Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 28, 2009

More on Britain’s “Police State”

Anthony Sacramone, working from a New York Times report, is tolerably severe about the rise of domestic surveillance in Britain. As always, the Times is late to the party. The House of Lords Constitution Committee issued a lengthy report on this subject in January, following on five years of discussion about the rise of the “surveillance society” in Britain. The committee’s report opened:

Surveillance is an inescapable part of life in the UK. Every time we make a telephone call, send an email, browse the internet, or even walk down our local high street, our actions may be monitored and recorded. To respond to crime, combat the threat of terrorism, and improve administrative efficiency, successive UK governments have gradually constructed one of the most extensive and technologically advanced surveillance systems in the world. At the same time, similar developments in the private sector have contributed to a profound change in the character of life in this country. The development of electronic surveillance and the collection and processing of personal information have become pervasive, routine, and almost taken for granted. Many of these surveillance practices are unknown to most people, and their potential consequences are not fully appreciated.

The broader connections of all this are worth pausing over. It is easy to say that all the domestic surveillance in the UK stems from concern — in many cases, justified concern — over terrorism. But as the Times, the Lords, and many other authorities have pointed out, most of it is related to commonplace offenses, such as this undercover campaign against “dog fouling” — i.e. dogs making messes on sidewalks — that barely rise to the level of being an offense. In a society where the state has assumed responsibility for preventing all bad things from happening — for that is the promise of the tender embrace of the social welfare state — there is no principled way to object to it all. It is a case of “we know best.”

And that brings me back to the ongoing scandal about Britain’s broader controls or lack thereof. The guiding theme of this scandal is the same: the political elite doing good unto the voters, whether they wish it or not. The latest story to emerge on this front is that the internal report that made the case for Britain’s covert embrace of mass migration was deliberately doctored to “remove details of [immigration’s] possible links to organised crime, street fights and begging.” Of course, there is plenty of domestic criminality in Britain too. But a policy of open borders is a temptation that many ill-doers would find hard to resist.

That’s one more reason it’s a bad policy: if you don’t control your borders, you have to clamp down even harder domestically. The House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs accepted this point when it stated in 2006 that “the focus can no longer remain so heavily weighted towards initial entry and border control. … Far greater effort will in future have to go into the enforcement of the Immigration Rules within the UK.” Of course, the border controls at the time were actually, and intentionally, quite weak. But to all the other reasons for which Labour liked that, add one more: it justified even more domestic surveillance.

Anthony Sacramone, working from a New York Times report, is tolerably severe about the rise of domestic surveillance in Britain. As always, the Times is late to the party. The House of Lords Constitution Committee issued a lengthy report on this subject in January, following on five years of discussion about the rise of the “surveillance society” in Britain. The committee’s report opened:

Surveillance is an inescapable part of life in the UK. Every time we make a telephone call, send an email, browse the internet, or even walk down our local high street, our actions may be monitored and recorded. To respond to crime, combat the threat of terrorism, and improve administrative efficiency, successive UK governments have gradually constructed one of the most extensive and technologically advanced surveillance systems in the world. At the same time, similar developments in the private sector have contributed to a profound change in the character of life in this country. The development of electronic surveillance and the collection and processing of personal information have become pervasive, routine, and almost taken for granted. Many of these surveillance practices are unknown to most people, and their potential consequences are not fully appreciated.

The broader connections of all this are worth pausing over. It is easy to say that all the domestic surveillance in the UK stems from concern — in many cases, justified concern — over terrorism. But as the Times, the Lords, and many other authorities have pointed out, most of it is related to commonplace offenses, such as this undercover campaign against “dog fouling” — i.e. dogs making messes on sidewalks — that barely rise to the level of being an offense. In a society where the state has assumed responsibility for preventing all bad things from happening — for that is the promise of the tender embrace of the social welfare state — there is no principled way to object to it all. It is a case of “we know best.”

And that brings me back to the ongoing scandal about Britain’s broader controls or lack thereof. The guiding theme of this scandal is the same: the political elite doing good unto the voters, whether they wish it or not. The latest story to emerge on this front is that the internal report that made the case for Britain’s covert embrace of mass migration was deliberately doctored to “remove details of [immigration’s] possible links to organised crime, street fights and begging.” Of course, there is plenty of domestic criminality in Britain too. But a policy of open borders is a temptation that many ill-doers would find hard to resist.

That’s one more reason it’s a bad policy: if you don’t control your borders, you have to clamp down even harder domestically. The House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs accepted this point when it stated in 2006 that “the focus can no longer remain so heavily weighted towards initial entry and border control. … Far greater effort will in future have to go into the enforcement of the Immigration Rules within the UK.” Of course, the border controls at the time were actually, and intentionally, quite weak. But to all the other reasons for which Labour liked that, add one more: it justified even more domestic surveillance.

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Another Day, Another Arms-Trade Scandal, Another Excuse for a Treaty

The story by now should be wearily familiar. Last week France was caught supplying arms to the dictatorial regime in Guinea, which then used them to brutally suppress protesters. This time, it’s Britain. Amnesty International UK asserts that Guinea also used a Mamba armored personnel-carrier that it bought from a South African subsidiary of a UK-based company.

Amnesty International UK’s arms programme director, Oliver Sprague, followed with the predictable call:

An Arms Trade Treaty that does not prevent international arms supplies to those with a persistent record of grave human rights violations like Guinea’s security forces will be a worthless gesture. At the UN this week, the UK and its allies are proposing new procedural rules for the Treaty’s negotiations that could severely restrict progress towards a treaty that can protect rights, lives and livelihoods.

There is certainly a legitimate question about whether exports from South Africa, even if carried out by a British subsidiary, are not first and foremost a matter for South African action. Still, let us assume for the sake of argument that the responsibility falls to Britain.

But Britain has been the biggest cheerleader for the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty. If it feels so strongly about the treaty’s desirability, why does it not ban or control arms exports by British subsidiaries itself? Why is there this appearance of hypocrisy between Britain’s public support for the treaty and the continuation of this trade? The answer is that the treaty is a deeply unserious undertaking, as the actions of its supporters, such as Britain, France, and — far, far more seriously — Iran, prove every day.

And what, by the way, are those “new procedural rules” that threaten to restrict the treaty’s progress? They are the Obama administration’s demand that the negotiations proceed on the basis of consensus. On that score, Amnesty International can relax: far from slowing things down, the pursuit of consensus will accelerate them. Of course, the resulting treaty will be both fast and bad, because consensus is just another word for watering standards down to the lowest common denominator. But that is not the kind of thing that should worry organizations more concerned with the appearance of progress than with its substance.

The story by now should be wearily familiar. Last week France was caught supplying arms to the dictatorial regime in Guinea, which then used them to brutally suppress protesters. This time, it’s Britain. Amnesty International UK asserts that Guinea also used a Mamba armored personnel-carrier that it bought from a South African subsidiary of a UK-based company.

Amnesty International UK’s arms programme director, Oliver Sprague, followed with the predictable call:

An Arms Trade Treaty that does not prevent international arms supplies to those with a persistent record of grave human rights violations like Guinea’s security forces will be a worthless gesture. At the UN this week, the UK and its allies are proposing new procedural rules for the Treaty’s negotiations that could severely restrict progress towards a treaty that can protect rights, lives and livelihoods.

There is certainly a legitimate question about whether exports from South Africa, even if carried out by a British subsidiary, are not first and foremost a matter for South African action. Still, let us assume for the sake of argument that the responsibility falls to Britain.

But Britain has been the biggest cheerleader for the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty. If it feels so strongly about the treaty’s desirability, why does it not ban or control arms exports by British subsidiaries itself? Why is there this appearance of hypocrisy between Britain’s public support for the treaty and the continuation of this trade? The answer is that the treaty is a deeply unserious undertaking, as the actions of its supporters, such as Britain, France, and — far, far more seriously — Iran, prove every day.

And what, by the way, are those “new procedural rules” that threaten to restrict the treaty’s progress? They are the Obama administration’s demand that the negotiations proceed on the basis of consensus. On that score, Amnesty International can relax: far from slowing things down, the pursuit of consensus will accelerate them. Of course, the resulting treaty will be both fast and bad, because consensus is just another word for watering standards down to the lowest common denominator. But that is not the kind of thing that should worry organizations more concerned with the appearance of progress than with its substance.

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Republicans: Listen to Paul Krugman

No, really, they should. At least they should listen to what he has to say in one sentence of a blog post from 10 days ago.

In the post, Krugman sees no “wave election” on the horizon for next year. That, to be sure, is partly wishful thinking and partly ahistorical argumentation. He writes, for instance, that the election of 1994, when the decades-old Democratic status as the majority party crashed and burned, came about because “back in 1994, slogans about free markets, get government off peoples’ [sic] backs, etc. still had some popular resonance.”

They still do. But what turned 1994 from an ordinary off-year election, in which the party in the White House usually loses seats, into an election in which Democrats in Congress, governorships, and state legislatures from Maine to Hawaii got creamed, was the Contract with America. In it, the Republicans promised specific reforms of government. Those reforms entailed real limits on the powers of Congress members, such as term limits for committee chairmen, and of Congress itself, including giving a line-item veto to a Democratic president to help control spending.

Today, Krugman points out, “Republicans don’t have anything positive to sell.” That is all too true. They are against the health-care bill, cap-and-trade, card-check, etc. So is much of the country, and for the same reasons: we can’t afford them, and unions are a major cause of the government’s fiscal irresponsibility already.

What should Republicans be for? How about running on a platform that thoroughly reforms the budget process in specific ways; abolishes earmarks; takes the power to cook the federal books away from politicians and forces honest accounting; limits increases in federal salaries and benefits until they are, once again, in line with the private sector; and ends gerrymandering?

This would greatly limit the power of the members of the political class — of the Left and Right, Democratic and Republican, liberal and conservative — to ensure their own re-elections in the future. It could also produce a wave election that would make Paul Krugman weep.

Oh, and by the way, it would ensure American economic power and prosperity for the foreseeable future by ending the threat of the fiscal train wreck that has been looming ever nearer and is now — if the Obama administration gets it way — but a few election cycles away.

No, really, they should. At least they should listen to what he has to say in one sentence of a blog post from 10 days ago.

In the post, Krugman sees no “wave election” on the horizon for next year. That, to be sure, is partly wishful thinking and partly ahistorical argumentation. He writes, for instance, that the election of 1994, when the decades-old Democratic status as the majority party crashed and burned, came about because “back in 1994, slogans about free markets, get government off peoples’ [sic] backs, etc. still had some popular resonance.”

They still do. But what turned 1994 from an ordinary off-year election, in which the party in the White House usually loses seats, into an election in which Democrats in Congress, governorships, and state legislatures from Maine to Hawaii got creamed, was the Contract with America. In it, the Republicans promised specific reforms of government. Those reforms entailed real limits on the powers of Congress members, such as term limits for committee chairmen, and of Congress itself, including giving a line-item veto to a Democratic president to help control spending.

Today, Krugman points out, “Republicans don’t have anything positive to sell.” That is all too true. They are against the health-care bill, cap-and-trade, card-check, etc. So is much of the country, and for the same reasons: we can’t afford them, and unions are a major cause of the government’s fiscal irresponsibility already.

What should Republicans be for? How about running on a platform that thoroughly reforms the budget process in specific ways; abolishes earmarks; takes the power to cook the federal books away from politicians and forces honest accounting; limits increases in federal salaries and benefits until they are, once again, in line with the private sector; and ends gerrymandering?

This would greatly limit the power of the members of the political class — of the Left and Right, Democratic and Republican, liberal and conservative — to ensure their own re-elections in the future. It could also produce a wave election that would make Paul Krugman weep.

Oh, and by the way, it would ensure American economic power and prosperity for the foreseeable future by ending the threat of the fiscal train wreck that has been looming ever nearer and is now — if the Obama administration gets it way — but a few election cycles away.

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Sail Away to the COMMENTARY Conference of Ideas

The most pressing issues, the most important trends, the most salient ideas — all discussed and considered in the most beautiful setting in the Northern Hemisphere. Please join me, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, CONTENTIONS’s own Jennifer Rubin, former White House Mideast chief Elliott Abrams, talk-show host and writer Michael Medved, the great British historian Andrew Roberts, and the COMMENTARY power couple nonpareil Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter for the first COMMENTARY CONFERENCE OF IDEAS from August 4–August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Seven Seas Navigator as it spends a week journeying through the waters of Alaska.

The year 2010 is shaping up to be among the most consequential in recent history. Iran’s nuclear crisis, the difficulties in Afghanistan, the planned pullout of American forces from Iraq, not to mention the coming congressional elections in the United States and the continuing fallout from the economic meltdown, will all be at the top of the national and international agenda. We will take up all these matters and, needless to say, others we cannot even predict. Panel discussions, lively speeches, exciting interaction with fellow COMMENTARY and CONTENTIONS readers, and nightly dinner with the speakers are part of the all-inclusive package on one of the most luxurious and intimate ships in the Regent fleet. And there will be plenty of time to relax and take in the astonishing vistas and communities of Alaska in the summer.

Information on the conference and the cruise can be found here.

The most pressing issues, the most important trends, the most salient ideas — all discussed and considered in the most beautiful setting in the Northern Hemisphere. Please join me, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, CONTENTIONS’s own Jennifer Rubin, former White House Mideast chief Elliott Abrams, talk-show host and writer Michael Medved, the great British historian Andrew Roberts, and the COMMENTARY power couple nonpareil Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter for the first COMMENTARY CONFERENCE OF IDEAS from August 4–August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Seven Seas Navigator as it spends a week journeying through the waters of Alaska.

The year 2010 is shaping up to be among the most consequential in recent history. Iran’s nuclear crisis, the difficulties in Afghanistan, the planned pullout of American forces from Iraq, not to mention the coming congressional elections in the United States and the continuing fallout from the economic meltdown, will all be at the top of the national and international agenda. We will take up all these matters and, needless to say, others we cannot even predict. Panel discussions, lively speeches, exciting interaction with fellow COMMENTARY and CONTENTIONS readers, and nightly dinner with the speakers are part of the all-inclusive package on one of the most luxurious and intimate ships in the Regent fleet. And there will be plenty of time to relax and take in the astonishing vistas and communities of Alaska in the summer.

Information on the conference and the cruise can be found here.

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A Moment of Truth for Multilateralism

The Obama administration’s foreign policy of being all things to all people now faces a new roadblock: a warning from UN special investigator Philip Alston that our drone attacks on terrorists may amount to “extrajudicial executions,” and that they require, at the very least, better explanation to the UN. (H/t: Hot Air)

What the military calls a “quick-look analysis” highlights two points immediately. First, if we take this concern seriously—if we set the standard for the world in cooperation with the UN—doing so will almost certainly render the Biden strategy for standoff terrorist-hunting in Central Asia impossible to execute.

Second, we have now been elected to the UN Human Rights Council, the body that would take up a report from the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary, or Summary Executions. From this position, and given Obama’s ostentatious and categorical commitments to multilateral cooperation and national humility, stonewalling the Alston report would only amplify an appearance of hypocrisy, cynicism, and superpower arrogance.

These are the questions Mr. Alston proposes to have answered:

“I would like to know the legal basis upon which the United States is operating, in other words… who is running the program, what accountability mechanisms are in place in relation to that,” Alston said.

“Secondly, what precautions the United States is taking to ensure that these weapons are used strictly for purposes consistent with international humanitarian law.

“Third, what sort of review mechanism is there to evaluate when these weapons have been used? Those are the issues I’d like to see addressed,” the UN official said.

The question we need to ask is what precedent it would set to allow the UN to interrogate us according to a putatively supranational agenda on these matters. It’s obvious that mere compliance with the interrogation process would cede to the UN a theoretical veto over our methods of national defense. Nations that have relied on the U.S. to affirm the principles of national sovereignty will be watching very closely how we handle this; some, like France, are likely to urge Obama to weather the charge of hypocrisy and arrogance rather than submit to a UN veto.

No stars had to align to bring this conflict of commitments to a head. Obama set himself up for it with his own policies.

The Obama administration’s foreign policy of being all things to all people now faces a new roadblock: a warning from UN special investigator Philip Alston that our drone attacks on terrorists may amount to “extrajudicial executions,” and that they require, at the very least, better explanation to the UN. (H/t: Hot Air)

What the military calls a “quick-look analysis” highlights two points immediately. First, if we take this concern seriously—if we set the standard for the world in cooperation with the UN—doing so will almost certainly render the Biden strategy for standoff terrorist-hunting in Central Asia impossible to execute.

Second, we have now been elected to the UN Human Rights Council, the body that would take up a report from the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary, or Summary Executions. From this position, and given Obama’s ostentatious and categorical commitments to multilateral cooperation and national humility, stonewalling the Alston report would only amplify an appearance of hypocrisy, cynicism, and superpower arrogance.

These are the questions Mr. Alston proposes to have answered:

“I would like to know the legal basis upon which the United States is operating, in other words… who is running the program, what accountability mechanisms are in place in relation to that,” Alston said.

“Secondly, what precautions the United States is taking to ensure that these weapons are used strictly for purposes consistent with international humanitarian law.

“Third, what sort of review mechanism is there to evaluate when these weapons have been used? Those are the issues I’d like to see addressed,” the UN official said.

The question we need to ask is what precedent it would set to allow the UN to interrogate us according to a putatively supranational agenda on these matters. It’s obvious that mere compliance with the interrogation process would cede to the UN a theoretical veto over our methods of national defense. Nations that have relied on the U.S. to affirm the principles of national sovereignty will be watching very closely how we handle this; some, like France, are likely to urge Obama to weather the charge of hypocrisy and arrogance rather than submit to a UN veto.

No stars had to align to bring this conflict of commitments to a head. Obama set himself up for it with his own policies.

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Re: J Street Lobbying — That’s It?

While J Street is asking for essentially nothing and holding its confab, replete with Iranian regime apologists and boos directed at those who favor sanctions, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee marked up and passed on a voice vote the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act. AIPAC, which strongly supported the measure and is the subject of much of J Street’s venom, was all too happy to circulate the results of its efforts.

Keep in mind that the legislation is permissive — giving Obama (who says he is not ready to talk about sanctions right now, thank you) only the authority to impose sanctions on any entity that provides Iran with refined-petroleum resources or engages in activity that could contribute to Iran’s ability to import such resources. The bill also urges the president to impose sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran and any financial institution engaged in proliferation activities or in support of terrorist groups. A sanctions bill is set to be marked up tomorrow in the Senate Banking Committee. Whether the Obama administration takes advantage of this legislation for any useful purpose is an open question.

So is J Street influential? Not with Congress, which seems to favor measures that J Street despises. It’s wise perhaps then for them to stick to the plain-wrap “ask” for support for a two-state solution.

It is noteworthy that this bill was spearheaded by Rep. Howard Berman. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out he was one of 17 lawmakers (out of 140 “hosts”) who actually showed up to break bread with the J Street crowd at its conference. Did he not know that the group inveighs against his own legislation? Or is he simply trying to cover his Left flank? His constituents should ask him what he was thinking.

While J Street is asking for essentially nothing and holding its confab, replete with Iranian regime apologists and boos directed at those who favor sanctions, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee marked up and passed on a voice vote the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act. AIPAC, which strongly supported the measure and is the subject of much of J Street’s venom, was all too happy to circulate the results of its efforts.

Keep in mind that the legislation is permissive — giving Obama (who says he is not ready to talk about sanctions right now, thank you) only the authority to impose sanctions on any entity that provides Iran with refined-petroleum resources or engages in activity that could contribute to Iran’s ability to import such resources. The bill also urges the president to impose sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran and any financial institution engaged in proliferation activities or in support of terrorist groups. A sanctions bill is set to be marked up tomorrow in the Senate Banking Committee. Whether the Obama administration takes advantage of this legislation for any useful purpose is an open question.

So is J Street influential? Not with Congress, which seems to favor measures that J Street despises. It’s wise perhaps then for them to stick to the plain-wrap “ask” for support for a two-state solution.

It is noteworthy that this bill was spearheaded by Rep. Howard Berman. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out he was one of 17 lawmakers (out of 140 “hosts”) who actually showed up to break bread with the J Street crowd at its conference. Did he not know that the group inveighs against his own legislation? Or is he simply trying to cover his Left flank? His constituents should ask him what he was thinking.

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J Street Lobbying — That’s It?

The “J Street Lobby Day Participant” instructions are being circulated around. The guide is remarkable on a number of counts. First, the only “ask,” as the guidelines put it, is for the participants to ask lawmakers “to make a clear and unequivocal public statement in support of U.S. leadership in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by the end of the year.” Wow. You think they could “achieve” that aim? It reminds me of a gay-rights protest organized in my freshman year at U.C. Berkeley in which students were asked to show support by wearing jeans. Gosh, they had about 90 percent participation. Likewise, J Street’s “ask” is pabulum, undifferentiated from what every other Jewish group would ask and what virtually every lawmaker would do with no prompt at all.

Where is the “ask” for no sanctions against Iran? Where is the “ask” for a total settlement freeze? Seems like the J Street crowd has wimped out.

Now the guidelines also say that J Street is in favor of a two-state solution, although it doesn’t say anything about leaving Israel with defensible borders or about recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Hmm. It also interestingly enumerates polling data showing widespread support for the two-state solution. No data is shown reflecting strong support for sanctions or military action if needed against Iran. Naturally.

Perhaps J Street doesn’t have the power of its own convictions. Or maybe it has figured out that what it wants will be met with looks of incredulity.

The “J Street Lobby Day Participant” instructions are being circulated around. The guide is remarkable on a number of counts. First, the only “ask,” as the guidelines put it, is for the participants to ask lawmakers “to make a clear and unequivocal public statement in support of U.S. leadership in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by the end of the year.” Wow. You think they could “achieve” that aim? It reminds me of a gay-rights protest organized in my freshman year at U.C. Berkeley in which students were asked to show support by wearing jeans. Gosh, they had about 90 percent participation. Likewise, J Street’s “ask” is pabulum, undifferentiated from what every other Jewish group would ask and what virtually every lawmaker would do with no prompt at all.

Where is the “ask” for no sanctions against Iran? Where is the “ask” for a total settlement freeze? Seems like the J Street crowd has wimped out.

Now the guidelines also say that J Street is in favor of a two-state solution, although it doesn’t say anything about leaving Israel with defensible borders or about recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Hmm. It also interestingly enumerates polling data showing widespread support for the two-state solution. No data is shown reflecting strong support for sanctions or military action if needed against Iran. Naturally.

Perhaps J Street doesn’t have the power of its own convictions. Or maybe it has figured out that what it wants will be met with looks of incredulity.

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Osama bin Laden Not World’s Greatest Dad. Film at 11.

So Vanity Fair has an excerpt from Growing Up Bin Laden, by the Most Wanted’s son Omar, in which the arch-terrorist is described as having a prodigious memory, a penchant for soccer, and —

You might have guessed by now that my father was not an affectionate man. He never cuddled with me or my brothers. I tried to force him to show affection, and was told that I made a pest of myself. When he was home, I remained near, pulling attention-gaining pranks as frequently as I dared. Nothing sparked his fatherly warmth. In fact, my annoying behavior encouraged him to start carrying his signature cane. As time passed, he began caning me and my brothers for the slightest infraction.

So no one is ever going to sew the name Cuddles into his jammies. Got it.

Please, please let there not be a reality show in this, as there was with Growing Up Gotti. I might have to take my signature caning stick to the moving-picture box.

So Vanity Fair has an excerpt from Growing Up Bin Laden, by the Most Wanted’s son Omar, in which the arch-terrorist is described as having a prodigious memory, a penchant for soccer, and —

You might have guessed by now that my father was not an affectionate man. He never cuddled with me or my brothers. I tried to force him to show affection, and was told that I made a pest of myself. When he was home, I remained near, pulling attention-gaining pranks as frequently as I dared. Nothing sparked his fatherly warmth. In fact, my annoying behavior encouraged him to start carrying his signature cane. As time passed, he began caning me and my brothers for the slightest infraction.

So no one is ever going to sew the name Cuddles into his jammies. Got it.

Please, please let there not be a reality show in this, as there was with Growing Up Gotti. I might have to take my signature caning stick to the moving-picture box.

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Don’t Wait for Russia

In the nuclear standoff with Iran, over the years both Europe and the U.S. have consistently pursued a multilateral strategy. Despite considerable delays and watered-down accomplishments, in early 2006 the strategy yielded a first result: the IAEA Board of Governors referred Iran to the UN Security Council for its noncompliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Soon after, to Iran’s great dismay, the council passed resolution 1696. In December 2006 and soon after in March 2007, Resolutions 1737 and 1747 were unanimously approved, introducing sanctions against Iran. But then it took an additional year to get more sanctions — and the new resolution 1803 only added a few names to the already less-than-satisfactory list of entities and individuals targeted by the sanctions. Since then, nothing more than a reaffirmation of these sanctions has made it through the Security Council.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

In the nuclear standoff with Iran, over the years both Europe and the U.S. have consistently pursued a multilateral strategy. Despite considerable delays and watered-down accomplishments, in early 2006 the strategy yielded a first result: the IAEA Board of Governors referred Iran to the UN Security Council for its noncompliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Soon after, to Iran’s great dismay, the council passed resolution 1696. In December 2006 and soon after in March 2007, Resolutions 1737 and 1747 were unanimously approved, introducing sanctions against Iran. But then it took an additional year to get more sanctions — and the new resolution 1803 only added a few names to the already less-than-satisfactory list of entities and individuals targeted by the sanctions. Since then, nothing more than a reaffirmation of these sanctions has made it through the Security Council.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

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No Good News for Deeds

One new poll today shows Creigh Deeds lagging in the Virginia gubernatorial race by 18 points; another shows him down by 13 points. Yes, it appears as though the race is headed for a blowout likely to drag down other Democrats on the ballot. Imagine you are a candidate for the House of Delegates: you now have to run about 15 points above the top of the ticket. A lot of them won’t clear that bar.

The margin matters for another reason. Perhaps a 5- or 7-point margin can be explained away as the doing of a mediocre or even really bad candidate, which Deeds did prove to be. But Deeds can’t bear all the blame for a seismic shift in a single year. Democrats and Republicans alike will argue about the national implications of this race. But one thing is certain — all the chatter about Virginia turning Blue may look pretty silly next week.

One new poll today shows Creigh Deeds lagging in the Virginia gubernatorial race by 18 points; another shows him down by 13 points. Yes, it appears as though the race is headed for a blowout likely to drag down other Democrats on the ballot. Imagine you are a candidate for the House of Delegates: you now have to run about 15 points above the top of the ticket. A lot of them won’t clear that bar.

The margin matters for another reason. Perhaps a 5- or 7-point margin can be explained away as the doing of a mediocre or even really bad candidate, which Deeds did prove to be. But Deeds can’t bear all the blame for a seismic shift in a single year. Democrats and Republicans alike will argue about the national implications of this race. But one thing is certain — all the chatter about Virginia turning Blue may look pretty silly next week.

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Oh, No Big Deal

You may recall the hullabaloo created by the House Democrats that the CIA during the Bush administration had lied and withheld critical information about — who knew? — our trying to kill al-Qaeda operatives. In breathless tones, Nancy Pelosi and crew told us this was the doing of Dick Cheney, the shadow president, who prevailed upon the CIA to hide all this from the Congress. Well, at the time many of us thought this was cover for Pelosi’s “The CIA lied!” attack, in which she claimed never to have been told about enhanced interrogation techniques. Now the Obama administration says this was no big deal. Robert Litt, general counsel to Dennis C. Blair, the director of National Intelligence, testified before Congress, explaining that really, Congress isn’t told everything and doesn’t need to be:

Litt said that deciding what a “significant intelligence activity” is involves “the exercise of judgment” and that “different people are going to have different judgments.”

The criteria for what is significant, he said, involves factors including whether an operation could involve loss of life, its impact on foreign policy decisions, the risk of exposure and the consequences. Another factor is the level of government where the activity originated. For example, White House authorization would show an operation’s significance but something authorized at an agency level may not, Litt said.

While the assassination teams were proposed, they were never put into action. “There’s not an obligation to brief every time somebody at the agency comes up with an idea, every time even they explore the idea to some extent,” he said.

In other words, this was just a lot of sand kicked up to distract us from Pelosi’s bug-eyed news  conference, which before Harry Reid’s presser, was considered the single worst news outing by any elected figure in recent memory.

You may recall the hullabaloo created by the House Democrats that the CIA during the Bush administration had lied and withheld critical information about — who knew? — our trying to kill al-Qaeda operatives. In breathless tones, Nancy Pelosi and crew told us this was the doing of Dick Cheney, the shadow president, who prevailed upon the CIA to hide all this from the Congress. Well, at the time many of us thought this was cover for Pelosi’s “The CIA lied!” attack, in which she claimed never to have been told about enhanced interrogation techniques. Now the Obama administration says this was no big deal. Robert Litt, general counsel to Dennis C. Blair, the director of National Intelligence, testified before Congress, explaining that really, Congress isn’t told everything and doesn’t need to be:

Litt said that deciding what a “significant intelligence activity” is involves “the exercise of judgment” and that “different people are going to have different judgments.”

The criteria for what is significant, he said, involves factors including whether an operation could involve loss of life, its impact on foreign policy decisions, the risk of exposure and the consequences. Another factor is the level of government where the activity originated. For example, White House authorization would show an operation’s significance but something authorized at an agency level may not, Litt said.

While the assassination teams were proposed, they were never put into action. “There’s not an obligation to brief every time somebody at the agency comes up with an idea, every time even they explore the idea to some extent,” he said.

In other words, this was just a lot of sand kicked up to distract us from Pelosi’s bug-eyed news  conference, which before Harry Reid’s presser, was considered the single worst news outing by any elected figure in recent memory.

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Cap-and-Trade Fizzling?

Liberal Senators Barbara Boxer and John Kerry have been toiling away on cap-and-trade, seemingly oblivious to the utter lack of appetite for this initiative among their moderate colleagues. Sen. Max Baucus came along to dump some cold water on their efforts, according to this report:

“I have some concerns about the overall direction of the bill,” Mr. Baucus said at the start of hearings Tuesday. “I have serious reservations with the depth of the midterm reduction target … and the lack of pre-emption of the Clean Air Act.” As proposed, the bill risks moving legislators “further away from that achievable consensus on common-sense climate-change [legislation],” Mr. Baucus said.

If the debate on health-care reform is going to continue at least until the end of the year, that means that cap-and-trade would have to come up for a debate and vote in 2010. What do we think the chances of passing a huge energy tax in an election year might be? Well, less than getting Harry Reid’s public-option plan through.

This, once again, points to the rather stark divide between the activities of liberal lawmakers and the realm of possible legislation. Do the liberal lawmakers like wasting their time? Well, hope springs eternal, I suppose. But when you imagine that all opposition to your grandiose plans is a concoction of Fox News, you wind up spinning your wheels a bit. And yes, part of this effort is all “show” so that liberal interest groups don’t wonder why the recipients of all their campaign largesse aren’t doing something for them.

But one thing is clear regarding cap-and-trade: the vote on the House bill went a long way toward imperiling the standing of both moderate and conservative House members and making the passage of ObamaCare more difficult. It also became a popular issue for Bob McDonnell in the Virginia gubernatorial race. So, in all likelihood, Boxer and Kerry will be working on that bill for a good long time past the 2010 elections.

Liberal Senators Barbara Boxer and John Kerry have been toiling away on cap-and-trade, seemingly oblivious to the utter lack of appetite for this initiative among their moderate colleagues. Sen. Max Baucus came along to dump some cold water on their efforts, according to this report:

“I have some concerns about the overall direction of the bill,” Mr. Baucus said at the start of hearings Tuesday. “I have serious reservations with the depth of the midterm reduction target … and the lack of pre-emption of the Clean Air Act.” As proposed, the bill risks moving legislators “further away from that achievable consensus on common-sense climate-change [legislation],” Mr. Baucus said.

If the debate on health-care reform is going to continue at least until the end of the year, that means that cap-and-trade would have to come up for a debate and vote in 2010. What do we think the chances of passing a huge energy tax in an election year might be? Well, less than getting Harry Reid’s public-option plan through.

This, once again, points to the rather stark divide between the activities of liberal lawmakers and the realm of possible legislation. Do the liberal lawmakers like wasting their time? Well, hope springs eternal, I suppose. But when you imagine that all opposition to your grandiose plans is a concoction of Fox News, you wind up spinning your wheels a bit. And yes, part of this effort is all “show” so that liberal interest groups don’t wonder why the recipients of all their campaign largesse aren’t doing something for them.

But one thing is clear regarding cap-and-trade: the vote on the House bill went a long way toward imperiling the standing of both moderate and conservative House members and making the passage of ObamaCare more difficult. It also became a popular issue for Bob McDonnell in the Virginia gubernatorial race. So, in all likelihood, Boxer and Kerry will be working on that bill for a good long time past the 2010 elections.

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West Bank Story

Here’s a wild story, courtesy of YNet. T is a gay Palestinian who for the past 10 years has been living in Israel with his partner, an Israeli Jew named Doron. A few days ago, he heard that his father was ill, and he ventured across the border into the West Bank to visit him. When he tried to return, however, the IDF told him his permit had been lost, maybe revoked. T was stuck: he couldn’t go back home to Israel, and he couldn’t return to his village, for fear of being murdered because he is openly gay.

T was offered shelter by an Orthodox Jewish family, living in one of the settlements in the West Bank. Thanks to a generous, humanitarian gesture by one of those evil, nasty, gun-toting, messiah-heralding, baby-producing, Bible-thumping settlers, T has hope and room to breathe.

What do we learn from this? On the one hand, there’s the plight of Palestinians desperately trying to make their way out of their homeland to something better, and the trouble they face by the authorities of democratic states like Israel, and especially a security bureaucracy as lethal as its weaponry, even when they think they have permission to stay. On the other hand, there’s the touching personal story of the anonymous family of religious settlers willing to take T into their home — certainly not for the publicity (they remain unknown), and also not because they necessarily support equality for gays in society — but just because it is a mitzva to save the guy’s life.

But the biggest story, I think, is that he needed shelter in the first place. For all our hopes pinned on Abbas and the rest of the Fatah-led PA crew, it’s still a fact that an openly gay person risks his life by entering a Palestinian village. And the same is true in many places across the Arab world, and in Iran as well. The fact is that for all our desire to understand the “other,” to sympathize with the plight of civilizations different from our own and, to embrace their struggle against oppression while denouncing our own “colonialism,” the fact remains that at least part of what makes them different from us is not merely quaint or alien but reprehensible. That we are in effect extending a hand of tolerance to those who expressly renounce tolerance, and who make little effort to hide their murderous side.

Here there are no excuses to be made for Abbas: the problem with the Palestinian Authority is not that it lacks proper mechanisms for the enforcement of gay rights, that it just can’t get its anti-gay groups under its rein. The problem, indeed, is not with the regime, so much as with an entire society that doesn’t believe in gay rights and has no intention of protecting them. And that for them, the rejection of gays extends far beyond denying them civil rights into denying them human ones. Until this changes, if it ever does, why would any self-respecting Westerner take such people’s side?

When you affirm one civilization in favor of another — whether it’s your own, or that of your adversary, or just taking sides in a faraway conflict — you are affirming not just the people in that civilization but the values they cherish as well. For better or worse.

Here’s a wild story, courtesy of YNet. T is a gay Palestinian who for the past 10 years has been living in Israel with his partner, an Israeli Jew named Doron. A few days ago, he heard that his father was ill, and he ventured across the border into the West Bank to visit him. When he tried to return, however, the IDF told him his permit had been lost, maybe revoked. T was stuck: he couldn’t go back home to Israel, and he couldn’t return to his village, for fear of being murdered because he is openly gay.

T was offered shelter by an Orthodox Jewish family, living in one of the settlements in the West Bank. Thanks to a generous, humanitarian gesture by one of those evil, nasty, gun-toting, messiah-heralding, baby-producing, Bible-thumping settlers, T has hope and room to breathe.

What do we learn from this? On the one hand, there’s the plight of Palestinians desperately trying to make their way out of their homeland to something better, and the trouble they face by the authorities of democratic states like Israel, and especially a security bureaucracy as lethal as its weaponry, even when they think they have permission to stay. On the other hand, there’s the touching personal story of the anonymous family of religious settlers willing to take T into their home — certainly not for the publicity (they remain unknown), and also not because they necessarily support equality for gays in society — but just because it is a mitzva to save the guy’s life.

But the biggest story, I think, is that he needed shelter in the first place. For all our hopes pinned on Abbas and the rest of the Fatah-led PA crew, it’s still a fact that an openly gay person risks his life by entering a Palestinian village. And the same is true in many places across the Arab world, and in Iran as well. The fact is that for all our desire to understand the “other,” to sympathize with the plight of civilizations different from our own and, to embrace their struggle against oppression while denouncing our own “colonialism,” the fact remains that at least part of what makes them different from us is not merely quaint or alien but reprehensible. That we are in effect extending a hand of tolerance to those who expressly renounce tolerance, and who make little effort to hide their murderous side.

Here there are no excuses to be made for Abbas: the problem with the Palestinian Authority is not that it lacks proper mechanisms for the enforcement of gay rights, that it just can’t get its anti-gay groups under its rein. The problem, indeed, is not with the regime, so much as with an entire society that doesn’t believe in gay rights and has no intention of protecting them. And that for them, the rejection of gays extends far beyond denying them civil rights into denying them human ones. Until this changes, if it ever does, why would any self-respecting Westerner take such people’s side?

When you affirm one civilization in favor of another — whether it’s your own, or that of your adversary, or just taking sides in a faraway conflict — you are affirming not just the people in that civilization but the values they cherish as well. For better or worse.

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Anti-Anti-Iran

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick gives an eye-opening account of the panel on Iran at the J Street confab. He observes that it featured none other than Hillary Mann Leverett of “Ahmadinejad Won, Get Over It” fame, who put on a display of moral equivalence that was breathtaking even for the J Street crowd. Forget for a moment her opposition to any sanctions (a position shared by J Street but rejected by an overwhelming percentage of Americans, and American Jews specifically), Mann Leverett is opposed to any criticism of the Iranian negotiation ploys and head fakes. To even mention the stall-a-thon is to be guilty of, yes, “reinforcing stereotypes of Iranian duplicitousness” and acting in a “fundamentally racist” way.

This perfectly encapsulates the J Street mentality — which seeks to defend and deflect criticism from Israel’s most virulent foes. Israel and its government, or perhaps the dreaded neo-cons, are the subject of its endless rants, criticism, and vilification. Iran and Hamas? We hear nary a harsh word. The result is a sort of delusional explanation of events in which no adverse facts or interpretation contrary to the “Israel is the problem” narrative is permitted.

The closest thing we have seen to this nauseating flackery is the unsavory history of those in the American Left (both during and after the Stalinist era) who ran  interference for  the Soviet Union, which in the eyes of its American lackeys also could do no wrong and also was the perpetual victim of American intransigence, bullying, and insensitivity. And like the post-Stalinist variety of apologists, today’s crop of anti-anti-Iranian-regime Leftists don’t have the excuse of ignorance. We know the nature of that regime after the brutal suppression of democracy protesters, and we know the mullahs have been duplicitous in, among other things, hiding the Qom facility. It is not “stereotyping” to speak of these truths, but it is, according to this gang, now unacceptable to say so.

This see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil — except if we’re talking about Israel — is J Street’s chosen approach. There is a ready market for this sort of thing among the Left. However, it isn’t at all clear there is much of a market for this claptrap within the American Jewish community. That rebranding idea (nix the “pro-Israel” label) may be a wise marketing move.

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick gives an eye-opening account of the panel on Iran at the J Street confab. He observes that it featured none other than Hillary Mann Leverett of “Ahmadinejad Won, Get Over It” fame, who put on a display of moral equivalence that was breathtaking even for the J Street crowd. Forget for a moment her opposition to any sanctions (a position shared by J Street but rejected by an overwhelming percentage of Americans, and American Jews specifically), Mann Leverett is opposed to any criticism of the Iranian negotiation ploys and head fakes. To even mention the stall-a-thon is to be guilty of, yes, “reinforcing stereotypes of Iranian duplicitousness” and acting in a “fundamentally racist” way.

This perfectly encapsulates the J Street mentality — which seeks to defend and deflect criticism from Israel’s most virulent foes. Israel and its government, or perhaps the dreaded neo-cons, are the subject of its endless rants, criticism, and vilification. Iran and Hamas? We hear nary a harsh word. The result is a sort of delusional explanation of events in which no adverse facts or interpretation contrary to the “Israel is the problem” narrative is permitted.

The closest thing we have seen to this nauseating flackery is the unsavory history of those in the American Left (both during and after the Stalinist era) who ran  interference for  the Soviet Union, which in the eyes of its American lackeys also could do no wrong and also was the perpetual victim of American intransigence, bullying, and insensitivity. And like the post-Stalinist variety of apologists, today’s crop of anti-anti-Iranian-regime Leftists don’t have the excuse of ignorance. We know the nature of that regime after the brutal suppression of democracy protesters, and we know the mullahs have been duplicitous in, among other things, hiding the Qom facility. It is not “stereotyping” to speak of these truths, but it is, according to this gang, now unacceptable to say so.

This see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil — except if we’re talking about Israel — is J Street’s chosen approach. There is a ready market for this sort of thing among the Left. However, it isn’t at all clear there is much of a market for this claptrap within the American Jewish community. That rebranding idea (nix the “pro-Israel” label) may be a wise marketing move.

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They Are Also, Well, Boring

Politico does some dancing on the graves of its competition:

There have been a lot of bad days recently for what’s come to be known as the Mainstream Media — or MSM — but Monday was one of the worst. New circulation figures showed that big city papers had lost as much as a quarter of their circulation in the last six months. And new TV ratings showed that CNN, the cable network that prides itself on news coverage down the middle, finished dead last in prime-time against more partisan rivals like Fox News and MSNBC.

Uh, not quite. CNN may be boring and predictable, but it is hardly nonpartisan. It stands firmly in the middle of, and in some sense defines, mushy Left-of-Center, conventional Beltway thinking. It is home, a perfect one at that, for the likes of Anderson Cooper and Donna Brazile. It is the realm of polite (usually) liberalism. The in-house “conservative” is David Gergen, who doesn’t even pretend to be a conservative any longer.

But is sounds so much better to explain away the MSM’s lack of success by attributing it to holier-than-thou and oh-so-out-of-fashion journalistic independence and fairness. Well, it’s also a bore, doesn’t carry news that’s not Obama-friendly, and lacks any sense of urgency, any breaking newsiness — all of which is deadly, especially in a time of 24/7 Web-available news and when the most engaged news followers are irritated conservatives and independents.

Yes, traditional media are struggling because of market fragmentation and changing viewing/reading habits. But much of what they deliver just isn’t very good — and too much of it is laughable pabulum from the White House spin factory. The outlets that aren’t under the direction of the White House Media Politburo — Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, to name two that also happen to cover stories mainstream outlets don’t — are doing just fine. They must have figured out that reverential stories about the Obami and recycled press releases aren’t the way to hold an audience.

I don’t think it’s all that hard to figure out. The market has a way of weeding out inferior products — and it seems to be doing just that.

Politico does some dancing on the graves of its competition:

There have been a lot of bad days recently for what’s come to be known as the Mainstream Media — or MSM — but Monday was one of the worst. New circulation figures showed that big city papers had lost as much as a quarter of their circulation in the last six months. And new TV ratings showed that CNN, the cable network that prides itself on news coverage down the middle, finished dead last in prime-time against more partisan rivals like Fox News and MSNBC.

Uh, not quite. CNN may be boring and predictable, but it is hardly nonpartisan. It stands firmly in the middle of, and in some sense defines, mushy Left-of-Center, conventional Beltway thinking. It is home, a perfect one at that, for the likes of Anderson Cooper and Donna Brazile. It is the realm of polite (usually) liberalism. The in-house “conservative” is David Gergen, who doesn’t even pretend to be a conservative any longer.

But is sounds so much better to explain away the MSM’s lack of success by attributing it to holier-than-thou and oh-so-out-of-fashion journalistic independence and fairness. Well, it’s also a bore, doesn’t carry news that’s not Obama-friendly, and lacks any sense of urgency, any breaking newsiness — all of which is deadly, especially in a time of 24/7 Web-available news and when the most engaged news followers are irritated conservatives and independents.

Yes, traditional media are struggling because of market fragmentation and changing viewing/reading habits. But much of what they deliver just isn’t very good — and too much of it is laughable pabulum from the White House spin factory. The outlets that aren’t under the direction of the White House Media Politburo — Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, to name two that also happen to cover stories mainstream outlets don’t — are doing just fine. They must have figured out that reverential stories about the Obami and recycled press releases aren’t the way to hold an audience.

I don’t think it’s all that hard to figure out. The market has a way of weeding out inferior products — and it seems to be doing just that.

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Reid’s Sorry Performance

Dana Perino gives a review of Harry Reid’s press conference and his “throw-the-dice-on-the-public-option” gambit:

His press conference yesterday was a rather sad affair — all by himself, back to square one, with a twinge of maybe-this-helps-me-in-Nevada politics. Reading the press last week, one would have thought this was all a done deal, that consensus had won the day and all we were waiting for was a signing ceremony. I found those stories a bit over the top, especially as many were based on polling questions that were, to be charitable, skewed. This development proves again that legislative reform efforts go in cycles – one week you’re up, the next your back on your heels.

There sure is a Middle East peace-process feel to the health-care reform effort these days — a deal is just around the corner, photo-ops receive undo attention as a substitute for real news, and feel-good rhetoric predominates over any sign that concrete progress is being made.

But beyond the sense that there is no magic plan that’s going to accomplish everything the spinners say it can (expand coverage, lower costs, and cut the deficit too!), one gets a glimpse now and then, as we did with Reid’s press conference, that there isn’t anyone who can figure out how to put a deal together, at least not the all-in-one-last-forever variety (the spin for which sounds increasingly like a late-night infomercial hawking the endless properties of the product but unable to remove the nagging sensation that it’s never going to work when you open the box).

The irony is that there are attainable, discrete reforms that could draw bipartisan support and deliver a not-insignificant achievement for both the Democratic Congress and the president. But the longer and more incompetently they drag this out, the more likely a complete collapse of the entire process becomes, and the more likely any eventual lowest-common-denominator bill will seem like no accomplishment at all. But this is what comes, as we saw during the stimulus bill, from letting the Democratic leadership in Congress run the show.

Dana Perino gives a review of Harry Reid’s press conference and his “throw-the-dice-on-the-public-option” gambit:

His press conference yesterday was a rather sad affair — all by himself, back to square one, with a twinge of maybe-this-helps-me-in-Nevada politics. Reading the press last week, one would have thought this was all a done deal, that consensus had won the day and all we were waiting for was a signing ceremony. I found those stories a bit over the top, especially as many were based on polling questions that were, to be charitable, skewed. This development proves again that legislative reform efforts go in cycles – one week you’re up, the next your back on your heels.

There sure is a Middle East peace-process feel to the health-care reform effort these days — a deal is just around the corner, photo-ops receive undo attention as a substitute for real news, and feel-good rhetoric predominates over any sign that concrete progress is being made.

But beyond the sense that there is no magic plan that’s going to accomplish everything the spinners say it can (expand coverage, lower costs, and cut the deficit too!), one gets a glimpse now and then, as we did with Reid’s press conference, that there isn’t anyone who can figure out how to put a deal together, at least not the all-in-one-last-forever variety (the spin for which sounds increasingly like a late-night infomercial hawking the endless properties of the product but unable to remove the nagging sensation that it’s never going to work when you open the box).

The irony is that there are attainable, discrete reforms that could draw bipartisan support and deliver a not-insignificant achievement for both the Democratic Congress and the president. But the longer and more incompetently they drag this out, the more likely a complete collapse of the entire process becomes, and the more likely any eventual lowest-common-denominator bill will seem like no accomplishment at all. But this is what comes, as we saw during the stimulus bill, from letting the Democratic leadership in Congress run the show.

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Answering a Critic

Greg Scoblete at Realclearworld.com takes me to task for my item on the Baghdad bombing, in which I urged readers not to lose sight of the bigger picture — namely that the situation in Iraq has improved markedly over the past couple of years. He writes:

Iraq’s population is currently 29 million. A bombing that kills 155 Iraqis is the proportional equivalent of a bombing that kills 1,600 Americans. I wonder, in the wake of such an attack, if Boot would issue similar calls for context and urge us to recognize that America remains overwhelmingly safe and secure despite the occasional terrorist atrocity.

This misses an important distinction. The United States has not been locked in a war on its home front for the past six years. Iraq has. At times that fighting became debilitating. In 2006 and early 2007, large swathes of Baghdad looked like a ghost town as residents fled in the face of Sunni suicide bombers and Shiite ethnic-cleansing squads. Today, by contrast, the capital is full of people, stores (including liquor stores) are open, and amusement parks are thronged.

All I was suggesting is that a few bombings like the one that just occurred, or the earlier bombing on August 19, have not shaken that return to normality. That doesn’t mean the bombings are acceptable or no big deal. Iraq will have trouble growing in the future if such bombings continue. Certainly all available resources should be employed to destroy the al-Qaeda cells that carried out these attacks. As long as there are still massacres in Baghdad, or anywhere else in the country, the war cannot be considered truly over. But it is still a positive sign that such atrocities are much more infrequent than they used to be.

Greg Scoblete at Realclearworld.com takes me to task for my item on the Baghdad bombing, in which I urged readers not to lose sight of the bigger picture — namely that the situation in Iraq has improved markedly over the past couple of years. He writes:

Iraq’s population is currently 29 million. A bombing that kills 155 Iraqis is the proportional equivalent of a bombing that kills 1,600 Americans. I wonder, in the wake of such an attack, if Boot would issue similar calls for context and urge us to recognize that America remains overwhelmingly safe and secure despite the occasional terrorist atrocity.

This misses an important distinction. The United States has not been locked in a war on its home front for the past six years. Iraq has. At times that fighting became debilitating. In 2006 and early 2007, large swathes of Baghdad looked like a ghost town as residents fled in the face of Sunni suicide bombers and Shiite ethnic-cleansing squads. Today, by contrast, the capital is full of people, stores (including liquor stores) are open, and amusement parks are thronged.

All I was suggesting is that a few bombings like the one that just occurred, or the earlier bombing on August 19, have not shaken that return to normality. That doesn’t mean the bombings are acceptable or no big deal. Iraq will have trouble growing in the future if such bombings continue. Certainly all available resources should be employed to destroy the al-Qaeda cells that carried out these attacks. As long as there are still massacres in Baghdad, or anywhere else in the country, the war cannot be considered truly over. But it is still a positive sign that such atrocities are much more infrequent than they used to be.

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Kerry Is the New Joe Biden

Jackson Diehl does his best (so we don’t have to try) to decipher the double-talk on Afghanistan from the pseudo-secretary of state John Kerry. (Hillary Clinton is most likely occupied with agricultural projects in India or making up the “more things to give away to Putin” list.) He explains, as best anyone can:

Fresh from Afghanistan, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman delivered a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday that caused The Post to report that he “opposes sending more troops to Afghanistan” and the Los Angeles Times to conclude that “he would support a decision by President Obama to send some additional troops.” Was Kerry for the troop increase before he was against it — all in the same speech? Not exactly. Instead the Massachusetts Democrat’s complicated position sounded like an attempt to fudge the difference between supporters and opponents of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s request for 40,000 reinforcements.

The bad news is that Kerry is Obama’s new best adviser. What this boils down to is chiseling on the troops by dragging the process out so as to “diffuse the political problem of asking Congress to fund 40,000 more troops — at about $40 billion — all at once.” Because, with a trillion dollars needed for a health-care bill the voters don’t want, we plainly don’t have $40B to win a critical war, right? And Obama can’t be expected to persuade Congress to do what is needed to win the war, so “diffusing” — denying his general the troops he says he needs — is the way to go.

Diehl spots the problem here:

The problem with Kerry’s thinking is that it sidesteps one of the central points made by McChrystal: The Taliban is currently winning the war, and unless its momentum is reversed in the next year, it may prove impossible to implement the larger strategy. As Kerry himself acknowledged, many Afghans are choosing sides in the war based on which side they believe has the upper hand, and right now they are betting on the Taliban. Sending troops in dribs and drabs won’t change that reality — and it may condemn the soldiers already there to fighting and dying without the chance of winning.

“Condemn” is precisely the right term.

Jackson Diehl does his best (so we don’t have to try) to decipher the double-talk on Afghanistan from the pseudo-secretary of state John Kerry. (Hillary Clinton is most likely occupied with agricultural projects in India or making up the “more things to give away to Putin” list.) He explains, as best anyone can:

Fresh from Afghanistan, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman delivered a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday that caused The Post to report that he “opposes sending more troops to Afghanistan” and the Los Angeles Times to conclude that “he would support a decision by President Obama to send some additional troops.” Was Kerry for the troop increase before he was against it — all in the same speech? Not exactly. Instead the Massachusetts Democrat’s complicated position sounded like an attempt to fudge the difference between supporters and opponents of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s request for 40,000 reinforcements.

The bad news is that Kerry is Obama’s new best adviser. What this boils down to is chiseling on the troops by dragging the process out so as to “diffuse the political problem of asking Congress to fund 40,000 more troops — at about $40 billion — all at once.” Because, with a trillion dollars needed for a health-care bill the voters don’t want, we plainly don’t have $40B to win a critical war, right? And Obama can’t be expected to persuade Congress to do what is needed to win the war, so “diffusing” — denying his general the troops he says he needs — is the way to go.

Diehl spots the problem here:

The problem with Kerry’s thinking is that it sidesteps one of the central points made by McChrystal: The Taliban is currently winning the war, and unless its momentum is reversed in the next year, it may prove impossible to implement the larger strategy. As Kerry himself acknowledged, many Afghans are choosing sides in the war based on which side they believe has the upper hand, and right now they are betting on the Taliban. Sending troops in dribs and drabs won’t change that reality — and it may condemn the soldiers already there to fighting and dying without the chance of winning.

“Condemn” is precisely the right term.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: A Prescription for Tragedy in Afghanistan

If media leaks are to be believed, President Obama will attempt to chart a middle way in Afghanistan, sending more soldiers but not as many as General Stanley McChrystal would like. The New York Times describes the emerging strategy as “McChrystal for the city, Biden for the country,” a blend of the diametrically opposed approaches advocated by the general (who favors a counterinsurgency strategy) and the vice president (who wants to do counterterrorism operations only). The Times writes that “the administration is looking at protecting Kabul, Kandahar, Maza-i-Sharif, Kunduz, Herat, Jalalabad and a few other village clusters, officials said.” In the rest of Afghanistan, presumably, operations would be limited to a few air raids and Special Operations raids. Other media reports suggest that the administration is looking to send 10,000 to 20,000 troops — not the 40,000 that McChrystal wants.

To read more of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

If media leaks are to be believed, President Obama will attempt to chart a middle way in Afghanistan, sending more soldiers but not as many as General Stanley McChrystal would like. The New York Times describes the emerging strategy as “McChrystal for the city, Biden for the country,” a blend of the diametrically opposed approaches advocated by the general (who favors a counterinsurgency strategy) and the vice president (who wants to do counterterrorism operations only). The Times writes that “the administration is looking at protecting Kabul, Kandahar, Maza-i-Sharif, Kunduz, Herat, Jalalabad and a few other village clusters, officials said.” In the rest of Afghanistan, presumably, operations would be limited to a few air raids and Special Operations raids. Other media reports suggest that the administration is looking to send 10,000 to 20,000 troops — not the 40,000 that McChrystal wants.

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They Might Simply Stop

Not all Democrats have drunk the Obama Kool-Aid. Not all of them think Obama’s main worries are Fox and the Chamber of Commerce. Some, like William Galston, are trying to send up a warning flare:

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that unified Democratic government has sparked a conservative counter-mobilization. Because we cannot rerun history as a controlled experiment, we will never know whether this could have been avoided had the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats adopted a different strategy. In any case, it’s too late to reverse it.

Well, they could stop making it worse. They could dump a massive, unpopular bill (or, more correctly, many ideas for many kinds of bills) to take over the health-care system. They could stop massaging the cap-and-trade bill. And they might enact a series of pro-growth, pro-jobs measures meant to appeal to independent voters. Obama might also tell off his netroot base and declare he will do what is necessary to achieve victory (now there’s a word to add to his vocabulary!) in Afghanistan and prevent, if necessary by military means, a nuclear-armed Iran. In other words, he could behave like he sounded for much of the campaign.

All that might improve his party’s prospects. And it might actually improve the hiring situation. As this report explains, employers, especially small businesses, are paralyzed with fear:

The economic contraction is of course the prime force driving companies to lay off workers. But a health-care overhaul grinding through Congress could bring unknown new obligations to insure employees. Bush-era tax cuts are set to end next year, and their fate is unclear. Legislation aimed at tackling climate change might raise businesses’ energy costs. Meanwhile, a bill aimed at increasing transportation spending is stalled. Many companies say they have responded by freezing hiring, cutting benefits and delaying expansion plans. With at least 60% of job growth historically coming out of the small-business sector, according to the government’s Small Business Administration, that kind of inertia could impede an economic recovery.

If the Democrats want to avoid a repeat of 1994 or 2006, they’d be wise to stop chasing imaginary enemies and start addressing the main problem, which, as Galston notes, is the very real potential that voters will, in elections next week and in 2010, send them a message that they’ve “gone too far.”

Not all Democrats have drunk the Obama Kool-Aid. Not all of them think Obama’s main worries are Fox and the Chamber of Commerce. Some, like William Galston, are trying to send up a warning flare:

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that unified Democratic government has sparked a conservative counter-mobilization. Because we cannot rerun history as a controlled experiment, we will never know whether this could have been avoided had the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats adopted a different strategy. In any case, it’s too late to reverse it.

Well, they could stop making it worse. They could dump a massive, unpopular bill (or, more correctly, many ideas for many kinds of bills) to take over the health-care system. They could stop massaging the cap-and-trade bill. And they might enact a series of pro-growth, pro-jobs measures meant to appeal to independent voters. Obama might also tell off his netroot base and declare he will do what is necessary to achieve victory (now there’s a word to add to his vocabulary!) in Afghanistan and prevent, if necessary by military means, a nuclear-armed Iran. In other words, he could behave like he sounded for much of the campaign.

All that might improve his party’s prospects. And it might actually improve the hiring situation. As this report explains, employers, especially small businesses, are paralyzed with fear:

The economic contraction is of course the prime force driving companies to lay off workers. But a health-care overhaul grinding through Congress could bring unknown new obligations to insure employees. Bush-era tax cuts are set to end next year, and their fate is unclear. Legislation aimed at tackling climate change might raise businesses’ energy costs. Meanwhile, a bill aimed at increasing transportation spending is stalled. Many companies say they have responded by freezing hiring, cutting benefits and delaying expansion plans. With at least 60% of job growth historically coming out of the small-business sector, according to the government’s Small Business Administration, that kind of inertia could impede an economic recovery.

If the Democrats want to avoid a repeat of 1994 or 2006, they’d be wise to stop chasing imaginary enemies and start addressing the main problem, which, as Galston notes, is the very real potential that voters will, in elections next week and in 2010, send them a message that they’ve “gone too far.”

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