Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 21, 2010

Carly Fiorina Goes After Campbell on Israel

Last week I and others reported on the association between California Senate candidate Tom Campbell and convicted terrorist Sami Al-Arian. One of his Senate opponents, Carly Fiorina, has now issued a statement raising not only Al-Arian but Tom Campbell’s record on Israel:

“I am deeply troubled by these reports. I think the people of California deserve to know more about Tom Campbell’s association not only with Sami Al-Arian but also his association with other people of questionable record. What is clear is that Tom Campbell and I couldn’t disagree more when it comes to policy regarding our nation’s relationship with Israel. I am an unwavering supporter of Israel and believe strongly that the United States should continue to support and defend the country.”

(Campbell’s previous response on Al-Arian is here.)

It seems that that California Republicans will face a stark choice on foreign policy, Israel, and the war against Islamic fundamentalists, in addition to domestic issues. One can only imagine that Sen. Barbara Boxer must be looking on with extreme interest. If her opponent is Campbell, she surely will have an energized pro-Israel base (Jewish and non-Jewish) of support (financial and otherwise) in the general election.

Last week I and others reported on the association between California Senate candidate Tom Campbell and convicted terrorist Sami Al-Arian. One of his Senate opponents, Carly Fiorina, has now issued a statement raising not only Al-Arian but Tom Campbell’s record on Israel:

“I am deeply troubled by these reports. I think the people of California deserve to know more about Tom Campbell’s association not only with Sami Al-Arian but also his association with other people of questionable record. What is clear is that Tom Campbell and I couldn’t disagree more when it comes to policy regarding our nation’s relationship with Israel. I am an unwavering supporter of Israel and believe strongly that the United States should continue to support and defend the country.”

(Campbell’s previous response on Al-Arian is here.)

It seems that that California Republicans will face a stark choice on foreign policy, Israel, and the war against Islamic fundamentalists, in addition to domestic issues. One can only imagine that Sen. Barbara Boxer must be looking on with extreme interest. If her opponent is Campbell, she surely will have an energized pro-Israel base (Jewish and non-Jewish) of support (financial and otherwise) in the general election.

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Realities of War

Sigh. I feel like I’m playing whack-a-mole with the argument that General Stanley McChrystal has promulgated rules of engagement that place our troops at needless risk. As I soon as I take a whack at the argument in one place — most recently in a New York Times op-ed by someone named Lara Dadkhah — it appears somewhere else. The most recent incarnation is this article by Nolan Finley, editorial editor of the Detroit News. He offers a particularly over-the-top and un-nuanced version of the argument articulated by a few other conservatives:

Every American soldier should be pulled out of Afghanistan today. It’s immoral to commit our troops — our children — to a war without doing everything possible to protect their lives.

That’s not happening in Afghanistan.

The politicians and generals have decided to make the safety of Afghan citizens a higher priority than avoiding American deaths and injuries.

Where to start? Perhaps with the observation that war involves risk. You cannot win a war without putting your troops in harm’s way. Finley writes with approval: “Harry Truman rained down hellfire on Japan’s civilian population to spare the lives of a half-million allied troops.” That’s true, but U.S. troops also suffered huge casualties in WWII — unimaginable by today’s standards — in missions like storming heavily defended Pacific islands and bombing heavily defended German cities. Their commanders sent men toward almost certain death or injury because they knew there was no alternative. McChrystal is guided by the same realization in Afghanistan.

The only way to win in a counterinsurgency — or just about any other war, for that matter — is to send infantrymen with rifles to occupy the enemy’s strongholds. In Afghanistan, those strongholds are among the population. That’s where our troops need to go. In the process of driving the insurgents out of the population centers, it is strategically smart to minimize civilian casualties because that will help us to win the allegiance of the wavering population. That is not an untested theory; it is the reality of successful counterinsurgency campaigns from Malaya to Iraq.

And, yes, our troops will be placed at risk in the process of protecting the population and defeating the insurgents. There is no other way to achieve our goals. In Iraq from 2003 to 2007, we tried the alternative approach of putting our troops into giant Forward Operating Bases and employing copious firepower. Because this strategy failed to defeat the insurgency, it actually resulted in more American casualties. Conversely the surge strategy of 2007, which placed our troops in more exposed Combat Outposts and Joint Security Stations in Iraqi neighborhoods, incurred more casualties in the short run but saved American (and Iraqi) lives in the long run by actually pacifying Iraq. That strategy is also our best bet in Afghanistan. That’s something that Gen. McChrystal realizes and that Stateside naysayers fail to grasp.

Sigh. I feel like I’m playing whack-a-mole with the argument that General Stanley McChrystal has promulgated rules of engagement that place our troops at needless risk. As I soon as I take a whack at the argument in one place — most recently in a New York Times op-ed by someone named Lara Dadkhah — it appears somewhere else. The most recent incarnation is this article by Nolan Finley, editorial editor of the Detroit News. He offers a particularly over-the-top and un-nuanced version of the argument articulated by a few other conservatives:

Every American soldier should be pulled out of Afghanistan today. It’s immoral to commit our troops — our children — to a war without doing everything possible to protect their lives.

That’s not happening in Afghanistan.

The politicians and generals have decided to make the safety of Afghan citizens a higher priority than avoiding American deaths and injuries.

Where to start? Perhaps with the observation that war involves risk. You cannot win a war without putting your troops in harm’s way. Finley writes with approval: “Harry Truman rained down hellfire on Japan’s civilian population to spare the lives of a half-million allied troops.” That’s true, but U.S. troops also suffered huge casualties in WWII — unimaginable by today’s standards — in missions like storming heavily defended Pacific islands and bombing heavily defended German cities. Their commanders sent men toward almost certain death or injury because they knew there was no alternative. McChrystal is guided by the same realization in Afghanistan.

The only way to win in a counterinsurgency — or just about any other war, for that matter — is to send infantrymen with rifles to occupy the enemy’s strongholds. In Afghanistan, those strongholds are among the population. That’s where our troops need to go. In the process of driving the insurgents out of the population centers, it is strategically smart to minimize civilian casualties because that will help us to win the allegiance of the wavering population. That is not an untested theory; it is the reality of successful counterinsurgency campaigns from Malaya to Iraq.

And, yes, our troops will be placed at risk in the process of protecting the population and defeating the insurgents. There is no other way to achieve our goals. In Iraq from 2003 to 2007, we tried the alternative approach of putting our troops into giant Forward Operating Bases and employing copious firepower. Because this strategy failed to defeat the insurgency, it actually resulted in more American casualties. Conversely the surge strategy of 2007, which placed our troops in more exposed Combat Outposts and Joint Security Stations in Iraqi neighborhoods, incurred more casualties in the short run but saved American (and Iraqi) lives in the long run by actually pacifying Iraq. That strategy is also our best bet in Afghanistan. That’s something that Gen. McChrystal realizes and that Stateside naysayers fail to grasp.

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Did Israel Just Acquire a New Bombing Capability?

You don’t have to be Carl von Clausewitz to understand this significance of this:

Israel’s air force on Sunday introduced a fleet of huge pilotless planes that can remain in the air for a full day and fly as far as the Persian Gulf, putting rival Iran within its range.

The Heron TP drones have a wingspan of 86 feet (26 meters), making them the size of Boeing 737 passenger jets and the largest unmanned aircraft in Israel’s military. The planes can fly at least 20 consecutive hours and are primarily used for surveillance and carrying diverse payloads.

At the fleet’s inauguration ceremony at a sprawling air base in central Israel, the drone dwarfed an F-15 fighter jet parked beside it. The unmanned plane resembles its predecessor, the Heron, but can fly higher, reaching an altitude of more than 40,000 feet (12,000 meters), and remain in the air longer.

Note, first, that the 20-hour flight figure is almost certainly a dramatic understatement. Other reports put that figure at 36 hours, and the real number is probably higher still.

The Israeli Air Force has not had a long-range bombing capacity. But this new drone not only can easily reach Iran but also can loiter over the country for hours with a full payload. It has always been said that there are two great obstacles to an Israeli strike on the Iranian nuclear program: 1) the IAF’s lack of long-range bombing capability; and 2) the difficulty of destroying equipment that is dispersed across the country in underground bunkers. The Israelis have shown a flair for timing in unveiling a weapon that would appear to significantly solve the first problem.

UPDATE: I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the unveiling of this new UAV comes only a few days after Russia announced its intention, after many delays, to begin sending the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran. Presumably the new variant of the Heron would be involved in countering the SAM threat, and could perform limited bombing duties as well. Its payload is small in comparison to even an F-15.

You don’t have to be Carl von Clausewitz to understand this significance of this:

Israel’s air force on Sunday introduced a fleet of huge pilotless planes that can remain in the air for a full day and fly as far as the Persian Gulf, putting rival Iran within its range.

The Heron TP drones have a wingspan of 86 feet (26 meters), making them the size of Boeing 737 passenger jets and the largest unmanned aircraft in Israel’s military. The planes can fly at least 20 consecutive hours and are primarily used for surveillance and carrying diverse payloads.

At the fleet’s inauguration ceremony at a sprawling air base in central Israel, the drone dwarfed an F-15 fighter jet parked beside it. The unmanned plane resembles its predecessor, the Heron, but can fly higher, reaching an altitude of more than 40,000 feet (12,000 meters), and remain in the air longer.

Note, first, that the 20-hour flight figure is almost certainly a dramatic understatement. Other reports put that figure at 36 hours, and the real number is probably higher still.

The Israeli Air Force has not had a long-range bombing capacity. But this new drone not only can easily reach Iran but also can loiter over the country for hours with a full payload. It has always been said that there are two great obstacles to an Israeli strike on the Iranian nuclear program: 1) the IAF’s lack of long-range bombing capability; and 2) the difficulty of destroying equipment that is dispersed across the country in underground bunkers. The Israelis have shown a flair for timing in unveiling a weapon that would appear to significantly solve the first problem.

UPDATE: I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the unveiling of this new UAV comes only a few days after Russia announced its intention, after many delays, to begin sending the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran. Presumably the new variant of the Heron would be involved in countering the SAM threat, and could perform limited bombing duties as well. Its payload is small in comparison to even an F-15.

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Any Hope for a Change in Iran Policy?

On Fox News Sunday, the roundtable discussed Obama’s Iran policy. Indeed, none of the participants was exactly sure there is an Iran policy, or if there were, who is making it. What is clear is that we have an opening to do something more productive than the kabuki dance of engagement with the release of the International Atomic Energy Agency report. Bill Kristol inquired:

“If the Obama administration is serious about stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons, we now have the authoritative international agency, which in the past has been somewhat hostile to U.S. analysis, now explicitly saying they have, as Susan Rice, our U.N. ambassador, said, been flouting their international obligations. And then the question is simply is the administration going to get serious, or are we going to — is our response to their past flouting of international obligations to — let’s have some more international obligations, let’s spend months getting a meaningless resolution through the Security Council, or let’s spent months even working on very targeted, limited sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard corps, or are we going to be serious about doing gasoline sanctions and insurance sanctions, the two that would really make a big difference on Iran? And are we going to be serious about helping the Green Movement there possibly topple the regime?”

Most who have followed the Obama administration’s excuse-filled year of do-nothingness have a sinking feeling that the Obami won’t push for serious sanctions or make an effort to get behind the Green Movement. The most recent indications (especially the bizarrely counterproductive comments that we won’t consider military force) suggest the Obami are in the mode of doing the least possible so as to not be accused of doing absolutely nothing. But, they are doing nothing that might actually set back the Iranian nuclear program.

Mara Liasson on the roundtable senses we are evolving toward a “much tougher, more confrontational, you know, Hillary Clinton-esque approach to Iran.” Unfortunately, it was Clinton who took the potential for military force off the table, and it has been Clinton talking in circles about engagement. So if we’re now banking on Clinton to devise a robust, regime-change, sanctions-serious alternative to engagement, I think we’re bound to be disappointed. Because, you know, the Hillary Clinton-esque approach, like the James Jones approach, is pretty much the Barack Obama approach. That is and will remain, I would suggest, one of conflict avoidance at all costs. And the cost will be huge if, in fact, Obama presides over an enfeebled policy that allows Iran to go nuclear.

On Fox News Sunday, the roundtable discussed Obama’s Iran policy. Indeed, none of the participants was exactly sure there is an Iran policy, or if there were, who is making it. What is clear is that we have an opening to do something more productive than the kabuki dance of engagement with the release of the International Atomic Energy Agency report. Bill Kristol inquired:

“If the Obama administration is serious about stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons, we now have the authoritative international agency, which in the past has been somewhat hostile to U.S. analysis, now explicitly saying they have, as Susan Rice, our U.N. ambassador, said, been flouting their international obligations. And then the question is simply is the administration going to get serious, or are we going to — is our response to their past flouting of international obligations to — let’s have some more international obligations, let’s spend months getting a meaningless resolution through the Security Council, or let’s spent months even working on very targeted, limited sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard corps, or are we going to be serious about doing gasoline sanctions and insurance sanctions, the two that would really make a big difference on Iran? And are we going to be serious about helping the Green Movement there possibly topple the regime?”

Most who have followed the Obama administration’s excuse-filled year of do-nothingness have a sinking feeling that the Obami won’t push for serious sanctions or make an effort to get behind the Green Movement. The most recent indications (especially the bizarrely counterproductive comments that we won’t consider military force) suggest the Obami are in the mode of doing the least possible so as to not be accused of doing absolutely nothing. But, they are doing nothing that might actually set back the Iranian nuclear program.

Mara Liasson on the roundtable senses we are evolving toward a “much tougher, more confrontational, you know, Hillary Clinton-esque approach to Iran.” Unfortunately, it was Clinton who took the potential for military force off the table, and it has been Clinton talking in circles about engagement. So if we’re now banking on Clinton to devise a robust, regime-change, sanctions-serious alternative to engagement, I think we’re bound to be disappointed. Because, you know, the Hillary Clinton-esque approach, like the James Jones approach, is pretty much the Barack Obama approach. That is and will remain, I would suggest, one of conflict avoidance at all costs. And the cost will be huge if, in fact, Obama presides over an enfeebled policy that allows Iran to go nuclear.

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A Military in Progress in Afghanistan

C.J. “Chris” Chivers, a former Marine officer turned New York Times correspondent, provides an update on how the Afghan National Army is doing in the Marjah offensive. It’s a mixed picture — pretty much what one would have expected. The Afghans are hardly leading and planning the mission, as suggested by some spinners in Kabul. Chivers writes:

In every engagement between the Taliban and one front-line American Marine unit, the operation has been led in almost every significant sense by American officers and troops. They organized the forces for battle, transported them in American vehicles and helicopters from Western-run bases into Taliban-held ground, and have been the primary fighting force each day.

No surprise there, given how advanced the Marine Corps is and how relatively primitive the ANA remains. But the good news is that the ANA soldiers are not running away, either — as so many Iraqi soldiers did in the early years of the Iraq War. Chivers notes:

At the squad level [the ANA] has been a source of effective, if modestly skilled, manpower. Its soldiers have shown courage and a willingness to fight. Afghan soldiers have also proved, as they have for years, to be more proficient than Americans at searching Afghan homes and identifying potential Taliban members — two tasks difficult for outsiders to perform….

“They are a lot better than the Iraqis,” said the sergeant [Joseph G. Harms], who served a combat tour in Iraq. “They understand all of our formations, they understand how to move. They know how to flank and they can recognize the bad guys a lot better than we can.”

The main problem for the ANA is a lack of effective leadership. Chivers recounts an anecdote of an ANA captain taking away a Red Bull that one of his men had acquired in a trade with a marine; the captain and his officers and NCOs drank the entire beverage and didn’t let the poor soldier have a sip. It’s hard to imagine something like that happening in the Marine Corps, where officers are drilled to always take care of the men first and foremost. That ethic is alien to the ANA, as it is to most Third World militaries, and it will take time to inculcate it, however imperfectly.

It will take just as long to teach ANA officers to conduct complex operations. The task is actually more difficult than in Iraq because of the lower level of literacy and education in Afghanistan, but it’s not impossible. If the Taliban can field effective leadership, so can the ANA. Just don’t expect results overnight — and don’t write off the ANA as hopeless because they can’t perform up to USMC standards.

C.J. “Chris” Chivers, a former Marine officer turned New York Times correspondent, provides an update on how the Afghan National Army is doing in the Marjah offensive. It’s a mixed picture — pretty much what one would have expected. The Afghans are hardly leading and planning the mission, as suggested by some spinners in Kabul. Chivers writes:

In every engagement between the Taliban and one front-line American Marine unit, the operation has been led in almost every significant sense by American officers and troops. They organized the forces for battle, transported them in American vehicles and helicopters from Western-run bases into Taliban-held ground, and have been the primary fighting force each day.

No surprise there, given how advanced the Marine Corps is and how relatively primitive the ANA remains. But the good news is that the ANA soldiers are not running away, either — as so many Iraqi soldiers did in the early years of the Iraq War. Chivers notes:

At the squad level [the ANA] has been a source of effective, if modestly skilled, manpower. Its soldiers have shown courage and a willingness to fight. Afghan soldiers have also proved, as they have for years, to be more proficient than Americans at searching Afghan homes and identifying potential Taliban members — two tasks difficult for outsiders to perform….

“They are a lot better than the Iraqis,” said the sergeant [Joseph G. Harms], who served a combat tour in Iraq. “They understand all of our formations, they understand how to move. They know how to flank and they can recognize the bad guys a lot better than we can.”

The main problem for the ANA is a lack of effective leadership. Chivers recounts an anecdote of an ANA captain taking away a Red Bull that one of his men had acquired in a trade with a marine; the captain and his officers and NCOs drank the entire beverage and didn’t let the poor soldier have a sip. It’s hard to imagine something like that happening in the Marine Corps, where officers are drilled to always take care of the men first and foremost. That ethic is alien to the ANA, as it is to most Third World militaries, and it will take time to inculcate it, however imperfectly.

It will take just as long to teach ANA officers to conduct complex operations. The task is actually more difficult than in Iraq because of the lower level of literacy and education in Afghanistan, but it’s not impossible. If the Taliban can field effective leadership, so can the ANA. Just don’t expect results overnight — and don’t write off the ANA as hopeless because they can’t perform up to USMC standards.

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Who’s Being Set Up on Health Care?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Fox News Sunday declined to say if there were enough votes to block Harry Reid from jamming ObamaCare through using reconciliation. He did, however, seem quite pleased to use the prospect of reconciliation to taunt the Democrats:

“You know, we’ve witnessed the ‘Cornhusker kickback,’ the ‘Louisiana purchase,’ ‘the Gatorade,’ the special deal for Florida. Now they are suggesting they might use a device which has never been used the for this kind of major systemic reform. We know it would be — the only thing bipartisan about it would be the opposition to it, because a number of Democrats have said, ‘Don’t do this. This is not the way to go.’ I think they’re having a hard time getting the message here. The American people do not want this bill to pass. And it strikes me as rather arrogant to say, ‘Well, we’re going to give it to you anyway, and we’ll use whatever device is available to achieve that end.’”

And on the health-care summit, he asked: “But if they’re going lay out the plan they want to pass four days in advance, then why are — what are we discussing on Thursday?” To set you up, Senator.

But on second thought, who is really being set up here? The Republicans have made their principled stance against a massive tax-and-spend health-care bill and against the notion that we should force Americans to buy insurance they don’t want. The public overwhelmingly agrees with the Republican stance. So those who are being set up for a monumentally unpopular vote on a measure that may never pass the House (Is anyone certain Nancy Pelosi has anything close to 218 votes?) are the Senate Democrats, who once again will be forced to choose between the strong sentiments of their constituents and fidelity to the ultraliberal and endangered Democratic leadership.

As on the reconciliation vote count, McConnell wouldn’t say whether Republicans could pick up 10 seats this year. But one suspects the chances will improve if Obama and Reid really intend to try to jam through ObamaCare. McConnell certainly thinks so.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Fox News Sunday declined to say if there were enough votes to block Harry Reid from jamming ObamaCare through using reconciliation. He did, however, seem quite pleased to use the prospect of reconciliation to taunt the Democrats:

“You know, we’ve witnessed the ‘Cornhusker kickback,’ the ‘Louisiana purchase,’ ‘the Gatorade,’ the special deal for Florida. Now they are suggesting they might use a device which has never been used the for this kind of major systemic reform. We know it would be — the only thing bipartisan about it would be the opposition to it, because a number of Democrats have said, ‘Don’t do this. This is not the way to go.’ I think they’re having a hard time getting the message here. The American people do not want this bill to pass. And it strikes me as rather arrogant to say, ‘Well, we’re going to give it to you anyway, and we’ll use whatever device is available to achieve that end.’”

And on the health-care summit, he asked: “But if they’re going lay out the plan they want to pass four days in advance, then why are — what are we discussing on Thursday?” To set you up, Senator.

But on second thought, who is really being set up here? The Republicans have made their principled stance against a massive tax-and-spend health-care bill and against the notion that we should force Americans to buy insurance they don’t want. The public overwhelmingly agrees with the Republican stance. So those who are being set up for a monumentally unpopular vote on a measure that may never pass the House (Is anyone certain Nancy Pelosi has anything close to 218 votes?) are the Senate Democrats, who once again will be forced to choose between the strong sentiments of their constituents and fidelity to the ultraliberal and endangered Democratic leadership.

As on the reconciliation vote count, McConnell wouldn’t say whether Republicans could pick up 10 seats this year. But one suspects the chances will improve if Obama and Reid really intend to try to jam through ObamaCare. McConnell certainly thinks so.

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No Intuition, No Judgment

Michael Barone writes that presidents must rely on “something intangible and unquantifiable, in determining what is within the realm of possibility and what is a bridge too far: intuition.” Alas, he finds Obama doesn’t have much of it: “On what he identified as the biggest foreign and domestic issues, Obama’s intuition has proved to be faulty. Things have not worked out as he hoped. And, though a president cannot micromanage everything, his deference to congressional Democratic leaders in determining the details of the stimulus, health care and cap-and-trade bills has proven politically disastrous.”

Put slightly differently, Obama lacks judgment. We were told during the campaign that he had loads of judgment, and it would offset his experience gap. But alas, he lacked the judgment to assess nearly every critical issue he faced — the Iranian nuclear threat, the Middle East “peace process,” health-care reform, and his entire domestic agenda. He might lack intuition – the ability to foresee how events will unfold – but more critically, he also lacks the ability to assess events once they do unfold. He lacked the foresight to see that Iran would not respond to video valentines, but then he persisted in frittering away a year on engagement and standing idly by when democratic protestors could have used our help. And he has compounded his error by taking military force off the table and seemingly laying the groundwork for itty-bitty, ineffective sanctions. In sum, he doesn’t learn.

That inability to assess events, make adjustments, and correct course promptly may be attributable to a lack of life experience (e.g., he has never seen his ideological assumptions rejected so thoroughly, nor has he had to shift course so abruptly). It may also stem from arrogance – the belief that he has a monopoly on virtue and wisdom and that his opponents are rubes and/or operate out of bad faith. And then again, he may simply be weighed down by silly ideas (e.g., government can create jobs) and a lack of executive acumen. We don’t know, and we don’t know whether he can improve.

His defenders are reduced to hoping that he will be forced to improve by a congressional wipeout. Eleanor Clift writes:

The advisers around Obama would never admit it, but losing one or even both houses of Congress might be better for Obama than the gridlock paralyzing his agenda. History in our partisan age suggests that for a president to be truly successful and get big legislative achievements, a divided Congress may be necessary. Only then does each party have some stake in governing, and maneuvering room to compromise.

Well, Obama might be forced to improve if he loses both Houses. But then he’d still have foreign policy to puzzle out, new policies to construct, and an agenda to execute. In other words, even with a lot of help, the president still matters. And if the president can neither anticipate events nor react wisely to them, there’s not much we can do about it. Other than elect a new one.

Michael Barone writes that presidents must rely on “something intangible and unquantifiable, in determining what is within the realm of possibility and what is a bridge too far: intuition.” Alas, he finds Obama doesn’t have much of it: “On what he identified as the biggest foreign and domestic issues, Obama’s intuition has proved to be faulty. Things have not worked out as he hoped. And, though a president cannot micromanage everything, his deference to congressional Democratic leaders in determining the details of the stimulus, health care and cap-and-trade bills has proven politically disastrous.”

Put slightly differently, Obama lacks judgment. We were told during the campaign that he had loads of judgment, and it would offset his experience gap. But alas, he lacked the judgment to assess nearly every critical issue he faced — the Iranian nuclear threat, the Middle East “peace process,” health-care reform, and his entire domestic agenda. He might lack intuition – the ability to foresee how events will unfold – but more critically, he also lacks the ability to assess events once they do unfold. He lacked the foresight to see that Iran would not respond to video valentines, but then he persisted in frittering away a year on engagement and standing idly by when democratic protestors could have used our help. And he has compounded his error by taking military force off the table and seemingly laying the groundwork for itty-bitty, ineffective sanctions. In sum, he doesn’t learn.

That inability to assess events, make adjustments, and correct course promptly may be attributable to a lack of life experience (e.g., he has never seen his ideological assumptions rejected so thoroughly, nor has he had to shift course so abruptly). It may also stem from arrogance – the belief that he has a monopoly on virtue and wisdom and that his opponents are rubes and/or operate out of bad faith. And then again, he may simply be weighed down by silly ideas (e.g., government can create jobs) and a lack of executive acumen. We don’t know, and we don’t know whether he can improve.

His defenders are reduced to hoping that he will be forced to improve by a congressional wipeout. Eleanor Clift writes:

The advisers around Obama would never admit it, but losing one or even both houses of Congress might be better for Obama than the gridlock paralyzing his agenda. History in our partisan age suggests that for a president to be truly successful and get big legislative achievements, a divided Congress may be necessary. Only then does each party have some stake in governing, and maneuvering room to compromise.

Well, Obama might be forced to improve if he loses both Houses. But then he’d still have foreign policy to puzzle out, new policies to construct, and an agenda to execute. In other words, even with a lot of help, the president still matters. And if the president can neither anticipate events nor react wisely to them, there’s not much we can do about it. Other than elect a new one.

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Faking Bipartisanship

Word is leaking out: Obama is not a very sincere guy. It seems the Los Angeles Times has let on that the health-care summit is one big setup. “In a flurry of recent public appearances, Obama has sent a message that he is prepared to embrace Republican ideas. But he is also signaling that if Republicans balk at compromise, he’ll exact a political price.” And sure enough, Republicans have figured out that the health-care summit, following the unveiling of ObamaCare II (to be slammed through by reconciliation), isn’t on the level.

And a White House official cited by the Los Angeles Times demonstrates the depth of the cynicism: “The Massachusetts election obliterated the argument that we could [govern] all on our own. … What we’re doing now is actively reaching out and demonstrating our interest in bipartisanship — but not passively standing by if Republicans are not willing to meet us halfway.” In other words: do it our way, or we’ll use parliamentary tricks and try to make you other guys look intransigent.

Then the New York Times questions Rep. Paul Ryan and gets some candid answers:

Your “Road Map,” we should explain, is a somewhat alarming document that proposes, in 600-plus pages, erasing the federal deficit by radically restricting the government’s role in social programs like Social Security and Medicare. The president described it as “a serious proposal.”

Right. And then the next day his budget director starts ripping me and then the day after that the entire Democratic National Committee political machine starts launching demagogic attacks on me and my plan. So when you hear the word “bipartisanship” come from the president and then you see his political machine get in full-force attack mode, it comes across as very insincere.

He seems genuinely pained by what he has called the “obstinacy” of Congressional Republicans and their just-say-no obstructionism.

You know, casting the other side as somehow nefarious and evil and poorly intended is the oldest trick in the book.

Obama is simply doing what he always does — substituting political tactics for smart policy and at all costs avoiding any rethinking of his agenda. It’s always some new ploy with him. In the first year, Obama tried to convince us he was a moderate while pushing a very radical agenda. Now in the second year, he’s trying to convince us he’s discovered bipartisanship while resorting to some fairly blatant partisan stunts. In both cases, he imagines the voters won’t catch on. But they are smarter, I suspect, than Obama thinks. Otherwise, Year One’s trick would have worked, and we wouldn’t need the Year-Two gambit.


Word is leaking out: Obama is not a very sincere guy. It seems the Los Angeles Times has let on that the health-care summit is one big setup. “In a flurry of recent public appearances, Obama has sent a message that he is prepared to embrace Republican ideas. But he is also signaling that if Republicans balk at compromise, he’ll exact a political price.” And sure enough, Republicans have figured out that the health-care summit, following the unveiling of ObamaCare II (to be slammed through by reconciliation), isn’t on the level.

And a White House official cited by the Los Angeles Times demonstrates the depth of the cynicism: “The Massachusetts election obliterated the argument that we could [govern] all on our own. … What we’re doing now is actively reaching out and demonstrating our interest in bipartisanship — but not passively standing by if Republicans are not willing to meet us halfway.” In other words: do it our way, or we’ll use parliamentary tricks and try to make you other guys look intransigent.

Then the New York Times questions Rep. Paul Ryan and gets some candid answers:

Your “Road Map,” we should explain, is a somewhat alarming document that proposes, in 600-plus pages, erasing the federal deficit by radically restricting the government’s role in social programs like Social Security and Medicare. The president described it as “a serious proposal.”

Right. And then the next day his budget director starts ripping me and then the day after that the entire Democratic National Committee political machine starts launching demagogic attacks on me and my plan. So when you hear the word “bipartisanship” come from the president and then you see his political machine get in full-force attack mode, it comes across as very insincere.

He seems genuinely pained by what he has called the “obstinacy” of Congressional Republicans and their just-say-no obstructionism.

You know, casting the other side as somehow nefarious and evil and poorly intended is the oldest trick in the book.

Obama is simply doing what he always does — substituting political tactics for smart policy and at all costs avoiding any rethinking of his agenda. It’s always some new ploy with him. In the first year, Obama tried to convince us he was a moderate while pushing a very radical agenda. Now in the second year, he’s trying to convince us he’s discovered bipartisanship while resorting to some fairly blatant partisan stunts. In both cases, he imagines the voters won’t catch on. But they are smarter, I suspect, than Obama thinks. Otherwise, Year One’s trick would have worked, and we wouldn’t need the Year-Two gambit.


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Marco Rubio Is Just Like Obama? No, Actually

Oozing in condescension and shoveling out the stereotypes, Kathleen Parker proclaims:

The traditional GOP is getting younger and less pale. Rubio, a Tea Party favorite who is challenging Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for the U.S. Senate, may be the Republican Party’s Barack Obama.

You see, they are alike because they are both non-white. Just like one another. Except that one speaks in short, comprehensible declarative statements about the greatness of America, and the other talks in vapid phrases, apologizing for America’s ills. And except that one is a dogged advocate of the free market and a robust response to the war against Islamic fundamentalists, and the other isn’t. And except that one inveighed against an inanely crafted pork-a-thon, and the other is still trying to convince us it saved us from an even worse depression. And then one said he’s not prematurely running for president, and the other unfortunately did.

In fact, Marco Rubio and Barack Obama are nothing alike except for their relative youth and non-whiteness. But that’s enough for the Parker. She actually seems to like Rubio and spends the rest of her column touting his many fine qualities, but the reflective insistence on defining him by race and age and through the prism of Obamaism tells us much about Parker and nothing about Rubio. (To be fair, Parker is also obsessed with gender, so it’s not only race that ensnares her.) At least among the punditocracy, it seems we have not yet reached that post-racial nirvana.

Oozing in condescension and shoveling out the stereotypes, Kathleen Parker proclaims:

The traditional GOP is getting younger and less pale. Rubio, a Tea Party favorite who is challenging Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for the U.S. Senate, may be the Republican Party’s Barack Obama.

You see, they are alike because they are both non-white. Just like one another. Except that one speaks in short, comprehensible declarative statements about the greatness of America, and the other talks in vapid phrases, apologizing for America’s ills. And except that one is a dogged advocate of the free market and a robust response to the war against Islamic fundamentalists, and the other isn’t. And except that one inveighed against an inanely crafted pork-a-thon, and the other is still trying to convince us it saved us from an even worse depression. And then one said he’s not prematurely running for president, and the other unfortunately did.

In fact, Marco Rubio and Barack Obama are nothing alike except for their relative youth and non-whiteness. But that’s enough for the Parker. She actually seems to like Rubio and spends the rest of her column touting his many fine qualities, but the reflective insistence on defining him by race and age and through the prism of Obamaism tells us much about Parker and nothing about Rubio. (To be fair, Parker is also obsessed with gender, so it’s not only race that ensnares her.) At least among the punditocracy, it seems we have not yet reached that post-racial nirvana.

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Salman Rushdie Condemns Amnesty International

Rushdie’s blistering statement on the Amnesty scandal will help Westerners further understand the moral dementia afflicting the human-rights community. It reads in full:

Amnesty International has done its reputation incalculable damage by allying itself with Moazzam Begg and his group Cageprisoners, and holding them up as human rights advocates. It looks very much as if Amnesty’s leadership is suffering from a kind of moral bankruptcy, and has lost the ability to distinguish right from wrong. It has greatly compounded its error by suspending the redoubtable Gita Sahgal for the crime of going public with her concerns. Gita Sahgal is a woman of immense integrity and distinction and I am personally grateful to her for the courageous stands she made at the time of the Khomeini fatwa against The Satanic Verses, as a leading member of the groups Southall Black Sisters and Women Against Fundamentalism. It is people like Gita Sahgal who are the true voices of the human rights movement; Amnesty and Begg have revealed, by their statements and actions, that they deserve our contempt.

Rushdie’s blistering statement on the Amnesty scandal will help Westerners further understand the moral dementia afflicting the human-rights community. It reads in full:

Amnesty International has done its reputation incalculable damage by allying itself with Moazzam Begg and his group Cageprisoners, and holding them up as human rights advocates. It looks very much as if Amnesty’s leadership is suffering from a kind of moral bankruptcy, and has lost the ability to distinguish right from wrong. It has greatly compounded its error by suspending the redoubtable Gita Sahgal for the crime of going public with her concerns. Gita Sahgal is a woman of immense integrity and distinction and I am personally grateful to her for the courageous stands she made at the time of the Khomeini fatwa against The Satanic Verses, as a leading member of the groups Southall Black Sisters and Women Against Fundamentalism. It is people like Gita Sahgal who are the true voices of the human rights movement; Amnesty and Begg have revealed, by their statements and actions, that they deserve our contempt.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Sen. Harry Reid is doubling down on ObamaCare and will jam it through with 50 votes if he can evade all the parliamentary challenges. Republicans question whether he has the votes for reconciliation. I’m not sure Nancy Pelosi has 218 on her side. But it sure does put to rest the notion that Democrats are listening to voters after the Scott Brown debacle.

You wonder how he says it with a straight face: “President Obama warned lawmakers on both sides of the aisle Saturday not to turn the upcoming White House health-care summit into ‘political theater,’ but rather ‘to seek common ground in an effort to solve a problem that’s been with us for generations.’”

Yuval Levin and James C. Capretta observe: “Well, so much for the pivot to jobs. Late last week, the Obama administration and congressional Democrats made clear that, rather than turn to voters’ economic concerns in this winter of discontent, they want to persist in pushing the health care proposals they have championed for a year—proposals voters have rejected by every means at their disposal. … It is now clear that the ‘summit’ the president has called for February 25 is not intended to consider different approaches to health care financing, but rather to create an illusion of momentum that might just lull disoriented congressional Democrats into ramming the health care bill through the budget reconciliation process.”

John Bolton tries to explain to the Obami that “negotiation is not a policy. It is a technique.” And on Iran, it has failed.

Rick Santorum apologizes for helping to elect Arlen Specter in 2004.

Ron Paul wins the straw poll at CPAC, leading credence to the view that the gathering isn’t all that relevant. (But then again, CPAC straw polls haven’t really foreshadowed the nominee in past years.) Paul was then booed, and “CPAC organizers were plainly embarrassed by the results, which could reduce the perceived impact of a contest that was once thought to offer a window into which White House hopefuls were favored by movement conservatives.”

Well, it did accomplish one thing: Tim Pawlenty earned bipartisan bad reviews. Gail Collins: “He doesn’t seem naturally irate. People call him T-Paw, which sounds like a character in a children’s cartoon — maybe a lovable saber-toothed tiger with big feet. Or a pre-Little League game in which children who can’t hit anything with a bat are allowed to just thwack at the ball with their fists. Politicians often get into trouble when they’re trying to sound more furious than they feel.”

Dana Milbank: “Obama’s greatest mistake was failing to listen to Emanuel on health care. Early on, Emanuel argued for a smaller bill with popular items, such as expanding health coverage for children and young adults, that could win some Republican support. He opposed the public option as a needless distraction. The president disregarded that strategy and sided with Capitol Hill liberals who hoped to ram a larger, less popular bill through Congress with Democratic votes only. The result was, as the world now knows, disastrous.” And we know Emanuel’s position on this — and the KSM trial (opposed), and closing Guantanamo (opposed) — because he’s leaked it, trying to let everyone know it’s not his fault that the president is going down the tubes.

Sen. Harry Reid is doubling down on ObamaCare and will jam it through with 50 votes if he can evade all the parliamentary challenges. Republicans question whether he has the votes for reconciliation. I’m not sure Nancy Pelosi has 218 on her side. But it sure does put to rest the notion that Democrats are listening to voters after the Scott Brown debacle.

You wonder how he says it with a straight face: “President Obama warned lawmakers on both sides of the aisle Saturday not to turn the upcoming White House health-care summit into ‘political theater,’ but rather ‘to seek common ground in an effort to solve a problem that’s been with us for generations.’”

Yuval Levin and James C. Capretta observe: “Well, so much for the pivot to jobs. Late last week, the Obama administration and congressional Democrats made clear that, rather than turn to voters’ economic concerns in this winter of discontent, they want to persist in pushing the health care proposals they have championed for a year—proposals voters have rejected by every means at their disposal. … It is now clear that the ‘summit’ the president has called for February 25 is not intended to consider different approaches to health care financing, but rather to create an illusion of momentum that might just lull disoriented congressional Democrats into ramming the health care bill through the budget reconciliation process.”

John Bolton tries to explain to the Obami that “negotiation is not a policy. It is a technique.” And on Iran, it has failed.

Rick Santorum apologizes for helping to elect Arlen Specter in 2004.

Ron Paul wins the straw poll at CPAC, leading credence to the view that the gathering isn’t all that relevant. (But then again, CPAC straw polls haven’t really foreshadowed the nominee in past years.) Paul was then booed, and “CPAC organizers were plainly embarrassed by the results, which could reduce the perceived impact of a contest that was once thought to offer a window into which White House hopefuls were favored by movement conservatives.”

Well, it did accomplish one thing: Tim Pawlenty earned bipartisan bad reviews. Gail Collins: “He doesn’t seem naturally irate. People call him T-Paw, which sounds like a character in a children’s cartoon — maybe a lovable saber-toothed tiger with big feet. Or a pre-Little League game in which children who can’t hit anything with a bat are allowed to just thwack at the ball with their fists. Politicians often get into trouble when they’re trying to sound more furious than they feel.”

Dana Milbank: “Obama’s greatest mistake was failing to listen to Emanuel on health care. Early on, Emanuel argued for a smaller bill with popular items, such as expanding health coverage for children and young adults, that could win some Republican support. He opposed the public option as a needless distraction. The president disregarded that strategy and sided with Capitol Hill liberals who hoped to ram a larger, less popular bill through Congress with Democratic votes only. The result was, as the world now knows, disastrous.” And we know Emanuel’s position on this — and the KSM trial (opposed), and closing Guantanamo (opposed) — because he’s leaked it, trying to let everyone know it’s not his fault that the president is going down the tubes.

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