Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 16, 2009

RE: RE: No Risk, They Say?

Max, the threat that detainees transferred to the U.S. would be released by federal courts and the risk that the severe restrictions on terrorists’ access to their comrades outside prison would be lifted are two of the principal reasons why Guantanamo was selected to hold terrorists.

As to the first issue, 1993 World Trade Center bombing prosecutor Andy McCarthy explains:

Tuesday’s decision brings closer the day that federal courts will begin releasing trained terrorists to live, and plot, among us. Most (though not all) judges have been reluctant to issue such orders because the terrorists have been outside the U.S. and their admission is barred by statute. Once they are physically here, that reluctance will vanish.

In fact, indefinite detention is incompatible with normal rules of the criminal-justice system, so it is not only possible but probable that court actions will be brought to spring these people. One lower court has already issued such an order, although it was overruled on appeal. The government is not always fortunate to draw a reasonable appellate panel of judges. That is why the Obama team issued a curious promise: if a federal court releases the detainees, they will try these terrorists or whisk them back out of the country. In defiance of a court order? Even if possible, it makes a mockery of the legal system the Obama team is ostensibly defending. And in any event, it reveals that the administration realizes that the risk of release goes up when they are transferred to U.S. soil.

Second, the Richard Reid case demonstrates how little fortitude the administration has when it comes to limiting mail, visitors, and other means of spreading propaganda or assisting with plots outside the U.S. The restrictions that the government imposed on Reid were lifted after a legal challenge and a 58-day hunger strike by Reid. We can anticipate similar challenges by those who, once in the U.S., will seek judicial relief in lifting allegedly “inhumane” restrictions on them.

As to the supposed benefits that are derived from shuttering Guantanamo, I simply don’t buy that the location of the detention facility matters to anyone. The ACLU and leftists have already made clear in public statements and pleadings that they object to the indefinite detention. The terrorists themselves need no excuse to butcher Americans, and certainly didn’t when they devised the 9/11 plot. Moreover, given that the conditions under which they will be held in Illinois are far less cushy than those at Guantanamo — no gourmet menus or exercise bikes, no sunny yard to stroll in — the grievances are likely to increase. The argument will be made, with some justification, that we will be making the lives of detainees worse and their conditions less humane. And on this one, I will have to agree.

As with so much that the Obama team dream up with regard to the war on terror — trying KSM in civilian court, limiting enhanced interrogation, releasing interrogation memos, and now moving detainees to U.S. soil — the supposed gains depend on accepting the notion that we will get “credit” for tying our own hands and creating security risks for our own citizens. The president, if he were so concerned about our image, could — as he did privately with 9/11 families — talk publicly about how safe and, yes, just is the Guantanamo facility. It is the president’s job to dispel false and malicious propaganda, not to buy into it. Rebutting the unfair and false attacks on Guantanamo, rather than ushering in a Brave New World of dangerous and unpredictable litigation by terrorists, would seem to be a better use of the president’s time and energy.

Max, the threat that detainees transferred to the U.S. would be released by federal courts and the risk that the severe restrictions on terrorists’ access to their comrades outside prison would be lifted are two of the principal reasons why Guantanamo was selected to hold terrorists.

As to the first issue, 1993 World Trade Center bombing prosecutor Andy McCarthy explains:

Tuesday’s decision brings closer the day that federal courts will begin releasing trained terrorists to live, and plot, among us. Most (though not all) judges have been reluctant to issue such orders because the terrorists have been outside the U.S. and their admission is barred by statute. Once they are physically here, that reluctance will vanish.

In fact, indefinite detention is incompatible with normal rules of the criminal-justice system, so it is not only possible but probable that court actions will be brought to spring these people. One lower court has already issued such an order, although it was overruled on appeal. The government is not always fortunate to draw a reasonable appellate panel of judges. That is why the Obama team issued a curious promise: if a federal court releases the detainees, they will try these terrorists or whisk them back out of the country. In defiance of a court order? Even if possible, it makes a mockery of the legal system the Obama team is ostensibly defending. And in any event, it reveals that the administration realizes that the risk of release goes up when they are transferred to U.S. soil.

Second, the Richard Reid case demonstrates how little fortitude the administration has when it comes to limiting mail, visitors, and other means of spreading propaganda or assisting with plots outside the U.S. The restrictions that the government imposed on Reid were lifted after a legal challenge and a 58-day hunger strike by Reid. We can anticipate similar challenges by those who, once in the U.S., will seek judicial relief in lifting allegedly “inhumane” restrictions on them.

As to the supposed benefits that are derived from shuttering Guantanamo, I simply don’t buy that the location of the detention facility matters to anyone. The ACLU and leftists have already made clear in public statements and pleadings that they object to the indefinite detention. The terrorists themselves need no excuse to butcher Americans, and certainly didn’t when they devised the 9/11 plot. Moreover, given that the conditions under which they will be held in Illinois are far less cushy than those at Guantanamo — no gourmet menus or exercise bikes, no sunny yard to stroll in — the grievances are likely to increase. The argument will be made, with some justification, that we will be making the lives of detainees worse and their conditions less humane. And on this one, I will have to agree.

As with so much that the Obama team dream up with regard to the war on terror — trying KSM in civilian court, limiting enhanced interrogation, releasing interrogation memos, and now moving detainees to U.S. soil — the supposed gains depend on accepting the notion that we will get “credit” for tying our own hands and creating security risks for our own citizens. The president, if he were so concerned about our image, could — as he did privately with 9/11 families — talk publicly about how safe and, yes, just is the Guantanamo facility. It is the president’s job to dispel false and malicious propaganda, not to buy into it. Rebutting the unfair and false attacks on Guantanamo, rather than ushering in a Brave New World of dangerous and unpredictable litigation by terrorists, would seem to be a better use of the president’s time and energy.

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RE: No Risk, They Say?

I seldom find myself in disagreement with my colleague Jen Rubin. This is one of those rare occasions. I am not as alarmed as she is by the prospect of moving detainees from Guantanamo to a super-max prison in Illinois. She cites an ABC News report to highlight the dangers but, in fact, I think the ABC report makes the case for the transfer. It notes that ultra-dangerous al-Qaeda prisoners are already being held at the supermax prison in Florence, Colordao, including the so-called “20th hijacker” Zacharias Moussaoui, the shoe bomber Richard Reid, the first World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, and dirty bomber Jose Padilla. All of them “ have essentially disappeared inside the Colorado facility.” One of their defense attorneys is quoted complaining, “ It’s a bleak and brutal existence that’s defined by, essentially an 8 x 10 rectangle in which they live. There is no socialization whatsoever and the isolation itself is extremely damaging.”

While it may not make a defense attorney happy, that’s exactly the fate that I would like to see befall more terrorists. What about the risks that Jen mentions? It’s true that the “blind sheikh,” Omar Abdel Rahman, was able to communicate with his followers via his lawyer but that’s also possible in Guantanamo where the detainees now have access to attorneys. And it’s true that another al-Qaeda terrorist, Mamdouh Salim, who was being held temporarily at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, was able to stab a guard with a sharpened comb in an unsuccessful attempt to escape. But that could happen at Gitmo too. In any case, security is tighter at supermax facilities. No one, as far as I know, has ever escaped from such a facility.

The most compelling argument against transferring the Gitmo detainees isn’t the worry that they will break out or convey forbidden information through their lawyers. Rather, it is that they may gain new legal rights by being brought to U.S. soil. I am not a lawyer, and stand ready to be corrected on this score, but my understanding is that they have already gained a lot of rights even while in Gitmo thanks to Supreme Court rulings. Only if they gain significant new legal protections that make their release more likely should a transfer to the mainland be banned. If they can be held securely in a supermax facility without having to be brought before a civilian court for trial, it makes sense to do so because, essentially, that would be a cosmetic change that would undo some of the public-relations damage wrought to America’s reputation by the Gitmo facility while not compromising our security.

I seldom find myself in disagreement with my colleague Jen Rubin. This is one of those rare occasions. I am not as alarmed as she is by the prospect of moving detainees from Guantanamo to a super-max prison in Illinois. She cites an ABC News report to highlight the dangers but, in fact, I think the ABC report makes the case for the transfer. It notes that ultra-dangerous al-Qaeda prisoners are already being held at the supermax prison in Florence, Colordao, including the so-called “20th hijacker” Zacharias Moussaoui, the shoe bomber Richard Reid, the first World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, and dirty bomber Jose Padilla. All of them “ have essentially disappeared inside the Colorado facility.” One of their defense attorneys is quoted complaining, “ It’s a bleak and brutal existence that’s defined by, essentially an 8 x 10 rectangle in which they live. There is no socialization whatsoever and the isolation itself is extremely damaging.”

While it may not make a defense attorney happy, that’s exactly the fate that I would like to see befall more terrorists. What about the risks that Jen mentions? It’s true that the “blind sheikh,” Omar Abdel Rahman, was able to communicate with his followers via his lawyer but that’s also possible in Guantanamo where the detainees now have access to attorneys. And it’s true that another al-Qaeda terrorist, Mamdouh Salim, who was being held temporarily at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, was able to stab a guard with a sharpened comb in an unsuccessful attempt to escape. But that could happen at Gitmo too. In any case, security is tighter at supermax facilities. No one, as far as I know, has ever escaped from such a facility.

The most compelling argument against transferring the Gitmo detainees isn’t the worry that they will break out or convey forbidden information through their lawyers. Rather, it is that they may gain new legal rights by being brought to U.S. soil. I am not a lawyer, and stand ready to be corrected on this score, but my understanding is that they have already gained a lot of rights even while in Gitmo thanks to Supreme Court rulings. Only if they gain significant new legal protections that make their release more likely should a transfer to the mainland be banned. If they can be held securely in a supermax facility without having to be brought before a civilian court for trial, it makes sense to do so because, essentially, that would be a cosmetic change that would undo some of the public-relations damage wrought to America’s reputation by the Gitmo facility while not compromising our security.

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Zeno of Elea’s Triumph in Iran

In the age-old battle of the philosophical postures — “nothing can possibly happen” versus “everything is about to” — Zeno’s logical paradoxes seem to be winning out for control of the Western mindset on Iran. I’m reminded of Zeno’s paradox that “motion is impossible” every time I see another development that quite obviously means Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapons. Zeno, you will remember from Logic 101, posited that motion is impossible because every distance to be moved can be split in half in an infinite regression, while the supposed mover can be in only one place at a given point in time.

Of course, for practical purposes, we accept the reality of motion and predicate much of our daily lives on it. Nevertheless, many Westerners are using Zeno’s approach to perpetually argue that no matter what we discover Iran has been up to, it doesn’t mean there are going to be nuclear weapons coming out of it any time soon.

The Zeno Refrain started almost immediately after Monday’s revelation by the Times of London of an Iranian document that showed that the country was pursuing a uranium deuteride (UD-3) initiator — something only a nuclear weapon can make use of — as late as 2007. Never mind that A.Q. Khan and the Chinese have worked with UD-3 initiators for nuclear warheads. Never mind that the National Council of Resistance of Iran reported back in 2005 that Iran was pursuing the UD-3 initiator. Never mind that some of the foremost think-tank experts on Iran’s nuclear program, at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), confirm that “although Iran might claim that this work is for civil purposes, it has no civil application.”

None of this, according to the same ISIS experts, means that this revelation is a “smoking gun.” Instead:

The document could describe work to develop and maintain a capability rather than being part of a program authorized to build nuclear weapons.  The document does not mention nuclear weapons and we have seen no evidence of an Iranian decision to build them.

A spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office did tell the Times that the document “raises serious questions about Iran’s intentions.” But since that’s been said about every previous revelation, the real question is how many more of these “questions” need to be raised before we drop the Zeno approach — which is summed up perfectly in this reader comment from the always useful Arms Control Wonk website:

Research into the physics of nuclear explosions (i.e. obtaining the know-how to achieve a nuclear weapons capability) is different from pursuing an active weapons program (i.e. diversion of material, of which there is no evidence).

The buried premise is that, for our policy purposes, merely “obtaining the know-how to achieve a nuclear weapons capability” is a different issue from “pursuing an active weapons program.” But just as Zeno could be made to look irrelevant by an arrow hitting its target or by Achilles overtaking the tortoise, so the hair splitters on Iran’s nuclear program are, with increasing frequency, made to look irrelevant by the repeated emergence of new information on Tehran’s intentions and activities. Their central error is looking for a smoking gun in the first place. A smoking gun is only available after the trigger has been pulled. What we look for beforehand is the time-honored intelligence pairing of intention and capability — and if we saw the set of Iran-related indicators piling up for any other nation, from Anguilla to Vanuatu, we would say it’s a nuclear-weapons program, and we’d say the hell with it.

In the age-old battle of the philosophical postures — “nothing can possibly happen” versus “everything is about to” — Zeno’s logical paradoxes seem to be winning out for control of the Western mindset on Iran. I’m reminded of Zeno’s paradox that “motion is impossible” every time I see another development that quite obviously means Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapons. Zeno, you will remember from Logic 101, posited that motion is impossible because every distance to be moved can be split in half in an infinite regression, while the supposed mover can be in only one place at a given point in time.

Of course, for practical purposes, we accept the reality of motion and predicate much of our daily lives on it. Nevertheless, many Westerners are using Zeno’s approach to perpetually argue that no matter what we discover Iran has been up to, it doesn’t mean there are going to be nuclear weapons coming out of it any time soon.

The Zeno Refrain started almost immediately after Monday’s revelation by the Times of London of an Iranian document that showed that the country was pursuing a uranium deuteride (UD-3) initiator — something only a nuclear weapon can make use of — as late as 2007. Never mind that A.Q. Khan and the Chinese have worked with UD-3 initiators for nuclear warheads. Never mind that the National Council of Resistance of Iran reported back in 2005 that Iran was pursuing the UD-3 initiator. Never mind that some of the foremost think-tank experts on Iran’s nuclear program, at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), confirm that “although Iran might claim that this work is for civil purposes, it has no civil application.”

None of this, according to the same ISIS experts, means that this revelation is a “smoking gun.” Instead:

The document could describe work to develop and maintain a capability rather than being part of a program authorized to build nuclear weapons.  The document does not mention nuclear weapons and we have seen no evidence of an Iranian decision to build them.

A spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office did tell the Times that the document “raises serious questions about Iran’s intentions.” But since that’s been said about every previous revelation, the real question is how many more of these “questions” need to be raised before we drop the Zeno approach — which is summed up perfectly in this reader comment from the always useful Arms Control Wonk website:

Research into the physics of nuclear explosions (i.e. obtaining the know-how to achieve a nuclear weapons capability) is different from pursuing an active weapons program (i.e. diversion of material, of which there is no evidence).

The buried premise is that, for our policy purposes, merely “obtaining the know-how to achieve a nuclear weapons capability” is a different issue from “pursuing an active weapons program.” But just as Zeno could be made to look irrelevant by an arrow hitting its target or by Achilles overtaking the tortoise, so the hair splitters on Iran’s nuclear program are, with increasing frequency, made to look irrelevant by the repeated emergence of new information on Tehran’s intentions and activities. Their central error is looking for a smoking gun in the first place. A smoking gun is only available after the trigger has been pulled. What we look for beforehand is the time-honored intelligence pairing of intention and capability — and if we saw the set of Iran-related indicators piling up for any other nation, from Anguilla to Vanuatu, we would say it’s a nuclear-weapons program, and we’d say the hell with it.

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RE: No Risk, They Say?

The American people aren’t buying the Obama spin that moving Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. is a good idea. Gallup reports:

Americans remain opposed to closing the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba and moving some of the terrorist suspects being held there to U.S. prisons: 30% favor such actions, while 64% do not. These attitudes could present a significant roadblock for President Obama at a time when he seeks congressional approval to move terrorist suspects from Guantanamo to a converted state prison in northwestern Illinois.

Now that’s as bad as the health-care polling, and the White House and Congress are ignoring public opinion on that one. So an overwhelming show of public opposition to a harebrained leftist gambit is no guarantee it will be abandoned. But on this one, there is little upside to the Democrats’ supporting the White House. Indeed, it is the perfect opportunity to put a little daylight between them and an administration that is increasingly out of touch with the electorate.

The American people aren’t buying the Obama spin that moving Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. is a good idea. Gallup reports:

Americans remain opposed to closing the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba and moving some of the terrorist suspects being held there to U.S. prisons: 30% favor such actions, while 64% do not. These attitudes could present a significant roadblock for President Obama at a time when he seeks congressional approval to move terrorist suspects from Guantanamo to a converted state prison in northwestern Illinois.

Now that’s as bad as the health-care polling, and the White House and Congress are ignoring public opinion on that one. So an overwhelming show of public opposition to a harebrained leftist gambit is no guarantee it will be abandoned. But on this one, there is little upside to the Democrats’ supporting the White House. Indeed, it is the perfect opportunity to put a little daylight between them and an administration that is increasingly out of touch with the electorate.

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Obama’s Gift to Republicans: Their Resurgence

From strictly a governing and competence perspective, the health-care process that is unfolding has been one of the worst — and maybe the worst — we have ever seen. Democrats are pushing for legislation that would take over one-sixth of the American economy — and they are doing it in a manner that insults the memory of Mo, Larry, and Curly. Democratic Senator Evan Bayh provided more evidence of this with his simple complaint: “We’re all being urged to vote for something and we don’t know the details of what’s in it.” And what we’re talking about isn’t an annual farm bill; it is legislation that would fundamentally alter the fiscal and social landscape of America, possibly for generations. It is, to use a phrase from the Founders, a question of “the first magnitude to society.”

It is really quite astonishing, then, that Democrats are trying to ram through one of the largest pieces of domestic legislation in the history of our nation — and no one knows exactly what’s in it or what it will cost. The bill the Senate is now trying to find 60 votes for is an incoherent mess, a mishmash of historic size and sloppiness and, on the merits, utterly indefensible.

“It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country,” Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 1, “by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice.” What is happening right now on Capitol Hill, through the elected representatives of the people of this country, is the antithesis of reflection, choice, and good government. This matters not at all to Democrats, who have bought into a flawed theory: they must pass something, anything, no matter how awful, rather than start over again.

In fact, this process has been so bad, the products it has produced so defective, and the potential ramifications so destructive that, if the president signs health-care legislation into law, he will — with the stroke of his pen — provide Republicans with a golden opportunity to return to power. He is, in fact, in the process of setting the stage for a realignment of some significance. Repealing and replacing the monstrosity that Democrats call health-care reform will, absent some totally unforeseen events, become the dominant issue for the 2010 elections. And Democrats will, I think, pay a huge political price for what they are championing.

Barack Obama is turning out to be a very significant political figure, but not quite in the way he imagined. Ronald Reagan gave rise to a rebirth of conservatism and the GOP. So might Barack Obama.

From strictly a governing and competence perspective, the health-care process that is unfolding has been one of the worst — and maybe the worst — we have ever seen. Democrats are pushing for legislation that would take over one-sixth of the American economy — and they are doing it in a manner that insults the memory of Mo, Larry, and Curly. Democratic Senator Evan Bayh provided more evidence of this with his simple complaint: “We’re all being urged to vote for something and we don’t know the details of what’s in it.” And what we’re talking about isn’t an annual farm bill; it is legislation that would fundamentally alter the fiscal and social landscape of America, possibly for generations. It is, to use a phrase from the Founders, a question of “the first magnitude to society.”

It is really quite astonishing, then, that Democrats are trying to ram through one of the largest pieces of domestic legislation in the history of our nation — and no one knows exactly what’s in it or what it will cost. The bill the Senate is now trying to find 60 votes for is an incoherent mess, a mishmash of historic size and sloppiness and, on the merits, utterly indefensible.

“It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country,” Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 1, “by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice.” What is happening right now on Capitol Hill, through the elected representatives of the people of this country, is the antithesis of reflection, choice, and good government. This matters not at all to Democrats, who have bought into a flawed theory: they must pass something, anything, no matter how awful, rather than start over again.

In fact, this process has been so bad, the products it has produced so defective, and the potential ramifications so destructive that, if the president signs health-care legislation into law, he will — with the stroke of his pen — provide Republicans with a golden opportunity to return to power. He is, in fact, in the process of setting the stage for a realignment of some significance. Repealing and replacing the monstrosity that Democrats call health-care reform will, absent some totally unforeseen events, become the dominant issue for the 2010 elections. And Democrats will, I think, pay a huge political price for what they are championing.

Barack Obama is turning out to be a very significant political figure, but not quite in the way he imagined. Ronald Reagan gave rise to a rebirth of conservatism and the GOP. So might Barack Obama.

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Zardari Growing Weaker

The Washington Post has two articles on its website about Pakistan that are, on the surface, about different subjects but actually are closely related. One article reports on the Pakistani Supreme Court striking down an amnesty that had allowed Asif Ali Zardari to become president without facing a raft of corruption charges going back many years. The other article reports that Zardari “has resisted a direct appeal from President Obama for a rapid expansion of Pakistani military operations in tribal areas and has called on the United States to speed up military assistance to Pakistani forces and to intervene more forcefully with India, its traditional adversary.”

What is the connection? Both are evidence of Zardari’s weakness. That he may now face criminal prosecution undermines his standing and makes it harder for him to direct Pakistan’s military and intelligence forces to move against the Taliban and other Islamist terrorist groups. Whether Zardari would move against them if given more power is a matter of conjecture, but there is little doubt that he is more personally committed to battling these groups — which killed his wife, Benazir Bhutto — than his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, was. One result of his commitment was the Pakistani army offensive this year into South Waziristan and the Swat Valley — both strongholds of the Pakistani Taliban that represent a direct threat to the Pakistani state.

The Afghan Taliban, on the other hand, have not been targeted by the Pakistani military even though their strongholds are in Pakistan, too. Although closely allied with their Pakistani cohorts, the Afghan Taliban are seen by the ruling circles in Islamabad as more of an asset than a problem. In Pakistan’s strategic calculus, the Afghan extremists represent a useful hedge for Pakistan to make sure that its interests are respected by Afghanistan, especially because it sees the U.S. involvement in that country waning. President Obama’s talk of pulling U.S. forces out of Afghanistan starting in July 2011 only strengthens that tendency — especially when Vice President Biden is heard promising (hat tip: Weekly Standard), as he was today, that “you’re going to see that [troop numbers] chart coming down as rapidly over the next two years.”

Bottom line: with Zardari growing weaker, there is even less chance of meaningful Pakistani action against the Quetta Shura or the Haqqani Network. If the U.S. wants to target the Afghan Taliban leaders, it will have to do so itself, thereby risking a diplomatic spat with Pakistan and possibly decreased cooperation in the fight against al Qaeda. That’s a difficult decision to make, but it’s one that, unfortunately, President Obama won’t be able to duck.

The Washington Post has two articles on its website about Pakistan that are, on the surface, about different subjects but actually are closely related. One article reports on the Pakistani Supreme Court striking down an amnesty that had allowed Asif Ali Zardari to become president without facing a raft of corruption charges going back many years. The other article reports that Zardari “has resisted a direct appeal from President Obama for a rapid expansion of Pakistani military operations in tribal areas and has called on the United States to speed up military assistance to Pakistani forces and to intervene more forcefully with India, its traditional adversary.”

What is the connection? Both are evidence of Zardari’s weakness. That he may now face criminal prosecution undermines his standing and makes it harder for him to direct Pakistan’s military and intelligence forces to move against the Taliban and other Islamist terrorist groups. Whether Zardari would move against them if given more power is a matter of conjecture, but there is little doubt that he is more personally committed to battling these groups — which killed his wife, Benazir Bhutto — than his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, was. One result of his commitment was the Pakistani army offensive this year into South Waziristan and the Swat Valley — both strongholds of the Pakistani Taliban that represent a direct threat to the Pakistani state.

The Afghan Taliban, on the other hand, have not been targeted by the Pakistani military even though their strongholds are in Pakistan, too. Although closely allied with their Pakistani cohorts, the Afghan Taliban are seen by the ruling circles in Islamabad as more of an asset than a problem. In Pakistan’s strategic calculus, the Afghan extremists represent a useful hedge for Pakistan to make sure that its interests are respected by Afghanistan, especially because it sees the U.S. involvement in that country waning. President Obama’s talk of pulling U.S. forces out of Afghanistan starting in July 2011 only strengthens that tendency — especially when Vice President Biden is heard promising (hat tip: Weekly Standard), as he was today, that “you’re going to see that [troop numbers] chart coming down as rapidly over the next two years.”

Bottom line: with Zardari growing weaker, there is even less chance of meaningful Pakistani action against the Quetta Shura or the Haqqani Network. If the U.S. wants to target the Afghan Taliban leaders, it will have to do so itself, thereby risking a diplomatic spat with Pakistan and possibly decreased cooperation in the fight against al Qaeda. That’s a difficult decision to make, but it’s one that, unfortunately, President Obama won’t be able to duck.

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A Letter from President Obama to Kim Jong-il

As Jennifer noted, President Obama has written a letter to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. The exact contents of the letter are unknown, so I decided to just make it all up.

Dear Supreme Leader,

How are you? I am fine. Mrs. Obama is also fine. Our two children are also fine. The Vice President and his wife, too, are fine. Many members of the Cabinet are fine. We’re all fine here. Thank you for asking. Even if it wasn’t out loud but just in your mind.

It’s been some time since we last chatted, although I’m informed that was never. Nevertheless, I can’t help but think I know you somehow, although it may just be that I watched that puppet movie by the South Park guys one too many times.

Word on the street is that your country is different from ours. You have universal health care, for example (but if I’m not mistaken, no one is allowed to take ill in your nation without express written permission). Here, people can get sick whenever they want. For example, a lot of people are getting sick of me. (Just kidding.)

Anyhoo, I hear you guys don’t have a lot in the way of strip malls and basic human rights. I’d like to address that strip-mall business. Wouldn’t a nice Office Depot/Dunkin Donuts/Staples combo look just great in downtown Pyongyang? (Pyongyang does have a downtown, doesn’t it? Or did you have it shot? Kidding again. We laugh a lot in Washington. Sometimes for no apparent reason. Then we take our pills and we’re fine.) Read More

As Jennifer noted, President Obama has written a letter to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. The exact contents of the letter are unknown, so I decided to just make it all up.

Dear Supreme Leader,

How are you? I am fine. Mrs. Obama is also fine. Our two children are also fine. The Vice President and his wife, too, are fine. Many members of the Cabinet are fine. We’re all fine here. Thank you for asking. Even if it wasn’t out loud but just in your mind.

It’s been some time since we last chatted, although I’m informed that was never. Nevertheless, I can’t help but think I know you somehow, although it may just be that I watched that puppet movie by the South Park guys one too many times.

Word on the street is that your country is different from ours. You have universal health care, for example (but if I’m not mistaken, no one is allowed to take ill in your nation without express written permission). Here, people can get sick whenever they want. For example, a lot of people are getting sick of me. (Just kidding.)

Anyhoo, I hear you guys don’t have a lot in the way of strip malls and basic human rights. I’d like to address that strip-mall business. Wouldn’t a nice Office Depot/Dunkin Donuts/Staples combo look just great in downtown Pyongyang? (Pyongyang does have a downtown, doesn’t it? Or did you have it shot? Kidding again. We laugh a lot in Washington. Sometimes for no apparent reason. Then we take our pills and we’re fine.)

I’m looking at your country right now, in that picture the CIA World FactBook supplies. Did you know you’re right next to China? (I don’t know how much information gets to you guys from the outside. Do you Twitter? In the United States, most schoolchildren are taught that we’re next to Canada so an escape route can be drawn early in the event of a draft.)

The United States is on very friendly terms with China. In fact, we owe China lots and lots of money. Wouldn’t you like us to owe you money, too? Isn’t it better when people owe people money than when people threaten people? How does that Barbra Streisand song go? “People-e-e-e-e … people who owe people-e-e-e-e … are the luckiest people-e-e-e-e in the world-d-d-d-d.” Then there’s that one with Donna Summer: “If you’ve had enough, don’t put up with his stuff, don’t you do it-t-t-t. Now, if you’ve had your fill, get the check, pay the bill, you can do it-t-t-t!” Great stuff.

I see that your climate is “temperate with rainfall concentrated in summer.” Temperate. Let’s think about that word for a minute. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines it as “existing as a prophage in infected cells and rarely causing lysis <temperate bacteriophages>.” Not very helpful, I must admit. Perhaps it means something else in North Korean. I do know what intemperate means, as when you threatened to wipe us off the map. If this were an Instant Message, I would insert a frowny-face emoticon right here. (Do you IM? Do you have emoticons? Are you allowed to express emotion in your land? Please write back soon and let me know.)

I guess I should get to my point. In November, when meeting with Mr. Lee, I urged you to just please stop doing whatever it is you’re doing. Have you gotten around to that yet? Have you stopped? Why don’t you stop? Please stop. Did you stop? Should I stop asking you to stop? Will you stop then? Please don’t stop stopping. OK, I’m going to stop now. See, I stopped. Did you? Did you stop? Please stop.

Well I have to go now. I have six TV interviews, two cover shoots, a single I’m cutting with Lady GaGa and Cornel West, and a supermarket opening to get to today. As I’m sure you understand, being a messianic figure to your people is a grind and a half. Work work work.

I know you’re an atheist Marxist dictatorship and all and don’t celebrate Christmas. We’re trying to cut back here, too. I wish there were just one generic holiday we could all enjoy and that didn’t mean anything so no one would get offended. Because when you mean things, then that only means that things are meaningful. And where does that get you? Someone has to interpret what the meaning means — and then someone disagrees with that interpretation. And then you’re offering graduate degrees in the meaning of meaning and racking up huge student-loan bills that you can only pay off by acting as a drug mule for a South American drug kingpin. And all you wanted was for someone to get you Season Two of The Big Bang Theory and leave it under the tree. Life is strange.

In any event, may the new year (do you have new years in North Korea? Or does the same year just go on and on until you just want to kill yourself?) bring our two great nations closer together, even though China keeps getting in the way.

Very best regards,

Supreme Leader Barack Obama

P.S. Under separate cover, I’m sending you a little gift. It’s a collection of great American movies on DVD. (Do you have movies over there? I believe you do, and that you’re a big fan. I read somewhere that you have 20,000 in your collection. No food but plenty of movies. Sounds like college!) I hope you don’t have these films. Meet Me in St. Louis is a wowser — tell me that isn’t a brilliant use of Technicolor. Did you know that Judy Garland almost didn’t do the film because she thought Margaret O’Brien would steal the picture? I’m also including Midway. That damn Joe Lieberman made me throw it in. What a nudge!

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No Risk, They Say?

ABC News has an informative report, making clear what conservative critics of Obama’s policy of moving the terrorists to U.S. prisons have long argued: that once here, they pose to Americans a risk that did not exist when they were housed at Guantanamo. The report explains that while the Obama team is assuring us that we “have nothing to fear” from the detainees, the result, in at least two situations, is quite different:

They are supposed to be cut off from the outside world, but the man called the blind Sheikh, Omar Abdel Rahman, convicted of inspiring attacks on the U.S., used his lawyer to pass messages back to his violent followers in Egypt. But even a warning from the FBI to officials at this New York prison wasn’t enough to stop one al Qaeda terrorist, Mamdouh Salim, from making a bloody escape attempt in the year 2000. His victim was prison guard Louis Pepe who Salim first blinded with hot sauce stored up in these empty honey bottles he somehow hid in his cell. Then Salim stabbed Pepe in the eye with a sharpened comb that went deep into Pepe’s brain, causing permanent damage.

It is no wonder that Republicans are seizing on the issue and intend to make it a top 2010 campaign issue. As Sen. John Cornyn said bluntly, the president and Congress’s job is to “prevent future attacks and not just punish people after there’s dead bodies lying around.” And again, one comes back to why all of this risk and expense. It is not as if we’re going to be scoring any brownie points with anyone. We can expect to hear more of this:

“It’s a bleak and brutal existence that’s defined by, essentially an 8 x 10 rectangle in which they live,” said defense attorney Joshua Dratel, who defended al-Qaeda terrorist Wadih El-Hage, now serving life in Florence. “There is no socialization whatsoever and the isolation itself is extremely damaging.”

Maybe Congress will go along with this scheme, as it has so far with the KSM trial. But at some point those running for office may hear from voters who wonder why they are being endangered and for what possible benefit.

ABC News has an informative report, making clear what conservative critics of Obama’s policy of moving the terrorists to U.S. prisons have long argued: that once here, they pose to Americans a risk that did not exist when they were housed at Guantanamo. The report explains that while the Obama team is assuring us that we “have nothing to fear” from the detainees, the result, in at least two situations, is quite different:

They are supposed to be cut off from the outside world, but the man called the blind Sheikh, Omar Abdel Rahman, convicted of inspiring attacks on the U.S., used his lawyer to pass messages back to his violent followers in Egypt. But even a warning from the FBI to officials at this New York prison wasn’t enough to stop one al Qaeda terrorist, Mamdouh Salim, from making a bloody escape attempt in the year 2000. His victim was prison guard Louis Pepe who Salim first blinded with hot sauce stored up in these empty honey bottles he somehow hid in his cell. Then Salim stabbed Pepe in the eye with a sharpened comb that went deep into Pepe’s brain, causing permanent damage.

It is no wonder that Republicans are seizing on the issue and intend to make it a top 2010 campaign issue. As Sen. John Cornyn said bluntly, the president and Congress’s job is to “prevent future attacks and not just punish people after there’s dead bodies lying around.” And again, one comes back to why all of this risk and expense. It is not as if we’re going to be scoring any brownie points with anyone. We can expect to hear more of this:

“It’s a bleak and brutal existence that’s defined by, essentially an 8 x 10 rectangle in which they live,” said defense attorney Joshua Dratel, who defended al-Qaeda terrorist Wadih El-Hage, now serving life in Florence. “There is no socialization whatsoever and the isolation itself is extremely damaging.”

Maybe Congress will go along with this scheme, as it has so far with the KSM trial. But at some point those running for office may hear from voters who wonder why they are being endangered and for what possible benefit.

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RE: Abbas Still Says No

The new preconditions for negotiations that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas posed this week are, as Jonathan noted, equivalent to refusing to negotiate until there’s nothing left to negotiate about. If talks cannot even start until the PA is granted every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that doesn’t leave much to discuss. I also agree that Abbas’s reluctance to talk stems partly from the knowledge that his own public would reject any deal Israel could actually sign.

However, another factor is at play here: refusing to talk has consistently proved a very successful Palestinian tactic. As chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al-Dustour in June: “At first they told us we would run hospitals and schools, later they were willing to give us 66 percent, at Camp David they reached 90 percent and today they have reached 100 percent. Why then should we hurry?”

Erekat is correct: the offer Ehud Olmert made Abbas last year — to which Abbas never even responded until after Olmert left office, then finally rejected via the media — indeed gave the PA the territorial equivalent of 100 percent (with swaps).

What is noteworthy, however, is that these ever growing Israeli concessions occurred without a single parallel Palestinian concession. In 16 years, Palestinian positions haven’t budged. The PA still insists on resettling 4.7 million descendants of refugees in Israel; it still won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state; it even rejects a 6 percent territorial swap for the settlement blocs.

In short, these concessions were not obtained through the normal give-and-take of negotiations, in which the parties inch closer by trading concessions. It has been a one-way street.

So how have Palestinians achieved these gains? By refusing to negotiate. Whenever Israel makes an offer, the PA just says “no,” with no counteroffer. Then it waits for the world to pressure Israel into offering something more to “restart the talks.” And Israel complies.

At Camp David in July 2000, for instance, mediator Bill Clinton lambasted Yasir Arafat for refusing to make Ehud Barak a counteroffer. But rather than press him to do so, Clinton proposed his own, far more generous deal in December 2000, offering the Palestinians 94 percent of the territory (compared with Barak’s 88 percent), plus the Temple Mount. Barak, pressured by Washington, agreed; Arafat again said no. Barak then sweetened the offer again at Taba in January 2001.

Abbas’s current tactic is identical: having rejected Olmert’s offer without even a counterproposal, he now seeks to pocket Olmert’s concessions, plus a few more (like eliminating the territorial swaps), and make them the starting point for the next round of non-negotiations.

You can’t blame the Palestinians: any negotiator would rather get something for nothing. As long as they can do so, that’s clearly their best strategy.

But you can blame the U.S. and Europe for letting them get away with it. Until the West stops demanding ever more Israeli concessions to “jump-start talks” and instead starts demanding that the Palestinians give something in exchange, no peace agreement will ever materialize.

The new preconditions for negotiations that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas posed this week are, as Jonathan noted, equivalent to refusing to negotiate until there’s nothing left to negotiate about. If talks cannot even start until the PA is granted every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that doesn’t leave much to discuss. I also agree that Abbas’s reluctance to talk stems partly from the knowledge that his own public would reject any deal Israel could actually sign.

However, another factor is at play here: refusing to talk has consistently proved a very successful Palestinian tactic. As chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al-Dustour in June: “At first they told us we would run hospitals and schools, later they were willing to give us 66 percent, at Camp David they reached 90 percent and today they have reached 100 percent. Why then should we hurry?”

Erekat is correct: the offer Ehud Olmert made Abbas last year — to which Abbas never even responded until after Olmert left office, then finally rejected via the media — indeed gave the PA the territorial equivalent of 100 percent (with swaps).

What is noteworthy, however, is that these ever growing Israeli concessions occurred without a single parallel Palestinian concession. In 16 years, Palestinian positions haven’t budged. The PA still insists on resettling 4.7 million descendants of refugees in Israel; it still won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state; it even rejects a 6 percent territorial swap for the settlement blocs.

In short, these concessions were not obtained through the normal give-and-take of negotiations, in which the parties inch closer by trading concessions. It has been a one-way street.

So how have Palestinians achieved these gains? By refusing to negotiate. Whenever Israel makes an offer, the PA just says “no,” with no counteroffer. Then it waits for the world to pressure Israel into offering something more to “restart the talks.” And Israel complies.

At Camp David in July 2000, for instance, mediator Bill Clinton lambasted Yasir Arafat for refusing to make Ehud Barak a counteroffer. But rather than press him to do so, Clinton proposed his own, far more generous deal in December 2000, offering the Palestinians 94 percent of the territory (compared with Barak’s 88 percent), plus the Temple Mount. Barak, pressured by Washington, agreed; Arafat again said no. Barak then sweetened the offer again at Taba in January 2001.

Abbas’s current tactic is identical: having rejected Olmert’s offer without even a counterproposal, he now seeks to pocket Olmert’s concessions, plus a few more (like eliminating the territorial swaps), and make them the starting point for the next round of non-negotiations.

You can’t blame the Palestinians: any negotiator would rather get something for nothing. As long as they can do so, that’s clearly their best strategy.

But you can blame the U.S. and Europe for letting them get away with it. Until the West stops demanding ever more Israeli concessions to “jump-start talks” and instead starts demanding that the Palestinians give something in exchange, no peace agreement will ever materialize.

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“Dear Mr. Dictator. . .”

Obama, we’re told, has penned a letter to North Korea’s diminutive thug Kim Jong-il. This is not a good thing. You recall the dreamy letter to Vladimir Putin and the video suck-up-o-gram to the “Islamic Republic of Iran.” Both were ill-fated attempts to lure the unlurable with an open hand. At best they had no impact; at worst they conveyed a desperation and naiveté that no doubt impressed those leaders, albeit not in the way we intended. The news reports don’t say what was in the letter. The administration isn’t saying. But as the Washington Post dryly puts it:

It is relatively unusual for an American president to send the North Korean dictator a personal communication so early in his term. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush eventually sent letters to Kim, but only after extensive diplomatic efforts to restrain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Efforts early in Bush’s term to send a letter were stymied by an intense debate over whether to use an honorific such as “his excellency” to address Kim.

Given the cringe-inducing behavior of the Obami, one can imagine that the letter might be less than the model of toughness and resolve we would hope. We’ve dispatched an envoy to engage in bilateral talks with the North Koreans and gone mute on the regime’s atrocious human-rights record. As Stephen Hayes points out, Obama in his Oslo speech omitted North Korea from his list of human-rights miscreants:

So why wasn’t North Korea mentioned? Was it merely an oversight–did Obama officials simply forget how bad things are there? Or was it a strategic omission–a signal to Kim Jong Il that the U.S. government will set aside concerns about human rights if his regime will return to the nuclear negotiating table? …

The very fact that the high-level face-to-face meetings took place is a blow to human rights in North Korea, as any such discussions necessarily lend legitimacy to the repressive regime in Pyongyang, particularly when such bilateral talks came after repeated demands for them from the North Koreans. And the fact that the Obama administration seems unwilling not only to “call attention to” human rights abuses in North Korea but even to mention them suggests that Obama’s “unwavering commitment” to human rights around the world is mere Oslo rhetoric.

And then there’s the news of a North Korean shipment of 35 tons of arms seized in Thailand en route, perhaps, to Pakistan or Middle East, to be used by those seeking to kill Americans or our allies, one supposes.

Given all this, one wonders why the president is penning missives to the North Korean despot. It seems that the Obami are still enamored of their own charms and still bent on “drawing out” the world’s thugs. Maybe a better gambit would be to fund fully our missile-defense systems. Granted, it’s more expensive than a postage stamp, but it’s a whole lot less foolish than writing “Dear Dictator” letters.

Obama, we’re told, has penned a letter to North Korea’s diminutive thug Kim Jong-il. This is not a good thing. You recall the dreamy letter to Vladimir Putin and the video suck-up-o-gram to the “Islamic Republic of Iran.” Both were ill-fated attempts to lure the unlurable with an open hand. At best they had no impact; at worst they conveyed a desperation and naiveté that no doubt impressed those leaders, albeit not in the way we intended. The news reports don’t say what was in the letter. The administration isn’t saying. But as the Washington Post dryly puts it:

It is relatively unusual for an American president to send the North Korean dictator a personal communication so early in his term. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush eventually sent letters to Kim, but only after extensive diplomatic efforts to restrain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Efforts early in Bush’s term to send a letter were stymied by an intense debate over whether to use an honorific such as “his excellency” to address Kim.

Given the cringe-inducing behavior of the Obami, one can imagine that the letter might be less than the model of toughness and resolve we would hope. We’ve dispatched an envoy to engage in bilateral talks with the North Koreans and gone mute on the regime’s atrocious human-rights record. As Stephen Hayes points out, Obama in his Oslo speech omitted North Korea from his list of human-rights miscreants:

So why wasn’t North Korea mentioned? Was it merely an oversight–did Obama officials simply forget how bad things are there? Or was it a strategic omission–a signal to Kim Jong Il that the U.S. government will set aside concerns about human rights if his regime will return to the nuclear negotiating table? …

The very fact that the high-level face-to-face meetings took place is a blow to human rights in North Korea, as any such discussions necessarily lend legitimacy to the repressive regime in Pyongyang, particularly when such bilateral talks came after repeated demands for them from the North Koreans. And the fact that the Obama administration seems unwilling not only to “call attention to” human rights abuses in North Korea but even to mention them suggests that Obama’s “unwavering commitment” to human rights around the world is mere Oslo rhetoric.

And then there’s the news of a North Korean shipment of 35 tons of arms seized in Thailand en route, perhaps, to Pakistan or Middle East, to be used by those seeking to kill Americans or our allies, one supposes.

Given all this, one wonders why the president is penning missives to the North Korean despot. It seems that the Obami are still enamored of their own charms and still bent on “drawing out” the world’s thugs. Maybe a better gambit would be to fund fully our missile-defense systems. Granted, it’s more expensive than a postage stamp, but it’s a whole lot less foolish than writing “Dear Dictator” letters.

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Privacy, Whatever the Cost

The Times reports this morning that a man who spent 28 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit has been exonerated based on DNA evidence. Sent to jail as a young man — he was 30 — he is now 58, his life an irreversible tragedy. It seems that hardly a week can go by these days without a similar story. Indeed, it was less than a week ago that the Times indeed carried one. This time, an innocent man rotted in jail for only four years.

DNA is a far more powerful forensic tool than are fingerprints, which have been used in criminal investigations since the late 19th century. A criminal with a grain of sense (fortunately, most criminals don’t have one) just needs to wear gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints; but DNA, which can now be successfully found in incredibly small quantities, is much harder to avoid leaving behind. A hair shed, a soda bottle drunk from, will do it.

With its power to establish innocence as well as guilt, one would think that everyone would welcome the emergence of this extraordinary technology. But not the ACLU, which regards the taking of DNA from anyone not convicted of a crime as a gross violation of civil rights. As the ACLU wrote in 2007,

State and Federal DNA databanks are expanding at an alarming rate. A crime prevention tool that was originally intended only to track the most dangerous convicted felons, police departments and other law enforcement agencies across the country have begun collecting and permanently storing DNA from arrestees and other innocent persons. This trend not only represents a grave threat to privacy and the 4th Amendment, but it also turns the legal notion that a person is “innocent until proven guilty” on its head.

How, exactly, does it do that? Fingerprints have been routinely taken from all people arrested for a century and more. Anyone who joins the military, a police department, and many other organizations has his fingerprints taken. Anyone who, at least in New York State, applies for a liquor license has his prints taken. They’re all stored in interlocked databases. What’s different about DNA?

I suppose in some Hitlerian regime such databases could be used to determine those with genetic defects so they could be rounded up, but I think that’s a minuscule risk worth taking if the upside is that many people would be spared jail for crimes they did not commit.

The trouble with crusades — racial justice, civil rights, etc. — is that in a democratic country, they eventually morph into fetishes.

The Times reports this morning that a man who spent 28 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit has been exonerated based on DNA evidence. Sent to jail as a young man — he was 30 — he is now 58, his life an irreversible tragedy. It seems that hardly a week can go by these days without a similar story. Indeed, it was less than a week ago that the Times indeed carried one. This time, an innocent man rotted in jail for only four years.

DNA is a far more powerful forensic tool than are fingerprints, which have been used in criminal investigations since the late 19th century. A criminal with a grain of sense (fortunately, most criminals don’t have one) just needs to wear gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints; but DNA, which can now be successfully found in incredibly small quantities, is much harder to avoid leaving behind. A hair shed, a soda bottle drunk from, will do it.

With its power to establish innocence as well as guilt, one would think that everyone would welcome the emergence of this extraordinary technology. But not the ACLU, which regards the taking of DNA from anyone not convicted of a crime as a gross violation of civil rights. As the ACLU wrote in 2007,

State and Federal DNA databanks are expanding at an alarming rate. A crime prevention tool that was originally intended only to track the most dangerous convicted felons, police departments and other law enforcement agencies across the country have begun collecting and permanently storing DNA from arrestees and other innocent persons. This trend not only represents a grave threat to privacy and the 4th Amendment, but it also turns the legal notion that a person is “innocent until proven guilty” on its head.

How, exactly, does it do that? Fingerprints have been routinely taken from all people arrested for a century and more. Anyone who joins the military, a police department, and many other organizations has his fingerprints taken. Anyone who, at least in New York State, applies for a liquor license has his prints taken. They’re all stored in interlocked databases. What’s different about DNA?

I suppose in some Hitlerian regime such databases could be used to determine those with genetic defects so they could be rounded up, but I think that’s a minuscule risk worth taking if the upside is that many people would be spared jail for crimes they did not commit.

The trouble with crusades — racial justice, civil rights, etc. — is that in a democratic country, they eventually morph into fetishes.

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The Black Panther Cover-Up

The Justice Department has ordered its career trial lawyers who have been subpoenaed by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights not to appear to provide testimony or give documents in the investigation of DOJ’s dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case. The Washington Times explains:

Joseph H. Hunt, director of the Justice Department’s Federal Programs Branch, ordered the lawyers’ silence in a letter to the attorney for J. Christian Adams, the lead attorney for the department in the New Black Panther case. The letter said “well-established” and “lawful” Justice Department guidelines prohibited Mr. Adams’ cooperation in the commission probe.

How a personnel guideline can supersede the force of a subpoena issued by the commission remains a mystery. The report notes:

Todd Gaziano, a nonpartisan member of the Civil Rights Commission, challenged the Justice Department’s ruling, saying that the regulations cited do not apply and that the commission is “duly authorized by statute to review and report on enforcement activities of the Justice Department and other similar agencies.”

“Our job places a premium on our role as a watchdog of federal and state enforcement agencies, and to that end, Congress has instructed all agencies to comply fully with our requests,” he said. … [Gaziano] said the Justice Department “had it exactly backwards” when it suggested that there could be negative consequences for those who comply with the commission’s subpoenas. He said a lawyer cannot refuse to comply with a subpoena he knows to be lawful.

A source tells me that Adams was “not quite” threatened with the loss of his job, but plainly he and his colleague, Christopher Coates, the voting rights section chief, are being strong-armed to disregard a lawful subpoena. This is abject lawlessness, the sort of executive imperiousness that, if practiced by a Republican administration, would bring howls of protest from Congress, the media, and liberal lawyers’ groups. The Obama Justice Department doesn’t want to respond to a subpoena because they have a personnel rule? Next thing you know they’ll be claiming executive privilege for a social secretary. Oh yes, that’s right …

Now as for the merits, the Justice Department spokesman continues to spew the administration line that the voter-intimidation case brought by DOJ’s career lawyers was not supported by the law and the facts. But of course the lawyers disagree, claiming that their best legal judgment was overridden by political appointees without justification. They have a story to tell, with documents, firsthand accounts of meetings and conversations and e-mails with the political appointees’ own remarks, which they say will substantiate their position. But the Justice Department won’t let any of that out, nor will it say what specifically about the case lacked factual or legal support.

It’s not clear where we go from here. The Justice Department lawyers may appear anyway, testing whether the Obama administration would go as far as to fire them for complying with a subpoena. A deal might be negotiated between DOJ (which is apparently concerned that something quite distasteful may emerge) and the commission to provide some portion of the requested information. Or Congress might wake up, fulfill its obligation to conduct some real oversight of the Obama administration (which once again is telling us that the rules that apply to everyone else don’t apply to the White House), and actually hold a hearing on the matter.

The crew that excoriated the “politicization” of justice is now in a furious fight to cover their tracks and prevent career lawyers from blowing the whistle on Obama political appointees who reached down to pull the plug on a serious case of voter intimidation. The Obami need not be accountable or “transparent” to anyone, they would have us believe. We’ll see if that proves to be a winning position.

The Justice Department has ordered its career trial lawyers who have been subpoenaed by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights not to appear to provide testimony or give documents in the investigation of DOJ’s dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case. The Washington Times explains:

Joseph H. Hunt, director of the Justice Department’s Federal Programs Branch, ordered the lawyers’ silence in a letter to the attorney for J. Christian Adams, the lead attorney for the department in the New Black Panther case. The letter said “well-established” and “lawful” Justice Department guidelines prohibited Mr. Adams’ cooperation in the commission probe.

How a personnel guideline can supersede the force of a subpoena issued by the commission remains a mystery. The report notes:

Todd Gaziano, a nonpartisan member of the Civil Rights Commission, challenged the Justice Department’s ruling, saying that the regulations cited do not apply and that the commission is “duly authorized by statute to review and report on enforcement activities of the Justice Department and other similar agencies.”

“Our job places a premium on our role as a watchdog of federal and state enforcement agencies, and to that end, Congress has instructed all agencies to comply fully with our requests,” he said. … [Gaziano] said the Justice Department “had it exactly backwards” when it suggested that there could be negative consequences for those who comply with the commission’s subpoenas. He said a lawyer cannot refuse to comply with a subpoena he knows to be lawful.

A source tells me that Adams was “not quite” threatened with the loss of his job, but plainly he and his colleague, Christopher Coates, the voting rights section chief, are being strong-armed to disregard a lawful subpoena. This is abject lawlessness, the sort of executive imperiousness that, if practiced by a Republican administration, would bring howls of protest from Congress, the media, and liberal lawyers’ groups. The Obama Justice Department doesn’t want to respond to a subpoena because they have a personnel rule? Next thing you know they’ll be claiming executive privilege for a social secretary. Oh yes, that’s right …

Now as for the merits, the Justice Department spokesman continues to spew the administration line that the voter-intimidation case brought by DOJ’s career lawyers was not supported by the law and the facts. But of course the lawyers disagree, claiming that their best legal judgment was overridden by political appointees without justification. They have a story to tell, with documents, firsthand accounts of meetings and conversations and e-mails with the political appointees’ own remarks, which they say will substantiate their position. But the Justice Department won’t let any of that out, nor will it say what specifically about the case lacked factual or legal support.

It’s not clear where we go from here. The Justice Department lawyers may appear anyway, testing whether the Obama administration would go as far as to fire them for complying with a subpoena. A deal might be negotiated between DOJ (which is apparently concerned that something quite distasteful may emerge) and the commission to provide some portion of the requested information. Or Congress might wake up, fulfill its obligation to conduct some real oversight of the Obama administration (which once again is telling us that the rules that apply to everyone else don’t apply to the White House), and actually hold a hearing on the matter.

The crew that excoriated the “politicization” of justice is now in a furious fight to cover their tracks and prevent career lawyers from blowing the whistle on Obama political appointees who reached down to pull the plug on a serious case of voter intimidation. The Obami need not be accountable or “transparent” to anyone, they would have us believe. We’ll see if that proves to be a winning position.

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Not So Fast on Sanctions

The House voted overwhelmingly, 412-12, in favor of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act authorizing the president to impose penalties on foreign companies that sell oil to Iran or that help the country with its oil-producing capacity. AIPAC applauded the move. (“The United States and our allies must do everything we can to use crippling diplomatic and economic pressure to peaceably prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and avoid confronting more distressing alternatives.”) The J Street crowd was quiet because the administration isn’t thrilled with the move. (Whatever the most dovish position in the administration might conceivably be, we have learned, will bear an uncanny resemblance to the line of the day from J Street.) Wait — didn’t we turn a corner? Isn’t the administration hinting at sanctions? For now, at least, the administration is pulling back on the reins. This report explains:

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, said the Obama administration was “entering a critical period of intense diplomacy to impose significant international pressure on Iran.” Sanctions legislation “might weaken rather than strengthen international unity and support for our efforts,” Steinberg’s letter said.

This is a crowd that’s allergic to leverage. Because the Foggy Bottom team is pleading or getting ready to plead with Russia, China, and the rest, the administration doesn’t even want the authority to act on its own should the “international community” wimp out. Such authority, never mind action, might rattle or annoy our sanctions “partners.” Rep. Howard Berman, who sponsored the measure, doesn’t buy that. (“The House passage of this legislation empowers the administration to point out that, ‘Here is a way a lot of people in Congress want to go, and we think there is a better way, but this issue will not go away.’ “) Berman diplomatically said that the administration neither encouraged or discouraged him, leaving unsaid that the administration is doing what it can to halt any Senate action.

Meanwhile, one gets the sense that the Obami haven’t quite turned that corner yet. We learn:

One European diplomat said a senior White House official had recently told him that the Obama White House seeks to use what it calls the pressure track to try to get Iran back on the engagement track over the next several months. The senior White House official also said that U.S. and international credibility would be hurt if they didn’t demonstrate that they were serious after weeks of telegraphing the end of the year deadline for Iran to show progress on the engagement track, or face consequences.

Yes, if we can only get the mullahs back to the bargaining table, then we can certainly solve this! There’s a pathetic and deeply unserious quality to all this, an afraid-of-our-own-shadow feel to the administration’s efforts. Don’t want to make the Europeans mad. Don’t want to look like we mean business. It doesn’t bode well for vigorous action that would convey to the Iranian regime the negative consequences of proceeding with its nuclear program. But after a year of dithering, engagement, and playing dumb at the bargaining table, we’ve already left an impression of irresolution and weakness with the mullahs. It’s not one the administration seems eager to undo.

The House voted overwhelmingly, 412-12, in favor of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act authorizing the president to impose penalties on foreign companies that sell oil to Iran or that help the country with its oil-producing capacity. AIPAC applauded the move. (“The United States and our allies must do everything we can to use crippling diplomatic and economic pressure to peaceably prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and avoid confronting more distressing alternatives.”) The J Street crowd was quiet because the administration isn’t thrilled with the move. (Whatever the most dovish position in the administration might conceivably be, we have learned, will bear an uncanny resemblance to the line of the day from J Street.) Wait — didn’t we turn a corner? Isn’t the administration hinting at sanctions? For now, at least, the administration is pulling back on the reins. This report explains:

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, said the Obama administration was “entering a critical period of intense diplomacy to impose significant international pressure on Iran.” Sanctions legislation “might weaken rather than strengthen international unity and support for our efforts,” Steinberg’s letter said.

This is a crowd that’s allergic to leverage. Because the Foggy Bottom team is pleading or getting ready to plead with Russia, China, and the rest, the administration doesn’t even want the authority to act on its own should the “international community” wimp out. Such authority, never mind action, might rattle or annoy our sanctions “partners.” Rep. Howard Berman, who sponsored the measure, doesn’t buy that. (“The House passage of this legislation empowers the administration to point out that, ‘Here is a way a lot of people in Congress want to go, and we think there is a better way, but this issue will not go away.’ “) Berman diplomatically said that the administration neither encouraged or discouraged him, leaving unsaid that the administration is doing what it can to halt any Senate action.

Meanwhile, one gets the sense that the Obami haven’t quite turned that corner yet. We learn:

One European diplomat said a senior White House official had recently told him that the Obama White House seeks to use what it calls the pressure track to try to get Iran back on the engagement track over the next several months. The senior White House official also said that U.S. and international credibility would be hurt if they didn’t demonstrate that they were serious after weeks of telegraphing the end of the year deadline for Iran to show progress on the engagement track, or face consequences.

Yes, if we can only get the mullahs back to the bargaining table, then we can certainly solve this! There’s a pathetic and deeply unserious quality to all this, an afraid-of-our-own-shadow feel to the administration’s efforts. Don’t want to make the Europeans mad. Don’t want to look like we mean business. It doesn’t bode well for vigorous action that would convey to the Iranian regime the negative consequences of proceeding with its nuclear program. But after a year of dithering, engagement, and playing dumb at the bargaining table, we’ve already left an impression of irresolution and weakness with the mullahs. It’s not one the administration seems eager to undo.

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This Is “Reform”?

Sen. Dick Durbin says Democrats will have 60 votes for health-care legislation by next week. This is revealing in two respects. First, they don’t have the votes now. And second, they don’t have the exact bill on which they are voting. Sen. Evan Bayh said plaintively, “We’re all being urged to vote for something and we don’t know the details of what’s in it.” He seems to have a problem with that.

We are, in general terms (we think — since there is no bill yet and no CBO scoring), going to raise huge amounts of taxes from some Americans (including those promised by candidate Obama that they’d see no tax hike), give it to others, force individuals and businesses to buy really expensive insurance plans, and then take a chunk of money out of Medicare, which will squeeze doctors and hospitals, not to mention patients. This legislation has little to recommend it.

Liberals are angry, fearing that the bill will be shoveling massive subsidies to private insurers. As Politico put it, “More than anything else in Barack Obama’s presidency so far, health reform has exposed a get-a-deal-at-any-cost side of Obama that infuriates his party’s progressives.” So Howard Dean wants to kill it. Conservative James Capretta sees their point: “The Democratic party is on the verge of enacting a requirement, enforced with federal tax penalties, which would effectively require hard-working Americans to hand over even more of their wages to profit-hungry, private insurance companies.”

Conservatives point to the hundreds of billions in new taxes, the mandates, the fines, and the heavy hand of government — in short, a huge, fiscally reckless entitlement:

Sen. Mitch McConnell, the party’s leader, said the legislation includes “a half a trillion dollars in cuts in Medicare, $400 billion in higher taxes and higher premiums for everyone else.”

We’re about to spend a trillion dollars we don’t have to force many people to buy insurance they don’t want. So there are 60 votes for this monstrosity? Not yet. But next week, we’re told, there will be. Because, as the president says, we’re on the “precipice” of something really big. Well, we can all agree on that.

Sen. Dick Durbin says Democrats will have 60 votes for health-care legislation by next week. This is revealing in two respects. First, they don’t have the votes now. And second, they don’t have the exact bill on which they are voting. Sen. Evan Bayh said plaintively, “We’re all being urged to vote for something and we don’t know the details of what’s in it.” He seems to have a problem with that.

We are, in general terms (we think — since there is no bill yet and no CBO scoring), going to raise huge amounts of taxes from some Americans (including those promised by candidate Obama that they’d see no tax hike), give it to others, force individuals and businesses to buy really expensive insurance plans, and then take a chunk of money out of Medicare, which will squeeze doctors and hospitals, not to mention patients. This legislation has little to recommend it.

Liberals are angry, fearing that the bill will be shoveling massive subsidies to private insurers. As Politico put it, “More than anything else in Barack Obama’s presidency so far, health reform has exposed a get-a-deal-at-any-cost side of Obama that infuriates his party’s progressives.” So Howard Dean wants to kill it. Conservative James Capretta sees their point: “The Democratic party is on the verge of enacting a requirement, enforced with federal tax penalties, which would effectively require hard-working Americans to hand over even more of their wages to profit-hungry, private insurance companies.”

Conservatives point to the hundreds of billions in new taxes, the mandates, the fines, and the heavy hand of government — in short, a huge, fiscally reckless entitlement:

Sen. Mitch McConnell, the party’s leader, said the legislation includes “a half a trillion dollars in cuts in Medicare, $400 billion in higher taxes and higher premiums for everyone else.”

We’re about to spend a trillion dollars we don’t have to force many people to buy insurance they don’t want. So there are 60 votes for this monstrosity? Not yet. But next week, we’re told, there will be. Because, as the president says, we’re on the “precipice” of something really big. Well, we can all agree on that.

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Another “Never Mind”

The number of “never minds” is increasing in the name of health-care “reform.” Candidate Obama promised that no one earning less than $250,000 would have his taxes raised. Oh well, that was then. (The White House cheered as an amendment by Sen. Mike Crapo to strip out taxes on anyone below the $250,000 threshold went down to defeat 45-54, with five Democrat defections.) Candidate Obama was in favor of drug reimportation, allowing U.S. citizens to buy cheaper drugs at rates available outside the U.S. Oh well, that was then. Yesterday the Senate voted down a drug-reimportation measure brought by Byron Dorgan. As Dana Milbank points out, Obama sided with “Big Pharma”:

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama vowed to take on the drug industry by allowing Americans to import cheaper prescription medicine. “We’ll tell the pharmaceutical companies ‘thanks, but no, thanks’ for the overpriced drugs — drugs that cost twice as much here as they do in Europe and Canada,” he said back then.

On Tuesday, the matter came to the Senate floor — and President Obama forgot the “no, thanks” part. Siding with the pharmaceutical lobby, the administration successfully fought against the very idea Obama had championed. “It’s got to be a little awkward,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).

Only a little. The Obami really aren’t capable of being shamed by evidence that they have reneged on campaign promises or that positions are taken willy-nilly without regard to any coherent ideology or legislative scheme. They have a higher objective: getting anything passed. Understandably, liberals who don’t like drug companies on principle, and reformists who think the fix is in from moneyed lobbyists, are shocked, shocked, to find that the Obami are without principles.

The result may be a truly awful bill, a lot of disappointed voters, and many, many effective campaign ads for Republicans. At some point a smart Democrat or two looking at this might want to consider whether “never mind” is the best response to a health-care bill that reforms nothing and demonstrates only that Obama snookered a whole bunch of voters.

The number of “never minds” is increasing in the name of health-care “reform.” Candidate Obama promised that no one earning less than $250,000 would have his taxes raised. Oh well, that was then. (The White House cheered as an amendment by Sen. Mike Crapo to strip out taxes on anyone below the $250,000 threshold went down to defeat 45-54, with five Democrat defections.) Candidate Obama was in favor of drug reimportation, allowing U.S. citizens to buy cheaper drugs at rates available outside the U.S. Oh well, that was then. Yesterday the Senate voted down a drug-reimportation measure brought by Byron Dorgan. As Dana Milbank points out, Obama sided with “Big Pharma”:

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama vowed to take on the drug industry by allowing Americans to import cheaper prescription medicine. “We’ll tell the pharmaceutical companies ‘thanks, but no, thanks’ for the overpriced drugs — drugs that cost twice as much here as they do in Europe and Canada,” he said back then.

On Tuesday, the matter came to the Senate floor — and President Obama forgot the “no, thanks” part. Siding with the pharmaceutical lobby, the administration successfully fought against the very idea Obama had championed. “It’s got to be a little awkward,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).

Only a little. The Obami really aren’t capable of being shamed by evidence that they have reneged on campaign promises or that positions are taken willy-nilly without regard to any coherent ideology or legislative scheme. They have a higher objective: getting anything passed. Understandably, liberals who don’t like drug companies on principle, and reformists who think the fix is in from moneyed lobbyists, are shocked, shocked, to find that the Obami are without principles.

The result may be a truly awful bill, a lot of disappointed voters, and many, many effective campaign ads for Republicans. At some point a smart Democrat or two looking at this might want to consider whether “never mind” is the best response to a health-care bill that reforms nothing and demonstrates only that Obama snookered a whole bunch of voters.

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Bromide Obama’s Greatest Speech

David Brooks asserted yesterday in “Obama’s Christian Realism” that Barack Obama’s Oslo speech was “the most profound of his presidency, and maybe his life.”

Since Obama’s presidency is only 11 months old, and the Obama oeuvre is not large, this is actually faint praise. We all remember the great “Let Me Be Clear” speech at AIPAC, the emphatic “I Can No More Disown” Reverend Wright speech, the humble “Citizens of the World” address in Berlin, the stately “Greek Column” oration in Denver, the compelling “Unclench Your Fist” Inaugural, and the “Just Till July 2011” clarion call at West Point. There are really only about 10 lifetime speeches to be evaluated in terms of comparative profundity.

Brooks concludes that Obama’s Oslo speech is making his “doctrine” clear: a theological commitment to combat evil while avoiding righteousness. He quotes Obama’s 2007 remark on theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s impact: “I take away the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction.”

Brooks originally reported that remark in a 2007 column entitled “Obama, Gospel and Verse,” in which he questioned whether Obama had “thought through a practical foreign policy doctrine of his own – a way to apply his Niebuhrian instincts.” Back then, Brooks was not certain he had:

When you ask about ways to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, he talks grandly about marshaling a global alliance. But when you ask specifically if an Iranian bomb would be deterrable, he’s says yes: ”I think Iran is like North Korea. They see nuclear arms in defensive terms, as a way to prevent regime change.”

In other words, he has a tendency to go big and offer himself up as Bromide Obama, filled with grand but usually evasive eloquence about bringing people together and showing respect. Then, in a blink, he can go small and concrete, and sound more like a community organizer than George F. Kennan.

It’s nice that in his Oslo speech, Obama confirmed that evil “does exist in the world” and that he “cannot be guided by [Martin Luther King Jr.'s and Gandhi’s] examples alone.” It is good that he insists that Iran and North Korea not “game the system” and that sanctions must “exact a real price.”

But the real question about Obama’s “doctrine” is whether — after Iran declines to unclench its fist and sanctions fail (they have yet to succeed with Cuba or North Korea, and Saddam Hussein turned a profit from the “crippling” ones on him) — his Niebuhrian instincts call for any other option. Iran is likely to react to diplomacy in one fashion if it thinks the answer is yes, and another if it thinks the answer is no.

So far, Iran is acting as if it has read Brooks’s 2007 column and knows the answer. It appears untroubled by the most profound speech of Obama’s life.

David Brooks asserted yesterday in “Obama’s Christian Realism” that Barack Obama’s Oslo speech was “the most profound of his presidency, and maybe his life.”

Since Obama’s presidency is only 11 months old, and the Obama oeuvre is not large, this is actually faint praise. We all remember the great “Let Me Be Clear” speech at AIPAC, the emphatic “I Can No More Disown” Reverend Wright speech, the humble “Citizens of the World” address in Berlin, the stately “Greek Column” oration in Denver, the compelling “Unclench Your Fist” Inaugural, and the “Just Till July 2011” clarion call at West Point. There are really only about 10 lifetime speeches to be evaluated in terms of comparative profundity.

Brooks concludes that Obama’s Oslo speech is making his “doctrine” clear: a theological commitment to combat evil while avoiding righteousness. He quotes Obama’s 2007 remark on theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s impact: “I take away the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction.”

Brooks originally reported that remark in a 2007 column entitled “Obama, Gospel and Verse,” in which he questioned whether Obama had “thought through a practical foreign policy doctrine of his own – a way to apply his Niebuhrian instincts.” Back then, Brooks was not certain he had:

When you ask about ways to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, he talks grandly about marshaling a global alliance. But when you ask specifically if an Iranian bomb would be deterrable, he’s says yes: ”I think Iran is like North Korea. They see nuclear arms in defensive terms, as a way to prevent regime change.”

In other words, he has a tendency to go big and offer himself up as Bromide Obama, filled with grand but usually evasive eloquence about bringing people together and showing respect. Then, in a blink, he can go small and concrete, and sound more like a community organizer than George F. Kennan.

It’s nice that in his Oslo speech, Obama confirmed that evil “does exist in the world” and that he “cannot be guided by [Martin Luther King Jr.'s and Gandhi’s] examples alone.” It is good that he insists that Iran and North Korea not “game the system” and that sanctions must “exact a real price.”

But the real question about Obama’s “doctrine” is whether — after Iran declines to unclench its fist and sanctions fail (they have yet to succeed with Cuba or North Korea, and Saddam Hussein turned a profit from the “crippling” ones on him) — his Niebuhrian instincts call for any other option. Iran is likely to react to diplomacy in one fashion if it thinks the answer is yes, and another if it thinks the answer is no.

So far, Iran is acting as if it has read Brooks’s 2007 column and knows the answer. It appears untroubled by the most profound speech of Obama’s life.

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Why There Are Primaries

It seems that Marco Rubio might, contrary to the eye-rolling pundits who preferred he not run a “destructive” or “contentious” primary, win his party’s nomination for the Senate. Rasmussen reports that after trailing by double digits, Rubio is tied with Gov. Charlie Crist at 43 percent. The more the voters know Rubio, the more they seem to like him:

Rubio’s name recognition has grown in recent months and he is now viewed Very Favorably by 34% of Likely Primary Voters. That’s up from 18% in August. As his name recognition increased, Rubio’s support in the polls has jumped from 31% in August to 43% today. Crist, well known throughout the state, has seen his ratings go in the opposite direction. Just 19% now have a Very Favorable opinion of him, a figure that represents a double digit decline since August.

There’s a long way to go before the primary next year, but once again we’re learning — or relearning — some key lessons. First, name recognition or lack of it shouldn’t be confused with political viability. Early poll results with a relatively unknown candidate mean rather little. Second, it matters how candidates and campaigns run. A huge advantage built largely on the ephemeral name recognition can vanish with a lackluster or an incompetent campaign. If you have any doubts, look at how the front-runners in the 2008 presidential race fared. Third, association with the Obama agenda — in this case, Crist’s embrace (literally) of the president and his cheerleading for the stimulus — are proving to be hazardous to a candidate’s political health. And finally, it is foolhardy for a political party to avoid or discourage primary contests with an open seat. The notion that establishment elders can discern the perfect pick two years ahead of the contest and that challengers should be chased off is downright silly, and ultimately dangerous for a party that should welcome a test of candidates and their messages. It’s a sign of vitality when a relatively unknown, charismatic candidate can emerge, make his case, and engender enthusiasm.

Crist may get his act together and pull this out. But he’ll have to do so with an improved message and a competently run campaign. That’s precisely how it should work, as inconvenient as that may be to those who’d prefer we not trust voters to make up their own minds.

It seems that Marco Rubio might, contrary to the eye-rolling pundits who preferred he not run a “destructive” or “contentious” primary, win his party’s nomination for the Senate. Rasmussen reports that after trailing by double digits, Rubio is tied with Gov. Charlie Crist at 43 percent. The more the voters know Rubio, the more they seem to like him:

Rubio’s name recognition has grown in recent months and he is now viewed Very Favorably by 34% of Likely Primary Voters. That’s up from 18% in August. As his name recognition increased, Rubio’s support in the polls has jumped from 31% in August to 43% today. Crist, well known throughout the state, has seen his ratings go in the opposite direction. Just 19% now have a Very Favorable opinion of him, a figure that represents a double digit decline since August.

There’s a long way to go before the primary next year, but once again we’re learning — or relearning — some key lessons. First, name recognition or lack of it shouldn’t be confused with political viability. Early poll results with a relatively unknown candidate mean rather little. Second, it matters how candidates and campaigns run. A huge advantage built largely on the ephemeral name recognition can vanish with a lackluster or an incompetent campaign. If you have any doubts, look at how the front-runners in the 2008 presidential race fared. Third, association with the Obama agenda — in this case, Crist’s embrace (literally) of the president and his cheerleading for the stimulus — are proving to be hazardous to a candidate’s political health. And finally, it is foolhardy for a political party to avoid or discourage primary contests with an open seat. The notion that establishment elders can discern the perfect pick two years ahead of the contest and that challengers should be chased off is downright silly, and ultimately dangerous for a party that should welcome a test of candidates and their messages. It’s a sign of vitality when a relatively unknown, charismatic candidate can emerge, make his case, and engender enthusiasm.

Crist may get his act together and pull this out. But he’ll have to do so with an improved message and a competently run campaign. That’s precisely how it should work, as inconvenient as that may be to those who’d prefer we not trust voters to make up their own minds.

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RE: RE: Detainees Coming to Illinois

It seems that there are those in Congress who object to moving the worst of the worst terrorists from Guantanamo to “the American heartland,” as Liz Cheney referred to the planned new facility in Illinois. The New York Times reports:

“The administration has failed to explain how transferring terrorists to Gitmo North will make Americans safer than keeping terrorists off of our shores in the secure facility in Cuba,” Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader, said in a statement. Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, told reporters he would not vote to “spend one dime to move those prisoners to the U.S.”

And even the Obami realize that “the move would require Congressional approval, since Congress now bars Guantánamo detainees from being brought onto American soil unless they face prosecution, and some of the detainees may be indefinitely confined without being tried.” The Obama administration is banking on Democrats in Congress “to lift that restriction if the administration came up with an acceptable plan for closing the military prison at Guantanamo.” This should make for an interesting debate. But as with the original plan to close Guantanamo, there are many questions, and the whole endeavor feels as if they’re winging it.

The administration confesses that it doesn’t know exactly how many would be transferred. (So some will remain in Guantanamo? What’s the point if the Obami can’t achieve their pipedream of closing the maligned facility?) And the administration concedes that some of those going to Illinois would be in the category of “indefinite detainees.” But what if a federal court orders them released? Well: “Addressing critics’ concerns that those prisoners could be freed inside the United States, administration officials said that if any of the habeas appeals succeeded, the detainees would be transferred out of the country or brought to trial.” Huh? The Obama administration is going to bring them to the U.S.., confer full rights and access to the courts, and then whisk them away if they’re ordered released? It frankly defies logic and belies the notion that the Obami are practicing some more principled version of justice.

This is not solving anything, even from the perspective of the loony Left. The ACLU piped up: “The only thing that President Obama is doing with this announcement is changing the ZIP code of Guantánamo.” You see, what they object to is permanent detention of enemy combatants. So long as we’re holding terrorists, the Left won’t give up, and the supposed propagandistic value the Obami hope to derive (from the salons of Europe? from the netroots? from would be terrorists?) will be, as it has always been, unattainable.

It seems that there are those in Congress who object to moving the worst of the worst terrorists from Guantanamo to “the American heartland,” as Liz Cheney referred to the planned new facility in Illinois. The New York Times reports:

“The administration has failed to explain how transferring terrorists to Gitmo North will make Americans safer than keeping terrorists off of our shores in the secure facility in Cuba,” Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader, said in a statement. Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, told reporters he would not vote to “spend one dime to move those prisoners to the U.S.”

And even the Obami realize that “the move would require Congressional approval, since Congress now bars Guantánamo detainees from being brought onto American soil unless they face prosecution, and some of the detainees may be indefinitely confined without being tried.” The Obama administration is banking on Democrats in Congress “to lift that restriction if the administration came up with an acceptable plan for closing the military prison at Guantanamo.” This should make for an interesting debate. But as with the original plan to close Guantanamo, there are many questions, and the whole endeavor feels as if they’re winging it.

The administration confesses that it doesn’t know exactly how many would be transferred. (So some will remain in Guantanamo? What’s the point if the Obami can’t achieve their pipedream of closing the maligned facility?) And the administration concedes that some of those going to Illinois would be in the category of “indefinite detainees.” But what if a federal court orders them released? Well: “Addressing critics’ concerns that those prisoners could be freed inside the United States, administration officials said that if any of the habeas appeals succeeded, the detainees would be transferred out of the country or brought to trial.” Huh? The Obama administration is going to bring them to the U.S.., confer full rights and access to the courts, and then whisk them away if they’re ordered released? It frankly defies logic and belies the notion that the Obami are practicing some more principled version of justice.

This is not solving anything, even from the perspective of the loony Left. The ACLU piped up: “The only thing that President Obama is doing with this announcement is changing the ZIP code of Guantánamo.” You see, what they object to is permanent detention of enemy combatants. So long as we’re holding terrorists, the Left won’t give up, and the supposed propagandistic value the Obami hope to derive (from the salons of Europe? from the netroots? from would be terrorists?) will be, as it has always been, unattainable.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Ellen Bork goes after the Obami on their pathetic human-rights record regarding China: “President Obama rejects the ‘purity of indignation’ in response to repression. But the approach he favors–’bearing witness’–is too passive. If there is a new direction for the administration’s human rights policy, it needs to respond effectively to the persecution of a Chinese dissident who represents the most significant movement for political reform in a decade.”

Might it have something to do with ObamaCare? “Republican candidates have bounced back to a seven-point lead over Democrats in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 44% would vote for their district’s Republican congressional candidate while 37% would opt for his or her Democratic opponent.”

Stuart Rothenberg on the 2010 Senate outlook, which looks dramatically different than it did 11 months ago: “As 2009 draws to a close, Democrats now could lose seats, a dramatic change from January that could end the party’s 60-seat majority in less than two years. And GOP gains could be large enough to sink any major Democratic initiatives not passed before Congress adjourns for the midterm elections.”

Howard Dean stumbles onto a great idea: kill ObamaCare. Now, before you get excited, he wants to use reconciliation to jam through a more liberal bill. But still.

AARP endorses ObamaCare and hundreds of millions in Medicare-funding cuts. Their members, who like their Medicare Advantage and already have problems finding doctors who take Medicare patients, may not be pleased.

Another poll, another batch of bad news for Obama: “A double punch of persistent economic discontent and growing skepticism on health care reform has knocked Barack Obama’s key approval ratings to new lows, clouding his administration’s prospects at least until the jobless rate eases. Fifty percent of Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll approve of the president’s work overall, down 6 points in the last month; nearly as many, 46 percent, now disapprove. On the economy, 52 percent disapprove, a majority for the first time. On the deficit, his worst score, 56 percent disapprove.” And by a 51 to 44 percent margin, they oppose ObamaCare.

After being called a murderer and a double-crosser by the Left, who can blame him? “In an interview today with CNN’s Dana Bash, Sen. Joe Lieberman said it’s possible he will run as a Republican when he campaigns for re-election to his Senate seat in 2012. Although he said it’s most likely he’ll run as an Independent, he’s keeping all his options open.”

The “audacity of debt“: “At least someone in America isn’t feeling a credit squeeze: Uncle Sam. This week Congress will vote to raise the national debt ceiling by nearly $2 trillion, to a total of $14 trillion. In this economy, everyone de-leverages except government. It’s a sign of how deep the fiscal pathologies run in this Congress that $2 trillion will buy the federal government only one year before it has to seek another debt hike—conveniently timed to come after the midterm elections. Since Democrats began running Congress again in 2007, the federal debt limit has climbed by 39%. The new hike will lift the borrowing cap by another 15%.”

Michael Gerson on ObamaCare: “Democratic health reform legislation promises everything to everyone while imposing a series of hidden burdens to make a massive new entitlement affordable, at least on paper. So its authors are in a game of beat the clock: Pass the legislation before those burdens are fully disclosed to the public. … How long before the young and the old, union workers and the millions in desperate need of Botox realize that the health-care free lunch is to be provided at their expense?” I think they’ve figured it out, but senators are voting for it anyway.

Why Walter Russell Mead gives Obama a D and not an F on the Middle East: “This was a complete screw up. The only reason it isn’t an F is that there’s still time to do better.”

Ellen Bork goes after the Obami on their pathetic human-rights record regarding China: “President Obama rejects the ‘purity of indignation’ in response to repression. But the approach he favors–’bearing witness’–is too passive. If there is a new direction for the administration’s human rights policy, it needs to respond effectively to the persecution of a Chinese dissident who represents the most significant movement for political reform in a decade.”

Might it have something to do with ObamaCare? “Republican candidates have bounced back to a seven-point lead over Democrats in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 44% would vote for their district’s Republican congressional candidate while 37% would opt for his or her Democratic opponent.”

Stuart Rothenberg on the 2010 Senate outlook, which looks dramatically different than it did 11 months ago: “As 2009 draws to a close, Democrats now could lose seats, a dramatic change from January that could end the party’s 60-seat majority in less than two years. And GOP gains could be large enough to sink any major Democratic initiatives not passed before Congress adjourns for the midterm elections.”

Howard Dean stumbles onto a great idea: kill ObamaCare. Now, before you get excited, he wants to use reconciliation to jam through a more liberal bill. But still.

AARP endorses ObamaCare and hundreds of millions in Medicare-funding cuts. Their members, who like their Medicare Advantage and already have problems finding doctors who take Medicare patients, may not be pleased.

Another poll, another batch of bad news for Obama: “A double punch of persistent economic discontent and growing skepticism on health care reform has knocked Barack Obama’s key approval ratings to new lows, clouding his administration’s prospects at least until the jobless rate eases. Fifty percent of Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll approve of the president’s work overall, down 6 points in the last month; nearly as many, 46 percent, now disapprove. On the economy, 52 percent disapprove, a majority for the first time. On the deficit, his worst score, 56 percent disapprove.” And by a 51 to 44 percent margin, they oppose ObamaCare.

After being called a murderer and a double-crosser by the Left, who can blame him? “In an interview today with CNN’s Dana Bash, Sen. Joe Lieberman said it’s possible he will run as a Republican when he campaigns for re-election to his Senate seat in 2012. Although he said it’s most likely he’ll run as an Independent, he’s keeping all his options open.”

The “audacity of debt“: “At least someone in America isn’t feeling a credit squeeze: Uncle Sam. This week Congress will vote to raise the national debt ceiling by nearly $2 trillion, to a total of $14 trillion. In this economy, everyone de-leverages except government. It’s a sign of how deep the fiscal pathologies run in this Congress that $2 trillion will buy the federal government only one year before it has to seek another debt hike—conveniently timed to come after the midterm elections. Since Democrats began running Congress again in 2007, the federal debt limit has climbed by 39%. The new hike will lift the borrowing cap by another 15%.”

Michael Gerson on ObamaCare: “Democratic health reform legislation promises everything to everyone while imposing a series of hidden burdens to make a massive new entitlement affordable, at least on paper. So its authors are in a game of beat the clock: Pass the legislation before those burdens are fully disclosed to the public. … How long before the young and the old, union workers and the millions in desperate need of Botox realize that the health-care free lunch is to be provided at their expense?” I think they’ve figured it out, but senators are voting for it anyway.

Why Walter Russell Mead gives Obama a D and not an F on the Middle East: “This was a complete screw up. The only reason it isn’t an F is that there’s still time to do better.”

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