Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 14, 2009

Dow 10,000—Whose Ox Is Being Gored?

According to Paul Krugman and a great many liberal economists, the salient intellectual point of the financial meltdown is that it exposed the hollowness of the “efficient markets hypothesis.” This theory, devised by Robert Lucas of the University of Chicago, suggests that efforts to use the levers of government to move markets in certain ways and certain directions are bound to fail because the markets, in their collective wisdom, will always manage to “price in” future changes and thereby blunt their impact. Since the market failed to see the September 2008 crisis coming, and thereby failed to price it in, the meltdown was terrifying and reveals the flaws in the theory—and, by extension, its line of attack against government intervention.

Well, here we are on October 14, 2009, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is once again above 10,000. This will surely be grounds for rejoicing among people who are supportive of the president’s claims to have stabilized the economy and put it on a favorable path. (To be fair to Krugman, though, he is unlikely to be among them—he’s very disappointed in Obama from the Left.) It will certainly be a good talking point. And yet what is on display in this seemingly nonsensical rise of 10 percent in the value of the Dow over the past few weeks? Nothing more than speculation that certain numbers look promising going forward. In other words, what we have here is a case of the “efficient markets hypothesis” working for the benefit of a Democratic politician, in that the collective wisdom of the market has it that the economy is going to grow at some point relatively soon and that the time to buy is now, so that stocks don’t get more expensive later.

So will those who claim that the post-Friedman Chicago School of Economics has been discredited still revel in the Dow’s potentially catastrophically premature climb, or will they find themselves explaining that the markets know best?

According to Paul Krugman and a great many liberal economists, the salient intellectual point of the financial meltdown is that it exposed the hollowness of the “efficient markets hypothesis.” This theory, devised by Robert Lucas of the University of Chicago, suggests that efforts to use the levers of government to move markets in certain ways and certain directions are bound to fail because the markets, in their collective wisdom, will always manage to “price in” future changes and thereby blunt their impact. Since the market failed to see the September 2008 crisis coming, and thereby failed to price it in, the meltdown was terrifying and reveals the flaws in the theory—and, by extension, its line of attack against government intervention.

Well, here we are on October 14, 2009, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is once again above 10,000. This will surely be grounds for rejoicing among people who are supportive of the president’s claims to have stabilized the economy and put it on a favorable path. (To be fair to Krugman, though, he is unlikely to be among them—he’s very disappointed in Obama from the Left.) It will certainly be a good talking point. And yet what is on display in this seemingly nonsensical rise of 10 percent in the value of the Dow over the past few weeks? Nothing more than speculation that certain numbers look promising going forward. In other words, what we have here is a case of the “efficient markets hypothesis” working for the benefit of a Democratic politician, in that the collective wisdom of the market has it that the economy is going to grow at some point relatively soon and that the time to buy is now, so that stocks don’t get more expensive later.

So will those who claim that the post-Friedman Chicago School of Economics has been discredited still revel in the Dow’s potentially catastrophically premature climb, or will they find themselves explaining that the markets know best?

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The Headline Says It All

The Forward has a piece on the Goldstone report that uses as its headline a rather remarkable quote from Judge Goldstone himself: “If This Was a Court Of Law, There Would Have Been Nothing Proven.” That’s quite an important thought to throw into the mix, willy-nilly. Perhaps it would have been more usefully expressed, say, as the subtitle to his report?

The Judge adds:

“Ours wasn’t an investigation, it was a fact-finding mission,” he said, sitting in his Midtown Manhattan office at Fordham University Law School, where he is currently visiting faculty. “We made that clear.” . . .

“If I was advising Israel, I would say have open investigations,” he told the Forward. “In that way, you can put an end to this. It’s in the interest of all the people of Israel that if any of our allegations are established and if they’re criminal, there should be prosecutions. And if they’re false, that should be established. And I wouldn’t consider it in any way embarrassing if many of the allegations turn out to be disproved.” [emphasis added]

So let’s get this straight: Judge Goldstone led a “fact-finding mission” to Gaza and then produced a 575-page report that contains “nothing” that could be “proven in a court of law.” It may not contain facts, in other words. Despite his lack of confidence in his own claims, he insists that “the burden is now on Israel to counter these findings through its own probe” — “these findings” being his charge that the IDF intentionally killed civilians and committed sundry war crimes.

It is good to see that Judge Goldstone is living up to the highest standards of the UN Human Rights Council, which appointed him. We have now emerged on the other side of the rabbit hole.

The Forward has a piece on the Goldstone report that uses as its headline a rather remarkable quote from Judge Goldstone himself: “If This Was a Court Of Law, There Would Have Been Nothing Proven.” That’s quite an important thought to throw into the mix, willy-nilly. Perhaps it would have been more usefully expressed, say, as the subtitle to his report?

The Judge adds:

“Ours wasn’t an investigation, it was a fact-finding mission,” he said, sitting in his Midtown Manhattan office at Fordham University Law School, where he is currently visiting faculty. “We made that clear.” . . .

“If I was advising Israel, I would say have open investigations,” he told the Forward. “In that way, you can put an end to this. It’s in the interest of all the people of Israel that if any of our allegations are established and if they’re criminal, there should be prosecutions. And if they’re false, that should be established. And I wouldn’t consider it in any way embarrassing if many of the allegations turn out to be disproved.” [emphasis added]

So let’s get this straight: Judge Goldstone led a “fact-finding mission” to Gaza and then produced a 575-page report that contains “nothing” that could be “proven in a court of law.” It may not contain facts, in other words. Despite his lack of confidence in his own claims, he insists that “the burden is now on Israel to counter these findings through its own probe” — “these findings” being his charge that the IDF intentionally killed civilians and committed sundry war crimes.

It is good to see that Judge Goldstone is living up to the highest standards of the UN Human Rights Council, which appointed him. We have now emerged on the other side of the rabbit hole.

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Re: The God That’s Failing . . .

Pete, not only has Obama badly embarrassed himself but he’s also made many moderate supporters look awfully foolish. They vouched for his savvy negotiating skills, assuring us that Obama wouldn’t sell our allies in Poland and the Czech Republic down the river for nothing. (If you’re going to betray allies, at least don’t go home empty-handed.)

But even more critical, Obama’s Iran-engagement strategy was strongly supported by moderates and mainstream Jewish organizations. Obama would be disciplined and tough, we were told. We’d have a firm time frame and deadlines. We’d show good faith but then promptly move to sanctions and leave all options on the table. Well, that’s not exactly working out as planned, is it?

Obama has been sucked into — or rushed into, depending on your assessment of his motives — talks that have forestalled sanctions and provided Iran breathing room. In fact, the Iranians are no longer in the spotlight, facing harsh judgment for their violations of existing sanctions, a secretive enrichment site, and human rights atrocities. No, they’re sitting in cushy meeting rooms in Geneva getting encouragement to keep at it. Are we further ahead or further behind from six months ago in preventing a nuclear Iran?

It seems that the entire engagement gambit was based on a false premise: the administration would be competent and maximize its leverage. Instead, we’ve tossed leverage away like confetti and have been, as Pete says, taken to the cleaners at each encounter with an adversary. At some point, even those inclined toward soft power will recognize that it’s time to get out of conference rooms if all we’re going to do is make concessions and provide cover for despots.

Pete, not only has Obama badly embarrassed himself but he’s also made many moderate supporters look awfully foolish. They vouched for his savvy negotiating skills, assuring us that Obama wouldn’t sell our allies in Poland and the Czech Republic down the river for nothing. (If you’re going to betray allies, at least don’t go home empty-handed.)

But even more critical, Obama’s Iran-engagement strategy was strongly supported by moderates and mainstream Jewish organizations. Obama would be disciplined and tough, we were told. We’d have a firm time frame and deadlines. We’d show good faith but then promptly move to sanctions and leave all options on the table. Well, that’s not exactly working out as planned, is it?

Obama has been sucked into — or rushed into, depending on your assessment of his motives — talks that have forestalled sanctions and provided Iran breathing room. In fact, the Iranians are no longer in the spotlight, facing harsh judgment for their violations of existing sanctions, a secretive enrichment site, and human rights atrocities. No, they’re sitting in cushy meeting rooms in Geneva getting encouragement to keep at it. Are we further ahead or further behind from six months ago in preventing a nuclear Iran?

It seems that the entire engagement gambit was based on a false premise: the administration would be competent and maximize its leverage. Instead, we’ve tossed leverage away like confetti and have been, as Pete says, taken to the cleaners at each encounter with an adversary. At some point, even those inclined toward soft power will recognize that it’s time to get out of conference rooms if all we’re going to do is make concessions and provide cover for despots.

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Finally, a Breakthrough for Russia

It’s no coincidence that the same week the U.S. and Russia sit down for our first conference on missile-defense cooperation, Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia’s national-security council, tells Russian media that the Kremlin will retain the option for “first use” of nuclear weapons in its national-security strategy.

This might seem, on its face, a bit bellicose. But the nature of the statement is not particularly informative; it’s the timing that’s calculated for effect. Little actual change in Russian policy is detectable: Russia disavowed the Soviet-era “no first use” pledge back in 1993 and has had the option of first use embedded in its 1997 and 2000 national-security concepts. The change in policy — if it is a change at all — appears to be a marginal shift toward using nuclear weapons on vaguer and less narrowly defined pretexts.

The timing of the statement is the real story. One valid perspective is that, with Obama having relinquished the sites in Eastern Europe and agreed to missile-defense talks on Moscow’s terms, the Russians see this as the time to drive home their longstanding point that a strategic nuclear balance is the way to maintain stability — as opposed to Reagan’s concept of obviating nuclear advantage through effective defenses.

A more historical perspective emerges if we consider when Soviet Russia made the “no first strike” pledge — 1982 — and what happened the following year. Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983, and his guiding principle prevailed in U.S. policy until last month, when Obama backed down unconditionally from the vision of a comprehensive global missile shield. Recent Russian statements confirm that the Kremlin’s chagrin over SDI has not receded: it regards the ability to hold the U.S. and our allies at risk with nuclear weapons as an indispensable element of Russia’s security. Obama is on the threshold of requiting one of the Russians’ longest-held aspirations, who would be very pleased to get the political debate in the West back on the footing of the “throw weight” years in the 1960s and 1970s. The more we talked about Soviet first use back then, the more we constrained ourselves in both strategic negotiations and regional competition.

History, in fact, brings us full circle, because the Soviets’ 1982 pledge was nothing but an “informational” ploy, designed to influence our behavior. Their actual intention to make first use of nukes never wavered, as post-Soviet historians have revealed. The Russians no doubt now believe that their 1982 gambit went badly for them. This week’s first-use announcement is a gambit to recover what Putin sees as their losses from a misguided move 27 years ago.

History offers other perspectives, too. As with Britain, France, and Germany’s remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936, it’s our declared security concept that is giving way in 2009.

It’s no coincidence that the same week the U.S. and Russia sit down for our first conference on missile-defense cooperation, Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia’s national-security council, tells Russian media that the Kremlin will retain the option for “first use” of nuclear weapons in its national-security strategy.

This might seem, on its face, a bit bellicose. But the nature of the statement is not particularly informative; it’s the timing that’s calculated for effect. Little actual change in Russian policy is detectable: Russia disavowed the Soviet-era “no first use” pledge back in 1993 and has had the option of first use embedded in its 1997 and 2000 national-security concepts. The change in policy — if it is a change at all — appears to be a marginal shift toward using nuclear weapons on vaguer and less narrowly defined pretexts.

The timing of the statement is the real story. One valid perspective is that, with Obama having relinquished the sites in Eastern Europe and agreed to missile-defense talks on Moscow’s terms, the Russians see this as the time to drive home their longstanding point that a strategic nuclear balance is the way to maintain stability — as opposed to Reagan’s concept of obviating nuclear advantage through effective defenses.

A more historical perspective emerges if we consider when Soviet Russia made the “no first strike” pledge — 1982 — and what happened the following year. Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983, and his guiding principle prevailed in U.S. policy until last month, when Obama backed down unconditionally from the vision of a comprehensive global missile shield. Recent Russian statements confirm that the Kremlin’s chagrin over SDI has not receded: it regards the ability to hold the U.S. and our allies at risk with nuclear weapons as an indispensable element of Russia’s security. Obama is on the threshold of requiting one of the Russians’ longest-held aspirations, who would be very pleased to get the political debate in the West back on the footing of the “throw weight” years in the 1960s and 1970s. The more we talked about Soviet first use back then, the more we constrained ourselves in both strategic negotiations and regional competition.

History, in fact, brings us full circle, because the Soviets’ 1982 pledge was nothing but an “informational” ploy, designed to influence our behavior. Their actual intention to make first use of nukes never wavered, as post-Soviet historians have revealed. The Russians no doubt now believe that their 1982 gambit went badly for them. This week’s first-use announcement is a gambit to recover what Putin sees as their losses from a misguided move 27 years ago.

History offers other perspectives, too. As with Britain, France, and Germany’s remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936, it’s our declared security concept that is giving way in 2009.

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Middle East Follies

It was a revealing day for U.S. Middle East policy. In one corner, the UN Security Council pondered the Goldstone report. U.S. Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff was diplomatically precise and morally obtuse. Procedurally, the matter didn’t belong at the council, he explained. And as for the substance:

“But we do take seriously the allegations in the report,” Wolff said. He urged Israel to “seriously investigate” the allegations while deploring Hamas’ incapability to undertake self-examination. “We continue to have serious concern about the report, its unbalanced focus on Israel, the overly broad scope of its recommendations and its sweeping conclusions of law,” Wolff said.

You couldn’t tell that what was under examination was nothing short of a vicious and biased attack on Israel’s right of self-defense. The measure may get shunted back to the Human Rights Council, where the likes of Libya and Chad can pontificate on human rights. But if you were looking for some moral clarity from the Obama team, you’d be badly disappointed.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Obama administration’s “we need no sanctions” sentiment was rebuffed by a lopsided 414-6 vote on a measure assisting state and local governments that “divest from companies investing in Iran’s petroleum and natural gas sector” by protecting their fund managers from lawsuits. It’s not much, but it’s more than the Obama administration asked for — or wants.

So that’s what we get: innocuous baby-step sanctions from Congress and rhetorical timidity from the administration. And in the real world, Iran works away on its nuclear sites.

It was a revealing day for U.S. Middle East policy. In one corner, the UN Security Council pondered the Goldstone report. U.S. Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff was diplomatically precise and morally obtuse. Procedurally, the matter didn’t belong at the council, he explained. And as for the substance:

“But we do take seriously the allegations in the report,” Wolff said. He urged Israel to “seriously investigate” the allegations while deploring Hamas’ incapability to undertake self-examination. “We continue to have serious concern about the report, its unbalanced focus on Israel, the overly broad scope of its recommendations and its sweeping conclusions of law,” Wolff said.

You couldn’t tell that what was under examination was nothing short of a vicious and biased attack on Israel’s right of self-defense. The measure may get shunted back to the Human Rights Council, where the likes of Libya and Chad can pontificate on human rights. But if you were looking for some moral clarity from the Obama team, you’d be badly disappointed.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Obama administration’s “we need no sanctions” sentiment was rebuffed by a lopsided 414-6 vote on a measure assisting state and local governments that “divest from companies investing in Iran’s petroleum and natural gas sector” by protecting their fund managers from lawsuits. It’s not much, but it’s more than the Obama administration asked for — or wants.

So that’s what we get: innocuous baby-step sanctions from Congress and rhetorical timidity from the administration. And in the real world, Iran works away on its nuclear sites.

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Let States Divest from Iran

Senators Bob Casey and Sam Brownback are asking Barack Obama to sign the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act into law. The bill, introduced by Casey and Brownback in May, provides a clear and legitimate legal basis for states to divest pension funds from Iran’s energy sector.

Eighteen states have already divested from the Iranian energy sector. But, as the senators explain, doing so means “operating in a legal fog, unsure if the laws will get struck down under the doctrine of federal preemption.” Their bill, if signed into law, lifts that fog.

But the fog surrounding the Obama administration’s Iran strategy is another matter. There is not a single valid reason for Barack Obama not to support this bill. As a senator, he introduced similar legislation alongside Casey and Brownback and was highly critical of Republicans who voted the previous bill down and “put partisanship ahead of our national security and the security of our ally Israel.” On the other hand, as president, Obama has gone out of his way to avoid taking quantifiable steps against Iran. His doctrine of engagement has led him to bend over backward to support the Iranian regime and its “right” to peaceful nuclear energy. Obama’s strategy of knocking Iran off its weaponization course with a fatal barrage of American respect has only given the Iranian regime diplomatic cover behind which the centrifuges continue to spin.

The administration has gotten itself in double trouble with its Russian reset. After failing to gain leverage with Iran, Obama scrapped our Central European missile-defense assets and threw out any leverage regarding Russia, too.

So instead of trying to read the tea leaves to determine what, if anything, the Russians are willing to do on Iran, perhaps we can have the president clarify his own policy. With our long-shot options seeming to vanish before our eyes, it’s long past time for concrete American action. Surely it wouldn’t be too much for Obama to sign the Casey-Brownback bill, would it?

Senators Bob Casey and Sam Brownback are asking Barack Obama to sign the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act into law. The bill, introduced by Casey and Brownback in May, provides a clear and legitimate legal basis for states to divest pension funds from Iran’s energy sector.

Eighteen states have already divested from the Iranian energy sector. But, as the senators explain, doing so means “operating in a legal fog, unsure if the laws will get struck down under the doctrine of federal preemption.” Their bill, if signed into law, lifts that fog.

But the fog surrounding the Obama administration’s Iran strategy is another matter. There is not a single valid reason for Barack Obama not to support this bill. As a senator, he introduced similar legislation alongside Casey and Brownback and was highly critical of Republicans who voted the previous bill down and “put partisanship ahead of our national security and the security of our ally Israel.” On the other hand, as president, Obama has gone out of his way to avoid taking quantifiable steps against Iran. His doctrine of engagement has led him to bend over backward to support the Iranian regime and its “right” to peaceful nuclear energy. Obama’s strategy of knocking Iran off its weaponization course with a fatal barrage of American respect has only given the Iranian regime diplomatic cover behind which the centrifuges continue to spin.

The administration has gotten itself in double trouble with its Russian reset. After failing to gain leverage with Iran, Obama scrapped our Central European missile-defense assets and threw out any leverage regarding Russia, too.

So instead of trying to read the tea leaves to determine what, if anything, the Russians are willing to do on Iran, perhaps we can have the president clarify his own policy. With our long-shot options seeming to vanish before our eyes, it’s long past time for concrete American action. Surely it wouldn’t be too much for Obama to sign the Casey-Brownback bill, would it?

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The God That’s Failing . . .

What a difference a few weeks make. On September 24, the New York Times reported this:

President Obama, in his first visit to the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, made progress . . . on two key issues, wringing a concession from Russia to consider tough new sanctions against Iran and securing support from Moscow and Beijing for a Security Council resolution to curb nuclear weapons. The successes came as Mr. Obama told leaders that the United States intended to begin a new era of engagement with the world, in a sweeping address to the General Assembly in which he sought to clearly delineate differences between himself and the administration of President George W. Bush.

One of the fruits of those differences — although White House officials were loath to acknowledge any quid pro quo publicly — emerged during Mr. Obama’s meeting on Wednesday afternoon with President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia, the first between the two since Mr. Obama decided to replace Mr. Bush’s missile defense program in Eastern Europe with a version less threatening to Moscow.

With a beaming Mr. Obama standing next to him, Mr. Medvedev signaled for the first time that Russia would be amenable to longstanding American requests to toughen sanctions against Iran significantly if, as expected, nuclear talks scheduled for next month failed to make progress. ”I told His Excellency Mr. President that we believe we need to help Iran to take a right decision,” Mr. Medvedev said, adding that ”sanctions rarely lead to productive results, but in some cases, sanctions are inevitable.”

White House officials could barely hide their glee. ”I couldn’t have said it any better myself,” a delighted Michael McFaul, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser for democracy and Russia, told reporters after the meeting. He insisted nonetheless that the administration had not tried to buy Russia’s cooperation with its decision to scrap the missile shield in Europe in favor of a reconfigured system. Privately, several administration officials did acknowledge that missile defense might have had something to do with Moscow’s newfound verbal cooperation on the Iran sanctions issue.

Today in the New York Times we read this:

Denting President Obama’s hopes for a powerful ally in his campaign to press Iran on its nuclear program, Russia’s foreign minister said Tuesday that threatening Tehran now with harsh new sanctions would be “counterproductive.” The minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said after meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton here that diplomacy should be given a chance to work, particularly after a meeting in Geneva this month in which the Iranian government said it would allow United Nations inspectors to visit its clandestine nuclear enrichment site near the holy city of Qum.

“At the current stage, all forces should be thrown at supporting the negotiating process,” he said. “Threats, sanctions and threats of pressure in the current situation, we are convinced, would be counterproductive.”

Apart from the fact that White House officials are presumably able to hide their glee today, what ought we to make of these developments?

The first is that President Obama looks to have been taken to the cleaners by the Russians. The United States bowed before Russian demands when it came to retooling a missile-defense system for Poland and the Czech Republic. We gave up something tangible and important — and in return we got a vague promise that Russia might be amenable to tougher sanctions against Iran. Now that vague promise appears to be inoperative — but the decision to scrap the Bush-era missile-defense program remains in place.

This episode captures Obama’s approach to international affairs and underscores its dangers. The president is weak and flaccid when it comes to our adversaries, and unreliable and unsteady when it comes to our allies. America’s enemies don’t respect us, and our allies increasingly don’t trust us. President Obama garners praise from the man attempting to lead a Marxist revolution in Latin America, Hugo Chavez, and is criticized by the hero of Solidarity, Lech Walesa. We pressure friends like Israel, Honduras, Poland, and the Czech Republic, and place our hopes in the goodwill and reasonableness of regimes like Russia, North Korea, and Iran. And in the process, some of the world’s foremost spokesmen for democracy publicly express their concern that Obama is “softening on human rights.”

It was not supposed to be this difficult when Obama ran for president, when tyrants would bend to the will of America’s “sort of god.” But reality is turning out to be a tough task master for our young president. All around the world, Mr. Obama is increasingly seen as impotent; he is both popular and largely ignored, viewed more as a celebrity than as an imposing leader.

It is all quite alarming and dangerous.

What a difference a few weeks make. On September 24, the New York Times reported this:

President Obama, in his first visit to the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, made progress . . . on two key issues, wringing a concession from Russia to consider tough new sanctions against Iran and securing support from Moscow and Beijing for a Security Council resolution to curb nuclear weapons. The successes came as Mr. Obama told leaders that the United States intended to begin a new era of engagement with the world, in a sweeping address to the General Assembly in which he sought to clearly delineate differences between himself and the administration of President George W. Bush.

One of the fruits of those differences — although White House officials were loath to acknowledge any quid pro quo publicly — emerged during Mr. Obama’s meeting on Wednesday afternoon with President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia, the first between the two since Mr. Obama decided to replace Mr. Bush’s missile defense program in Eastern Europe with a version less threatening to Moscow.

With a beaming Mr. Obama standing next to him, Mr. Medvedev signaled for the first time that Russia would be amenable to longstanding American requests to toughen sanctions against Iran significantly if, as expected, nuclear talks scheduled for next month failed to make progress. ”I told His Excellency Mr. President that we believe we need to help Iran to take a right decision,” Mr. Medvedev said, adding that ”sanctions rarely lead to productive results, but in some cases, sanctions are inevitable.”

White House officials could barely hide their glee. ”I couldn’t have said it any better myself,” a delighted Michael McFaul, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser for democracy and Russia, told reporters after the meeting. He insisted nonetheless that the administration had not tried to buy Russia’s cooperation with its decision to scrap the missile shield in Europe in favor of a reconfigured system. Privately, several administration officials did acknowledge that missile defense might have had something to do with Moscow’s newfound verbal cooperation on the Iran sanctions issue.

Today in the New York Times we read this:

Denting President Obama’s hopes for a powerful ally in his campaign to press Iran on its nuclear program, Russia’s foreign minister said Tuesday that threatening Tehran now with harsh new sanctions would be “counterproductive.” The minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said after meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton here that diplomacy should be given a chance to work, particularly after a meeting in Geneva this month in which the Iranian government said it would allow United Nations inspectors to visit its clandestine nuclear enrichment site near the holy city of Qum.

“At the current stage, all forces should be thrown at supporting the negotiating process,” he said. “Threats, sanctions and threats of pressure in the current situation, we are convinced, would be counterproductive.”

Apart from the fact that White House officials are presumably able to hide their glee today, what ought we to make of these developments?

The first is that President Obama looks to have been taken to the cleaners by the Russians. The United States bowed before Russian demands when it came to retooling a missile-defense system for Poland and the Czech Republic. We gave up something tangible and important — and in return we got a vague promise that Russia might be amenable to tougher sanctions against Iran. Now that vague promise appears to be inoperative — but the decision to scrap the Bush-era missile-defense program remains in place.

This episode captures Obama’s approach to international affairs and underscores its dangers. The president is weak and flaccid when it comes to our adversaries, and unreliable and unsteady when it comes to our allies. America’s enemies don’t respect us, and our allies increasingly don’t trust us. President Obama garners praise from the man attempting to lead a Marxist revolution in Latin America, Hugo Chavez, and is criticized by the hero of Solidarity, Lech Walesa. We pressure friends like Israel, Honduras, Poland, and the Czech Republic, and place our hopes in the goodwill and reasonableness of regimes like Russia, North Korea, and Iran. And in the process, some of the world’s foremost spokesmen for democracy publicly express their concern that Obama is “softening on human rights.”

It was not supposed to be this difficult when Obama ran for president, when tyrants would bend to the will of America’s “sort of god.” But reality is turning out to be a tough task master for our young president. All around the world, Mr. Obama is increasingly seen as impotent; he is both popular and largely ignored, viewed more as a celebrity than as an imposing leader.

It is all quite alarming and dangerous.

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What Would TR Do?

Writing in the NYR Blog, Jonathan Freedland notes that Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded by a committee of five liberal politicians from a country whose population is half the size of London, reflecting a “Norwegian consensus” that “favors multilateralism, yearns for nuclear disarmament, and believes in international institutions, revering the United Nations above all.” The speculation in Oslo is that what clinched the award for Obama was chairing a UN meeting and “using that body as the vehicle for his disarmament ambitions.”

Freedland concludes that the prize can be considered a “bouquet” from Norway, although one with an exhortatory purpose: “making it harder for the President, as a Peace Prize laureate, to take military action against Iran or escalate in Afghanistan” and “bind[ing] him into further action on nuclear arms and to keep faith with the UN.”

The prize may have been a farce, an award Obama did not seek and admitted he did not deserve, but his acceptance speech in December will reflect his considered views on war and peace. It will be delivered against the background of critical decisions he will have recently made, or need to make shortly thereafter, regarding both Afghanistan and Iran.

In preparing his address, Obama may want to review the Nobel acceptance speech Theodore Roosevelt delivered on May 10, 1910, which recognized that peace is a relative value:

Peace is generally good in itself, but it is never the highest good unless it comes as the handmaid of righteousness; and it becomes a very evil thing if it serves merely as a mask for cowardice and sloth, or as an instrument to further the ends of despotism or anarchy. We despise and abhor the bully, the brawler, the oppressor, whether in private or public life, but we despise no less the coward and the voluptuary. . . . No nation deserves to exist if it permits itself to lose the stern and virile virtues; and this without regard to whether the loss is due to the growth of a heartless and all-absorbing commercialism, to prolonged indulgence in luxury and soft, effortless ease, or to the deification of a warped and twisted sentimentality.

TR did not live to see all seven wars the U.S. would fight during the 100 years following his speech: World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Iraq War I, the Afghanistan War, and Iraq War II. But if he were giving his speech this year, he would probably note that hundreds of millions of people are free today because of them, and that it is an exceptional country that would fight them and not claim a single inch of territory as a result. He would probably endorse speaking softly but carrying a big stick.

And he might conclude his speech with his same words from 1910, warning against the deification of sentimentality, particularly the use of the prize as a bouquet to a sort of god.

Writing in the NYR Blog, Jonathan Freedland notes that Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded by a committee of five liberal politicians from a country whose population is half the size of London, reflecting a “Norwegian consensus” that “favors multilateralism, yearns for nuclear disarmament, and believes in international institutions, revering the United Nations above all.” The speculation in Oslo is that what clinched the award for Obama was chairing a UN meeting and “using that body as the vehicle for his disarmament ambitions.”

Freedland concludes that the prize can be considered a “bouquet” from Norway, although one with an exhortatory purpose: “making it harder for the President, as a Peace Prize laureate, to take military action against Iran or escalate in Afghanistan” and “bind[ing] him into further action on nuclear arms and to keep faith with the UN.”

The prize may have been a farce, an award Obama did not seek and admitted he did not deserve, but his acceptance speech in December will reflect his considered views on war and peace. It will be delivered against the background of critical decisions he will have recently made, or need to make shortly thereafter, regarding both Afghanistan and Iran.

In preparing his address, Obama may want to review the Nobel acceptance speech Theodore Roosevelt delivered on May 10, 1910, which recognized that peace is a relative value:

Peace is generally good in itself, but it is never the highest good unless it comes as the handmaid of righteousness; and it becomes a very evil thing if it serves merely as a mask for cowardice and sloth, or as an instrument to further the ends of despotism or anarchy. We despise and abhor the bully, the brawler, the oppressor, whether in private or public life, but we despise no less the coward and the voluptuary. . . . No nation deserves to exist if it permits itself to lose the stern and virile virtues; and this without regard to whether the loss is due to the growth of a heartless and all-absorbing commercialism, to prolonged indulgence in luxury and soft, effortless ease, or to the deification of a warped and twisted sentimentality.

TR did not live to see all seven wars the U.S. would fight during the 100 years following his speech: World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Iraq War I, the Afghanistan War, and Iraq War II. But if he were giving his speech this year, he would probably note that hundreds of millions of people are free today because of them, and that it is an exceptional country that would fight them and not claim a single inch of territory as a result. He would probably endorse speaking softly but carrying a big stick.

And he might conclude his speech with his same words from 1910, warning against the deification of sentimentality, particularly the use of the prize as a bouquet to a sort of god.

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Will Obama Place Faith Groups Beyond the Pale?

President Obama’s initial attempts to take a moderate stand on some social issues deeply offended many of his left-wing fans, but they remain hopeful that he will return to the fold. One case in point is his February executive order on the White House office for religion-based and neighborhood programs, which left in place presidential directives allowing religious programs that receive federal funding to continue hiring and firing employees on religious grounds. Left-wing critics are particularly exorcised by a 2007 ruling, according to which the government cannot order religious groups to not discriminate in this manner as a condition of public financing.

Today, the New York Times editorial page weighed in on this issue in a piece titled “Faith-Based Discrimination,” which demanded that Attorney General Holder bow to the wishes of a left-wing coalition that wants him to trash the rulings. Those opinions handed down by the Bush Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel were, the Times wrote, based on a “far-fetched interpretation” of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). But far from being outlandish, the existing policies are very much in the spirit of RFRA, which purposed to restrain government policies that discriminated against religious groups. Congress clearly intended to prevent laws that substantially burden the free exercise of religious faith. The point here isn’t to prevent “religious discrimination” but to force religious groups to operate as if they were purely secular organizations.

The problem with revamping the directives is two-fold. One is that one outcome, which the RFRA hoped to prevent, would be setting up a standard that will discriminate against religious entities. Second, and more to the point in terms of the impact on public policy, is that it is precisely religious organizations that tend to be most effective in dealing with social problems. Any effort to aid local programs dealing with substance abuse or other social pathologies would be ludicrous if it effectively excluded faith-based institutions. Given that private and religious social programs of every sort have become increasingly dependent on government largesse, any such decision that could potentially ban faith-based groups would have a devastating impact on the delivery of social services.

What is truly “far-fetched” is the extreme separationist interpretation of the Constitution that would sweep religious groups and religious speech from the public square. RFRA and the White House orders properly banned the government from weeding out faith-based programs from funding. Though some purists would be happier if all federal funding of any religious institution were banned, common sense demands that if the government is going to support local programs, it cannot place faith beyond the pale.

President Obama’s initial attempts to take a moderate stand on some social issues deeply offended many of his left-wing fans, but they remain hopeful that he will return to the fold. One case in point is his February executive order on the White House office for religion-based and neighborhood programs, which left in place presidential directives allowing religious programs that receive federal funding to continue hiring and firing employees on religious grounds. Left-wing critics are particularly exorcised by a 2007 ruling, according to which the government cannot order religious groups to not discriminate in this manner as a condition of public financing.

Today, the New York Times editorial page weighed in on this issue in a piece titled “Faith-Based Discrimination,” which demanded that Attorney General Holder bow to the wishes of a left-wing coalition that wants him to trash the rulings. Those opinions handed down by the Bush Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel were, the Times wrote, based on a “far-fetched interpretation” of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). But far from being outlandish, the existing policies are very much in the spirit of RFRA, which purposed to restrain government policies that discriminated against religious groups. Congress clearly intended to prevent laws that substantially burden the free exercise of religious faith. The point here isn’t to prevent “religious discrimination” but to force religious groups to operate as if they were purely secular organizations.

The problem with revamping the directives is two-fold. One is that one outcome, which the RFRA hoped to prevent, would be setting up a standard that will discriminate against religious entities. Second, and more to the point in terms of the impact on public policy, is that it is precisely religious organizations that tend to be most effective in dealing with social problems. Any effort to aid local programs dealing with substance abuse or other social pathologies would be ludicrous if it effectively excluded faith-based institutions. Given that private and religious social programs of every sort have become increasingly dependent on government largesse, any such decision that could potentially ban faith-based groups would have a devastating impact on the delivery of social services.

What is truly “far-fetched” is the extreme separationist interpretation of the Constitution that would sweep religious groups and religious speech from the public square. RFRA and the White House orders properly banned the government from weeding out faith-based programs from funding. Though some purists would be happier if all federal funding of any religious institution were banned, common sense demands that if the government is going to support local programs, it cannot place faith beyond the pale.

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Democrats Savage Deeds

You know things are going downhill when liberal bloggers declare that Virginia Democrat gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds is a basket case. As we and others have pointed out, the well-known blog Not Larry Sabato is ripping Deeds on a daily basis. Now along comes My DD to pronounce:

In Virginia, things are not hopeless, but its pretty close to it. Deeds comes across as someone not to take too serious with his attacks on McDonnell. He plays “nice guy” well but comes off as insincere with his attacks. . . . It is still baffling that Deeds wound up with the nomination. . . . The Deeds apologists will tell you that anyone would have been down like this, but that’s just nonsense. Unless things change dramatically in the next three weeks in Virginia, Republicans will sweep the statewide contests, pick up Delegate seats.

And if that isn’t bad enough, Obama came to voter-rich Fairfax County in northern Virginia today to tour a construction site and speak about the purported economic benefits of the stimulus. And Deeds wasn’t there.

There is something to be said for lowering expectations and blaming the candidate rather than the party or the president. But at some point, those efforts help accentuate the losing candidate’s desperation and severely depress turnout. A tough loss becomes a rout, and then the headlines are worse. Besides, does anyone doubt that whatever Deeds’s shortcomings, it is Obama who will suffer a blow if Virginia veers back into Red territory a year after his election?

You know things are going downhill when liberal bloggers declare that Virginia Democrat gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds is a basket case. As we and others have pointed out, the well-known blog Not Larry Sabato is ripping Deeds on a daily basis. Now along comes My DD to pronounce:

In Virginia, things are not hopeless, but its pretty close to it. Deeds comes across as someone not to take too serious with his attacks on McDonnell. He plays “nice guy” well but comes off as insincere with his attacks. . . . It is still baffling that Deeds wound up with the nomination. . . . The Deeds apologists will tell you that anyone would have been down like this, but that’s just nonsense. Unless things change dramatically in the next three weeks in Virginia, Republicans will sweep the statewide contests, pick up Delegate seats.

And if that isn’t bad enough, Obama came to voter-rich Fairfax County in northern Virginia today to tour a construction site and speak about the purported economic benefits of the stimulus. And Deeds wasn’t there.

There is something to be said for lowering expectations and blaming the candidate rather than the party or the president. But at some point, those efforts help accentuate the losing candidate’s desperation and severely depress turnout. A tough loss becomes a rout, and then the headlines are worse. Besides, does anyone doubt that whatever Deeds’s shortcomings, it is Obama who will suffer a blow if Virginia veers back into Red territory a year after his election?

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Specter Sinking?

Sen. Arlen Specter’s party-switching does not seem to have brightened his re-election prospects. According to a new poll, only 31 percent of the state’s voters want to see him re-elected, a figure dubbed “staggering” and “near fatal” by the poll director. Yes, he is leading fellow Democrat Joe Sestak by a 44 to 16 percent margin, but that may be nothing more than a function of name i.d. When it gets to the general-election matchup, Specter is in a dead heat with Republican Pat Toomey.

It’s very early for prognosticating, but the results tell us a few things. For starters, Specter didn’t solve his awful polling problem — he only moved his most acute problem from the primary to the general election. And even the primary race may go sour as Democratic voters realize what a poor general-election candidate he will be.

Second, he’s lost the spotlight as the Most Indecisive and Attention-Grabbing Senator to Olympia Snowe. All that attention and all that praise from the media used to be his! Now he’s just another Democrat whose vote is secured. That’s both a political and no doubt personal come-down for Specter.

And finally, if Pennsylvania is actually competitive in 2010, the Democrats have major issues. It’s one thing for Blanche Lincoln to be in a dogfight or for the embattled Chris Dodd to be fending off a challenge. But to lose Pennsylvania – an urbanized, unionized state that went big for Obama in 2008 – would be a sign that the Obama era is treacherous for Democrats.

Sen. Arlen Specter’s party-switching does not seem to have brightened his re-election prospects. According to a new poll, only 31 percent of the state’s voters want to see him re-elected, a figure dubbed “staggering” and “near fatal” by the poll director. Yes, he is leading fellow Democrat Joe Sestak by a 44 to 16 percent margin, but that may be nothing more than a function of name i.d. When it gets to the general-election matchup, Specter is in a dead heat with Republican Pat Toomey.

It’s very early for prognosticating, but the results tell us a few things. For starters, Specter didn’t solve his awful polling problem — he only moved his most acute problem from the primary to the general election. And even the primary race may go sour as Democratic voters realize what a poor general-election candidate he will be.

Second, he’s lost the spotlight as the Most Indecisive and Attention-Grabbing Senator to Olympia Snowe. All that attention and all that praise from the media used to be his! Now he’s just another Democrat whose vote is secured. That’s both a political and no doubt personal come-down for Specter.

And finally, if Pennsylvania is actually competitive in 2010, the Democrats have major issues. It’s one thing for Blanche Lincoln to be in a dogfight or for the embattled Chris Dodd to be fending off a challenge. But to lose Pennsylvania – an urbanized, unionized state that went big for Obama in 2008 – would be a sign that the Obama era is treacherous for Democrats.

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“The Obama Challenge,” a COMMENTARY Forum in L.A.

If you are in the Los Angeles area, please join us next Tuesday night, October 20, for the first Commentary Forum to be held in the City of Angels. I will be hosting “The Obama Challenge: Israel, Iran, and American Jews” with the participation of Jennifer Rubin, our contributing editor, and Rick Richman, our Mideast affairs blogger. I promise a lively and passionate conversation, and an occasion that will afford COMMENTARY and CONTENTIONS readers in Los Angeles an unusual opportunity to meet and mingle and enjoy an evening of good fellowship. The event will take place at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Boulevard. Admission is $10, and those who will be attending need to register beforehand. You can click here to register.

If you are in the Los Angeles area, please join us next Tuesday night, October 20, for the first Commentary Forum to be held in the City of Angels. I will be hosting “The Obama Challenge: Israel, Iran, and American Jews” with the participation of Jennifer Rubin, our contributing editor, and Rick Richman, our Mideast affairs blogger. I promise a lively and passionate conversation, and an occasion that will afford COMMENTARY and CONTENTIONS readers in Los Angeles an unusual opportunity to meet and mingle and enjoy an evening of good fellowship. The event will take place at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Boulevard. Admission is $10, and those who will be attending need to register beforehand. You can click here to register.

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Liz Derangement Syndrome

There is no better temperature gauge of the Left’s derangement syndrome — the object of the hatred is irrelevant — than the New York Times’s liberal op-ed columnists. So when Maureen Dowd goes into full-rant mode over Liz Cheney (and her political-consultant sister), you pretty much know the object of the next spasm of liberal venomous paranoia. And as it usually is, the rant is more revealing of the ranter than the intended victim.

Dowd fumes: “On Fox News last Sunday, Liz Cheney — who still talks about having ‘liberated’ Iraq — called Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize a ‘farce’ and suggested that he ‘send the mother of a fallen American soldier to accept the prize on behalf of the U.S. military.’ ” Iraq, last time we checked, was liberated from the clutches of Saddam Hussein, and there is a healthy bipartisan consensus that the Nobelists went a bridge too far, even for flaky international Leftists, in giving a self-esteem award to America’s Apologizer in Chief. But how dare Cheney say so! And really, must she be so darn pleasant on TV? (It’s getting hard to remember the good old days when all Republicans were grumpy old men.)

On Dowd meanders to the website of Keep America Safe. (The teeth-grinding you hear is the sound of other Republicans’ whose not-very-exciting websites don’t get attacked on the pages of the Grey Lady.) Dowd objects to showing what terrorists look like (“a daily Willie Hortonish detainee feature, profiling one of the scary swarthy prisoners at Gitmo”). Better that we shouldn’t think too hard about who these people really are, I suppose. And Dowd really doesn’t care for the mission statement of the group, which goes after Obama as “uncertain, wishful, irresolute, and unwilling to stand up for America, our allies and our interests.” That brings on a flashback of the Project for a New American Century, which advocated regime change in Iraq. We know how that worked out. (Iraq was “liberated” — sheesh, there’s that word again – but let’s not introduce any facts into a Dowd column; they’ll be lonely.)

Around now, readers may be wondering why Dowd is all worked up about some TV appearances and a conservative advocacy group. She reveals the source of her angst at the end of her column:

[William] Kristol joked to Politico’s Ben Smith that the venture might serve as a launching pad for Liz to run for office. (A Senate bid from Virginia, where she lives, or Wyoming, which she still calls home?) That raises the terrifying specter that some day we could see a Palin-Cheney ticket, promoted by Kristol. Sarah would bring her content-free crackle and gut instincts; Liz would bring facts and figures distorted by ideology. Pretty soon, we’re pre-emptively invading Iran and the good times are rolling all over again.

The operative word is “terrifying.” What if the Republicans come up with a conservative standard bearer who is smart, attractive, and dedicated to debunking Obama’s weakling foreign policy — and female? It’s enough to send Dowd running for her smelling salts. And the invocation of Palin is telling as well. She was the last (and not so coincidentally also female) Republican who unhinged the Left.

Non-stereotypical conservatives with some popular appeal running for anything has that effect on liberals, who greatly prefer character assassination by word association (“torturer!” “ideology!” “sexist!”) in lieu of facts or any real analysis. Should that conservative figure turn out to be an articulate opponent of the views they hold so dear (but for which they can’t quite mount a reasoned argument), that’s cause for hysteria. And if you’re looking for that on the pages of the Times, you know just where to find it.

There is no better temperature gauge of the Left’s derangement syndrome — the object of the hatred is irrelevant — than the New York Times’s liberal op-ed columnists. So when Maureen Dowd goes into full-rant mode over Liz Cheney (and her political-consultant sister), you pretty much know the object of the next spasm of liberal venomous paranoia. And as it usually is, the rant is more revealing of the ranter than the intended victim.

Dowd fumes: “On Fox News last Sunday, Liz Cheney — who still talks about having ‘liberated’ Iraq — called Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize a ‘farce’ and suggested that he ‘send the mother of a fallen American soldier to accept the prize on behalf of the U.S. military.’ ” Iraq, last time we checked, was liberated from the clutches of Saddam Hussein, and there is a healthy bipartisan consensus that the Nobelists went a bridge too far, even for flaky international Leftists, in giving a self-esteem award to America’s Apologizer in Chief. But how dare Cheney say so! And really, must she be so darn pleasant on TV? (It’s getting hard to remember the good old days when all Republicans were grumpy old men.)

On Dowd meanders to the website of Keep America Safe. (The teeth-grinding you hear is the sound of other Republicans’ whose not-very-exciting websites don’t get attacked on the pages of the Grey Lady.) Dowd objects to showing what terrorists look like (“a daily Willie Hortonish detainee feature, profiling one of the scary swarthy prisoners at Gitmo”). Better that we shouldn’t think too hard about who these people really are, I suppose. And Dowd really doesn’t care for the mission statement of the group, which goes after Obama as “uncertain, wishful, irresolute, and unwilling to stand up for America, our allies and our interests.” That brings on a flashback of the Project for a New American Century, which advocated regime change in Iraq. We know how that worked out. (Iraq was “liberated” — sheesh, there’s that word again – but let’s not introduce any facts into a Dowd column; they’ll be lonely.)

Around now, readers may be wondering why Dowd is all worked up about some TV appearances and a conservative advocacy group. She reveals the source of her angst at the end of her column:

[William] Kristol joked to Politico’s Ben Smith that the venture might serve as a launching pad for Liz to run for office. (A Senate bid from Virginia, where she lives, or Wyoming, which she still calls home?) That raises the terrifying specter that some day we could see a Palin-Cheney ticket, promoted by Kristol. Sarah would bring her content-free crackle and gut instincts; Liz would bring facts and figures distorted by ideology. Pretty soon, we’re pre-emptively invading Iran and the good times are rolling all over again.

The operative word is “terrifying.” What if the Republicans come up with a conservative standard bearer who is smart, attractive, and dedicated to debunking Obama’s weakling foreign policy — and female? It’s enough to send Dowd running for her smelling salts. And the invocation of Palin is telling as well. She was the last (and not so coincidentally also female) Republican who unhinged the Left.

Non-stereotypical conservatives with some popular appeal running for anything has that effect on liberals, who greatly prefer character assassination by word association (“torturer!” “ideology!” “sexist!”) in lieu of facts or any real analysis. Should that conservative figure turn out to be an articulate opponent of the views they hold so dear (but for which they can’t quite mount a reasoned argument), that’s cause for hysteria. And if you’re looking for that on the pages of the Times, you know just where to find it.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Hezbollah Isn’t a Model for Afghanistan

In a new Web exclusive, Michael J. Totten deconstructs the argument that turning the Taliban into a version of Hezbollah should be the focus of our efforts in that war-torn country. Here’s a preview:

According to the Washington Post, some White House foreign-policy hands may be willing to call it a day in Afghanistan if the U.S. military can beat the Taliban down into something that resembles Hezbollah. I suppose I can see why this appeals to those who know just enough about the Taliban to think it’s possible, and just enough about Hezbollah to think it’s desirable.

Hezbollah is moderate and almost reasonable compared with the Taliban. It participates in democratic politics and even conceded the most recent election to Lebanon’s “March 14″ coalition. Not even its worst fanatics throw acid in the faces of unveiled women as the Taliban does. Its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, doesn’t require women to wear headscarves, let alone body-enveloping burkhas, in territory he controls. While the Taliban destroyed ancient Buddha statues in Bamyan with anti-aircraft guns in 2001, the Roman Empire’s Temple of Bacchus, where Western imperialists used to hold pagan orgies, remains an unmolested tourist attraction bang in the middle of Hezbollah’s Bekaa Valley stronghold. Oh, and Hezbollah hasn’t killed any Americans in Lebanon lately.

So, yes, Afghanistan would be a better place if it suffered the likes of Hezbollah instead of the Taliban. But prosecuting a war for that outcome would be bonkers. Hezbollah is an Iranian proxy militia and a Lebanese guerrilla army that starts wars with the country next door and violently assaults its own capital. It’s also a global terrorist network with cells on five continents. … [read on]

In a new Web exclusive, Michael J. Totten deconstructs the argument that turning the Taliban into a version of Hezbollah should be the focus of our efforts in that war-torn country. Here’s a preview:

According to the Washington Post, some White House foreign-policy hands may be willing to call it a day in Afghanistan if the U.S. military can beat the Taliban down into something that resembles Hezbollah. I suppose I can see why this appeals to those who know just enough about the Taliban to think it’s possible, and just enough about Hezbollah to think it’s desirable.

Hezbollah is moderate and almost reasonable compared with the Taliban. It participates in democratic politics and even conceded the most recent election to Lebanon’s “March 14″ coalition. Not even its worst fanatics throw acid in the faces of unveiled women as the Taliban does. Its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, doesn’t require women to wear headscarves, let alone body-enveloping burkhas, in territory he controls. While the Taliban destroyed ancient Buddha statues in Bamyan with anti-aircraft guns in 2001, the Roman Empire’s Temple of Bacchus, where Western imperialists used to hold pagan orgies, remains an unmolested tourist attraction bang in the middle of Hezbollah’s Bekaa Valley stronghold. Oh, and Hezbollah hasn’t killed any Americans in Lebanon lately.

So, yes, Afghanistan would be a better place if it suffered the likes of Hezbollah instead of the Taliban. But prosecuting a war for that outcome would be bonkers. Hezbollah is an Iranian proxy militia and a Lebanese guerrilla army that starts wars with the country next door and violently assaults its own capital. It’s also a global terrorist network with cells on five continents. … [read on]

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Enough Is Enough

Marty Peretz really can’t stand it anymore: “Enough is enough.” The subject this time (no, it’s not the administration’s conduct toward Israel, which also has him at wit’s end) is Russia. He blasts away:

And, no, Obama hasn’t reset the American relationship with Russia. He was taken for a ride. Maybe his vanity won’t let him admit it. But, believe me, the Russians know they have taken him (and us) for a big ride, indeed. . . . After Obama agreed to cancel the missile defense program for Poland and the Czech Republic, the president got Moscow to give him an inch. Maybe, they said, we’d have to move on tougher measures against Iran if Tehran doesn’t satisfy us on its nukes. “Hallelujah!” said the president and his entourage. All of this good cheer is now over.

Yeah, didn’t get that sanctions support we thought we would be getting. Remember all the convoluted justifications we heard at the time? “A secret deal!” “Nah, he wouldn’t give away something for nothing!” Really, what do the Obama spinners say now that Russia has stiffed him? Is there any event, any evidence of diplomatic ineptitude, that would shake faith in Obama’s mastery of foreign policy?

Hillary proclaims herself to be delighted by the new relationship. But this is a one-sided, dysfunctional relationship if there ever was one. One side does precisely what it wants, and the other makes excuses. (Does this remind you of . . . no, let’s keep on topic here.) At some point, even the most devoted fans must begin to ask why the Obami keep giving stuff away without getting anything back. And why do they seem so happy to be doing it?

Marty Peretz really can’t stand it anymore: “Enough is enough.” The subject this time (no, it’s not the administration’s conduct toward Israel, which also has him at wit’s end) is Russia. He blasts away:

And, no, Obama hasn’t reset the American relationship with Russia. He was taken for a ride. Maybe his vanity won’t let him admit it. But, believe me, the Russians know they have taken him (and us) for a big ride, indeed. . . . After Obama agreed to cancel the missile defense program for Poland and the Czech Republic, the president got Moscow to give him an inch. Maybe, they said, we’d have to move on tougher measures against Iran if Tehran doesn’t satisfy us on its nukes. “Hallelujah!” said the president and his entourage. All of this good cheer is now over.

Yeah, didn’t get that sanctions support we thought we would be getting. Remember all the convoluted justifications we heard at the time? “A secret deal!” “Nah, he wouldn’t give away something for nothing!” Really, what do the Obama spinners say now that Russia has stiffed him? Is there any event, any evidence of diplomatic ineptitude, that would shake faith in Obama’s mastery of foreign policy?

Hillary proclaims herself to be delighted by the new relationship. But this is a one-sided, dysfunctional relationship if there ever was one. One side does precisely what it wants, and the other makes excuses. (Does this remind you of . . . no, let’s keep on topic here.) At some point, even the most devoted fans must begin to ask why the Obami keep giving stuff away without getting anything back. And why do they seem so happy to be doing it?

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Leaving Pakistan in the Lurch

The president, egged on by Joe Biden and his nervous domestic-policy advisers, is trying desperately to redefine the enemy and our objectives in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, events in the real world are conspiring against them. Taking note of the “full-scale war” between Pakistan and the Taliban, Washington Post editors observe:

On Tuesday, government warplanes bombed targets in the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan in what may be the prelude to a major army offensive there. Over the previous eight days, however, the Taliban carried out four major attacks that demonstrated both its growing power and its ambitions. One, against Pakistan’s army headquarters, was staged with the help of a terrorist organization from the country’s ethnic Punjabi heartland. That alliance underlines the fact that the Taliban no longer aims merely at controlling the ethnic Pashtun areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan but at gaining control over a nuclear-armed state.

Oblivious to these events (or pretending to be so), the White House is trying to narrow the focus to al-Qaeda, ignoring the threat that the Taliban will topple not just Afghanistan but Pakistan as well, nuclear arsenal and all. At the precise moment the Taliban is exerting maximum pressure on Pakistan, the administration is pondering “a strategy that would give up the U.S. attempt to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan.”

If we embrace the Biden-light-footprint war strategy, we not only enter an indecisive war of attrition — or a “war of exhaustion,” as Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt (Ret.) put it. We also leave Pakistan to the Taliban wolves. We haven’t been very good allies to a number of countries lately (e.g., Honduras, Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic), but leaving both Afghanistan and Pakistan would be an eye opener, even for the most devoted Obama-philes. Abandoning our allies and reneging on our commitments would be hard to spin, even for the sycophants in Oslo.

The president, egged on by Joe Biden and his nervous domestic-policy advisers, is trying desperately to redefine the enemy and our objectives in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, events in the real world are conspiring against them. Taking note of the “full-scale war” between Pakistan and the Taliban, Washington Post editors observe:

On Tuesday, government warplanes bombed targets in the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan in what may be the prelude to a major army offensive there. Over the previous eight days, however, the Taliban carried out four major attacks that demonstrated both its growing power and its ambitions. One, against Pakistan’s army headquarters, was staged with the help of a terrorist organization from the country’s ethnic Punjabi heartland. That alliance underlines the fact that the Taliban no longer aims merely at controlling the ethnic Pashtun areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan but at gaining control over a nuclear-armed state.

Oblivious to these events (or pretending to be so), the White House is trying to narrow the focus to al-Qaeda, ignoring the threat that the Taliban will topple not just Afghanistan but Pakistan as well, nuclear arsenal and all. At the precise moment the Taliban is exerting maximum pressure on Pakistan, the administration is pondering “a strategy that would give up the U.S. attempt to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan.”

If we embrace the Biden-light-footprint war strategy, we not only enter an indecisive war of attrition — or a “war of exhaustion,” as Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt (Ret.) put it. We also leave Pakistan to the Taliban wolves. We haven’t been very good allies to a number of countries lately (e.g., Honduras, Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic), but leaving both Afghanistan and Pakistan would be an eye opener, even for the most devoted Obama-philes. Abandoning our allies and reneging on our commitments would be hard to spin, even for the sycophants in Oslo.

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A Frenzy of Loathing

Noemie Emery takes aim at the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, which has made a habit of awarding Not-George-Bush figures its prize. Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, and now Barack Obama were in large part decorated for repudiating all that the international elite despised about George W. Bush — from his prosecution of the Iraq war to his “cowboy” diplomacy (although he never told Honduras which president to select; neither did he try to engineer the ousting of an Israeli prime minister). He was everything the Oslo set loathed.

There is a downside, however, this time around. The committee set itself up for much ridicule: “It fired at Bush, but hit itself and Obama, whose life it has made much more difficult. It blew itself up in frenzy of loathing. Whom the gods destroy, they first make mad, goes the old saying. Or at least, mad at George W. Bush.”

But isn’t the same true of Obama himself? He’s made Not-George-Bush the cornerstone of his presidency and it hasn’t exactly worked out as planned. In the opening days of his presidency, Obama declared that he would be closing Guantanamo — to recapture our moral standing. Well, it turned out Guantanamo was a very comfy place and no one (including the American people) wanted these dangerous people moved. So, like the Nobel Committee, Obama aimed at Bush and shot himself.

Then there were the string of attacks on the CIA and Bush-era interrogation policies. Releasing the detainee-abuse photos and some (but not all, of course) of the CIA interrogation memos. Handcuff the CIA interrogators. And then debate Dick Cheney. All of this was the continuation of the war against Bush. How did it turn out? Not well. The public likes the idea that the CIA will extract life-saving information from Islamic terrorists. Dick Cheney’s poll numbers went up; support waned for Obama.

Now we have Afghanistan. Obama campaigned on “Bush didn’t focus on Afghanistan” and is now trying to avoid the implications of his own stated policy. Unlike Bush, who was told to listen to the generals, Obama is, we are told, looking at the bigger picture. He’s a big-picture president, unlike his predecessor, is the implication. The result? Voters overwhelmingly favor generals over Obama to decide the direction of the war, and liberals and conservatives alike are squirming over Obama’s public agonizing. Again, “Not Bush” has been a morass for Obama.

We’ve never had such a juvenile display of contrarianism by an American president, who decided to do the opposite of his predecessor – while reminding us of his rationale at every turn. It has, one senses, distorted the administration’s judgment and blinded them to obvious flaws in their own policies. It remains to be seen whether the Obama team will, like the Nobel Committee, blow themselves up in a “frenzy of loathing.” But so far, their Bush obsession hasn’t done them any good.

Noemie Emery takes aim at the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, which has made a habit of awarding Not-George-Bush figures its prize. Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, and now Barack Obama were in large part decorated for repudiating all that the international elite despised about George W. Bush — from his prosecution of the Iraq war to his “cowboy” diplomacy (although he never told Honduras which president to select; neither did he try to engineer the ousting of an Israeli prime minister). He was everything the Oslo set loathed.

There is a downside, however, this time around. The committee set itself up for much ridicule: “It fired at Bush, but hit itself and Obama, whose life it has made much more difficult. It blew itself up in frenzy of loathing. Whom the gods destroy, they first make mad, goes the old saying. Or at least, mad at George W. Bush.”

But isn’t the same true of Obama himself? He’s made Not-George-Bush the cornerstone of his presidency and it hasn’t exactly worked out as planned. In the opening days of his presidency, Obama declared that he would be closing Guantanamo — to recapture our moral standing. Well, it turned out Guantanamo was a very comfy place and no one (including the American people) wanted these dangerous people moved. So, like the Nobel Committee, Obama aimed at Bush and shot himself.

Then there were the string of attacks on the CIA and Bush-era interrogation policies. Releasing the detainee-abuse photos and some (but not all, of course) of the CIA interrogation memos. Handcuff the CIA interrogators. And then debate Dick Cheney. All of this was the continuation of the war against Bush. How did it turn out? Not well. The public likes the idea that the CIA will extract life-saving information from Islamic terrorists. Dick Cheney’s poll numbers went up; support waned for Obama.

Now we have Afghanistan. Obama campaigned on “Bush didn’t focus on Afghanistan” and is now trying to avoid the implications of his own stated policy. Unlike Bush, who was told to listen to the generals, Obama is, we are told, looking at the bigger picture. He’s a big-picture president, unlike his predecessor, is the implication. The result? Voters overwhelmingly favor generals over Obama to decide the direction of the war, and liberals and conservatives alike are squirming over Obama’s public agonizing. Again, “Not Bush” has been a morass for Obama.

We’ve never had such a juvenile display of contrarianism by an American president, who decided to do the opposite of his predecessor – while reminding us of his rationale at every turn. It has, one senses, distorted the administration’s judgment and blinded them to obvious flaws in their own policies. It remains to be seen whether the Obama team will, like the Nobel Committee, blow themselves up in a “frenzy of loathing.” But so far, their Bush obsession hasn’t done them any good.

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General Biden Retreats

The New York Times describes Joe Biden’s disaffection with the war in Afghanistan. He tells us he’s “deeply pessimistic” about our chances of victory. It seems as though the Iraq war was very troubling for Biden. (Which part — the refusal to carve up the country according to his recommendation or the success of the surge over his objections?)

You may not be reassured by John Kerry’s vote of confidence, attesting that Biden “understands this issue very, very deeply.” Very. Nor may you be bolstered by the knowledge that the Democratic strategists quoted in the piece disagree with Biden’s rejection of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation for a robust counterinsurgency plan:

[Bruce] Riedel [who led Obama's Afghanistan review] and others disagree with Mr. Biden. Mr. Riedel said the public could be persuaded to stick by the war with a well articulated argument by the president. And others, more harshly, argue that Mr. Biden’s judgment on foreign policy has often been off base.

They point out that he voted against the successful Persian Gulf war of 1991, voted for the Iraq invasion of 2003, proposed dividing Iraq into three sections in 2006 and opposed the additional troops credited by many with turning Iraq around in 2007.

When was the last time Biden was right about anything?” Thomas E. Ricks, a military writer, wrote in a blog on Sept. 24. Mr. Ricks is affiliated with the Center for a New American Security, a research organization founded by Democrats.

None of the military leaders agree with him either. (Gen. Dan McNeil: “It could lead to greater insecurity and instability in that region.”) What is very clear is that concerns over domestic policy are playing a pivotal role in Biden’s thinking:

Beyond Mr. Biden’s strategic concerns, some who participated in administration deliberations earlier this year said he was keenly aware that the country, and particularly his party’s liberal base, was growing tired of the war and might not accept many more years of extensive American commitment.

“I think a big part of it is, the vice president’s reading of the Democratic Party is this is not sustainable,” said Bruce O. Riedel, who led the administration’s review early this year. “That’s a part of the process that’s a legitimate question for a president — if I do this, can I sustain it with political support at home? That was the argument the vice president was making back in the winter.”

To whom then does the Times refer when it reports that Biden has “attracted more company inside the White House” for his views? Well, one can suppose this would include those for whom concerns over domestic policy are paramount, for whom Iraq is not a story of the surge’s success but of the triumph of domestic opponents, and for whom the track record of the trio of McChrystal-Mullen-Petraeus counts for very little. Let’s hope that description doesn’t include the president.

The New York Times describes Joe Biden’s disaffection with the war in Afghanistan. He tells us he’s “deeply pessimistic” about our chances of victory. It seems as though the Iraq war was very troubling for Biden. (Which part — the refusal to carve up the country according to his recommendation or the success of the surge over his objections?)

You may not be reassured by John Kerry’s vote of confidence, attesting that Biden “understands this issue very, very deeply.” Very. Nor may you be bolstered by the knowledge that the Democratic strategists quoted in the piece disagree with Biden’s rejection of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation for a robust counterinsurgency plan:

[Bruce] Riedel [who led Obama's Afghanistan review] and others disagree with Mr. Biden. Mr. Riedel said the public could be persuaded to stick by the war with a well articulated argument by the president. And others, more harshly, argue that Mr. Biden’s judgment on foreign policy has often been off base.

They point out that he voted against the successful Persian Gulf war of 1991, voted for the Iraq invasion of 2003, proposed dividing Iraq into three sections in 2006 and opposed the additional troops credited by many with turning Iraq around in 2007.

When was the last time Biden was right about anything?” Thomas E. Ricks, a military writer, wrote in a blog on Sept. 24. Mr. Ricks is affiliated with the Center for a New American Security, a research organization founded by Democrats.

None of the military leaders agree with him either. (Gen. Dan McNeil: “It could lead to greater insecurity and instability in that region.”) What is very clear is that concerns over domestic policy are playing a pivotal role in Biden’s thinking:

Beyond Mr. Biden’s strategic concerns, some who participated in administration deliberations earlier this year said he was keenly aware that the country, and particularly his party’s liberal base, was growing tired of the war and might not accept many more years of extensive American commitment.

“I think a big part of it is, the vice president’s reading of the Democratic Party is this is not sustainable,” said Bruce O. Riedel, who led the administration’s review early this year. “That’s a part of the process that’s a legitimate question for a president — if I do this, can I sustain it with political support at home? That was the argument the vice president was making back in the winter.”

To whom then does the Times refer when it reports that Biden has “attracted more company inside the White House” for his views? Well, one can suppose this would include those for whom concerns over domestic policy are paramount, for whom Iraq is not a story of the surge’s success but of the triumph of domestic opponents, and for whom the track record of the trio of McChrystal-Mullen-Petraeus counts for very little. Let’s hope that description doesn’t include the president.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

The good news for Chris Christie is that the polls are stabilizing in the New Jersey gubernatorial race; the bad news is that it’s all within the margin of error in a state with a huge Democratic advantage in registration and powerful unions that can turn out the vote.

Bob McDonnell’s lead remains solid in Virginia.

The hand of Liz Cheney is now seen everywhere — even in the lineup at an AEI event.

A Democrat (and Medal of Honor winner) comes out in favor of McChrystal’s war recommendation: “Without committing himself to specific troop increases, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye returned Tuesday from Afghanistan, seeming to fully embrace Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy that would demand more American resources and manpower.”

The latest health-care group wakes up to the danger of ObamaCare: “‘This is a really devastating proposal for a large number of our membership,’ said Stephen J. Ubl, president and chief executive of the Advanced Medical Technology Association, the organization hosting this week’s AdvaMed 2009 conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. ‘It’s bad for patients, bad for jobs and bad for research and development.’ . . . Mark B. Leahey, president and chief executive of the Washington-based Medical Device Manufacturers Association, said many companies could go under if the proposed tax is enacted.”

Michael Gerson doesn’t think the Nobel Peace Prize matters: “Hard power is essential. Soft power is useful. Star power matters mainly in Oslo.”

Jeffrey Goldberg: “Surprisingly, unless you’ve read anything at all about power politics, the Russians don’t seem to be going along with the move to ratchet up sanctions on Iran.”

The New York Times confirms that Obama’s appeasement of Russia has been a bust: “Denting President Obama’s hopes for a powerful ally in his campaign to press Iran on its nuclear program, Russia’s foreign minister said Tuesday that threatening Tehran now with harsh new sanctions would be ‘counterproductive.’ ” But he won the Nobel Peace Prize — does that count for nothing? Ah, no. (Gerson was right, it seems.)

Douglas Holtz-Eakin on the Baucus Tax Bill (he says it’s health-care legislation, but it’s really a tax bill): “Most astounding of all is what this Congress is willing to do to struggling middle-class families. The bill would impose nearly $400 billion in new taxes and fees. Nearly 90% of that burden will be shouldered by those making $200,000 or less. It might not appear that way at first, because the dollars are collected via a 40% tax on sales by insurers of ‘Cadillac’ policies, fees on health insurers, drug companies and device manufacturers, and an assortment of odds and ends. But the economics are clear. These costs will be passed on to consumers by either directly raising insurance premiums, or by fueling higher health-care costs that inevitably lead to higher premiums.”

Mitt Romney endorses Pat Toomey, raising both their profiles.

The good news for Chris Christie is that the polls are stabilizing in the New Jersey gubernatorial race; the bad news is that it’s all within the margin of error in a state with a huge Democratic advantage in registration and powerful unions that can turn out the vote.

Bob McDonnell’s lead remains solid in Virginia.

The hand of Liz Cheney is now seen everywhere — even in the lineup at an AEI event.

A Democrat (and Medal of Honor winner) comes out in favor of McChrystal’s war recommendation: “Without committing himself to specific troop increases, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye returned Tuesday from Afghanistan, seeming to fully embrace Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy that would demand more American resources and manpower.”

The latest health-care group wakes up to the danger of ObamaCare: “‘This is a really devastating proposal for a large number of our membership,’ said Stephen J. Ubl, president and chief executive of the Advanced Medical Technology Association, the organization hosting this week’s AdvaMed 2009 conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. ‘It’s bad for patients, bad for jobs and bad for research and development.’ . . . Mark B. Leahey, president and chief executive of the Washington-based Medical Device Manufacturers Association, said many companies could go under if the proposed tax is enacted.”

Michael Gerson doesn’t think the Nobel Peace Prize matters: “Hard power is essential. Soft power is useful. Star power matters mainly in Oslo.”

Jeffrey Goldberg: “Surprisingly, unless you’ve read anything at all about power politics, the Russians don’t seem to be going along with the move to ratchet up sanctions on Iran.”

The New York Times confirms that Obama’s appeasement of Russia has been a bust: “Denting President Obama’s hopes for a powerful ally in his campaign to press Iran on its nuclear program, Russia’s foreign minister said Tuesday that threatening Tehran now with harsh new sanctions would be ‘counterproductive.’ ” But he won the Nobel Peace Prize — does that count for nothing? Ah, no. (Gerson was right, it seems.)

Douglas Holtz-Eakin on the Baucus Tax Bill (he says it’s health-care legislation, but it’s really a tax bill): “Most astounding of all is what this Congress is willing to do to struggling middle-class families. The bill would impose nearly $400 billion in new taxes and fees. Nearly 90% of that burden will be shouldered by those making $200,000 or less. It might not appear that way at first, because the dollars are collected via a 40% tax on sales by insurers of ‘Cadillac’ policies, fees on health insurers, drug companies and device manufacturers, and an assortment of odds and ends. But the economics are clear. These costs will be passed on to consumers by either directly raising insurance premiums, or by fueling higher health-care costs that inevitably lead to higher premiums.”

Mitt Romney endorses Pat Toomey, raising both their profiles.

Read Less




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