Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 3, 2009

The New York Times Meets ‘The Far Side’

The award for the Most Ridiculous Headline of 2009 has been given to the New York Times, which is featuring this one right now on its website: Panel Criticizes Military’s Use of Embedded Anthropologists.

Horrifying, isn’t it? Kind of reminds you of this.

The award for the Most Ridiculous Headline of 2009 has been given to the New York Times, which is featuring this one right now on its website: Panel Criticizes Military’s Use of Embedded Anthropologists.

Horrifying, isn’t it? Kind of reminds you of this.

Read Less

RE: Another Summit

I could hardly agree more with Jennifer that the Obama administration is clueless regarding how to repair the American economy and get the unemployment numbers moving in the right direction. Unwilling to do what needs to be done, they hold “summits” instead, as if enough photo-ops will do the trick.

But they better do something — and fast — as their poll numbers are doing a very passable imitation of the Titanic. As Byron York points out, even Democratic strategists such as James Carville and Stanley Greenberg are now seeing the unmistakable signs of an impending election disaster next year.

Tomorrow morning the unemployment figures for November will be released. Since April 2008, when the rate was 5 percent, it has been rising inexorably. It was flat in September 2008, when it was at 6.2 percent, and declined in July 2009, from 9.5 to 9.4. Otherwise it’s been up, up, up until now it’s at 10.2 percent, up .4 percent from the previous month.

If there’s another sizable uptick tomorrow morning, can the Obami really just keep whistling and devote all their political energies — photo-ops aside — to passing a hugely expensive health-care bill?

We’ll see.

I could hardly agree more with Jennifer that the Obama administration is clueless regarding how to repair the American economy and get the unemployment numbers moving in the right direction. Unwilling to do what needs to be done, they hold “summits” instead, as if enough photo-ops will do the trick.

But they better do something — and fast — as their poll numbers are doing a very passable imitation of the Titanic. As Byron York points out, even Democratic strategists such as James Carville and Stanley Greenberg are now seeing the unmistakable signs of an impending election disaster next year.

Tomorrow morning the unemployment figures for November will be released. Since April 2008, when the rate was 5 percent, it has been rising inexorably. It was flat in September 2008, when it was at 6.2 percent, and declined in July 2009, from 9.5 to 9.4. Otherwise it’s been up, up, up until now it’s at 10.2 percent, up .4 percent from the previous month.

If there’s another sizable uptick tomorrow morning, can the Obami really just keep whistling and devote all their political energies — photo-ops aside — to passing a hugely expensive health-care bill?

We’ll see.

Read Less

Rereading the ADL’s Foolish Report on Rage

My article on the Anti-Defamation League’s report “Rage Grows in America: Anti-Government Conspiracies” ignited a debate about the group’s foolish attempt to link virtually everyone who has voiced criticisms of the Obama administration and its agenda with gun-toting paranoid extremists from the far Right.

The ADL’s response to its critics was typically high-handed and obtuse. In a Jewish Telegraphic Agency article about the controversy, ADL spokeswoman Myrna Shinbaum claimed: “The comments are coming from people who have not read the report. They’re reacting to the media spin and not its substance.”

As the person who helped kick off this fracas, let me assure Ms. Shinbaum and her boss Abe Foxman (in whose defense I have written when the Left had wrongly accused him of trying to suppress anti-Israel dissent) that it was precisely because I did read the report from start to finish that I chose to write about its egregious faults. If anything, I would say that, judging by some of the arguments put forth by the document’s defenders, it is far more likely that those who support the report, rather than its critics, have not read it.

As I wrote in COMMENTARY on Nov. 18:

For the ADL, the “rage” is the result of a three-headed monster: “mainstream political attacks,” “grass roots hostility,” and “anti-government extremists.”

The first of these threats to American democracy — the word “mainstream” appears in the report in quotes as if to disparage the notion that such opinions are widespread, while simultaneously paying lip service to the fact that strong criticism of Obama is entirely legitimate — is the result of “partisan attacks against the Obama administration by some conservative politicians and media figures. Upset and anxious about their loss of power following the 2008 elections, they seek primarily to energize their political base and to delegitimize the Obama administration at the same time.”

This passage ought to prompt disinterested readers to ask whether a defeated political party’s criticism of the opposition deserves mention in a report about extremism. After all, conservatives have attacked Obama on the issues not because they want to overthrow the government but because they disagree with him.

The mere mention of such Republican activities in this context, however, reinforces the very conclusion that the ADL claims it wishes to disavow. Indeed, the report then says, “One of the most important effects of these activists, however, is to help create a body of people who may be predisposed to believe the assertions and claims of more extreme individuals and groups.”

The ADL’s defenders claim that the group has made the proper distinctions between normal political activity and extremism. But if they read the report carefully, they will see that such distinctions were thrown to the winds in its introduction. Had the report stuck to its accounts of the more bizarre conspiracy theories circulating about Obama or of the activity of violent extremists, there would have been no reason to criticize it. But, instead, it linked the crackpots with legitimate public protests, conservative media figures, and even “mainstream” politicians pursuing the duties of an opposition party in a democracy.

One defender of the report, the editorial page of the New York Jewish Week, edited by the thoughtful and responsible Gary Rosenblatt, writes:

We recognize, as does the ADL, that the far left also reduces complex issues to simplistic, angry slogans that turn debate into meaningless shouting matches. The left, too, finds solace in broad-brush conspiracy theories. But in today’s America, it’s the other extreme, with its unparalleled access to new forms of media and which is sometimes legitimized by mainstream politicians eager to capitalize on the fears gripping the nation, that seems to be on the march.

But it is precisely the point that, earlier in this decade, when the Left was on the march, the ADL pointedly refused to link mainstream liberal politicians who bashed the Bush administration with radicals in the streets.

As I wrote: “Had the ADL issued a report a few years ago that began by accusing Democrats of creating resentment against Bush and then linked opposition to the GOP to extremists who supported Hamas or rationalized or even denied al-Qaeda’s role in 9/11, Democrats would have cried foul and been right to do so. That never happened.”

By painting its picture with such a broad brush, the anti-Semitism watchdog group lent its bully pulpit to the administration and its most partisan cheerleaders. Claiming that the tax protest “tea parties,” town-hall-meeting dissenters, and Glenn Beck’s broadcast broadsides are part of a structure that is threatening democracy or giving rise to anti-Semitism is absurd, but it does serve the partisan interests of the Left. That is not the proper function of the ADL.

My article on the Anti-Defamation League’s report “Rage Grows in America: Anti-Government Conspiracies” ignited a debate about the group’s foolish attempt to link virtually everyone who has voiced criticisms of the Obama administration and its agenda with gun-toting paranoid extremists from the far Right.

The ADL’s response to its critics was typically high-handed and obtuse. In a Jewish Telegraphic Agency article about the controversy, ADL spokeswoman Myrna Shinbaum claimed: “The comments are coming from people who have not read the report. They’re reacting to the media spin and not its substance.”

As the person who helped kick off this fracas, let me assure Ms. Shinbaum and her boss Abe Foxman (in whose defense I have written when the Left had wrongly accused him of trying to suppress anti-Israel dissent) that it was precisely because I did read the report from start to finish that I chose to write about its egregious faults. If anything, I would say that, judging by some of the arguments put forth by the document’s defenders, it is far more likely that those who support the report, rather than its critics, have not read it.

As I wrote in COMMENTARY on Nov. 18:

For the ADL, the “rage” is the result of a three-headed monster: “mainstream political attacks,” “grass roots hostility,” and “anti-government extremists.”

The first of these threats to American democracy — the word “mainstream” appears in the report in quotes as if to disparage the notion that such opinions are widespread, while simultaneously paying lip service to the fact that strong criticism of Obama is entirely legitimate — is the result of “partisan attacks against the Obama administration by some conservative politicians and media figures. Upset and anxious about their loss of power following the 2008 elections, they seek primarily to energize their political base and to delegitimize the Obama administration at the same time.”

This passage ought to prompt disinterested readers to ask whether a defeated political party’s criticism of the opposition deserves mention in a report about extremism. After all, conservatives have attacked Obama on the issues not because they want to overthrow the government but because they disagree with him.

The mere mention of such Republican activities in this context, however, reinforces the very conclusion that the ADL claims it wishes to disavow. Indeed, the report then says, “One of the most important effects of these activists, however, is to help create a body of people who may be predisposed to believe the assertions and claims of more extreme individuals and groups.”

The ADL’s defenders claim that the group has made the proper distinctions between normal political activity and extremism. But if they read the report carefully, they will see that such distinctions were thrown to the winds in its introduction. Had the report stuck to its accounts of the more bizarre conspiracy theories circulating about Obama or of the activity of violent extremists, there would have been no reason to criticize it. But, instead, it linked the crackpots with legitimate public protests, conservative media figures, and even “mainstream” politicians pursuing the duties of an opposition party in a democracy.

One defender of the report, the editorial page of the New York Jewish Week, edited by the thoughtful and responsible Gary Rosenblatt, writes:

We recognize, as does the ADL, that the far left also reduces complex issues to simplistic, angry slogans that turn debate into meaningless shouting matches. The left, too, finds solace in broad-brush conspiracy theories. But in today’s America, it’s the other extreme, with its unparalleled access to new forms of media and which is sometimes legitimized by mainstream politicians eager to capitalize on the fears gripping the nation, that seems to be on the march.

But it is precisely the point that, earlier in this decade, when the Left was on the march, the ADL pointedly refused to link mainstream liberal politicians who bashed the Bush administration with radicals in the streets.

As I wrote: “Had the ADL issued a report a few years ago that began by accusing Democrats of creating resentment against Bush and then linked opposition to the GOP to extremists who supported Hamas or rationalized or even denied al-Qaeda’s role in 9/11, Democrats would have cried foul and been right to do so. That never happened.”

By painting its picture with such a broad brush, the anti-Semitism watchdog group lent its bully pulpit to the administration and its most partisan cheerleaders. Claiming that the tax protest “tea parties,” town-hall-meeting dissenters, and Glenn Beck’s broadcast broadsides are part of a structure that is threatening democracy or giving rise to anti-Semitism is absurd, but it does serve the partisan interests of the Left. That is not the proper function of the ADL.

Read Less

How Obama Can Win in Copenhagen

Barack Obama has a golden opportunity next week at Copenhagen in the form of the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. If by the end of the conference Obama settles with New Delhi the details to implement the agreement, he will win on three crucial issues: (1) he will please business, (2) he will substantively contribute to international environmentalist efforts, and (3) he will reinforce American friendship with India at a time when the relationship has been strained.

Both India and the United States have applauded the agreement since its passage by both countries’ lawmakers last year, but details to address security, nonproliferation, and liability concerns have kept anything from actually happening on the ground.

The climate-change debate has often pitted economic interests against environmental ones, as the upset in Australia this week has shown. Here’s a chance for Obama to show that the two can be reconciled. The U.S.-India Business Council has said that the agreement will create a $150 billion business for civilian nuclear technologies over the next 30 years. The council’s president predicted the agreement will create up to 27,000 “high-quality” jobs in the United States over the next 10 years. Obama has acknowledged that the agreement increases American exports to India. And the CEO of General Electric has noted that the agreement “opens up prospects for U.S. companies to supply potentially billions of dollars worth of reactor technology, fuel and other services to India.”

Not only does the agreement please business; it also allows India a way to cut carbon emissions. Nuclear power, vastly underused in India, does not let off carbon dioxide, which has long been seen as the leading culprit in global warming. Worst for carbon emissions is coal — which now accounts for more than half of India’s energy. Some estimates even say India could avoid 130 million tons of carbon dioxide per year by switching from coal power to nuclear power — a substantial savings. “For comparison, the full range of emission cuts planned by the European Union under the Kyoto Protocol will total just 200 million tons per year,” wrote David G. Victor in 2006. Demand for energy in India will only grow as it develops. By simply implementing an agreement already approved, Obama can take credit for a significant role in India’s energy future.

Nailing down the details of the agreement accomplishes both economic and environmental goals while also reinforcing good relations with India. And relations with India under Obama have already endured one misstep. New Delhi bristled at a portion of the November U.S.-China Joint Statement that implied greater meddling from Beijing in Indo-Pakistani relations, especially offensive considering the recent border tensions between China and India.

But since its passage under the Bush administration, the nuclear-energy agreement has been hailed as a monumental diplomatic reset. It was the first time the U.S. engaged in nuclear cooperation with New Delhi since India’s first test of a nuclear bomb, in 1974. The former nonproliferation policies toward India did nothing to deter the pursuit of nuclear weapons or lessen Indo-Pakistani tensions. Instead, they isolated India, a crucial country in the region. Both the United States and India have recently emphasized how they are “natural partners,” not least of all because they are both democratic regimes. This agreement is crucial to India’s perception of its relations with the U.S.; in fact, in 2005, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “India has made this the central issue in the new partnership developing between our countries.” By settling the details of the agreement, Obama would show the Indians good faith and prove that they are a priority.

The negotiations over specific details have taken a long time, partly because of justifiable security concerns. But much more procrastination will send the wrong message to India. On the other hand, next week is a prime opportunity for Obama to act on an American promise and also address environmental and economic communities. If he’s wise, he won’t squander it.

Barack Obama has a golden opportunity next week at Copenhagen in the form of the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. If by the end of the conference Obama settles with New Delhi the details to implement the agreement, he will win on three crucial issues: (1) he will please business, (2) he will substantively contribute to international environmentalist efforts, and (3) he will reinforce American friendship with India at a time when the relationship has been strained.

Both India and the United States have applauded the agreement since its passage by both countries’ lawmakers last year, but details to address security, nonproliferation, and liability concerns have kept anything from actually happening on the ground.

The climate-change debate has often pitted economic interests against environmental ones, as the upset in Australia this week has shown. Here’s a chance for Obama to show that the two can be reconciled. The U.S.-India Business Council has said that the agreement will create a $150 billion business for civilian nuclear technologies over the next 30 years. The council’s president predicted the agreement will create up to 27,000 “high-quality” jobs in the United States over the next 10 years. Obama has acknowledged that the agreement increases American exports to India. And the CEO of General Electric has noted that the agreement “opens up prospects for U.S. companies to supply potentially billions of dollars worth of reactor technology, fuel and other services to India.”

Not only does the agreement please business; it also allows India a way to cut carbon emissions. Nuclear power, vastly underused in India, does not let off carbon dioxide, which has long been seen as the leading culprit in global warming. Worst for carbon emissions is coal — which now accounts for more than half of India’s energy. Some estimates even say India could avoid 130 million tons of carbon dioxide per year by switching from coal power to nuclear power — a substantial savings. “For comparison, the full range of emission cuts planned by the European Union under the Kyoto Protocol will total just 200 million tons per year,” wrote David G. Victor in 2006. Demand for energy in India will only grow as it develops. By simply implementing an agreement already approved, Obama can take credit for a significant role in India’s energy future.

Nailing down the details of the agreement accomplishes both economic and environmental goals while also reinforcing good relations with India. And relations with India under Obama have already endured one misstep. New Delhi bristled at a portion of the November U.S.-China Joint Statement that implied greater meddling from Beijing in Indo-Pakistani relations, especially offensive considering the recent border tensions between China and India.

But since its passage under the Bush administration, the nuclear-energy agreement has been hailed as a monumental diplomatic reset. It was the first time the U.S. engaged in nuclear cooperation with New Delhi since India’s first test of a nuclear bomb, in 1974. The former nonproliferation policies toward India did nothing to deter the pursuit of nuclear weapons or lessen Indo-Pakistani tensions. Instead, they isolated India, a crucial country in the region. Both the United States and India have recently emphasized how they are “natural partners,” not least of all because they are both democratic regimes. This agreement is crucial to India’s perception of its relations with the U.S.; in fact, in 2005, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “India has made this the central issue in the new partnership developing between our countries.” By settling the details of the agreement, Obama would show the Indians good faith and prove that they are a priority.

The negotiations over specific details have taken a long time, partly because of justifiable security concerns. But much more procrastination will send the wrong message to India. On the other hand, next week is a prime opportunity for Obama to act on an American promise and also address environmental and economic communities. If he’s wise, he won’t squander it.

Read Less

Re: Loyal Opposition

Jonathan, so far it seems that Republican officials are doing precisely as you recommend. Sen. John McCain and many others have expressed support for the president”s decision to deploy at least 30,00 troops and praised his rejection of the advice of those in his own party who would have us retreat from the president’s self-described critical war. But with the responsibility to support an Afghanistan surge, which is in our national interest, comes the obligation to be both intellectually honest and politically candid. The roles for those in elected office and for those who observe from the sidelines may in this regard be different.

For those in elected office, the task at hand is to provide funding and oversight for the war effort. It appears there is overwhelming support among Republicans to fund the surge. But there is also the obligation on the part of lawmakers to provide oversight. How quickly can troops be deployed? How are we providing support for the Afghan government? And yes, what is this 2011 date all about?

And the loyal opposition, because it does believe in the mission, has a particular obligation to provide candid observation and advice as to the reasons why a transition date, however postured, is counterproductive. The loyal opposition is not there to cheerlead or to jeer, nor to obscure or avert its eyes. It is there to provide a voice of warning and, yes, of experience. Deadlines and withdrawal dates are, as Max pointed out, generally counterproductive. It will undermine the impact of the surge — with both foes and allies. It is the loyal opposition’s duty to explain why and to encourage and cajole the president to rethink and restate what he has in mind. We have already seen the damage-control efforts by Secretary Robert Gates and others to put that date in “perspective” — and frankly, we hope, eradicate it. Gates should be supported and encouraged in his efforts.

In sum, the loyal opposition, if it is to be loyal to the country’s national interests and to those who are willing to sacrifice their lives on the battlefield, must be candid with the president and the voters. Where the president is right, he deserves praise. Where is is badly misguided, he deserves constructive criticism.

Jonathan, so far it seems that Republican officials are doing precisely as you recommend. Sen. John McCain and many others have expressed support for the president”s decision to deploy at least 30,00 troops and praised his rejection of the advice of those in his own party who would have us retreat from the president’s self-described critical war. But with the responsibility to support an Afghanistan surge, which is in our national interest, comes the obligation to be both intellectually honest and politically candid. The roles for those in elected office and for those who observe from the sidelines may in this regard be different.

For those in elected office, the task at hand is to provide funding and oversight for the war effort. It appears there is overwhelming support among Republicans to fund the surge. But there is also the obligation on the part of lawmakers to provide oversight. How quickly can troops be deployed? How are we providing support for the Afghan government? And yes, what is this 2011 date all about?

And the loyal opposition, because it does believe in the mission, has a particular obligation to provide candid observation and advice as to the reasons why a transition date, however postured, is counterproductive. The loyal opposition is not there to cheerlead or to jeer, nor to obscure or avert its eyes. It is there to provide a voice of warning and, yes, of experience. Deadlines and withdrawal dates are, as Max pointed out, generally counterproductive. It will undermine the impact of the surge — with both foes and allies. It is the loyal opposition’s duty to explain why and to encourage and cajole the president to rethink and restate what he has in mind. We have already seen the damage-control efforts by Secretary Robert Gates and others to put that date in “perspective” — and frankly, we hope, eradicate it. Gates should be supported and encouraged in his efforts.

In sum, the loyal opposition, if it is to be loyal to the country’s national interests and to those who are willing to sacrifice their lives on the battlefield, must be candid with the president and the voters. Where the president is right, he deserves praise. Where is is badly misguided, he deserves constructive criticism.

Read Less

Cravenness Unlimited

Arlen Specter is never one to get hung up on principles. Or demonstrate that he has any. In his new quest to out-liberal the liberal Democratic competition in his newfound party’s primary, he’s come out against the Afghanistan surge. Yes, the president wanted Specter on “his side,” and this is what it looks like. The pleasant surprise is his opponent, as Politico reports:

[Rep. Joe] Sestak, Specter’s more progressive-minded opponent, supports the surge however — and he has come out guns blazing, deriding Specter in an interview with POLITICO this week as a flip-flopper for “vot[ing] for the war in Iraq — and now he’s against a troop increase.”

“Sestak has routinely argued that Specter is not a real Democrat and his roots with the Republican Party run deep. He can add now the argument that Specter really has no principles here, and is just opposing the war surge for votes,” said Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll.

Sestak is a retired admiral who’s chosen not to run from the president on this one: “President Obama has presented a plan that will allow us to finally complete a mission that is as indispensable today as it was eight years ago: the elimination of the Al Qaeda terrorists who struck us on 9/11,” he declared. I suspect Sestak will suffer not at all from his position and gain some support from many former GOP voters who may have changed party registration in 2008. If so, it will be a lesson that politicians — the president included — should do the right thing and trust the voters to reward those who advocate smart national-security policy.

Arlen Specter is never one to get hung up on principles. Or demonstrate that he has any. In his new quest to out-liberal the liberal Democratic competition in his newfound party’s primary, he’s come out against the Afghanistan surge. Yes, the president wanted Specter on “his side,” and this is what it looks like. The pleasant surprise is his opponent, as Politico reports:

[Rep. Joe] Sestak, Specter’s more progressive-minded opponent, supports the surge however — and he has come out guns blazing, deriding Specter in an interview with POLITICO this week as a flip-flopper for “vot[ing] for the war in Iraq — and now he’s against a troop increase.”

“Sestak has routinely argued that Specter is not a real Democrat and his roots with the Republican Party run deep. He can add now the argument that Specter really has no principles here, and is just opposing the war surge for votes,” said Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll.

Sestak is a retired admiral who’s chosen not to run from the president on this one: “President Obama has presented a plan that will allow us to finally complete a mission that is as indispensable today as it was eight years ago: the elimination of the Al Qaeda terrorists who struck us on 9/11,” he declared. I suspect Sestak will suffer not at all from his position and gain some support from many former GOP voters who may have changed party registration in 2008. If so, it will be a lesson that politicians — the president included — should do the right thing and trust the voters to reward those who advocate smart national-security policy.

Read Less

The Limits of Moderation

David Brooks, like many of us, is trying to see how the requirements of fighting a war mesh with what he generously refers to as Obama’s “calibrated prudence.” Brooks rightly notes that Obama at West Point was largely about “emphasizing limits — limited time, limited cost, limited troops. He didn’t talk about the moral atrocities of the Taliban or our obligation to make life better there.” But our enemies most likely aren’t much impressed with calibration. Brooks, with characteristic understatement, remarks: “I don’t know how this reserve will register among the Afghans, the Taliban, American people or our troops. The soldiers’ commitment can’t be limited because their sacrifice might be total. Are they supposed to fight in a calibrated spirit?” And that’s what’s got so many conservatives who really want to support the war and get behind the president scratching their heads. How’s this going to work?

War is different than domestic policy, of course. It was the promise (some would say, illusion) of moderation and calibration in domestic policy that convinced many voters that Obama was not some wide-eyed radical bent on reshaping the country. Unfortunately, that moderation hasn’t manifested itself on the domestic front. There is no sign of modesty or humility as to what government should attempt or is able to achieve. Run car companies, “create jobs,” take over health care, regulate carbon emissions — it’s all just a matter of rounding up the votes. There seems to be no recognition that government is an imperfect instrument or that much of this will turn to regulatory mush, retarding growth, running up a mound of crippling debt, and strangling economic dynamism. No, when it comes to domestic matters, it’s full steam ahead . . . er . . . to the Left, actually.

But wars and war-making aren’t like domestic horse-trading, or they shouldn’t be. Half a loaf sometimes is worse than the whole thing, and trying to patch together a wartime speech as if you were concocting an omnibus spending bill (a little bit for everyone and not too much for anyone) is not wise. And speaking of compromises: where’d that 2011 date come from, by the way? In all the leaks and discussions, we never heard about a transition date. Was that simply a poll-tested compromise or the product of some real analysis? Someone should find out when that got thrown into the mix.

Much as the president resists the notion, wars are all-in efforts. It still isn’t clear that the president understands and believes that. As a consequence, he won’t be able to project that he does. Along with Brooks, we’ll have to wait and see whether the president figures this out and maintains resolve when casualties go up and things don’t go well (as we know will occur in any major military undertaking). If Obama can pry himself away from his own peevishness, he would do well to examine his predecessor’s performance in this regard. It’s a good example of the sort of steely resolve we’ll need once again from the commander in chief.

David Brooks, like many of us, is trying to see how the requirements of fighting a war mesh with what he generously refers to as Obama’s “calibrated prudence.” Brooks rightly notes that Obama at West Point was largely about “emphasizing limits — limited time, limited cost, limited troops. He didn’t talk about the moral atrocities of the Taliban or our obligation to make life better there.” But our enemies most likely aren’t much impressed with calibration. Brooks, with characteristic understatement, remarks: “I don’t know how this reserve will register among the Afghans, the Taliban, American people or our troops. The soldiers’ commitment can’t be limited because their sacrifice might be total. Are they supposed to fight in a calibrated spirit?” And that’s what’s got so many conservatives who really want to support the war and get behind the president scratching their heads. How’s this going to work?

War is different than domestic policy, of course. It was the promise (some would say, illusion) of moderation and calibration in domestic policy that convinced many voters that Obama was not some wide-eyed radical bent on reshaping the country. Unfortunately, that moderation hasn’t manifested itself on the domestic front. There is no sign of modesty or humility as to what government should attempt or is able to achieve. Run car companies, “create jobs,” take over health care, regulate carbon emissions — it’s all just a matter of rounding up the votes. There seems to be no recognition that government is an imperfect instrument or that much of this will turn to regulatory mush, retarding growth, running up a mound of crippling debt, and strangling economic dynamism. No, when it comes to domestic matters, it’s full steam ahead . . . er . . . to the Left, actually.

But wars and war-making aren’t like domestic horse-trading, or they shouldn’t be. Half a loaf sometimes is worse than the whole thing, and trying to patch together a wartime speech as if you were concocting an omnibus spending bill (a little bit for everyone and not too much for anyone) is not wise. And speaking of compromises: where’d that 2011 date come from, by the way? In all the leaks and discussions, we never heard about a transition date. Was that simply a poll-tested compromise or the product of some real analysis? Someone should find out when that got thrown into the mix.

Much as the president resists the notion, wars are all-in efforts. It still isn’t clear that the president understands and believes that. As a consequence, he won’t be able to project that he does. Along with Brooks, we’ll have to wait and see whether the president figures this out and maintains resolve when casualties go up and things don’t go well (as we know will occur in any major military undertaking). If Obama can pry himself away from his own peevishness, he would do well to examine his predecessor’s performance in this regard. It’s a good example of the sort of steely resolve we’ll need once again from the commander in chief.

Read Less

Close Encounters of the Coloradan Kind

Health-care reform, skyrocketing unemployment, war in Afghanistan, appropriate alien-life-form greetings. Which of these things is not like the other?

In Denver, Jeff Peckman has managed to collect enough John Hancocks to have added to the 2010 electoral ballot an initiative that would ensure that contact with extraterrestrial life will be conducted in a manner bespeaking a great republic. In fact, an expert council will be convened for just such a purpose.

If approved, the city panel would promote “harmonious, peaceful, mutually respectful and beneficial coexistence” between earthlings and extraterrestrials, in part by developing protocols for “diplomatic contact.”

Its seven members would include an expert in taking testimony from people who’ve survived “direct personal close encounters” with aliens.

We should all hail Peckman’s efforts. I have spent too many sleepless nights anxiety-ridden, not at the prospect of growing poverty, joblessness, and hunger in our nation, but over whether a high-five could be misconstrued as vaguely insulting to a being with no hands. (“Does the earthling mock me? Ontar, bring me my death ray. And my yellow crocs.”)

For the record, I, too, have survived a “direct personal close encounter” with an alien being. (Anyone who has attended a Lutheran parochial school for any length of time knows exactly what I’m talking about.) So if such an initiative were to surface here in New York, I hope I would be considered for a spot on an appropriate council, lest visitors from another time-space dimension wind up with misimpressions of the Big Apple, especially the No. 1 train during rush hour.

Or as Og, chief plenipotentiary for the Poon galaxy, likes to say: “Cheese it, the cops.”

Health-care reform, skyrocketing unemployment, war in Afghanistan, appropriate alien-life-form greetings. Which of these things is not like the other?

In Denver, Jeff Peckman has managed to collect enough John Hancocks to have added to the 2010 electoral ballot an initiative that would ensure that contact with extraterrestrial life will be conducted in a manner bespeaking a great republic. In fact, an expert council will be convened for just such a purpose.

If approved, the city panel would promote “harmonious, peaceful, mutually respectful and beneficial coexistence” between earthlings and extraterrestrials, in part by developing protocols for “diplomatic contact.”

Its seven members would include an expert in taking testimony from people who’ve survived “direct personal close encounters” with aliens.

We should all hail Peckman’s efforts. I have spent too many sleepless nights anxiety-ridden, not at the prospect of growing poverty, joblessness, and hunger in our nation, but over whether a high-five could be misconstrued as vaguely insulting to a being with no hands. (“Does the earthling mock me? Ontar, bring me my death ray. And my yellow crocs.”)

For the record, I, too, have survived a “direct personal close encounter” with an alien being. (Anyone who has attended a Lutheran parochial school for any length of time knows exactly what I’m talking about.) So if such an initiative were to surface here in New York, I hope I would be considered for a spot on an appropriate council, lest visitors from another time-space dimension wind up with misimpressions of the Big Apple, especially the No. 1 train during rush hour.

Or as Og, chief plenipotentiary for the Poon galaxy, likes to say: “Cheese it, the cops.”

Read Less

Loyal Opposition Must Give Obama Cover to Reverse Afghan Exit

While conservative critics of President Obama are right to point out the flaws in his Afghanistan plan, the fact that he has committed himself to fighting there renders our misgivings secondary considerations. The purpose of a loyal opposition is not merely to oppose the faction in power but also to support it when it does the right thing. So long as Barack Obama is prepared to fight Islamists in Afghanistan — or anywhere else — he deserves the backing of conservatives on this point. That is especially true when so much of the president’s own party is either opposed or lukewarm about America’s duty to prevent the Taliban from returning to power.

Though we may be rightly worried about the impact of Obama’s statement that U.S. troops will begin to leave Afghanistan in 18 months, the proper response to this blunder is to begin to advocate strongly that Obama use his discretion as commander in chief to keep our forces in the field as long as the enemy poses a threat to the Afghan government. The push to give him the political cover to back off his imprudent promise of withdrawal cannot start too soon. His speech seemed at times more concerned with mollifying his critics on the Left than sounding a clarion call to battle against evil. Indeed, the refusal to use the word victory as a goal even once was troubling. But now that Obama “owns” this war, the facts on the ground may well leave him no choice but to ignore his deadline rather than face the humiliation of a collapse. History teaches us that wars often render the prior political calculations of the combatants irrelevant. Though some — not without reason — assume the worst about Obama’s intentions, we must not succumb to the temptation to merely play politics on this point. Rather, it is proper that the tone of conservative advocacy on Afghanistan not be one of blind opposition but rather one that seeks to bolster the president’s resolve while opposing those who seek to undermine it.

The stakes here are considerable, as the notion of a pre-announced exit date is apparently spreading no small amount of panic in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the New York Times reports today, American diplomats are working overtime trying to convince government officials in the two countries that Obama’s plan is not to “cut and run.” The fear is real that those who commit themselves to support American and NATO efforts will eventually be left to the mercy of the Islamists. We may well point to these predictable results of Obama’s equivocation as evidence of the administration’s amateurish approach to policy as well as the president’s lack of comfort in articulating a martial cause. Revulsion against Obama’s economic policies, his health-care boondoggle, and a generally feckless foreign policy has breathed new life into a conservative movement that had lost its way during the last years of the Bush presidency. Conservatives must continue to vigorously fight Obama on all those points. But on Afghanistan, the instinct to oppose Obama must give way to the superior obligation to support a just war in which America must prevail.

While conservative critics of President Obama are right to point out the flaws in his Afghanistan plan, the fact that he has committed himself to fighting there renders our misgivings secondary considerations. The purpose of a loyal opposition is not merely to oppose the faction in power but also to support it when it does the right thing. So long as Barack Obama is prepared to fight Islamists in Afghanistan — or anywhere else — he deserves the backing of conservatives on this point. That is especially true when so much of the president’s own party is either opposed or lukewarm about America’s duty to prevent the Taliban from returning to power.

Though we may be rightly worried about the impact of Obama’s statement that U.S. troops will begin to leave Afghanistan in 18 months, the proper response to this blunder is to begin to advocate strongly that Obama use his discretion as commander in chief to keep our forces in the field as long as the enemy poses a threat to the Afghan government. The push to give him the political cover to back off his imprudent promise of withdrawal cannot start too soon. His speech seemed at times more concerned with mollifying his critics on the Left than sounding a clarion call to battle against evil. Indeed, the refusal to use the word victory as a goal even once was troubling. But now that Obama “owns” this war, the facts on the ground may well leave him no choice but to ignore his deadline rather than face the humiliation of a collapse. History teaches us that wars often render the prior political calculations of the combatants irrelevant. Though some — not without reason — assume the worst about Obama’s intentions, we must not succumb to the temptation to merely play politics on this point. Rather, it is proper that the tone of conservative advocacy on Afghanistan not be one of blind opposition but rather one that seeks to bolster the president’s resolve while opposing those who seek to undermine it.

The stakes here are considerable, as the notion of a pre-announced exit date is apparently spreading no small amount of panic in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the New York Times reports today, American diplomats are working overtime trying to convince government officials in the two countries that Obama’s plan is not to “cut and run.” The fear is real that those who commit themselves to support American and NATO efforts will eventually be left to the mercy of the Islamists. We may well point to these predictable results of Obama’s equivocation as evidence of the administration’s amateurish approach to policy as well as the president’s lack of comfort in articulating a martial cause. Revulsion against Obama’s economic policies, his health-care boondoggle, and a generally feckless foreign policy has breathed new life into a conservative movement that had lost its way during the last years of the Bush presidency. Conservatives must continue to vigorously fight Obama on all those points. But on Afghanistan, the instinct to oppose Obama must give way to the superior obligation to support a just war in which America must prevail.

Read Less

Obama’s Exit-Strategy Justifications

It occurs to me that I (and most other commentators) might be a trifle unfair to the president in our interpretation of the deadline he set to begin leaving Afghanistan: July 2011. I write in the Los Angeles Times today that “if Afghanistan is indeed a ‘vital national interest,’ as Obama said, why announce an exit strategy? Perhaps he is trying to head off criticism from his liberal supporters.”

Was I too hasty in dismissing the actual justifications for the deadline he offered in the speech? Let’s examine them. In Obama’s speech, he attacked those who might call for an “open-ended escalation of our war effort” by arguing:

I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests. Furthermore, the absence of a timeframe for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.

The first concern, about the “reasonable cost,” is hard to square with the president’s willingness to fling countless billions of dollars at our health-care system and various pork-barrel projects in public works. Obama is no fiscal conservative, except when spending is proposed for projects about which he is unenthusiastic.

What about his second argument — that a time frame will instill a greater “sense of urgency” into the Afghan government to get its act together? This echoes a favorite talking point offered by Obama and other opponents of the surge in Iraq. They argued at the time that we needed to begin withdrawing American troops to force Iraqi politicians to make compromises. There is no evidence that troop withdrawals would have had this effect; more likely, they would have simply encouraged Iraqis to take more extreme positions to get ready for a looming civil war — something that was already beginning to happen in 2006 before the surge. Since the success of the surge, on the other hand, Iraqi politicos have started to get their act together. Even when they are stymied over a tough issue, such as the present election law, they are settling their differences through backroom horse trading, not guns and bombs.

The experience of Iraq is hardly dispositive, but it does suggest that American time lines are counterproductive. Incentives for compromise and reform are created by American commitments to stay. Otherwise, moderates lose ground, and radicals come to the fore.

In the case of Afghanistan, if Hamid Karzai is to move against corrupt officials implicated in the drug trade (including his own brother), he needs assurances that we will stick around and protect him. If he thinks we’re heading out the door, he will have no choice but to make deals with warlords — precisely the opposite of what Obama would like to see.

Thus neither rationale for the time line makes much sense. At least the second one sounds more sincere, if misguided. I still think the desire to placate his liberal base is a big part of the explanation, but so is another factor: the desire to placate a part of the president’s own mind. Does anyone doubt that if Obama were still in the Senate and President McCain were announcing a troop surge in Afghanistan, he would be in violent opposition? I don’t. It is, therefore, all the more laudable that he has gone against his natural instincts by ordering the surge. But there is obviously still a part of him that is uncomfortable with the policy. Hence the deadline.

It occurs to me that I (and most other commentators) might be a trifle unfair to the president in our interpretation of the deadline he set to begin leaving Afghanistan: July 2011. I write in the Los Angeles Times today that “if Afghanistan is indeed a ‘vital national interest,’ as Obama said, why announce an exit strategy? Perhaps he is trying to head off criticism from his liberal supporters.”

Was I too hasty in dismissing the actual justifications for the deadline he offered in the speech? Let’s examine them. In Obama’s speech, he attacked those who might call for an “open-ended escalation of our war effort” by arguing:

I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests. Furthermore, the absence of a timeframe for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.

The first concern, about the “reasonable cost,” is hard to square with the president’s willingness to fling countless billions of dollars at our health-care system and various pork-barrel projects in public works. Obama is no fiscal conservative, except when spending is proposed for projects about which he is unenthusiastic.

What about his second argument — that a time frame will instill a greater “sense of urgency” into the Afghan government to get its act together? This echoes a favorite talking point offered by Obama and other opponents of the surge in Iraq. They argued at the time that we needed to begin withdrawing American troops to force Iraqi politicians to make compromises. There is no evidence that troop withdrawals would have had this effect; more likely, they would have simply encouraged Iraqis to take more extreme positions to get ready for a looming civil war — something that was already beginning to happen in 2006 before the surge. Since the success of the surge, on the other hand, Iraqi politicos have started to get their act together. Even when they are stymied over a tough issue, such as the present election law, they are settling their differences through backroom horse trading, not guns and bombs.

The experience of Iraq is hardly dispositive, but it does suggest that American time lines are counterproductive. Incentives for compromise and reform are created by American commitments to stay. Otherwise, moderates lose ground, and radicals come to the fore.

In the case of Afghanistan, if Hamid Karzai is to move against corrupt officials implicated in the drug trade (including his own brother), he needs assurances that we will stick around and protect him. If he thinks we’re heading out the door, he will have no choice but to make deals with warlords — precisely the opposite of what Obama would like to see.

Thus neither rationale for the time line makes much sense. At least the second one sounds more sincere, if misguided. I still think the desire to placate his liberal base is a big part of the explanation, but so is another factor: the desire to placate a part of the president’s own mind. Does anyone doubt that if Obama were still in the Senate and President McCain were announcing a troop surge in Afghanistan, he would be in violent opposition? I don’t. It is, therefore, all the more laudable that he has gone against his natural instincts by ordering the surge. But there is obviously still a part of him that is uncomfortable with the policy. Hence the deadline.

Read Less

Another Summit

The “jobs summit” today typifies the root of the Obama team’s misguided thinking on jobs. In place of policies that would aid in private-sector job creation, the administration has provided an oversold and ineffective stimulus plan, lots of dog-and-pony shows, much heated rhetoric about Wall Street excesses, and a grab bag of policies that makes things worse. For starters, the looming debt, as Robert Samuelson explains, has created “the perception that the administration will tolerate, despite rhetoric to the contrary, permanently large deficits [that] could ultimately rattle investors and lead to large, self-defeating increases in interest rates. There are risks in overaggressive government job-creation programs that can be sustained only by borrowing or taxes.” But that’s not all, as Samuelson observes:

Obama can’t be fairly blamed for most job losses, which stemmed from a crisis predating his election. But he has made a bad situation somewhat worse. His unwillingness to advance trade agreements (notably, with Colombia and South Korea) has hurt exports. The hostility to oil and gas drilling penalizes one source of domestic investment spending. More important, the decision to press controversial proposals (health care, climate change) was bound to increase uncertainty and undermine confidence. Some firms are postponing spending projects “until there is more clarity,” [Moody’s Economy.com Mark] Zandi notes. Others are put off by anti-business rhetoric.

The jobs summit ignores all that and offers up yet another campaign-type event in lieu of productive governance. This is at the heart of not only the jobs problem but also much of what ails the administration. Rather than a useless summit, the administration would do well to consider a package of tax cuts designed to bolster hiring and an agreement to hold off on job-killing legislation. (Gary Andres highlights a useful model for economic revival: the state of Texas.) But in fact, the administration is going in the opposition direction. That — and another dopey jobs summit — are surefire signs that the administration is a long way from getting its act together.

The “jobs summit” today typifies the root of the Obama team’s misguided thinking on jobs. In place of policies that would aid in private-sector job creation, the administration has provided an oversold and ineffective stimulus plan, lots of dog-and-pony shows, much heated rhetoric about Wall Street excesses, and a grab bag of policies that makes things worse. For starters, the looming debt, as Robert Samuelson explains, has created “the perception that the administration will tolerate, despite rhetoric to the contrary, permanently large deficits [that] could ultimately rattle investors and lead to large, self-defeating increases in interest rates. There are risks in overaggressive government job-creation programs that can be sustained only by borrowing or taxes.” But that’s not all, as Samuelson observes:

Obama can’t be fairly blamed for most job losses, which stemmed from a crisis predating his election. But he has made a bad situation somewhat worse. His unwillingness to advance trade agreements (notably, with Colombia and South Korea) has hurt exports. The hostility to oil and gas drilling penalizes one source of domestic investment spending. More important, the decision to press controversial proposals (health care, climate change) was bound to increase uncertainty and undermine confidence. Some firms are postponing spending projects “until there is more clarity,” [Moody’s Economy.com Mark] Zandi notes. Others are put off by anti-business rhetoric.

The jobs summit ignores all that and offers up yet another campaign-type event in lieu of productive governance. This is at the heart of not only the jobs problem but also much of what ails the administration. Rather than a useless summit, the administration would do well to consider a package of tax cuts designed to bolster hiring and an agreement to hold off on job-killing legislation. (Gary Andres highlights a useful model for economic revival: the state of Texas.) But in fact, the administration is going in the opposition direction. That — and another dopey jobs summit — are surefire signs that the administration is a long way from getting its act together.

Read Less

Nah! Really?

The New York Times, not the Onion, reports:

The White House on Wednesday invoked the separation of powers to keep Desiree Rogers, President Obama’s social secretary, from testifying on Capitol Hill about how a couple of aspiring reality television show celebrities crashed a state dinner for the prime minister of India last week. “I think you know that, based on separation of powers, staff here don’t go to testify in front of Congress,’’ Mr. Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, told reporters during his regular briefing. “She won’t — she will not be testifying in front of Congress.’’

They are kidding, right? Nope. Dead serious. Even the usually supportive media and law-professor contingent is gobsmacked by this hooey:

“I’d completely fall out of my chair if they invoked Executive privilege with regards to a social secretary arranging a party,” said Mark J. Rozell, a public-policy professor at George Mason who recently wrote a book on Executive privilege. “There is no prohibition under separation of powers against White House staff going to Capitol Hill to talk about what they know.”

You recall how loudly Democrats squawked when Karl Rove and other Bush advisers involved in real matters of executive deliberation balked at testifying before Congress. Now the most transparent administration in history is invoking executive privilege (which, according to my former Justice Department gurus, doesn’t “count” unless the president invokes it himself) to prevent the social secretary from testifying about a security breach at the White House. The arrogance and, yes, lack of transparency over an issue that has no policy implications (but that may prove embarrassing for a pal of White House honcho Valerie Jarrett) is remarkable, even for the Obami.

The New York Times, not the Onion, reports:

The White House on Wednesday invoked the separation of powers to keep Desiree Rogers, President Obama’s social secretary, from testifying on Capitol Hill about how a couple of aspiring reality television show celebrities crashed a state dinner for the prime minister of India last week. “I think you know that, based on separation of powers, staff here don’t go to testify in front of Congress,’’ Mr. Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, told reporters during his regular briefing. “She won’t — she will not be testifying in front of Congress.’’

They are kidding, right? Nope. Dead serious. Even the usually supportive media and law-professor contingent is gobsmacked by this hooey:

“I’d completely fall out of my chair if they invoked Executive privilege with regards to a social secretary arranging a party,” said Mark J. Rozell, a public-policy professor at George Mason who recently wrote a book on Executive privilege. “There is no prohibition under separation of powers against White House staff going to Capitol Hill to talk about what they know.”

You recall how loudly Democrats squawked when Karl Rove and other Bush advisers involved in real matters of executive deliberation balked at testifying before Congress. Now the most transparent administration in history is invoking executive privilege (which, according to my former Justice Department gurus, doesn’t “count” unless the president invokes it himself) to prevent the social secretary from testifying about a security breach at the White House. The arrogance and, yes, lack of transparency over an issue that has no policy implications (but that may prove embarrassing for a pal of White House honcho Valerie Jarrett) is remarkable, even for the Obami.

Read Less

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Hitchens vs. Koestler

The journalist Christopher Hitchens has abandoned his role as a leading activist-scribe-provocateur of the radical Left, but here and there he shows that he has held fast to his radical aversion to Zionism. In a column last year on the 60th anniversary of the Jewish state, he confided that it is only the “degeneration of Palestinian Arab nationalism into the theocratic and thanatocratic hell of Hamas and Islamic Jihad” that “forces non-Zionists like me to ask whether, in spite of everything, Israel should be defended as if it were a part of the democratic West.” (The Israelis, as he sees it, have not “returned a completely convincing answer.”)

Now, in a preemptive review in the December Atlantic of Michael Scammell’s forthcoming biography of the novelist, essayist, and polemicist Arthur Koestler (1905-1983), Hitchens butchers the record by projecting his own Israel-related hostilities onto his subject.

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


The journalist Christopher Hitchens has abandoned his role as a leading activist-scribe-provocateur of the radical Left, but here and there he shows that he has held fast to his radical aversion to Zionism. In a column last year on the 60th anniversary of the Jewish state, he confided that it is only the “degeneration of Palestinian Arab nationalism into the theocratic and thanatocratic hell of Hamas and Islamic Jihad” that “forces non-Zionists like me to ask whether, in spite of everything, Israel should be defended as if it were a part of the democratic West.” (The Israelis, as he sees it, have not “returned a completely convincing answer.”)

Now, in a preemptive review in the December Atlantic of Michael Scammell’s forthcoming biography of the novelist, essayist, and polemicist Arthur Koestler (1905-1983), Hitchens butchers the record by projecting his own Israel-related hostilities onto his subject.

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


Read Less

Building Peace by Ending Endism

In the past four years, there have been two experiments in peace-processing. The first was to dismantle every Israeli settlement, withdraw every Israeli settler, and turn over the entire area to the Palestinian Authority. The result of that experiment was a terrorist mini-state in Gaza — one that used the land to launch rockets at its neighbor and eventually caused a war, and that is today preparing for yet another one.

The second experiment is what Benjamin Netanyahu has referred to as the establishment of an “economic peace.” Tom Gross, a Middle East analyst and former Jerusalem correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph, provides a glimpse of what is happening with that approach, reporting on a day spent in Nablus, the largest city on the West Bank — a city bustling “in a way I have not previously seen in many years of covering the region”:

Wandering around downtown Nablus the shops and restaurants I saw were full. There were plenty of expensive cars on the streets. Indeed I counted considerably more BMWs and Mercedes than I’ve seen, for example, in downtown Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

And perhaps most importantly of all, we had driven from Jerusalem to Nablus without going through any Israeli checkpoints. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu has removed them all since the Israeli security services (with the encouragement and support of President George W. Bush) were allowed, over recent years, to crush the intifada, restore security to the West Bank and set up the conditions for the economic boom that is now occurring.

And it’s not just Nablus:

Life is even better in Ramallah, where it is difficult to get a table in a good restaurant. New apartment buildings, banks, brokerage firms, luxury car dealerships and health clubs are to be seen. In Qalqilya, another West Bank city that was previously a hotbed of terrorists and bomb-makers, the first ever strawberry crop is being harvested in time to cash in on the lucrative Christmas markets in Europe. Local Palestinian farmers have been trained by Israeli agriculture experts and Israel supplied them with irrigation equipment and pesticides.

A year ago, Uzi Arad, a prominent Israeli foreign-policy academic, suggested that the way forward in the “peace process” is to put an end to “endism” — the belief that “we are within reach of resolving everything in one fell swoop.” Endism is what marked the two-week final-status negotiations at Camp David; the subsequent four-month process, culminating in the unsuccessful Clinton Parameters; and the failed one-year Annapolis Process under President Bush. Against advice from both the Left and Right, President Obama tried his own hand at endism, and his efforts cratered in less than a year.

Netanyahu has endorsed a two-state solution, as long as the Palestinians recognize one of them as Jewish and demilitarize the other so it cannot threaten Israel. Both conditions have been rejected even by the peace-partner Palestinians, not to mention those in control of the land handed over to them in 2005. Thus another attempt at endism is proving to be futile– and four times is enough in any event. Endism needs to be ended, not mended.

It is time, as the title of Gross’s article suggests, for “Building Peace Without Obama’s Interference” — and long past the time for Obama to turn his full attention, as Arad suggested a year ago, to Iran.

In the past four years, there have been two experiments in peace-processing. The first was to dismantle every Israeli settlement, withdraw every Israeli settler, and turn over the entire area to the Palestinian Authority. The result of that experiment was a terrorist mini-state in Gaza — one that used the land to launch rockets at its neighbor and eventually caused a war, and that is today preparing for yet another one.

The second experiment is what Benjamin Netanyahu has referred to as the establishment of an “economic peace.” Tom Gross, a Middle East analyst and former Jerusalem correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph, provides a glimpse of what is happening with that approach, reporting on a day spent in Nablus, the largest city on the West Bank — a city bustling “in a way I have not previously seen in many years of covering the region”:

Wandering around downtown Nablus the shops and restaurants I saw were full. There were plenty of expensive cars on the streets. Indeed I counted considerably more BMWs and Mercedes than I’ve seen, for example, in downtown Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

And perhaps most importantly of all, we had driven from Jerusalem to Nablus without going through any Israeli checkpoints. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu has removed them all since the Israeli security services (with the encouragement and support of President George W. Bush) were allowed, over recent years, to crush the intifada, restore security to the West Bank and set up the conditions for the economic boom that is now occurring.

And it’s not just Nablus:

Life is even better in Ramallah, where it is difficult to get a table in a good restaurant. New apartment buildings, banks, brokerage firms, luxury car dealerships and health clubs are to be seen. In Qalqilya, another West Bank city that was previously a hotbed of terrorists and bomb-makers, the first ever strawberry crop is being harvested in time to cash in on the lucrative Christmas markets in Europe. Local Palestinian farmers have been trained by Israeli agriculture experts and Israel supplied them with irrigation equipment and pesticides.

A year ago, Uzi Arad, a prominent Israeli foreign-policy academic, suggested that the way forward in the “peace process” is to put an end to “endism” — the belief that “we are within reach of resolving everything in one fell swoop.” Endism is what marked the two-week final-status negotiations at Camp David; the subsequent four-month process, culminating in the unsuccessful Clinton Parameters; and the failed one-year Annapolis Process under President Bush. Against advice from both the Left and Right, President Obama tried his own hand at endism, and his efforts cratered in less than a year.

Netanyahu has endorsed a two-state solution, as long as the Palestinians recognize one of them as Jewish and demilitarize the other so it cannot threaten Israel. Both conditions have been rejected even by the peace-partner Palestinians, not to mention those in control of the land handed over to them in 2005. Thus another attempt at endism is proving to be futile– and four times is enough in any event. Endism needs to be ended, not mended.

It is time, as the title of Gross’s article suggests, for “Building Peace Without Obama’s Interference” — and long past the time for Obama to turn his full attention, as Arad suggested a year ago, to Iran.

Read Less

We Are Not Doomed to Repeat Ancient History Either

Yesterday I pointed out the dissimilarities between our current campaign in Afghanistan and the one waged by the Soviets in the 1980s. Along comes Barry Strauss, one of our leading ancient historians (meaning that he studies the ancient world, not that he himself is ancient!), to dispel any analogies that might be mooted with the frustrating (if ultimately successful) campaign waged by Alexander the Great in the same region. Strauss notes some similarities — namely that “Afghanistan still represents tough terrain for soldiers. It still is a paradise for brigands and bandits.” But he also notes the fundamental difference — “the kind of war that the surge in Afghanistan represents could not be more different than the war that Alexander fought in the region. The surge aims to protect civilians, not kill them. Allied plans aim at defeating warlords through policing, reconstruction, and diplomacy, not by wiping out cities.”

For those interested in reading more on the subject, I recommend Frank L. Holt’s excellent study Into the Land of bones: Alexander the Great in Afghanistan. We should by all means study the past; heck, that’s what I do for a living. But we shouldn’t expect a replay.

Yesterday I pointed out the dissimilarities between our current campaign in Afghanistan and the one waged by the Soviets in the 1980s. Along comes Barry Strauss, one of our leading ancient historians (meaning that he studies the ancient world, not that he himself is ancient!), to dispel any analogies that might be mooted with the frustrating (if ultimately successful) campaign waged by Alexander the Great in the same region. Strauss notes some similarities — namely that “Afghanistan still represents tough terrain for soldiers. It still is a paradise for brigands and bandits.” But he also notes the fundamental difference — “the kind of war that the surge in Afghanistan represents could not be more different than the war that Alexander fought in the region. The surge aims to protect civilians, not kill them. Allied plans aim at defeating warlords through policing, reconstruction, and diplomacy, not by wiping out cities.”

For those interested in reading more on the subject, I recommend Frank L. Holt’s excellent study Into the Land of bones: Alexander the Great in Afghanistan. We should by all means study the past; heck, that’s what I do for a living. But we shouldn’t expect a replay.

Read Less

Over, Finally

The curtain has come down on Manuel Zelaya and the Obami’s Honduran escapade:

The Honduran Congress voted on Wednesday not to allow the reinstatement of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, a move that closes the door on his return to power after he was toppled in a June coup. Congress was deciding Zelaya’s fate as part of a U.S.-brokered deal between the deposed leftist and the country’s de facto leaders who took power after the coup.

Well, Zelaya is still “holed up in the Brazilian Embassy.” But democracy has prevailed in Honduras. Hugo Chavez’s ambitions have been thwarted. The conservative critics of the Obami’s ill-fated decision to back Zelaya have been vindicated. And we hope that the Honduran people harbor no ill will toward the U.S., which cut off aid and took away some visas. But all’s well that end’s well, right?

Marty Peretz puckishly suggests that the Obama team should be touting this as a rare foreign-policy success. But that might require an uncomfortable recitation of the salient facts following the ouster of Zelaya:

The president spoke, Mrs. Clinton spoke especially shrilly. The government’s Latin American professionals supported Zelaya, whose backing seemed increasingly thin. And then quietly the Obamae began its retreat. First it said that it wanted Zelaya to return. But, then … no one in Foggy Bottom was talking about the deposed would-be dictator. And, yes, the U.S. would recognize the election of Lobo.

Yes, it’s a bit meandering. But what other foreign-policy foray has worked out so well? The Middle East. Hmm, not even. Iranian engagement? Yikes! Alliances with Eastern Europe and India? Uh, not really. The Russian reset? Slim pickings. The illustrious record on human rights? You see the point. At least in Honduras, the Obami figured out that they were playing a losing hand and retreated from the scene. It really is their finest hour.

The curtain has come down on Manuel Zelaya and the Obami’s Honduran escapade:

The Honduran Congress voted on Wednesday not to allow the reinstatement of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, a move that closes the door on his return to power after he was toppled in a June coup. Congress was deciding Zelaya’s fate as part of a U.S.-brokered deal between the deposed leftist and the country’s de facto leaders who took power after the coup.

Well, Zelaya is still “holed up in the Brazilian Embassy.” But democracy has prevailed in Honduras. Hugo Chavez’s ambitions have been thwarted. The conservative critics of the Obami’s ill-fated decision to back Zelaya have been vindicated. And we hope that the Honduran people harbor no ill will toward the U.S., which cut off aid and took away some visas. But all’s well that end’s well, right?

Marty Peretz puckishly suggests that the Obama team should be touting this as a rare foreign-policy success. But that might require an uncomfortable recitation of the salient facts following the ouster of Zelaya:

The president spoke, Mrs. Clinton spoke especially shrilly. The government’s Latin American professionals supported Zelaya, whose backing seemed increasingly thin. And then quietly the Obamae began its retreat. First it said that it wanted Zelaya to return. But, then … no one in Foggy Bottom was talking about the deposed would-be dictator. And, yes, the U.S. would recognize the election of Lobo.

Yes, it’s a bit meandering. But what other foreign-policy foray has worked out so well? The Middle East. Hmm, not even. Iranian engagement? Yikes! Alliances with Eastern Europe and India? Uh, not really. The Russian reset? Slim pickings. The illustrious record on human rights? You see the point. At least in Honduras, the Obami figured out that they were playing a losing hand and retreated from the scene. It really is their finest hour.

Read Less

The Day After

There were two positive developments in the aftermath of Obama’s West Point speech. As this report notes, no matter how loudly the liberal Democrats squawk, they aren’t going to be able to deprive the administration of funding for the Afghanistan surge:

Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a vocal war critic who is a senior House Democrat overseeing military spending, predicted that Congress would pass a $40 billion war financing bill early next year to pay for the added deployments.

Murtha said he remains unconvinced the troop increase is a good idea but believes he and other anti-war Democrats will not be able to stop it. “It’s not likely that there would be any circumstances where the president would lose this battle this year,” he said.

Perhaps too much attention and effort was spent worrying about the Murtha contingent.

Second, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates did everything humanly possible to walk back and fuzz up that 2011 “deadline”:

At a Senate hearing Wednesday morning, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, under tough questioning, said the Pentagon will “evaluate” next year whether the military can meet its goal of starting to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by July 2011, signaling that the withdrawal date could move back if violence spirals out of control.

Under pressure from Sen. John McCain, Gates made clear this isn’t much of a deadline, honest:

Gates said U.S. forces should be able to move out of “uncontested areas” by the summer of 2011 but that the United States would not transfer security responsibility to the Afghans in any province until they can stand up on their own. He said the security team would review the situation at the end of 2010 to see whether the military “can meet that objective” with regard to the timeline.

“If it appears that the strategy’s not working and that we are not going to be able to transition in 2011 then we will take a hard look at the strategy itself,” he said, adding that the president reserves the right to adjust his decision. “We’re not going to just throw these guys into the swimming pool and then walk away.”

That message will need to be re-enforced by the president. He will have his war-funding from Congress, Gen. Stanley McChrystal will have his troops, and we appear to have a workable strategy. Perhaps we need a redo on the presidential speech — this time with feeling.

There were two positive developments in the aftermath of Obama’s West Point speech. As this report notes, no matter how loudly the liberal Democrats squawk, they aren’t going to be able to deprive the administration of funding for the Afghanistan surge:

Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a vocal war critic who is a senior House Democrat overseeing military spending, predicted that Congress would pass a $40 billion war financing bill early next year to pay for the added deployments.

Murtha said he remains unconvinced the troop increase is a good idea but believes he and other anti-war Democrats will not be able to stop it. “It’s not likely that there would be any circumstances where the president would lose this battle this year,” he said.

Perhaps too much attention and effort was spent worrying about the Murtha contingent.

Second, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates did everything humanly possible to walk back and fuzz up that 2011 “deadline”:

At a Senate hearing Wednesday morning, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, under tough questioning, said the Pentagon will “evaluate” next year whether the military can meet its goal of starting to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by July 2011, signaling that the withdrawal date could move back if violence spirals out of control.

Under pressure from Sen. John McCain, Gates made clear this isn’t much of a deadline, honest:

Gates said U.S. forces should be able to move out of “uncontested areas” by the summer of 2011 but that the United States would not transfer security responsibility to the Afghans in any province until they can stand up on their own. He said the security team would review the situation at the end of 2010 to see whether the military “can meet that objective” with regard to the timeline.

“If it appears that the strategy’s not working and that we are not going to be able to transition in 2011 then we will take a hard look at the strategy itself,” he said, adding that the president reserves the right to adjust his decision. “We’re not going to just throw these guys into the swimming pool and then walk away.”

That message will need to be re-enforced by the president. He will have his war-funding from Congress, Gen. Stanley McChrystal will have his troops, and we appear to have a workable strategy. Perhaps we need a redo on the presidential speech — this time with feeling.

Read Less

The Task Made Harder

Eliot Cohen makes a forceful case that the president made essentially the right call on Afghanistan. (Although he notes that “the White House’s decision to send only 30,000 troops, while calling upon our allies for thousands more—perhaps as many as 10,000—makes little sense. The Europeans have repeatedly revealed their aversion to combat.”)

Cohen observes, however, that both the protracted decision-making process (including the constant leaking, which revealed schisms and doubts about the mission within the administration) and the “the incessant, unsourced, but high-level attacks from the administration on President Hamid Karzai” have made the task ahead more difficult. That task, of course, is to bolster the Afghan government and convince our enemies of our determination to win. As for the speech, Cohen writes:

The jargon of transition and exit ramps, and an 18-month target to begin withdrawal unfortunately tells our enemies to persevere through a couple of bad fighting seasons, because the Americans, or at least their leaders, do not have the determination to succeed. The president spoke of reconciling and integrating the Taliban. The Taliban are tough, and this sends the message that they only need hang on to win. Only when they conclude that the alternative is death, will they decide to abandon a war they otherwise seem likely to win.

The speech rattled not only conservatives in the U.S. but also our allies, as the New York Times reports:

President Obama’s timetable for American forces in Afghanistan rattled nerves in that country and Pakistan on Wednesday, prompting diplomats to scramble to reassure the two countries at the center of the president’s war strategy that the United States would not cut and run.

In Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the only minister who commented on the speech, said the announcement that American troops could begin leaving in 18 months served as a kind of shock therapy, but caused anxiety. “Can we do it?” he asked. “That is the main question. This is not done in a moment. It is a process.”

In Pakistan, President Obama’s declaration fed longstanding fears that America would abruptly withdraw, leaving Pakistan to fend for itself.

In trying to have it all ways so as to hold on to those allies who refuse to embrace the substance of the policy he has embarked upon, the president did himself no good. (Cohen notes: “As a wartime leader he will tend many wounds, but the most grievous thus far are those he has inflicted on himself.”) Obama has embraced a policy that requires resolve and clarity, not equivocation and confusion. His West Point appearance quickly devolved into a mad scramble to repair the damage done by an ill-conceived speech. It needn’t be fatal, but it must not be repeated.

Eliot Cohen makes a forceful case that the president made essentially the right call on Afghanistan. (Although he notes that “the White House’s decision to send only 30,000 troops, while calling upon our allies for thousands more—perhaps as many as 10,000—makes little sense. The Europeans have repeatedly revealed their aversion to combat.”)

Cohen observes, however, that both the protracted decision-making process (including the constant leaking, which revealed schisms and doubts about the mission within the administration) and the “the incessant, unsourced, but high-level attacks from the administration on President Hamid Karzai” have made the task ahead more difficult. That task, of course, is to bolster the Afghan government and convince our enemies of our determination to win. As for the speech, Cohen writes:

The jargon of transition and exit ramps, and an 18-month target to begin withdrawal unfortunately tells our enemies to persevere through a couple of bad fighting seasons, because the Americans, or at least their leaders, do not have the determination to succeed. The president spoke of reconciling and integrating the Taliban. The Taliban are tough, and this sends the message that they only need hang on to win. Only when they conclude that the alternative is death, will they decide to abandon a war they otherwise seem likely to win.

The speech rattled not only conservatives in the U.S. but also our allies, as the New York Times reports:

President Obama’s timetable for American forces in Afghanistan rattled nerves in that country and Pakistan on Wednesday, prompting diplomats to scramble to reassure the two countries at the center of the president’s war strategy that the United States would not cut and run.

In Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the only minister who commented on the speech, said the announcement that American troops could begin leaving in 18 months served as a kind of shock therapy, but caused anxiety. “Can we do it?” he asked. “That is the main question. This is not done in a moment. It is a process.”

In Pakistan, President Obama’s declaration fed longstanding fears that America would abruptly withdraw, leaving Pakistan to fend for itself.

In trying to have it all ways so as to hold on to those allies who refuse to embrace the substance of the policy he has embarked upon, the president did himself no good. (Cohen notes: “As a wartime leader he will tend many wounds, but the most grievous thus far are those he has inflicted on himself.”) Obama has embraced a policy that requires resolve and clarity, not equivocation and confusion. His West Point appearance quickly devolved into a mad scramble to repair the damage done by an ill-conceived speech. It needn’t be fatal, but it must not be repeated.

Read Less

Copenhagen All Over Again

This Fox News report suggests that Copenhagen, the site of Obama’s Olympic-size humiliation, may be (to borrow a phrase from Yogi Berra) déjà vu all over again for the president:

At both meetings, the president scheduled very brief appearances, planning to arrive early and be long gone before any decision was reached. And, coincidentally, the destination in both cases was Copenhagen, Denmark. … Patrick Michaels, former president of the American Association of State Climatologists and environmental fellow at the Cato Institute, said he has his doubts. “The president is carrying nothing credible in his pocket, so how can he compel people to do something credible?” he said, referring to the fact that Congress has not passed its cap-and-trade bill.

Even fellow Democrat Sen. Jim Webb is reminding Obama that he doesn’t have “the unilateral power to commit the government of the United States to certain standards that may be agreed upon” in Copenhagen. And then there is the peculiar challenge of an international confab to decide how to micromanage national economies based on science that is now the subject of comedy routines. It doesn’t seem quite, well, credible.

To avoid another major embarrassment, it’s possible that, as the Obami have been forced to do many times already, they will come up with a photo-op, or a meaningless working agreement to get to work on an agreement. Still, one wonders why the president is once again putting his prestige on the line when the chances of a payoff are slim. Well, I suppose it beats answering media questions at home about the looming Iranian threat and our domestic economic woes (and yes, another national unemployment figure due out Friday).

This Fox News report suggests that Copenhagen, the site of Obama’s Olympic-size humiliation, may be (to borrow a phrase from Yogi Berra) déjà vu all over again for the president:

At both meetings, the president scheduled very brief appearances, planning to arrive early and be long gone before any decision was reached. And, coincidentally, the destination in both cases was Copenhagen, Denmark. … Patrick Michaels, former president of the American Association of State Climatologists and environmental fellow at the Cato Institute, said he has his doubts. “The president is carrying nothing credible in his pocket, so how can he compel people to do something credible?” he said, referring to the fact that Congress has not passed its cap-and-trade bill.

Even fellow Democrat Sen. Jim Webb is reminding Obama that he doesn’t have “the unilateral power to commit the government of the United States to certain standards that may be agreed upon” in Copenhagen. And then there is the peculiar challenge of an international confab to decide how to micromanage national economies based on science that is now the subject of comedy routines. It doesn’t seem quite, well, credible.

To avoid another major embarrassment, it’s possible that, as the Obami have been forced to do many times already, they will come up with a photo-op, or a meaningless working agreement to get to work on an agreement. Still, one wonders why the president is once again putting his prestige on the line when the chances of a payoff are slim. Well, I suppose it beats answering media questions at home about the looming Iranian threat and our domestic economic woes (and yes, another national unemployment figure due out Friday).

Read Less

Just as It Was Intended

It seems that trying to ram through the U.S. Senate an enormous, highly controversial, and very expensive piece of legislation isn’t as easy as one would think. This report explains that health-care reform is sputtering along:

On the third day of a divisive debate, Democrats threatened to keep the Senate in session through the Christmas holiday if necessary to pass a healthcare reform bill that President Barack Obama has made his top domestic priority.

The U.S. Senate debate on a sweeping healthcare overhaul stumbled toward gridlock on Wednesday, with frustrated Democrats considering new procedural moves after Republicans blocked votes on the first amendments.

This, of course, is nothing new for the “greatest deliberative body in the world.” The Republicans aren’t impressed with Democrats’ demand for speed. (“‘They expect to have a right to weigh in,’ Republican Senator Lamar Alexander told reporters. ‘The Senate is a place where we have generally unlimited debate, generally unlimited amendments, so we’re just getting started on this bill.'”) And Sen. Judd Gregg has a guide to parliamentary options to help his colleagues select which procedures they’d like to employ.

There is nothing in the least improper nor surprising about this. Democrats imagined they could craft a bill in secret, disregard the building public opposition, and ignore the minority party. They are finding out it’s not so easy given the Senate’s rules. The Senate is playing its historic and constitutionally appropriate role in slowing down a legislative freight train.

After all, if the bill is so wonderful, more debate and discussion can only work to its sponsors’ advantage, right? Well, there’s the rub. Democrats are freaking out, quite plainly, because with each passing week and month, the chances that this monstrosity will pass diminish.

It seems that trying to ram through the U.S. Senate an enormous, highly controversial, and very expensive piece of legislation isn’t as easy as one would think. This report explains that health-care reform is sputtering along:

On the third day of a divisive debate, Democrats threatened to keep the Senate in session through the Christmas holiday if necessary to pass a healthcare reform bill that President Barack Obama has made his top domestic priority.

The U.S. Senate debate on a sweeping healthcare overhaul stumbled toward gridlock on Wednesday, with frustrated Democrats considering new procedural moves after Republicans blocked votes on the first amendments.

This, of course, is nothing new for the “greatest deliberative body in the world.” The Republicans aren’t impressed with Democrats’ demand for speed. (“‘They expect to have a right to weigh in,’ Republican Senator Lamar Alexander told reporters. ‘The Senate is a place where we have generally unlimited debate, generally unlimited amendments, so we’re just getting started on this bill.'”) And Sen. Judd Gregg has a guide to parliamentary options to help his colleagues select which procedures they’d like to employ.

There is nothing in the least improper nor surprising about this. Democrats imagined they could craft a bill in secret, disregard the building public opposition, and ignore the minority party. They are finding out it’s not so easy given the Senate’s rules. The Senate is playing its historic and constitutionally appropriate role in slowing down a legislative freight train.

After all, if the bill is so wonderful, more debate and discussion can only work to its sponsors’ advantage, right? Well, there’s the rub. Democrats are freaking out, quite plainly, because with each passing week and month, the chances that this monstrosity will pass diminish.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.