Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 5, 2009

All That Mud, So Little Help to Corzine

The Washington Post reports:

New Jersey and Virginia are the only states with governor’s races this year, so both are taking on outsize importance as the first major national barometers of the public mood toward President Obama and his ambitious agenda on the economy and health-care reform. National Republicans, after two election cycles of huge losses, are looking at the two races to begin what they hope to claim as the beginnings of a comeback.

Like other sitting governors, Corzine, a former Wall Street executive, has been in office during a period of severe economic decline, with unemployment in New Jersey at 9.3 percent. Corzine has slashed the state’s budget, cut programs, furloughed public workers and shuttered some state offices for several days.

None of those moves has helped Corzine’s popularity. Among likely voters in the Quinnipiac poll, 57 percent said they had an unfavorable view of Corzine and 60 percent disapproved of the job he is doing as governor. “I think [people] are just fed up with Corzine,” Bulvid said.

The Post tells us the race has turned “nasty.” Republican candidate Chris Christie made a loan to a subordinate whose husband lost his job but didn’t report the loan or the interest paid to him. He also had a traffic stop but no ticket (the horror!) in 2005. Corzine’s party and one of his cabinet members, on the other hand, have been snared in a huge corruption bust, which you would not know that from the Post‘s account, which omits to mention the number of arrests (44) or the involvement of Corzine’s cabinet member. But to the Post‘s dismay:

All the mudslinging has done little to change the dynamic of the race, which Christie has been leading all year. “That’s one of the surprising things,” said Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University. “There hasn’t been a whole lot of movement away from Christie.”

Oh, just wait, the Post‘s reporter assures us—the campaign will begin “in earnest after Labor Day.” Maybe the Post can find an old Christie term paper to help give Corzine that extra nudge.

The Washington Post reports:

New Jersey and Virginia are the only states with governor’s races this year, so both are taking on outsize importance as the first major national barometers of the public mood toward President Obama and his ambitious agenda on the economy and health-care reform. National Republicans, after two election cycles of huge losses, are looking at the two races to begin what they hope to claim as the beginnings of a comeback.

Like other sitting governors, Corzine, a former Wall Street executive, has been in office during a period of severe economic decline, with unemployment in New Jersey at 9.3 percent. Corzine has slashed the state’s budget, cut programs, furloughed public workers and shuttered some state offices for several days.

None of those moves has helped Corzine’s popularity. Among likely voters in the Quinnipiac poll, 57 percent said they had an unfavorable view of Corzine and 60 percent disapproved of the job he is doing as governor. “I think [people] are just fed up with Corzine,” Bulvid said.

The Post tells us the race has turned “nasty.” Republican candidate Chris Christie made a loan to a subordinate whose husband lost his job but didn’t report the loan or the interest paid to him. He also had a traffic stop but no ticket (the horror!) in 2005. Corzine’s party and one of his cabinet members, on the other hand, have been snared in a huge corruption bust, which you would not know that from the Post‘s account, which omits to mention the number of arrests (44) or the involvement of Corzine’s cabinet member. But to the Post‘s dismay:

All the mudslinging has done little to change the dynamic of the race, which Christie has been leading all year. “That’s one of the surprising things,” said Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University. “There hasn’t been a whole lot of movement away from Christie.”

Oh, just wait, the Post‘s reporter assures us—the campaign will begin “in earnest after Labor Day.” Maybe the Post can find an old Christie term paper to help give Corzine that extra nudge.

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Re: Despair, Indeed

A friend reminds me of two key points regarding Gaza, which Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson, and their like-minded Israel bashers routinely ignore. First, Israel doesn’t surround Gaza. Why no anger directed against Egypt? If, as Carter asserts, all sorts of basic supplies are not getting into Gaza, why isn’t the border between those two countries the route of choice? It is only the Jewish state — the victim of Gaza violence — that is hounded to open the border.

Second, there seems to be no recognition of the progress on the ground in the West Bank. Fewer checkpoints and more economic development — both the result of Israel’s willingness to cooperate with and assist Palestinians in improving their daily lives — entirely escapes Carter’s and the administration’s notice.

One can’t help but conclude that the object here is not to improve the actual condition of Palestinians but to paint Israel as the villain. Carter’s been at that for some time now. Let’s hope the administration breaks the habit before more damage is done to our relationship with Israel.

A friend reminds me of two key points regarding Gaza, which Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson, and their like-minded Israel bashers routinely ignore. First, Israel doesn’t surround Gaza. Why no anger directed against Egypt? If, as Carter asserts, all sorts of basic supplies are not getting into Gaza, why isn’t the border between those two countries the route of choice? It is only the Jewish state — the victim of Gaza violence — that is hounded to open the border.

Second, there seems to be no recognition of the progress on the ground in the West Bank. Fewer checkpoints and more economic development — both the result of Israel’s willingness to cooperate with and assist Palestinians in improving their daily lives — entirely escapes Carter’s and the administration’s notice.

One can’t help but conclude that the object here is not to improve the actual condition of Palestinians but to paint Israel as the villain. Carter’s been at that for some time now. Let’s hope the administration breaks the habit before more damage is done to our relationship with Israel.

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Time to Own the Facts—and the Record

It’s not May, but the Atlantic’s bloggers seem to think it’s Cinco de Mayo—and I’m in the piñata. In recent days, three of them—Andrew Sullivan, James Gibney, and James Fallows—have taken whacks at me. But this piñata hits back.

Herewith my replies to their ill-advised and ill-tempered animadversions:

1. Andrew escalates our dispute over the interrogation of captured terrorists with this jaw-dropping claim:

The neoconservatives need to be made to own Abu Ghraib. It was their signal achievement, the crowning symbol of an ideology of raw force as the instrument of pure power—even against a single defenseless individual in a windowless room, strapped to a board for a session of pure terror.

Lynndie England was a neocon? Who knew? Until now, her affiliation with the American Enterprise Institute, COMMENTARY, and the Weekly Standard has been carefully concealed. Leave it to Andrew to uncover the news that others miss.

If you take his claims seriously, you could argue with equal justification that the Left should “be made to own” 9/11, the Cambodian genocide, and numerous other horrors that came about because of American nonintervention. But that is an insulting and morally obtuse argument, since the only people who can be made to “own” wrongdoing are those who perpetrate it. Read More

It’s not May, but the Atlantic’s bloggers seem to think it’s Cinco de Mayo—and I’m in the piñata. In recent days, three of them—Andrew Sullivan, James Gibney, and James Fallows—have taken whacks at me. But this piñata hits back.

Herewith my replies to their ill-advised and ill-tempered animadversions:

1. Andrew escalates our dispute over the interrogation of captured terrorists with this jaw-dropping claim:

The neoconservatives need to be made to own Abu Ghraib. It was their signal achievement, the crowning symbol of an ideology of raw force as the instrument of pure power—even against a single defenseless individual in a windowless room, strapped to a board for a session of pure terror.

Lynndie England was a neocon? Who knew? Until now, her affiliation with the American Enterprise Institute, COMMENTARY, and the Weekly Standard has been carefully concealed. Leave it to Andrew to uncover the news that others miss.

If you take his claims seriously, you could argue with equal justification that the Left should “be made to own” 9/11, the Cambodian genocide, and numerous other horrors that came about because of American nonintervention. But that is an insulting and morally obtuse argument, since the only people who can be made to “own” wrongdoing are those who perpetrate it.

Andrew’s broader point is that “most of the techniques shown at Abu Ghraib were exactly the same as Cheney’s favored methods and exactly the same as methods found in every theater of combat by every branch of the armed services after Bush secretly withdrew the US from the Geneva Conventions the US helped found.” It is true that there were overlaps between some (not all) of the crazy abuse against random low-level detainees at Abu Ghraib and some of the techniques employed by interrogators on high-level terrorists. But that misses the essential difference—the difference between a police officer shooting an armed man to protect nearby residents and a maniac shooting an unarmed man to gratify his own blood lust. Both involve shooting someone with a gun, but the former incident is acclaimed as an act of heroism, while the latter is decried as an act of murder. Thus employing “stress techniques” against Khalid Sheikh Muhammad as part of a carefully supervised interrogation to elicit high-priority information may be permissible under certain circumstances; employing stress techniques against hapless Iraqi detainees so you can photograph their degradation for your buddies is never permissible and was, in fact, never authorized by the chain of command.

The information that has come out indicates that the CIA interrogations were totally different from the sick actions of Lynndie England and her gang. This is from the New York Times article “Report Shows Tight C.I.A. Control on Interrogation”:

The first news reports this week about hundreds of pages of newly released documents on the C.I.A. program focused on aberrations in the field: threats of execution by handgun or assault by power drill; a prisoner lifted off the ground by his arms, which were tied behind his back; another detainee repeatedly knocked out with pressure applied to the carotid artery.

But the strong impression that emerges from the documents, many with long passages blacked out for secrecy, is by no means one of gung-ho operatives running wild. It is a portrait of overwhelming control exercised from C.I.A. headquarters and the Department of Justice — control Bush administration officials say was intended to ensure that the program was safe and legal.

Managers, doctors and lawyers not only set the program’s parameters but dictated every facet of a detainee’s daily routine, monitoring interrogations on an hour-by-hour basis. From their Washington offices, they obsessed over the smallest details: the number of calories a prisoner consumed daily (1,500); the number of hours he could be kept in a box (eight hours for the large box, two hours for the small one); the proper time when his enforced nudity should be ended and his clothes returned.

The detainee “finds himself in the complete control of Americans; the procedures he is subjected to are precise, quiet and almost clinical, ” noted one document.

So I stand by my earlier assertion—which Andrew finds so risible—that what happened at Abu Ghraib is not indicative of the kind of proper, if aggressive, interrogation techniques that may sometimes be necessary to elicit information from top-level terrorists. I also stand by my other assertion, that subjecting CIA personnel today to a Justice Department inquiry for actions that were authorized by a previous administration is demoralizing and damaging—a claim that Andrew once again does not bother to challenge.

2. Andrew’s colleague James Gibney, currently an editor at the Atlantic and formerly an editor at Foreign Policy, takes me to task for two statements pulled out of context from an article I wrote all the way back in 2003. He begins by noting my recent call to expand U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan beyond 68,000, and then writes:

For the record, I agree with him. But six years ago, he had a slightly different strategy for Afghanistan: In March 2003, he argued that the manhunt for Al Qaeda there “is a job for the U.S. intelligence community, the FBI and a small number of Special Operations troops,” and that our Afghan involvement shouldn’t stop us from invading Iraq. And the disastrously flawed thinking behind that recommendation largely explains how we got to the Afghan war’s current sorry state.

While I’m at it, I can’t resist quoting this other howler from Boot’s March 2003 piece: “Will invading Iraq lead to long lines at al-Qaeda recruiting offices? Possible, but not probable. The sort of people who are willing to become ‘martyrs’ for the cause are pretty far gone already. An invasion might push a few over the edge, but it might also give others second thoughts.” The wonder is that Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is still taken seriously.

James Fallows, another Atlantic blogger, then piles on:

James Gibney of the Atlantic also has a very strong, short item about revisionism now being practiced by some of the architects and enthusiasts of the invasion of Iraq. In particular, the writer Max Boot and the former DOD official Paul Wolfowitz. . . . What most people would not realize is how particularly trenchant a judgment this is, coming from him. As a one-time Foreign Service officer (and former executive editor of Foreign Policy magazine), James Gibney is no one’s idea of a hothead. He is more gentlemanly than most people who express views on this site (not to mention on the whole untrammeled web), and less known for harsh opinions. These words have weight.

Actually, these words don’t have much weight. James Gibney is wondering how anyone can take my writing seriously? I’m wondering why, if he doesn’t take me seriously, he commissioned an article from me in 2004 that appeared in Foreign Policy magazine (“Neocons: Think Again”)? As I recall, he lavishly praised the article, too—and this was after the New York Post article he now claims is so objectionable.

His attack on me is the height of historical revisionism because he fails to note the vastly different circumstances between 2003 and today. Back then the Taliban were largely defeated. Afghanistan was pretty peaceful; there was no large-scale insurgency as there is today. Under those circumstances, the manhunt for al-Qaeda really was “a job for the U.S. intelligence community, the FBI and a small number of Special Operations troops.” Today the situation has changed, and we have no choice but to send a lot of troops to quell a growing insurgency.

But that doesn’t mean that, even years ago, I was oblivious to the need for U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan. In November 2001, in the midst of the initial U.S. operation, I wrote that our “Kosovo Redux” style of fighting in Afghanistan, relying heavily on airpower and local proxies, “may yet come back to haunt us” because it would make it impossible to impose order in Afghanistan.

I concluded:

It is not a pleasant thing to contemplate more battles, greater bloodshed. It would be nice if our troops could simply come home and enjoy the holidays. But if we do not show soon that American soldiers can wage sustained ground combat—that we can practice the cruel art of warfare as relentlessly as our ancestors did—we may pay a heavy price later on.

A few weeks later, Osama bin Laden escaped at Tora Bora, and my warning was vindicated.

What about my other “howler”—the assertion that it was “possible, but not probable” that the invasion of Iraq would “lead to long lines at Al Qaeda recruiting offices”? I will admit that in March 2003 I did not anticipate the number of al-Qaeda terrorists who would flock to Iraq; few did, not even James Fallows, author of a justly acclaimed 2002 article on the challenges of postwar Iraq. And I still think it need not have happened if the Bush administration had heeded the advice of those (including me) who called for a massive commitment early on to stabilize Iraq. (I wrote on May 6, 2003: “The president should be doing more to prepare the U.S. public and Congress for a costly commitment. Otherwise, Iraqis quickly could become disillusioned about the benefits of liberation. . . . If we want Iraq to avoid becoming a Somalia on steroids, we’d better get used to U.S. troops being deployed there for years, possibly decades, to come.”)

But my broader point from that March 2003 article, which Gibney neglects to quote, remains valid: “The critics argue that deposing Saddam Hussein would alienate friendly governments whose help we need against al Qaeda, and would lead to more support on the ‘Arab Street’ for the terrorists. Both are dubious propositions.” In fact, al-Qaeda is less popular now than it was in 2003, and there is better international cooperation against it. Not a single government has been toppled by Islamist extremists since then.

I do not by any means imply that I have an infallible track record as an analyst; no one does. I’ve made my share of mistakes. But I think my record (which includes calling for Rumsfeld’s resignation in 2004 and warning in 2006 that we needed to send more troops to Iraq because we were on the verge of defeat) stacks up well against anyone’s. And that includes the bloggers now criticizing me.

Keep in mind that this is the same James Fallows who spent years preaching that Japan had perfected an economic model superior to American capitalism—a point of view hard to sustain after Japan’s economic woes in the 1990s. Also, while Fallows was generally right in his warnings about the difficulties of pacifying Iraq, he produced some “howlers” of his own, such as this claim: “Simply manning a full occupation force would be a challenge. . . . For Iraq’s 23 million people that would mean an occupation force of about 50,000. Scott Feil told a Senate committee that he thought the occupation would need 75,000 security soldiers. . . . Providing even 25,000 occupiers on a sustained basis would not be easy for the U.S. military.” Actually, the U.S. kept well over 100,000 troops in Iraq for years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein—and it still wasn’t enough.

But that’s nothing compared with Andrew Sullivan’s dizzying ideological U-turns. This is the same Andrew Sullivan who was for the war in Iraq before he was against it; who once wrote that “the interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay . . . are completely, perfectly respectable”; and that “we should show them the same mercy they showed to the men and women who showed up for work on September 11.”

I could argue that Fallows, Sullivan, et al. don’t deserve to be taken seriously, but I won’t, because I recognize that even writers who have been wrong in the past can be right in the future—assuming they have the facts on their side. Which Andrew doesn’t in the present instance.

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CIA Turns to Justice Department for Help

Eli Lake and Sara Carter at the Washington Times have uncovered another development concerning the embattled CIA. This comes on the heels, of course, of the string of humiliations and intra-administration struggles lost by Leon Panetta’s agency (e.g., release of the enhanced interrogation memos, re-investigation of CIA operatives, loss of responsibility for high-value target interrogations). Chief among these has been the nonstop attacks from the Democrats in Congress, who have accused the CIA of “lying” to them.

Lake and Carter report:

Besieged by leaks of several closely held secrets, the CIA has asked the Justice Department to examine what it regards as the criminal disclosure of a secret program to kill foreign terrorist leaders abroad, The Washington Times has learned.

Two U.S. intelligence officials, who spoke on the condition that they not be named because of the sensitivity of the case, said the leak investigation involved a program that CIA Director Leon E. Panetta told Congress about in June and that surfaced in news reports just a month later.

[. . .]

One element of the new leak investigation involves a New York Times story last month that said the secret program employed the security contractor Xe — formerly known as Blackwater. The plan was never put into effect — and Mr. Panetta canceled it as soon as he learned of it, according to the CIA.

But the disclosure has had other consequences: Al Qaeda has placed Xe’s chief executive, Eric Prince, on its own version of a most-wanted list, said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the contractor.

So the CIA is now striking back, one supposes, having had enough of leaking congressmen who feel free to listen to briefings and then run to the media to continue their assault on the agency. And one can delight in the thought of an investigation in which members of Congress are the prime suspects in the irresponsible leaking of confidential material. (Lake and Carter recall the Valerie Plame matter and the outrage over “outing” those working in our intelligence community.)

But before we get our hopes up, this is Eric Holder’s Justice Department — the gang that reached out from Washington, we are told, to end the Bill Richardson investigation, dismissed the Black Panther voter-intimidation case, and went to war with the CIA in all the incidents listed above. Isn’t there someone else who can do this? No, unfortunately. This is the price one pays for a politicized Justice Department — we are stuck with a department, and its political appointees, that possesses enormous and far-reaching power, upon whom other agencies and departments of government must rely and whose motives are entirely suspect.

I, for one, am not overflowing with confidence that Holder will set loose the hounds, uncover the culprits regardless of party and position, and press for vigorous prosecution of those who leaked classified secrets and have apparently endangered Eric Prince’s life. Call me cynical, but I think their resources and energy are focused elsewhere.

Eli Lake and Sara Carter at the Washington Times have uncovered another development concerning the embattled CIA. This comes on the heels, of course, of the string of humiliations and intra-administration struggles lost by Leon Panetta’s agency (e.g., release of the enhanced interrogation memos, re-investigation of CIA operatives, loss of responsibility for high-value target interrogations). Chief among these has been the nonstop attacks from the Democrats in Congress, who have accused the CIA of “lying” to them.

Lake and Carter report:

Besieged by leaks of several closely held secrets, the CIA has asked the Justice Department to examine what it regards as the criminal disclosure of a secret program to kill foreign terrorist leaders abroad, The Washington Times has learned.

Two U.S. intelligence officials, who spoke on the condition that they not be named because of the sensitivity of the case, said the leak investigation involved a program that CIA Director Leon E. Panetta told Congress about in June and that surfaced in news reports just a month later.

[. . .]

One element of the new leak investigation involves a New York Times story last month that said the secret program employed the security contractor Xe — formerly known as Blackwater. The plan was never put into effect — and Mr. Panetta canceled it as soon as he learned of it, according to the CIA.

But the disclosure has had other consequences: Al Qaeda has placed Xe’s chief executive, Eric Prince, on its own version of a most-wanted list, said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the contractor.

So the CIA is now striking back, one supposes, having had enough of leaking congressmen who feel free to listen to briefings and then run to the media to continue their assault on the agency. And one can delight in the thought of an investigation in which members of Congress are the prime suspects in the irresponsible leaking of confidential material. (Lake and Carter recall the Valerie Plame matter and the outrage over “outing” those working in our intelligence community.)

But before we get our hopes up, this is Eric Holder’s Justice Department — the gang that reached out from Washington, we are told, to end the Bill Richardson investigation, dismissed the Black Panther voter-intimidation case, and went to war with the CIA in all the incidents listed above. Isn’t there someone else who can do this? No, unfortunately. This is the price one pays for a politicized Justice Department — we are stuck with a department, and its political appointees, that possesses enormous and far-reaching power, upon whom other agencies and departments of government must rely and whose motives are entirely suspect.

I, for one, am not overflowing with confidence that Holder will set loose the hounds, uncover the culprits regardless of party and position, and press for vigorous prosecution of those who leaked classified secrets and have apparently endangered Eric Prince’s life. Call me cynical, but I think their resources and energy are focused elsewhere.

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How to Respond to the Stimulus?

Over at National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru worries that conservatives are gloating prematurely at the failure of the $787 billion stimulus package to produce economic growth or jobs. What, he asks, if they do next year? Isn’t the Right setting itself up to seem like the skunk at the garden party if and when things turn around? Shouldn’t a different argument be deployed?

Perhaps. But it probably doesn’t matter very much what people on the Right say about this. If there is a roaring recovery next year, Obama will benefit; if, on the other hand, the rise from recession is slow and ungainly and not especially productive, as was the case with the recovery from the short recession of 2001, then Obama and the Democrats will suffer mightily. What will matter over the next two elections when it comes to the economy is whether the public feels as though the hand on the tiller guiding the country through the economic crisis is steady and knowing or haphazard and incompetent. Spin won’t help anyone very much.

Over at National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru worries that conservatives are gloating prematurely at the failure of the $787 billion stimulus package to produce economic growth or jobs. What, he asks, if they do next year? Isn’t the Right setting itself up to seem like the skunk at the garden party if and when things turn around? Shouldn’t a different argument be deployed?

Perhaps. But it probably doesn’t matter very much what people on the Right say about this. If there is a roaring recovery next year, Obama will benefit; if, on the other hand, the rise from recession is slow and ungainly and not especially productive, as was the case with the recovery from the short recession of 2001, then Obama and the Democrats will suffer mightily. What will matter over the next two elections when it comes to the economy is whether the public feels as though the hand on the tiller guiding the country through the economic crisis is steady and knowing or haphazard and incompetent. Spin won’t help anyone very much.

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Despair, Indeed

Jimmy Carter brings us his report, fresh from his Middle East visit with his fellow “Elders,” including the Medal of Freedom prize-winning duo of Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson. Carter and crew go to the Middle East and see “despair.”

Not the despair of Jews in Israel who would like to live in peace with their neighbors and have tried repeatedly to give the Palestinians their own state. Not the despair of victims of Hamas violence or of honor killings. Not the despair of the Palestinian people who would like a government free from corruption. Not the despair of Jews who find it incomprehensible that teaching the Holocaust is considered to be a human-rights violation by Hamas. Not the despair of Israel and its neighbors who are contemplating a nuclear-armed Iran and a timid U.S. response. And certainly not the despair that Israelis must feel as a U.S. administration renounces past obligations and delights in picking a fight with its ally.

No, all Carter sees and all he writes about (I know, you’ll be shocked) is the “despair that settlement expansion is continuing apace.” And he divines that Israel is bent on a one-state solution, aiming to “colonize” East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Using unmistakable Holocaust terminology, he terms Gaza a “ghetto.” How perfectly Carter-esque. And Robinson-esque. (Anyone in the White House still think that Medal of Freedom thing was a grand idea?)

In his account, the terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians from Gaza get no mention, so readers are left to wonder why it is that traffic doesn’t flow freely between Gaza and Israel. And in Carter’s view, one supposes, the Israelis must be awfully clever to mask their plot to dominate the Palestinians with repeated offers of statehood. How sneaky of the Jews to have repeatedly given up land for “peace” and dismantled their own settlements when all they really want is to “colonize.”

Well this is pretty much par for the Carter course. But really, how different is this from the administration’s Middle East outlook? The same obsession with settlements that animates Carter seems to dictate all that Obama and George Mitchell say and do these days with regard to the Middle East. The same Carter-esque refusal to recount accurately the history of the Middle East, let alone America’s own agreements, permeates Obama’s rhetoric. The same muteness grips the Obama administration when it comes to Palestinian rhetoric. It’s almost enough to fill one with despair.

Jimmy Carter brings us his report, fresh from his Middle East visit with his fellow “Elders,” including the Medal of Freedom prize-winning duo of Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson. Carter and crew go to the Middle East and see “despair.”

Not the despair of Jews in Israel who would like to live in peace with their neighbors and have tried repeatedly to give the Palestinians their own state. Not the despair of victims of Hamas violence or of honor killings. Not the despair of the Palestinian people who would like a government free from corruption. Not the despair of Jews who find it incomprehensible that teaching the Holocaust is considered to be a human-rights violation by Hamas. Not the despair of Israel and its neighbors who are contemplating a nuclear-armed Iran and a timid U.S. response. And certainly not the despair that Israelis must feel as a U.S. administration renounces past obligations and delights in picking a fight with its ally.

No, all Carter sees and all he writes about (I know, you’ll be shocked) is the “despair that settlement expansion is continuing apace.” And he divines that Israel is bent on a one-state solution, aiming to “colonize” East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Using unmistakable Holocaust terminology, he terms Gaza a “ghetto.” How perfectly Carter-esque. And Robinson-esque. (Anyone in the White House still think that Medal of Freedom thing was a grand idea?)

In his account, the terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians from Gaza get no mention, so readers are left to wonder why it is that traffic doesn’t flow freely between Gaza and Israel. And in Carter’s view, one supposes, the Israelis must be awfully clever to mask their plot to dominate the Palestinians with repeated offers of statehood. How sneaky of the Jews to have repeatedly given up land for “peace” and dismantled their own settlements when all they really want is to “colonize.”

Well this is pretty much par for the Carter course. But really, how different is this from the administration’s Middle East outlook? The same obsession with settlements that animates Carter seems to dictate all that Obama and George Mitchell say and do these days with regard to the Middle East. The same Carter-esque refusal to recount accurately the history of the Middle East, let alone America’s own agreements, permeates Obama’s rhetoric. The same muteness grips the Obama administration when it comes to Palestinian rhetoric. It’s almost enough to fill one with despair.

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Why There Are No New Jobs

The New York Times lets on:

The unemployment rate surged to 9.7 percent in August, signaling that joblessness and financial anxiety were likely to endure in millions of American homes for many months. The Labor Department’s latest employment report, released Friday, added weight to a growing belief that, at least technically, the economy had already escaped the grip of recession. Though 216,000 net jobs vanished in August, the losses continued to moderate from their worst numbers of the year. Yet the report also lent credence to a deepening consensus that, even as the economy resumes expansion, the recovery was likely to be weak, prompting most companies to hold back from aggressive hiring.

[. . .]

Such an outcome would confront the Obama administration with a potentially nettlesome political problem heading into next year’s midterm elections. After unleashing $787 billion in government spending to stimulate economic growth, and after bailing out financial institutions and the auto industry, the unemployment rate exceeds worst-case projections envisioned by the administration early this year.

And while voters may not blame the president or his party (despite their ample role in fomenting the housing crisis) for the recession, they are likely to, and with good reason, hold him responsible for an anemic recovery. Why? Because he has utterly ignored or rejected proposals to promote private-sector job growth and instead set out on a course to burden, tax, regulate, and hound American employers. There is nothing in the array of Obama policy choices to encourage job growth and much to stymie it.

The Times story neatly avoids the reasons for the “jobless recovery.” But others are not. James Sherk of Heritage makes a compelling case that the problem is not persistent layoffs but a drop in job creation. The labor market simply can’t absorb new workers entering the labor force. That slowdown in job creation, he says, is in large part attributable to “enormous increases in federal spending on traditional liberal priorities, such as for government-run health care, [which] raise the prospects of vastly higher taxes or rapidly rising inflation.”

He explains:

The federal deficit is expected to approach $2 trillion this year, and to remain well above $1 trillion for many years to come, doubling the national debt in just five years. This situation is not sustainable, but businesses can only guess how the federal government will restore order to its fiscal house, knowing full well that successful businesses make an attractive tax target.

In the face of such a threatening environment, it is not surprising that companies are likely to make only the most critical investments. In addition, the credit crunch has made credit less available to entrepreneurs who want to start new businesses, thereby adding to the shortfall in business investment and business hiring.

Gross private investment in equipment and software—a good measure of business investment spending—has fallen by a full 20 percent since the recession began. As long as business investment remains low and entrepreneurs hold back from starting new enterprises, job creation will remain low—and unemployment, high.

Couple that with the prospect that employers may be hit with higher energy costs, a cap-and-trade regulatory scheme, and health-care mandates and one can understand that a hiring paralysis may become a fixture in the economy, absent a substantial change in the administration’s approach to economic recovery. If the president and his advisers think we can have a recovery while they attack the private sector and seek a vast expansion of government, they are in for a rude awakening. It turns out we need those private-sector employers. Who knew?

The New York Times lets on:

The unemployment rate surged to 9.7 percent in August, signaling that joblessness and financial anxiety were likely to endure in millions of American homes for many months. The Labor Department’s latest employment report, released Friday, added weight to a growing belief that, at least technically, the economy had already escaped the grip of recession. Though 216,000 net jobs vanished in August, the losses continued to moderate from their worst numbers of the year. Yet the report also lent credence to a deepening consensus that, even as the economy resumes expansion, the recovery was likely to be weak, prompting most companies to hold back from aggressive hiring.

[. . .]

Such an outcome would confront the Obama administration with a potentially nettlesome political problem heading into next year’s midterm elections. After unleashing $787 billion in government spending to stimulate economic growth, and after bailing out financial institutions and the auto industry, the unemployment rate exceeds worst-case projections envisioned by the administration early this year.

And while voters may not blame the president or his party (despite their ample role in fomenting the housing crisis) for the recession, they are likely to, and with good reason, hold him responsible for an anemic recovery. Why? Because he has utterly ignored or rejected proposals to promote private-sector job growth and instead set out on a course to burden, tax, regulate, and hound American employers. There is nothing in the array of Obama policy choices to encourage job growth and much to stymie it.

The Times story neatly avoids the reasons for the “jobless recovery.” But others are not. James Sherk of Heritage makes a compelling case that the problem is not persistent layoffs but a drop in job creation. The labor market simply can’t absorb new workers entering the labor force. That slowdown in job creation, he says, is in large part attributable to “enormous increases in federal spending on traditional liberal priorities, such as for government-run health care, [which] raise the prospects of vastly higher taxes or rapidly rising inflation.”

He explains:

The federal deficit is expected to approach $2 trillion this year, and to remain well above $1 trillion for many years to come, doubling the national debt in just five years. This situation is not sustainable, but businesses can only guess how the federal government will restore order to its fiscal house, knowing full well that successful businesses make an attractive tax target.

In the face of such a threatening environment, it is not surprising that companies are likely to make only the most critical investments. In addition, the credit crunch has made credit less available to entrepreneurs who want to start new businesses, thereby adding to the shortfall in business investment and business hiring.

Gross private investment in equipment and software—a good measure of business investment spending—has fallen by a full 20 percent since the recession began. As long as business investment remains low and entrepreneurs hold back from starting new enterprises, job creation will remain low—and unemployment, high.

Couple that with the prospect that employers may be hit with higher energy costs, a cap-and-trade regulatory scheme, and health-care mandates and one can understand that a hiring paralysis may become a fixture in the economy, absent a substantial change in the administration’s approach to economic recovery. If the president and his advisers think we can have a recovery while they attack the private sector and seek a vast expansion of government, they are in for a rude awakening. It turns out we need those private-sector employers. Who knew?

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Kagan: Why It Matters

Fred Kagan sets out the strategic case for the war in Afghanistan in a must-read piece in the Wall Street Journal. He makes clear that the task at hand “will be difficult” but is “no fool’s errand.” He does not shy away from examining the errors of the past, but his focus is on why we must persist in waging an increasingly unpopular war.

He explains:

Critics of the war have suggested we should draw down our troops and force Pakistan to play a larger role in eliminating radical extremists. American concerns about al Qaeda and Taliban operating from Pakistani bases have led to the conventional wisdom that Pakistan matters to the U.S. because of what it could do to help—or hurt—in Afghanistan. The conventional wisdom is wrong as usual.

Pakistan is important because it is a country of 180 million Muslims with nuclear weapons and multiple terrorist groups engaged in a mini-arms race and periodic military encounters with India—the world’s most populous state and one of America’s most important economic and strategic partners. Pakistan has made remarkable progress over the last year in its efforts against Islamist insurgent groups that threatened to destroy it. But the fight against those groups takes place on both sides of the border. The debate over whether to commit the resources necessary to succeed in Afghanistan must recognize the extreme danger that a withdrawal or failure in Afghanistan would pose to the stability of Pakistan.

Kagan effectively demolishes the case that we can credibly fight the war on terror or hope to maintain a stable Pakistan (“a country of 180 million Muslims with nuclear weapons and multiple terrorist groups engaged in a mini-arms race and periodic military encounters with India—the world’s most populous state and one of America’s most important economic and strategic partners”) without a successful outcome in Afghanistan.

He concludes:

Pakistan’s stability cannot be secured solely within its borders any more than can Afghanistan’s. Militant Islam can be defeated only by waging a proper counterinsurgency campaign on both sides of the border.

The critics of the war have an obligation to step forward with a credible alternative for waging that war or with a scenario by which we could avoid a calamity in Pakistan without victory in Afghanistan. I have yet to hear those arguments made. And it seems Secretary of Defense Gates and the president are not hearing them either. Let’s hope that now that they understand the case for the war, they also have the will to see it through. In that effort, Kagan’s argument will be essential to defanging the critics—who would rather retreat and worry about the consequences another day.

Fred Kagan sets out the strategic case for the war in Afghanistan in a must-read piece in the Wall Street Journal. He makes clear that the task at hand “will be difficult” but is “no fool’s errand.” He does not shy away from examining the errors of the past, but his focus is on why we must persist in waging an increasingly unpopular war.

He explains:

Critics of the war have suggested we should draw down our troops and force Pakistan to play a larger role in eliminating radical extremists. American concerns about al Qaeda and Taliban operating from Pakistani bases have led to the conventional wisdom that Pakistan matters to the U.S. because of what it could do to help—or hurt—in Afghanistan. The conventional wisdom is wrong as usual.

Pakistan is important because it is a country of 180 million Muslims with nuclear weapons and multiple terrorist groups engaged in a mini-arms race and periodic military encounters with India—the world’s most populous state and one of America’s most important economic and strategic partners. Pakistan has made remarkable progress over the last year in its efforts against Islamist insurgent groups that threatened to destroy it. But the fight against those groups takes place on both sides of the border. The debate over whether to commit the resources necessary to succeed in Afghanistan must recognize the extreme danger that a withdrawal or failure in Afghanistan would pose to the stability of Pakistan.

Kagan effectively demolishes the case that we can credibly fight the war on terror or hope to maintain a stable Pakistan (“a country of 180 million Muslims with nuclear weapons and multiple terrorist groups engaged in a mini-arms race and periodic military encounters with India—the world’s most populous state and one of America’s most important economic and strategic partners”) without a successful outcome in Afghanistan.

He concludes:

Pakistan’s stability cannot be secured solely within its borders any more than can Afghanistan’s. Militant Islam can be defeated only by waging a proper counterinsurgency campaign on both sides of the border.

The critics of the war have an obligation to step forward with a credible alternative for waging that war or with a scenario by which we could avoid a calamity in Pakistan without victory in Afghanistan. I have yet to hear those arguments made. And it seems Secretary of Defense Gates and the president are not hearing them either. Let’s hope that now that they understand the case for the war, they also have the will to see it through. In that effort, Kagan’s argument will be essential to defanging the critics—who would rather retreat and worry about the consequences another day.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Whatever happened to “nuance”? “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s unequivocal proclamation that all settlement activity must stop is an uncharacteristic display of rigidity from an administration that, on other issues, is sensitive to nuance and advocates for dialogue and accommodation. Expropriating private Palestinian land to build a new settlement is not the same as adding a bedroom for a new baby in an existing community. The administration’s absolutist position is a no-win proposition, leaving no room for negotiation.” Well, it does leave room for Obama to retreat and embarrass himself in the region, which is what George Mitchell is trying desperately to avoid and/or disguise.

And what do you know, but Bibi and the White House are at odds (still? again?) about settlement-building. So I suppose all those “on the verge of agreement on settlements” stories were just spin. It seems that publicly (and privately), hollering at Israel didn’t prove to be a winning strategy. Maybe next they will try some “smart” diplomacy.

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell ribs his opponent Creigh Deeds: “His whole campaign over the last month has been based on former presidents, former governors, and a 20-year-old thesis. That’s his platform. . . . He pledged three weeks ago in the debate that he’d never been a guy to talk about social issues. And now, for the last three weeks, that’s all he wants to talk about. . . . If that’s what he wants to do, then I think that’s a winning formula for me.” Ouch.

With Van Jones’s background, how did he get through the FBI background check and White House vetting?

From Politico: “The fate of health care reform may top the political worries of Democrats at the moment, but the economy could prove the issue that really hurts the party in the 2010 midterm elections.” Hmm. Perhaps if job creation was the top worry for Democrats, they might be in better shape for 2010.

Hillary Clinton rules out free and fair elections in Honduras. Elliott Abrams observes: “The Obama administration’s weak-kneed support of human rights in places like Egypt and China being obvious, the policy in Honduras appears to reflect not so much enthusiasm for democracy as a ‘no enemies to the Left’ view of Latin America. One could laugh at the foolishness of this policy were it not for the six and half million Hondurans, fighting poverty, fighting Chavez and Zelaya and the effort to turn their political system into another Venezuela–and now, fighting Uncle Sam.” And this is the gang that bestows legitimacy on Ahmadinejad, mind you.

The Washington Post editors aren’t any better than Clinton — blithely asserting that the Honduran congress and supreme court’s removal of Zelaya was a “breach of democratic order.”

And while we are on the subject of embarrassing foreign policy performances, Jim Webb’s in Burma is worth noting.

With unemployment at 9.7 percent and the nonstimulus plan sitting on hundreds of billions of unspent dollars, the Wall Street Journal‘s editors suggest: “If the Administration really wants to fire up private job creation, how about taking the remaining $400 billion or more and using it to lower business taxes? The unspent stimulus is enough for a two-year down payment on repealing the U.S. corporate income tax, which studies show is a job and wage-increase killer.” And, they add, killing card check, ObamaCare, and cap-and-trade couldn’t hurt either.

Whatever happened to “nuance”? “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s unequivocal proclamation that all settlement activity must stop is an uncharacteristic display of rigidity from an administration that, on other issues, is sensitive to nuance and advocates for dialogue and accommodation. Expropriating private Palestinian land to build a new settlement is not the same as adding a bedroom for a new baby in an existing community. The administration’s absolutist position is a no-win proposition, leaving no room for negotiation.” Well, it does leave room for Obama to retreat and embarrass himself in the region, which is what George Mitchell is trying desperately to avoid and/or disguise.

And what do you know, but Bibi and the White House are at odds (still? again?) about settlement-building. So I suppose all those “on the verge of agreement on settlements” stories were just spin. It seems that publicly (and privately), hollering at Israel didn’t prove to be a winning strategy. Maybe next they will try some “smart” diplomacy.

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell ribs his opponent Creigh Deeds: “His whole campaign over the last month has been based on former presidents, former governors, and a 20-year-old thesis. That’s his platform. . . . He pledged three weeks ago in the debate that he’d never been a guy to talk about social issues. And now, for the last three weeks, that’s all he wants to talk about. . . . If that’s what he wants to do, then I think that’s a winning formula for me.” Ouch.

With Van Jones’s background, how did he get through the FBI background check and White House vetting?

From Politico: “The fate of health care reform may top the political worries of Democrats at the moment, but the economy could prove the issue that really hurts the party in the 2010 midterm elections.” Hmm. Perhaps if job creation was the top worry for Democrats, they might be in better shape for 2010.

Hillary Clinton rules out free and fair elections in Honduras. Elliott Abrams observes: “The Obama administration’s weak-kneed support of human rights in places like Egypt and China being obvious, the policy in Honduras appears to reflect not so much enthusiasm for democracy as a ‘no enemies to the Left’ view of Latin America. One could laugh at the foolishness of this policy were it not for the six and half million Hondurans, fighting poverty, fighting Chavez and Zelaya and the effort to turn their political system into another Venezuela–and now, fighting Uncle Sam.” And this is the gang that bestows legitimacy on Ahmadinejad, mind you.

The Washington Post editors aren’t any better than Clinton — blithely asserting that the Honduran congress and supreme court’s removal of Zelaya was a “breach of democratic order.”

And while we are on the subject of embarrassing foreign policy performances, Jim Webb’s in Burma is worth noting.

With unemployment at 9.7 percent and the nonstimulus plan sitting on hundreds of billions of unspent dollars, the Wall Street Journal‘s editors suggest: “If the Administration really wants to fire up private job creation, how about taking the remaining $400 billion or more and using it to lower business taxes? The unspent stimulus is enough for a two-year down payment on repealing the U.S. corporate income tax, which studies show is a job and wage-increase killer.” And, they add, killing card check, ObamaCare, and cap-and-trade couldn’t hurt either.

Read Less




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