Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 20, 2009

Don’t Blame the Tools

Stuart Koehl has an excellent piece up at the Weekly Standard on a Washington Post article that characterized the Army’s Stryker combat vehicle as a “kevlar coffin.” Koehl’s not an unmitigated supporter of the Stryker, but his main point is that criticism of the Stryker’s ability to protect infantry in Afghanistan is misinformed in ways both obvious and subtle.

The first and more obvious point is that the Post provides no information about the number of injuries and fatalities sustained by troops in Strykers as compared with  past alternatives, and appears to proceed on the assumption that every Stryker “lost” is a Stryker that has been totally destroyed instead of one sent to the shop. Without this, it’s hard to know just how well or poorly the Stryker is actually doing.

The second and more subtle point is that some of the destroyed Strykers hit IEDs that were as large as 2,000 pounds. At that size, even a main battle tank would not protect its occupants. As Koehl notes, if it becomes a pure race between the armor makers –- who  have to design vehicles that are actually useable –- and an undisturbed network of bomb makers with access to unlimited quantities of explosives, the bomb makers will win every time.

The U.S. has seen this kind of criticism before: it’s reminiscent of the up-armored Humvee “scandal” of 2004-05. As with that incident, the brief burst of criticism of the Stryker combines a bit of commonsense — yes, of course the U.S. and its allies should seek to provide their forces with ample quantities of the best equipment — with a lot of disguised criticism of the administration.

Now this administration deserves to be criticized. As Con Coughlin and Fraser Nelson point out in the latest Spectator, the Obama administration’s dithering isn’t just hurting the U.S. cause; it’s treating its allies — especially Britain – with “astonishing disregard.” But in the U.S., and especially in Britain, the criticism has tended to focus too much on equipment. In the U.S., it’s the Stryker and the Humvee; in Britain, it’s the British Army’s
shortage of helicopters and mine-resistant vehicles.

It’s certainly true that the British Army could use more of both. But as Koehl points out, “the solution to the IED problem is not technical, but rather tactical and operational.” In other words, since you can’t win the battle with the bomb makers by building an invulnerable vehicle, you have to win it by fighting a counterinsurgency campaign. If you control the ground, protect the people, and gather intelligence, you win not by beefing up your armor, but by making it impossible for the bomb makers to make and plant bombs.

Criticizing the supposed failures of the equipment is an easy way to make the correct point that the government is getting it wrong.  But it has a serious cost: it encourages administrations on both sides of the Atlantic to respond to the criticism as a short-term political issue simply by rush-ordering more equipment, while neglecting the more serious problem of how to fight the war effectively. By all means, criticize the Obama and Brown administrations on Afghanistan. but if the criticism is to serve anything more than a political purpose, it needs to proceed from a realization that even the best equipment can’t rescue bad strategy.

Stuart Koehl has an excellent piece up at the Weekly Standard on a Washington Post article that characterized the Army’s Stryker combat vehicle as a “kevlar coffin.” Koehl’s not an unmitigated supporter of the Stryker, but his main point is that criticism of the Stryker’s ability to protect infantry in Afghanistan is misinformed in ways both obvious and subtle.

The first and more obvious point is that the Post provides no information about the number of injuries and fatalities sustained by troops in Strykers as compared with  past alternatives, and appears to proceed on the assumption that every Stryker “lost” is a Stryker that has been totally destroyed instead of one sent to the shop. Without this, it’s hard to know just how well or poorly the Stryker is actually doing.

The second and more subtle point is that some of the destroyed Strykers hit IEDs that were as large as 2,000 pounds. At that size, even a main battle tank would not protect its occupants. As Koehl notes, if it becomes a pure race between the armor makers –- who  have to design vehicles that are actually useable –- and an undisturbed network of bomb makers with access to unlimited quantities of explosives, the bomb makers will win every time.

The U.S. has seen this kind of criticism before: it’s reminiscent of the up-armored Humvee “scandal” of 2004-05. As with that incident, the brief burst of criticism of the Stryker combines a bit of commonsense — yes, of course the U.S. and its allies should seek to provide their forces with ample quantities of the best equipment — with a lot of disguised criticism of the administration.

Now this administration deserves to be criticized. As Con Coughlin and Fraser Nelson point out in the latest Spectator, the Obama administration’s dithering isn’t just hurting the U.S. cause; it’s treating its allies — especially Britain – with “astonishing disregard.” But in the U.S., and especially in Britain, the criticism has tended to focus too much on equipment. In the U.S., it’s the Stryker and the Humvee; in Britain, it’s the British Army’s
shortage of helicopters and mine-resistant vehicles.

It’s certainly true that the British Army could use more of both. But as Koehl points out, “the solution to the IED problem is not technical, but rather tactical and operational.” In other words, since you can’t win the battle with the bomb makers by building an invulnerable vehicle, you have to win it by fighting a counterinsurgency campaign. If you control the ground, protect the people, and gather intelligence, you win not by beefing up your armor, but by making it impossible for the bomb makers to make and plant bombs.

Criticizing the supposed failures of the equipment is an easy way to make the correct point that the government is getting it wrong.  But it has a serious cost: it encourages administrations on both sides of the Atlantic to respond to the criticism as a short-term political issue simply by rush-ordering more equipment, while neglecting the more serious problem of how to fight the war effectively. By all means, criticize the Obama and Brown administrations on Afghanistan. but if the criticism is to serve anything more than a political purpose, it needs to proceed from a realization that even the best equipment can’t rescue bad strategy.

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Axis of Uranium Meets Middle East Peace Process


It’s a busy month for Brazil. The Latin American giant hosted Shimon Peres last week, sustained a visit from Mahmoud Abbas this week, and will receive Mahmoud Ahmadinejad next week. Not exactly a random series of visitors — and at least some Americans are paying attention: the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.com have both picked up on the vociferous objections of Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) to Ahmadinejad’s visit. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency cites a Brazilian press account of Engel’s call on the ambassador in Washington [emphasis added]:

The Representative … met with the Brazilian Ambassador in Washington, Antonio Patriota, and conveyed his concern regarding Ahmadinejad’s visit on November 23.  Patriota, according to a source present at the meeting, reacted brusquely, surprising Engel. … [Engel said]: “I expressed my deep displeasure with Ahmadinejad’s visit, since I always speak openly in my meetings with ambassadors, and he (Patriota) defended his position.”

Engel is right to be concerned, but the cows got out of this barn a while back. U.S. media opinion looks almost poignantly out of touch on this: when editorialists speculate that Brazil could be jeopardizing its standing as a potential mediator with Iran, the salient question is, jeopardizing it with whom?

There has, after all, been no meaningful reaction from the U.S. to Brazil’s prior outreach to Iran, to the country’s own uranium-enrichment program, or to the late-2008 nuclear accord between Russia and Brazil. America has largely ignored Iran’s (and Russia’s) growing ties to nearby Venezuela and has evinced little if any reaction to a series of signals in 2009 that Brazil could help the mullahs evade sanctions by setting up a line of credit for Iran’s Export and Development Bank. Iranian sources now refer to this credit line as a fait accompli, an impression Ahmadinejad’s state visit will certainly not revise.

It’s no wonder, then, that Abbas today is asking Brazil to intervene with Iran and get its leaders to cease their support to Hamas. Nor is it surprising that Israel, in 2009, has already sent both its foreign minister and its president to Brazil, on the nation’s first Latin American charm offensives in more than two decades.

As Congressman Engel could tell us, Brazil’s policies are trending, disquietingly, toward specific and material support for Iran and a political solidarity with the Palestinian Arabs. But the U.S. should also wake up to the fact of this revolving-door courtship and what it says about the leadership vacuum up north.

Consider that while  Brazil mulled over a line of credit for Iran, this summer the U.S. made a government-backed loan to the state-owned oil company, Petrobras, as if Brazil were not a major economic power busy undermining our policy on Iran but still an importunate Third World backwater. Congressman Engel is right: this needs adjusting — as much in Washington as in Brasilia, if not more.


It’s a busy month for Brazil. The Latin American giant hosted Shimon Peres last week, sustained a visit from Mahmoud Abbas this week, and will receive Mahmoud Ahmadinejad next week. Not exactly a random series of visitors — and at least some Americans are paying attention: the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.com have both picked up on the vociferous objections of Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) to Ahmadinejad’s visit. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency cites a Brazilian press account of Engel’s call on the ambassador in Washington [emphasis added]:

The Representative … met with the Brazilian Ambassador in Washington, Antonio Patriota, and conveyed his concern regarding Ahmadinejad’s visit on November 23.  Patriota, according to a source present at the meeting, reacted brusquely, surprising Engel. … [Engel said]: “I expressed my deep displeasure with Ahmadinejad’s visit, since I always speak openly in my meetings with ambassadors, and he (Patriota) defended his position.”

Engel is right to be concerned, but the cows got out of this barn a while back. U.S. media opinion looks almost poignantly out of touch on this: when editorialists speculate that Brazil could be jeopardizing its standing as a potential mediator with Iran, the salient question is, jeopardizing it with whom?

There has, after all, been no meaningful reaction from the U.S. to Brazil’s prior outreach to Iran, to the country’s own uranium-enrichment program, or to the late-2008 nuclear accord between Russia and Brazil. America has largely ignored Iran’s (and Russia’s) growing ties to nearby Venezuela and has evinced little if any reaction to a series of signals in 2009 that Brazil could help the mullahs evade sanctions by setting up a line of credit for Iran’s Export and Development Bank. Iranian sources now refer to this credit line as a fait accompli, an impression Ahmadinejad’s state visit will certainly not revise.

It’s no wonder, then, that Abbas today is asking Brazil to intervene with Iran and get its leaders to cease their support to Hamas. Nor is it surprising that Israel, in 2009, has already sent both its foreign minister and its president to Brazil, on the nation’s first Latin American charm offensives in more than two decades.

As Congressman Engel could tell us, Brazil’s policies are trending, disquietingly, toward specific and material support for Iran and a political solidarity with the Palestinian Arabs. But the U.S. should also wake up to the fact of this revolving-door courtship and what it says about the leadership vacuum up north.

Consider that while  Brazil mulled over a line of credit for Iran, this summer the U.S. made a government-backed loan to the state-owned oil company, Petrobras, as if Brazil were not a major economic power busy undermining our policy on Iran but still an importunate Third World backwater. Congressman Engel is right: this needs adjusting — as much in Washington as in Brasilia, if not more.

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Cynical Specter Runs to the Left on Afghanistan

How cynical is Arlen Specter? I know. That is sort of like asking how deep the ocean is or how high the moon. But sometimes, following the twists and turns of the five-term turncoat senator’s position on the issues can take the breath away from even those most used to his shenanigans. Take Afghanistan. Once a supporter of both the war in Iraq and the one in Afghanistan, the newly minted Democrat from Pennsylvania no longer sees the fight against the Taliban “as central to our national security” as Tim Fernholz reports in his blog at the American Prospect.

Specter switched parties because he knew he didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of beating Pat Toomey, former congressman, in a Republican primary next year. But because he is now facing a significant challenge for his new party’s nomination from longtime Iraq war opponent Congressman Joe Sestak, Specter has decided to go the former Navy admiral one better and come out against the war in Afghanistan. Cynical liberals spent the 2006 and 2008 campaigns saying that they opposed the war in Iraq because it took troops and effort away from the “good” war in Afghanistan, but those same people want to bug out of the latter conflict now that Obama is safely elected and they don’t have to pretend to take the war against Islamist terror seriously. Specter’s willingness to change positions on a dime outstrips even that record. He not only backed Bush (who saved Specter’s hide by backing him in a tight primary race against Toomey in 2004) but also enthusiastically backed both wars. But that didn’t stop him in a conference call with reporters this week from blasting Sestak for the congressman’s support of the request for more troops to bolster the allied effort in Afghanistan.

So give Sestak points for sincerity because, apparently unlike our president, he was actually telling the truth when he said in previous election years that he wanted to divert resources from Iraq to Afghanistan. The only question here is whether Democratic primary voters in Pennsylvania will fall for Specter’s incredible anti-war makeover. The latest (Oct. 28) Franklin & Marshall poll of the Democratic primary shows the incumbent senator with a 30-18 percent lead over Sestak. Specter has a big lead in money raised (according to Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent, Specter has $8.7 million in the bank while Sestak has $4.7 million and Toomey, just $1.8 million). But given the enormous imbalance in name recognition between the two, such numbers can hardly comfort Specter. Interestingly, the same survey shows a Toomey-Sestak matchup next November as a 28-20 Toomey advantage, while Specter leads Toomey in a general election rematch of the 2004 GOP primary by only 33-31.

No matter how you slice it, the mendacious Specter’s prospects look a bit shaky; as do the Democrats’ chances of holding onto this seat in an otherwise increasingly blue Pennsylvania.

How cynical is Arlen Specter? I know. That is sort of like asking how deep the ocean is or how high the moon. But sometimes, following the twists and turns of the five-term turncoat senator’s position on the issues can take the breath away from even those most used to his shenanigans. Take Afghanistan. Once a supporter of both the war in Iraq and the one in Afghanistan, the newly minted Democrat from Pennsylvania no longer sees the fight against the Taliban “as central to our national security” as Tim Fernholz reports in his blog at the American Prospect.

Specter switched parties because he knew he didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of beating Pat Toomey, former congressman, in a Republican primary next year. But because he is now facing a significant challenge for his new party’s nomination from longtime Iraq war opponent Congressman Joe Sestak, Specter has decided to go the former Navy admiral one better and come out against the war in Afghanistan. Cynical liberals spent the 2006 and 2008 campaigns saying that they opposed the war in Iraq because it took troops and effort away from the “good” war in Afghanistan, but those same people want to bug out of the latter conflict now that Obama is safely elected and they don’t have to pretend to take the war against Islamist terror seriously. Specter’s willingness to change positions on a dime outstrips even that record. He not only backed Bush (who saved Specter’s hide by backing him in a tight primary race against Toomey in 2004) but also enthusiastically backed both wars. But that didn’t stop him in a conference call with reporters this week from blasting Sestak for the congressman’s support of the request for more troops to bolster the allied effort in Afghanistan.

So give Sestak points for sincerity because, apparently unlike our president, he was actually telling the truth when he said in previous election years that he wanted to divert resources from Iraq to Afghanistan. The only question here is whether Democratic primary voters in Pennsylvania will fall for Specter’s incredible anti-war makeover. The latest (Oct. 28) Franklin & Marshall poll of the Democratic primary shows the incumbent senator with a 30-18 percent lead over Sestak. Specter has a big lead in money raised (according to Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent, Specter has $8.7 million in the bank while Sestak has $4.7 million and Toomey, just $1.8 million). But given the enormous imbalance in name recognition between the two, such numbers can hardly comfort Specter. Interestingly, the same survey shows a Toomey-Sestak matchup next November as a 28-20 Toomey advantage, while Specter leads Toomey in a general election rematch of the 2004 GOP primary by only 33-31.

No matter how you slice it, the mendacious Specter’s prospects look a bit shaky; as do the Democrats’ chances of holding onto this seat in an otherwise increasingly blue Pennsylvania.

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Big Six Meeting on Iran Produces Less than Nothing

Representatives of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany met today to discuss the fact that Iran is making fools out of them. But the results of this meeting will give no comfort to a world worried about Tehran’s march toward nuclear capability. According to the Associated Press, the West is “disappointed” about Iran’s decision to renege on a UN-brokered deal that could have defused the crisis. But despite the clear signals from the rogue Islamist regime that it has absolutely no interest in re-negotiating the pact even under more terms still more favorable to them, “no new sanctions were discussed during the meeting, according to an EU source.”

The anonymous EU official said that “there was no mention of imposing further sanctions against Iran at the meeting. These things are a matter of timing, and this was not the right time for it.”

When will be the right time? “The Western officials said they would hold a follow-up meeting around Christmas.”

And for those wondering whether the UN’s chief nuclear watchdog was doing his bit to raise the alarm about this imminent threat, how about this:

“In Berlin, Mohamed El-Baradei, the UN nuclear watchdog agency chief, pressed Iran to work with the international community. ‘I would hate to see that we are moving back to sanctions,’ El-Baradei said. ‘Because sanctions, at the end of the day … really don’t resolve issues.’”

No, they don’t. Especially when they aren’t actually being agreed upon or implemented.

Right now, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must be laughing themselves silly at this toothless response from the West. While President Obama circles the globe in a fruitless effort to find support for the sort of sanctions that might force the Iranians to reconsider their position, the Islamist regime continues to delay even the hope of negotiations to buy more time for their program. Obama’s feckless campaign of “engagement” has rightly earned their scorn. After this performance, who could blame the Iranians for believing that the West isn’t serious about stopping them?

Representatives of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany met today to discuss the fact that Iran is making fools out of them. But the results of this meeting will give no comfort to a world worried about Tehran’s march toward nuclear capability. According to the Associated Press, the West is “disappointed” about Iran’s decision to renege on a UN-brokered deal that could have defused the crisis. But despite the clear signals from the rogue Islamist regime that it has absolutely no interest in re-negotiating the pact even under more terms still more favorable to them, “no new sanctions were discussed during the meeting, according to an EU source.”

The anonymous EU official said that “there was no mention of imposing further sanctions against Iran at the meeting. These things are a matter of timing, and this was not the right time for it.”

When will be the right time? “The Western officials said they would hold a follow-up meeting around Christmas.”

And for those wondering whether the UN’s chief nuclear watchdog was doing his bit to raise the alarm about this imminent threat, how about this:

“In Berlin, Mohamed El-Baradei, the UN nuclear watchdog agency chief, pressed Iran to work with the international community. ‘I would hate to see that we are moving back to sanctions,’ El-Baradei said. ‘Because sanctions, at the end of the day … really don’t resolve issues.’”

No, they don’t. Especially when they aren’t actually being agreed upon or implemented.

Right now, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must be laughing themselves silly at this toothless response from the West. While President Obama circles the globe in a fruitless effort to find support for the sort of sanctions that might force the Iranians to reconsider their position, the Islamist regime continues to delay even the hope of negotiations to buy more time for their program. Obama’s feckless campaign of “engagement” has rightly earned their scorn. After this performance, who could blame the Iranians for believing that the West isn’t serious about stopping them?

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Unloading the Arsenal of Adjectives on Sarah Palin

J Street’s condemnation of Sarah Palin for her position on Israeli settlements was predictable — it is what a pro-Obama, pro-Left organization would do. It is the vehemence of the attack on her that was perhaps noteworthy. J Street accused her of “pandering” with a “glaring ignorance” of facts and a “callous disregard” of U.S. policy on settlements.

Since J Street did not specify the nature of Palin’s “glaring” ignorance, nor explain why disagreement with the Obama administration’s obsession with settlements is “callous,” it is difficult to respond to its criticism on the merits. It may suffice to note that adjectives are not analysis.

But the adjectives were probably the point — which was to try to place Palin outside the pale of respectable thinking. This morning, in contrast, J Street responded to Abe Foxman’s strong criticism of its Palin pronouncement by issuing a “why-can’t-all-we-pro-Israel-organizations-just-get-along” type response.

In dealing with the ADL, J Street poses as just another pro-Israel organization; in dealing with Sarah Palin, it exposes its inner Robert Gibbs.

J Street’s condemnation of Sarah Palin for her position on Israeli settlements was predictable — it is what a pro-Obama, pro-Left organization would do. It is the vehemence of the attack on her that was perhaps noteworthy. J Street accused her of “pandering” with a “glaring ignorance” of facts and a “callous disregard” of U.S. policy on settlements.

Since J Street did not specify the nature of Palin’s “glaring” ignorance, nor explain why disagreement with the Obama administration’s obsession with settlements is “callous,” it is difficult to respond to its criticism on the merits. It may suffice to note that adjectives are not analysis.

But the adjectives were probably the point — which was to try to place Palin outside the pale of respectable thinking. This morning, in contrast, J Street responded to Abe Foxman’s strong criticism of its Palin pronouncement by issuing a “why-can’t-all-we-pro-Israel-organizations-just-get-along” type response.

In dealing with the ADL, J Street poses as just another pro-Israel organization; in dealing with Sarah Palin, it exposes its inner Robert Gibbs.

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Obama’s India Blunder

When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits the White House next week, Obama and his administration would do well to employ their much-practiced skills at making nice. New Delhi rightly fears outside meddling after this week’s U.S.-China Joint Statement, which contained a sentence widely interpreted as an affront to India:

The two sides [China and the United States] welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia. They support the efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terrorism, maintain domestic stability and achieve sustainable economic and social development, and support the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan. The two sides are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region.

The Joint Statement’s timing was particularly bad considering the recent India-China border dilemma. Both countries have reportedly increased troop presence near the blurry border, and the Dalai Lama’s visit to Indian territory that is still claimed by China did little to improve the relationship. China has emphasized that its “more pronounced” territorial issue is its border dispute with India. So New Delhi has good reason to be nervous about Chinese prying at Washington’s behest.

A spokesman from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs quickly commented on the Joint Statement, stating that “a third country role cannot be envisaged nor is it necessary” regarding India-Pakistan relations.

Already, both China and the United States are trying to downplay the significance of the Joint Statement reference.

China’s Foreign Ministry denied that a discussion took place between Obama and Chinese heads of state about U.S.-India nuclear cooperation, and its statement emphasized Beijing’s support of regional stability. The spokesperson added that China “values its friendly cooperation with” India and Pakistan and “hopes to see relations between the two continue … improve and grow.”

But India can hardly be blamed for frustration at the Obama administration’s mixed message. Yesterday, Robert Blake, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said the United States welcomes China’s participation in stabilizing the India-Pakistan region. But he also added, “We have always said, in terms of Indo-Pakistan relations, that’s really up to India and Pakistan to decide how and when and the scope of that.” Also yesterday, William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, declared that better relations with China do not necessarily come at the cost of India.

One can only hope that the ill-considered phrasing of the Joint Statement won’t hinder next week’s discussions. No doubt Obama will want Prime Minister Singh’s support on nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and security in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not to mention climate change. That Singh is the first head of state to visit the Obama White House in itself highlights the importance of Indian cooperation. If the mix-up is merely linguistic, it can be overcome. But if the lack of clarity lies within Obama’s foreign policy itself, expect a rocky summit. Obama’s diplomacy and eloquence will be tested as he attempts to please both India and China.

When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits the White House next week, Obama and his administration would do well to employ their much-practiced skills at making nice. New Delhi rightly fears outside meddling after this week’s U.S.-China Joint Statement, which contained a sentence widely interpreted as an affront to India:

The two sides [China and the United States] welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia. They support the efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terrorism, maintain domestic stability and achieve sustainable economic and social development, and support the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan. The two sides are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region.

The Joint Statement’s timing was particularly bad considering the recent India-China border dilemma. Both countries have reportedly increased troop presence near the blurry border, and the Dalai Lama’s visit to Indian territory that is still claimed by China did little to improve the relationship. China has emphasized that its “more pronounced” territorial issue is its border dispute with India. So New Delhi has good reason to be nervous about Chinese prying at Washington’s behest.

A spokesman from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs quickly commented on the Joint Statement, stating that “a third country role cannot be envisaged nor is it necessary” regarding India-Pakistan relations.

Already, both China and the United States are trying to downplay the significance of the Joint Statement reference.

China’s Foreign Ministry denied that a discussion took place between Obama and Chinese heads of state about U.S.-India nuclear cooperation, and its statement emphasized Beijing’s support of regional stability. The spokesperson added that China “values its friendly cooperation with” India and Pakistan and “hopes to see relations between the two continue … improve and grow.”

But India can hardly be blamed for frustration at the Obama administration’s mixed message. Yesterday, Robert Blake, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said the United States welcomes China’s participation in stabilizing the India-Pakistan region. But he also added, “We have always said, in terms of Indo-Pakistan relations, that’s really up to India and Pakistan to decide how and when and the scope of that.” Also yesterday, William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, declared that better relations with China do not necessarily come at the cost of India.

One can only hope that the ill-considered phrasing of the Joint Statement won’t hinder next week’s discussions. No doubt Obama will want Prime Minister Singh’s support on nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and security in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not to mention climate change. That Singh is the first head of state to visit the Obama White House in itself highlights the importance of Indian cooperation. If the mix-up is merely linguistic, it can be overcome. But if the lack of clarity lies within Obama’s foreign policy itself, expect a rocky summit. Obama’s diplomacy and eloquence will be tested as he attempts to please both India and China.

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Talk and Listen and Meet and Sail with COMMENTARY

It could be one of the most informative, pleasurable, and dramatically beautiful weeks of your life. Join us from August 4 through August 11, 2010, as COMMENTARY’s first Conference of Ideas convenes aboard the Regent SS Mariner as it sails through the waters of Alaska, North America’s most dazzling natural venue. We’ll be talking about what really matters—the American political and economic situation, the 2010 elections, Iran, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, the state of the Obama presidency, and the condition of the GOP. With us will be Bret Stephens, the brilliant Wall Street Journal columnist; Elliott Abrams, former chief White House Mideast expert; the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts; the omni-knowledgeable Michael Medved, of radio, movie-reviewing, and book-publishing fame; CONTENTIONS’s own Jennifer Rubin; and the ultimate power couple, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter. We’ll eat, we’ll meet, we’ll speak, you’ll have dinner with the special guests, and there will be plenty of time to rest and relax and visit this unique destination. You can find out more about the Commentary Conference and Cruise here.

It could be one of the most informative, pleasurable, and dramatically beautiful weeks of your life. Join us from August 4 through August 11, 2010, as COMMENTARY’s first Conference of Ideas convenes aboard the Regent SS Mariner as it sails through the waters of Alaska, North America’s most dazzling natural venue. We’ll be talking about what really matters—the American political and economic situation, the 2010 elections, Iran, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, the state of the Obama presidency, and the condition of the GOP. With us will be Bret Stephens, the brilliant Wall Street Journal columnist; Elliott Abrams, former chief White House Mideast expert; the great World War II historian Andrew Roberts; the omni-knowledgeable Michael Medved, of radio, movie-reviewing, and book-publishing fame; CONTENTIONS’s own Jennifer Rubin; and the ultimate power couple, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter. We’ll eat, we’ll meet, we’ll speak, you’ll have dinner with the special guests, and there will be plenty of time to rest and relax and visit this unique destination. You can find out more about the Commentary Conference and Cruise here.

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Reversing Field, ADL Blasts J Street Over Palin

Days after the ADL pandered to its liberal adherents with a report that attempted in part to link mainstream conservative critics of the Obama administration with extremists, the venerable watchdog group tilted in the other direction with a blast aimed at J Street, the leftist lobby that seeks to undermine the pro-Israel consensus in Washington. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, ADL national director Abe Foxman called up the wire service last night to condemn J Street for its attack on Sarah Palin’s recent statement opposing Obama’s stand on Jewish settlements. JTA’s Capital J blog said Foxman termed J Street’s statement “over the line” and wondered whether the group should be calling itself “pro-Israel.”

Palin had expressed support for the settlement movement in a Barbra Walters interview, though her explanation of the need for allowing existing settlements to expand was a bit off the mark. She said it was because “more and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead.” That is more than anybody in Israel knows about the possibility of an increase in aliyah. The argument for settlement expansion has to do with Israel’s rights to the land and its security as well as the needs of the existing Jewish population. This is, alas, another example of the former vice-presidential candidate sometimes having a correct opinion but not knowing the right reason for having it. But in a week when Obama personally blasted Israel for building new apartments in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, this is not a moment to quibble about the statements of those who are trying to help Israel rather than cut it off at the knees, as the administration seems intent on doing.

Which is why Foxman was absolutely right to point out that J Street was way out of line. Capital J claims that Foxman asserted that J Street’s refusal to support Israel’s invasion of Gaza, its opposition to new Iran sanctions, its failure to support last month’s congressional resolution condemning the Goldstone Report, and the reaction to the Palin statement raise a “question mark” about the group’s own “pro-Israel” bona fides.

J Street’s willingness to use the settlements issue to jump on Palin, a popular liberal punching bag, illustrates again that its primary reason for being has nothing to do with a desire to back Israel or a peace process that is dead in the water due to a complete lack of interest in making peace on the part of the Palestinians. J Street’s only purpose is to pursue the political agenda of the Left with no concern for the need to maintain a bipartisan pro-Israel coalition. But as much as Foxman’s anger at J Street was on target, we’d have a little more respect for the ADL’s own judgment had the full force of its efforts not otherwise been similarly aimed at delegitimizing anti-Obama and largely pro-Israel conservatives earlier in the week.

Days after the ADL pandered to its liberal adherents with a report that attempted in part to link mainstream conservative critics of the Obama administration with extremists, the venerable watchdog group tilted in the other direction with a blast aimed at J Street, the leftist lobby that seeks to undermine the pro-Israel consensus in Washington. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, ADL national director Abe Foxman called up the wire service last night to condemn J Street for its attack on Sarah Palin’s recent statement opposing Obama’s stand on Jewish settlements. JTA’s Capital J blog said Foxman termed J Street’s statement “over the line” and wondered whether the group should be calling itself “pro-Israel.”

Palin had expressed support for the settlement movement in a Barbra Walters interview, though her explanation of the need for allowing existing settlements to expand was a bit off the mark. She said it was because “more and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead.” That is more than anybody in Israel knows about the possibility of an increase in aliyah. The argument for settlement expansion has to do with Israel’s rights to the land and its security as well as the needs of the existing Jewish population. This is, alas, another example of the former vice-presidential candidate sometimes having a correct opinion but not knowing the right reason for having it. But in a week when Obama personally blasted Israel for building new apartments in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, this is not a moment to quibble about the statements of those who are trying to help Israel rather than cut it off at the knees, as the administration seems intent on doing.

Which is why Foxman was absolutely right to point out that J Street was way out of line. Capital J claims that Foxman asserted that J Street’s refusal to support Israel’s invasion of Gaza, its opposition to new Iran sanctions, its failure to support last month’s congressional resolution condemning the Goldstone Report, and the reaction to the Palin statement raise a “question mark” about the group’s own “pro-Israel” bona fides.

J Street’s willingness to use the settlements issue to jump on Palin, a popular liberal punching bag, illustrates again that its primary reason for being has nothing to do with a desire to back Israel or a peace process that is dead in the water due to a complete lack of interest in making peace on the part of the Palestinians. J Street’s only purpose is to pursue the political agenda of the Left with no concern for the need to maintain a bipartisan pro-Israel coalition. But as much as Foxman’s anger at J Street was on target, we’d have a little more respect for the ADL’s own judgment had the full force of its efforts not otherwise been similarly aimed at delegitimizing anti-Obama and largely pro-Israel conservatives earlier in the week.

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An About-Face, Finally

After publicly bashing the Afghan government for months, airing their doubts as to whether we have a reliable “partner,” and stalling a decision about the troops while the election was redone (but not really, as the challenger dropped out), the Obami have decided to be nice, or nicer, at any rate, to the government we are trying to stabilize. The Washington Post reports:

As President Obama nears a decision on how many more troops he will dispatch to Afghanistan, his top diplomats and generals are abandoning for now their get-tough tactics with Karzai and attempting to forge a far warmer relationship. They recognize that their initial strategy may have done more harm than good, fueling stress and anger in a beleaguered, conspiracy-minded leader whom the U.S. government needs as a partner.

“It’s not sustainable to have a ‘War of the Roses’ relationship here, where . . . we basically throw things at each other,” said another senior administration official . . .

The tension in the relationship stems from the cumulative impact of several White House decisions that were intended to improve the quality of the Afghan government. When Obama became president, he discontinued his predecessor’s practice of holding bimonthly video conferences with Karzai. Obama granted wide latitude to the hard-charging Holbrooke to pressure Karzai to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that have fueled the Taliban’s rise. The administration also indicated that it wanted many candidates to challenge Karzai in the August presidential election.

It turns out that the bullying routine was about as successful in Afghanistan as it has been in the Middle East. But don’t expect much self-reflection. Hillary Clinton is now tasked with the charm offensive. We learn: “As Mr. Karzai begins his new term, Mrs. Clinton has worked to avoid a hectoring tone in her public comments about him. American officials had done too much of that in the past, she said.” The past, meaning the past few months, I suppose.

Once again it seems as though we are having to relearn the lessons of Iraq. There, too, Democrats sneered at the government as hopeless and at its prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, as ineffectual and inept. With the success of the surge and the breathing room to establish a functioning civil government, that perception has changed. And likewise, in Afghanistan, the Obami may be learning belatedly (because they have chosen not to extract any meaningful lessons from the Iraq war, which they were ready to lose) that we actually need to bolster the native government if we hope to defeat our mutual enemy. You’d think smart diplomats would have figured this out much sooner.

After publicly bashing the Afghan government for months, airing their doubts as to whether we have a reliable “partner,” and stalling a decision about the troops while the election was redone (but not really, as the challenger dropped out), the Obami have decided to be nice, or nicer, at any rate, to the government we are trying to stabilize. The Washington Post reports:

As President Obama nears a decision on how many more troops he will dispatch to Afghanistan, his top diplomats and generals are abandoning for now their get-tough tactics with Karzai and attempting to forge a far warmer relationship. They recognize that their initial strategy may have done more harm than good, fueling stress and anger in a beleaguered, conspiracy-minded leader whom the U.S. government needs as a partner.

“It’s not sustainable to have a ‘War of the Roses’ relationship here, where . . . we basically throw things at each other,” said another senior administration official . . .

The tension in the relationship stems from the cumulative impact of several White House decisions that were intended to improve the quality of the Afghan government. When Obama became president, he discontinued his predecessor’s practice of holding bimonthly video conferences with Karzai. Obama granted wide latitude to the hard-charging Holbrooke to pressure Karzai to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that have fueled the Taliban’s rise. The administration also indicated that it wanted many candidates to challenge Karzai in the August presidential election.

It turns out that the bullying routine was about as successful in Afghanistan as it has been in the Middle East. But don’t expect much self-reflection. Hillary Clinton is now tasked with the charm offensive. We learn: “As Mr. Karzai begins his new term, Mrs. Clinton has worked to avoid a hectoring tone in her public comments about him. American officials had done too much of that in the past, she said.” The past, meaning the past few months, I suppose.

Once again it seems as though we are having to relearn the lessons of Iraq. There, too, Democrats sneered at the government as hopeless and at its prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, as ineffectual and inept. With the success of the surge and the breathing room to establish a functioning civil government, that perception has changed. And likewise, in Afghanistan, the Obami may be learning belatedly (because they have chosen not to extract any meaningful lessons from the Iraq war, which they were ready to lose) that we actually need to bolster the native government if we hope to defeat our mutual enemy. You’d think smart diplomats would have figured this out much sooner.

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What Happened to Bending the Cost Curve?

Megan McArdle has a typically thoughtful post on bending the cost curve, or not, through the Democrats’ health-care reforms. She explains:

What passes for delivery reform consists mostly of slashing reimbursement rates to providers, and then putting Medicare Advantage on the same plan. There are two problems with this.  The first is that there’s no reason to believe that providers will find ways to efficiently provide care at the new, lower rates, rather than just stop serving Medicare patients. That was the core point of the recent report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — and though a lot of bloggers developed sudden suspicions about the integrity of government reports, in fact, this pretty much jibes with the warnings that Doug Elmendorf has been issuing, and also, reality. . . The second is that the treatment cuts — and any further cuts recommended by the cost effectiveness commission — can be undone by Congress.

Well what about the tax on so-called Cadillac plans? Maybe that’s going to discourage overspending, but as McArdle points out, it’s also quite possible that it “ends up just being a heavy tax on a random group of people who happen to have expensive health insurance, [and] then it won’t cut health care costs, and also, will probably end up being repealed.”

There’s really nothing in sight that will influence the cost of health care, because the Democrats refuse to address two issues: tort reform (with the ensuing problem of defensive medicine and unneeded procedures) and expanding markets (e.g., interstate sales, changing tax treatment of individually purchased plans).

What we are doing here is spending gobs of money, raising hundreds of billions in taxes, slashing Medicare payments, and empowering government bureaucrats to influence health-care treatment all in the name of expanding coverage. It isn’t remotely what Obama promised, and it’s not what voters seem to want. But we may get it anyway.

Megan McArdle has a typically thoughtful post on bending the cost curve, or not, through the Democrats’ health-care reforms. She explains:

What passes for delivery reform consists mostly of slashing reimbursement rates to providers, and then putting Medicare Advantage on the same plan. There are two problems with this.  The first is that there’s no reason to believe that providers will find ways to efficiently provide care at the new, lower rates, rather than just stop serving Medicare patients. That was the core point of the recent report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — and though a lot of bloggers developed sudden suspicions about the integrity of government reports, in fact, this pretty much jibes with the warnings that Doug Elmendorf has been issuing, and also, reality. . . The second is that the treatment cuts — and any further cuts recommended by the cost effectiveness commission — can be undone by Congress.

Well what about the tax on so-called Cadillac plans? Maybe that’s going to discourage overspending, but as McArdle points out, it’s also quite possible that it “ends up just being a heavy tax on a random group of people who happen to have expensive health insurance, [and] then it won’t cut health care costs, and also, will probably end up being repealed.”

There’s really nothing in sight that will influence the cost of health care, because the Democrats refuse to address two issues: tort reform (with the ensuing problem of defensive medicine and unneeded procedures) and expanding markets (e.g., interstate sales, changing tax treatment of individually purchased plans).

What we are doing here is spending gobs of money, raising hundreds of billions in taxes, slashing Medicare payments, and empowering government bureaucrats to influence health-care treatment all in the name of expanding coverage. It isn’t remotely what Obama promised, and it’s not what voters seem to want. But we may get it anyway.

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Research?

When word first came that Major Nadal Hasan had been in contact with a radical imam in northern Virginia, we were told he was doing “research.” It was quite a research project, according to ABC News:

United States Army Major Nidal Hasan told a radical cleric considered by authorities to be an al-Qaeda recruiter, “I can’t wait to join you” in the afterlife, according to an American official with top secret access to 18 e-mails exchanged between Hasan and the cleric, Anwar al Awlaki, over a six month period between Dec. 2008 and June 2009.

“It sounds like code words,” said Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, a military analyst at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies. “That he’s actually either offering himself up or that he’s already crossed that line in his own mind.”

Other messages include questions, the official with access to the e-mails said, that include when is jihad appropriate, and whether it is permissible if there are innocents killed in a suicide attack.

“Hasan told Awlaki he couldn’t wait to join him in the discussions they would having over non-alcoholic wine in the afterlife.”

The Pentagon has opened not one but two internal reviews and declined to participate, at least for now, in the congressional investigation. But given the exquisite concern for diversity above all else, as so vividly displayed by Army Chief of Staff General George Casey days after the attack (“And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse”), one wonders if the Army is capable of sizing itself up.

For example, the Washington Post reports that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was at it again. He expressed concern “over the possibility that the incident could lead to suspicion against ‘certain categories of people,’ apparently referring to Muslims. ‘In a nation as diverse as the United States, the last thing we need to do is start pointing fingers at each other,’ he said.” Hmm. It would seem that the point of an investigation is precisely that — to finger those people responsible and to note their ideological motives. It seems there is great squeamishness about doing that, though. Maybe it’s time for an 11/5 Commission. That’s what we did after the last terrorist attack.

When word first came that Major Nadal Hasan had been in contact with a radical imam in northern Virginia, we were told he was doing “research.” It was quite a research project, according to ABC News:

United States Army Major Nidal Hasan told a radical cleric considered by authorities to be an al-Qaeda recruiter, “I can’t wait to join you” in the afterlife, according to an American official with top secret access to 18 e-mails exchanged between Hasan and the cleric, Anwar al Awlaki, over a six month period between Dec. 2008 and June 2009.

“It sounds like code words,” said Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, a military analyst at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies. “That he’s actually either offering himself up or that he’s already crossed that line in his own mind.”

Other messages include questions, the official with access to the e-mails said, that include when is jihad appropriate, and whether it is permissible if there are innocents killed in a suicide attack.

“Hasan told Awlaki he couldn’t wait to join him in the discussions they would having over non-alcoholic wine in the afterlife.”

The Pentagon has opened not one but two internal reviews and declined to participate, at least for now, in the congressional investigation. But given the exquisite concern for diversity above all else, as so vividly displayed by Army Chief of Staff General George Casey days after the attack (“And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse”), one wonders if the Army is capable of sizing itself up.

For example, the Washington Post reports that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was at it again. He expressed concern “over the possibility that the incident could lead to suspicion against ‘certain categories of people,’ apparently referring to Muslims. ‘In a nation as diverse as the United States, the last thing we need to do is start pointing fingers at each other,’ he said.” Hmm. It would seem that the point of an investigation is precisely that — to finger those people responsible and to note their ideological motives. It seems there is great squeamishness about doing that, though. Maybe it’s time for an 11/5 Commission. That’s what we did after the last terrorist attack.

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Trouble in Paradise?

In a front-page Washington Post story today — headlined “Angry Congress lashes out at Obama” — we read this:

Growing discontent over the economy and frustration with efforts to speed its recovery boiled over Thursday on Capitol Hill in a wave of criticism and outright anger directed at the Obama administration. Episodes in both houses of Congress exposed the raw nerves of lawmakers flooded with stories of unemployment and economic hardship back home.

What is happening is that the myriad troubling signs for Obama over the past several months — crumbling support for his health-care efforts, a huge loss of support among independents, a dispirited base, an energized opposition, growing approval of the GOP’s agenda — are now manifesting themselves in election results (see the Virginia and New Jersey governors’ races) and unhappiness among Democrats on Capitol Hill.

President Obama finds himself in a difficult situation. That isn’t in itself unusual; presidents always encounter political troubles along the way. What is unusual is how quickly Obama has found himself in this precarious position. The promise of the early days of his administration seem a lifetime ago. An expression like “hope and change,” which played quite well during the campaign, now seems like a stale, empty phrase, the product of a skilled public-relations operation. Now that the reality and hardships of governing have emerged, Obama has shown himself to be, so far at least, overmatched.

It has been a difficult first year. Obama’s signature domestic initiative, health care, is deeply unpopular. Unemployment is above 10 percent and won’t be dropping significantly any time soon. The issues the country is focused on are ones that play to the advantage of the GOP. The nation is becoming more conservative in the Age of Obama. His party is increasingly nervous and restive as its members see what awaits them in 2010.

During the campaign, Barack Obama made it all sound so easy. It wasn’t supposed to be this hard for liberalism’s “sort of God,” was it?

In a front-page Washington Post story today — headlined “Angry Congress lashes out at Obama” — we read this:

Growing discontent over the economy and frustration with efforts to speed its recovery boiled over Thursday on Capitol Hill in a wave of criticism and outright anger directed at the Obama administration. Episodes in both houses of Congress exposed the raw nerves of lawmakers flooded with stories of unemployment and economic hardship back home.

What is happening is that the myriad troubling signs for Obama over the past several months — crumbling support for his health-care efforts, a huge loss of support among independents, a dispirited base, an energized opposition, growing approval of the GOP’s agenda — are now manifesting themselves in election results (see the Virginia and New Jersey governors’ races) and unhappiness among Democrats on Capitol Hill.

President Obama finds himself in a difficult situation. That isn’t in itself unusual; presidents always encounter political troubles along the way. What is unusual is how quickly Obama has found himself in this precarious position. The promise of the early days of his administration seem a lifetime ago. An expression like “hope and change,” which played quite well during the campaign, now seems like a stale, empty phrase, the product of a skilled public-relations operation. Now that the reality and hardships of governing have emerged, Obama has shown himself to be, so far at least, overmatched.

It has been a difficult first year. Obama’s signature domestic initiative, health care, is deeply unpopular. Unemployment is above 10 percent and won’t be dropping significantly any time soon. The issues the country is focused on are ones that play to the advantage of the GOP. The nation is becoming more conservative in the Age of Obama. His party is increasingly nervous and restive as its members see what awaits them in 2010.

During the campaign, Barack Obama made it all sound so easy. It wasn’t supposed to be this hard for liberalism’s “sort of God,” was it?

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: A Third Lebanon War Could Be Much Worse than the Second

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah recently announced that he could hit any and every place in Israel with long-range missiles. That would mean that, unlike in 2006, Hezbollah could strike not only the northern cities of Kiryat Shmona and Haifa but also Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ben-Gurion International Airport, and the Dimona nuclear-power plant.

I dismissed his claim as a wild boast last week, but Israeli army commander Major General Gabi Ashkenazi confirmed it this week. So while we’ve all been worried about Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been quietly arming his chief terrorist proxy with more advanced conventional weapons.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah recently announced that he could hit any and every place in Israel with long-range missiles. That would mean that, unlike in 2006, Hezbollah could strike not only the northern cities of Kiryat Shmona and Haifa but also Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ben-Gurion International Airport, and the Dimona nuclear-power plant.

I dismissed his claim as a wild boast last week, but Israeli army commander Major General Gabi Ashkenazi confirmed it this week. So while we’ve all been worried about Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been quietly arming his chief terrorist proxy with more advanced conventional weapons.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Negotiating 101

Barack Obama complained yesterday that the Iranians “have been unable to get to ‘yes’” on his proposal that they send their low-enriched uranium abroad for further enrichment. It has evidently not occurred to him that his own behavior might have anything to do with that. In fact, thanks to the administration’s amateurish negotiating tactics, Tehran’s best move for now is to keep saying no even if it ultimately intends to say yes.

Though the official deadline for an Iranian response was supposed to be last month, administration officials have repeatedly said they will give Iran until the end of the year to make a decision. In other words, Iran can keep the centrifuges spinning for another two months risk-free merely by delaying its response. So why on earth wouldn’t it choose to do so?

And then, of course, it can submit a “counterproposal” on December 31 — or more likely sometime in January, since it already knows that this administration isn’t too fussy about deadlines. That will necessitate a summit meeting among the six countries conducting the talks (the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany, known as the P5+1) so they can decide how to respond. In other words, more delay.

At best, the P5+1 will agree to negotiate, giving Tehran many more months of risk-free enrichment. From Tehran’s standpoint, that has to seem a likely outcome. Granted, U.S. officials claim they will not accept any amendment to the deal. But can anyone remember the last time Obama stuck to his guns when confronted by an autocrat who failed to be swayed by his charm?

Yet even if the counterproposal is unacceptable to the four Western countries, the ensuing wrangling is guaranteed to take weeks, if not months: Russia and China are sure to say the talks are worth pursuing no matter what the counterproposal consists of, and the West can be counted on to waste time trying to persuade them otherwise. So Tehran will still have bought more time.

Most likely, Iran has no intention of ever saying yes. Since there is no evidence that even the Western powers alone, much less Russia and China, will ever agree on a package of sanctions that would make it sit up and take notice, why should it?

But even if the powers ultimately did come up with a sanctions package intimidating enough to get Tehran to agree to the proposed deal, Obama’s negotiating method has ensured that, at the very least, Iran can gain many more months of punishment-free uranium enrichment just by dragging its feet. The mullahs would have to be idiots not to take advantage of the opportunity.

This really is Negotiating 101: no interlocutor will ever give you a prompt reply if you make it worthwhile for him to stall. Unfortunately, Obama and his team all seem to have skipped that class in college.

Barack Obama complained yesterday that the Iranians “have been unable to get to ‘yes’” on his proposal that they send their low-enriched uranium abroad for further enrichment. It has evidently not occurred to him that his own behavior might have anything to do with that. In fact, thanks to the administration’s amateurish negotiating tactics, Tehran’s best move for now is to keep saying no even if it ultimately intends to say yes.

Though the official deadline for an Iranian response was supposed to be last month, administration officials have repeatedly said they will give Iran until the end of the year to make a decision. In other words, Iran can keep the centrifuges spinning for another two months risk-free merely by delaying its response. So why on earth wouldn’t it choose to do so?

And then, of course, it can submit a “counterproposal” on December 31 — or more likely sometime in January, since it already knows that this administration isn’t too fussy about deadlines. That will necessitate a summit meeting among the six countries conducting the talks (the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany, known as the P5+1) so they can decide how to respond. In other words, more delay.

At best, the P5+1 will agree to negotiate, giving Tehran many more months of risk-free enrichment. From Tehran’s standpoint, that has to seem a likely outcome. Granted, U.S. officials claim they will not accept any amendment to the deal. But can anyone remember the last time Obama stuck to his guns when confronted by an autocrat who failed to be swayed by his charm?

Yet even if the counterproposal is unacceptable to the four Western countries, the ensuing wrangling is guaranteed to take weeks, if not months: Russia and China are sure to say the talks are worth pursuing no matter what the counterproposal consists of, and the West can be counted on to waste time trying to persuade them otherwise. So Tehran will still have bought more time.

Most likely, Iran has no intention of ever saying yes. Since there is no evidence that even the Western powers alone, much less Russia and China, will ever agree on a package of sanctions that would make it sit up and take notice, why should it?

But even if the powers ultimately did come up with a sanctions package intimidating enough to get Tehran to agree to the proposed deal, Obama’s negotiating method has ensured that, at the very least, Iran can gain many more months of punishment-free uranium enrichment just by dragging its feet. The mullahs would have to be idiots not to take advantage of the opportunity.

This really is Negotiating 101: no interlocutor will ever give you a prompt reply if you make it worthwhile for him to stall. Unfortunately, Obama and his team all seem to have skipped that class in college.

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A Shabby Showing

George W. Bush’s attorney general Alberto Gonzales had some cringe-inducing performances before Congress. But let’s face it — most of what he was being raked over the coals about (e.g., firing U.S. attorneys who serve at the will of the president) was nonsense drummed up by Democrats who knew a sitting duck when they saw one. Eric Holder’s performance this week was arguably in a class by itself — the extent of his ignorance and the shabbiness of his preparation was all the more appalling given the gravity of the issue.

As Charles Krauthammer notes:

In his congressional testimony Wednesday, Holder was utterly incoherent in trying to explain. In his Nov. 13 news conference, he seemed to be saying that if you attack a civilian target, as in 9/11, you get a civilian trial; a military target like the Cole, and you get a military tribunal. What a perverse moral calculus. Which is the war crime — an attack on defenseless civilians or an attack on a military target such as a warship, an accepted act of war that the United States itself has engaged in countless times?

But at the most basic level, Holder appeared not to have wrestled with the fundamental legal issues at play here. He blithely asserted that a conviction would be best assured in civilian court — but had no reply when Sen. Jon Kyl noted that KSM had already pleaded guilty in a military commission: “How can you be more likely to get a conviction in a (civilian) court than that?” When Sen. Lindsey Graham asked about the last time an enemy combatant was scooped off the battlefield, Holder was stumped. The silence was painful. Didn’t he know? Hadn’t the Justice Department lawyers discussed that this had never been done? And to top it off, Holder was again flummoxed when asked if Osama bin Laden would need to be Mirandized if we finally snatched him. No one at Justice apparently had raised this or any other meaningful hypothetical with Holder. Or maybe his mind was already made up by the time anyone started puzzling through the ramifications of the decision.

It is remarkable, really. The president pretends that he left one of the most critical decisions of his presidency to the lawyers. The lawyers’ boss doesn’t really grasp the legal issues. Next time Obama wants to hide behind Holder’s skirts, he might suggest that his attorney general get up to speed. Otherwise, the American people might get the idea that this is all a lefty ideological lark without regard to national security and without serious legal analysis.

George W. Bush’s attorney general Alberto Gonzales had some cringe-inducing performances before Congress. But let’s face it — most of what he was being raked over the coals about (e.g., firing U.S. attorneys who serve at the will of the president) was nonsense drummed up by Democrats who knew a sitting duck when they saw one. Eric Holder’s performance this week was arguably in a class by itself — the extent of his ignorance and the shabbiness of his preparation was all the more appalling given the gravity of the issue.

As Charles Krauthammer notes:

In his congressional testimony Wednesday, Holder was utterly incoherent in trying to explain. In his Nov. 13 news conference, he seemed to be saying that if you attack a civilian target, as in 9/11, you get a civilian trial; a military target like the Cole, and you get a military tribunal. What a perverse moral calculus. Which is the war crime — an attack on defenseless civilians or an attack on a military target such as a warship, an accepted act of war that the United States itself has engaged in countless times?

But at the most basic level, Holder appeared not to have wrestled with the fundamental legal issues at play here. He blithely asserted that a conviction would be best assured in civilian court — but had no reply when Sen. Jon Kyl noted that KSM had already pleaded guilty in a military commission: “How can you be more likely to get a conviction in a (civilian) court than that?” When Sen. Lindsey Graham asked about the last time an enemy combatant was scooped off the battlefield, Holder was stumped. The silence was painful. Didn’t he know? Hadn’t the Justice Department lawyers discussed that this had never been done? And to top it off, Holder was again flummoxed when asked if Osama bin Laden would need to be Mirandized if we finally snatched him. No one at Justice apparently had raised this or any other meaningful hypothetical with Holder. Or maybe his mind was already made up by the time anyone started puzzling through the ramifications of the decision.

It is remarkable, really. The president pretends that he left one of the most critical decisions of his presidency to the lawyers. The lawyers’ boss doesn’t really grasp the legal issues. Next time Obama wants to hide behind Holder’s skirts, he might suggest that his attorney general get up to speed. Otherwise, the American people might get the idea that this is all a lefty ideological lark without regard to national security and without serious legal analysis.

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Charles Murrary on Glenn Beck

Charles Murray, one of conservatism’s most important public intellectuals for the past quarter-century, has done his homework on Glenn Beck. Murray’s assessment — thoughtful as usual — can be found here:

Charles Murray, one of conservatism’s most important public intellectuals for the past quarter-century, has done his homework on Glenn Beck. Murray’s assessment — thoughtful as usual — can be found here:

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Map Check

The central problem in foreign press coverage of Israel is the tendency of journalists to rewrite and sensationalize current events or, more commonly, to mischaracterize them into agreement with a preferred narrative. Take the brouhaha over Gilo. Many journalists would like to incorporate the Israeli decision to add housing to this neighborhood into the larger narrative about West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements encroaching on land slated for a future Palestinian state. It would be complicated if it was acknowledged, as Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out, that

The building of apartments in Gilo is irrelevant to [the] eventual disposition of Jerusalem because everyone — the Americans, the Palestinians and the Israelis — knows that Gilo … will undoubtedly end up in Israel as part of a negotiated solution. … It doesn’t matter, then, if the Israelis build 900 housing units in Gilo or 900 skyscrapers: Gilo will be kept by Israel in exchange for a one-to-one land swap with Palestine.

The narrative of dispossession would be even more profoundly challenged if it was acknowledged that Gilo isn’t even in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. It’s actually in Southwest Jerusalem. Type “Gilo Jerusalem” into Google Maps if you want to see for yourself. Yet almost every single story on the Gilo controversy locates the neighborhood in a completely different region — specifically, an Arab region — of Jerusalem. What’s even more remarkable is that most of these stories are written by reporters who are stationed in Jerusalem. These sloppy characters either don’t know the geography of their own backyard or are willfully misleading their readers.

So, here’s to you, Ben Hubbard of the AP, Katya Adler of the BBC, Fox News, the BBC (again), Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian, Ben Lynfield of the UK Independent, Ilene Prusher of the Christian Science Monitor, and many more.

You have all flunked Journalism 101.

The central problem in foreign press coverage of Israel is the tendency of journalists to rewrite and sensationalize current events or, more commonly, to mischaracterize them into agreement with a preferred narrative. Take the brouhaha over Gilo. Many journalists would like to incorporate the Israeli decision to add housing to this neighborhood into the larger narrative about West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements encroaching on land slated for a future Palestinian state. It would be complicated if it was acknowledged, as Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out, that

The building of apartments in Gilo is irrelevant to [the] eventual disposition of Jerusalem because everyone — the Americans, the Palestinians and the Israelis — knows that Gilo … will undoubtedly end up in Israel as part of a negotiated solution. … It doesn’t matter, then, if the Israelis build 900 housing units in Gilo or 900 skyscrapers: Gilo will be kept by Israel in exchange for a one-to-one land swap with Palestine.

The narrative of dispossession would be even more profoundly challenged if it was acknowledged that Gilo isn’t even in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. It’s actually in Southwest Jerusalem. Type “Gilo Jerusalem” into Google Maps if you want to see for yourself. Yet almost every single story on the Gilo controversy locates the neighborhood in a completely different region — specifically, an Arab region — of Jerusalem. What’s even more remarkable is that most of these stories are written by reporters who are stationed in Jerusalem. These sloppy characters either don’t know the geography of their own backyard or are willfully misleading their readers.

So, here’s to you, Ben Hubbard of the AP, Katya Adler of the BBC, Fox News, the BBC (again), Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian, Ben Lynfield of the UK Independent, Ilene Prusher of the Christian Science Monitor, and many more.

You have all flunked Journalism 101.

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Huffy, Aren’t They?

Congress is getting mad: “Growing discontent over the economy and frustration with efforts to speed its recovery boiled over Thursday on Capitol Hill in a wave of criticism and outright anger directed at the Obama administration.” The outrage is bipartisan — the Black Caucus, Sen. Chuck Schumer, and lots of Republicans. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is the target du jour:

“Conservatives agree that as point person, you failed. Liberals are growing in that consensus as well,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.). “For the sake of our jobs, will you step down from your post?” Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Tex.) took a different tack. “I don’t think that you should be fired,” he told Geithner. “I thought you should have never been hired.” Even Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a friend of the administration, suggested that Geithner had been inconsistent in addressing China’s practice of keeping its currency low against the dollar.

Why now? Maybe the poll numbers have spooked those in Congress. Maybe the unemployment numbers have frightened them. But they sense that the White House has no real game plan for economic recovery, the stimulus has been a bust, and the real possibility exists for either a double-dip recession or a long slog with low growth.

Part of this is the doing of the very same lawmakers who are now grousing. No one forced them to spend time on two job-killer bills — cap-and-trade and ObamaCare. Well, other than their own leadership. And they aren’t about to recognize the connection between anemic hiring and the raft of tax hikes, mandates, and fines they have in mind as part of health care.

But the outbursts are noteworthy for one reason: they suggest that those in the Congress know that their own fate is tied to the economy and that the sagging popularity of the president means he’ll be of little help (and maybe great harm) in 2010.

Congress is getting mad: “Growing discontent over the economy and frustration with efforts to speed its recovery boiled over Thursday on Capitol Hill in a wave of criticism and outright anger directed at the Obama administration.” The outrage is bipartisan — the Black Caucus, Sen. Chuck Schumer, and lots of Republicans. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is the target du jour:

“Conservatives agree that as point person, you failed. Liberals are growing in that consensus as well,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.). “For the sake of our jobs, will you step down from your post?” Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Tex.) took a different tack. “I don’t think that you should be fired,” he told Geithner. “I thought you should have never been hired.” Even Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a friend of the administration, suggested that Geithner had been inconsistent in addressing China’s practice of keeping its currency low against the dollar.

Why now? Maybe the poll numbers have spooked those in Congress. Maybe the unemployment numbers have frightened them. But they sense that the White House has no real game plan for economic recovery, the stimulus has been a bust, and the real possibility exists for either a double-dip recession or a long slog with low growth.

Part of this is the doing of the very same lawmakers who are now grousing. No one forced them to spend time on two job-killer bills — cap-and-trade and ObamaCare. Well, other than their own leadership. And they aren’t about to recognize the connection between anemic hiring and the raft of tax hikes, mandates, and fines they have in mind as part of health care.

But the outbursts are noteworthy for one reason: they suggest that those in the Congress know that their own fate is tied to the economy and that the sagging popularity of the president means he’ll be of little help (and maybe great harm) in 2010.

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A Homegrown Terrorist Attack

The Senate opened hearings (minus co-operation from the administration) under the clear-eyed leadership of Sen. Joe Lieberman to look into the Fort Hood massacre. Lieberman described the slaughters as a “homegrown terrorist attack” that had been mishandled by law-enforcement and military agencies. This is a good start: at least some elected officials refuse to turn a blind eye to widely known facts.

In a similar vein, Cliff May asks how it was that everyone missed the obvious. (“Why did none of those who saw something say something? In a culture where the value of diversity trumps the requirements of security, to do so would have been career suicide. There was no way that was going to happen.”) May explains:

The lesson of Fort Hood is not that Muslims in the U.S. military are a fifth column. But neither can we continue to blithely assume that someone like Hasan — American-born, well-educated, apparently sophisticated — could never succumb to the temptations of what the politically correct call “violent extremism.”

And May decries the uninformed political correctness that refuses to acknowledge that those who are on a violent jihadist mission are not outside Islam: “Western commentators sometimes assert that Muslims who preach intolerance and belligerence are ‘heretics’ who have ‘hijacked’ a great and peaceful religion. But no Muslim authority would say that — not even those who denounce terrorism. How, after all, can a fundamentalist be a heretic? How can someone who insists on a literal reading of the Koran be accused of misrepresenting what it says?”

May also points to an uncomfortable reality:

No battles or even protests were ever staged outside the Dar al-Hijra mosque in Northern Virginia where Anwar al-Aulaqi preached a hateful and violent theology. Major Hasan was among those who worshipped with — and was inspired by — al-Aulaqi, an American-born cleric who five years ago decamped to Yemen. In recent days, al-Aulaqi has described Hasan as a “hero,” adding: The only way a Muslim could Islamically justify serving as a soldier in the U.S. army is if his intention is to follow the footsteps of men like Nidal.

Unfortunately our president is still on the political-correctness kick, and isn’t for now willing to acknowledge the nature of our enemy. Maybe the overwhelming weight of the evidence, the public’s commonsense understanding of what occurred at Fort Hood, and the persistence of Lieberman will force the administration to open its eyes — before yet another terrorist attack.

The Senate opened hearings (minus co-operation from the administration) under the clear-eyed leadership of Sen. Joe Lieberman to look into the Fort Hood massacre. Lieberman described the slaughters as a “homegrown terrorist attack” that had been mishandled by law-enforcement and military agencies. This is a good start: at least some elected officials refuse to turn a blind eye to widely known facts.

In a similar vein, Cliff May asks how it was that everyone missed the obvious. (“Why did none of those who saw something say something? In a culture where the value of diversity trumps the requirements of security, to do so would have been career suicide. There was no way that was going to happen.”) May explains:

The lesson of Fort Hood is not that Muslims in the U.S. military are a fifth column. But neither can we continue to blithely assume that someone like Hasan — American-born, well-educated, apparently sophisticated — could never succumb to the temptations of what the politically correct call “violent extremism.”

And May decries the uninformed political correctness that refuses to acknowledge that those who are on a violent jihadist mission are not outside Islam: “Western commentators sometimes assert that Muslims who preach intolerance and belligerence are ‘heretics’ who have ‘hijacked’ a great and peaceful religion. But no Muslim authority would say that — not even those who denounce terrorism. How, after all, can a fundamentalist be a heretic? How can someone who insists on a literal reading of the Koran be accused of misrepresenting what it says?”

May also points to an uncomfortable reality:

No battles or even protests were ever staged outside the Dar al-Hijra mosque in Northern Virginia where Anwar al-Aulaqi preached a hateful and violent theology. Major Hasan was among those who worshipped with — and was inspired by — al-Aulaqi, an American-born cleric who five years ago decamped to Yemen. In recent days, al-Aulaqi has described Hasan as a “hero,” adding: The only way a Muslim could Islamically justify serving as a soldier in the U.S. army is if his intention is to follow the footsteps of men like Nidal.

Unfortunately our president is still on the political-correctness kick, and isn’t for now willing to acknowledge the nature of our enemy. Maybe the overwhelming weight of the evidence, the public’s commonsense understanding of what occurred at Fort Hood, and the persistence of Lieberman will force the administration to open its eyes — before yet another terrorist attack.

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That’s What Elections Are For

Rumors swirled as to whether Rudy Giuliani would enter the New York Senate race. Reports said he would not run for governor but was going to take on Kirsten Gillibrand. His spokesperson said he’ll tell you when he’s made up his mind. A new poll suggests he’d do well against Gillibrand:

54% of registered voters statewide would vote for Giuliani compared with 40% who would support Gillibrand. Even one-third of Democrats report they would back the Republican challenger, and Giuliani runs competitively against Gillibrand in overwhelmingly Democratic New York City.

Giuliani has been out hammering Obama on the decision to try KSM in a civilian court, and one supposes that this and national security would be top issues in the Senate race. After all, within a fortnight, Democrats in the Senate declined the opportunity to cut off funding to move terrorists to the U.S. for trial and to prepare SuperMax prisons to house them, thereby ensuring this issue will be front and center in the 2010 Senate races. Whether it’s Giuliani or another challenger, Gillibrand will be forced to defend her votes and her party’s record on national security. The voters will have their say.

Rumors swirled as to whether Rudy Giuliani would enter the New York Senate race. Reports said he would not run for governor but was going to take on Kirsten Gillibrand. His spokesperson said he’ll tell you when he’s made up his mind. A new poll suggests he’d do well against Gillibrand:

54% of registered voters statewide would vote for Giuliani compared with 40% who would support Gillibrand. Even one-third of Democrats report they would back the Republican challenger, and Giuliani runs competitively against Gillibrand in overwhelmingly Democratic New York City.

Giuliani has been out hammering Obama on the decision to try KSM in a civilian court, and one supposes that this and national security would be top issues in the Senate race. After all, within a fortnight, Democrats in the Senate declined the opportunity to cut off funding to move terrorists to the U.S. for trial and to prepare SuperMax prisons to house them, thereby ensuring this issue will be front and center in the 2010 Senate races. Whether it’s Giuliani or another challenger, Gillibrand will be forced to defend her votes and her party’s record on national security. The voters will have their say.

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