Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 26, 2009

Honorable Discharge

Jennifer wrote this morning about the discharge petition now under consideration in the House. It would force a vote on a measure to change House rules so as to require that all but emergency bills be posted on the Web for three full days before a vote can be taken on them. Besides the article in the Hill that Jennifer referred to, John Fund of the Wall Street Journal also writes this morning on the subject.

This is an idea that is hard to argue against, at least if you want to give lip service to the notion that the federal government is a government by the people as well as of and for them. That, of course, doesn’t stop some from trying. Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota, says that proposals such as this are useless because only 5 percent of Americans would be capable of understanding the legalese that acts of Congress are necessarily written in. “Anybody who thinks that is going to be transparent to the American people,” Conrad said, “is really not telling it like it is.”

Really? Since the population of the United States is more than 300 million, that means that, by Sen. Conrad’s count, there are 15 million people capable of reading, comprehending, and vetting a bill in this country. That’s quite a proofreading committee. And no small part of the power of the blogosphere is that it brings together, instantly, remarkable amounts of expertise. Just ask Dan Rather, whose 2004 hit job on President Bush was blown to smithereens on the Internet in 24 hours, let alone 72. With 15 million pairs of eyeballs scanning it, even the longest and most convoluted bill can be picked over quite efficiently.

In the 15th century, the printing press made the distribution of information cheaper by at least an order of magnitude. The number of books in Western Europe increased in the next 50 years from perhaps 50,000 to 10 million. The result was, among much else, the Reformation of the 16th century, the scientific revolution of the 17th, and the Enlightenment of the 18th. In the 19th century, the steam engine as a power source for rotary presses reduced the price again by an order of magnitude, and the mass media informing an ever-more-educated population powered the spread of democracy through the Western world. Today it is the microprocessor and the Internet that are, once again, radically reducing the cost of information and increasing the speed of its distribution by orders of magnitude.

The political establishment is not happy about that, and well they might not be. After all, the printing press greatly and permanently reduced the power of the Catholic Church. The mass media—in the form of the Times of London and a reporter named William Howard Russell—exposed the squalor, disease, and ineptitude of the British army in the Crimean War and brought down the government of Lord Aberdeen. Today the extraordinary power of the Internet to reveal the inner workings of Washington to the public is a clear and present danger to the power of the political establishment—the politicians, the lobbyists, and, by no means least, the old media.

They will fight to maintain the status quo. But it will be a losing fight, not least because they can’t actually argue against the concept without arguing that the people should butt out of the process by which the people are governed.

Jennifer wrote this morning about the discharge petition now under consideration in the House. It would force a vote on a measure to change House rules so as to require that all but emergency bills be posted on the Web for three full days before a vote can be taken on them. Besides the article in the Hill that Jennifer referred to, John Fund of the Wall Street Journal also writes this morning on the subject.

This is an idea that is hard to argue against, at least if you want to give lip service to the notion that the federal government is a government by the people as well as of and for them. That, of course, doesn’t stop some from trying. Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota, says that proposals such as this are useless because only 5 percent of Americans would be capable of understanding the legalese that acts of Congress are necessarily written in. “Anybody who thinks that is going to be transparent to the American people,” Conrad said, “is really not telling it like it is.”

Really? Since the population of the United States is more than 300 million, that means that, by Sen. Conrad’s count, there are 15 million people capable of reading, comprehending, and vetting a bill in this country. That’s quite a proofreading committee. And no small part of the power of the blogosphere is that it brings together, instantly, remarkable amounts of expertise. Just ask Dan Rather, whose 2004 hit job on President Bush was blown to smithereens on the Internet in 24 hours, let alone 72. With 15 million pairs of eyeballs scanning it, even the longest and most convoluted bill can be picked over quite efficiently.

In the 15th century, the printing press made the distribution of information cheaper by at least an order of magnitude. The number of books in Western Europe increased in the next 50 years from perhaps 50,000 to 10 million. The result was, among much else, the Reformation of the 16th century, the scientific revolution of the 17th, and the Enlightenment of the 18th. In the 19th century, the steam engine as a power source for rotary presses reduced the price again by an order of magnitude, and the mass media informing an ever-more-educated population powered the spread of democracy through the Western world. Today it is the microprocessor and the Internet that are, once again, radically reducing the cost of information and increasing the speed of its distribution by orders of magnitude.

The political establishment is not happy about that, and well they might not be. After all, the printing press greatly and permanently reduced the power of the Catholic Church. The mass media—in the form of the Times of London and a reporter named William Howard Russell—exposed the squalor, disease, and ineptitude of the British army in the Crimean War and brought down the government of Lord Aberdeen. Today the extraordinary power of the Internet to reveal the inner workings of Washington to the public is a clear and present danger to the power of the political establishment—the politicians, the lobbyists, and, by no means least, the old media.

They will fight to maintain the status quo. But it will be a losing fight, not least because they can’t actually argue against the concept without arguing that the people should butt out of the process by which the people are governed.

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Military Transparency

That’s quite a scoop New York Times reporter James Glanz uncovered—”secret” figures on civilian deaths in Iraq over the years. He writes that U.S. forces were often guilty of “refusing to release figures or claiming that they did not exist. Obtaining information on the deaths was an exhausting, grisly and often clandestine affair.” This presumed cover-up has now been cracked by the Congressional Research Service in a recent report, a copy of which “was posted online by Secrecy News, a publication of the Federation of American Scientists.”

As a bit of muckraking, this is not going to displace the Pentagon Papers or Abu Ghraib, I’m afraid. Those figures on Iraqi deaths that Glanz hypes? They were declassified by General David Petraeus in 2007 and presented to Congress and indeed the whole world. See, for example, the Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index for September 27, 2007; the figures are on page 13.

There have admittedly been questions raised about the accuracy of the figures, because the Iraqi government generated numbers at variance with those of the U.S. military. But under General Petraeus’s direction, our forces released both Iraqi and American estimates and worked hard to reconcile differences between the two, which were inevitable given the chaotic conditions in Iraq and the lack of precise record-keeping. Although the U.S. armed forces do keep a lot of information classified—usually for good reason—they have been more open in presenting data on their work than any other military that I am familiar with; matched, perhaps, only by the Israelis. But I know soldiers won’t be holding their breath waiting to be congratulated by the news media and various independent “watchdogs” for their openness and transparency. Instead, ever since Vietnam, it has become axiomatic that the military must be “covering up” something.

That’s quite a scoop New York Times reporter James Glanz uncovered—”secret” figures on civilian deaths in Iraq over the years. He writes that U.S. forces were often guilty of “refusing to release figures or claiming that they did not exist. Obtaining information on the deaths was an exhausting, grisly and often clandestine affair.” This presumed cover-up has now been cracked by the Congressional Research Service in a recent report, a copy of which “was posted online by Secrecy News, a publication of the Federation of American Scientists.”

As a bit of muckraking, this is not going to displace the Pentagon Papers or Abu Ghraib, I’m afraid. Those figures on Iraqi deaths that Glanz hypes? They were declassified by General David Petraeus in 2007 and presented to Congress and indeed the whole world. See, for example, the Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index for September 27, 2007; the figures are on page 13.

There have admittedly been questions raised about the accuracy of the figures, because the Iraqi government generated numbers at variance with those of the U.S. military. But under General Petraeus’s direction, our forces released both Iraqi and American estimates and worked hard to reconcile differences between the two, which were inevitable given the chaotic conditions in Iraq and the lack of precise record-keeping. Although the U.S. armed forces do keep a lot of information classified—usually for good reason—they have been more open in presenting data on their work than any other military that I am familiar with; matched, perhaps, only by the Israelis. But I know soldiers won’t be holding their breath waiting to be congratulated by the news media and various independent “watchdogs” for their openness and transparency. Instead, ever since Vietnam, it has become axiomatic that the military must be “covering up” something.

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Russia and Iran: What Is the Deal?

Back at the Guardian, Simon Tisdall attributes the brusque U-turn in Russian foreign policy on Iran to two master strokes of President Obama’s foreign policy. One is obviously the recent revelation of the Qom clandestine enrichment facility; the other is scrapping missile defense. Thus writes Tisdall:

Russia’s new-found readiness to consider the “far tougher” sanctions demanded by Gordon Brown at the UN this week is doubtless linked to this confirmation of Iranian bad faith. But it also has an evident bilateral dimension in terms of Moscow’s relations with the US.

All those who were writing off Barack Obama last week as a foreign policy lightweight may now reflect at leisure on how he has achieved two major objectives in almost as many days: Russia is back on side, for now at least, thanks to his decision to re-model European missile defence. And China is now isolated in the security council in opposing new sanctions on Iran–a position it always tries to avoid on any major issue, and which it may now find untenable.

One should never think the Russians are in the pockets when it comes to Iran—but there is no doubt that the latest revelations are a headache for those in Kremlin arguing that stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions is not the highest (or even a high) Russian strategic priority. Still, we fail to see why missile defense is suddenly a stroke of brilliance. If the goal here was to sway Russia, exposing Qom’s clandestine facility should have been more than enough. There was no need to sacrifice Poland and the Czech Republic. Had the President exposed Qom prior to scrapping missile defense, one could argue that the Russians would have done the same. They would have expressed concern and used the same blunt words voiced by President Medvedev.

The details of the newly exposed plant are such that a Russian attempt to demur and pretend business is usual would have been met with scorn and derision by the world. The fact of the matter is, President Obama did not need to sacrifice missile defense to Russia if it wished to get Russia more determined to help on the Iran dossier. All he had to do was expose Qom.

There is no doubt that many on the Left will continue to link missile defense to some supposed grand bargain with Russia on Iran. The evidence is scant. And given what we’ve learned of Iran’s nuclear program in the last few days, it would be a shame if the U.S. President felt that he needed to sacrifice an American promise to trusted NATO allies to get the Russians on board.

Back at the Guardian, Simon Tisdall attributes the brusque U-turn in Russian foreign policy on Iran to two master strokes of President Obama’s foreign policy. One is obviously the recent revelation of the Qom clandestine enrichment facility; the other is scrapping missile defense. Thus writes Tisdall:

Russia’s new-found readiness to consider the “far tougher” sanctions demanded by Gordon Brown at the UN this week is doubtless linked to this confirmation of Iranian bad faith. But it also has an evident bilateral dimension in terms of Moscow’s relations with the US.

All those who were writing off Barack Obama last week as a foreign policy lightweight may now reflect at leisure on how he has achieved two major objectives in almost as many days: Russia is back on side, for now at least, thanks to his decision to re-model European missile defence. And China is now isolated in the security council in opposing new sanctions on Iran–a position it always tries to avoid on any major issue, and which it may now find untenable.

One should never think the Russians are in the pockets when it comes to Iran—but there is no doubt that the latest revelations are a headache for those in Kremlin arguing that stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions is not the highest (or even a high) Russian strategic priority. Still, we fail to see why missile defense is suddenly a stroke of brilliance. If the goal here was to sway Russia, exposing Qom’s clandestine facility should have been more than enough. There was no need to sacrifice Poland and the Czech Republic. Had the President exposed Qom prior to scrapping missile defense, one could argue that the Russians would have done the same. They would have expressed concern and used the same blunt words voiced by President Medvedev.

The details of the newly exposed plant are such that a Russian attempt to demur and pretend business is usual would have been met with scorn and derision by the world. The fact of the matter is, President Obama did not need to sacrifice missile defense to Russia if it wished to get Russia more determined to help on the Iran dossier. All he had to do was expose Qom.

There is no doubt that many on the Left will continue to link missile defense to some supposed grand bargain with Russia on Iran. The evidence is scant. And given what we’ve learned of Iran’s nuclear program in the last few days, it would be a shame if the U.S. President felt that he needed to sacrifice an American promise to trusted NATO allies to get the Russians on board.

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Iranian Missile Crisis?

Reading this front-page New York Times account, headlined, “A Cryptic Note from Tehran Ignites Days of Urgent Diplomacy,” I thought I was reading about the Cuban Missile Crisis. There is the same tone of urgency and drama, the same concern with who said what when, and, above all, the same sense of a masterly president in command of events. By the time I got to the end of all this breathless prose, I was left wondering what the big deal was all about. So Iran is concealing another enrichment facility. Is anyone surprised? The question is what are we going to do about it? The answer is not much. We will still hold talks with Iran and then, assuming nothing comes out of those talks, seek yet another sanctions resolution from the United Nations. The Obama administration is hopeful that the latest revelations will spur Russia and China to sign on. But the only sanctions likely to have much impact would cut off all exports of refined petroleum to Iran. How likely is it that Russia and China will agree to that? Still not very likely, especially considering that China has become a big exporter of refined petroleum to Iran.

In the end, the only step—short of bombing the Iranian sites—that would likely have a meaningful impact would be if we were to declare an embargo on all Iranian gasoline imports and send over the U.S. Navy to enforce it. That would be similar to the actions John F. Kennedy took against Cuba. But there is no indication that President Obama will ever seriously consider such a step. So the breathless revelations about the Iranian facility at Qum are not likely to precipitate a full-blown crisis, unless they finally lead Israel to send its aircraft to take out the Iranian facilities.

Reading this front-page New York Times account, headlined, “A Cryptic Note from Tehran Ignites Days of Urgent Diplomacy,” I thought I was reading about the Cuban Missile Crisis. There is the same tone of urgency and drama, the same concern with who said what when, and, above all, the same sense of a masterly president in command of events. By the time I got to the end of all this breathless prose, I was left wondering what the big deal was all about. So Iran is concealing another enrichment facility. Is anyone surprised? The question is what are we going to do about it? The answer is not much. We will still hold talks with Iran and then, assuming nothing comes out of those talks, seek yet another sanctions resolution from the United Nations. The Obama administration is hopeful that the latest revelations will spur Russia and China to sign on. But the only sanctions likely to have much impact would cut off all exports of refined petroleum to Iran. How likely is it that Russia and China will agree to that? Still not very likely, especially considering that China has become a big exporter of refined petroleum to Iran.

In the end, the only step—short of bombing the Iranian sites—that would likely have a meaningful impact would be if we were to declare an embargo on all Iranian gasoline imports and send over the U.S. Navy to enforce it. That would be similar to the actions John F. Kennedy took against Cuba. But there is no indication that President Obama will ever seriously consider such a step. So the breathless revelations about the Iranian facility at Qum are not likely to precipitate a full-blown crisis, unless they finally lead Israel to send its aircraft to take out the Iranian facilities.

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How’s That Multilateralism Going?

Obama and his Left-leaning supporters in universities and the media swoon over the idea of “multilateralism.” Unilateralism is not only portrayed as simplistic, arrogant and chauvinistic but also as ineffectual. Multilateral meetings, multilateral institutions, and, well, anything “multi” are preferable over America just doing what it wants, even in consultation with a group of similarly minded allies (presuming we still have any after the way we’ve treated Poland, the Czech Republic, Honduras, and Israel). Multilateralism is considered by Obama and his ilk as smart and, in the right hands, a vastly superior methodology for solving the world’s problems. But how does multilateralism work in practice? We had two examples this week.

On the economic front we hear: “The Group of 20 nations agreed to establish an elaborate structure to coordinate economic policies, but without any enforcement mechanism to make countries live up to their word, critics warned the plan could be toothless.” Oh well, every country just does what it wants, it seems.

How’s global warming going? We learn:

Prospects for securing a global agreement this year to attack climate change dimmed Friday, as the Group of 20 largest economies asked their finance ministers for a “range of possible options” to finance deployment of technology to curb greenhouse gases, but dropped demands that a final proposal be drafted before the world climate summit in Copenhagen in December.

G-20 heads of government also dropped efforts to set a date for countries to eliminate fossil-fuel subsidies, despite a push for action on the issue by President Barack Obama.

The G-20′s resolutions on climate issues have been vague and lacking in hard deadlines, illustrating the reluctance of leaders to take tough action to curb the long-term threat of global warming at a time when their economies are struggling to recover from the more immediate effects of the financial crisis.

Once again, every country for itself.

Now if you are against international regimes of mind-numbing regulations and bureaucracies that are likely to stifle growth and employment, these are positive developments. But for those who are enraptured by the concept of multilateralism, the reality of multilateralism should give them pause. It might feel all warm and fuzzy to act with hands clasped with so many, but in practice it soon devolves into platitudes and communiques, leaving every nation to do pretty much what it it wants.

And that of course is even more true when it comes to national-security threats and wars. Expecting “the international community” to act in concert when nations have sharply conflicting interests and values is foolish. Our president nevertheless is very enamored of this approach. But one can’t help but conclude that multilateralism is really an excuse for doing nothing. And that, on Iran, is exactly what we are doing.

Obama and his Left-leaning supporters in universities and the media swoon over the idea of “multilateralism.” Unilateralism is not only portrayed as simplistic, arrogant and chauvinistic but also as ineffectual. Multilateral meetings, multilateral institutions, and, well, anything “multi” are preferable over America just doing what it wants, even in consultation with a group of similarly minded allies (presuming we still have any after the way we’ve treated Poland, the Czech Republic, Honduras, and Israel). Multilateralism is considered by Obama and his ilk as smart and, in the right hands, a vastly superior methodology for solving the world’s problems. But how does multilateralism work in practice? We had two examples this week.

On the economic front we hear: “The Group of 20 nations agreed to establish an elaborate structure to coordinate economic policies, but without any enforcement mechanism to make countries live up to their word, critics warned the plan could be toothless.” Oh well, every country just does what it wants, it seems.

How’s global warming going? We learn:

Prospects for securing a global agreement this year to attack climate change dimmed Friday, as the Group of 20 largest economies asked their finance ministers for a “range of possible options” to finance deployment of technology to curb greenhouse gases, but dropped demands that a final proposal be drafted before the world climate summit in Copenhagen in December.

G-20 heads of government also dropped efforts to set a date for countries to eliminate fossil-fuel subsidies, despite a push for action on the issue by President Barack Obama.

The G-20′s resolutions on climate issues have been vague and lacking in hard deadlines, illustrating the reluctance of leaders to take tough action to curb the long-term threat of global warming at a time when their economies are struggling to recover from the more immediate effects of the financial crisis.

Once again, every country for itself.

Now if you are against international regimes of mind-numbing regulations and bureaucracies that are likely to stifle growth and employment, these are positive developments. But for those who are enraptured by the concept of multilateralism, the reality of multilateralism should give them pause. It might feel all warm and fuzzy to act with hands clasped with so many, but in practice it soon devolves into platitudes and communiques, leaving every nation to do pretty much what it it wants.

And that of course is even more true when it comes to national-security threats and wars. Expecting “the international community” to act in concert when nations have sharply conflicting interests and values is foolish. Our president nevertheless is very enamored of this approach. But one can’t help but conclude that multilateralism is really an excuse for doing nothing. And that, on Iran, is exactly what we are doing.

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Slowing to a Crawl

Everyone, that is everyone in the punditocracy, keeps insisting that some form of health-care reform just has to pass. Inevitable, they say. Too risky not to. But it sure doesn’t look that way based on this week’s developments. The Hill reports:

A key Senate panel wrapped up the first week of its consideration of a sweeping healthcare reform bill with major questions unanswered.

The Senate Finance Committee began marking up legislation authored by Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) Tuesday but called it a week at midday Friday and will not resume until Tuesday.

“This was a good week. It was a productive week. And next week, our work will continue,” Baucus said in a statement. “We will continue to make this a better bill.” . . .

But what Baucus did not have Tuesday, and continues to lack, is a clear path to success.

“We have debated, we have questioned, we have prodded at times, and we have discussed — and discussed. Most important, we continue to move forward,” Baucus said.

In its current form, however, the bill does not address complaints about key issues, such as whether it would make health insurance affordable for lower- and middle-class people or whether it would adequately strengthen coverage in existing government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

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Everyone, that is everyone in the punditocracy, keeps insisting that some form of health-care reform just has to pass. Inevitable, they say. Too risky not to. But it sure doesn’t look that way based on this week’s developments. The Hill reports:

A key Senate panel wrapped up the first week of its consideration of a sweeping healthcare reform bill with major questions unanswered.

The Senate Finance Committee began marking up legislation authored by Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) Tuesday but called it a week at midday Friday and will not resume until Tuesday.

“This was a good week. It was a productive week. And next week, our work will continue,” Baucus said in a statement. “We will continue to make this a better bill.” . . .

But what Baucus did not have Tuesday, and continues to lack, is a clear path to success.

“We have debated, we have questioned, we have prodded at times, and we have discussed — and discussed. Most important, we continue to move forward,” Baucus said.

In its current form, however, the bill does not address complaints about key issues, such as whether it would make health insurance affordable for lower- and middle-class people or whether it would adequately strengthen coverage in existing government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

At some point, huge, complicated and highly controversial legislation lacking strong popular support simply collapses. That’s what happened to social security and immigration reform under George W. Bush, and one senses that we are now meandering in the legislative weeds once again without direction or momentum.

Remember what Baucus’s committee is up to: plowing through 500 amendments. Tevi Troy explains:

In addition to the fact that these kinds of hearings can be very boring, we have learned a variety of things about the Baucus plan and the process over the last few days:

First, the mandate really is a tax increase, despite the president’s protestations. The penalty for violating the mandate will be collected by IRS. In addition, the “fees” on manufacturers will be passed on to consumers, which is another form of tax.

Second, the effect of the bill will be to raise the price of insurance for healthy individuals, especially the young, who voted in heavy numbers for Obama. This will hurt low-income people as well by making it harder for them to purchase insurance.

Third, some of the amendments exposed some real weaknesses that the Democrats will have to work through . . . [and] all but one of the Democrats voted to strike the Bunning amendment, which would have required that the bill text be available online for 72 hours before the vote on it.

In addition, Democrats also rejected the Hatch amendment, which would have stopped implementing the bill’s provisions if 1 million Americans lost “the current coverage of their choice.” This is effectively an admission that Democrats believe many Americans will lose their health insurance as a result of the bill. If they didn’t fear the possibility, it would have been easy to vote for Hatch.

In the end, the Baucus bill, with or without those hundreds of amendments, may be irrelevant. As the Washington Post noted:

In a plodding week of partisan sniping, the bill that was supposed to be President Obama’s greatest hope for a grand bipartisan solution was instead described as little more than a decent rough draft, certain to be rewritten by others. The president’s own party remains sharply divided over fundamental questions such as whether to create a government-sponsored insurance option, whether employers should be required to contribute to the cost of health care, and who should bear the burden of expanding and improving the current system. And Republicans used the week of committee wrangling to sow doubts about possible tax increases and proposed Medicare reductions needed to pay for reform.

What we really learned this week is that unless Democrats are willing to ram through a huge revolutionary change in health care that a majority of Americans don’t support on a strict party-line vote with the help of controversial legislative tricks, the only hope of reform lies in breaking it up into discrete parts, focusing on some incremental reforms with bipartisan support and calling it a day. At some point, I suspect, that is where we will wind up.

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Bond Ups the Ante on Holder

The Washington Times reports that the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), Kit Bond, is pulling out of what was to have been a bipartisan review of Bush-era interrogation techniques. The reason he cited is Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to proceed simultaneously with a special prosecutor’s investigation of CIA operatives whom career prosecutors already investigated and determined would not be subject to any criminal charges.

I contacted Bond’s office Friday evening. A spokesperson explained Bond’s thinking: “As Bond said before, it doesn’t take much to figure out that, with a criminal investigation hanging over the agency’s head, every CIA terror fighter will be in CYA mode. At a time when things are heating up in Afghanistan and Iraq, this is not good news for our intelligence community or the safety of our nation.” The spokesperson continued: “The senator was hopeful the SSCI could do a bipartisan review–but as he pointed out in his statement, Justice’s decision makes impossible the committee’s ability to interview current or former CIA employees. What kind of review can you do without speaking to the key players involved?”

Ironically, there is another person who agrees with Bond that Holder’s actions have bollixed up the SSCI’s work: Chairman Diane Feinstein. She explained when Holder announced his decision that she wished he had waited and that a comprehensive review is the “appropriate way” to get to the bottom of this. Perhaps she will agree with Bond and the two will implore the White House to call off Holder’s witch hunt. After all, Greg Craig is already taking the blame for the Guantanamo mess, so maybe the decision to name a special prosecutor can likewise be laid at his feet–and then short-circuited.

Bond deserves credit for putting Holder and Obama’s hyper-partisan tactics back in the spotlight and explaining just how counterproductive they are. Let’s see if Feinstein or any other Democrat agrees.

The Washington Times reports that the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), Kit Bond, is pulling out of what was to have been a bipartisan review of Bush-era interrogation techniques. The reason he cited is Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to proceed simultaneously with a special prosecutor’s investigation of CIA operatives whom career prosecutors already investigated and determined would not be subject to any criminal charges.

I contacted Bond’s office Friday evening. A spokesperson explained Bond’s thinking: “As Bond said before, it doesn’t take much to figure out that, with a criminal investigation hanging over the agency’s head, every CIA terror fighter will be in CYA mode. At a time when things are heating up in Afghanistan and Iraq, this is not good news for our intelligence community or the safety of our nation.” The spokesperson continued: “The senator was hopeful the SSCI could do a bipartisan review–but as he pointed out in his statement, Justice’s decision makes impossible the committee’s ability to interview current or former CIA employees. What kind of review can you do without speaking to the key players involved?”

Ironically, there is another person who agrees with Bond that Holder’s actions have bollixed up the SSCI’s work: Chairman Diane Feinstein. She explained when Holder announced his decision that she wished he had waited and that a comprehensive review is the “appropriate way” to get to the bottom of this. Perhaps she will agree with Bond and the two will implore the White House to call off Holder’s witch hunt. After all, Greg Craig is already taking the blame for the Guantanamo mess, so maybe the decision to name a special prosecutor can likewise be laid at his feet–and then short-circuited.

Bond deserves credit for putting Holder and Obama’s hyper-partisan tactics back in the spotlight and explaining just how counterproductive they are. Let’s see if Feinstein or any other Democrat agrees.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Anne Bayefsky notes (as we did) the divergence between Obama’s G-20 comments on Iran and his UN rhetoric: “Why did the president not present this same evidence to the Security Council, the body with ‘the authority and the responsibility to respond’? Why did he not challenge world leaders to deal with the same Iranian threat that he privately was pressing upon U.N. bureaucrats? There is only one possible answer: President Obama does not have the political will to do what it takes to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb.”

Confirming what we suspected: “Interviews with administration and international officials, diplomats, non-proliferation and Iran experts suggest the administration had no plans to announce its suspicions before beginning international talks with Iran next week. But its hand was forced after learning some time during the week of a letter Iran had sent the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency in Vienna acknowledging construction of a previously undisclosed facility.” Would Obama ever have made use of this information?

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors: “Mr. Obama used his global forum this week not to rally the world to stop today’s nuclear rogues but to offer lovely visions of disarmament in some distant future. In the bitter decades of the Cold War, we learned the hard way that the only countries that abide by disarmament treaties are those that want to be disarmed. It’s becoming increasingly, and dangerously, obvious that Mr. Obama wasn’t paying attention.”

It would be encouraging if Obama sounded this serious: “French President Nicolas Sarkozy, sharing the stage with Obama at the Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh, said Friday that time is running out for Iran to avoid answering questions. ‘Everything must now be put on the table,’ he said bluntly. ‘Let us not allow the Iranian leaders to buy time while the centrifuges are turning. And if by December there is no significant change in policy on the part of the Iranian leaders, sanctions will have to be taken.’” But unfortunately, “In his comments Friday, Obama took a strikingly less strident tone than either Sarkozy or British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, suggesting a deliberate strategy to entice Russia and China — skeptics of sanctions.”

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates parrots the administration’s spin that “there is no military solution that buys anything but time.” This is a serious argument? Frighteningly, they are, it appears, convinced that negotiations and paper agreements with a secretive thugocracy even “buys time.” Well, they do buy time, but not for our side.

Michael Gerson on the Virginia gubernatorial race and the snub of Democrat Creigh Deeds by former Governor Doug Wilder: “If you turned off the sound in the current race for Virginia governor and merely looked at the style, approach and background of the candidates, the results are surprising. The candidate who is suburban, policy oriented and moderate in tone is . . . a Republican. The candidate who is rural, angry and ideologically inflamed is . . . a Democrat. This was enough to make Wilder think twice.”

Democrats must be getting nervous that their leadership is leading them over the political cliff: “Five Democrats have signed a discharge petition to force a vote on a measure changing House rules to require that legislation be posted for 72 hours online before a vote. . . . If the petition gains 218 signatures, it would force a vote on the bill. That means Republicans would have to gain another 36 signatures. As of Friday morning, 178 lawmakers had signed on to the petition. It is uncommon for lawmakers to sign a discharge petition to force their leaders into scheduling a vote, as it is seen as a rebuke of leadership.”

Anne Bayefsky notes (as we did) the divergence between Obama’s G-20 comments on Iran and his UN rhetoric: “Why did the president not present this same evidence to the Security Council, the body with ‘the authority and the responsibility to respond’? Why did he not challenge world leaders to deal with the same Iranian threat that he privately was pressing upon U.N. bureaucrats? There is only one possible answer: President Obama does not have the political will to do what it takes to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb.”

Confirming what we suspected: “Interviews with administration and international officials, diplomats, non-proliferation and Iran experts suggest the administration had no plans to announce its suspicions before beginning international talks with Iran next week. But its hand was forced after learning some time during the week of a letter Iran had sent the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency in Vienna acknowledging construction of a previously undisclosed facility.” Would Obama ever have made use of this information?

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors: “Mr. Obama used his global forum this week not to rally the world to stop today’s nuclear rogues but to offer lovely visions of disarmament in some distant future. In the bitter decades of the Cold War, we learned the hard way that the only countries that abide by disarmament treaties are those that want to be disarmed. It’s becoming increasingly, and dangerously, obvious that Mr. Obama wasn’t paying attention.”

It would be encouraging if Obama sounded this serious: “French President Nicolas Sarkozy, sharing the stage with Obama at the Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh, said Friday that time is running out for Iran to avoid answering questions. ‘Everything must now be put on the table,’ he said bluntly. ‘Let us not allow the Iranian leaders to buy time while the centrifuges are turning. And if by December there is no significant change in policy on the part of the Iranian leaders, sanctions will have to be taken.’” But unfortunately, “In his comments Friday, Obama took a strikingly less strident tone than either Sarkozy or British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, suggesting a deliberate strategy to entice Russia and China — skeptics of sanctions.”

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates parrots the administration’s spin that “there is no military solution that buys anything but time.” This is a serious argument? Frighteningly, they are, it appears, convinced that negotiations and paper agreements with a secretive thugocracy even “buys time.” Well, they do buy time, but not for our side.

Michael Gerson on the Virginia gubernatorial race and the snub of Democrat Creigh Deeds by former Governor Doug Wilder: “If you turned off the sound in the current race for Virginia governor and merely looked at the style, approach and background of the candidates, the results are surprising. The candidate who is suburban, policy oriented and moderate in tone is . . . a Republican. The candidate who is rural, angry and ideologically inflamed is . . . a Democrat. This was enough to make Wilder think twice.”

Democrats must be getting nervous that their leadership is leading them over the political cliff: “Five Democrats have signed a discharge petition to force a vote on a measure changing House rules to require that legislation be posted for 72 hours online before a vote. . . . If the petition gains 218 signatures, it would force a vote on the bill. That means Republicans would have to gain another 36 signatures. As of Friday morning, 178 lawmakers had signed on to the petition. It is uncommon for lawmakers to sign a discharge petition to force their leaders into scheduling a vote, as it is seen as a rebuke of leadership.”

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So Little, So Late

David Ignatius wants to know why Obama’s response to the disclosure of the secret Iranian facility is so, well, wimpy. He asks, “So why didn’t the Obama administration lay down an even stronger marker in response to this breakout–by threatening, say, to intercept ships at sea that it believed were carrying parts for the Iranian nuclear program?” The best he can come up with is that the president is trying to maintain “consensus” among other nations who don’t want to do much of anything.

Wait a minute. Obama concealed whatever information he had about this facility–information that could have been used to move domestic and international opinion. He could have gone to the UN with some visual aids–like Bibi Netanyahu did with the Holocaust documents–to make the case to the international community. At the UN he could have dispensed with the filler material on global warming and his insincere praise for open markets and used his opportunity to build consensus so he could then make the case for robust action. To now claim that Obama is a victim of international lethargy is disingenuous in the extreme. Obama has done everything possible to avoid bringing this to the point where he might have to take forceful action. Now he’s been forced there by the Iranians.

And Obama is still spouting double-talk. Sanctions? Well, he’s just exploring a wide range of options. He’s really not into “speculating,” which is what he’s been doing all along since there is no real game plan beyond talking to Iran and seeing how things go. Iranians would be making a “mistake” if they continued on this path. He declares: “I will not get into details about sanctions but if you have the international community making a united front, Iran’s going to have to pay attention.” Or else. Really.

Nowhere do you get the sense that Iran is in any peril because of its behavior in violating existing international agreements and in repeatedly acting to conceal its conduct. The message, if you can find one, is that if America reduces its rhetoric to the lowest common denominator, there will magically be consensus. But consensus is not the goal. Eliminating Iran’s nuclear threat is. Or is it? Obama never really evidences any interest in utilizing military options, if need be, to remove that threat. It has been and continues to be a pathetic display of weakness that must only embolden the Iranian mullahs.

David Ignatius wants to know why Obama’s response to the disclosure of the secret Iranian facility is so, well, wimpy. He asks, “So why didn’t the Obama administration lay down an even stronger marker in response to this breakout–by threatening, say, to intercept ships at sea that it believed were carrying parts for the Iranian nuclear program?” The best he can come up with is that the president is trying to maintain “consensus” among other nations who don’t want to do much of anything.

Wait a minute. Obama concealed whatever information he had about this facility–information that could have been used to move domestic and international opinion. He could have gone to the UN with some visual aids–like Bibi Netanyahu did with the Holocaust documents–to make the case to the international community. At the UN he could have dispensed with the filler material on global warming and his insincere praise for open markets and used his opportunity to build consensus so he could then make the case for robust action. To now claim that Obama is a victim of international lethargy is disingenuous in the extreme. Obama has done everything possible to avoid bringing this to the point where he might have to take forceful action. Now he’s been forced there by the Iranians.

And Obama is still spouting double-talk. Sanctions? Well, he’s just exploring a wide range of options. He’s really not into “speculating,” which is what he’s been doing all along since there is no real game plan beyond talking to Iran and seeing how things go. Iranians would be making a “mistake” if they continued on this path. He declares: “I will not get into details about sanctions but if you have the international community making a united front, Iran’s going to have to pay attention.” Or else. Really.

Nowhere do you get the sense that Iran is in any peril because of its behavior in violating existing international agreements and in repeatedly acting to conceal its conduct. The message, if you can find one, is that if America reduces its rhetoric to the lowest common denominator, there will magically be consensus. But consensus is not the goal. Eliminating Iran’s nuclear threat is. Or is it? Obama never really evidences any interest in utilizing military options, if need be, to remove that threat. It has been and continues to be a pathetic display of weakness that must only embolden the Iranian mullahs.

Read Less




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