Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 29, 2009

Not Sufficient to Let Holder Investigate Holder

When we last left the saga of the Obama administration’s dismissal of the default judgment in the New Black Panther voter-intimidation case, the Justice Department had finally consented to an internal investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility while the independent U.S. Civil Rights Commission had decided to embark on a comprehensive study and produce a report on the decision and its implications for voting-rights policy. Attorney General Eric Holder to date has stiffed the commission—first ignoring its inquiries and then citing the OPR investigation as reason not to cooperate.

Rep. Frank Wolf, who was instrumental in raising the profile of the case and in demanding an explanation for the dismissal, isn’t satisfied. A spokesman in his office, Dan Scandling, explained to me that Wolf continues to press forward for a congressional hearing to get to the bottom of the issue. As for the commission, Scandling explains, “He’s very supportive of what the Commission is doing.” An excuse that the Justice Department need not cooperate with commission because an internal review is going on, Wolf believes, is “ridiculous.” Scandling explains, “You can’t hide behind that particularly here when the Commission has separate statutory authority and subpoena power.” He notes that the decision as to how to respond to the Justice Department’s stonewalling rests with the commission, but Wolf, for one, isn’t buying the notion that the Justice Department can prevent any independent inquiry.

Other lawmakers, I am informed, are also unsatisfied with the Justice Department’s effort to, in effect, sweep this under the rug by delegating OPR to review the department’s conduct. Stay tuned. The New Black Panther case is not buried yet.

When we last left the saga of the Obama administration’s dismissal of the default judgment in the New Black Panther voter-intimidation case, the Justice Department had finally consented to an internal investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility while the independent U.S. Civil Rights Commission had decided to embark on a comprehensive study and produce a report on the decision and its implications for voting-rights policy. Attorney General Eric Holder to date has stiffed the commission—first ignoring its inquiries and then citing the OPR investigation as reason not to cooperate.

Rep. Frank Wolf, who was instrumental in raising the profile of the case and in demanding an explanation for the dismissal, isn’t satisfied. A spokesman in his office, Dan Scandling, explained to me that Wolf continues to press forward for a congressional hearing to get to the bottom of the issue. As for the commission, Scandling explains, “He’s very supportive of what the Commission is doing.” An excuse that the Justice Department need not cooperate with commission because an internal review is going on, Wolf believes, is “ridiculous.” Scandling explains, “You can’t hide behind that particularly here when the Commission has separate statutory authority and subpoena power.” He notes that the decision as to how to respond to the Justice Department’s stonewalling rests with the commission, but Wolf, for one, isn’t buying the notion that the Justice Department can prevent any independent inquiry.

Other lawmakers, I am informed, are also unsatisfied with the Justice Department’s effort to, in effect, sweep this under the rug by delegating OPR to review the department’s conduct. Stay tuned. The New Black Panther case is not buried yet.

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What if They Lose all Seven?

Charlie Cook writes:

Basically, there is a real chance that Democrats won’t flip any GOP Senate seats. This is not — repeat, not—to say that Democrats can’t pick up any Republican seats, but their chances certainly aren’t what they used to be.

At the same time, things look very tough for Democrats in three toss-up races: Neither Sen. Christopher Dodd in Connecticut nor Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada is polling well, and the GOP has a chance in the Illinois open seat contest. Appointed Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado and party-switcher Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania have to deal with formidable primary challenges before they can even get to what are likely to be tough general election campaigns.

In California, it’s unclear how tough the re-election challenge will be for Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. The biggest question there is whether Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, is ready for prime time politics.

Finally, add to that list Sen. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, who is looking more and more vulnerable, despite a lack of name-brand competition.

That’s seven Democratic Senate seats in real danger, and that doesn’t include the Delaware open seat if GOP Rep. Michael Castle runs, or if Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in New York faces a top-drawer challenger.

There are at least two potential ramifications. First, it may be that the bulk of the Obama agenda—comprehensive health-care reform, cap-and-trade, card check, and sweeping financial reform—grinds to a halt. “Do no more damage to election prospects” may be the strategy for endangered senators who can’t sell the Left-leaning Obama agenda to voters back home. Doing relatively little isn’t nearly as bad as doing many things that rile up voters, especially those voters most likely to turn out in a non-presidential election year.

Second, if you are a liberal Supreme Court justice, you might want to hang it up within the next year. Justice John Paul Stevens (if one is to believe the tea leaves, which in this case consist of the hiring of only one clerk) may be thinking exactly that. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg may follow. If the Senate no longer has a comfortable Democratic majority, a filibuster-proof one, the menu of liberal judicial-activist judges who could make it onto the Court may shrink. And hence ideologically driven justices may think it better to leave soon rather than risk being replaced by—gasp!—a more centrist jurist.

Trends reverse, and the fortunes of Democratic senators may improve. But if not, the legislation may slow, and the Supreme Court confirmations may pick up.

Charlie Cook writes:

Basically, there is a real chance that Democrats won’t flip any GOP Senate seats. This is not — repeat, not—to say that Democrats can’t pick up any Republican seats, but their chances certainly aren’t what they used to be.

At the same time, things look very tough for Democrats in three toss-up races: Neither Sen. Christopher Dodd in Connecticut nor Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada is polling well, and the GOP has a chance in the Illinois open seat contest. Appointed Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado and party-switcher Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania have to deal with formidable primary challenges before they can even get to what are likely to be tough general election campaigns.

In California, it’s unclear how tough the re-election challenge will be for Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. The biggest question there is whether Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, is ready for prime time politics.

Finally, add to that list Sen. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, who is looking more and more vulnerable, despite a lack of name-brand competition.

That’s seven Democratic Senate seats in real danger, and that doesn’t include the Delaware open seat if GOP Rep. Michael Castle runs, or if Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in New York faces a top-drawer challenger.

There are at least two potential ramifications. First, it may be that the bulk of the Obama agenda—comprehensive health-care reform, cap-and-trade, card check, and sweeping financial reform—grinds to a halt. “Do no more damage to election prospects” may be the strategy for endangered senators who can’t sell the Left-leaning Obama agenda to voters back home. Doing relatively little isn’t nearly as bad as doing many things that rile up voters, especially those voters most likely to turn out in a non-presidential election year.

Second, if you are a liberal Supreme Court justice, you might want to hang it up within the next year. Justice John Paul Stevens (if one is to believe the tea leaves, which in this case consist of the hiring of only one clerk) may be thinking exactly that. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg may follow. If the Senate no longer has a comfortable Democratic majority, a filibuster-proof one, the menu of liberal judicial-activist judges who could make it onto the Court may shrink. And hence ideologically driven justices may think it better to leave soon rather than risk being replaced by—gasp!—a more centrist jurist.

Trends reverse, and the fortunes of Democratic senators may improve. But if not, the legislation may slow, and the Supreme Court confirmations may pick up.

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15-8?

It wasn’t even close:

The Senate Finance Committee voted down a government-run “public option” as part an overhaul of the nation’s health-care system Tuesday, rejecting the first of two amendments offered by Democrats.

The panel’s chairman, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and four other Democrats sided with Republicans in opposing a public-option amendment offered by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.). Baucus said he voted against the politically volatile provision because he feared that a bill including it would not get the 60 votes it would need to pass on the Senate floor. The committee voted 15 to 8 to reject the amendment.

The president spoke out in favor of a public option weeks ago during his game-changing speech before Congress—a speech that changed nothing. It took three weeks for the Senate to do what the president should have done—finally get the public option off the table. That there was so little support in the end vividly demonstrates how far Left the House and the White House have lunged in this debate. And as is the case more often than not these days, the president is a spectator, not a dealmaker.

It wasn’t even close:

The Senate Finance Committee voted down a government-run “public option” as part an overhaul of the nation’s health-care system Tuesday, rejecting the first of two amendments offered by Democrats.

The panel’s chairman, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and four other Democrats sided with Republicans in opposing a public-option amendment offered by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.). Baucus said he voted against the politically volatile provision because he feared that a bill including it would not get the 60 votes it would need to pass on the Senate floor. The committee voted 15 to 8 to reject the amendment.

The president spoke out in favor of a public option weeks ago during his game-changing speech before Congress—a speech that changed nothing. It took three weeks for the Senate to do what the president should have done—finally get the public option off the table. That there was so little support in the end vividly demonstrates how far Left the House and the White House have lunged in this debate. And as is the case more often than not these days, the president is a spectator, not a dealmaker.

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This Man Was Once the Most Important Person in American Journalism

Howell Raines, the one-time editor of the New York Times who left in disgrace after the exposure of the fallacious reporting of his protégé Jayson Blair, mis-memorializes the late William Safire in a jaw-dropping piece on the New Republic‘s website. Key quote:

In his grasp of political combat and public policy, Bill Safire was one of the smartest men I ever knew. His rigid loyalty to the Republican Party stood in contrast to his intellectual habits, which were liberal in the old-fashioned sense of being comprehensive and open to new information.

Leave aside the classically parochial and self-congratulatory suggestion that non-liberal ideas “stand in contrast” to ones that allow one to be “open to new information.” Raines’s description of Safire as a rigid Republican loyalist is simply and embarrassingly wrong. Safire voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 because he was so disgusted by George Bush the Elder. He spent much of his time in his final years as a columnist excoriating the second Bush administration for its transgressions against his civil-libertarian views. Raines was his supervisor during many of those years. Maybe he would have done well, in that role, to have read Safire’s actual writing once in a while.

Howell Raines, the one-time editor of the New York Times who left in disgrace after the exposure of the fallacious reporting of his protégé Jayson Blair, mis-memorializes the late William Safire in a jaw-dropping piece on the New Republic‘s website. Key quote:

In his grasp of political combat and public policy, Bill Safire was one of the smartest men I ever knew. His rigid loyalty to the Republican Party stood in contrast to his intellectual habits, which were liberal in the old-fashioned sense of being comprehensive and open to new information.

Leave aside the classically parochial and self-congratulatory suggestion that non-liberal ideas “stand in contrast” to ones that allow one to be “open to new information.” Raines’s description of Safire as a rigid Republican loyalist is simply and embarrassingly wrong. Safire voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 because he was so disgusted by George Bush the Elder. He spent much of his time in his final years as a columnist excoriating the second Bush administration for its transgressions against his civil-libertarian views. Raines was his supervisor during many of those years. Maybe he would have done well, in that role, to have read Safire’s actual writing once in a while.

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Deal or No Deal?

Democrats seem to be in disarray—still—on health care. Sen. Tom Harkin wants to jam through the public option in the Senate on a party-line vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would like that, too, but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has other ideas. The Hill reports that Hoyer is searching for bipartisan agreement on health-care reform, although he hasn’t actually met with House Whip Eric Cantor. The report explains:

Cantor says he’d still like to meet with Hoyer.

“In the absence of an invitation from the majority leader, Mr. Cantor will request a meeting with Mr. Hoyer this week to focus on the areas of agreement as outlined in previous public statements,” said Cantor spokesman Brady Dayspring. “Mr. Cantor looks forward to a positive policy forum where the exchange of ideas is welcome.”

Meanwhile, Howard Dean joins the crowd decrying the Baucus bill. And the president is busy not deciding what to do about Afghanistan and preparing to make his pitch for the Olympics. So Congress continues to dither and bicker. One doesn’t sense we are on the cusp of a deal. Forget the details; it’s not clear there is any agreement on the broad outlines of a bill or whether the Democrats are really committed to any sort of bipartisan deal. Maybe health care is getting to be like one of those deadlines for Iran—someday, maybe, we’ll reach the end of the road.

Democrats seem to be in disarray—still—on health care. Sen. Tom Harkin wants to jam through the public option in the Senate on a party-line vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would like that, too, but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has other ideas. The Hill reports that Hoyer is searching for bipartisan agreement on health-care reform, although he hasn’t actually met with House Whip Eric Cantor. The report explains:

Cantor says he’d still like to meet with Hoyer.

“In the absence of an invitation from the majority leader, Mr. Cantor will request a meeting with Mr. Hoyer this week to focus on the areas of agreement as outlined in previous public statements,” said Cantor spokesman Brady Dayspring. “Mr. Cantor looks forward to a positive policy forum where the exchange of ideas is welcome.”

Meanwhile, Howard Dean joins the crowd decrying the Baucus bill. And the president is busy not deciding what to do about Afghanistan and preparing to make his pitch for the Olympics. So Congress continues to dither and bicker. One doesn’t sense we are on the cusp of a deal. Forget the details; it’s not clear there is any agreement on the broad outlines of a bill or whether the Democrats are really committed to any sort of bipartisan deal. Maybe health care is getting to be like one of those deadlines for Iran—someday, maybe, we’ll reach the end of the road.

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New Low–Again

Well, we certainly have come a long way from the conference call with representatives of Jewish organizations in which an Obama national security official, Dan Shapiro, promised to pull out the stops to quash the Goldstone report. That was deemed a misstatement. Now we hear:

The United States called on its close ally Israel on Tuesday to conduct credible investigations into allegations of war crimes committed by its forces in Gaza, saying it would help the Middle East peace process.

Michael Posner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, said that Hamas leaders also had a responsibility to investigate crimes and to end what he called its targeting of civilians and use of Palestinian civilians as human shields in the strip. . . .

“We encourage Israel to utilize appropriate domestic [judicial] review and meaningful accountability mechanisms to investigate and follow-up on credible allegations,” Posner said in a speech to the Geneva forum.

“If undertaken properly and fairly, these reviews can serve as important confidence-building measures that will support the larger essential objective which is a shared quest for justice and lasting peace,” he said.

But Israel has already done just that. Didn’t the Obama team read about it in their home paper? As the Washington Post reported in March:

The Israeli military’s top lawyer on Monday closed an investigation into alleged misconduct by soldiers who took part in Israel’s recent three-week assault on the Gaza Strip, concluding that accusations made by graduates of a military preparatory school were “based on hearsay.”

In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces said that Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit, the IDF’s advocate general, found no evidence to support the most serious accusations, including alleged instances in which civilians were shot without cause.

So what could this newest tour de force of moral relativism possibly refer to? Israel has done its part; the terrorists couldn’t possibly be expected to. Apparently, this is the sort of official response to the Goldstone report that we get from the Obama team—equating a functioning democracy with civilian oversight and an active judiciary with a terrorist clique. Does the Obama team actually suggest that terrorists police themselves? One tires of saying it, but this is a new low for the administration.

Well, we certainly have come a long way from the conference call with representatives of Jewish organizations in which an Obama national security official, Dan Shapiro, promised to pull out the stops to quash the Goldstone report. That was deemed a misstatement. Now we hear:

The United States called on its close ally Israel on Tuesday to conduct credible investigations into allegations of war crimes committed by its forces in Gaza, saying it would help the Middle East peace process.

Michael Posner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, said that Hamas leaders also had a responsibility to investigate crimes and to end what he called its targeting of civilians and use of Palestinian civilians as human shields in the strip. . . .

“We encourage Israel to utilize appropriate domestic [judicial] review and meaningful accountability mechanisms to investigate and follow-up on credible allegations,” Posner said in a speech to the Geneva forum.

“If undertaken properly and fairly, these reviews can serve as important confidence-building measures that will support the larger essential objective which is a shared quest for justice and lasting peace,” he said.

But Israel has already done just that. Didn’t the Obama team read about it in their home paper? As the Washington Post reported in March:

The Israeli military’s top lawyer on Monday closed an investigation into alleged misconduct by soldiers who took part in Israel’s recent three-week assault on the Gaza Strip, concluding that accusations made by graduates of a military preparatory school were “based on hearsay.”

In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces said that Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit, the IDF’s advocate general, found no evidence to support the most serious accusations, including alleged instances in which civilians were shot without cause.

So what could this newest tour de force of moral relativism possibly refer to? Israel has done its part; the terrorists couldn’t possibly be expected to. Apparently, this is the sort of official response to the Goldstone report that we get from the Obama team—equating a functioning democracy with civilian oversight and an active judiciary with a terrorist clique. Does the Obama team actually suggest that terrorists police themselves? One tires of saying it, but this is a new low for the administration.

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Acheson’s Lessons for Obama

Today is the first of at least five meetings between President Obama and his national-security team to re-examine the strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The president is certainly entitled to engage in intensive discussions on a matter of this magnitude—though it should be said that (a) it’s not as if the issues haven’t been known for quite some time now, and that (b) according to General Stanley McChrystal, who is leading our effort in Afghanistan, there is a particular urgency to making a decision. If McChrystal doesn’t get the additional troops he needs within the next year, his mission will “likely result in failure.” So time is of the essence.

As President Obama reassesses his commitment to the Afghanistan war, he might bear in mind the words of Dean Acheson, President Truman’s secretary of state, who wrote this in his extraordinary memoir Present at the Creation:

No one can decide and act who is beset by second thoughts, self-doubt, and that most enfeebling of emotions, regret. With the President a decision made was done with and he went on to another. He learned from mistakes (though he seldom admitted them), and did not waste time bemoaning them. . . . The capacity for decision, however, does not produce, of itself, wise decisions. For that a President needs a better eye and more intuition and coordination than the best batters in the major leagues. If his score is not far better than theirs, he will be rated a failure. But the metaphor is inadequate; it leaves out the necessary creativity. A President is not merely coping with the deliveries of others. He is called upon to influence and move to some degree his own country and the world around it to a purpose that he envisions.

And this:

We escaped, however, from what can be, and often has been . . . endless discussion and inability to decide. General Marshall’s often-quoted ejaculation — “Don’t fight the problem. Decide it!” — put an end to this tendency in his day.

And this:

[Truman] learned also, and learned quickly, the limits of international organization and agreement as means of decision and security in a deeply divided world. Released from the acceptance of a dogma that builders and wreckers of a new world order could and should work happily and successfully together, he was free to combine our power and coordinate our action with those who did have a common purpose.

And this:

Free of the greatest vice in a leader, [Truman’s] ego never came between him and his job. He saw his job and its needs without distortion from that astigmatism.

President Obama could do much worse than read, and learn from, Acheson’s book—perhaps during his flight to Copenhagen, on behalf of Chicago, later this week.

Today is the first of at least five meetings between President Obama and his national-security team to re-examine the strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The president is certainly entitled to engage in intensive discussions on a matter of this magnitude—though it should be said that (a) it’s not as if the issues haven’t been known for quite some time now, and that (b) according to General Stanley McChrystal, who is leading our effort in Afghanistan, there is a particular urgency to making a decision. If McChrystal doesn’t get the additional troops he needs within the next year, his mission will “likely result in failure.” So time is of the essence.

As President Obama reassesses his commitment to the Afghanistan war, he might bear in mind the words of Dean Acheson, President Truman’s secretary of state, who wrote this in his extraordinary memoir Present at the Creation:

No one can decide and act who is beset by second thoughts, self-doubt, and that most enfeebling of emotions, regret. With the President a decision made was done with and he went on to another. He learned from mistakes (though he seldom admitted them), and did not waste time bemoaning them. . . . The capacity for decision, however, does not produce, of itself, wise decisions. For that a President needs a better eye and more intuition and coordination than the best batters in the major leagues. If his score is not far better than theirs, he will be rated a failure. But the metaphor is inadequate; it leaves out the necessary creativity. A President is not merely coping with the deliveries of others. He is called upon to influence and move to some degree his own country and the world around it to a purpose that he envisions.

And this:

We escaped, however, from what can be, and often has been . . . endless discussion and inability to decide. General Marshall’s often-quoted ejaculation — “Don’t fight the problem. Decide it!” — put an end to this tendency in his day.

And this:

[Truman] learned also, and learned quickly, the limits of international organization and agreement as means of decision and security in a deeply divided world. Released from the acceptance of a dogma that builders and wreckers of a new world order could and should work happily and successfully together, he was free to combine our power and coordinate our action with those who did have a common purpose.

And this:

Free of the greatest vice in a leader, [Truman’s] ego never came between him and his job. He saw his job and its needs without distortion from that astigmatism.

President Obama could do much worse than read, and learn from, Acheson’s book—perhaps during his flight to Copenhagen, on behalf of Chicago, later this week.

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Diplomacy in the Age of Obama

“We’ve got to think about giving out cookies,” said [Obama’s special envoy to Sudan, J. Scott] Gration, who was appointed in March. “Kids, countries—they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement.”

“We’ve got to think about giving out cookies,” said [Obama’s special envoy to Sudan, J. Scott] Gration, who was appointed in March. “Kids, countries—they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement.”

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Specter of Socialism’s Collapse

According to the New York Times, “A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of Socialism’s slow collapse.” If only in America.

According to the New York Times, “A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of Socialism’s slow collapse.” If only in America.

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Pakistan Speaks Up

Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the deposed dictator of Pakistan, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence are hardly the most reliable interlocutors. Both are notorious for playing a duplicitous game of conniving with jihadist militants at the same time they work with the United States to root out terrorists. But even a self-serving statement can be right, and it is in that vein that we should pay attention to their statements on Afghanistan.

Musharraf was interviewed by the Washington Times and told its writers “that the U.S. would make a ‘disastrous’ mistake if it withdrew from Afghanistan and warned that a delay in sending more troops would be seen as a sign of weakness.”

Meanwhile, senior leaders of the ISI talked to David Ignatius of the Washington Post. He summed up their message as follows:

The Pakistanis, meanwhile, view the United States as an unreliable ally that starts fights it doesn’t know how to finish.

A test of this fragile partnership is the debate over the new Afghanistan strategy proposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The ISI leadership thinks the United States can’t afford to lose in Afghanistan, and it worries about a security vacuum there that would endanger Pakistan. But at the same time, the ISI fears that a big military surge, like the up to 40,000 additional troops McChrystal wants, could be counterproductive.

ISI officials believe Washington should be realistic about its war objectives. If victory is defined as obliteration of the Taliban, the United States will never win. But the United States can achieve the more limited aim of rough political stability, if it is patient.

The ISI leaders, therefore, have roughly the same message as Gen. Musharraf: don’t back down in Afghanistan, because it would have disastrous consequences for Pakistan. That is at stark odds with the message of Joe Biden and others who want to downsize our commitment because they supposedly want to concentrate on the “real” problem—Pakistan. But they never explain how defeat in Afghanistan would help us win in Pakistan.

By the way, I don’t take too seriously the ISI’s warning that more troops would be counterproductive, because there is no other way to fill the security vacuum they warn of. Sending more troops would be counterproductive only if they were utilized in a conventional, firepower-intensive manner—the Pakistani army’s preferred approach to fighting guerrillas. But Gen. McChrystal has a smart counterinsurgency strategy to make the best use of the extra troops. The ISI honchos are right that the U.S. and its allies cannot obliterate the Taliban, but then we don’t have to—simply putting the Taliban back on their heels is sure to cause defections and splits within the group, as occurred in 2001.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the deposed dictator of Pakistan, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence are hardly the most reliable interlocutors. Both are notorious for playing a duplicitous game of conniving with jihadist militants at the same time they work with the United States to root out terrorists. But even a self-serving statement can be right, and it is in that vein that we should pay attention to their statements on Afghanistan.

Musharraf was interviewed by the Washington Times and told its writers “that the U.S. would make a ‘disastrous’ mistake if it withdrew from Afghanistan and warned that a delay in sending more troops would be seen as a sign of weakness.”

Meanwhile, senior leaders of the ISI talked to David Ignatius of the Washington Post. He summed up their message as follows:

The Pakistanis, meanwhile, view the United States as an unreliable ally that starts fights it doesn’t know how to finish.

A test of this fragile partnership is the debate over the new Afghanistan strategy proposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The ISI leadership thinks the United States can’t afford to lose in Afghanistan, and it worries about a security vacuum there that would endanger Pakistan. But at the same time, the ISI fears that a big military surge, like the up to 40,000 additional troops McChrystal wants, could be counterproductive.

ISI officials believe Washington should be realistic about its war objectives. If victory is defined as obliteration of the Taliban, the United States will never win. But the United States can achieve the more limited aim of rough political stability, if it is patient.

The ISI leaders, therefore, have roughly the same message as Gen. Musharraf: don’t back down in Afghanistan, because it would have disastrous consequences for Pakistan. That is at stark odds with the message of Joe Biden and others who want to downsize our commitment because they supposedly want to concentrate on the “real” problem—Pakistan. But they never explain how defeat in Afghanistan would help us win in Pakistan.

By the way, I don’t take too seriously the ISI’s warning that more troops would be counterproductive, because there is no other way to fill the security vacuum they warn of. Sending more troops would be counterproductive only if they were utilized in a conventional, firepower-intensive manner—the Pakistani army’s preferred approach to fighting guerrillas. But Gen. McChrystal has a smart counterinsurgency strategy to make the best use of the extra troops. The ISI honchos are right that the U.S. and its allies cannot obliterate the Taliban, but then we don’t have to—simply putting the Taliban back on their heels is sure to cause defections and splits within the group, as occurred in 2001.

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A Rabid Doberman, Perhaps?

Only in political reporting from one of the chief cheerleading newspapers for the Democratic party could you find a lede like this: “The national debate over President Obama’s health care plan has exposed a weakness in the Democratic Party apparatus: it lacks a high profile surrogate to push back — hard — against the rhetorical arguments put forward by Republicans.” Hmm. Let’s think about that.

Obama attacks his opponents as silly, uninformed, and deceitful. The Democratic party’s congressional leaders call American citizens who disagree with them “un-American.” Democratic senators and congressmen on a daily basis accuse Republicans of favoring the status quo and lacking alternative ideas, both untrue assertions and both repeated ad nauseum. Nancy Pelosi speculates it’s only one step between town-hall criticism and shooting gays. Robert Gibbs uses the White House press room to vilify specific reporters and conservative talk-show hosts who dare disagree with the president. The entire Democratic party has become an attack dog. So what could the Post’s Chris Cillizza possibly mean?

Well, perhaps he means that the Democrats need an effective attack dog. After all, with all that name-calling, the Democrats are losing the battle for public opinion with the supposedly hapless Republicans.

It is rather the conviction, often voiced by defenders of Democrats and liberals more generally, that the real problem with their inability to enact a Left-leaning agenda is that they are such marshmallows. Softies like Rahm Emanuel and Harry Reid are just too nice and too polite. It’s those mean Republicans who manage to outmuscle the demure Democrats. This of course bears no resemblance to reality, but it is a convenient excuse for declining to examine whether the Democrats’ shortcomings stem from their ideological extremism.

You aren’t likely to see a column entitled “Democrats Need Sane Centrists” in the mainstream newspapers, but they are stuffed with the sort of  “If Only They Were Tougher” justification pieces. But that leaves open the question of who the Democrats could find to be any meaner than the crop of politicians they currently have.

Only in political reporting from one of the chief cheerleading newspapers for the Democratic party could you find a lede like this: “The national debate over President Obama’s health care plan has exposed a weakness in the Democratic Party apparatus: it lacks a high profile surrogate to push back — hard — against the rhetorical arguments put forward by Republicans.” Hmm. Let’s think about that.

Obama attacks his opponents as silly, uninformed, and deceitful. The Democratic party’s congressional leaders call American citizens who disagree with them “un-American.” Democratic senators and congressmen on a daily basis accuse Republicans of favoring the status quo and lacking alternative ideas, both untrue assertions and both repeated ad nauseum. Nancy Pelosi speculates it’s only one step between town-hall criticism and shooting gays. Robert Gibbs uses the White House press room to vilify specific reporters and conservative talk-show hosts who dare disagree with the president. The entire Democratic party has become an attack dog. So what could the Post’s Chris Cillizza possibly mean?

Well, perhaps he means that the Democrats need an effective attack dog. After all, with all that name-calling, the Democrats are losing the battle for public opinion with the supposedly hapless Republicans.

It is rather the conviction, often voiced by defenders of Democrats and liberals more generally, that the real problem with their inability to enact a Left-leaning agenda is that they are such marshmallows. Softies like Rahm Emanuel and Harry Reid are just too nice and too polite. It’s those mean Republicans who manage to outmuscle the demure Democrats. This of course bears no resemblance to reality, but it is a convenient excuse for declining to examine whether the Democrats’ shortcomings stem from their ideological extremism.

You aren’t likely to see a column entitled “Democrats Need Sane Centrists” in the mainstream newspapers, but they are stuffed with the sort of  “If Only They Were Tougher” justification pieces. But that leaves open the question of who the Democrats could find to be any meaner than the crop of politicians they currently have.

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“Good Arguments Made by Fine Men”

Charles Murray adds his elegant and influential voice to the debate about Glenn Beck specifically and public discourse more broadly. Here’s Murray ‘s conclusion:

We’re in a battle for America’s soul at a pivotal moment. But the very truth of that statement—we are indeed in a battle for America’s soul—makes it a good idea to stop and think about when the American Right was truly influential. It didn’t start after right-wing talk shows got big. It started in the 1960s, as Friedman, Buckley, and Kristol were hitting their stride. It flowered in the 1970s, then reached its apogee in the 1980s when their ideas were given political force by Ronald Reagan—another man of civility, good humor, and optimism. Don’t tell me that we have to put up with the Glenn Becks of the world to be successful. Within living memory, the Right was successful. The Right changed the country for the better—through good arguments made by fine men.

Not a bad credo, that.

Charles Murray adds his elegant and influential voice to the debate about Glenn Beck specifically and public discourse more broadly. Here’s Murray ‘s conclusion:

We’re in a battle for America’s soul at a pivotal moment. But the very truth of that statement—we are indeed in a battle for America’s soul—makes it a good idea to stop and think about when the American Right was truly influential. It didn’t start after right-wing talk shows got big. It started in the 1960s, as Friedman, Buckley, and Kristol were hitting their stride. It flowered in the 1970s, then reached its apogee in the 1980s when their ideas were given political force by Ronald Reagan—another man of civility, good humor, and optimism. Don’t tell me that we have to put up with the Glenn Becks of the world to be successful. Within living memory, the Right was successful. The Right changed the country for the better—through good arguments made by fine men.

Not a bad credo, that.

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Intelligence Gamesmanship

Rich Lowry observes that the discovery of the secret Iranian nuclear facility puts a stake through the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which was vilified at the time by conservatives. (Thomas Joscelyn: “As many noted at the time, the language and logic of the NIE were nonsensical. There were transparent flaws in its analysis, including the arbitrary decision to set aside concerns over Iran’s overt uranium enrichment and ballistic missile development efforts — both of which continued apace.”) That would be the same NIE report that was heralded by Obama and his fellow liberals.

Lowry writes:

In November 2007, US intelligence agencies wrote a National Intelligence Estimate concluding, “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” . . .

The 2007 NIE had a very circumscribed definition of a weapons program, but it included “covert conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work.” Exactly what Qom is for. What do the Iranians have to do to convince US intelligence they have a weapons program?

Iran has been very lucky in its watchdogs. The 2007 NIE, which stands exposed as about as worthless as then-CIA Director George Tenet’s prewar talk of a “slam-dunk” on Iraq’s WMD, crushed any thought of the politically weakened Bush administration moving against Iran. And the punch-pulling International Atomic Energy Agency has been suppressing damaging material, concerned more with forestalling a conflict over Iran’s nuclear program than forestalling the program itself.

But apparently at some point not even the Obama team bought the NIE’s conclusions. Obama after all was quick to admit that Iran’s Qom facility wasn’t configured for peaceful uses. And the ever changing and highly suspect conclusions about Iran’s nuclear intentions keep dribbling out. The Iranians aren’t much interested in long-range missile development, we were told—a conclusion that fit (magically!) with the Obama team’s fervent desire to give something away (missile defense) to butter up Putin.

We are left with only one conclusion: the incessant reassurances that we have little to fear from Iran are the product of wishful thinking and a high degree of “self-delusion,” as Lowry puts it. Unfortunately, the intelligence bureaucracy that churns out the feel-good estimates has a willing consumer for its defective product in the president. He is only too eager to believe what is being peddled  — or ignore what’s unhelpful.

The public and our allies, however, are waking up to the gamesmanship here—and may begin to wonder why the president isn’t the least bit upset that the intelligence community got it exactly wrong in 2007. When that happened under Bush, we had a torrent of outrage and a mob of investigative committees. Yet hardly a peep here. Funny how that works.

Rich Lowry observes that the discovery of the secret Iranian nuclear facility puts a stake through the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which was vilified at the time by conservatives. (Thomas Joscelyn: “As many noted at the time, the language and logic of the NIE were nonsensical. There were transparent flaws in its analysis, including the arbitrary decision to set aside concerns over Iran’s overt uranium enrichment and ballistic missile development efforts — both of which continued apace.”) That would be the same NIE report that was heralded by Obama and his fellow liberals.

Lowry writes:

In November 2007, US intelligence agencies wrote a National Intelligence Estimate concluding, “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” . . .

The 2007 NIE had a very circumscribed definition of a weapons program, but it included “covert conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work.” Exactly what Qom is for. What do the Iranians have to do to convince US intelligence they have a weapons program?

Iran has been very lucky in its watchdogs. The 2007 NIE, which stands exposed as about as worthless as then-CIA Director George Tenet’s prewar talk of a “slam-dunk” on Iraq’s WMD, crushed any thought of the politically weakened Bush administration moving against Iran. And the punch-pulling International Atomic Energy Agency has been suppressing damaging material, concerned more with forestalling a conflict over Iran’s nuclear program than forestalling the program itself.

But apparently at some point not even the Obama team bought the NIE’s conclusions. Obama after all was quick to admit that Iran’s Qom facility wasn’t configured for peaceful uses. And the ever changing and highly suspect conclusions about Iran’s nuclear intentions keep dribbling out. The Iranians aren’t much interested in long-range missile development, we were told—a conclusion that fit (magically!) with the Obama team’s fervent desire to give something away (missile defense) to butter up Putin.

We are left with only one conclusion: the incessant reassurances that we have little to fear from Iran are the product of wishful thinking and a high degree of “self-delusion,” as Lowry puts it. Unfortunately, the intelligence bureaucracy that churns out the feel-good estimates has a willing consumer for its defective product in the president. He is only too eager to believe what is being peddled  — or ignore what’s unhelpful.

The public and our allies, however, are waking up to the gamesmanship here—and may begin to wonder why the president isn’t the least bit upset that the intelligence community got it exactly wrong in 2007. When that happened under Bush, we had a torrent of outrage and a mob of investigative committees. Yet hardly a peep here. Funny how that works.

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Obamaism’s First Victims

Politico reports: “Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln has run two successful Senate campaigns on pledges to expand and improve health insurance coverage. Now, as Congress works to deliver on that promise, it threatens to become an issue that could end her career.” Well, to be clear, what could end her career is being forced to support a radical redesign of health care that her constituents don’t want. The “firestorm [that] threatens to engulf Blanche Lincoln,” as Politico describes it, is Obamaism. Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Report explains that Lincoln’s a victim of the “national mood”—that would be the mood of reaction to the president’s radical agenda.

Lincoln is trying to duck and hide from voters. (“She delayed taking a firm position on creation of a government-backed insurance option, which prompted both sides to criticize and pressure her through television advertising and grass-roots mobilization.”) But she’s in quite a fix: succumb to pressure from Democratic Party leaders and the president or risk getting dumped by the voters. So it’s no wonder that an adviser to one of her potential Republican opponents is making Obama the central issue in the race: “This race will be more about the policies of Barack Obama than it will be about the policies and positions that Blanche Lincoln is talking about on a daily basis.”

This was not what the Obama-smitten media and punditocracy declared a year ago. They had in mind a permanent majority, brought about by a shift in the electorate’s political sensibilities from Center Right to Center Left. That hasn’t panned out, because the public has recoiled from the ultra-liberal president’s agenda and is increasingly peeved to discover that he loves spending not only their money (and their grandchildren’s) but also his time on everything but improving private-sector job creation.

That leaves Democratic lawmakers like Blanche Lincoln and the members of Congress from districts that went for John McCain in 2008 in a tight spot. They may be the first political victims of the Obama era. The White House and the congressional leadership might try to do something about that—moderate their extreme agenda, for starters. But they seem not overly concerned about the fate of a chunk of their congressional majority. At some point, Lincoln and her endangered Democratic colleagues will notice and may begin to re-evaluate why they are worrying about fidelity to an agenda that could well end their careers.

Politico reports: “Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln has run two successful Senate campaigns on pledges to expand and improve health insurance coverage. Now, as Congress works to deliver on that promise, it threatens to become an issue that could end her career.” Well, to be clear, what could end her career is being forced to support a radical redesign of health care that her constituents don’t want. The “firestorm [that] threatens to engulf Blanche Lincoln,” as Politico describes it, is Obamaism. Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Report explains that Lincoln’s a victim of the “national mood”—that would be the mood of reaction to the president’s radical agenda.

Lincoln is trying to duck and hide from voters. (“She delayed taking a firm position on creation of a government-backed insurance option, which prompted both sides to criticize and pressure her through television advertising and grass-roots mobilization.”) But she’s in quite a fix: succumb to pressure from Democratic Party leaders and the president or risk getting dumped by the voters. So it’s no wonder that an adviser to one of her potential Republican opponents is making Obama the central issue in the race: “This race will be more about the policies of Barack Obama than it will be about the policies and positions that Blanche Lincoln is talking about on a daily basis.”

This was not what the Obama-smitten media and punditocracy declared a year ago. They had in mind a permanent majority, brought about by a shift in the electorate’s political sensibilities from Center Right to Center Left. That hasn’t panned out, because the public has recoiled from the ultra-liberal president’s agenda and is increasingly peeved to discover that he loves spending not only their money (and their grandchildren’s) but also his time on everything but improving private-sector job creation.

That leaves Democratic lawmakers like Blanche Lincoln and the members of Congress from districts that went for John McCain in 2008 in a tight spot. They may be the first political victims of the Obama era. The White House and the congressional leadership might try to do something about that—moderate their extreme agenda, for starters. But they seem not overly concerned about the fate of a chunk of their congressional majority. At some point, Lincoln and her endangered Democratic colleagues will notice and may begin to re-evaluate why they are worrying about fidelity to an agenda that could well end their careers.

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The Consensus Dodge

France is frustrated with America’s lack of leadership and indifference to a looming international threat. So is Britain. No, this isn’t backward day or a headline from the Onion. That’s the real-world situation in the Obama era:

President Obama wants a unified front against Iran, and to that end he stood together with Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown in Pittsburgh on Friday morning to reveal the news about Tehran’s secret facility to build bomb-grade fuel. But now we hear that the French and British leaders were quietly seething on stage, annoyed by America’s handling of the announcement.Both countries wanted to confront Iran a day earlier at the United Nations. Mr. Obama was, after all, chairing a Security Council session devoted to nonproliferation. The latest evidence of Iran’s illegal moves toward acquiring a nuclear weapon was in hand. With the world’s leaders gathered in New York, the timing and venue would be a dramatic way to rally international opinion.

President Sarkozy in particular pushed hard. He had been “frustrated” for months about Mr. Obama’s reluctance to confront Iran, a senior French government official told us, and saw an opportunity to change momentum. But the Administration told the French that it didn’t want to “spoil the image of success” for Mr. Obama’s debut at the U.N. and his homily calling for a world without nuclear weapons, according to the Paris daily Le Monde. So the Iran bombshell was pushed back a day to Pittsburgh, where the G-20 were meeting to discuss economic policy.

So what does this say about Obama’s search for “consensus”? It’s a very odd consensus that rejects the opinions of Britain and France (for more immediate and robust action) and waits for Russia and China to join in. This provides further evidence that the president’s favorite phrases—”multilateral action” and “international community”—exist only in the make-believe world of his own speeches. In the real world populated by actual nations with diverse interests, you can’t please them all, especially when it’s anything important. Waiting for some nations to finally agree with us is in itself off-putting to other nations who want prompt action.

This episode also suggests that the search for perfect consensus has a distinct air of excuse-mongering. But France and Britain are ready to act, the president’s impatient allies and frustrated critics point out. Well, Russia isn’t on board, so we can’t do anything, comes the reply. And then we’ll hear that China can’t decide. Because consensus is always around the corner, and the waiting undoes consensus among close allies for quick action, one gets the feeling that it’s all about delay. We’ll talk. And then we’ll have another deadline. And then Russia will decide. And then we’ll argue about the sanctions. And then . . . and then.

It’s not that the Obama team doesn’t know the limits of consensus. They seem perfectly willing to redesign 17 percent of the American economy and 300 million Americans’ health care without consensus from political opponents. In that case, you see, they really want to get something done, so they’re prepared to jam through a major policy measure with no consensus beyond the left-wing of their own party. (The vote-counting is problematic, but that’s a practical not an intellectual barrier to non-consensus policymaking.)

But on Iran we’re learning that an always far-off consensus is the perfect excuse to avoid a confrontation for which it appears the president has no stomach. Thanks to the Iranian self-disclosure, that unpleasant reality is now obvious to our closest allies and to Iran.

France is frustrated with America’s lack of leadership and indifference to a looming international threat. So is Britain. No, this isn’t backward day or a headline from the Onion. That’s the real-world situation in the Obama era:

President Obama wants a unified front against Iran, and to that end he stood together with Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown in Pittsburgh on Friday morning to reveal the news about Tehran’s secret facility to build bomb-grade fuel. But now we hear that the French and British leaders were quietly seething on stage, annoyed by America’s handling of the announcement.Both countries wanted to confront Iran a day earlier at the United Nations. Mr. Obama was, after all, chairing a Security Council session devoted to nonproliferation. The latest evidence of Iran’s illegal moves toward acquiring a nuclear weapon was in hand. With the world’s leaders gathered in New York, the timing and venue would be a dramatic way to rally international opinion.

President Sarkozy in particular pushed hard. He had been “frustrated” for months about Mr. Obama’s reluctance to confront Iran, a senior French government official told us, and saw an opportunity to change momentum. But the Administration told the French that it didn’t want to “spoil the image of success” for Mr. Obama’s debut at the U.N. and his homily calling for a world without nuclear weapons, according to the Paris daily Le Monde. So the Iran bombshell was pushed back a day to Pittsburgh, where the G-20 were meeting to discuss economic policy.

So what does this say about Obama’s search for “consensus”? It’s a very odd consensus that rejects the opinions of Britain and France (for more immediate and robust action) and waits for Russia and China to join in. This provides further evidence that the president’s favorite phrases—”multilateral action” and “international community”—exist only in the make-believe world of his own speeches. In the real world populated by actual nations with diverse interests, you can’t please them all, especially when it’s anything important. Waiting for some nations to finally agree with us is in itself off-putting to other nations who want prompt action.

This episode also suggests that the search for perfect consensus has a distinct air of excuse-mongering. But France and Britain are ready to act, the president’s impatient allies and frustrated critics point out. Well, Russia isn’t on board, so we can’t do anything, comes the reply. And then we’ll hear that China can’t decide. Because consensus is always around the corner, and the waiting undoes consensus among close allies for quick action, one gets the feeling that it’s all about delay. We’ll talk. And then we’ll have another deadline. And then Russia will decide. And then we’ll argue about the sanctions. And then . . . and then.

It’s not that the Obama team doesn’t know the limits of consensus. They seem perfectly willing to redesign 17 percent of the American economy and 300 million Americans’ health care without consensus from political opponents. In that case, you see, they really want to get something done, so they’re prepared to jam through a major policy measure with no consensus beyond the left-wing of their own party. (The vote-counting is problematic, but that’s a practical not an intellectual barrier to non-consensus policymaking.)

But on Iran we’re learning that an always far-off consensus is the perfect excuse to avoid a confrontation for which it appears the president has no stomach. Thanks to the Iranian self-disclosure, that unpleasant reality is now obvious to our closest allies and to Iran.

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Topsy-Turvy Justice

I don’t agree with Eugene Robinson on much. But on Roman Polanski and the indignation on the Left (primarily the Left coast) over his potential extradition, he has it exactly right:

Brilliant auteur or no, Polanski has been a fugitive from U.S. justice since 1978. And there was certainly no artistic merit in the crime he acknowledged committing: During a photo shoot at the Los Angeles home of his friend and “Chinatown” star Jack Nicholson, Polanski plied a 13-year-old girl with champagne and drugs and had sex with her.

That is grotesque. In general, I agree with the European view that Americans tend to be prudish and hypocritical about sex. But a grown man drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl? That’s not remotely a close call. It’s wrong in any moral universe — and deserves harsher punishment than three decades of gilded exile. . . .

As far as I’m concerned, it’s a huge deal. Even in France, it should be a big deal. This isn’t about a genius who is being hounded for flouting society’s hidebound conventions. It’s about a rich and powerful man who used his fame and position to assault — in every sense, to violate — an innocent child.

Robinson is immune, it seems, to the new thinking. We are obligated, according to some segment of supposedly sophisticated thinkers, to consider things from the point of the perpetrator, no matter what the crime. The Lockerbie terrorist is sick and  dying (well, he says he is), so he gets to die on home soil after a hero’s welcome. (Is this the new rule for all murders?) The overriding concern is neither any “abstract” notion of justice nor the victims’ families. We must prove our “civilized” credentials by extending accommodations to the convicted butcher. That the butcher forfeited his claim on our sensibilities when he killed 270 people seems lost on those, at least in Scotland, who decided there were  “humanitarian” grounds for releasing him. (This supposes, perhaps unwisely, that all this was not subterfuge for a real “blood-for-oil” deal.)

Polanski’s no murderer, but he is a child rapist. Now we are now supposed to feel terribly bad that his life on the lamb might end. How horrid that after so many years this has “come back to haunt him,” his defenders coo. (Well yes, the intervening years were caused solely by Polanski’s flight from the country, but they don’t dwell on that detail.) Once again, the entire moral universe is skewed to the concern about sparing the criminal too much stress.

I suspect that the vast majority of Americans don’t buy into the twisted logic of those who defend Polanski’s desire to escape justice. Indeed, because most ordinary Americans (the Bible clutchers Obama disparaged in the campaign) retain an appreciation of the moral distinction between victim and criminal, they are probably baffled by those who believe we prove our humanity by catering to the whims of criminals. That, of course, is a constant  source of irritation and exasperation for many of our cultural elites, who once again may be shocked to learn that their views are anathema to most of their countrymen.

I don’t agree with Eugene Robinson on much. But on Roman Polanski and the indignation on the Left (primarily the Left coast) over his potential extradition, he has it exactly right:

Brilliant auteur or no, Polanski has been a fugitive from U.S. justice since 1978. And there was certainly no artistic merit in the crime he acknowledged committing: During a photo shoot at the Los Angeles home of his friend and “Chinatown” star Jack Nicholson, Polanski plied a 13-year-old girl with champagne and drugs and had sex with her.

That is grotesque. In general, I agree with the European view that Americans tend to be prudish and hypocritical about sex. But a grown man drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl? That’s not remotely a close call. It’s wrong in any moral universe — and deserves harsher punishment than three decades of gilded exile. . . .

As far as I’m concerned, it’s a huge deal. Even in France, it should be a big deal. This isn’t about a genius who is being hounded for flouting society’s hidebound conventions. It’s about a rich and powerful man who used his fame and position to assault — in every sense, to violate — an innocent child.

Robinson is immune, it seems, to the new thinking. We are obligated, according to some segment of supposedly sophisticated thinkers, to consider things from the point of the perpetrator, no matter what the crime. The Lockerbie terrorist is sick and  dying (well, he says he is), so he gets to die on home soil after a hero’s welcome. (Is this the new rule for all murders?) The overriding concern is neither any “abstract” notion of justice nor the victims’ families. We must prove our “civilized” credentials by extending accommodations to the convicted butcher. That the butcher forfeited his claim on our sensibilities when he killed 270 people seems lost on those, at least in Scotland, who decided there were  “humanitarian” grounds for releasing him. (This supposes, perhaps unwisely, that all this was not subterfuge for a real “blood-for-oil” deal.)

Polanski’s no murderer, but he is a child rapist. Now we are now supposed to feel terribly bad that his life on the lamb might end. How horrid that after so many years this has “come back to haunt him,” his defenders coo. (Well yes, the intervening years were caused solely by Polanski’s flight from the country, but they don’t dwell on that detail.) Once again, the entire moral universe is skewed to the concern about sparing the criminal too much stress.

I suspect that the vast majority of Americans don’t buy into the twisted logic of those who defend Polanski’s desire to escape justice. Indeed, because most ordinary Americans (the Bible clutchers Obama disparaged in the campaign) retain an appreciation of the moral distinction between victim and criminal, they are probably baffled by those who believe we prove our humanity by catering to the whims of criminals. That, of course, is a constant  source of irritation and exasperation for many of our cultural elites, who once again may be shocked to learn that their views are anathema to most of their countrymen.

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What’s “Realism” Then?

Bret Stephens suggests that those dreaded neoconservatives are the real “realists”:

That’s why neocons have no faith in any deals or “grand bargains” the U.S. might sign with North Korea or Iran over their nuclear programs: Cheating is in the DNA of both regimes, and the record is there to prove it. Nor do neocons put much stock in the notion that there’s a “reset” button with the Kremlin. Russia is the quintessential spoiler state, seeking its advantage in America’s troubles at home and abroad. Ditto for Syria, which has perfected the art of taking credit for solving problems of its own creation.

Where neocons do put their faith is in American power, not just military or economic power but also as an instrument of moral and political suasion. Disarmament? The last dictator to relinquish his nuclear program voluntarily was Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, who did so immediately following Saddam Hussein’s capture. Democratization? Contrary to current conventional wisdom, democracy is often imposed, or at least facilitated, by U.S. pressure—in the Philippines, in the Balkans and, yes, in Iraq. Human rights? Anwar Ibrahim, the beleaguered Malaysian opposition leader, told me last week that “the only country that can stand up” to abusive regimes is the United States. “If they know the administration is taking a soft stance [on human rights], they will go on a rampage.”

Neoconservatives generally take the view that the internal character of a regime usually predicts the nature of its foreign policy. Governments that are answerable to their own people and accountable to a rule of law tend to respect the rights of their neighbors, honor their treaty commitments, and abide by the international rules of the road. By contrast, regimes that prey on their own citizens are likely to prey on their neighbors as well. Their word is the opposite of their bond.

The question remains then what the “realists” believe. The crowd that was to put ideology off to the side has again and again substituted wishful thinking for clear-eyed analysis. We’d force a peace deal by insisting Israel do what Israel could never agree to do (enforce an absolute freeze on settlements) in the hopes the Palestinians would finally agree to do what they’ve never done (halt terrorism and recognize a Jewish state) in circumstances that suggest both parties are incapable of doing anything differently. This is “realism”?

In Honduras, the Obama team ignored the essential facts precipitating the ouster of Manuel Zelaya (the text of the Honduran constitution), the Honduran political scene (the military, middle class, Catholic Church, legislature, and Supreme Court all oppose Zelaya’s return), and the regional and international implications (boosting Hugo Chavez, who is fast becoming Ahmadinejad’s best pal). The Obama realists put their stock in a delusional follower of Chavez. Not much “realism” there either.

The list goes on. On Afghanistan the president is searching in vain for a mythical alternative to the counterinsurgency recommendation of his own general. The light-footprint model has proved unworkable, but experience does not matter much these days. Meanwhile, we yank the rug out from under Poland and the Czech Republic on missile defense because we know Iran isn’t working on long-range missiles and because the Russians will have to cooperate with us now. The Russians didn’t actually promise anything, but realists these days operate on warm fuzzy feelings and intuition about our adversaries.

There is not a single meaningful foreign policy decision—aside from the continuation of George W. Bush’s Iraq policy—that bears any trace of realism, if we understand realism to mean a foreign policy grounded in the world as it is, not as ideologues wish it to be. Past experience, current geopolitical realities, historical precedent, and common sense are nowhere in evidence. Instead we get gauzy rhetoric and undiluted faith in talking to those who plainly don’t want to talk to us (or who would be happy to talk while doing precisely what they want to anyway). And there’s plenty of stalling. So it seems that “realism” boils down to wishful thinking and a heavy dose of procrastination.

Bret Stephens suggests that those dreaded neoconservatives are the real “realists”:

That’s why neocons have no faith in any deals or “grand bargains” the U.S. might sign with North Korea or Iran over their nuclear programs: Cheating is in the DNA of both regimes, and the record is there to prove it. Nor do neocons put much stock in the notion that there’s a “reset” button with the Kremlin. Russia is the quintessential spoiler state, seeking its advantage in America’s troubles at home and abroad. Ditto for Syria, which has perfected the art of taking credit for solving problems of its own creation.

Where neocons do put their faith is in American power, not just military or economic power but also as an instrument of moral and political suasion. Disarmament? The last dictator to relinquish his nuclear program voluntarily was Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, who did so immediately following Saddam Hussein’s capture. Democratization? Contrary to current conventional wisdom, democracy is often imposed, or at least facilitated, by U.S. pressure—in the Philippines, in the Balkans and, yes, in Iraq. Human rights? Anwar Ibrahim, the beleaguered Malaysian opposition leader, told me last week that “the only country that can stand up” to abusive regimes is the United States. “If they know the administration is taking a soft stance [on human rights], they will go on a rampage.”

Neoconservatives generally take the view that the internal character of a regime usually predicts the nature of its foreign policy. Governments that are answerable to their own people and accountable to a rule of law tend to respect the rights of their neighbors, honor their treaty commitments, and abide by the international rules of the road. By contrast, regimes that prey on their own citizens are likely to prey on their neighbors as well. Their word is the opposite of their bond.

The question remains then what the “realists” believe. The crowd that was to put ideology off to the side has again and again substituted wishful thinking for clear-eyed analysis. We’d force a peace deal by insisting Israel do what Israel could never agree to do (enforce an absolute freeze on settlements) in the hopes the Palestinians would finally agree to do what they’ve never done (halt terrorism and recognize a Jewish state) in circumstances that suggest both parties are incapable of doing anything differently. This is “realism”?

In Honduras, the Obama team ignored the essential facts precipitating the ouster of Manuel Zelaya (the text of the Honduran constitution), the Honduran political scene (the military, middle class, Catholic Church, legislature, and Supreme Court all oppose Zelaya’s return), and the regional and international implications (boosting Hugo Chavez, who is fast becoming Ahmadinejad’s best pal). The Obama realists put their stock in a delusional follower of Chavez. Not much “realism” there either.

The list goes on. On Afghanistan the president is searching in vain for a mythical alternative to the counterinsurgency recommendation of his own general. The light-footprint model has proved unworkable, but experience does not matter much these days. Meanwhile, we yank the rug out from under Poland and the Czech Republic on missile defense because we know Iran isn’t working on long-range missiles and because the Russians will have to cooperate with us now. The Russians didn’t actually promise anything, but realists these days operate on warm fuzzy feelings and intuition about our adversaries.

There is not a single meaningful foreign policy decision—aside from the continuation of George W. Bush’s Iraq policy—that bears any trace of realism, if we understand realism to mean a foreign policy grounded in the world as it is, not as ideologues wish it to be. Past experience, current geopolitical realities, historical precedent, and common sense are nowhere in evidence. Instead we get gauzy rhetoric and undiluted faith in talking to those who plainly don’t want to talk to us (or who would be happy to talk while doing precisely what they want to anyway). And there’s plenty of stalling. So it seems that “realism” boils down to wishful thinking and a heavy dose of procrastination.

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TV Escapism

Matthew Continetti writes:

Unemployment is close to 10 percent. The government is embedded in the auto, banking, housing, and insurance sectors. The president’s domestic agenda hangs in the balance. Things aren’t rosy on the global front, either. Public opinion has turned against the war in Afghanistan just as a major decision on troop levels must be made. The Iranians are busily working to obtain nuclear weapons. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains as intractable as ever. It’s a dangerous world at an uncertain time, and last week the president responded by going on the Late Show with David Letterman.

Now Obama is going to plead his case for the 2016 Olympics—because he can’t imagine any better use of his time, one supposes. After all, making a decision on Afghanistan can wait, and we have oodles of time to talk to Iran before we have to actually do anything.

As Continetti points out, the Obama media-saturation strategy doesn’t seem to be paying off. This raises the issue as to whether this is anything more than Obama’s “vanity” on display. Well, it may be a good deal of that. And it may also be that Obama doesn’t really have other interests or skills except those associated with a perpetual campaign. That may account for his TV obsession and also for stunts like the Olympic pleading session. It’s all part of a trivial-pursuit approach to the presidency, which elevates itty-bitty issues over massive ones and seeks to make every event, no matter how local (e.g., supposed racial profiling in Cambridge), the president’s business.

In the swarm of speeches, pronouncements, legislative gambits (how’s cap-and-trade doing these days?), and endless appearances, Obama has become omnipresent but ineffectual. He talks about everything but accomplishes virtually nothing. He has a single domestic “achievement”—a failed stimulus plan. His foreign policy is in disarray. Maybe he is everywhere on TV because that’s what he knows how to do—with no follow-through, hard decision-making, or consensus-building required. If he didn’t do all that TV, he might have to govern.

Matthew Continetti writes:

Unemployment is close to 10 percent. The government is embedded in the auto, banking, housing, and insurance sectors. The president’s domestic agenda hangs in the balance. Things aren’t rosy on the global front, either. Public opinion has turned against the war in Afghanistan just as a major decision on troop levels must be made. The Iranians are busily working to obtain nuclear weapons. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains as intractable as ever. It’s a dangerous world at an uncertain time, and last week the president responded by going on the Late Show with David Letterman.

Now Obama is going to plead his case for the 2016 Olympics—because he can’t imagine any better use of his time, one supposes. After all, making a decision on Afghanistan can wait, and we have oodles of time to talk to Iran before we have to actually do anything.

As Continetti points out, the Obama media-saturation strategy doesn’t seem to be paying off. This raises the issue as to whether this is anything more than Obama’s “vanity” on display. Well, it may be a good deal of that. And it may also be that Obama doesn’t really have other interests or skills except those associated with a perpetual campaign. That may account for his TV obsession and also for stunts like the Olympic pleading session. It’s all part of a trivial-pursuit approach to the presidency, which elevates itty-bitty issues over massive ones and seeks to make every event, no matter how local (e.g., supposed racial profiling in Cambridge), the president’s business.

In the swarm of speeches, pronouncements, legislative gambits (how’s cap-and-trade doing these days?), and endless appearances, Obama has become omnipresent but ineffectual. He talks about everything but accomplishes virtually nothing. He has a single domestic “achievement”—a failed stimulus plan. His foreign policy is in disarray. Maybe he is everywhere on TV because that’s what he knows how to do—with no follow-through, hard decision-making, or consensus-building required. If he didn’t do all that TV, he might have to govern.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Sen. Chuck Schumer is being “showered” with Wall Street money. “The industry’s giving pattern this year may upend the traditional notion of Republicans as bagmen for Wall Street.” Well, it turns out Democrats are willing to carry water for Wall Street despite “the Democrats’ populist rhetoric.”

Obama’s former Afghanistan analyst sides with Obama’s current Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal as well as Gen. David Petraeus and Brookings strategic guru Michael O’Hanlon (who called the surge correctly long before any other Democrat did). But Obama has Joe Biden on his side.

Republican governors are going after Sen. Max Baucus’s health-care plan. “‘The current proposals, both in the House and Senate, will expand the Medicaid program at additional costs paid not by the federal government, but passed down to the states,’ Barbour wrote earlier this month. Republicans are touting an editorial in Monday’s Wall Street Journal titled, ‘Max’s Mad Mandate.’ The op-ed called Baucus’s bill ‘the mother—and father and crazy uncle—of unfunded mandates.’” Democratic governors may have a hard time explaining why they are going along with this.

Bill McGurn on Obama’s tricky position in the two gubernatorial races this year: “On the one hand, the White House wants Democrats to win these two governorships. On the other, it doesn’t want to get so close to these two candidates that if they go down in flames, the president gets burned too. It makes for interesting politics. In Virginia, the White House took a hit when former Democratic Gov. Doug Wilder revealed that he had rejected a personal appeal from Mr. Obama to endorse Mr. Deeds. . . . Each race is still too close to call. In the end, the experts may well be correct that the presidential factor will have little to do with the outcome of either contest. But with Mr. Obama’s health-care bill stalled, and his popularity declining, you can bet the last thing the administration wants is to wake up the day after the election to stories suggesting that the Obama magic is gone.”

How’s “engagement” going? Not so well: “Iran reported Monday that it successfully test-fired its most advanced and powerful medium-range missiles as part of war games it said were intended to deter the country’s enemies.”

You know things are bad when Obama’s squishiness as commander in chief is too much for Richard Cohen to bear: “Sooner or later it is going to occur to Barack Obama that he is the president of the United States. As of yet, though, he does not act that way, appearing promiscuously on television and granting interviews like the presidential candidate he no longer is. The election has been held, but the campaign goes on and on. The candidate has yet to become commander in chief.”

Republicans extend their list of vulnerable House Democrats.

The New York Times has figured out that Liz Cheney “at a minimum, has become a rallying point for conservative views on national security. In a broader sense, she is being promoted as a rising star of the Republican Party, one who is hardly shying from the Cheney brand.” The Times and its devoted followers no doubt are convinced that “Cheney” is a toxic name. But since both Cheneys had it right on Guantanamo and enhanced interrogation techniques, to name just two issues, it may be that the voters see things quite differently.

Marty Peretz has lost patience with Obama. On the “discovery” that Iran is out to acquire nuclear weapons and the pronouncement that closing Guantanamo is “more complicated” than the Obama team imagined: “The first of these revelations is especially significant. What does it say about the president’s adventures in sympatico diplomacy? This is hard to say: but I believe it’s an utter failure.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer is being “showered” with Wall Street money. “The industry’s giving pattern this year may upend the traditional notion of Republicans as bagmen for Wall Street.” Well, it turns out Democrats are willing to carry water for Wall Street despite “the Democrats’ populist rhetoric.”

Obama’s former Afghanistan analyst sides with Obama’s current Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal as well as Gen. David Petraeus and Brookings strategic guru Michael O’Hanlon (who called the surge correctly long before any other Democrat did). But Obama has Joe Biden on his side.

Republican governors are going after Sen. Max Baucus’s health-care plan. “‘The current proposals, both in the House and Senate, will expand the Medicaid program at additional costs paid not by the federal government, but passed down to the states,’ Barbour wrote earlier this month. Republicans are touting an editorial in Monday’s Wall Street Journal titled, ‘Max’s Mad Mandate.’ The op-ed called Baucus’s bill ‘the mother—and father and crazy uncle—of unfunded mandates.’” Democratic governors may have a hard time explaining why they are going along with this.

Bill McGurn on Obama’s tricky position in the two gubernatorial races this year: “On the one hand, the White House wants Democrats to win these two governorships. On the other, it doesn’t want to get so close to these two candidates that if they go down in flames, the president gets burned too. It makes for interesting politics. In Virginia, the White House took a hit when former Democratic Gov. Doug Wilder revealed that he had rejected a personal appeal from Mr. Obama to endorse Mr. Deeds. . . . Each race is still too close to call. In the end, the experts may well be correct that the presidential factor will have little to do with the outcome of either contest. But with Mr. Obama’s health-care bill stalled, and his popularity declining, you can bet the last thing the administration wants is to wake up the day after the election to stories suggesting that the Obama magic is gone.”

How’s “engagement” going? Not so well: “Iran reported Monday that it successfully test-fired its most advanced and powerful medium-range missiles as part of war games it said were intended to deter the country’s enemies.”

You know things are bad when Obama’s squishiness as commander in chief is too much for Richard Cohen to bear: “Sooner or later it is going to occur to Barack Obama that he is the president of the United States. As of yet, though, he does not act that way, appearing promiscuously on television and granting interviews like the presidential candidate he no longer is. The election has been held, but the campaign goes on and on. The candidate has yet to become commander in chief.”

Republicans extend their list of vulnerable House Democrats.

The New York Times has figured out that Liz Cheney “at a minimum, has become a rallying point for conservative views on national security. In a broader sense, she is being promoted as a rising star of the Republican Party, one who is hardly shying from the Cheney brand.” The Times and its devoted followers no doubt are convinced that “Cheney” is a toxic name. But since both Cheneys had it right on Guantanamo and enhanced interrogation techniques, to name just two issues, it may be that the voters see things quite differently.

Marty Peretz has lost patience with Obama. On the “discovery” that Iran is out to acquire nuclear weapons and the pronouncement that closing Guantanamo is “more complicated” than the Obama team imagined: “The first of these revelations is especially significant. What does it say about the president’s adventures in sympatico diplomacy? This is hard to say: but I believe it’s an utter failure.”

Read Less




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