Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 4, 2010

Re: Why Obama Doesn’t Seize the Day

A conservative colleague e-mails me with this key observation: “We are not engaged in two wars. We are engaged in one war – on multiple fronts. As FDR understood that he was not engaged in one war in Europe, one in the Pacific and one in North Africa, we need to understand that while there are many battlefields on which we are being challenged by militant Islamists — of various persuasions including Shia (e.g., Iran, Hezbollah) and Sunni (e.g., AQ, Hamas) – there is only one global conflict under way.”

He is precisely right, and he points to another shortcoming of Obama’s ideological perspective: the insistence on seeing both individuals and battlefields as discrete and unrelated to one another. Iraq, he surmised, could be lost while we pursue the “good war.” But the “good war” is hard work, too, and would have been infinitely more so had we fled the Iraq battlefield in defeat. Unfortunately, Obama does not feel comfortable acknowledging that reality or rallying the American people to battle a far-flung, tenacious Islamic jihadist enemy for an extended war. That would be one of those “open ended commitments” he’d rather avoid.

A conservative colleague e-mails me with this key observation: “We are not engaged in two wars. We are engaged in one war – on multiple fronts. As FDR understood that he was not engaged in one war in Europe, one in the Pacific and one in North Africa, we need to understand that while there are many battlefields on which we are being challenged by militant Islamists — of various persuasions including Shia (e.g., Iran, Hezbollah) and Sunni (e.g., AQ, Hamas) – there is only one global conflict under way.”

He is precisely right, and he points to another shortcoming of Obama’s ideological perspective: the insistence on seeing both individuals and battlefields as discrete and unrelated to one another. Iraq, he surmised, could be lost while we pursue the “good war.” But the “good war” is hard work, too, and would have been infinitely more so had we fled the Iraq battlefield in defeat. Unfortunately, Obama does not feel comfortable acknowledging that reality or rallying the American people to battle a far-flung, tenacious Islamic jihadist enemy for an extended war. That would be one of those “open ended commitments” he’d rather avoid.

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Does South Africa’s “Big Love” President Have a Lesson for Liberal America?

You have to hand it to the Republic of South Africa. That continent’s richest country may have a lot of problems, but there’s no obsessing about the sexual escapades of its political leaders in the way we prudish Americans obsess about ours. South Africans appear to believe in marriage and lots of it. In fact, in a story that didn’t make it into the pages of most American newspapers on Monday, Britain’s Guardian reports that South African President Jacob Zuma reaped the congratulations of his countrymen by marrying his third wife today in a traditional Zulu ceremony. The only hitch in the proceedings occurred when the 67-year-old president slipped and fell backward while performing a traditional solo dance throughout which he wore animal pelts and white tennis shoes. He is believed to be uninjured.

According to a different report about the event from the AP, South Africa’s new first (or should I say third) lady, 38-year-old Tobeka Madiba, has actually already been married to the president under civil law (he paid her family the bride price back in 2007) and has given birth to three of Zuma’s 19 children.

But three isn’t enough for the popular Zuma, who revels in his reputation as a representative of Zulu traditionalism. The Guardian says he is planning on marrying a fourth woman, Gloria Bongi Ngema, who has also already given birth to one of his children. His other wives are Sizakele Khumalo, whom he married in 1973, and Nompumelelo Ntuli, who became his wife in 2008. Another marriage ended in divorce (though that wife is now South Africa’s home-affairs minister). Yet another wife killed herself reportedly after describing her marriage as “24 years of hell.”

For those wondering how South African women feel toward a polygamist president, a better question would be to wonder how they feel toward a president who was tried for rape in 2006. Zuma was acquitted of raping the daughter of a family friend. His defense consisted of stating that he believed that the woman’s decision to see him alone was an invitation to consensual intercourse. The following year, the victim was granted asylum in the Netherlands.

While all this may seem either revolting or ridiculous to Western sensibilities, it does raise the question of whether or not polygamy is compatible with genuine democracy. Back in 2006, Stanley Kurtz penned a fascinating piece in the Weekly Standard, which insisted: “Polygamy in all its forms is a recipe for social structures that inhibit and ultimately undermine social freedom and democracy. A hard-won lesson of Western history is that genuine democratic self-rule begins at the hearth of the monogamous family.”

However, as Kurtz noted then, in the era we live in, a growing number of Americans, including the majority of some courts and legislatures, appear to believe that it is not only permissible but also mandatory to redefine our traditional concepts of marriage to allow gay unions. But it isn’t clear what legal — as opposed to religious — principle would mandate that same-sex marriage be labeled kosher while plural marriage still be treated as beyond the pale.

As HBO’s “Big Love” series about Mormon fundamentalists gears up for the premiere of its fourth season this week, Zuma’s shenanigans provide a version of reality TV that makes Bill Hendrickson, the show’s embattled home-improvement entrepreneur with three very different women to deal with at home, look pretty tame. But as Kurtz wrote in 2006, the impetus for the premise of the series may come from a liberal Hollywood mindset that seeks “to highlight the analogy between same-sex unions and polygamy.” The point is, if your libertarian instincts tell you that it’s none of your business if two men or two women marry each other, then why is it the state’s business if one man marries two, three, or four women, so long as they are all consenting adults? Kurtz’s answer, dictated in no small measure by his concern about the spread of polygamy in the West as a result of tolerance for the Muslim practice of plural marriage, was that “stable, monogamous, parenthood-focused marriage” is part of the foundation of a society in which freedom can thrive. There is little question that, as Zuma’s preeminence in South Africa proves, polygamy can lead to a society ruled by men, not laws. That’s a sobering thought that ought to worry even the most ardent libertarians on such issues.

You have to hand it to the Republic of South Africa. That continent’s richest country may have a lot of problems, but there’s no obsessing about the sexual escapades of its political leaders in the way we prudish Americans obsess about ours. South Africans appear to believe in marriage and lots of it. In fact, in a story that didn’t make it into the pages of most American newspapers on Monday, Britain’s Guardian reports that South African President Jacob Zuma reaped the congratulations of his countrymen by marrying his third wife today in a traditional Zulu ceremony. The only hitch in the proceedings occurred when the 67-year-old president slipped and fell backward while performing a traditional solo dance throughout which he wore animal pelts and white tennis shoes. He is believed to be uninjured.

According to a different report about the event from the AP, South Africa’s new first (or should I say third) lady, 38-year-old Tobeka Madiba, has actually already been married to the president under civil law (he paid her family the bride price back in 2007) and has given birth to three of Zuma’s 19 children.

But three isn’t enough for the popular Zuma, who revels in his reputation as a representative of Zulu traditionalism. The Guardian says he is planning on marrying a fourth woman, Gloria Bongi Ngema, who has also already given birth to one of his children. His other wives are Sizakele Khumalo, whom he married in 1973, and Nompumelelo Ntuli, who became his wife in 2008. Another marriage ended in divorce (though that wife is now South Africa’s home-affairs minister). Yet another wife killed herself reportedly after describing her marriage as “24 years of hell.”

For those wondering how South African women feel toward a polygamist president, a better question would be to wonder how they feel toward a president who was tried for rape in 2006. Zuma was acquitted of raping the daughter of a family friend. His defense consisted of stating that he believed that the woman’s decision to see him alone was an invitation to consensual intercourse. The following year, the victim was granted asylum in the Netherlands.

While all this may seem either revolting or ridiculous to Western sensibilities, it does raise the question of whether or not polygamy is compatible with genuine democracy. Back in 2006, Stanley Kurtz penned a fascinating piece in the Weekly Standard, which insisted: “Polygamy in all its forms is a recipe for social structures that inhibit and ultimately undermine social freedom and democracy. A hard-won lesson of Western history is that genuine democratic self-rule begins at the hearth of the monogamous family.”

However, as Kurtz noted then, in the era we live in, a growing number of Americans, including the majority of some courts and legislatures, appear to believe that it is not only permissible but also mandatory to redefine our traditional concepts of marriage to allow gay unions. But it isn’t clear what legal — as opposed to religious — principle would mandate that same-sex marriage be labeled kosher while plural marriage still be treated as beyond the pale.

As HBO’s “Big Love” series about Mormon fundamentalists gears up for the premiere of its fourth season this week, Zuma’s shenanigans provide a version of reality TV that makes Bill Hendrickson, the show’s embattled home-improvement entrepreneur with three very different women to deal with at home, look pretty tame. But as Kurtz wrote in 2006, the impetus for the premise of the series may come from a liberal Hollywood mindset that seeks “to highlight the analogy between same-sex unions and polygamy.” The point is, if your libertarian instincts tell you that it’s none of your business if two men or two women marry each other, then why is it the state’s business if one man marries two, three, or four women, so long as they are all consenting adults? Kurtz’s answer, dictated in no small measure by his concern about the spread of polygamy in the West as a result of tolerance for the Muslim practice of plural marriage, was that “stable, monogamous, parenthood-focused marriage” is part of the foundation of a society in which freedom can thrive. There is little question that, as Zuma’s preeminence in South Africa proves, polygamy can lead to a society ruled by men, not laws. That’s a sobering thought that ought to worry even the most ardent libertarians on such issues.

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Could Massachusetts Save Us From Obamacare?

Scott Brown has the unenviable task of running for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts as a Republican on Jan. 19. No Republican has won a Senate seat from that state since 1972. Massachusetts went 62 percent for Barack Obama in 2008.

But Brown is certainly making a game try. This commercial is, I think, nothing short of brilliant. It invokes the magic Kennedy name and uses John F. Kennedy’s own words, calling for tax reductions as a way to boost the economy and create jobs.  Democrats, naturally, are screaming bloody murder, probably because the ad is so effective, especially since the Democratic candidate, Martha Coakley, recently said on record, “We need to get taxes up.”

The odds are still against Brown, but given the prospect of a low-turnout election, nervousness regarding Obama’s tax plans, ever-rising opposition to the health-care bill, knowledge that Brown would be in office for less than three years until the expiration of the late Ted Kennedy’s term, and a sense that there is too much power in the hands of one party in Washington, it’s by no means impossible. I’m not the only one who thinks so.

If a Republican were to win Ted Kennedy’s old seat in ultra liberal Massachusetts, the political fallout would be huge. Every Democrat in Washington up for election in November would be reaching for the Maalox — or perhaps the Scotch bottle — and those in marginal districts or states might well begin to peel off the official line to save their own hides. Equally important, the balance in the Senate would shift from 60-40 to 59-41, and the filibuster-proof majority would be gone. The people of Massachusetts thus have it in their power to derail the health-care bill.

Scott Brown has the unenviable task of running for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts as a Republican on Jan. 19. No Republican has won a Senate seat from that state since 1972. Massachusetts went 62 percent for Barack Obama in 2008.

But Brown is certainly making a game try. This commercial is, I think, nothing short of brilliant. It invokes the magic Kennedy name and uses John F. Kennedy’s own words, calling for tax reductions as a way to boost the economy and create jobs.  Democrats, naturally, are screaming bloody murder, probably because the ad is so effective, especially since the Democratic candidate, Martha Coakley, recently said on record, “We need to get taxes up.”

The odds are still against Brown, but given the prospect of a low-turnout election, nervousness regarding Obama’s tax plans, ever-rising opposition to the health-care bill, knowledge that Brown would be in office for less than three years until the expiration of the late Ted Kennedy’s term, and a sense that there is too much power in the hands of one party in Washington, it’s by no means impossible. I’m not the only one who thinks so.

If a Republican were to win Ted Kennedy’s old seat in ultra liberal Massachusetts, the political fallout would be huge. Every Democrat in Washington up for election in November would be reaching for the Maalox — or perhaps the Scotch bottle — and those in marginal districts or states might well begin to peel off the official line to save their own hides. Equally important, the balance in the Senate would shift from 60-40 to 59-41, and the filibuster-proof majority would be gone. The people of Massachusetts thus have it in their power to derail the health-care bill.

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What Marya Could Teach Goldstone

Israel has spent the past year producing voluminous rebuttals of the Goldstone report, which accused it of deliberately targeting civilians during last year’s war in Gaza. But nothing better illustrates the inanity of this accusation than a single report in last week’s New York Times.

The report describes a friendship between two eight-year-olds who have spent long months together in Jerusalem’s Alyn Hospital for children with severe disabilities. Orel is an Israeli Jew severely wounded by a Hamas rocket. Marya is a Palestinian from Gaza severely wounded by an Israeli missile. Seemingly, complete symmetry — a point the report underscores with its concluding quote from Orel’s mother: “Do we need to suffer in order to learn that there is no difference between Jews and Arabs?”

But despite the Times’ efforts, the symmetry breaks down as Marya’s story proceeds. She was wounded three years ago, when a missile targeting a Hamas terrorist hit her family’s car instead. Her mother, grandmother, and older brother were killed; she was paralyzed from the neck down.

The Israeli government brought her to Israel for medical care that she couldn’t receive in Gaza. It also brought her father, Hamdi Aman, to be with her, and her younger brother, Momen, so he wouldn’t be separated from his surviving parent.

When Marya’s condition stabilized, the government proposed returning her to Gaza, or else the West Bank. Aman objected, fearing his daughter’s care would suffer. The Israeli media and “a bevy of volunteers” mobilized “to fight on his behalf,” and the government “backed off.”

But actually, the story reveals, it did a bit more than just “back off.” Not only is the Israeli government still funding Marya’s care at Alyn, but it’s also paying for her to attend a bilingual Arabic-Hebrew school nearby and paying her father a stipend equivalent to the minimum wage. In short, it’s doing what it can to make amends for Marya’s unintended injury.

That’s precisely the kind of behavior one wouldn’t expect from a country that deliberately targets civilians — because if civilians are intentional targets, why should Israel feel any need to make amends by bringing the Amans to Israel, financing Marya’s medical care, and schooling and supporting her family?

And it’s also where the symmetry breaks down. There’s no mention of any comparable Hamas gesture toward Orel, not even a pro forma verbal apology. That’s because Hamas does deliberately target civilians. So it feels no remorse and no need to make amends.

Marya was wounded before the Gaza war, but other Gazans injured in that conflict were similarly treated in Israeli hospitals. Israel also set up a field hospital on the Israel-Gaza border to treat additional Gazan war victims, though due to Hamas’s intimidation, few came. Thus Israel spent its own money and risked its own doctors’ lives, in an effort to heal the very civilians it allegedly deliberately targeted.

If you’re trying to kill enemy civilians, that’s a bizarre way of achieving your goal. Perhaps Goldstone could learn something about Israel by talking to Marya.

Israel has spent the past year producing voluminous rebuttals of the Goldstone report, which accused it of deliberately targeting civilians during last year’s war in Gaza. But nothing better illustrates the inanity of this accusation than a single report in last week’s New York Times.

The report describes a friendship between two eight-year-olds who have spent long months together in Jerusalem’s Alyn Hospital for children with severe disabilities. Orel is an Israeli Jew severely wounded by a Hamas rocket. Marya is a Palestinian from Gaza severely wounded by an Israeli missile. Seemingly, complete symmetry — a point the report underscores with its concluding quote from Orel’s mother: “Do we need to suffer in order to learn that there is no difference between Jews and Arabs?”

But despite the Times’ efforts, the symmetry breaks down as Marya’s story proceeds. She was wounded three years ago, when a missile targeting a Hamas terrorist hit her family’s car instead. Her mother, grandmother, and older brother were killed; she was paralyzed from the neck down.

The Israeli government brought her to Israel for medical care that she couldn’t receive in Gaza. It also brought her father, Hamdi Aman, to be with her, and her younger brother, Momen, so he wouldn’t be separated from his surviving parent.

When Marya’s condition stabilized, the government proposed returning her to Gaza, or else the West Bank. Aman objected, fearing his daughter’s care would suffer. The Israeli media and “a bevy of volunteers” mobilized “to fight on his behalf,” and the government “backed off.”

But actually, the story reveals, it did a bit more than just “back off.” Not only is the Israeli government still funding Marya’s care at Alyn, but it’s also paying for her to attend a bilingual Arabic-Hebrew school nearby and paying her father a stipend equivalent to the minimum wage. In short, it’s doing what it can to make amends for Marya’s unintended injury.

That’s precisely the kind of behavior one wouldn’t expect from a country that deliberately targets civilians — because if civilians are intentional targets, why should Israel feel any need to make amends by bringing the Amans to Israel, financing Marya’s medical care, and schooling and supporting her family?

And it’s also where the symmetry breaks down. There’s no mention of any comparable Hamas gesture toward Orel, not even a pro forma verbal apology. That’s because Hamas does deliberately target civilians. So it feels no remorse and no need to make amends.

Marya was wounded before the Gaza war, but other Gazans injured in that conflict were similarly treated in Israeli hospitals. Israel also set up a field hospital on the Israel-Gaza border to treat additional Gazan war victims, though due to Hamas’s intimidation, few came. Thus Israel spent its own money and risked its own doctors’ lives, in an effort to heal the very civilians it allegedly deliberately targeted.

If you’re trying to kill enemy civilians, that’s a bizarre way of achieving your goal. Perhaps Goldstone could learn something about Israel by talking to Marya.

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Justice Brandeis, Call Your Office

The Times this morning ran a story on yet another fiddle that has been uncovered from the depths of the health-reform bill that passed in the Senate on Christmas Eve. This one favors construction unions. While, under the act, most companies with fewer than 50 employees would not have to provide government-mandated health insurance or pay a tax, those in the construction business would be exempt only if they have fewer than five employees. At least the Times notes that:

The construction industry provision is receiving a second look as work begins in earnest this week to resolve differences in bills passed by the Senate and the House to remake the nation’s health care system. Other provisions sure to be scrutinized include a tax break for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield plan in Nebraska; Medicare coverage for residents of Libby, Mont., sickened by a mineral mine; extra Medicaid money for Massachusetts, Nebraska and Vermont; and a special dispensation for a handful of doctor-owned hospitals.

One would hope that the endless number of constitutionally dubious provisions, including such lulus as requiring a supermajority in the Senate to repeal certain portions of the act, will also get a second look.

Of course, it may be that these provisions end up rescuing the country from this dreadful legislation. In 1933, at the very end of his 100 days, Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the National Industrial Recovery Act. Title II of that act established one of the New Deal’s most famous agencies, the Public Works Administration (PWA), which would build across the country post offices, highways, dams, etc. But Title I of the NIRA established the National Recovery Administration (NRA). It authorized the president to regulate industry, including the establishment of cartels and monopolies, to set prices, and, in effect, oversee the entire American economy, much as today’s health bill would regulate the health-care industry.

It was a breathtaking expansion of federal power and, for a while, the NRA’s symbol — a blue eagle with a gear wheel in one claw and lightning bolts in the other — and its slogan, “We Do Our Part,” were everywhere. But two years later, the Supreme Court ruled in a famous case, Schechter Poultry  Corp v. United States, that the bill violated both the separation of powers doctrine by delegating legislative authority to the president and the commerce clause.

While the court at that point had a majority of conservative justices (two years later FDR would try to pack the court to get rid of it), the decision was unanimous. Justice Louis Brandeis, no conservative, told aides of the president, “This is the end of this business of centralization, and I want you to go back and tell the president that we’re not going to let this government centralize everything.”

Where is Justice Brandeis now that we really need him?

The Times this morning ran a story on yet another fiddle that has been uncovered from the depths of the health-reform bill that passed in the Senate on Christmas Eve. This one favors construction unions. While, under the act, most companies with fewer than 50 employees would not have to provide government-mandated health insurance or pay a tax, those in the construction business would be exempt only if they have fewer than five employees. At least the Times notes that:

The construction industry provision is receiving a second look as work begins in earnest this week to resolve differences in bills passed by the Senate and the House to remake the nation’s health care system. Other provisions sure to be scrutinized include a tax break for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield plan in Nebraska; Medicare coverage for residents of Libby, Mont., sickened by a mineral mine; extra Medicaid money for Massachusetts, Nebraska and Vermont; and a special dispensation for a handful of doctor-owned hospitals.

One would hope that the endless number of constitutionally dubious provisions, including such lulus as requiring a supermajority in the Senate to repeal certain portions of the act, will also get a second look.

Of course, it may be that these provisions end up rescuing the country from this dreadful legislation. In 1933, at the very end of his 100 days, Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the National Industrial Recovery Act. Title II of that act established one of the New Deal’s most famous agencies, the Public Works Administration (PWA), which would build across the country post offices, highways, dams, etc. But Title I of the NIRA established the National Recovery Administration (NRA). It authorized the president to regulate industry, including the establishment of cartels and monopolies, to set prices, and, in effect, oversee the entire American economy, much as today’s health bill would regulate the health-care industry.

It was a breathtaking expansion of federal power and, for a while, the NRA’s symbol — a blue eagle with a gear wheel in one claw and lightning bolts in the other — and its slogan, “We Do Our Part,” were everywhere. But two years later, the Supreme Court ruled in a famous case, Schechter Poultry  Corp v. United States, that the bill violated both the separation of powers doctrine by delegating legislative authority to the president and the commerce clause.

While the court at that point had a majority of conservative justices (two years later FDR would try to pack the court to get rid of it), the decision was unanimous. Justice Louis Brandeis, no conservative, told aides of the president, “This is the end of this business of centralization, and I want you to go back and tell the president that we’re not going to let this government centralize everything.”

Where is Justice Brandeis now that we really need him?

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Sunday Spin on Christmas Day Bombing

Flipping from channel to channel or perusing the transcripts of the Sunday talk shows, it was hard not to cringe. Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan was everywhere. “We get it right most of the time…. We were alert all along… There wasn’t any smoking gun, just lots of clues we missed…. Yemen is really dangerous but we can’t say we’ll stop sending Guantanamo detainees there…. And Dick Cheney is very wrong…. The performance was defensive and otherworldly, alternately. One is tempted to say that, like Janet Napolitano, Brennan is not up to the job. That may well be the case, particularly as we learn about his own role in the missed clues. But we should be clear: this was all vetted in advance. This is the approved Obami version. These lines are the official talking points. So we come back to the fundamental question: why are they so bad at this? One longs for some candor and for some greater sense of urgency, the urgency that comes from realizing that we haven’t been on top of things and that we better get our act together — quickly.

The spin-meisters’ assurances stand in stark contrast to the bits and pieces of information slowly trickling out. We are learning from news accounts, in particular this eye-popping one, that the incompetence was rather breathtaking. A sample:

Collectively, the U.S. government had its head in the sand. The FBI had no representative at the meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, in the center of the country, the FBI maintains an attache only in Lagos, on the southern coast. The CIA did not tell the FBI about Abdulmutallab. Under the so-called Visa Viper program, the State Department received the report about the meeting with Abdulmutallab’s father, but it did not revoke the son’s visa. Rather, it made a note to closely scrutinize any future application to renew the visa. Likewise, the NCTC determined that there was no “reasonable suspicion” to conclude that Abdulmutallab was a terrorist, so he wasn’t put on the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center watch list of some 400,000 names, or counted as one of 13,000 people who require extra screening before getting on a plane, or one of 4,000 names who are on the “no fly” list banned from getting on a plane at all. . .

The NCTC was set up to make sure that the various American agencies and intelligence services better shared information in the wake of 9/11, which might have been averted if the CIA and FBI had been in better communication about the al-Qaeda hijackers entering the country. But for reasons still not adequately explained, no one seems to have noticed other red flags in the intelligence system. The intelligence community had already picked up the intercepts indicating that al-Qaeda was planning to use a Nigerian for an attack on America. Other intercepts suggested a terror attack out of Yemen at Christmas, though officials believed the likely target would be somewhere in the Middle East, not in the United States. Finally, there were the intercepts between Abdulmutallab and the phone (and possibly a computer) used by al-Awlaki, the Yemen-based cleric. Such contact would seem to cry out for attention although an intelligence official said the intercepts did not indicate Abdulmutallab’s full name.

And so it goes. But from watching Brennan, one senses that the Obami are banking on the public not fully grasping this. One has the nagging feeling that they are hoping to get by on flimflam and recycled talking points. The dutiful spokespeople — Napolitano and now Brennan — are striving to keep their own jobs and to hold back the torrent of outrage that they fear will sweep them from office. So they are not informing or reassuring us. They are practicing damage control — limit the facts, label the facts, attack the critics, and minimize the enormity of the screw up.

How this incident is being handled suggests that some real Congressional oversight might be needed, or better yet, an independent commission. (Perhaps the 9/11 commission can be brought back since they’ve already figured out what to look for and what bureaucratic bumbling looks like.) At the very least, one wishes that the malefactors who are at least partially responsible would step aside and let those less invested in spinning the story explain what went wrong.

Flipping from channel to channel or perusing the transcripts of the Sunday talk shows, it was hard not to cringe. Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan was everywhere. “We get it right most of the time…. We were alert all along… There wasn’t any smoking gun, just lots of clues we missed…. Yemen is really dangerous but we can’t say we’ll stop sending Guantanamo detainees there…. And Dick Cheney is very wrong…. The performance was defensive and otherworldly, alternately. One is tempted to say that, like Janet Napolitano, Brennan is not up to the job. That may well be the case, particularly as we learn about his own role in the missed clues. But we should be clear: this was all vetted in advance. This is the approved Obami version. These lines are the official talking points. So we come back to the fundamental question: why are they so bad at this? One longs for some candor and for some greater sense of urgency, the urgency that comes from realizing that we haven’t been on top of things and that we better get our act together — quickly.

The spin-meisters’ assurances stand in stark contrast to the bits and pieces of information slowly trickling out. We are learning from news accounts, in particular this eye-popping one, that the incompetence was rather breathtaking. A sample:

Collectively, the U.S. government had its head in the sand. The FBI had no representative at the meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, in the center of the country, the FBI maintains an attache only in Lagos, on the southern coast. The CIA did not tell the FBI about Abdulmutallab. Under the so-called Visa Viper program, the State Department received the report about the meeting with Abdulmutallab’s father, but it did not revoke the son’s visa. Rather, it made a note to closely scrutinize any future application to renew the visa. Likewise, the NCTC determined that there was no “reasonable suspicion” to conclude that Abdulmutallab was a terrorist, so he wasn’t put on the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center watch list of some 400,000 names, or counted as one of 13,000 people who require extra screening before getting on a plane, or one of 4,000 names who are on the “no fly” list banned from getting on a plane at all. . .

The NCTC was set up to make sure that the various American agencies and intelligence services better shared information in the wake of 9/11, which might have been averted if the CIA and FBI had been in better communication about the al-Qaeda hijackers entering the country. But for reasons still not adequately explained, no one seems to have noticed other red flags in the intelligence system. The intelligence community had already picked up the intercepts indicating that al-Qaeda was planning to use a Nigerian for an attack on America. Other intercepts suggested a terror attack out of Yemen at Christmas, though officials believed the likely target would be somewhere in the Middle East, not in the United States. Finally, there were the intercepts between Abdulmutallab and the phone (and possibly a computer) used by al-Awlaki, the Yemen-based cleric. Such contact would seem to cry out for attention although an intelligence official said the intercepts did not indicate Abdulmutallab’s full name.

And so it goes. But from watching Brennan, one senses that the Obami are banking on the public not fully grasping this. One has the nagging feeling that they are hoping to get by on flimflam and recycled talking points. The dutiful spokespeople — Napolitano and now Brennan — are striving to keep their own jobs and to hold back the torrent of outrage that they fear will sweep them from office. So they are not informing or reassuring us. They are practicing damage control — limit the facts, label the facts, attack the critics, and minimize the enormity of the screw up.

How this incident is being handled suggests that some real Congressional oversight might be needed, or better yet, an independent commission. (Perhaps the 9/11 commission can be brought back since they’ve already figured out what to look for and what bureaucratic bumbling looks like.) At the very least, one wishes that the malefactors who are at least partially responsible would step aside and let those less invested in spinning the story explain what went wrong.

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The Perils of Executive Inexperience

Al Hunt writes a column that reveals the typical finger-pointing and backbiting that ensues when things are not going all that well in an administration. First, he relates this episode:

On Dec. 2, as Obama prepared to give a major economic speech at the Brookings Institution on Dec. 8 (and a day after his Afghanistan speech at West Point) he met with policy makers. He heard a familiar reprise of the previous several meetings with budget director Peter Orszag arguing for more emphasis on reducing the deficit and Council of Economic Advisers chief Christina Romer leading the contingent espousing a greater short-term stress on jobs. The president, by his standards, exploded. Why are we having this meeting again, the same discussion, participants quoted him as saying.

But really, who comes off looking bad in this one? It’s Obama. He is the one who apparently allows the same discussion to churn endlessly. He is the one who hasn’t set the direction of his economic policy. (And that aides would not just finger-point at each other but also suggest that the president is lacking in executive mojo tells us that both focus and loyalty are in short supply in this White House.) Hunt continues with this:

The other problem, an inability to effectively communicate an economic policy, was typified in a Dec. 4 interview with Geithner, who was asked what is the clear, coherent economic message of the administration. He proceeded to talk about high-class education for children, affordable health care, better incentives for energy and infrastructure, public-private arrangements and the like. There are 15.4 million unemployed Americans and another 11.5 million underemployed, either having given up looking and thus not counted in the jobless numbers or involuntarily relegated to part-time work. A laundry list of the Democrats agenda is unlikely to prove comforting.

But is this really the fault of the hapless Geithner or is this rather a problem characteristic of the president’s own lack of focus? Obama spent a year hawking a health-care plan no one can defend on the merits, while pushing a series of small-beans job proposals and signing on to a stimulus plan widely regarded as a failure. For months we saw a new dog-and-pony show every week, each on a different topic. Obama’s spinners incessantly told us the problem wasn’t that he was trying to do too many things at once. But now it seems that it was and that his key advisers don’t understand the administration’s top priority.

The administration seems to have reached the stage of leaving the advisers and the “message” to be blamed. But it is the president who appointed and directs the advisers. And the president — celebrated for his eloquence — is supposed to be the chief communicator. All of this reveals that the president frankly lacks some basic leadership skills and executive know-how. Obama didn’t come to the White House with any executive experience beyond sitting atop a campaign operation that was fortunate to have on off-message primary opponent followed by a non-message general-election opponent. He never ran a company, directed an agency, led a military organization, or served in any executive office. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the White House doesn’t have its act together. The only mild surprise is that now the mainstream media is willing to tell us about it.

Al Hunt writes a column that reveals the typical finger-pointing and backbiting that ensues when things are not going all that well in an administration. First, he relates this episode:

On Dec. 2, as Obama prepared to give a major economic speech at the Brookings Institution on Dec. 8 (and a day after his Afghanistan speech at West Point) he met with policy makers. He heard a familiar reprise of the previous several meetings with budget director Peter Orszag arguing for more emphasis on reducing the deficit and Council of Economic Advisers chief Christina Romer leading the contingent espousing a greater short-term stress on jobs. The president, by his standards, exploded. Why are we having this meeting again, the same discussion, participants quoted him as saying.

But really, who comes off looking bad in this one? It’s Obama. He is the one who apparently allows the same discussion to churn endlessly. He is the one who hasn’t set the direction of his economic policy. (And that aides would not just finger-point at each other but also suggest that the president is lacking in executive mojo tells us that both focus and loyalty are in short supply in this White House.) Hunt continues with this:

The other problem, an inability to effectively communicate an economic policy, was typified in a Dec. 4 interview with Geithner, who was asked what is the clear, coherent economic message of the administration. He proceeded to talk about high-class education for children, affordable health care, better incentives for energy and infrastructure, public-private arrangements and the like. There are 15.4 million unemployed Americans and another 11.5 million underemployed, either having given up looking and thus not counted in the jobless numbers or involuntarily relegated to part-time work. A laundry list of the Democrats agenda is unlikely to prove comforting.

But is this really the fault of the hapless Geithner or is this rather a problem characteristic of the president’s own lack of focus? Obama spent a year hawking a health-care plan no one can defend on the merits, while pushing a series of small-beans job proposals and signing on to a stimulus plan widely regarded as a failure. For months we saw a new dog-and-pony show every week, each on a different topic. Obama’s spinners incessantly told us the problem wasn’t that he was trying to do too many things at once. But now it seems that it was and that his key advisers don’t understand the administration’s top priority.

The administration seems to have reached the stage of leaving the advisers and the “message” to be blamed. But it is the president who appointed and directs the advisers. And the president — celebrated for his eloquence — is supposed to be the chief communicator. All of this reveals that the president frankly lacks some basic leadership skills and executive know-how. Obama didn’t come to the White House with any executive experience beyond sitting atop a campaign operation that was fortunate to have on off-message primary opponent followed by a non-message general-election opponent. He never ran a company, directed an agency, led a military organization, or served in any executive office. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the White House doesn’t have its act together. The only mild surprise is that now the mainstream media is willing to tell us about it.

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Iraq: The Forgotten War

I received a note from a prominent journalist last night, which read, “I realize we all have forgotten about the Iraq War, but…” One of his points was that he continues to take what is happening in Iraq seriously, and so should others. And he is quite right. As attention has shifted east to Afghanistan, Iraq has become, in many respects, America’s forgotten war. Part of the reason for this is understandable; America’s involvement in the Iraq war is winding down while our involvement in Afghanistan is winding up. But I suspect that part of the reason has to do with the fact that we’ve made astonishing progress in Iraq over the last two years, and having done so, much of the political class has decided to cast its gaze elsewhere.

Before we move on, however, it’s worth considering the most recent developments from Iraq, where on New Years Day we learned that December was the first month since the beginning of the Iraq war in which there were no U.S. combat deaths. (There were three non-combat fatalities.) As CNN reported:

Combat fatalities have decreased significantly since June, when the United States started withdrawing troops from Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, and other urban areas. The United States also started a troop drawdown in 2009 from about 160,000 to the current level of around 110,000. The U.S. military suffered double-digit combat-related deaths in February, April, May and June 2009. The highest was 17 in May. There were also eight non-combat deaths in May, making for the highest monthly total in 2009. Since July, U.S. forces have suffered no more than five combat-related deaths each month. There were five in July, three in August, four in September, two in October and four in November. Non-combat deaths outnumbered combat fatalities in March, September, October, November and December.

Moreover, the Iraqi civilian death toll in November (88 civilians killed and 332 wounded) fell to its lowest level since the 2003 U.S.-led war began. Daily violence has drastically dropped across the country over the past two years, CNN reported, but sporadic spectacular attacks, including high-profile suicide bombings against government buildings on August 19, October 25 and December 8, continue to claim hundreds of lives.

Iraq, which in 2006 was in a death spiral (in part because of serious mistakes we in the Bush Administration made), continues to be a nation on the mend. Its security and political progress remain fragile and halting, but continue nonetheless. And a war that some commentators called the worst foreign-policy mistake in American history might end up with a satisfactory outcome. Time will tell.

With every war comes agony, and Iraq is no exception. The number of Americans who died or have been wounded in the Iraq war is heartbreaking, and for the families and friends involved, a grief beyond words. But thankfully, blessedly, the loss of American lives has slowed dramatically and, compared to past wars, is quite low (4,375 U.S. military members have died in the Iraq war: 3,477 from hostilities and 898 in non-combat incidents; around 58,000 American military service men and women died in the Vietnam War). Nor have those who died done so in vain. One of the most destabilizing dictators in the Middle East is dead. His police state is long gone. And the people of Iraq, who lived under one of the most brutal and aggressive regimes in modern history, are liberated and in the process of charting their own path. How it turns out is now largely up to them. But at least we have given them a chance. And the political culture of the Middle East may, over time, change for the better (how events unfold in Iran could play a key role).

It should also be pointed out that those who declared with certainty that the surge would fail (including then-Senator Barack Obama and then-Senator Joseph Biden) and that the Iraq war was lost (including Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi) were not only wrong; their repeated criticisms of the surge even after indisputable progress had occurred was irresponsible and reckless (for more, go here). Fortunately their insistence on an American withdrawal, which would have led to an American defeat, did not prevail.

Iraq long ago ceased to be a popular war. It is now a largely forgotten one. But those of us who were working in the White House at the time the surge was being debated and ultimately adopted will not soon forgot the intensity of the opposition, the political courage of the president who pressed ahead anyway, the few who stood by George W. Bush’s side when it mattered most, and the remarkable valor and skill of those (like Generals David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno and the brave men and women serving under them) who refused to let Iraq die.

I received a note from a prominent journalist last night, which read, “I realize we all have forgotten about the Iraq War, but…” One of his points was that he continues to take what is happening in Iraq seriously, and so should others. And he is quite right. As attention has shifted east to Afghanistan, Iraq has become, in many respects, America’s forgotten war. Part of the reason for this is understandable; America’s involvement in the Iraq war is winding down while our involvement in Afghanistan is winding up. But I suspect that part of the reason has to do with the fact that we’ve made astonishing progress in Iraq over the last two years, and having done so, much of the political class has decided to cast its gaze elsewhere.

Before we move on, however, it’s worth considering the most recent developments from Iraq, where on New Years Day we learned that December was the first month since the beginning of the Iraq war in which there were no U.S. combat deaths. (There were three non-combat fatalities.) As CNN reported:

Combat fatalities have decreased significantly since June, when the United States started withdrawing troops from Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, and other urban areas. The United States also started a troop drawdown in 2009 from about 160,000 to the current level of around 110,000. The U.S. military suffered double-digit combat-related deaths in February, April, May and June 2009. The highest was 17 in May. There were also eight non-combat deaths in May, making for the highest monthly total in 2009. Since July, U.S. forces have suffered no more than five combat-related deaths each month. There were five in July, three in August, four in September, two in October and four in November. Non-combat deaths outnumbered combat fatalities in March, September, October, November and December.

Moreover, the Iraqi civilian death toll in November (88 civilians killed and 332 wounded) fell to its lowest level since the 2003 U.S.-led war began. Daily violence has drastically dropped across the country over the past two years, CNN reported, but sporadic spectacular attacks, including high-profile suicide bombings against government buildings on August 19, October 25 and December 8, continue to claim hundreds of lives.

Iraq, which in 2006 was in a death spiral (in part because of serious mistakes we in the Bush Administration made), continues to be a nation on the mend. Its security and political progress remain fragile and halting, but continue nonetheless. And a war that some commentators called the worst foreign-policy mistake in American history might end up with a satisfactory outcome. Time will tell.

With every war comes agony, and Iraq is no exception. The number of Americans who died or have been wounded in the Iraq war is heartbreaking, and for the families and friends involved, a grief beyond words. But thankfully, blessedly, the loss of American lives has slowed dramatically and, compared to past wars, is quite low (4,375 U.S. military members have died in the Iraq war: 3,477 from hostilities and 898 in non-combat incidents; around 58,000 American military service men and women died in the Vietnam War). Nor have those who died done so in vain. One of the most destabilizing dictators in the Middle East is dead. His police state is long gone. And the people of Iraq, who lived under one of the most brutal and aggressive regimes in modern history, are liberated and in the process of charting their own path. How it turns out is now largely up to them. But at least we have given them a chance. And the political culture of the Middle East may, over time, change for the better (how events unfold in Iran could play a key role).

It should also be pointed out that those who declared with certainty that the surge would fail (including then-Senator Barack Obama and then-Senator Joseph Biden) and that the Iraq war was lost (including Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi) were not only wrong; their repeated criticisms of the surge even after indisputable progress had occurred was irresponsible and reckless (for more, go here). Fortunately their insistence on an American withdrawal, which would have led to an American defeat, did not prevail.

Iraq long ago ceased to be a popular war. It is now a largely forgotten one. But those of us who were working in the White House at the time the surge was being debated and ultimately adopted will not soon forgot the intensity of the opposition, the political courage of the president who pressed ahead anyway, the few who stood by George W. Bush’s side when it mattered most, and the remarkable valor and skill of those (like Generals David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno and the brave men and women serving under them) who refused to let Iraq die.

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Why Obama Doesn’t Seize the Day

Plainly, Obama doesn’t relish the job of being commander in chief, and more specifically, leading the West in the war against Islamic jihadists. Now, it’s true that his cool demeanor and rather grumpy countenance over the last few months suggest that there may be little he really relishes about the presidency — doing the job as opposed to obtaining the job. But at least on domestic policy, he seems to be engaged and invested. However, this is not a president who seeks to define himself as the protector of Western civilization or who leaps to the metaphorical rubble heap to seize the moment, rally the country, and level a steely warning to our enemies. He can barely be bothered to interrupt his vacation. There are several explanations for this — temperamental, ideological, and political.

As for the temperament, this is a president whom we’ve reluctantly come to see as fancying himself above gut emotions. His professorial pretensions now verge on zombie-like detachment. As John Brummett writes:

I get No-Drama Obama. I see what it’s about and agree with it usually. But I don’t much care for it when an al-Qaida-trained terrorist nearly blows up one of our airplanes on approach to Detroit on Christmas Day. In that case, the drama is already out of the bag. I want somebody to get dramatic in my behalf — outraged, I mean — and to do so instinctively and quickly, if not quite impulsively. . . You can’t avoid drama when drama already has occurred, and a terrorist attack by persons warring against you is bona fide drama already. We lull ourselves into a false sense of security when we downplay that people are trying to kill us. And while it scares us, yes, to ponder such a world, it, more to the point, makes us fighting mad.

Well, Brummett and others hoping for some feistier leadership will continue to be disappointed, I think. For this is not a president to react with outrage (pique at Fox News, maybe, but not outrage) or to even acknowledge that outrage is the appropriate reaction to his fellow citizens’ being threatened. He is not going to get fighting mad on our behalf, so we are left to be mad on our own. His detachment separates him from the country and shows a measure of his condescension toward the rest of us who think that leadership is about more than ordering up a dizzying array of bureaucratic reports after nearly 300 people come close to getting incinerated in mid-air.

Beneath Obama’s disdain for the emotional content of wartime leadership lurks, as we have seen, a stubborn reluctance to acknowledge exactly who we are up against. Marty Peretz notes:

If the president were truly sentient, he would not be content to enumerate the macrophysics of what we have done: “Our progress has been unmistakable… We’ve disrupted terrorist financing, cut off recruiting chains, inflicted major losses on al-Qaeda’s leadership, thwarted plots here in the United States, and saved countless American lives.”

….

But what has been the animating motive for the terrorist efforts to dispose of Americans and Europeans, Hindus and Christians, Jews and non-believers, and, of course, Muslims, albeit from antagonistic or divergent sects — infidels and heretics, really — in the religious vocabulary? It is an ideological certainty laced through the Islamic tradition and the Islamic present. . . So, in rendering the gross and the mad, we must be truthful about the essentials and about the shadings. No, it is not everybody — not by a long shot. But it is plenty. We must know whom we are fighting. Alas, if we don’t also know what we are fighting and what we are fighting for, we are fighting blind.

But this is not a president who wants to educate and inform the public about our adversaries’ motives. He prefers the perspective of a benign Muslim world that must be reassured and engaged and to which America must prove its sincerity and goodwill. He couldn’t label Major Nadal Hassan a jihadist, and he resists even in his most robust comments using the words “Islamic fundamentalist” or “Islamic jihadist.” It plainly rankles him to identify specifically who these “extremists” are and what their “far-reaching network of violence and hatred” is really all about.

And finally, much of this seems to concern a political disposition — a desire to be anti-Bush, to focus on a rather radical domestic agenda, and to husband resources (both political and economic) for the domestic proposals that animate the new president. One senses that even after a year in office, during which there have been three domestic terror attacks and two wars, he just wants to get “beyond all this.” It simply isn’t what he wants to do. He sees no political upside in it, and it isn’t how he thinks he’s going to earn a second term. Yes, his most successful and popular political decision (albeit a halting and conflicted one) in recent months was committing troops to Afghanistan. But the potential positive impact of that decision seems not to have registered. Soon after the West Point speech, he popped up on 60 Minutes to assure us that the commitment was limited and that his eye was fixed on our domestic needs.

Unfortunately we are engaged in two wars and do face a fanatical enemy. We could use a president who grasps the emotional content of wartime leadership, who understands the ideological nature of our foes, and who comprehends that no president can be successful unless he excels as commander in chief. Maybe Obama can become that president. But candidly, it will be a stretch.

Plainly, Obama doesn’t relish the job of being commander in chief, and more specifically, leading the West in the war against Islamic jihadists. Now, it’s true that his cool demeanor and rather grumpy countenance over the last few months suggest that there may be little he really relishes about the presidency — doing the job as opposed to obtaining the job. But at least on domestic policy, he seems to be engaged and invested. However, this is not a president who seeks to define himself as the protector of Western civilization or who leaps to the metaphorical rubble heap to seize the moment, rally the country, and level a steely warning to our enemies. He can barely be bothered to interrupt his vacation. There are several explanations for this — temperamental, ideological, and political.

As for the temperament, this is a president whom we’ve reluctantly come to see as fancying himself above gut emotions. His professorial pretensions now verge on zombie-like detachment. As John Brummett writes:

I get No-Drama Obama. I see what it’s about and agree with it usually. But I don’t much care for it when an al-Qaida-trained terrorist nearly blows up one of our airplanes on approach to Detroit on Christmas Day. In that case, the drama is already out of the bag. I want somebody to get dramatic in my behalf — outraged, I mean — and to do so instinctively and quickly, if not quite impulsively. . . You can’t avoid drama when drama already has occurred, and a terrorist attack by persons warring against you is bona fide drama already. We lull ourselves into a false sense of security when we downplay that people are trying to kill us. And while it scares us, yes, to ponder such a world, it, more to the point, makes us fighting mad.

Well, Brummett and others hoping for some feistier leadership will continue to be disappointed, I think. For this is not a president to react with outrage (pique at Fox News, maybe, but not outrage) or to even acknowledge that outrage is the appropriate reaction to his fellow citizens’ being threatened. He is not going to get fighting mad on our behalf, so we are left to be mad on our own. His detachment separates him from the country and shows a measure of his condescension toward the rest of us who think that leadership is about more than ordering up a dizzying array of bureaucratic reports after nearly 300 people come close to getting incinerated in mid-air.

Beneath Obama’s disdain for the emotional content of wartime leadership lurks, as we have seen, a stubborn reluctance to acknowledge exactly who we are up against. Marty Peretz notes:

If the president were truly sentient, he would not be content to enumerate the macrophysics of what we have done: “Our progress has been unmistakable… We’ve disrupted terrorist financing, cut off recruiting chains, inflicted major losses on al-Qaeda’s leadership, thwarted plots here in the United States, and saved countless American lives.”

….

But what has been the animating motive for the terrorist efforts to dispose of Americans and Europeans, Hindus and Christians, Jews and non-believers, and, of course, Muslims, albeit from antagonistic or divergent sects — infidels and heretics, really — in the religious vocabulary? It is an ideological certainty laced through the Islamic tradition and the Islamic present. . . So, in rendering the gross and the mad, we must be truthful about the essentials and about the shadings. No, it is not everybody — not by a long shot. But it is plenty. We must know whom we are fighting. Alas, if we don’t also know what we are fighting and what we are fighting for, we are fighting blind.

But this is not a president who wants to educate and inform the public about our adversaries’ motives. He prefers the perspective of a benign Muslim world that must be reassured and engaged and to which America must prove its sincerity and goodwill. He couldn’t label Major Nadal Hassan a jihadist, and he resists even in his most robust comments using the words “Islamic fundamentalist” or “Islamic jihadist.” It plainly rankles him to identify specifically who these “extremists” are and what their “far-reaching network of violence and hatred” is really all about.

And finally, much of this seems to concern a political disposition — a desire to be anti-Bush, to focus on a rather radical domestic agenda, and to husband resources (both political and economic) for the domestic proposals that animate the new president. One senses that even after a year in office, during which there have been three domestic terror attacks and two wars, he just wants to get “beyond all this.” It simply isn’t what he wants to do. He sees no political upside in it, and it isn’t how he thinks he’s going to earn a second term. Yes, his most successful and popular political decision (albeit a halting and conflicted one) in recent months was committing troops to Afghanistan. But the potential positive impact of that decision seems not to have registered. Soon after the West Point speech, he popped up on 60 Minutes to assure us that the commitment was limited and that his eye was fixed on our domestic needs.

Unfortunately we are engaged in two wars and do face a fanatical enemy. We could use a president who grasps the emotional content of wartime leadership, who understands the ideological nature of our foes, and who comprehends that no president can be successful unless he excels as commander in chief. Maybe Obama can become that president. But candidly, it will be a stretch.

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Flawed Methodology

CIA operations on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border suffered a significant setback last week when seven Agency officers were killed and another six badly injured in a suicide bombing apparently perpetrated by one of the Agency’s local informants. (Hot Air has a good summary here.)

The attack at Chapman Base means both more and less than it seems to. This is unquestionably an important operational setback, but it’s also in the nature of campaigns against insurgencies to produce incidents like this one. Relying on informants who may turn out to be duplicitous is often dictated by circumstance, something we learned quite thoroughly in Vietnam; and Central Asia has been notorious for such local informants throughout the history of the West’s interactions there.

Still, the features of this attack should give us pause. It was timed to take place when the CIA’s base commander would be present: according to a Taliban chief, the bombing was meant as retaliation for U.S. drone strikes on Taliban leaders. This development is emblematic of the position in which U.S. forces will increasingly find themselves wherever our antiterrorism posture shifts to greater reliance on standoff strikes. The position is ultimately untenable: in order to acquire the necessary targeting intelligence we must have operatives on the ground using local contacts, and therefore be perpetually vulnerable to attacks like the one at Chapman Base. But with each drone strike, the likelihood of retaliatory attempts on our intelligence assets increases.

A key lesson from both Vietnam and Iraq, articulated by General McChrystal in his August 2009 recommendation, is that populations are not won over until they have a trustworthy civil infrastructure in which they feel safe. In its absence, we have no prospect of being able to fully trust local informants in the AfPak border region. Even the most reliable informant may submit to extortion if his family is threatened. The results are likely to include misleading intelligence as well as physical threats to our operatives. The CIA can take precautions, of course, meeting its informants off-base and avoiding large gatherings like the one last week. But that will merely make the insurgents work a little harder to bring off assassinations.

We can only speculate as to why this attack wasn’t mounted until December 2009. Given Obama’s accelerated dependence on drone attacks and his general security posture, an obvious possibility is that Taliban leaders calculate now, as they did not before, that this is the most efficient means of targeting both our strategy and our will. The insistence of the Obama administration on the notion that its goal in Afghanistan is not to win the populace over according to the counterinsurgency model favored by McChrystal, means the situation for our forces in remote areas will not improve. Nor do we have any intention of improving it. Keep that in mind as 2010 unfolds. More such attempts by the Taliban are likely, but that will not mean we have encountered an insoluble problem. It will merely mean we have chosen the wrong method.

CIA operations on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border suffered a significant setback last week when seven Agency officers were killed and another six badly injured in a suicide bombing apparently perpetrated by one of the Agency’s local informants. (Hot Air has a good summary here.)

The attack at Chapman Base means both more and less than it seems to. This is unquestionably an important operational setback, but it’s also in the nature of campaigns against insurgencies to produce incidents like this one. Relying on informants who may turn out to be duplicitous is often dictated by circumstance, something we learned quite thoroughly in Vietnam; and Central Asia has been notorious for such local informants throughout the history of the West’s interactions there.

Still, the features of this attack should give us pause. It was timed to take place when the CIA’s base commander would be present: according to a Taliban chief, the bombing was meant as retaliation for U.S. drone strikes on Taliban leaders. This development is emblematic of the position in which U.S. forces will increasingly find themselves wherever our antiterrorism posture shifts to greater reliance on standoff strikes. The position is ultimately untenable: in order to acquire the necessary targeting intelligence we must have operatives on the ground using local contacts, and therefore be perpetually vulnerable to attacks like the one at Chapman Base. But with each drone strike, the likelihood of retaliatory attempts on our intelligence assets increases.

A key lesson from both Vietnam and Iraq, articulated by General McChrystal in his August 2009 recommendation, is that populations are not won over until they have a trustworthy civil infrastructure in which they feel safe. In its absence, we have no prospect of being able to fully trust local informants in the AfPak border region. Even the most reliable informant may submit to extortion if his family is threatened. The results are likely to include misleading intelligence as well as physical threats to our operatives. The CIA can take precautions, of course, meeting its informants off-base and avoiding large gatherings like the one last week. But that will merely make the insurgents work a little harder to bring off assassinations.

We can only speculate as to why this attack wasn’t mounted until December 2009. Given Obama’s accelerated dependence on drone attacks and his general security posture, an obvious possibility is that Taliban leaders calculate now, as they did not before, that this is the most efficient means of targeting both our strategy and our will. The insistence of the Obama administration on the notion that its goal in Afghanistan is not to win the populace over according to the counterinsurgency model favored by McChrystal, means the situation for our forces in remote areas will not improve. Nor do we have any intention of improving it. Keep that in mind as 2010 unfolds. More such attempts by the Taliban are likely, but that will not mean we have encountered an insoluble problem. It will merely mean we have chosen the wrong method.

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Crime Going Extinct?

In one of the more hopeful and underreported stories in recent months, we learned that for the first half of 2009 — a period of considerable economic distress in our country — crime fell by 4.4 percent nationwide, with the murder rate dropping by a staggering 10 percent, according to statistics recently released by the FBI (see links here and here). The decline in murders from one year to another is one of the more significant decreases we have ever experienced. (All four of the offenses that make up violent crime — murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault — decreased nationwide. In addition to the murder rate declining by 10 percent, robbery also fell by 6.5 percent, forcible rape decreased by 3.3 percent, and aggravated assault declined by 3.2 percent.)

In disaggregating this data, we see that violent crime and aggravated assault decreased in major cities of over 1 million residents, dropping by 7 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively. Crime in America’s largest city, New York, has fallen by 11 percent from last year and by 35 percent since 2001. New York, with 461 murders through December 27, is on track for the lowest number of homicides since comprehensive record-keeping began in 1963.

In Los Angeles the murder rate for the first half of 2009 was down by almost 30 percent. In Washington, D.C., the murder rate fell by 26 percent from a comparable period last year, to its lowest in the last two decades. The first half of 2009 also witnessed a 14 percent decrease in homicides in Atlanta and a 10 percent drop in Boston. (It should be pointed out that some cities, like Baltimore and Detroit, saw their murder rate climb.)

The Washington Post summarized things well in its January 2 editorial:

The national decrease in murder began about two decades ago. In 1991, the national homicide rate hit 9.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, prompting forecasts of permanently rising street violence — then fell to 5.7 in 1999. Many wondered whether this “Great Crime Decline” could be sustained for another 10 years. The answer would appear to be yes: By 2008, the murder rate had drifted down to 5.4 per 100,000, the lowest level since 1965. And given the preliminary figures, the rate for 2009 should be lower still. Indeed, if present trends continue, America will experience a degree of public safety not known since the 1950s.

The reasons for the drop we have witnessed in violent crime since the 1990s are multiple, probably including higher incarceration rates and tougher sentencing; advances in policing (including targeting repeat offenders and high-crime areas, utilizing technology such as crime mapping and gunfire-detection systems, which allows police to rapidly respond to incidents, and identifying criminal patterns more effectively); the passing of the crack-cocaine epidemic; the aging of the population; an enormous investment in private security measures; a proliferation of surveillance cameras; more effective intervention and prevention; and more.

It is impossible to ascribe with precision the exact reasons that have led to the progress we have witnessed; they vary depending on cities and circumstances. But the moral of the story is clear enough: problems that at one time seemed intractable can yield, and yield quickly, to the right policies and to a determined citizenry. Fatalism and despair are not options. And the capacity of American ingenuity to address the challenges we face is remarkable. As Irving Kristol put it more than three decades ago, “One of the least appreciated virtues of this society is its natural recuperative powers — its capacity to change, as we say, but also its capacity to preserve itself, to adapt and survive. The strength of these powers always astonishes us, as we anticipate (even proclaim) an imminent apocalypse that somehow never comes.”

It is not terribly fashionable to focus on the progress we experience, whether it has to do with a drop in violent crime rates here at home or a more pacified situation in Iraq. We are prone to focus our attention on the problems we face and the things that are going wrong. But sometimes, to paraphrase James Boswell in The Life of Samuel Johnson, cheerfulness does break in.

In one of the more hopeful and underreported stories in recent months, we learned that for the first half of 2009 — a period of considerable economic distress in our country — crime fell by 4.4 percent nationwide, with the murder rate dropping by a staggering 10 percent, according to statistics recently released by the FBI (see links here and here). The decline in murders from one year to another is one of the more significant decreases we have ever experienced. (All four of the offenses that make up violent crime — murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault — decreased nationwide. In addition to the murder rate declining by 10 percent, robbery also fell by 6.5 percent, forcible rape decreased by 3.3 percent, and aggravated assault declined by 3.2 percent.)

In disaggregating this data, we see that violent crime and aggravated assault decreased in major cities of over 1 million residents, dropping by 7 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively. Crime in America’s largest city, New York, has fallen by 11 percent from last year and by 35 percent since 2001. New York, with 461 murders through December 27, is on track for the lowest number of homicides since comprehensive record-keeping began in 1963.

In Los Angeles the murder rate for the first half of 2009 was down by almost 30 percent. In Washington, D.C., the murder rate fell by 26 percent from a comparable period last year, to its lowest in the last two decades. The first half of 2009 also witnessed a 14 percent decrease in homicides in Atlanta and a 10 percent drop in Boston. (It should be pointed out that some cities, like Baltimore and Detroit, saw their murder rate climb.)

The Washington Post summarized things well in its January 2 editorial:

The national decrease in murder began about two decades ago. In 1991, the national homicide rate hit 9.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, prompting forecasts of permanently rising street violence — then fell to 5.7 in 1999. Many wondered whether this “Great Crime Decline” could be sustained for another 10 years. The answer would appear to be yes: By 2008, the murder rate had drifted down to 5.4 per 100,000, the lowest level since 1965. And given the preliminary figures, the rate for 2009 should be lower still. Indeed, if present trends continue, America will experience a degree of public safety not known since the 1950s.

The reasons for the drop we have witnessed in violent crime since the 1990s are multiple, probably including higher incarceration rates and tougher sentencing; advances in policing (including targeting repeat offenders and high-crime areas, utilizing technology such as crime mapping and gunfire-detection systems, which allows police to rapidly respond to incidents, and identifying criminal patterns more effectively); the passing of the crack-cocaine epidemic; the aging of the population; an enormous investment in private security measures; a proliferation of surveillance cameras; more effective intervention and prevention; and more.

It is impossible to ascribe with precision the exact reasons that have led to the progress we have witnessed; they vary depending on cities and circumstances. But the moral of the story is clear enough: problems that at one time seemed intractable can yield, and yield quickly, to the right policies and to a determined citizenry. Fatalism and despair are not options. And the capacity of American ingenuity to address the challenges we face is remarkable. As Irving Kristol put it more than three decades ago, “One of the least appreciated virtues of this society is its natural recuperative powers — its capacity to change, as we say, but also its capacity to preserve itself, to adapt and survive. The strength of these powers always astonishes us, as we anticipate (even proclaim) an imminent apocalypse that somehow never comes.”

It is not terribly fashionable to focus on the progress we experience, whether it has to do with a drop in violent crime rates here at home or a more pacified situation in Iraq. We are prone to focus our attention on the problems we face and the things that are going wrong. But sometimes, to paraphrase James Boswell in The Life of Samuel Johnson, cheerfulness does break in.

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Nor Any Drop to Drink

The man-made water shortage plaguing California is usually called “man-made drought,” but this bumper-sticker description doesn’t capture the essence of the issue. It focuses us on the frightful word — drought, – evoking associations with natural, climate-induced drought. Unlike natural drought, however, man’s conscious choices about the use of water affect us 100 percent of the time — and are always subject to our discretion.

The man-made drought in California is uniquely emblematic of a shift in the political thinking of the Left toward prioritizing abstract, untested ideas about the environment over the survival of man. Few can be unaware today that in California’s San Joaquin Valley, some of the most productive agricultural land in North America has had its water turned off due to a federal judge’s ruling to protect the endangered Delta smelt. This decision has cost California’s $18 billion economy more than $1 billion in revenues and as many as 40,000 jobs. What is less widely known is that it was an FDR-era public-works project that modernized the irrigation of the San Joaquin Valley to begin with. Regularizing the delivery of water was intended to stabilize crop production, agricultural income, and jobs.

The policy of the U.S. government has thus effectively changed in the intervening decades, with the Endangered Species Act of 1973 increasingly invoked to shut down the artificial irrigation that had been made possible by earlier government projects. Significantly, however, the choice here is not between delivering water for irrigation and letting Mother Nature do as she will. The alternative use of the water is governed by human decision as well. In the case of the San Joaquin River recovery project, for example, water that had gone to agriculture since 1942 is being redirected to the San Joaquin riverbed, with the hope of restoring the river to its condition before the Friant Dam had been built.

The water being withheld out of concern for the Delta smelt, meanwhile, is sitting in reservoirs. It can’t be pumped because the pumps themselves are the menace to the two-inch smelt. Neither alternative in this case delivers a “natural” outcome; both are managed by man with deliberately chosen objectives. But the objective of protecting endangered species is particularly ill-defined and open-ended. As Congressman Devin Nunes, a Republican from the San Joaquin Valley, points out, no California fish put on the endangered-species list since 1974 has ever been removed from it. This casts doubt on the original purpose of the enterprise as well as its methodology.

Governor Schwarzenegger led an effort in 2009 to get California out of the water-infrastructure straitjacket imposed by lawsuits, but succeeded mainly in guaranteeing that state regulation of public water use be increasingly intrusive. Environmental groups are now shifting their efforts to the Santa Ana sucker, a small bait fish whose protection portends, at a minimum, irrigation losses for citrus growers east of Los Angeles. Man’s technology has advanced considerably since the ancient Sumerians irrigated their Mesopotamian fields 6,000 years ago, but his wisdom has a long way to go.

The man-made water shortage plaguing California is usually called “man-made drought,” but this bumper-sticker description doesn’t capture the essence of the issue. It focuses us on the frightful word — drought, – evoking associations with natural, climate-induced drought. Unlike natural drought, however, man’s conscious choices about the use of water affect us 100 percent of the time — and are always subject to our discretion.

The man-made drought in California is uniquely emblematic of a shift in the political thinking of the Left toward prioritizing abstract, untested ideas about the environment over the survival of man. Few can be unaware today that in California’s San Joaquin Valley, some of the most productive agricultural land in North America has had its water turned off due to a federal judge’s ruling to protect the endangered Delta smelt. This decision has cost California’s $18 billion economy more than $1 billion in revenues and as many as 40,000 jobs. What is less widely known is that it was an FDR-era public-works project that modernized the irrigation of the San Joaquin Valley to begin with. Regularizing the delivery of water was intended to stabilize crop production, agricultural income, and jobs.

The policy of the U.S. government has thus effectively changed in the intervening decades, with the Endangered Species Act of 1973 increasingly invoked to shut down the artificial irrigation that had been made possible by earlier government projects. Significantly, however, the choice here is not between delivering water for irrigation and letting Mother Nature do as she will. The alternative use of the water is governed by human decision as well. In the case of the San Joaquin River recovery project, for example, water that had gone to agriculture since 1942 is being redirected to the San Joaquin riverbed, with the hope of restoring the river to its condition before the Friant Dam had been built.

The water being withheld out of concern for the Delta smelt, meanwhile, is sitting in reservoirs. It can’t be pumped because the pumps themselves are the menace to the two-inch smelt. Neither alternative in this case delivers a “natural” outcome; both are managed by man with deliberately chosen objectives. But the objective of protecting endangered species is particularly ill-defined and open-ended. As Congressman Devin Nunes, a Republican from the San Joaquin Valley, points out, no California fish put on the endangered-species list since 1974 has ever been removed from it. This casts doubt on the original purpose of the enterprise as well as its methodology.

Governor Schwarzenegger led an effort in 2009 to get California out of the water-infrastructure straitjacket imposed by lawsuits, but succeeded mainly in guaranteeing that state regulation of public water use be increasingly intrusive. Environmental groups are now shifting their efforts to the Santa Ana sucker, a small bait fish whose protection portends, at a minimum, irrigation losses for citrus growers east of Los Angeles. Man’s technology has advanced considerably since the ancient Sumerians irrigated their Mesopotamian fields 6,000 years ago, but his wisdom has a long way to go.

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Face the Voters

On Face the Nation, there was some serious talk as to why the Christmas Day bombing is so perilous for the Obama team. It is not simply that once again Democrats may be perceived as weak on national security. There is a more basic issue now rumbling through not just conservative circles but also in the mainstream media: can these people be trusted to do much of anything? Jan Crawford took up the competency angle:

The reason that’s an issue for Obama is that it goes to the bigger question of the competency of his government and the trust that people have in that government. You look at polls. Polls show that the trust in government is an all time low. Domestically, obviously, stimulus plan hasn’t worked. Unemployment is high. And so now we have a situation where a terrorist can get on an airplane, seemingly could have  been caught if some officials had just done a basic Google search of the database. And the Homeland Security secretary is insisting the system worked.

Really, what have the Obami done well? Not the stimulus plan. Not crafting a popular and coherent health-care bill. And not instilling confidence that there are competent people who can, when bombarded with intelligence, put it together to prevent an attack or even craft a policy designed to extract information after an attack. But Bob Schieffer, not exactly a fire-breathing conservative, really laid into the Obami. The problem is not only competence but also trust. The Democrats are consumed with political spin even on national security. He notes that Janet Napolitano was getting hammered but explains that this is a symptom of a bigger issue:

But she was just following the modern bipartisan public relations template in this age of information management. First, play down the problem. Second, emphasize what did not go wrong. Assure us that those in charge are investigating, and most important, emphasize no one in any position of responsibility is at fault. It’s not lying. But it’s not exactly the whole truth, certainly not the whole story. All she left out was that part about asking us to respect the privacy of those involved. Oh, I’m sorry. I got the government spin mixed up with the Tiger spin. Here is the difference. Tiger can hire as many people as he wants to make his excuses. It maydo him no good but it’s his money to spend as he wishes. When government officials insult us with spin they’re doing it on our dime, which is supposed to be used to operate the government, not to hold news conferences to tell us what a fine job people on the public payroll are doing. As we learned during Katrina, self-serving spin at the first sign of crisis does not help the situation. It makes it worse. Because it makes it harder to believe anything the government says. Real security is built on trust in government. That requires truth, which should be the beginning of government presentations, not the fallback position.

Yowser. Now that’s a narrative that should concern the Obami. Unfortunately, one wonders if they know what to do with a problem not solvable by spin and attack-dog tactics. At some point you really have to govern. Sadly, that is not their strong suit.

On Face the Nation, there was some serious talk as to why the Christmas Day bombing is so perilous for the Obama team. It is not simply that once again Democrats may be perceived as weak on national security. There is a more basic issue now rumbling through not just conservative circles but also in the mainstream media: can these people be trusted to do much of anything? Jan Crawford took up the competency angle:

The reason that’s an issue for Obama is that it goes to the bigger question of the competency of his government and the trust that people have in that government. You look at polls. Polls show that the trust in government is an all time low. Domestically, obviously, stimulus plan hasn’t worked. Unemployment is high. And so now we have a situation where a terrorist can get on an airplane, seemingly could have  been caught if some officials had just done a basic Google search of the database. And the Homeland Security secretary is insisting the system worked.

Really, what have the Obami done well? Not the stimulus plan. Not crafting a popular and coherent health-care bill. And not instilling confidence that there are competent people who can, when bombarded with intelligence, put it together to prevent an attack or even craft a policy designed to extract information after an attack. But Bob Schieffer, not exactly a fire-breathing conservative, really laid into the Obami. The problem is not only competence but also trust. The Democrats are consumed with political spin even on national security. He notes that Janet Napolitano was getting hammered but explains that this is a symptom of a bigger issue:

But she was just following the modern bipartisan public relations template in this age of information management. First, play down the problem. Second, emphasize what did not go wrong. Assure us that those in charge are investigating, and most important, emphasize no one in any position of responsibility is at fault. It’s not lying. But it’s not exactly the whole truth, certainly not the whole story. All she left out was that part about asking us to respect the privacy of those involved. Oh, I’m sorry. I got the government spin mixed up with the Tiger spin. Here is the difference. Tiger can hire as many people as he wants to make his excuses. It maydo him no good but it’s his money to spend as he wishes. When government officials insult us with spin they’re doing it on our dime, which is supposed to be used to operate the government, not to hold news conferences to tell us what a fine job people on the public payroll are doing. As we learned during Katrina, self-serving spin at the first sign of crisis does not help the situation. It makes it worse. Because it makes it harder to believe anything the government says. Real security is built on trust in government. That requires truth, which should be the beginning of government presentations, not the fallback position.

Yowser. Now that’s a narrative that should concern the Obami. Unfortunately, one wonders if they know what to do with a problem not solvable by spin and attack-dog tactics. At some point you really have to govern. Sadly, that is not their strong suit.

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Andrew Roberts’ History Lesson

Andrew Roberts, Britain’s distinguished historian, has an important front-page article in the Jewish Press, entitled “Israel’s Fair-Weather British Friends” – a survey of the history of British diplomatic betrayals and genteel anti-Semitism that should be read in its entirety.

Here’s a remarkable fact about the Queen’s travels, which are controlled by the British Foreign Office:

Though the queen has made over 250 official overseas visits to 129 different countries during her reign, neither she nor any other member of the British royal family has ever been to Israel on an official visit. …

But the Foreign Office has somehow managed to find the time over the years to send the queen on state visits to Libya, Iran, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Turkey. So it can’t have been that she wasn’t in the area.

Perhaps Her Majesty hasn’t been on the throne long enough, at 57 years, for the Foreign Office to get around to allowing her to visit one of the only democracies in the Middle East.

Barack Obama has been in office for 56 fewer years than the Queen, but he did a remarkable amount of traveling last year – including three trips to Scandinavia alone (to make a pitch, receive a prize, and negotiate a non-binding agreement) — without visiting Israel. He went to Egypt to give a speech and to Saudi Arabia to make a bow, and to Turkey on another trip, so it couldn’t have been that he wasn’t in the area.

The absence of a trip to Israel was one of many signals he gave over the past year that he wanted to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel – something that did not go unnoticed across the political spectrum in Israel. Haaretz’s Yoel Marcus, one of the most liberal columnists in the country, argued that Obama should “come to Israel and declare here courageously, before the entire world, that our connection to this land began long before the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Holocaust; and that 4,000 years ago, Jews already stood on the ground where he is standing.” Aluf Benn, another prominent Haaretz columnist, used the op-ed page of  the New York Times to urge Obama to come to Israel to talk directly to its citizens. Those pleas, made six months ago, produced no response.

Roberts observes that if Israel “decides preemptively to strike against [the Iranian] threat – as Nelson preemptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill preemptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran – then it can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office.” He advises Israel to ignore it — “because Britain has only ever really been at best a fair weather friend to Israel.”

Britain’s disregard for Israel is an historical embarrassment. The disregard by the American president is a matter of current importance. Israel struck preemptively the incipient nuclear program of Iraq in 1981 and that of Syria in 2007; it found itself required to strike preemptively against Egypt in 1967. If it finds itself in a position of having to strike preemptively again, it will be because of an American failure to deal with a problem that casts its shadow beyond Israel, aggravated by the signals of the president’s uncertain support of one of the very rare democracies in the Middle East.

Andrew Roberts, Britain’s distinguished historian, has an important front-page article in the Jewish Press, entitled “Israel’s Fair-Weather British Friends” – a survey of the history of British diplomatic betrayals and genteel anti-Semitism that should be read in its entirety.

Here’s a remarkable fact about the Queen’s travels, which are controlled by the British Foreign Office:

Though the queen has made over 250 official overseas visits to 129 different countries during her reign, neither she nor any other member of the British royal family has ever been to Israel on an official visit. …

But the Foreign Office has somehow managed to find the time over the years to send the queen on state visits to Libya, Iran, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Turkey. So it can’t have been that she wasn’t in the area.

Perhaps Her Majesty hasn’t been on the throne long enough, at 57 years, for the Foreign Office to get around to allowing her to visit one of the only democracies in the Middle East.

Barack Obama has been in office for 56 fewer years than the Queen, but he did a remarkable amount of traveling last year – including three trips to Scandinavia alone (to make a pitch, receive a prize, and negotiate a non-binding agreement) — without visiting Israel. He went to Egypt to give a speech and to Saudi Arabia to make a bow, and to Turkey on another trip, so it couldn’t have been that he wasn’t in the area.

The absence of a trip to Israel was one of many signals he gave over the past year that he wanted to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel – something that did not go unnoticed across the political spectrum in Israel. Haaretz’s Yoel Marcus, one of the most liberal columnists in the country, argued that Obama should “come to Israel and declare here courageously, before the entire world, that our connection to this land began long before the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Holocaust; and that 4,000 years ago, Jews already stood on the ground where he is standing.” Aluf Benn, another prominent Haaretz columnist, used the op-ed page of  the New York Times to urge Obama to come to Israel to talk directly to its citizens. Those pleas, made six months ago, produced no response.

Roberts observes that if Israel “decides preemptively to strike against [the Iranian] threat – as Nelson preemptively sank the Danish Fleet at Copenhagen and Churchill preemptively sank the Vichy Fleet at Oran – then it can expect nothing but condemnation from the British Foreign Office.” He advises Israel to ignore it — “because Britain has only ever really been at best a fair weather friend to Israel.”

Britain’s disregard for Israel is an historical embarrassment. The disregard by the American president is a matter of current importance. Israel struck preemptively the incipient nuclear program of Iraq in 1981 and that of Syria in 2007; it found itself required to strike preemptively against Egypt in 1967. If it finds itself in a position of having to strike preemptively again, it will be because of an American failure to deal with a problem that casts its shadow beyond Israel, aggravated by the signals of the president’s uncertain support of one of the very rare democracies in the Middle East.

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Re: Is Reconciliation “Soft”?

Max, the decision to release a large batch of Iranian backed terrorists, especially now, is, quite frankly, bizarre, when viewed from the perspective of our Iran policy, assuming we have one. Your recent observation on Afghanistan is apt in this context as well: “Unfortunately, I’m not sure Obama himself knows which is the strategy and which is the head fake. He seems fundamentally ambivalent about the war in Afghanistan — as he is about the war on terror and most other military endeavors — and that ambivalence is reflected in the form of policy incoherence.” As ambivalent and incoherent as Obama is on Afghanistan, the administration’s herky-jerky moves on Iran (e.g., hints one day of a John Kerry visit, tough talk from Obama on human rights the next day, and not very crippling sanctions suggested on another) are downright schizophrenic. Given all that, the release of Iranian-backed terrorists hardly helps the matter. It comes at the very same time that Obama is trying to convince domestic critics, allies, and, most importantly, Iran itself that he is going to get tougher with the mullahs. So how does the release of over 100 Iranian-backed terrorists look in that context?

Perhaps there are reasons why battlefield commanders in Iraq would like to proceed in this fashion. (Nevertheless, as Bill Roggio points out: “Qais Qazli wasn’t just some run of the mill Shia thug; his group is backed by Iran. Qazali’s men were trained by Iranian Qods Force to infiltrate and assault the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala in January 2007. Five US soldiers were killed during the kidnapping attempt. The US soldiers were executed after US and Iraqi security forces closed in on the assault team.”) Time will tell whether this is about “reconciliation” or whether it mounts up to just a distasteful and exceptionally lopsided “prisoner swap,” as one military intelligence source put it.

However, there is a larger, looming problem: how to deal with the increasingly belligerent Iranian regime, which has ample reason already to doubt the resolve of the Obama administration. The symbolism of the release of a key terrorist (along with his many comrades) directly responsible for the deaths of Americans is awful. It was so bad, in fact, that it was done on New Year’s Eve in an effort, no doubt, to clamp down on domestic criticism. After the New Year’s revelry dies down, however, I expect that the release will be touted by Qazali’s Iranian backers, who will interpret this as not a cagey deal by U.S. commanders in Iraq but rather as another sign of squishiness by Obama. The mullahs and their henchmen will, doubtless, remain entirely unimpressed with the Obama administration’s promise to get “tough” with the worst of the worst within the Iranian regime.

Max, the decision to release a large batch of Iranian backed terrorists, especially now, is, quite frankly, bizarre, when viewed from the perspective of our Iran policy, assuming we have one. Your recent observation on Afghanistan is apt in this context as well: “Unfortunately, I’m not sure Obama himself knows which is the strategy and which is the head fake. He seems fundamentally ambivalent about the war in Afghanistan — as he is about the war on terror and most other military endeavors — and that ambivalence is reflected in the form of policy incoherence.” As ambivalent and incoherent as Obama is on Afghanistan, the administration’s herky-jerky moves on Iran (e.g., hints one day of a John Kerry visit, tough talk from Obama on human rights the next day, and not very crippling sanctions suggested on another) are downright schizophrenic. Given all that, the release of Iranian-backed terrorists hardly helps the matter. It comes at the very same time that Obama is trying to convince domestic critics, allies, and, most importantly, Iran itself that he is going to get tougher with the mullahs. So how does the release of over 100 Iranian-backed terrorists look in that context?

Perhaps there are reasons why battlefield commanders in Iraq would like to proceed in this fashion. (Nevertheless, as Bill Roggio points out: “Qais Qazli wasn’t just some run of the mill Shia thug; his group is backed by Iran. Qazali’s men were trained by Iranian Qods Force to infiltrate and assault the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala in January 2007. Five US soldiers were killed during the kidnapping attempt. The US soldiers were executed after US and Iraqi security forces closed in on the assault team.”) Time will tell whether this is about “reconciliation” or whether it mounts up to just a distasteful and exceptionally lopsided “prisoner swap,” as one military intelligence source put it.

However, there is a larger, looming problem: how to deal with the increasingly belligerent Iranian regime, which has ample reason already to doubt the resolve of the Obama administration. The symbolism of the release of a key terrorist (along with his many comrades) directly responsible for the deaths of Americans is awful. It was so bad, in fact, that it was done on New Year’s Eve in an effort, no doubt, to clamp down on domestic criticism. After the New Year’s revelry dies down, however, I expect that the release will be touted by Qazali’s Iranian backers, who will interpret this as not a cagey deal by U.S. commanders in Iraq but rather as another sign of squishiness by Obama. The mullahs and their henchmen will, doubtless, remain entirely unimpressed with the Obama administration’s promise to get “tough” with the worst of the worst within the Iranian regime.

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But Isn’t There a Downside?

This is an instructive exchange on Fox News Sunday between Obama’s counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, and Chris Wallace, on the subject of treating the Christmas Day bomber as a criminal defendant. Why do this?

BRENNAN: Well, we have an array of tools that we will use, and we want to make sure we maintain flexibility as far as how we deal with these individuals.

Now, let’s get the facts on the table. He was arrested on U.S. soil on a plane on — in the Detroit airplane. He was, in fact, talking to people who were detaining him.

There were people who were arrested during the previous administration — Richard Reid, the shoe bomber; Zacarias Moussaoui; Padilla; Iyman Faris; others — all were charged and tried in criminal court and sentenced, some cases to life imprisonment.

Just because somebody is going to be put into the criminal legal process does not mean that they’re — we don’t have other opportunities to get information from them.

WALLACE: But wait, wait. Let me ask you specifically. After Abdulmutallab got lawyered up, did he stop cooperating with authorities? Did he stop talking?

BRENNAN: I’m not going to address exactly what he did before or after he was — talked with his lawyer. We got information. We continue to have opportunities to do that.

As you talk with the lawyers and you talk with the individuals, as they recognize what they’re facing as far as the charges, conviction and possible sentence, there are opportunities to continue to talk about it.

FBI has some of the best interrogators and debriefers in the world, and so I’m confident that we’re going to continue to be able to work this system and see whether or not…

WALLACE: But once he gets his Miranda rights, he doesn’t have to speak at all.

BRENNAN: He doesn’t have to, but he knows that there are certain things that are on the table, and if he wants to, in fact, engage with us in a productive manner, there are ways that he can do that.

WALLACE: But why not treat him — you certainly had the right — have — had — still have the right to treat him as an enemy combatant. Why not do that?

If he has more actionable intelligence about future attacks, and you say there’s a real possibility of that, doesn’t the president have a responsibility to do everything legal he can to get that information?

BRENNAN: And the president has that responsibility, and the Department of Justice makes these determinations about what’s the best tool to use. And in this instance, we felt as though it was the best way to address Mr. Abdulmutallab’s case.

We’ll continue to look at each of the cases individually and proceed accordingly.

WALLACE: Just briefly, what’s the downside of treating him as an enemy combatant?

BRENNAN: There’s — there are no downsides or upsides in particular cases. What we’re trying to do is to make sure we apply the right tool in the right instance. In this case, we made a determination that he should be tried in U.S. criminal court.

If you missed the coherent explanation for why they are doing this — other than the fact that the lefty lawyers in the Justice Department told them to — you are not alone. The lack of thoughtful analysis as to the national-security implications of treating Abdulmutallab as a criminal rather than as an enemy combatant is somewhat stunning. Yes, the terrorist doesn’t have to talk to us, but we have “certain things on the table.” What — we are already plea bargaining with an al-Qaeda trained terrorist? It is startling, but it is also the natural result of what comes from putting the criminal-justice model into place. Oh, he’s arrested here? So Mirandize him, call the FBI, and yes, I suppose, permit him to take the 5th. And when Brennan says that there is “no downsides or upsides in particular cases,” one has to wonder what in the world he is talking about. Of course there is a downside to allowing Abdulmutallab to clam up. Just as there would have been a downside had we allowed KSM to clam up. We lose potentially life-saving information when we stand quietly by.

The difference is that the Bush administration wasn’t willing to play Russian roulette with Americans lives or hope that detainees would eventually change their minds and co-operate. The Obama administration is. And that should be deeply disturbing to all of us.

This is an instructive exchange on Fox News Sunday between Obama’s counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, and Chris Wallace, on the subject of treating the Christmas Day bomber as a criminal defendant. Why do this?

BRENNAN: Well, we have an array of tools that we will use, and we want to make sure we maintain flexibility as far as how we deal with these individuals.

Now, let’s get the facts on the table. He was arrested on U.S. soil on a plane on — in the Detroit airplane. He was, in fact, talking to people who were detaining him.

There were people who were arrested during the previous administration — Richard Reid, the shoe bomber; Zacarias Moussaoui; Padilla; Iyman Faris; others — all were charged and tried in criminal court and sentenced, some cases to life imprisonment.

Just because somebody is going to be put into the criminal legal process does not mean that they’re — we don’t have other opportunities to get information from them.

WALLACE: But wait, wait. Let me ask you specifically. After Abdulmutallab got lawyered up, did he stop cooperating with authorities? Did he stop talking?

BRENNAN: I’m not going to address exactly what he did before or after he was — talked with his lawyer. We got information. We continue to have opportunities to do that.

As you talk with the lawyers and you talk with the individuals, as they recognize what they’re facing as far as the charges, conviction and possible sentence, there are opportunities to continue to talk about it.

FBI has some of the best interrogators and debriefers in the world, and so I’m confident that we’re going to continue to be able to work this system and see whether or not…

WALLACE: But once he gets his Miranda rights, he doesn’t have to speak at all.

BRENNAN: He doesn’t have to, but he knows that there are certain things that are on the table, and if he wants to, in fact, engage with us in a productive manner, there are ways that he can do that.

WALLACE: But why not treat him — you certainly had the right — have — had — still have the right to treat him as an enemy combatant. Why not do that?

If he has more actionable intelligence about future attacks, and you say there’s a real possibility of that, doesn’t the president have a responsibility to do everything legal he can to get that information?

BRENNAN: And the president has that responsibility, and the Department of Justice makes these determinations about what’s the best tool to use. And in this instance, we felt as though it was the best way to address Mr. Abdulmutallab’s case.

We’ll continue to look at each of the cases individually and proceed accordingly.

WALLACE: Just briefly, what’s the downside of treating him as an enemy combatant?

BRENNAN: There’s — there are no downsides or upsides in particular cases. What we’re trying to do is to make sure we apply the right tool in the right instance. In this case, we made a determination that he should be tried in U.S. criminal court.

If you missed the coherent explanation for why they are doing this — other than the fact that the lefty lawyers in the Justice Department told them to — you are not alone. The lack of thoughtful analysis as to the national-security implications of treating Abdulmutallab as a criminal rather than as an enemy combatant is somewhat stunning. Yes, the terrorist doesn’t have to talk to us, but we have “certain things on the table.” What — we are already plea bargaining with an al-Qaeda trained terrorist? It is startling, but it is also the natural result of what comes from putting the criminal-justice model into place. Oh, he’s arrested here? So Mirandize him, call the FBI, and yes, I suppose, permit him to take the 5th. And when Brennan says that there is “no downsides or upsides in particular cases,” one has to wonder what in the world he is talking about. Of course there is a downside to allowing Abdulmutallab to clam up. Just as there would have been a downside had we allowed KSM to clam up. We lose potentially life-saving information when we stand quietly by.

The difference is that the Bush administration wasn’t willing to play Russian roulette with Americans lives or hope that detainees would eventually change their minds and co-operate. The Obama administration is. And that should be deeply disturbing to all of us.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

This is what baffles average Americans: “A new focus on Yemen as a potential terrorist haven renewed an old debate on Sunday over whether the United States should have transferred or released some of its Guantanamo Bay detainees to foreign countries. The White House has signaled it would be ‘mindful’ of changing security conditions in those states as it makes those key decisions, but the Obama administration made no commitment this weekend to stop the transfer of about 40 prisoners to Yemen this year, as part of its larger plan to shutter the Gitmo detention facility.” Not even Rep. Jane Harman thinks it’s a good idea to keep sending detainees to Yemen. (Sen. Diane Feinstein also wants to halt the transfers.) Really, is this so hard to figure out?

But meanwhile Brennan tells us: “We have good intelligence that Al Qaida is training individuals in Yemen. We are pulling the threads on a number of these reports to make sure that we stay on top of it. And over the past week in particular, we are doing everything possible to scour all the intelligence that is out there to see whether or not there’s another Abdulmutallab out there.” Nevertheless, he can’t definitively rule out sending more detainees back to Yemen.

On the other hand, we are closing our embassy in Yemen because it is a very dangerous place. “The weak central government has little control over vast lawless areas that provide an ideal haven and recruiting ground for al-Qaeda. Besides militants, the government is confronted with a civil war in the north and a separatist movement in the south that is stretching its resources.” So it was a mistake to release all those detainees there? And we should stop? You’d think so.

On Meet the Press it got even worse. Brennan: “Every other day the system has worked this year….The system is working. It’s just not working as well as it needs to constantly.” If we only knew which days it was working.

Bill Kristol, on whether there was a “smoking gun” on Abdulmutallab : “His father comes, gives the CIA station chief in Africa his name. He — a month later, he goes to Yemen, says he’s in Yemen. He’s in Yemen. He’s with this cleric whom we’re monitoring in Yemen, trying to kill in Yemen, Awlaki, who’s the same guy who’s been in touch with Major Hasan.He goes to an airport using his own name, no disguise, no alias, buys with cash a one-way ticket to the U.S…. No luggage. That — he is the smoking gun. And frankly, for Mr. Brennan to say, ‘Well, no smoking gun,’ that itself shows a kind of not-serious-about-the-war mentality.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman gets it right: “That was an act of war. He should be treated as a prisoner of war. He should be held in a military brig. And — and, in fact, he should be questioned now and should have been ever since he was apprehended for intelligence that could help us stop the next attack or get the people in Yemen who directed him to do what he did, so, yes, we — we should follow the rule of law, but the rule of law that is relevant here is the rule of the law of war.” And on Guantanamo: “I’m one who believes that Guantanamo should not be closed. It — it is a — I know it has a bad reputation. I know the president promised during the campaign that he would close it. But the president is in charge of what happens at Guantanamo now, so some of the abuses of the past are not going to happen. You could not find a better, more humane facility when it comes to a detention center in the world. It seems like a waste to me to take these people to Illinois.”

The Obama era is not working out as planned for the Democrats: “In December, the number of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats fell to the lowest level recorded in more than seven years of monthly tracking by Rasmussen Reports. Currently, 35.5% of American adults view themselves as Democrats. That’s down from 36.0 a month ago and from 37.8% in October. Prior to December, the lowest total ever recorded for Democrats was 35.9%, a figure that was reached twice in 2005. . . The number of Republicans inched up by a point in December to 34.0%. That’s the highest total for Republicans since December 2007, just before the 2008 presidential campaign season began.”

Thank goodness: “Iranian legislators on Sunday decided to not allow a visit from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), according to Iranian media.” Let’s just pray the Obami don’t give the mullahs something to get them to change their minds. Unfortunately, that’s the logic of “engagement” — we prostrate ourselves for the sake of getting intransigent enemies to talk to us.

First it was Fox News. Then it was Gallup. Now liberals are whining about Rasmussen’s polling. What’s next — Pollster.com? I think their real beef is with the voters.

This is what baffles average Americans: “A new focus on Yemen as a potential terrorist haven renewed an old debate on Sunday over whether the United States should have transferred or released some of its Guantanamo Bay detainees to foreign countries. The White House has signaled it would be ‘mindful’ of changing security conditions in those states as it makes those key decisions, but the Obama administration made no commitment this weekend to stop the transfer of about 40 prisoners to Yemen this year, as part of its larger plan to shutter the Gitmo detention facility.” Not even Rep. Jane Harman thinks it’s a good idea to keep sending detainees to Yemen. (Sen. Diane Feinstein also wants to halt the transfers.) Really, is this so hard to figure out?

But meanwhile Brennan tells us: “We have good intelligence that Al Qaida is training individuals in Yemen. We are pulling the threads on a number of these reports to make sure that we stay on top of it. And over the past week in particular, we are doing everything possible to scour all the intelligence that is out there to see whether or not there’s another Abdulmutallab out there.” Nevertheless, he can’t definitively rule out sending more detainees back to Yemen.

On the other hand, we are closing our embassy in Yemen because it is a very dangerous place. “The weak central government has little control over vast lawless areas that provide an ideal haven and recruiting ground for al-Qaeda. Besides militants, the government is confronted with a civil war in the north and a separatist movement in the south that is stretching its resources.” So it was a mistake to release all those detainees there? And we should stop? You’d think so.

On Meet the Press it got even worse. Brennan: “Every other day the system has worked this year….The system is working. It’s just not working as well as it needs to constantly.” If we only knew which days it was working.

Bill Kristol, on whether there was a “smoking gun” on Abdulmutallab : “His father comes, gives the CIA station chief in Africa his name. He — a month later, he goes to Yemen, says he’s in Yemen. He’s in Yemen. He’s with this cleric whom we’re monitoring in Yemen, trying to kill in Yemen, Awlaki, who’s the same guy who’s been in touch with Major Hasan.He goes to an airport using his own name, no disguise, no alias, buys with cash a one-way ticket to the U.S…. No luggage. That — he is the smoking gun. And frankly, for Mr. Brennan to say, ‘Well, no smoking gun,’ that itself shows a kind of not-serious-about-the-war mentality.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman gets it right: “That was an act of war. He should be treated as a prisoner of war. He should be held in a military brig. And — and, in fact, he should be questioned now and should have been ever since he was apprehended for intelligence that could help us stop the next attack or get the people in Yemen who directed him to do what he did, so, yes, we — we should follow the rule of law, but the rule of law that is relevant here is the rule of the law of war.” And on Guantanamo: “I’m one who believes that Guantanamo should not be closed. It — it is a — I know it has a bad reputation. I know the president promised during the campaign that he would close it. But the president is in charge of what happens at Guantanamo now, so some of the abuses of the past are not going to happen. You could not find a better, more humane facility when it comes to a detention center in the world. It seems like a waste to me to take these people to Illinois.”

The Obama era is not working out as planned for the Democrats: “In December, the number of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats fell to the lowest level recorded in more than seven years of monthly tracking by Rasmussen Reports. Currently, 35.5% of American adults view themselves as Democrats. That’s down from 36.0 a month ago and from 37.8% in October. Prior to December, the lowest total ever recorded for Democrats was 35.9%, a figure that was reached twice in 2005. . . The number of Republicans inched up by a point in December to 34.0%. That’s the highest total for Republicans since December 2007, just before the 2008 presidential campaign season began.”

Thank goodness: “Iranian legislators on Sunday decided to not allow a visit from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), according to Iranian media.” Let’s just pray the Obami don’t give the mullahs something to get them to change their minds. Unfortunately, that’s the logic of “engagement” — we prostrate ourselves for the sake of getting intransigent enemies to talk to us.

First it was Fox News. Then it was Gallup. Now liberals are whining about Rasmussen’s polling. What’s next — Pollster.com? I think their real beef is with the voters.

Read Less




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