Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 9, 2009

The ISW on the War in Helmand

The Institute for the Study of War has released an outstanding report by Jeffrey Dressler on “Securing Helmand: Understanding and Responding to the Enemy.” The report surveys the province, the enemy, the Taliban’s campaign plan, the British experience in Helmand, and the recent ISAF operations in it. It also contains some excellent maps. There is too much in the report to summarize: anyone interested in the war should read it in full. But it makes three points that are of particular interest to those, like myself, who have followed Britain’s contribution to the war.

First, though the report does not state this explicitly, it is inescapably clear that the UK — and indeed the U.S. — has a serious problem with operational security. In June 2009, Britain and Afghan National Army forces undertook Operation Panther’s Claw in central Helmand, near Lashkar Gah. As the report notes, “[Days] before the launch of the operation, drones monitoring the town recorded scores of residents fleeing . . . the British faces relatively modest resistance as they advanced towards the bazaar [of Babaji]. They soon discovered that the entire area had been abandoned.” It is very hard to see how the UK or the U.S. can follow a course of shaping, clearing, holding, and building if their operations are known to the enemy so far and so clearly in advance.

Second, much of the criticism of the UK’s operations in Afghanistan has centered on the shortage of helicopters and IED-resistant vehicles. There is much truth to this, as the report makes clear: it points out that Britain is so short on helicopters that it had to borrow six Chinooks from the U.S. to launch Panther’s Claw in the first place. But the criticism is not entirely persuasive. The report also makes it clear that Britain’s strategy has moved from “peace support and counter-narcotics” to a “platoon house” approach based on positioning small outposts throughout the province. What it did not try to do was to clear and hold population centers.

In this context, the fact that British forces have taken serious losses from IEDs is not hard to understand: as Sam Kiley writes in his recently published book Desperate Glory, British influence “extends only so far as the soldiers can walk and fight.” Because British forces don’t control the ground, they leave themselves open to repeated IED attacks on their patrols. Britain’s shortage of helicopters and IED-resistant vehicles is real, and a very serious problem — but one that has to be seen in the light of the strategic deficiencies.

Third, the report points out that while Britain has not effectively shaped, cleared, or held the battlefield, it has devoted excessive emphasis to building on it. Of course, building is a good thing. But the report makes it clear that, for Britain, “building” is as much a public-relations strategy, designed to maintain support for the war at home and to achieve victory in Afghanistan through demonstration effects, as it is part of a counterinsurgency campaign that must begin by establishing security. The Kajaki Dam operations in September 2008 are particularly depressing in this regard: Britain mobilized 5,000 troops and numerous planes and vehicles to deliver turbines to the Dam in an effort to restore electrical power  to southern Afghanistan. In a limited sense, the operation worked. But now British forces are pinned down on a hill overlooking the Dam and “the enemy’s control of the battle-space . . . offers it the freedom of movement to conduct coordinated ambushes and IED attacks largely at will.”

Britain can fix these problems if it wants to. But right now, the government — adrift and rudderless in advance of an election it will almost certainly lose — looks as though it is still more interested in denying problems than in addressing them. As Michael Yon — caution, harsh language — warns in one of his latest dispatches, it seems to him as though those in charge in London “wish to separate realities from readers.” And given what the realities say about them, this — though dangerous and depressing —comes as no surprise.

The Institute for the Study of War has released an outstanding report by Jeffrey Dressler on “Securing Helmand: Understanding and Responding to the Enemy.” The report surveys the province, the enemy, the Taliban’s campaign plan, the British experience in Helmand, and the recent ISAF operations in it. It also contains some excellent maps. There is too much in the report to summarize: anyone interested in the war should read it in full. But it makes three points that are of particular interest to those, like myself, who have followed Britain’s contribution to the war.

First, though the report does not state this explicitly, it is inescapably clear that the UK — and indeed the U.S. — has a serious problem with operational security. In June 2009, Britain and Afghan National Army forces undertook Operation Panther’s Claw in central Helmand, near Lashkar Gah. As the report notes, “[Days] before the launch of the operation, drones monitoring the town recorded scores of residents fleeing . . . the British faces relatively modest resistance as they advanced towards the bazaar [of Babaji]. They soon discovered that the entire area had been abandoned.” It is very hard to see how the UK or the U.S. can follow a course of shaping, clearing, holding, and building if their operations are known to the enemy so far and so clearly in advance.

Second, much of the criticism of the UK’s operations in Afghanistan has centered on the shortage of helicopters and IED-resistant vehicles. There is much truth to this, as the report makes clear: it points out that Britain is so short on helicopters that it had to borrow six Chinooks from the U.S. to launch Panther’s Claw in the first place. But the criticism is not entirely persuasive. The report also makes it clear that Britain’s strategy has moved from “peace support and counter-narcotics” to a “platoon house” approach based on positioning small outposts throughout the province. What it did not try to do was to clear and hold population centers.

In this context, the fact that British forces have taken serious losses from IEDs is not hard to understand: as Sam Kiley writes in his recently published book Desperate Glory, British influence “extends only so far as the soldiers can walk and fight.” Because British forces don’t control the ground, they leave themselves open to repeated IED attacks on their patrols. Britain’s shortage of helicopters and IED-resistant vehicles is real, and a very serious problem — but one that has to be seen in the light of the strategic deficiencies.

Third, the report points out that while Britain has not effectively shaped, cleared, or held the battlefield, it has devoted excessive emphasis to building on it. Of course, building is a good thing. But the report makes it clear that, for Britain, “building” is as much a public-relations strategy, designed to maintain support for the war at home and to achieve victory in Afghanistan through demonstration effects, as it is part of a counterinsurgency campaign that must begin by establishing security. The Kajaki Dam operations in September 2008 are particularly depressing in this regard: Britain mobilized 5,000 troops and numerous planes and vehicles to deliver turbines to the Dam in an effort to restore electrical power  to southern Afghanistan. In a limited sense, the operation worked. But now British forces are pinned down on a hill overlooking the Dam and “the enemy’s control of the battle-space . . . offers it the freedom of movement to conduct coordinated ambushes and IED attacks largely at will.”

Britain can fix these problems if it wants to. But right now, the government — adrift and rudderless in advance of an election it will almost certainly lose — looks as though it is still more interested in denying problems than in addressing them. As Michael Yon — caution, harsh language — warns in one of his latest dispatches, it seems to him as though those in charge in London “wish to separate realities from readers.” And given what the realities say about them, this — though dangerous and depressing —comes as no surprise.

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Sometimes, a Watermelon Is Just a Watermelon. Not So at Yale

The following message, which I reproduce in its entirety, was forwarded to me in my capacity as a Yale alum by a friend at Yale’s Divinity School. I am assured that it is not a parody. Any other
comment is superfluous.

A Note of Community Concern

Dear Divinity School Community,

On the evening of Friday, September 11th, following the Community
Dinner, there was a food-eating contest in the Common Room. The
contest was between teams of students eating watermelons. The contest
was a painful reminder of past images and painful stereotypes
involving watermelons and African Americans that continue to be used
today, and it should not have happened. To the extent that it happened
at all is a shared responsibility which we all deeply regret and for
which we all deeply apologize. The incident was not the fault of any
one person or group of persons, and it certainly was not the fault of
any two people. It went forward in ignorance of what it represented
and how it would be perceived by others. While we may acknowledge that
ignorance is no excuse for offense, it must also be acknowledged that
neither the ignorance nor the offense was intentional.

Student leaders, in consultation with faculty and administration, will
think together about ways that we as a community can address this
painful occurrence in a constructive and conciliatory manner. One way
this may go forward is with an educational opportunity about our
nation’s history and aspects of that history that often are
inadequately conveyed. We will give notice of this educational
opportunity as plans develop over the next several days. For now,
please note the suggested links at the bottom of this message for
educational information. Other opportunities for community
conversations related to this incident may go forward, as well, and we
will give notice of these opportunities as plans are made.

At our best, we are a community that respects and honors all its
members. At our best, we are a community whose members communicate
with one another directly and thoughtfully. It is our hope that we
might be the best community we can be in this challenging and
difficult situation. May it be said of us that love characterizes our
listening and our speaking, and that honesty and peace shape our
discourse. May we move forward in mutual understanding and justice.
Please know that we and others of the staff and faculty are available
to you for conversation, as needed. Please let us know of concerns you
have and ways we might address those concerns. Our prayers are with
you and this community, as we all seek God’s guidance and wisdom for
the path ahead.

Yours truly,

Emilie Townes
Academic Dean

Dale Peterson
Dean of Students

Please note: Background on this stereotype can be found on the links and also by making use of Google:

The following message, which I reproduce in its entirety, was forwarded to me in my capacity as a Yale alum by a friend at Yale’s Divinity School. I am assured that it is not a parody. Any other
comment is superfluous.

A Note of Community Concern

Dear Divinity School Community,

On the evening of Friday, September 11th, following the Community
Dinner, there was a food-eating contest in the Common Room. The
contest was between teams of students eating watermelons. The contest
was a painful reminder of past images and painful stereotypes
involving watermelons and African Americans that continue to be used
today, and it should not have happened. To the extent that it happened
at all is a shared responsibility which we all deeply regret and for
which we all deeply apologize. The incident was not the fault of any
one person or group of persons, and it certainly was not the fault of
any two people. It went forward in ignorance of what it represented
and how it would be perceived by others. While we may acknowledge that
ignorance is no excuse for offense, it must also be acknowledged that
neither the ignorance nor the offense was intentional.

Student leaders, in consultation with faculty and administration, will
think together about ways that we as a community can address this
painful occurrence in a constructive and conciliatory manner. One way
this may go forward is with an educational opportunity about our
nation’s history and aspects of that history that often are
inadequately conveyed. We will give notice of this educational
opportunity as plans develop over the next several days. For now,
please note the suggested links at the bottom of this message for
educational information. Other opportunities for community
conversations related to this incident may go forward, as well, and we
will give notice of these opportunities as plans are made.

At our best, we are a community that respects and honors all its
members. At our best, we are a community whose members communicate
with one another directly and thoughtfully. It is our hope that we
might be the best community we can be in this challenging and
difficult situation. May it be said of us that love characterizes our
listening and our speaking, and that honesty and peace shape our
discourse. May we move forward in mutual understanding and justice.
Please know that we and others of the staff and faculty are available
to you for conversation, as needed. Please let us know of concerns you
have and ways we might address those concerns. Our prayers are with
you and this community, as we all seek God’s guidance and wisdom for
the path ahead.

Yours truly,

Emilie Townes
Academic Dean

Dale Peterson
Dean of Students

Please note: Background on this stereotype can be found on the links and also by making use of Google:

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“RTFI”

Even Nobel Peace Prize winners have to read the full instructions (“RTFI”). Blogger Omri Ceren noted yesterday that the new Obama policy posture on the Taliban looks, inevitably, like a stenographer’s copy of the dictation from the Taliban earlier in the week. The Taliban announce they are not enemies of the West; Obama announces the Taliban are not the enemy we need to fight. Instead of securing Afghanistan against them, says Obama, we must get down to the business of disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qaeda.

But Obama and his advisers have missed a crucial line of the instructions. To avoid the Taliban’s enmity, Western forces have to leave Afghanistan. The Taliban have been very clear on this for some time. They warned Obama to leave Afghanistan the day of his inauguration. They warned the West to leave Afghanistan in September 2008 and in May 2007. Prior to this week’s affirmation of non-enmity, the Taliban warned us to leave on September 19.

Some grudging conciliation has been evident in the typical Taliban warning, like this one from Mullah Omar in 2008:

If you demonstrate an intention of withdrawing your forces, we once again will demonstrate our principles by giving you the right of safe passage, in order to show that we never harm anyone maliciously.

So the language of October 7 — “We did not have any agenda to harm other countries including Europe, nor we have such agenda today” — is also nothing new. Certainly it implies no new context for the accompanying demand that “the American rulers and their allies of the coalition . . . put an end to the game of occupying Afghanistan,” or the warning that the Taliban “have an unwavering determination and have braced for a prolonged war.”

The emerging Obama policy is destined to run afoul of these instructions from the Taliban. Fighting, in Obama’s formulation, “only to keep the Taliban from retaking control of Afghanistan’s central government and from offering Al Qaeda a sanctuary,” has to entail keeping Western forces in Afghanistan. This, given the unflagging consistency of the Taliban’s posture, will be an insurmountable show stopper for light-footprint al-Qaeda-hunting. Moreover, even if Obama can make headway with the approach of co-opting some Taliban factions in order to retain a U.S. position in Afghanistan, the moral hazards and unintended consequences incident to that strategy are breathtaking. If the American people don’t rebel against such cynical opportunism from jihadists, the Russians will.

I would say the world’s newest Nobel laureate has his work cut out for him, but the fact is, he’s cutting it out himself. The burden, we cannot forget, will be borne by our troops.

Even Nobel Peace Prize winners have to read the full instructions (“RTFI”). Blogger Omri Ceren noted yesterday that the new Obama policy posture on the Taliban looks, inevitably, like a stenographer’s copy of the dictation from the Taliban earlier in the week. The Taliban announce they are not enemies of the West; Obama announces the Taliban are not the enemy we need to fight. Instead of securing Afghanistan against them, says Obama, we must get down to the business of disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qaeda.

But Obama and his advisers have missed a crucial line of the instructions. To avoid the Taliban’s enmity, Western forces have to leave Afghanistan. The Taliban have been very clear on this for some time. They warned Obama to leave Afghanistan the day of his inauguration. They warned the West to leave Afghanistan in September 2008 and in May 2007. Prior to this week’s affirmation of non-enmity, the Taliban warned us to leave on September 19.

Some grudging conciliation has been evident in the typical Taliban warning, like this one from Mullah Omar in 2008:

If you demonstrate an intention of withdrawing your forces, we once again will demonstrate our principles by giving you the right of safe passage, in order to show that we never harm anyone maliciously.

So the language of October 7 — “We did not have any agenda to harm other countries including Europe, nor we have such agenda today” — is also nothing new. Certainly it implies no new context for the accompanying demand that “the American rulers and their allies of the coalition . . . put an end to the game of occupying Afghanistan,” or the warning that the Taliban “have an unwavering determination and have braced for a prolonged war.”

The emerging Obama policy is destined to run afoul of these instructions from the Taliban. Fighting, in Obama’s formulation, “only to keep the Taliban from retaking control of Afghanistan’s central government and from offering Al Qaeda a sanctuary,” has to entail keeping Western forces in Afghanistan. This, given the unflagging consistency of the Taliban’s posture, will be an insurmountable show stopper for light-footprint al-Qaeda-hunting. Moreover, even if Obama can make headway with the approach of co-opting some Taliban factions in order to retain a U.S. position in Afghanistan, the moral hazards and unintended consequences incident to that strategy are breathtaking. If the American people don’t rebel against such cynical opportunism from jihadists, the Russians will.

I would say the world’s newest Nobel laureate has his work cut out for him, but the fact is, he’s cutting it out himself. The burden, we cannot forget, will be borne by our troops.

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Re: A Step Too Far

Why would Obama have to do anything to earn the Nobel Peace Prize? Has everyone forgotten how he became president of the United States?

If proof of achievement mattered, John McCain would be in the White House, American troops returning from Iraq could expect coast-to-coast victory parades, and Iran would already be doing something new with the land that had once housed its nuclear facilities.

Today we only deal in make-believe. The Left abhors evidentiary standards. There is global warming in the absence of rising temperature, Israeli war crimes in the absence of unlawful conduct, institutionalized racism in the absence of prejudicial treatment, American imperialism in the absence of empire, and so on.

Seeing what isn’t there is half the job of being on the Left. The other half is changing what isn’t there through costly, intrusive, and ill-conceived initiatives (save 10 percent for keeping Charlie Rangel out of trouble).

One of the defining features of conservatism is that it sees the world as it is. The universal stupefaction over today’s announcement feels like a conservative spasm. At the New York Times’s blog, even Nicholas Kristof wrote that Obama should only get the prize “after he has actually made peace somewhere.” Joe Klein called it “premature to the point of ridiculousness.” Whether or not Obama is embarrassed by the absurdity, one gets the feeling that, for the rest of the country, this was one unearned decoration too far.

The question is: Can a spasm disturb an all-encompassing worldview? When Obama got elected, it was obvious to many that delusion had triumphed in America. Citizens of the U.S. are the most sensible in the Western world. Surely if we had finally fallen for Utopian promises and what Fouad Ajami has called the “politics of charisma,” the rest of the West was already there. But today’s announcement out of Norway struck more or less everyone here as ridiculous — which is an indication that America’s experiment in mass delusion may be coming to an end, even if the president has yet to catch up.

Why would Obama have to do anything to earn the Nobel Peace Prize? Has everyone forgotten how he became president of the United States?

If proof of achievement mattered, John McCain would be in the White House, American troops returning from Iraq could expect coast-to-coast victory parades, and Iran would already be doing something new with the land that had once housed its nuclear facilities.

Today we only deal in make-believe. The Left abhors evidentiary standards. There is global warming in the absence of rising temperature, Israeli war crimes in the absence of unlawful conduct, institutionalized racism in the absence of prejudicial treatment, American imperialism in the absence of empire, and so on.

Seeing what isn’t there is half the job of being on the Left. The other half is changing what isn’t there through costly, intrusive, and ill-conceived initiatives (save 10 percent for keeping Charlie Rangel out of trouble).

One of the defining features of conservatism is that it sees the world as it is. The universal stupefaction over today’s announcement feels like a conservative spasm. At the New York Times’s blog, even Nicholas Kristof wrote that Obama should only get the prize “after he has actually made peace somewhere.” Joe Klein called it “premature to the point of ridiculousness.” Whether or not Obama is embarrassed by the absurdity, one gets the feeling that, for the rest of the country, this was one unearned decoration too far.

The question is: Can a spasm disturb an all-encompassing worldview? When Obama got elected, it was obvious to many that delusion had triumphed in America. Citizens of the U.S. are the most sensible in the Western world. Surely if we had finally fallen for Utopian promises and what Fouad Ajami has called the “politics of charisma,” the rest of the West was already there. But today’s announcement out of Norway struck more or less everyone here as ridiculous — which is an indication that America’s experiment in mass delusion may be coming to an end, even if the president has yet to catch up.

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A Step Too Far

Obama has done the impossible. No, not the prize, silly. That is, as a number of us have pointed out, the ultimate pairing of Obama, who is infatuated with multilateralism and moral relativism, and their most ardent international fans. (One isn’t surprised when the Rolling Stones sell out. Give the crowd what they want and they’ll shout and scream for more.) But what is a bit eye-opening is the level of embarrassment — cringing, really — among those rather sympathetic to Obama. Take a look through the Washington Post‘s Post-Partisan blog. Yes, the conservatives are somewhere between appalled and bemused. But so are Richard Cohen, Ruth Marcus, and David Ignatius.

Cohen:

Some cynics suggested that Obama’s award was a bit premature since, among other things, a Middle East peace was as far away as ever and the world had yet to fully disarm. Nonetheless, the president seemed humbled by the news and the Norwegian committee packed for its trip to the United States, where it will appear on Dancing with the Stars.

Marcus:

This is ridiculous — embarrassing, even. I admire President Obama. I like President Obama. I voted for President Obama. But the peace prize? This is supposed to be for doing, not being — and it’s no disrespect to the president to suggest he hasn’t done much yet. Certainly not enough to justify the peace prize.

Ignatius:

The Nobel Peace Prize award to Barack Obama seems so goofy — even if you’re a fan, you have to admit that he hasn’t really done much yet as a peacemaker. But there’s an aspect of this prize that is real and important — and that validates Obama’s strategy from the day he took office.

Mickey Kaus is cringing also. And the AP’s Jennifer Loven is stumped, verging on incredulous. Even the Huffington Post is somewhat mortified. In fact, liberals seems more upset on some level than conservatives, because I think the Left takes this award seriously. Conservatives stopped doing that around the time Yasir Arafat got his.

But now the me-is-the-world routine is getting embarrassing for liberals. And they don’t want to be seen encouraging what is already a story line for late-night comics. (The “to do” list on Saturday Night Live will now be amended to include “Win Nobel Prize for Doing Nothing.”)

But this is where liberals and conservatives part company: liberals think it’s a good thing that the “international community” (i.e., the collection of regimes that intensely disliked George W. Bush, and he them) likes us now. Ignatius explains: “The Nobel committee is expressing a collective sigh of relief that America has rejoined the global consensus. They’re right. It’s a good thing.”

No, it’s a bad thing, a very bad thing, because he got it — as one must to snag a Nobel Peace Prize — by denigrating American values and exceptionialism, demonstrating an aversion to moral clarity, refusing to call out despotic regimes (the Iranian students will be thrilled to know that they give prizes to leaders who think of them as an annoyance), disarming America, repeatedly distorting history to fit false narratives, refusing to stand up to international bullies (excuse me, members in good standing in the international community), and spinning a great deal of hooey about global wealth-sharing and environmental extremism.

And here’s the thing: these regimes don’t like America any more than they used to. They love a U.S. president who shares their disdain for America’s role in the world. So they gave him a prize. “America Isn’t That Great” Man of the Year isn’t something to cheer. Well, unless you work at the White House.

Obama has done the impossible. No, not the prize, silly. That is, as a number of us have pointed out, the ultimate pairing of Obama, who is infatuated with multilateralism and moral relativism, and their most ardent international fans. (One isn’t surprised when the Rolling Stones sell out. Give the crowd what they want and they’ll shout and scream for more.) But what is a bit eye-opening is the level of embarrassment — cringing, really — among those rather sympathetic to Obama. Take a look through the Washington Post‘s Post-Partisan blog. Yes, the conservatives are somewhere between appalled and bemused. But so are Richard Cohen, Ruth Marcus, and David Ignatius.

Cohen:

Some cynics suggested that Obama’s award was a bit premature since, among other things, a Middle East peace was as far away as ever and the world had yet to fully disarm. Nonetheless, the president seemed humbled by the news and the Norwegian committee packed for its trip to the United States, where it will appear on Dancing with the Stars.

Marcus:

This is ridiculous — embarrassing, even. I admire President Obama. I like President Obama. I voted for President Obama. But the peace prize? This is supposed to be for doing, not being — and it’s no disrespect to the president to suggest he hasn’t done much yet. Certainly not enough to justify the peace prize.

Ignatius:

The Nobel Peace Prize award to Barack Obama seems so goofy — even if you’re a fan, you have to admit that he hasn’t really done much yet as a peacemaker. But there’s an aspect of this prize that is real and important — and that validates Obama’s strategy from the day he took office.

Mickey Kaus is cringing also. And the AP’s Jennifer Loven is stumped, verging on incredulous. Even the Huffington Post is somewhat mortified. In fact, liberals seems more upset on some level than conservatives, because I think the Left takes this award seriously. Conservatives stopped doing that around the time Yasir Arafat got his.

But now the me-is-the-world routine is getting embarrassing for liberals. And they don’t want to be seen encouraging what is already a story line for late-night comics. (The “to do” list on Saturday Night Live will now be amended to include “Win Nobel Prize for Doing Nothing.”)

But this is where liberals and conservatives part company: liberals think it’s a good thing that the “international community” (i.e., the collection of regimes that intensely disliked George W. Bush, and he them) likes us now. Ignatius explains: “The Nobel committee is expressing a collective sigh of relief that America has rejoined the global consensus. They’re right. It’s a good thing.”

No, it’s a bad thing, a very bad thing, because he got it — as one must to snag a Nobel Peace Prize — by denigrating American values and exceptionialism, demonstrating an aversion to moral clarity, refusing to call out despotic regimes (the Iranian students will be thrilled to know that they give prizes to leaders who think of them as an annoyance), disarming America, repeatedly distorting history to fit false narratives, refusing to stand up to international bullies (excuse me, members in good standing in the international community), and spinning a great deal of hooey about global wealth-sharing and environmental extremism.

And here’s the thing: these regimes don’t like America any more than they used to. They love a U.S. president who shares their disdain for America’s role in the world. So they gave him a prize. “America Isn’t That Great” Man of the Year isn’t something to cheer. Well, unless you work at the White House.

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Krauthammer Nails It

Earlier this week, Charles Krauthammer delivered the 2009 Wriston Lecture for the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. Titled “Decline Is a Choice,” the Weekly Standard has adopted that lecture and published it in the forthcoming issue. (A video of the full lecture can be found here.) It is a brilliant and important address, providing as it does a kind of unified field theory when it comes to Obama.

In his address, Krauthammer says,

as he made his hajj from Strasbourg to Prague to Ankara to Istanbul to Cairo and finally to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama drew the picture of an America quite exceptional — exceptional in moral culpability and heavy-handedness, exceptional in guilt for its treatment of other nations and peoples. With varying degrees of directness or obliqueness, Obama indicted his own country for arrogance, for dismissiveness and derisiveness (toward Europe), for maltreatment of natives, for torture, for Hiroshima, for Guantánamo, for unilateralism, and for insufficient respect for the Muslim world.

That, in two sentences, explains why Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize today. Now the Nobel Committee couldn’t quite come out and say that directly; it decided to couch the award in this language, taken from the citation: “[Obama’s] diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.”

There you have it: Barack Obama has given voice to what many of the world think about America — and it’s not flattering. That much of the world — composed as it is of autocrats and dictators and weak and wobbly defenders of human rights and human dignity — isn’t happy with the United States is not news. What is news is that an American president would validate many of those charges. I find that deeply disquieting. The Norwegian Nobel Committee, not surprisingly, considers it worthy of its highest honor.

Earlier this week, Charles Krauthammer delivered the 2009 Wriston Lecture for the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. Titled “Decline Is a Choice,” the Weekly Standard has adopted that lecture and published it in the forthcoming issue. (A video of the full lecture can be found here.) It is a brilliant and important address, providing as it does a kind of unified field theory when it comes to Obama.

In his address, Krauthammer says,

as he made his hajj from Strasbourg to Prague to Ankara to Istanbul to Cairo and finally to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama drew the picture of an America quite exceptional — exceptional in moral culpability and heavy-handedness, exceptional in guilt for its treatment of other nations and peoples. With varying degrees of directness or obliqueness, Obama indicted his own country for arrogance, for dismissiveness and derisiveness (toward Europe), for maltreatment of natives, for torture, for Hiroshima, for Guantánamo, for unilateralism, and for insufficient respect for the Muslim world.

That, in two sentences, explains why Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize today. Now the Nobel Committee couldn’t quite come out and say that directly; it decided to couch the award in this language, taken from the citation: “[Obama’s] diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.”

There you have it: Barack Obama has given voice to what many of the world think about America — and it’s not flattering. That much of the world — composed as it is of autocrats and dictators and weak and wobbly defenders of human rights and human dignity — isn’t happy with the United States is not news. What is news is that an American president would validate many of those charges. I find that deeply disquieting. The Norwegian Nobel Committee, not surprisingly, considers it worthy of its highest honor.

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He Can Get CAIR Man of the Year, Too

A friend passes on this news item:

President Barack Obama’s adviser on Muslim affairs, Dalia Mogahed, has provoked controversy by appearing on a British television show hosted by a member of an extremist group to talk about Sharia Law. Miss Mogahed, appointed to the President’s Council on Faith-Based and Neighbourhood Partnerships, said the Western view of Sharia was “oversimplified” and the majority of women around the world associate it with “gender justice.” The White House adviser made the remarks on a London-based TV discussion programme hosted by Ibtihal Bsis, a member of the extremist Hizb ut Tahrir party.

No, the link isn’t to the Onion. That publication, by the way, is going to lose its niche if this keeps up. Obama is putting parody writers out of business.

A friend passes on this news item:

President Barack Obama’s adviser on Muslim affairs, Dalia Mogahed, has provoked controversy by appearing on a British television show hosted by a member of an extremist group to talk about Sharia Law. Miss Mogahed, appointed to the President’s Council on Faith-Based and Neighbourhood Partnerships, said the Western view of Sharia was “oversimplified” and the majority of women around the world associate it with “gender justice.” The White House adviser made the remarks on a London-based TV discussion programme hosted by Ibtihal Bsis, a member of the extremist Hizb ut Tahrir party.

No, the link isn’t to the Onion. That publication, by the way, is going to lose its niche if this keeps up. Obama is putting parody writers out of business.

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An “Absurd Decision”

The Times of London gets it exactly right, I think.

. . . the prize risks looking preposterous in its claims, patronizing in its intentions and demeaning in its attempt to build up a man who has barely begun his period in office, let alone achieved any tangible outcome for peace.

Two previous sitting presidents have won the Nobel Peace Prize. Theodore Roosevelt won it in 1906 for brokering the peace treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese War, and Woodrow Wilson in 1919 for struggling so hard — if unavailingly — to build a lasting peace after World War I. Wilson spent six months in Europe, sailing on December 8, 1918, and leaving for home on June 28, 1919, the day after the Versailles Treaty was signed. Returning for only two weeks in February, it was by far the longest time an American president has ever been out of the country.

Now a third sitting president has won it for . . . what? For “capturing the world’s attention.” As the Times says, “The achievements of all previous winners have been diminished.”

I agree with Noah Pollak that Obama would be wise to respectfully decline the prize, pointing out that the prize should be given for achievements, not aspirations. But that, alas, would be an even bigger surprise than his being awarded it in the first place.

The Times of London gets it exactly right, I think.

. . . the prize risks looking preposterous in its claims, patronizing in its intentions and demeaning in its attempt to build up a man who has barely begun his period in office, let alone achieved any tangible outcome for peace.

Two previous sitting presidents have won the Nobel Peace Prize. Theodore Roosevelt won it in 1906 for brokering the peace treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese War, and Woodrow Wilson in 1919 for struggling so hard — if unavailingly — to build a lasting peace after World War I. Wilson spent six months in Europe, sailing on December 8, 1918, and leaving for home on June 28, 1919, the day after the Versailles Treaty was signed. Returning for only two weeks in February, it was by far the longest time an American president has ever been out of the country.

Now a third sitting president has won it for . . . what? For “capturing the world’s attention.” As the Times says, “The achievements of all previous winners have been diminished.”

I agree with Noah Pollak that Obama would be wise to respectfully decline the prize, pointing out that the prize should be given for achievements, not aspirations. But that, alas, would be an even bigger surprise than his being awarded it in the first place.

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Don’t Laugh, He Won It Fair and Square

To do proper justice to an event as ridiculous as President Barack Obama’s winning of the Nobel Peace Prize would seem to require satire at the level of Jonathan Swift or at least H.L. Mencken. Though I’m sure some of our contemporary humorists will come forward on this topic, the idea of a man who has only been in office for nine months and who has done little to nothing to lessen the dangers to world peace that threaten the globe (and nothing on this score before reaching his nation’s highest office) receiving such a prize is staggering and beyond the ability of most common scribblers to properly characterize. While we already knew that the president’s vanity was virtually limitless, who could have thought that even the fools who cook up these prizes would be willing to pander to him with such shameless cynicism?

Peace is further off in the Middle East, a nuclear Iran is a virtual certainty, and victory in Afghanistan over the Taliban is more doubtful than ever under Obama’s watch. So since he can point to no actual achievements, Obama’s worthiness for this honor would seem to consist merely of gracing the world stage with his presence. As such, his peace prize is, perhaps, like all those medals that kings and dictators wear on their dress uniforms when they are trotted out for public display. Indeed, if Obama is already worthy of the peace prize, then surely other equally unlikely honors are soon to follow so that other sectors of society can pay homage to him for just being Barack.

By this I don’t mean the sort of plaques that any famous person can get, such as honorary doctorates from universities. No, if this is the standard by which the president must be flattered, then I’m afraid Joe Mauer and Albert Pujols may be disappointed to learn later this year that Obama will be voted the Most Valuable Player Award for both the American and National Leagues for 2009 just because of his inspiring stint throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the All-Star Game.

But rather than dismissing the Nobel Committee as being merely besotted with the president’s persona, we must not ignore the fact that their purpose is not just to add to Obama’s legend but to actually reward him for what they think he has done. And that is no laughing matter.

The award citation includes the following: “His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.”

What are those values and attitudes? In his Cairo speech in June, Obama articulated his belief in a moral equivalence between Western democracy and the authoritarianism and tyranny under which almost all the Arab and Muslim world labors. In Cairo he lauded the right of Muslim women to choose to wear veils but said nothing about the fact that the societies he means to engage seek to compel the wearing of such headgear on all women, as well as to impose their beliefs on everyone. To the applause of America’s detractors and enemies, he has eschewed the spread of democracy and freedom, apologized for rather than expressed pride in his own nation, and preferred instead to “engage” vile dictators who mock the values and attitudes upon which American liberty is based.

As absurd as this prize may be, it is no joke. Obama has won the applause of the Nobel Committee honestly by appealing to their contempt for democracy and their desire for more appeasement of tyrants. On that score, the president surely won this award fair and square.

To do proper justice to an event as ridiculous as President Barack Obama’s winning of the Nobel Peace Prize would seem to require satire at the level of Jonathan Swift or at least H.L. Mencken. Though I’m sure some of our contemporary humorists will come forward on this topic, the idea of a man who has only been in office for nine months and who has done little to nothing to lessen the dangers to world peace that threaten the globe (and nothing on this score before reaching his nation’s highest office) receiving such a prize is staggering and beyond the ability of most common scribblers to properly characterize. While we already knew that the president’s vanity was virtually limitless, who could have thought that even the fools who cook up these prizes would be willing to pander to him with such shameless cynicism?

Peace is further off in the Middle East, a nuclear Iran is a virtual certainty, and victory in Afghanistan over the Taliban is more doubtful than ever under Obama’s watch. So since he can point to no actual achievements, Obama’s worthiness for this honor would seem to consist merely of gracing the world stage with his presence. As such, his peace prize is, perhaps, like all those medals that kings and dictators wear on their dress uniforms when they are trotted out for public display. Indeed, if Obama is already worthy of the peace prize, then surely other equally unlikely honors are soon to follow so that other sectors of society can pay homage to him for just being Barack.

By this I don’t mean the sort of plaques that any famous person can get, such as honorary doctorates from universities. No, if this is the standard by which the president must be flattered, then I’m afraid Joe Mauer and Albert Pujols may be disappointed to learn later this year that Obama will be voted the Most Valuable Player Award for both the American and National Leagues for 2009 just because of his inspiring stint throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the All-Star Game.

But rather than dismissing the Nobel Committee as being merely besotted with the president’s persona, we must not ignore the fact that their purpose is not just to add to Obama’s legend but to actually reward him for what they think he has done. And that is no laughing matter.

The award citation includes the following: “His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.”

What are those values and attitudes? In his Cairo speech in June, Obama articulated his belief in a moral equivalence between Western democracy and the authoritarianism and tyranny under which almost all the Arab and Muslim world labors. In Cairo he lauded the right of Muslim women to choose to wear veils but said nothing about the fact that the societies he means to engage seek to compel the wearing of such headgear on all women, as well as to impose their beliefs on everyone. To the applause of America’s detractors and enemies, he has eschewed the spread of democracy and freedom, apologized for rather than expressed pride in his own nation, and preferred instead to “engage” vile dictators who mock the values and attitudes upon which American liberty is based.

As absurd as this prize may be, it is no joke. Obama has won the applause of the Nobel Committee honestly by appealing to their contempt for democracy and their desire for more appeasement of tyrants. On that score, the president surely won this award fair and square.

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Rich, Old, and Disappointed

Gerald Seib — who provides a good point of reference for Center-Left sensible opinion — sounds a warning. (Written before the Nobel Prize farce-a-thon, it is a sober reminder of the gap between international Obama worship and nuts-and-bolts political reality.) He observes:

For Democrats, there is a long list of things to worry about right now: health care, Afghanistan, the deficit, rich people and senior citizens. Those last two items don’t get much attention, but wealthier and older Americans represent areas of political weaknesses right now for the party in power. They could have a real impact if the landscape doesn’t change before next year’s midterm elections.

Obama seems to have gone out of his way to offend and frighten wealthier and older voters. Tax hikes, Medicare cuts, and the specter of stagflation (which eats away at savings) all hit these groups particularly hard. These voters took it on faith that much of the silliness of the campaign — the cult of personality, the empty rhetoric, the Utopian feel-good mantras — was simply what Obama used to get elected. They had assumed that, once in office, he’d settle down, govern with sobriety, and look after their interests, which are inextricably tied to a growing, robust economy.

That he has not emerged as a Bill Clinton in hipper garb, and instead has set out to enact a far-Left agenda so radical that Republicans are now defending Medicare, comes as a disappointment to those who felt so darn good voting for the historic candidate and joining all those bright-eyed young voters in a big spasm of hope and changiness. Well, the reality is quite different. Seniors’ health care is under attack, the wealthy are being socked again, and the dependents, children, and grandchildren of the rich and elderly are out of work.

It is possible that health-care reform may be less antagonistic toward seniors than they imagine and that the economy may bounce back sufficiently to restore confidence while avoiding an inflationary spiral. Maybe the rich will vote against their economic self-interest. But how likely is all that? And the worst news of all for Obama: the most aggrieved voters (the rich and wealthy) are reliable voters. Even in non-presidential years.

Gerald Seib — who provides a good point of reference for Center-Left sensible opinion — sounds a warning. (Written before the Nobel Prize farce-a-thon, it is a sober reminder of the gap between international Obama worship and nuts-and-bolts political reality.) He observes:

For Democrats, there is a long list of things to worry about right now: health care, Afghanistan, the deficit, rich people and senior citizens. Those last two items don’t get much attention, but wealthier and older Americans represent areas of political weaknesses right now for the party in power. They could have a real impact if the landscape doesn’t change before next year’s midterm elections.

Obama seems to have gone out of his way to offend and frighten wealthier and older voters. Tax hikes, Medicare cuts, and the specter of stagflation (which eats away at savings) all hit these groups particularly hard. These voters took it on faith that much of the silliness of the campaign — the cult of personality, the empty rhetoric, the Utopian feel-good mantras — was simply what Obama used to get elected. They had assumed that, once in office, he’d settle down, govern with sobriety, and look after their interests, which are inextricably tied to a growing, robust economy.

That he has not emerged as a Bill Clinton in hipper garb, and instead has set out to enact a far-Left agenda so radical that Republicans are now defending Medicare, comes as a disappointment to those who felt so darn good voting for the historic candidate and joining all those bright-eyed young voters in a big spasm of hope and changiness. Well, the reality is quite different. Seniors’ health care is under attack, the wealthy are being socked again, and the dependents, children, and grandchildren of the rich and elderly are out of work.

It is possible that health-care reform may be less antagonistic toward seniors than they imagine and that the economy may bounce back sufficiently to restore confidence while avoiding an inflationary spiral. Maybe the rich will vote against their economic self-interest. But how likely is all that? And the worst news of all for Obama: the most aggrieved voters (the rich and wealthy) are reliable voters. Even in non-presidential years.

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I Blame Ikea

I know, I know, the Nobel Peace Prize is delivered by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. But Sweden sets the tone, and the bar, and Alfred Nobel was a Swede, and what am I going to do, stop attending the Irresistibly Ibsen Festival?

No, instead, I’m taking back that damn wall unit that threatens to collapse every time a gentle fall breeze wafts through the living room. And don’t get me started about the bookcase that confounded my next-door neighbor, whose degree in engineering from MIT was worthless when it came to crossbar B11.

A world of faux furniture has lead inexorably to a world of faux honors for faux achievements.

Who’s with me?

I know, I know, the Nobel Peace Prize is delivered by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. But Sweden sets the tone, and the bar, and Alfred Nobel was a Swede, and what am I going to do, stop attending the Irresistibly Ibsen Festival?

No, instead, I’m taking back that damn wall unit that threatens to collapse every time a gentle fall breeze wafts through the living room. And don’t get me started about the bookcase that confounded my next-door neighbor, whose degree in engineering from MIT was worthless when it came to crossbar B11.

A world of faux furniture has lead inexorably to a world of faux honors for faux achievements.

Who’s with me?

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The Michael Moore of Oslo

I can’t agree with my colleagues here on CONTENTIONS that a) Barack Obama should reject the Nobel Peace Prize or b) be embarrassed by it. The Nobel Committee chose him wisely because he does, in fact, represent the organization’s highest ideals.

He is an American president queasy about the projection of American power. He is an American president who rejects the notion of American exceptionalism. He is an American president eagerly in pursuit of legitimacy to be granted him not by those who voted for him but by those who do not cast a vote and who chafe at American leadership. It is his devout wish that America become one of many nations, influencing the world indirectly or not influencing it at all, rather than “the indispensable nation,” as Madeleine Albright characterized it. He is the encapsulation, the representative, the wish fulfillment, the very embodiment, of the multilateralist impulse. He is, almost literally, a dream come true for the sorts of people who treasure and value the Nobel Peace Prize.

It’s the most obvious choice, once you think about it, since Michael Moore won an Oscar for Bowling for Columbine.

I can’t agree with my colleagues here on CONTENTIONS that a) Barack Obama should reject the Nobel Peace Prize or b) be embarrassed by it. The Nobel Committee chose him wisely because he does, in fact, represent the organization’s highest ideals.

He is an American president queasy about the projection of American power. He is an American president who rejects the notion of American exceptionalism. He is an American president eagerly in pursuit of legitimacy to be granted him not by those who voted for him but by those who do not cast a vote and who chafe at American leadership. It is his devout wish that America become one of many nations, influencing the world indirectly or not influencing it at all, rather than “the indispensable nation,” as Madeleine Albright characterized it. He is the encapsulation, the representative, the wish fulfillment, the very embodiment, of the multilateralist impulse. He is, almost literally, a dream come true for the sorts of people who treasure and value the Nobel Peace Prize.

It’s the most obvious choice, once you think about it, since Michael Moore won an Oscar for Bowling for Columbine.

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First Time as Tragedy, Second Time as Farce

If President Obama gets the Nobel Peace Prize less than one year into his presidency, what can he aspire to by the time he leaves office?

If fate allows it, the seat of St Peter will be vacant — and if not, we are sure the pope will graciously resign. Short of that, one can always count on the UN secretary-general’s post to be on offer.

History repeats itself. The first time as tragedy — Jimmy Carter? — the second time as a farce.

Congratulations, Mr. President! Never was something so prestigious bestowed on someone who did so little to deserve it.

If President Obama gets the Nobel Peace Prize less than one year into his presidency, what can he aspire to by the time he leaves office?

If fate allows it, the seat of St Peter will be vacant — and if not, we are sure the pope will graciously resign. Short of that, one can always count on the UN secretary-general’s post to be on offer.

History repeats itself. The first time as tragedy — Jimmy Carter? — the second time as a farce.

Congratulations, Mr. President! Never was something so prestigious bestowed on someone who did so little to deserve it.

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I Would Like to Thank the Nobel Committee

I am humbled to have been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize this morning for “giving the world hope for a better future.” It is gratifying that the international community has finally acknowledged what previously only my mother understood. I hope that I can continue giving the world hope, because what could be more hopeful than that?

But seriously. Here is the test of whether Barack Obama and his senior advisers are in touch with the real world or whether they indeed have floated off into Neverland on an opium cloud of narcissism and self-regard. If Obama is capable of the slightest political sobriety, he will quickly reject the Prize, for all the obvious and sensible reasons — and for the political benefit of helping dispel the growing perception that he is out of touch with basic bourgeois modesty and is completely in love with himself. If he accepts it, the notion that Obama is arrogant and does not understand the fundamental difference between words and action, leadership and celebrity, competence and theater, will be given a tremendous boost.

I am humbled to have been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize this morning for “giving the world hope for a better future.” It is gratifying that the international community has finally acknowledged what previously only my mother understood. I hope that I can continue giving the world hope, because what could be more hopeful than that?

But seriously. Here is the test of whether Barack Obama and his senior advisers are in touch with the real world or whether they indeed have floated off into Neverland on an opium cloud of narcissism and self-regard. If Obama is capable of the slightest political sobriety, he will quickly reject the Prize, for all the obvious and sensible reasons — and for the political benefit of helping dispel the growing perception that he is out of touch with basic bourgeois modesty and is completely in love with himself. If he accepts it, the notion that Obama is arrogant and does not understand the fundamental difference between words and action, leadership and celebrity, competence and theater, will be given a tremendous boost.

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One More Chapter in the Fairy Tale

Could there be a clearer indicator of Barack Obama’s significance around the world: Obama makes an unprecedented, no-holds-barred effort before one international organization, the IOC, to obtain something for his country and fails in an immediate and spectacular manner. But after doing absolutely nothing, he wins a prize for himself from another international organization, the Nobel Committee, for insulting his country for nine months.

The prize should be an embarrassment to the Obama administration — a confirmation of what Bill Clinton pointed out on the campaign trail: “This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.”

And getting bigger. The thing about fairy tales is that they are not composed of beauty and elation alone. Fairy tales are marked by diabolism, lurking at every turn. There are villains, poisons, and double-crosses. A great many fairy tales do not have “fairy tale endings.” The ones that end badly do so when naiveté is not just punished but preyed upon by evil, when the protagonist is unwittingly lured right into the monster’s lair.

Congratulations, Mr. President.

Could there be a clearer indicator of Barack Obama’s significance around the world: Obama makes an unprecedented, no-holds-barred effort before one international organization, the IOC, to obtain something for his country and fails in an immediate and spectacular manner. But after doing absolutely nothing, he wins a prize for himself from another international organization, the Nobel Committee, for insulting his country for nine months.

The prize should be an embarrassment to the Obama administration — a confirmation of what Bill Clinton pointed out on the campaign trail: “This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.”

And getting bigger. The thing about fairy tales is that they are not composed of beauty and elation alone. Fairy tales are marked by diabolism, lurking at every turn. There are villains, poisons, and double-crosses. A great many fairy tales do not have “fairy tale endings.” The ones that end badly do so when naiveté is not just punished but preyed upon by evil, when the protagonist is unwittingly lured right into the monster’s lair.

Congratulations, Mr. President.

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Another Slap at Bush — but He Can Take It

The Nobel Committee’s decision to award Barack Obama its Peace Prize is risible and worth mocking – as Richard Cohen does here. It’s also being said that the decision is meant as a slap at President Bush. I’m sure it was – just as the award to Jimmy Carter was — and I have some thoughts about that.

The first is that the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Yasir Arafat – the father of modern-day terrorism, the man who waged war against Israel for most of his life, the man whose hands were dripping with the blood of innocent Jews. George W. Bush can live a fulfilled life without being honored by such an organization.

Second, Bush, during his presidency, took the courageous step of sidelining Arafat rather than building a delusional “peace process” around him. It was Bush who spoke out in a forthright fashion about the need for a Palestinian state – but only if the Palestinians made their own inner peace with the Jewish state and gave up terrorism as an instrument of policy.

Third, Bush spent much of his presidency working to liberate the enslaved people of Iraq and Afghanistan and helping Iraq become the only democracy in the Arab world. That effort cost Americans a lot in blood and treasure. His presidency was damaged in the process. But the wars themselves were noble efforts — wars of authentic liberation — and ones that Democrats initially supported before the going got tough and they began to flake off.

The Noble Committee long ago ceased to be a serious entity; this choice merely confirms that judgment. It is a tendentious organization. And the easiest way — not the only way, but the easiest way — for Westerners to win praise and honors from it is to be critical of America and Israel. George W. Bush would never do that; he loves and has defended both nations. Sometimes virtue is its own reward.

The Nobel Committee’s decision to award Barack Obama its Peace Prize is risible and worth mocking – as Richard Cohen does here. It’s also being said that the decision is meant as a slap at President Bush. I’m sure it was – just as the award to Jimmy Carter was — and I have some thoughts about that.

The first is that the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Yasir Arafat – the father of modern-day terrorism, the man who waged war against Israel for most of his life, the man whose hands were dripping with the blood of innocent Jews. George W. Bush can live a fulfilled life without being honored by such an organization.

Second, Bush, during his presidency, took the courageous step of sidelining Arafat rather than building a delusional “peace process” around him. It was Bush who spoke out in a forthright fashion about the need for a Palestinian state – but only if the Palestinians made their own inner peace with the Jewish state and gave up terrorism as an instrument of policy.

Third, Bush spent much of his presidency working to liberate the enslaved people of Iraq and Afghanistan and helping Iraq become the only democracy in the Arab world. That effort cost Americans a lot in blood and treasure. His presidency was damaged in the process. But the wars themselves were noble efforts — wars of authentic liberation — and ones that Democrats initially supported before the going got tough and they began to flake off.

The Noble Committee long ago ceased to be a serious entity; this choice merely confirms that judgment. It is a tendentious organization. And the easiest way — not the only way, but the easiest way — for Westerners to win praise and honors from it is to be critical of America and Israel. George W. Bush would never do that; he loves and has defended both nations. Sometimes virtue is its own reward.

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Will Virginia Affect the Health-Care Debate?

Like many others, Michael Gerson is trying to see the fallout from a potential loss by Creigh Deeds. (Yes, it is really bad news for a candidate when the entire punditocracy decides that he has lost and it’s time to skip right to the postmortem.) One immediate consequence may affect the health-care debate, Gerson argues:

The Virginia race does not merely reflect national trends; it will help determine those trends. The November election may come at a key moment in the health-care debate, just as conservative Democrats are being asked to take a political risk in support of Obama and reform. A Democratic loss in Virginia would send a message: The risk is greater than you think.

There are many reasons — polls and town-hall meetings, to count two – why Democrats are already nervous about voting for a massive government takeover of health care. But then again, nothing would focus the minds of Democratic legislators on the overriding concern of all elected officials — their own political survival — better than the loss of an election, if that is what is ahead in Virginia (and New Jersey is still close as well). Would a Deeds defeat (and a possible loss by Jon Corzine) be enough to induce panic among Red State senators and those wavering Blue Dogs who’d rather not vote for massive new taxes and cuts in Medicare? It might be.

Now the pressure to pass the signature piece of legislation on Obama’s agenda will be intense from both the White House and the Democratic congressional leaders. It is not every day that Democrats have the chance to see come true the political dream of generations of liberals — a massive entitlement program that will make the federal government the permanent guardian of health care for the entire country. What we do know is that there is still a lot to be decided as to what “health-care reform” will actually look like. And there is much distance between ObamaCare, on the one hand (highly risky for vulnerable lawmakers and highly desired by Obama and the liberal congressional leadership) and a face saving, bare-bones measure on the other (not very risky for vulnerable lawmakers but not desired at all by Obama and the liberal congressional leadership).

It might be that after the results are in on election night, the political resistance of endangered Democrats stiffens and the “less rather than more” sentiment prevails. One thing is certain: if Virginia is a trend setter, many of those Democrats forced to walk the plank on health care will meet the same fate Creigh Deeds now faces. Those Democrats now unlucky enough to go in front of the voters (after they’ve had a taste of Obamaism) may find themselves joining the ranks of the unemployed.

Like many others, Michael Gerson is trying to see the fallout from a potential loss by Creigh Deeds. (Yes, it is really bad news for a candidate when the entire punditocracy decides that he has lost and it’s time to skip right to the postmortem.) One immediate consequence may affect the health-care debate, Gerson argues:

The Virginia race does not merely reflect national trends; it will help determine those trends. The November election may come at a key moment in the health-care debate, just as conservative Democrats are being asked to take a political risk in support of Obama and reform. A Democratic loss in Virginia would send a message: The risk is greater than you think.

There are many reasons — polls and town-hall meetings, to count two – why Democrats are already nervous about voting for a massive government takeover of health care. But then again, nothing would focus the minds of Democratic legislators on the overriding concern of all elected officials — their own political survival — better than the loss of an election, if that is what is ahead in Virginia (and New Jersey is still close as well). Would a Deeds defeat (and a possible loss by Jon Corzine) be enough to induce panic among Red State senators and those wavering Blue Dogs who’d rather not vote for massive new taxes and cuts in Medicare? It might be.

Now the pressure to pass the signature piece of legislation on Obama’s agenda will be intense from both the White House and the Democratic congressional leaders. It is not every day that Democrats have the chance to see come true the political dream of generations of liberals — a massive entitlement program that will make the federal government the permanent guardian of health care for the entire country. What we do know is that there is still a lot to be decided as to what “health-care reform” will actually look like. And there is much distance between ObamaCare, on the one hand (highly risky for vulnerable lawmakers and highly desired by Obama and the liberal congressional leadership) and a face saving, bare-bones measure on the other (not very risky for vulnerable lawmakers but not desired at all by Obama and the liberal congressional leadership).

It might be that after the results are in on election night, the political resistance of endangered Democrats stiffens and the “less rather than more” sentiment prevails. One thing is certain: if Virginia is a trend setter, many of those Democrats forced to walk the plank on health care will meet the same fate Creigh Deeds now faces. Those Democrats now unlucky enough to go in front of the voters (after they’ve had a taste of Obamaism) may find themselves joining the ranks of the unemployed.

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Re: The Prize That Takes the Cake

Many thought that Obama would have to wait a year or so to snag the prize. But now that we’ve gotten it out of the way, the Nobel Prize Committee has cleared the decks for next year. Can’t you see it? “To Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — for coming to the negotiating table!” You laugh. Wait a year.

Many thought that Obama would have to wait a year or so to snag the prize. But now that we’ve gotten it out of the way, the Nobel Prize Committee has cleared the decks for next year. Can’t you see it? “To Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — for coming to the negotiating table!” You laugh. Wait a year.

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The Bush/Obama Peace Process

George Mitchell met yesterday with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He is meeting separately today with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas. Tomorrow he will meet with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. But there is no expectation of a breakthrough — “breakthrough” being defined these days as simply an agreement to start negotiations again over a Palestinian state, to see if the parties can agree on one.

The Obama administration once had higher hopes. In fact, all the heavy lifting was supposed to have been done by now. Unlike George Bush, who had allegedly been uninvolved in the process and waited too long, Barack Obama would start immediately and be personally engaged. George Mitchell was appointed on January 22 and once thought that by the end of July he would wrap up his meetings, obtain a complete cessation of all Israeli settlement activity, get some steps toward normalization from Arab states, and announce a U.S. peace plan — with negotiations following to implement it. It hasn’t all quite worked out.

At the State Department press conference yesterday, spokesman Ian Kelly indicated that the grand plan has been put off in favor of trying simply to get talks started:

QUESTION: . . . When you said we think it’s time to get to the negotiations, is it fair to say that you are, if not giving up, at least putting on the back burner the idea of putting together a package before getting to negotiations?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I – as I said before, I mean, you’ve seen what the President has said, that it’s – the time has come for both sides to agree to just cut right through all of this and get back to peace talks. And this is something that the two sides have to work out. I think too much emphasis has been on our role in this. And I’m glad that we’ve been able to play a helpful role. But it’s really – it’s between really the two sides to work out the kind of package that you’re referring to.

That answer prompted a colloquy about who had previously put too much emphasis on the U.S. role:

QUESTION: You were the one who put the emphasis on it. It wasn’t us. It wasn’t anyone else. I mean, the Administration came in the first or second day, and it was like, here he is, our special envoy.

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: And this is going to be our top priority.

MR. KELLY: It still is.

QUESTION: So what do you mean, too much emphasis has been placed on your role?

MR. KELLY: Well, I just think that for this to succeed, it’s going to have to be the two sides, first of all, agreeing to sit down and talk, and second of all, coming up with a comprehensive peace proposal.

So the current plan has two steps: (1) have the two sides agree to sit down and talk; and (2) have them come up with a comprehensive peace proposal. Call it Annapolis Process II.

George Mitchell met yesterday with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He is meeting separately today with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas. Tomorrow he will meet with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. But there is no expectation of a breakthrough — “breakthrough” being defined these days as simply an agreement to start negotiations again over a Palestinian state, to see if the parties can agree on one.

The Obama administration once had higher hopes. In fact, all the heavy lifting was supposed to have been done by now. Unlike George Bush, who had allegedly been uninvolved in the process and waited too long, Barack Obama would start immediately and be personally engaged. George Mitchell was appointed on January 22 and once thought that by the end of July he would wrap up his meetings, obtain a complete cessation of all Israeli settlement activity, get some steps toward normalization from Arab states, and announce a U.S. peace plan — with negotiations following to implement it. It hasn’t all quite worked out.

At the State Department press conference yesterday, spokesman Ian Kelly indicated that the grand plan has been put off in favor of trying simply to get talks started:

QUESTION: . . . When you said we think it’s time to get to the negotiations, is it fair to say that you are, if not giving up, at least putting on the back burner the idea of putting together a package before getting to negotiations?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. I – as I said before, I mean, you’ve seen what the President has said, that it’s – the time has come for both sides to agree to just cut right through all of this and get back to peace talks. And this is something that the two sides have to work out. I think too much emphasis has been on our role in this. And I’m glad that we’ve been able to play a helpful role. But it’s really – it’s between really the two sides to work out the kind of package that you’re referring to.

That answer prompted a colloquy about who had previously put too much emphasis on the U.S. role:

QUESTION: You were the one who put the emphasis on it. It wasn’t us. It wasn’t anyone else. I mean, the Administration came in the first or second day, and it was like, here he is, our special envoy.

MR. KELLY: Right.

QUESTION: And this is going to be our top priority.

MR. KELLY: It still is.

QUESTION: So what do you mean, too much emphasis has been placed on your role?

MR. KELLY: Well, I just think that for this to succeed, it’s going to have to be the two sides, first of all, agreeing to sit down and talk, and second of all, coming up with a comprehensive peace proposal.

So the current plan has two steps: (1) have the two sides agree to sit down and talk; and (2) have them come up with a comprehensive peace proposal. Call it Annapolis Process II.

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When Will It Be Time to Give Rangel a Shove?

Eugene Robinson is trying to save the Democrats from themselves. He writes on the ethically challenged chairman of the Ways and Means Committee:

House Democrats had better start taking the ethics allegations against Rep. Charlie Rangel seriously. I know it’s difficult for those steeped in Capitol Hill’s hermetic culture to understand, but a verdict of “mistakes were made” — which a lot of Democrats would like to reach — doesn’t cut it in the real world. . . . The real problem, though, is the overall portrait of a wealthy and privileged congressional pasha to whom ordinary rules don’t apply.

It is a bizarre sort of compromise that House Democrats have seized upon. They are defending his chairmanship but expanding the ethics probe. It might seem odd that in the flurry of subpoenas, Rangel still sits atop the committee charged with drafting tax laws and conducting oversight of the IRS. It will seem odd to voters, too, should he remain. And Robinson is plainly nervous: “Speaker Nancy Pelosi may owe her job to Rangel, but she needs to press the ethics committee to do its work without fear or favor. And she needs to contemplate the prospect of explaining to voters, come next fall, why the affluent man who sets their taxes didn’t pay his.”

Pelosi owes her position to Rangel, so she’s not about to create a firestorm, which surely would ensue if she, as Politico explained, “relented and asked Rangel to relinquish his gavel” — which would mean “she would be moving to oust a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus from a chairmanship he waited nearly four decades to get.” You can hear the cries of disparate treatment now: “Murtha and Moran are crooks too and they’re not being asked to go!” Well, yes, it would be easier if all the ethically disabled were asked to leave en masse. But then who’d run all the committees?

Once health-care reform is “done,” maybe Pelosi’s spine will stiffen and there will be less resistance to removing Rangel from such a visible leadership spot. But for now, Pelosi seems willing to hunker down, endure the headlines, and watch the approval rating of Congress plummet. No, Pelosi’s not much interested in “draining the swamp,” as she once put it — at least not now. There are taxes to be raised — at least on those who pay them. And Rangel is just the one to shepherd the hikes through, although he might want to spare any high-minded rhetoric or appeals to patriotism that usually accompanies these efforts.

Eugene Robinson is trying to save the Democrats from themselves. He writes on the ethically challenged chairman of the Ways and Means Committee:

House Democrats had better start taking the ethics allegations against Rep. Charlie Rangel seriously. I know it’s difficult for those steeped in Capitol Hill’s hermetic culture to understand, but a verdict of “mistakes were made” — which a lot of Democrats would like to reach — doesn’t cut it in the real world. . . . The real problem, though, is the overall portrait of a wealthy and privileged congressional pasha to whom ordinary rules don’t apply.

It is a bizarre sort of compromise that House Democrats have seized upon. They are defending his chairmanship but expanding the ethics probe. It might seem odd that in the flurry of subpoenas, Rangel still sits atop the committee charged with drafting tax laws and conducting oversight of the IRS. It will seem odd to voters, too, should he remain. And Robinson is plainly nervous: “Speaker Nancy Pelosi may owe her job to Rangel, but she needs to press the ethics committee to do its work without fear or favor. And she needs to contemplate the prospect of explaining to voters, come next fall, why the affluent man who sets their taxes didn’t pay his.”

Pelosi owes her position to Rangel, so she’s not about to create a firestorm, which surely would ensue if she, as Politico explained, “relented and asked Rangel to relinquish his gavel” — which would mean “she would be moving to oust a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus from a chairmanship he waited nearly four decades to get.” You can hear the cries of disparate treatment now: “Murtha and Moran are crooks too and they’re not being asked to go!” Well, yes, it would be easier if all the ethically disabled were asked to leave en masse. But then who’d run all the committees?

Once health-care reform is “done,” maybe Pelosi’s spine will stiffen and there will be less resistance to removing Rangel from such a visible leadership spot. But for now, Pelosi seems willing to hunker down, endure the headlines, and watch the approval rating of Congress plummet. No, Pelosi’s not much interested in “draining the swamp,” as she once put it — at least not now. There are taxes to be raised — at least on those who pay them. And Rangel is just the one to shepherd the hikes through, although he might want to spare any high-minded rhetoric or appeals to patriotism that usually accompanies these efforts.

Read Less




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