Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 4, 2009

An Update on Yale

Last month, the story broke that Yale University Press was censoring one of its own books—by Jytte Klausen on the Danish cartoon controversy—out of fear that if it published the cartoons in question, it would, in the words of John Donatich, the press’s director, put “blood on my hands.” In other words, there would be riots and murders by outraged Islamists.

Since then, there have been several developments that are worth following up on. Martin Kramer has done sterling detective work assembling circumstantial—but plausible—evidence that Yale’s decision had at least as much to do with its desire to win a big donation from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal as it did with cravenness. Particularly significant in this connection is the fact that Yale named Muna AbuSulayman, executive director of the Alwaleed Bin Foundation, as a Yale World Fellow—a sort of midcareer equivalent of the Rhodes Fellowship—for fall 2009.

As Kramer puts it, “Imagine, then—and we’re just imagining—that someone in the Yale administration, perhaps in President Levin’s office, gets wind of the fact that Yale University is about to publish a book on the Danish cartoons . . . Whooah! Good luck explaining to people like Prince Alwaleed that Yale University and Yale University Press are two different shops. The university can’t interfere in editorial matters, so what’s to be done? Summon some ‘experts’ who’ll be smart enough to know just what to say. Yale will be accused of surrendering to an imagined threat by extremists. So be it: self-censorship to spare bloodshed in Nigeria or Indonesia still sounds a lot nobler than self-censorship to keep a Saudi prince on the line for $20 million.” Read More

Last month, the story broke that Yale University Press was censoring one of its own books—by Jytte Klausen on the Danish cartoon controversy—out of fear that if it published the cartoons in question, it would, in the words of John Donatich, the press’s director, put “blood on my hands.” In other words, there would be riots and murders by outraged Islamists.

Since then, there have been several developments that are worth following up on. Martin Kramer has done sterling detective work assembling circumstantial—but plausible—evidence that Yale’s decision had at least as much to do with its desire to win a big donation from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal as it did with cravenness. Particularly significant in this connection is the fact that Yale named Muna AbuSulayman, executive director of the Alwaleed Bin Foundation, as a Yale World Fellow—a sort of midcareer equivalent of the Rhodes Fellowship—for fall 2009.

As Kramer puts it, “Imagine, then—and we’re just imagining—that someone in the Yale administration, perhaps in President Levin’s office, gets wind of the fact that Yale University is about to publish a book on the Danish cartoons . . . Whooah! Good luck explaining to people like Prince Alwaleed that Yale University and Yale University Press are two different shops. The university can’t interfere in editorial matters, so what’s to be done? Summon some ‘experts’ who’ll be smart enough to know just what to say. Yale will be accused of surrendering to an imagined threat by extremists. So be it: self-censorship to spare bloodshed in Nigeria or Indonesia still sounds a lot nobler than self-censorship to keep a Saudi prince on the line for $20 million.”

Actually, it’s not hard to imagine how the Yale administration would get wind of YUP’s forthcoming book. The press uses Yale faculty—among others—to read manuscripts submitted for publication. It’s likely that, at some point over the summer, Klausen’s manuscript crossed the desk of at least one member of Yale’s Council on Middle Eastern Studies. From there, it would take only an e-mail to alert Yale’s administration. Perhaps this explains why the chair of the council, Marcia Inhorn, was present at the decisive meeting between Klausen and the press.

Originally, I thought the press might be able to tough this out: it was lucky that the storm broke in August, not September. But now I’m not so sure. It’s just been announced that Klausen will be speaking in the Religion and Politics Colloquium on October 12—on “Europe’s Uneasy Marriage of Secularism and Christianity Since 1945 and the Challenge of Contemporary Religious Pluralism”—which will certainly stir the pot.

And the Yale Daily News is reporting that a letter—which I have—of protest from alumni is circulating for submission to the Alumni Magazine. The News states that the protesters are “prominent conservative alumni,” which is untrue: the letter is by liberals, moderates, and conservatives, though it is interesting that the News automatically defines resistance to censorship out of fear as “conservative.” That’s a real pat on the back for conservatives, as far as I’m concerned.

Still, the Yale read of the week is Matt Shaffer’s superb piece on “Disorientation at Yale,” his account of his 2006 freshman year, which featured the president and the dean speaking on open-mindedness and diversity, a law professor haranguing the freshmen on the hideous oppression of gays and Muslims in America, and required “discussions” with freshmen councilors about the professor’s remarks. As Shaffer aptly summarizes, the gist of the affair is that Yale regarded freshmen as “bigots in need of reform.”

That is quite right. During 2007-08, my last year at Yale, the councilor program was revamped on an explicitly politically correct basis. The News defined it as an effort to “initiate interracial and intercultural dialogues.” One counselor was more explicit: “to make a change in the entire culture on Yale’s campus, it makes more sense to begin with the freshmen.” Now, even the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale—I am sorry to see—offers as its two “Freshmen Orientation FilmsAmerican Beauty (1999), about hypocrisies and failures of the American nuclear family, and Milk (2008), which is very much not about said family.

Both are fine movies, and entirely suitable for showing on campus, but what they have to do with orienting freshmen to college is not clear me—unless orienting means making clear which way the political, social, and cultural wind blows. But they are co-sponsored by the “Office of LGBTQ Resources”—that’s Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender, Queer, in case you’ve not been on many campuses recently—so that’s OK.

And maybe that’s the real problem with Kramer’s theory. Yes, it’s all circumstantial. But the real problem is that you don’t need to follow the money to explain Yale’s actions. Yale is simultaneously afraid its students are bigots, and not so secretly afraid that it might be bigoted itself. Toward the students, it propagandizes out of political righteousness. Toward others, when accused of a lack of sensitivity—or even the possibility that it will be so accused—it appeases. If this kind of guilty, furtive, cringing is what the News is tacitly defining as liberalism—well, it makes me glad that they don’t consider me to be one.

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How to Lose the Center

As Obama has moved (or revealed himself to be affixed) to the far Left, he has steadily lost the support of independents. The big spending, big-government power grabs send a thrill up the spines of those on the Left but have independents on edge, and becoming increasingly hostile to the president’s agenda.

The same may hold for national security. Gallup tells us that “the American public is evenly divided on the Justice Department’s appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration’s use of harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects. A new Gallup Poll finds that 47% of Americans approve and 49% disapprove.” But when it comes to independents, the numbers look far different: 55 percent disapprove, while 40 percent approve. (Imagine how much more dramatic the results would be if the question had included the fact that the CIA operatives had already been investigated by prosecutors who declined to pursue further action.)

This is a losing gambit for the president. With every move to assuage the Left — be it on the public option, Guantanamo, or interrogation techniques — he is offending and alienating a much larger segment of the electorate. There simply aren’t enough hard-core liberals in America to sustain a radical agenda. Unless Obama stops throwing bones to the Left, he will permanently lose the center of the electorate. That’s no position to be in if you want to govern — and get re-elected.

As Obama has moved (or revealed himself to be affixed) to the far Left, he has steadily lost the support of independents. The big spending, big-government power grabs send a thrill up the spines of those on the Left but have independents on edge, and becoming increasingly hostile to the president’s agenda.

The same may hold for national security. Gallup tells us that “the American public is evenly divided on the Justice Department’s appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration’s use of harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects. A new Gallup Poll finds that 47% of Americans approve and 49% disapprove.” But when it comes to independents, the numbers look far different: 55 percent disapprove, while 40 percent approve. (Imagine how much more dramatic the results would be if the question had included the fact that the CIA operatives had already been investigated by prosecutors who declined to pursue further action.)

This is a losing gambit for the president. With every move to assuage the Left — be it on the public option, Guantanamo, or interrogation techniques — he is offending and alienating a much larger segment of the electorate. There simply aren’t enough hard-core liberals in America to sustain a radical agenda. Unless Obama stops throwing bones to the Left, he will permanently lose the center of the electorate. That’s no position to be in if you want to govern — and get re-elected.

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Afghanistan & the Conservatives (Continued)

Over at his blog at NewMajority.com, David Frum writes this:

If those of us who still support the war are to overcome public skepticism, we’re going to need a better answer than, “Hey — no fair changing your mind!” Unfortunately that’s the first answer that Will has received from conservative writers, including my friend and one-time White House colleague Pete Wehner.

I agree that my initial post wasn’t sufficient to the task – which is why I wrote in the piece, “I plan to take up at a later time a substantive analysis of why Mr. Will’s column . . . is deeply flawed.” Which I now have done, and which can be found here.

Second, there have been a slew of substantive rejoinders to Will — direct or implied — including by Michael Gerson, Bill Kristol, Max Boot, Fred Kagan, Robert Kagan, Rich Lowry, Michael O’Hanlon and Bruce Riedel, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Not too bad, given that Will’s column appeared only three days ago.

Finally, I’m not sure David’s characterization of my response to Will — “Hey — no fair changing your mind!” — is quite accurate or textured (using an explanation point to inflate an argument you are about to puncture is often a giveaway of sorts). But readers can decide for themselves.

Over at his blog at NewMajority.com, David Frum writes this:

If those of us who still support the war are to overcome public skepticism, we’re going to need a better answer than, “Hey — no fair changing your mind!” Unfortunately that’s the first answer that Will has received from conservative writers, including my friend and one-time White House colleague Pete Wehner.

I agree that my initial post wasn’t sufficient to the task – which is why I wrote in the piece, “I plan to take up at a later time a substantive analysis of why Mr. Will’s column . . . is deeply flawed.” Which I now have done, and which can be found here.

Second, there have been a slew of substantive rejoinders to Will — direct or implied — including by Michael Gerson, Bill Kristol, Max Boot, Fred Kagan, Robert Kagan, Rich Lowry, Michael O’Hanlon and Bruce Riedel, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Not too bad, given that Will’s column appeared only three days ago.

Finally, I’m not sure David’s characterization of my response to Will — “Hey — no fair changing your mind!” — is quite accurate or textured (using an explanation point to inflate an argument you are about to puncture is often a giveaway of sorts). But readers can decide for themselves.

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Breaking the Afghan-Deployment Divide

The New York Times reports that senior administration officials are divided on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan. In brief, Hillary/Holbrooke in favor; Gates trending in favor; Biden against. This simply confirms my own prejudices—I have a high opinion of Hillary Clinton, Dick Holbrooke, and Bob Gates. Biden? Not so much. He should really be known as “Three Iraqs” Biden, since he was the author or co-author of an outlandish scheme to try to end the fighting in Iraq by splitting the country into three, notwithstanding the deep-rooted antipathy to such a project from most Iraqis. That alone should have destroyed his reputation as a foreign-policy “wise man.” Yet Obama seemed to fall for his reputation when he chose Biden as his VP. At least Obama was smart enough to ignore Biden earlier this year when he decided to send more troops to Afghanistan; I hope he is equally wise now that he faces a similar debate.

Here’s one idea that Obama should embrace: military historian Mark Moyar’s suggestion of assigning American officers and NCOs to command Afghan army units. This is an idea based on long-standing practice; Moyar mentions the precedent of the U.S. in the Philippines and the Brits in Malaya, but there are countless other examples, the most famous being the Gurkhas. This is an ingenuous idea for fielding much bigger Afghan security forces in a hurry, breaking one of the chief bottlenecks, which is lack of qualified indigenous officers.

It won’t obviate the need for more U.S. troops, but it will bring closer the day when we can start drawing down our forces in Afghanistan as we are in Iraq—as a consequence of winning not losing.

The New York Times reports that senior administration officials are divided on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan. In brief, Hillary/Holbrooke in favor; Gates trending in favor; Biden against. This simply confirms my own prejudices—I have a high opinion of Hillary Clinton, Dick Holbrooke, and Bob Gates. Biden? Not so much. He should really be known as “Three Iraqs” Biden, since he was the author or co-author of an outlandish scheme to try to end the fighting in Iraq by splitting the country into three, notwithstanding the deep-rooted antipathy to such a project from most Iraqis. That alone should have destroyed his reputation as a foreign-policy “wise man.” Yet Obama seemed to fall for his reputation when he chose Biden as his VP. At least Obama was smart enough to ignore Biden earlier this year when he decided to send more troops to Afghanistan; I hope he is equally wise now that he faces a similar debate.

Here’s one idea that Obama should embrace: military historian Mark Moyar’s suggestion of assigning American officers and NCOs to command Afghan army units. This is an idea based on long-standing practice; Moyar mentions the precedent of the U.S. in the Philippines and the Brits in Malaya, but there are countless other examples, the most famous being the Gurkhas. This is an ingenuous idea for fielding much bigger Afghan security forces in a hurry, breaking one of the chief bottlenecks, which is lack of qualified indigenous officers.

It won’t obviate the need for more U.S. troops, but it will bring closer the day when we can start drawing down our forces in Afghanistan as we are in Iraq—as a consequence of winning not losing.

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Our Depressing Honduras Policy

Hillary Clinton has given a lovely gift to Honduran strongman Manuel Zelaya: “the State Department has announced it will cut aid to Honduras, contingent upon the return to office of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, with whom Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Thursday.”

So we’ll cut off aid to a democratic country in order to punish it for defending its democracy. How many ways, big and small, does this shame the United States?

It vitiates what little enthusiasm President Obama has shown for the promotion of democracy around the globe. Who cares if he said in Ghana that “governments that respect the will of their own people are more prosperous, more stable, and more successful than governments that do not.” He respects the will of the ruler who creates his own self-sustaining rules. The people of Honduras—the third-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere—don’t even get aid. Which makes the policy unusually cruel.

It undoes some of the work of American democracy promotion enacted before President Obama took office. Other peoples are at least as suspicious of our sincerity in promoting democracy as they are of democracy itself. When one American president spends a few years toppling bad regimes and fostering consensual ones only to be followed by a president who does the opposite, all American credibility goes out the window.

The move also puts us shoulder to shoulder with Zelaya’s ally, Hugo Chavez. This on the very same day that anti-Chavez protests are scheduled around the world.

It broadcasts a disheartening set of American priorities. Honduras requires a full cut off of aid. But a soon-to-be nuclear Iran? An extended hand.

It is destined to backfire. Currying favor with Latin American strongmen will only embolden an autocratic regional tendency and encourage more brazen anti-democratic and even rogue activity. Caracas and Tehran cooperate on everything from intelligence to energy. We are trying to shrink Iran’s dominion while bolstering one of its favored partners.

We’re no longer merely apologizing to the bad guys; we’re encouraging them.

Hillary Clinton has given a lovely gift to Honduran strongman Manuel Zelaya: “the State Department has announced it will cut aid to Honduras, contingent upon the return to office of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, with whom Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Thursday.”

So we’ll cut off aid to a democratic country in order to punish it for defending its democracy. How many ways, big and small, does this shame the United States?

It vitiates what little enthusiasm President Obama has shown for the promotion of democracy around the globe. Who cares if he said in Ghana that “governments that respect the will of their own people are more prosperous, more stable, and more successful than governments that do not.” He respects the will of the ruler who creates his own self-sustaining rules. The people of Honduras—the third-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere—don’t even get aid. Which makes the policy unusually cruel.

It undoes some of the work of American democracy promotion enacted before President Obama took office. Other peoples are at least as suspicious of our sincerity in promoting democracy as they are of democracy itself. When one American president spends a few years toppling bad regimes and fostering consensual ones only to be followed by a president who does the opposite, all American credibility goes out the window.

The move also puts us shoulder to shoulder with Zelaya’s ally, Hugo Chavez. This on the very same day that anti-Chavez protests are scheduled around the world.

It broadcasts a disheartening set of American priorities. Honduras requires a full cut off of aid. But a soon-to-be nuclear Iran? An extended hand.

It is destined to backfire. Currying favor with Latin American strongmen will only embolden an autocratic regional tendency and encourage more brazen anti-democratic and even rogue activity. Caracas and Tehran cooperate on everything from intelligence to energy. We are trying to shrink Iran’s dominion while bolstering one of its favored partners.

We’re no longer merely apologizing to the bad guys; we’re encouraging them.

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Gerson vs. Will

In another compelling rebuttal to George Will’s call to retreat, Michael Gerson writes:

The strategic importance of Afghanistan is difficult for critics of the war to deny. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, which began in state-sponsored terror academies there, are not yet generally regarded as a myth. The spread of Taliban havens in Afghanistan would permit al-Qaeda to return to its historical operating areas. This would allow, according to one administration official to whom I spoke, “perhaps a hundredfold expansion of their geographic and demographic area of operation.” And Taliban advances in Afghanistan could push a fragile, nuclear Pakistan toward chaos.

Gerson correctly notes that the default argument then becomes that the war can’t be won. On this he let’s General David Petraeus do the talking:

“To be fair,” he responded, “all of us should be asking that question more, in view of allegations of electoral fraud” in the recent Afghan election. “I don’t think anyone can guarantee that it will work out even if we apply a lot more resources. But it won’t work out if we don’t.”

Petraeus dismisses the idea that a strategy of drones, missiles and U.S. Special Forces would be sufficient in Afghanistan. “We tried counterterrorist approaches in Afghanistan, launching cruise missiles. Some say we are doing okay with that approach in the FATA [Pakistan's federally administered tribal regions]. But only because we know where to look.” Targeting terrorists is done with on-the-ground intelligence, which “takes enormous infrastructure.” In addition, “the Taliban have sanctuaries in Afghanistan. You can’t take out sanctuaries with Predator strikes. We are not going to carpet-bomb. Distance puts limits on what you can do.”

Petraeus is also concerned about a strategy of incrementalism — marginal shifts in strategy and resources that might result in gains years in the future. “We have to regain the initiative. We have to get ahead of this, to arrest the downward spiral, to revive momentum.”

Gerson’s column should be read in full and is an example of what is needed on the side of those arguing resolve in Afghanistan—a sense of modesty and restraint and a full realization that the effort will not be cheap or easy. It is a mistake for proponents of the Afghanistan war to argue that victory is assured; it never is in war.

But we have heard defeatism before, and we have learned from the experience of evading defeat in Iraq that the American military, with proper leadership and resources, can obtain remarkable results. But of course, the critics don’t want to try, having already pronounced the situation hopeless or “not worth it.”

In another compelling rebuttal to George Will’s call to retreat, Michael Gerson writes:

The strategic importance of Afghanistan is difficult for critics of the war to deny. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, which began in state-sponsored terror academies there, are not yet generally regarded as a myth. The spread of Taliban havens in Afghanistan would permit al-Qaeda to return to its historical operating areas. This would allow, according to one administration official to whom I spoke, “perhaps a hundredfold expansion of their geographic and demographic area of operation.” And Taliban advances in Afghanistan could push a fragile, nuclear Pakistan toward chaos.

Gerson correctly notes that the default argument then becomes that the war can’t be won. On this he let’s General David Petraeus do the talking:

“To be fair,” he responded, “all of us should be asking that question more, in view of allegations of electoral fraud” in the recent Afghan election. “I don’t think anyone can guarantee that it will work out even if we apply a lot more resources. But it won’t work out if we don’t.”

Petraeus dismisses the idea that a strategy of drones, missiles and U.S. Special Forces would be sufficient in Afghanistan. “We tried counterterrorist approaches in Afghanistan, launching cruise missiles. Some say we are doing okay with that approach in the FATA [Pakistan's federally administered tribal regions]. But only because we know where to look.” Targeting terrorists is done with on-the-ground intelligence, which “takes enormous infrastructure.” In addition, “the Taliban have sanctuaries in Afghanistan. You can’t take out sanctuaries with Predator strikes. We are not going to carpet-bomb. Distance puts limits on what you can do.”

Petraeus is also concerned about a strategy of incrementalism — marginal shifts in strategy and resources that might result in gains years in the future. “We have to regain the initiative. We have to get ahead of this, to arrest the downward spiral, to revive momentum.”

Gerson’s column should be read in full and is an example of what is needed on the side of those arguing resolve in Afghanistan—a sense of modesty and restraint and a full realization that the effort will not be cheap or easy. It is a mistake for proponents of the Afghanistan war to argue that victory is assured; it never is in war.

But we have heard defeatism before, and we have learned from the experience of evading defeat in Iraq that the American military, with proper leadership and resources, can obtain remarkable results. But of course, the critics don’t want to try, having already pronounced the situation hopeless or “not worth it.”

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Responding to George Will, Part Two

As promised, I want to follow up on my earlier post on George Will’s recent, and much commented upon, column on Afghanistan—in this instance laying out the reasons why I disagree with what he recommends.

To recapitulate: Will urges the United States to adopt a “comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes, and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.”

But what the best minds in the military will tell you—what the people who have actually overseen counterinsurgency success will say—is that drones, cruise missiles, and air strikes will not succeed without the appropriate human intelligence, without some kind of military infrastructure in place, without eyes and ears to direct us to the appropriate targets. This requires boots on the ground.

In addition, the Taliban continues to maintain sanctuaries in Afghanistan. As General David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, told Michael Gerson: “You can’t take out sanctuaries with predator strikes. We are not going to carpet-bomb. Distance puts limits on what you can do.” So the goal Will wants to achieve (to effectively strike against the Taliban) is impossible to achieve with the strategy he endorses (moving offshore and relying on technology). The wise approach is a counterinsurgency strategy tailored to the situation in Afghanistan—which is precisely what the new American commander there, General Stanley McChrystal, is in the process of designing.

The underlying assumption of Will’s column appears to be that success in any meaningful sense is impossible in Afghanistan. We should accept this reality, he seems to be arguing, rather than lose more American lives on behalf of a lost cause. The question, then, is whether Will’s premise is correct. The answer, I believe, is no, though no one can be sure at this stage. We haven’t yet tested that proposition—and until we do, premature withdrawal is folly.

Nonsense, critics of the war will respond; we have been in Afghanistan since 2001. How much longer do we have to stay to figure out that the Afghan war is unwinnable? To which the answer is: long enough to give the newly appointed General McChrystal and General Petraeus the chance to try to do in Afghanistan what Petraeus did in Iraq, which is to take a war we were losing and turn things around.

The Iraq experience is instructive. Let’s stipulate that the countries are vastly different, including the fact that one (Afghanistan) has primarily a rural insurgency, while the other (Iraq) had both rural and urban insurgencies; that the violence in Afghanistan is being driven primarily by indigenous forces, while much (though certainly not all) of the violence in Iraq was being driven by outside forces (al-Qaeda). Nevertheless, the core principles of traditional counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy—winning over the local population, training/building up the indigenous army and police forces, and disaggregating the “reconcilables” from the “irreconcilables”—still apply.

Many people forget how hopeless things seemed in Iraq in December 2006. It was caught in a death spiral. In some important respects, things in Iraq were worse than they are in Afghanistan. Many people were saying the surge could not work. Iraq was a lost cause; better to pull out than stay in.

But the new COIN strategy began to show progress within a matter of months—and by September 2007, things were demonstrably better in Iraq. The hope is that McChrystal and Petraeus and those under their command can re-create, with all the appropriate qualifiers, what the surge did in Iraq. Given their track record, they certainly deserve the chance to try. Both men are hardheaded realists. They care deeply for the young men and women in their command. And they would not send our armed forces into a deathtrap or commit them to a hopeless cause.

Does this mean success is foreordained? Of course not. We could do the right thing in Afghanistan and still not succeed. But if we pull back, we are sure to lose. And here it’s worth pausing over the consequences of defeat in Afghanistan. It would consign the people of that nation to a brutal existence under one of the most repressive regimes (the Taliban) in history. And it would do enormous damage to our efforts to stabilize Pakistan—”a nation that matters,” according to Will. The Pakistanis already have questions about our staying power; pulling out of Afghanistan would confirm their fears, to say nothing of making the border region with Afghanistan even less calm and controlled than it is now.

Will’s strategy would also provide terrorists with an incalculable psychological victory. We know our retreats from Vietnam, Beirut, and Somalia were extremely influential in the thinking of Osama bin Laden. Here’s what he said in 1998:

We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weakness of the American soldier who is ready to wage Cold Wars and unprepared to fight long wars. . . . [Our] youth were surprised at the low morale of the American soldiers and more than before that the American soldiers are paper tigers. After a few blows, they ran in defeat and America forgot about all the hoopla and media propaganda after leaving the Gulf War. After a few blows, they forgot about this title [leader of a new world order] and left, dragging their corpses and their shameful defeat.

The withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan would be orders of magnitudes worse.

Retreating offshore would undermine confidence. among allies and adversaries alike, in America’s will and word. And it would supply the Taliban and al-Qaeda with a home base and a safe haven after having been largely dislodged. That is why Afghanistan matters. Mr. Will fears that some of these arguments, if taken seriously, would lead us to nation-building invasions of Somalia and Yemen. But of course the key difference is that we are already in Afghanistan in a way we are not in Somalia or Yemen. That matters. Once you start a war, there is an obligation to see it through to success and to exhaust every reasonable option in that effort.

In addition, as Michael O’Hanlon and Bruce Riedel point out in their Wall Street Journal op-ed, the U.S. has a number of major strengths in this mission, from the Afghan people wanting success, to their fierce dislike of the Taliban, to progress by the Afghan Army and police, to an improved economy. More aggressive antidrug efforts by U.S. and NATO forces have contributed to a significant decline in illegal opium crops in Afghanistan, damaging a critical source of cash for the insurgency, according to a new study by the UN.

None of this is to pretend that Afghanistan is easy, or that success will be quick or cost free, or that it is not now caught in a downward spiral. But that spiral can be arrested and even reversed if we put in place the right strategy. That is what McChrystal and Petraeus are in the process of doing. They cannot perform miracles, and we shouldn’t expect them to. But given the right resources and enough time, they may well lead us to eventual success. We owe them—to say nothing of our armed forces, the people of Afghanistan, and the national-security interests of the United States—those two things.

George Will remains a powerful and eloquent voice on many issues and, on a personal note, was a key figure in my own intellectual journey (his small book Statecraft as Soulcraft had a formative influence on me). I remain indebted to him, and so does the entire conservative movement, for the body of his work. But on Afghanistan and now Iraq, his counsel would, I fear, lead to calamity.

As promised, I want to follow up on my earlier post on George Will’s recent, and much commented upon, column on Afghanistan—in this instance laying out the reasons why I disagree with what he recommends.

To recapitulate: Will urges the United States to adopt a “comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes, and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.”

But what the best minds in the military will tell you—what the people who have actually overseen counterinsurgency success will say—is that drones, cruise missiles, and air strikes will not succeed without the appropriate human intelligence, without some kind of military infrastructure in place, without eyes and ears to direct us to the appropriate targets. This requires boots on the ground.

In addition, the Taliban continues to maintain sanctuaries in Afghanistan. As General David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, told Michael Gerson: “You can’t take out sanctuaries with predator strikes. We are not going to carpet-bomb. Distance puts limits on what you can do.” So the goal Will wants to achieve (to effectively strike against the Taliban) is impossible to achieve with the strategy he endorses (moving offshore and relying on technology). The wise approach is a counterinsurgency strategy tailored to the situation in Afghanistan—which is precisely what the new American commander there, General Stanley McChrystal, is in the process of designing.

The underlying assumption of Will’s column appears to be that success in any meaningful sense is impossible in Afghanistan. We should accept this reality, he seems to be arguing, rather than lose more American lives on behalf of a lost cause. The question, then, is whether Will’s premise is correct. The answer, I believe, is no, though no one can be sure at this stage. We haven’t yet tested that proposition—and until we do, premature withdrawal is folly.

Nonsense, critics of the war will respond; we have been in Afghanistan since 2001. How much longer do we have to stay to figure out that the Afghan war is unwinnable? To which the answer is: long enough to give the newly appointed General McChrystal and General Petraeus the chance to try to do in Afghanistan what Petraeus did in Iraq, which is to take a war we were losing and turn things around.

The Iraq experience is instructive. Let’s stipulate that the countries are vastly different, including the fact that one (Afghanistan) has primarily a rural insurgency, while the other (Iraq) had both rural and urban insurgencies; that the violence in Afghanistan is being driven primarily by indigenous forces, while much (though certainly not all) of the violence in Iraq was being driven by outside forces (al-Qaeda). Nevertheless, the core principles of traditional counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy—winning over the local population, training/building up the indigenous army and police forces, and disaggregating the “reconcilables” from the “irreconcilables”—still apply.

Many people forget how hopeless things seemed in Iraq in December 2006. It was caught in a death spiral. In some important respects, things in Iraq were worse than they are in Afghanistan. Many people were saying the surge could not work. Iraq was a lost cause; better to pull out than stay in.

But the new COIN strategy began to show progress within a matter of months—and by September 2007, things were demonstrably better in Iraq. The hope is that McChrystal and Petraeus and those under their command can re-create, with all the appropriate qualifiers, what the surge did in Iraq. Given their track record, they certainly deserve the chance to try. Both men are hardheaded realists. They care deeply for the young men and women in their command. And they would not send our armed forces into a deathtrap or commit them to a hopeless cause.

Does this mean success is foreordained? Of course not. We could do the right thing in Afghanistan and still not succeed. But if we pull back, we are sure to lose. And here it’s worth pausing over the consequences of defeat in Afghanistan. It would consign the people of that nation to a brutal existence under one of the most repressive regimes (the Taliban) in history. And it would do enormous damage to our efforts to stabilize Pakistan—”a nation that matters,” according to Will. The Pakistanis already have questions about our staying power; pulling out of Afghanistan would confirm their fears, to say nothing of making the border region with Afghanistan even less calm and controlled than it is now.

Will’s strategy would also provide terrorists with an incalculable psychological victory. We know our retreats from Vietnam, Beirut, and Somalia were extremely influential in the thinking of Osama bin Laden. Here’s what he said in 1998:

We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weakness of the American soldier who is ready to wage Cold Wars and unprepared to fight long wars. . . . [Our] youth were surprised at the low morale of the American soldiers and more than before that the American soldiers are paper tigers. After a few blows, they ran in defeat and America forgot about all the hoopla and media propaganda after leaving the Gulf War. After a few blows, they forgot about this title [leader of a new world order] and left, dragging their corpses and their shameful defeat.

The withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan would be orders of magnitudes worse.

Retreating offshore would undermine confidence. among allies and adversaries alike, in America’s will and word. And it would supply the Taliban and al-Qaeda with a home base and a safe haven after having been largely dislodged. That is why Afghanistan matters. Mr. Will fears that some of these arguments, if taken seriously, would lead us to nation-building invasions of Somalia and Yemen. But of course the key difference is that we are already in Afghanistan in a way we are not in Somalia or Yemen. That matters. Once you start a war, there is an obligation to see it through to success and to exhaust every reasonable option in that effort.

In addition, as Michael O’Hanlon and Bruce Riedel point out in their Wall Street Journal op-ed, the U.S. has a number of major strengths in this mission, from the Afghan people wanting success, to their fierce dislike of the Taliban, to progress by the Afghan Army and police, to an improved economy. More aggressive antidrug efforts by U.S. and NATO forces have contributed to a significant decline in illegal opium crops in Afghanistan, damaging a critical source of cash for the insurgency, according to a new study by the UN.

None of this is to pretend that Afghanistan is easy, or that success will be quick or cost free, or that it is not now caught in a downward spiral. But that spiral can be arrested and even reversed if we put in place the right strategy. That is what McChrystal and Petraeus are in the process of doing. They cannot perform miracles, and we shouldn’t expect them to. But given the right resources and enough time, they may well lead us to eventual success. We owe them—to say nothing of our armed forces, the people of Afghanistan, and the national-security interests of the United States—those two things.

George Will remains a powerful and eloquent voice on many issues and, on a personal note, was a key figure in my own intellectual journey (his small book Statecraft as Soulcraft had a formative influence on me). I remain indebted to him, and so does the entire conservative movement, for the body of his work. But on Afghanistan and now Iraq, his counsel would, I fear, lead to calamity.

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Iran, North Korea, and the UN’s Projected Arms-Trade Treaty

Last week, a colleague and I published a substantial paper on the faults inherent in the UN’s efforts to negotiate an arms-trade treaty. These faults are many and serious, but they come down, fundamentally, to the fact that too few states enforce their existing laws, or live up to their existing responsibilities, on the import and export of arms. A treaty will do nothing to remedy this disinterest, incapacity, or—in far too many cases—malfeasance.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal and other papers reported a case that illustrates these faults. In August, the UAE seized a shipment of military hardware from North Korea aboard a vessel bound for Iran. This is, needless to say, a violation of the UN Security Council ban on military exports from North Korea, but that did nothing to stop Iran from seeking to import them.

But Iran and North Korea were not the only nations involved. The weapons were carried on an Australian vessel, flying under a Bahamian flag. The exporting company was an Italian firm, working out of Shanghai, China, and the parent company of the Australian shipping firm is based in France. So all together, at least seven nations are implicated in this effort to breach the sanctions on North Korea. We can have confidence that Australia, at least, will treat this failure with appropriate seriousness. But it is much less easy to be sure of Italy, with its enormous trade ties to Iran, never mind China.

Fortunately, the weapons were not nuclear. The Wall Street Journal reports that they were “detonators and ammunition for rocket-propelled grenade launchers.” But that is bad enough: take a look about halfway down the page at one of Michael Yon’s latest dispatches from Afghanistan if you want to see what an RPG does to a professionally constructed military barricade. There is a very good chance that those North Korean RPGs were headed for Afghanistan, to be used by the Taliban against British and American soldiers.

Needless to say, Iran proclaims—in its submission on the projected UN treaty—that it “has enforced and continues to enforce measures to prevent and curb the illicit trafficking and transfer of such weapons.” This is a blatant lie. It has, further, the gall to claim that “the major problem of the developing countries” rests in the culpability of “certain major exporters of . . . [small] weapons,” i.e., “certain Western countries.” Like the other nations involved in this case—though in Iran’s case, the problem is evil intent, not a lack of attention—Iran is engaging in activities that violate its own laws and existing UN Security Council resolutions. Another UN treaty will not cure this problem—it will only give the bad states more cover to hide behind.

And that is something the UN specializes in. Indeed, since the UN works for all its member states—the bad ones as well as the good ones—it can scarcely do anything but incline toward covering up malfeasance. Yesterday, French officials harshly criticized IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei, who called the Iranian nuclear threat “hyped.” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner replied that “it is clear on reading the IAEA documents that not a single question has been answered,” while another French official, speaking off the record, said “ElBaradei has been watering things down for a very long time and now we’ve had enough. . . . [IAEA inspectors have gathered] whole series of pieces of evidence, of proof.”

Proof indeed. It’s too bad that the French back the UN’s projected treaty. Their own complaints about the IAEA, and their circumstantial and perhaps unknowing involvement in the shipment of North Korean weapons to Iran, illustrate the fallacies inherent in believing that a UN treaty will be effective.

Last week, a colleague and I published a substantial paper on the faults inherent in the UN’s efforts to negotiate an arms-trade treaty. These faults are many and serious, but they come down, fundamentally, to the fact that too few states enforce their existing laws, or live up to their existing responsibilities, on the import and export of arms. A treaty will do nothing to remedy this disinterest, incapacity, or—in far too many cases—malfeasance.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal and other papers reported a case that illustrates these faults. In August, the UAE seized a shipment of military hardware from North Korea aboard a vessel bound for Iran. This is, needless to say, a violation of the UN Security Council ban on military exports from North Korea, but that did nothing to stop Iran from seeking to import them.

But Iran and North Korea were not the only nations involved. The weapons were carried on an Australian vessel, flying under a Bahamian flag. The exporting company was an Italian firm, working out of Shanghai, China, and the parent company of the Australian shipping firm is based in France. So all together, at least seven nations are implicated in this effort to breach the sanctions on North Korea. We can have confidence that Australia, at least, will treat this failure with appropriate seriousness. But it is much less easy to be sure of Italy, with its enormous trade ties to Iran, never mind China.

Fortunately, the weapons were not nuclear. The Wall Street Journal reports that they were “detonators and ammunition for rocket-propelled grenade launchers.” But that is bad enough: take a look about halfway down the page at one of Michael Yon’s latest dispatches from Afghanistan if you want to see what an RPG does to a professionally constructed military barricade. There is a very good chance that those North Korean RPGs were headed for Afghanistan, to be used by the Taliban against British and American soldiers.

Needless to say, Iran proclaims—in its submission on the projected UN treaty—that it “has enforced and continues to enforce measures to prevent and curb the illicit trafficking and transfer of such weapons.” This is a blatant lie. It has, further, the gall to claim that “the major problem of the developing countries” rests in the culpability of “certain major exporters of . . . [small] weapons,” i.e., “certain Western countries.” Like the other nations involved in this case—though in Iran’s case, the problem is evil intent, not a lack of attention—Iran is engaging in activities that violate its own laws and existing UN Security Council resolutions. Another UN treaty will not cure this problem—it will only give the bad states more cover to hide behind.

And that is something the UN specializes in. Indeed, since the UN works for all its member states—the bad ones as well as the good ones—it can scarcely do anything but incline toward covering up malfeasance. Yesterday, French officials harshly criticized IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei, who called the Iranian nuclear threat “hyped.” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner replied that “it is clear on reading the IAEA documents that not a single question has been answered,” while another French official, speaking off the record, said “ElBaradei has been watering things down for a very long time and now we’ve had enough. . . . [IAEA inspectors have gathered] whole series of pieces of evidence, of proof.”

Proof indeed. It’s too bad that the French back the UN’s projected treaty. Their own complaints about the IAEA, and their circumstantial and perhaps unknowing involvement in the shipment of North Korean weapons to Iran, illustrate the fallacies inherent in believing that a UN treaty will be effective.

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Obama’s School Speech

Should the president of the United States be delivering a speech directed to America’s schoolchildren? There is, it seems, a passionate cohort that believes he should not, that Barack Obama is going to deliver such a speech as a propaganda measure, promoting his own liberal agenda, essentially to shore up his declining support by getting to parents through the ministrations of their offspring. An unfortunate action plan issued and then made to disappear by the Department of Education seemed to validate this concern—it was to be distributed by teachers throughout the country, and it included a section on how the kids could help the president, not the country but the president himself, achieve his goals.

Doubtless, the notion of Obama giving a speech to kids must have seemed like a political masterstroke inside the White House; his appeal to youth is undeniable and seems much deeper than, say, Bill Clinton’s or Jimmy Carter’s, both of whom were around the same age as Obama when they served in the White House and had daughters living there with them. But I wonder: Are kids going to enjoy being made to watch a speech? Watching a speech was considered entertainment in the 19th century, when there was no other entertainment, but it hardly has that effect on people today. If it did, White Houses wouldn’t have to beg networks to give them airtime. Even as alluring a speaker as Obama is, he’ll still be a guy in a chair, and a guy in a chair is neither Hannah Montana nor a Wii Sports game. He will seem, instead, like a . . . teacher.

So maybe those on the Right who fear Obama will hypnotize American youth through his speechifying magic should think again.

Still, this is madness, and it is madness being indulged in by some Republican political types for whom the traditional dunce cap might be appropriate attire. My somewhat overexcitable friend Rod Dreher quotes the following:

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer today released the following statement condemning President Obama’s use of taxpayer dollars to indoctrinate America’s children to his socialist agenda.

“As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology. The idea that school children across our nation will be forced to watch the President justify his plans for government-run health care, banks, and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other President, is not only infuriating, but goes against beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power.

“While I support educating our children to respect both the office of the American President and the value of community service, I do not support using our children as tools to spread liberal propaganda. The address scheduled for September 8, 2009, does not allow for healthy debate on the President’s agenda, but rather obligates the youngest children in our public school system to agree with our President’s initiatives or be ostracized by their teachers and classmates.” …

Oh, for goodness’ sake. Goody-two-shoes kids who rise from their seats at the end of the Obama address determined to march in lockstep with orders from above will be the ones subject to ostracism. This is ludicrous in any case. Obama won the presidency fair and square, he is the president, and if he wants to speak to schoolkids, he can speak to schoolkids. Getting to do things like that is one of the side benefits of receiving nearly 70 million votes. If, in his speech, he tells kids to do their homework and listen to their teachers, he will be doing something good, especially for African-American kids, who are, all sources and studies report, desperately in need of hearing that performing well in school isn’t some kind of betrayal of their race.

If he does use the speech to do some politicking on his agenda, there’s going to be trouble in the schoolhouse. As the nation learned in June and July, it turns out there are few things more boring than listening to Barack Obama discuss health care; school-age children by the millions will be shifting in their seats, rolling their eyes, and beginning to think seditious thoughts if they are forced to sit through such a thing.

Should the president of the United States be delivering a speech directed to America’s schoolchildren? There is, it seems, a passionate cohort that believes he should not, that Barack Obama is going to deliver such a speech as a propaganda measure, promoting his own liberal agenda, essentially to shore up his declining support by getting to parents through the ministrations of their offspring. An unfortunate action plan issued and then made to disappear by the Department of Education seemed to validate this concern—it was to be distributed by teachers throughout the country, and it included a section on how the kids could help the president, not the country but the president himself, achieve his goals.

Doubtless, the notion of Obama giving a speech to kids must have seemed like a political masterstroke inside the White House; his appeal to youth is undeniable and seems much deeper than, say, Bill Clinton’s or Jimmy Carter’s, both of whom were around the same age as Obama when they served in the White House and had daughters living there with them. But I wonder: Are kids going to enjoy being made to watch a speech? Watching a speech was considered entertainment in the 19th century, when there was no other entertainment, but it hardly has that effect on people today. If it did, White Houses wouldn’t have to beg networks to give them airtime. Even as alluring a speaker as Obama is, he’ll still be a guy in a chair, and a guy in a chair is neither Hannah Montana nor a Wii Sports game. He will seem, instead, like a . . . teacher.

So maybe those on the Right who fear Obama will hypnotize American youth through his speechifying magic should think again.

Still, this is madness, and it is madness being indulged in by some Republican political types for whom the traditional dunce cap might be appropriate attire. My somewhat overexcitable friend Rod Dreher quotes the following:

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer today released the following statement condemning President Obama’s use of taxpayer dollars to indoctrinate America’s children to his socialist agenda.

“As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology. The idea that school children across our nation will be forced to watch the President justify his plans for government-run health care, banks, and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other President, is not only infuriating, but goes against beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power.

“While I support educating our children to respect both the office of the American President and the value of community service, I do not support using our children as tools to spread liberal propaganda. The address scheduled for September 8, 2009, does not allow for healthy debate on the President’s agenda, but rather obligates the youngest children in our public school system to agree with our President’s initiatives or be ostracized by their teachers and classmates.” …

Oh, for goodness’ sake. Goody-two-shoes kids who rise from their seats at the end of the Obama address determined to march in lockstep with orders from above will be the ones subject to ostracism. This is ludicrous in any case. Obama won the presidency fair and square, he is the president, and if he wants to speak to schoolkids, he can speak to schoolkids. Getting to do things like that is one of the side benefits of receiving nearly 70 million votes. If, in his speech, he tells kids to do their homework and listen to their teachers, he will be doing something good, especially for African-American kids, who are, all sources and studies report, desperately in need of hearing that performing well in school isn’t some kind of betrayal of their race.

If he does use the speech to do some politicking on his agenda, there’s going to be trouble in the schoolhouse. As the nation learned in June and July, it turns out there are few things more boring than listening to Barack Obama discuss health care; school-age children by the millions will be shifting in their seats, rolling their eyes, and beginning to think seditious thoughts if they are forced to sit through such a thing.

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9.7 Percent

That is the new unemployment figure, which will come as another blow to the Obama administration struggling to tell us that the central issue of our time is the “health-care crisis.”

Politico reports:

August may be over, but it’s causing one last headache for the Obama administration as the jobless rate jumped up to 9.7 percent, the highest point yet this recession and higher than what economists expected from the monthly report.

Employers cut 216,000 non-farm jobs in August last month, which was actually slightly fewer job cuts than the consensus prediction, and experts saw other positive signs in the details.

But that’s not what the headlines will say.

“But the number that’s going to matter to most people is the unemployment rate, and 9.7 percent is disconcerting,” economist Mark Zandi said on CNBC after the release.

The unemployment rate is now the highest since June 1983, and many economists believe it will eventually top 10 percent.

So why is the president talking to us about ObamaCare next week instead of a new plan to promote growth and job creation? He must not understand he’s picked the wrong issue on which to focus and risks appearing utterly out of touch.

And what will this health-care plan entail? Well, more taxes and mandates on those same businesses that are shedding jobs. It is in a sense politically incomprehensible that he would continue his quest for ObamaCare (in an effort to save political face) while the country bleeds jobs.

That is the new unemployment figure, which will come as another blow to the Obama administration struggling to tell us that the central issue of our time is the “health-care crisis.”

Politico reports:

August may be over, but it’s causing one last headache for the Obama administration as the jobless rate jumped up to 9.7 percent, the highest point yet this recession and higher than what economists expected from the monthly report.

Employers cut 216,000 non-farm jobs in August last month, which was actually slightly fewer job cuts than the consensus prediction, and experts saw other positive signs in the details.

But that’s not what the headlines will say.

“But the number that’s going to matter to most people is the unemployment rate, and 9.7 percent is disconcerting,” economist Mark Zandi said on CNBC after the release.

The unemployment rate is now the highest since June 1983, and many economists believe it will eventually top 10 percent.

So why is the president talking to us about ObamaCare next week instead of a new plan to promote growth and job creation? He must not understand he’s picked the wrong issue on which to focus and risks appearing utterly out of touch.

And what will this health-care plan entail? Well, more taxes and mandates on those same businesses that are shedding jobs. It is in a sense politically incomprehensible that he would continue his quest for ObamaCare (in an effort to save political face) while the country bleeds jobs.

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Re: In Opposition to Abject Surrender

Rich Lowry echoes the call for Obama to find his inner George W. Bush. It would be nice to think we can dispense with a difficult war in Afghanistan. It would be comforting to think we can conduct a high-tech war from Washington. And critics wary of war would just as soon not bother to see the consequences of retreat. But, as Lowry says, the reality is different, and the president’s task is clear:

He’ll have to convince the public that the war is necessary and winnable, when the charm of simply characterizing it as the “good war” in contrast to Iraq has worn off.

If we withdrew, the Taliban would take over swaths of the country and would likely host al Qaeda again. Pakistan would feel pressure to return to embracing the Taliban fully as its proxy in a war that would become a free-for-all for Afghanistan’s neighbors. This would strengthen the hand of extremists within Pakistan at the same time our credibility would have sustained a devastating blow.

The war is far from lost. Kabul is relatively safe, certainly compared with the hellish extremity of Baghdad in 2006. The areas that are in the worst shape in the South are those in which we have had the fewest forces. The population doesn’t want a reprise of Taliban rule. If we could recover in an Iraq that had descended to Dante’s seventh circle, Afghanistan is salvageable with enough resources and time.

As he contemplates his next move, Obama should ask an unexpected question: “What would Bush do?”

It seems the critics of the war effort can’t quite get their story straight. It’s just another failed effort in democracy. Or it’s more than that, but we can succeed without getting our hair mussed. Pete and Dan Senor have it right:

The war in Afghanistan is a crucial part of America’s broader struggle against militant Islam. If we were to fail in Afghanistan, it would have calamitous consequences for both Pakistan and American credibility. It would consign the people of Afghanistan to misery and hopelessness. And Afghanistan would once again become home to a lethal mix of terrorists and insurgents and a launching point for attacks against Western and U.S. interests. Neighboring governments—especially Pakistan’s with its nuclear weapons—could quickly be destabilized and collapse.

If you are convinced we are in a war against Islamic fundamentalists and defeat is not an option, then victory in Afghanistan is not optional either. Whatever the errors of the past and however inexpertly the salesmanship or conduct of the war has been, the issue is what we do now. On that score, Lowry, Kagan, Senor, and Pete have it right.

Rich Lowry echoes the call for Obama to find his inner George W. Bush. It would be nice to think we can dispense with a difficult war in Afghanistan. It would be comforting to think we can conduct a high-tech war from Washington. And critics wary of war would just as soon not bother to see the consequences of retreat. But, as Lowry says, the reality is different, and the president’s task is clear:

He’ll have to convince the public that the war is necessary and winnable, when the charm of simply characterizing it as the “good war” in contrast to Iraq has worn off.

If we withdrew, the Taliban would take over swaths of the country and would likely host al Qaeda again. Pakistan would feel pressure to return to embracing the Taliban fully as its proxy in a war that would become a free-for-all for Afghanistan’s neighbors. This would strengthen the hand of extremists within Pakistan at the same time our credibility would have sustained a devastating blow.

The war is far from lost. Kabul is relatively safe, certainly compared with the hellish extremity of Baghdad in 2006. The areas that are in the worst shape in the South are those in which we have had the fewest forces. The population doesn’t want a reprise of Taliban rule. If we could recover in an Iraq that had descended to Dante’s seventh circle, Afghanistan is salvageable with enough resources and time.

As he contemplates his next move, Obama should ask an unexpected question: “What would Bush do?”

It seems the critics of the war effort can’t quite get their story straight. It’s just another failed effort in democracy. Or it’s more than that, but we can succeed without getting our hair mussed. Pete and Dan Senor have it right:

The war in Afghanistan is a crucial part of America’s broader struggle against militant Islam. If we were to fail in Afghanistan, it would have calamitous consequences for both Pakistan and American credibility. It would consign the people of Afghanistan to misery and hopelessness. And Afghanistan would once again become home to a lethal mix of terrorists and insurgents and a launching point for attacks against Western and U.S. interests. Neighboring governments—especially Pakistan’s with its nuclear weapons—could quickly be destabilized and collapse.

If you are convinced we are in a war against Islamic fundamentalists and defeat is not an option, then victory in Afghanistan is not optional either. Whatever the errors of the past and however inexpertly the salesmanship or conduct of the war has been, the issue is what we do now. On that score, Lowry, Kagan, Senor, and Pete have it right.

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William Korey, 1922-2009

Last week, William Korey died at the age of 87, a rare political activist who lived to see his life’s work reach its completion. Bill, who was my wife’s cousin, spent much of his professional life working tirelessly on behalf of the oppressed Jews of the Soviet Union, both as an official of the B’nai Brith in Washington and as a public intellectual; his book The Soviet Cage was the first major work in English to detail the extent of the misery of Soviet Jews, the monstrous racial and religious hostility to which they were subjected, and the determination of the totalitarian regime to keep them in a state of subnational imprisonment.

He began the fight in the late 1950s, played a crucial role in the passage of the Jackson-Vanik amendment that linked Soviet behavior toward the Jewish desire to emigrate to the regime’s desire to achieve freer trade with the United States, and was hale and hearty when the regime crumbled and the great masses of trapped Jewry who had been the cause of his life were finally free to emigrate to Israel and the United States. Later, he played an important part in advocating for the eventual acceptance, in the United States, of the international convention against genocide.

Bill was also one of the first victims in the United States of Islamist terror when, in 1977, he was among the B’nai Brith employees in Washington to be taken hostage in the organization’s headquarters by a sect of Hanafi Muslims, who also took over two other buildings and killed three people in a bizarre quest to have three convicted murderers (Nation of Islam goons who had killed the Hanafi Muslim leader’s family in an internecine psychotic dispute) released into their custody for purposes of execution.

The hostage crisis lasted for 38 hours. Three people were killed as it progressed. This event remains one of the most blood-curdling standoffs in American history. Bill told me once that he had been certain he would die during those two days, and that the men who had taken them had blood madness in their eyes. There had been claims, once the matter was over, that many of the 132 hostages had become seized by “Stockholm Syndrome,” according to which since-discredited theory, hostages begin to sympathize with their captors. Bill laughed derisively at the claim. “They were crazy and evil,” Bill said, and they spent hours spewing anti-Semitic invective at their Jewish captives. “Nobody had any illusions about who and what they were.”

A man of uncommon esprit and slow charm, William Korey led a blessed life in large measure because he dedicated it to his people. His obituary can be found here, and Gal Beckerman offers a tribute here.

Last week, William Korey died at the age of 87, a rare political activist who lived to see his life’s work reach its completion. Bill, who was my wife’s cousin, spent much of his professional life working tirelessly on behalf of the oppressed Jews of the Soviet Union, both as an official of the B’nai Brith in Washington and as a public intellectual; his book The Soviet Cage was the first major work in English to detail the extent of the misery of Soviet Jews, the monstrous racial and religious hostility to which they were subjected, and the determination of the totalitarian regime to keep them in a state of subnational imprisonment.

He began the fight in the late 1950s, played a crucial role in the passage of the Jackson-Vanik amendment that linked Soviet behavior toward the Jewish desire to emigrate to the regime’s desire to achieve freer trade with the United States, and was hale and hearty when the regime crumbled and the great masses of trapped Jewry who had been the cause of his life were finally free to emigrate to Israel and the United States. Later, he played an important part in advocating for the eventual acceptance, in the United States, of the international convention against genocide.

Bill was also one of the first victims in the United States of Islamist terror when, in 1977, he was among the B’nai Brith employees in Washington to be taken hostage in the organization’s headquarters by a sect of Hanafi Muslims, who also took over two other buildings and killed three people in a bizarre quest to have three convicted murderers (Nation of Islam goons who had killed the Hanafi Muslim leader’s family in an internecine psychotic dispute) released into their custody for purposes of execution.

The hostage crisis lasted for 38 hours. Three people were killed as it progressed. This event remains one of the most blood-curdling standoffs in American history. Bill told me once that he had been certain he would die during those two days, and that the men who had taken them had blood madness in their eyes. There had been claims, once the matter was over, that many of the 132 hostages had become seized by “Stockholm Syndrome,” according to which since-discredited theory, hostages begin to sympathize with their captors. Bill laughed derisively at the claim. “They were crazy and evil,” Bill said, and they spent hours spewing anti-Semitic invective at their Jewish captives. “Nobody had any illusions about who and what they were.”

A man of uncommon esprit and slow charm, William Korey led a blessed life in large measure because he dedicated it to his people. His obituary can be found here, and Gal Beckerman offers a tribute here.

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Bleeding Re-Election Hopes

Charlie Cook says that Obama and the Democrats are “bleeding Independents.” He explains:

For the seven weeks from mid-April through the first week of June, Obama’s weekly Gallup Poll approval rating among independents ran in the 60-to-70 percent range. But in four of the past five weeks, it has been only in the mid-to-high 40s. Meanwhile, Democrats and liberals seem lethargic even though Republicans and conservatives are spitting nails and can’t wait to vote.

[. . .]

Late last year many moderates and independents who were already frightened about the economy began to fret that Washington was taking irreversible actions that would drive mountainous deficits higher. They worried that government was taking on far more than it could competently handle and far more than the country could afford. Against this backdrop, Obama’s agenda fanned fears that government was expanding too far, too fast. Before long, his strategy of letting Congress take the lead in formulating legislative proposals and thus prodding lawmakers to take ownership in their outcome caused his poll numbers on “strength” and “leadership” to plummet.

What’s more, Cook sees all the earmarks of a “wave” election:

The president’s ratings plummet; his party loses its advantage on the generic congressional ballot test; the intensity of opposition-party voters skyrockets; his own party’s voters become complacent or even depressed; and independent voters move lopsidedly away. These were the early-warning signs of past wave elections. Seeing them now should terrify Democrats.

It is unclear what Democrats plan to do about this. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are beholden to the Left and uninterested, it seems, in any course correction that might reverse the slide in their party’s standings. Ask Pelosi anything these days and she responds, “I can’t pass health care without the public option.” She’d rather risk the wrath of the voters in 14 months than take on toxic committee chairmen John Murtha and Charlie Rangel.

Blue Dogs in the House and senators from Red States, especially those up for re-election in 2010, can read these numbers, too. Expect to see them trying to distance themselves from their Left-leaning colleagues. If Cook is right, they better run far and fast if they want to keep their seats.

Charlie Cook says that Obama and the Democrats are “bleeding Independents.” He explains:

For the seven weeks from mid-April through the first week of June, Obama’s weekly Gallup Poll approval rating among independents ran in the 60-to-70 percent range. But in four of the past five weeks, it has been only in the mid-to-high 40s. Meanwhile, Democrats and liberals seem lethargic even though Republicans and conservatives are spitting nails and can’t wait to vote.

[. . .]

Late last year many moderates and independents who were already frightened about the economy began to fret that Washington was taking irreversible actions that would drive mountainous deficits higher. They worried that government was taking on far more than it could competently handle and far more than the country could afford. Against this backdrop, Obama’s agenda fanned fears that government was expanding too far, too fast. Before long, his strategy of letting Congress take the lead in formulating legislative proposals and thus prodding lawmakers to take ownership in their outcome caused his poll numbers on “strength” and “leadership” to plummet.

What’s more, Cook sees all the earmarks of a “wave” election:

The president’s ratings plummet; his party loses its advantage on the generic congressional ballot test; the intensity of opposition-party voters skyrockets; his own party’s voters become complacent or even depressed; and independent voters move lopsidedly away. These were the early-warning signs of past wave elections. Seeing them now should terrify Democrats.

It is unclear what Democrats plan to do about this. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are beholden to the Left and uninterested, it seems, in any course correction that might reverse the slide in their party’s standings. Ask Pelosi anything these days and she responds, “I can’t pass health care without the public option.” She’d rather risk the wrath of the voters in 14 months than take on toxic committee chairmen John Murtha and Charlie Rangel.

Blue Dogs in the House and senators from Red States, especially those up for re-election in 2010, can read these numbers, too. Expect to see them trying to distance themselves from their Left-leaning colleagues. If Cook is right, they better run far and fast if they want to keep their seats.

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Friday Jobs Report

It’s the Friday before Labor Day, a perfect chance to dump embarrassing news and to can embarrassing employees. Let’s see how the day goes for two figures who should both be shown the door.

MSNBC has decided to take down from its website Pat Buchanan’s “Hitler wasn’t such a menace” column. However, he still works for the network, we are told. Well, he certainly picked the right cable-network home, where crackpottery is no disqualifier to appearing on air. I wonder if Chuck Todd will give us some words of wisdom on how all this contributes to the decline of respectable news outlets. For now, Buchanan seems not to be in danger of losing his perch nor of claiming the title of “worst person in the world.”

However, over at the White House I suspect there might be a different result for one of their top environmental advisers. Jake Tapper reports:

A top environmental official of the Obama administration issued a statement Thursday apologizing for past incendiary statement and denying that he ever agreed with a 2004 petition on which his name appears, a petition calling for congressional hearings and an investigation by the New York Attorney General into “evidence that suggests high-level government officials may have deliberately allowed the September 11th attacks to occur.”

Van Jones, the Special Advisor for Green Jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, is Number 46 of the petitioners from the so-called “Truther” movement which suggests that people in the administration of President George W. Bush “may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war.”

Yes, this is the same person who belonged to a Marxist organization in the 1990s and recently apologized for calling Republicans “a**holes.” Other than fly Air Force One over New York City at low altitude, I don’t know what else he could do to get fired. And yes, it speaks volumes that such a person was hired in the first place.

We’ll see if the White House exercises any better judgment than MSNBC. But really, if Jones should get the boot, MSNBC would probably be glad to have him. Extremism and vulgarity are all the rage over there.

It’s the Friday before Labor Day, a perfect chance to dump embarrassing news and to can embarrassing employees. Let’s see how the day goes for two figures who should both be shown the door.

MSNBC has decided to take down from its website Pat Buchanan’s “Hitler wasn’t such a menace” column. However, he still works for the network, we are told. Well, he certainly picked the right cable-network home, where crackpottery is no disqualifier to appearing on air. I wonder if Chuck Todd will give us some words of wisdom on how all this contributes to the decline of respectable news outlets. For now, Buchanan seems not to be in danger of losing his perch nor of claiming the title of “worst person in the world.”

However, over at the White House I suspect there might be a different result for one of their top environmental advisers. Jake Tapper reports:

A top environmental official of the Obama administration issued a statement Thursday apologizing for past incendiary statement and denying that he ever agreed with a 2004 petition on which his name appears, a petition calling for congressional hearings and an investigation by the New York Attorney General into “evidence that suggests high-level government officials may have deliberately allowed the September 11th attacks to occur.”

Van Jones, the Special Advisor for Green Jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, is Number 46 of the petitioners from the so-called “Truther” movement which suggests that people in the administration of President George W. Bush “may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war.”

Yes, this is the same person who belonged to a Marxist organization in the 1990s and recently apologized for calling Republicans “a**holes.” Other than fly Air Force One over New York City at low altitude, I don’t know what else he could do to get fired. And yes, it speaks volumes that such a person was hired in the first place.

We’ll see if the White House exercises any better judgment than MSNBC. But really, if Jones should get the boot, MSNBC would probably be glad to have him. Extremism and vulgarity are all the rage over there.

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The Good Neighbor Policy in Honduras

Yesterday morning, the State Department posted an announcement of the termination of a broad range of assistance to the government of Honduras “as a result of the coup d’etat that took place on June 28.” The announcement stated that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision was “consistent with U.S. legislation” calling for such a termination in the case of a military coup.

In the afternoon State Department press conference with Assistant Secretary Phillip J. Crowley, it turned out that the termination was not done pursuant to the legislation, since the State Department made no determination that there had been a “military coup” in Honduras. Crowley said that Clinton, in terminating the aid, did not have to reach a legal conclusion that it was a military coup. It was sufficient for purposes of the Obama administration that the president and the secretary of state had determined it was a “coup.”

MR. CROWLEY: . . . The President declared it. The Secretary declared it. We suspended the aid, and now we’ve terminated the aid. . . . There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking, if we can just get to an election, that this would absolve them of all their sins. And we’re saying, clearly, that is not the case, that we — there will have to be definitive steps taken. . . .

Their only option at this point is to accept the principles in the Arias process, sign that agreement, and move Honduras forward towards a new government, subject, obviously, to the stipulations of the Arias process. . . .

QUESTION: But why isn’t it a military coup?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to parse complex facts and judgments here. The Secretary did not have to make that determination to take the action that she has taken.

QUESTION: I know, but –

MR. CROWLEY: Our action today is to send a very clear message to the de facto regime: Their strategy will not work. They have to sign on to the San Jose Accords. There are things that they must do. This is not about what the United States is doing. This is about what they must do if they’re going to get out of the hole that they have put themselves in.

The Obama administration has decided to tell Honduras it has only one option: it must sign that agreement. There are things they must do. They put themselves in a hole, and we have dictated what they must do to get out of it. Neither a determination by their Supreme Court that there was no coup nor the holding of a previously scheduled election will suffice.

At the end of the press conference, Crowley acknowledged that the administration had been looking at a “complex set of facts and the difficulty in understanding precisely what happened [in Honduras] and the role that various institutions played” and that “assessing those facts and drawing conclusions from them has been a challenge.” He emphasized that the termination of assistance was “independent of that judgment.” The termination, in other words, is not a matter of U.S. law but a political decision made independently of it.

Yesterday morning, the State Department posted an announcement of the termination of a broad range of assistance to the government of Honduras “as a result of the coup d’etat that took place on June 28.” The announcement stated that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision was “consistent with U.S. legislation” calling for such a termination in the case of a military coup.

In the afternoon State Department press conference with Assistant Secretary Phillip J. Crowley, it turned out that the termination was not done pursuant to the legislation, since the State Department made no determination that there had been a “military coup” in Honduras. Crowley said that Clinton, in terminating the aid, did not have to reach a legal conclusion that it was a military coup. It was sufficient for purposes of the Obama administration that the president and the secretary of state had determined it was a “coup.”

MR. CROWLEY: . . . The President declared it. The Secretary declared it. We suspended the aid, and now we’ve terminated the aid. . . . There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking, if we can just get to an election, that this would absolve them of all their sins. And we’re saying, clearly, that is not the case, that we — there will have to be definitive steps taken. . . .

Their only option at this point is to accept the principles in the Arias process, sign that agreement, and move Honduras forward towards a new government, subject, obviously, to the stipulations of the Arias process. . . .

QUESTION: But why isn’t it a military coup?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to parse complex facts and judgments here. The Secretary did not have to make that determination to take the action that she has taken.

QUESTION: I know, but –

MR. CROWLEY: Our action today is to send a very clear message to the de facto regime: Their strategy will not work. They have to sign on to the San Jose Accords. There are things that they must do. This is not about what the United States is doing. This is about what they must do if they’re going to get out of the hole that they have put themselves in.

The Obama administration has decided to tell Honduras it has only one option: it must sign that agreement. There are things they must do. They put themselves in a hole, and we have dictated what they must do to get out of it. Neither a determination by their Supreme Court that there was no coup nor the holding of a previously scheduled election will suffice.

At the end of the press conference, Crowley acknowledged that the administration had been looking at a “complex set of facts and the difficulty in understanding precisely what happened [in Honduras] and the role that various institutions played” and that “assessing those facts and drawing conclusions from them has been a challenge.” He emphasized that the termination of assistance was “independent of that judgment.” The termination, in other words, is not a matter of U.S. law but a political decision made independently of it.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Dan Senor and CONTENTIONS’ Pete Wehner have a must-read on why conservatives shouldn’t do to Obama on Afghanistan what liberals did to George W. Bush on Iraq.

The lovers’ quarrel continues: Obama’s Organizing America blames the media.

Harry Reid has no one to blame but himself: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been unable to dig himself out of a pit of poor poll numbers, and the latest survey from Daily Kos/Research 2000 is no different. The four-term Nevada senator trails two potential GOP challengers, Danny Tarkanian, son of former UNLV coach Jerry, and Sue Lowden, who is resigning from her post as chair of the Nevada Republican Party to focus on a bid for Senate. Just 36% hold a favorable opinion of Reid, while 52% view him unfavorably.”

The White House has gone tone deaf: “School districts from Maryland to Texas are fielding angry complaints from parents opposed to President Barack Obama’s back-to-school address Tuesday — forcing districts to find ways to shield students from the speech as conservative opposition to Obama spills into the nation’s classrooms. The White House says Obama’s address is a sort of pep talk for the nation’s schoolchildren. But conservative commentators have criticized Obama for trying to “indoctrinate” students to his liberal beliefs, and some parents call it an improper mix of politics and education.”

Greg Sargent suggests that liberals’ threat not to support health-care reform without the public option is empty.

The millions spent to elect Democrats didn’t buy Big Labor much (other than two ailing car companies): “Gallup finds organized labor taking a significant image hit in the past year. While 66% of Americans continue to believe unions are beneficial to their own members, a slight majority now say unions hurt the nation’s economy. More broadly, fewer than half of Americans — 48%, an all-time low — approve of labor unions, down from 59% a year ago.”

Mickey Kaus has this wild idea that Obama should figure out what he wants in his health-care plan before giving a major address to Congress.

Dana Perino doesn’t think Obama has much more to lose on health care: “The administration finds itself at an impasse — one of their own making. They can blame Republicans all they want — and they have, and it’s grown rather tiresome since they can’t answer basic legitimate questions about their own plan(s) — but when you hold all the power and still can’t get something done your complaints about the opposition ring hollow.”

No wonder congressmen hate town halls — now everyone can see what jerks they are. They don’t seem to get that these days, everyone has a camera.

When you need someone to defend the indefensible, Joe Biden is your man: “Defending a costly plan to revitalize the economy, Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday said the government’s sweeping stimulus effort ‘is in fact working’ despite steady Republican criticism and public skepticism.”

Dan Senor and CONTENTIONS’ Pete Wehner have a must-read on why conservatives shouldn’t do to Obama on Afghanistan what liberals did to George W. Bush on Iraq.

The lovers’ quarrel continues: Obama’s Organizing America blames the media.

Harry Reid has no one to blame but himself: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been unable to dig himself out of a pit of poor poll numbers, and the latest survey from Daily Kos/Research 2000 is no different. The four-term Nevada senator trails two potential GOP challengers, Danny Tarkanian, son of former UNLV coach Jerry, and Sue Lowden, who is resigning from her post as chair of the Nevada Republican Party to focus on a bid for Senate. Just 36% hold a favorable opinion of Reid, while 52% view him unfavorably.”

The White House has gone tone deaf: “School districts from Maryland to Texas are fielding angry complaints from parents opposed to President Barack Obama’s back-to-school address Tuesday — forcing districts to find ways to shield students from the speech as conservative opposition to Obama spills into the nation’s classrooms. The White House says Obama’s address is a sort of pep talk for the nation’s schoolchildren. But conservative commentators have criticized Obama for trying to “indoctrinate” students to his liberal beliefs, and some parents call it an improper mix of politics and education.”

Greg Sargent suggests that liberals’ threat not to support health-care reform without the public option is empty.

The millions spent to elect Democrats didn’t buy Big Labor much (other than two ailing car companies): “Gallup finds organized labor taking a significant image hit in the past year. While 66% of Americans continue to believe unions are beneficial to their own members, a slight majority now say unions hurt the nation’s economy. More broadly, fewer than half of Americans — 48%, an all-time low — approve of labor unions, down from 59% a year ago.”

Mickey Kaus has this wild idea that Obama should figure out what he wants in his health-care plan before giving a major address to Congress.

Dana Perino doesn’t think Obama has much more to lose on health care: “The administration finds itself at an impasse — one of their own making. They can blame Republicans all they want — and they have, and it’s grown rather tiresome since they can’t answer basic legitimate questions about their own plan(s) — but when you hold all the power and still can’t get something done your complaints about the opposition ring hollow.”

No wonder congressmen hate town halls — now everyone can see what jerks they are. They don’t seem to get that these days, everyone has a camera.

When you need someone to defend the indefensible, Joe Biden is your man: “Defending a costly plan to revitalize the economy, Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday said the government’s sweeping stimulus effort ‘is in fact working’ despite steady Republican criticism and public skepticism.”

Read Less




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