Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 2010

Hammerstein’s Dictum

Jennifer referred this morning to the columns of Gail Collins and Charles Blow in the New York Times, in which they complain that the problems the Obama administration face are due to: 1) the wretched selfishness of Americans in general and Republicans in particular; and 2) the intellectual inadequacy of Americans in general and Republicans in particular. If the American people were only of a higher quality morally and intellectually, everything would be just fine, and President Obama would be sailing majestically toward an overwhelming re-election.

This sort of thinking reminds me of a dictum coined by Oscar Hammerstein I, the great theatrical impresario of the turn of the 20th century (and grandfather of the eponymous lyricist). After a play he had produced flopped badly, a friend commiserated with him and blamed it on the Broadway audience. Hammerstein looked at him and said, “When the audience doesn’t like the play, there is something wrong with the play, not the audience.”

Good advice, not likely to be taken.

Jennifer referred this morning to the columns of Gail Collins and Charles Blow in the New York Times, in which they complain that the problems the Obama administration face are due to: 1) the wretched selfishness of Americans in general and Republicans in particular; and 2) the intellectual inadequacy of Americans in general and Republicans in particular. If the American people were only of a higher quality morally and intellectually, everything would be just fine, and President Obama would be sailing majestically toward an overwhelming re-election.

This sort of thinking reminds me of a dictum coined by Oscar Hammerstein I, the great theatrical impresario of the turn of the 20th century (and grandfather of the eponymous lyricist). After a play he had produced flopped badly, a friend commiserated with him and blamed it on the Broadway audience. Hammerstein looked at him and said, “When the audience doesn’t like the play, there is something wrong with the play, not the audience.”

Good advice, not likely to be taken.

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Time to Throw Holder Under the Bus?

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Evan Bayh, perhaps hearing footsteps back home in an election year, said of the KSM trial that it “sounded good in theory way back when but, in practice, it just was not the right thing to do.” When pressed by Chris Wallace, he stated he would not vote for the $200 million or so needed for a civilian trial for KSM. He was not alone in criticizing the administration:

Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin argued these are the wrong decisions.  “We should have learned from the mistakes we made in the past.  We shouldn’t be Mirandizing foreign terrorists.  We should send them to military tribunals.  $200 million is about four times the startup cost of Guantanamo in the first place.”

Similarly, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander accused Attorney General Holder of “doing a better job of interrogating CIA employees than he is of interrogating terrorists.”

“He’s not making a distinction between enemy combatants, the terrorists who are flying into Detroit, blowing up plans, and American citizens who are committing a crime,” he added.

Alexander went so far as to call for Holder to step down.

Meanwhile, the administration’s official flack did not exactly give a ringing endorsement of either the KSM trial or of Holder himself. Appearing on CNN, Robert Gibbs would only say:

“He will be brought to justice, and he will likely be executed for the heinous crimes he has committed. … That you can be sure of.”

But he dodged repeated questions by CNN host John King about whether the administration might shift the venue back from federal court in New York to a military court, finally saying that “The attorney general believes the best place to try him is in an American courtroom,” but not committing to that option…

“We are talking with the authorities in New York,” Gibbs said. “We understand their logistical concerns. We have been discussing that with them.”

So this is all the attorney general’s idea, you see. Not exactly the “buck stops here” sort of decision-making we were assured we’d get from Obama. But aside from the lack of presidential accountability and candor (who believes Holder made this monumentally dumb decision with no input from the White House?), it does leave open the potential for a serious revision in personnel and policy.

There is wide consensus that the decision to try KSM in federal court in New York was a blunder. Suddenly, the wonders of military commissions have been rediscovered. The handling of the Christmas Day bomber is likewise the subject of broad criticism. Who is at the center of these and a host of other ill-advised decisions on the war on terror? Well, the president, of course, but he’s not going anywhere for three years. His attorney general, however, has had quite a run and is fast becoming a liability for the administration. What better way to pivot and restore some bipartisan credibility than to throw Holder under the proverbial bus?

We’ve learned that it takes a lot to get fired by Obama. But if anyone has earned that fate, it is Holder. His departure would earn praise from conservatives at a time when Obama is struggling to demonstrate some bipartisanship. It would suggest that there is hope yet for this administration to steer back toward the Center of the political spectrum and away from the netroot agenda that has proven utterly unworkable and politically toxic.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Evan Bayh, perhaps hearing footsteps back home in an election year, said of the KSM trial that it “sounded good in theory way back when but, in practice, it just was not the right thing to do.” When pressed by Chris Wallace, he stated he would not vote for the $200 million or so needed for a civilian trial for KSM. He was not alone in criticizing the administration:

Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin argued these are the wrong decisions.  “We should have learned from the mistakes we made in the past.  We shouldn’t be Mirandizing foreign terrorists.  We should send them to military tribunals.  $200 million is about four times the startup cost of Guantanamo in the first place.”

Similarly, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander accused Attorney General Holder of “doing a better job of interrogating CIA employees than he is of interrogating terrorists.”

“He’s not making a distinction between enemy combatants, the terrorists who are flying into Detroit, blowing up plans, and American citizens who are committing a crime,” he added.

Alexander went so far as to call for Holder to step down.

Meanwhile, the administration’s official flack did not exactly give a ringing endorsement of either the KSM trial or of Holder himself. Appearing on CNN, Robert Gibbs would only say:

“He will be brought to justice, and he will likely be executed for the heinous crimes he has committed. … That you can be sure of.”

But he dodged repeated questions by CNN host John King about whether the administration might shift the venue back from federal court in New York to a military court, finally saying that “The attorney general believes the best place to try him is in an American courtroom,” but not committing to that option…

“We are talking with the authorities in New York,” Gibbs said. “We understand their logistical concerns. We have been discussing that with them.”

So this is all the attorney general’s idea, you see. Not exactly the “buck stops here” sort of decision-making we were assured we’d get from Obama. But aside from the lack of presidential accountability and candor (who believes Holder made this monumentally dumb decision with no input from the White House?), it does leave open the potential for a serious revision in personnel and policy.

There is wide consensus that the decision to try KSM in federal court in New York was a blunder. Suddenly, the wonders of military commissions have been rediscovered. The handling of the Christmas Day bomber is likewise the subject of broad criticism. Who is at the center of these and a host of other ill-advised decisions on the war on terror? Well, the president, of course, but he’s not going anywhere for three years. His attorney general, however, has had quite a run and is fast becoming a liability for the administration. What better way to pivot and restore some bipartisan credibility than to throw Holder under the proverbial bus?

We’ve learned that it takes a lot to get fired by Obama. But if anyone has earned that fate, it is Holder. His departure would earn praise from conservatives at a time when Obama is struggling to demonstrate some bipartisanship. It would suggest that there is hope yet for this administration to steer back toward the Center of the political spectrum and away from the netroot agenda that has proven utterly unworkable and politically toxic.

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Democrats at Risk

Jonathan Martin reports:

A tactic that would have seemed far-fetched a year ago, when the new president was sworn in with a 67 percent job approval rating, is now emerging as a key component of the GOP strategy: Tie Democratic opponents to Obama and make them answer for some of the unpopular policies associated with the chief executive.

This is, of course, the mirror image of what occurred in 2006, when Democrats ran against George W. Bush. Martin adds: “The challenge will be to link Democrats with the administration on such issues as spending, bailouts, healthcare and cap-and-trade while not personally attacking Obama, who remains personally well-liked even as his standing erodes.” It’s not much of a challenge, really; all Republicans need to do is look at the campaigns of Bob McDonnell and Scott Brown, who ran against Obama policies but made no personal attacks on the president.

Frankly, in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts, Obama showed himself not much of an aid in motivating his own troops. The Left has become peeved with the underachieving president, who has been unable to deliver much of consequence on their policy wish list. So it’s not surprising that Republicans are starting to cheer Obama appearances in their state.  Martin explains of Colorado and Wisconsin, two states previously thought to be securely Democratic:

It was [in Colorado] where Democrats enjoyed resurgence in recent years, resulting in scores of stories about the Rocky Mountain West turning, if not blue, at least purple. But now, with the appointed Bennet facing the threat of a primary and a tough GOP challenge, an incumbent governor whose numbers were so poor he couldn’t even run for re-election and at least two Democratic-held House seats potentially imperiled, those analyses look premature.

Republicans in the Badger State think two long-time Democrats could pay a price for backing much of Obama’s agenda.

“Democrats in Wisconsin like [Rep.] Dave Obey and [Sen.] Russ Feingold will be especially vulnerable because these two men have voluntarily marched off the cliff with Obama by not only supporting the president’s failed policies but fighting to pass them as well,” said state GOP Chairman Reince Priebus.

We’ll see how long Obama’s downward slide continues and whether unemployment remains high. If Obama doesn’t dash for the Center, and if the economy limps along for the remainder of the year, Colorado and Wisconsin will join a long list of states that are no longer definitely, no-questions-asked safe bets for the Democrats. In the Obama era, no seat is safe for the Democrats, it seems.

Jonathan Martin reports:

A tactic that would have seemed far-fetched a year ago, when the new president was sworn in with a 67 percent job approval rating, is now emerging as a key component of the GOP strategy: Tie Democratic opponents to Obama and make them answer for some of the unpopular policies associated with the chief executive.

This is, of course, the mirror image of what occurred in 2006, when Democrats ran against George W. Bush. Martin adds: “The challenge will be to link Democrats with the administration on such issues as spending, bailouts, healthcare and cap-and-trade while not personally attacking Obama, who remains personally well-liked even as his standing erodes.” It’s not much of a challenge, really; all Republicans need to do is look at the campaigns of Bob McDonnell and Scott Brown, who ran against Obama policies but made no personal attacks on the president.

Frankly, in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts, Obama showed himself not much of an aid in motivating his own troops. The Left has become peeved with the underachieving president, who has been unable to deliver much of consequence on their policy wish list. So it’s not surprising that Republicans are starting to cheer Obama appearances in their state.  Martin explains of Colorado and Wisconsin, two states previously thought to be securely Democratic:

It was [in Colorado] where Democrats enjoyed resurgence in recent years, resulting in scores of stories about the Rocky Mountain West turning, if not blue, at least purple. But now, with the appointed Bennet facing the threat of a primary and a tough GOP challenge, an incumbent governor whose numbers were so poor he couldn’t even run for re-election and at least two Democratic-held House seats potentially imperiled, those analyses look premature.

Republicans in the Badger State think two long-time Democrats could pay a price for backing much of Obama’s agenda.

“Democrats in Wisconsin like [Rep.] Dave Obey and [Sen.] Russ Feingold will be especially vulnerable because these two men have voluntarily marched off the cliff with Obama by not only supporting the president’s failed policies but fighting to pass them as well,” said state GOP Chairman Reince Priebus.

We’ll see how long Obama’s downward slide continues and whether unemployment remains high. If Obama doesn’t dash for the Center, and if the economy limps along for the remainder of the year, Colorado and Wisconsin will join a long list of states that are no longer definitely, no-questions-asked safe bets for the Democrats. In the Obama era, no seat is safe for the Democrats, it seems.

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The Search for the Next Hillary

Hillary Clinton’s suggestion that she will not be with Obama for the long haul has some pondering her replacement. One list ranges from the uninspired (Sen. Richard Lugar, who shares Obama’s yen for non-proliferation deals) to the horrifying (George Mitchell, having offended all parties in the Middle East, can bring his own brand of clueless incompetence to the rest of the world). There is the ever-eager Sen. John Kerry — but could the Democrats risk another Massachusetts Senate seat? (I jest — but just a little.) Intriguing but unlikely is David Petraeus, who one suspects has had quite enough of Obama’s equivocation.

One name not on the list: Bill Clinton. No, seriously, he’s unlikely to get lost in minutiae (as his wife has), allow special envoys to steal the limelight (as his wife has), or repeatedly offend allies (as his wife has). And by selecting another Clinton, Obama would once again keep the Clintons sidelined in the intra-party political wars. Put it this way: we could, and likely will, do worse.

But going through the names, one must conclude that any secretary of state is bound to be as ineffective as Hillary Clinton unless Obama changes his perspective and his game plan. So long as Obama seeks to make America as inoffensive as possible and to downplay our own interests and values for the sake of avoiding confrontation, no secretary of state is going to do much better than Hillary Clinton. Who doubts, after all, that the aversion to Iranian regime change comes directly from Obama? Does anyone imagine our retreat on human rights isn’t part and parcel of Obama’s infatuation with endearing ourselves to despots? It is the president whose cockeyed recollection of the Cold War fails to recognize that our military superiority broke the back of the Soviet Union. It was he who argued in Cairo that Israel owes its legitimacy to the Holocaust and that the Palestinians are analogous to enslaved African-Americans.

So in a very real sense, it doesn’t matter who might succeed Clinton at Foggy Bottom. We’ve learned once again that what matters is who occupies the Oval Office. And in this case, it’s a president with some very mistaken notions about how the world works.

Hillary Clinton’s suggestion that she will not be with Obama for the long haul has some pondering her replacement. One list ranges from the uninspired (Sen. Richard Lugar, who shares Obama’s yen for non-proliferation deals) to the horrifying (George Mitchell, having offended all parties in the Middle East, can bring his own brand of clueless incompetence to the rest of the world). There is the ever-eager Sen. John Kerry — but could the Democrats risk another Massachusetts Senate seat? (I jest — but just a little.) Intriguing but unlikely is David Petraeus, who one suspects has had quite enough of Obama’s equivocation.

One name not on the list: Bill Clinton. No, seriously, he’s unlikely to get lost in minutiae (as his wife has), allow special envoys to steal the limelight (as his wife has), or repeatedly offend allies (as his wife has). And by selecting another Clinton, Obama would once again keep the Clintons sidelined in the intra-party political wars. Put it this way: we could, and likely will, do worse.

But going through the names, one must conclude that any secretary of state is bound to be as ineffective as Hillary Clinton unless Obama changes his perspective and his game plan. So long as Obama seeks to make America as inoffensive as possible and to downplay our own interests and values for the sake of avoiding confrontation, no secretary of state is going to do much better than Hillary Clinton. Who doubts, after all, that the aversion to Iranian regime change comes directly from Obama? Does anyone imagine our retreat on human rights isn’t part and parcel of Obama’s infatuation with endearing ourselves to despots? It is the president whose cockeyed recollection of the Cold War fails to recognize that our military superiority broke the back of the Soviet Union. It was he who argued in Cairo that Israel owes its legitimacy to the Holocaust and that the Palestinians are analogous to enslaved African-Americans.

So in a very real sense, it doesn’t matter who might succeed Clinton at Foggy Bottom. We’ve learned once again that what matters is who occupies the Oval Office. And in this case, it’s a president with some very mistaken notions about how the world works.

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Michael Hayden vs. Obami’s Folly

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden is the latest and among the most credible critics of the administration’s handling of the Christmas Day bombing. He writes:

We got it wrong in Detroit on Christmas Day. We allowed an enemy combatant the protections of our Constitution before we had adequately interrogated him. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is not “an isolated extremist.” He is the tip of the spear of a complex al-Qaeda plot to kill Americans in our homeland.

In the 50 minutes the FBI had to question him, agents reportedly got actionable intelligence. Good. But were there any experts on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the room (other than Abdulmutallab)? Was there anyone intimately familiar with any National Security Agency raw traffic to, from or about the captured terrorist? Did they have a list or photos of suspected recruits?

This is, as Hayden points out, one in a long list of misjudgments that began when we limited our interrogations to the Army Field Manual, stripped the CIA of its interrogation responsibilities (and then failed to implement the high-value detainee interrogation team), released the interrogation memos, began the re-investigation of CIA operatives, decided to try KSM, and, of course, determined to close Guantanamo without a reasonable alternative. Our anti-terror policies now have an entirely legalistic cast, and our intelligence-gathering has been subsumed to a new priority: the extension of constitutional protections to terrorists. As Hadyen dryly concludes:

In August, the government unveiled the [ High Value Interrogation Group] for questioning al-Qaeda and announced that the FBI would begin questioning CIA officers about the alleged abuses in the 2004 inspector general’s report. They are apparently still getting organized for the al-Qaeda interrogations. But the interrogations of CIA personnel are well underway.

Aside from the political controversy this has created and the lack of confidence it has inspired among the American people, the question remains whether we are now safer, and our intelligence agencies, more focused. Almost certainly, we are neither. This has been a grand experiment — allowing leftist lawyers to run our national-security policy. Perhaps after a year, we can now see how foolhardy the endeavor was. If the president cannot pivot (just as on domestic policy), it is time for Congress to step forward, use the power of the purse, and exercise its authority over the federal courts’ jurisdiction. Members of Congress, too, have an obligation to attend to the national security of the country. They would be well advised to review, assess, and then depart from the Obami’s ill-fated escapade.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden is the latest and among the most credible critics of the administration’s handling of the Christmas Day bombing. He writes:

We got it wrong in Detroit on Christmas Day. We allowed an enemy combatant the protections of our Constitution before we had adequately interrogated him. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is not “an isolated extremist.” He is the tip of the spear of a complex al-Qaeda plot to kill Americans in our homeland.

In the 50 minutes the FBI had to question him, agents reportedly got actionable intelligence. Good. But were there any experts on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the room (other than Abdulmutallab)? Was there anyone intimately familiar with any National Security Agency raw traffic to, from or about the captured terrorist? Did they have a list or photos of suspected recruits?

This is, as Hayden points out, one in a long list of misjudgments that began when we limited our interrogations to the Army Field Manual, stripped the CIA of its interrogation responsibilities (and then failed to implement the high-value detainee interrogation team), released the interrogation memos, began the re-investigation of CIA operatives, decided to try KSM, and, of course, determined to close Guantanamo without a reasonable alternative. Our anti-terror policies now have an entirely legalistic cast, and our intelligence-gathering has been subsumed to a new priority: the extension of constitutional protections to terrorists. As Hadyen dryly concludes:

In August, the government unveiled the [ High Value Interrogation Group] for questioning al-Qaeda and announced that the FBI would begin questioning CIA officers about the alleged abuses in the 2004 inspector general’s report. They are apparently still getting organized for the al-Qaeda interrogations. But the interrogations of CIA personnel are well underway.

Aside from the political controversy this has created and the lack of confidence it has inspired among the American people, the question remains whether we are now safer, and our intelligence agencies, more focused. Almost certainly, we are neither. This has been a grand experiment — allowing leftist lawyers to run our national-security policy. Perhaps after a year, we can now see how foolhardy the endeavor was. If the president cannot pivot (just as on domestic policy), it is time for Congress to step forward, use the power of the purse, and exercise its authority over the federal courts’ jurisdiction. Members of Congress, too, have an obligation to attend to the national security of the country. They would be well advised to review, assess, and then depart from the Obami’s ill-fated escapade.

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Don’t Ask When, Don’t Tell the Left They’ve Been Conned

As with everything Obama-related, his promise to abolish Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell turns out to be less than billed during the State of the Union. This report explains:

The Defense Department starts the clock next week on what is expected to be a several-year process in lifting its ban on gays from serving openly in the military. A special investigation into how the ban can be repealed without hurting the morale or readiness of the troops was expected to be announced Tuesday by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Given that the one-year, self-imposed deadline for Guantanamo has come and gone, it is quite possible that the abolition of the policy could then very well never occur, with the debate extending long past Obama’s presidency. Surely his base will not be mollified with this sort of fluff, right? Others, however, may be delighted by the lackadaisical pace:

Democrats in Congress are also unlikely to press the issue until after this fall’s midterm elections. This will probably satisfy [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates, who has long suggested that change shouldn’t come too quickly. In a speech last year at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., Gated noted that the 1948 executive order for racial integration took five years to implement. “I’m not saying that’s a model for this, but I’m saying that I believe this is something that needs to be done very, very carefully,” he told the audience.

As J.E. Dyer explained in her thoughtful post, there are serious issues to consider before we allow the military to tolerate openly gay servicemen. And there is reason to wonder why — other than pure domestic politics to assuage the president’s disillusioned netroot fans — we should subject one of the few highly effective public institutions to “an untested, unnecessary, and probably unwise social experiment,” as Bill Kristol puts it.

Aside from the merits of the existing policy and the real cost in time, focus, and morale to change it, this is yet another example of the president’s rhetorical excess, which I suspect will now be seen as flimflam by his base. He promised to end the policy; the reality is that he is setting up an endless bureaucratic process to study it.

Guantanamo is open, the Patriot Act remains in place, ObamaCare is dead, and now Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is likely to be with us for years, perhaps forever. At some point, the president’s fans on the Left will realize they have been had.

As with everything Obama-related, his promise to abolish Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell turns out to be less than billed during the State of the Union. This report explains:

The Defense Department starts the clock next week on what is expected to be a several-year process in lifting its ban on gays from serving openly in the military. A special investigation into how the ban can be repealed without hurting the morale or readiness of the troops was expected to be announced Tuesday by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Given that the one-year, self-imposed deadline for Guantanamo has come and gone, it is quite possible that the abolition of the policy could then very well never occur, with the debate extending long past Obama’s presidency. Surely his base will not be mollified with this sort of fluff, right? Others, however, may be delighted by the lackadaisical pace:

Democrats in Congress are also unlikely to press the issue until after this fall’s midterm elections. This will probably satisfy [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates, who has long suggested that change shouldn’t come too quickly. In a speech last year at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., Gated noted that the 1948 executive order for racial integration took five years to implement. “I’m not saying that’s a model for this, but I’m saying that I believe this is something that needs to be done very, very carefully,” he told the audience.

As J.E. Dyer explained in her thoughtful post, there are serious issues to consider before we allow the military to tolerate openly gay servicemen. And there is reason to wonder why — other than pure domestic politics to assuage the president’s disillusioned netroot fans — we should subject one of the few highly effective public institutions to “an untested, unnecessary, and probably unwise social experiment,” as Bill Kristol puts it.

Aside from the merits of the existing policy and the real cost in time, focus, and morale to change it, this is yet another example of the president’s rhetorical excess, which I suspect will now be seen as flimflam by his base. He promised to end the policy; the reality is that he is setting up an endless bureaucratic process to study it.

Guantanamo is open, the Patriot Act remains in place, ObamaCare is dead, and now Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is likely to be with us for years, perhaps forever. At some point, the president’s fans on the Left will realize they have been had.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A Katrina-like abomination: “The United States has suspended its medical evacuations of critically injured Haitian earthquake victims until a dispute over who will pay for their care is settled, military officials said Friday. The military flights, usually C-130s carrying Haitians with spinal cord injuries, burns and other serious wounds, ended on Wednesday after Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida formally asked the federal government to shoulder some of the cost of the care. . . The suspension could be catastrophic for patients, said Dr. Barth A. Green, the co-founder of Project Medishare for Haiti. . . ‘People are dying in Haiti because they can’t get out,’ Dr. Green said.”

Speaking of Katrina, imagine if a Republican Secretary of Education said of New Orleans: “that education system was a disaster. And it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better. And the progress that it made in four years since the hurricane, is unbelievable.” In a cabinet filled with underachievers, by the way, Arne Duncan has certainly not lived up to his reviews.

Gail Collins lectures her readers that opposition to the KSM trial in New York is just selfishness run amok. You will find no better example of liberals’ contempt for the concerns of ordinary Americans and the blithe dismissal of the risks of a jihadist trial. You wonder if the Obami cringe — are they capable of shame? — when they hear their harebrained scheme defended in such a fashion.

Her colleague Charles Blow is convinced this is all a communication problem. How is it that liberals can simultaneously rave about Obama’s eloquence and conclude he’s not getting through? Well, he’s too “studious” for us and doesn’t understand Americans are “suspicious of complexity.” Ah, you see, we are not worthy of such a leader as he.

On the administration’s proposed Defense Department budget: “The lack of big weapons cuts is causing some outcry from congressional Democrats. ‘I don’t think that we have to protect military contractors. And I want to make that distinction very clearly,’ said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.). ‘I do not think the entire defense budget should be exempted.'” You can’t make this stuff up.

The public doesn’t much believe Obama on the economy: “The president in the speech declared that his administration has cut taxes for 95% of Americans. He even chided Republicans for not applauding on that point. However, just 21% of voters nationwide believe that taxes have been cut for 95% of Americans. . . The president also asserted that ‘after two years of recession, the economy is growing again.’ Just 35% of voters believe that statement is true, while 50% say it is false. Obama claimed that steps taken by his team are responsible for putting two million people to work ‘who would otherwise be unemployed.’ Just 27% of voters say that statement is true. Fifty-one percent (51%) say it’s false.”

The Washington Post editors: “The best chance of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear capacity lies in a victory by the opposition — and so it follows that the Obama administration’s strategy should be aimed at bolstering the self-styled ‘green movement’ rather than striking deals with the Khamenei regime.” First, Richard Haass and now the Post — we are all neocons now.

You know things have gotten bad when Maxine Waters sounds saner than the Speaker of the House: “During an interview on Friday, the congresswoman stressed it was going to be ‘very difficult’ to pass that legislation in the coming weeks, mostly because House and Senate leaders are still without a ‘roadmap’ and have yet to address key policy differences between the two chambers’ efforts.”

And when Sen. Susan Collins sounds like Andy McCarthy: “Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) on Saturday hammered the Justice Department for treating Flight 253 terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a ‘common criminal’ —  a move she described in her party’s weekly address as a ‘failure’ of the entire justice system. The decision to read Miranda rights to Abdulmutallab — better known as the Christmas Day bomber — is symptomatic of the White House’s general ‘blindness’ in its handling of the larger War on Terrorism, Collins stressed.”

A Katrina-like abomination: “The United States has suspended its medical evacuations of critically injured Haitian earthquake victims until a dispute over who will pay for their care is settled, military officials said Friday. The military flights, usually C-130s carrying Haitians with spinal cord injuries, burns and other serious wounds, ended on Wednesday after Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida formally asked the federal government to shoulder some of the cost of the care. . . The suspension could be catastrophic for patients, said Dr. Barth A. Green, the co-founder of Project Medishare for Haiti. . . ‘People are dying in Haiti because they can’t get out,’ Dr. Green said.”

Speaking of Katrina, imagine if a Republican Secretary of Education said of New Orleans: “that education system was a disaster. And it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better. And the progress that it made in four years since the hurricane, is unbelievable.” In a cabinet filled with underachievers, by the way, Arne Duncan has certainly not lived up to his reviews.

Gail Collins lectures her readers that opposition to the KSM trial in New York is just selfishness run amok. You will find no better example of liberals’ contempt for the concerns of ordinary Americans and the blithe dismissal of the risks of a jihadist trial. You wonder if the Obami cringe — are they capable of shame? — when they hear their harebrained scheme defended in such a fashion.

Her colleague Charles Blow is convinced this is all a communication problem. How is it that liberals can simultaneously rave about Obama’s eloquence and conclude he’s not getting through? Well, he’s too “studious” for us and doesn’t understand Americans are “suspicious of complexity.” Ah, you see, we are not worthy of such a leader as he.

On the administration’s proposed Defense Department budget: “The lack of big weapons cuts is causing some outcry from congressional Democrats. ‘I don’t think that we have to protect military contractors. And I want to make that distinction very clearly,’ said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.). ‘I do not think the entire defense budget should be exempted.'” You can’t make this stuff up.

The public doesn’t much believe Obama on the economy: “The president in the speech declared that his administration has cut taxes for 95% of Americans. He even chided Republicans for not applauding on that point. However, just 21% of voters nationwide believe that taxes have been cut for 95% of Americans. . . The president also asserted that ‘after two years of recession, the economy is growing again.’ Just 35% of voters believe that statement is true, while 50% say it is false. Obama claimed that steps taken by his team are responsible for putting two million people to work ‘who would otherwise be unemployed.’ Just 27% of voters say that statement is true. Fifty-one percent (51%) say it’s false.”

The Washington Post editors: “The best chance of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear capacity lies in a victory by the opposition — and so it follows that the Obama administration’s strategy should be aimed at bolstering the self-styled ‘green movement’ rather than striking deals with the Khamenei regime.” First, Richard Haass and now the Post — we are all neocons now.

You know things have gotten bad when Maxine Waters sounds saner than the Speaker of the House: “During an interview on Friday, the congresswoman stressed it was going to be ‘very difficult’ to pass that legislation in the coming weeks, mostly because House and Senate leaders are still without a ‘roadmap’ and have yet to address key policy differences between the two chambers’ efforts.”

And when Sen. Susan Collins sounds like Andy McCarthy: “Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) on Saturday hammered the Justice Department for treating Flight 253 terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a ‘common criminal’ —  a move she described in her party’s weekly address as a ‘failure’ of the entire justice system. The decision to read Miranda rights to Abdulmutallab — better known as the Christmas Day bomber — is symptomatic of the White House’s general ‘blindness’ in its handling of the larger War on Terrorism, Collins stressed.”

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First Amendment Defenders

James Taranto’s interview with First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams is well worth a read. Abrams chastizes critics of the Supreme Court’s McCain-Feingold ruling:

And my reaction is sort of a John McEnroe: You cannot be serious! We’re talking about the First Amendment here, and we’re being told that an extremely vituperative expression of disdain for a candidate for president is criminal in America?

He also reveals that the ACLU favored the Supreme Court’s decision, but has been very quiet about it. Abrams warns its board:

Look, you bring cases, such as one to strike down a law of Congress which was aimed at “virtual child pornography”—not real children being filmed, but otherwise wholly pornographic. . . . I said: You didn’t do it because you wanted to protect the folks who like to watch child pornography. You did it because you thought the government shouldn’t be trusted to make content decisions about who watches anything, and because you thought the principle of avoiding governmental control over what is available on the Internet was so strong. . .I warned that I thought the worst thing the ACLU could do is to become just another liberal public-interest group.

But his essential point, which has eluded the former constitutional law professor who now occupies the Oval Office, is that what is at stake here is core protected political speech. But Obama is not alone in missing (or choosing to miss) the point. As Abrams notes, nearly all media outlets roundly criticized the Court’s ruling. Abrams opines that the reason is two-fold: journalists don’t understand that they work for corporations (which were protected by the Court’s decision) and they confuse “democracy” (or more precisely, a sort of populist leveling in which elections are micro-managed to enforce a level playing field) with the proper constitutional interpretation of the First Amendment. And of course, they don’t appreciate the competition that may come from unions and corporations choosing to inject information the press hasn’t seen fit to print.

Could there be any better reminder of the importance of Supreme Court Justices who remain faithful to the text and meaning of the Constitution? When the president, Congress, and the media itself lose their way and urge us to abandon First Amendment principals, there are a select group that can set them straight. The composition of the Court may change soon again, and with it, the First Amendment may once again be up for grabs.

James Taranto’s interview with First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams is well worth a read. Abrams chastizes critics of the Supreme Court’s McCain-Feingold ruling:

And my reaction is sort of a John McEnroe: You cannot be serious! We’re talking about the First Amendment here, and we’re being told that an extremely vituperative expression of disdain for a candidate for president is criminal in America?

He also reveals that the ACLU favored the Supreme Court’s decision, but has been very quiet about it. Abrams warns its board:

Look, you bring cases, such as one to strike down a law of Congress which was aimed at “virtual child pornography”—not real children being filmed, but otherwise wholly pornographic. . . . I said: You didn’t do it because you wanted to protect the folks who like to watch child pornography. You did it because you thought the government shouldn’t be trusted to make content decisions about who watches anything, and because you thought the principle of avoiding governmental control over what is available on the Internet was so strong. . .I warned that I thought the worst thing the ACLU could do is to become just another liberal public-interest group.

But his essential point, which has eluded the former constitutional law professor who now occupies the Oval Office, is that what is at stake here is core protected political speech. But Obama is not alone in missing (or choosing to miss) the point. As Abrams notes, nearly all media outlets roundly criticized the Court’s ruling. Abrams opines that the reason is two-fold: journalists don’t understand that they work for corporations (which were protected by the Court’s decision) and they confuse “democracy” (or more precisely, a sort of populist leveling in which elections are micro-managed to enforce a level playing field) with the proper constitutional interpretation of the First Amendment. And of course, they don’t appreciate the competition that may come from unions and corporations choosing to inject information the press hasn’t seen fit to print.

Could there be any better reminder of the importance of Supreme Court Justices who remain faithful to the text and meaning of the Constitution? When the president, Congress, and the media itself lose their way and urge us to abandon First Amendment principals, there are a select group that can set them straight. The composition of the Court may change soon again, and with it, the First Amendment may once again be up for grabs.

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What a Great Idea

 It has perhaps happened before in American politics but not that I can remember. As the Times reported it,

At a moment when the country is as polarized as ever, Mr. Obama traveled to a House Republican retreat on Friday to try to break through the partisan logjam that has helped stall his legislative agenda. What ensued was a lively, robust debate between a president and the opposition party that rarely happens in the scripted world of American politics.

It made for fascinating television and the media would love for it to become a regular feature of American government. The analogy is to questioning time in the House of Commons, when the prime minister is grilled by the opposition, who have no reason to be polite—or even fair. Great political theater sometimes happens (and great political wit too, something rare in this country).  The State of the Union speech is analogous to the Queen’s speech from the throne (except the Lords, who are seated, and members of the Commons, who stand, don’t jump up and down every thirty seconds applauding wildly—another good idea we might adopt from the British).

As Charles Krauthammer pointed out last night on Fox, the president is half king and half prime minister, head of both state and government. As head of state, he is trapped inside the White House bubble. Perhaps that’s why President Obama was apparently genuinely surprised when he learned that some Republicans regard him as an ideologue. “I am not an ideologue,” the Times reported him saying. When he drew “skeptical murmurs from the crowd,” he insisted “I’m not.” Of course, if you spend half your day talking with Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod, it is probably easy to think that hard Left is the path of pragmatism.

So getting out in the real world and taking questions from the Congressmen of the other party on a regular basis would be a useful reality check for presidents both Democratic and Republican. Reporters can’t fill that role. They know that if they are too aggressive in their questioning, they will find their access to White House personnel curtailed. And White House press conferences have become increasingly scripted anyway.

So I hope something like this will become standard, much as debates have become standard in major political races (although the debate formats need to be reformed to produce tougher questions and less scripted answers).

By the way, John McCain promised during the campaign that he would, as president, do exactly this. President Obama might be gracious enough (I won’t hold my breath—graciousness is not his long suit) to acknowledge this.

 It has perhaps happened before in American politics but not that I can remember. As the Times reported it,

At a moment when the country is as polarized as ever, Mr. Obama traveled to a House Republican retreat on Friday to try to break through the partisan logjam that has helped stall his legislative agenda. What ensued was a lively, robust debate between a president and the opposition party that rarely happens in the scripted world of American politics.

It made for fascinating television and the media would love for it to become a regular feature of American government. The analogy is to questioning time in the House of Commons, when the prime minister is grilled by the opposition, who have no reason to be polite—or even fair. Great political theater sometimes happens (and great political wit too, something rare in this country).  The State of the Union speech is analogous to the Queen’s speech from the throne (except the Lords, who are seated, and members of the Commons, who stand, don’t jump up and down every thirty seconds applauding wildly—another good idea we might adopt from the British).

As Charles Krauthammer pointed out last night on Fox, the president is half king and half prime minister, head of both state and government. As head of state, he is trapped inside the White House bubble. Perhaps that’s why President Obama was apparently genuinely surprised when he learned that some Republicans regard him as an ideologue. “I am not an ideologue,” the Times reported him saying. When he drew “skeptical murmurs from the crowd,” he insisted “I’m not.” Of course, if you spend half your day talking with Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod, it is probably easy to think that hard Left is the path of pragmatism.

So getting out in the real world and taking questions from the Congressmen of the other party on a regular basis would be a useful reality check for presidents both Democratic and Republican. Reporters can’t fill that role. They know that if they are too aggressive in their questioning, they will find their access to White House personnel curtailed. And White House press conferences have become increasingly scripted anyway.

So I hope something like this will become standard, much as debates have become standard in major political races (although the debate formats need to be reformed to produce tougher questions and less scripted answers).

By the way, John McCain promised during the campaign that he would, as president, do exactly this. President Obama might be gracious enough (I won’t hold my breath—graciousness is not his long suit) to acknowledge this.

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Waiting for the Realists

COMMENTARY contributor John Bolton reviews in this must-read piece Obama’s brisk SOTU run-through of foreign-policy issues. On nuclear nonproliferation, Bolton observes that Obama made a “critical linkage” after touting the U.S.-Russian arms-control talks, namely that: “These diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of nuclear weapons.” Bolton says this is nonsense:

Obama described the increasing “isolation” of both North Korea and Iran, the two most conspicuous—but far from the only—nuclear proliferators. He also mentioned the increased sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after its second nuclear test in 2009 and the “growing consequences” he says Iran will face because of his policies.

In fact, reducing our nuclear -arsenal will not somehow persuade Iran and North Korea to alter their behavior or encourage others to apply more pressure on them to do so. Obama’s remarks reflect a complete misreading of strategic realities. . . What warrants close attention is the jarring naïveté of arguing that reducing our capabilities will inhibit nuclear proliferators. That would certainly surprise Tehran and Pyongyang.

Really, there is a childlike assumption by the Obami that these powers will be impressed with the West’s disarmament efforts and want to get in on the back-slapping congratulations too. It is, as Bolton points out, further confirmation that rather than become more “realistic” in our approach to national security, the Obami crew have adopted fictions that bear no relationship to the behavior and motives of the regimes we face. The president has in essence doubled down on a dangerously misguided vision:

Obama has now explicitly rejected the idea that U.S. weakness is provocative, arguing instead that weakness will convince Tehran and Pyongyang to do the opposite of what they have been resolutely doing for decades—vigorously pursuing their nuclear and missile programs. Obama’s first year amply demonstrates that his approach will do nothing even to retard, let alone stop, Iran and North Korea.

But this sort of thinking is not unique to nuclear proliferation, of course. Was his Middle East gambit — bully Israel, raise Palestinian expectations, and rely on the wonderfulness of himself — any more grounded in reality? Was his idea that yanking missile defense from Poland and the Czech Republic would “reset” our relations with Russia grounded in a historic experience or on a well-thought out strategy? You see the pattern. Obama looks at the world, disregards the motives of our foes, and acts in ways that further aggravate bad situations (e.g., raising Palestinian expectations, encouraging Russian belligerences, providing breathing space to the mullahs). He then reports back that these problems are “hard” and that, lo and behold, he has discovered that there are complicating factors at play. (In his appearance in Tampa this week he seemed to acknowledge just this when he told the crowd, “The problem that we’re confronting right now is that both in Israel and within the Palestinian Territories, the politics are difficult; they’re divided.”)

One is left to gape at the naiveté. While it be dawning on Obama that the Middle East is not amenable to the “Cairo Effect” (his fractured history lesson really didn’t change anything — at least not for the better), that conclusion has not been extrapolated to other foreign-policy challenges. The Obami can be rebuffed and turned back in discrete areas. (Honduras stood up to the Foggy Bottom bullies. Domestic political realities are forcing a rethinking of Obama’s “Not Bush” anti-terror approach.) But they keep at it, ever more certain that the world can conform to their vision rather than the other way around. It is, for those who were waiting for a foreign policy built on “realism,” anything but.

COMMENTARY contributor John Bolton reviews in this must-read piece Obama’s brisk SOTU run-through of foreign-policy issues. On nuclear nonproliferation, Bolton observes that Obama made a “critical linkage” after touting the U.S.-Russian arms-control talks, namely that: “These diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of nuclear weapons.” Bolton says this is nonsense:

Obama described the increasing “isolation” of both North Korea and Iran, the two most conspicuous—but far from the only—nuclear proliferators. He also mentioned the increased sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after its second nuclear test in 2009 and the “growing consequences” he says Iran will face because of his policies.

In fact, reducing our nuclear -arsenal will not somehow persuade Iran and North Korea to alter their behavior or encourage others to apply more pressure on them to do so. Obama’s remarks reflect a complete misreading of strategic realities. . . What warrants close attention is the jarring naïveté of arguing that reducing our capabilities will inhibit nuclear proliferators. That would certainly surprise Tehran and Pyongyang.

Really, there is a childlike assumption by the Obami that these powers will be impressed with the West’s disarmament efforts and want to get in on the back-slapping congratulations too. It is, as Bolton points out, further confirmation that rather than become more “realistic” in our approach to national security, the Obami crew have adopted fictions that bear no relationship to the behavior and motives of the regimes we face. The president has in essence doubled down on a dangerously misguided vision:

Obama has now explicitly rejected the idea that U.S. weakness is provocative, arguing instead that weakness will convince Tehran and Pyongyang to do the opposite of what they have been resolutely doing for decades—vigorously pursuing their nuclear and missile programs. Obama’s first year amply demonstrates that his approach will do nothing even to retard, let alone stop, Iran and North Korea.

But this sort of thinking is not unique to nuclear proliferation, of course. Was his Middle East gambit — bully Israel, raise Palestinian expectations, and rely on the wonderfulness of himself — any more grounded in reality? Was his idea that yanking missile defense from Poland and the Czech Republic would “reset” our relations with Russia grounded in a historic experience or on a well-thought out strategy? You see the pattern. Obama looks at the world, disregards the motives of our foes, and acts in ways that further aggravate bad situations (e.g., raising Palestinian expectations, encouraging Russian belligerences, providing breathing space to the mullahs). He then reports back that these problems are “hard” and that, lo and behold, he has discovered that there are complicating factors at play. (In his appearance in Tampa this week he seemed to acknowledge just this when he told the crowd, “The problem that we’re confronting right now is that both in Israel and within the Palestinian Territories, the politics are difficult; they’re divided.”)

One is left to gape at the naiveté. While it be dawning on Obama that the Middle East is not amenable to the “Cairo Effect” (his fractured history lesson really didn’t change anything — at least not for the better), that conclusion has not been extrapolated to other foreign-policy challenges. The Obami can be rebuffed and turned back in discrete areas. (Honduras stood up to the Foggy Bottom bullies. Domestic political realities are forcing a rethinking of Obama’s “Not Bush” anti-terror approach.) But they keep at it, ever more certain that the world can conform to their vision rather than the other way around. It is, for those who were waiting for a foreign policy built on “realism,” anything but.

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Another About-Face?

In a remarkable and entirely welcome reversal, the Eric Holder Justice Department has retreated in its effort to pursue ethics charges against Bush administration lawyers who authored memos on enhanced interrogation. Newsweek reports on the internal probe by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR):

While the probe is sharply critical of the legal reasoning used to justify waterboarding and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques, NEWSWEEK has learned that a senior Justice official who did the final review of the report softened an earlier OPR finding. Previously, the report concluded that two key authors—Jay Bybee, now a federal appellate court judge, and John Yoo, now a law professor—violated their professional obligations as lawyers when they crafted a crucial 2002 memo approving the use of harsh tactics, say two Justice sources who asked for anonymity discussing an internal matter. But the reviewer, career veteran David Margolis, downgraded that assessment to say they showed “poor judgment,” say the sources.

A draft report prepared in the waning days of the Bush administration by OPR was roundly criticized by departing Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy Mark Filip. As I reported previously:

One former Justice official with knowledge of the matter says, “It is safe to say they had a number of concerns about the draft report both as to the timing and the substance” of the work by OPR. There is, this official reports, “institutional unease by senior career people” at Justice that good faith legal work may place attorneys in peril. “The department won’t be able to attract the best and the brightest. You really want lawyers who will give candid legal advice.”

But the question remains why, and why now, the department has come to its senses. Newsweek pointedly observes: “A Justice official declined to explain why David Margolis softened the original finding, but noted that he is a highly respected career lawyer who acted without input from Holder.” One can speculate that some group of career attorneys, with no love lost for the Bush administration, nevertheless found the prospect of disbarring two of their own for good-faith legal work to be a bridge too far in the partisan wars. And it may be that as the wheels come off the ideology-driven Holder-Obama approach to terrorism (e.g., widespread criticism of the handling of the Christmas Day bombing, reversal of the decision to try KSM in New York), this was one more ill-conceived crusade that the Obami did not need.

Finally, for those who like a bit of Washington intrigue, consider that the White House counsel was until recently Greg Craig, who in his pre-Obama days as an adviser to Sen. Kennedy found the Nicaraguan Sandinistas to be deserving of our support, later helped return Elian Gonzales to the clutches of Fidel Castro, and advised in some capacity Pedro Miguel González, the Panamanian terrorist the U.S. government believed to have murdered two American soldiers. (Yes, that’s a story in and of itself, one that the mainstream media found no interest in reporting.) Craig, often cited as an enthusiastic backer of the “Not Bush” anti-terror policies, is now gone, a victim of the failed attempt to close Guantanamo. Perhaps his departure has removed a powerful advocate for this sort of unseemly mischief. If so, good riddance.

Regardless of the reason, the news that Yoo and Bybee will not be hounded from their profession is positive and long overdue. (The potential loss of their professional licenses has been hanging over them for well over a year.) The notion that lawyers providing detailed legal analysis and a comprehensive review of existing law could later be strung up by state bar associations is nothing short of chilling. As I previously wrote, Ronald Rotunda, a professor of law at Chapman Law School and a specialist in ethics who was consulted by the Justice Department on the OPR’s investigation, found the entire effort to prosecute lawyers for their opinions baffling:

“I can’t imagine you would discipline someone who goes through everything methodically.” He explains, “If you don’t like the particular policies, then change the policies.” He draws an analogy with the attacks on free speech during the Vietnam war and McCarthy eras in which lawyers with particular views were demonized and threatened with loss of their professional licenses.

Well, perhaps some sanity has been restored to the Justice Department. If so, we can finally turn our attention from waging war against the prior administration to determining how to uproot the failed policies of this one. Then on to steering an approach to combating terrorism that is both effective and enjoys the support of the public.

In a remarkable and entirely welcome reversal, the Eric Holder Justice Department has retreated in its effort to pursue ethics charges against Bush administration lawyers who authored memos on enhanced interrogation. Newsweek reports on the internal probe by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR):

While the probe is sharply critical of the legal reasoning used to justify waterboarding and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques, NEWSWEEK has learned that a senior Justice official who did the final review of the report softened an earlier OPR finding. Previously, the report concluded that two key authors—Jay Bybee, now a federal appellate court judge, and John Yoo, now a law professor—violated their professional obligations as lawyers when they crafted a crucial 2002 memo approving the use of harsh tactics, say two Justice sources who asked for anonymity discussing an internal matter. But the reviewer, career veteran David Margolis, downgraded that assessment to say they showed “poor judgment,” say the sources.

A draft report prepared in the waning days of the Bush administration by OPR was roundly criticized by departing Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy Mark Filip. As I reported previously:

One former Justice official with knowledge of the matter says, “It is safe to say they had a number of concerns about the draft report both as to the timing and the substance” of the work by OPR. There is, this official reports, “institutional unease by senior career people” at Justice that good faith legal work may place attorneys in peril. “The department won’t be able to attract the best and the brightest. You really want lawyers who will give candid legal advice.”

But the question remains why, and why now, the department has come to its senses. Newsweek pointedly observes: “A Justice official declined to explain why David Margolis softened the original finding, but noted that he is a highly respected career lawyer who acted without input from Holder.” One can speculate that some group of career attorneys, with no love lost for the Bush administration, nevertheless found the prospect of disbarring two of their own for good-faith legal work to be a bridge too far in the partisan wars. And it may be that as the wheels come off the ideology-driven Holder-Obama approach to terrorism (e.g., widespread criticism of the handling of the Christmas Day bombing, reversal of the decision to try KSM in New York), this was one more ill-conceived crusade that the Obami did not need.

Finally, for those who like a bit of Washington intrigue, consider that the White House counsel was until recently Greg Craig, who in his pre-Obama days as an adviser to Sen. Kennedy found the Nicaraguan Sandinistas to be deserving of our support, later helped return Elian Gonzales to the clutches of Fidel Castro, and advised in some capacity Pedro Miguel González, the Panamanian terrorist the U.S. government believed to have murdered two American soldiers. (Yes, that’s a story in and of itself, one that the mainstream media found no interest in reporting.) Craig, often cited as an enthusiastic backer of the “Not Bush” anti-terror policies, is now gone, a victim of the failed attempt to close Guantanamo. Perhaps his departure has removed a powerful advocate for this sort of unseemly mischief. If so, good riddance.

Regardless of the reason, the news that Yoo and Bybee will not be hounded from their profession is positive and long overdue. (The potential loss of their professional licenses has been hanging over them for well over a year.) The notion that lawyers providing detailed legal analysis and a comprehensive review of existing law could later be strung up by state bar associations is nothing short of chilling. As I previously wrote, Ronald Rotunda, a professor of law at Chapman Law School and a specialist in ethics who was consulted by the Justice Department on the OPR’s investigation, found the entire effort to prosecute lawyers for their opinions baffling:

“I can’t imagine you would discipline someone who goes through everything methodically.” He explains, “If you don’t like the particular policies, then change the policies.” He draws an analogy with the attacks on free speech during the Vietnam war and McCarthy eras in which lawyers with particular views were demonized and threatened with loss of their professional licenses.

Well, perhaps some sanity has been restored to the Justice Department. If so, we can finally turn our attention from waging war against the prior administration to determining how to uproot the failed policies of this one. Then on to steering an approach to combating terrorism that is both effective and enjoys the support of the public.

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Looking Back on the Week

The State of the Union revealed little new about the state of the nation, but much about the Obama presidency. We already knew that the economy was hobbled, that the jihadists remain on the prowl, and that we face implacable foes, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, and a world less impressed with Obama than he imagined. We were not so certain, however, what Obama wanted to do about all that until Wednesday night. Perhaps he had discovered his inner Bill Clinton. Maybe he would declare ObamaCare and the era of hubris-driven big government to be over. Or maybe he would roll the dice and continue his increasingly solitary effort to drive his party over the proverbial political cliff.

To the abject amazement of many conservatives, Obama refused to turn back and delivered an address not so different from his February 2009 speech, in which he laid out the most ambitious liberal platform in many decades. He nevertheless managed to upset liberals, who noticed how low on the priority list was health-care reform and how serious he seemed in conceding that a spending freeze (however limited in scope) was required.

Now, the favorite parlor game in Washington is to guess whether he means to drive his party over the brink. Matt Continetti writes, “It takes time for an administration to change course; maybe Obama will drop his big government agenda and move to the center over the coming year. He doesn’t, however, seem to want to. So Republicans have every reason to be cheerful. Obama persists in laying the foundation for a house nobody wants to buy.” That sentiment — the nagging suspicion that Obama can’t really mean what he says — is not limited to the Right. Democrats who were assured that Obama was the smartest, the savviest, and the most bare-knuckled pol of them all are looking about, wondering if there is not some master plan for extracting them from the downward spiral they now find themselves in.

This is the perpetual plight of hopeful Obama-philes — the desire to believe he is smarter, more creative, and more astute than he reveals himself to be in action and in rhetoric. Oh, he’s got the Olympics in the bag or he wouldn’t go to Copenhagen. Don’t be silly — he’s got a game plan for ObamaCare. Honestly, there is some backstory to explain the Middle East blunders. These and more are the endless justifications that swirl around a president who seems never to live up to the expectations of his most fervent fans.

There have been some impressive second acts in politics. Bill Clinton’s post-1994 presidency was one. Richard Nixon’s return to politics and to the White House in 1968 was another. It’s not impossible. But so far Obama has provided little evidence that he possess the intellectual resourcefulness and the political dexterity to shift gears and rescue his presidency or his party. Obama has a brief window before the midterm elections to restore if not the excitement then at least the impression of minimal competence. If he does not, his congressional allies will continue to scatter, staking out their own positions on key issues and seeking more distance from a president sinking under the weight of misplaced expectations. And those who keep rooting against all evidence for the exceptional president to reveal himself may discover that they have been deceived by pretty packaging and their own wishful thinking.

In surveying the current state of the union, we see that we may well be on the road to economic recovery (albeit with anemic job growth). Our superb military provides reason for optimism that we will achieve victories in Iraq and Afghanistan. The state of the Obama presidency is another story. It is far from certain that he will recover his bearings or remotely meet the expectations of his supporters.

The State of the Union revealed little new about the state of the nation, but much about the Obama presidency. We already knew that the economy was hobbled, that the jihadists remain on the prowl, and that we face implacable foes, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, and a world less impressed with Obama than he imagined. We were not so certain, however, what Obama wanted to do about all that until Wednesday night. Perhaps he had discovered his inner Bill Clinton. Maybe he would declare ObamaCare and the era of hubris-driven big government to be over. Or maybe he would roll the dice and continue his increasingly solitary effort to drive his party over the proverbial political cliff.

To the abject amazement of many conservatives, Obama refused to turn back and delivered an address not so different from his February 2009 speech, in which he laid out the most ambitious liberal platform in many decades. He nevertheless managed to upset liberals, who noticed how low on the priority list was health-care reform and how serious he seemed in conceding that a spending freeze (however limited in scope) was required.

Now, the favorite parlor game in Washington is to guess whether he means to drive his party over the brink. Matt Continetti writes, “It takes time for an administration to change course; maybe Obama will drop his big government agenda and move to the center over the coming year. He doesn’t, however, seem to want to. So Republicans have every reason to be cheerful. Obama persists in laying the foundation for a house nobody wants to buy.” That sentiment — the nagging suspicion that Obama can’t really mean what he says — is not limited to the Right. Democrats who were assured that Obama was the smartest, the savviest, and the most bare-knuckled pol of them all are looking about, wondering if there is not some master plan for extracting them from the downward spiral they now find themselves in.

This is the perpetual plight of hopeful Obama-philes — the desire to believe he is smarter, more creative, and more astute than he reveals himself to be in action and in rhetoric. Oh, he’s got the Olympics in the bag or he wouldn’t go to Copenhagen. Don’t be silly — he’s got a game plan for ObamaCare. Honestly, there is some backstory to explain the Middle East blunders. These and more are the endless justifications that swirl around a president who seems never to live up to the expectations of his most fervent fans.

There have been some impressive second acts in politics. Bill Clinton’s post-1994 presidency was one. Richard Nixon’s return to politics and to the White House in 1968 was another. It’s not impossible. But so far Obama has provided little evidence that he possess the intellectual resourcefulness and the political dexterity to shift gears and rescue his presidency or his party. Obama has a brief window before the midterm elections to restore if not the excitement then at least the impression of minimal competence. If he does not, his congressional allies will continue to scatter, staking out their own positions on key issues and seeking more distance from a president sinking under the weight of misplaced expectations. And those who keep rooting against all evidence for the exceptional president to reveal himself may discover that they have been deceived by pretty packaging and their own wishful thinking.

In surveying the current state of the union, we see that we may well be on the road to economic recovery (albeit with anemic job growth). Our superb military provides reason for optimism that we will achieve victories in Iraq and Afghanistan. The state of the Obama presidency is another story. It is far from certain that he will recover his bearings or remotely meet the expectations of his supporters.

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Why Shouldn’t Holder Be Fired?

Some of us suspected that the Obama team would find a reason to pull the plug on the KSM trial as it became increasingly apparent how unworkable and dangerous a public trial of a jihadist was. Few suspected that the entire stunt would collapse so quickly. But it has. The New York Times reports:

The Obama administration on Friday gave up on its plan to try the Sept. 11 plotters in Lower Manhattan, bowing to almost unanimous pressure from New York officials and business leaders to move the terrorism trial elsewhere.

“I think I can acknowledge the obvious,” an administration official said. “We’re considering other options.”

How did we get from there to here so quickly? The Times explains:

The story of how prominent New York officials seemed to have so quickly moved from a kind of “bring it on” bravado to an “anywhere but here” involves many factors, including a new anxiety about terrorism after the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day.

Ultimately, it appears, New York officials could not tolerate ceding much of the city to a set of trials that could last for years.

But something else, I suspect, more fundamental has occurred. The entire premise of the Obama anti-terrorism approach, which entailed  a willful ignorance on the nature of our enemy, a cavalier indifference to the concerns of ordinary Americans (be they 9/11 families or New York tax payers), and a headlong plunge into uncharted legal terrain has evaporated in the wake of the Christmas Day bomber and the general perception that the Obama team has not a clue what they are doing. The public is no longer willing to accept it on faith that the Obami know best. To the contrary, the illusion of competence has been shattered. Elected leaders are now willing to stand up and say what we all knew to be true. As Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University quoted by the Times, observes, “This will be one more stroke for al-Qaeda’s propaganda.” And a nightmare for New York.

The question remains as the White House scramble for Plan B: what is Eric Holder still doing there? It was he, the president tells us, who came up with this scheme. (His Department also implemented the “Mirandize the terrorist” policy.) It appears as though Holder exercised no due diligence (just as there had been none exercised prior to the announcement to close Guantanamo):

Mr. Holder called Mr. Bloomberg and Gov. David A. Paterson only a few hours before his public announcement on Nov. 13; and Mr. Kelly got a similar call that morning from Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, whose office had been picked to prosecute the cases.

But by the time those calls were made, the decision had already been reported in the news media, which was how Mr. Bloomberg learned about it, according to mayoral aides.

One senior Bloomberg official, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to antagonize the White House, said: “When Holder was making the decision he didn’t call Ray Kelly and say, ‘What do you think?’ He didn’t call the mayor and say, ‘What would your position be?’ They didn’t reach out until it got out there.”

There seems to have been, aside from the lack of any reasoned legal judgment, no basic political groundwork laid for this momentous decision. Had we not grown accustomed to the jaw-dropping incompetence of the Obami, this would be stunning. Now, it frankly seems to be par for the course.

Two things are clear from all of this. First, the administration’s critics have been vindicated. And second, those who came up with this harebrained scheme, including but not limited to Holder, should be canned. The president isn’t fond of firing anyone, but if ever there was a time to show that the president really does possess some rudimentary executive skills, this is it. Otherwise, the public will assume that bungling through one national-security issue after another is simply business as usual in the Obama administration.

Some of us suspected that the Obama team would find a reason to pull the plug on the KSM trial as it became increasingly apparent how unworkable and dangerous a public trial of a jihadist was. Few suspected that the entire stunt would collapse so quickly. But it has. The New York Times reports:

The Obama administration on Friday gave up on its plan to try the Sept. 11 plotters in Lower Manhattan, bowing to almost unanimous pressure from New York officials and business leaders to move the terrorism trial elsewhere.

“I think I can acknowledge the obvious,” an administration official said. “We’re considering other options.”

How did we get from there to here so quickly? The Times explains:

The story of how prominent New York officials seemed to have so quickly moved from a kind of “bring it on” bravado to an “anywhere but here” involves many factors, including a new anxiety about terrorism after the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day.

Ultimately, it appears, New York officials could not tolerate ceding much of the city to a set of trials that could last for years.

But something else, I suspect, more fundamental has occurred. The entire premise of the Obama anti-terrorism approach, which entailed  a willful ignorance on the nature of our enemy, a cavalier indifference to the concerns of ordinary Americans (be they 9/11 families or New York tax payers), and a headlong plunge into uncharted legal terrain has evaporated in the wake of the Christmas Day bomber and the general perception that the Obama team has not a clue what they are doing. The public is no longer willing to accept it on faith that the Obami know best. To the contrary, the illusion of competence has been shattered. Elected leaders are now willing to stand up and say what we all knew to be true. As Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University quoted by the Times, observes, “This will be one more stroke for al-Qaeda’s propaganda.” And a nightmare for New York.

The question remains as the White House scramble for Plan B: what is Eric Holder still doing there? It was he, the president tells us, who came up with this scheme. (His Department also implemented the “Mirandize the terrorist” policy.) It appears as though Holder exercised no due diligence (just as there had been none exercised prior to the announcement to close Guantanamo):

Mr. Holder called Mr. Bloomberg and Gov. David A. Paterson only a few hours before his public announcement on Nov. 13; and Mr. Kelly got a similar call that morning from Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, whose office had been picked to prosecute the cases.

But by the time those calls were made, the decision had already been reported in the news media, which was how Mr. Bloomberg learned about it, according to mayoral aides.

One senior Bloomberg official, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to antagonize the White House, said: “When Holder was making the decision he didn’t call Ray Kelly and say, ‘What do you think?’ He didn’t call the mayor and say, ‘What would your position be?’ They didn’t reach out until it got out there.”

There seems to have been, aside from the lack of any reasoned legal judgment, no basic political groundwork laid for this momentous decision. Had we not grown accustomed to the jaw-dropping incompetence of the Obami, this would be stunning. Now, it frankly seems to be par for the course.

Two things are clear from all of this. First, the administration’s critics have been vindicated. And second, those who came up with this harebrained scheme, including but not limited to Holder, should be canned. The president isn’t fond of firing anyone, but if ever there was a time to show that the president really does possess some rudimentary executive skills, this is it. Otherwise, the public will assume that bungling through one national-security issue after another is simply business as usual in the Obama administration.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Ruth Marcus explains: “So can a chastened Obama regain the lost sense of excitement and opportunity? Eventually, perhaps, but never entirely. The second time is never as thrilling.” Especially when the thrill was based on cotton-candy rhetoric and a blank slate onto which Obama told us we were projecting our hopes and dreams. If there is no there there, then the thrill is not likely to return.

Michael Barone says that if the election were held today, it would be worse for the Democrats than it was 1994 or 2002. He calls it “the makings of an epic party disaster.”

Charles Krauthammer on Obama and the KSM trial: “The president is not going to admit error. He never does. He does in the abstract, but he will never admit he actually makes a human error on anything. So he won’t on this. But he knows what’s going to happen, which is the Congress will rebel on this and it will pull the funding, [and] get him off the hook. And the issue [will] end up behind him even though he doesn’t do it himself.” Noting he never mentioned terrorism in the SOTU, Krauthammer adds: “In fact, because his two decisions — the KSM trial in Manhattan and the granting of Miranda rights to the guy who tried to blow up the airplane — are indefensible.”

Matt Continetti points out that it takes Speaker Nancy Pelosi to make Sen. Carl Levin look wise on national security. Levin says of Pelosi’s idea to apply Obama’s freeze to defense spending: “That’s kind of hard to do in the middle of a war.” But maybe if we hop over the Pentagon fence. And then pole vault in. And then. Yeah, she is Speaker of the House.

Liberals think Rahm Emanual’s kicking the can down the road on health-care reform (“Congress would deal first with jobs, then banking regulation, and then circle back around to health-care reform”) makes no sense. Well, only if you want to stave off an epic party disaster, I suppose.

But at least Obama still has the postgraduate-degree voters according to Gallup: “The support of postgraduates, who tend to be more liberal and Democratic in their political orientation, was important to Obama’s being elected president. Since he has become president, postgraduates have been among his more reliable supporters, backing him at higher levels than do those in other educational groups.” But that poll was taken before the SOTU and Obama flunked his midterm on the campaign-finance-reform law. That might lose him a few points.

Tom Bevan catches Obama sort of admitting that the health-care bills wouldn’t really, absolutely have allowed everyone to keep their existing health plans. Stuff “snuck in,” you see. If there has ever been a president less willing to take responsibility for anything, I’m hard pressed to recall who it was. And no — George W. Bush did admit error on the initial conduct of the Iraq war and on Katrina, so he’s not even in the ballpark of Obama blame-shifting.

Fred Barnes says Obama is trapped: “President Obama’s greatest need is to escape the ideological grip of congressional Democrats and the liberal base of the Democratic party (they’re one and the same). But he either doesn’t recognize this or, as a conventional liberal himself, isn’t so inclined. This self-inflicted difficulty has put Obama in worse political straits than President Clinton faced after the Republican landslide of 1994.” Unlike Clinton, however, Obama seems to lack the flexibility and ideological creativity to get himself out of his self-made jam.

Ruth Marcus explains: “So can a chastened Obama regain the lost sense of excitement and opportunity? Eventually, perhaps, but never entirely. The second time is never as thrilling.” Especially when the thrill was based on cotton-candy rhetoric and a blank slate onto which Obama told us we were projecting our hopes and dreams. If there is no there there, then the thrill is not likely to return.

Michael Barone says that if the election were held today, it would be worse for the Democrats than it was 1994 or 2002. He calls it “the makings of an epic party disaster.”

Charles Krauthammer on Obama and the KSM trial: “The president is not going to admit error. He never does. He does in the abstract, but he will never admit he actually makes a human error on anything. So he won’t on this. But he knows what’s going to happen, which is the Congress will rebel on this and it will pull the funding, [and] get him off the hook. And the issue [will] end up behind him even though he doesn’t do it himself.” Noting he never mentioned terrorism in the SOTU, Krauthammer adds: “In fact, because his two decisions — the KSM trial in Manhattan and the granting of Miranda rights to the guy who tried to blow up the airplane — are indefensible.”

Matt Continetti points out that it takes Speaker Nancy Pelosi to make Sen. Carl Levin look wise on national security. Levin says of Pelosi’s idea to apply Obama’s freeze to defense spending: “That’s kind of hard to do in the middle of a war.” But maybe if we hop over the Pentagon fence. And then pole vault in. And then. Yeah, she is Speaker of the House.

Liberals think Rahm Emanual’s kicking the can down the road on health-care reform (“Congress would deal first with jobs, then banking regulation, and then circle back around to health-care reform”) makes no sense. Well, only if you want to stave off an epic party disaster, I suppose.

But at least Obama still has the postgraduate-degree voters according to Gallup: “The support of postgraduates, who tend to be more liberal and Democratic in their political orientation, was important to Obama’s being elected president. Since he has become president, postgraduates have been among his more reliable supporters, backing him at higher levels than do those in other educational groups.” But that poll was taken before the SOTU and Obama flunked his midterm on the campaign-finance-reform law. That might lose him a few points.

Tom Bevan catches Obama sort of admitting that the health-care bills wouldn’t really, absolutely have allowed everyone to keep their existing health plans. Stuff “snuck in,” you see. If there has ever been a president less willing to take responsibility for anything, I’m hard pressed to recall who it was. And no — George W. Bush did admit error on the initial conduct of the Iraq war and on Katrina, so he’s not even in the ballpark of Obama blame-shifting.

Fred Barnes says Obama is trapped: “President Obama’s greatest need is to escape the ideological grip of congressional Democrats and the liberal base of the Democratic party (they’re one and the same). But he either doesn’t recognize this or, as a conventional liberal himself, isn’t so inclined. This self-inflicted difficulty has put Obama in worse political straits than President Clinton faced after the Republican landslide of 1994.” Unlike Clinton, however, Obama seems to lack the flexibility and ideological creativity to get himself out of his self-made jam.

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Iraq Proves the Pessimists Wrong

We often hear about the supposed “unraveling” of Iraq—a regular trope of veteran defense writer Tom Ricks, among others. No doubt there is cause for concern—ranging from bombings that kill dozens, even hundreds, to candidate disqualifications that threaten the integrity of upcoming elections. But as General David Petraeus notes in this interview published last Monday in the Times of London, Iraqi politicians have shown an impressive ability to overcome crises that could lead to the resumption of civil war. Speaking of the 500 candidates disqualified for Baathist links, Petraeus said:

I’m considerably much less worried than I was say last weekend when this was all really appearing that it actually could boil over and result in a reversal of the effect of two and an half years of reconciliation among different groups. It appears however in the last 48 to 72 hours that Iraqi leaders have really gripped this issue.

It turns out now that each party has at least double-digit numbers of individuals on this particular list of over 500 names and that it is reportedly 55 per cent or so Shia and 45 per cent or so Sunni. So if it ever was as was reported a predominately Sunni list and predominately focused on sidelining Sunni candidates that is not the case now and it appears there is going to be, as has been the case in Iraq on a number of previous occasions when there has been quite considerable political drama, that Iraqi leaders will resolve the issue without unhinging and undoing again two and a half years of very hard work at reconciling all of the factions inside the new Iraq.

I noticed another sign of how “the new Iraq” is making progress in this Wall Street Journal article about the rush of foreign airlines to increase service to Iraq at the same time that Iraq Airways is building up its fleet by placing an order with Boeing.

“It’s a good market,” said Turkish Airlines Chief Executive Temel Kotil. Turkish was one of the first foreign carriers to serve Baghdad after the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003 and it plans in March to start flights to Basra, in southern Iraq. “We want to serve many Iraqi cities,” Mr. Kotil said, adding that most of the carrier’s passengers are Europeans.

It’s not only Turkish Airlines that thinks Iraq is a good opportunity. Other carriers already flying there include Bahrain’s Gulf Air, Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines, and Austrian Airlines. And, reports the Journal, “German giant Deutsche Lufthansa AG recently announced that it aims this summer to start serving Baghdad and Erbil, pending regulatory approval. Austrian Airlines, a unit of Lufthansa, is increasing flights to Erbil, the one Iraqi city it serves. Upscale Qatar Airways also is examining the Iraqi market, officials said.”

A fragile but working democracy, an increase in foreign investment, a steep decline in attacks over the past several years—all these are signs that Iraq is hardly unraveling. That doesn’t mean that it is on a one-way flight to Nirvana. American vigilance and involvement remain essential. But an awful lot has gone right recently—more than I would have predicted back in 2007, when the surge was just beginning. Perhaps, just once in the Middle East, the pessimists will be proven wrong.

We often hear about the supposed “unraveling” of Iraq—a regular trope of veteran defense writer Tom Ricks, among others. No doubt there is cause for concern—ranging from bombings that kill dozens, even hundreds, to candidate disqualifications that threaten the integrity of upcoming elections. But as General David Petraeus notes in this interview published last Monday in the Times of London, Iraqi politicians have shown an impressive ability to overcome crises that could lead to the resumption of civil war. Speaking of the 500 candidates disqualified for Baathist links, Petraeus said:

I’m considerably much less worried than I was say last weekend when this was all really appearing that it actually could boil over and result in a reversal of the effect of two and an half years of reconciliation among different groups. It appears however in the last 48 to 72 hours that Iraqi leaders have really gripped this issue.

It turns out now that each party has at least double-digit numbers of individuals on this particular list of over 500 names and that it is reportedly 55 per cent or so Shia and 45 per cent or so Sunni. So if it ever was as was reported a predominately Sunni list and predominately focused on sidelining Sunni candidates that is not the case now and it appears there is going to be, as has been the case in Iraq on a number of previous occasions when there has been quite considerable political drama, that Iraqi leaders will resolve the issue without unhinging and undoing again two and a half years of very hard work at reconciling all of the factions inside the new Iraq.

I noticed another sign of how “the new Iraq” is making progress in this Wall Street Journal article about the rush of foreign airlines to increase service to Iraq at the same time that Iraq Airways is building up its fleet by placing an order with Boeing.

“It’s a good market,” said Turkish Airlines Chief Executive Temel Kotil. Turkish was one of the first foreign carriers to serve Baghdad after the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003 and it plans in March to start flights to Basra, in southern Iraq. “We want to serve many Iraqi cities,” Mr. Kotil said, adding that most of the carrier’s passengers are Europeans.

It’s not only Turkish Airlines that thinks Iraq is a good opportunity. Other carriers already flying there include Bahrain’s Gulf Air, Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines, and Austrian Airlines. And, reports the Journal, “German giant Deutsche Lufthansa AG recently announced that it aims this summer to start serving Baghdad and Erbil, pending regulatory approval. Austrian Airlines, a unit of Lufthansa, is increasing flights to Erbil, the one Iraqi city it serves. Upscale Qatar Airways also is examining the Iraqi market, officials said.”

A fragile but working democracy, an increase in foreign investment, a steep decline in attacks over the past several years—all these are signs that Iraq is hardly unraveling. That doesn’t mean that it is on a one-way flight to Nirvana. American vigilance and involvement remain essential. But an awful lot has gone right recently—more than I would have predicted back in 2007, when the surge was just beginning. Perhaps, just once in the Middle East, the pessimists will be proven wrong.

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Annals of Disengagement

On Tuesday, Siemens, the German conglomerate, announced in its annual shareholders meeting that it has reduced its commercial ties with Iran. The next day, a company spokesman made that statement a bit more explicit: the company, he said, has “decided not to conclude new contracts with commercial partners in Iran.”

That leaves a lot of wiggle room – Siemens is free to conclude new contracts with government entities in Iran, free to carry on with its existing contracts, and free to conclude new ones until its self-imposed deadline of mid-2010 rolls around. And it does nothing to meet criticism from German human-rights advocates that Siemens sells to states like China, knowing that China will then resell to Iran. But it is, at least, a tiny sign that Siemens is feeling the heat. About time too, given Europe’s commercial complicity with the Iranian regime.

Completely coincidentally, two days later, the Senate, as Jen mentioned, passed tough sanctions on Iran. Among other steps, as the AP notes, the Senate bill “would prohibit the U.S. government from purchasing goods from firms that do business in Iran’s energy sector, or provide sensitive communications technology to Iran — a measure that could affect telecommunications giants Siemens and Nokia.” As I say, it’s certainly just a coincidence that, two days before the vote, Siemens intimated it was heading for the Iranian exit, anyhow.

But it does make you think. Engagement has been a complete failure, as even Richard Haass now admits. It hasn’t stopped the Iranian nuclear program, reduced the brutality of the regime, or done anything to diminish Europe’s vast trade ties with Iran, which have shrunk in 2009 mostly because of the recession. And yet, as soon as the U.S. Senate looks like it might pass a bill – which still needs to be reconciled with the House version, and for which the President has shown no enthusiasm at all – a major German firm suddenly, mysteriously develops a case of the shakes about cozying up to Tehran. I wonder what they’d do if we really started trying.

On Tuesday, Siemens, the German conglomerate, announced in its annual shareholders meeting that it has reduced its commercial ties with Iran. The next day, a company spokesman made that statement a bit more explicit: the company, he said, has “decided not to conclude new contracts with commercial partners in Iran.”

That leaves a lot of wiggle room – Siemens is free to conclude new contracts with government entities in Iran, free to carry on with its existing contracts, and free to conclude new ones until its self-imposed deadline of mid-2010 rolls around. And it does nothing to meet criticism from German human-rights advocates that Siemens sells to states like China, knowing that China will then resell to Iran. But it is, at least, a tiny sign that Siemens is feeling the heat. About time too, given Europe’s commercial complicity with the Iranian regime.

Completely coincidentally, two days later, the Senate, as Jen mentioned, passed tough sanctions on Iran. Among other steps, as the AP notes, the Senate bill “would prohibit the U.S. government from purchasing goods from firms that do business in Iran’s energy sector, or provide sensitive communications technology to Iran — a measure that could affect telecommunications giants Siemens and Nokia.” As I say, it’s certainly just a coincidence that, two days before the vote, Siemens intimated it was heading for the Iranian exit, anyhow.

But it does make you think. Engagement has been a complete failure, as even Richard Haass now admits. It hasn’t stopped the Iranian nuclear program, reduced the brutality of the regime, or done anything to diminish Europe’s vast trade ties with Iran, which have shrunk in 2009 mostly because of the recession. And yet, as soon as the U.S. Senate looks like it might pass a bill – which still needs to be reconciled with the House version, and for which the President has shown no enthusiasm at all – a major German firm suddenly, mysteriously develops a case of the shakes about cozying up to Tehran. I wonder what they’d do if we really started trying.

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“I Am Not an Ideologue”

Barack Obama’s claim to the GOP lawmakers today — “I am not an ideologue” — calls to mind Richard Nixon’s famous claim, “I am not a crook.” Unfortunately both Messrs. Obama and Nixon were what they claimed they were not. Now being a crook is much worse than being an ideologue; but being an ideologue, especially a liberal one, can have its own high costs, as our 44th president is discovering.

I rather doubt Obama considers himself an ideologue; he has probably convinced himself that he is what he wants to project: an empiricist, a pragmatist, and person who makes decisions based on evidence and reason instead of ideology. The fact that he has pursued an agenda blessed, in almost every instance, by Nancy Pelosi is the oddest of coincidences.

I happen to be glad that Obama met with House Republicans; and if this signals a new way of doing business, more power to him. We’ll see. He certainly deserves the chance to amend his ways. But because Obama is, himself, deeply ideological, I suspect he will be more resistant than most. Yet political reality and political defeats can quickly concentrate the minds of politicians.

I have heard sound bits of Obama in two post-State of the Union settings. There is an almost plaintive quality to the president’s words, at least at several points. He simply doesn’t seem able to process what is happening to him or to deal with the mounting problems he and his party face. For a man beginning his second year in office, he can’t understand why he is the most polarizing president we have seen. Or why his disapproval ratings are at a record high this soon into his presidency. Or why he has lost more support in his first year than any other president in our lifetime. Or why the public is rejecting his agenda almost across the board. Or why the public is rejecting his party in almost every possible case. Or why Democratic lawmakers, themselves, are beginning to break with him. (Hint: it has to do with the fact that the president is, at this stage at least, widely seen as a failure.)

One day, the president is defiant and petulant; the next day, he pleads to be understood and accepted. Barack Obama, a man of limitless self-regard, appears to be struggling with what to say and how to find his way out of the dark and deep woods he finds himself in. Such things can be almost poignant to watch.

Barack Obama’s claim to the GOP lawmakers today — “I am not an ideologue” — calls to mind Richard Nixon’s famous claim, “I am not a crook.” Unfortunately both Messrs. Obama and Nixon were what they claimed they were not. Now being a crook is much worse than being an ideologue; but being an ideologue, especially a liberal one, can have its own high costs, as our 44th president is discovering.

I rather doubt Obama considers himself an ideologue; he has probably convinced himself that he is what he wants to project: an empiricist, a pragmatist, and person who makes decisions based on evidence and reason instead of ideology. The fact that he has pursued an agenda blessed, in almost every instance, by Nancy Pelosi is the oddest of coincidences.

I happen to be glad that Obama met with House Republicans; and if this signals a new way of doing business, more power to him. We’ll see. He certainly deserves the chance to amend his ways. But because Obama is, himself, deeply ideological, I suspect he will be more resistant than most. Yet political reality and political defeats can quickly concentrate the minds of politicians.

I have heard sound bits of Obama in two post-State of the Union settings. There is an almost plaintive quality to the president’s words, at least at several points. He simply doesn’t seem able to process what is happening to him or to deal with the mounting problems he and his party face. For a man beginning his second year in office, he can’t understand why he is the most polarizing president we have seen. Or why his disapproval ratings are at a record high this soon into his presidency. Or why he has lost more support in his first year than any other president in our lifetime. Or why the public is rejecting his agenda almost across the board. Or why the public is rejecting his party in almost every possible case. Or why Democratic lawmakers, themselves, are beginning to break with him. (Hint: it has to do with the fact that the president is, at this stage at least, widely seen as a failure.)

One day, the president is defiant and petulant; the next day, he pleads to be understood and accepted. Barack Obama, a man of limitless self-regard, appears to be struggling with what to say and how to find his way out of the dark and deep woods he finds himself in. Such things can be almost poignant to watch.

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Holden Caulfield, Attorney, Dies at 75

My friend Philip Terzian just posted the following obituary parody on Facebook:

Holden Caulfield, Attorney, Dies at 75

By Carl Luce

NEW YORK—Holden Caulfield, a founding partner of the Manhattan real-estate law firm of Ackley, Caulfield and Marsella PPC, died Monday in North Conway, New Hampshire. He was 75.
Mr. Caulfield, who had a vacation residence in New Hampshire, suffered massive internal injuries after slipping and falling over a cliff in the White Mountains on Saturday while trying to save a young girl, and died at a nearby hospital, according to his son, Allie Caulfield II. He lived at the Edmont Hotel in midtown Manhattan.

An attorney and litigator in New York since the mid-1960s, Mr. Caulfield joined two onetime classmates to form Ackley, Caulfield and Marsella in 1971, specializing in real-estate litigation and property management in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. “Holden was a great lawyer and a great friend,” said partner Maurice Ackley in a statement released by the firm. “He loved the majesty of the law, and he hated phonies.” The other partner, Edgar Marsella, died of colon cancer in 2002.

Mr. Caulfield, a native of Manhattan, was born in 1935 and attended a series of preparatory schools before entering Brown University, from which he graduated in 1957. After a brief period of military service he obtained his law degree at New York University and began practicing in 1962. A period as counsel to the Antolini Group, property developers on Long Island, led to Mr. Caulfield’s interest in real estate litigation and property management. In 1996 his firm won a record judgment of $118.5 million in a landmark case involving development rights, Spencer vs. Stradlater.

Mr. Caulfield was a longtime board member of the Central Park Conservancy and a trustee of Pencey Preparatory School in Agerstown, Pa.

Mr. Caulfield’s marriage to Sally Hayes ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife of 39 years, Jane Gallagher Caulfield, of Manhattan; their son Allie II, of Brooklyn; and three grandchildren. He is also survived by a brother, the writer D.B. Caulfield of Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a sister, Phoebe Caulfield-Madoff, of West Hartford, Conn.

My friend Philip Terzian just posted the following obituary parody on Facebook:

Holden Caulfield, Attorney, Dies at 75

By Carl Luce

NEW YORK—Holden Caulfield, a founding partner of the Manhattan real-estate law firm of Ackley, Caulfield and Marsella PPC, died Monday in North Conway, New Hampshire. He was 75.
Mr. Caulfield, who had a vacation residence in New Hampshire, suffered massive internal injuries after slipping and falling over a cliff in the White Mountains on Saturday while trying to save a young girl, and died at a nearby hospital, according to his son, Allie Caulfield II. He lived at the Edmont Hotel in midtown Manhattan.

An attorney and litigator in New York since the mid-1960s, Mr. Caulfield joined two onetime classmates to form Ackley, Caulfield and Marsella in 1971, specializing in real-estate litigation and property management in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. “Holden was a great lawyer and a great friend,” said partner Maurice Ackley in a statement released by the firm. “He loved the majesty of the law, and he hated phonies.” The other partner, Edgar Marsella, died of colon cancer in 2002.

Mr. Caulfield, a native of Manhattan, was born in 1935 and attended a series of preparatory schools before entering Brown University, from which he graduated in 1957. After a brief period of military service he obtained his law degree at New York University and began practicing in 1962. A period as counsel to the Antolini Group, property developers on Long Island, led to Mr. Caulfield’s interest in real estate litigation and property management. In 1996 his firm won a record judgment of $118.5 million in a landmark case involving development rights, Spencer vs. Stradlater.

Mr. Caulfield was a longtime board member of the Central Park Conservancy and a trustee of Pencey Preparatory School in Agerstown, Pa.

Mr. Caulfield’s marriage to Sally Hayes ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife of 39 years, Jane Gallagher Caulfield, of Manhattan; their son Allie II, of Brooklyn; and three grandchildren. He is also survived by a brother, the writer D.B. Caulfield of Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a sister, Phoebe Caulfield-Madoff, of West Hartford, Conn.

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When the Telling Starts

Most advocates want to make the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) about fairness and feelings, but for those in the military, that’s not what it’s about. Nor is it about military readiness. This is probably clearest to senior military officers, who have careers of unit leadership, administration, and policy implementation behind them. One can have every sympathy for gays and still oppose the repeal of DADT, because what it portends in daily practice is administering a forced accommodation to gay behavior.

Gays can already serve in the U.S. military; repealing DADT isn’t about allowing them to. It’s about endorsing their sexual orientation in military operations and culture. The course of hands-off neutrality is not an option in these realms; their unique character is to require affirmative policy. Civilians should start by understanding this. The quiescent tolerance they think of in relation to their own lives must translate, in the military, into endorsement and administration of an explicit position. These matters are hard for most people to discuss without emotion, and the tendency of both sides is to focus on what offends them. But it’s essential to understand that no form of offense felt by either side makes the administrative consequences of repealing DADT go away. They are inevitable.

Arguments against repealing DADT usually focus on the hazards of unit-level social interactions, and that’s a valid concern. But rules already exist for dealing with misconduct in the ranks; that aspect of adjustment won’t be the most difficult. The central question, rather, is whether having gays serve openly is a priority that justifies all the adjustments the military will have to make. Those adjustments will be necessary in two principal areas: military society, which includes family life and family-oriented services, and military administration. Intersecting with both of them is the prospect of lawsuits, guaranteed by the robust history of gay-activist litigation in government and the private sector.

Family life on military bases can’t help absorbing the impact of openly acknowledged gay romance, which will play out on sports fields, in base theaters, in recreation facilities, and at the exchanges and commissaries. To deny that this is an issue is merely to take a side. Policy questions will arise for everything from base-housing eligibility for gay couples to gay-themed marketing in the exchange department stores. Ignoring the concerns of military spouses and parents about this would defeat the very purpose of family services, but advocates would argue, and not without justification, that gay service members have an equal entitlement in this regard.

Administering the uniformed military, meanwhile, will have its own set of issues. One basic issue must come to a head: whether eligibility for promotion or command will be contingent on explicit support for homosexuality. The issue will be forced by lawsuit if by no other means. A 20-year veteran with combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan may not be comfortable, for example, endorsing “Gay Pride Month” or participating in scheduled military celebrations of it. He may be charged by a gay subordinate with creating a hostile work environment or ordered by a senior officer to get onboard with gay-pride celebrations. Perhaps his chain of command would back him up and force the issue to a higher level. The serious question remains: what does this have to do with warfighting readiness?

I wrote on this topic at some length last year, and refer you to my earlier piece for a summary of relevant incidents. The precedent has been set in foreign militaries and in U.S. civilian life for litigating a host of issues if DADT is repealed. Most gays in the military will want to serve quietly and with honor, as they do now, but repealing DADT will nevertheless open the door for legal activists to recruit plaintiffs. It will also create a set of time-consuming administrative and policy dilemmas that don’t exist under DADT.

We must recognize, moreover, that for the purpose of administering anti-discrimination policies, being gay is not like being black or female. People only have to know you’re gay — only have to be “polled” for their opinion — if you choose to make it clear. Repealing DADT isn’t about gays serving; it’s about gays “telling,” regardless of what others want to know. The respectful silence the others can maintain in civilian life, the tolerance by avoidance that lubricates social amity — these are precisely the options the military, with its top-down governance and institutional unity, withholds from its members.

Why must soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have this reckoning concerning each other? That’s the question each American voter needs to ask himself, as he considers what his purpose is in requiring, for service members and their families, a reckoning the rest of us can choose not to face.

Most advocates want to make the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) about fairness and feelings, but for those in the military, that’s not what it’s about. Nor is it about military readiness. This is probably clearest to senior military officers, who have careers of unit leadership, administration, and policy implementation behind them. One can have every sympathy for gays and still oppose the repeal of DADT, because what it portends in daily practice is administering a forced accommodation to gay behavior.

Gays can already serve in the U.S. military; repealing DADT isn’t about allowing them to. It’s about endorsing their sexual orientation in military operations and culture. The course of hands-off neutrality is not an option in these realms; their unique character is to require affirmative policy. Civilians should start by understanding this. The quiescent tolerance they think of in relation to their own lives must translate, in the military, into endorsement and administration of an explicit position. These matters are hard for most people to discuss without emotion, and the tendency of both sides is to focus on what offends them. But it’s essential to understand that no form of offense felt by either side makes the administrative consequences of repealing DADT go away. They are inevitable.

Arguments against repealing DADT usually focus on the hazards of unit-level social interactions, and that’s a valid concern. But rules already exist for dealing with misconduct in the ranks; that aspect of adjustment won’t be the most difficult. The central question, rather, is whether having gays serve openly is a priority that justifies all the adjustments the military will have to make. Those adjustments will be necessary in two principal areas: military society, which includes family life and family-oriented services, and military administration. Intersecting with both of them is the prospect of lawsuits, guaranteed by the robust history of gay-activist litigation in government and the private sector.

Family life on military bases can’t help absorbing the impact of openly acknowledged gay romance, which will play out on sports fields, in base theaters, in recreation facilities, and at the exchanges and commissaries. To deny that this is an issue is merely to take a side. Policy questions will arise for everything from base-housing eligibility for gay couples to gay-themed marketing in the exchange department stores. Ignoring the concerns of military spouses and parents about this would defeat the very purpose of family services, but advocates would argue, and not without justification, that gay service members have an equal entitlement in this regard.

Administering the uniformed military, meanwhile, will have its own set of issues. One basic issue must come to a head: whether eligibility for promotion or command will be contingent on explicit support for homosexuality. The issue will be forced by lawsuit if by no other means. A 20-year veteran with combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan may not be comfortable, for example, endorsing “Gay Pride Month” or participating in scheduled military celebrations of it. He may be charged by a gay subordinate with creating a hostile work environment or ordered by a senior officer to get onboard with gay-pride celebrations. Perhaps his chain of command would back him up and force the issue to a higher level. The serious question remains: what does this have to do with warfighting readiness?

I wrote on this topic at some length last year, and refer you to my earlier piece for a summary of relevant incidents. The precedent has been set in foreign militaries and in U.S. civilian life for litigating a host of issues if DADT is repealed. Most gays in the military will want to serve quietly and with honor, as they do now, but repealing DADT will nevertheless open the door for legal activists to recruit plaintiffs. It will also create a set of time-consuming administrative and policy dilemmas that don’t exist under DADT.

We must recognize, moreover, that for the purpose of administering anti-discrimination policies, being gay is not like being black or female. People only have to know you’re gay — only have to be “polled” for their opinion — if you choose to make it clear. Repealing DADT isn’t about gays serving; it’s about gays “telling,” regardless of what others want to know. The respectful silence the others can maintain in civilian life, the tolerance by avoidance that lubricates social amity — these are precisely the options the military, with its top-down governance and institutional unity, withholds from its members.

Why must soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have this reckoning concerning each other? That’s the question each American voter needs to ask himself, as he considers what his purpose is in requiring, for service members and their families, a reckoning the rest of us can choose not to face.

Read Less

The Widening Rift Between Obama and the Left

I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis, Jen, as I almost always do. I’d simply add a prediction into the mix. We will see the split between Obama and the Left continue to widen. This will occur not because Obama’s agenda isn’t liberal; it is, with a few exceptions. No, what will fuel the revolt on the Left is Obama’s sinking political fortunes. Liberals don’t want their cause to go down with him, so they’ll increasingly separate themselves from him, allowing them to say that the reason he failed is that he wasn’t liberal enough. That is the line of argument one is beginning to hear (with varying degrees of incoherence) from Paul Krugman, Jonathan Chait, Frank Rich, E.J. Dionne, and others.

In this fantasy world, Obama is failing because his stimulus package wasn’t expensive enough. Right-oh, and if Obama doesn’t jam through health-care legislation, his will be a broken presidency. Only ObamaCare can salvage it. Agreed, and of course Obama’s other problem is that he was too bipartisan during his first year. He needs to fight harder, to be more aggressive, to get in our faces more frequently, to lecture us more often. Et cetera. Et cetera.

This view of things is utterly detached from reality, of course, and in that sense it probably helps conservatives. It’s always useful when the movement one is competing against is deluded about the nature and depth of its problems.

Watching this split, which is now only in its early phases, is going to be endless interesting.

I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis, Jen, as I almost always do. I’d simply add a prediction into the mix. We will see the split between Obama and the Left continue to widen. This will occur not because Obama’s agenda isn’t liberal; it is, with a few exceptions. No, what will fuel the revolt on the Left is Obama’s sinking political fortunes. Liberals don’t want their cause to go down with him, so they’ll increasingly separate themselves from him, allowing them to say that the reason he failed is that he wasn’t liberal enough. That is the line of argument one is beginning to hear (with varying degrees of incoherence) from Paul Krugman, Jonathan Chait, Frank Rich, E.J. Dionne, and others.

In this fantasy world, Obama is failing because his stimulus package wasn’t expensive enough. Right-oh, and if Obama doesn’t jam through health-care legislation, his will be a broken presidency. Only ObamaCare can salvage it. Agreed, and of course Obama’s other problem is that he was too bipartisan during his first year. He needs to fight harder, to be more aggressive, to get in our faces more frequently, to lecture us more often. Et cetera. Et cetera.

This view of things is utterly detached from reality, of course, and in that sense it probably helps conservatives. It’s always useful when the movement one is competing against is deluded about the nature and depth of its problems.

Watching this split, which is now only in its early phases, is going to be endless interesting.

Read Less




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