Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 27, 2009

Less Cowbell

The Washington Post article Jennifer cited in “Flotsam and Jetsam” today appears to indicate that a dangerous rift is opening between the White House and the Pentagon regarding their expectations for Afghanistan. In a way, the echoes of Vietnam are actually amplified in this piece’s survey of strategic thinking. During the Kennedy-Johnson years, we tried an unworkably “calibrated” approach to Vietnam, but at least the direction from Robert McNamara and the president’s senior advisers was specific and largely executable. The White House direction for Afghanistan, as captured by the Post’s writer, appears to deserve neither epithet.

The article adopts the perspective that our military leaders are failing to conform to the president’s view of what our objectives should be in Afghanistan. But to an experienced planner, the most obvious thing in the whole piece is that President Obama has not expressed an identifiable objective to conform with. He has decided to send General McChrystal 30,000 more troops instead of 40,000, and has decided to authorize the training of 230,000 Afghan security personnel instead of the 400,000 McChrystal had proposed. He has moreover decided to begin a drawdown by July 2011. But he has done these things without outlining a new objective.

McChrystal’s original August 2009 proposal was based on the objectives of securing specified regions of Afghanistan – not the whole country – against the Taliban, and improving the Afghans’ confidence in their government. Obama has not redefined this job; he has only changed the toolset. The best his administration can seem to communicate is “not really the McChrystal plan, and definitely not the Iraqi surge.” The Post puts it this way:

The White House’s desired end state in Afghanistan, officials said, envisions more informal local security arrangements than in Iraq, a less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence.

The “greater tolerance of insurgent violence” is, of course, disquieting. Equally so is this passage from an administration official:

The guidance they [the military] have is that we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever. . . The hardest intellectual exercise will be settling on how much is enough.

Apparently the military is supposed to decide how much is enough, using the entirely negative guidance that “we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever.” And that’s a problem. This is not executable guidance. It’s also not guidance designed to achieve a positive, deliberate outcome.

We learned in Vietnam that if you’re not actively trying to achieve a positive outcome with force, you won’t. But the military doesn’t even need to have that lesson in mind to automatically translate Obama’s recent decisions into objectives more specific than the president may have intended. Requiring specific objectives is simply the nature of military force.

Obama comes off here as Christopher Walken demanding “less cowbell” – a formula that works in jokes and music but is inadequate to directing military operations. It’s Obama himself who needs to tell the troops exactly how much insurgent violence is the right amount to tolerate, and what level of competence we aim to cultivate in the Afghan central government. He should explain that to the American people too.

The Washington Post article Jennifer cited in “Flotsam and Jetsam” today appears to indicate that a dangerous rift is opening between the White House and the Pentagon regarding their expectations for Afghanistan. In a way, the echoes of Vietnam are actually amplified in this piece’s survey of strategic thinking. During the Kennedy-Johnson years, we tried an unworkably “calibrated” approach to Vietnam, but at least the direction from Robert McNamara and the president’s senior advisers was specific and largely executable. The White House direction for Afghanistan, as captured by the Post’s writer, appears to deserve neither epithet.

The article adopts the perspective that our military leaders are failing to conform to the president’s view of what our objectives should be in Afghanistan. But to an experienced planner, the most obvious thing in the whole piece is that President Obama has not expressed an identifiable objective to conform with. He has decided to send General McChrystal 30,000 more troops instead of 40,000, and has decided to authorize the training of 230,000 Afghan security personnel instead of the 400,000 McChrystal had proposed. He has moreover decided to begin a drawdown by July 2011. But he has done these things without outlining a new objective.

McChrystal’s original August 2009 proposal was based on the objectives of securing specified regions of Afghanistan – not the whole country – against the Taliban, and improving the Afghans’ confidence in their government. Obama has not redefined this job; he has only changed the toolset. The best his administration can seem to communicate is “not really the McChrystal plan, and definitely not the Iraqi surge.” The Post puts it this way:

The White House’s desired end state in Afghanistan, officials said, envisions more informal local security arrangements than in Iraq, a less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence.

The “greater tolerance of insurgent violence” is, of course, disquieting. Equally so is this passage from an administration official:

The guidance they [the military] have is that we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever. . . The hardest intellectual exercise will be settling on how much is enough.

Apparently the military is supposed to decide how much is enough, using the entirely negative guidance that “we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever.” And that’s a problem. This is not executable guidance. It’s also not guidance designed to achieve a positive, deliberate outcome.

We learned in Vietnam that if you’re not actively trying to achieve a positive outcome with force, you won’t. But the military doesn’t even need to have that lesson in mind to automatically translate Obama’s recent decisions into objectives more specific than the president may have intended. Requiring specific objectives is simply the nature of military force.

Obama comes off here as Christopher Walken demanding “less cowbell” – a formula that works in jokes and music but is inadequate to directing military operations. It’s Obama himself who needs to tell the troops exactly how much insurgent violence is the right amount to tolerate, and what level of competence we aim to cultivate in the Afghan central government. He should explain that to the American people too.

Read Less

When Does He Bend?

When Obama was elected and he appointed his national-security team, some conservatives hoped he would have no choice but to bend to reality and accept the responsibility that goes with defending the United States in a global war against religious fanatics. He’ll have no choice, we were told. He can’t allow an attack on the American homeland or he’ll be discredited. No president can ignore his obligation to protect Americans. Remember all that? Well, after nearly a full year, the Obama administration has not bent to reality and we have been attacked three times on American soil.

You might not recall the three attacks, in large part because the administration refuses to recognize jihadist terror attacks as jihadist terror attacks. But Sen. Joe Lieberman rightly reminded us on Fox New Sunday that we really did go to war with the Islamist extremists who attacked us on 9/11” and that we have had more than a dozen attacks on our homeland — three of which penetrated security (the army-recruiter killed in Little Rock in May, Major Nadal Hassan’s Fort Hood massacre on November 5, and the Abdul Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab’s Christmas Day bombing mission). To be blunt: after seven and a half years without a single attack on American soil following 9/11, we have had three in a year during the Obama administration.

When then does the bending to reality occur? At what point is the light supposed to shine, that indeed it is madness to retreat to a pre-9/11 mentality, Mirandize terrorists, give them civilian trials, send Guantanamo detainees to Yemen, cease enhanced interrogation techniques and go after our own CIA operatives? The Fort Hood terror attack killed thirteen, but that seemed not to make any impression on the Obama team. The following week the civilian trial of KSM was announced, and the following month we learned of the decision to relocate Guantanamo detainees to Illinois. One wonders how high the casualty total must reach in one of these before the administration undertakes a full-scale re-examination of its anti-terror policies.

Let’s suppose that we had apprehended an associate of Abdulmutallab who had information about his plot. We would not have used any enhanced interrogation methods. He would have lawyered up, refused to talk, and the plot would have unfolded. And then, we would have seen the results of the whatever-Bush-did-we-do-the-opposite approach to national security. Imagine for a moment if the the bombing had been more “successful.” What would the public reaction then have been to Obama’s policy of willful indifference to reality?

At some point — and perhaps we have reached it — the American people will recognize that the Obami team is engaged in an entirely misguided and dangerous approach to the war on Islamic terror, starting with its refusal to recognize it as a war and to recognize that is is based on fundamentalist Islamic ideology. If Obama persists in allowing our national security to be formulated and executed by those who believe in hamstringing our own intelligence capabilities and engaging in dangerous PR stunts to improve our image among terrorists, he does so at tremendous political risk. But that is nothing compared to the risk to Americans’ safety and security.

When Obama was elected and he appointed his national-security team, some conservatives hoped he would have no choice but to bend to reality and accept the responsibility that goes with defending the United States in a global war against religious fanatics. He’ll have no choice, we were told. He can’t allow an attack on the American homeland or he’ll be discredited. No president can ignore his obligation to protect Americans. Remember all that? Well, after nearly a full year, the Obama administration has not bent to reality and we have been attacked three times on American soil.

You might not recall the three attacks, in large part because the administration refuses to recognize jihadist terror attacks as jihadist terror attacks. But Sen. Joe Lieberman rightly reminded us on Fox New Sunday that we really did go to war with the Islamist extremists who attacked us on 9/11” and that we have had more than a dozen attacks on our homeland — three of which penetrated security (the army-recruiter killed in Little Rock in May, Major Nadal Hassan’s Fort Hood massacre on November 5, and the Abdul Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab’s Christmas Day bombing mission). To be blunt: after seven and a half years without a single attack on American soil following 9/11, we have had three in a year during the Obama administration.

When then does the bending to reality occur? At what point is the light supposed to shine, that indeed it is madness to retreat to a pre-9/11 mentality, Mirandize terrorists, give them civilian trials, send Guantanamo detainees to Yemen, cease enhanced interrogation techniques and go after our own CIA operatives? The Fort Hood terror attack killed thirteen, but that seemed not to make any impression on the Obama team. The following week the civilian trial of KSM was announced, and the following month we learned of the decision to relocate Guantanamo detainees to Illinois. One wonders how high the casualty total must reach in one of these before the administration undertakes a full-scale re-examination of its anti-terror policies.

Let’s suppose that we had apprehended an associate of Abdulmutallab who had information about his plot. We would not have used any enhanced interrogation methods. He would have lawyered up, refused to talk, and the plot would have unfolded. And then, we would have seen the results of the whatever-Bush-did-we-do-the-opposite approach to national security. Imagine for a moment if the the bombing had been more “successful.” What would the public reaction then have been to Obama’s policy of willful indifference to reality?

At some point — and perhaps we have reached it — the American people will recognize that the Obami team is engaged in an entirely misguided and dangerous approach to the war on Islamic terror, starting with its refusal to recognize it as a war and to recognize that is is based on fundamentalist Islamic ideology. If Obama persists in allowing our national security to be formulated and executed by those who believe in hamstringing our own intelligence capabilities and engaging in dangerous PR stunts to improve our image among terrorists, he does so at tremendous political risk. But that is nothing compared to the risk to Americans’ safety and security.

Read Less

Obama Confesses: Healthcare Is a Loser

Dan Balz suggests that the Obami actually do realize the health-care debate has been a loser for them. He writes:

Like Democrats everywhere, White House officials are keenly aware that, after two elections in which the party made significant gains, losses will be inevitable in November. The health-care debate has damaged the president’s approval ratings and the cohesiveness of the coalition that elected him. The question is how significant.

It seems then that congressional Democrats have been sold a bill of goods by the White House, which despite horrible polling on its signature legislation, insisted that passing a health-care bill was essential to the Democrats’ political survival. Now we learn that the exercise is to assess how disastrous it has been.

But Balz’s analysis reveals a fundamental flaw in the thinking of political insiders and the administration specifically. Balz explains that now that health care is a nearly done deal, Obama can worry about the economy, unemployment, the deficit and spending. But wait. Health-care reform, at least in its current form, is likely to impact adversely each of these items. Isn’t the mammoth tax-and-spend bill and the Ponzi scheme (which resorts to politically untenable Medicare cuts to fund a new mammoth entitlement program) going to impact the economy, unemployment, the deficit, and spending?

This is a now familiar pattern — the disinclination of the Obama administration to see that its central policy proposal will adversely impact private-sector growth, risk taking and hiring. Labeling health care “social welfare legislation” and everything else “economic policy” is a misnomer. They are part and parcel of a legislative agenda that helps create an environment hostile to employers, which will retard the economic recovery. If conservatives are going to be successful in offering an alternative, they would do well to point this out to voters and explain how preventing Obama’s signature “social welfare legislation” is the best thing we could do to prevent further damage to a still frail economy.

Dan Balz suggests that the Obami actually do realize the health-care debate has been a loser for them. He writes:

Like Democrats everywhere, White House officials are keenly aware that, after two elections in which the party made significant gains, losses will be inevitable in November. The health-care debate has damaged the president’s approval ratings and the cohesiveness of the coalition that elected him. The question is how significant.

It seems then that congressional Democrats have been sold a bill of goods by the White House, which despite horrible polling on its signature legislation, insisted that passing a health-care bill was essential to the Democrats’ political survival. Now we learn that the exercise is to assess how disastrous it has been.

But Balz’s analysis reveals a fundamental flaw in the thinking of political insiders and the administration specifically. Balz explains that now that health care is a nearly done deal, Obama can worry about the economy, unemployment, the deficit and spending. But wait. Health-care reform, at least in its current form, is likely to impact adversely each of these items. Isn’t the mammoth tax-and-spend bill and the Ponzi scheme (which resorts to politically untenable Medicare cuts to fund a new mammoth entitlement program) going to impact the economy, unemployment, the deficit, and spending?

This is a now familiar pattern — the disinclination of the Obama administration to see that its central policy proposal will adversely impact private-sector growth, risk taking and hiring. Labeling health care “social welfare legislation” and everything else “economic policy” is a misnomer. They are part and parcel of a legislative agenda that helps create an environment hostile to employers, which will retard the economic recovery. If conservatives are going to be successful in offering an alternative, they would do well to point this out to voters and explain how preventing Obama’s signature “social welfare legislation” is the best thing we could do to prevent further damage to a still frail economy.

Read Less

Texas Bloom

The Census Bureau has come out with its annual state-by-state head count and it makes for interesting reading. There is no one better than Michael Barone at the art of looking at numbers and bringing them to life. He notes that Texas had the highest population gain (and third highest in percentage terms) and thinks he knows why:

Texas had above-average immigrant growth, but domestic in-migration was nearly twice as high. There may be lessons for public policy here. Texas over the decades has had low taxes (and no state income tax), low public spending and regulations that encourage job growth. It didn’t have much of a housing bubble or a housing price bust. Under Govs. George W. Bush and Rick Perry, it has placed tight limits on tort lawsuits and has seen an influx of both corporate headquarters and medical doctors.

Because of its population growth, Texas is likely to gain four new House seats in 2012. Florida, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada will each gain one. For the first time since it became a state in 1850, California will not gain any seats in the House, and New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Illinois will all lose a seat and Ohio will probably lose two.

No wonder the Obama administration is in such a hurry to lock in its far-left policies. As Barone explains, “Americans have been moving, even in recession, away from Democratic strongholds and toward Republican turf.”

The Census Bureau has come out with its annual state-by-state head count and it makes for interesting reading. There is no one better than Michael Barone at the art of looking at numbers and bringing them to life. He notes that Texas had the highest population gain (and third highest in percentage terms) and thinks he knows why:

Texas had above-average immigrant growth, but domestic in-migration was nearly twice as high. There may be lessons for public policy here. Texas over the decades has had low taxes (and no state income tax), low public spending and regulations that encourage job growth. It didn’t have much of a housing bubble or a housing price bust. Under Govs. George W. Bush and Rick Perry, it has placed tight limits on tort lawsuits and has seen an influx of both corporate headquarters and medical doctors.

Because of its population growth, Texas is likely to gain four new House seats in 2012. Florida, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada will each gain one. For the first time since it became a state in 1850, California will not gain any seats in the House, and New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Illinois will all lose a seat and Ohio will probably lose two.

No wonder the Obama administration is in such a hurry to lock in its far-left policies. As Barone explains, “Americans have been moving, even in recession, away from Democratic strongholds and toward Republican turf.”

Read Less

To Be Shot at Without Result

At the end of 2009 many conservatives will have renewed appreciation for Winston Churchill’s admonition: “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.” Conservatives and their fellow citizens were not generally (unless engaged on the battlefield) shot at, but they were bombarded with an avalanche of leftist policy proposals. And yet, as Bill Kristol observes: “The Obama administration (so far) hasn’t succeeded in doing too much damage to the American economy. Major parts of American society and the American polity are resisting the allure of a slide into European decadence. The climate change fear-mongers are increasingly discredited, and Copenhagen was a farce.”

In short, the Obama team didn’t succeed to the degree many of us anticipated and feared it would in refashioning domestic policy and achieving its free-market-killing initiatives. Card check is off the table. Cap-and-trade has been postponed. The stimulus bill did not endear the country to the wonders of big government. The health-care bill is not yet law, but is grossly unpopular. It is worth asking: why? Why did the most heralded politician to assume the White House in a generation, in the midst of a collapse of the private sector, and with huge Democratic majorities in the House and Senate not do any better (or do more damage, depending on your perspective)?

The answers are three-fold, I think. First, this president showed no inclination or talent to engage in the nitty-gritty business of lawmaking. He did not set forth his own specific proposals on key agenda items, set a deadline, or whip Congress into line. He preferred endless speeches, innumerable TV talk-show appearances, and campaign-style events, none of which solved the hard questions as to what it is that key legislation should contain. And then Congress did what it does best — squabble, debate, reach gridlock, churn out pork-a-thon legislation in lieu of serious policy prescriptions, and show themselves to be obsessed with shielding their own constituents from measures they would willingly foist on others. The result was low output and an absence of thoughtful or innovative policy. And most glaringly, on his most important agenda item, Obama did not make substantive arguments nor focus on a coherent legislative health-care scheme that was designed to fulfill his objectives.

Second, the Obami ran Left, even beyond the tolerance of their own party. Democratic senators have held up cap-and-trade, not the Republicans. The Democrats can’t find 60 votes in the Senate to take away the right to secret ballot in union elections. Again, the liberal aspirations of special interest groups don’t match the political composition of those in office, even after an election that delivered across-the-board Democratic victories.

And finally, Obama himself did not inspire or persuade the public in the way his followers imagined he would. His campaign rhetoric wore thin, never rising above the level of platitudes. And when that rhetoric didn’t persuade, the president diminished himself and the power of the bully pulpit by inveighing against opponents, picking fights with talk-show hosts and news networks, and condescending the public (e.g., red pill/blue bill health-care hooey, Gatesgate’s “teachable moment,” etc.). In short, he didn’t lead.

This year ends with a sigh of relief from conservatives on the domestic front. Their work in opposing liberal Democratic policies is not, however, over. The health-care bill looms on the horizon and the Democrats will take a second pass at a number of their policy proposals. But there is a certain exhilaration in surviving the initial (and certainly the strongest barrage) of one’s political enemies. And for conservatives, finding that the American people are increasingly rallying to their side in the political debate is particularly gratifying.

At the end of 2009 many conservatives will have renewed appreciation for Winston Churchill’s admonition: “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.” Conservatives and their fellow citizens were not generally (unless engaged on the battlefield) shot at, but they were bombarded with an avalanche of leftist policy proposals. And yet, as Bill Kristol observes: “The Obama administration (so far) hasn’t succeeded in doing too much damage to the American economy. Major parts of American society and the American polity are resisting the allure of a slide into European decadence. The climate change fear-mongers are increasingly discredited, and Copenhagen was a farce.”

In short, the Obama team didn’t succeed to the degree many of us anticipated and feared it would in refashioning domestic policy and achieving its free-market-killing initiatives. Card check is off the table. Cap-and-trade has been postponed. The stimulus bill did not endear the country to the wonders of big government. The health-care bill is not yet law, but is grossly unpopular. It is worth asking: why? Why did the most heralded politician to assume the White House in a generation, in the midst of a collapse of the private sector, and with huge Democratic majorities in the House and Senate not do any better (or do more damage, depending on your perspective)?

The answers are three-fold, I think. First, this president showed no inclination or talent to engage in the nitty-gritty business of lawmaking. He did not set forth his own specific proposals on key agenda items, set a deadline, or whip Congress into line. He preferred endless speeches, innumerable TV talk-show appearances, and campaign-style events, none of which solved the hard questions as to what it is that key legislation should contain. And then Congress did what it does best — squabble, debate, reach gridlock, churn out pork-a-thon legislation in lieu of serious policy prescriptions, and show themselves to be obsessed with shielding their own constituents from measures they would willingly foist on others. The result was low output and an absence of thoughtful or innovative policy. And most glaringly, on his most important agenda item, Obama did not make substantive arguments nor focus on a coherent legislative health-care scheme that was designed to fulfill his objectives.

Second, the Obami ran Left, even beyond the tolerance of their own party. Democratic senators have held up cap-and-trade, not the Republicans. The Democrats can’t find 60 votes in the Senate to take away the right to secret ballot in union elections. Again, the liberal aspirations of special interest groups don’t match the political composition of those in office, even after an election that delivered across-the-board Democratic victories.

And finally, Obama himself did not inspire or persuade the public in the way his followers imagined he would. His campaign rhetoric wore thin, never rising above the level of platitudes. And when that rhetoric didn’t persuade, the president diminished himself and the power of the bully pulpit by inveighing against opponents, picking fights with talk-show hosts and news networks, and condescending the public (e.g., red pill/blue bill health-care hooey, Gatesgate’s “teachable moment,” etc.). In short, he didn’t lead.

This year ends with a sigh of relief from conservatives on the domestic front. Their work in opposing liberal Democratic policies is not, however, over. The health-care bill looms on the horizon and the Democrats will take a second pass at a number of their policy proposals. But there is a certain exhilaration in surviving the initial (and certainly the strongest barrage) of one’s political enemies. And for conservatives, finding that the American people are increasingly rallying to their side in the political debate is particularly gratifying.

Read Less

Obami’s Anti-Terror Policies Necessitate Stonewalling

One has to marvel at the opening graph of this Politico story:

Growing evidence that the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a commercial airliner as it landed in Detroit Friday spent time in Yemen and may have been fitted with customized, explosive-laden clothing there could complicate the U.S. government’s efforts to send home more than 80 Yemeni prisoners currently at Guantanamo Bay.

Yes, reality is complicating the Obama administration’s war on terror policies. It must be maddening to the Obami that they are presented once again with inconvenient evidence that their insistence on emptying Guantanamo of dangerous people is mind-bogglingly inane. It is not surprising that Republicans were quick to point this out:

“Yesterday just highlights the fact that sending this many people back—or any people back—to Yemen right now is a really bad idea,” said Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. “It’s just dumb….If you made a list of what the three dumbest countries would be to send people back to, Yemen would be on all the lists.” “I think it’s a major mistake,” Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said about prisoner releases to Yemen. “I don’t think Guantanamo should be closed, but if we’re going to close it I don’t believe we should be sending people to Yemen where prisoners have managed to escape in the past….Obviously, if [Abdulmutallab] did get training and direction from Yemen, it just adds to what is already a dangerous situation.”

Moreover this suggests that together with the domestic terror attack by Major Nadal Hassan, the Obama team will be hard pressed to make the claim that its policy of moral preening — closing Guantanamo, giving up on enhanced interrogation techniques, attacking the CIA, and giving KSM a public forum — is appropriate in the midst of daily evidence that our enemies are unimpressed with such gestures and are motivated not by objections to our military tribunals or incarceration policies but rather by their battle against western civilization itself.

And the Obami’s response is predictable. King and Hoeskstra, as have many of their colleagues (e.g., Rep. Frank Wolf on Yemen releases, Sen. Pete Sessions on the Uighurs), are running into a stone wall in attempting to get basic information from an administration whose first instinct is to stonewall and rebuff any oversight efforts:

 As with the shooting at Ft. Hood in November, the White House has ordered federal agencies not to provide briefings or answer inquiries from members of Congress, leaving all such contacts to be handled by the White House.“I don’t think I ever saw that throughout President Bush’s time in the White House. I could call directly to the director of the CIA or the [National Counterterrorism Center] and get whatever briefings I wanted,” Hoekstra said. He called the briefing limits “totally inappropriate,” but said the White House maintained the orders were needed because of the ongoing criminal investigation.

Perhaps if the Obami’s anti-terror policies were more in sync with public opinion and reality, they would be more forthcoming. But the public will have only one question: are we safer because of the Obama administration’s policies? So far, there is reason to think we are not.

One has to marvel at the opening graph of this Politico story:

Growing evidence that the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a commercial airliner as it landed in Detroit Friday spent time in Yemen and may have been fitted with customized, explosive-laden clothing there could complicate the U.S. government’s efforts to send home more than 80 Yemeni prisoners currently at Guantanamo Bay.

Yes, reality is complicating the Obama administration’s war on terror policies. It must be maddening to the Obami that they are presented once again with inconvenient evidence that their insistence on emptying Guantanamo of dangerous people is mind-bogglingly inane. It is not surprising that Republicans were quick to point this out:

“Yesterday just highlights the fact that sending this many people back—or any people back—to Yemen right now is a really bad idea,” said Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. “It’s just dumb….If you made a list of what the three dumbest countries would be to send people back to, Yemen would be on all the lists.” “I think it’s a major mistake,” Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said about prisoner releases to Yemen. “I don’t think Guantanamo should be closed, but if we’re going to close it I don’t believe we should be sending people to Yemen where prisoners have managed to escape in the past….Obviously, if [Abdulmutallab] did get training and direction from Yemen, it just adds to what is already a dangerous situation.”

Moreover this suggests that together with the domestic terror attack by Major Nadal Hassan, the Obama team will be hard pressed to make the claim that its policy of moral preening — closing Guantanamo, giving up on enhanced interrogation techniques, attacking the CIA, and giving KSM a public forum — is appropriate in the midst of daily evidence that our enemies are unimpressed with such gestures and are motivated not by objections to our military tribunals or incarceration policies but rather by their battle against western civilization itself.

And the Obami’s response is predictable. King and Hoeskstra, as have many of their colleagues (e.g., Rep. Frank Wolf on Yemen releases, Sen. Pete Sessions on the Uighurs), are running into a stone wall in attempting to get basic information from an administration whose first instinct is to stonewall and rebuff any oversight efforts:

 As with the shooting at Ft. Hood in November, the White House has ordered federal agencies not to provide briefings or answer inquiries from members of Congress, leaving all such contacts to be handled by the White House.“I don’t think I ever saw that throughout President Bush’s time in the White House. I could call directly to the director of the CIA or the [National Counterterrorism Center] and get whatever briefings I wanted,” Hoekstra said. He called the briefing limits “totally inappropriate,” but said the White House maintained the orders were needed because of the ongoing criminal investigation.

Perhaps if the Obami’s anti-terror policies were more in sync with public opinion and reality, they would be more forthcoming. But the public will have only one question: are we safer because of the Obama administration’s policies? So far, there is reason to think we are not.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

What comes from a commander in chief who sends mixed messages? “Nearly a month after Obama unveiled his revised Afghanistan strategy, military and civilian leaders have come away with differing views of several fundamental aspects of the president’s new approach, according to more than a dozen senior administration and military officials involved in Afghanistan policy, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.”

Matthew Continetti: “There really are two Americas. There’s the America of the ‘expert’ schemers, planners, and centralizers inside the Beltway, who think they know what’s good for the people, whether the people like it or not. And there’s the America of just about everyone else. They are no doubt the ones Irving Kristol had in mind when he wrote, ‘The common people in such a democracy are not uncommonly wise, but their experience tends to make them uncommonly sensible.'” It is a good thing indeed that there are more of the latter.

David Axelrod says we will learn to love ObamaCare: “When people focus on what this bill is and not what it isn’t and recognize what an enormous landmark achievement it is, progressive achievement, you’ll see folks rallying around this and not running away from it.” Notice how they assume the public will be awed by the “landmark” quality of the bill. That’s how politicians think; ordinary people tend to focus on what legislation is actually going to do for or to them.

The Washington Post editors blast the Obami’s human-rights policy, seeking to mix economic progress with fundamental rights as “standard doctrine of the Soviet Bloc, which used to argue at every East-West conference that human rights in Czechoslovakia were superior to those in the United States, because one provided government health care that the other lacked.” Ouch. The editors rightly condemn this as a sly effort to downplay democracy, especially in the Middle East: “If the Obama administration believes that liberty is urgently needed in the homelands of al-Qaeda, Ms. Clinton still has offered no sign of it.”

Yes, in the end, all Democrats on health-care “reform” turned out to be liberals in favor of a big government power grab: “We trust voters in Nebraska, Louisiana, Indiana, Virginia and elsewhere noticed that these votes ultimately ensured the passage of a bill that will increase insurance costs, retard medical innovation and sorely damage the country’s fiscal position.” Judging from the polls, I think they are noticing.

Looks like our fellow citizens are our best defense: “Despite the billions spent since 2001 on intelligence and counterterrorism programs, sophisticated airport scanners and elaborate watch lists, it was something simpler that averted disaster on a Christmas Day flight to Detroit: alert and courageous passengers and crew members.”

New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau on the Obami’s Iran engagement policy: “The president is smoking pot or something if he thinks that being nice to these guys is going to get him anywhere.”

Respected legal scholar Randy Barnett makes the argument that the individual mandate to buy health insurance is unconstitutional: “A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States. . . First, it would impose a duty on individuals as members of society. Second, it would require people to purchase a specific service that would be heavily regulated by the federal government.” And if not unconstitutional, it is at the very least, enormously objectionable to a great number of Americans on both the Right and the Left.

What comes from a commander in chief who sends mixed messages? “Nearly a month after Obama unveiled his revised Afghanistan strategy, military and civilian leaders have come away with differing views of several fundamental aspects of the president’s new approach, according to more than a dozen senior administration and military officials involved in Afghanistan policy, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.”

Matthew Continetti: “There really are two Americas. There’s the America of the ‘expert’ schemers, planners, and centralizers inside the Beltway, who think they know what’s good for the people, whether the people like it or not. And there’s the America of just about everyone else. They are no doubt the ones Irving Kristol had in mind when he wrote, ‘The common people in such a democracy are not uncommonly wise, but their experience tends to make them uncommonly sensible.'” It is a good thing indeed that there are more of the latter.

David Axelrod says we will learn to love ObamaCare: “When people focus on what this bill is and not what it isn’t and recognize what an enormous landmark achievement it is, progressive achievement, you’ll see folks rallying around this and not running away from it.” Notice how they assume the public will be awed by the “landmark” quality of the bill. That’s how politicians think; ordinary people tend to focus on what legislation is actually going to do for or to them.

The Washington Post editors blast the Obami’s human-rights policy, seeking to mix economic progress with fundamental rights as “standard doctrine of the Soviet Bloc, which used to argue at every East-West conference that human rights in Czechoslovakia were superior to those in the United States, because one provided government health care that the other lacked.” Ouch. The editors rightly condemn this as a sly effort to downplay democracy, especially in the Middle East: “If the Obama administration believes that liberty is urgently needed in the homelands of al-Qaeda, Ms. Clinton still has offered no sign of it.”

Yes, in the end, all Democrats on health-care “reform” turned out to be liberals in favor of a big government power grab: “We trust voters in Nebraska, Louisiana, Indiana, Virginia and elsewhere noticed that these votes ultimately ensured the passage of a bill that will increase insurance costs, retard medical innovation and sorely damage the country’s fiscal position.” Judging from the polls, I think they are noticing.

Looks like our fellow citizens are our best defense: “Despite the billions spent since 2001 on intelligence and counterterrorism programs, sophisticated airport scanners and elaborate watch lists, it was something simpler that averted disaster on a Christmas Day flight to Detroit: alert and courageous passengers and crew members.”

New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau on the Obami’s Iran engagement policy: “The president is smoking pot or something if he thinks that being nice to these guys is going to get him anywhere.”

Respected legal scholar Randy Barnett makes the argument that the individual mandate to buy health insurance is unconstitutional: “A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States. . . First, it would impose a duty on individuals as members of society. Second, it would require people to purchase a specific service that would be heavily regulated by the federal government.” And if not unconstitutional, it is at the very least, enormously objectionable to a great number of Americans on both the Right and the Left.

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