Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 25, 2010

LIVE BLOG: “Before They Become Bad Lawsuits”

Max Baucus, the Montana Democratic senator, responds to the need for tort reform by pointing out that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sibelius is working to come up with ways to end lawsuits “before they become bad lawsuits.” Doubtless there is a policy he is referring to here, but what on earth can an executive-branch official do on a matter that involves law — which is written by the legislative branch and adjudicated by the judicial branch? Baucus is attempting to make the case that the differences between Democrats and Republicans are not that serious, but his response is not a serious one.

Max Baucus, the Montana Democratic senator, responds to the need for tort reform by pointing out that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sibelius is working to come up with ways to end lawsuits “before they become bad lawsuits.” Doubtless there is a policy he is referring to here, but what on earth can an executive-branch official do on a matter that involves law — which is written by the legislative branch and adjudicated by the judicial branch? Baucus is attempting to make the case that the differences between Democrats and Republicans are not that serious, but his response is not a serious one.

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LIVE BLOG: RE: Steny Hoyer

He sure makes a more appealing presentation than the Speaker and makes at least some effort to meet the Republicans. He talks favorably about “open, transparent” markets and says he too favors preventive-care reforms. He feels compelled to note that many on his side favored the public option. If in fact the House flips to the Republicans, I suspect Hoyer will displace Pelosi as the leader of the House Democrats. That would, I think, substantially improve the tenor of much of the dialogue in Washington and put in place a keener legislative dealmaker. Republicans might then finally have an effective opponent who makes the case for the Democrats with factual detail and without rancor. But for now, Democrats have Pelosi at the helm, which frankly is a boon for the Republicans.

He sure makes a more appealing presentation than the Speaker and makes at least some effort to meet the Republicans. He talks favorably about “open, transparent” markets and says he too favors preventive-care reforms. He feels compelled to note that many on his side favored the public option. If in fact the House flips to the Republicans, I suspect Hoyer will displace Pelosi as the leader of the House Democrats. That would, I think, substantially improve the tenor of much of the dialogue in Washington and put in place a keener legislative dealmaker. Republicans might then finally have an effective opponent who makes the case for the Democrats with factual detail and without rancor. But for now, Democrats have Pelosi at the helm, which frankly is a boon for the Republicans.

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Some Cure

All I know is that back when hip internationalists made fun of George W. Bush every day, American decline wasn’t the buzzword it has become since they started loving Barack Obama. In today’s New York Times, British historian Piers Brendon offers a vaccine for American Decline Flu:

Despite its grave problems, there are some relatively simple steps America could take to recover its position. It could bring its military commitments in line with its resources, rely more on the “soft power” of diplomacy and economic engagement, and, as George Washington said, take advantage of its geographically detached situation to “defy material injury from external annoyance.” Such a policy would permit more investment in productive enterprise and pay for butter as well as guns, thus vindicating Joe Biden’s faith in the recuperative capacities of the Great Republic.

The problem is that Barack Obama is not too keen on guns and the First Lady has it in for butter. The administration is already so caught up in a containment policy of the U.S. that everything external constitutes an “annoyance.”

We’ve got the “soft” part covered; it’s the “power” that’s gone missing. Hard to see how Brendon can suggest a course of retraction from the world when we are, under this administration, already bystanders to most global events. The U.S. has failed to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions; failed to check Russia’s resurgent thuggishness; and accommodated all of China’s provocations. We couldn’t even push around Honduras (good thing, in that case), a poor country in our own back yard.

With the exception of two wars initiated by the previous administration, foreign policy has already become a spectator sport for the U.S. At the very same time, major and minor menaces such as Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, and Burma are forging deeper and more dynamic ties. Yet it’s somehow prudent for us to capitalize on our “geographically detached situation” and go isolationist.

Embracing powerlessness as a means of conferring power has already failed a year-long experiment. Obama said in his inaugural address: “Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.” Nice thought, but since then Iran has gone enrichment-crazy, there have been multiple terrorist attempts on the U.S. (some successful), and our traditional allies are finding “the force of our example” a little wanting.

There is a clear course of action if Obama wants to halt American decline: U.S.-supported regime change in Iran; definitive victory in Afghanistan; a continued support role in Iraq; hardball with China; an embrace of old democratic allies, like Israel, Poland, and the Czech Republic, and new ones, such as India. Domestically, this means not following, debt-wracked Europe down the socialist sinkhole. Doing all this would, of course, bring the campus liberals back out into the streets and the international naysayers back to the lecterns. That state of affairs, however, does not indicate a country in decline, but rather its opposite: a nation strong enough to absorb internal debate and withstand international denunciation.

All I know is that back when hip internationalists made fun of George W. Bush every day, American decline wasn’t the buzzword it has become since they started loving Barack Obama. In today’s New York Times, British historian Piers Brendon offers a vaccine for American Decline Flu:

Despite its grave problems, there are some relatively simple steps America could take to recover its position. It could bring its military commitments in line with its resources, rely more on the “soft power” of diplomacy and economic engagement, and, as George Washington said, take advantage of its geographically detached situation to “defy material injury from external annoyance.” Such a policy would permit more investment in productive enterprise and pay for butter as well as guns, thus vindicating Joe Biden’s faith in the recuperative capacities of the Great Republic.

The problem is that Barack Obama is not too keen on guns and the First Lady has it in for butter. The administration is already so caught up in a containment policy of the U.S. that everything external constitutes an “annoyance.”

We’ve got the “soft” part covered; it’s the “power” that’s gone missing. Hard to see how Brendon can suggest a course of retraction from the world when we are, under this administration, already bystanders to most global events. The U.S. has failed to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions; failed to check Russia’s resurgent thuggishness; and accommodated all of China’s provocations. We couldn’t even push around Honduras (good thing, in that case), a poor country in our own back yard.

With the exception of two wars initiated by the previous administration, foreign policy has already become a spectator sport for the U.S. At the very same time, major and minor menaces such as Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, and Burma are forging deeper and more dynamic ties. Yet it’s somehow prudent for us to capitalize on our “geographically detached situation” and go isolationist.

Embracing powerlessness as a means of conferring power has already failed a year-long experiment. Obama said in his inaugural address: “Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.” Nice thought, but since then Iran has gone enrichment-crazy, there have been multiple terrorist attempts on the U.S. (some successful), and our traditional allies are finding “the force of our example” a little wanting.

There is a clear course of action if Obama wants to halt American decline: U.S.-supported regime change in Iran; definitive victory in Afghanistan; a continued support role in Iraq; hardball with China; an embrace of old democratic allies, like Israel, Poland, and the Czech Republic, and new ones, such as India. Domestically, this means not following, debt-wracked Europe down the socialist sinkhole. Doing all this would, of course, bring the campus liberals back out into the streets and the international naysayers back to the lecterns. That state of affairs, however, does not indicate a country in decline, but rather its opposite: a nation strong enough to absorb internal debate and withstand international denunciation.

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LIVE BLOG: Steny Hoyer

One wonders, watching Steny Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat and House Majority Leader, what the last year would have been like for Democrats had he been the face of the party in the House rather than Nancy Pelosi. Hoyer is an extraordinarily intelligent politician and a fluid speaker, and sounds reasonable even when the policies he is advancing are less so. He would have not have become the lightning rod that Nancy Pelosi has proved to be, and that Harry Reid is.

One wonders, watching Steny Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat and House Majority Leader, what the last year would have been like for Democrats had he been the face of the party in the House rather than Nancy Pelosi. Hoyer is an extraordinarily intelligent politician and a fluid speaker, and sounds reasonable even when the policies he is advancing are less so. He would have not have become the lightning rod that Nancy Pelosi has proved to be, and that Harry Reid is.

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LIVE BLOG: Sen. Tom Coburn for Tort Reform

Sen. Tom Coburn makes a strong case for tort reform, where we can cut costs by 15 percent, he says. That, he explains, will in turn increase access. He urges policies to promote disease prevention, argues that Medicaid has much higher rates of fraud than private plans, and makes the case for tackling lawsuit abuse, which spurs defensive medicine. He says we need to go where the money is. Obama says he’s adopted “all the good ideas” on fraud and abuse. But he hasn’t. He doesn’t back serious, real tort reform.

Sen. Tom Coburn makes a strong case for tort reform, where we can cut costs by 15 percent, he says. That, he explains, will in turn increase access. He urges policies to promote disease prevention, argues that Medicaid has much higher rates of fraud than private plans, and makes the case for tackling lawsuit abuse, which spurs defensive medicine. He says we need to go where the money is. Obama says he’s adopted “all the good ideas” on fraud and abuse. But he hasn’t. He doesn’t back serious, real tort reform.

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LIVE BLOG: Obama Says We Need to Do Something About Costs

Well, yes, we do. He touts the benefits of health-care-purchasing exchanges. But here’s the thing: he’s taxing health-care plans and he’s setting expensive new mandates on insurance plans. That pushes up the cost of plans people will be purchasing. Alexander says the CBO says Obama’s plan will increase costs. Obama says Alexander doesn’t have his facts straight, but he does. Obama argues that in the future the insurance will be better than the “bad” insurance they have now, so of course it may cost more. Got that? This, of course, is Alexander’s point: Obama is setting a new standard for health-care insurance, which will make the plans businesses are forced to offer and the plans individuals must buy more expensive.

Well, yes, we do. He touts the benefits of health-care-purchasing exchanges. But here’s the thing: he’s taxing health-care plans and he’s setting expensive new mandates on insurance plans. That pushes up the cost of plans people will be purchasing. Alexander says the CBO says Obama’s plan will increase costs. Obama says Alexander doesn’t have his facts straight, but he does. Obama argues that in the future the insurance will be better than the “bad” insurance they have now, so of course it may cost more. Got that? This, of course, is Alexander’s point: Obama is setting a new standard for health-care insurance, which will make the plans businesses are forced to offer and the plans individuals must buy more expensive.

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LIVE BLOG: Senator Alexander Shines

Senator Alexander was an inspired choice, I think, to respond to President Obama’s opening statement. It is really quite good. For one thing, Alexander’s tone is perfect: reasonable, respectful, and authentic. He doesn’t sound as if he were reading from tired talking points. He was actually engaging Obama as well as the moment we’re in. Senator Alexander also made excellent use of his own experiences in politics. He used nice analogies (“This car can’t be recalled and fixed,” he said. “It’ time to start over — but Republicans do want to start over.”) He highlighted the sweetheart deals in the Senate bill. And he made a very important framing point: Republicans aren’t coming forward with a comprehensive plan because “we don’t do comprehensive well.” The nation is too big, too complicated, and too decentralized. And then he had this nice, subtle jab: “Comprehensive may work in a classroom [Professor Obama], but it doesn’t work in our big, complicated country.” Alexander then laid out, very briefly, several GOP ideas. And then he laid out a fantastic challenge to Obama to renounce reconciliation — and anticipated what Democrats would say in response. He explained, in accessible terms, why reconciliation wasn’t appropriate.

Senator Alexander’s statement, in contrast to the grating comments by Nancy Pelosi and (especially) Harry Reid, was first-rate. It’s been a good first hour for Republicans.

Senator Alexander was an inspired choice, I think, to respond to President Obama’s opening statement. It is really quite good. For one thing, Alexander’s tone is perfect: reasonable, respectful, and authentic. He doesn’t sound as if he were reading from tired talking points. He was actually engaging Obama as well as the moment we’re in. Senator Alexander also made excellent use of his own experiences in politics. He used nice analogies (“This car can’t be recalled and fixed,” he said. “It’ time to start over — but Republicans do want to start over.”) He highlighted the sweetheart deals in the Senate bill. And he made a very important framing point: Republicans aren’t coming forward with a comprehensive plan because “we don’t do comprehensive well.” The nation is too big, too complicated, and too decentralized. And then he had this nice, subtle jab: “Comprehensive may work in a classroom [Professor Obama], but it doesn’t work in our big, complicated country.” Alexander then laid out, very briefly, several GOP ideas. And then he laid out a fantastic challenge to Obama to renounce reconciliation — and anticipated what Democrats would say in response. He explained, in accessible terms, why reconciliation wasn’t appropriate.

Senator Alexander’s statement, in contrast to the grating comments by Nancy Pelosi and (especially) Harry Reid, was first-rate. It’s been a good first hour for Republicans.

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LIVE BLOG: Senator Reid Speaks

Compared to Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi was the model of bipartisan cheer. Harry Reid scolds Lamar Alexander, saying that the Republicans aren’t entitled to their own facts. No clue which particular facts he is so aggrieved about. And he, too, is back to the sob stories. Reid defends the use of reconciliation, saying it’s been used before. I think every moment spent defending the process of jamming through a bill on partisan lines is probably a lost one for the Democrats. One basic observation: Reid seems awfully mad and grumpy. Maybe there are some more bad poll numbers from his Senate race.

Compared to Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi was the model of bipartisan cheer. Harry Reid scolds Lamar Alexander, saying that the Republicans aren’t entitled to their own facts. No clue which particular facts he is so aggrieved about. And he, too, is back to the sob stories. Reid defends the use of reconciliation, saying it’s been used before. I think every moment spent defending the process of jamming through a bill on partisan lines is probably a lost one for the Democrats. One basic observation: Reid seems awfully mad and grumpy. Maybe there are some more bad poll numbers from his Senate race.

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LIVE BLOG: Is She Helping?

Speaker Nancy Pelosi begins by touting her own vote in the House on ending the anti-trust exemption. But she comes across as peevish — Mr. President, it’s not just the Senate that can do things. And then she’s back to platitudes. (“Grown men are crying!” Oy. That’s not really an effective line, is it?) I suspect Republicans would be happy to let her do this all day. She’s not advancing their cause with any specificity or persuasion, nor suggesting that she’s in a dealmaking mode with the minority.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi begins by touting her own vote in the House on ending the anti-trust exemption. But she comes across as peevish — Mr. President, it’s not just the Senate that can do things. And then she’s back to platitudes. (“Grown men are crying!” Oy. That’s not really an effective line, is it?) I suspect Republicans would be happy to let her do this all day. She’s not advancing their cause with any specificity or persuasion, nor suggesting that she’s in a dealmaking mode with the minority.

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LIVE BLOG: Take Reconciliation Off the Table

Alexander calls Obama to take reconciliation off the table. The camera turns to Obama, who grimaces. Alexander says reconciliation shouldn’t be used for this sort of measure. He then quotes Obama to Obama on the beauty of the filibuster. He quotes Daniel Patrick Moynihan on the proposition that all major legislation should be bipartisan. “We will have to renounce jamming it through … or the only thing bipartisan will be the opposition to the bill.” Ouch.

Alexander calls Obama to take reconciliation off the table. The camera turns to Obama, who grimaces. Alexander says reconciliation shouldn’t be used for this sort of measure. He then quotes Obama to Obama on the beauty of the filibuster. He quotes Daniel Patrick Moynihan on the proposition that all major legislation should be bipartisan. “We will have to renounce jamming it through … or the only thing bipartisan will be the opposition to the bill.” Ouch.

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LIVE BLOG: Sen. Lamar Alexander for the GOP

The Republicans wisely chose Sen. Lamar Alexander to respond. He is polite and restrained but forceful, telling Obama that voters in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts rejected the approach to health care that Democrats passed last year. He explains that we need to “start from a clean sheet.” He reminds everyone that Obama is seeking to slash Medicare and raise half a trillion in new taxes. He notes that when those taxes are passed through insurance companies, premiums will go up. He is methodically explaining the most objectionable features of Obama’s plan, including the “sweetheart” deals. All in all, a good moment for the GOP.

The Republicans wisely chose Sen. Lamar Alexander to respond. He is polite and restrained but forceful, telling Obama that voters in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts rejected the approach to health care that Democrats passed last year. He explains that we need to “start from a clean sheet.” He reminds everyone that Obama is seeking to slash Medicare and raise half a trillion in new taxes. He notes that when those taxes are passed through insurance companies, premiums will go up. He is methodically explaining the most objectionable features of Obama’s plan, including the “sweetheart” deals. All in all, a good moment for the GOP.

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LIVE BLOG: Obama Concedes the Party of “No” Has Plans

Obama in his attempt to engage, some would say condescend to, the assembled lawmakers says he’s read John Boehner’s bill and many other Republican proposals. Ah, so the Party of No has lots of plans! For a year he said they had none. That’s what Republicans, I think, seek to gain from this: the recognition that Obama’s mega-plan is not the only alternative here. Obama, of course, hasn’t really incorporated much of what is in the Republican plans. But Obama’s acknowledging that his opponents have ideas of their own is at least one point scored for the GOP.

Obama in his attempt to engage, some would say condescend to, the assembled lawmakers says he’s read John Boehner’s bill and many other Republican proposals. Ah, so the Party of No has lots of plans! For a year he said they had none. That’s what Republicans, I think, seek to gain from this: the recognition that Obama’s mega-plan is not the only alternative here. Obama, of course, hasn’t really incorporated much of what is in the Republican plans. But Obama’s acknowledging that his opponents have ideas of their own is at least one point scored for the GOP.

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LIVE BLOG: Obama Kicks Things Off

He is in a room filled with lawmakers. His tone is conversational and he remains seated. He is, in a sense, now only one player in the process, having failed up until now in a meaningful way to command the national stage and push through his signature agenda item. He gives another run at trying to tie health-care to “fixing the economy” and controlling the debt. His plain was perceived as making things worse, and hence it has stalled. So he resorts to the hard-luck stories of those without insurance or who face “bankruptcy” because of health-care costs. This is pleasant enough, but is this going to change minds?

He is in a room filled with lawmakers. His tone is conversational and he remains seated. He is, in a sense, now only one player in the process, having failed up until now in a meaningful way to command the national stage and push through his signature agenda item. He gives another run at trying to tie health-care to “fixing the economy” and controlling the debt. His plain was perceived as making things worse, and hence it has stalled. So he resorts to the hard-luck stories of those without insurance or who face “bankruptcy” because of health-care costs. This is pleasant enough, but is this going to change minds?

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LIVE BLOG: The Summit Show

The players are assembling, the cable news chatterers are chatting, and just about everyone is saying the same thing: this is positioning for whatever will follow, which is unlikely to be ObamaCare I or ObamaCare II.

The players are assembling, the cable news chatterers are chatting, and just about everyone is saying the same thing: this is positioning for whatever will follow, which is unlikely to be ObamaCare I or ObamaCare II.

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Backup Plan?

The report in the Wall Street Journal that President Obama is preparing a $250 billion backup plan in case his trillion-dollar health-care overhaul fails is both encouraging and discouraging. It is encouraging that he is finally willing to show some flexibility and recognize the reality that his health plan is unpopular and likely headed for failure. It is discouraging in that the admittedly sketchy elements of the plan leaked to the Journal — expansions of Medicaid and SCHIP, as well as a proposal to require insurers to let children stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26 — will do little to address the underlying problems of a high-cost health system.

What the president’s proposal would do is reduce the size of the uninsured by increasing the number of people with government-sponsored coverage. As long as President Obama is willing to look at other ideas, let’s hope he will be open to some of the cost-saving ones Republicans will be bringing to the table.

The report in the Wall Street Journal that President Obama is preparing a $250 billion backup plan in case his trillion-dollar health-care overhaul fails is both encouraging and discouraging. It is encouraging that he is finally willing to show some flexibility and recognize the reality that his health plan is unpopular and likely headed for failure. It is discouraging in that the admittedly sketchy elements of the plan leaked to the Journal — expansions of Medicaid and SCHIP, as well as a proposal to require insurers to let children stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26 — will do little to address the underlying problems of a high-cost health system.

What the president’s proposal would do is reduce the size of the uninsured by increasing the number of people with government-sponsored coverage. As long as President Obama is willing to look at other ideas, let’s hope he will be open to some of the cost-saving ones Republicans will be bringing to the table.

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Ahmed Chalabi, Redux

Ahmed Chalabi (remember him?) is back in the news. He is the power behind the de-Baathification Commission, which is wreaking havoc with Iraqi politics by disqualifying secular candidates for supposed Baathist ties. As General Ray Odierno has said, Chalabi and his protégé, Ali Faisal al-Lami, appear to be acting at the behest of the Iranians:

The two Iraqi politicians “clearly are influenced by Iran,” General Odierno said. “We have direct intelligence that tells us that.” He said the two men had several meetings in Iran, including sessions with an Iranian who is on the United States terrorist watch list.

Real Clear World’s Compass blogger Greg Scoblete has responded with a non sequitur headlined “Paging Douglas Feith”:

Many neoconservatives are demanding that the U.S. throw its full weight behind the Iranians in their pursuit of freedom. On the surface, this is obviously a noble idea, but it’s worth remembering that the very people making confident predictions about the predilections of the Iranian people were duped by an Iranian stooge.

In turn Feith, the former Undersecretary of Defense, has weighed in to deny “that Pentagon officials aimed to favor or ‘anoint’ Chalabi as the leader of Iraq after Saddam” or that they were duped by Chalabi before the war.

I think Feith is right on the narrow technical points (the U.S. did not try to install Chalabi as Iraq’s leader and the U.S. intelligence community did not buy all the intel he was peddling) but wrong on the larger issue. There is no doubt that Chalabi had a significant impact on the Washington debate prior to the invasion of Iraq: he was a leading lobbyist for the view that Saddam could be replaced by a democratic regime with minimal American investment of blood and treasure. Like other exiles (and some American experts), he vastly exaggerated the influence of secular technocrats and vastly underplayed the power of tribal and religious forces. This view was adopted by the Bush administration and helps to account for the major American blunders of 2003-2004, which were essentially based on the premise that Iraqi society could regenerate itself after Saddam’s downfall.

But I also believe Greg Scoblete is wrong: First place, the Green movement in Iran is not a figment of some exile’s imagination. Second, simply because Chalabi is now an Iranian stooge does not mean he was one in 2003. My read is that he is an opportunist, out to grab power for himself, who will make use of whatever allies he finds helpful. Prior to the invasion of Iraq and immediately afterward, Chalabi, no doubt, hoped that his American backers would enthrone him. When this didn’t happen, when in fact the U.S. authorities turned against him, he sought backing in another quarter and struck an unsavory alliance with Muqtada al-Sadr and his sponsors in the Quds Force.

The bottom line is that Chalabi now exercises a pernicious influence in Iraq and the U.S. should work with other Iraqi political factions to minimize his impact and try to roll back his electoral disqualifications. And those of us who ever had a kind word for him (myself included) should eat their words.

Ahmed Chalabi (remember him?) is back in the news. He is the power behind the de-Baathification Commission, which is wreaking havoc with Iraqi politics by disqualifying secular candidates for supposed Baathist ties. As General Ray Odierno has said, Chalabi and his protégé, Ali Faisal al-Lami, appear to be acting at the behest of the Iranians:

The two Iraqi politicians “clearly are influenced by Iran,” General Odierno said. “We have direct intelligence that tells us that.” He said the two men had several meetings in Iran, including sessions with an Iranian who is on the United States terrorist watch list.

Real Clear World’s Compass blogger Greg Scoblete has responded with a non sequitur headlined “Paging Douglas Feith”:

Many neoconservatives are demanding that the U.S. throw its full weight behind the Iranians in their pursuit of freedom. On the surface, this is obviously a noble idea, but it’s worth remembering that the very people making confident predictions about the predilections of the Iranian people were duped by an Iranian stooge.

In turn Feith, the former Undersecretary of Defense, has weighed in to deny “that Pentagon officials aimed to favor or ‘anoint’ Chalabi as the leader of Iraq after Saddam” or that they were duped by Chalabi before the war.

I think Feith is right on the narrow technical points (the U.S. did not try to install Chalabi as Iraq’s leader and the U.S. intelligence community did not buy all the intel he was peddling) but wrong on the larger issue. There is no doubt that Chalabi had a significant impact on the Washington debate prior to the invasion of Iraq: he was a leading lobbyist for the view that Saddam could be replaced by a democratic regime with minimal American investment of blood and treasure. Like other exiles (and some American experts), he vastly exaggerated the influence of secular technocrats and vastly underplayed the power of tribal and religious forces. This view was adopted by the Bush administration and helps to account for the major American blunders of 2003-2004, which were essentially based on the premise that Iraqi society could regenerate itself after Saddam’s downfall.

But I also believe Greg Scoblete is wrong: First place, the Green movement in Iran is not a figment of some exile’s imagination. Second, simply because Chalabi is now an Iranian stooge does not mean he was one in 2003. My read is that he is an opportunist, out to grab power for himself, who will make use of whatever allies he finds helpful. Prior to the invasion of Iraq and immediately afterward, Chalabi, no doubt, hoped that his American backers would enthrone him. When this didn’t happen, when in fact the U.S. authorities turned against him, he sought backing in another quarter and struck an unsavory alliance with Muqtada al-Sadr and his sponsors in the Quds Force.

The bottom line is that Chalabi now exercises a pernicious influence in Iraq and the U.S. should work with other Iraqi political factions to minimize his impact and try to roll back his electoral disqualifications. And those of us who ever had a kind word for him (myself included) should eat their words.

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The Summit to Nowhere? (UPDATED)

This morning Obama, Democrats, and Republicans will gather to discuss an approach to health care — a comprehensive, massive tax-and-spend scheme — that by all accounts is going nowhere and that the public has rejected. A savvy reader asks me, “Isn’t this shining a light on Obama’s own failure?” Well, that may well be the case, for Obama has finally put out a proposal, gathered the players in one room, and gotten the whole country to watch. But unless a dramatic shift in public and congressional opinion occurs, he will not get his bill. Indeed, we now see signs that he realizes this.

This report explains that Obama is preparing an alternative plan to cover 15 million people and do a small fraction of what his ObamaCare scheme envisioned:

It would do that by requiring insurance companies to allow people up to 26 years old to stay on their parents’ health plans, and by modestly expanding two federal-state health programs, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, one person said. The cost to the federal government would be about one-fourth the price tag for the broader effort, which the White House has said would cost about $950 billion over 10 years. …

Such a move would disappoint many Democrats, including Mr. Obama. They have worked for more than a year to pass comprehensive legislation like the plan the president unveiled Monday, which would cover the bulk of the 46 million uninsured people in the U.S., set new rules for health insurers and try to control spiraling health-care costs.

Which leads us back to the central question: why the summit? It seems to have been about as well thought out as the two trips to Copenhagen. But let’s see. Perhaps there’s a devilishly clever plot at work by the Obami to come out victorious. If so, they have certainly concealed it from view.

UPDATE: Obama certainly doesn’t have the public on his side going into this. By a 52 to 39 percent margin, Americans oppose reconciliation to jam health care through. Only 25 percent want a bill similar to the one Obama has proposed to pass, while 25 percent want no more health-care legislation, and 48 percent want the lawmakers to start over. Obama has tried to convince Congress to ignore the voters, but post–Scott Brown, and in an election year, that’s a tall order.

This morning Obama, Democrats, and Republicans will gather to discuss an approach to health care — a comprehensive, massive tax-and-spend scheme — that by all accounts is going nowhere and that the public has rejected. A savvy reader asks me, “Isn’t this shining a light on Obama’s own failure?” Well, that may well be the case, for Obama has finally put out a proposal, gathered the players in one room, and gotten the whole country to watch. But unless a dramatic shift in public and congressional opinion occurs, he will not get his bill. Indeed, we now see signs that he realizes this.

This report explains that Obama is preparing an alternative plan to cover 15 million people and do a small fraction of what his ObamaCare scheme envisioned:

It would do that by requiring insurance companies to allow people up to 26 years old to stay on their parents’ health plans, and by modestly expanding two federal-state health programs, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, one person said. The cost to the federal government would be about one-fourth the price tag for the broader effort, which the White House has said would cost about $950 billion over 10 years. …

Such a move would disappoint many Democrats, including Mr. Obama. They have worked for more than a year to pass comprehensive legislation like the plan the president unveiled Monday, which would cover the bulk of the 46 million uninsured people in the U.S., set new rules for health insurers and try to control spiraling health-care costs.

Which leads us back to the central question: why the summit? It seems to have been about as well thought out as the two trips to Copenhagen. But let’s see. Perhaps there’s a devilishly clever plot at work by the Obami to come out victorious. If so, they have certainly concealed it from view.

UPDATE: Obama certainly doesn’t have the public on his side going into this. By a 52 to 39 percent margin, Americans oppose reconciliation to jam health care through. Only 25 percent want a bill similar to the one Obama has proposed to pass, while 25 percent want no more health-care legislation, and 48 percent want the lawmakers to start over. Obama has tried to convince Congress to ignore the voters, but post–Scott Brown, and in an election year, that’s a tall order.

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Rome and the Romanovs We Are Not

Niall Ferguson delivers a typically well-written and provocative essay in Foreign Affairs: “Complexity and Collapse: Empires on the Edge of Chaos.” But I remain unconvinced. His thesis is essentially threefold. First, that empires can collapse suddenly and unexpectedly without a long period of decline. “A very small trigger,” he writes, “can set off a ‘phase transition’ from a benign equilibrium to a crisis–a single grain of sand causes a whole pile to collapse, or a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and brings about a hurricane in southeastern England.” Second, that “most imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises.” And third, that the United States may be ripe for a sudden collapse because of a crisis of confidence engendered by our ballooning public debt.

Start with the second claim — about the crucial role of fiscal crises in triggering imperial collapse. The list of fallen empires provided by Ferguson actually shows that military defeat (or even an overly costly victory) has far more often been the cause of disaster. Rome was overrun by Barbarian hordes in the 5th century. China was invaded by the Manchus in the 17th century. The Habsburg, Ottoman, and Romanov empires were all defeated in World War I. Britain used up all of its resources — including, most important, its stock of national will to maintain great power status — in winning two world wars. And the Soviet Union collapsed after its defeat in Afghanistan (and also the fall of the Berlin Wall). He might have mentioned, but didn’t, the collapse of the Manchu Dynasty in 1911 following China’s defeats in a long string of conflicts stretching from the Opium Wars in the mid-19th century to the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 and the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.

One can actually quarrel with his premise that all these events can even be characterized as imperial downfalls, since China, Russia, and France (he also cites the French Revolution, which he argues was triggered in part by the financial strain of subsidizing the American Revolution) all expanded after their revolutions under new regimes (Manchus, Soviets, and Napoleon). What about the role of financial insolvency? One can argue that it contributed to the fall of empires in all these cases; but with the possible exception of Britain (which experienced a severe balance-of-payments crisis after 1945), the financial problems were an example of the kind of long-term “decline” identified by Paul Kennedy and dismissed by Ferguson — they were not sudden crisises that destroyed otherwise healthy polities. Moreover, most of the empires he mentions (Britain is the sole exception) experienced debilitating political problems long before their end — most were ruled by increasingly unpopular and illegitimate regimes. The later Roman Empire was a particularly notorious case, with multiple self-proclaimed emperors competing for authority and military coups occurring with monotonous regularity. Does this really characterize America today?

Thus I am skeptical that a sudden loss of confidence in the American economy will lead us to crash and burn, á la Rome and the Romanovs. To be sure, a financial crisis can be costly, even catastrophic — conceivably worse than the events of 2008-09. Such a downturn would undoubtedly be painful, but would it lead to America’s eclipse as a great power? I doubt it, because our fundamentals are so sound: a stable political and legal system; a relatively low level of corruption; an innovative, productive economy; a growing population that is not aging as fast as our major rivals (the EU, Japan, China, Russia); an optimistic and self-confident ethos; the world’s most powerful military; and a bipartisan commitment to preserving American leadership. We are not going the way of Rome anytime soon.

Niall Ferguson delivers a typically well-written and provocative essay in Foreign Affairs: “Complexity and Collapse: Empires on the Edge of Chaos.” But I remain unconvinced. His thesis is essentially threefold. First, that empires can collapse suddenly and unexpectedly without a long period of decline. “A very small trigger,” he writes, “can set off a ‘phase transition’ from a benign equilibrium to a crisis–a single grain of sand causes a whole pile to collapse, or a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and brings about a hurricane in southeastern England.” Second, that “most imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises.” And third, that the United States may be ripe for a sudden collapse because of a crisis of confidence engendered by our ballooning public debt.

Start with the second claim — about the crucial role of fiscal crises in triggering imperial collapse. The list of fallen empires provided by Ferguson actually shows that military defeat (or even an overly costly victory) has far more often been the cause of disaster. Rome was overrun by Barbarian hordes in the 5th century. China was invaded by the Manchus in the 17th century. The Habsburg, Ottoman, and Romanov empires were all defeated in World War I. Britain used up all of its resources — including, most important, its stock of national will to maintain great power status — in winning two world wars. And the Soviet Union collapsed after its defeat in Afghanistan (and also the fall of the Berlin Wall). He might have mentioned, but didn’t, the collapse of the Manchu Dynasty in 1911 following China’s defeats in a long string of conflicts stretching from the Opium Wars in the mid-19th century to the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 and the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.

One can actually quarrel with his premise that all these events can even be characterized as imperial downfalls, since China, Russia, and France (he also cites the French Revolution, which he argues was triggered in part by the financial strain of subsidizing the American Revolution) all expanded after their revolutions under new regimes (Manchus, Soviets, and Napoleon). What about the role of financial insolvency? One can argue that it contributed to the fall of empires in all these cases; but with the possible exception of Britain (which experienced a severe balance-of-payments crisis after 1945), the financial problems were an example of the kind of long-term “decline” identified by Paul Kennedy and dismissed by Ferguson — they were not sudden crisises that destroyed otherwise healthy polities. Moreover, most of the empires he mentions (Britain is the sole exception) experienced debilitating political problems long before their end — most were ruled by increasingly unpopular and illegitimate regimes. The later Roman Empire was a particularly notorious case, with multiple self-proclaimed emperors competing for authority and military coups occurring with monotonous regularity. Does this really characterize America today?

Thus I am skeptical that a sudden loss of confidence in the American economy will lead us to crash and burn, á la Rome and the Romanovs. To be sure, a financial crisis can be costly, even catastrophic — conceivably worse than the events of 2008-09. Such a downturn would undoubtedly be painful, but would it lead to America’s eclipse as a great power? I doubt it, because our fundamentals are so sound: a stable political and legal system; a relatively low level of corruption; an innovative, productive economy; a growing population that is not aging as fast as our major rivals (the EU, Japan, China, Russia); an optimistic and self-confident ethos; the world’s most powerful military; and a bipartisan commitment to preserving American leadership. We are not going the way of Rome anytime soon.

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Jason Bourne, Call Your Office

Another day, and another Western government chastises Israel for the use of non-Israeli passports in the assassination of Hamas terrorist mastermind Mahmoud al-Mabhou. This time it’s Australia’s turn. Australia’s PM, Kevin Rudd, was quoted as saying that

Any state that has been complicit in use or abuse of the Australian passport system, let alone for the conduct of an assassination, is treating Australia with contempt and there will therefore be action by the Australian government in response.

Clearly, one needs to believe Dubai’s police on the revelations about the forged passports. There is no smoking gun yet about Israel’s responsibility. And hopefully, Israel will keep quiet about this. As Yossi Melman indicates in today’s Haaretz, the investigation is rising to comical levels, even as the evidence against Israel is thin.

Look, anyone familiar with James Bond, Jason Bourne, and the Mission Impossible franchise knows that secret agents travel on forged passports. And even assuming Israel is responsible, what did anyone expect — a bunch of Israelis to show up at Dubai airport waving their Israeli passports? Just imagine the conversation.

UAE immigration officer: Nationality?

Agent: Israeli.

Immigration officer: Occupation?

Agent: Mossad agent.

Immigration officer: Purpose of your visit?

Agent: Targeted killing of a top Hamas terrorist.

Immigration officer: Welcome to our country, sir, and have a nice day.

Sure, it would have been preferable that those involved were not caught on camera and belatedly identified — although every new release of suspects by Dubai’s police makes their involvement look less credible. How many people does it takes to kill one Hamas terrorist, even in Dubai?

There would not have been so much grief in London, Paris, or Canberra. Countries are more likely to turn a blind eye when friendly secret services do not get caught abusing or violating their laws. The problem with the outrage is not the deed itself, then, but the embarrassment resulting from the exposure.

Finally, the international outrage has forgotten to take into account the obvious: Mahmoud al-Mabhou deserved to die. He was a terrorist. He was involved in something sinister and potentially very big — which had to do with arms-smuggling from Iran to Gaza. He had personally killed Israeli hostages. There should be little sorrow expressed about sending him to delight with heavenly virgins long before he had planned.

Another day, and another Western government chastises Israel for the use of non-Israeli passports in the assassination of Hamas terrorist mastermind Mahmoud al-Mabhou. This time it’s Australia’s turn. Australia’s PM, Kevin Rudd, was quoted as saying that

Any state that has been complicit in use or abuse of the Australian passport system, let alone for the conduct of an assassination, is treating Australia with contempt and there will therefore be action by the Australian government in response.

Clearly, one needs to believe Dubai’s police on the revelations about the forged passports. There is no smoking gun yet about Israel’s responsibility. And hopefully, Israel will keep quiet about this. As Yossi Melman indicates in today’s Haaretz, the investigation is rising to comical levels, even as the evidence against Israel is thin.

Look, anyone familiar with James Bond, Jason Bourne, and the Mission Impossible franchise knows that secret agents travel on forged passports. And even assuming Israel is responsible, what did anyone expect — a bunch of Israelis to show up at Dubai airport waving their Israeli passports? Just imagine the conversation.

UAE immigration officer: Nationality?

Agent: Israeli.

Immigration officer: Occupation?

Agent: Mossad agent.

Immigration officer: Purpose of your visit?

Agent: Targeted killing of a top Hamas terrorist.

Immigration officer: Welcome to our country, sir, and have a nice day.

Sure, it would have been preferable that those involved were not caught on camera and belatedly identified — although every new release of suspects by Dubai’s police makes their involvement look less credible. How many people does it takes to kill one Hamas terrorist, even in Dubai?

There would not have been so much grief in London, Paris, or Canberra. Countries are more likely to turn a blind eye when friendly secret services do not get caught abusing or violating their laws. The problem with the outrage is not the deed itself, then, but the embarrassment resulting from the exposure.

Finally, the international outrage has forgotten to take into account the obvious: Mahmoud al-Mabhou deserved to die. He was a terrorist. He was involved in something sinister and potentially very big — which had to do with arms-smuggling from Iran to Gaza. He had personally killed Israeli hostages. There should be little sorrow expressed about sending him to delight with heavenly virgins long before he had planned.

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Mainstream Media Discovers Tom Campbell’s Israel Issue

After Phil Klein and I have written about this for a week, the mainstream media, reporting on the Republican Senate primary in California, have finally discovered the controversy concerning Tom Campbell’s record and rhetoric on Israel. The Los Angeles Times has now weighed in:

In a dispute that commingles foreign policy and a quest for political advantage, U.S.-Israel relations have taken an unexpectedly central role in the California race for Senate.

Rivals in the race for the Republican nomination are questioning whether former Rep. Tom Campbell is sufficiently supportive of Israel. They base their criticisms on his voting record, statements about a Palestinian homeland and capital, and some of his past associates.

After some back-and-forth regarding whether his rivals have dubbed him anti-Semitic (they say they have not) we learn that Campbell has rounded up former Secretary of State George Shultz to vouch for him. But then we get to the meat of the concern regarding Campbell’s record:

Criticism of Campbell’s voting record centers on efforts to reduce foreign aid for Israel. While in Congress, Campbell said, he supported military aid for Israel but twice sought to reduce economic aid. In the late 1990s, when foreign aid to other nations was being cut to help balance the budget, Israel’s allocation was not affected. Campbell said he favored allowing the military aid to remain unchanged but supported slightly reducing economic aid.

A second instance occurred when he voted against giving Israel an additional $30 million in economic aid, which was to have been taken from funds set aside for the neediest nations, such as those in Africa. That money, he said, was on top of a $700-million aid request that he supported and an earlier $3-billion appropriation. . . Campbell also drew criticism in the past for saying that Jerusalem should be the shared capital of both Israel and a Palestinian state. He said in the interview that he stands by that view.

Now Campbell is back to admitting he did accept a contribution from convicted terrorist Sami Al-Arian. (He flatly denied it in his New Ledger interview yesterday.) The story now is:

His opponents also questioned Campbell’s past associates, notably Sami Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida professor who pleaded guilty in 2006 to conspiring to help a terrorist organization. Al-Arian had donated $1,300 to Campbell’s 2000 campaign for Senate. Campbell, who was the business school dean at UC Berkeley and now teaches at Chapman University, wrote a letter to the University of South Florida protesting its decision to fire Al-Arian over comments he made. He also visited Al-Arian’s brother in jail.

Campbell said he did not know about Al-Arian’s illegal activities at the time and said that if he had he would not have written the letter.

“None of that had come out,” he said. Al-Arian was also photographed with George W. Bush during his first presidential campaign, Campbell noted.

(Al-Arian had, of course, been the subject of a 1994 documentary, had been under investigation for years before 2000, and had long spewed jihadist rhetoric.)

But on this one, the lede is buried, and perhaps with it Campbell’s standing in the Jewish community:

“He’s a brilliant gentlemen and an engaging personality, and I don’t think he’s particularly pro-Israel,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, who has known Campbell since the 1980s. “I think there’s enough there on the record that would send real alarms that this is someone who maybe doesn’t fully understand, doesn’t fully value or fully support a strong ongoing relationship with the state of Israel, an alliance with the state of Israel.”

Campbell can whine all he likes that his rivals’ attacks are “unacceptable” and “personally hurtful,” but that probably isn’t getting him anywhere. He is, however, reportedly to meet with representatives of AIPAC. Perhaps he can convince those Jewish leaders that his record is a stellar one on Israel, that his praise of Alison Weir (not mentioned in the Times report) is nothing, that his support of Al-Arian is also nothing, and that past rhetoric is not indicative of his views on Israel and a Palestinian state. Stranger things have happened. But first he should, on matters such as Sami Al-Arian, pick one story and stick to it.

After Phil Klein and I have written about this for a week, the mainstream media, reporting on the Republican Senate primary in California, have finally discovered the controversy concerning Tom Campbell’s record and rhetoric on Israel. The Los Angeles Times has now weighed in:

In a dispute that commingles foreign policy and a quest for political advantage, U.S.-Israel relations have taken an unexpectedly central role in the California race for Senate.

Rivals in the race for the Republican nomination are questioning whether former Rep. Tom Campbell is sufficiently supportive of Israel. They base their criticisms on his voting record, statements about a Palestinian homeland and capital, and some of his past associates.

After some back-and-forth regarding whether his rivals have dubbed him anti-Semitic (they say they have not) we learn that Campbell has rounded up former Secretary of State George Shultz to vouch for him. But then we get to the meat of the concern regarding Campbell’s record:

Criticism of Campbell’s voting record centers on efforts to reduce foreign aid for Israel. While in Congress, Campbell said, he supported military aid for Israel but twice sought to reduce economic aid. In the late 1990s, when foreign aid to other nations was being cut to help balance the budget, Israel’s allocation was not affected. Campbell said he favored allowing the military aid to remain unchanged but supported slightly reducing economic aid.

A second instance occurred when he voted against giving Israel an additional $30 million in economic aid, which was to have been taken from funds set aside for the neediest nations, such as those in Africa. That money, he said, was on top of a $700-million aid request that he supported and an earlier $3-billion appropriation. . . Campbell also drew criticism in the past for saying that Jerusalem should be the shared capital of both Israel and a Palestinian state. He said in the interview that he stands by that view.

Now Campbell is back to admitting he did accept a contribution from convicted terrorist Sami Al-Arian. (He flatly denied it in his New Ledger interview yesterday.) The story now is:

His opponents also questioned Campbell’s past associates, notably Sami Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida professor who pleaded guilty in 2006 to conspiring to help a terrorist organization. Al-Arian had donated $1,300 to Campbell’s 2000 campaign for Senate. Campbell, who was the business school dean at UC Berkeley and now teaches at Chapman University, wrote a letter to the University of South Florida protesting its decision to fire Al-Arian over comments he made. He also visited Al-Arian’s brother in jail.

Campbell said he did not know about Al-Arian’s illegal activities at the time and said that if he had he would not have written the letter.

“None of that had come out,” he said. Al-Arian was also photographed with George W. Bush during his first presidential campaign, Campbell noted.

(Al-Arian had, of course, been the subject of a 1994 documentary, had been under investigation for years before 2000, and had long spewed jihadist rhetoric.)

But on this one, the lede is buried, and perhaps with it Campbell’s standing in the Jewish community:

“He’s a brilliant gentlemen and an engaging personality, and I don’t think he’s particularly pro-Israel,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, who has known Campbell since the 1980s. “I think there’s enough there on the record that would send real alarms that this is someone who maybe doesn’t fully understand, doesn’t fully value or fully support a strong ongoing relationship with the state of Israel, an alliance with the state of Israel.”

Campbell can whine all he likes that his rivals’ attacks are “unacceptable” and “personally hurtful,” but that probably isn’t getting him anywhere. He is, however, reportedly to meet with representatives of AIPAC. Perhaps he can convince those Jewish leaders that his record is a stellar one on Israel, that his praise of Alison Weir (not mentioned in the Times report) is nothing, that his support of Al-Arian is also nothing, and that past rhetoric is not indicative of his views on Israel and a Palestinian state. Stranger things have happened. But first he should, on matters such as Sami Al-Arian, pick one story and stick to it.

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