Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 25, 2009

A Response to Damon Linker

Damon Linker has taken to the pages of the New Republic to express his opinion of Sam Tanenhaus’s “wonderful little book,” The Death of Conservatism. In the process, Linker decides to dismiss critics of Tanenhaus by referring to some pieces I have written on Tanenhaus. Linker puts it this way:

Take Peter Wehner’s representative remarks about the [Tanenhaus] book, published on Contentions, Commentary’s group blog. A former assistant to Karl Rove in the Bush White House, Wehner is a master of deploying the rhetorical trick that contemporary conservatives use to convince themselves that they’re always right. At bottom, it amounts to a high-minded version of the old Pee-Wee Herman taunt, “I know you are, but what am I?” There are countless examples. A handful of liberals stupidly describe conservatives as fascists, so Jonah Goldberg responds by writing several hundred pages about the threat of liberal fascism. (Get it?) Liberal Jews frequently congratulate themselves for their secularism, so Norman Podhoretz produces a book in which he claims that Jews treat liberalism as a religion. (Clever!) And Sam Tanenhaus defends a moderate version of conservatism against the ideological thinking that dominates the right and Wehner responds by saying that “Tanenhaus is precisely what he condemns in his book-an ideologue, a man of dogmatic fixity, a person of knee-jerk liberal reflexes.” Oh, what a wily man you are, Peter Wehner, turning the tables on him like that and relieving yourself of the burden of self-examination. That was a close one! (Liberals, meanwhile, will be quite understandably perplexed by Wehner’s suggestion that a man who generously praises Nixon’s pre-Watergate domestic and foreign policy, as Tanenhaus does, is actually a liberal “through and through.”)

None of which is meant to suggest that Tanenhaus’s book is without problems. Far from it. But it’s very much worth reading and pondering, and for precisely the reason that the ideological right wants to dismiss it. By taking conservatism seriously while also passing severe judgment on its contemporary manifestation, the book helps us to raise our sights from the ideological battles of the present moment to achieve the critical distance that makes dispassionate understanding possible. Terrified that self-criticism will weaken its will to combat an ever-lengthening list of enemies, the right now views critical distance as a danger to be avoided at all costs. The rest of us, thankfully, need accept no such practical restrictions on our thinking.

There are several things to say in response, perhaps beginning with this observation: I actually recall a time when the New Republic published serious pieces about books that didn’t rely on the wisdom of, or taunts by, Pee-Wee Herman.

As for “relieving [myself] of the burden of self-examination,” I’m actually quite happy to engage in self-examination when it comes to the Bush Administration in which I worked; conservatism and the modern Republican party; and celebrated media figures who are trying to link themselves with conservatism. I’m not against self-examination when it comes to conservatism. What I’m against are shallow and tendentious critiques of conservatism.

As for Linker’s point that Tanenhaus cannot be a liberal because he praised Nixon’s pre-Watergate domestic and foreign policy: many of Nixon’s domestic and foreign-policy achievements were (as Tanenhaus himself concedes) fairly liberal—including wage-and-price controls, affirmative action, an embrace of Keynesian economics, the creation of many new government agencies, and more. So for a liberal to praise Richard Nixon, especially when the true purpose of the praise is to criticize modern-day conservatives, means very little. Even Ronald Reagan is praised by some liberals today, and for the same reason. We’re now told how he was the embodiment of “moderation” and “pragmatism” and always eager to “compromise”—qualities that liberals were strangely blind to when Reagan was actually president and he was a hated figure by the Left. It is similar to how liberals reacted in the Cold War: they were ferocious critics of conservative policies at the time; now that those policies have been vindicated, they would have you believe we were all Cold Warriors.

As a general proposition, a book about conservatism that is endorsed by Chris Matthews, Jeffrey Toobin, Jane Mayer, and Leon Wieseltier is a book whose author is liberal. Tanenhaus is, and he (and Linker) should not pretend otherwise. Being a liberal is a mistake, but it’s not a crime.

Mr. Tanenhaus’s history of conservatism, as laid out in his book, is at points tolerable. What is tiresome is for him to pretend that he genuinely cares about conservatism and its future; that he has appointed himself the arbiter of what authentic conservatism is and is not; and that he wants to convince us that he fears conservatives, if they do not follow the Writ of Tanenhaus, will “spin futilely on their lonely unlit orbit” and continue to offer nothing more than “nihilism.” Sam Tanenhaus is for one kind of conservatism—the kind that will ratify the gains of liberalism.

As for Mr. Linker: he was once “in the center of the theoconservative world,” as his own book jacket describes him, before he turned hard against it. In the memorable words of Thomas More: “Listen, Roper. Two years ago you were a passionate Churchman; now you’re a passionate — Lutheran. We must just pray that when your head’s finished turning, your face is to the front again.”

We can hope–and, in the best theocratic tradition, we can pray–the same thing for Damon Linker.

Damon Linker has taken to the pages of the New Republic to express his opinion of Sam Tanenhaus’s “wonderful little book,” The Death of Conservatism. In the process, Linker decides to dismiss critics of Tanenhaus by referring to some pieces I have written on Tanenhaus. Linker puts it this way:

Take Peter Wehner’s representative remarks about the [Tanenhaus] book, published on Contentions, Commentary’s group blog. A former assistant to Karl Rove in the Bush White House, Wehner is a master of deploying the rhetorical trick that contemporary conservatives use to convince themselves that they’re always right. At bottom, it amounts to a high-minded version of the old Pee-Wee Herman taunt, “I know you are, but what am I?” There are countless examples. A handful of liberals stupidly describe conservatives as fascists, so Jonah Goldberg responds by writing several hundred pages about the threat of liberal fascism. (Get it?) Liberal Jews frequently congratulate themselves for their secularism, so Norman Podhoretz produces a book in which he claims that Jews treat liberalism as a religion. (Clever!) And Sam Tanenhaus defends a moderate version of conservatism against the ideological thinking that dominates the right and Wehner responds by saying that “Tanenhaus is precisely what he condemns in his book-an ideologue, a man of dogmatic fixity, a person of knee-jerk liberal reflexes.” Oh, what a wily man you are, Peter Wehner, turning the tables on him like that and relieving yourself of the burden of self-examination. That was a close one! (Liberals, meanwhile, will be quite understandably perplexed by Wehner’s suggestion that a man who generously praises Nixon’s pre-Watergate domestic and foreign policy, as Tanenhaus does, is actually a liberal “through and through.”)

None of which is meant to suggest that Tanenhaus’s book is without problems. Far from it. But it’s very much worth reading and pondering, and for precisely the reason that the ideological right wants to dismiss it. By taking conservatism seriously while also passing severe judgment on its contemporary manifestation, the book helps us to raise our sights from the ideological battles of the present moment to achieve the critical distance that makes dispassionate understanding possible. Terrified that self-criticism will weaken its will to combat an ever-lengthening list of enemies, the right now views critical distance as a danger to be avoided at all costs. The rest of us, thankfully, need accept no such practical restrictions on our thinking.

There are several things to say in response, perhaps beginning with this observation: I actually recall a time when the New Republic published serious pieces about books that didn’t rely on the wisdom of, or taunts by, Pee-Wee Herman.

As for “relieving [myself] of the burden of self-examination,” I’m actually quite happy to engage in self-examination when it comes to the Bush Administration in which I worked; conservatism and the modern Republican party; and celebrated media figures who are trying to link themselves with conservatism. I’m not against self-examination when it comes to conservatism. What I’m against are shallow and tendentious critiques of conservatism.

As for Linker’s point that Tanenhaus cannot be a liberal because he praised Nixon’s pre-Watergate domestic and foreign policy: many of Nixon’s domestic and foreign-policy achievements were (as Tanenhaus himself concedes) fairly liberal—including wage-and-price controls, affirmative action, an embrace of Keynesian economics, the creation of many new government agencies, and more. So for a liberal to praise Richard Nixon, especially when the true purpose of the praise is to criticize modern-day conservatives, means very little. Even Ronald Reagan is praised by some liberals today, and for the same reason. We’re now told how he was the embodiment of “moderation” and “pragmatism” and always eager to “compromise”—qualities that liberals were strangely blind to when Reagan was actually president and he was a hated figure by the Left. It is similar to how liberals reacted in the Cold War: they were ferocious critics of conservative policies at the time; now that those policies have been vindicated, they would have you believe we were all Cold Warriors.

As a general proposition, a book about conservatism that is endorsed by Chris Matthews, Jeffrey Toobin, Jane Mayer, and Leon Wieseltier is a book whose author is liberal. Tanenhaus is, and he (and Linker) should not pretend otherwise. Being a liberal is a mistake, but it’s not a crime.

Mr. Tanenhaus’s history of conservatism, as laid out in his book, is at points tolerable. What is tiresome is for him to pretend that he genuinely cares about conservatism and its future; that he has appointed himself the arbiter of what authentic conservatism is and is not; and that he wants to convince us that he fears conservatives, if they do not follow the Writ of Tanenhaus, will “spin futilely on their lonely unlit orbit” and continue to offer nothing more than “nihilism.” Sam Tanenhaus is for one kind of conservatism—the kind that will ratify the gains of liberalism.

As for Mr. Linker: he was once “in the center of the theoconservative world,” as his own book jacket describes him, before he turned hard against it. In the memorable words of Thomas More: “Listen, Roper. Two years ago you were a passionate Churchman; now you’re a passionate — Lutheran. We must just pray that when your head’s finished turning, your face is to the front again.”

We can hope–and, in the best theocratic tradition, we can pray–the same thing for Damon Linker.

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Re: Are The Iranians Worried About That Deadline?

Jonathan, the gap is growing between where the president is–still talking about talking, still concocting deadlines to replace those that have been blown, and without even the hint of embarrassment that just days ago he went to the UN to soft-pedal the danger from Iran–and where the public and Congress may be heading. Sens. Lieberman, Kyl and Bayh have released a statement calling for crippling sanctions. For good measure, they add, “President Obama must also reaffirm that–should diplomacy fail–all options remain on the table.”

What’s Obama to do now–veto such a measure because it would interfere with his open-ended, farcical negotiations? It is painfully obvious that Obama is playing catch-up. The Iranian disclosure forced him to toughen his rhetoric. But what will force him to stiffen his spine–to demand Russia give something for that missile defense give-away, to urge gasoline sanctions be promptly passed, and to deliver in no uncertain terms the message that the U.S. will take the lead in pursuing a military option if that is what is needed? Nothing, I suspect. That’s just not what Obama is all about. After all, he told us just Wednesday that we all want peace.

Jonathan, the gap is growing between where the president is–still talking about talking, still concocting deadlines to replace those that have been blown, and without even the hint of embarrassment that just days ago he went to the UN to soft-pedal the danger from Iran–and where the public and Congress may be heading. Sens. Lieberman, Kyl and Bayh have released a statement calling for crippling sanctions. For good measure, they add, “President Obama must also reaffirm that–should diplomacy fail–all options remain on the table.”

What’s Obama to do now–veto such a measure because it would interfere with his open-ended, farcical negotiations? It is painfully obvious that Obama is playing catch-up. The Iranian disclosure forced him to toughen his rhetoric. But what will force him to stiffen his spine–to demand Russia give something for that missile defense give-away, to urge gasoline sanctions be promptly passed, and to deliver in no uncertain terms the message that the U.S. will take the lead in pursuing a military option if that is what is needed? Nothing, I suspect. That’s just not what Obama is all about. After all, he told us just Wednesday that we all want peace.

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Are the Iranians Worried About That New Deadline?

Along with the leaders of Britain and France, President Obama was forced today to take time out of the G-8 Summit to react to the announcement that Iran has been building a secret underground plant to manufacture nuclear fuel. What followed was the announcement that Iran had a deadline of two months to comply with international demands to halt its nuclear program or it would face sanctions. This makes it sound as if real pressure is about to be ratcheted up on Tehran. Supposedly, this means that unless the Iranians allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct an immediate inspection of the facility, the West will press for new, tougher sanctions on Iran. Obama hopes that his recent appeasement of Russia by breaking faith with Poland and the Czech Republic on missile defense will mean that the Putin/Medvedev regime will finally play along on sanctions and drag the Chinese with them.

It’s a nice theory, but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, fresh off another vile Holocaust-denying speech at the United Nations, may not exactly be shaking in his boots about the prospect of Western resolve. Years of feckless Western diplomacy (outsourced by the Bush administration to France and Germany) did nothing but convince the Iranians that no one outside of Israel was serious about stopping them. And after months of outreach from the Obama administration, including an astonishingly weak response to their brazen theft of a presidential election and brutal crackdown on dissidents, it’s not clear that the threat of sanctions is one the Iranians take seriously.

As for what would happen after the two months if the deadline is not adhered to, Tehran understands all too well that the negotiations between the United States, its Western allies, and Iran’s erstwhile friends in Moscow and Beijing would be long, tedious, and likely to produce something short of the draconian measures necessary to produce significant leverage.

Just as important is that the two-month deadline, though seemingly indicative of some spine on behalf of the West, is hardly the sort of ultimatum likely to spur panic among the leaders of the Islamist regime. It is, in fact, not the first multi-month deadline Iran has recently received. When U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was in Israel over the summer, he attempted to placate his anxious hosts by saying that America had given Tehran only until the United Nations General Assembly to respond to Obama’s overtures before the clock would start on stronger sanctions. So, far from being the harbinger of a new era of resolve on the issue, the new two-month deadline is in effect an extension on the previous demand placed on Iran. This must lead Ahmadinejad to reason that no matter what his government does or doesn’t do between now and the end of November, it may be a reasonable bet that this date will be merely the beginning of a new period during which Washington will say diplomacy must be given just one more chance.

We may hope that Obama’s rhetoric today is the beginning of a new era of American seriousness about the threat from Iranian nukes. But when seen in the context of what has recently preceded it, and the clear preference on the part of the president and our allies for “engagement” rather than action on the issue, optimism in Tehran about their chances of further successful defiance of international opinion may well be justified.

Along with the leaders of Britain and France, President Obama was forced today to take time out of the G-8 Summit to react to the announcement that Iran has been building a secret underground plant to manufacture nuclear fuel. What followed was the announcement that Iran had a deadline of two months to comply with international demands to halt its nuclear program or it would face sanctions. This makes it sound as if real pressure is about to be ratcheted up on Tehran. Supposedly, this means that unless the Iranians allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct an immediate inspection of the facility, the West will press for new, tougher sanctions on Iran. Obama hopes that his recent appeasement of Russia by breaking faith with Poland and the Czech Republic on missile defense will mean that the Putin/Medvedev regime will finally play along on sanctions and drag the Chinese with them.

It’s a nice theory, but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, fresh off another vile Holocaust-denying speech at the United Nations, may not exactly be shaking in his boots about the prospect of Western resolve. Years of feckless Western diplomacy (outsourced by the Bush administration to France and Germany) did nothing but convince the Iranians that no one outside of Israel was serious about stopping them. And after months of outreach from the Obama administration, including an astonishingly weak response to their brazen theft of a presidential election and brutal crackdown on dissidents, it’s not clear that the threat of sanctions is one the Iranians take seriously.

As for what would happen after the two months if the deadline is not adhered to, Tehran understands all too well that the negotiations between the United States, its Western allies, and Iran’s erstwhile friends in Moscow and Beijing would be long, tedious, and likely to produce something short of the draconian measures necessary to produce significant leverage.

Just as important is that the two-month deadline, though seemingly indicative of some spine on behalf of the West, is hardly the sort of ultimatum likely to spur panic among the leaders of the Islamist regime. It is, in fact, not the first multi-month deadline Iran has recently received. When U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was in Israel over the summer, he attempted to placate his anxious hosts by saying that America had given Tehran only until the United Nations General Assembly to respond to Obama’s overtures before the clock would start on stronger sanctions. So, far from being the harbinger of a new era of resolve on the issue, the new two-month deadline is in effect an extension on the previous demand placed on Iran. This must lead Ahmadinejad to reason that no matter what his government does or doesn’t do between now and the end of November, it may be a reasonable bet that this date will be merely the beginning of a new period during which Washington will say diplomacy must be given just one more chance.

We may hope that Obama’s rhetoric today is the beginning of a new era of American seriousness about the threat from Iranian nukes. But when seen in the context of what has recently preceded it, and the clear preference on the part of the president and our allies for “engagement” rather than action on the issue, optimism in Tehran about their chances of further successful defiance of international opinion may well be justified.

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The Unbearable Obsolescence of 2007

That is the year the U.S. intelligence community seems to still be living in. With the revelation today that Iran is building a second, undeclared uranium-enrichment facility at Qom, this glinting emerald emerges from the “Intelligence Community Q&A talking points”:

Does the IC still judge that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program?

  • Yes, we still assess that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. We obtain new information all the time and are constantly reassessing Iran’s nuclear program.

Perhaps the IC does still hold to this assessment. But its silence on why began long ago to appear inexplicable, and increasingly acquires—at best—the aspect of adherence to a counterproductive analytical neutrality. Posing the “question” as the talking-points sheet does, without any inconvenient allusion to other factors, comes off as unforgivably coy. We are way past asking questions without allusions now, after nearly three years of cumulative revelations: about Iran’s persistent mendacity and lack of cooperation with the IAEA; about Western intelligence on Iran’s efforts to build warheads and fit them to missiles; about a German court and a New York prosecutor deeming Iran’s Western collaborators indictable under national nonproliferation laws; and about foreign analysts concluding that Iran had performed enough research and development by 2003 to be able to weaponize a nuclear warhead, as soon as adequate fissile material was available.

What the U.S. intelligence community (USIC) needs to answer is why, with all these factors available for consideration, it persists in stating its 2007 conclusion in its obviously outdated terms. Maybe Iran has not resumed specific, detectable forms of R&D, or resumed suspicious purchases from the West, since 2003. After all, the Western intelligence cited in the secret IAEA assessment unearthed by AP this month, and the evidence in the criminal prosecutions in Germany and New York, both involved information from 2003 and earlier.

But this narrow view ignores too much to be analytically or morally integral. Iran, as demonstrated dramatically today, has been pursuing uranium enhancement secretively. It is no accident that the newly revealed site is near Qom, or that it is located on a military facility. Qom’s hinterland has for some years been a missile R&D and testing site and occupies the southwest point of a triangular area south of Tehran in which a number of missile-related facilities are concentrated. The longer-range, developmental Sajjil missile program has been associated with Semnan, further east, while Qom has hosted the testing of Iran’s existing shorter-range missiles. Given the Obama administration’s recent argument that it is the shorter-range missiles we should be more immediately concerned about—the argument used to justify scrapping the missile-defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic—Qom assumes a timely significance.

These features of Iran’s nuclear activities can be stonewalled, but it is hard to spin them as irrelevant or meaningless. Perhaps that is why the USIC simply avoids addressing them. This is painfully bad intelligence, however. At best, it makes the USIC look unaccountably obtuse. Its more sinister implication—that intelligence is being finagled to make a national policy of verbose passivity look good—could end even worse for the USIC.

That is the year the U.S. intelligence community seems to still be living in. With the revelation today that Iran is building a second, undeclared uranium-enrichment facility at Qom, this glinting emerald emerges from the “Intelligence Community Q&A talking points”:

Does the IC still judge that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program?

  • Yes, we still assess that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. We obtain new information all the time and are constantly reassessing Iran’s nuclear program.

Perhaps the IC does still hold to this assessment. But its silence on why began long ago to appear inexplicable, and increasingly acquires—at best—the aspect of adherence to a counterproductive analytical neutrality. Posing the “question” as the talking-points sheet does, without any inconvenient allusion to other factors, comes off as unforgivably coy. We are way past asking questions without allusions now, after nearly three years of cumulative revelations: about Iran’s persistent mendacity and lack of cooperation with the IAEA; about Western intelligence on Iran’s efforts to build warheads and fit them to missiles; about a German court and a New York prosecutor deeming Iran’s Western collaborators indictable under national nonproliferation laws; and about foreign analysts concluding that Iran had performed enough research and development by 2003 to be able to weaponize a nuclear warhead, as soon as adequate fissile material was available.

What the U.S. intelligence community (USIC) needs to answer is why, with all these factors available for consideration, it persists in stating its 2007 conclusion in its obviously outdated terms. Maybe Iran has not resumed specific, detectable forms of R&D, or resumed suspicious purchases from the West, since 2003. After all, the Western intelligence cited in the secret IAEA assessment unearthed by AP this month, and the evidence in the criminal prosecutions in Germany and New York, both involved information from 2003 and earlier.

But this narrow view ignores too much to be analytically or morally integral. Iran, as demonstrated dramatically today, has been pursuing uranium enhancement secretively. It is no accident that the newly revealed site is near Qom, or that it is located on a military facility. Qom’s hinterland has for some years been a missile R&D and testing site and occupies the southwest point of a triangular area south of Tehran in which a number of missile-related facilities are concentrated. The longer-range, developmental Sajjil missile program has been associated with Semnan, further east, while Qom has hosted the testing of Iran’s existing shorter-range missiles. Given the Obama administration’s recent argument that it is the shorter-range missiles we should be more immediately concerned about—the argument used to justify scrapping the missile-defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic—Qom assumes a timely significance.

These features of Iran’s nuclear activities can be stonewalled, but it is hard to spin them as irrelevant or meaningless. Perhaps that is why the USIC simply avoids addressing them. This is painfully bad intelligence, however. At best, it makes the USIC look unaccountably obtuse. Its more sinister implication—that intelligence is being finagled to make a national policy of verbose passivity look good—could end even worse for the USIC.

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Qaddafi at the Council on Foreign Relations

I attended the Council on Foreign Relations meeting yesterday where Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi spoke, and I hardly recognized him from this account in the New York Times. The Times reporter made the “Guide of the Revolution” sound downright reasonable:

… the low-key, almost contemplative Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi who turned up at the Council on Foreign Relations on Thursday had nothing to do with the flamboyant, discursive provocateur who riveted, offended and finally exhausted the United Nations General Assembly a day earlier.

For an hour, Colonel Qaddafi offered polite answers to polite questions from an audience of New York financiers, business people, academics and a few journalists, in a conversation that ranged from the roots of Islamic terrorism to Libya’s desire for better relations with the West.

The Washington Post‘s Keith Richburg better caught the nutty flavor of some of Qaddafi’s pronouncements:

He only once appeared defensive, when asked why — if Libya did not support terrorism in the past — did he agree to accept responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and pay compensation to the families of the victims. “Libya was never indicted as the culprit or the one responsible,” Gaddafi said. “We never acknowledged any guilt.” He said Libya accepted that one of its citizens was involved, but “that does not mean the state is responsible for those actions.”

When Minky Worden, the media director of Human Rights Watch, asked Gaddafi for an update on planned reforms to Libya’s penal code and constitution, he chastised her for not understanding the system in his country, where, he said, there is no government, but rather all decisions are made by the people through “people’s congresses.”

“You may not believe that,” Gaddafi said, like a teacher lecturing a skeptical pupil. “You may not have read the Green Book and the philosophy behind the Third Way theory. . . . We have annulled the government once and forever.”

I think I’m going to borrow Qaddafi’s line. Whenever I am asked a tough question in the future, I will tell the questioner to go back and read the Green Book.

I attended the Council on Foreign Relations meeting yesterday where Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi spoke, and I hardly recognized him from this account in the New York Times. The Times reporter made the “Guide of the Revolution” sound downright reasonable:

… the low-key, almost contemplative Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi who turned up at the Council on Foreign Relations on Thursday had nothing to do with the flamboyant, discursive provocateur who riveted, offended and finally exhausted the United Nations General Assembly a day earlier.

For an hour, Colonel Qaddafi offered polite answers to polite questions from an audience of New York financiers, business people, academics and a few journalists, in a conversation that ranged from the roots of Islamic terrorism to Libya’s desire for better relations with the West.

The Washington Post‘s Keith Richburg better caught the nutty flavor of some of Qaddafi’s pronouncements:

He only once appeared defensive, when asked why — if Libya did not support terrorism in the past — did he agree to accept responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and pay compensation to the families of the victims. “Libya was never indicted as the culprit or the one responsible,” Gaddafi said. “We never acknowledged any guilt.” He said Libya accepted that one of its citizens was involved, but “that does not mean the state is responsible for those actions.”

When Minky Worden, the media director of Human Rights Watch, asked Gaddafi for an update on planned reforms to Libya’s penal code and constitution, he chastised her for not understanding the system in his country, where, he said, there is no government, but rather all decisions are made by the people through “people’s congresses.”

“You may not believe that,” Gaddafi said, like a teacher lecturing a skeptical pupil. “You may not have read the Green Book and the philosophy behind the Third Way theory. . . . We have annulled the government once and forever.”

I think I’m going to borrow Qaddafi’s line. Whenever I am asked a tough question in the future, I will tell the questioner to go back and read the Green Book.

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Time for a Do-Over

I asked Jamie Fly, executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, about today’s revelations. What’s the significance of the newly revealed facility?

This is very significant and shows once again that Iran cannot be trusted with sensitive nuclear technology, especially the technology required to enrich uranium. President Obama said that “the size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program.” If this is true, it raises questions about what the consensus in the U.S. intelligence community is now that Iran has resumed its covert nuclear weapons program. It also is troubling that even though President Obama appears to have been aware of this information, he in recent weeks authorized Undersecretary of State William Burns to meet with Iran and other members of the P5+1 next week. What does the administration expect to get out of continued engagement given Iran’s apparent disregard for all of its international obligations? President Obama should have used this information to make an immediate push for crippling sanctions, and he should make clear to Iran that the military option remains on the table if similar covert sites are discovered elsewhere.

What does this tell us about our ability to monitor and verify Iran’s activities?

The fact that Iran was able to develop a facility like this despite being under multiple UN Security Council resolutions which attempt to limit its access to sensitive nuclear technology makes clear that the current sanctions regime is weak and that new types of sanctions need to be explored. It also shows that if the IAEA was unable to learn about this site, it is likely that there are other covert sites that have yet to be discovered. Iran’s nuclear ambitions cannot be managed through international inspections.

Does this violate the existing sanctions already in place?

This violates all of the existing UN Security Council sanctions on Iran. Iran has also violated its obligation to report such facilities to the International Atomic Energy Agency as soon as they enter the planning phase. Unfortunately, President Obama’s response, stressing engagement and dialogue, will send the message to Iran that they can get away with just about anything and still sit down with us to discuss the state of civilization.

Fly makes a key point: what has been lost here is the opportunity to galvanize domestic and international opinion and work toward a meaningful regime of sanctions. Obama hasn’t used the past eight months—or the last week—productively while he had possession of this critical information. Indeed, Obama didn’t use any forum—the General Assembly speech, private meetings with world leaders, or the Security Council—to make any headway toward addressing the Iranian threat. It’s hard in retrospect to figure out what he was doing. Lawmakers are similarly stumped. In a statement, Rep. Tom Price comments on Obama’s approach to Iran to date:

The public revelation of this nuclear facility’s existence illustrates yet again that the current Iranian regime cannot be trusted. The most stunning news, however, is that President Obama was aware of this facility’s existence, understood that it appears non-peaceful, yet still decided to weaken our missile defense capabilities. This administration’s nonchalant attitude about the threat of a missile-borne nuclear attack from Iran is absolutely reckless. Missile defense systems are vital measures that will both deter and defend against the threat of missile-borne attacks. Yet, the Obama administration has scrapped plans for a defensive site in Eastern Europe and has cut $1.2 billion in missile defense funding.

The Obama approach to the world and to our security is unraveling—in Honduras, in the Middle East, with regard to Guantanamo, and now on Iran. By forcing the world into preconceived notions of diplomacy and by willfully ignoring real dangers, they have dug themselves and the U.S. into a mighty big hole. A good place to start digging themselves out would be the immediate passage of stiffing sanctions on Iran and the use of all that Obama charisma to rally world opinion.

That’s what Sen. Kit Bond suggests in a NRO interview:

Bond tells us that one of the first things the Senate can do in response is to support a measure proposed by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I., Conn.) earlier this year to block any shipping company that delivers refined petroleum to Iran from coming into American ports. “That’s one of things we could do unilaterally, to hit them where it hurts,” says Bond. “I would also like to see the full-spectrum of economic sanctions imposed.”

And maybe that threat and a prompt vote on gasoline sanctions are where Obama should be focusing his efforts. But instead, the Obama administration is in reaction mode and still talking engagement, new deadlines, and more and more discussion. Obama and his advisers now declare they are on to Iran’s non-peaceful nuclear plans—a truly startling development for an administration that maintained until today that this was still an open issue. But all that changed was Iran’s willingness to turn themselves in to the IAEA. Left unexplained is when and how the administration’s intelligence estimate changed and why they seemingly haven’t made any use of it until now.

I asked Jamie Fly, executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, about today’s revelations. What’s the significance of the newly revealed facility?

This is very significant and shows once again that Iran cannot be trusted with sensitive nuclear technology, especially the technology required to enrich uranium. President Obama said that “the size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program.” If this is true, it raises questions about what the consensus in the U.S. intelligence community is now that Iran has resumed its covert nuclear weapons program. It also is troubling that even though President Obama appears to have been aware of this information, he in recent weeks authorized Undersecretary of State William Burns to meet with Iran and other members of the P5+1 next week. What does the administration expect to get out of continued engagement given Iran’s apparent disregard for all of its international obligations? President Obama should have used this information to make an immediate push for crippling sanctions, and he should make clear to Iran that the military option remains on the table if similar covert sites are discovered elsewhere.

What does this tell us about our ability to monitor and verify Iran’s activities?

The fact that Iran was able to develop a facility like this despite being under multiple UN Security Council resolutions which attempt to limit its access to sensitive nuclear technology makes clear that the current sanctions regime is weak and that new types of sanctions need to be explored. It also shows that if the IAEA was unable to learn about this site, it is likely that there are other covert sites that have yet to be discovered. Iran’s nuclear ambitions cannot be managed through international inspections.

Does this violate the existing sanctions already in place?

This violates all of the existing UN Security Council sanctions on Iran. Iran has also violated its obligation to report such facilities to the International Atomic Energy Agency as soon as they enter the planning phase. Unfortunately, President Obama’s response, stressing engagement and dialogue, will send the message to Iran that they can get away with just about anything and still sit down with us to discuss the state of civilization.

Fly makes a key point: what has been lost here is the opportunity to galvanize domestic and international opinion and work toward a meaningful regime of sanctions. Obama hasn’t used the past eight months—or the last week—productively while he had possession of this critical information. Indeed, Obama didn’t use any forum—the General Assembly speech, private meetings with world leaders, or the Security Council—to make any headway toward addressing the Iranian threat. It’s hard in retrospect to figure out what he was doing. Lawmakers are similarly stumped. In a statement, Rep. Tom Price comments on Obama’s approach to Iran to date:

The public revelation of this nuclear facility’s existence illustrates yet again that the current Iranian regime cannot be trusted. The most stunning news, however, is that President Obama was aware of this facility’s existence, understood that it appears non-peaceful, yet still decided to weaken our missile defense capabilities. This administration’s nonchalant attitude about the threat of a missile-borne nuclear attack from Iran is absolutely reckless. Missile defense systems are vital measures that will both deter and defend against the threat of missile-borne attacks. Yet, the Obama administration has scrapped plans for a defensive site in Eastern Europe and has cut $1.2 billion in missile defense funding.

The Obama approach to the world and to our security is unraveling—in Honduras, in the Middle East, with regard to Guantanamo, and now on Iran. By forcing the world into preconceived notions of diplomacy and by willfully ignoring real dangers, they have dug themselves and the U.S. into a mighty big hole. A good place to start digging themselves out would be the immediate passage of stiffing sanctions on Iran and the use of all that Obama charisma to rally world opinion.

That’s what Sen. Kit Bond suggests in a NRO interview:

Bond tells us that one of the first things the Senate can do in response is to support a measure proposed by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I., Conn.) earlier this year to block any shipping company that delivers refined petroleum to Iran from coming into American ports. “That’s one of things we could do unilaterally, to hit them where it hurts,” says Bond. “I would also like to see the full-spectrum of economic sanctions imposed.”

And maybe that threat and a prompt vote on gasoline sanctions are where Obama should be focusing his efforts. But instead, the Obama administration is in reaction mode and still talking engagement, new deadlines, and more and more discussion. Obama and his advisers now declare they are on to Iran’s non-peaceful nuclear plans—a truly startling development for an administration that maintained until today that this was still an open issue. But all that changed was Iran’s willingness to turn themselves in to the IAEA. Left unexplained is when and how the administration’s intelligence estimate changed and why they seemingly haven’t made any use of it until now.

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What Is the Virginia Gubernatorial Race About?

Ed Gillespie, Bob McDonnell’s general-campaign chairman, held a conference call primarily for local media on the state of the race. Gillespie made clear that his candidate caught a break when Creigh Deeds declared himself in favor of a tax increase in a time of recession, a position that Gillespie claims will force every other candidate in the election to take a position for or against such a hike. It is, he claims, a “significant development” and the sort of “bright line” that many campaigns hope for. He also took time to crow about the string of endorsements and to attack Deeds, who is getting some flak from newspaper editorialists around the state for running a negative campaign without much (any?) policy detail.

But the race is narrowing, right? Gillespie did his best to convey the impression that the McDonnell team expected the race to narrow all along given the recent string of Democratic statewide wins. But Gillespie argues that Republican enthusiasm is sky high and reflected in polls of likely voters.

I asked about northern Virginia, where McDonnell grew up and that is home to one of seven of the state’s voters. Gillespie was candid that McDonnell doesn’t need to win there, only “mitigate big numbers against us.” None of the other questions from reporters touched even remotely on the Washington Post’s thesis obsession. Gillespie was asked about the Obama factor, which he described as a mixed blessing for Deeds, although he hastened to add that McDonnell was more than happy to talk about some Obama-favored policies, including cap-and-trade and card check, which aren’t popular in the state.

By any objective standard, the last week has been a successful one for McDonnell. The last weeks of the race, it seems, will be about who controls the narrative. If the race is about raising taxes in a recession and restoring some political balance to the state, then McDonnell is home free. If, however, the race devolves into a nasty food fight about social issues and anything other than bread-and-butter issues, Deeds, with the aid of a well-oiled state party and Big Labor get-out-the-vote operation, plainly has the chance to come from behind.

In less than 40 days we’ll know whose campaign theme prevailed.

Ed Gillespie, Bob McDonnell’s general-campaign chairman, held a conference call primarily for local media on the state of the race. Gillespie made clear that his candidate caught a break when Creigh Deeds declared himself in favor of a tax increase in a time of recession, a position that Gillespie claims will force every other candidate in the election to take a position for or against such a hike. It is, he claims, a “significant development” and the sort of “bright line” that many campaigns hope for. He also took time to crow about the string of endorsements and to attack Deeds, who is getting some flak from newspaper editorialists around the state for running a negative campaign without much (any?) policy detail.

But the race is narrowing, right? Gillespie did his best to convey the impression that the McDonnell team expected the race to narrow all along given the recent string of Democratic statewide wins. But Gillespie argues that Republican enthusiasm is sky high and reflected in polls of likely voters.

I asked about northern Virginia, where McDonnell grew up and that is home to one of seven of the state’s voters. Gillespie was candid that McDonnell doesn’t need to win there, only “mitigate big numbers against us.” None of the other questions from reporters touched even remotely on the Washington Post’s thesis obsession. Gillespie was asked about the Obama factor, which he described as a mixed blessing for Deeds, although he hastened to add that McDonnell was more than happy to talk about some Obama-favored policies, including cap-and-trade and card check, which aren’t popular in the state.

By any objective standard, the last week has been a successful one for McDonnell. The last weeks of the race, it seems, will be about who controls the narrative. If the race is about raising taxes in a recession and restoring some political balance to the state, then McDonnell is home free. If, however, the race devolves into a nasty food fight about social issues and anything other than bread-and-butter issues, Deeds, with the aid of a well-oiled state party and Big Labor get-out-the-vote operation, plainly has the chance to come from behind.

In less than 40 days we’ll know whose campaign theme prevailed.

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Scorched-Earth Strategy for Afghanistan–Really?

Various pundits on the Right—Byron York, Ralph Peters, and Diana West—are having conniptions over the Rules of Engagement that Gen. McChrystal has promulgated in Afghanistan, which stress the need for restraint in calling in fire support. They are incensed by a recent report that American casualties have increased while Afghan civilian casualties have decreased. They blame McChrystal and his counterinsurgency strategy for this trend.

This is a bit of a leap, since most of our casualties are being caused by improvised explosive devices. No one has explained how firing more weapons will prevent those mines from being planted. In fact, dropping more bombs and firing more missiles and artillery shells is likely to alienate civilians and make them less likely to alert American troops to the emplacement of IEDs. It is also the case that there are more American troops fighting the Taliban and that the Taliban has responded to our surge with a surge of their own, so more casualties would be expected regardless of the rules of engagement. That hasn’t stopped the critics from castigating our military leaders in harsh terms.

Ralph writes: “In Afghanistan, our leaders are complicit in the death of each soldier, Marine or Navy corpsman who falls because politically correct rules of engagement shield our enemies.” Diana calls for Gen. McChrystal to be fired.

This no doubt goes down well in certain right-wing precincts, but those who advocate a blood-and-guts approach to the war in Afghanistan—kill them all and let God sort them out—should pause a minute to ask whether that’s a strategy likely to succeed. The Russians tried a scorched-earth approach in Afghanistan; they were far more heedless of civilian casualties than the American armed forces could ever be. Remember how well that worked out? The U.S. has also tried firepower-intensive conventional strategies to fight insurgents in Iraq and Vietnam. How well did that work out? The situation in Iraq only turned around in 2007, when General Petraeus applied a population-centric counterinsurgency approach that focused on getting troops among the population and protecting them from the insurgents rather than simply trying to kill bad guys—precisely the plan that McChrystal is now implementing, with some modifications, in Afghanistan. The Carthaginian strategy—destroy the enemy and salt the earth afterward—can work but only if you are prepared to commit genocide or close to it. It worked, for example, for the Nazis in putting down the Warsaw Uprising, although even the Nazis failed to put down the Yugoslav partisans. Does anyone think that American public opinion would support the use of Nazi-like tactics in Afghanistan?

Luckily we don’t have to use utter brutality to prevail. In fact, history suggests that a “hearts and minds” approach is more likely to be successful. Two political scientists have just released a study of 66 insurgencies in the 20th century where foreign powers committed considerable resources to put down the rebels. Their conclusion? That a hearts-and-minds strategy has worked 75 percent of the time. That’s a higher rate of success than that of more brutal approaches, such as the Russians in Afghanistan or the French in Algeria.

Those who advocate population-centric counterinsurgency—most prominently, General McChrystal and General Petraeus—are not soft-headed, politically correct humanitarians. They are smart generals who have learned the lessons of history and have chosen the strategy that has the best chance of success. Conservatives would be well-advised to unite in support of their efforts rather than joining the liberal sniper squad working to make victory impossible.

Various pundits on the Right—Byron York, Ralph Peters, and Diana West—are having conniptions over the Rules of Engagement that Gen. McChrystal has promulgated in Afghanistan, which stress the need for restraint in calling in fire support. They are incensed by a recent report that American casualties have increased while Afghan civilian casualties have decreased. They blame McChrystal and his counterinsurgency strategy for this trend.

This is a bit of a leap, since most of our casualties are being caused by improvised explosive devices. No one has explained how firing more weapons will prevent those mines from being planted. In fact, dropping more bombs and firing more missiles and artillery shells is likely to alienate civilians and make them less likely to alert American troops to the emplacement of IEDs. It is also the case that there are more American troops fighting the Taliban and that the Taliban has responded to our surge with a surge of their own, so more casualties would be expected regardless of the rules of engagement. That hasn’t stopped the critics from castigating our military leaders in harsh terms.

Ralph writes: “In Afghanistan, our leaders are complicit in the death of each soldier, Marine or Navy corpsman who falls because politically correct rules of engagement shield our enemies.” Diana calls for Gen. McChrystal to be fired.

This no doubt goes down well in certain right-wing precincts, but those who advocate a blood-and-guts approach to the war in Afghanistan—kill them all and let God sort them out—should pause a minute to ask whether that’s a strategy likely to succeed. The Russians tried a scorched-earth approach in Afghanistan; they were far more heedless of civilian casualties than the American armed forces could ever be. Remember how well that worked out? The U.S. has also tried firepower-intensive conventional strategies to fight insurgents in Iraq and Vietnam. How well did that work out? The situation in Iraq only turned around in 2007, when General Petraeus applied a population-centric counterinsurgency approach that focused on getting troops among the population and protecting them from the insurgents rather than simply trying to kill bad guys—precisely the plan that McChrystal is now implementing, with some modifications, in Afghanistan. The Carthaginian strategy—destroy the enemy and salt the earth afterward—can work but only if you are prepared to commit genocide or close to it. It worked, for example, for the Nazis in putting down the Warsaw Uprising, although even the Nazis failed to put down the Yugoslav partisans. Does anyone think that American public opinion would support the use of Nazi-like tactics in Afghanistan?

Luckily we don’t have to use utter brutality to prevail. In fact, history suggests that a “hearts and minds” approach is more likely to be successful. Two political scientists have just released a study of 66 insurgencies in the 20th century where foreign powers committed considerable resources to put down the rebels. Their conclusion? That a hearts-and-minds strategy has worked 75 percent of the time. That’s a higher rate of success than that of more brutal approaches, such as the Russians in Afghanistan or the French in Algeria.

Those who advocate population-centric counterinsurgency—most prominently, General McChrystal and General Petraeus—are not soft-headed, politically correct humanitarians. They are smart generals who have learned the lessons of history and have chosen the strategy that has the best chance of success. Conservatives would be well-advised to unite in support of their efforts rather than joining the liberal sniper squad working to make victory impossible.

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Obama Knew All This on Wednesday

Alongside leaders of Britain and France, the president had this to say today about the revelation of Iran’s second nuclear facility:

Now, Iran’s decision to build yet another nuclear facility without notifying the IAEA represents a direct challenge to the basic compact at the center of the non-proliferation regime. These rules are clear: All nations have the right to peaceful nuclear energy; those nations with nuclear weapons must move towards disarmament; those nations without nuclear weapons must forsake them. That compact has largely held for decades, keeping the world far safer and more secure. And that compact depends on all nations living up to their responsibilities.

This site deepens a growing concern that Iran is refusing to live up to those international responsibilities, including specifically revealing all nuclear-related activities. As the international community knows, this is not the first time that Iran has concealed information about its nuclear program. Iran has a right to peaceful nuclear power that meets the energy needs of its people. But the size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program. Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow—endangering the global non-proliferation regime, denying its own people access to the opportunity they deserve, and threatening the stability and security of the region and the world.

It is time for Iran to act immediately to restore the confidence of the international community by fulfilling its international obligations. We remain committed to serious, meaningful engagement with Iran to address the nuclear issue through the P5-plus-1 negotiations. Through this dialogue, we are committed to demonstrating that international law is not an empty promise; that obligations must be kept; and that treaties will be enforced.

Compare that to the mealy-mouthed comments at the UN on Wednesday. In discussing his nonproliferation “pillar,” he talked for five paragraphs before getting to Iran (i.e., Iran wasn’t the most important item on the agenda), finally pronouncing:

In their actions to date, the governments of North Korea and Iran threaten to take us down this dangerous slope. We respect their rights as members of the community of nations. I’ve said before and I will repeat, I am committed to diplomacy that opens a path to greater prosperity and more secure peace for both nations if they live up to their obligations.

But if the governments of Iran and North Korea choose to ignore international standards; if they put the pursuit of nuclear weapons ahead of regional stability and the security and opportunity of their own people; if they are oblivious to the dangers of escalating nuclear arms races in both East Asia and the Middle East—then they must be held accountable. The world must stand together to demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced. We must insist that the future does not belong to fear.

That’s it. No sense of urgency. No attempt to convey how deceptive Iran was already being. No laying of the groundwork for a stiffer tone. Well, his hand hadn’t yet been forced, and he no doubt thought he’d go merrily along his way, engaging and discussing and trying to put off the day of reckoning. And yet he knew of the heightened danger and the subterfuge underway.

It’s curious in the extreme that, not only did Obama fail to blow the whistle on Iran, he also refrained from using the information he had to rally world opinion. As this report notes: “Obama did not mention the revelation of the facility in any of his talks on nonproliferation during his week at the United Nations.” Whatever the Obama team thought they could do, and however much they apparently desired to procrastinate, that phase of their odd gamesmanship is over. The American public and lawmakers are going to expect Obama to do something now about Iran. Oh, but he did—there is a new two-month deadline in place. Don’t you feel safer already?

Alongside leaders of Britain and France, the president had this to say today about the revelation of Iran’s second nuclear facility:

Now, Iran’s decision to build yet another nuclear facility without notifying the IAEA represents a direct challenge to the basic compact at the center of the non-proliferation regime. These rules are clear: All nations have the right to peaceful nuclear energy; those nations with nuclear weapons must move towards disarmament; those nations without nuclear weapons must forsake them. That compact has largely held for decades, keeping the world far safer and more secure. And that compact depends on all nations living up to their responsibilities.

This site deepens a growing concern that Iran is refusing to live up to those international responsibilities, including specifically revealing all nuclear-related activities. As the international community knows, this is not the first time that Iran has concealed information about its nuclear program. Iran has a right to peaceful nuclear power that meets the energy needs of its people. But the size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program. Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow—endangering the global non-proliferation regime, denying its own people access to the opportunity they deserve, and threatening the stability and security of the region and the world.

It is time for Iran to act immediately to restore the confidence of the international community by fulfilling its international obligations. We remain committed to serious, meaningful engagement with Iran to address the nuclear issue through the P5-plus-1 negotiations. Through this dialogue, we are committed to demonstrating that international law is not an empty promise; that obligations must be kept; and that treaties will be enforced.

Compare that to the mealy-mouthed comments at the UN on Wednesday. In discussing his nonproliferation “pillar,” he talked for five paragraphs before getting to Iran (i.e., Iran wasn’t the most important item on the agenda), finally pronouncing:

In their actions to date, the governments of North Korea and Iran threaten to take us down this dangerous slope. We respect their rights as members of the community of nations. I’ve said before and I will repeat, I am committed to diplomacy that opens a path to greater prosperity and more secure peace for both nations if they live up to their obligations.

But if the governments of Iran and North Korea choose to ignore international standards; if they put the pursuit of nuclear weapons ahead of regional stability and the security and opportunity of their own people; if they are oblivious to the dangers of escalating nuclear arms races in both East Asia and the Middle East—then they must be held accountable. The world must stand together to demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced. We must insist that the future does not belong to fear.

That’s it. No sense of urgency. No attempt to convey how deceptive Iran was already being. No laying of the groundwork for a stiffer tone. Well, his hand hadn’t yet been forced, and he no doubt thought he’d go merrily along his way, engaging and discussing and trying to put off the day of reckoning. And yet he knew of the heightened danger and the subterfuge underway.

It’s curious in the extreme that, not only did Obama fail to blow the whistle on Iran, he also refrained from using the information he had to rally world opinion. As this report notes: “Obama did not mention the revelation of the facility in any of his talks on nonproliferation during his week at the United Nations.” Whatever the Obama team thought they could do, and however much they apparently desired to procrastinate, that phase of their odd gamesmanship is over. The American public and lawmakers are going to expect Obama to do something now about Iran. Oh, but he did—there is a new two-month deadline in place. Don’t you feel safer already?

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What Did We Get?

Obama spinners were getting giddy earlier in the week that Russia was getting interested in sanctions ever since the president caved on missile defense. Not really, according to these comments from Russian President Medvedev:

I do not believe sanctions are the best way to achieve results. Sanctions were used on a number of occasions against Iran but we have doubts about the results. Nevertheless when all instruments have been used and failed, one can use international legal sanctions. That is common. . . . I think we should continue to promote positive incentives for Iran and at the same time push it to make all its programs transparent and open. Should we fail in that case, we’ll consider other options.

He is, however, quite delighted that Obama pulled out of missile defense. Indeed, he goes out of the way to suggest that Obama didn’t get anything for it: “Of course, this decision was determined by Barack Obama’s mindset. It was not pro-Russia nor pro-Chinese nor pro-Europe, this was an American decision. What’s important is Barack Obama listened to my position. Perhaps it was part of the basis for his decision. We are learning to listen to each other. This is a change from the previous administration.” Yes, it certainly is.

Obama spinners were getting giddy earlier in the week that Russia was getting interested in sanctions ever since the president caved on missile defense. Not really, according to these comments from Russian President Medvedev:

I do not believe sanctions are the best way to achieve results. Sanctions were used on a number of occasions against Iran but we have doubts about the results. Nevertheless when all instruments have been used and failed, one can use international legal sanctions. That is common. . . . I think we should continue to promote positive incentives for Iran and at the same time push it to make all its programs transparent and open. Should we fail in that case, we’ll consider other options.

He is, however, quite delighted that Obama pulled out of missile defense. Indeed, he goes out of the way to suggest that Obama didn’t get anything for it: “Of course, this decision was determined by Barack Obama’s mindset. It was not pro-Russia nor pro-Chinese nor pro-Europe, this was an American decision. What’s important is Barack Obama listened to my position. Perhaps it was part of the basis for his decision. We are learning to listen to each other. This is a change from the previous administration.” Yes, it certainly is.

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Eric Cantor Reacts

Minority Whip Eric Cantor had this reaction to the news of a second Iranian nuclear facility:

Iran is a real-time security threat to the United States, Israel, and our allies around the world. A nuclear Iran is closer than many thought it was yesterday, and the problem is getting worse by the day, not better.

The existence of a second uranium enrichment facility not only undercuts the Administration’s policy toward Iran, but leaves little doubt that terrorist nations are not to be trusted or negotiated with diplomatically. Congress should act immediately to give the President the tools he needs to implement sanctions on Iran by passing the bipartisan Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act.

You can expect similar reaction to, and I would expect much consternation over, Obama’s frittering away of more than eight months’ time as Iran moved steadily closer to acquiring nuclear-weapons capability. It certainly makes the promise to hold Iran “accountable” seem disingenuous in the extreme if we continued to pursue “engagement” and avoided any meaningful steps toward enforcing existing sanctions, knowing full well what the Iranians were up to.

Minority Whip Eric Cantor had this reaction to the news of a second Iranian nuclear facility:

Iran is a real-time security threat to the United States, Israel, and our allies around the world. A nuclear Iran is closer than many thought it was yesterday, and the problem is getting worse by the day, not better.

The existence of a second uranium enrichment facility not only undercuts the Administration’s policy toward Iran, but leaves little doubt that terrorist nations are not to be trusted or negotiated with diplomatically. Congress should act immediately to give the President the tools he needs to implement sanctions on Iran by passing the bipartisan Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act.

You can expect similar reaction to, and I would expect much consternation over, Obama’s frittering away of more than eight months’ time as Iran moved steadily closer to acquiring nuclear-weapons capability. It certainly makes the promise to hold Iran “accountable” seem disingenuous in the extreme if we continued to pursue “engagement” and avoided any meaningful steps toward enforcing existing sanctions, knowing full well what the Iranians were up to.

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Re: What Else Don’t We Know?

Actually, the question should be, What else hasn’t the administration been telling us? They apparently were all too aware of the Iranian facility and would have kept mum if not for the revelation by Iran itself:

Per NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, officials say it was U.S. intelligence that learned of the secret plant more than a year ago — before President Obama’s election; Israel also knew about it, too. They most likely would not have gone public if Iran had not discovered that the U.S. was onto them and had it not notified the U.N.’s international inspection agency on Monday. By the way, Mitchell adds, the site is 30 kilometers outside of Qum, Iran’s holy city. That means that any military strike would be very difficult politically, because it would around huge reaction throughout the Muslim world. Also today, watch for Russian and Chinese reaction. Yes, they were notified of our intelligence this week, but their reaction is unknown.

The Washington Post explains:

White House officials said Western intelligence agencies have been tracking the facility for years. Obama said officials from the United States, France and Britain briefed the IAEA in Vienna on Thursday on what they knew about the facility. The three heads of state decided to publicly disclose the existence of the facility after learning that Iran had become aware the site was no longer a secret.

Iran’s report of the facility’s existence—and Obama’s plans to accuse Tehran of hiding it—were first reported Friday by the New York Times.

And so let’s be clear: while Obama was sending love letters to the Iranian regime and doing nothing to support the Iranian uprising, he knew of the secret facility that will be operational within a year? As an informed observer on Capitol Hill remarks, “Apparently, the Iranians forced their hand with the letter earlier in the week to the IAEA—but if Obama knew this for months and did not act with urgency, this is a major debacle.” Yes, it is. At the very least, a complete explanation of what we’ve been doing and what we’ve known is in order.

Actually, the question should be, What else hasn’t the administration been telling us? They apparently were all too aware of the Iranian facility and would have kept mum if not for the revelation by Iran itself:

Per NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, officials say it was U.S. intelligence that learned of the secret plant more than a year ago — before President Obama’s election; Israel also knew about it, too. They most likely would not have gone public if Iran had not discovered that the U.S. was onto them and had it not notified the U.N.’s international inspection agency on Monday. By the way, Mitchell adds, the site is 30 kilometers outside of Qum, Iran’s holy city. That means that any military strike would be very difficult politically, because it would around huge reaction throughout the Muslim world. Also today, watch for Russian and Chinese reaction. Yes, they were notified of our intelligence this week, but their reaction is unknown.

The Washington Post explains:

White House officials said Western intelligence agencies have been tracking the facility for years. Obama said officials from the United States, France and Britain briefed the IAEA in Vienna on Thursday on what they knew about the facility. The three heads of state decided to publicly disclose the existence of the facility after learning that Iran had become aware the site was no longer a secret.

Iran’s report of the facility’s existence—and Obama’s plans to accuse Tehran of hiding it—were first reported Friday by the New York Times.

And so let’s be clear: while Obama was sending love letters to the Iranian regime and doing nothing to support the Iranian uprising, he knew of the secret facility that will be operational within a year? As an informed observer on Capitol Hill remarks, “Apparently, the Iranians forced their hand with the letter earlier in the week to the IAEA—but if Obama knew this for months and did not act with urgency, this is a major debacle.” Yes, it is. At the very least, a complete explanation of what we’ve been doing and what we’ve known is in order.

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What Else Don’t We Know?

The AP reports:

Iran has revealed the existence of a secret uranium-enrichment plant, the International Atomic Agency said Friday, a development that could heighten fears about Tehran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon and escalate its diplomatic confrontation with the West.

President Barack Obama and the leaders of France and Britain plan to accuse Iran of hiding the facility in an address at the opening of the G-20 economic summit Friday, a senior White House official told the AP.

The official said Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy will demand Tehran open the covert facility to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran is under three sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions for refusing to freeze enrichment at what had been its single known enrichment plant, which is being monitored by the IAEA.

This sort of news entirely undermines the Obama administration’s immediate and long-term decision-making on Iran. In the short run, the administration’s new intelligence estimate cooked up to justify pulling out of missile defense for Eastern Europe looks foolish. Do we really know all that much about Iran’s nuclear plans and capability? How much confidence do we really have that Iran is not well on its way to long-term missile development or that it doesn’t have plants beyond the one we knew about and the one just now revealed? The president should deploy some of that skepticism he’s reserved for Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s Afghanistan recommendation and apply it to his Iran calculations.

And in the long run, we should be wary of our ability to detect and monitor a nuclear program in a closed, repressive society. Wow—we get to interview Iran scientists. Yes, while their family remains under the watchful eye of Iranian authorities. The report dryly notes:

The revelation of a secret plant further hinders the chances of progress in scheduled Oct. 1 talks between Iran and six world powers.

At that meeting—the first in more than a year—the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany plan to press Iran to scale back on its enrichment activities. But Tehran has declared that it will not bargain on enrichment. Iran’s nuclear negotiator dismissed the threat of new sanctions in an interview released Friday.

Saeed Jalili said that Iran has ”the right to uranium enrichment, and we will never give up this right,” the German weekly Der Spiegel reported.

”We have lived with sanctions for 30 years, and they cannot force a great nation like the Iranian one to its knees,” Jalili told Der Spiegel. ”They do not scare us. On the contrary: we welcome new sanctions.”

Today the president conceded that the facility is “inconsistent” with a peaceful nuclear program. Well, that’s a first. Now let’s see if he can get around to the part about holding Iran “accountable” for its lies and violations of international sanctions.

The AP reports:

Iran has revealed the existence of a secret uranium-enrichment plant, the International Atomic Agency said Friday, a development that could heighten fears about Tehran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon and escalate its diplomatic confrontation with the West.

President Barack Obama and the leaders of France and Britain plan to accuse Iran of hiding the facility in an address at the opening of the G-20 economic summit Friday, a senior White House official told the AP.

The official said Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy will demand Tehran open the covert facility to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran is under three sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions for refusing to freeze enrichment at what had been its single known enrichment plant, which is being monitored by the IAEA.

This sort of news entirely undermines the Obama administration’s immediate and long-term decision-making on Iran. In the short run, the administration’s new intelligence estimate cooked up to justify pulling out of missile defense for Eastern Europe looks foolish. Do we really know all that much about Iran’s nuclear plans and capability? How much confidence do we really have that Iran is not well on its way to long-term missile development or that it doesn’t have plants beyond the one we knew about and the one just now revealed? The president should deploy some of that skepticism he’s reserved for Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s Afghanistan recommendation and apply it to his Iran calculations.

And in the long run, we should be wary of our ability to detect and monitor a nuclear program in a closed, repressive society. Wow—we get to interview Iran scientists. Yes, while their family remains under the watchful eye of Iranian authorities. The report dryly notes:

The revelation of a secret plant further hinders the chances of progress in scheduled Oct. 1 talks between Iran and six world powers.

At that meeting—the first in more than a year—the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany plan to press Iran to scale back on its enrichment activities. But Tehran has declared that it will not bargain on enrichment. Iran’s nuclear negotiator dismissed the threat of new sanctions in an interview released Friday.

Saeed Jalili said that Iran has ”the right to uranium enrichment, and we will never give up this right,” the German weekly Der Spiegel reported.

”We have lived with sanctions for 30 years, and they cannot force a great nation like the Iranian one to its knees,” Jalili told Der Spiegel. ”They do not scare us. On the contrary: we welcome new sanctions.”

Today the president conceded that the facility is “inconsistent” with a peaceful nuclear program. Well, that’s a first. Now let’s see if he can get around to the part about holding Iran “accountable” for its lies and violations of international sanctions.

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You Can’t Fool Them if They’re Paying Attention

Stuart Taylor is much more polite than Rep. Joe Wilson, but he reaches a similar conclusion about the president’s veracity:

I can’t help thinking that the deviations from truth-telling identified by various critics go to the heart of his plan, compromise his credibility, and could accelerate health-cost inflation with ruinous consequences for the economy.

He then ticks off the list of misstatements and deceptions:

The centerpiece of Obama’s advocacy has been that “my plan” will “slow the growth of health care costs,” now nearly 17 percent of gross domestic product and racing higher. But his plan would quite clearly increase costs dramatically, which is why he is proposing so many new taxes, “fees,” and other levies.

[. . .]

Obama has vowed to save “hundreds of billions in waste and fraud” from Medicare — without affecting benefits. This is a fantasy discredited by the countless broken promises of other politicians over the decades to do the same and by Obama’s own failure to offer credible specifics.

[. . .]

Obama has suggested that requiring insurance companies “to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care” will cut costs. The opposite is probably true.

The worst, as Taylor points out, is his claim that imposing a fine on someone who fails to purchase health insurance isn’t a tax. But even the mainstream media concedes “it’s deceptive to pretend that this is not a tax.” There is more: the promise not to increase the deficit leaves out the part about the need to hike taxes later on, and then there’s the ever-shifting promise that we won’t have to change doctors or insurance plans.

Really, when you think about it, there isn’t any significant issue—revenue, cost, rationing, or Medicare—on which the president has been candid. It was painfully obvious why the Democrats wanted to string up poor Joe Wilson. The episode needed, from their perspective, to be about Wilson’s rudeness or Republicans’ supposed hidden racism, not about the president’s honesty.

In most administrations, the press acts as a blinking red light: “We’d better get our facts right, or the press will nail us,” aides whisper to one another. But in this White House, extreme complacency and a serving of arrogance together with an abundance of confidence that the mainstream media will cover for them combine to impede the usual fact-checking and spin-restraint systems that usually are in operation. And of course, with the president’s preference for ad hominems, the White House finds it so much more satisfying to attack the messenger (e.g., Sarah Palin, town-hall attendees, Medicare contractors) than to deal with the underlying criticisms.

Given the president’s inability to convince the public of the meirt of his health-care ideas, we might find some reassurance in the notion that lying and spin don’t pay off in the long run on a critical issue in which the public is exceptionally engaged. And it really doesn’t work if the legislative process is slowed sufficiently to allow a full public airing of the issues. Pundits and politicians complain that our political system is broken. But here it’s working beautifully–there’s an ongoing and robust debate, politicians’ lies are being uncovered, and the bicameral legislature (even with one-party domination) provides ample opportunity to block unwise and dangerous proposals. Now it’s possible that the Democrats will resort to brute force and parliamentary tricksterism to jam through their bill. But even then there’s a remedy: the 2010 elections.

Stuart Taylor is much more polite than Rep. Joe Wilson, but he reaches a similar conclusion about the president’s veracity:

I can’t help thinking that the deviations from truth-telling identified by various critics go to the heart of his plan, compromise his credibility, and could accelerate health-cost inflation with ruinous consequences for the economy.

He then ticks off the list of misstatements and deceptions:

The centerpiece of Obama’s advocacy has been that “my plan” will “slow the growth of health care costs,” now nearly 17 percent of gross domestic product and racing higher. But his plan would quite clearly increase costs dramatically, which is why he is proposing so many new taxes, “fees,” and other levies.

[. . .]

Obama has vowed to save “hundreds of billions in waste and fraud” from Medicare — without affecting benefits. This is a fantasy discredited by the countless broken promises of other politicians over the decades to do the same and by Obama’s own failure to offer credible specifics.

[. . .]

Obama has suggested that requiring insurance companies “to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care” will cut costs. The opposite is probably true.

The worst, as Taylor points out, is his claim that imposing a fine on someone who fails to purchase health insurance isn’t a tax. But even the mainstream media concedes “it’s deceptive to pretend that this is not a tax.” There is more: the promise not to increase the deficit leaves out the part about the need to hike taxes later on, and then there’s the ever-shifting promise that we won’t have to change doctors or insurance plans.

Really, when you think about it, there isn’t any significant issue—revenue, cost, rationing, or Medicare—on which the president has been candid. It was painfully obvious why the Democrats wanted to string up poor Joe Wilson. The episode needed, from their perspective, to be about Wilson’s rudeness or Republicans’ supposed hidden racism, not about the president’s honesty.

In most administrations, the press acts as a blinking red light: “We’d better get our facts right, or the press will nail us,” aides whisper to one another. But in this White House, extreme complacency and a serving of arrogance together with an abundance of confidence that the mainstream media will cover for them combine to impede the usual fact-checking and spin-restraint systems that usually are in operation. And of course, with the president’s preference for ad hominems, the White House finds it so much more satisfying to attack the messenger (e.g., Sarah Palin, town-hall attendees, Medicare contractors) than to deal with the underlying criticisms.

Given the president’s inability to convince the public of the meirt of his health-care ideas, we might find some reassurance in the notion that lying and spin don’t pay off in the long run on a critical issue in which the public is exceptionally engaged. And it really doesn’t work if the legislative process is slowed sufficiently to allow a full public airing of the issues. Pundits and politicians complain that our political system is broken. But here it’s working beautifully–there’s an ongoing and robust debate, politicians’ lies are being uncovered, and the bicameral legislature (even with one-party domination) provides ample opportunity to block unwise and dangerous proposals. Now it’s possible that the Democrats will resort to brute force and parliamentary tricksterism to jam through their bill. But even then there’s a remedy: the 2010 elections.

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Holder’s Civil-Rights Nominee

The Washington Times editorializes today against the nomination of Thomas Perez to head the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. There are two compelling reasons to slow or reject the nomination that the op-ed alludes to.

First, this is the only mechanism by which the Senate–that is, Senate Republicans, who aren’t like their Democratic counterparts in the business of providing cover for Eric Holder’s shenanigans–can get to the bottom of the New Black Panther dismissal. Yes, there is an ongoing investigation of the decision to dismiss the default judgment by the Office of Professional Responsibility. But they’ve already demonstrated an appalling lack of independence in delivering to Holder the desired recommendation to reinvestigate CIA employees who career prosecutors found could not be prosecuted. We simply have no confidence that this will be anything but a whitewash. As former Justice Department official Hans von Spakovsky explained:

Given the nature of the personnel who populate OPR, there is good reason to doubt that a real investigation will occur. Many of the career lawyers at OPR are as liberal and partisan as the lawyers who work in the Civil Rights Division. The report they issued in conjunction with the inspector general on supposed “political” hiring in the division was chock full of bias, inaccuracies, gross exaggerations, and deliberate misrepresentations of both facts and the law. Not only was the OPR attorney assigned to that investigation a liberal former Civil Rights Division lawyer, but the (now former) head of OPR who orchestrated this agitprop, Marshall Jarrett, was rewarded by Eric Holder when he became attorney general: Jarrett was made head of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, a plum post that usually goes to a political appointee.

[. . .]

So who has the new head of OPR assigned to “investigate” the Civil Rights Division’s improper dismissal of this case? According to the letter she sent over to Congressman Smith, it is a career lawyer named Mary Aubry. Despite her modest government salary, Aubry contributed $3,850 to Obama’s campaign and victory fund, not to mention the $2,500 she has given to the DNC or the $1,000 she gave to Hillary Clinton. So a woman who has given $7,350(!) to the current president and other Democrats is going to be the chief investigator tasked with determining whether the president’s political appointees at Justice (such as Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli) acted unprofessionally when they dismissed this case. Perhaps we will all be pleasantly surprised; but given that politics has driven almost every recent action by Justice, I doubt it.

But there is good reason to oppose Perez apart from the New Black Panther case. He is quite simply a proponent of the same radical agenda of racial quotas and preferences that characterized the civil rights agenda of failed Clinton nominee Lani Guinier (not to mention now Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor–at least before her confirmation hearing conversion). As Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity has explained, Perez as a city councilman took precisely the same stance as the racial preference advocates did in the New Haven firefighter case. Perez found that the low number of nonwhites in the class of fire-and-rescue recruits was “unacceptable” and made every effort (presumably at the expense of white applicants) to “get back up to the original number of minorities in the Department.”

And that’s not all. CONTENTIONS contributor Linda Chavez has explained that Perez also wants quotas for medical schools:

In 2006, Perez wrote a law review article for the University of Maryland’s Journal of Health Care Law and Policy, in which he argued for explicit race-conscious admissions policies for medical school. He cited a handful of studies that purport to show that minority doctors are more likely to provide medical care to under-served poor minority populations than white physicians are. He then leapt to the conclusion that the best way to improve access to medical care for underserved populations was to insist that medical schools use race or ethnicity in choosing which students to admit.

In effect, Perez appears to be arguing for a form of medical apartheid in which minority patients should be served by minority doctors under the presumption that both groups benefit from this practice. The argument is both insulting and dangerous.

It tells us much about Obama and Holder that this is the person they want to lead the Civil Rights Division. The Perez nomination seems to confirm the worst fears that the Obama Justice Department is being packed with those who sport a radical agenda for civil rights. The Senate would do well to conduct an exacting review of Perez’s record and views before deciding if he really is the appropriate person to be charged with enforcing civil rights laws.

The Washington Times editorializes today against the nomination of Thomas Perez to head the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. There are two compelling reasons to slow or reject the nomination that the op-ed alludes to.

First, this is the only mechanism by which the Senate–that is, Senate Republicans, who aren’t like their Democratic counterparts in the business of providing cover for Eric Holder’s shenanigans–can get to the bottom of the New Black Panther dismissal. Yes, there is an ongoing investigation of the decision to dismiss the default judgment by the Office of Professional Responsibility. But they’ve already demonstrated an appalling lack of independence in delivering to Holder the desired recommendation to reinvestigate CIA employees who career prosecutors found could not be prosecuted. We simply have no confidence that this will be anything but a whitewash. As former Justice Department official Hans von Spakovsky explained:

Given the nature of the personnel who populate OPR, there is good reason to doubt that a real investigation will occur. Many of the career lawyers at OPR are as liberal and partisan as the lawyers who work in the Civil Rights Division. The report they issued in conjunction with the inspector general on supposed “political” hiring in the division was chock full of bias, inaccuracies, gross exaggerations, and deliberate misrepresentations of both facts and the law. Not only was the OPR attorney assigned to that investigation a liberal former Civil Rights Division lawyer, but the (now former) head of OPR who orchestrated this agitprop, Marshall Jarrett, was rewarded by Eric Holder when he became attorney general: Jarrett was made head of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, a plum post that usually goes to a political appointee.

[. . .]

So who has the new head of OPR assigned to “investigate” the Civil Rights Division’s improper dismissal of this case? According to the letter she sent over to Congressman Smith, it is a career lawyer named Mary Aubry. Despite her modest government salary, Aubry contributed $3,850 to Obama’s campaign and victory fund, not to mention the $2,500 she has given to the DNC or the $1,000 she gave to Hillary Clinton. So a woman who has given $7,350(!) to the current president and other Democrats is going to be the chief investigator tasked with determining whether the president’s political appointees at Justice (such as Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli) acted unprofessionally when they dismissed this case. Perhaps we will all be pleasantly surprised; but given that politics has driven almost every recent action by Justice, I doubt it.

But there is good reason to oppose Perez apart from the New Black Panther case. He is quite simply a proponent of the same radical agenda of racial quotas and preferences that characterized the civil rights agenda of failed Clinton nominee Lani Guinier (not to mention now Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor–at least before her confirmation hearing conversion). As Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity has explained, Perez as a city councilman took precisely the same stance as the racial preference advocates did in the New Haven firefighter case. Perez found that the low number of nonwhites in the class of fire-and-rescue recruits was “unacceptable” and made every effort (presumably at the expense of white applicants) to “get back up to the original number of minorities in the Department.”

And that’s not all. CONTENTIONS contributor Linda Chavez has explained that Perez also wants quotas for medical schools:

In 2006, Perez wrote a law review article for the University of Maryland’s Journal of Health Care Law and Policy, in which he argued for explicit race-conscious admissions policies for medical school. He cited a handful of studies that purport to show that minority doctors are more likely to provide medical care to under-served poor minority populations than white physicians are. He then leapt to the conclusion that the best way to improve access to medical care for underserved populations was to insist that medical schools use race or ethnicity in choosing which students to admit.

In effect, Perez appears to be arguing for a form of medical apartheid in which minority patients should be served by minority doctors under the presumption that both groups benefit from this practice. The argument is both insulting and dangerous.

It tells us much about Obama and Holder that this is the person they want to lead the Civil Rights Division. The Perez nomination seems to confirm the worst fears that the Obama Justice Department is being packed with those who sport a radical agenda for civil rights. The Senate would do well to conduct an exacting review of Perez’s record and views before deciding if he really is the appropriate person to be charged with enforcing civil rights laws.

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Ah, Never Mind About That Guantanamo Thing

Add another failure to the list that the Obama national-security team is racking up: its Guantanamo policy. The Washington Post reports that the Obama team really didn’t know what they were doing:

With four months left to meet its self-imposed deadline for closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Obama administration is working to recover from missteps that have put officials behind schedule and left them struggling to win the cooperation of Congress.

Even before the inauguration, President Obama’s top advisers settled on a course of action they were counseled against: announcing that they would close the facility within one year. Today, officials are acknowledging that they will be hard-pressed to meet that goal.

The White House has faltered in part because of the legal, political and diplomatic complexities involved in determining what to do with more than 200 terrorism suspects at the prison. But senior advisers privately acknowledge not devising a concrete plan for where to move the detainees and mishandling Congress.

Greg Craig is taking the blame and getting the boot. (“I thought there was, in fact, and I may have been wrong, a broad consensus about the importance to our national security objectives to close Guantanamo and how keeping Guantanamo open actually did damage to our national security objectives.”) Craig, who some had fingered as the mastermind behind the since-reversed decision to release the detainee-abuse photos, may deserve to get canned. But the blame rests with the president.

It was Obama who made closing Guantanamo the cornerstone of his national-security agenda. It was he who, with great fanfare, announced the decision to close the facility before all the data had been gathered. It was he who again and again derided his predecessor’s administration and the arguments against shuttering Guantanamo (it was only a “false” choice between our values and security, he lectured us). It was Obama who couldn’t resist the urge to debate the former vice president–and then lost the confidence of the American people. And indeed, just this week, he was preening at the UN:

On my first day in office, I prohibited — without exception or equivocation — the use of torture by the United States of America. I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed, and we are doing the hard work of forging a framework to combat extremism within the rule of law. Every nation must know: America will live its values, and we will lead by example.

Well now we’re back to square one. It seems that, yes, it isn’t so easy to close Guantanamo. Just like the Bush team said.

What next? Well maybe we should learn something from this about-face and apply the lessons elsewhere. After all, if they got Guantanamo wrong, very wrong, and embarrassingly wrong, what’s to say that these other calls (e.g., limiting interrogations to the Army Field Manual, reinvestigating CIA operatives whom career prosecutors already declined to prosecute) weren’t similarly flawed? Maybe what’s in order is a top-to-bottom review of the administration’s national-security decision-making process. After all, former Vice President Cheney graciously offered to come anytime to share his wisdom as to how the Bush team kept America safe for seven-plus years. Given that he was right on Guantanamo, he has more credibility than any other figure in the administration. Maybe it’s time to start tapping into that expertise.

And in the meantime, Obama should cut the Guantanamo spiel from his speeches. It might only serve to remind everyone just how inexperienced, inept, and arrogant this administration has been.

Add another failure to the list that the Obama national-security team is racking up: its Guantanamo policy. The Washington Post reports that the Obama team really didn’t know what they were doing:

With four months left to meet its self-imposed deadline for closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Obama administration is working to recover from missteps that have put officials behind schedule and left them struggling to win the cooperation of Congress.

Even before the inauguration, President Obama’s top advisers settled on a course of action they were counseled against: announcing that they would close the facility within one year. Today, officials are acknowledging that they will be hard-pressed to meet that goal.

The White House has faltered in part because of the legal, political and diplomatic complexities involved in determining what to do with more than 200 terrorism suspects at the prison. But senior advisers privately acknowledge not devising a concrete plan for where to move the detainees and mishandling Congress.

Greg Craig is taking the blame and getting the boot. (“I thought there was, in fact, and I may have been wrong, a broad consensus about the importance to our national security objectives to close Guantanamo and how keeping Guantanamo open actually did damage to our national security objectives.”) Craig, who some had fingered as the mastermind behind the since-reversed decision to release the detainee-abuse photos, may deserve to get canned. But the blame rests with the president.

It was Obama who made closing Guantanamo the cornerstone of his national-security agenda. It was he who, with great fanfare, announced the decision to close the facility before all the data had been gathered. It was he who again and again derided his predecessor’s administration and the arguments against shuttering Guantanamo (it was only a “false” choice between our values and security, he lectured us). It was Obama who couldn’t resist the urge to debate the former vice president–and then lost the confidence of the American people. And indeed, just this week, he was preening at the UN:

On my first day in office, I prohibited — without exception or equivocation — the use of torture by the United States of America. I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed, and we are doing the hard work of forging a framework to combat extremism within the rule of law. Every nation must know: America will live its values, and we will lead by example.

Well now we’re back to square one. It seems that, yes, it isn’t so easy to close Guantanamo. Just like the Bush team said.

What next? Well maybe we should learn something from this about-face and apply the lessons elsewhere. After all, if they got Guantanamo wrong, very wrong, and embarrassingly wrong, what’s to say that these other calls (e.g., limiting interrogations to the Army Field Manual, reinvestigating CIA operatives whom career prosecutors already declined to prosecute) weren’t similarly flawed? Maybe what’s in order is a top-to-bottom review of the administration’s national-security decision-making process. After all, former Vice President Cheney graciously offered to come anytime to share his wisdom as to how the Bush team kept America safe for seven-plus years. Given that he was right on Guantanamo, he has more credibility than any other figure in the administration. Maybe it’s time to start tapping into that expertise.

And in the meantime, Obama should cut the Guantanamo spiel from his speeches. It might only serve to remind everyone just how inexperienced, inept, and arrogant this administration has been.

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Re: Obama’s Man

The radiation-paranoid Manuel Zelaya can’t seriously be defended or supported any longer, not even by the Obama administration, which has seemed intent on aiding Hugo Chávez’s ally at all costs. The Washington Post‘s editors still cling to the notion that his removal–with the concurrence of the Honduran supreme court, legislature, and military–was illegal. But enough is enough. Zelaya is after all making “hysterical accusations about being bombarded with radiation and toxic gases by ‘Israeli mercenaries.'” Yeah, really.

So what’s the solution? Well, they have an election coming up in Honduras–the very one Hillary Clinton declared would be illegitimate unless the crazy guy was reinstated. Hmm. Maybe we should forget about putting Zelaya back in office, write the editors, and just have the elections under “the plan put forward months ago by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.”

That would mean a rather humiliating about-face for the administration. But they specialize in about-faces these days. If they can dispense with a settlement freeze as a precondition for Middle East peace talks, pull the rug out from under the Poles and the Czechs on missile defense, and admit error on the Guantánamo closing deadline, surely they can dump Zelaya and push for elections to put the entire episode behind them and the Honduran people, right?

Meanwhile, someone should ask the Obama team how it was that they formulated a policy, cut off aid to an ally, and invested so much diplomatic energy based on the commitment to restore to power a fellow who bears an uncanny resemblance to a mentally deranged homeless person.

The radiation-paranoid Manuel Zelaya can’t seriously be defended or supported any longer, not even by the Obama administration, which has seemed intent on aiding Hugo Chávez’s ally at all costs. The Washington Post‘s editors still cling to the notion that his removal–with the concurrence of the Honduran supreme court, legislature, and military–was illegal. But enough is enough. Zelaya is after all making “hysterical accusations about being bombarded with radiation and toxic gases by ‘Israeli mercenaries.'” Yeah, really.

So what’s the solution? Well, they have an election coming up in Honduras–the very one Hillary Clinton declared would be illegitimate unless the crazy guy was reinstated. Hmm. Maybe we should forget about putting Zelaya back in office, write the editors, and just have the elections under “the plan put forward months ago by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.”

That would mean a rather humiliating about-face for the administration. But they specialize in about-faces these days. If they can dispense with a settlement freeze as a precondition for Middle East peace talks, pull the rug out from under the Poles and the Czechs on missile defense, and admit error on the Guantánamo closing deadline, surely they can dump Zelaya and push for elections to put the entire episode behind them and the Honduran people, right?

Meanwhile, someone should ask the Obama team how it was that they formulated a policy, cut off aid to an ally, and invested so much diplomatic energy based on the commitment to restore to power a fellow who bears an uncanny resemblance to a mentally deranged homeless person.

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The Arab Preference for War

Egyptian playwright Ali Salem visited Israel in 1994 to “rid himself of hatred,” as he put it, and he wrote a slim volume about his experience called A Drive to Israel. His book was a bestseller in Egypt, but Cairo’s intellectual class ostracized him. The Egyptian Cinema Association and the Egyptian Writers Association canceled his memberships.

The Middle East Media Research Institute just translated an interview with him in Kuwait’s daily An Nahar newspaper that makes for depressing reading. His interlocutor harangues him throughout and comes across only somewhat more reasonable than the intellectual colleagues who shunned him.

“My trip posed a serious challenge to the Egyptian intellectuals and the entire Egyptian society,” Salem said. “How are we to treat this small society next to us [i.e., Israeli society]? Reality forced us to embark upon a peace campaign with the society that defeated us ruthlessly in 1967. My generation cannot overcome the hurt of 1967. All the attacks on me were because I forced them to face the truth.”

It’s difficult to even imagine a Western intellectual getting in this kind of trouble for writing a sympathetic portrait of former enemies decades after peace has been made. When our wars are over, they’re over whether we win or lose.

No one in the United States wants to reignite conflicts with Germany, Japan, Vietnam, or any other country we’re no longer at war with. While we argue among ourselves about whether it’s a good idea to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, no one in the U.S. prefers war in Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else if peace and normal relations are viable options.

Americans from one end of the political spectrum to the other would be thrilled to see Iraq and Afghanistan as stable, prosperous countries at peace with themselves, their neighbors, and us. We don’t even have a marginalized fringe group unhappy with the fact that Germany and Japan emerged as they did from World War II. The U.S. lost the war in Vietnam in the 1970s, as Egypt lost its last war with Israel in the 1970s, but no one among us wants to fight it all over again or wishes that we were still slugging it out.

We Westerners aren’t unique in our ability to forgive, forget, and move on. I have never visited Vietnam, but everyone I know who has says even Vietnamese who supported the Communist side seem to hold no grudges against Americans.

My grandfather fought in both Europe and the Pacific as a United States Army officer during World War II. He visited Tokyo many years later and purged some of his demons there just as Ali Salem did in Israel. My mother has a picture of him smiling with his arms around a former Kamikaze pilot. I don’t know what these two former enemies said to each other, but my mother who traveled to Japan with him said it was a transformative experience for both of them.

Though my grandfather was not a public intellectual, if he had been, and if he had written about his own personal reconciliation, there is no chance his American colleagues would have shunned him or revoked his memberships from the institutions he worked with. Many Israeli writers, intellectuals, academics, and activists likewise have visited the Palestinian territories and other Arab countries with Ali Salem’s spirit. None have been ostracized by their peers. On the contrary, they’re usually lauded.

It’s easy, for those so inclined, to prefer war to peace with Israel while living in places like Damascus and Cairo. Everyone killed recently in the Arab-Israeli conflict lived in Israel, Gaza, and Lebanon. No one is shooting at Cairenes or the residents of Damascus. Egyptians, Syrians, and most other Arabs can enjoy, if that is the word, the emotional satisfaction of hostility with the hated “Zionist Entity” without suffering any consequences.

“It is strange that some people [still] say, ‘What good did the peace [agreement] do us?'” Ali Salem said. “My answer to them is this: ‘You refuse to recognize [the value] of peace, [and] therefore you are unable to understand what peace has created. . . . The [mere] fact that you return to your home safely and are not hit by a sniper’s bullet or by a missile falling from the sky, that you do not [have to] darken your windows and fortify your door with sandbags, or check the list of the fallen every morning — all that, or [at least] some of it, is thanks to peace.”

But what of the people in Gaza and South Lebanon? They actually do have to live with the consequences of war. Support for Hezbollah and armed conflict with Israel is much stronger in south Lebanon and the suburbs south of Beirut–the parts of the country that suffer almost all casualties–than it is in central Beirut, the north, or Mount Lebanon. This can be mostly explained by sectarian and regional politics, but there’s another element, too, that is illogical and barely even explicable.

Emotions aren’t rational. Love and hatred certainly aren’t, anyway, and neither is that dark part of the human psyche that thrills to war and destruction. Rebecca West put her finger on it in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, her masterful travel narrative set in Yugoslavia on the eve of World War II. “Only part of us is sane,” she wrote. “Only part of us loves pleasure and the longer day of happiness, wants to live to our 90s and die in peace, in a house that we built, that shall shelter those who come after us. The other half of us is nearly mad. It prefers the disagreeable to the agreeable, loves pain and its darker night despair, and wants to die in a catastrophe that will set life back to its beginnings and leave nothing of our house save its blackened foundations.”

President Barack Obama, like his predecessors, hopes to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all. There’s no viable solution, though, when people on one side can’t even make peace with the idea of peace. A distressingly large percentage of the Palestinian population is still in the throes of what Rebecca West glimpsed in the Balkans some time ago. The bitter hatred and rejectionism that drives this conflict still hasn’t ebbed even in Egypt 30 years after a peace treaty was signed. It’s hard for most of us in the West to believe that some people prefer war to peace when they could have either, but they do. Ali Salem, bless his heart, has been contending with them for years.

Egyptian playwright Ali Salem visited Israel in 1994 to “rid himself of hatred,” as he put it, and he wrote a slim volume about his experience called A Drive to Israel. His book was a bestseller in Egypt, but Cairo’s intellectual class ostracized him. The Egyptian Cinema Association and the Egyptian Writers Association canceled his memberships.

The Middle East Media Research Institute just translated an interview with him in Kuwait’s daily An Nahar newspaper that makes for depressing reading. His interlocutor harangues him throughout and comes across only somewhat more reasonable than the intellectual colleagues who shunned him.

“My trip posed a serious challenge to the Egyptian intellectuals and the entire Egyptian society,” Salem said. “How are we to treat this small society next to us [i.e., Israeli society]? Reality forced us to embark upon a peace campaign with the society that defeated us ruthlessly in 1967. My generation cannot overcome the hurt of 1967. All the attacks on me were because I forced them to face the truth.”

It’s difficult to even imagine a Western intellectual getting in this kind of trouble for writing a sympathetic portrait of former enemies decades after peace has been made. When our wars are over, they’re over whether we win or lose.

No one in the United States wants to reignite conflicts with Germany, Japan, Vietnam, or any other country we’re no longer at war with. While we argue among ourselves about whether it’s a good idea to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, no one in the U.S. prefers war in Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else if peace and normal relations are viable options.

Americans from one end of the political spectrum to the other would be thrilled to see Iraq and Afghanistan as stable, prosperous countries at peace with themselves, their neighbors, and us. We don’t even have a marginalized fringe group unhappy with the fact that Germany and Japan emerged as they did from World War II. The U.S. lost the war in Vietnam in the 1970s, as Egypt lost its last war with Israel in the 1970s, but no one among us wants to fight it all over again or wishes that we were still slugging it out.

We Westerners aren’t unique in our ability to forgive, forget, and move on. I have never visited Vietnam, but everyone I know who has says even Vietnamese who supported the Communist side seem to hold no grudges against Americans.

My grandfather fought in both Europe and the Pacific as a United States Army officer during World War II. He visited Tokyo many years later and purged some of his demons there just as Ali Salem did in Israel. My mother has a picture of him smiling with his arms around a former Kamikaze pilot. I don’t know what these two former enemies said to each other, but my mother who traveled to Japan with him said it was a transformative experience for both of them.

Though my grandfather was not a public intellectual, if he had been, and if he had written about his own personal reconciliation, there is no chance his American colleagues would have shunned him or revoked his memberships from the institutions he worked with. Many Israeli writers, intellectuals, academics, and activists likewise have visited the Palestinian territories and other Arab countries with Ali Salem’s spirit. None have been ostracized by their peers. On the contrary, they’re usually lauded.

It’s easy, for those so inclined, to prefer war to peace with Israel while living in places like Damascus and Cairo. Everyone killed recently in the Arab-Israeli conflict lived in Israel, Gaza, and Lebanon. No one is shooting at Cairenes or the residents of Damascus. Egyptians, Syrians, and most other Arabs can enjoy, if that is the word, the emotional satisfaction of hostility with the hated “Zionist Entity” without suffering any consequences.

“It is strange that some people [still] say, ‘What good did the peace [agreement] do us?'” Ali Salem said. “My answer to them is this: ‘You refuse to recognize [the value] of peace, [and] therefore you are unable to understand what peace has created. . . . The [mere] fact that you return to your home safely and are not hit by a sniper’s bullet or by a missile falling from the sky, that you do not [have to] darken your windows and fortify your door with sandbags, or check the list of the fallen every morning — all that, or [at least] some of it, is thanks to peace.”

But what of the people in Gaza and South Lebanon? They actually do have to live with the consequences of war. Support for Hezbollah and armed conflict with Israel is much stronger in south Lebanon and the suburbs south of Beirut–the parts of the country that suffer almost all casualties–than it is in central Beirut, the north, or Mount Lebanon. This can be mostly explained by sectarian and regional politics, but there’s another element, too, that is illogical and barely even explicable.

Emotions aren’t rational. Love and hatred certainly aren’t, anyway, and neither is that dark part of the human psyche that thrills to war and destruction. Rebecca West put her finger on it in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, her masterful travel narrative set in Yugoslavia on the eve of World War II. “Only part of us is sane,” she wrote. “Only part of us loves pleasure and the longer day of happiness, wants to live to our 90s and die in peace, in a house that we built, that shall shelter those who come after us. The other half of us is nearly mad. It prefers the disagreeable to the agreeable, loves pain and its darker night despair, and wants to die in a catastrophe that will set life back to its beginnings and leave nothing of our house save its blackened foundations.”

President Barack Obama, like his predecessors, hopes to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all. There’s no viable solution, though, when people on one side can’t even make peace with the idea of peace. A distressingly large percentage of the Palestinian population is still in the throes of what Rebecca West glimpsed in the Balkans some time ago. The bitter hatred and rejectionism that drives this conflict still hasn’t ebbed even in Egypt 30 years after a peace treaty was signed. It’s hard for most of us in the West to believe that some people prefer war to peace when they could have either, but they do. Ali Salem, bless his heart, has been contending with them for years.

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The History Behind Netanyahu’s History

Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the United Nations was steeped in history–history denied by some members of the UN, and lessons of history ignored by others. He ended by stating that peace would ultimately depend on whether the international community confronted, or accommodated, the forces led by Iran. His concluding paragraphs offered a quotation from Churchill:

Over seventy years ago, Winston Churchill lamented what he called the “confirmed unteachability of mankind,” the unfortunate habit of civilized societies to sleep until danger nearly overtakes them.

Churchill bemoaned what he called the “want of foresight, the unwillingness to act when action will be simple and effective, the lack of clear thinking, the confusion of counsel until emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong.”

I speak here today in the hope that Churchill’s assessment of the “unteachability of mankind” is for once proven wrong.

There is a history behind the Churchill quotation, unspoken by Netanyahu, that is necessary to recount in order to appreciate its full import.  

The quotation came from Churchill’s speech to the House of Commons on May 2, 1935, on German rearmament, which had proceeded much more rapidly than the government’s intelligence had indicated and had already reached a stage that was beyond the power of “engagement” to reverse. It caused Churchill to ask why steps had not been taken two or three years before, when “alarm bells [had been] set ringing, and even jangling:”

It is possible that the dangers into which we are steadily advancing would never have arisen. . . . [But] when the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure.

Then Churchill provided his own answer to why England had allowed the situation to reach the point where the Germans, through rearmament, would shortly be able “if they chose — and why should they not choose? — to reverse the results of the Great War:”

There is nothing new to the story. It is as old as [Rome]. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong — these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.

Netanyahu left out Churchill’s references to “the fruitlessness of experience” and the “endless repetition of history.” The omission was undoubtedly intentional, reflecting Netanyahu’s concluding hope that the history he had recounted would be a teachable moment, not another instance of the “unteachability of mankind,” and that the world would not be condemned to repeat that history.

His history lesson was reinforced by the speech from the same podium by the president of Iran–who has repeatedly expressed intentions at least as clear as those Churchill discerned in 1935 and who presides over an armament program even clearer and more dangerous than Germany’s at that time.

But Netanyahu was also preceded by the president of the United States, who delivered an extraordinarily self-referential speech, with no sense of either history or the storm gathering before him. Obama’s speech may someday stun historians–except, perhaps, for those aware he began his term by packing up the bust of Churchill and writing on it “Return to Sender.”

Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the United Nations was steeped in history–history denied by some members of the UN, and lessons of history ignored by others. He ended by stating that peace would ultimately depend on whether the international community confronted, or accommodated, the forces led by Iran. His concluding paragraphs offered a quotation from Churchill:

Over seventy years ago, Winston Churchill lamented what he called the “confirmed unteachability of mankind,” the unfortunate habit of civilized societies to sleep until danger nearly overtakes them.

Churchill bemoaned what he called the “want of foresight, the unwillingness to act when action will be simple and effective, the lack of clear thinking, the confusion of counsel until emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong.”

I speak here today in the hope that Churchill’s assessment of the “unteachability of mankind” is for once proven wrong.

There is a history behind the Churchill quotation, unspoken by Netanyahu, that is necessary to recount in order to appreciate its full import.  

The quotation came from Churchill’s speech to the House of Commons on May 2, 1935, on German rearmament, which had proceeded much more rapidly than the government’s intelligence had indicated and had already reached a stage that was beyond the power of “engagement” to reverse. It caused Churchill to ask why steps had not been taken two or three years before, when “alarm bells [had been] set ringing, and even jangling:”

It is possible that the dangers into which we are steadily advancing would never have arisen. . . . [But] when the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure.

Then Churchill provided his own answer to why England had allowed the situation to reach the point where the Germans, through rearmament, would shortly be able “if they chose — and why should they not choose? — to reverse the results of the Great War:”

There is nothing new to the story. It is as old as [Rome]. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong — these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.

Netanyahu left out Churchill’s references to “the fruitlessness of experience” and the “endless repetition of history.” The omission was undoubtedly intentional, reflecting Netanyahu’s concluding hope that the history he had recounted would be a teachable moment, not another instance of the “unteachability of mankind,” and that the world would not be condemned to repeat that history.

His history lesson was reinforced by the speech from the same podium by the president of Iran–who has repeatedly expressed intentions at least as clear as those Churchill discerned in 1935 and who presides over an armament program even clearer and more dangerous than Germany’s at that time.

But Netanyahu was also preceded by the president of the United States, who delivered an extraordinarily self-referential speech, with no sense of either history or the storm gathering before him. Obama’s speech may someday stun historians–except, perhaps, for those aware he began his term by packing up the bust of Churchill and writing on it “Return to Sender.”

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Why Victory Is Never Permanent

The Washington Post reports:

Democratic political committees have seen a decline in their fundraising fortunes this year, a result of complacency among their rank-and-file donors and a de facto boycott by many of their wealthiest givers, who have been put off by the party’s harsh anti-business rhetoric.

The trend is a marked reversal from recent history, in which Democrats have erased the GOP’s long-standing fundraising advantage. In the first six months of 2009, Democratic campaign committees’ receipts have dropped in comparison to the same period two years earlier.

Meanwhile Republicans, who were declared comatose less than a year ago, are marching in the streets, flooding town-hall meetings, and raising money from donors determined to mount efforts to recapture the House and boost numbers in the Senate.

Once again we see the natural ebb and flow of politics. One party sweeps to power based on a wave of popular disgust. It over-interprets the election results as a green light to pull the country sharply in its direction. Drunk with power and riding high, ethical lapses are ignored, theories of a permanent majority are concocted, and the opposition is treated with contempt. But an agenda lacking popular support flounders. The backlash begins, the public senses that the politicians have gone too far, and the cries “teach them a lesson!” and “throw the bums out!” goes up. It could be 1994 or 2006 or 2010. After all, overreach and incompetent governance is not the sole province of either party.

Democrats in this case have added to this phenomenon by antagonizing their wealthy donors. Class welfare and tax hikes don’t apparently sell well in Manhattan and Beverly Hills. The report notes:

Other Democrats and their aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal party strategy, said that rhetoric toward big business has grown so antagonistic that it has become increasingly difficult to raise money on Wall Street, particularly after the controversy about bonuses and executive compensation.

We are a bit more than a month away from the first significant elections in the Obama era. The New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races will provide a clue as to just how strongly the political momentum has shifted. If one or both fall into the Republican column, you can expect to see the tide of panic rise as Democrats realize their “permanent” majority is no more permanent than was the Republicans’.

The Washington Post reports:

Democratic political committees have seen a decline in their fundraising fortunes this year, a result of complacency among their rank-and-file donors and a de facto boycott by many of their wealthiest givers, who have been put off by the party’s harsh anti-business rhetoric.

The trend is a marked reversal from recent history, in which Democrats have erased the GOP’s long-standing fundraising advantage. In the first six months of 2009, Democratic campaign committees’ receipts have dropped in comparison to the same period two years earlier.

Meanwhile Republicans, who were declared comatose less than a year ago, are marching in the streets, flooding town-hall meetings, and raising money from donors determined to mount efforts to recapture the House and boost numbers in the Senate.

Once again we see the natural ebb and flow of politics. One party sweeps to power based on a wave of popular disgust. It over-interprets the election results as a green light to pull the country sharply in its direction. Drunk with power and riding high, ethical lapses are ignored, theories of a permanent majority are concocted, and the opposition is treated with contempt. But an agenda lacking popular support flounders. The backlash begins, the public senses that the politicians have gone too far, and the cries “teach them a lesson!” and “throw the bums out!” goes up. It could be 1994 or 2006 or 2010. After all, overreach and incompetent governance is not the sole province of either party.

Democrats in this case have added to this phenomenon by antagonizing their wealthy donors. Class welfare and tax hikes don’t apparently sell well in Manhattan and Beverly Hills. The report notes:

Other Democrats and their aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal party strategy, said that rhetoric toward big business has grown so antagonistic that it has become increasingly difficult to raise money on Wall Street, particularly after the controversy about bonuses and executive compensation.

We are a bit more than a month away from the first significant elections in the Obama era. The New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races will provide a clue as to just how strongly the political momentum has shifted. If one or both fall into the Republican column, you can expect to see the tide of panic rise as Democrats realize their “permanent” majority is no more permanent than was the Republicans’.

Read Less




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