Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 2009

Talking and Cruising with COMMENTARY

Iran. Israel. The U.S. midterm elections. The condition of the culture. The state of Western civilization. These will be the topics under discussion at the COMMENTARY Conference of Ideas next August, from the 4th to the 11th. Join other conservatives and concerned citizens for presentations by and roundtable discussions with former chief White House Mideast official Elliott Abrams, the brilliant Wall Street Journal columnist (and former COMMENTARY and Jerusalem Post editor) Bret Stephens, the passionate talk-show host and author Michael Medved, the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts, our lead blogger Jennifer Rubin, power couple Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, and me. The topics could not be more serious; the setting could not be more stunning — aboard the jewel of the Regent cruise line, the Seven Seas Navigator, as it journeys around the staggeringly gorgeous waters of Alaska.

There will be panel discussions, speeches, a chance to dine with the speakers, and a chance to meet up with like-minded people for a week of enlightenment and entertainment. You can learn more about it here.

Iran. Israel. The U.S. midterm elections. The condition of the culture. The state of Western civilization. These will be the topics under discussion at the COMMENTARY Conference of Ideas next August, from the 4th to the 11th. Join other conservatives and concerned citizens for presentations by and roundtable discussions with former chief White House Mideast official Elliott Abrams, the brilliant Wall Street Journal columnist (and former COMMENTARY and Jerusalem Post editor) Bret Stephens, the passionate talk-show host and author Michael Medved, the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts, our lead blogger Jennifer Rubin, power couple Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, and me. The topics could not be more serious; the setting could not be more stunning — aboard the jewel of the Regent cruise line, the Seven Seas Navigator, as it journeys around the staggeringly gorgeous waters of Alaska.

There will be panel discussions, speeches, a chance to dine with the speakers, and a chance to meet up with like-minded people for a week of enlightenment and entertainment. You can learn more about it here.

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Re: A Different Plan

John, the Republicans’ plan comes at a particularly critical juncture for the Democrats. They must do two things: convince voters to trust government to assume vast new powers and that there is no viable alternative model of reform.

Republican lawmakers and grassroots activists over the summer concentrated primarily on the first issue, explaining the big government power grab that was underway. Call it the “death panels” or “rationing,” but the prospect that government would intrude into the patient-doctor relationship got the public’s attention. Highlighting concerns that the deficit will balloon and that the bevy of new taxes will strangle the recovery in its crib, conservatives have been gathering plenty of ammunition to energize voters and to give lawmakers pause about voting for this type of plan.

But the urge to do “something” is great. Democrats have convinced themselves it was the lack of any plan, not the content of HillaryCare, that sunk them in 1994. And nervous Republicans want to avoid the “obstructionist” tag. (Sometimes obstructionism is a noble thing that is richly rewarded, but politicians are nervous types.)

It is therefore tactically smart to produce a concise list that both highlights the bad things in PelosiCare and that gives Republicans an alternative, one that might eventually be the Plan B if the Democrats’ efforts crater. The contrasts are great. Republicans want tort reform; Democrats want to repeal it. Democrats want a public option to supplant the private insurance market; Republicans want to help expand the private insurance market.

Congressmen and senators will have a choice between these starkly different models. And the Democrats will have a hard time convincing voters there is no other possible avenue for reform. Oh yes there is.

John, the Republicans’ plan comes at a particularly critical juncture for the Democrats. They must do two things: convince voters to trust government to assume vast new powers and that there is no viable alternative model of reform.

Republican lawmakers and grassroots activists over the summer concentrated primarily on the first issue, explaining the big government power grab that was underway. Call it the “death panels” or “rationing,” but the prospect that government would intrude into the patient-doctor relationship got the public’s attention. Highlighting concerns that the deficit will balloon and that the bevy of new taxes will strangle the recovery in its crib, conservatives have been gathering plenty of ammunition to energize voters and to give lawmakers pause about voting for this type of plan.

But the urge to do “something” is great. Democrats have convinced themselves it was the lack of any plan, not the content of HillaryCare, that sunk them in 1994. And nervous Republicans want to avoid the “obstructionist” tag. (Sometimes obstructionism is a noble thing that is richly rewarded, but politicians are nervous types.)

It is therefore tactically smart to produce a concise list that both highlights the bad things in PelosiCare and that gives Republicans an alternative, one that might eventually be the Plan B if the Democrats’ efforts crater. The contrasts are great. Republicans want tort reform; Democrats want to repeal it. Democrats want a public option to supplant the private insurance market; Republicans want to help expand the private insurance market.

Congressmen and senators will have a choice between these starkly different models. And the Democrats will have a hard time convincing voters there is no other possible avenue for reform. Oh yes there is.

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NY-23 Takes Dramatic Turn

Dede Scozzafava has dropped out of the NY-23 race, a victim of general outrage from the conservative base and her own ineptitude. The Republican establishment and Newt Gingrich, who had backed her, are relieved to be off the hook and to have a conservative, Doug Hoffman, who now can unite the base.

On one level, this is simply a faulty candidate who did boneheaded things (e.g., calling the cops on a reporter) collapsing. But make no mistake, this is also a rejection of the sort of candidate who mimics Democrats on card-check, health care, abortion, and gay marriage. There is little appetite for such fare among Republicans in the age of Obama. They are looking for candidates to oppose the far-Left agenda, not adopt it as their own. NY-23 now will see a genuine fiscal conservative with an energized base facing off against the Democrat in a district that in an ordinary year could swing either way. We’ll see next Tuesday if this is an ordinary year or if something is afoot as voters assess 10 months of one-party Democratic rule.

Dede Scozzafava has dropped out of the NY-23 race, a victim of general outrage from the conservative base and her own ineptitude. The Republican establishment and Newt Gingrich, who had backed her, are relieved to be off the hook and to have a conservative, Doug Hoffman, who now can unite the base.

On one level, this is simply a faulty candidate who did boneheaded things (e.g., calling the cops on a reporter) collapsing. But make no mistake, this is also a rejection of the sort of candidate who mimics Democrats on card-check, health care, abortion, and gay marriage. There is little appetite for such fare among Republicans in the age of Obama. They are looking for candidates to oppose the far-Left agenda, not adopt it as their own. NY-23 now will see a genuine fiscal conservative with an energized base facing off against the Democrat in a district that in an ordinary year could swing either way. We’ll see next Tuesday if this is an ordinary year or if something is afoot as voters assess 10 months of one-party Democratic rule.

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Clarity Bedevils J Street and the Obama Administration

The Washington Post reports:

The House of Representatives on Tuesday is poised to pass a nonbinding resolution condemning a controversial U.N. report on alleged Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip that has become a major complication in Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s diplomacy in the Middle East this weekend.

It seems this makes the Obamis’ moral-equivalence game a bit more treacherous. Hillary Clinton is meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, while the administration can’t quite bring itself to issue an unequivocal condemnation of Richard Goldstone’s handiwork. (“The administration has previously said that the report is flawed but raises “important issues and serious allegations,’ and it has urged Israel to investigate its conduct in the conflict more closely.”) It is oh so inconvenient to have a stark statement of support for Israel and one of condemnation for yet another attempt to delegitimize Israel’s right to self-defense.

It is making others squirm as well. As Josh Block of AIPAC notes, all the “mainstream” pro-Israel groups back the resolution. But not the J Street crowd. In a pathetic bit of projection, J Street’s head Jeremy Ben-Ami declares that the resolution “puts members of Congress in an uncomfortable box” because of alleged inaccuracies in the resolution. Puleez. Congress feels no discomfort; it is J Street that is in a bind, caught with its sympathies showing.

J Street and the administration, it seems, would rather not make too much of a fuss over Goldstone’s Israel defamation. Their reaction, however, only highlights their lack of understanding of the stakes, not only for Israel, but for any democracy that must fight terrorists who choose to attack  from behind the skirts of old women and the cribs of toddlers.

The Washington Post reports:

The House of Representatives on Tuesday is poised to pass a nonbinding resolution condemning a controversial U.N. report on alleged Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip that has become a major complication in Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s diplomacy in the Middle East this weekend.

It seems this makes the Obamis’ moral-equivalence game a bit more treacherous. Hillary Clinton is meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, while the administration can’t quite bring itself to issue an unequivocal condemnation of Richard Goldstone’s handiwork. (“The administration has previously said that the report is flawed but raises “important issues and serious allegations,’ and it has urged Israel to investigate its conduct in the conflict more closely.”) It is oh so inconvenient to have a stark statement of support for Israel and one of condemnation for yet another attempt to delegitimize Israel’s right to self-defense.

It is making others squirm as well. As Josh Block of AIPAC notes, all the “mainstream” pro-Israel groups back the resolution. But not the J Street crowd. In a pathetic bit of projection, J Street’s head Jeremy Ben-Ami declares that the resolution “puts members of Congress in an uncomfortable box” because of alleged inaccuracies in the resolution. Puleez. Congress feels no discomfort; it is J Street that is in a bind, caught with its sympathies showing.

J Street and the administration, it seems, would rather not make too much of a fuss over Goldstone’s Israel defamation. Their reaction, however, only highlights their lack of understanding of the stakes, not only for Israel, but for any democracy that must fight terrorists who choose to attack  from behind the skirts of old women and the cribs of toddlers.

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Now She Wants a Vote?

We are inching closer to the moment of truth for Democrats on PelosiCare. The Speaker is intent on pushing a vote, the quicker the better. But is that wise for those who want the Democrats’ jumbo health-care bill passed? Consider two events that may give her caucus some pause.

First, Tuesday voters in Virginia and New Jersey and in the NY-23 district are going to cast their votes in races that nine or 10 months ago would have been easy wins for the Democrats. Not now. I just returned from a rally in Northern Virginia in which “health-care” was on the lips of all the state-wide Republican office seekers. It is one reason, a significant one, for the rising angst among independents and the increased fervor in the Republican base. The candidate for attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, bellowed from the stage that Virginians didn’t want “the federal government taking over health care.” The crowd roared in approval. This is a statewide race. For attorney general. That’s the potency of the issue and its ability to motivate voters.

The Democrats’ health-care “reform” has become the most obvious example and the juiciest target for the anti-big government theme that Virginia Republicans are using to great advantage. Bob McDonnell’s best applause line went directly at this issue: “The road to recovery is not through more big government from Washington D.C.”

So does Pelosi really want her members voting so close after Tuesday’s election? Hmmm.

Second, there is a Katrina-like failure of competency in the administration’s bollixed handling of the swine-flu vaccine. The flu vaccine not readily available — with more angry moms and more sick kids every day — and now the administration has pulled a move likely to enrage Americans even further. Stephen Hayes remarks on the decision to give the vaccine to Guantanamo detainees, who don’t seem to meet the criteria for “at risk” patients:

So Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, the man who conceived the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3000 Americans, is eligible for a swine flu vaccination. But Kristin Bencik, a pediatrician working overtime to treat kids suspected of having swine flu, has chosen to forego a shot so that she is not taking one away from one of her vulnerable patients. And she is really a “higher risk” case — she’s pregnant.

It is this sort of mindless bureaucracy and endemic incompetence that sends shivers up the spines of average Americans when they contemplate giving the federal government control over health-care. This is the crew that poured a trillion dollars down the drain and now concocts phony job “creation’ statistic to justify its stimulus plan. This is the administration that spent billions on cash for clunkers, crashed the computers and then saw car sales plunge the next month. Their track record does not engender confidence.
Anyone advocating giving the Feds immense power over health-care decisions for 300 million Americans therefore  is going to have to clear a steep hurdle and answer a critical question: if they can’t get us the swine-flu vaccine, why should we let them do anything else?

So Pelosi might want to let the anger over the shortage of swine-flu vaccine and rising disgust with the Obama administration’s vaccine priorities subside before forcing her members to vote. Now might be precisely the worst time to make vulnerable lawmakers cast what could be a career-ending vote.

We are inching closer to the moment of truth for Democrats on PelosiCare. The Speaker is intent on pushing a vote, the quicker the better. But is that wise for those who want the Democrats’ jumbo health-care bill passed? Consider two events that may give her caucus some pause.

First, Tuesday voters in Virginia and New Jersey and in the NY-23 district are going to cast their votes in races that nine or 10 months ago would have been easy wins for the Democrats. Not now. I just returned from a rally in Northern Virginia in which “health-care” was on the lips of all the state-wide Republican office seekers. It is one reason, a significant one, for the rising angst among independents and the increased fervor in the Republican base. The candidate for attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, bellowed from the stage that Virginians didn’t want “the federal government taking over health care.” The crowd roared in approval. This is a statewide race. For attorney general. That’s the potency of the issue and its ability to motivate voters.

The Democrats’ health-care “reform” has become the most obvious example and the juiciest target for the anti-big government theme that Virginia Republicans are using to great advantage. Bob McDonnell’s best applause line went directly at this issue: “The road to recovery is not through more big government from Washington D.C.”

So does Pelosi really want her members voting so close after Tuesday’s election? Hmmm.

Second, there is a Katrina-like failure of competency in the administration’s bollixed handling of the swine-flu vaccine. The flu vaccine not readily available — with more angry moms and more sick kids every day — and now the administration has pulled a move likely to enrage Americans even further. Stephen Hayes remarks on the decision to give the vaccine to Guantanamo detainees, who don’t seem to meet the criteria for “at risk” patients:

So Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, the man who conceived the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3000 Americans, is eligible for a swine flu vaccination. But Kristin Bencik, a pediatrician working overtime to treat kids suspected of having swine flu, has chosen to forego a shot so that she is not taking one away from one of her vulnerable patients. And she is really a “higher risk” case — she’s pregnant.

It is this sort of mindless bureaucracy and endemic incompetence that sends shivers up the spines of average Americans when they contemplate giving the federal government control over health-care. This is the crew that poured a trillion dollars down the drain and now concocts phony job “creation’ statistic to justify its stimulus plan. This is the administration that spent billions on cash for clunkers, crashed the computers and then saw car sales plunge the next month. Their track record does not engender confidence.
Anyone advocating giving the Feds immense power over health-care decisions for 300 million Americans therefore  is going to have to clear a steep hurdle and answer a critical question: if they can’t get us the swine-flu vaccine, why should we let them do anything else?

So Pelosi might want to let the anger over the shortage of swine-flu vaccine and rising disgust with the Obama administration’s vaccine priorities subside before forcing her members to vote. Now might be precisely the worst time to make vulnerable lawmakers cast what could be a career-ending vote.

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A Different Plan

The Republicans in the House are presenting their plan to reform health care. It could hardly be more different from the plan presented this week by Nancy Pelosi, which would reorganize health care in this country along what, as John Hinderacker at Power Line points out, are national socialist economic principles. At the heart of the Republican plan are four simple — not to mention obvious — reforms that would actually, well, reform how health care is paid for in this country and greatly reduce its cost, all without compromising care in any way. None of the four would cost the federal government one dime — probably one more reason these ideas are anathema to the Left, which measures “progress” by how much the federal budget is increased.

What they would also not do is turn control of health insurance over to the federal government, which has shown itself utterly incompetent in managinh such an enterprise. See here and here.

Number one: let families and businesses buy health insurance across state lines. Number two: allow individuals, small businesses, and trade associations to pool together and acquire health insurance at lower prices, the same way large corporations and labor unions do. Number three: give states the tools to create their own innovative reforms that lower health-care costs. Number four: end junk lawsuits that by increasing the number of tests and procedures that physicians sometimes order not because they think it’s good medicine, but because they are afraid of being sued, contribute to higher health-care costs.

I would add one more: require health-care providers to publicly post prices for standard services, procedures, tests, etc. This is already beginning to happen but it needs to be standardized in ways that allow easy comparisons. This would force health-care providers to simplify what are often incredibly complex pricing systems, allow easy comparisons between providers, and force prices to converge towards the low end of the range. (If hospital A will do a particular procedure for $900, why go to hospital B and pay $3,200? Such price spreads are possible only because prices are not easily determined.)

As Bill Kristol writes, the Pelosi plan may well collapse of its own weight. If it does, the Republicans are now ready with a cheap, easy, and economically logical alternative.

The Republicans in the House are presenting their plan to reform health care. It could hardly be more different from the plan presented this week by Nancy Pelosi, which would reorganize health care in this country along what, as John Hinderacker at Power Line points out, are national socialist economic principles. At the heart of the Republican plan are four simple — not to mention obvious — reforms that would actually, well, reform how health care is paid for in this country and greatly reduce its cost, all without compromising care in any way. None of the four would cost the federal government one dime — probably one more reason these ideas are anathema to the Left, which measures “progress” by how much the federal budget is increased.

What they would also not do is turn control of health insurance over to the federal government, which has shown itself utterly incompetent in managinh such an enterprise. See here and here.

Number one: let families and businesses buy health insurance across state lines. Number two: allow individuals, small businesses, and trade associations to pool together and acquire health insurance at lower prices, the same way large corporations and labor unions do. Number three: give states the tools to create their own innovative reforms that lower health-care costs. Number four: end junk lawsuits that by increasing the number of tests and procedures that physicians sometimes order not because they think it’s good medicine, but because they are afraid of being sued, contribute to higher health-care costs.

I would add one more: require health-care providers to publicly post prices for standard services, procedures, tests, etc. This is already beginning to happen but it needs to be standardized in ways that allow easy comparisons. This would force health-care providers to simplify what are often incredibly complex pricing systems, allow easy comparisons between providers, and force prices to converge towards the low end of the range. (If hospital A will do a particular procedure for $900, why go to hospital B and pay $3,200? Such price spreads are possible only because prices are not easily determined.)

As Bill Kristol writes, the Pelosi plan may well collapse of its own weight. If it does, the Republicans are now ready with a cheap, easy, and economically logical alternative.

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Bashing Bush in Pakistan

In a roundtable today with Pakistani editors, Hillary Clinton responded to a question about the Israeli-Palestinian issue with the now-familiar Obama administration litany: the problems are hard, they were inherited, they were ignored by the prior administration:

I think that, look, we all know that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is one that is a very serious and difficult problem that we are working hard also to try to resolve. We inherited a lot of problems. If you remember, when my husband left office, we were very close to an agreement because he worked on it all the time. The next administration did not make it a priority and did not really do much until toward the end. And unfortunately, we are trying to make up for some lost time, in my opinion.

Hillary forgets that the Bush administration in 2001 inherited an even more difficult problem — the new Palestinian terror war that concluded the eight-year Clinton peace process. During the next eight years, the Bush administration nevertheless did the following:

Adopted a new policy officially endorsing a Palestinian state if the Palestinian Authority renounced terrorism and elected new leaders (2002);

Produced a three-phase roadmap to achieve a Palestinian state — and got the UN, EU, Russia, Israel and the PA all to endorse it (2003);

Entered into a deal with Israel to turn over all of Gaza to the PA to enable it to demonstrate its ability to “live side by side in peace and security” (2004);

Arranged a Palestinian election to choose a “moderate” successor to Yasser Arafat (2005);

Arranged another election to give the Palestinians a choice between their new PA and their premier terrorist group (2006);

“Accelerated” the Roadmap to move straight to final status negotiations in the Annapolis Process (2007); and

Dedicated the secretary of state (not just an envoy) to trip after trip, and meeting after meeting, for more than a year, to push a final settlement (2007-2008).

The results of the eight-year Bush administration’s peace process were the same as those of the Clinton one: another offer of a Palestinian state, another Palestinian rejection, and another war, as Israel was finally forced to act against the continuous rockets that came from Gaza.

Two peace processes, two formal offers of a state, and two wars. Even a cursory knowledge of the last sixteen years would suggest the problem is not the absence of attention, nor the absence of effort. But in the tenth month of the Obama administration’s own failures in the “peace process,” it is easier to bash Bush on foreign soil than to give a serious answer.

In a roundtable today with Pakistani editors, Hillary Clinton responded to a question about the Israeli-Palestinian issue with the now-familiar Obama administration litany: the problems are hard, they were inherited, they were ignored by the prior administration:

I think that, look, we all know that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is one that is a very serious and difficult problem that we are working hard also to try to resolve. We inherited a lot of problems. If you remember, when my husband left office, we were very close to an agreement because he worked on it all the time. The next administration did not make it a priority and did not really do much until toward the end. And unfortunately, we are trying to make up for some lost time, in my opinion.

Hillary forgets that the Bush administration in 2001 inherited an even more difficult problem — the new Palestinian terror war that concluded the eight-year Clinton peace process. During the next eight years, the Bush administration nevertheless did the following:

Adopted a new policy officially endorsing a Palestinian state if the Palestinian Authority renounced terrorism and elected new leaders (2002);

Produced a three-phase roadmap to achieve a Palestinian state — and got the UN, EU, Russia, Israel and the PA all to endorse it (2003);

Entered into a deal with Israel to turn over all of Gaza to the PA to enable it to demonstrate its ability to “live side by side in peace and security” (2004);

Arranged a Palestinian election to choose a “moderate” successor to Yasser Arafat (2005);

Arranged another election to give the Palestinians a choice between their new PA and their premier terrorist group (2006);

“Accelerated” the Roadmap to move straight to final status negotiations in the Annapolis Process (2007); and

Dedicated the secretary of state (not just an envoy) to trip after trip, and meeting after meeting, for more than a year, to push a final settlement (2007-2008).

The results of the eight-year Bush administration’s peace process were the same as those of the Clinton one: another offer of a Palestinian state, another Palestinian rejection, and another war, as Israel was finally forced to act against the continuous rockets that came from Gaza.

Two peace processes, two formal offers of a state, and two wars. Even a cursory knowledge of the last sixteen years would suggest the problem is not the absence of attention, nor the absence of effort. But in the tenth month of the Obama administration’s own failures in the “peace process,” it is easier to bash Bush on foreign soil than to give a serious answer.

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The Company They Keep

A Jeffrey Goldberg reader wonders why J Street seems to be picking its fights with Israel and its “conservative” supporters (which include AIPAC, whose ranks are populated by many liberal Democrats) rather than with the haters of Israel:

If J Street spent similar amounts of energy countering anti-Israel forces on the left as they did countering pro-Israel forces on the right, there might not be less acrimony (we are talking about political folks here), but I would at least find them to be an organization whose core beliefs and activities matched their self-described characterization.  You shouldn’t, e.g., have to push hard for a grudging repudiation of Walt and Mearsheimer – J Street should be doing that as part of their mission to represent a mainstream pro-Israel position.  Even if it means [gasp!] making common cause with AIPAC.

Well, J Street has already told us it isn’t comfortable with the pro-Israel branding. And it doesn’t represent a mainstream pro-Israel position. You can’t get any more mainstream than condemning the Goldstone report and this, the J Street crowd, can’t bear to do. There is no more mainstream position than support for sanctions against Iran. Again, J Street isn’t interested.

The failure to pick a fight with the “correct” people isn’t then a tactical error by J Street. It is evidence of its sympathies and core beliefs. Is it so hard to figure that out? Well, J Street has been duplicitous in reducing its “ask” to Congress to meaningless drivel. And there also is willful ignorance by some observers who’d rather not be forced to call their friends on the Left apologists for the mullahs and flacks for the Israel-haters. Unfortunately for J Street and its enablers, you can’t have a conference in Washington D.C. for four days and disguise your core beliefs. Really, the jig is up.

A Jeffrey Goldberg reader wonders why J Street seems to be picking its fights with Israel and its “conservative” supporters (which include AIPAC, whose ranks are populated by many liberal Democrats) rather than with the haters of Israel:

If J Street spent similar amounts of energy countering anti-Israel forces on the left as they did countering pro-Israel forces on the right, there might not be less acrimony (we are talking about political folks here), but I would at least find them to be an organization whose core beliefs and activities matched their self-described characterization.  You shouldn’t, e.g., have to push hard for a grudging repudiation of Walt and Mearsheimer – J Street should be doing that as part of their mission to represent a mainstream pro-Israel position.  Even if it means [gasp!] making common cause with AIPAC.

Well, J Street has already told us it isn’t comfortable with the pro-Israel branding. And it doesn’t represent a mainstream pro-Israel position. You can’t get any more mainstream than condemning the Goldstone report and this, the J Street crowd, can’t bear to do. There is no more mainstream position than support for sanctions against Iran. Again, J Street isn’t interested.

The failure to pick a fight with the “correct” people isn’t then a tactical error by J Street. It is evidence of its sympathies and core beliefs. Is it so hard to figure that out? Well, J Street has been duplicitous in reducing its “ask” to Congress to meaningless drivel. And there also is willful ignorance by some observers who’d rather not be forced to call their friends on the Left apologists for the mullahs and flacks for the Israel-haters. Unfortunately for J Street and its enablers, you can’t have a conference in Washington D.C. for four days and disguise your core beliefs. Really, the jig is up.

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Does This Count as “No”?

Even the Obami may have a tough time spinning this one:

Iran has told the UN nuclear watchdog it wants fresh fuel for a reactor in Tehran before it will agree to ship most of its enriched uranium stocks to Russia and France, diplomats said Friday. In what the International Atomic Energy Agency has described as an initial response to an IAEA-drafted nuclear fuel proposal, Western diplomats said on condition of anonymity that major Western powers found the Iranian demand for immediate access to fresh atomic fuel unacceptable.

Got that? Before the mullahs agree that even a smidgen of their uranium (which isn’t supposed to be enriched) can be enriched for them by the French or the Russians, they’d like to make the bombs first. What, this is a problem? We are engaging them after all. Maybe it’s a translation error. Or, it’s an exercise by the genuine hard-liners to see if the not-so-hard-liners will come to appreciate what real bad-faith bargaining looks like. But if you want farce, consider the response:

The diplomats said it was unclear whether the proposal was a serious one or if the Iranians were trying to drag out the negotiating process.

“There is some impatience. How many days we have here is not clear but Iran must soon show it will work with the proposal that is on the table,” a Western official in Washington told Reuters.

“We will know probably by early next week — are they serious, are they coming back with things that are within bounds or are they sticking to a position that is unacceptable?”

See, if we are really lucky we’ll find out they were just delaying and dragging this out. And then we can bring things back on track. Why wouldn’t we continue at this? After all, our esteemed U.S. negotiator told us the Iranians have never been so defensive before.

Right around now, if the Obami were serious about ending the dawdling festival, they’d get up and leave, hold a presser, sign the sanctions bill making its way through Congress, and announce some joint military operations in the region. That’s what an administration serious about depriving Iran of nuclear weapons would do. But that’s not this administration — and that’s not happening any time soon, or likely ever.

Even the Obami may have a tough time spinning this one:

Iran has told the UN nuclear watchdog it wants fresh fuel for a reactor in Tehran before it will agree to ship most of its enriched uranium stocks to Russia and France, diplomats said Friday. In what the International Atomic Energy Agency has described as an initial response to an IAEA-drafted nuclear fuel proposal, Western diplomats said on condition of anonymity that major Western powers found the Iranian demand for immediate access to fresh atomic fuel unacceptable.

Got that? Before the mullahs agree that even a smidgen of their uranium (which isn’t supposed to be enriched) can be enriched for them by the French or the Russians, they’d like to make the bombs first. What, this is a problem? We are engaging them after all. Maybe it’s a translation error. Or, it’s an exercise by the genuine hard-liners to see if the not-so-hard-liners will come to appreciate what real bad-faith bargaining looks like. But if you want farce, consider the response:

The diplomats said it was unclear whether the proposal was a serious one or if the Iranians were trying to drag out the negotiating process.

“There is some impatience. How many days we have here is not clear but Iran must soon show it will work with the proposal that is on the table,” a Western official in Washington told Reuters.

“We will know probably by early next week — are they serious, are they coming back with things that are within bounds or are they sticking to a position that is unacceptable?”

See, if we are really lucky we’ll find out they were just delaying and dragging this out. And then we can bring things back on track. Why wouldn’t we continue at this? After all, our esteemed U.S. negotiator told us the Iranians have never been so defensive before.

Right around now, if the Obami were serious about ending the dawdling festival, they’d get up and leave, hold a presser, sign the sanctions bill making its way through Congress, and announce some joint military operations in the region. That’s what an administration serious about depriving Iran of nuclear weapons would do. But that’s not this administration — and that’s not happening any time soon, or likely ever.

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The Price of Those Seminars

This sobering report comes from the Washington Post:

More than 1,000 American troops have been wounded in battle over the past three months in Afghanistan, accounting for one-fourth of all those injured in combat since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. The dramatic increase has filled military hospitals with more amputees and other seriously injured service members and comes as October marks the deadliest month for American troops in Afghanistan.

How many were killed or lost a limb, I wonder, while the president dithered and delayed implementing the recommendations of his hand-picked general? It is not an inconsequential question. The president acts as though there were no downside to the lethargic pace of his decision-making. He would have us believe that there is no price to be paid as he micromanages, province-by-province, the number of troops he’ll dispense. He seems content to entertain the recommendations of Gens. Joe Biden and John Kerry — drawing on their years of experience (in assessing nearly every national-security challenge incorrectly) while discarding that of the real experts.

What’s a few more weeks? Or months? Well, we know there is indeed a price to allowing our current approach to languish. There is a very real cost to delaying implementation of the new plan that is the best available to achieve victory as quickly as possible. The enemy is emboldened. More civilians die. The political and security situation in Pakistan worsens. And more brave Americans are asked to sacrifice themselves while Obama considers and reconsiders whether there isn’t any way to shave some money off the tab and reduce the number of troops his commanders say are needed. After all, health care is going to cost an awful lot.

The horrid reality of war is that parents send their children to die or to return in a condition they could not possibly have envisioned. But to sacrifice even a single American who was engaged in a fruitless exercise or an understaffed operation so the president can conduct a seminar and postpone a confrontation with his own party (which no longer can stomach the “good war”) is reprehensible.

This sobering report comes from the Washington Post:

More than 1,000 American troops have been wounded in battle over the past three months in Afghanistan, accounting for one-fourth of all those injured in combat since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. The dramatic increase has filled military hospitals with more amputees and other seriously injured service members and comes as October marks the deadliest month for American troops in Afghanistan.

How many were killed or lost a limb, I wonder, while the president dithered and delayed implementing the recommendations of his hand-picked general? It is not an inconsequential question. The president acts as though there were no downside to the lethargic pace of his decision-making. He would have us believe that there is no price to be paid as he micromanages, province-by-province, the number of troops he’ll dispense. He seems content to entertain the recommendations of Gens. Joe Biden and John Kerry — drawing on their years of experience (in assessing nearly every national-security challenge incorrectly) while discarding that of the real experts.

What’s a few more weeks? Or months? Well, we know there is indeed a price to allowing our current approach to languish. There is a very real cost to delaying implementation of the new plan that is the best available to achieve victory as quickly as possible. The enemy is emboldened. More civilians die. The political and security situation in Pakistan worsens. And more brave Americans are asked to sacrifice themselves while Obama considers and reconsiders whether there isn’t any way to shave some money off the tab and reduce the number of troops his commanders say are needed. After all, health care is going to cost an awful lot.

The horrid reality of war is that parents send their children to die or to return in a condition they could not possibly have envisioned. But to sacrifice even a single American who was engaged in a fruitless exercise or an understaffed operation so the president can conduct a seminar and postpone a confrontation with his own party (which no longer can stomach the “good war”) is reprehensible.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Bill Kristol wonders whether the Democrats are really going to vote for massive tax hikes and Medicare cuts. “This is the Pelosi Plan to wreck our health care system and — the bright side! — the Democratic majority along with it. This week we’ll see whether enough of her fellow House Democrats intervene to prevent her from devastating their party. There will be no Republican votes for the Pelosi Plan of tax hikes and Medicare cuts. Will there be enough Democratic resistors so the bill is either withdrawn or defeated?”

One Blue Dog isn’t walking the plank on PelosiCare. What, he wants to get re-elected?

Republicans say the Democrats figure on PelosiCare isn’t right. CBO thinks the Democrats are playing fast and loose also and is sticking to the $1.05 trillion as the cost of expanding coverage.

Democrats are counting the losses already in the Virginia House of Delegate elections.

A fascinating look at another Nobel Prize winner — the 1933 recipient who got the nod for wishful thinking at a dangerous time: “Angell wistfully advocated for ‘relinquishing the principle of isolated national defence…and erecting an international authority’  to replace ‘the self interest of individual nations.’ The Nobel Committee described Angell as “cool and clear,” and that he ‘spoke to the intellect.’ Most notably, Angell argued, ‘you cannot kill ideas with bullets.’ He believed that an enlightened citizenry, once someone or something enlightened them, would render war obsolete.”

Obama is the “most powerful writer since Julius Caesar!” A joke? No, the account is hysterical, but it’s an actual compliment from the head of the NEA (which already is in hot water over political cheer-leading for Obama). Nice to know the man who “tried to subvert the republic” is seen as literary gold over at the NEA.

With some good humor, Chris Christie hits back at Jon Corzine’s fat jokes. (Yes, the governor of New Jersey is trying to hang on by teasing his opponent about his physique.)

New Jersey gubernatorial race is as close as you can get, according to public polls.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Michael Steele says a Doug Hoffman win is a GOP victory.

James Capretta on the Pelosi health-care bill: “In sum, then, the House plan is not a $900 billion program. It’s a $725 billion tax increase and a $1.5 trillion spending program. Tax and spend, indeed.”

Do we think the Human Rights Watch or the UN Human Rights Council might take a break from bashing Israel to look into the sale of child brides in Saudi Arabia? Not a chance. Next time Obama goes to talk to the “Muslim World” perhaps he can drop in a line or two on the “marriage” of 6-year-old girls to 80-year-old men.

On the Democratic side in the California gubernatorial race, the field is cleared for Jerry Brown. Kind of back to the future, isn’t it? (Maybe we can get a Linda Ronstadt concert out of this.)

The White House visitors logs tell us all that money bought the SEIU unprecedented access to the White House. SEIU President Andy Stern made 19 White House visits and got 5 sessions with Obama — more than anyone else. Lots more than Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

Bill Kristol wonders whether the Democrats are really going to vote for massive tax hikes and Medicare cuts. “This is the Pelosi Plan to wreck our health care system and — the bright side! — the Democratic majority along with it. This week we’ll see whether enough of her fellow House Democrats intervene to prevent her from devastating their party. There will be no Republican votes for the Pelosi Plan of tax hikes and Medicare cuts. Will there be enough Democratic resistors so the bill is either withdrawn or defeated?”

One Blue Dog isn’t walking the plank on PelosiCare. What, he wants to get re-elected?

Republicans say the Democrats figure on PelosiCare isn’t right. CBO thinks the Democrats are playing fast and loose also and is sticking to the $1.05 trillion as the cost of expanding coverage.

Democrats are counting the losses already in the Virginia House of Delegate elections.

A fascinating look at another Nobel Prize winner — the 1933 recipient who got the nod for wishful thinking at a dangerous time: “Angell wistfully advocated for ‘relinquishing the principle of isolated national defence…and erecting an international authority’  to replace ‘the self interest of individual nations.’ The Nobel Committee described Angell as “cool and clear,” and that he ‘spoke to the intellect.’ Most notably, Angell argued, ‘you cannot kill ideas with bullets.’ He believed that an enlightened citizenry, once someone or something enlightened them, would render war obsolete.”

Obama is the “most powerful writer since Julius Caesar!” A joke? No, the account is hysterical, but it’s an actual compliment from the head of the NEA (which already is in hot water over political cheer-leading for Obama). Nice to know the man who “tried to subvert the republic” is seen as literary gold over at the NEA.

With some good humor, Chris Christie hits back at Jon Corzine’s fat jokes. (Yes, the governor of New Jersey is trying to hang on by teasing his opponent about his physique.)

New Jersey gubernatorial race is as close as you can get, according to public polls.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Michael Steele says a Doug Hoffman win is a GOP victory.

James Capretta on the Pelosi health-care bill: “In sum, then, the House plan is not a $900 billion program. It’s a $725 billion tax increase and a $1.5 trillion spending program. Tax and spend, indeed.”

Do we think the Human Rights Watch or the UN Human Rights Council might take a break from bashing Israel to look into the sale of child brides in Saudi Arabia? Not a chance. Next time Obama goes to talk to the “Muslim World” perhaps he can drop in a line or two on the “marriage” of 6-year-old girls to 80-year-old men.

On the Democratic side in the California gubernatorial race, the field is cleared for Jerry Brown. Kind of back to the future, isn’t it? (Maybe we can get a Linda Ronstadt concert out of this.)

The White House visitors logs tell us all that money bought the SEIU unprecedented access to the White House. SEIU President Andy Stern made 19 White House visits and got 5 sessions with Obama — more than anyone else. Lots more than Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

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The Model for ObamaCare

Have you ever gotten a call or an e-mail from a credit-card company asking if a recent charge on your account was legitimate? Credit-card companies are on the hook for fraudulent charges for amounts over $50, even if the customer doesn’t report the fraud. So it is in their powerful self-interest to spot phony charges quickly. That’s why they have programmed computers to alert the company to charges that are out of pattern. Say your American Express bill usually runs between $400 and $600 a month, with the usual bump at Christmas time. Suddenly there is a spate of charges for expensive clothes, electronic equipment, airplane trips, etc. You can bet you’ll be getting a jingle from Amex to make sure things are on the up and up.

If they are not, they cancel the card, send you one with a different account number, and try their best to track down the bad guys.

Such obvious precautions, it seems, are beyond the capacity of Medicare, which pays out half a trillion dollars a year to medical-service providers. At least $60 billion — one dollar in eight — of that is paid out for claims that are not legitimate. CBS’s 60 Minutes, not exactly a member of the vast right-wing conspiracy, ran a story on it last Sunday that you can find here (h/t Instapundit). The reporter, Steve Kroft, warns that the report will raise your blood pressure. That it certainly will.

As the report shows, Medicare fraud is ridiculously easy to carry off, little effort is put into preventing it, and few resources are committed to catching suspected attempts at it. All you need is a physical address, a list of Medicare recipients (available on the black market for about $10 a name), and a list of Medicare billing codes. Medicare is required by law to pay these claims within 30 days. Every few months you shut down the ABC Medical Supply Company and open up the DEF Medical Supply Company at a different address. Medicare direct deposits the money you bill them right into your bank account — none of those annoying $100 bills to launder — and you don’t have to worry about being gunned down in a parking lot by a rival criminal. No wonder the FBI thinks it is now a larger criminal enterprise in South Florida — where the report was filmed — than cocaine-trafficking.

How bad is it? One woman interviewed says that she has been reporting an endless stream of false charges on her Medicare statement for six years. Medicare keeps saying they’ll look into it, and the phony charges just keep coming and just keep being paid. A retired federal judge who has his God-given arms, reports that Medicare was billed for two artificial ones for him at the same time. Medicare paid the bill without question, despite the fact that losing two arms simultaneously is, to put it mildly, a rare medical event.

And this is the model for ObamaCare. The mind boggles.

Have you ever gotten a call or an e-mail from a credit-card company asking if a recent charge on your account was legitimate? Credit-card companies are on the hook for fraudulent charges for amounts over $50, even if the customer doesn’t report the fraud. So it is in their powerful self-interest to spot phony charges quickly. That’s why they have programmed computers to alert the company to charges that are out of pattern. Say your American Express bill usually runs between $400 and $600 a month, with the usual bump at Christmas time. Suddenly there is a spate of charges for expensive clothes, electronic equipment, airplane trips, etc. You can bet you’ll be getting a jingle from Amex to make sure things are on the up and up.

If they are not, they cancel the card, send you one with a different account number, and try their best to track down the bad guys.

Such obvious precautions, it seems, are beyond the capacity of Medicare, which pays out half a trillion dollars a year to medical-service providers. At least $60 billion — one dollar in eight — of that is paid out for claims that are not legitimate. CBS’s 60 Minutes, not exactly a member of the vast right-wing conspiracy, ran a story on it last Sunday that you can find here (h/t Instapundit). The reporter, Steve Kroft, warns that the report will raise your blood pressure. That it certainly will.

As the report shows, Medicare fraud is ridiculously easy to carry off, little effort is put into preventing it, and few resources are committed to catching suspected attempts at it. All you need is a physical address, a list of Medicare recipients (available on the black market for about $10 a name), and a list of Medicare billing codes. Medicare is required by law to pay these claims within 30 days. Every few months you shut down the ABC Medical Supply Company and open up the DEF Medical Supply Company at a different address. Medicare direct deposits the money you bill them right into your bank account — none of those annoying $100 bills to launder — and you don’t have to worry about being gunned down in a parking lot by a rival criminal. No wonder the FBI thinks it is now a larger criminal enterprise in South Florida — where the report was filmed — than cocaine-trafficking.

How bad is it? One woman interviewed says that she has been reporting an endless stream of false charges on her Medicare statement for six years. Medicare keeps saying they’ll look into it, and the phony charges just keep coming and just keep being paid. A retired federal judge who has his God-given arms, reports that Medicare was billed for two artificial ones for him at the same time. Medicare paid the bill without question, despite the fact that losing two arms simultaneously is, to put it mildly, a rare medical event.

And this is the model for ObamaCare. The mind boggles.

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The Rank Stench of Success

On October 2, the first day of high-level nuclear talks between the U.S. and Iran, Juan “Nostradamus” Cole wrote on his blog: “Barack Obama pwned Bush-Cheney in one day, and got more concessions from Iran in 7 1/2 hours than the former administration got in 8 years of saber-rattling.”

Did Cole nail it or what? In fact, he nwled it. That evil composite entity “Bush-Cheney” must now be kicking itself for not realizing all it could have gotten from Iran if it had only spent a year apologizing to the mullahs for a 65-year-old coup. Just look at what Obama accomplished: He effectively took the bombing option off the table, undermining any sense of credible American threat in Iran and far beyond. He alienated Iranian democrats. He put Iran on an equal footing with the U.S., France, and Russia for the whole world to see. He strained U.S. relations with England and France by rejecting their policy and rollout approaches to the revelation about the Qom enrichment facility. He undermined the international bodies he supposedly respects by effectively consenting to Iranian enrichment prohibited by international treaties. He turned his back on our Central European allies in a failed bid to get Russia in on a strict sanctions regime, and he proved himself weak and incompetent to the Kremlin.

Did I miss anything? Oh yeah, one small point: Iran will get the bomb.

But it was all worth it, because yesterday Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, “We are ready to cooperate” with the West. And it’s not like Iran has been saying that for years or anything.

Such formidable “pwnership” is not confined to Iran policy, mind you. Look at today’s international headlines and you’ll see a virtual anthology of American incompetence. Hillary Clinton is in Pakistan catching heat over U.S. drone attacks, while the rest of her administration is back in Washington arguing in favor of more drones and fewer soldiers in the region.

While in Islamabad, Clinton hailed the “historic agreement” that the U.S. forced upon Honduras, enabling self-appointed strongman Manuel Zelaya to subvert his country’s democracy and reclaim the presidency.

This administration is on the wrong side of just about everything. What’s more, there’s not a single Plan B in sight.

On October 2, the first day of high-level nuclear talks between the U.S. and Iran, Juan “Nostradamus” Cole wrote on his blog: “Barack Obama pwned Bush-Cheney in one day, and got more concessions from Iran in 7 1/2 hours than the former administration got in 8 years of saber-rattling.”

Did Cole nail it or what? In fact, he nwled it. That evil composite entity “Bush-Cheney” must now be kicking itself for not realizing all it could have gotten from Iran if it had only spent a year apologizing to the mullahs for a 65-year-old coup. Just look at what Obama accomplished: He effectively took the bombing option off the table, undermining any sense of credible American threat in Iran and far beyond. He alienated Iranian democrats. He put Iran on an equal footing with the U.S., France, and Russia for the whole world to see. He strained U.S. relations with England and France by rejecting their policy and rollout approaches to the revelation about the Qom enrichment facility. He undermined the international bodies he supposedly respects by effectively consenting to Iranian enrichment prohibited by international treaties. He turned his back on our Central European allies in a failed bid to get Russia in on a strict sanctions regime, and he proved himself weak and incompetent to the Kremlin.

Did I miss anything? Oh yeah, one small point: Iran will get the bomb.

But it was all worth it, because yesterday Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, “We are ready to cooperate” with the West. And it’s not like Iran has been saying that for years or anything.

Such formidable “pwnership” is not confined to Iran policy, mind you. Look at today’s international headlines and you’ll see a virtual anthology of American incompetence. Hillary Clinton is in Pakistan catching heat over U.S. drone attacks, while the rest of her administration is back in Washington arguing in favor of more drones and fewer soldiers in the region.

While in Islamabad, Clinton hailed the “historic agreement” that the U.S. forced upon Honduras, enabling self-appointed strongman Manuel Zelaya to subvert his country’s democracy and reclaim the presidency.

This administration is on the wrong side of just about everything. What’s more, there’s not a single Plan B in sight.

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Wisdom Wedded to Tenacity

As Jennifer has pointed out, David Brooks has penned an interesting column on Afghanistan and President Obama. After interviewing many experts on Afghanistan, he reports:

Their first concerns are about Obama the man. They know he is intellectually sophisticated. They know he is capable of processing complicated arguments and weighing nuanced evidence. But they do not know if he possesses the trait that is more important than intellectual sophistication and, in fact, stands in tension with it. They do not know if he possesses tenacity, the ability to fixate on a simple conviction and grip it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexity and confusion. They do not know if he possesses the obstinacy that guided Lincoln and Churchill, and which must guide all war presidents to some degree.

These are of course precisely the qualities that George W. Bush showed during the debate in late 2006 and 2007 about the so-called surge in Iraq. At the time Bush was almost alone in his advocacy. His commending generals, George Casey and John Abizaid, opposed his plan, as did most members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and some members of Bush’s own war cabinet. Virtually the entire Democratic party, most of the foreign-policy establishment, and most of the public had turned hard against the war. They were certain the new counterinsurgency plan could not work and shouldn’t be tried.

Despite opposition as fierce and sustained as one can imagine (and far worse than anything President Obama is now experiencing), Bush and a small handful of others — the most important of whom were General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker -– persisted. They displayed raw determination. They fixated on a simple conviction and gripped it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexity and confusion. And they were proved right. In other words, the qualities Bush displayed in wartime are now the qualities Brooks and others (including me) are hoping Obama possesses.

I will add two other thoughts, the first being that tenacity needs to be conjoined to wisdom and right action. Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty’s raw determination and enthusiasm in the Dardanelles campaign was a disaster, forced his resignation, and almost ended Winston Churchill’s career. What determines whether something qualifies as impressive tenacity or foolish obstinacy are results, outcomes, successes. And those things are unknowable at the time a decision is being debated and made.

A second related observation is that the virtues we look for in our leaders often shift like a kaleidoscope. The kind of tenacity Brooks praises was absolutely essential for the surge to succeed. But at the time, tenacity was viewed as stubbornness; a visceral and unflinching commitment to principle was seen as dogmatism; raw determination was thought to be a rigid unwillingness to adapt to changing circumstances. Top leaders of the GOP came to Bush and urged him to end the Iraq war because of the damage it was doing to his party.

Lincoln and Churchill experienced the same phenomenon during the darkest days of the Civil War and World War II. The qualities that are now widely praised as virtues — the very qualities that helped make Lincoln and Churchill the greatest political leaders of the 19th and 20th centuries — were at the time widely regarded as vices. And very few people stood with them during the moments that mattered most. Tenacity and raw determination are easy when they are garnering applause from the public and the political class; to exhibit them in the face of catcalls and derision is much harder. To hold shape against relentless attacks is evidence of admirable human character. It is a vital trait for wartime leaders to possess. But it is not, by itself, enough.

As Jennifer has pointed out, David Brooks has penned an interesting column on Afghanistan and President Obama. After interviewing many experts on Afghanistan, he reports:

Their first concerns are about Obama the man. They know he is intellectually sophisticated. They know he is capable of processing complicated arguments and weighing nuanced evidence. But they do not know if he possesses the trait that is more important than intellectual sophistication and, in fact, stands in tension with it. They do not know if he possesses tenacity, the ability to fixate on a simple conviction and grip it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexity and confusion. They do not know if he possesses the obstinacy that guided Lincoln and Churchill, and which must guide all war presidents to some degree.

These are of course precisely the qualities that George W. Bush showed during the debate in late 2006 and 2007 about the so-called surge in Iraq. At the time Bush was almost alone in his advocacy. His commending generals, George Casey and John Abizaid, opposed his plan, as did most members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and some members of Bush’s own war cabinet. Virtually the entire Democratic party, most of the foreign-policy establishment, and most of the public had turned hard against the war. They were certain the new counterinsurgency plan could not work and shouldn’t be tried.

Despite opposition as fierce and sustained as one can imagine (and far worse than anything President Obama is now experiencing), Bush and a small handful of others — the most important of whom were General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker -– persisted. They displayed raw determination. They fixated on a simple conviction and gripped it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexity and confusion. And they were proved right. In other words, the qualities Bush displayed in wartime are now the qualities Brooks and others (including me) are hoping Obama possesses.

I will add two other thoughts, the first being that tenacity needs to be conjoined to wisdom and right action. Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty’s raw determination and enthusiasm in the Dardanelles campaign was a disaster, forced his resignation, and almost ended Winston Churchill’s career. What determines whether something qualifies as impressive tenacity or foolish obstinacy are results, outcomes, successes. And those things are unknowable at the time a decision is being debated and made.

A second related observation is that the virtues we look for in our leaders often shift like a kaleidoscope. The kind of tenacity Brooks praises was absolutely essential for the surge to succeed. But at the time, tenacity was viewed as stubbornness; a visceral and unflinching commitment to principle was seen as dogmatism; raw determination was thought to be a rigid unwillingness to adapt to changing circumstances. Top leaders of the GOP came to Bush and urged him to end the Iraq war because of the damage it was doing to his party.

Lincoln and Churchill experienced the same phenomenon during the darkest days of the Civil War and World War II. The qualities that are now widely praised as virtues — the very qualities that helped make Lincoln and Churchill the greatest political leaders of the 19th and 20th centuries — were at the time widely regarded as vices. And very few people stood with them during the moments that mattered most. Tenacity and raw determination are easy when they are garnering applause from the public and the political class; to exhibit them in the face of catcalls and derision is much harder. To hold shape against relentless attacks is evidence of admirable human character. It is a vital trait for wartime leaders to possess. But it is not, by itself, enough.

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Determined to Fail

David Brooks describes the “determination vacuum” at the heart of the Afghanistan war strategy. No one who has watched the White House seminars, the massaging of troop levels, the whining about a lack of planning from the Bush administration, the effort to redefine the threat and the mission (from defeating the Taliban to picking off al-Qaeda), the whispered intimations that a victory isn’t possible, the freezing out of military leaders from the decision-making process, and the effort to mix and match incompatible approaches could conclude that the president is bound and determined to win at all costs. That’s what this is all about, after all.

As Brooks observes:

The experts I spoke with describe a vacuum at the heart of the war effort — a determination vacuum. And if these experts do not know the state of President Obama’s resolve, neither do the Afghan villagers. They are now hedging their bets, refusing to inform on Taliban force movements because they are aware that these Taliban fighters would be their masters if the U.S. withdraws. Nor does President Hamid Karzai know. He’s cutting deals with the Afghan warlords he would need if NATO leaves his country.

Nor do the Pakistanis or the Iranians or the Russians know. They are maintaining ties with the Taliban elements that would represent their interests in the event of a U.S. withdrawal.

The determination vacuum affects the debate in this country, too. Every argument about troop levels is really a proxy argument for whether the U.S. should stay or go. The administration is so divided because the fundamental issue of commitment has not been settled.

We don’t know why the president dithers. Maybe he really wants every dime for his health-care plan. Perhaps he simply can’t stomach the notion of annoying Nancy Pelosi. He might lack the ability to corral diverse voices and get everyone in his administration and party onboard with a controversial decision. Or he may simply be so stubborn that he can’t accept that Gen. Stanley McChrystal was right and had already given the country the right answer before Obama adopted the counterinsurgency plan as his own. It is unknowable and ultimately unimportant why the president is projecting weakness.

What is critical is whether we lack a commander in chief who inspires confidence and seems prepared to lead the country to victory. If Obama isn’t convincing Brooks, he’s not going to convince the country, our allies, the military, and especially our enemies. Running a seminar is not leading the nation in war, and the endless seminar has now made it infinitely more difficult to succeed at the latter. The president is seemingly unaware that others are watching his equivocation and making their own calculations, ones that will further complicate our war strategy, if we ever get one.

David Brooks describes the “determination vacuum” at the heart of the Afghanistan war strategy. No one who has watched the White House seminars, the massaging of troop levels, the whining about a lack of planning from the Bush administration, the effort to redefine the threat and the mission (from defeating the Taliban to picking off al-Qaeda), the whispered intimations that a victory isn’t possible, the freezing out of military leaders from the decision-making process, and the effort to mix and match incompatible approaches could conclude that the president is bound and determined to win at all costs. That’s what this is all about, after all.

As Brooks observes:

The experts I spoke with describe a vacuum at the heart of the war effort — a determination vacuum. And if these experts do not know the state of President Obama’s resolve, neither do the Afghan villagers. They are now hedging their bets, refusing to inform on Taliban force movements because they are aware that these Taliban fighters would be their masters if the U.S. withdraws. Nor does President Hamid Karzai know. He’s cutting deals with the Afghan warlords he would need if NATO leaves his country.

Nor do the Pakistanis or the Iranians or the Russians know. They are maintaining ties with the Taliban elements that would represent their interests in the event of a U.S. withdrawal.

The determination vacuum affects the debate in this country, too. Every argument about troop levels is really a proxy argument for whether the U.S. should stay or go. The administration is so divided because the fundamental issue of commitment has not been settled.

We don’t know why the president dithers. Maybe he really wants every dime for his health-care plan. Perhaps he simply can’t stomach the notion of annoying Nancy Pelosi. He might lack the ability to corral diverse voices and get everyone in his administration and party onboard with a controversial decision. Or he may simply be so stubborn that he can’t accept that Gen. Stanley McChrystal was right and had already given the country the right answer before Obama adopted the counterinsurgency plan as his own. It is unknowable and ultimately unimportant why the president is projecting weakness.

What is critical is whether we lack a commander in chief who inspires confidence and seems prepared to lead the country to victory. If Obama isn’t convincing Brooks, he’s not going to convince the country, our allies, the military, and especially our enemies. Running a seminar is not leading the nation in war, and the endless seminar has now made it infinitely more difficult to succeed at the latter. The president is seemingly unaware that others are watching his equivocation and making their own calculations, ones that will further complicate our war strategy, if we ever get one.

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It’s Historic, Certainly

Hillary Clinton is crowing. An “historic deal!” Yes, we have successfully bullied the Honduran government into returning to power, albeit temporarily, Hugo Chavez’s stooge Manuel Zelaya to the presidency. He, of course, is the one convinced that Israeli agents were bombarding him with rays while he was holed up in the Brazilian embassy. With a proviso (more in a minute), Zelaya will return to the presidency, and then elections will proceed in November. The Obami are delighted with their handiwork.

But we are not yet done, because that proviso is approval by the Honduran Congress, which in effect means emasculating the very body that sought to remove Zelaya for his unconstitutional power grab in the first place. The New York Times dryly notes, “It was not clear what would happen if the Honduran Congress rejected the deal.”

The lesson should be clear now for small democracies: be prepared to have the Obama administration pressure and cajole you for the sake of … well, of what? It isn’t quite clear what this stunt was all about. Ingratiating ourselves with Chavez? Living down some American liberals’ guilt about past American policy in the region? Or maybe it was pure stubbornness, an unwillingness on the part of the Obama team to admit that it had staked its reputation on a crackpot.

Nevertheless, Honduras can join the list of democracies (Poland, the Czech Republic, Israel) that are finding out how uncomfortable it can be to have America as your “ally.”

Hillary Clinton is crowing. An “historic deal!” Yes, we have successfully bullied the Honduran government into returning to power, albeit temporarily, Hugo Chavez’s stooge Manuel Zelaya to the presidency. He, of course, is the one convinced that Israeli agents were bombarding him with rays while he was holed up in the Brazilian embassy. With a proviso (more in a minute), Zelaya will return to the presidency, and then elections will proceed in November. The Obami are delighted with their handiwork.

But we are not yet done, because that proviso is approval by the Honduran Congress, which in effect means emasculating the very body that sought to remove Zelaya for his unconstitutional power grab in the first place. The New York Times dryly notes, “It was not clear what would happen if the Honduran Congress rejected the deal.”

The lesson should be clear now for small democracies: be prepared to have the Obama administration pressure and cajole you for the sake of … well, of what? It isn’t quite clear what this stunt was all about. Ingratiating ourselves with Chavez? Living down some American liberals’ guilt about past American policy in the region? Or maybe it was pure stubbornness, an unwillingness on the part of the Obama team to admit that it had staked its reputation on a crackpot.

Nevertheless, Honduras can join the list of democracies (Poland, the Czech Republic, Israel) that are finding out how uncomfortable it can be to have America as your “ally.”

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They Don’t Learn Until It’s Too Late

The ethics inquiries that have been revealed thanks to a leak from the House ethics panel are as diverse as they are widespread — from the well-known (PMA Lobby Group, Charlie Rangel), to the perpetually “under investigation” (Rep. Alan Mollohan), to lesser-known incidents (Rep. Maxine Waters, who used her position on behalf of her husband’s bank, a move so audacious it drew a warning from Rep. Barney Frank, who knows a thing or two about helping banks).

It suggests that the corruption issue is not going away anytime soon. Nor will it be easy to suggest what we have just one or two bad apples. This time, there are baskets of them. The accused (Rangel, Murtha, Waters) remain in prominent positions within the Democratic leadership. It will be hard to explain this away as the doings of inconsequential or peripheral figures.

And this is a problem for the Democrats, who seem to be in the process of assembling the very elements that contribute to a wave election. There is the governing failure (a jobless recovery, the prospect of looming unemployment at levels not experienced by most voters). In 2006 it was the Iraq war and Katrina. There is the ideological overreach on everything from cap-and-trade to health care. And now there is the corruption issue, which is endemic and which the House leadership has greeted with a yawn, determined to leave the malefactors in positions of authority.

The corruption issue affects almost solely the party in power, just as it did in 2006. The party in the minority isn’t worth bribing or influencing. And the policy failures will be equally hard to pawn off on the Republicans given the large Democratic majorities and the Republicans opposition to nearly all the ultra-liberal agenda. (This is the benefit of being the party of “no.”). There is, in short, no doubt whom angry voters should be angry at.

We have a year before the election. But if the leftward lurch continues and that swamp isn’t fully drained by then, the voters’ wrath, I suspect, will be felt. Those in power tend not to learn the lessons of their opponents — at least not until they experience a similar fate. The Pelosi Democrats will need to experience it themselves.

The ethics inquiries that have been revealed thanks to a leak from the House ethics panel are as diverse as they are widespread — from the well-known (PMA Lobby Group, Charlie Rangel), to the perpetually “under investigation” (Rep. Alan Mollohan), to lesser-known incidents (Rep. Maxine Waters, who used her position on behalf of her husband’s bank, a move so audacious it drew a warning from Rep. Barney Frank, who knows a thing or two about helping banks).

It suggests that the corruption issue is not going away anytime soon. Nor will it be easy to suggest what we have just one or two bad apples. This time, there are baskets of them. The accused (Rangel, Murtha, Waters) remain in prominent positions within the Democratic leadership. It will be hard to explain this away as the doings of inconsequential or peripheral figures.

And this is a problem for the Democrats, who seem to be in the process of assembling the very elements that contribute to a wave election. There is the governing failure (a jobless recovery, the prospect of looming unemployment at levels not experienced by most voters). In 2006 it was the Iraq war and Katrina. There is the ideological overreach on everything from cap-and-trade to health care. And now there is the corruption issue, which is endemic and which the House leadership has greeted with a yawn, determined to leave the malefactors in positions of authority.

The corruption issue affects almost solely the party in power, just as it did in 2006. The party in the minority isn’t worth bribing or influencing. And the policy failures will be equally hard to pawn off on the Republicans given the large Democratic majorities and the Republicans opposition to nearly all the ultra-liberal agenda. (This is the benefit of being the party of “no.”). There is, in short, no doubt whom angry voters should be angry at.

We have a year before the election. But if the leftward lurch continues and that swamp isn’t fully drained by then, the voters’ wrath, I suspect, will be felt. Those in power tend not to learn the lessons of their opponents — at least not until they experience a similar fate. The Pelosi Democrats will need to experience it themselves.

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Losing Faith in the Commander in Chief

Two foreign-policy items stand out in the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll. By a 42-to-34-percent margin, voters think a terror attack is more likely today than it was a year ago. By a 47-to-34-percent margin, voters think al-Qaeda is more determined than Obama to win the war in Afghanistan.

This is, in some sense, a stunning vote of no-confidence in the president as commander in chief. But there is good reason for voters to have doubts whether Obama is doing what is needed, as the folks say, to keep America safe. He is bound and determined to close Guantanamo and bring the detainees to American soil, at least for trial. He has declared war on the CIA — cutting off its role in interrogating top suspects, reinvestigating operatives, and revealing interrogation techniques. On Afghanistan his equivocation is plain for all to see and his unwillingness to fight for resources from Congress and rally the country has not gone unnoticed.

Americans may not yet see these matters as top issues as long as the economy and health-care debate dominate the news. But the cumulative picture of a president who dithers, who excuses our adversaries and rebuffs our friends, and who is willing to tolerate what months before was not tolerable will exact a toll. At some point, Americans may feel not only less safe but unsafe. And when that happens, there is a single person who will be held responsible. There are no Republicans to blame for this one.

Two foreign-policy items stand out in the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll. By a 42-to-34-percent margin, voters think a terror attack is more likely today than it was a year ago. By a 47-to-34-percent margin, voters think al-Qaeda is more determined than Obama to win the war in Afghanistan.

This is, in some sense, a stunning vote of no-confidence in the president as commander in chief. But there is good reason for voters to have doubts whether Obama is doing what is needed, as the folks say, to keep America safe. He is bound and determined to close Guantanamo and bring the detainees to American soil, at least for trial. He has declared war on the CIA — cutting off its role in interrogating top suspects, reinvestigating operatives, and revealing interrogation techniques. On Afghanistan his equivocation is plain for all to see and his unwillingness to fight for resources from Congress and rally the country has not gone unnoticed.

Americans may not yet see these matters as top issues as long as the economy and health-care debate dominate the news. But the cumulative picture of a president who dithers, who excuses our adversaries and rebuffs our friends, and who is willing to tolerate what months before was not tolerable will exact a toll. At some point, Americans may feel not only less safe but unsafe. And when that happens, there is a single person who will be held responsible. There are no Republicans to blame for this one.

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A Gift for the Lawyers

A friend points out a little nugget of absurdity and political mendacity in the Pelosi health-care bill. Remember Obama’s effort to try a “test” for tort reform? (We don’t actually need a test, since it has worked to lower medical malpractice coverage and help increase access to doctors in states that have tried it.) Well, Pelosi’s bill has an anti-tort-reform measure. On pages 1431-1433 of the 1990 spellbinder, there is a financial incentive for states to try “alternative medical liability laws.” But look — you don’t get the incentive if you have a law that would “limit attorneys’ fees or impose caps on damages.”

That’s what the trial lawyers get for the millions spent in supporting the Democratic party, and that’s what tort “reform” in the Alice-in-Wonderland world of health-care legislation amounts to. States will be strong-armed into repealing existing caps in order to get the Fed’s money. Sweet, huh? Well, unless you thought the aim was to reduce medical costs. No, this will go a long way toward ensuring that tort lawyers remain rich, malpractice insurance remains high, and unnecessary defensive medicine remains a fixture of the health-care system. Nice going, Nancy!

A friend points out a little nugget of absurdity and political mendacity in the Pelosi health-care bill. Remember Obama’s effort to try a “test” for tort reform? (We don’t actually need a test, since it has worked to lower medical malpractice coverage and help increase access to doctors in states that have tried it.) Well, Pelosi’s bill has an anti-tort-reform measure. On pages 1431-1433 of the 1990 spellbinder, there is a financial incentive for states to try “alternative medical liability laws.” But look — you don’t get the incentive if you have a law that would “limit attorneys’ fees or impose caps on damages.”

That’s what the trial lawyers get for the millions spent in supporting the Democratic party, and that’s what tort “reform” in the Alice-in-Wonderland world of health-care legislation amounts to. States will be strong-armed into repealing existing caps in order to get the Fed’s money. Sweet, huh? Well, unless you thought the aim was to reduce medical costs. No, this will go a long way toward ensuring that tort lawyers remain rich, malpractice insurance remains high, and unnecessary defensive medicine remains a fixture of the health-care system. Nice going, Nancy!

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Telling It as It Is — New York Times Style

In the September 24 article on the Honduran matter, the New York Times wrote: “Norma C. Gutierrez, an international law specialist who prepared a legal analysis for American lawmakers last month, criticized both sides. Her bottom line: the case against Mr. Zelaya was rooted in constitutional and statutory law. His removal from the country was not.”

This morning, reporting on the agreement, the Times writes, “Mr. Zelaya was ousted in a military coup on June 28 and flown to Costa Rica.”

As near as I can tell, the only coup in Honduras happened today, when a group of diplomatic thugs, led by the United States State Department and the OAS, offered the legal government of Honduras a deal they couldn’t refuse, forcing it to restore to power a man who had been legally removed from office (and, perhaps, illegally sent into exile instead of legally sent to jail).

In the September 24 article on the Honduran matter, the New York Times wrote: “Norma C. Gutierrez, an international law specialist who prepared a legal analysis for American lawmakers last month, criticized both sides. Her bottom line: the case against Mr. Zelaya was rooted in constitutional and statutory law. His removal from the country was not.”

This morning, reporting on the agreement, the Times writes, “Mr. Zelaya was ousted in a military coup on June 28 and flown to Costa Rica.”

As near as I can tell, the only coup in Honduras happened today, when a group of diplomatic thugs, led by the United States State Department and the OAS, offered the legal government of Honduras a deal they couldn’t refuse, forcing it to restore to power a man who had been legally removed from office (and, perhaps, illegally sent into exile instead of legally sent to jail).

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