Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 1, 2009

Breakthrough?

The president is hailing as a “breakthrough” the bilateral meeting today with the Iranians. Did Iran agree to give up its nuclear program? Did we get access to all facilities and to the scientists who work there, without preconditions? Hmm. Not exactly. We will have another meeting. The president hastens to add that what we really need now is access to Qom.

So what was the breakthrough exactly? Why, simply talking, don’t you see? Cynics might see this as a grand coup for the mullahs. After slaughtering their own people, deceiving the international community, continuing the tirade of genocidal invectives against Israel, and refusing to admit to developing a non-peaceful nuclear program, they swing one-on-one talks with the Great Satan. And if they keep this up, we are told, there may be a summit between Ahmadinejad and Obama. How lovely . . .

What is missing here? Iran hasn’t actually done anything, for starters; but already we are in the “process” and will be told we can’t possibly take further action so long as it’s “working.” When we have full and unimpeded access to all facilities and a verifiable method for determining that uranium enrichment has been suspended, then we may be justified in claiming a “breakthrough.” And while we are endlessly working toward all these goals, and Ahmadinejad is selecting his wardrobe for the summit with Obama, the Iranian nuclear program continues.

The president is hailing as a “breakthrough” the bilateral meeting today with the Iranians. Did Iran agree to give up its nuclear program? Did we get access to all facilities and to the scientists who work there, without preconditions? Hmm. Not exactly. We will have another meeting. The president hastens to add that what we really need now is access to Qom.

So what was the breakthrough exactly? Why, simply talking, don’t you see? Cynics might see this as a grand coup for the mullahs. After slaughtering their own people, deceiving the international community, continuing the tirade of genocidal invectives against Israel, and refusing to admit to developing a non-peaceful nuclear program, they swing one-on-one talks with the Great Satan. And if they keep this up, we are told, there may be a summit between Ahmadinejad and Obama. How lovely . . .

What is missing here? Iran hasn’t actually done anything, for starters; but already we are in the “process” and will be told we can’t possibly take further action so long as it’s “working.” When we have full and unimpeded access to all facilities and a verifiable method for determining that uranium enrichment has been suspended, then we may be justified in claiming a “breakthrough.” And while we are endlessly working toward all these goals, and Ahmadinejad is selecting his wardrobe for the summit with Obama, the Iranian nuclear program continues.

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Identity Affirmation

There’s defying parody, and then there’s declaring war on it and bringing reinforcements. Richard Wolffe is in full war-on-parody mode at the Daily Beast today as he riffs on “Why Israel Hates Obama.” It’s not, he assures us, because Obama has surrounded himself with self-hating Jews. Even if Bibi had said that to Haaretz—and he didn’t—Wolffe has the hard evidence to the contrary.

As he points out, the president is definitely not “surrounded by Jewish aides who want to sabotage their own identity. Far from it. David Axelrod openly reveres the old Jewish deli in Chicago known as Manny’s.” That’s a lot, of course, but there’s also a clincher: “He has a sign in his West Wing office saying Barack Obama in Hebrew script.”

Although it’s hard to top that for identity affirmation, Wolffe may be looking in the wrong place for the evidence against Obama actually being adduced by Israelis, who showed only 4 percent confidence that Obama is pro-Israel in the last Jerusalem Post poll. The fault lies not in Obama’s aides, but in himself. It was Obama who demanded a “settlement freeze” in May as a condition to moving the peace process forward. It was Obama who declared, in his speech to the Muslim Arab world in June, that “the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” and Obama, again, who reiterated that position to the UN last week.

As Netanyahu has repeatedly pointed out, this stance assumes an a priori position on something that remains to be negotiated. It’s certainly the opposite of an even-handed approach by a mediator. We do not have information on any Obama-themed Hebrew décor that may be in Bibi’s office, but it’s possible that that’s not the best measure of fealty to either Jewish identity or the survival of Israel.

There’s defying parody, and then there’s declaring war on it and bringing reinforcements. Richard Wolffe is in full war-on-parody mode at the Daily Beast today as he riffs on “Why Israel Hates Obama.” It’s not, he assures us, because Obama has surrounded himself with self-hating Jews. Even if Bibi had said that to Haaretz—and he didn’t—Wolffe has the hard evidence to the contrary.

As he points out, the president is definitely not “surrounded by Jewish aides who want to sabotage their own identity. Far from it. David Axelrod openly reveres the old Jewish deli in Chicago known as Manny’s.” That’s a lot, of course, but there’s also a clincher: “He has a sign in his West Wing office saying Barack Obama in Hebrew script.”

Although it’s hard to top that for identity affirmation, Wolffe may be looking in the wrong place for the evidence against Obama actually being adduced by Israelis, who showed only 4 percent confidence that Obama is pro-Israel in the last Jerusalem Post poll. The fault lies not in Obama’s aides, but in himself. It was Obama who demanded a “settlement freeze” in May as a condition to moving the peace process forward. It was Obama who declared, in his speech to the Muslim Arab world in June, that “the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” and Obama, again, who reiterated that position to the UN last week.

As Netanyahu has repeatedly pointed out, this stance assumes an a priori position on something that remains to be negotiated. It’s certainly the opposite of an even-handed approach by a mediator. We do not have information on any Obama-themed Hebrew décor that may be in Bibi’s office, but it’s possible that that’s not the best measure of fealty to either Jewish identity or the survival of Israel.

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Jimmy Carter: Moment of Truth

Who are your going to believe—Jimmy Carter or your own lyin’ eyes? Jimmy Carter is now denying saying what he said. Hotair.com lays out what happened, including the videos of Carter vs. Carter. Maybe it’s dawning on Mr. Carter that it’s a bad idea to paint as racists the majority of those people who criticize President Obama’s health-care initiative.

It wasn’t enough for Jimmy Carter to qualify as one of our worst presidents. Now the “born again” Carter has to engage in dissembling. Perhaps his advisers can do him (and us) a favor and keep him off television.

Who are your going to believe—Jimmy Carter or your own lyin’ eyes? Jimmy Carter is now denying saying what he said. Hotair.com lays out what happened, including the videos of Carter vs. Carter. Maybe it’s dawning on Mr. Carter that it’s a bad idea to paint as racists the majority of those people who criticize President Obama’s health-care initiative.

It wasn’t enough for Jimmy Carter to qualify as one of our worst presidents. Now the “born again” Carter has to engage in dissembling. Perhaps his advisers can do him (and us) a favor and keep him off television.

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Re: No Brokering, Less Honesty

Bibi Netanyahu took on the Goldstone report today, as this report details:

“In the next 24 hours a vote will be cast in Geneva within the UN Human Rights Council,” Netanyahu told the ministers.

“I remind you that this very council has adopted more resolutions targeting Israel than resolutions targeting all other 180 countries in the world put together,” he said.

“If the council decides to endorse the Goldstone report it will deal a fatal blow to three major issues: Firstly, it will harm the war on terror, because it will legitimize terrorists who hide behind civilians and fire from their midst.” Netanyahu stressed that in such cases, the one who ultimately takes the blame is “generally the victim, acting in legitimate self defense.”

“The second devastating blow will be to the UN’s status and its prestige. It will take it back to its darkest days when absurd decisions were passed within its assembly and empty it of all meaning,” Netanyahu added, referring to the 1970s, when the UN adopted a resolution comparing Zionism with racism. He warned that the UN will become irrelevant if it adopts the conclusions of the report.

Even the far-Left Israeli human-rights group B’Tselem has taken to criticizing the UN Human Rights Council and the Goldstone report as “biased or mistaken regarding some of their fundamental accusations against Israel.”

One is, again, at a loss to understand why the Obama administration, which fancies itself as the great defender of multilateralism, doesn’t perceive (or does, and is too timid to admit it) that the UN is once again involved in a farce. By being passive in the wake of the Goldstone report, the U.S. not-so subtly aligns itself with Israel’s enemies, who perpetuate the lie that the allegations in the report have not already been sufficiently investigated and who seek to lend respectability to such farces. Oh well, another human-rights report, another day at the UN.

The Obama administration, which invests so much faith in the UN, should be a bit more concerned about cleaning up the reputation of the most anti-Semitic organization on the planet. But then maybe the name of the game isn’t so much making the UN a viable organization but rather demonstrating that “daylight” exists between the U.S. and Israel. If so, then the Obama administration is “succeeding.” It is also amply demonstrating the contrast between the two countries’ willingness to voice moral clarity and call out vicious propaganda.

Bibi Netanyahu took on the Goldstone report today, as this report details:

“In the next 24 hours a vote will be cast in Geneva within the UN Human Rights Council,” Netanyahu told the ministers.

“I remind you that this very council has adopted more resolutions targeting Israel than resolutions targeting all other 180 countries in the world put together,” he said.

“If the council decides to endorse the Goldstone report it will deal a fatal blow to three major issues: Firstly, it will harm the war on terror, because it will legitimize terrorists who hide behind civilians and fire from their midst.” Netanyahu stressed that in such cases, the one who ultimately takes the blame is “generally the victim, acting in legitimate self defense.”

“The second devastating blow will be to the UN’s status and its prestige. It will take it back to its darkest days when absurd decisions were passed within its assembly and empty it of all meaning,” Netanyahu added, referring to the 1970s, when the UN adopted a resolution comparing Zionism with racism. He warned that the UN will become irrelevant if it adopts the conclusions of the report.

Even the far-Left Israeli human-rights group B’Tselem has taken to criticizing the UN Human Rights Council and the Goldstone report as “biased or mistaken regarding some of their fundamental accusations against Israel.”

One is, again, at a loss to understand why the Obama administration, which fancies itself as the great defender of multilateralism, doesn’t perceive (or does, and is too timid to admit it) that the UN is once again involved in a farce. By being passive in the wake of the Goldstone report, the U.S. not-so subtly aligns itself with Israel’s enemies, who perpetuate the lie that the allegations in the report have not already been sufficiently investigated and who seek to lend respectability to such farces. Oh well, another human-rights report, another day at the UN.

The Obama administration, which invests so much faith in the UN, should be a bit more concerned about cleaning up the reputation of the most anti-Semitic organization on the planet. But then maybe the name of the game isn’t so much making the UN a viable organization but rather demonstrating that “daylight” exists between the U.S. and Israel. If so, then the Obama administration is “succeeding.” It is also amply demonstrating the contrast between the two countries’ willingness to voice moral clarity and call out vicious propaganda.

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Georgia’s Life, Georgia’s Choices

The EU this week accepted the final report of its international commission on the Russia-Georgia war of August 2008. Russia is claiming full vindication, although the report actually blames Russian provocations for inciting Georgia’s actions. The headline rubric is “Report blames both sides.” In the end, this is all just paperwork. Georgia is, for all intents and purposes, on life support.

Russia’s patronage of the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia continues to condition the nature of their “independence” from Georgia. Passports and customs between Russia and the provinces were dispensed with months ago. Russia is establishing military bases in both provinces and retains, by Western estimates, some 6,000 to 10,000 troops in them. Dmitri Medvedev visits frequently. EU monitors, performing an increasingly irrelevant job, find their movements restricted: they have been unable for at least six months to verify the cross-accusations of Russia and Georgia about border provocations.

This month Russia begins allowing Abkhazia to switch from Georgia’s international telephone dialing code to Russia’s. The change comes 10 days after Russia dispatched patrol boats to prevent Georgia from enforcing sovereignty over its territorial waters off Abkhazia. In late August, Russia opened a new natural-gas pipeline into South Ossetia, making the province independent of gas routed through Georgia. More ominously for Georgian gas revenues, Russia got agreement from Turkey in August to host Gazprom’s new “South Stream” pipeline from the Caspian gas fields, which will bypass both Georgia and Ukraine.

The focus of the U.S. in our relations with Georgia is unswerving: we are preparing Georgian troops for a role in Afghanistan. Our posture with Moscow is too eagerly accommodating to give Tbilisi much realistic hope for intervention from Washington. As Mikheil Saakashvili moves in a dense crowd of Georgian political rivals with suspected funding ties to Russia, his government—and the waning independence of the Georgian republic—might consult the VA’s end-of-life planning manual and contemplate such questions as “What makes your life worth living?” and “How would you like to spend your last days?” Russia’s hegemonic policy doesn’t have to kill you outright, after all. It only has to make it impossible for you to keep living.

The EU this week accepted the final report of its international commission on the Russia-Georgia war of August 2008. Russia is claiming full vindication, although the report actually blames Russian provocations for inciting Georgia’s actions. The headline rubric is “Report blames both sides.” In the end, this is all just paperwork. Georgia is, for all intents and purposes, on life support.

Russia’s patronage of the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia continues to condition the nature of their “independence” from Georgia. Passports and customs between Russia and the provinces were dispensed with months ago. Russia is establishing military bases in both provinces and retains, by Western estimates, some 6,000 to 10,000 troops in them. Dmitri Medvedev visits frequently. EU monitors, performing an increasingly irrelevant job, find their movements restricted: they have been unable for at least six months to verify the cross-accusations of Russia and Georgia about border provocations.

This month Russia begins allowing Abkhazia to switch from Georgia’s international telephone dialing code to Russia’s. The change comes 10 days after Russia dispatched patrol boats to prevent Georgia from enforcing sovereignty over its territorial waters off Abkhazia. In late August, Russia opened a new natural-gas pipeline into South Ossetia, making the province independent of gas routed through Georgia. More ominously for Georgian gas revenues, Russia got agreement from Turkey in August to host Gazprom’s new “South Stream” pipeline from the Caspian gas fields, which will bypass both Georgia and Ukraine.

The focus of the U.S. in our relations with Georgia is unswerving: we are preparing Georgian troops for a role in Afghanistan. Our posture with Moscow is too eagerly accommodating to give Tbilisi much realistic hope for intervention from Washington. As Mikheil Saakashvili moves in a dense crowd of Georgian political rivals with suspected funding ties to Russia, his government—and the waning independence of the Georgian republic—might consult the VA’s end-of-life planning manual and contemplate such questions as “What makes your life worth living?” and “How would you like to spend your last days?” Russia’s hegemonic policy doesn’t have to kill you outright, after all. It only has to make it impossible for you to keep living.

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Piracy in Somalia

Is piracy off Somalia declining or not?

This Washington Times article claims that it is: “In the past three months, there has been just one successful hijacking in the Somali Basin, a swath of ocean stretching from the Gulf of Aden into the Indian Ocean that is criss-crossed by tens of thousands of commercial vessels each month. There were 17 hijackings In the comparable period last year.”

This press release from the U.S. Fifth Fleet, which is in charge of our anti-piracy patrols, claims otherwise:  “Pirate activity has increased recently off the coast of Somalia with four attempted attacks occurring on motor vessels in the Gulf of Aden since Sept. 19. Three separate unsuccessful attacks occurred Sept. 19 and 20, while the most recent attack occurred Sept. 26 on the Panamanian-flagged Motor Vessel Handy V, in which seven pirates were arrested by the Turkish ship TCG Gediz (F-495), assigned to NATO’s Piracy Task Force. This brings the total number of piracy attacks on merchant vessels in 2009 to 146, 28 of which have been successful.”

I suppose that the two statistics cited are not necessarily incompatible: the former focuses on successful hijackings, the latter includes those that didn’t succeed. Beyond the numbers, however, it is clear that piracy remains a serious problem—one of many that we will face if Somalia remains an ungoverned space where criminals and terrorists can afford free run. Even if the international community isn’t up to doing more to bring law and order to Somalia, it can certainly do more to police the seas.

There are, it is true, a substantial number of naval vessels committed to the task but they continue to operate under crippling rules of engagement that forbid them from opening fire on suspected pirate vessels unless first fired upon—this greatly restricts their ability to bring the perpetrators to justice unless they are caught in the act. The Fifth Fleet release hints at the problem while summing up the achievements of American-organized Combined Joint Task Force 151: “Since August 2008, CTF  151 and other cooperating naval forces have disarmed and released 343 pirates, 212 others have been turned over for prosecution, and 11 were killed.”

Thus, even among the pirates who were caught, far more were released than imprisoned or killed. Presumably once freed, they went back to piracy. There aren’t many alternative jobs on offer in Somalia other than serving as gunmen for Islamist militant groups. If the U.S. and its allies took the gloves off and allowed the kind of unfettered pirate-hunting that occurred in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—when pirate vessels could be sunk on sight and captured pirates inevitably executed after a swift trial—piracy would likely disappear as a serious problem. But we are apparently too enlightened these days to do what works.

Is piracy off Somalia declining or not?

This Washington Times article claims that it is: “In the past three months, there has been just one successful hijacking in the Somali Basin, a swath of ocean stretching from the Gulf of Aden into the Indian Ocean that is criss-crossed by tens of thousands of commercial vessels each month. There were 17 hijackings In the comparable period last year.”

This press release from the U.S. Fifth Fleet, which is in charge of our anti-piracy patrols, claims otherwise:  “Pirate activity has increased recently off the coast of Somalia with four attempted attacks occurring on motor vessels in the Gulf of Aden since Sept. 19. Three separate unsuccessful attacks occurred Sept. 19 and 20, while the most recent attack occurred Sept. 26 on the Panamanian-flagged Motor Vessel Handy V, in which seven pirates were arrested by the Turkish ship TCG Gediz (F-495), assigned to NATO’s Piracy Task Force. This brings the total number of piracy attacks on merchant vessels in 2009 to 146, 28 of which have been successful.”

I suppose that the two statistics cited are not necessarily incompatible: the former focuses on successful hijackings, the latter includes those that didn’t succeed. Beyond the numbers, however, it is clear that piracy remains a serious problem—one of many that we will face if Somalia remains an ungoverned space where criminals and terrorists can afford free run. Even if the international community isn’t up to doing more to bring law and order to Somalia, it can certainly do more to police the seas.

There are, it is true, a substantial number of naval vessels committed to the task but they continue to operate under crippling rules of engagement that forbid them from opening fire on suspected pirate vessels unless first fired upon—this greatly restricts their ability to bring the perpetrators to justice unless they are caught in the act. The Fifth Fleet release hints at the problem while summing up the achievements of American-organized Combined Joint Task Force 151: “Since August 2008, CTF  151 and other cooperating naval forces have disarmed and released 343 pirates, 212 others have been turned over for prosecution, and 11 were killed.”

Thus, even among the pirates who were caught, far more were released than imprisoned or killed. Presumably once freed, they went back to piracy. There aren’t many alternative jobs on offer in Somalia other than serving as gunmen for Islamist militant groups. If the U.S. and its allies took the gloves off and allowed the kind of unfettered pirate-hunting that occurred in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—when pirate vessels could be sunk on sight and captured pirates inevitably executed after a swift trial—piracy would likely disappear as a serious problem. But we are apparently too enlightened these days to do what works.

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An American Decision

The Obama administration came into office promising to use “all the elements of national power” (or, in the bumper-sticker version, “smart power”). Why use military force—unilaterally—if diplomacy and economic power and multilateral action can do the trick?

The campaign in Afghanistan, already a multilateral action for the record books, is now framing that question in stark and concrete terms. One reason the Obama administration may have been caught so flat-footed by the troop request from General McChrystal is that the multilateralism of our approach to the Afghan problem has rarely, if ever, been surpassed. Afghanistan has been both NATO-ized and Asianized: it is the major preoccupation of the NATO alliance today, representing the largest overseas deployment of almost every NATO contributor; but it is also the main overseas military commitment of Japan (now under reconsideration), as well as a regional issue with its own standing working group under the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) led by Russia- and China. The SCO, in fact, held a summit conference devoted to Afghanistan in March, attended by U.S. and other NATO representatives, and has treated Afghanistan as one of its main issues in the last five years. (See a good summary of the SCO and Afghanistan here.)

For at least two of those years, pundits and politicians have been making the case that more cooperation between NATO and Russia is the key to success in Afghanistan. Russia is now embedded in the humanitarian effort there and has assumed a de facto patronage of Hamid Karzai’s government. India has become a major commercial investor in Afghanistan, although China is holding back because of the ongoing danger. Pakistan has roused itself to a significant effort against the Taliban in its northwest territories. Even Iran has been welcomed to the fold of multilateral diplomacy on Afghan issues.

America’s top officials in Afghanistan, fully aware of all these dynamics, have forwarded a plan to implement President Obama’s new strategy—one that incorporates and relies on these multilateral, diplomatic, and economic factors. In the process, they determined that if we are to “defeat, dismantle, and disrupt al Qaeda,” it is essential to deny the Taliban any territory by immunizing the population against the Taliban’s guerrilla tactics. But the means to do that cannot be found in cooperation with Russia, commercial investment by India, or the discussion points of SCO working groups. The means for immunizing the Afghan population against the Taliban is boots on the ground.

If Albert Brooks scripted a send-up of self-important “smart power” multilateralism, it would look like the effort in Afghanistan. And in Brooks’s hands, of course, the inevitable comeuppance would be handled with painful honesty. All the multilateralism in Afghanistan—a pragmatic holding strategy for Bush, an ideological sine qua non for Obama—cannot achieve what a unified, military-centered offensive can. If Obama’s objective remains defeating, dismantling, and disrupting al Qaeda, he can achieve it only through the military-centered option.

Our European NATO allies remain unwilling to make more than token additions to their troop strength in Afghanistan. The SCO nations have consistently declined to make military contributions in Afghanistan. If there is to be a military-centered initiative to drive back the Taliban, it will have to undertaken by the U.S. In this most multilateral of operations, the way ahead comes down to an American decision, as it has since 1945.

The Obama administration came into office promising to use “all the elements of national power” (or, in the bumper-sticker version, “smart power”). Why use military force—unilaterally—if diplomacy and economic power and multilateral action can do the trick?

The campaign in Afghanistan, already a multilateral action for the record books, is now framing that question in stark and concrete terms. One reason the Obama administration may have been caught so flat-footed by the troop request from General McChrystal is that the multilateralism of our approach to the Afghan problem has rarely, if ever, been surpassed. Afghanistan has been both NATO-ized and Asianized: it is the major preoccupation of the NATO alliance today, representing the largest overseas deployment of almost every NATO contributor; but it is also the main overseas military commitment of Japan (now under reconsideration), as well as a regional issue with its own standing working group under the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) led by Russia- and China. The SCO, in fact, held a summit conference devoted to Afghanistan in March, attended by U.S. and other NATO representatives, and has treated Afghanistan as one of its main issues in the last five years. (See a good summary of the SCO and Afghanistan here.)

For at least two of those years, pundits and politicians have been making the case that more cooperation between NATO and Russia is the key to success in Afghanistan. Russia is now embedded in the humanitarian effort there and has assumed a de facto patronage of Hamid Karzai’s government. India has become a major commercial investor in Afghanistan, although China is holding back because of the ongoing danger. Pakistan has roused itself to a significant effort against the Taliban in its northwest territories. Even Iran has been welcomed to the fold of multilateral diplomacy on Afghan issues.

America’s top officials in Afghanistan, fully aware of all these dynamics, have forwarded a plan to implement President Obama’s new strategy—one that incorporates and relies on these multilateral, diplomatic, and economic factors. In the process, they determined that if we are to “defeat, dismantle, and disrupt al Qaeda,” it is essential to deny the Taliban any territory by immunizing the population against the Taliban’s guerrilla tactics. But the means to do that cannot be found in cooperation with Russia, commercial investment by India, or the discussion points of SCO working groups. The means for immunizing the Afghan population against the Taliban is boots on the ground.

If Albert Brooks scripted a send-up of self-important “smart power” multilateralism, it would look like the effort in Afghanistan. And in Brooks’s hands, of course, the inevitable comeuppance would be handled with painful honesty. All the multilateralism in Afghanistan—a pragmatic holding strategy for Bush, an ideological sine qua non for Obama—cannot achieve what a unified, military-centered offensive can. If Obama’s objective remains defeating, dismantling, and disrupting al Qaeda, he can achieve it only through the military-centered option.

Our European NATO allies remain unwilling to make more than token additions to their troop strength in Afghanistan. The SCO nations have consistently declined to make military contributions in Afghanistan. If there is to be a military-centered initiative to drive back the Taliban, it will have to undertaken by the U.S. In this most multilateral of operations, the way ahead comes down to an American decision, as it has since 1945.

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McChrystal Standing Strong

Why did the U.S. come close to defeat in Iraq? Many reasons played a role—one of the most prominent being the failure of senior U.S. commanders to speak truth to power. Tommy Franks, Ricardo Sanchez, George Casey, and John Abizaid presided over a failing war effort between 2003 and 2006 and yet never told President Bush that they could not achieve success through a light footprint. Instead of requesting more troops in service of a counterinsurgency strategy, they made do with what they had and hoped, against hope, that somehow everything would turn out alright in the end.

And why did they refrain from requesting more troops? In part because they knew such a request would have strained the army they loved. But also because they knew Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld would not welcome it. Although Rumsfeld never told his commanders not to ask for more troops, he made clear in his needling way that such a request would lead to what the current national security adviser, General Jim Jones, has called a “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment.” (If you don’t get it, think about what “WTF” stands for.) Casey and Abizaid could take a hint, and refused to make the necessary adjustments in strategy that would also have called for adjustments in force size.

The situation began to reverse in Iraq when we got two generals not afraid to speak their minds—first Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, then Gen. David Petraeus, who both realized it would take more troops to win and were not afraid to say so despite the furor that such a request would provoke in Washington. Both men and Petraeus in particular took considerable heat. Recall the infamous moveon.org ad that labeled our most successful military commander since Eisenhower “General Betray Us.”

Now Gen. Stan McChrystal finds himself in the hot seat. Like Petraeus and Odierno in Iraq, he is speaking truth to power—the truth being that we need more troops to prevail in Afghanistan. He was in London today and according to the New York Times account, was asked whether the approach advocated by Joe Biden—to downsize our troop commitment and focus on killing selected terrorist leaders—could work. His answer was blunt and honest:

“The short answer is: no,” he said. “You have to navigate from where you are, not where you wish to be. A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy.”

This is a courageous statement for him to make, because Gen. McChrystal knows he is speaking against the views of the vice president and most likely those of the national security adviser as well—not to mention the views of most Congressional Democrats. At least when Gen. Petraeus told the truth regarding the Iraq War, he knew he had the solid support of the president. McChrystal cannot be confident of any such support because all indications suggest that the man in the Oval Office hasn’t made up his mind on what to do.

If Obama rejects McChrystal’s advice and chooses the narrow counter-terror option, McChrystal will be placed in an uncomfortable, possibly untenable, place. That might have caused a lesser officer to trim his sails, but not McChrystal. He is carrying out the responsibilities of his command assignment in the finest tradition of the American armed forces—a tradition of truth-telling that has been honored, sadly, more in theory than in practice.

Why did the U.S. come close to defeat in Iraq? Many reasons played a role—one of the most prominent being the failure of senior U.S. commanders to speak truth to power. Tommy Franks, Ricardo Sanchez, George Casey, and John Abizaid presided over a failing war effort between 2003 and 2006 and yet never told President Bush that they could not achieve success through a light footprint. Instead of requesting more troops in service of a counterinsurgency strategy, they made do with what they had and hoped, against hope, that somehow everything would turn out alright in the end.

And why did they refrain from requesting more troops? In part because they knew such a request would have strained the army they loved. But also because they knew Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld would not welcome it. Although Rumsfeld never told his commanders not to ask for more troops, he made clear in his needling way that such a request would lead to what the current national security adviser, General Jim Jones, has called a “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment.” (If you don’t get it, think about what “WTF” stands for.) Casey and Abizaid could take a hint, and refused to make the necessary adjustments in strategy that would also have called for adjustments in force size.

The situation began to reverse in Iraq when we got two generals not afraid to speak their minds—first Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, then Gen. David Petraeus, who both realized it would take more troops to win and were not afraid to say so despite the furor that such a request would provoke in Washington. Both men and Petraeus in particular took considerable heat. Recall the infamous moveon.org ad that labeled our most successful military commander since Eisenhower “General Betray Us.”

Now Gen. Stan McChrystal finds himself in the hot seat. Like Petraeus and Odierno in Iraq, he is speaking truth to power—the truth being that we need more troops to prevail in Afghanistan. He was in London today and according to the New York Times account, was asked whether the approach advocated by Joe Biden—to downsize our troop commitment and focus on killing selected terrorist leaders—could work. His answer was blunt and honest:

“The short answer is: no,” he said. “You have to navigate from where you are, not where you wish to be. A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy.”

This is a courageous statement for him to make, because Gen. McChrystal knows he is speaking against the views of the vice president and most likely those of the national security adviser as well—not to mention the views of most Congressional Democrats. At least when Gen. Petraeus told the truth regarding the Iraq War, he knew he had the solid support of the president. McChrystal cannot be confident of any such support because all indications suggest that the man in the Oval Office hasn’t made up his mind on what to do.

If Obama rejects McChrystal’s advice and chooses the narrow counter-terror option, McChrystal will be placed in an uncomfortable, possibly untenable, place. That might have caused a lesser officer to trim his sails, but not McChrystal. He is carrying out the responsibilities of his command assignment in the finest tradition of the American armed forces—a tradition of truth-telling that has been honored, sadly, more in theory than in practice.

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Re: Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Dead Americans

Max, the New York Times article you highlight is quite remarkable in that the internal battle within the Obama team is now being played out on the front page—and the effort to debunk the “war on the cheap” option is being brought directly to the Amercian people, by Obama’s own generals. The report explains:

In a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a private policy group here, General McChrystal said that the situation in Afghanistan was serious and that “neither success nor failure can be taken for granted.” He was speaking in Britain—America’s close ally in Afghanistan—a day after he had participated by video link from London in a White House strategy session on the war that included President Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and an array of senior advisers.

And when asked directly about Biden’s idea “to scale back the American military presence in Afghanistan to focus on tracking down the leaders of al Qaeda,” McChrstal could not been more blunt:

“The short answer is: no,” he said. “You have to navigate from where you are, not where you wish to be. A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy.”

The Biden-Levin-Democratic-Left notion of a light footprint or a remote war, has been, as Max points, tried without success. There seems not to be a single prominent member from the military leadership that Obama appointed willing to propose  that we try it once more. That they must resort to public speeches and lobbying the White House via front-page news stories suggests that the military leaders are fighting an up-hill battle with an administration straining to avoid doing what is necessary to achieve victory. But, then, “victory” is not part of the president’s vocabulary when it comes to discussing Afghansitan. And that should tell us all we need to know about the mindset of the White House.

Max, the New York Times article you highlight is quite remarkable in that the internal battle within the Obama team is now being played out on the front page—and the effort to debunk the “war on the cheap” option is being brought directly to the Amercian people, by Obama’s own generals. The report explains:

In a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a private policy group here, General McChrystal said that the situation in Afghanistan was serious and that “neither success nor failure can be taken for granted.” He was speaking in Britain—America’s close ally in Afghanistan—a day after he had participated by video link from London in a White House strategy session on the war that included President Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and an array of senior advisers.

And when asked directly about Biden’s idea “to scale back the American military presence in Afghanistan to focus on tracking down the leaders of al Qaeda,” McChrstal could not been more blunt:

“The short answer is: no,” he said. “You have to navigate from where you are, not where you wish to be. A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy.”

The Biden-Levin-Democratic-Left notion of a light footprint or a remote war, has been, as Max points, tried without success. There seems not to be a single prominent member from the military leadership that Obama appointed willing to propose  that we try it once more. That they must resort to public speeches and lobbying the White House via front-page news stories suggests that the military leaders are fighting an up-hill battle with an administration straining to avoid doing what is necessary to achieve victory. But, then, “victory” is not part of the president’s vocabulary when it comes to discussing Afghansitan. And that should tell us all we need to know about the mindset of the White House.

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What Has He Lost?

Digging deep for nice things to say about the president, Charles Krauthammer offers:

I will give him credit for one other thing, for having so depleted his political capital on health care that he really doesn’t have the charisma and political resources now to do a lot of mischief.

Well, ObamaCare isn’t dead yet, but if one accepts that far less than what Obama’s liberal base had hoped for will get accomplished, it is worth examining exactly what Obama “lost” along the way to whatever face-saving, public-option-less health-care measure we wind up with.

For starters, he used up his welcome on TV. His appearances no longer generate much buzz. He has become ordinary and very boring. This was perhaps inevitable, but the rate of descent from Olympian heights has surprised critics and supporters alike.

He has also lost the patina of moderation. His personal demeanor and his jaw-droppingly disingenuous rhetoric (e.g., he didn’t want to take over car companies, doesn’t like spending a lot of taxpayers’ money) used to work for soothing the voters and masking the very radical agenda he envisioned. No more. Americans get that ObamaCare means a much bigger role for government, a revolution in 17 percent of the economy, and lots and lots of new taxes (so much for not taxing anyone making less than $250,000). Whatever the outcome of health-care reform, getting cap-and-trade or other big-government power grabs through Congress is going to get tougher as we get closer to the 2010 elections.

He has also lost the intellectual and political high ground. Fact-checking Obama’s tall tales has become a common activity even for the mainstream media. Somewhere between the Gates-gate fiasco or the tonsil-stealing doctors, Obama began to pick up a reputation for Al Gore–like exaggeration. As Rep. Joe Wilson pointed out, he’s not been telling the truth on a variety of topics (not the least of which was Iran’s not-very-secret Qom uranium-enrichment site). As for the political high ground, Obama seemed unable to resist the political name-calling and tit-for-tat with everyone from the former vice-presidential nominee to radio-talk-show hosts. He’s not only off Mt. Olympus but now often in the mud, an unseemly and inappropriate place for the president of the United States to reside.

Obama still has many resources and big congressional majorities at his disposal. He still has roughly half the country behind him. But he had much more before starting to hawk ObamaCare.

Digging deep for nice things to say about the president, Charles Krauthammer offers:

I will give him credit for one other thing, for having so depleted his political capital on health care that he really doesn’t have the charisma and political resources now to do a lot of mischief.

Well, ObamaCare isn’t dead yet, but if one accepts that far less than what Obama’s liberal base had hoped for will get accomplished, it is worth examining exactly what Obama “lost” along the way to whatever face-saving, public-option-less health-care measure we wind up with.

For starters, he used up his welcome on TV. His appearances no longer generate much buzz. He has become ordinary and very boring. This was perhaps inevitable, but the rate of descent from Olympian heights has surprised critics and supporters alike.

He has also lost the patina of moderation. His personal demeanor and his jaw-droppingly disingenuous rhetoric (e.g., he didn’t want to take over car companies, doesn’t like spending a lot of taxpayers’ money) used to work for soothing the voters and masking the very radical agenda he envisioned. No more. Americans get that ObamaCare means a much bigger role for government, a revolution in 17 percent of the economy, and lots and lots of new taxes (so much for not taxing anyone making less than $250,000). Whatever the outcome of health-care reform, getting cap-and-trade or other big-government power grabs through Congress is going to get tougher as we get closer to the 2010 elections.

He has also lost the intellectual and political high ground. Fact-checking Obama’s tall tales has become a common activity even for the mainstream media. Somewhere between the Gates-gate fiasco or the tonsil-stealing doctors, Obama began to pick up a reputation for Al Gore–like exaggeration. As Rep. Joe Wilson pointed out, he’s not been telling the truth on a variety of topics (not the least of which was Iran’s not-very-secret Qom uranium-enrichment site). As for the political high ground, Obama seemed unable to resist the political name-calling and tit-for-tat with everyone from the former vice-presidential nominee to radio-talk-show hosts. He’s not only off Mt. Olympus but now often in the mud, an unseemly and inappropriate place for the president of the United States to reside.

Obama still has many resources and big congressional majorities at his disposal. He still has roughly half the country behind him. But he had much more before starting to hawk ObamaCare.

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Is Pakistan the Model?

American intelligence officials are crowing about all the success they’ve had with strikes against al-Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan. According to this Washington Post article, “‘surgical’ missile attacks on terrorist leaders in their inaccessible Pakistani mountain sanctuaries and elsewhere had been increasingly successful and had largely avoided the civilian casualties that had been a source of anti-American sentiment. A total of 39 such attacks have been launched between January and mid-September, according to news reports, compared with 36 under the Bush administration in 2008.”

Such success is being cited by those like Vice President Biden who want to revert to a limited counterterror strategy in Afghanistan and who oppose sending more ground troops. If counterterror is working in Pakistan, why not in Afghanistan?

In the first place, I would treat claims of success against al-Qaeda and its affiliates with a grain of salt. Such claims have been made before, and inevitably we have been unpleasantly surprised by those groups’ ability to regenerate themselves. Even if true, however, the success of the “surgical” strikes does not obviate the need for a large-scale counterinsurgency. It is no coincidence, surely, that we are having more success picking off terrorists in Pakistan, given the offensives that the Pakistani army is staging with tens of thousands of troops into the terrorists’ lairs. Pressure from ground troops is undoubtedly disrupting insurgent communications and command-and-control networks and forcing them to relocate, all of which makes them more vulnerable to Predator strikes. The only way to consolidate those gains and to prevent terrorists from moving back is to occupy their former havens. That’s something that the Pakistani army can do on its side of the Durand Line, but who will do the comparable task on the Afghan side of the border? Only the U.S. has the needed capability.

If we were to leave Afghanistan, it would make it impossible to chase terrorists effectively not only in Afghanistan but in Pakistan also. Our terrorist-hunting in Pakistan is made possible by the presence of secure U.S. bases from which we can fly Predators. If we had to revert to weapons platforms based in the Indian Ocean—as occurred in the 1990s—it would be virtually impossible to pick off terrorist kingpins because of the many hours’ flight time required to act on intelligence of their whereabouts. If we start pulling out of Afghanistan, it is doubtful that we could keep secure bases in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Those states would come under such great pressure from the militants that they would be forced to cut deals. Then all our vaunted “success” against al-Qaeda could vanish in a puff of smoke.

American intelligence officials are crowing about all the success they’ve had with strikes against al-Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan. According to this Washington Post article, “‘surgical’ missile attacks on terrorist leaders in their inaccessible Pakistani mountain sanctuaries and elsewhere had been increasingly successful and had largely avoided the civilian casualties that had been a source of anti-American sentiment. A total of 39 such attacks have been launched between January and mid-September, according to news reports, compared with 36 under the Bush administration in 2008.”

Such success is being cited by those like Vice President Biden who want to revert to a limited counterterror strategy in Afghanistan and who oppose sending more ground troops. If counterterror is working in Pakistan, why not in Afghanistan?

In the first place, I would treat claims of success against al-Qaeda and its affiliates with a grain of salt. Such claims have been made before, and inevitably we have been unpleasantly surprised by those groups’ ability to regenerate themselves. Even if true, however, the success of the “surgical” strikes does not obviate the need for a large-scale counterinsurgency. It is no coincidence, surely, that we are having more success picking off terrorists in Pakistan, given the offensives that the Pakistani army is staging with tens of thousands of troops into the terrorists’ lairs. Pressure from ground troops is undoubtedly disrupting insurgent communications and command-and-control networks and forcing them to relocate, all of which makes them more vulnerable to Predator strikes. The only way to consolidate those gains and to prevent terrorists from moving back is to occupy their former havens. That’s something that the Pakistani army can do on its side of the Durand Line, but who will do the comparable task on the Afghan side of the border? Only the U.S. has the needed capability.

If we were to leave Afghanistan, it would make it impossible to chase terrorists effectively not only in Afghanistan but in Pakistan also. Our terrorist-hunting in Pakistan is made possible by the presence of secure U.S. bases from which we can fly Predators. If we had to revert to weapons platforms based in the Indian Ocean—as occurred in the 1990s—it would be virtually impossible to pick off terrorist kingpins because of the many hours’ flight time required to act on intelligence of their whereabouts. If we start pulling out of Afghanistan, it is doubtful that we could keep secure bases in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Those states would come under such great pressure from the militants that they would be forced to cut deals. Then all our vaunted “success” against al-Qaeda could vanish in a puff of smoke.

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What if Polanski Were a Republican Senator?

In today’s New York Times arts section, film industry correspondent Brooks Barnes analyzes Hollywood’s attitude to fugitive sex predator/Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski.

Most prominent artists have lined up behind the push to let the famed director off the hook for having drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl over 30 years ago. Polanski fled the country to avoid sentencing after he plead guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sex with a minor and has since lived in a cushy exile in Europe. After his recent arrest, Polanski is currently sitting in a Swiss jail awaiting possible extradition to the United States.

The fact that Harvey Weinstein, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, and Woody Allen (at least the latter is no hypocrite given his own past actions) are calling Polanski’s arrest an outrage shows how disconnected the film industry is from the rest of the country when it comes to morality. However, according to Barnes, Hollywood’s main problem with Polanski is that few of his films have made money recently. “Hollywood has most assuredly become a chillier place for Mr. Polanski over the last decade,” Barnes reports. “It’s a judgment that this guy is no longer readily commercial.”

But in an attempt to understand what he describes as the industry’s mixed feelings about the director, Barnes draws an absurd analogy between the fugitive rapist and Elia Kazan, the famed theater and film director who testified about secret Communists before the House Un-American Activities Committee. “The closest equivalent is Elia Kazan. In some film circles, Mr. Kazan was forever a pariah for his friendly testimony in 1952 before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Others finally looked beyond his McCarthy-era behavior to focus on his outsize directing talent.”

Thus, according to Barnes, telling the truth to Congress about the influence of active Communist-party members who supported Stalin in the film industry but who pretended to be merely liberal supporters of civil liberties is the moral equivalent of raping a 13-year-old!

Of course, not everyone in the industry who talked to Barnes has completely lost their moral compass:

“I’m kind of appalled,” said Alison Arngrim, an actress who is best known for her work in ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and who has spoken publicly in the past about having been sexually molested as a child. “If Roman Polanski were a Catholic priest or a Republican senator, would these people feel the same way?”

Not likely.

In today’s New York Times arts section, film industry correspondent Brooks Barnes analyzes Hollywood’s attitude to fugitive sex predator/Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski.

Most prominent artists have lined up behind the push to let the famed director off the hook for having drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl over 30 years ago. Polanski fled the country to avoid sentencing after he plead guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sex with a minor and has since lived in a cushy exile in Europe. After his recent arrest, Polanski is currently sitting in a Swiss jail awaiting possible extradition to the United States.

The fact that Harvey Weinstein, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, and Woody Allen (at least the latter is no hypocrite given his own past actions) are calling Polanski’s arrest an outrage shows how disconnected the film industry is from the rest of the country when it comes to morality. However, according to Barnes, Hollywood’s main problem with Polanski is that few of his films have made money recently. “Hollywood has most assuredly become a chillier place for Mr. Polanski over the last decade,” Barnes reports. “It’s a judgment that this guy is no longer readily commercial.”

But in an attempt to understand what he describes as the industry’s mixed feelings about the director, Barnes draws an absurd analogy between the fugitive rapist and Elia Kazan, the famed theater and film director who testified about secret Communists before the House Un-American Activities Committee. “The closest equivalent is Elia Kazan. In some film circles, Mr. Kazan was forever a pariah for his friendly testimony in 1952 before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Others finally looked beyond his McCarthy-era behavior to focus on his outsize directing talent.”

Thus, according to Barnes, telling the truth to Congress about the influence of active Communist-party members who supported Stalin in the film industry but who pretended to be merely liberal supporters of civil liberties is the moral equivalent of raping a 13-year-old!

Of course, not everyone in the industry who talked to Barnes has completely lost their moral compass:

“I’m kind of appalled,” said Alison Arngrim, an actress who is best known for her work in ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and who has spoken publicly in the past about having been sexually molested as a child. “If Roman Polanski were a Catholic priest or a Republican senator, would these people feel the same way?”

Not likely.

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The Un-Obama

In a forum sponsored by AEI and Brookings, Sen. Joe Lieberman addressed the looming Iranian nuclear threat and the question on most everyone’s mind: What happens when talking to the Iranians gets us nowhere? As to the discovery of the secretive uranium-enrichment plant on a military base in Qom, Lieberman explained:

The secret construction of this facility, whose size, configuration, and location are inconsistent with a peaceful energy program, fits into a pattern of deception and concealment by the Iranians about their nuclear activities that stretches back over twenty years. It also adds to the already substantial body of incriminating evidence that Iran is secretly, steadily developing a nuclear weapons capability.

Lieberman acknowledges that he was willing to support Obama’s “engagement” policy but that it is now time to stop fooling ourselves, given that “there has been nothing in the Iranian leaders’ behavior since President Obama came to office to ever suggest they are now any more likely to reciprocate the President’s good faith, or accept their responsibilities under international law, than they were on January 20th.” Indeed, he argues that there is “reason to believe that they will try to exploit the current attempt at engagement by the West, just as they have exploited past attempts at engagement, as an opportunity to ensnare us in a process without end, while they continue to advance toward a nuclear breakout.”

So what do we do? Lieberman argues that in order to avoid a confrontation, Iran must give us “full, unrestricted access to every site, every scientist, every scrap of paper, and every piece of equipment that they want to see. ” He for one isn’t ready to take a bargain like we made with North Korea, “where we repeatedly convinced ourselves that it was better to accept half-measures, in the hope of winning more complete cooperation later, than it was to abandon the negotiating process.”

And if Iran isn’t forthcoming, what then? Lieberman argues that “the current Iranian leadership will only consider stepping back from the nuclear brink when they are convinced that if they fail to do so, there will be consequences so severe that the continuity of their regime will be threatened. ” Lieberman therefore supports imposing “multiple sanctions, with multiple partners, simultaneously or sequentially.” Among these are a measure he has introduced for refined-petroleum sanctions and a more comprehensive set of sanctions that Sen. Chris Dodd is considering. Lieberman is also sponsoring a measure to help fund and support news and information gathering and new-media dissemination that can be used by Iranian democracy advocates.

Unlike the president, Lieberman plainly leaves military options on the table. He wants to look at “actions we can take through the UN Security Council, but also through regional organizations, ad hoc coalitions of like-minded countries, and unilaterally.” The bottom line, he says, is that we must be “prepared to use all means at our disposal to prevent the Iranian regime from getting nuclear weapons.” All means.

Compare this to the dreamy-eyed, open-ended talks that Obama spokesmen are talking about. Notice the unwillingness to rely solely on multilateral consensus, which is unlikely to ever be achieved. Could you imagine Obama giving the speech Lieberman did? No, I can’t either. The firm declaration that Iran won’t get nuclear weapons and the steely-eyed realism that the U.S. and like-minded allies will have to do many things, and do them despite objections from other quarters, are not what we are getting from the president. He is allergic to confrontation and obsessively attached to acting only in concert with all (how can we possibly get all?) the major powers.

And so, just as Lieberman warned, we begin the process of dithering. You can sense we are about to be sucked into another and then another and then another round of senseless meetings, and that the president will never conclude that we are being played. None of this is lost on Iran, Israel, or the rest of the world.

 

In a forum sponsored by AEI and Brookings, Sen. Joe Lieberman addressed the looming Iranian nuclear threat and the question on most everyone’s mind: What happens when talking to the Iranians gets us nowhere? As to the discovery of the secretive uranium-enrichment plant on a military base in Qom, Lieberman explained:

The secret construction of this facility, whose size, configuration, and location are inconsistent with a peaceful energy program, fits into a pattern of deception and concealment by the Iranians about their nuclear activities that stretches back over twenty years. It also adds to the already substantial body of incriminating evidence that Iran is secretly, steadily developing a nuclear weapons capability.

Lieberman acknowledges that he was willing to support Obama’s “engagement” policy but that it is now time to stop fooling ourselves, given that “there has been nothing in the Iranian leaders’ behavior since President Obama came to office to ever suggest they are now any more likely to reciprocate the President’s good faith, or accept their responsibilities under international law, than they were on January 20th.” Indeed, he argues that there is “reason to believe that they will try to exploit the current attempt at engagement by the West, just as they have exploited past attempts at engagement, as an opportunity to ensnare us in a process without end, while they continue to advance toward a nuclear breakout.”

So what do we do? Lieberman argues that in order to avoid a confrontation, Iran must give us “full, unrestricted access to every site, every scientist, every scrap of paper, and every piece of equipment that they want to see. ” He for one isn’t ready to take a bargain like we made with North Korea, “where we repeatedly convinced ourselves that it was better to accept half-measures, in the hope of winning more complete cooperation later, than it was to abandon the negotiating process.”

And if Iran isn’t forthcoming, what then? Lieberman argues that “the current Iranian leadership will only consider stepping back from the nuclear brink when they are convinced that if they fail to do so, there will be consequences so severe that the continuity of their regime will be threatened. ” Lieberman therefore supports imposing “multiple sanctions, with multiple partners, simultaneously or sequentially.” Among these are a measure he has introduced for refined-petroleum sanctions and a more comprehensive set of sanctions that Sen. Chris Dodd is considering. Lieberman is also sponsoring a measure to help fund and support news and information gathering and new-media dissemination that can be used by Iranian democracy advocates.

Unlike the president, Lieberman plainly leaves military options on the table. He wants to look at “actions we can take through the UN Security Council, but also through regional organizations, ad hoc coalitions of like-minded countries, and unilaterally.” The bottom line, he says, is that we must be “prepared to use all means at our disposal to prevent the Iranian regime from getting nuclear weapons.” All means.

Compare this to the dreamy-eyed, open-ended talks that Obama spokesmen are talking about. Notice the unwillingness to rely solely on multilateral consensus, which is unlikely to ever be achieved. Could you imagine Obama giving the speech Lieberman did? No, I can’t either. The firm declaration that Iran won’t get nuclear weapons and the steely-eyed realism that the U.S. and like-minded allies will have to do many things, and do them despite objections from other quarters, are not what we are getting from the president. He is allergic to confrontation and obsessively attached to acting only in concert with all (how can we possibly get all?) the major powers.

And so, just as Lieberman warned, we begin the process of dithering. You can sense we are about to be sucked into another and then another and then another round of senseless meetings, and that the president will never conclude that we are being played. None of this is lost on Iran, Israel, or the rest of the world.

 

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Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Dead Americans

It’s hard to know what to make of this Wall Street Journal article: “Gates Doubts U.S.’s Afghan Strategy.” It reveals that “a senior defense official said that Defense Secretary Robert Gates now worries that counterinsurgency might no longer be a viable approach for countering the Taliban violence roiling once-stable parts of north and west Afghanistan.” But at the same time, the very last paragraph quotes Gates’s spokesman as saying that Gates is opposed to a narrow “counterterror” strategy of the kind pushed by Vice President Biden, because he “does not think that is a path to success in Afghanistan.”

I can only hope that this does not mean that Gates is coming to favor some kind of halfhearted compromise—maintaining a counterinsurgency strategy but not sending enough troops to fully implement it. Such options are outlined in this New York Times article and in this Washington Post article, which reports that many Hill Democrats are coalescing around what might be called the Levin Plan, after Senator Carl Levin, who favors doing more to train Afghan forces but not sending more American troops.

This approach ignores what we learned in Iraq—that training alone does not produce an effective military. What really increases effectiveness is joint operations between American and indigenous forces so that the locals can see how it’s done. That, however, requires a substantial American troop presence—one that we had in Iraq but don’t yet have in Afghanistan. Those American troops are also needed to deal with the hardest fights because, initially, Afghan troops, just like their Iraqi predecessors, won’t have the capability to defeat the most formidable insurgents. Throwing them into the fight by themselves before they’re ready, which is what the Levin Plan would do, is a recipe for failure. I agree entirely with a Bush administration NSC veteran who is quoted therein as saying, “The middle options are either high risk or they’re status quo or they’re unworkable.”

The Texas politico Jim Hightower famously said, “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.” In the case of Afghanistan, that might be amended to read “dead Americans” because a middle-of-the-road option is going to get more American servicemen killed without producing the same chance of success as a full-fledged counterinsurgency. If we are going to risk the lives of our troops and our allies’ troops, it had better be in the pursuit of victory—not for some kind of lame holding action that results from ambivalence and indecision in Washington.

It’s hard to know what to make of this Wall Street Journal article: “Gates Doubts U.S.’s Afghan Strategy.” It reveals that “a senior defense official said that Defense Secretary Robert Gates now worries that counterinsurgency might no longer be a viable approach for countering the Taliban violence roiling once-stable parts of north and west Afghanistan.” But at the same time, the very last paragraph quotes Gates’s spokesman as saying that Gates is opposed to a narrow “counterterror” strategy of the kind pushed by Vice President Biden, because he “does not think that is a path to success in Afghanistan.”

I can only hope that this does not mean that Gates is coming to favor some kind of halfhearted compromise—maintaining a counterinsurgency strategy but not sending enough troops to fully implement it. Such options are outlined in this New York Times article and in this Washington Post article, which reports that many Hill Democrats are coalescing around what might be called the Levin Plan, after Senator Carl Levin, who favors doing more to train Afghan forces but not sending more American troops.

This approach ignores what we learned in Iraq—that training alone does not produce an effective military. What really increases effectiveness is joint operations between American and indigenous forces so that the locals can see how it’s done. That, however, requires a substantial American troop presence—one that we had in Iraq but don’t yet have in Afghanistan. Those American troops are also needed to deal with the hardest fights because, initially, Afghan troops, just like their Iraqi predecessors, won’t have the capability to defeat the most formidable insurgents. Throwing them into the fight by themselves before they’re ready, which is what the Levin Plan would do, is a recipe for failure. I agree entirely with a Bush administration NSC veteran who is quoted therein as saying, “The middle options are either high risk or they’re status quo or they’re unworkable.”

The Texas politico Jim Hightower famously said, “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.” In the case of Afghanistan, that might be amended to read “dead Americans” because a middle-of-the-road option is going to get more American servicemen killed without producing the same chance of success as a full-fledged counterinsurgency. If we are going to risk the lives of our troops and our allies’ troops, it had better be in the pursuit of victory—not for some kind of lame holding action that results from ambivalence and indecision in Washington.

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The Not-So-Dead Hand of the Soviet Union

So there really was a Soviet doomsday device. Or so says a fascinating article in this month’s Wired magazine. What’s more — it’s still in service and periodically upgraded. (I wonder if it’s open source, like Linux? Nah.) At least this is the story from one Valery Yarynich, “a 30-year veteran of the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces and Soviet General Staff,” who helped build it.

Much like the gizmo that was at the center of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Perimeter (aka the Dead Hand) was intended to act as the ultimate deterrent: Even if you wipe us out, we can still retaliate.

The only problem, just as in the movie, is that the Soviets forgot to tell anyone they had the thing.

So why was the US not informed about Perimeter? Kremlinologists have long noted the Soviet military’s extreme penchant for secrecy, but surely that couldn’t fully explain what appears to be a self-defeating strategic error of extraordinary magnitude.

The silence can be attributed partly to fears that the US would figure out how to disable the system. But the principal reason is more complicated and surprising. According to both Yarynich and Zheleznyakov, Perimeter was never meant as a traditional doomsday machine. The Soviets had taken game theory one step further than Kubrick, Szilard, and everyone else: They built a system to deter themselves.

Wait until General Ripper hears about this. Just so long as President Obama doesn’t, because he might want to do nothing, unlike Ronald Reagan, who did something, and look where that got us with the old Soviets. (Didn’t Reagan explode the sun or something? I could have sworn I read that in the Guardian . . .)

So there really was a Soviet doomsday device. Or so says a fascinating article in this month’s Wired magazine. What’s more — it’s still in service and periodically upgraded. (I wonder if it’s open source, like Linux? Nah.) At least this is the story from one Valery Yarynich, “a 30-year veteran of the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces and Soviet General Staff,” who helped build it.

Much like the gizmo that was at the center of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Perimeter (aka the Dead Hand) was intended to act as the ultimate deterrent: Even if you wipe us out, we can still retaliate.

The only problem, just as in the movie, is that the Soviets forgot to tell anyone they had the thing.

So why was the US not informed about Perimeter? Kremlinologists have long noted the Soviet military’s extreme penchant for secrecy, but surely that couldn’t fully explain what appears to be a self-defeating strategic error of extraordinary magnitude.

The silence can be attributed partly to fears that the US would figure out how to disable the system. But the principal reason is more complicated and surprising. According to both Yarynich and Zheleznyakov, Perimeter was never meant as a traditional doomsday machine. The Soviets had taken game theory one step further than Kubrick, Szilard, and everyone else: They built a system to deter themselves.

Wait until General Ripper hears about this. Just so long as President Obama doesn’t, because he might want to do nothing, unlike Ronald Reagan, who did something, and look where that got us with the old Soviets. (Didn’t Reagan explode the sun or something? I could have sworn I read that in the Guardian . . .)

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Bad Timing for Betrayal

How’s that party-switcheroo working out for Sen. Arlen Specter? Not so well, Politico reports:

Don’t look now, but Pennsylvania GOP Senate hopeful Pat Toomey has erased Arlen Specter’s once-20-point lead and is now in a statistical dead heat with the Republican-turned-Democrat.A new Q Poll has the former congressman up by a 43-to-42 percent margin, within the poll’s margin of error—and virtually the same as Quinnipiac’s July survey. In May, right after Toomey drove him out of the GOP, Specter led by 20 points.

This is all the more remarkable considering Specter has nearly 100 percent name recognition and many voters know quite little about Toomey. In effect, this suggests an “anyone but Specter” sentiment among Pennsylvania voters. And why not? He’s demonstrated, even for a politician, an appalling lack of principle and loyalty. He’s had a rocky outing at a health-care town hall. And he’s a Democrat now in the Obama era—which is proving to be perilous for incumbent Democrats. Even more startling than Specter’s numbers: Obama’s approval in Pennsylvania has dropped from 56 to 46 percent and ObamaCare is now viewed negatively by 56 percent of the state’s voters, with a paltry 39 percent in favor.

It might be the case that Specter’s political cravenness led him astray. He might, after all this, have fared better had he stayed a Republican. His arrival in the Democratic party comes just in time, it turns out, for a rising tide of discontent with Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress. Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to be a scoundrel.

How’s that party-switcheroo working out for Sen. Arlen Specter? Not so well, Politico reports:

Don’t look now, but Pennsylvania GOP Senate hopeful Pat Toomey has erased Arlen Specter’s once-20-point lead and is now in a statistical dead heat with the Republican-turned-Democrat.A new Q Poll has the former congressman up by a 43-to-42 percent margin, within the poll’s margin of error—and virtually the same as Quinnipiac’s July survey. In May, right after Toomey drove him out of the GOP, Specter led by 20 points.

This is all the more remarkable considering Specter has nearly 100 percent name recognition and many voters know quite little about Toomey. In effect, this suggests an “anyone but Specter” sentiment among Pennsylvania voters. And why not? He’s demonstrated, even for a politician, an appalling lack of principle and loyalty. He’s had a rocky outing at a health-care town hall. And he’s a Democrat now in the Obama era—which is proving to be perilous for incumbent Democrats. Even more startling than Specter’s numbers: Obama’s approval in Pennsylvania has dropped from 56 to 46 percent and ObamaCare is now viewed negatively by 56 percent of the state’s voters, with a paltry 39 percent in favor.

It might be the case that Specter’s political cravenness led him astray. He might, after all this, have fared better had he stayed a Republican. His arrival in the Democratic party comes just in time, it turns out, for a rising tide of discontent with Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress. Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to be a scoundrel.

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The Israeli Dilemma

While professing a tough anti-terrorist stance, Israel continues to make concessions to terrorists who are responsible for killing or kidnapping its soldiers. The latest example is the deal whereby Israel has released 20 female prisoners to Hamas in return for a video showing that Sgt. Gilad Shalit is still alive. I can see making such a deal to actually get Shalit back, but just to get a video? That seems pretty lopsided, but it’s part of a longstanding pattern.

Wikipedia (admittedly not the most reliable source) claims: “Over the last 30 years, Israel has released about 7,000 Palestinian prisoners to secure freedom for 19 Israelis and to retrieve the bodies of eight others.” If accurate, that figure would suggest that one Israeli, dead or alive, is worth 259 living, breathing terrorists. I can see why Israel makes such deals—because of the dictates of humanity and the pressure from family members. For similar reasons did the Reagan administration trade arms for hostages with Iran. But such deals are a bad idea in the long run because they reward terrorism.

Prime Minister Netanyahu knows this well. Usually he advocates uncompromising anti-terror policies. But in office, he seems to be succumbing to some of the same sentimentality as his predecessors did. That is an understandable, and in many ways a laudable, response; but still a dangerous one for a state facing enemies who make much of the fact that they “love death” while Israelis (and Americans and Europeans) “love life.”

While professing a tough anti-terrorist stance, Israel continues to make concessions to terrorists who are responsible for killing or kidnapping its soldiers. The latest example is the deal whereby Israel has released 20 female prisoners to Hamas in return for a video showing that Sgt. Gilad Shalit is still alive. I can see making such a deal to actually get Shalit back, but just to get a video? That seems pretty lopsided, but it’s part of a longstanding pattern.

Wikipedia (admittedly not the most reliable source) claims: “Over the last 30 years, Israel has released about 7,000 Palestinian prisoners to secure freedom for 19 Israelis and to retrieve the bodies of eight others.” If accurate, that figure would suggest that one Israeli, dead or alive, is worth 259 living, breathing terrorists. I can see why Israel makes such deals—because of the dictates of humanity and the pressure from family members. For similar reasons did the Reagan administration trade arms for hostages with Iran. But such deals are a bad idea in the long run because they reward terrorism.

Prime Minister Netanyahu knows this well. Usually he advocates uncompromising anti-terror policies. But in office, he seems to be succumbing to some of the same sentimentality as his predecessors did. That is an understandable, and in many ways a laudable, response; but still a dangerous one for a state facing enemies who make much of the fact that they “love death” while Israelis (and Americans and Europeans) “love life.”

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Media Mistrust

I wanted to pick up on your point, Jen, regarding Democrat Alan Grayson, who in the context of the health-care debate accused Republicans of wanting people to “die quickly” and, when asked whether he should apologize, said, “I apologize to the dead and their families that we haven’t voted sooner to end this holocaust in America.”

For the record, and for those keeping count, Democrats have now accused critics of ObamaCare of perpetrating “lies” (President Obama), of being “evil-mongers” (Harry Reid), of using “un-American” tactics (Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer), of being members of “the mob” (DNC video), and have likened them to the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (Brian Baird). But of course it is the “fringe right” that is responsible for incivility in American politics today. Just ask Tom Friedman and the rest of the MSM. They react with fury when Republicans and conservatives cross certain lines yet react with relative indifference when Democrats and liberals do the same. Republican incivility borders on a criminal offense; Democratic incivility falls under the category “Boys will be boys.”

This hypocrisy and moral double standard isn’t the only reason the media is one of the least trusted institutions in America today. But it’s one of the reasons.

I wanted to pick up on your point, Jen, regarding Democrat Alan Grayson, who in the context of the health-care debate accused Republicans of wanting people to “die quickly” and, when asked whether he should apologize, said, “I apologize to the dead and their families that we haven’t voted sooner to end this holocaust in America.”

For the record, and for those keeping count, Democrats have now accused critics of ObamaCare of perpetrating “lies” (President Obama), of being “evil-mongers” (Harry Reid), of using “un-American” tactics (Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer), of being members of “the mob” (DNC video), and have likened them to the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (Brian Baird). But of course it is the “fringe right” that is responsible for incivility in American politics today. Just ask Tom Friedman and the rest of the MSM. They react with fury when Republicans and conservatives cross certain lines yet react with relative indifference when Democrats and liberals do the same. Republican incivility borders on a criminal offense; Democratic incivility falls under the category “Boys will be boys.”

This hypocrisy and moral double standard isn’t the only reason the media is one of the least trusted institutions in America today. But it’s one of the reasons.

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Card-Check Patter

Sen. Sherrod Brown is the latest Democratic senator to step forward and predict progress on card-check legislation, the measure that would strip employees of the secret ballot in union-organizing elections (but not in elections to de-certify unions). This legislation would also, for good measure, impose mandatory arbitration on employers and unions that can’t reach agreement on a new contract within 120 days. We heard this from Sen. Arlen Specter a couple of weeks ago—yes, a deal is near, he promised. (Not so fast, said he colleagues shortly thereafter.) And Sen. Tom Harkin pops up now and then to say the same thing.

Nevertheless, Brown gives the game away. He’s not sure card check itself has 60 votes. Neither is anyone else, including Big Labor, which is already sending signals that it would accept some version of card-check “lite.” But Brown doesn’t like the changes. And there is a committee of six senators out scouting votes. (The card-check brain-trust haven’t actually met among themselves since August.) Sen. Blanche Lincoln, whose re-election prospects are already getting cloudy, wants no part of this.

Okay, so why the drumbeat of “we’re getting close” stories if the votes aren’t there and the legislative calendar is already jammed? Well, one imagines that this is what one does—generate news stories and affect optimism—when your Big Labor patrons keep asking “What’s happening with that card-check thing—you know, the legislation we gave tens of millions of dollars in campaign donations to try to pass?” The Big Labor–dependent Democratic senators need to generate at least the appearance of activity.

As with the president, Big Labor is going to get a test of its political influence and popularity in Virginia. Pouring an unprecedented amount of cash into the gubernatorial race, Big Labor—as it did on the national level—hopes to secure a sympathetic chief executive. (That this occurs in a right-to-work state suggests that its ambitions are still high, and that as industrial, northeastern, unionized businesses fail or flee, it is turning to previously hostile territory in the Southeast.)

So we’re seeing the same battle playing out on the state level that we’ve been seeing in Washington. Big Labor shovels money into the race while the Republican opponent calls foul, raising questions about his opponent’s willingness to forfeit a pro-business environment for the sake of Big Labor patrons. The next few weeks will tell us just what that Big Labor money can buy.

In the meantime, expect to hear in another week how a card-check deal is almost there.

Sen. Sherrod Brown is the latest Democratic senator to step forward and predict progress on card-check legislation, the measure that would strip employees of the secret ballot in union-organizing elections (but not in elections to de-certify unions). This legislation would also, for good measure, impose mandatory arbitration on employers and unions that can’t reach agreement on a new contract within 120 days. We heard this from Sen. Arlen Specter a couple of weeks ago—yes, a deal is near, he promised. (Not so fast, said he colleagues shortly thereafter.) And Sen. Tom Harkin pops up now and then to say the same thing.

Nevertheless, Brown gives the game away. He’s not sure card check itself has 60 votes. Neither is anyone else, including Big Labor, which is already sending signals that it would accept some version of card-check “lite.” But Brown doesn’t like the changes. And there is a committee of six senators out scouting votes. (The card-check brain-trust haven’t actually met among themselves since August.) Sen. Blanche Lincoln, whose re-election prospects are already getting cloudy, wants no part of this.

Okay, so why the drumbeat of “we’re getting close” stories if the votes aren’t there and the legislative calendar is already jammed? Well, one imagines that this is what one does—generate news stories and affect optimism—when your Big Labor patrons keep asking “What’s happening with that card-check thing—you know, the legislation we gave tens of millions of dollars in campaign donations to try to pass?” The Big Labor–dependent Democratic senators need to generate at least the appearance of activity.

As with the president, Big Labor is going to get a test of its political influence and popularity in Virginia. Pouring an unprecedented amount of cash into the gubernatorial race, Big Labor—as it did on the national level—hopes to secure a sympathetic chief executive. (That this occurs in a right-to-work state suggests that its ambitions are still high, and that as industrial, northeastern, unionized businesses fail or flee, it is turning to previously hostile territory in the Southeast.)

So we’re seeing the same battle playing out on the state level that we’ve been seeing in Washington. Big Labor shovels money into the race while the Republican opponent calls foul, raising questions about his opponent’s willingness to forfeit a pro-business environment for the sake of Big Labor patrons. The next few weeks will tell us just what that Big Labor money can buy.

In the meantime, expect to hear in another week how a card-check deal is almost there.

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No Brokering, Less Honesty

Someone finally confronted Richard Goldstone–of Goldstone-report infamy–in a dramatic scene:

In a surprise appearance arranged by the Geneva human rights organization UN Watch, Dr. Mirela Siderer — an Israeli doctor who was brutally disfigured in 2008 by a rocket attack fired from Gaza into her Ashkelon medical clinic — pointedly accused Goldstone of ignoring her July oral testimony in his report, and of failing to disclose material information concerning the prior statements of the Human Rights Council and panel members declaring Israel guilty in advance. Sitting on the dais, Goldstone was visibly shaken by Dr. Siderer’s challenge and scrambled for a copy of her speech. His response to the plenary ignored 7 of her questions, and inadequately responded to the 8th.

That, as they say, is speaking truth to power. The Obama administration, by contrast, cowers. It plays the moral-equivalence game. As the Obama team is so accustomed to doing these days, it assumes the pose of neutrality. But why, and to what end?

The Israelis know that the Goldstone report is a sham, so the Obama team’s response only reinforces their conviction that the president is no longer a credible figure, that he has sacrificed truth-telling for Palestinian self-esteem-building. And does this really help the “peace process” or strengthen those attempting to resist Hamas when Obama refuses to blow the whistle and call for an end to the “Israel committed war crimes” propaganda? Certainly not, if one still thinks there is any peace to process.

But this is the bind in which the Obama administration now finds itself. It is committed to a new role of studied neutrality, which requires that history be distorted, facts be ignored, and propaganda be tolerated. Because the facts don’t neatly or remotely match up with the fiction that “both sides are to blame,” this gambit soon reduces the president, his advisers, and spokesmen to spouting nonsense or ignoring the sorts of facts that Dr. Siderer eloquently laid out. Bluntly put, it forces the administration to lie or appear foolish. And then what sort of “honest broker”–if there is anything to broker–can the U.S. be?

Obama was the one in Cairo who boasted about his determination to talk “honestly” to both sides. How far we’ve come. As he dribbles away the credibility of the U.S. and of the office he holds (for no apparent reason), he may one day regret not having followed his own advice.

Someone finally confronted Richard Goldstone–of Goldstone-report infamy–in a dramatic scene:

In a surprise appearance arranged by the Geneva human rights organization UN Watch, Dr. Mirela Siderer — an Israeli doctor who was brutally disfigured in 2008 by a rocket attack fired from Gaza into her Ashkelon medical clinic — pointedly accused Goldstone of ignoring her July oral testimony in his report, and of failing to disclose material information concerning the prior statements of the Human Rights Council and panel members declaring Israel guilty in advance. Sitting on the dais, Goldstone was visibly shaken by Dr. Siderer’s challenge and scrambled for a copy of her speech. His response to the plenary ignored 7 of her questions, and inadequately responded to the 8th.

That, as they say, is speaking truth to power. The Obama administration, by contrast, cowers. It plays the moral-equivalence game. As the Obama team is so accustomed to doing these days, it assumes the pose of neutrality. But why, and to what end?

The Israelis know that the Goldstone report is a sham, so the Obama team’s response only reinforces their conviction that the president is no longer a credible figure, that he has sacrificed truth-telling for Palestinian self-esteem-building. And does this really help the “peace process” or strengthen those attempting to resist Hamas when Obama refuses to blow the whistle and call for an end to the “Israel committed war crimes” propaganda? Certainly not, if one still thinks there is any peace to process.

But this is the bind in which the Obama administration now finds itself. It is committed to a new role of studied neutrality, which requires that history be distorted, facts be ignored, and propaganda be tolerated. Because the facts don’t neatly or remotely match up with the fiction that “both sides are to blame,” this gambit soon reduces the president, his advisers, and spokesmen to spouting nonsense or ignoring the sorts of facts that Dr. Siderer eloquently laid out. Bluntly put, it forces the administration to lie or appear foolish. And then what sort of “honest broker”–if there is anything to broker–can the U.S. be?

Obama was the one in Cairo who boasted about his determination to talk “honestly” to both sides. How far we’ve come. As he dribbles away the credibility of the U.S. and of the office he holds (for no apparent reason), he may one day regret not having followed his own advice.

Read Less




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