreign-policy “realism” for the sake of diplomacy, though we like to pretend otherwise.

Vice President Joe Biden visited Libya in 2004 when he was still in the Senate, and Qaddafi asked him why relations between our countries were strained. According to the vice president’s account at the time, Biden said: “That’s easy. You’re a terrorist. You killed people we like.”

Britain should take note. Westerners often negotiate with filthy regimes and even do business with them. But we don’t have to do it politely, and we don’t have to go to their parties.

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Tough Love for Democrats: Stop the Power Grab

Democratic analyst Dan Gerstein sure gets points for honesty on Democrats losing the health-care debate. He writes:

Our party and the liberal activists who drive it can’t stomach the fact that we are blowing this debate. So they have manufactured a convenient, simplistic narrative of villains and victims, where right-wing extremists and special interests are conspiring to stop progress through a cynical fear-mongering misinformation campaign. To hear them tell it, the Democrats’ main mistake has been not fighting back hard and soon enough against the exaggerations and fabrications (which, no doubt, have been manifold and damaging).

But much as the Republicans have gamed the issue, the reality is that the first and worst deception was the Democrats’ own. Step back for a second, listen to what the non-screaming skeptics are saying, and it’s clear the party severely overestimated its mandate and underestimated the public’s growing unease with the government’s massive growth over the last year. What would have been a hard sell in any environment has turned into an epic challenge. Yet the Democrats have been charging ahead as if it’s still November 2008, oblivious to the dramatic change in the electorate’s mood.

He even—imagine this!—suggests to his fellow Democrats that they “stop attacking the public you are trying to woo.” Well, you don’t hear that coming out of the Obama spin machine.

His point—that Obama overinterpreted or misinterpreted a mandate for a huge expansion of government—is exactly right. Moreover, it extends to the rest of the Obama agenda, including cap-and-trade, fiscal policy, and regulating consumer protection. All of it cumulatively and each part specifically represent another power grab from a president convinced we are ready for a radical reworking of government’s role in Americans’ lives. If Gerstein is right, then it’s not just Obama’s health-care strategy that needs an overhaul; it’s his entire agenda.

Democratic analyst Dan Gerstein sure gets points for honesty on Democrats losing the health-care debate. He writes:

Our party and the liberal activists who drive it can’t stomach the fact that we are blowing this debate. So they have manufactured a convenient, simplistic narrative of villains and victims, where right-wing extremists and special interests are conspiring to stop progress through a cynical fear-mongering misinformation campaign. To hear them tell it, the Democrats’ main mistake has been not fighting back hard and soon enough against the exaggerations and fabrications (which, no doubt, have been manifold and damaging).

But much as the Republicans have gamed the issue, the reality is that the first and worst deception was the Democrats’ own. Step back for a second, listen to what the non-screaming skeptics are saying, and it’s clear the party severely overestimated its mandate and underestimated the public’s growing unease with the government’s massive growth over the last year. What would have been a hard sell in any environment has turned into an epic challenge. Yet the Democrats have been charging ahead as if it’s still November 2008, oblivious to the dramatic change in the electorate’s mood.

He even—imagine this!—suggests to his fellow Democrats that they “stop attacking the public you are trying to woo.” Well, you don’t hear that coming out of the Obama spin machine.

His point—that Obama overinterpreted or misinterpreted a mandate for a huge expansion of government—is exactly right. Moreover, it extends to the rest of the Obama agenda, including cap-and-trade, fiscal policy, and regulating consumer protection. All of it cumulatively and each part specifically represent another power grab from a president convinced we are ready for a radical reworking of government’s role in Americans’ lives. If Gerstein is right, then it’s not just Obama’s health-care strategy that needs an overhaul; it’s his entire agenda.

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Nuclear Deterrence Debunked

Back in July, I expressed deep skepticism at the apparent intention of the U.S. to adopt nuclear deterrence as a response to a nuclear Iran—if its engagement policy fails to persuade the regime.

Further proof that the idea of deterrence through the extension of the nuclear umbrella to U.S. allies in the region is a non-starter emerged in the past few days, when Egypt, one of America’s closest allies in the region, dismissed the idea out of hand. As NTI reported yesterday, a number of recent statements by Egyptian officials (including by President Hosni Mubarak during his visit to the White House last week) have made it clear that they are not interested in a nuclear umbrella for three reasons: They will not defer their national security to foreign troops—that means that if a nuclear umbrella is needed, they’ll develop their own. They do not want Iran to go nuclear—they prefer prevention. And they loathe the underlying idea of the U.S. proposal because it “would imply an implicit acceptance that there is a regional nuclear power—we do not accept that either”—among other reasons, because it would challenge Egypt’s status as a regional power.

So good luck to engagement. When that fails, the administration will quickly discover that everyone in the region prefers bombing to deterrence.

Back in July, I expressed deep skepticism at the apparent intention of the U.S. to adopt nuclear deterrence as a response to a nuclear Iran—if its engagement policy fails to persuade the regime.

Further proof that the idea of deterrence through the extension of the nuclear umbrella to U.S. allies in the region is a non-starter emerged in the past few days, when Egypt, one of America’s closest allies in the region, dismissed the idea out of hand. As NTI reported yesterday, a number of recent statements by Egyptian officials (including by President Hosni Mubarak during his visit to the White House last week) have made it clear that they are not interested in a nuclear umbrella for three reasons: They will not defer their national security to foreign troops—that means that if a nuclear umbrella is needed, they’ll develop their own. They do not want Iran to go nuclear—they prefer prevention. And they loathe the underlying idea of the U.S. proposal because it “would imply an implicit acceptance that there is a regional nuclear power—we do not accept that either”—among other reasons, because it would challenge Egypt’s status as a regional power.

So good luck to engagement. When that fails, the administration will quickly discover that everyone in the region prefers bombing to deterrence.

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Quit Already

Marty Peretz writing on the decision to open (reopen and redo, actually) an investigation of CIA operatives’ use of enhanced interrogation techniques:

It is rumored that Panetta, a long-time and responsible public servant, intends on resigning due to this and related matters. Panetta reminded the public yesterday that the now controversial methods were known to the department of justice and the Congress for years. One other matter. He also reasserted that the techniques had also worked with no one dying. And since these techniques are no longer in use . . . what is the purpose of it all?

I’d like to think Panetta has the integrity and decency to quit, but what is he waiting for if that is his game plan? (Maybe Obama doesn’t accept resignations at Martha’s Vineyard.) But the question is a good one: what is the point?

The most obvious is that the Obama team and its irritated left-wing supporters are acting like moths to a flame—they cannot pass up a chance to bash the Bush team. Even when it’s counterproductive, politically unpopular, lacking in factual support, or all three, they can’t help themselves. It is what motivates them, what gives them a sense of moral superiority. They are “un-Bush” and must perpetually remind us of their disdain for all things, people, policies, and events of the Bush years. (One senses that if Bush had found a cure for cancer, this crowd would refuse to use it “on principle.”)

The public may be getting the idea—from the ill-conceived idea to close Guantanamo to the frothing about “Truth Commissions” to the Nancy Pelosi “They lied!” performance—that the Obama team’s national-security policy isn’t so much about national security as about bashing the Bushies. They may decide there is something noxious about substituting political vendettas for protection of Americans and support for our intelligence community. And they may conclude there really is no excuse for taking down low-level public servants along the way.

Let’s hope Panetta writes a compelling resignation letter.

Marty Peretz writing on the decision to open (reopen and redo, actually) an investigation of CIA operatives’ use of enhanced interrogation techniques:

It is rumored that Panetta, a long-time and responsible public servant, intends on resigning due to this and related matters. Panetta reminded the public yesterday that the now controversial methods were known to the department of justice and the Congress for years. One other matter. He also reasserted that the techniques had also worked with no one dying. And since these techniques are no longer in use . . . what is the purpose of it all?

I’d like to think Panetta has the integrity and decency to quit, but what is he waiting for if that is his game plan? (Maybe Obama doesn’t accept resignations at Martha’s Vineyard.) But the question is a good one: what is the point?

The most obvious is that the Obama team and its irritated left-wing supporters are acting like moths to a flame—they cannot pass up a chance to bash the Bush team. Even when it’s counterproductive, politically unpopular, lacking in factual support, or all three, they can’t help themselves. It is what motivates them, what gives them a sense of moral superiority. They are “un-Bush” and must perpetually remind us of their disdain for all things, people, policies, and events of the Bush years. (One senses that if Bush had found a cure for cancer, this crowd would refuse to use it “on principle.”)

The public may be getting the idea—from the ill-conceived idea to close Guantanamo to the frothing about “Truth Commissions” to the Nancy Pelosi “They lied!” performance—that the Obama team’s national-security policy isn’t so much about national security as about bashing the Bushies. They may decide there is something noxious about substituting political vendettas for protection of Americans and support for our intelligence community. And they may conclude there really is no excuse for taking down low-level public servants along the way.

Let’s hope Panetta writes a compelling resignation letter.

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Listen to Grassley

Ruth Marcus looks at Sen. Chuck Grassley’s role in health care and finds that his ardor for a comprehensive reform plan is cooling:

“I think in my town meetings I haven’t been saying anything that I haven’t been saying for three or four months before,” Grassley said. Perhaps, but he didn’t sound terribly eager to lead the charge for a far-reaching overhaul. He described the prevailing sentiment at his town hall meetings — he held four on Monday alone — as “slow down, deliberate, do it right, maybe do it incrementally.” Grassley acknowledged that the health system is so intertwined that it is difficult to tweeze out pieces to fix one by one, but said that his goal is “do it comprehensively and still do it in a way that expresses to the people that you aren’t trying to upset the apple cart. That’s the impression people have: that they’re not going to know their health-care system as they now know it.”

Even more, he said, “health care is kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back” on broader public concern over the deficit and government intervention into the private sector. “There is real fear for the future of our country, so we have to assess our activities in light of all that fear,” he said.

Marcus tries to flatter and egg on Grassley—do it for the legacy, she coos. But Grassley is worried about how “he will be remembered.” He is telling her, because voters are telling him, that the dire issue here is our debt and financial future, not remaking a basically sound health-care system through which the vast majority of voters have insurance that they like. He is also telling her that the “legacy” is whether he will usher in a political and economic system in which the government plays an ever larger role and individual decisions aren’t so individual anymore. (Didn’t liberals use to be all about “choice” and “personal autonomy”?)

Marcus makes the same mistaken assumption that has flummoxed Obama as well as congressional Democrats: she assumes that the current health-care system is unredeemable. The public is saying otherwise—tinker and improve but don’t overhaul, they are pleading. What they do want to overhaul are Obama’s fiscal policies and big-government agenda. Grassley gets that. Marcus should cajole less and listen more. The same goes, come to think of it, for Obama.

Ruth Marcus looks at Sen. Chuck Grassley’s role in health care and finds that his ardor for a comprehensive reform plan is cooling:

“I think in my town meetings I haven’t been saying anything that I haven’t been saying for three or four months before,” Grassley said. Perhaps, but he didn’t sound terribly eager to lead the charge for a far-reaching overhaul. He described the prevailing sentiment at his town hall meetings — he held four on Monday alone — as “slow down, deliberate, do it right, maybe do it incrementally.” Grassley acknowledged that the health system is so intertwined that it is difficult to tweeze out pieces to fix one by one, but said that his goal is “do it comprehensively and still do it in a way that expresses to the people that you aren’t trying to upset the apple cart. That’s the impression people have: that they’re not going to know their health-care system as they now know it.”

Even more, he said, “health care is kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back” on broader public concern over the deficit and government intervention into the private sector. “There is real fear for the future of our country, so we have to assess our activities in light of all that fear,” he said.

Marcus tries to flatter and egg on Grassley—do it for the legacy, she coos. But Grassley is worried about how “he will be remembered.” He is telling her, because voters are telling him, that the dire issue here is our debt and financial future, not remaking a basically sound health-care system through which the vast majority of voters have insurance that they like. He is also telling her that the “legacy” is whether he will usher in a political and economic system in which the government plays an ever larger role and individual decisions aren’t so individual anymore. (Didn’t liberals use to be all about “choice” and “personal autonomy”?)

Marcus makes the same mistaken assumption that has flummoxed Obama as well as congressional Democrats: she assumes that the current health-care system is unredeemable. The public is saying otherwise—tinker and improve but don’t overhaul, they are pleading. What they do want to overhaul are Obama’s fiscal policies and big-government agenda. Grassley gets that. Marcus should cajole less and listen more. The same goes, come to think of it, for Obama.

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Skeptics Everywhere

My congressman Gerald Connolly, according to a Politico report, faced a polite but “skeptical” town-hall meeting:

Connolly conceded that the health care debate had exposed fundamental quality of life fears owing to the sour economy. “That creates its own set of anxieties across the board,” he said.

Like a lot of Democrats, he’s in a tough spot. Generally in line with the Democratic liberal leadership, he’s hinting he’ll vote for the House bill. But out of the other side of his mouth he’s promising, “We’re not going to have a federal government takeover of health care in America.” Got that? You can see why the audience was “skeptical.”

Connolly is a freshman who replaced the popular Tom Davis, a moderate, in a district trending Democratic. But you can bet those hundreds of town-hall attendees are going to show up at the polls in 2010, when there is no Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, and those new voters (including thousands of college students) who turned out in 2008 may not make the effort to vote in an off-year race. Is it easier for him to do nothing for now, continue the debate, and pass some incremental reforms that won’t aggravate his constituents? (He’s not likely to have a Democratic challenger even if he punts on health care.) Quite likely, although the pressure on him and all the other freshmen to toe the line will be great.

The question for Connolly is the same facing many Democrats in less-than-perfectly-secure races: is ObamaCare worth putting his seat at risk?

My congressman Gerald Connolly, according to a Politico report, faced a polite but “skeptical” town-hall meeting:

Connolly conceded that the health care debate had exposed fundamental quality of life fears owing to the sour economy. “That creates its own set of anxieties across the board,” he said.

Like a lot of Democrats, he’s in a tough spot. Generally in line with the Democratic liberal leadership, he’s hinting he’ll vote for the House bill. But out of the other side of his mouth he’s promising, “We’re not going to have a federal government takeover of health care in America.” Got that? You can see why the audience was “skeptical.”

Connolly is a freshman who replaced the popular Tom Davis, a moderate, in a district trending Democratic. But you can bet those hundreds of town-hall attendees are going to show up at the polls in 2010, when there is no Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, and those new voters (including thousands of college students) who turned out in 2008 may not make the effort to vote in an off-year race. Is it easier for him to do nothing for now, continue the debate, and pass some incremental reforms that won’t aggravate his constituents? (He’s not likely to have a Democratic challenger even if he punts on health care.) Quite likely, although the pressure on him and all the other freshmen to toe the line will be great.

The question for Connolly is the same facing many Democrats in less-than-perfectly-secure races: is ObamaCare worth putting his seat at risk?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Sen. Russ Feingold thinks “we’re heading in the direction of doing absolutely nothing” on health-care reform.

He really shouldn’t hold back like this: “A ‘furious’ Rep. Peter King, the hawkish, maverick Long Island Republican, blasted a ‘disgraceful’ Eric Holder for opening an investigation of CIA interrogators and chided his own party for what he described as a weak response to the move in an interview just now with POLITICO. “It’s bulls***. It’s disgraceful. You wonder which side they’re on,’ he said of the attorney general’s move, which he described as a ‘declaration of war against the CIA, and against common sense.’ ”

Marc Thiessen writes on Holder’s decision to go after CIA interrogators: “The decision to prosecute will have a devastating effect on the intelligence community—pushing the agency back into a risk-averse, pre-Sept. 11, 2001, mentality. Indeed, the IG report itself indicates that agency officials knew this day was coming. ‘One officer expressed concern that one day, Agency officers will wind up on some ‘wanted list’ to appear before the World Court. . . . Another said, ‘Ten years from now, we’re going to be sorry we’re doing this . . . [but] it has to be done.’ ”

Shocking, I know, but the “Cheney memos” released by the Obama administration are  not exactly what he requested. “One intelligence source with knowledge of the memos says that the second report, the June 3 document releasing by the CIA, does not include the same level of detail as the June 1 document, the one requested by Cheney.”

Uh-oh: “CBO predicts that debt held by the public as a share of GDP, which was 40.8% in 2008, will rise to 67.8% in 2019—and then keep climbing after that. CBO says this is ‘unsustainable,’ but even this forecast may be optimistic.”

Elliott Abrams spells out the Obama human-rights policy (there isn’t one) and why it’s foolish and dangerous to let despots off the hook. The bottom line: “We have a foreign policy that does not reflect the greatest ideals and principles of America. America was not founded to improve health care or housing; it was founded for freedom. The ‘shining city on a hill’ was not supposed to be a model for urban planning or social policy, it was supposed to be a model of liberty and self-government.”

George W. Bush was more popular than Obama is at this point in his presidency. And keep in mind this followed the most controversial and bitter election since 1876.

Andy McCarthy reminds us that a lot of Republican senators and some conservative pundits supported Eric Holder for attorney general. Think they’d like to have that one back?

While on vacation, I missed this little nugget from Obama’s health-care call with the rabbis (“We are God’s partners in matters of life and death”): “Even the Obama-skeptical rabbis [Politico’s Ben] Smith interviews seem to bend over backwards to get Obama off the hook on the ‘partners’ quote. Perhaps they were lulled into cooperating by the soothing melody of ‘Deutschland Uber Alles,’ which played while Obama’s audience was on hold.”

Sen. Russ Feingold thinks “we’re heading in the direction of doing absolutely nothing” on health-care reform.

He really shouldn’t hold back like this: “A ‘furious’ Rep. Peter King, the hawkish, maverick Long Island Republican, blasted a ‘disgraceful’ Eric Holder for opening an investigation of CIA interrogators and chided his own party for what he described as a weak response to the move in an interview just now with POLITICO. “It’s bulls***. It’s disgraceful. You wonder which side they’re on,’ he said of the attorney general’s move, which he described as a ‘declaration of war against the CIA, and against common sense.’ ”

Marc Thiessen writes on Holder’s decision to go after CIA interrogators: “The decision to prosecute will have a devastating effect on the intelligence community—pushing the agency back into a risk-averse, pre-Sept. 11, 2001, mentality. Indeed, the IG report itself indicates that agency officials knew this day was coming. ‘One officer expressed concern that one day, Agency officers will wind up on some ‘wanted list’ to appear before the World Court. . . . Another said, ‘Ten years from now, we’re going to be sorry we’re doing this . . . [but] it has to be done.’ ”

Shocking, I know, but the “Cheney memos” released by the Obama administration are  not exactly what he requested. “One intelligence source with knowledge of the memos says that the second report, the June 3 document releasing by the CIA, does not include the same level of detail as the June 1 document, the one requested by Cheney.”

Uh-oh: “CBO predicts that debt held by the public as a share of GDP, which was 40.8% in 2008, will rise to 67.8% in 2019—and then keep climbing after that. CBO says this is ‘unsustainable,’ but even this forecast may be optimistic.”

Elliott Abrams spells out the Obama human-rights policy (there isn’t one) and why it’s foolish and dangerous to let despots off the hook. The bottom line: “We have a foreign policy that does not reflect the greatest ideals and principles of America. America was not founded to improve health care or housing; it was founded for freedom. The ‘shining city on a hill’ was not supposed to be a model for urban planning or social policy, it was supposed to be a model of liberty and self-government.”

George W. Bush was more popular than Obama is at this point in his presidency. And keep in mind this followed the most controversial and bitter election since 1876.

Andy McCarthy reminds us that a lot of Republican senators and some conservative pundits supported Eric Holder for attorney general. Think they’d like to have that one back?

While on vacation, I missed this little nugget from Obama’s health-care call with the rabbis (“We are God’s partners in matters of life and death”): “Even the Obama-skeptical rabbis [Politico’s Ben] Smith interviews seem to bend over backwards to get Obama off the hook on the ‘partners’ quote. Perhaps they were lulled into cooperating by the soothing melody of ‘Deutschland Uber Alles,’ which played while Obama’s audience was on hold.”

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