Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 5, 2009

Please Repeat Everything After “Afghanistan”

As Jennifer points out, James Jones isn’t helping. The flap over the McChrystal speech has overshadowed comments Jones made on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday show, in which he gave a brief assessment that was, as we say in the military, “180-out” from McChrystal’s. The Washington Post quotes this excerpt from the Jones interview:

“I think the end is much more complex than just about adding X number of troops,” Jones said on CNN. . . . “But I don’t foresee the return of the Taliban, and I want to be very clear that Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling.”

Jones explains that he and McChrystal are not really in disagreement, because McChrystal’s more pessimistic predictions are “hypothetical” — a characterization that implies there is such a thing as a non-hypothetical prediction. What appears clear, other than that Jones and McChrystal are working from different hypotheses, is that the administration perceives a need for obfuscation.

If Obama himself were emitting clear signals about what he is committed to in Afghanistan, this kind of fundamental opposition among his advisers would be effectively muted. The republic has survived such disagreements many times. But Obama has ordered a wholesale reconsideration of his policy for the second time in six months, without stating an intelligible purpose for it or making a clear case for what prompted it. In the face of his public silence, the Obama policy on Afghanistan has to be deduced from older pronouncements, the elliptical and contradictory statements of his officials, and meeting notes, like this passage reported by WaPo:

One question at the core of the [administration’s] debate is whether the military benefit of sending additional U.S. combat forces to Afghanistan would outweigh the propaganda victory such a deployment would give the Taliban, which appeals to the public with messages of resistance to the foreign occupation.

It was clear during the Bush years that absurd propositions like this one — that the Taliban would have us right where they want us if we sent more troops — got only the consideration they deserved. There was a constant posture, an irreducible policy commitment, by which to predict the fate of such debating points. Obama’s signals, however, are Delphic in their ambiguity, and each signal from his subordinates and their deliberations are correspondingly more significant. What we may be seeing soon is the “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?” signal McChrystal was warned about — coming, in this case, from our NATO allies and the American people.

As Jennifer points out, James Jones isn’t helping. The flap over the McChrystal speech has overshadowed comments Jones made on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday show, in which he gave a brief assessment that was, as we say in the military, “180-out” from McChrystal’s. The Washington Post quotes this excerpt from the Jones interview:

“I think the end is much more complex than just about adding X number of troops,” Jones said on CNN. . . . “But I don’t foresee the return of the Taliban, and I want to be very clear that Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling.”

Jones explains that he and McChrystal are not really in disagreement, because McChrystal’s more pessimistic predictions are “hypothetical” — a characterization that implies there is such a thing as a non-hypothetical prediction. What appears clear, other than that Jones and McChrystal are working from different hypotheses, is that the administration perceives a need for obfuscation.

If Obama himself were emitting clear signals about what he is committed to in Afghanistan, this kind of fundamental opposition among his advisers would be effectively muted. The republic has survived such disagreements many times. But Obama has ordered a wholesale reconsideration of his policy for the second time in six months, without stating an intelligible purpose for it or making a clear case for what prompted it. In the face of his public silence, the Obama policy on Afghanistan has to be deduced from older pronouncements, the elliptical and contradictory statements of his officials, and meeting notes, like this passage reported by WaPo:

One question at the core of the [administration’s] debate is whether the military benefit of sending additional U.S. combat forces to Afghanistan would outweigh the propaganda victory such a deployment would give the Taliban, which appeals to the public with messages of resistance to the foreign occupation.

It was clear during the Bush years that absurd propositions like this one — that the Taliban would have us right where they want us if we sent more troops — got only the consideration they deserved. There was a constant posture, an irreducible policy commitment, by which to predict the fate of such debating points. Obama’s signals, however, are Delphic in their ambiguity, and each signal from his subordinates and their deliberations are correspondingly more significant. What we may be seeing soon is the “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?” signal McChrystal was warned about — coming, in this case, from our NATO allies and the American people.

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Another Day in Israel

The Palestinian Authority is condemning Israel for restricting access to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. In fact, there is a call to arms of sorts: “We call on the Palestinian public to confront Israel and its plans, that are intended to prevent the Palestinian people from fulfilling their aspirations of establishing a Palestinian state in the occupied territories,” the PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad announced. What’s more, the PA condemned “Israel’s attempts to conduct Jewish prayer services in the Aqsa compound” and calls on the entire world “to force Israel to halt is efforts to Jewify the city.” “Jewify”? That’s a subtle touch. What behind this?

Well, it seems that Israeli police decided to restrict access — to those under 50 years old (terrorist-profiling has its benefits, no little old ladies to be bothered there) — because “wheelbarrows filled with rocks had been discovered throughout the Aqsa Mosque compound on Sunday.” According to the JPost report:

Palestinians had filled the wheelbarrows with stones and bricks in preparation for riots in the Old City, police assessed. The discovery of the wheelbarrows, in addition to intelligence information and the call on Palestinians to “come and defend” Al-Aqsa, led the police to restrict entrance to the Temple Mount.

The Orthodox Union put out a statement condemning the PA’s actions, noting that this all occurs during the joyous festival of Sukkot. Peace Now chimes in with a sniveling call to stop the violence, unwilling to identify who the rock gatherers were. Israel must be condemned, you see, for being unhelpful in the peace process. (Is the rock-throwing part of that process?) No word from the Obama administration yet. I’m sure there is an East Jerusalem apartment building somewhere occupying their focus.

The Palestinian Authority is condemning Israel for restricting access to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. In fact, there is a call to arms of sorts: “We call on the Palestinian public to confront Israel and its plans, that are intended to prevent the Palestinian people from fulfilling their aspirations of establishing a Palestinian state in the occupied territories,” the PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad announced. What’s more, the PA condemned “Israel’s attempts to conduct Jewish prayer services in the Aqsa compound” and calls on the entire world “to force Israel to halt is efforts to Jewify the city.” “Jewify”? That’s a subtle touch. What behind this?

Well, it seems that Israeli police decided to restrict access — to those under 50 years old (terrorist-profiling has its benefits, no little old ladies to be bothered there) — because “wheelbarrows filled with rocks had been discovered throughout the Aqsa Mosque compound on Sunday.” According to the JPost report:

Palestinians had filled the wheelbarrows with stones and bricks in preparation for riots in the Old City, police assessed. The discovery of the wheelbarrows, in addition to intelligence information and the call on Palestinians to “come and defend” Al-Aqsa, led the police to restrict entrance to the Temple Mount.

The Orthodox Union put out a statement condemning the PA’s actions, noting that this all occurs during the joyous festival of Sukkot. Peace Now chimes in with a sniveling call to stop the violence, unwilling to identify who the rock gatherers were. Israel must be condemned, you see, for being unhelpful in the peace process. (Is the rock-throwing part of that process?) No word from the Obama administration yet. I’m sure there is an East Jerusalem apartment building somewhere occupying their focus.

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Re: Congress Spins Its Wheels, Delays Real Reform

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s column swiping at fellow Republicans has hit a nerve. Multiple Republican offices, several of which have themselves worked rather diligently on pro-market health-care reforms, are peeved. Rep. Tom Price’s office went so far as to put out a compilation of health-care proposals already made by House Republicans.

One Hill staffer sends me a note pointing out that “the speech [Rep. Charles] Boustany delivered following Obama’s health care address to Congress included many of the same ideas that Jindal talks about in his piece, and that’s because House Republicans have been offering those ideas up almost all year long.”

And yet another tells me that “missing was what most GOP have begun to rally around: removing the ban on purchasing health insurance across state lines. I think he was getting at that with his point on portability, but the best weapon we have against the public option is interstate competition — it’s pro-freedom, doesn’t cost a trillion dollars, and offers thousands of competitors to Americans’ current insurer instead of just one with the public option.”

Moreover, both pundits and congressional staffers object to a very un-conservative idea on Jindal’s list: insurance regulation mandating coverage for pre-existing illnesses.

Obscured in all this are some of the very good ideas that Jindal laid out, for which there is consensus among conservatives. But as with his speech to the nation in February, Jindal seems to have tripped himself up on the delivery.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s column swiping at fellow Republicans has hit a nerve. Multiple Republican offices, several of which have themselves worked rather diligently on pro-market health-care reforms, are peeved. Rep. Tom Price’s office went so far as to put out a compilation of health-care proposals already made by House Republicans.

One Hill staffer sends me a note pointing out that “the speech [Rep. Charles] Boustany delivered following Obama’s health care address to Congress included many of the same ideas that Jindal talks about in his piece, and that’s because House Republicans have been offering those ideas up almost all year long.”

And yet another tells me that “missing was what most GOP have begun to rally around: removing the ban on purchasing health insurance across state lines. I think he was getting at that with his point on portability, but the best weapon we have against the public option is interstate competition — it’s pro-freedom, doesn’t cost a trillion dollars, and offers thousands of competitors to Americans’ current insurer instead of just one with the public option.”

Moreover, both pundits and congressional staffers object to a very un-conservative idea on Jindal’s list: insurance regulation mandating coverage for pre-existing illnesses.

Obscured in all this are some of the very good ideas that Jindal laid out, for which there is consensus among conservatives. But as with his speech to the nation in February, Jindal seems to have tripped himself up on the delivery.

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Re: Who’s Rooting Against America?

Pete, you’ve spotted another outbreak of double standards on the Left, which is becoming all too common. But why should we be rooting for the Olympics? Sure, Chicago politicians stood to benefit, but what about the rest of us — or even the people who live there? The Washington Post — hardly a bastion of Obama-bashing — looked at the Olympic myths and concluded that the Games never pay for themselves, don’t deliver a job boost for the host city, don’t result in a net boost to tourism, don’t permanently change the landscape of the host city, and don’t result in any permanent increase in sports participation for the host country.

It is, however, a huge ego boost for the politicians who go about overpromising and overhyping the long-term benefits of the Olympics. So if conservatives would rather not take an event that is a net cost (sometimes in the billions of dollars) to the U.S., then perhaps they aren’t rooting against America but are rooting for some sobriety about our international priorities, something that is in short supply.

It was, after all, not the Games that most conservatives groused about but the misuse of the president’s prestige and the symbolism of a misdirected and egocentric sales job. Funny how conservatives are pleading with Obama not to Jimmy Carterize himself — stand up to the Russians, don’t contradict himself on Afghanistan, don’t be upstaged by the French on Iran — while liberals are all too happy to let him advertise his spinelessness for all to see.  It is, as Pete points out, a matter of perspective. Liberals obsess over the Games, I suspect, not because they are entranced with the idea of Chicago running up a debt but because they wanted Obama to finally win something. For my money, let him win the war and set out to sell the world on America as a shining city on the hill, not the coolest sports venue.

Pete, you’ve spotted another outbreak of double standards on the Left, which is becoming all too common. But why should we be rooting for the Olympics? Sure, Chicago politicians stood to benefit, but what about the rest of us — or even the people who live there? The Washington Post — hardly a bastion of Obama-bashing — looked at the Olympic myths and concluded that the Games never pay for themselves, don’t deliver a job boost for the host city, don’t result in a net boost to tourism, don’t permanently change the landscape of the host city, and don’t result in any permanent increase in sports participation for the host country.

It is, however, a huge ego boost for the politicians who go about overpromising and overhyping the long-term benefits of the Olympics. So if conservatives would rather not take an event that is a net cost (sometimes in the billions of dollars) to the U.S., then perhaps they aren’t rooting against America but are rooting for some sobriety about our international priorities, something that is in short supply.

It was, after all, not the Games that most conservatives groused about but the misuse of the president’s prestige and the symbolism of a misdirected and egocentric sales job. Funny how conservatives are pleading with Obama not to Jimmy Carterize himself — stand up to the Russians, don’t contradict himself on Afghanistan, don’t be upstaged by the French on Iran — while liberals are all too happy to let him advertise his spinelessness for all to see.  It is, as Pete points out, a matter of perspective. Liberals obsess over the Games, I suspect, not because they are entranced with the idea of Chicago running up a debt but because they wanted Obama to finally win something. For my money, let him win the war and set out to sell the world on America as a shining city on the hill, not the coolest sports venue.

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Who Is Rooting Against America?

Democrats — increasingly desperate as their political troubles mount and in need of finding a political enemy — have decided to go after Republicans and conservatives who were delighted that President Obama’s appeal to the IOC on behalf of Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid failed. “Some of these people are starting to put politics first and country second,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “The American people are starting to wonder if they are rooting against America,” he added.

The New York Times’s Paul Krugman and Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos have added their calm, elegant, and reasoned voices to the discussion as well (“So when did wingnuts start cheering against America?” Moulitsas wrote. “Their unbridled joy at losing out to Brazil is a bit unseemly, isn’t it? ‘America , f— yeah!’ has become ‘F— America, Yeah!’ ”).

Now that is rich, isn’t it? The head of the Democratic party, Barack Obama, has engaged in an unprecedented apology tour for America since he was sworn into office. He has slammed our nation in Europe, in Cairo, before the UN, and in several others places. Has it dawned on Democrats that the IOC might have turned down Chicago because of the portrait of the country painted by Barack Obama? If you took Obama’s word for it, this is in many respects a very unpleasant nation guilty of multiple serious sins, both from long ago and just prior to noon on January 20, 2009.

In addition — and the Politico story alludes to this topic — Democrats opposed the surge in Iraq, which was an understandable if terribly unwise thing to do. But they also intentionally downplayed its success even when its evidence became indisputable (I documented this here and here). Any disinterested analysis of the debate will show, I think, that many Democrats misrepresented the facts in order to force an American withdrawal from Iraq, a war they had grown to hate, waged by a president they had come to loathe. The results of their efforts would have been a historic American defeat. It was among the most dispiriting developments I have ever witnessed in American politics. So Democrats should be very careful when throwing out the “rooting against America” charge. The Olympics is not a terribly important event in the life of this nation; losing a war, however, is.

Democrats — increasingly desperate as their political troubles mount and in need of finding a political enemy — have decided to go after Republicans and conservatives who were delighted that President Obama’s appeal to the IOC on behalf of Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid failed. “Some of these people are starting to put politics first and country second,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “The American people are starting to wonder if they are rooting against America,” he added.

The New York Times’s Paul Krugman and Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos have added their calm, elegant, and reasoned voices to the discussion as well (“So when did wingnuts start cheering against America?” Moulitsas wrote. “Their unbridled joy at losing out to Brazil is a bit unseemly, isn’t it? ‘America , f— yeah!’ has become ‘F— America, Yeah!’ ”).

Now that is rich, isn’t it? The head of the Democratic party, Barack Obama, has engaged in an unprecedented apology tour for America since he was sworn into office. He has slammed our nation in Europe, in Cairo, before the UN, and in several others places. Has it dawned on Democrats that the IOC might have turned down Chicago because of the portrait of the country painted by Barack Obama? If you took Obama’s word for it, this is in many respects a very unpleasant nation guilty of multiple serious sins, both from long ago and just prior to noon on January 20, 2009.

In addition — and the Politico story alludes to this topic — Democrats opposed the surge in Iraq, which was an understandable if terribly unwise thing to do. But they also intentionally downplayed its success even when its evidence became indisputable (I documented this here and here). Any disinterested analysis of the debate will show, I think, that many Democrats misrepresented the facts in order to force an American withdrawal from Iraq, a war they had grown to hate, waged by a president they had come to loathe. The results of their efforts would have been a historic American defeat. It was among the most dispiriting developments I have ever witnessed in American politics. So Democrats should be very careful when throwing out the “rooting against America” charge. The Olympics is not a terribly important event in the life of this nation; losing a war, however, is.

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Re: Carter Redux

Max, in addition to the determination to evade the world’s threats as well as the president’s own stated objectives in Afghanistan, Dionne’s column is noteworthy for its endorsement of sloth as a desirable characteristic of foreign-policy formulation.

When the Iraq war was bogging down, he and others on the Left were screaming, rightly so, for a change of course. Quagmire was the oft-repeated characterization. George W. Bush was clueless, unaware that brave young men and women were being sent out to die with no rhyme or reason while precious time and lives were lost. It was immoral, they argued, to have forces in the field engaged in combat with a losing strategy. Time is of the essence when we’ve determined that the current approach isn’t working, because those fighting on our behalf shouldn’t be sent out to risk their lives in an ill-conceived strategy.

But like so much of the Left’s rhetoric (the “good war,” “don’t fight wars on the cheap,” etc.), everything changes with the occupant of the White House. All that heartfelt sense of urgency is now gone. There is a higher priority — shielding the president from the tough call he must make. Take your time, Mr. President. You’ve got all the time in the world. Don’t rush yourself. You have many things on your plate. Well, it’s enlightening to find out that’s how Dionne and his ilk think about national security. Unfortunately, one suspects that’s precisely how the White House sees it, too.

Max, in addition to the determination to evade the world’s threats as well as the president’s own stated objectives in Afghanistan, Dionne’s column is noteworthy for its endorsement of sloth as a desirable characteristic of foreign-policy formulation.

When the Iraq war was bogging down, he and others on the Left were screaming, rightly so, for a change of course. Quagmire was the oft-repeated characterization. George W. Bush was clueless, unaware that brave young men and women were being sent out to die with no rhyme or reason while precious time and lives were lost. It was immoral, they argued, to have forces in the field engaged in combat with a losing strategy. Time is of the essence when we’ve determined that the current approach isn’t working, because those fighting on our behalf shouldn’t be sent out to risk their lives in an ill-conceived strategy.

But like so much of the Left’s rhetoric (the “good war,” “don’t fight wars on the cheap,” etc.), everything changes with the occupant of the White House. All that heartfelt sense of urgency is now gone. There is a higher priority — shielding the president from the tough call he must make. Take your time, Mr. President. You’ve got all the time in the world. Don’t rush yourself. You have many things on your plate. Well, it’s enlightening to find out that’s how Dionne and his ilk think about national security. Unfortunately, one suspects that’s precisely how the White House sees it, too.

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Jones Isn’t Helping

National Security Adviser James Jones’s appearance on CNN has left both conservatives and liberals aghast. The Left wants to know if he really meant what he said about doing nothing on “don’t ask, don’t tell.” (Let me posit that it would be bad form to decide that before an Afghanistan war strategy was constructed.) Meanwhile, conservatives are somewhat taken aback, even for a Jones outing, by his Iran and Afghanistan comments.

Two of these statements are worth revisiting. First, Jones pronounced that the military will be delivering a greater range of options to the president. But why? Isn’t this the politicization of intelligence and military strategy? The generals told him what they thought and why a pure counterterrorism gambit would fail, just like it did in Iraq. So why order up another one, if not to give the president cover to do what he apparently wants to do anyway, which is to abandon his own commitment to Afghanistan? As one unnamed and obviously exasperated military leader told CNN:

The general would have mentioned a counterterrorism approach in his assessment if he thought it was viable. According to the official, McChrystal has been consistent in interviews that he thinks a fully resourced counterinsurgency strategy is the proper approach. “He does not support a counterterrorism strategy,” the official said. “He believes counterinsurgency is the best solution.”

Then there is Jones’s pronouncement on Iran. He says we are sticking by the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which said Iran discontinued any military nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency and our allies know better, but Jones is sticking with that 2007 estimate, at least for now. But wait: Doesn’t this make Obama out to be a liar or at least badly misinformed? He went public (albeit under duress)on the Qom site, declaring that “the size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program. Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow — endangering the global non-proliferation regime, denying its own people access to the opportunity they deserve, and threatening the stability and security of the region and the world.” So who’s right — Jones and the NIE report or the president?

Those on the Right who don’t have confidence in Jones aren’t going to be heartened by this outing. But those on the Left might want to start considering if there isn’t someone who might do a better job of concealing the administration’s disarray.

National Security Adviser James Jones’s appearance on CNN has left both conservatives and liberals aghast. The Left wants to know if he really meant what he said about doing nothing on “don’t ask, don’t tell.” (Let me posit that it would be bad form to decide that before an Afghanistan war strategy was constructed.) Meanwhile, conservatives are somewhat taken aback, even for a Jones outing, by his Iran and Afghanistan comments.

Two of these statements are worth revisiting. First, Jones pronounced that the military will be delivering a greater range of options to the president. But why? Isn’t this the politicization of intelligence and military strategy? The generals told him what they thought and why a pure counterterrorism gambit would fail, just like it did in Iraq. So why order up another one, if not to give the president cover to do what he apparently wants to do anyway, which is to abandon his own commitment to Afghanistan? As one unnamed and obviously exasperated military leader told CNN:

The general would have mentioned a counterterrorism approach in his assessment if he thought it was viable. According to the official, McChrystal has been consistent in interviews that he thinks a fully resourced counterinsurgency strategy is the proper approach. “He does not support a counterterrorism strategy,” the official said. “He believes counterinsurgency is the best solution.”

Then there is Jones’s pronouncement on Iran. He says we are sticking by the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which said Iran discontinued any military nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency and our allies know better, but Jones is sticking with that 2007 estimate, at least for now. But wait: Doesn’t this make Obama out to be a liar or at least badly misinformed? He went public (albeit under duress)on the Qom site, declaring that “the size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program. Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow — endangering the global non-proliferation regime, denying its own people access to the opportunity they deserve, and threatening the stability and security of the region and the world.” So who’s right — Jones and the NIE report or the president?

Those on the Right who don’t have confidence in Jones aren’t going to be heartened by this outing. But those on the Left might want to start considering if there isn’t someone who might do a better job of concealing the administration’s disarray.

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Carter Redux

Give E.J. Dionne points for honesty. In his Washington Post column, he makes the argument that few Democrats dare speak aloud. In essence, he writes, we should accept a high risk of failure in Afghanistan because trying to win the war will take away momentum from Obama’s domestic agenda, notably health-care reform. “The last thing he should do is rush into a new set of obligations in Afghanistan that would come to define his presidency more than any victory he wins on health care,” Dionne concludes.

If the president reaches a similar conclusion, he will define his presidency as “Carter Redux” — the last thing that Democrats interested in the long-term health of their party should want.

Give E.J. Dionne points for honesty. In his Washington Post column, he makes the argument that few Democrats dare speak aloud. In essence, he writes, we should accept a high risk of failure in Afghanistan because trying to win the war will take away momentum from Obama’s domestic agenda, notably health-care reform. “The last thing he should do is rush into a new set of obligations in Afghanistan that would come to define his presidency more than any victory he wins on health care,” Dionne concludes.

If the president reaches a similar conclusion, he will define his presidency as “Carter Redux” — the last thing that Democrats interested in the long-term health of their party should want.

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McChrystal’s Duty

Ah, for the days when Democrats were castigating President Bush for supposedly not listening to his generals. See, for example, this Democratic National Committee press release from December 20, 2006, which claimed:

After insisting that troop levels in Iraq would be determined by the commanders in the field, President Bush said today during his news conference that the recommendations of his military leaders are just one of many factors that will determine whether he orders an upsurge of thousands more American troops in Iraq. President Bush is reportedly leaning toward a surge, despite reports that the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously oppose Bush’s proposal to send more troops to Iraq without a clear mission.

But indeed President Bush was listening to some generals on the surge — generals like Odierno and Petraeus, even if their advice did run counter to those of other generals, such as Casey and Abizaid. But now Democrats seem to think that not only should they not bother listening to the generals but that the generals are actually exceeding their authority by making their views known.

The liberal Yale professor Bruce Ackerman, in an op-ed in the Washington Post, takes General McChrystal to task for making “public pronouncements” (such as his comments in London) that a counterterrorism strategy in Afghanistan wouldn’t work. He believes this is evidence of McChrystal going public to “pressure the president . . . to adopt his strategy.” “This is a plain violation of the principle of civilian control,” he fumes.

Ackerman would have a point if McChrystal were acting contrary to his orders or publicly disagreeing with his orders. But he hasn’t. He has simply commented on the best way to carry out his orders. The intent of the commander in chief was made clear on March 27, when President Obama announced a “comprehensive strategy” for dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan. His aim, he said, was “to enhance the military, governance, and economic capacity of Afghanistan and Pakistan” and to “reverse the Taliban’s gains and promote a more capable and accountable Afghan government.” “If the Afghan government falls to the Taliban or allows Al Qaeda to go unchallenged,” Obama said, “that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can.”

All that McChrystal is doing is telling the president — and the public — what it will take to prevent that dire scenario from unfolding. There is no indication that he violated any presidential or Pentagon directive by speaking in London; if he had, surely we would have heard about it by now. The message he is sending may not be one the president wants to hear. No doubt, Obama would prefer to achieve our ends without having to send more troops, but McChrystal’s professional military judgment is that more troops will be required to avoid defeat, and it is his responsibility — not only to the commander in chief but also to the troops under his command — to tell the truth. The general is not setting new policy; he is merely offering his judgment about what it will take to implement the existing policy. If Obama wants to change the policy, that’s his prerogative, but McChrystal would be shying away from his duty if he failed to note that a different strategy would be unlikely to accomplish the president’s objectives.

Ah, for the days when Democrats were castigating President Bush for supposedly not listening to his generals. See, for example, this Democratic National Committee press release from December 20, 2006, which claimed:

After insisting that troop levels in Iraq would be determined by the commanders in the field, President Bush said today during his news conference that the recommendations of his military leaders are just one of many factors that will determine whether he orders an upsurge of thousands more American troops in Iraq. President Bush is reportedly leaning toward a surge, despite reports that the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously oppose Bush’s proposal to send more troops to Iraq without a clear mission.

But indeed President Bush was listening to some generals on the surge — generals like Odierno and Petraeus, even if their advice did run counter to those of other generals, such as Casey and Abizaid. But now Democrats seem to think that not only should they not bother listening to the generals but that the generals are actually exceeding their authority by making their views known.

The liberal Yale professor Bruce Ackerman, in an op-ed in the Washington Post, takes General McChrystal to task for making “public pronouncements” (such as his comments in London) that a counterterrorism strategy in Afghanistan wouldn’t work. He believes this is evidence of McChrystal going public to “pressure the president . . . to adopt his strategy.” “This is a plain violation of the principle of civilian control,” he fumes.

Ackerman would have a point if McChrystal were acting contrary to his orders or publicly disagreeing with his orders. But he hasn’t. He has simply commented on the best way to carry out his orders. The intent of the commander in chief was made clear on March 27, when President Obama announced a “comprehensive strategy” for dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan. His aim, he said, was “to enhance the military, governance, and economic capacity of Afghanistan and Pakistan” and to “reverse the Taliban’s gains and promote a more capable and accountable Afghan government.” “If the Afghan government falls to the Taliban or allows Al Qaeda to go unchallenged,” Obama said, “that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can.”

All that McChrystal is doing is telling the president — and the public — what it will take to prevent that dire scenario from unfolding. There is no indication that he violated any presidential or Pentagon directive by speaking in London; if he had, surely we would have heard about it by now. The message he is sending may not be one the president wants to hear. No doubt, Obama would prefer to achieve our ends without having to send more troops, but McChrystal’s professional military judgment is that more troops will be required to avoid defeat, and it is his responsibility — not only to the commander in chief but also to the troops under his command — to tell the truth. The general is not setting new policy; he is merely offering his judgment about what it will take to implement the existing policy. If Obama wants to change the policy, that’s his prerogative, but McChrystal would be shying away from his duty if he failed to note that a different strategy would be unlikely to accomplish the president’s objectives.

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How’s the Baucus Plan Going?

Sen. Max Baucus is having a tough time selling his health-care plan. On the right, Sen. John Cornyn is doing all he can to point out that it’s one big tax hike — and a repudiation of the president’s campaign pledge to exempt those making less than $250,000 from a tax increase. He noted pointedly on ABC’s This Week, “The president can’t keep his promise under the bill that’s currently pending in the Finance Committee or any of the other bills that are currently in front of us.” And on the other side of the aisle, so far, at least two Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee are withholding support for any bill that doesn’t include a public option.

So while there is plenty of buzz about moving toward votes on the floor of the Senate and House, the question remains what it is they’re all going to vote on. The list of “undecided” issues is almost comic — how to pay for it, whether to force Americans to buy insurance they can’t afford, whether to force employers to cover their employees, how to subsidize individuals’ insurance purchases, how to curb rising costs. Everything else they have wired, I guess.

What has Obama accomplished by tossing this into the lap of Congress? Well, he’s given everyone plenty of time to decide they can’t decide on much of anything at all. And it’s given the voters a newfound appreciation for the phrase “First, do no harm.”

Sen. Max Baucus is having a tough time selling his health-care plan. On the right, Sen. John Cornyn is doing all he can to point out that it’s one big tax hike — and a repudiation of the president’s campaign pledge to exempt those making less than $250,000 from a tax increase. He noted pointedly on ABC’s This Week, “The president can’t keep his promise under the bill that’s currently pending in the Finance Committee or any of the other bills that are currently in front of us.” And on the other side of the aisle, so far, at least two Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee are withholding support for any bill that doesn’t include a public option.

So while there is plenty of buzz about moving toward votes on the floor of the Senate and House, the question remains what it is they’re all going to vote on. The list of “undecided” issues is almost comic — how to pay for it, whether to force Americans to buy insurance they can’t afford, whether to force employers to cover their employees, how to subsidize individuals’ insurance purchases, how to curb rising costs. Everything else they have wired, I guess.

What has Obama accomplished by tossing this into the lap of Congress? Well, he’s given everyone plenty of time to decide they can’t decide on much of anything at all. And it’s given the voters a newfound appreciation for the phrase “First, do no harm.”

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Lagging or Leading?

Although the Obama team doesn’t spend much time talking about it (except on days when new numbers come out and the mandatory tut-tutting and expressions of “disappointment” pour forth), many outside observers are focusing on the rising unemployment numbers. It isn’t, many now suggest, just a matter of a lagging indicator; it’s a leading indicator in a sense — that things won’t be getting better anytime soon. Mark Zandi from Moody’s points out that the “climb in the September rate to 9.8 percent, double the level at the start of last year, leaves the U.S. saddled with about 15 million people out of work and with limited prospects.” Zandi also notes that this is going to act as a brake on housing and consumption. And plenty of others agree that it’s not just a lagging indicator that will eventually bounce back as the economy roars back to health. (“It is also a signal of future pressures on consumption, housing and the country’s social.”)

A stunted recovery means a permanently lowered rate of growth and millions who will remain chronically underemployed or out of the job market altogether. Alan Greenspan might not have been the guru we thought he was on housing bubbles, but even he can now spot the long-term consequences for the economy, including the “irretrievable loss” of job skills of those who don’t enter or progress through the job market.

And yet the administration does nothing to address the job situation. Well, that’s not fair. Obama supports lots of measures, but they unfortunately make the situation worse. As John Steele Gordon and Bill Kristol have pointed out, the rate of youth unemployment is skyrocketing, in no small part due to the rising minimum wage, which makes entry-level jobs even more scarce. Combined with planned mandates, tax hikes, and mega-regulatory schemes, it’s not hard to see why hiring will remain anemic.

The elections of 2010 may be about corruption or health care or the debt. They also may be about jobs. And for once it’s the Democrats who will be on the defensive as they explain why they have spent so much time and effort making life miserable for employers.

Although the Obama team doesn’t spend much time talking about it (except on days when new numbers come out and the mandatory tut-tutting and expressions of “disappointment” pour forth), many outside observers are focusing on the rising unemployment numbers. It isn’t, many now suggest, just a matter of a lagging indicator; it’s a leading indicator in a sense — that things won’t be getting better anytime soon. Mark Zandi from Moody’s points out that the “climb in the September rate to 9.8 percent, double the level at the start of last year, leaves the U.S. saddled with about 15 million people out of work and with limited prospects.” Zandi also notes that this is going to act as a brake on housing and consumption. And plenty of others agree that it’s not just a lagging indicator that will eventually bounce back as the economy roars back to health. (“It is also a signal of future pressures on consumption, housing and the country’s social.”)

A stunted recovery means a permanently lowered rate of growth and millions who will remain chronically underemployed or out of the job market altogether. Alan Greenspan might not have been the guru we thought he was on housing bubbles, but even he can now spot the long-term consequences for the economy, including the “irretrievable loss” of job skills of those who don’t enter or progress through the job market.

And yet the administration does nothing to address the job situation. Well, that’s not fair. Obama supports lots of measures, but they unfortunately make the situation worse. As John Steele Gordon and Bill Kristol have pointed out, the rate of youth unemployment is skyrocketing, in no small part due to the rising minimum wage, which makes entry-level jobs even more scarce. Combined with planned mandates, tax hikes, and mega-regulatory schemes, it’s not hard to see why hiring will remain anemic.

The elections of 2010 may be about corruption or health care or the debt. They also may be about jobs. And for once it’s the Democrats who will be on the defensive as they explain why they have spent so much time and effort making life miserable for employers.

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Selling Our Souls

We are reminded by this report in the Washington Post that “in an attempt to gain favor with China, the United States pressured Tibetan representatives to postpone a meeting between the Dalai Lama and President Obama until after Obama’s summit with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao.” This, the Post notes, is one of many steps to “soft-pedal” human rights. Hillary Clinton we are to believe gained “much goodwill” during her visit earlier in the year by pronouncing that human rights wouldn’t “interfere” with other issues.

When confronted with the administration’s embarrassingly unctuous behavior, the Obama spinners resort to even more embarrassing excuses, explaining it is “counter-factual to assume that a meeting had been postponed” with the Dalai Lama. And once again we are left gaping at the disingenuosness of an indefensible policy and pondering how a Jimmy Carter–like approach to our adversaries, minus any affection for human rights, is going to work in practice.

Well, for starters, we have yet to see positive results from all that “goodwill.” The Chinese have yet to lift a finger to reel in North Korea, and they remain opposed to sanctions against Iran. So what are we buying by selling out human rights and democracy? Nothing so far. As Robert Barnett of Columbia University tells the Post: “The Chinese must be falling over themselves with astonishment at what Western diplomats will give them without being asked. I don’t know what the poker analogy would be. ‘Please, see all my cards and take my money, too?’ ”

This is not simply bad poker-playing, although the compulsion to give bargaining chips away with nothing in return is not limited to our China policy. We are abandoning the moral basis and the historic underpinnings of American foreign policy. Obama doesn’t seem to think very highly of America and is turning his negative presuppositions into self-fulfilling prophecies. America’s willingness to bow and scrap before dictators and unwillingness to stand up for friends and ideological allies will lose the respect and affection of those whose opinion we should value — without obtaining the respect of those who oppose us.

In doing so, we are throwing to the wolves advocates of democracy and human rights (in China, Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba, among others). Those who might one day succeed in toppling despotic regimes or in forcing changes in their policies are weakened and undermined, and their morale is savaged, when the world’s leading democracy declares it has more important things to discuss.

Even if the Obama crew doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism and has no faith in democracy advocates, one might at least expect them to do a better job of faking it. Instead the adminstration positively trumpets its own unwillingness to defend American interests and signals that, in every negotiation and encounter, our despotic adversaries’ concerns take precedence: they can behave anyway they please, without fear of punitive consequences from America. It is the quintessential dilemma of appeasement – capitulation brings worse behavior by our foes, which forces further capitulations. A destructive cycle of increasingly bold misbehavior by our adversaries begins.

So this is what Obama’s smart diplomacy looks like. It may be change, but without much hope. And it seems anything but smart.

We are reminded by this report in the Washington Post that “in an attempt to gain favor with China, the United States pressured Tibetan representatives to postpone a meeting between the Dalai Lama and President Obama until after Obama’s summit with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao.” This, the Post notes, is one of many steps to “soft-pedal” human rights. Hillary Clinton we are to believe gained “much goodwill” during her visit earlier in the year by pronouncing that human rights wouldn’t “interfere” with other issues.

When confronted with the administration’s embarrassingly unctuous behavior, the Obama spinners resort to even more embarrassing excuses, explaining it is “counter-factual to assume that a meeting had been postponed” with the Dalai Lama. And once again we are left gaping at the disingenuosness of an indefensible policy and pondering how a Jimmy Carter–like approach to our adversaries, minus any affection for human rights, is going to work in practice.

Well, for starters, we have yet to see positive results from all that “goodwill.” The Chinese have yet to lift a finger to reel in North Korea, and they remain opposed to sanctions against Iran. So what are we buying by selling out human rights and democracy? Nothing so far. As Robert Barnett of Columbia University tells the Post: “The Chinese must be falling over themselves with astonishment at what Western diplomats will give them without being asked. I don’t know what the poker analogy would be. ‘Please, see all my cards and take my money, too?’ ”

This is not simply bad poker-playing, although the compulsion to give bargaining chips away with nothing in return is not limited to our China policy. We are abandoning the moral basis and the historic underpinnings of American foreign policy. Obama doesn’t seem to think very highly of America and is turning his negative presuppositions into self-fulfilling prophecies. America’s willingness to bow and scrap before dictators and unwillingness to stand up for friends and ideological allies will lose the respect and affection of those whose opinion we should value — without obtaining the respect of those who oppose us.

In doing so, we are throwing to the wolves advocates of democracy and human rights (in China, Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba, among others). Those who might one day succeed in toppling despotic regimes or in forcing changes in their policies are weakened and undermined, and their morale is savaged, when the world’s leading democracy declares it has more important things to discuss.

Even if the Obama crew doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism and has no faith in democracy advocates, one might at least expect them to do a better job of faking it. Instead the adminstration positively trumpets its own unwillingness to defend American interests and signals that, in every negotiation and encounter, our despotic adversaries’ concerns take precedence: they can behave anyway they please, without fear of punitive consequences from America. It is the quintessential dilemma of appeasement – capitulation brings worse behavior by our foes, which forces further capitulations. A destructive cycle of increasingly bold misbehavior by our adversaries begins.

So this is what Obama’s smart diplomacy looks like. It may be change, but without much hope. And it seems anything but smart.

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Congress Spins Its Wheels, Delays Real Reform

Gov. Bobby Jindal (who was widely regarded as a GOP whiz kid before he appeared to be too much of a kid while responding to the president’s address to Congress back in February) is the latest to suggest it’s time to rip up the Democrats’ grandiose plan(s) for a government takeover of health care. After taking an unwarranted swipe at his fellow Republicans for lacking health-care ideas (is he truly unaware of Rep. Paul Ryan’s efforts? or the plans of Rep. Tom Price and Sen. Jim DeMint?), he sets out 10 good ideas, including voluntary purchasing pools, portability, tort reform, tax-free health-care spending accounts, and refundable tax credits. (And yes, many if not all his proposals are in the Ryan, Price, and DeMint proposals.)

But aside from the one-upsmanship among Republicans (“No one else has ideas but me!”), one is struck by how simple and inexpensive many of these ideas would be to implement. Yes, some of Jindal’s items duplicate the Democrats’ platitudes — leaving open how much they would cost and how government is to go about making it all come true (e.g., electronic record-keeping). But there is plenty to work with if the idea is to improve the existing system by addressing some significant and valid complaints (about portability and pre-existing exclusions, for example). If the Democrats’ rococo legislative artistry melts down, there is much that can be done that would likely garner large bipartisan majorities and that might also provide the president with some badly needed face-saving.

We aren’t going to get there, of course, as long as gigantic schemes keep swirling about Congress and Obama insists we have to fix the system once and for all. When liberals like Juan Williams complain that critics of ObamaCare are defenders of the status quo and simply don’t get that “Americans want something done in terms of improving the condition and the ability to get health insurance at a reasonable rate in this country,” they have it exactly wrong. Spending endless time and energy on bills without significant public support (in part because they require massive taxes in a recession) is, in fact, doing nothing — at least nothing productive — to increase access to health care at a reasonable rate.

It’s only once the unworkable and unpopular monstrous health-care plans finally go by the wayside that we can get to the list of doable items that Jindal (and Price, DeMint, Ryan, and others) have assembled. But for now, Democrats remain convinced that there’s one grand health-care bill to be passed. So nothing much gets done.

Gov. Bobby Jindal (who was widely regarded as a GOP whiz kid before he appeared to be too much of a kid while responding to the president’s address to Congress back in February) is the latest to suggest it’s time to rip up the Democrats’ grandiose plan(s) for a government takeover of health care. After taking an unwarranted swipe at his fellow Republicans for lacking health-care ideas (is he truly unaware of Rep. Paul Ryan’s efforts? or the plans of Rep. Tom Price and Sen. Jim DeMint?), he sets out 10 good ideas, including voluntary purchasing pools, portability, tort reform, tax-free health-care spending accounts, and refundable tax credits. (And yes, many if not all his proposals are in the Ryan, Price, and DeMint proposals.)

But aside from the one-upsmanship among Republicans (“No one else has ideas but me!”), one is struck by how simple and inexpensive many of these ideas would be to implement. Yes, some of Jindal’s items duplicate the Democrats’ platitudes — leaving open how much they would cost and how government is to go about making it all come true (e.g., electronic record-keeping). But there is plenty to work with if the idea is to improve the existing system by addressing some significant and valid complaints (about portability and pre-existing exclusions, for example). If the Democrats’ rococo legislative artistry melts down, there is much that can be done that would likely garner large bipartisan majorities and that might also provide the president with some badly needed face-saving.

We aren’t going to get there, of course, as long as gigantic schemes keep swirling about Congress and Obama insists we have to fix the system once and for all. When liberals like Juan Williams complain that critics of ObamaCare are defenders of the status quo and simply don’t get that “Americans want something done in terms of improving the condition and the ability to get health insurance at a reasonable rate in this country,” they have it exactly wrong. Spending endless time and energy on bills without significant public support (in part because they require massive taxes in a recession) is, in fact, doing nothing — at least nothing productive — to increase access to health care at a reasonable rate.

It’s only once the unworkable and unpopular monstrous health-care plans finally go by the wayside that we can get to the list of doable items that Jindal (and Price, DeMint, Ryan, and others) have assembled. But for now, Democrats remain convinced that there’s one grand health-care bill to be passed. So nothing much gets done.

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Obama’s Party Finding Its Spine?

On the subject of Iran, Obama has been stringing along the American people and our allies ever since his video valentine to the mullahs. He preached “engagement” and avoided rattling the regime after the June 12 election. He concealed the existence of the Qom enrichment facility from the UN, the American people, and our allies for as long as he could. And now he’s delighted by all the constructive chatting. No deadlines mind you. And we’re not sure if there has been a deal on sending enriched uranium to Russia – or, if there is, how we’d know how much uranium would remain. But Obama has done his part, everything humanly possible, to turn down the heat on the Iranian regime. If you wanted to delay doing anything about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a “better” approach than what we’ve seen these past nine months. (No, the Bush administration wasn’t any better, although its rhetoric was not as infuriatingly naive or obsequious.)

Nevertheless, it might be that Obama has finally used up the patience for this stall routine — even within his own party. Sen. Evan Bayh on Fox News Sunday sounded like conservative critics and his Republican colleagues when he declared that he “absolutely” has no confidence in the current talks. He explained that the Iranians “have a pattern of deception. They have a pattern of breaking agreements that they agree to.” So what should we do? Bayh isn’t into any more engagement. He declares, “They respect strength and strength alone. They’re contemptuous of weakness. So having this dialogue is good, but you’ve got to hold them to their word. What matters ultimately is not what they say but what they do.”

He’s not alone. On the same program with Bayh, Sen. Bob Casey sounded only slightly less hawkish than Bayh. But he’s also had it with endless talks: “We should not have to allow the talks to be an end in themselves. That’s why I and others have supported legislation that I know my colleagues support to provide a broad range of sanctions.” And liberal Democratic Congressman Howard Berman is sounding the alarm as well, urging that we move ahead with sanctions. Obama doesn’t allow the word sanctions to pass his lips these day (at most he says we’ll have to “move ahead” or “take action”), but he may have one or more bills sitting on his desk, whether or not he wants the bargaining leverage.

It’s unfortunate that the president sounds significantly less forceful than these Democrats. And there simply isn’t any substitute for a resolute commander in chief. The talk-and-talk-some-more option is clearly losing support in the U.S. Congress. And it has already run its course with two of our major allies. The president can’t be forced to act, but he can be encouraged — at least to put an end to the fantasy of engagement and move ahead to the “Will sanctions work?” phase.

There is plenty of reason to believe that sanctions won’t do the trick, but dispensing with the fiction that Iran can be talked out of its nuclear ambitions at a conference room in Geneva is a step in the right direction. We have wasted, thanks to Obama, most of the year. Nevertheless, those Democrats who have taken up the cause of infusing some realism and urgency into our Iran policy deserve some credit. Maybe the dithering phase will finally come to an end.

On the subject of Iran, Obama has been stringing along the American people and our allies ever since his video valentine to the mullahs. He preached “engagement” and avoided rattling the regime after the June 12 election. He concealed the existence of the Qom enrichment facility from the UN, the American people, and our allies for as long as he could. And now he’s delighted by all the constructive chatting. No deadlines mind you. And we’re not sure if there has been a deal on sending enriched uranium to Russia – or, if there is, how we’d know how much uranium would remain. But Obama has done his part, everything humanly possible, to turn down the heat on the Iranian regime. If you wanted to delay doing anything about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a “better” approach than what we’ve seen these past nine months. (No, the Bush administration wasn’t any better, although its rhetoric was not as infuriatingly naive or obsequious.)

Nevertheless, it might be that Obama has finally used up the patience for this stall routine — even within his own party. Sen. Evan Bayh on Fox News Sunday sounded like conservative critics and his Republican colleagues when he declared that he “absolutely” has no confidence in the current talks. He explained that the Iranians “have a pattern of deception. They have a pattern of breaking agreements that they agree to.” So what should we do? Bayh isn’t into any more engagement. He declares, “They respect strength and strength alone. They’re contemptuous of weakness. So having this dialogue is good, but you’ve got to hold them to their word. What matters ultimately is not what they say but what they do.”

He’s not alone. On the same program with Bayh, Sen. Bob Casey sounded only slightly less hawkish than Bayh. But he’s also had it with endless talks: “We should not have to allow the talks to be an end in themselves. That’s why I and others have supported legislation that I know my colleagues support to provide a broad range of sanctions.” And liberal Democratic Congressman Howard Berman is sounding the alarm as well, urging that we move ahead with sanctions. Obama doesn’t allow the word sanctions to pass his lips these day (at most he says we’ll have to “move ahead” or “take action”), but he may have one or more bills sitting on his desk, whether or not he wants the bargaining leverage.

It’s unfortunate that the president sounds significantly less forceful than these Democrats. And there simply isn’t any substitute for a resolute commander in chief. The talk-and-talk-some-more option is clearly losing support in the U.S. Congress. And it has already run its course with two of our major allies. The president can’t be forced to act, but he can be encouraged — at least to put an end to the fantasy of engagement and move ahead to the “Will sanctions work?” phase.

There is plenty of reason to believe that sanctions won’t do the trick, but dispensing with the fiction that Iran can be talked out of its nuclear ambitions at a conference room in Geneva is a step in the right direction. We have wasted, thanks to Obama, most of the year. Nevertheless, those Democrats who have taken up the cause of infusing some realism and urgency into our Iran policy deserve some credit. Maybe the dithering phase will finally come to an end.

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He Was Against Zelaya, Before He Was For Him

Last week, John Kerry tried to block a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from traveling to Honduras on a fact-finding mission. The committee, in the three months since Manuel Zelaya was removed from office on June 28 on order of the Honduran Supreme Court, has yet to hold a hearing on Honduras. In the meantime, it has held hearings on reform of foreign aid, climate change (twice), and East Asia maritime disputes, among other important issues.

Not so long ago, Kerry was quite concerned about the future of constitutional government in Honduras. On Friday, June 26, Kerry issued a press release saying he was “deeply disturbed” about Zelaya’s pending referendum:

Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry (D-MA) today expressed concern about the growing tension in Honduras over an unofficial vote, scheduled for Sunday, intended to build public support for rewriting the Honduran Constitution. “America values its longstanding partnership with Honduras, but a push to rewrite the constitution over the objections of Honduras’s top court, legislature, attorney general, and military is deeply disturbing,” said Chairman Kerry.

Honduras’s top court, legislature, attorney general, and military — joined by Honduran religious, business, and civic leaders – have consistently maintained that Zelaya was properly removed and properly replaced, with a member of his own party, in a 124-4 congressional vote in which every member of his party voted in favor. The interim president announced that the scheduled November presidential election to choose his successor would proceed unimpeded. Honduras had dodged a Chavez-aimed bullet.

One might have expected a follow-up press release from Kerry, expressing satisfaction that the deeply disturbing situation had been resolved in accordance with Honduran law (with the possible exception that Zelaya should have been tried after being removed from office, rather than deported). But Kerry’s next press release, released two months later, called the removal of Zelaya a “coup,” an “uncompromising power-grab,” and a “dark shadow over every aspect of preparations for the elections scheduled for November,” echoing the Obama administration party line.

For three months, the Obama administration has been locked in an untenable position, increasing threats against a small American ally seeking to abide by its own constitution and hold an election. Jamie Kirchick suggests that U.S. policy has become “a mistake in search of a rationale,” while Ross Mackenzie argues the unstated rationale is “no enemies to the left.” As Jennifer points out, Mary Anastasia O’Grady makes it clear that the implications of the Honduras issue are even broader.

The “Honduran Crisis” will one day be a case study in some graduate seminar on counterproductive foreign policy, for students who have successfully completed the introductory course on the Carter administration. Kerry’s small but illustrative contribution to the process will be noted.

Last week, John Kerry tried to block a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from traveling to Honduras on a fact-finding mission. The committee, in the three months since Manuel Zelaya was removed from office on June 28 on order of the Honduran Supreme Court, has yet to hold a hearing on Honduras. In the meantime, it has held hearings on reform of foreign aid, climate change (twice), and East Asia maritime disputes, among other important issues.

Not so long ago, Kerry was quite concerned about the future of constitutional government in Honduras. On Friday, June 26, Kerry issued a press release saying he was “deeply disturbed” about Zelaya’s pending referendum:

Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry (D-MA) today expressed concern about the growing tension in Honduras over an unofficial vote, scheduled for Sunday, intended to build public support for rewriting the Honduran Constitution. “America values its longstanding partnership with Honduras, but a push to rewrite the constitution over the objections of Honduras’s top court, legislature, attorney general, and military is deeply disturbing,” said Chairman Kerry.

Honduras’s top court, legislature, attorney general, and military — joined by Honduran religious, business, and civic leaders – have consistently maintained that Zelaya was properly removed and properly replaced, with a member of his own party, in a 124-4 congressional vote in which every member of his party voted in favor. The interim president announced that the scheduled November presidential election to choose his successor would proceed unimpeded. Honduras had dodged a Chavez-aimed bullet.

One might have expected a follow-up press release from Kerry, expressing satisfaction that the deeply disturbing situation had been resolved in accordance with Honduran law (with the possible exception that Zelaya should have been tried after being removed from office, rather than deported). But Kerry’s next press release, released two months later, called the removal of Zelaya a “coup,” an “uncompromising power-grab,” and a “dark shadow over every aspect of preparations for the elections scheduled for November,” echoing the Obama administration party line.

For three months, the Obama administration has been locked in an untenable position, increasing threats against a small American ally seeking to abide by its own constitution and hold an election. Jamie Kirchick suggests that U.S. policy has become “a mistake in search of a rationale,” while Ross Mackenzie argues the unstated rationale is “no enemies to the left.” As Jennifer points out, Mary Anastasia O’Grady makes it clear that the implications of the Honduras issue are even broader.

The “Honduran Crisis” will one day be a case study in some graduate seminar on counterproductive foreign policy, for students who have successfully completed the introductory course on the Carter administration. Kerry’s small but illustrative contribution to the process will be noted.

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It’s a Change, Certainly

Much was made of the president’s infrequent personal contact with his commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. As a result, while embarrassing himself in Copenhagen, Obama did manage to slip in less than half an hour of a chat with McChrystal. But, not to worry, we’ve been told: McChrystal sends him lots of memos.

Unfortunately, Obama’s relationship, if this report is to believed, isn’t that much better with Gen. David Petraeus. In the Obama administration, “General Petraeus’s relationship with Mr. Obama is nothing like his bond with Mr. Bush.” And we don’t see Petraeus on the Hill or out explaining our mission to the American people. Instead he’s laying low and fending off speculation that he might run for president in 2012.

All this leaves open the question as to where Obama’s military experts’ strategic advice is coming from. Unlike his opponent in the presidential campaign, the president lacks military or any significant national-security experience of his own. Who then has his ear and what knowledge are they imparting? Well, Joe Biden is very vocal. (This is not comforting, given Biden’s track record on Iraq, to those who would like to get Afghanistan right.) Perhaps sensing that he was too low on gurus and too short on any military support to reject McChrystal’s recommendation,  Obama recently made a big show of bringing in Colin Powell — who used to be in favor of using overwhelming force (he had a doctrine named after himself about not trying to fight wars on the cheap or without adequate troops) but now is among the “skeptics” of McChrystal’s counterinsurgency plan. (Powell wasn’t game on the surge either, so he gets some points for consistency.)

It’s not exactly an impressive display of expertise for a president who was going to assemble the best and the brightest in order to get the very best advice, stripped of ideology and politics. Sure enough, National Security Adviser James Jones is dispatched to assure us that politics has nothing to do with the second- and third-guessing by the White House. (We can stipulate that when a high-level adviser has to explain that its war-planning isn’t about politics, the White House has a problem.) It would be nice to hear what the substantive argument and supporting experience is for rejecting the pending and now back-burnered advice Obama has received from Admiral Mullen and Gens. Petraeus and McChrystal.

The Democrats and their cheerleaders in the punditocracy used to scream for President George W. Bush to listen to his generals. Then Bush got better generals, listened to them, and avoided defeat in Iraq. Obama, it seems, is bent on ignoring his generals. If he takes the advice of Joe Biden instead of those expert on counterinsurgency (and with a track record of getting war strategy right), the results may be disastrous not only on the battlefield but also in the court of public opinion. The public already trusts the generals more than Obama to make decisions about Afghanistan. And if Obama — based on nothing more than “I changed my mind” — rejects the advice of his military commanders, the public may wonder what exactly motivates the commander in chief and whether the best and the brightest military minds were hired just for show.

Much was made of the president’s infrequent personal contact with his commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. As a result, while embarrassing himself in Copenhagen, Obama did manage to slip in less than half an hour of a chat with McChrystal. But, not to worry, we’ve been told: McChrystal sends him lots of memos.

Unfortunately, Obama’s relationship, if this report is to believed, isn’t that much better with Gen. David Petraeus. In the Obama administration, “General Petraeus’s relationship with Mr. Obama is nothing like his bond with Mr. Bush.” And we don’t see Petraeus on the Hill or out explaining our mission to the American people. Instead he’s laying low and fending off speculation that he might run for president in 2012.

All this leaves open the question as to where Obama’s military experts’ strategic advice is coming from. Unlike his opponent in the presidential campaign, the president lacks military or any significant national-security experience of his own. Who then has his ear and what knowledge are they imparting? Well, Joe Biden is very vocal. (This is not comforting, given Biden’s track record on Iraq, to those who would like to get Afghanistan right.) Perhaps sensing that he was too low on gurus and too short on any military support to reject McChrystal’s recommendation,  Obama recently made a big show of bringing in Colin Powell — who used to be in favor of using overwhelming force (he had a doctrine named after himself about not trying to fight wars on the cheap or without adequate troops) but now is among the “skeptics” of McChrystal’s counterinsurgency plan. (Powell wasn’t game on the surge either, so he gets some points for consistency.)

It’s not exactly an impressive display of expertise for a president who was going to assemble the best and the brightest in order to get the very best advice, stripped of ideology and politics. Sure enough, National Security Adviser James Jones is dispatched to assure us that politics has nothing to do with the second- and third-guessing by the White House. (We can stipulate that when a high-level adviser has to explain that its war-planning isn’t about politics, the White House has a problem.) It would be nice to hear what the substantive argument and supporting experience is for rejecting the pending and now back-burnered advice Obama has received from Admiral Mullen and Gens. Petraeus and McChrystal.

The Democrats and their cheerleaders in the punditocracy used to scream for President George W. Bush to listen to his generals. Then Bush got better generals, listened to them, and avoided defeat in Iraq. Obama, it seems, is bent on ignoring his generals. If he takes the advice of Joe Biden instead of those expert on counterinsurgency (and with a track record of getting war strategy right), the results may be disastrous not only on the battlefield but also in the court of public opinion. The public already trusts the generals more than Obama to make decisions about Afghanistan. And if Obama — based on nothing more than “I changed my mind” — rejects the advice of his military commanders, the public may wonder what exactly motivates the commander in chief and whether the best and the brightest military minds were hired just for show.

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How Bad Must It Get?

Governor Jon Corzine, who rode into office as the wizard of Wall Street, is in trouble, in part because it is not such a great time to be a former Goldman Sachs executive who amassed a fortune during an economic boom that has now fizzled. As the New York Times observes:

Today, New Jersey’s economy is reeling, Goldman Sachs’s luster has dulled and Mr. Corzine’s greatest asset has become a political liability as he struggles to keep his job in November’s election. Goldman has been particularly vilified in the minds of many people as a Wall Street behemoth that leveraged the influence of its lobbyists and former executives to curry political favor and that used government bailout payments to boost its profits.

All might have been forgiven had Corzine managed the state’s finances effectively. But New Jersey is once again leading in the wrong indicators (e.g., business unfriendliness, property taxes) and losing employers to lower taxed and less hostile surrounding states. So it is no wonder that Corzine’s approval rating is dismal. It’s hard to imagine that a governor who is regarded favorably by less than 40 percent of voters could survive. Yet the race is close, and getting closer. Democrats enjoy a 600,000-vote margin in party registration, so once again observers are left wondering just how bad things have to get and how inept an office holder must be for Blue State voters to give a Republican a try.

Democrats are getting excited, or are at least talking a good game. They say Virginia isn’t working out (“Well thanks a lot!” Creigh Deeds no doubt is fuming), but they’re convinced that New Jersey is turning around (the independent candidate is helping to siphon off anti-Corzine votes). Perhaps, but ultimately voters who walk into the voting booth in a month have to decide if they want four more years of Corzine’s financial wizardry. And if the New York Times can’t manage to find much good to say about him, that might be a sign that even the bluest of the Blue States can get fed up with four years of high spending, high taxes, Big Labor domination, and corruption.

Governor Jon Corzine, who rode into office as the wizard of Wall Street, is in trouble, in part because it is not such a great time to be a former Goldman Sachs executive who amassed a fortune during an economic boom that has now fizzled. As the New York Times observes:

Today, New Jersey’s economy is reeling, Goldman Sachs’s luster has dulled and Mr. Corzine’s greatest asset has become a political liability as he struggles to keep his job in November’s election. Goldman has been particularly vilified in the minds of many people as a Wall Street behemoth that leveraged the influence of its lobbyists and former executives to curry political favor and that used government bailout payments to boost its profits.

All might have been forgiven had Corzine managed the state’s finances effectively. But New Jersey is once again leading in the wrong indicators (e.g., business unfriendliness, property taxes) and losing employers to lower taxed and less hostile surrounding states. So it is no wonder that Corzine’s approval rating is dismal. It’s hard to imagine that a governor who is regarded favorably by less than 40 percent of voters could survive. Yet the race is close, and getting closer. Democrats enjoy a 600,000-vote margin in party registration, so once again observers are left wondering just how bad things have to get and how inept an office holder must be for Blue State voters to give a Republican a try.

Democrats are getting excited, or are at least talking a good game. They say Virginia isn’t working out (“Well thanks a lot!” Creigh Deeds no doubt is fuming), but they’re convinced that New Jersey is turning around (the independent candidate is helping to siphon off anti-Corzine votes). Perhaps, but ultimately voters who walk into the voting booth in a month have to decide if they want four more years of Corzine’s financial wizardry. And if the New York Times can’t manage to find much good to say about him, that might be a sign that even the bluest of the Blue States can get fed up with four years of high spending, high taxes, Big Labor domination, and corruption.

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No One to Keep Them from Disaster

Mary Anastasia O’Grady notes, as we and others have, that the anti-Semitic bent of Obama’s chosen leader in Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, is becoming more clear as he and his supporters voice their views on Israel and Hitler. This, she also observes, is part of a pattern: “The verbal attack on Jews from a zelayista is consistent with a pattern emerging in the region.” For anyone paying attention to events in the region over the past few years, these sorts of anti-Semitic attacks are par for the course for Zelaya’s patron, Hugo Chavez. (“Mr. Chávez’s tirades against Israel during that time emboldened his street thugs. In January 2009, vandals broke into a temple in Caracas and desecrated the sacred space with graffiti calling for the death of Jews.”) Yet, at least for now, Obama remains fixated on returning this “anti-Semitic rabble rouser” to the office of the Honduran presidency.

Once again we’re left wondering: What was the Obama team thinking? It’s not as if Zelaya’s relationship with Chavez was a secret or that Chavez’s record was unknown. The Obama administration didn’t get ambushed here. No, it willfully ignored inconvenient facts and applicable history as it pursued with a singular focus its effort to atone for alleged past American sins in the region and ensure that Chavez didn’t have cause to complain about the president—who likes very much to be liked by those who don’t like America.

Ingratiate ourselves with our foes, ignore historical realities, betray a democratic ally, ignore critics, stake out an intransigent position, and then try to figure out an escape plan. It’s eerily similar to the Obama team’s Middle East policy. The Obama team clearly lacks an internal warning system to identify when it’s going drastically off course. And the president plainly lacks the gut instinct to figure it out for himself — as well as savvy advisers with enough influence to steer him clear of fiascos like Honduras.

Mary Anastasia O’Grady notes, as we and others have, that the anti-Semitic bent of Obama’s chosen leader in Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, is becoming more clear as he and his supporters voice their views on Israel and Hitler. This, she also observes, is part of a pattern: “The verbal attack on Jews from a zelayista is consistent with a pattern emerging in the region.” For anyone paying attention to events in the region over the past few years, these sorts of anti-Semitic attacks are par for the course for Zelaya’s patron, Hugo Chavez. (“Mr. Chávez’s tirades against Israel during that time emboldened his street thugs. In January 2009, vandals broke into a temple in Caracas and desecrated the sacred space with graffiti calling for the death of Jews.”) Yet, at least for now, Obama remains fixated on returning this “anti-Semitic rabble rouser” to the office of the Honduran presidency.

Once again we’re left wondering: What was the Obama team thinking? It’s not as if Zelaya’s relationship with Chavez was a secret or that Chavez’s record was unknown. The Obama administration didn’t get ambushed here. No, it willfully ignored inconvenient facts and applicable history as it pursued with a singular focus its effort to atone for alleged past American sins in the region and ensure that Chavez didn’t have cause to complain about the president—who likes very much to be liked by those who don’t like America.

Ingratiate ourselves with our foes, ignore historical realities, betray a democratic ally, ignore critics, stake out an intransigent position, and then try to figure out an escape plan. It’s eerily similar to the Obama team’s Middle East policy. The Obama team clearly lacks an internal warning system to identify when it’s going drastically off course. And the president plainly lacks the gut instinct to figure it out for himself — as well as savvy advisers with enough influence to steer him clear of fiascos like Honduras.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Bill Kristol doesn’t understand all the agonizing over Afghanistan: “I think that’s pathetic. This president said this is a war of necessity. He said it’s a war we have to win. He said we have to think about it regionally and that we have to think of Afghanistan together with Pakistan, and that we can’t have a stable Pakistan unless we hold the line in Afghanistan, and an unstable Pakistan is unbelievably dangerous since they have nuclear weapons. Why is this a tough call?”

UN Ambassador Susan Rice is asked on Meet the Press what deadline we have imposed on Iran. Her answer: “Well, we’re very much in a, a period of intense negotiations now. What happened last week was a constructive beginning, but it was only a beginning, David. And the onus is now squarely on Iran to adhere to the commitments it has made. If it doesn’t, time is short. We’re not interested in talking for talking’s sake, we’re not interested in interminable negotiations. They have to demonstrate conclusively that their program is for peaceful purposes.” Translation: There is none.

John Bolton thinks so too: “Once again, Washington has entered the morass of negotiations with Tehran, giving Iran precious time to refine and expand its nuclear program. We are now even further from eliminating Iran’s threat than before Geneva.”

Sen. John Cornyn gives a concrete example of why ObamaCare won’t let many people keep their existing insurance: “Unfortunately, this bill makes things worse rather than better by imposing federal government mandates on coverage that, for example, in the Whole Foods in Austin, Texas, headquartered in Austin, Texas, they won’t be able to keep their current health coverage now because it doesn’t meet the minimum—minimum actuarial value because it’s a health high-deductible plan with wellness accounts that people like, but they won’t be able to keep it. Millions of people won’t be able to keep what they have.”

Congress may exercise the power of the purse on Guantanamo: “Lawmakers are using their authority to direct federal spending to prevent the Obama administration from closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. In their race to complete a dozen appropriations bills for the fiscal year that began this week, members of both chambers are including policy language aimed at halting the administration’s decision to transfer prisoners from the Cuban facility to prisons in their district.”

Michael Goodwin: “The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the nightmarish Iranian-nuke issue, the painful recession—these are the core challenges facing America. It’s time the president gives them the attention they deserve.”

Marty Peretz goes after Obama, wondering: “If Obama could not get Chicago over the finish line in Copenhagen, which was a test only of his charms, how will he persuade Tehran to give up its nuclear weapons capacity or the Arabs, to whom he has tilted (we are told) only tactically, to sit down without their 60-year-old map as guide to what they demand from Israel.” What’s more—he agrees with many around here that “the president is probably a clinical narcissist,” which is only a problem “if his narcissism blinds him to the issues and problems in the world and the inveterate foes of the nation that are not susceptible to his charms.” Uh oh.

Bill Kristol doesn’t understand all the agonizing over Afghanistan: “I think that’s pathetic. This president said this is a war of necessity. He said it’s a war we have to win. He said we have to think about it regionally and that we have to think of Afghanistan together with Pakistan, and that we can’t have a stable Pakistan unless we hold the line in Afghanistan, and an unstable Pakistan is unbelievably dangerous since they have nuclear weapons. Why is this a tough call?”

UN Ambassador Susan Rice is asked on Meet the Press what deadline we have imposed on Iran. Her answer: “Well, we’re very much in a, a period of intense negotiations now. What happened last week was a constructive beginning, but it was only a beginning, David. And the onus is now squarely on Iran to adhere to the commitments it has made. If it doesn’t, time is short. We’re not interested in talking for talking’s sake, we’re not interested in interminable negotiations. They have to demonstrate conclusively that their program is for peaceful purposes.” Translation: There is none.

John Bolton thinks so too: “Once again, Washington has entered the morass of negotiations with Tehran, giving Iran precious time to refine and expand its nuclear program. We are now even further from eliminating Iran’s threat than before Geneva.”

Sen. John Cornyn gives a concrete example of why ObamaCare won’t let many people keep their existing insurance: “Unfortunately, this bill makes things worse rather than better by imposing federal government mandates on coverage that, for example, in the Whole Foods in Austin, Texas, headquartered in Austin, Texas, they won’t be able to keep their current health coverage now because it doesn’t meet the minimum—minimum actuarial value because it’s a health high-deductible plan with wellness accounts that people like, but they won’t be able to keep it. Millions of people won’t be able to keep what they have.”

Congress may exercise the power of the purse on Guantanamo: “Lawmakers are using their authority to direct federal spending to prevent the Obama administration from closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. In their race to complete a dozen appropriations bills for the fiscal year that began this week, members of both chambers are including policy language aimed at halting the administration’s decision to transfer prisoners from the Cuban facility to prisons in their district.”

Michael Goodwin: “The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the nightmarish Iranian-nuke issue, the painful recession—these are the core challenges facing America. It’s time the president gives them the attention they deserve.”

Marty Peretz goes after Obama, wondering: “If Obama could not get Chicago over the finish line in Copenhagen, which was a test only of his charms, how will he persuade Tehran to give up its nuclear weapons capacity or the Arabs, to whom he has tilted (we are told) only tactically, to sit down without their 60-year-old map as guide to what they demand from Israel.” What’s more—he agrees with many around here that “the president is probably a clinical narcissist,” which is only a problem “if his narcissism blinds him to the issues and problems in the world and the inveterate foes of the nation that are not susceptible to his charms.” Uh oh.

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