Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 21, 2009

This Could Be Interesting

Reuters is reporting that Manuel Zelaya, the ousted president of Honduras, has managed to return to the country and is now holed up in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa to avoid arrest.

As Jennifer pointed out this morning, Mary Anastasia O’Grady has a must-read column in today’s Wall Street Journal, arguing that the Obama administration’s furious opposition to Zelaya’s perfectly constitutional removal from office is beginning to seem not only unfounded but bizarre.

The Congressional Research Service, an arm of the Library of Congress, issued a report recently that the Honduran government did nothing illegal under Honduran law. “Available sources indicate that the judicial and legislative branches applied constitutional and statutory law in the case against President Zelaya in a manner that was judged by the Honduran authorities from both branches of the government to be in accordance with the Honduran legal system,” wrote Norma Gutierrez, a senior foreign-law specialist at the CRS. “The Supreme Court of Honduras has constitutional and statutory authority to hear cases against the President of the Republic and many other high officers of the State, to adjudicate and enforce judgments, and to request the assistance of the public forces to enforce its rulings.”

It seems that the definition of coup d’état at Foggy Bottom and the White House is not just an “extra-constitutional change of government” but also a constitutional one—if the Obama administration doesn’t approve of it.

Reuters is reporting that Manuel Zelaya, the ousted president of Honduras, has managed to return to the country and is now holed up in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa to avoid arrest.

As Jennifer pointed out this morning, Mary Anastasia O’Grady has a must-read column in today’s Wall Street Journal, arguing that the Obama administration’s furious opposition to Zelaya’s perfectly constitutional removal from office is beginning to seem not only unfounded but bizarre.

The Congressional Research Service, an arm of the Library of Congress, issued a report recently that the Honduran government did nothing illegal under Honduran law. “Available sources indicate that the judicial and legislative branches applied constitutional and statutory law in the case against President Zelaya in a manner that was judged by the Honduran authorities from both branches of the government to be in accordance with the Honduran legal system,” wrote Norma Gutierrez, a senior foreign-law specialist at the CRS. “The Supreme Court of Honduras has constitutional and statutory authority to hear cases against the President of the Republic and many other high officers of the State, to adjudicate and enforce judgments, and to request the assistance of the public forces to enforce its rulings.”

It seems that the definition of coup d’état at Foggy Bottom and the White House is not just an “extra-constitutional change of government” but also a constitutional one—if the Obama administration doesn’t approve of it.

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Oh, That Strategy . . .

A moment of crucial illumination may be imminent on President Obama’s Afghanistan policy. Max points out that the president seems to have missed the very clear strategy proposal outlined by General McChrystal in his August 30 assessment. But the question may be not so much whether Obama recognized the proposal as whether it fits his strategic concept for Afghanistan. There is reason to suspect it does not.

These crucial passages in the McChrystal assessment either capture what Obama has in mind or they do not:

Our strategy cannot be focused on seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces; our objective must be the population. (p. 1-1)

The people of Afghanistan represent many things in this conflict–an audience, an actor, and a source of leverage–but above all, they are the objective. … [The government of Afghanistan] and ISAF have both failed to focus on this objective. … ISAF’s center of gravity is the will and ability to provide for the needs of the population “by, with, and through” the Afghan government. (p. 2-4)

McChrystal frames it succinctly as a section heading in the commander’s summary:  “New Strategy: Focus on the Population.”

Conservative supporters of our Afghan policy are due a “gut-check” regarding whether they think this is the direction Obama wants to go. Certainly he has never articulated his policy in these terms. His major policy speeches from the campaign period, in 2007 and 2008, reveal a very consistent focus on destroying insurgent forces (namely al-Qaeda) in the Afghan theater and on using nonmilitary aid—including a corps of civilian specialists deployed by the State Department and USAID—to affect the condition of the population. The latter he couches in terms of using all our national resources, not just the military, in support of security policy.

That this latter priority for Obama is not just a way of restating McChrystal’s objective is made clear by Obama’s statements about Afghanistan in 2009. He consistently emphasizes defeating, disrupting, and dismantling al-Qaeda, and by extension the Taliban (indeed, the major achievement of ISAF this year is arguably the elimination of multiple Taliban leaders). He has spoken of infrastructure projects for Afghanistan and of replacing poppy cultivation in their economy. He adopted as an overall framework the policy of regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan as a linked problem (“AfPak”), approving its integrated focus on denying territory to terrorist insurgents.

But his comments on Afghanistan have the same hole in them as his comments on Iraq: an absence of any reference to the objectives of protecting the population, establishing a secure environment for their daily lives, and generating trust in the improving performance of their civil and representative institutions. Conservatives have argued that Obama vigilantly refrains from acknowledging progress on these objectives in Iraq; his rhetoric on Afghanistan is certainly notable for the absence of this theme.

General McChrystal’s military assessment is that time is critical, and without a change in strategy the current campaign could fail. There is much to be concerned about, such as the fact that the U.S.-government aid Obama has emphasized is under investigation because of reported diversion to the Taliban. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke has further asserted that much of the Taliban’s funding comes not from the drug trade but from sympathizers in the Persian Gulf. FrontPageMag cites multiple sources claiming that the Taliban receives funding from Russia as well, a disquieting complement to the recent discovery in western Afghanistan of a major cache of Iranian weapons. Next door, Pakistan’s President Zardari announced this month his rejection of the “AfPak” premise, a policy change that apparently signals a reduced willingness in Islamabad to cooperate in suppressing the Taliban on that basis.

Now would be the time for Obama to unveil a comprehensive strategy, if McChrystal’s does not qualify as one. Given Obama’s unvarying emphasis on defeating al-Qaeda and deploying nonmilitary aid, however, it is unlikely that any “new” administration strategy will incorporate the main objective McChrystal advocates in his assessment.

A moment of crucial illumination may be imminent on President Obama’s Afghanistan policy. Max points out that the president seems to have missed the very clear strategy proposal outlined by General McChrystal in his August 30 assessment. But the question may be not so much whether Obama recognized the proposal as whether it fits his strategic concept for Afghanistan. There is reason to suspect it does not.

These crucial passages in the McChrystal assessment either capture what Obama has in mind or they do not:

Our strategy cannot be focused on seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces; our objective must be the population. (p. 1-1)

The people of Afghanistan represent many things in this conflict–an audience, an actor, and a source of leverage–but above all, they are the objective. … [The government of Afghanistan] and ISAF have both failed to focus on this objective. … ISAF’s center of gravity is the will and ability to provide for the needs of the population “by, with, and through” the Afghan government. (p. 2-4)

McChrystal frames it succinctly as a section heading in the commander’s summary:  “New Strategy: Focus on the Population.”

Conservative supporters of our Afghan policy are due a “gut-check” regarding whether they think this is the direction Obama wants to go. Certainly he has never articulated his policy in these terms. His major policy speeches from the campaign period, in 2007 and 2008, reveal a very consistent focus on destroying insurgent forces (namely al-Qaeda) in the Afghan theater and on using nonmilitary aid—including a corps of civilian specialists deployed by the State Department and USAID—to affect the condition of the population. The latter he couches in terms of using all our national resources, not just the military, in support of security policy.

That this latter priority for Obama is not just a way of restating McChrystal’s objective is made clear by Obama’s statements about Afghanistan in 2009. He consistently emphasizes defeating, disrupting, and dismantling al-Qaeda, and by extension the Taliban (indeed, the major achievement of ISAF this year is arguably the elimination of multiple Taliban leaders). He has spoken of infrastructure projects for Afghanistan and of replacing poppy cultivation in their economy. He adopted as an overall framework the policy of regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan as a linked problem (“AfPak”), approving its integrated focus on denying territory to terrorist insurgents.

But his comments on Afghanistan have the same hole in them as his comments on Iraq: an absence of any reference to the objectives of protecting the population, establishing a secure environment for their daily lives, and generating trust in the improving performance of their civil and representative institutions. Conservatives have argued that Obama vigilantly refrains from acknowledging progress on these objectives in Iraq; his rhetoric on Afghanistan is certainly notable for the absence of this theme.

General McChrystal’s military assessment is that time is critical, and without a change in strategy the current campaign could fail. There is much to be concerned about, such as the fact that the U.S.-government aid Obama has emphasized is under investigation because of reported diversion to the Taliban. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke has further asserted that much of the Taliban’s funding comes not from the drug trade but from sympathizers in the Persian Gulf. FrontPageMag cites multiple sources claiming that the Taliban receives funding from Russia as well, a disquieting complement to the recent discovery in western Afghanistan of a major cache of Iranian weapons. Next door, Pakistan’s President Zardari announced this month his rejection of the “AfPak” premise, a policy change that apparently signals a reduced willingness in Islamabad to cooperate in suppressing the Taliban on that basis.

Now would be the time for Obama to unveil a comprehensive strategy, if McChrystal’s does not qualify as one. Given Obama’s unvarying emphasis on defeating al-Qaeda and deploying nonmilitary aid, however, it is unlikely that any “new” administration strategy will incorporate the main objective McChrystal advocates in his assessment.

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Romney at FPI

Former governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney was the lunch speaker at the Foreign Policy Initiative conference. In a conversational interview with FPI board member Dan Senor, he appeared more relaxed and fluent than he had on the campaign trail. Without a fixed script (or any notes), he was able to demonstrate some impressive grasp of details while setting forth his big-picture critique of the Obama foreign policy. He gave credit to the president for his willingness to stick to a winning strategy in Iraq and for not “yanking all the troops out,” as he had promised during the campaign. But that is where his praise ended.

His overall take on the Obama approach is that the president is seeking a “dramatic and revolutionary” redesign in American foreign policy unlike what we have seen over the past 50 years, when presidents of both parties committed to “promoting, defending, and securing American values in the world”—including democracy, free trade, and human rights. Instead, Romney argued that Obama is seeking to make the U.S. into a neutral arbitrator. Going through the list of recent Obama policy decisions in Honduras, Iran, Eastern Europe, and Israel, he contends that the approach is similar: distance ourselves from our friends and move “closer to our foes.” The risk, Romney explained, is that our friends will no longer be able to count on the U.S. and will look for alliances and assistance elsewhere. He was especially biting in his criticism of Obama’s decision on missile defense, taking the administration to task for “kicking sand” in the faces of our allies in Poland and the Czech Republic. And he made particular mention of the Justice Department’s investigation of the CIA, which, he explained, risks exposing our “friends” who went out on a limb in the interrogation of terrorists and who now are the subject of that inquiry.

What’s Obama’s motivation? Well, he joked, “all politicians love love,” and there is an element of playing to international public opinion. But what is really at issue, he contends, is that Obama shares the view of certain “foreign-policy circles” that American is “in decline” and that it is his job to manage America’s decline. Romney gave his most forceful statement in rebuttal: “I do not subscribe to the view that American is in decline or has to be in decline.” Decline is not inevitable, he argued, pointing to unique American advantages of geography; an “inventive, creative, dynamic” economy; and democratic free-market capitalism that remains the desired model for people around the world.

As for Afghanistan, he made the point that Obama declared this the “good war,” spent the campaign arguing to shift resources there, put in his own military team, and now has a recommendation from General McChrystal but is now pleading for more time to make up his mind whether to follow the recommendation of his team or fulfill his own stated goals. He remarked, “This is not the time for Hamlet.”

On missile defense, Romney said he was “dumbfounded” by the president’s decision. He derided the new and improved intelligence update that suggested that Iran wasn’t really focused on long-term missile-delivery systems. He asked, “Is our intelligence really that good?” But his main critique focused on “the message to the Czechs and the Poles and to our friends worldwide that we are pulling back from our friends.” Our foes—who, he noted, are exulting in the decision—get the message that if you are “belligerent and aggressive, the administration will give you what you want.”

He also took issue with the administration plan to take defense spending down from 4 percent to 3 percent of GDP and delivered an impassioned criticism of protectionism and of Obama’s decision on tire tariffs.

In the Q and A, I asked him about the state of U.S.-Israeli relations. Romney’s response centered on Iran, indicating some agreement with Bret Stephens’s view that Obama might be pursuing an approach that forces Israel to attack in order to defend itself in the absence of resolute U.S. action. What we need instead, he argued, are “crippling sanctions,” diplomatic moves to Arab states to induce the Palestinians to “stop bugging Israel,” and a willingness to keep talking about “a military option.” He repeated that this is an option we should not be taking off the table. He also argued that we need to begin communicating to Iran and its people that it is “very dangerous” to go down the nuclear-arms path, because we will respond if such a weapon is ever used by Iranian surrogates, not only “to the entity that used it” but also to the entity that supplied it. Iran should, he emphasized, “feel the pain for pursuing a nuclear pathway.”

It was in many ways a surprising outing for Romney, demonstrating more depth and verve than many in the room could recall from the campaign. Whether that message resonates outside the room, with the larger conservative community and with elected leaders, remains to be seen. But certainly we will hear more from him in the future.

Former governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney was the lunch speaker at the Foreign Policy Initiative conference. In a conversational interview with FPI board member Dan Senor, he appeared more relaxed and fluent than he had on the campaign trail. Without a fixed script (or any notes), he was able to demonstrate some impressive grasp of details while setting forth his big-picture critique of the Obama foreign policy. He gave credit to the president for his willingness to stick to a winning strategy in Iraq and for not “yanking all the troops out,” as he had promised during the campaign. But that is where his praise ended.

His overall take on the Obama approach is that the president is seeking a “dramatic and revolutionary” redesign in American foreign policy unlike what we have seen over the past 50 years, when presidents of both parties committed to “promoting, defending, and securing American values in the world”—including democracy, free trade, and human rights. Instead, Romney argued that Obama is seeking to make the U.S. into a neutral arbitrator. Going through the list of recent Obama policy decisions in Honduras, Iran, Eastern Europe, and Israel, he contends that the approach is similar: distance ourselves from our friends and move “closer to our foes.” The risk, Romney explained, is that our friends will no longer be able to count on the U.S. and will look for alliances and assistance elsewhere. He was especially biting in his criticism of Obama’s decision on missile defense, taking the administration to task for “kicking sand” in the faces of our allies in Poland and the Czech Republic. And he made particular mention of the Justice Department’s investigation of the CIA, which, he explained, risks exposing our “friends” who went out on a limb in the interrogation of terrorists and who now are the subject of that inquiry.

What’s Obama’s motivation? Well, he joked, “all politicians love love,” and there is an element of playing to international public opinion. But what is really at issue, he contends, is that Obama shares the view of certain “foreign-policy circles” that American is “in decline” and that it is his job to manage America’s decline. Romney gave his most forceful statement in rebuttal: “I do not subscribe to the view that American is in decline or has to be in decline.” Decline is not inevitable, he argued, pointing to unique American advantages of geography; an “inventive, creative, dynamic” economy; and democratic free-market capitalism that remains the desired model for people around the world.

As for Afghanistan, he made the point that Obama declared this the “good war,” spent the campaign arguing to shift resources there, put in his own military team, and now has a recommendation from General McChrystal but is now pleading for more time to make up his mind whether to follow the recommendation of his team or fulfill his own stated goals. He remarked, “This is not the time for Hamlet.”

On missile defense, Romney said he was “dumbfounded” by the president’s decision. He derided the new and improved intelligence update that suggested that Iran wasn’t really focused on long-term missile-delivery systems. He asked, “Is our intelligence really that good?” But his main critique focused on “the message to the Czechs and the Poles and to our friends worldwide that we are pulling back from our friends.” Our foes—who, he noted, are exulting in the decision—get the message that if you are “belligerent and aggressive, the administration will give you what you want.”

He also took issue with the administration plan to take defense spending down from 4 percent to 3 percent of GDP and delivered an impassioned criticism of protectionism and of Obama’s decision on tire tariffs.

In the Q and A, I asked him about the state of U.S.-Israeli relations. Romney’s response centered on Iran, indicating some agreement with Bret Stephens’s view that Obama might be pursuing an approach that forces Israel to attack in order to defend itself in the absence of resolute U.S. action. What we need instead, he argued, are “crippling sanctions,” diplomatic moves to Arab states to induce the Palestinians to “stop bugging Israel,” and a willingness to keep talking about “a military option.” He repeated that this is an option we should not be taking off the table. He also argued that we need to begin communicating to Iran and its people that it is “very dangerous” to go down the nuclear-arms path, because we will respond if such a weapon is ever used by Iranian surrogates, not only “to the entity that used it” but also to the entity that supplied it. Iran should, he emphasized, “feel the pain for pursuing a nuclear pathway.”

It was in many ways a surprising outing for Romney, demonstrating more depth and verve than many in the room could recall from the campaign. Whether that message resonates outside the room, with the larger conservative community and with elected leaders, remains to be seen. But certainly we will hear more from him in the future.

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It’s Up to the President

On the morning that General McChrystal’s recommendation wound up on the front page of the Washington Post, an impressive panel of advocates for a robust effort in Afghanistan appeared at the Foreign Policy Initiative conference in Washington D.C. Congressman Mark Kirk (who is also a commander serving in the Naval Reserve as an intelligence officer and who served in Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, and Bosnia); Zalmay Khalilzad, former ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the UN; and Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt (Ret.) each made the case for why the president should follow McChrystal’s advice and why—if we are to prevail in the global war against Islamic fundamentalists—we have no choice in the matter.

Kirk acknowledged the loss of popular support for the war effort but argued that, with Republican and some Democrat support, funding for the troops necessary to implement McChrystal’s strategy should be obtainable. Ambassador Khalilzad explained, as did each of the others, that only the president can make the case to the American people. The loss of popular support, he maintained, stems from the belief that “the path we are on cannot achieve our stated objectives.” But failure to implement a winning strategy, he contends, would be a “major victory for the Taliban and for extremists,” and the “damage to U.S. prestige and credibility” would be immense, analogous to the Soviets’ defeat in the 1990s. He argued that, to date, we have not “fought this war with full capacity,” which is what McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy offers to remedy.

Kimmitt reiterated that the debate is not really about “stuff”—that is, funding and troops. Rather, it is about whether the American people will provide the necessary political support to avoid defeat in a “war of exhaustion”—the same fate that befell the British Empire and the Soviets in Afghanistan. He emphasized that the “central voice is the only voice that matters—the president’s” and expressed concern about the president’s latest comments suggesting that we needed to “narrow the mission” and that 21,000 previously deployed troops were there just to secure the election (the first time the troops’ mission was so described).

In the question-and-answer session, all three panelists expressed concerns about the president’s willingness to use political capital, a large amount of which Kirk noted has been “burnt” on health care. Kimmitt was most blunt, declaring that there is no victory without a full counterinsurgency. And if McChrystal’s recommendation is rejected? He soberly noted that “it is always the commander’s responsibility to resign if he loses the confidence of the commander in chief,” quickly adding, “I don’t think we are going to get to that.” The ambassador made the case that “popular support that is evaporating is condition based,” and that if the president does the “right thing,” the American people will give him time to succeed. I asked the general if the fact that McChrystal’s recommendation wound up on the Post‘s front page is a sign of growing frustration with the president and what the downside is of a prolonged decision-making process. He gave a politic reply, noting that the Iraq-surge recommendation and approval took a few months and that a deliberative process, with a “firming up” of congressional support, is important. He added that we “don’t want a rush to failure.”

The bottom line: all three concur with McChrystal’s recommendation and with the view that a properly implemented counterinsurgency strategy is essential and has the potential to succeed. But to varying degrees or another, they all raised a red flag: this works only if Obama is ready to go up against the Left in his own party and defend America’s long-term strategic interests. It is not yet clear that he is.

On the morning that General McChrystal’s recommendation wound up on the front page of the Washington Post, an impressive panel of advocates for a robust effort in Afghanistan appeared at the Foreign Policy Initiative conference in Washington D.C. Congressman Mark Kirk (who is also a commander serving in the Naval Reserve as an intelligence officer and who served in Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, and Bosnia); Zalmay Khalilzad, former ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the UN; and Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt (Ret.) each made the case for why the president should follow McChrystal’s advice and why—if we are to prevail in the global war against Islamic fundamentalists—we have no choice in the matter.

Kirk acknowledged the loss of popular support for the war effort but argued that, with Republican and some Democrat support, funding for the troops necessary to implement McChrystal’s strategy should be obtainable. Ambassador Khalilzad explained, as did each of the others, that only the president can make the case to the American people. The loss of popular support, he maintained, stems from the belief that “the path we are on cannot achieve our stated objectives.” But failure to implement a winning strategy, he contends, would be a “major victory for the Taliban and for extremists,” and the “damage to U.S. prestige and credibility” would be immense, analogous to the Soviets’ defeat in the 1990s. He argued that, to date, we have not “fought this war with full capacity,” which is what McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy offers to remedy.

Kimmitt reiterated that the debate is not really about “stuff”—that is, funding and troops. Rather, it is about whether the American people will provide the necessary political support to avoid defeat in a “war of exhaustion”—the same fate that befell the British Empire and the Soviets in Afghanistan. He emphasized that the “central voice is the only voice that matters—the president’s” and expressed concern about the president’s latest comments suggesting that we needed to “narrow the mission” and that 21,000 previously deployed troops were there just to secure the election (the first time the troops’ mission was so described).

In the question-and-answer session, all three panelists expressed concerns about the president’s willingness to use political capital, a large amount of which Kirk noted has been “burnt” on health care. Kimmitt was most blunt, declaring that there is no victory without a full counterinsurgency. And if McChrystal’s recommendation is rejected? He soberly noted that “it is always the commander’s responsibility to resign if he loses the confidence of the commander in chief,” quickly adding, “I don’t think we are going to get to that.” The ambassador made the case that “popular support that is evaporating is condition based,” and that if the president does the “right thing,” the American people will give him time to succeed. I asked the general if the fact that McChrystal’s recommendation wound up on the Post‘s front page is a sign of growing frustration with the president and what the downside is of a prolonged decision-making process. He gave a politic reply, noting that the Iraq-surge recommendation and approval took a few months and that a deliberative process, with a “firming up” of congressional support, is important. He added that we “don’t want a rush to failure.”

The bottom line: all three concur with McChrystal’s recommendation and with the view that a properly implemented counterinsurgency strategy is essential and has the potential to succeed. But to varying degrees or another, they all raised a red flag: this works only if Obama is ready to go up against the Left in his own party and defend America’s long-term strategic interests. It is not yet clear that he is.

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Glenn Beck: Harmful to the Conservative Movement

Unlike others associated with Time magazine, David von Drehle is a skilled, careful, and perceptive writer. So I was interested in his cover story on FOX News’s Glenn Beck, who is considered to be a red-hot commodity these days.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on Beck. In the past I assumed he was a typical figure in the pundit and cable-media world. Only recently have I watched portions of his television program, as well as interviews with him, and heard parts of his radio program. And what I’ve seen should worry the conservative movement.

I say that because he seems to be more of a populist and libertarian than a conservative, more of a Perotista than a Reaganite. His interest in conspiracy theories is disquieting, as is his admiration for Ron Paul and his charges of American “imperialism.” (He is now talking about pulling troops out of Afghanistan, South Korea, Germany, and elsewhere.) Some of Beck’s statements—for example, that President Obama has a “deep-seated hatred for white people”–are quite unfair and not good for the country. His argument that there is very little difference between the two parties is silly, and his contempt for parties in general is anti-Burkean (Burke himself was a great champion of political parties). And then there is his sometimes bizarre behavior, from tearing up to screaming at his callers. Beck seems to be a roiling mix of fear, resentment, and anger—the antithesis of Ronald Reagan.

I understand that a political movement is a mansion with many rooms; the people who occupy them are involved in intellectual and policy work, in politics, and in polemics. Different people take on different roles. And certainly some of the things Beck has done on his program are fine and appropriate. But the role Glenn Beck is playing is harmful in its totality. My hunch is that he is a comet blazing across the media sky right now—and will soon flame out. Whether he does or not, he isn’t the face or disposition that should represent modern-day conservatism. At a time when we should aim for intellectual depth, for tough-minded and reasoned arguments, for good cheer and calm purpose, rather than erratic behavior, he is not the kind of figure conservatives should embrace or cheer on.

Unlike others associated with Time magazine, David von Drehle is a skilled, careful, and perceptive writer. So I was interested in his cover story on FOX News’s Glenn Beck, who is considered to be a red-hot commodity these days.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on Beck. In the past I assumed he was a typical figure in the pundit and cable-media world. Only recently have I watched portions of his television program, as well as interviews with him, and heard parts of his radio program. And what I’ve seen should worry the conservative movement.

I say that because he seems to be more of a populist and libertarian than a conservative, more of a Perotista than a Reaganite. His interest in conspiracy theories is disquieting, as is his admiration for Ron Paul and his charges of American “imperialism.” (He is now talking about pulling troops out of Afghanistan, South Korea, Germany, and elsewhere.) Some of Beck’s statements—for example, that President Obama has a “deep-seated hatred for white people”–are quite unfair and not good for the country. His argument that there is very little difference between the two parties is silly, and his contempt for parties in general is anti-Burkean (Burke himself was a great champion of political parties). And then there is his sometimes bizarre behavior, from tearing up to screaming at his callers. Beck seems to be a roiling mix of fear, resentment, and anger—the antithesis of Ronald Reagan.

I understand that a political movement is a mansion with many rooms; the people who occupy them are involved in intellectual and policy work, in politics, and in polemics. Different people take on different roles. And certainly some of the things Beck has done on his program are fine and appropriate. But the role Glenn Beck is playing is harmful in its totality. My hunch is that he is a comet blazing across the media sky right now—and will soon flame out. Whether he does or not, he isn’t the face or disposition that should represent modern-day conservatism. At a time when we should aim for intellectual depth, for tough-minded and reasoned arguments, for good cheer and calm purpose, rather than erratic behavior, he is not the kind of figure conservatives should embrace or cheer on.

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What Strategy? This Strategy

“What I’m not also gonna do, though, is put the resource question before the strategy question. Until I’m satisfied that we’ve got the right strategy I’m not gonna be sending some young man or woman over there—beyond what we already have.”

So President Obama told David Gregory on Meet the Press Sunday. This raises an obvious question: Did the president read the strategic review that General Stanley McChrystal submitted on August 30?

It’s been almost a month since that document was submitted, and not only has the president not acted on it, he also apparently has prevented McChrystal from submitting the resource requirements needed to carry out his recommended actions. Presumably this is why some frustrated insider leaked a copy of the McChrystal review—redacted so as to remove all classified information—to Bob Woodward.

If the president has in fact read the 66-page assessment, it is hard to see how he can claim not to be satisfied about having a strategy for success in Afghanistan. The three-stage strategy is right there on pages 2-18:

First, ISAF must re-focus its operations to gain the initiative in seriously threatened, populated areas by working directly with GIRoA [Government of Afghanistan] institutions and people in local communities to gain their support and to diminish insurgent access and influence. This stage is clearly decisive to the overall effort. It will require sufficient resources to gain the initiative and definitively check the insurgency. A failure to reverse the momentum of the insurgency will not only preclude success in Afghanistan, it will result in a loss of public and political support outside Afghanistan. …

As ISAF and ANSF capabilities grow over the next 12-24 months and the insurgency diminishes in critical areas, ISAF will begin a second stage–a strategic consolidation. As ANSF and GIRoA increasingly take the lead for security operations and as new civilian and military capacity arrives, security operations will expand to wider areas while consolidating initial gains. These efforts will increase the space in which the population feels protected and served by their government, and insulate them from a return of insurgent influence. …

When the insurgent groups no longer pose an existential threat to GIRoA, ISAF will move into a third stage of sustained security to ensure achieved gains are durable as ISAF forces begin to draw down. As ANSF demonstrate the capability to defeat remaining pockets of insurgents on their own, ISAF will transition to a train, advise, and assist role. UNAMA and the international community will have increased freedom of action to continue to help develop the Afghan state and meet the needs of the Afghan people.”

So there you have it. First, gaining the initiative, then strategic consolidation, followed by sustained security. That’s the core of the strategy that General McChrystal has come up with. And it’s a good one. He does not sugarcoat the present situation. He says bluntly: “ISAF is not adequately executing the basics of COIN [counterinsurgency] doctrine.” So his first emphasis is on doing counterinsurgency properly. But he stresses throughout that it’s impossible to do proper COIN given the paucity of resources devoted to Afghanistan, even following the troop increases of the past year. As McChrystal writes:

Proper resourcing will be critical. The campaign in Afghanistan has been historically under-resourced and remains so today–ISAF is operating in a culture of poverty.

Consequently, ISAF requires more forces. This increase partially reflects previously validated, yet un-sourced, requirements. This also stems from the new mix of capabilities essential to execute the new strategy. Some efficiency will be gained through better use of ISAF’s existing resources, eliminating redundancy, and the leveraging of ANSF growth, increases in GIRoA capacity, international community resources, and the population itself. Nonetheless, ISAF requires capabilities and resources well in excess of these efficiency gains. The greater resources will not be sufficient to achieve success, but will enable implementation of the new strategy. Conversely, inadequate resources will likely result in failure.

Keep in mind that this is the assessment of the administration’s handpicked general, who was brought in to replace a competent but uninspiring incumbent; he was judged the best man for the job. General McChrystal has done what was expected of him. He has delivered a cogent and impressive review of the situation, one that lays out his new strategy. Now he is simply waiting for the resources needed to execute that strategy. Without those resources, the “likely result,” he warns, is “failure.”

What more does the president need before he acts? As Bill Kristol has noted, it is striking that Obama is trying to turn the reform of the health-care system into a life-or-death crisis that requires immediate action, even though there is no reason to believe that our health-care system is any worse off today than it was 20 years ago; in fact, it’s probably a good deal better. Yet at the same time, the president is slow-rolling our commander in Afghanistan, who is presiding over a genuine crisis in which people, including American service personnel, are dying every day. It is right and proper for the president to insist on a good strategy before committing more troops to harm’s way. But the leak of the McChrystal assessment makes clear that such a strategy exists. The president now must show the will to execute it, notwithstanding the irresponsible opposition of so many of his fellow Democrats who have turned against a war whose initiation they wholeheartedly supported.

“What I’m not also gonna do, though, is put the resource question before the strategy question. Until I’m satisfied that we’ve got the right strategy I’m not gonna be sending some young man or woman over there—beyond what we already have.”

So President Obama told David Gregory on Meet the Press Sunday. This raises an obvious question: Did the president read the strategic review that General Stanley McChrystal submitted on August 30?

It’s been almost a month since that document was submitted, and not only has the president not acted on it, he also apparently has prevented McChrystal from submitting the resource requirements needed to carry out his recommended actions. Presumably this is why some frustrated insider leaked a copy of the McChrystal review—redacted so as to remove all classified information—to Bob Woodward.

If the president has in fact read the 66-page assessment, it is hard to see how he can claim not to be satisfied about having a strategy for success in Afghanistan. The three-stage strategy is right there on pages 2-18:

First, ISAF must re-focus its operations to gain the initiative in seriously threatened, populated areas by working directly with GIRoA [Government of Afghanistan] institutions and people in local communities to gain their support and to diminish insurgent access and influence. This stage is clearly decisive to the overall effort. It will require sufficient resources to gain the initiative and definitively check the insurgency. A failure to reverse the momentum of the insurgency will not only preclude success in Afghanistan, it will result in a loss of public and political support outside Afghanistan. …

As ISAF and ANSF capabilities grow over the next 12-24 months and the insurgency diminishes in critical areas, ISAF will begin a second stage–a strategic consolidation. As ANSF and GIRoA increasingly take the lead for security operations and as new civilian and military capacity arrives, security operations will expand to wider areas while consolidating initial gains. These efforts will increase the space in which the population feels protected and served by their government, and insulate them from a return of insurgent influence. …

When the insurgent groups no longer pose an existential threat to GIRoA, ISAF will move into a third stage of sustained security to ensure achieved gains are durable as ISAF forces begin to draw down. As ANSF demonstrate the capability to defeat remaining pockets of insurgents on their own, ISAF will transition to a train, advise, and assist role. UNAMA and the international community will have increased freedom of action to continue to help develop the Afghan state and meet the needs of the Afghan people.”

So there you have it. First, gaining the initiative, then strategic consolidation, followed by sustained security. That’s the core of the strategy that General McChrystal has come up with. And it’s a good one. He does not sugarcoat the present situation. He says bluntly: “ISAF is not adequately executing the basics of COIN [counterinsurgency] doctrine.” So his first emphasis is on doing counterinsurgency properly. But he stresses throughout that it’s impossible to do proper COIN given the paucity of resources devoted to Afghanistan, even following the troop increases of the past year. As McChrystal writes:

Proper resourcing will be critical. The campaign in Afghanistan has been historically under-resourced and remains so today–ISAF is operating in a culture of poverty.

Consequently, ISAF requires more forces. This increase partially reflects previously validated, yet un-sourced, requirements. This also stems from the new mix of capabilities essential to execute the new strategy. Some efficiency will be gained through better use of ISAF’s existing resources, eliminating redundancy, and the leveraging of ANSF growth, increases in GIRoA capacity, international community resources, and the population itself. Nonetheless, ISAF requires capabilities and resources well in excess of these efficiency gains. The greater resources will not be sufficient to achieve success, but will enable implementation of the new strategy. Conversely, inadequate resources will likely result in failure.

Keep in mind that this is the assessment of the administration’s handpicked general, who was brought in to replace a competent but uninspiring incumbent; he was judged the best man for the job. General McChrystal has done what was expected of him. He has delivered a cogent and impressive review of the situation, one that lays out his new strategy. Now he is simply waiting for the resources needed to execute that strategy. Without those resources, the “likely result,” he warns, is “failure.”

What more does the president need before he acts? As Bill Kristol has noted, it is striking that Obama is trying to turn the reform of the health-care system into a life-or-death crisis that requires immediate action, even though there is no reason to believe that our health-care system is any worse off today than it was 20 years ago; in fact, it’s probably a good deal better. Yet at the same time, the president is slow-rolling our commander in Afghanistan, who is presiding over a genuine crisis in which people, including American service personnel, are dying every day. It is right and proper for the president to insist on a good strategy before committing more troops to harm’s way. But the leak of the McChrystal assessment makes clear that such a strategy exists. The president now must show the will to execute it, notwithstanding the irresponsible opposition of so many of his fellow Democrats who have turned against a war whose initiation they wholeheartedly supported.

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Reset Button!

Russia just announced that it will not shelve its plans to deploy tactical missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave. Obama’s reset policy is beginning to work … for Russia!

Russia just announced that it will not shelve its plans to deploy tactical missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave. Obama’s reset policy is beginning to work … for Russia!

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And Next Week He Could Do Fox!

Like the speech before Congress, the Obama media blitz turned out to be more about the stunt and less about what he was saying—because he wasn’t saying much of anything. He stalled on Afghanistan. He clung to the public option. He feigned ignorance about ACORN funding. And now—after he and his minions have disparaged the opposition, sanctioned Rep. Joe Wilson, and confirmed that fiery rhetoric is only acceptable when used against George W. Bush—he’s calling for politeness and civility. No wonder Howard Kurtz concludes:

Obama made clear his frustration with the media’s coverage in the Sunday interviews. To Schieffer: “The 24-hour news cycle and cable television and blogs and all this, they focus on the most extreme elements on both sides. They can’t get enough of conflict; it’s catnip to the media right now.” To King: “The easiest way to get on CNN is, or Fox or any of the other stations, MSNBC, is to just say something rude and outrageous.” To Stephanopoulos: “If you’re just being sensible and giving people the benefit of the doubt . . . you don’t get time on the nightly news.”

That’s a bit of an overstatement—the nightly newscasts, for instance, don’t regularly feature screamers—but in this “You lie!” age, Obama has a point. It’s equally true that the president has become an eager player in this nonstop news cycle. And the more he waltzes onto every show this side of “Dancing With the Stars,” the more he risks being seen as just another programming element, his words quickly fading into the electronic ether.

So why did Obama go on TV, and to what policy position or political end? Got me. Maybe this is all about eventually claiming credit—when some type of health care passes, he can take the credit, since, after all, he went on all those shows. But I think what’s really going on is that we have a White House devoid of a single brave soul with the influence and courage to say, “Enough Mr. President. Figure out what you want and then go on TV.” This media bombardment suggests a level of narcissism that puts a premium on placing the president at the center of every snippet of coverage, as opposed to getting down to the hard work of crafting positions, negotiating deals, and even meeting with the opposition.

It may be that Obama is nostalgic for the good old days when he campaigned nonstop with a compliant press corps. Come to think of it, he’s never really stopped. At some point he may want to work on the part of the job that follows campaigning.

Like the speech before Congress, the Obama media blitz turned out to be more about the stunt and less about what he was saying—because he wasn’t saying much of anything. He stalled on Afghanistan. He clung to the public option. He feigned ignorance about ACORN funding. And now—after he and his minions have disparaged the opposition, sanctioned Rep. Joe Wilson, and confirmed that fiery rhetoric is only acceptable when used against George W. Bush—he’s calling for politeness and civility. No wonder Howard Kurtz concludes:

Obama made clear his frustration with the media’s coverage in the Sunday interviews. To Schieffer: “The 24-hour news cycle and cable television and blogs and all this, they focus on the most extreme elements on both sides. They can’t get enough of conflict; it’s catnip to the media right now.” To King: “The easiest way to get on CNN is, or Fox or any of the other stations, MSNBC, is to just say something rude and outrageous.” To Stephanopoulos: “If you’re just being sensible and giving people the benefit of the doubt . . . you don’t get time on the nightly news.”

That’s a bit of an overstatement—the nightly newscasts, for instance, don’t regularly feature screamers—but in this “You lie!” age, Obama has a point. It’s equally true that the president has become an eager player in this nonstop news cycle. And the more he waltzes onto every show this side of “Dancing With the Stars,” the more he risks being seen as just another programming element, his words quickly fading into the electronic ether.

So why did Obama go on TV, and to what policy position or political end? Got me. Maybe this is all about eventually claiming credit—when some type of health care passes, he can take the credit, since, after all, he went on all those shows. But I think what’s really going on is that we have a White House devoid of a single brave soul with the influence and courage to say, “Enough Mr. President. Figure out what you want and then go on TV.” This media bombardment suggests a level of narcissism that puts a premium on placing the president at the center of every snippet of coverage, as opposed to getting down to the hard work of crafting positions, negotiating deals, and even meeting with the opposition.

It may be that Obama is nostalgic for the good old days when he campaigned nonstop with a compliant press corps. Come to think of it, he’s never really stopped. At some point he may want to work on the part of the job that follows campaigning.

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Or They Could Try to Sound Like They Mean It

Daniel Coats, Chuck Robb, and Charles Ward pen an op-ed in the Washington Post suggesting that it really is time to get serious about Iran’s nuclear program. Really. No more dawdling after the last bout of dawdling. They caution:

We have little time left to expend on Iranian stalling tactics, if that is indeed what this overture is. As we noted in a report for the Bipartisan Policy Center last week, which was based on an in-depth study of Iran’s known enrichment capacities and uranium stockpile by a respected nuclear power expert, we believe Iran will be able to produce a nuclear weapon by 2010. Meanwhile, Israel appears ever more determined to conduct a unilateral military strike if necessary.

If diplomacy is to succeed, the United States cannot allow Iran to dictate the terms of engagement. Agreeing on a realistic strategy with our partners is at least as important as what is said around the negotiating table. As we have argued in earlier reports and on this page, successful diplomacy with Iran requires first “laying a strong strategic foundation” of alliance- and leverage-building. So long as Iran has not suspended its enrichment activities, the United States and its partners should limit negotiations to a specific time frame. If credible progress is not made in that time, we must be prepared to walk away from the negotiating table. Otherwise, Tehran will be able to drag out the talks endlessly while its centrifuges continue to spin.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Iran has already done—sent a five-page document of gibberish to the administration, declaring they will talk about everything other than the weapons program. The authors also recommend that we get going on sanctions now to increase our bargaining leverage. But there’s no sign of that from the adminstration. And even the missile-defense giveaway has not provided any hope of Russian assistance with sanctions. The authors conclude:

Should the international community fail to support sanctions even in those circumstances, there is still much that United States can do to pressure Tehran. It could conduct overt military preparations, such as sending an additional carrier battle group to the Persian Gulf or holding military exercises in the region. This should demonstrate to Tehran the costs of continued defiance and persuade European leaders that they make armed conflict more likely by refusing to adopt tougher measures.

If all else fails, in early 2010, the White House should elevate consideration of the military option. This need not involve a strike. A naval blockade would help ensure the effectiveness of proposed sanctions, such as an embargo on gasoline imports. Ultimately, though, a U.S.-led military strike is a feasible, albeit risky, option of last resort.

One would like to think that this sort of hard-headed approach is precisely what would appeal to the “realists” in the administration. ( There are such non-nonsense “realists” devoid of ideological blinders, we keep hearing.) But if it were, would Obama have agreed to an open-ended chat with Iran without an agenda or goals? Would he have announced his missile-defense switcheroo with no corresponding agreement from Russia on sanctions? It seems unlikely. Hoping that this administration will draw a line in the sand and put a military option front and center is wishful thinking in the extreme. Let’s hope the authors’ advice is heeded—but does anyone really believe it will be?

Daniel Coats, Chuck Robb, and Charles Ward pen an op-ed in the Washington Post suggesting that it really is time to get serious about Iran’s nuclear program. Really. No more dawdling after the last bout of dawdling. They caution:

We have little time left to expend on Iranian stalling tactics, if that is indeed what this overture is. As we noted in a report for the Bipartisan Policy Center last week, which was based on an in-depth study of Iran’s known enrichment capacities and uranium stockpile by a respected nuclear power expert, we believe Iran will be able to produce a nuclear weapon by 2010. Meanwhile, Israel appears ever more determined to conduct a unilateral military strike if necessary.

If diplomacy is to succeed, the United States cannot allow Iran to dictate the terms of engagement. Agreeing on a realistic strategy with our partners is at least as important as what is said around the negotiating table. As we have argued in earlier reports and on this page, successful diplomacy with Iran requires first “laying a strong strategic foundation” of alliance- and leverage-building. So long as Iran has not suspended its enrichment activities, the United States and its partners should limit negotiations to a specific time frame. If credible progress is not made in that time, we must be prepared to walk away from the negotiating table. Otherwise, Tehran will be able to drag out the talks endlessly while its centrifuges continue to spin.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Iran has already done—sent a five-page document of gibberish to the administration, declaring they will talk about everything other than the weapons program. The authors also recommend that we get going on sanctions now to increase our bargaining leverage. But there’s no sign of that from the adminstration. And even the missile-defense giveaway has not provided any hope of Russian assistance with sanctions. The authors conclude:

Should the international community fail to support sanctions even in those circumstances, there is still much that United States can do to pressure Tehran. It could conduct overt military preparations, such as sending an additional carrier battle group to the Persian Gulf or holding military exercises in the region. This should demonstrate to Tehran the costs of continued defiance and persuade European leaders that they make armed conflict more likely by refusing to adopt tougher measures.

If all else fails, in early 2010, the White House should elevate consideration of the military option. This need not involve a strike. A naval blockade would help ensure the effectiveness of proposed sanctions, such as an embargo on gasoline imports. Ultimately, though, a U.S.-led military strike is a feasible, albeit risky, option of last resort.

One would like to think that this sort of hard-headed approach is precisely what would appeal to the “realists” in the administration. ( There are such non-nonsense “realists” devoid of ideological blinders, we keep hearing.) But if it were, would Obama have agreed to an open-ended chat with Iran without an agenda or goals? Would he have announced his missile-defense switcheroo with no corresponding agreement from Russia on sanctions? It seems unlikely. Hoping that this administration will draw a line in the sand and put a military option front and center is wishful thinking in the extreme. Let’s hope the authors’ advice is heeded—but does anyone really believe it will be?

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Nowhere to Hide

President Obama took to the airwaves to bob and weave on Afghanistan. When will he make a decision? Why hasn’t he already? He won’t say and gives every indication that a massive stall is underway. He goes as far as to suggest that he’s still lacking a strategy from his military.

One problem: that explanation is apparently false. The Washington Post gets its leak:

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict “will likely result in failure,” according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says emphatically: “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”

His assessment was sent to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Aug. 30 and is now being reviewed by President Obama and his national security team.

August 30? Yup. So what’s holding up a decision? One can’t help but conclude that the president lacks the will to make the tough call in a timely fashion to start on that 12-month effort to gain back the initiative. It’s daunting to make a tough national-security call in the face of domestic opposition from your own party. But at this point it seems that it’s only domestic politics—not a lack of facts or a failure to receive a recommendation—that’s holding back the president. To the contrary, Obama is getting a clear and unequivocal message from General McChrystal: “Again and again, McChrystal makes the case that his command must be bolstered if failure is to be averted.”

And yet the president dawdles—waiting for what? Is it health care or some other agenda item that concerns him? We don’t know, but what is evident by the McChrystal recommendation ( and by the apparent need to leak its contents, stemming no doubt from frustration with the White House stall) is that there is good reason to be concerned that the president’s failure to make a prompt decision may in and of itself impair our ability to succeed. The president may not like what he’s hearing (“Toward the end of his report, McChrystal revisits his central theme: ‘Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure'”), but he owes the country a timely decision—or at least an honest explanation as to why he finds it so hard to make up his mind.

President Obama took to the airwaves to bob and weave on Afghanistan. When will he make a decision? Why hasn’t he already? He won’t say and gives every indication that a massive stall is underway. He goes as far as to suggest that he’s still lacking a strategy from his military.

One problem: that explanation is apparently false. The Washington Post gets its leak:

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict “will likely result in failure,” according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says emphatically: “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”

His assessment was sent to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Aug. 30 and is now being reviewed by President Obama and his national security team.

August 30? Yup. So what’s holding up a decision? One can’t help but conclude that the president lacks the will to make the tough call in a timely fashion to start on that 12-month effort to gain back the initiative. It’s daunting to make a tough national-security call in the face of domestic opposition from your own party. But at this point it seems that it’s only domestic politics—not a lack of facts or a failure to receive a recommendation—that’s holding back the president. To the contrary, Obama is getting a clear and unequivocal message from General McChrystal: “Again and again, McChrystal makes the case that his command must be bolstered if failure is to be averted.”

And yet the president dawdles—waiting for what? Is it health care or some other agenda item that concerns him? We don’t know, but what is evident by the McChrystal recommendation ( and by the apparent need to leak its contents, stemming no doubt from frustration with the White House stall) is that there is good reason to be concerned that the president’s failure to make a prompt decision may in and of itself impair our ability to succeed. The president may not like what he’s hearing (“Toward the end of his report, McChrystal revisits his central theme: ‘Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure'”), but he owes the country a timely decision—or at least an honest explanation as to why he finds it so hard to make up his mind.

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This Takes the Cake

The president on Sunday was asked about the letter by seven former CIA directors imploring him to annul Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to re-investigate CIA agents who used enhanced interrogation techniques:

“I appreciate the former CIA directors wanting to look after an institution that they helped to build, but I continue to believe that nobody’s above the law,” Obama told CBS’s “Face The Nation.” “I want to make sure that as President of the United States that I’m not asserting in some way that my decisions overrule the decisions of prosecutors who are there to uphold the law.”

This is jaw-dropping even for Obama. The entire reinvestigation of the CIA is a giant exercise in second-guessing the “decisions of prosecutors who are there to uphold the law.” Holder and Obama are doing precisely what Obama deplores—throwing out the decision of expert career prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia who already investigated these matters and determined that there could be no successful prosecution of the CIA operatives. And that is what the CIA directors in their letter took Obama and Holder to task for doing.

Instances like these suggest that when the going gets tough, the president’s favored modus operandi is to resort to the most disingenuous rhetoric he can get away with. He seems to operate on the presupposition that no one is paying close enough attention to the hypocrisy and half-truths. But there are plenty of people who do—the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community, our enemies, and many informed voters who cringe at the unseemly sight of a war waged against those who protected us. They all understand the political gamesmanship at work here and the lack of real concern by the president for our intelligence community.

The president on Sunday was asked about the letter by seven former CIA directors imploring him to annul Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to re-investigate CIA agents who used enhanced interrogation techniques:

“I appreciate the former CIA directors wanting to look after an institution that they helped to build, but I continue to believe that nobody’s above the law,” Obama told CBS’s “Face The Nation.” “I want to make sure that as President of the United States that I’m not asserting in some way that my decisions overrule the decisions of prosecutors who are there to uphold the law.”

This is jaw-dropping even for Obama. The entire reinvestigation of the CIA is a giant exercise in second-guessing the “decisions of prosecutors who are there to uphold the law.” Holder and Obama are doing precisely what Obama deplores—throwing out the decision of expert career prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia who already investigated these matters and determined that there could be no successful prosecution of the CIA operatives. And that is what the CIA directors in their letter took Obama and Holder to task for doing.

Instances like these suggest that when the going gets tough, the president’s favored modus operandi is to resort to the most disingenuous rhetoric he can get away with. He seems to operate on the presupposition that no one is paying close enough attention to the hypocrisy and half-truths. But there are plenty of people who do—the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community, our enemies, and many informed voters who cringe at the unseemly sight of a war waged against those who protected us. They all understand the political gamesmanship at work here and the lack of real concern by the president for our intelligence community.

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It’s All About Him

The Washington Post concedes that Obama’s “star” offensive on the international stage has largely been a failure:

European nations have refused to send significant numbers of new troops to aid the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan. Few countries have agreed to accept detainees held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Scottish officials ignored Obama’s plea to keep the Lockerbie bomber in prison, and U.S. efforts to head off a coup in Honduras were ineffective. North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons, Iran may be doing so, and Middle East leaders have rebuffed Obama’s efforts at peacemaking.

“When he came into office, there was kind of a sigh of relief around the world because he wasn’t Bush,” said Leslie H. Gelb, a former president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “What was he going to do to solve these problems? They haven’t seen that yet.”

When asked to defend their record, the members of the Obama foreign-policy team resort to mushy phrases and platitudes. “A new openness!” cries Susan Rice. And she argues that there has been all sorts of “progress on a wide array of issues” in the Middle East. Really? Like what?

In any other administration, this pabulum might be taken as spin, a cynical attempt to defend a lousy record. But you get a sinking feeling that this crowd really believes it. The American media coos over the Cairo speech, and as a consequence, it’s dubbed a “success.” Putin is delighted with Obama’s retreat on missile defense, so that’s transmuted, again, into a “success” because other nations are feeling better about Obama. (Honduras, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Israel don’t feel so warm and fuzzy, of course. But robust relations with democratic, pro-American countries are a small sacrifice to make for endearing ourselves to our foes, they reason.) They seem to place inordinate weight on press reviews and foreign popular-opinion polling, while placing virtually no weight on what other countries are actually doing.

There seems to be a troubling divergence between Obama’s personality offensive and the development of an effective foreign policy that defends American interests. John Bolton observes that at the UN this week, “the greeting will be rapturous” for the new U.S. president. “It’s a triumph for Obama personally, but I have yet to see his personal popularity translate into concrete steps forward.” Obama may genuinely believe that his international rock-star status can help further American interests. But he never quite gets to the part about translating that personal stardom into positions or proposals that would, in fact, push back on our adversaries and enhance American prestige and security.

The proof will come when his “charm” offensive runs its course. If Putin comes out supporting sanctions on Iran, Obama’s strategy will be lauded as nothing short of brilliant. If the Palestinians concede that rejectionism has gotten them nowhere and it’s time to recognize the Jewish state, the despicable Cairo speech will be forgotten. But if we get nothing for all of Obama’s gestures, or if our adversaries perceive that the president is not resolute about—or even that interested in—defending American interests, we are headed for a rocky time. We’ve seen in the Carter years, after all, just how dangerous and unstable the world can become with an American president perceived as weak and ineffectual.

The Washington Post concedes that Obama’s “star” offensive on the international stage has largely been a failure:

European nations have refused to send significant numbers of new troops to aid the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan. Few countries have agreed to accept detainees held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Scottish officials ignored Obama’s plea to keep the Lockerbie bomber in prison, and U.S. efforts to head off a coup in Honduras were ineffective. North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons, Iran may be doing so, and Middle East leaders have rebuffed Obama’s efforts at peacemaking.

“When he came into office, there was kind of a sigh of relief around the world because he wasn’t Bush,” said Leslie H. Gelb, a former president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “What was he going to do to solve these problems? They haven’t seen that yet.”

When asked to defend their record, the members of the Obama foreign-policy team resort to mushy phrases and platitudes. “A new openness!” cries Susan Rice. And she argues that there has been all sorts of “progress on a wide array of issues” in the Middle East. Really? Like what?

In any other administration, this pabulum might be taken as spin, a cynical attempt to defend a lousy record. But you get a sinking feeling that this crowd really believes it. The American media coos over the Cairo speech, and as a consequence, it’s dubbed a “success.” Putin is delighted with Obama’s retreat on missile defense, so that’s transmuted, again, into a “success” because other nations are feeling better about Obama. (Honduras, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Israel don’t feel so warm and fuzzy, of course. But robust relations with democratic, pro-American countries are a small sacrifice to make for endearing ourselves to our foes, they reason.) They seem to place inordinate weight on press reviews and foreign popular-opinion polling, while placing virtually no weight on what other countries are actually doing.

There seems to be a troubling divergence between Obama’s personality offensive and the development of an effective foreign policy that defends American interests. John Bolton observes that at the UN this week, “the greeting will be rapturous” for the new U.S. president. “It’s a triumph for Obama personally, but I have yet to see his personal popularity translate into concrete steps forward.” Obama may genuinely believe that his international rock-star status can help further American interests. But he never quite gets to the part about translating that personal stardom into positions or proposals that would, in fact, push back on our adversaries and enhance American prestige and security.

The proof will come when his “charm” offensive runs its course. If Putin comes out supporting sanctions on Iran, Obama’s strategy will be lauded as nothing short of brilliant. If the Palestinians concede that rejectionism has gotten them nowhere and it’s time to recognize the Jewish state, the despicable Cairo speech will be forgotten. But if we get nothing for all of Obama’s gestures, or if our adversaries perceive that the president is not resolute about—or even that interested in—defending American interests, we are headed for a rocky time. We’ve seen in the Carter years, after all, just how dangerous and unstable the world can become with an American president perceived as weak and ineffectual.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Democratic lawmakers still can’t figure out what Obama wants on health-care reform. It seems the big speech didn’t clear that up.

Brit Hume on the Obama media blitz: “I think that this presidency has proceeded from a kind of assumption that Barack Obama’s personal wonderfulness would be a major part of his success diplomatically and politically. … He turns out, I think, in the end to be an exceptionally appealing and charming man, enormously likable, but oddly not persuasive. All of the speeches he’s given, including the one to the joint session, which is a—you know, a tremendous platform, have not in the end moved the needle on the policies that he’s trying to put across effectively. So he risks overexposure and I think, in addition to that, this isn’t working.”

And sure enough, opposition to ObamaCare is reaching new highs.

It’s hard to see how anyone can take the president seriously as long as he’s hawking the public option. But plainly, all the “un-American” talk must be polling very poorly if the president is now conceding that even his opponents are “patriots.”

Obama argues—at length—that slapping a mandate to buy insurance with a $3,000-plus penalty isn’t a tax. Even George Stephanopoulos can’t believe what he’s hearing.

Obama, with his years of military service, decades-long foreign-policy experience, and spotless record in opposing the surge in Iraq, is “skeptical” of the military’s troop recommendations on Afghanistan. Oh wait. Hmm. Once again, it seems that resoluteness and willingness to spend what it takes to defeat America’s enemies don’t come easily to the president.

Obama backer and sometime campaign adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski suggests that Obama shoot down Israeli planes trying to take out Iranian nuclear facilities should they enter U.S.-controlled airspace over Iraq. I’m sure J Street will applaud. But what’s really scary is that Brzezinski is one of the Democrats’ leading foreign-policy gurus.

The Washington Post‘s ombudsman admits that the liberal media misses a bunch of conservative stories, quite possibly because not very many conservatives work for them. Seems like sort of a big deal. One wonders why they don’t do something about it, given the perpetual embarrassment of being left in the dust by outlets that actually report on conservatives.

Obama pleads cluelessness on ACORN funding. Doesn’t he read the news? But then the New York Times never told him. Perhaps the mainstream-media bubble isn’t an unalloyed benefit to Obama.

In contrast with the Post‘s campaigning for Deeds, other media outlets in Virginia are hammering the gubernatorial candidate. This is typical: “Deeds has put forward absolutely no concrete set of proposals on any of the critical issues in this race, not transportation, not education, not economic development … not a one. Instead, he’s hinted that his transportation plan might include a higher gas tax, given the same old Democratic spiel for what’s wrong with public education (hint, it involves teacher salaries) and hemmed and hawed about his plans for economic development. His strategy, it appears, is to meet with every Democratic constituency group, shore up his support there and count on the aura from Barack Obama’s victory in the state last year to propel him into the Executive Mansion.”

Mary Anastasia O’Grady explains the extent of Hillary Clinton’s Honduras obsession: “‘Available sources indicate that the judicial and legislative branches applied constitutional and statutory law in the case against President Zelaya in a manner that was judged by the Honduran authorities from both branches of the government to be in accordance with the Honduran legal system,’ writes [Congressional Research Service] senior foreign law specialist Norma C. Gutierrez in her report. Do the facts matter? Fat chance. The administration is standing by its ‘coup’ charge and 10 days ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went so far as to sanction the country’s independent judiciary. The U.S. won’t say why, but it';s clear the court’s sin is rejecting a U.S.-backed proposal to restore Mr. Zelaya to power.”

Democratic lawmakers still can’t figure out what Obama wants on health-care reform. It seems the big speech didn’t clear that up.

Brit Hume on the Obama media blitz: “I think that this presidency has proceeded from a kind of assumption that Barack Obama’s personal wonderfulness would be a major part of his success diplomatically and politically. … He turns out, I think, in the end to be an exceptionally appealing and charming man, enormously likable, but oddly not persuasive. All of the speeches he’s given, including the one to the joint session, which is a—you know, a tremendous platform, have not in the end moved the needle on the policies that he’s trying to put across effectively. So he risks overexposure and I think, in addition to that, this isn’t working.”

And sure enough, opposition to ObamaCare is reaching new highs.

It’s hard to see how anyone can take the president seriously as long as he’s hawking the public option. But plainly, all the “un-American” talk must be polling very poorly if the president is now conceding that even his opponents are “patriots.”

Obama argues—at length—that slapping a mandate to buy insurance with a $3,000-plus penalty isn’t a tax. Even George Stephanopoulos can’t believe what he’s hearing.

Obama, with his years of military service, decades-long foreign-policy experience, and spotless record in opposing the surge in Iraq, is “skeptical” of the military’s troop recommendations on Afghanistan. Oh wait. Hmm. Once again, it seems that resoluteness and willingness to spend what it takes to defeat America’s enemies don’t come easily to the president.

Obama backer and sometime campaign adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski suggests that Obama shoot down Israeli planes trying to take out Iranian nuclear facilities should they enter U.S.-controlled airspace over Iraq. I’m sure J Street will applaud. But what’s really scary is that Brzezinski is one of the Democrats’ leading foreign-policy gurus.

The Washington Post‘s ombudsman admits that the liberal media misses a bunch of conservative stories, quite possibly because not very many conservatives work for them. Seems like sort of a big deal. One wonders why they don’t do something about it, given the perpetual embarrassment of being left in the dust by outlets that actually report on conservatives.

Obama pleads cluelessness on ACORN funding. Doesn’t he read the news? But then the New York Times never told him. Perhaps the mainstream-media bubble isn’t an unalloyed benefit to Obama.

In contrast with the Post‘s campaigning for Deeds, other media outlets in Virginia are hammering the gubernatorial candidate. This is typical: “Deeds has put forward absolutely no concrete set of proposals on any of the critical issues in this race, not transportation, not education, not economic development … not a one. Instead, he’s hinted that his transportation plan might include a higher gas tax, given the same old Democratic spiel for what’s wrong with public education (hint, it involves teacher salaries) and hemmed and hawed about his plans for economic development. His strategy, it appears, is to meet with every Democratic constituency group, shore up his support there and count on the aura from Barack Obama’s victory in the state last year to propel him into the Executive Mansion.”

Mary Anastasia O’Grady explains the extent of Hillary Clinton’s Honduras obsession: “‘Available sources indicate that the judicial and legislative branches applied constitutional and statutory law in the case against President Zelaya in a manner that was judged by the Honduran authorities from both branches of the government to be in accordance with the Honduran legal system,’ writes [Congressional Research Service] senior foreign law specialist Norma C. Gutierrez in her report. Do the facts matter? Fat chance. The administration is standing by its ‘coup’ charge and 10 days ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went so far as to sanction the country’s independent judiciary. The U.S. won’t say why, but it';s clear the court’s sin is rejecting a U.S.-backed proposal to restore Mr. Zelaya to power.”

Read Less




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