Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 24, 2009

Slow-Motion Train-Wreck Watch

If train wrecks really happened in slow motion, observers might have time to note carelessness and irrelevance in the human actors involved. Metaphorical train wrecks certainly afford us such opportunities. The State Department bracketed a busy weekend for the Iran problem with a bit of both. In the daily briefing on Friday, spokesman Robert Wood responded to a point-blank question on why we are stretching out the time line on negotiations with this affirmation:

QUESTION: Then why stretch it out? I mean, isn’t it quite clear that they’re not going to do this?

MR. WOOD: Look, we are — we have said from the beginning, we’re willing to go the extra mile with regard to diplomacy. The President and the Secretary have been very clear about that. Iran has had plenty of time to consider this proposal. We still hope that they will reconsider and give the IAEA Director General a yes. But that’s up to Iran.

Iran had already, last week, given the IAEA director general a “no,” rejecting the P5+1 proposal to ship Tehran’s low-enriched uranium out of the country and offering a counterproposal: to exchange higher-enriched uranium for Iran’s current stock, simultaneously and inside Iran. In support of this negotiating ploy, the regime launched a major joint-forces exercise over the weekend, punctuating it with air-defense drills around the nuclear sites. In case the message was unclear, a senior Revolutionary Guard official emphasized the “deterrence power” of Iran’s ballistic missiles and threatened Tel Aviv with them. Meanwhile, President Lula da Silva of Brazil, with Ahmadinejad at his side, affirmed Iran’s right to civil nuclear technology and criticized “attempts to isolate Iran,” a condemnation that included the imposition of further sanctions.

So it’s not clear what gave Wood hope that Iran might reconsider. Monday’s laconic briefing from Ian Kelly projected a peculiar air of detachment, revealing mainly that there was no new policy guidance on Iran since Friday. There were some laughs, however. Kelly alluded, in suggesting that Iran seize a “fleeting opportunity,” to Friday’s thrice-repeated theme that the diplomatic window for Iran won’t be open forever. This led to a humorous exchange in which the word “fleeting” was suggested to amount to “new guidance.”

Surreal levity aside, Iran’s strategic wisdom in making a counterproposal, to which the P5+1 will have to take time in responding, has probably guaranteed that “fleeting” will not accurately describe the window bounded by negotiations. What the State Department has to show for eight years of business-as-usual negotiations is an Iran much closer to a working nuclear weapon. Robert Wood, in that sense, was exactly right: as long as we have a diplomacy-only approach, it is up to Iran. The only way to change that is to pose the credible threat of involving a different department of the U.S. government.

If train wrecks really happened in slow motion, observers might have time to note carelessness and irrelevance in the human actors involved. Metaphorical train wrecks certainly afford us such opportunities. The State Department bracketed a busy weekend for the Iran problem with a bit of both. In the daily briefing on Friday, spokesman Robert Wood responded to a point-blank question on why we are stretching out the time line on negotiations with this affirmation:

QUESTION: Then why stretch it out? I mean, isn’t it quite clear that they’re not going to do this?

MR. WOOD: Look, we are — we have said from the beginning, we’re willing to go the extra mile with regard to diplomacy. The President and the Secretary have been very clear about that. Iran has had plenty of time to consider this proposal. We still hope that they will reconsider and give the IAEA Director General a yes. But that’s up to Iran.

Iran had already, last week, given the IAEA director general a “no,” rejecting the P5+1 proposal to ship Tehran’s low-enriched uranium out of the country and offering a counterproposal: to exchange higher-enriched uranium for Iran’s current stock, simultaneously and inside Iran. In support of this negotiating ploy, the regime launched a major joint-forces exercise over the weekend, punctuating it with air-defense drills around the nuclear sites. In case the message was unclear, a senior Revolutionary Guard official emphasized the “deterrence power” of Iran’s ballistic missiles and threatened Tel Aviv with them. Meanwhile, President Lula da Silva of Brazil, with Ahmadinejad at his side, affirmed Iran’s right to civil nuclear technology and criticized “attempts to isolate Iran,” a condemnation that included the imposition of further sanctions.

So it’s not clear what gave Wood hope that Iran might reconsider. Monday’s laconic briefing from Ian Kelly projected a peculiar air of detachment, revealing mainly that there was no new policy guidance on Iran since Friday. There were some laughs, however. Kelly alluded, in suggesting that Iran seize a “fleeting opportunity,” to Friday’s thrice-repeated theme that the diplomatic window for Iran won’t be open forever. This led to a humorous exchange in which the word “fleeting” was suggested to amount to “new guidance.”

Surreal levity aside, Iran’s strategic wisdom in making a counterproposal, to which the P5+1 will have to take time in responding, has probably guaranteed that “fleeting” will not accurately describe the window bounded by negotiations. What the State Department has to show for eight years of business-as-usual negotiations is an Iran much closer to a working nuclear weapon. Robert Wood, in that sense, was exactly right: as long as we have a diplomacy-only approach, it is up to Iran. The only way to change that is to pose the credible threat of involving a different department of the U.S. government.

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British Corruption

Britain has fallen a notch in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruptions Perceptions Index. It now ranks 17th out of the 180 countries surveyed. Transparency said that the decline “reflects the damage to its international standing caused by the MPs’ expenses scandal and the weakness of its efforts to prosecute foreign bribery.”

The second item, the “foreign bribery” problem, relates to the long-running saga of allegations against BAE and arms sales to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Tanzania. I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of these allegations, which shed revealing light on the hypocrisy of the UK’s support for the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, but they are old news. It’s probable that Britain’s decline was driven by the expenses scandal. Read More

Britain has fallen a notch in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruptions Perceptions Index. It now ranks 17th out of the 180 countries surveyed. Transparency said that the decline “reflects the damage to its international standing caused by the MPs’ expenses scandal and the weakness of its efforts to prosecute foreign bribery.”

The second item, the “foreign bribery” problem, relates to the long-running saga of allegations against BAE and arms sales to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Tanzania. I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of these allegations, which shed revealing light on the hypocrisy of the UK’s support for the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, but they are old news. It’s probable that Britain’s decline was driven by the expenses scandal.

The impact of that scandal is an illustration of John Hay’s remark that “it is curious how a concise impropriety hits the public.” But it is also small beer: New Labour has brought Britain many “improprieties” that were a good deal worse but that failed to catch Transparency’s eye. There was the 2005-07 “cash for peerages” controversy, in which it was alleged that the Labour party was selling seats in the House of Lords in exchange for donations. There was — indeed, there is — the scandal of Labour’s immigration policy, which a former Labour speechwriter confessed last month deliberately sought to deceive Parliament, the public, and its own supporters.

There is the ongoing refusal of ministers to treat Parliament with any seriousness, as witnessed by the relentless leaking of government proposals in advance of the Queen’s Speech, a formerly great occasion of state. And, above all, there is the fact that more than 90 percent of all British law is now made by the EU. Compared to this, the expenses scandal is nothing: if the MPs can’t make law for their own constituents, the money they pocket on the side by fiddling second mortgages and buying expensive wallpaper is hardly the most vital national issue. Not all government corruption is financial, and the nonmonetary kinds are by far the most vicious.

But the expenses scandal is an attention grabber nonetheless. It is a very British saga — only in the UK, and a few other countries, would the public be exercised by this kind of corruption. In too many countries, it’s taken for granted that public service is an opportunity for personal enrichment. It goes to show that, though the standards have been traduced, the British public’s view of what is right in political life still stems from the Victorian era. And in my eyes, there is no higher praise than that.

It is of course true that that era was not free from corruption. If you’re a fan of old political scandals, I recommend G.R. Searle’s superb study of “Corruption in British Politics, 1895-1930,” which proves that this century was not the first time the House of Lords has been for sale. But that era nonetheless created standards that, even if they were in part aspirational, are of real value. MPs are not supposed to seek their private good. The British armed forces are not supposed to have their budget cut in the face of the enemy. Brussels is not supposed to make British law. Yet all these things happen openly and repeatedly.

Part of the sour tone of British politics today is obviously the result of the recession. But it is more than that: it is the result of the grating divergence between basic political ideals and obvious political realities in Britain. And given how influential those ideals have been around the world, and the high expectations that people abroad still have of Britain, it is not surprising that Britain has been punished by the Transparency survey.

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Burke vs. Beck

Glenn Beck is at it again. This time he’s making the claim that America’s two political parties are essentially indistinguishable from one another, that they want to do the same things and head in the same direction. The only difference, he insists, is the rate of the journey. He then suggests, without quite saying so, that it’s time to end the two-party system in America. And for effect, Beck had his staff build two coffins, representing both the Democratic and the Republican parties. (In the world according to Beck, America is about to step into the coffin, thanks to the failures of both parties.)

Beck’s argument strikes me as superficial; the differences between the two parties on issues — including health care, tort reform, taxes, the culture of life, America’s role in the world, and so much else – are obvious and don’t need to be elaborated on. For Beck to put forth the argument he does, in the manner he does, is evidence, I think, of a kind of animus toward political parties (Beck would probably insist that he is not against parties per se but simply against the choices before him now).

Contrast Beck’s attitude toward political parties with those of a founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke. In his outstanding biography on Burke, Carl B. Cone writes:

No man of his generation understood better than Burke how natural and how necessary it was for men of similar opinions to work together to give effect to their beliefs. …

Burke therefore lived at a time when a man who possessed a genius for expressing his ideas and who firmly believed in the rightness and necessity of parties might promote their growth. This Burke did not only by his writings but by his activities in and out of parliament as a party man. As a practical politician even more than as the political philosopher, Burke helped devise political practices and conventions without which the modern British constitution could not have come into existence. Burke was an architect of the constitution because he was a party politician. …

As he told the House of Commons on February 15, 1781, “Government is the exercise of all the great qualities of the human mind.” Oliver Goldsmith in 1774 spoke for all who knew Burke when he described him as devoting his best talents to the cause of party. But Burke disavowed Goldsmith’s assertion that he gave up to party what was meant for mankind. In Burke’s mind there was no contradiction. He did not forsake mankind in identifying himself with a particular political party. Given the nature of man and of politics, he had placed himself in a situation the better to serve mankind.

Burke understood that parties were not always right. And I happen to approach these matters as someone who considers himself to be a philosophical conservative before he is a Republican. Yet genuine conservatives understand the important role parties play in organizing people of similar beliefs to do the practical, and often the slow and imperfect, work of advancing an agenda that can eventually be translated into governing. We cannot expect perfection or utopia; what we can hope for is to make progress, a step (and sometimes two) at a time. It’s also worth pointing out that many of our greatest figures in American political history were men who proudly associated themselves with political parties — and the greatest figure in American political history, Abraham Lincoln, helped found one (the Republican party).

Glenn Beck is at it again. This time he’s making the claim that America’s two political parties are essentially indistinguishable from one another, that they want to do the same things and head in the same direction. The only difference, he insists, is the rate of the journey. He then suggests, without quite saying so, that it’s time to end the two-party system in America. And for effect, Beck had his staff build two coffins, representing both the Democratic and the Republican parties. (In the world according to Beck, America is about to step into the coffin, thanks to the failures of both parties.)

Beck’s argument strikes me as superficial; the differences between the two parties on issues — including health care, tort reform, taxes, the culture of life, America’s role in the world, and so much else – are obvious and don’t need to be elaborated on. For Beck to put forth the argument he does, in the manner he does, is evidence, I think, of a kind of animus toward political parties (Beck would probably insist that he is not against parties per se but simply against the choices before him now).

Contrast Beck’s attitude toward political parties with those of a founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke. In his outstanding biography on Burke, Carl B. Cone writes:

No man of his generation understood better than Burke how natural and how necessary it was for men of similar opinions to work together to give effect to their beliefs. …

Burke therefore lived at a time when a man who possessed a genius for expressing his ideas and who firmly believed in the rightness and necessity of parties might promote their growth. This Burke did not only by his writings but by his activities in and out of parliament as a party man. As a practical politician even more than as the political philosopher, Burke helped devise political practices and conventions without which the modern British constitution could not have come into existence. Burke was an architect of the constitution because he was a party politician. …

As he told the House of Commons on February 15, 1781, “Government is the exercise of all the great qualities of the human mind.” Oliver Goldsmith in 1774 spoke for all who knew Burke when he described him as devoting his best talents to the cause of party. But Burke disavowed Goldsmith’s assertion that he gave up to party what was meant for mankind. In Burke’s mind there was no contradiction. He did not forsake mankind in identifying himself with a particular political party. Given the nature of man and of politics, he had placed himself in a situation the better to serve mankind.

Burke understood that parties were not always right. And I happen to approach these matters as someone who considers himself to be a philosophical conservative before he is a Republican. Yet genuine conservatives understand the important role parties play in organizing people of similar beliefs to do the practical, and often the slow and imperfect, work of advancing an agenda that can eventually be translated into governing. We cannot expect perfection or utopia; what we can hope for is to make progress, a step (and sometimes two) at a time. It’s also worth pointing out that many of our greatest figures in American political history were men who proudly associated themselves with political parties — and the greatest figure in American political history, Abraham Lincoln, helped found one (the Republican party).

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Doing Nothing

This is, I suppose, the “Cairo Effect” — the term Obama’s spinners gave to the president’s mystical powers to change the dynamic in the Middle East by simply giving a speech to the “Muslim World”:

US President Barack Obama is “doing nothing right now” to restart the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said in an interview published Tuesday. “I hope he’ll take a more important role in the future,” Abbas told the Argentine daily Clarin during a visit to Buenos Aires. The Palestinians “are waiting for the United States to put pressure on Israel so it respects international law, so it takes up the road map” towards peace, he said, according to publication’s Spanish translation. “It can do two things: put pressure on the Israelis so they reject settlements, and put pressure so they accept withdrawing to the 1967 borders.”

In other words, Obama has only reinforced the Palestinians’ inclination toward obstructionism. And the Israelis? They’re not about to agree to either of those “two things,” so the parties won’t be processing peace any time soon. Seems that the Cairo speech, and everything that followed, wasn’t very “smart” diplomacy-wise.

This is, I suppose, the “Cairo Effect” — the term Obama’s spinners gave to the president’s mystical powers to change the dynamic in the Middle East by simply giving a speech to the “Muslim World”:

US President Barack Obama is “doing nothing right now” to restart the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said in an interview published Tuesday. “I hope he’ll take a more important role in the future,” Abbas told the Argentine daily Clarin during a visit to Buenos Aires. The Palestinians “are waiting for the United States to put pressure on Israel so it respects international law, so it takes up the road map” towards peace, he said, according to publication’s Spanish translation. “It can do two things: put pressure on the Israelis so they reject settlements, and put pressure so they accept withdrawing to the 1967 borders.”

In other words, Obama has only reinforced the Palestinians’ inclination toward obstructionism. And the Israelis? They’re not about to agree to either of those “two things,” so the parties won’t be processing peace any time soon. Seems that the Cairo speech, and everything that followed, wasn’t very “smart” diplomacy-wise.

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For the Defense

One big difference between a civilian trial and a military tribunal is that in the latter, the government can exercise some control over who is selected to represent the accused. In an Article III trial, the defendant can choose anyone he wants. And KSM chose Scott Fenstermaker. Others are beginning to dig and have found that Fernstermaker was “booted from the military commissions civilian defense counsel pool in 2008 for ‘counterproductive’ interactions with the staff, and not representing himself in a ‘forthright’ manner to the chief defense counsel for the Gitmo detainees.” And that isn’t the only instance of Fernstermaker’s questionable lawyering.

A colleague provides a copy of this decision in which Fenstermaker litigated against a school district in Westchester County and sought documents from the school district in the applicable freedom of information law. But it seems he went overboard there, too. In seeking reams of documents, Fenstermaker accused the school district “of having created a situation ‘rife with bribes and kickbacks;’ that he was certain that respondents had already altered or destroyed certain of the requested records; that counsel was operating under a conflict of interest in that he was responsible as counsel for respondents’ malfeasance; and that he was therefore demanding that the records be sent to a copy service designated by him.’” Much wrangling ensued, and the matter wound up in court.  There, the court held that each of the school district’s actions that Fenstermaker challenged was “supported by statute and administrative rulings” and that Fenstermaker “cited no authority to the contrary.” It deemed the matter frivolous, and the court not only awarded statutory costs to the school district but also ordered Fenstermaker to pay costs “for the actual expenses reasonably incurred and reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in defending this proceeding.”

And that was against a school district in a case with no national implications or coverage. So buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy show trial, I have a feeling.

One big difference between a civilian trial and a military tribunal is that in the latter, the government can exercise some control over who is selected to represent the accused. In an Article III trial, the defendant can choose anyone he wants. And KSM chose Scott Fenstermaker. Others are beginning to dig and have found that Fernstermaker was “booted from the military commissions civilian defense counsel pool in 2008 for ‘counterproductive’ interactions with the staff, and not representing himself in a ‘forthright’ manner to the chief defense counsel for the Gitmo detainees.” And that isn’t the only instance of Fernstermaker’s questionable lawyering.

A colleague provides a copy of this decision in which Fenstermaker litigated against a school district in Westchester County and sought documents from the school district in the applicable freedom of information law. But it seems he went overboard there, too. In seeking reams of documents, Fenstermaker accused the school district “of having created a situation ‘rife with bribes and kickbacks;’ that he was certain that respondents had already altered or destroyed certain of the requested records; that counsel was operating under a conflict of interest in that he was responsible as counsel for respondents’ malfeasance; and that he was therefore demanding that the records be sent to a copy service designated by him.’” Much wrangling ensued, and the matter wound up in court.  There, the court held that each of the school district’s actions that Fenstermaker challenged was “supported by statute and administrative rulings” and that Fenstermaker “cited no authority to the contrary.” It deemed the matter frivolous, and the court not only awarded statutory costs to the school district but also ordered Fenstermaker to pay costs “for the actual expenses reasonably incurred and reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in defending this proceeding.”

And that was against a school district in a case with no national implications or coverage. So buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy show trial, I have a feeling.

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What Can Be Done?

As Charles Krauthammer aptly put it, our attorney general is “clueless” on the subject of KSM’s trial in New York. The defense counsel Scott Fenstermaker is warming up, explaining that we’ll hear rebuttals to all the “demonization” of his client that has been going on over the past eight years. So what is to be done?

Congress might try to cut off funds or engage in some jurisdictional court-stripping (although that’s usually a prospective remedy to prevent courts from meddling). Or Obama could just change his mind. Yes, why not? It was, he keeps telling us, Holder’s call, after all. And now, as he sees it all play out, why not simply reverse course? Oh, sure he’ll need an excuse, but just as the Bush administration (actually, at Krauthammer’s clever suggestion) dumped the Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination over a made-up issue of executive privilege concerning her White House work record, so too there will be plenty of chances to fold up shop if the president is squeamish about simply pulling the plug right now.

The president can blame Greg Graig or Holder, if he must. Obama reversed course on the detainee photos after advice from Justice, so he’s not unaccustomed to the process. Embarrassing? Sure. But if he thinks about what years and years of a show trial will mean, and the impact it will have on his image as commander in chief as the public realizes that this could easily have been avoided, Obama may come to see that a quick dose of embarrassment now is preferable to years of humiliation down the road.

As Charles Krauthammer aptly put it, our attorney general is “clueless” on the subject of KSM’s trial in New York. The defense counsel Scott Fenstermaker is warming up, explaining that we’ll hear rebuttals to all the “demonization” of his client that has been going on over the past eight years. So what is to be done?

Congress might try to cut off funds or engage in some jurisdictional court-stripping (although that’s usually a prospective remedy to prevent courts from meddling). Or Obama could just change his mind. Yes, why not? It was, he keeps telling us, Holder’s call, after all. And now, as he sees it all play out, why not simply reverse course? Oh, sure he’ll need an excuse, but just as the Bush administration (actually, at Krauthammer’s clever suggestion) dumped the Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination over a made-up issue of executive privilege concerning her White House work record, so too there will be plenty of chances to fold up shop if the president is squeamish about simply pulling the plug right now.

The president can blame Greg Graig or Holder, if he must. Obama reversed course on the detainee photos after advice from Justice, so he’s not unaccustomed to the process. Embarrassing? Sure. But if he thinks about what years and years of a show trial will mean, and the impact it will have on his image as commander in chief as the public realizes that this could easily have been avoided, Obama may come to see that a quick dose of embarrassment now is preferable to years of humiliation down the road.

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Poll Numbers Crash

Here is some more sobering poll news for Obama:

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Tuesday shows that 27% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-two percent (42%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -15. This is the lowest Approval Index rating yet measured for President Obama. … Among those not affiliated with either major political party, just 16% Strongly Approve and 51% Strongly Disapprove. … Overall, 45% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance.

And even the New York Times concedes that something is afoot, although the Gray Lady helpfully spins that this is all “unsurprising.” The Times’s analysis is not unlike that of many Republicans, however:

Mr. Obama’s decline a year into his term comes as he struggles through a decidedly sour climate. The unemployment rate has jumped above 10 percent and shows no sign of abating. At this point, even if Mr. Obama cannot be blamed for causing the economic decline, Americans are growing impatient with him to fix it.

His main legislative initiative — the health care bill — is the subject of a messy fight in Congress, displaying Washington in the very bitter partisan light that Mr. Obama promised to end. It has provided Republicans with a platform to stir concerns that Mr. Obama is using the health care overhaul to expand the role of government beyond the comfort level of many Americans; polls suggest that these arguments have helped sow significant doubts.

You might have to strain to get the point, but the Times is explaining that the health-care debate is making things worse because it’s proving conservatives’ point about Obama’s statist tendencies. It’s also significant that Obama did not get a bump, in fact got a slide, out of his overseas trip, which reminded Americans of their president’s cringey incompetence. (The Times, again, spins this: “The media coverage of Mr. Obama’s visit to China was critical of the way he dealt with Chinese leaders.”)

Well, rational people would look at this and reassess, see what has gone wrong, fire those whose judgment was flawed, and try to get the presidency back on track. This crowd? A combination of true believers and purveyors of “damn the consequences for the moderates,” I suspect, will prevent much if any alteration in the course of this administration. Only elections, I suspect, will have much impact.

Here is some more sobering poll news for Obama:

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Tuesday shows that 27% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-two percent (42%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -15. This is the lowest Approval Index rating yet measured for President Obama. … Among those not affiliated with either major political party, just 16% Strongly Approve and 51% Strongly Disapprove. … Overall, 45% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance.

And even the New York Times concedes that something is afoot, although the Gray Lady helpfully spins that this is all “unsurprising.” The Times’s analysis is not unlike that of many Republicans, however:

Mr. Obama’s decline a year into his term comes as he struggles through a decidedly sour climate. The unemployment rate has jumped above 10 percent and shows no sign of abating. At this point, even if Mr. Obama cannot be blamed for causing the economic decline, Americans are growing impatient with him to fix it.

His main legislative initiative — the health care bill — is the subject of a messy fight in Congress, displaying Washington in the very bitter partisan light that Mr. Obama promised to end. It has provided Republicans with a platform to stir concerns that Mr. Obama is using the health care overhaul to expand the role of government beyond the comfort level of many Americans; polls suggest that these arguments have helped sow significant doubts.

You might have to strain to get the point, but the Times is explaining that the health-care debate is making things worse because it’s proving conservatives’ point about Obama’s statist tendencies. It’s also significant that Obama did not get a bump, in fact got a slide, out of his overseas trip, which reminded Americans of their president’s cringey incompetence. (The Times, again, spins this: “The media coverage of Mr. Obama’s visit to China was critical of the way he dealt with Chinese leaders.”)

Well, rational people would look at this and reassess, see what has gone wrong, fire those whose judgment was flawed, and try to get the presidency back on track. This crowd? A combination of true believers and purveyors of “damn the consequences for the moderates,” I suspect, will prevent much if any alteration in the course of this administration. Only elections, I suspect, will have much impact.

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One Word from Obama Can Rejuvenate Troop Morale — “Victory”

I recently chatted with some U.S. Army Special Forces troops who had served last year in Afghanistan. Green Berets are usually gung-ho, but these guys seemed a bit worn down and pessimistic about the situation. They complained that Afghan troops aren’t willing to back them up in the hardest fights and praised instead the militiamen they hire to guard their own compounds — part of the tribal forces that the Special Forces (and CIA) have been using for years. Above all they talked of how little they could do in the vast landscape of Afghanistan. Special Forces deploy in 12-man A Teams, and when they were in Afghanistan, often they had little or no backup from other coalition forces. The “snake eaters” are super soldiers, but there is only so much that a dozen of them can do in such a hostile and punishing environment.

Listening to their conversation took me back to similar conversations I had with other U.S. troops about Iraq. From 2003 to 2007 I heard troops who were increasingly dispirited by the daunting challenge of trying to pacify Iraq without a good strategy or enough troops. All that changed in 2007, when the surge gave a newfound sense of purpose to the men and women on the ground while also convincing the Iraqis that the U.S. was out to win the war. That boost to morale was an important component of the surge’s success, and it is something that President Obama should keep in mind as he gets ready to announce his policy on Afghanistan.

If he sends substantially fewer troops than Gen. McChrystal wants, he risks perpetuating the sense of malaise reflected by these Green Berets, who knew that they were essentially fighting a holding action without the capacity to achieve decisive results. Obama had better use his televised talk to the nation not only to announce a robust reinforcement package but also to make clear that he expects the troops to defeat the Taliban — not to prepare the way for a rapid “exit strategy.” No one wants to risk his or her life to secure a more expeditious withdrawal. If we’re going to commit more troops — and we should — the only proper objective is victory. That is a word that has been missing so far from Obama’s vocabulary. I hope it is not MIA on Tuesday night.

I recently chatted with some U.S. Army Special Forces troops who had served last year in Afghanistan. Green Berets are usually gung-ho, but these guys seemed a bit worn down and pessimistic about the situation. They complained that Afghan troops aren’t willing to back them up in the hardest fights and praised instead the militiamen they hire to guard their own compounds — part of the tribal forces that the Special Forces (and CIA) have been using for years. Above all they talked of how little they could do in the vast landscape of Afghanistan. Special Forces deploy in 12-man A Teams, and when they were in Afghanistan, often they had little or no backup from other coalition forces. The “snake eaters” are super soldiers, but there is only so much that a dozen of them can do in such a hostile and punishing environment.

Listening to their conversation took me back to similar conversations I had with other U.S. troops about Iraq. From 2003 to 2007 I heard troops who were increasingly dispirited by the daunting challenge of trying to pacify Iraq without a good strategy or enough troops. All that changed in 2007, when the surge gave a newfound sense of purpose to the men and women on the ground while also convincing the Iraqis that the U.S. was out to win the war. That boost to morale was an important component of the surge’s success, and it is something that President Obama should keep in mind as he gets ready to announce his policy on Afghanistan.

If he sends substantially fewer troops than Gen. McChrystal wants, he risks perpetuating the sense of malaise reflected by these Green Berets, who knew that they were essentially fighting a holding action without the capacity to achieve decisive results. Obama had better use his televised talk to the nation not only to announce a robust reinforcement package but also to make clear that he expects the troops to defeat the Taliban — not to prepare the way for a rapid “exit strategy.” No one wants to risk his or her life to secure a more expeditious withdrawal. If we’re going to commit more troops — and we should — the only proper objective is victory. That is a word that has been missing so far from Obama’s vocabulary. I hope it is not MIA on Tuesday night.

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The Perils of Freelance Diplomacy

Shaul Mofaz has spent the past two weeks hawking his peace plan overseas. He has met with Obama administration officials Dennis Ross, Dan Shapiro, and Jeffrey Feltman; U.S. congressmen; UN officials; and the American, Turkish, Russian, Egyptian, and Jordanian ambassadors to Israel. But unless you follow Israeli politics closely, you’re probably wondering, “Who?”

And that’s the point: Mofaz isn’t a member of Israel’s government or even a party leader; he’s the No. 2 man in the largest opposition party, Kadima — which has yet to even discuss his plan. In other words, the plan he’s marketing abroad is one he hasn’t yet managed to sell even to his own party, much less to the Israeli public; moreover, he occupies no post that would enable him to implement it.

Nor is this unprecedented: other freelance Israeli diplomats have received equal or greater attention overseas. Yossi Beilin, for instance, met with high-ranking officials worldwide about his Geneva Initiative (a proposed Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement) in 2003, though he held no public office at the time. And when he did run for the Knesset three years later, the party he headed won five seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Not exactly a resounding vote of confidence from Israel’s public.

Were these foreign officials merely wasting their time, nobody would care. But this behavior has two pernicious effects.

First, it feeds the illusion among overseas governments that they don’t have to contend seriously with the positions of actual Israeli governments elected by actual Israeli voters; they can just sit and wait until the inconvenient incumbents are replaced by their pet opposition politician. Barack Obama’s failure to realize that treating Israel’s capital as a “settlement” would bolster Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rather than weaken him, since Netanyahu’s positions on Jerusalem in fact reflect those of Israel’s majority, is a classic example of the pitfalls of such illusions.

In reality, people freelance precisely because they are unable to convince their own public to put them in power. Beilin, for instance, went freelance after failing to make it into the Knesset in 2003; Mofaz is freelancing now because he lost Kadima’s leadership contest last fall. And there is no reason to believe such freelancers will be more electable in the future.

Second, international backing for freelancers can panic Israeli governments into moves that undermine the world’s stated goals. Global enthusiasm for the Geneva Initiative, for instance, helped push Ariel Sharon to unilaterally quit Gaza: he considered Geneva disastrous and wanted to distract attention from it. Yet the disengagement, which Palestinians considered a victory for terror, led to Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006 and its subsequent takeover of Gaza in 2007, both of which complicated peacemaking efforts.

Thus the proper response to freelance diplomats should be “first, convince your own public; then we’ll talk.” Granted, that would force world leaders to deal with actual Israeli positions rather than unelectable fantasies. But since Israel must ultimately approve any deal, a plan that can’t command an Israeli majority isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on anyway.

Shaul Mofaz has spent the past two weeks hawking his peace plan overseas. He has met with Obama administration officials Dennis Ross, Dan Shapiro, and Jeffrey Feltman; U.S. congressmen; UN officials; and the American, Turkish, Russian, Egyptian, and Jordanian ambassadors to Israel. But unless you follow Israeli politics closely, you’re probably wondering, “Who?”

And that’s the point: Mofaz isn’t a member of Israel’s government or even a party leader; he’s the No. 2 man in the largest opposition party, Kadima — which has yet to even discuss his plan. In other words, the plan he’s marketing abroad is one he hasn’t yet managed to sell even to his own party, much less to the Israeli public; moreover, he occupies no post that would enable him to implement it.

Nor is this unprecedented: other freelance Israeli diplomats have received equal or greater attention overseas. Yossi Beilin, for instance, met with high-ranking officials worldwide about his Geneva Initiative (a proposed Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement) in 2003, though he held no public office at the time. And when he did run for the Knesset three years later, the party he headed won five seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Not exactly a resounding vote of confidence from Israel’s public.

Were these foreign officials merely wasting their time, nobody would care. But this behavior has two pernicious effects.

First, it feeds the illusion among overseas governments that they don’t have to contend seriously with the positions of actual Israeli governments elected by actual Israeli voters; they can just sit and wait until the inconvenient incumbents are replaced by their pet opposition politician. Barack Obama’s failure to realize that treating Israel’s capital as a “settlement” would bolster Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rather than weaken him, since Netanyahu’s positions on Jerusalem in fact reflect those of Israel’s majority, is a classic example of the pitfalls of such illusions.

In reality, people freelance precisely because they are unable to convince their own public to put them in power. Beilin, for instance, went freelance after failing to make it into the Knesset in 2003; Mofaz is freelancing now because he lost Kadima’s leadership contest last fall. And there is no reason to believe such freelancers will be more electable in the future.

Second, international backing for freelancers can panic Israeli governments into moves that undermine the world’s stated goals. Global enthusiasm for the Geneva Initiative, for instance, helped push Ariel Sharon to unilaterally quit Gaza: he considered Geneva disastrous and wanted to distract attention from it. Yet the disengagement, which Palestinians considered a victory for terror, led to Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006 and its subsequent takeover of Gaza in 2007, both of which complicated peacemaking efforts.

Thus the proper response to freelance diplomats should be “first, convince your own public; then we’ll talk.” Granted, that would force world leaders to deal with actual Israeli positions rather than unelectable fantasies. But since Israel must ultimately approve any deal, a plan that can’t command an Israeli majority isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on anyway.

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Obama’s Moment of Choosing

The administration has just announced that the president will give a prime-time address on December 1, with the presumption being that the speech will largely center on his decision regarding troop levels in Afghanistan. Despite the fact that President Obama loves to say he rejects “false choices” — the latest example being Time magazine’s revelation that back in May he complained he didn’t “like my options” when he was compelled to choose between releasing detainee photos and not releasing detainee photos — his will be a moment of choosing, and he will not be able to make it out otherwise.

It is conceivable that a brilliant policy process over the past three months has coughed up a brilliant new option other than General McChrystal’s plan to deploy 40,000 new troops in a counterinsurgency strategy — a plan defended and explained authoritatively by Max Boot in COMMENTARY’s November issue — or the counterterrorism strategy supposedly championed by Joe Biden, which effectively abandons any serious effort to secure victory against the Taliban. But the administration’s second-rate foreign-policy process, exposed in the universal sense that his Asia trip was meaningless at best and a colossal bungle at worst, is unlikely to have generated such a brilliant new strategy.

So it’s McChrystal or nothing — because even modified McChrystal, in which deployments are slowed down and a great deal of attention is given the prospect of pulling out if things get worse in the short run, is likely to be ineffective. (If the general needed fewer troops, why on earth wouldn’t he have asked for fewer troops? It’s more believable that he needs even more but knew he was straining the system to ask for 40,000.)

This time of choosing is portentous. It will give some sense of whether Obama is finally surrendering to the logic of the presidency, in which you have to deal with the world as it is and make policy out of the materials at hand rather than wishing bad stuff away. If he does so, he will announce his acceptance of the McChrystal plan, and he will take a giant step toward filling the Oval Office in the way it needs to be filled. If he continues to reject the logic of the presidency, and continue along a path of willed fecklessness, he will be making an active choice for defeat — the defeat of the United States in a war he once described as a “war of necessity.” He would be the first president in history to make such a choice consciously and with every reason to understand that this would be the choice — the parlous choice, the monstrous choice — he is making.

The administration has just announced that the president will give a prime-time address on December 1, with the presumption being that the speech will largely center on his decision regarding troop levels in Afghanistan. Despite the fact that President Obama loves to say he rejects “false choices” — the latest example being Time magazine’s revelation that back in May he complained he didn’t “like my options” when he was compelled to choose between releasing detainee photos and not releasing detainee photos — his will be a moment of choosing, and he will not be able to make it out otherwise.

It is conceivable that a brilliant policy process over the past three months has coughed up a brilliant new option other than General McChrystal’s plan to deploy 40,000 new troops in a counterinsurgency strategy — a plan defended and explained authoritatively by Max Boot in COMMENTARY’s November issue — or the counterterrorism strategy supposedly championed by Joe Biden, which effectively abandons any serious effort to secure victory against the Taliban. But the administration’s second-rate foreign-policy process, exposed in the universal sense that his Asia trip was meaningless at best and a colossal bungle at worst, is unlikely to have generated such a brilliant new strategy.

So it’s McChrystal or nothing — because even modified McChrystal, in which deployments are slowed down and a great deal of attention is given the prospect of pulling out if things get worse in the short run, is likely to be ineffective. (If the general needed fewer troops, why on earth wouldn’t he have asked for fewer troops? It’s more believable that he needs even more but knew he was straining the system to ask for 40,000.)

This time of choosing is portentous. It will give some sense of whether Obama is finally surrendering to the logic of the presidency, in which you have to deal with the world as it is and make policy out of the materials at hand rather than wishing bad stuff away. If he does so, he will announce his acceptance of the McChrystal plan, and he will take a giant step toward filling the Oval Office in the way it needs to be filled. If he continues to reject the logic of the presidency, and continue along a path of willed fecklessness, he will be making an active choice for defeat — the defeat of the United States in a war he once described as a “war of necessity.” He would be the first president in history to make such a choice consciously and with every reason to understand that this would be the choice — the parlous choice, the monstrous choice — he is making.

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What Comes from Kowtowing

I suppose it could have been worse. China could have sentenced “a veteran Chinese human rights campaigner who challenged the central government over the faulty construction of school buildings that collapsed during last year’s Sichuan earthquake” while Obama was still in the country. Instead they waited a week to throw the activist into jail for three years for “possessing secret state documents.” That’s what you get when a U.S. president downplays and downgrades human rights. Obama’s wimpiness has not gone unnoticed by human-rights activists:

Jiang Tianyong, described in a telephone interview how he was taken in for questioning by police Thursday, while walking his 7-year-old daughter to school, and detained for 13 hours before being released. The previous day, Jiang said, he had tried to approach the U.S. Embassy because he had heard that Obama might meet with human rights lawyers. But he was taken back to his house by police.

Jiang expressed disappointment that Obama had not met with human rights activists during his trip.

“There are a bunch of people in Chinese civil society who have enough courage to talk with Obama about the human rights issue in China,” Jiang said. “But Obama is not decisive enough or doesn’t have enough willpower to talk with the civil society.”

Despite his mention of “universal rights,” Obama, in the view of rights activists, “didn’t strike as hard of a tone on human rights as some of us had hoped for,” said Sam Zarifi, the Asia-Pacific director for the London-based group Amnesty International. “It’s tough to wag your finger about human rights when your hand is stretched out for more money.”

And what did we get for downplaying human rights in China? Nothing — well, there’s always the contempt of the government that knows it can act with impunity. We shouldn’t be surprised if we see more of the same, not only in China, but also in Cuba, Iran, Russia, North Korea, Syria, and other thuggish regimes. Despots in those countries will also see that they too can crack down on their own people without suffering many, if any, adverse consequences from the Obami. Maybe they’ll even get a state visit, one without uncomfortable interchanges between the U.S. president and human-rights activists.

I suppose it could have been worse. China could have sentenced “a veteran Chinese human rights campaigner who challenged the central government over the faulty construction of school buildings that collapsed during last year’s Sichuan earthquake” while Obama was still in the country. Instead they waited a week to throw the activist into jail for three years for “possessing secret state documents.” That’s what you get when a U.S. president downplays and downgrades human rights. Obama’s wimpiness has not gone unnoticed by human-rights activists:

Jiang Tianyong, described in a telephone interview how he was taken in for questioning by police Thursday, while walking his 7-year-old daughter to school, and detained for 13 hours before being released. The previous day, Jiang said, he had tried to approach the U.S. Embassy because he had heard that Obama might meet with human rights lawyers. But he was taken back to his house by police.

Jiang expressed disappointment that Obama had not met with human rights activists during his trip.

“There are a bunch of people in Chinese civil society who have enough courage to talk with Obama about the human rights issue in China,” Jiang said. “But Obama is not decisive enough or doesn’t have enough willpower to talk with the civil society.”

Despite his mention of “universal rights,” Obama, in the view of rights activists, “didn’t strike as hard of a tone on human rights as some of us had hoped for,” said Sam Zarifi, the Asia-Pacific director for the London-based group Amnesty International. “It’s tough to wag your finger about human rights when your hand is stretched out for more money.”

And what did we get for downplaying human rights in China? Nothing — well, there’s always the contempt of the government that knows it can act with impunity. We shouldn’t be surprised if we see more of the same, not only in China, but also in Cuba, Iran, Russia, North Korea, Syria, and other thuggish regimes. Despots in those countries will also see that they too can crack down on their own people without suffering many, if any, adverse consequences from the Obami. Maybe they’ll even get a state visit, one without uncomfortable interchanges between the U.S. president and human-rights activists.

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Finally, Embrace the Obvious

The Washington Post employs the passive voice in its lede on the newfound fondness for nuclear power:

Nuclear power — long considered environmentally hazardous — is emerging as perhaps the world’s most unlikely weapon against climate change, with the backing of even some green activists who once campaigned against it.

Considered by whom, exactly? Well, by the green activists who never had a good explanation for why nuclear power wasn’t the solution to the hysteria they were creating over global warming and to the more realistic concern about lessening our dependence on foreign oil. Now we know that it was the anti-nuclear-power forces that have managed to block plants from being built for the past 13 years. But around the world, it’s a different story:

From China to Brazil, 53 plants are now under construction worldwide, with Poland, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia seeking to build their first reactors, according to global watchdog groups and industry associations. The number of plants being built is double the total of just five years ago.

Even in the U.S., the Obami are grudgingly eying nuclear power, and some green groups are throwing in the towel on opposing a clean source of domestic power. The fanaticism of the antinuclear forces, however, has not been without a cost. After all, we’ve used all that fossil fuel and delayed the building of any nuclear plants for more than a decade. The former head of Greenpeace in Britain announces: “Like many of us, I began to slowly realize we don’t have the luxury anymore of excluding nuclear energy. … We need all the help we can get.”

Of course, we didn’t have the luxury of doing so back then either, but the politicians were cowed by groups like Greenpeace. Now we’ll have to scramble to catch up, if in fact the iron grip of anti-nuclear-power activists is broken. Perhaps next we’ll get around to developing domestic supplies of oil and natural gas. But let’s not get carried away.

The Washington Post employs the passive voice in its lede on the newfound fondness for nuclear power:

Nuclear power — long considered environmentally hazardous — is emerging as perhaps the world’s most unlikely weapon against climate change, with the backing of even some green activists who once campaigned against it.

Considered by whom, exactly? Well, by the green activists who never had a good explanation for why nuclear power wasn’t the solution to the hysteria they were creating over global warming and to the more realistic concern about lessening our dependence on foreign oil. Now we know that it was the anti-nuclear-power forces that have managed to block plants from being built for the past 13 years. But around the world, it’s a different story:

From China to Brazil, 53 plants are now under construction worldwide, with Poland, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia seeking to build their first reactors, according to global watchdog groups and industry associations. The number of plants being built is double the total of just five years ago.

Even in the U.S., the Obami are grudgingly eying nuclear power, and some green groups are throwing in the towel on opposing a clean source of domestic power. The fanaticism of the antinuclear forces, however, has not been without a cost. After all, we’ve used all that fossil fuel and delayed the building of any nuclear plants for more than a decade. The former head of Greenpeace in Britain announces: “Like many of us, I began to slowly realize we don’t have the luxury anymore of excluding nuclear energy. … We need all the help we can get.”

Of course, we didn’t have the luxury of doing so back then either, but the politicians were cowed by groups like Greenpeace. Now we’ll have to scramble to catch up, if in fact the iron grip of anti-nuclear-power activists is broken. Perhaps next we’ll get around to developing domestic supplies of oil and natural gas. But let’s not get carried away.

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Gelb Sounds Like Cheney

When Leslie Gelb writes a column entitled “Amateur Hour at the White House,” which sounds like he’s channeling Dick Cheney, the White House has a problem. Gelb is no right-winger but rather a dean in the Beltway foreign-policy establishment. The former New York Times columnist, Carter administration official, and now president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations reviews the lame Asia trip and finds that it “suggests a disturbing amateurishness in managing America’s power.” He then blasts away:

On top of the inexcusably clumsy review of Afghan policy and the fumbling of Mideast negotiations, the message for Mr. Obama should be clear: He should stare hard at the skills of his foreign-policy team and, more so, at his own dominant role in decision-making. Something is awry somewhere, and he’s got to fix it.

He rightly observes that it is hard to see much purpose in the trip. Without real progress on issues of consequence, Gelb argues that “Mr. Obama should have taken a well-deserved vacation in Hawaii.” The nub of the problem, he goes on to say, is that Obama doesn’t really have a foreign policy. Invoking “the God of Multilateralism without spelling out America’s leadership role” doesn’t really count. Gelb’s advice is to bring in new advisers.

Well, they can’t do any worse than the current crew has. But the problem, of course, stems from Obama’s obsessive infatuation with that “God of Multilateralism,” an aversion to projecting American power, and a refusal to embrace (or even fake belief in) American exceptionalism. Then there is Obama’s adoption of unhelpful excuse-mongering on behalf of those anxious to be unhelpful (e.g., the Palestinians are like enslaved African Americans, the Russians are fearful of the West), his amoral willingness to jettison human rights in the hopes of gaining favor with tyrants, and his narcissistic view of foreign policy that assumes his personal history and non-George-Bush-ness will be significant in dealing with international powers.

Will new advisers solve all that — and would Obama even listen to those who didn’t share his passive-aggressive predilections? It’s not likely, unless Obama himself acknowledged first that his foreign policy has been an embarrassing bust. No sign of that yet, although Gelb does his best to alert a White House unusually immune to criticism that the complaints are not simply the dreamed-up critiques of right-wingers. One imagines — hard as it may be to — that things will have to get worse before the Obami’s foreign policy gets better.

When Leslie Gelb writes a column entitled “Amateur Hour at the White House,” which sounds like he’s channeling Dick Cheney, the White House has a problem. Gelb is no right-winger but rather a dean in the Beltway foreign-policy establishment. The former New York Times columnist, Carter administration official, and now president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations reviews the lame Asia trip and finds that it “suggests a disturbing amateurishness in managing America’s power.” He then blasts away:

On top of the inexcusably clumsy review of Afghan policy and the fumbling of Mideast negotiations, the message for Mr. Obama should be clear: He should stare hard at the skills of his foreign-policy team and, more so, at his own dominant role in decision-making. Something is awry somewhere, and he’s got to fix it.

He rightly observes that it is hard to see much purpose in the trip. Without real progress on issues of consequence, Gelb argues that “Mr. Obama should have taken a well-deserved vacation in Hawaii.” The nub of the problem, he goes on to say, is that Obama doesn’t really have a foreign policy. Invoking “the God of Multilateralism without spelling out America’s leadership role” doesn’t really count. Gelb’s advice is to bring in new advisers.

Well, they can’t do any worse than the current crew has. But the problem, of course, stems from Obama’s obsessive infatuation with that “God of Multilateralism,” an aversion to projecting American power, and a refusal to embrace (or even fake belief in) American exceptionalism. Then there is Obama’s adoption of unhelpful excuse-mongering on behalf of those anxious to be unhelpful (e.g., the Palestinians are like enslaved African Americans, the Russians are fearful of the West), his amoral willingness to jettison human rights in the hopes of gaining favor with tyrants, and his narcissistic view of foreign policy that assumes his personal history and non-George-Bush-ness will be significant in dealing with international powers.

Will new advisers solve all that — and would Obama even listen to those who didn’t share his passive-aggressive predilections? It’s not likely, unless Obama himself acknowledged first that his foreign policy has been an embarrassing bust. No sign of that yet, although Gelb does his best to alert a White House unusually immune to criticism that the complaints are not simply the dreamed-up critiques of right-wingers. One imagines — hard as it may be to — that things will have to get worse before the Obami’s foreign policy gets better.

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Bribe-a-thon

As some have observed, the worse ObamaCare gets, the bigger the bribes needed to induce lawmakers to vote for it:

The process has degenerated into taxpayer-financed payoffs for moderate Democrats who don’t want to be held accountable for wrecking the private insurance that 200 million Americans are happy to have. Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s wad of cash, for instance, has been fattened to $300 million.

The Hill details the “side deals” that are piling up to gain the votes of wary lawmakers. In addition to Landrieu, we have:

Before Rep. Joseph Cao (La.) cast the lone Republican vote for the healthcare bill in the House, he secured assurances from President Barack Obama to work on Medicaid funding, loan forgiveness and issues related to two of his local hospitals. …

Besides the promises secured by Cao, the best-known deal involved Reps. Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa, two Blue Dog Democrats from the Golden State who secured funding for a medical school for California’s Central Valley.

Other lawmakers won carve-outs for their state healthcare systems.

And on and on it goes. Perhaps one effective amendment in the Senate process would be to strip all that out — no state-specific deals, no carve-outs, nothing other than the “merits” of the monstrous bill. How many lawmakers would sign on then? If health-care “reform” promises the nirvana that the Obama/Reid sales team says it will usher in, then its supporters should have no trouble rounding up votes, without the bribe-a-thon, to pass hundreds of billions in new taxes, huge Medicare cuts, a public takeover of health care, and abortion subsidies, right? Well, you see the problem. And that should be a sure-fire sign of just how awful the underlying bill really is.

As some have observed, the worse ObamaCare gets, the bigger the bribes needed to induce lawmakers to vote for it:

The process has degenerated into taxpayer-financed payoffs for moderate Democrats who don’t want to be held accountable for wrecking the private insurance that 200 million Americans are happy to have. Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s wad of cash, for instance, has been fattened to $300 million.

The Hill details the “side deals” that are piling up to gain the votes of wary lawmakers. In addition to Landrieu, we have:

Before Rep. Joseph Cao (La.) cast the lone Republican vote for the healthcare bill in the House, he secured assurances from President Barack Obama to work on Medicaid funding, loan forgiveness and issues related to two of his local hospitals. …

Besides the promises secured by Cao, the best-known deal involved Reps. Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa, two Blue Dog Democrats from the Golden State who secured funding for a medical school for California’s Central Valley.

Other lawmakers won carve-outs for their state healthcare systems.

And on and on it goes. Perhaps one effective amendment in the Senate process would be to strip all that out — no state-specific deals, no carve-outs, nothing other than the “merits” of the monstrous bill. How many lawmakers would sign on then? If health-care “reform” promises the nirvana that the Obama/Reid sales team says it will usher in, then its supporters should have no trouble rounding up votes, without the bribe-a-thon, to pass hundreds of billions in new taxes, huge Medicare cuts, a public takeover of health care, and abortion subsidies, right? Well, you see the problem. And that should be a sure-fire sign of just how awful the underlying bill really is.

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Nice to Whom?

In a blistering column from Der Spiegel, we get another list of the disasters that comprise the Obama foreign-policy agenda. A Middle East gambit gone bad, spurned allies, a failed Iran-engagement plan, a widely ridiculed Asia trip, and on it goes. We’re told that Obama’s foreign policy has been too “nice,” and now his advisers fret about “a comparison with former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, even more than with [George W.] Bush.” (Because Bush was decisive in turning around a failing war strategy, presided over a robust relationship with Israel, got along swimmingly with the Eastern Europeans, and spoke passionately about human rights — so the chance of Obama’s being confused with Bush isn’t great, right?)

Well, it’s not actually a “niceness” problem. After all, Obama hasn’t been very “nice” to our ally Israel, our partners the Poles and the Czechs (who took on missile defense only to have the rug pulled out from under them), the many Iranians demonstrating in the streets, as well as the human-rights advocates of China, the unified civilian government of Honduras (which really preferred not to have a Hugo Chavez lackey running the place), the Brits (“Here’s your Churchill bust back, chaps”), and the French (who are frustrated over the president’s lack of resolve regarding the mullahs).

The problem, instead, is that Obama imagined that he could get our adversaries to give up their interests (e.g., acquiring nuclear weapons, intimidating neighbors) by being meek and accommodating, and by downplaying our interests and generally denigrating America’s track record. Throw in some unilateral disarmament, a huge helping of Obama’s cringey ingratiation (to the mullahs, any monarch in a receiving line), some very not-nice comments about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s being a small-picture kind of guy, and you have foreign-policy demolition derby, which has left both the U.S. and our allies nursing wounds.

Obama’s domestic record — a failed stimulus, a huge deficit, skyrocketing unemployment — is rather shabby. But compared with his foreign policy, it’s a brilliant record of achievement.

In a blistering column from Der Spiegel, we get another list of the disasters that comprise the Obama foreign-policy agenda. A Middle East gambit gone bad, spurned allies, a failed Iran-engagement plan, a widely ridiculed Asia trip, and on it goes. We’re told that Obama’s foreign policy has been too “nice,” and now his advisers fret about “a comparison with former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, even more than with [George W.] Bush.” (Because Bush was decisive in turning around a failing war strategy, presided over a robust relationship with Israel, got along swimmingly with the Eastern Europeans, and spoke passionately about human rights — so the chance of Obama’s being confused with Bush isn’t great, right?)

Well, it’s not actually a “niceness” problem. After all, Obama hasn’t been very “nice” to our ally Israel, our partners the Poles and the Czechs (who took on missile defense only to have the rug pulled out from under them), the many Iranians demonstrating in the streets, as well as the human-rights advocates of China, the unified civilian government of Honduras (which really preferred not to have a Hugo Chavez lackey running the place), the Brits (“Here’s your Churchill bust back, chaps”), and the French (who are frustrated over the president’s lack of resolve regarding the mullahs).

The problem, instead, is that Obama imagined that he could get our adversaries to give up their interests (e.g., acquiring nuclear weapons, intimidating neighbors) by being meek and accommodating, and by downplaying our interests and generally denigrating America’s track record. Throw in some unilateral disarmament, a huge helping of Obama’s cringey ingratiation (to the mullahs, any monarch in a receiving line), some very not-nice comments about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s being a small-picture kind of guy, and you have foreign-policy demolition derby, which has left both the U.S. and our allies nursing wounds.

Obama’s domestic record — a failed stimulus, a huge deficit, skyrocketing unemployment — is rather shabby. But compared with his foreign policy, it’s a brilliant record of achievement.

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Talking Nonsense

Having placed their faith in the civilian justice system, the president and Eric Holder have gone about assuring us that the conviction of KSM and his associates is a done deal. Except it’s not, and they do that very justice system (which was never intended for enemy combatants) no favors when they promise a conviction. Others have noticed as well:

Ben Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that Holder’s confidence is misleading. “Holder is clearly talking nonsense when he says failure is not an option,” Wittes said. “Adverse outcomes can happen, and I am certain that within the Justice Department, they don’t consider it a zero possibility that this case will get totally out of control.”

Wittes goes on to argue that there are “risks in a military commission” system. Well, yes, but KSM was last seen pleading guilty, so it would seem the “risks” are a bit theoretical. As for the civilian trials, it’s about time Holder did away with the “following the law” meme. It’s nonsense. (“The 9/11 trials would make history, however, because the five detainees would become the first enemy combatants captured overseas and brought to the United States for a federal trial.”) Following the law would have meant employing the military commissions and following more than 200 years of American jurisprudence, both of which would have avoided the spectacle of an attorney general and a president spinning easily debunked tales.

And the president’s duck-and-run routine has gotten under the skin of even generally sympathetic pundits like Richard Cohen, who can spot political cowardice when he sees it, chastising Obama, who “let his attorney general, Eric Holder, announce the new policy for trying Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other Sept. 11 defendants in criminal court, as if this were a mere departmental issue and not one of momentous policy.” Cohen can also figure out the logical gulf in the argument for trying some but not all terrorists in civilian court: “What is the principle in that: What works, works? Try putting that one on the Liberty Bell.”

It seems that no one is buying the rationale for this decision. Perhaps the president should get in front of the press or, better yet, meet with all the 9/11 families and explain it himself.

Having placed their faith in the civilian justice system, the president and Eric Holder have gone about assuring us that the conviction of KSM and his associates is a done deal. Except it’s not, and they do that very justice system (which was never intended for enemy combatants) no favors when they promise a conviction. Others have noticed as well:

Ben Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that Holder’s confidence is misleading. “Holder is clearly talking nonsense when he says failure is not an option,” Wittes said. “Adverse outcomes can happen, and I am certain that within the Justice Department, they don’t consider it a zero possibility that this case will get totally out of control.”

Wittes goes on to argue that there are “risks in a military commission” system. Well, yes, but KSM was last seen pleading guilty, so it would seem the “risks” are a bit theoretical. As for the civilian trials, it’s about time Holder did away with the “following the law” meme. It’s nonsense. (“The 9/11 trials would make history, however, because the five detainees would become the first enemy combatants captured overseas and brought to the United States for a federal trial.”) Following the law would have meant employing the military commissions and following more than 200 years of American jurisprudence, both of which would have avoided the spectacle of an attorney general and a president spinning easily debunked tales.

And the president’s duck-and-run routine has gotten under the skin of even generally sympathetic pundits like Richard Cohen, who can spot political cowardice when he sees it, chastising Obama, who “let his attorney general, Eric Holder, announce the new policy for trying Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other Sept. 11 defendants in criminal court, as if this were a mere departmental issue and not one of momentous policy.” Cohen can also figure out the logical gulf in the argument for trying some but not all terrorists in civilian court: “What is the principle in that: What works, works? Try putting that one on the Liberty Bell.”

It seems that no one is buying the rationale for this decision. Perhaps the president should get in front of the press or, better yet, meet with all the 9/11 families and explain it himself.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

COMMENTARY contributor Noah Pollak makes the convincing case that Iran and Syria have largely prevailed in using asymmetric warfare with surrogates against Israel: “It allows Iran and Syria to take credit in the region for antagonizing Israel without risking retaliation on their soil; it detaches conflict from regime security, reducing the disincentive for war; and it forces battles into densely-populated civilian areas, undermining the IDF’s military superiority and ensuring civilian destruction which today’s media and NGOs — an increasingly meaningless distinction — blame on Israel, not on the terrorist groups who start the wars.” The solution: take the fight to the source of the problem, using all available tools (“there is no reason why asymmetry cannot be countered with asymmetry, or new diplomatic and economic initiatives pursued”).

Fox News has an ACORN scoop: it seems that in California, one step ahead of the state attorney general’s investigation, the group tried to dump 20,000 documents that “point to illicit relationships between ACORN and a bank and a labor union — as well as confidential information that could put thousands at risk for identity theft.”

Tevi Troy notes the downgrading of the White House Chanukah party.

It’s not really 10.2 percent: “As experts debate the potential speed of the US recovery, one figure looms large but is often overlooked: nearly 1 in 5 Americans is either out of work or under-employed. According to the government’s broadest measure of unemployment, some 17.5 percent are either without a job entirely or underemployed. The so-called U-6 number is at the highest rate since becoming an official labor statistic in 1994.”

If you read nothing else on the KSM trial, read this interview with Bill Burck, former deputy counsel to President George W. Bush, who explains why Holder can’t guarantee a result and why the trial is such a bad idea. A sample: “Attorney General Holder has gone on record that he believes waterboarding is torture; and it is now known that KSM was subject to enhanced interrogation techniques, including repeated use of waterboarding. KSM’s lawyer will almost certainly ask the judge to throw out all the charges against him because he was allegedly tortured. How can the Department of Justice contest that KSM was tortured if the attorney general has gone on record that waterboarding is torture? They can’t.”

The Maryland Federation of College Republicans stand up to their Democratic counterparts, whose campaign director declared that “Israel is oppressing the Palestinian people.”

Kirsten who? “Ten months after Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Governor David Paterson, the junior senator from New York has failed to become a household name among registered voters in New York State. 25% of the electorate thinks Gillibrand is doing either an excellent or good job in office, and 12% believes she is performing poorly. Perhaps, though, Gillibrand’s bigger concern is that 24% of the electorate is unsure how to rate her.”

One more time: “Sen. Joseph Lieberman, speaking in that trademark sonorous baritone, utters a simple statement that translates into real trouble for Democratic leaders: ‘I’m going to be stubborn on this.’ Stubborn, he means, in opposing any health-care overhaul that includes a ‘public option,’ or government-run health-insurance plan, as the current bill does. His opposition is strong enough that Mr. Lieberman says he won’t vote to let a bill come to a final vote if a public option is included.”

After spending like drunken sailors on a failed stimulus and a raft of domestic spending, Democrats now want to “pay as we go” — for the Afghanistan war.

Others have noticed that the mammography controversy raises an uncomfortable truth for ObamaCare backers: “The flap over breast cancer screening has provided a fascinating insight into the political future of ObamaCare. Specifically, the political left supports such medical rationing even as it disavows that any such thing is happening. … What’s really going on here is that the left knows its designs will require political rationing of care, but it doesn’t want the public to figure this out until ObamaCare passes. … Americans will simply have to accept that the price of government-run health care in the name of redistributive justice is that patients and their doctors must bow to the superior wisdom of HHS task forces.”

COMMENTARY contributor Noah Pollak makes the convincing case that Iran and Syria have largely prevailed in using asymmetric warfare with surrogates against Israel: “It allows Iran and Syria to take credit in the region for antagonizing Israel without risking retaliation on their soil; it detaches conflict from regime security, reducing the disincentive for war; and it forces battles into densely-populated civilian areas, undermining the IDF’s military superiority and ensuring civilian destruction which today’s media and NGOs — an increasingly meaningless distinction — blame on Israel, not on the terrorist groups who start the wars.” The solution: take the fight to the source of the problem, using all available tools (“there is no reason why asymmetry cannot be countered with asymmetry, or new diplomatic and economic initiatives pursued”).

Fox News has an ACORN scoop: it seems that in California, one step ahead of the state attorney general’s investigation, the group tried to dump 20,000 documents that “point to illicit relationships between ACORN and a bank and a labor union — as well as confidential information that could put thousands at risk for identity theft.”

Tevi Troy notes the downgrading of the White House Chanukah party.

It’s not really 10.2 percent: “As experts debate the potential speed of the US recovery, one figure looms large but is often overlooked: nearly 1 in 5 Americans is either out of work or under-employed. According to the government’s broadest measure of unemployment, some 17.5 percent are either without a job entirely or underemployed. The so-called U-6 number is at the highest rate since becoming an official labor statistic in 1994.”

If you read nothing else on the KSM trial, read this interview with Bill Burck, former deputy counsel to President George W. Bush, who explains why Holder can’t guarantee a result and why the trial is such a bad idea. A sample: “Attorney General Holder has gone on record that he believes waterboarding is torture; and it is now known that KSM was subject to enhanced interrogation techniques, including repeated use of waterboarding. KSM’s lawyer will almost certainly ask the judge to throw out all the charges against him because he was allegedly tortured. How can the Department of Justice contest that KSM was tortured if the attorney general has gone on record that waterboarding is torture? They can’t.”

The Maryland Federation of College Republicans stand up to their Democratic counterparts, whose campaign director declared that “Israel is oppressing the Palestinian people.”

Kirsten who? “Ten months after Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Governor David Paterson, the junior senator from New York has failed to become a household name among registered voters in New York State. 25% of the electorate thinks Gillibrand is doing either an excellent or good job in office, and 12% believes she is performing poorly. Perhaps, though, Gillibrand’s bigger concern is that 24% of the electorate is unsure how to rate her.”

One more time: “Sen. Joseph Lieberman, speaking in that trademark sonorous baritone, utters a simple statement that translates into real trouble for Democratic leaders: ‘I’m going to be stubborn on this.’ Stubborn, he means, in opposing any health-care overhaul that includes a ‘public option,’ or government-run health-insurance plan, as the current bill does. His opposition is strong enough that Mr. Lieberman says he won’t vote to let a bill come to a final vote if a public option is included.”

After spending like drunken sailors on a failed stimulus and a raft of domestic spending, Democrats now want to “pay as we go” — for the Afghanistan war.

Others have noticed that the mammography controversy raises an uncomfortable truth for ObamaCare backers: “The flap over breast cancer screening has provided a fascinating insight into the political future of ObamaCare. Specifically, the political left supports such medical rationing even as it disavows that any such thing is happening. … What’s really going on here is that the left knows its designs will require political rationing of care, but it doesn’t want the public to figure this out until ObamaCare passes. … Americans will simply have to accept that the price of government-run health care in the name of redistributive justice is that patients and their doctors must bow to the superior wisdom of HHS task forces.”

Read Less




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