Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 3, 2010

Nonproliferation by the Numbers

Have the U.S. nuclear numbers been released yet? Watch your newsfeed for this major strategic development. According to the Washington Post, the Obama administration is planning to declassify the exact number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. inventory and announce it to the public at the NPT conference that opens today. Says the Post: “[T]he administration is seeking a dramatic announcement that will further enhance its nuclear credentials as it tries to shore up the fraying nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).”

The Post notes objections from intelligence and defense officials who worry about forensic analysis by terrorists. But the revelation of previously classified numbers isn’t what matters here. Unclassified public estimates will turn out to have been pretty accurate. The policy problem is the Obama administration’s apparent belief that more transparency from the U.S. is what the nonproliferation effort needs.

North Korea and Iran have pursued nuclear-weapons programs for years without any effective response from the UN under the auspices of the NPT. Russia and China proliferate at will for their own purposes. Now Egypt proposes to make the Obama NPT policy a forum for confronting Israel and linking both Israel’s and Iran’s nuclear programs to the WMD-free Middle East initiative. The NPT is alternately ignored when it’s inconvenient and exploited when it makes a ready diplomatic weapon against regional rivals. And the Obama administration thinks the problem here is that the U.S. hasn’t published the nitty-gritty numbers on our nuclear arsenal?

In fact, of all the things the U.S. could do, this one has the least relevance to Obama’s avowed purpose of keeping nukes out of the hands of terrorists. Terrorists certainly won’t be impressed by bureaucratic gestures. And even if another national leader had the surreal sense of invulnerability that seems characteristic of Obama, and were willing to publish his country’s actual numbers, there would be no benefit for nonproliferation in a paroxysm of national revelations.

On the other hand, this kind of gesture is just the sort of thing critics of Israel can endlessly berate the Israelis for not making. Assuming that India and Pakistan also decline to follow the U.S. lead, they will have another grievance against each other to add to their lists. Elements of Obama’s domestic constituency can celebrate the action, of course, and their counterparts in Europe can nod approvingly. Perhaps that’s what it’s really all about in the end: requiting the inchoate longings of the Nuclear Freeze movement Obama applauded in college. That movement saw America as the world’s big problem. Much of it still does.

Have the U.S. nuclear numbers been released yet? Watch your newsfeed for this major strategic development. According to the Washington Post, the Obama administration is planning to declassify the exact number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. inventory and announce it to the public at the NPT conference that opens today. Says the Post: “[T]he administration is seeking a dramatic announcement that will further enhance its nuclear credentials as it tries to shore up the fraying nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).”

The Post notes objections from intelligence and defense officials who worry about forensic analysis by terrorists. But the revelation of previously classified numbers isn’t what matters here. Unclassified public estimates will turn out to have been pretty accurate. The policy problem is the Obama administration’s apparent belief that more transparency from the U.S. is what the nonproliferation effort needs.

North Korea and Iran have pursued nuclear-weapons programs for years without any effective response from the UN under the auspices of the NPT. Russia and China proliferate at will for their own purposes. Now Egypt proposes to make the Obama NPT policy a forum for confronting Israel and linking both Israel’s and Iran’s nuclear programs to the WMD-free Middle East initiative. The NPT is alternately ignored when it’s inconvenient and exploited when it makes a ready diplomatic weapon against regional rivals. And the Obama administration thinks the problem here is that the U.S. hasn’t published the nitty-gritty numbers on our nuclear arsenal?

In fact, of all the things the U.S. could do, this one has the least relevance to Obama’s avowed purpose of keeping nukes out of the hands of terrorists. Terrorists certainly won’t be impressed by bureaucratic gestures. And even if another national leader had the surreal sense of invulnerability that seems characteristic of Obama, and were willing to publish his country’s actual numbers, there would be no benefit for nonproliferation in a paroxysm of national revelations.

On the other hand, this kind of gesture is just the sort of thing critics of Israel can endlessly berate the Israelis for not making. Assuming that India and Pakistan also decline to follow the U.S. lead, they will have another grievance against each other to add to their lists. Elements of Obama’s domestic constituency can celebrate the action, of course, and their counterparts in Europe can nod approvingly. Perhaps that’s what it’s really all about in the end: requiting the inchoate longings of the Nuclear Freeze movement Obama applauded in college. That movement saw America as the world’s big problem. Much of it still does.

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RE: The Times Square Terror Attack

We learn today that the administration believes the Times Square car-bombing attempt was “coordinated by more than one person in a plot with international links.” The Washington Post reports:

The disclosure, while tentative, came as the White House intensified its focus on the Saturday incident in New York City, in which explosives inside a Nissan Pathfinder were set ablaze but failed to detonate at the tourist-crowded corner of Broadway and 45th Street.

Emerging from a series of briefings, several officials said it was premature to rule out any motive but said the sweeping, multi-state investigation was turning up new clues.

Separately, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also characterized the incident for the first time as an attempted act of terrorism. “I would say that was intended to terrorize, and I would say that whomever did that would be categorized as a terrorist,” Gibbs said, sharpening the administration’s tone.

Another U.S. official, recounting a conversation with intelligence officials, said, “Don’t be surprised if you find a foreign nexus. … They’re looking at some tell-tale signs and they’re saying it’s pointing in that direction.”

A couple of points are worth noting. First, if accurate, this is the fourth significant jihadist attack since Obama took office. (In case you’ve lost track, there was the Little Rock recruiting shooting, the Fort Hood massacre, and the Christmas bombing — all before this latest event.) If Obama’s array of not-Bush national-security policies were supposed to make us safer, they haven’t.

Second, at least the administration managed to get out the word “terrorist” within a reasonable period of time, and we are told that the president, not on vacation this time, was informed Saturday night. White House message: he’s not out to lunch this time. Finally, I think we can consider the notion of a public trial for KSM in New York or any major city — hopefully any Article III trial — to be finally kaput. The reality — we are a nation at war — at some point overwhelms even the most ideologically driven administration.

We learn today that the administration believes the Times Square car-bombing attempt was “coordinated by more than one person in a plot with international links.” The Washington Post reports:

The disclosure, while tentative, came as the White House intensified its focus on the Saturday incident in New York City, in which explosives inside a Nissan Pathfinder were set ablaze but failed to detonate at the tourist-crowded corner of Broadway and 45th Street.

Emerging from a series of briefings, several officials said it was premature to rule out any motive but said the sweeping, multi-state investigation was turning up new clues.

Separately, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also characterized the incident for the first time as an attempted act of terrorism. “I would say that was intended to terrorize, and I would say that whomever did that would be categorized as a terrorist,” Gibbs said, sharpening the administration’s tone.

Another U.S. official, recounting a conversation with intelligence officials, said, “Don’t be surprised if you find a foreign nexus. … They’re looking at some tell-tale signs and they’re saying it’s pointing in that direction.”

A couple of points are worth noting. First, if accurate, this is the fourth significant jihadist attack since Obama took office. (In case you’ve lost track, there was the Little Rock recruiting shooting, the Fort Hood massacre, and the Christmas bombing — all before this latest event.) If Obama’s array of not-Bush national-security policies were supposed to make us safer, they haven’t.

Second, at least the administration managed to get out the word “terrorist” within a reasonable period of time, and we are told that the president, not on vacation this time, was informed Saturday night. White House message: he’s not out to lunch this time. Finally, I think we can consider the notion of a public trial for KSM in New York or any major city — hopefully any Article III trial — to be finally kaput. The reality — we are a nation at war — at some point overwhelms even the most ideologically driven administration.

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Obama Instructs His Lessers

Taegan Goddard calls our attention to this portion of Obama’s commencement address at University of Michigan:

Still, if you’re somebody who only reads the editorial page of the New York Times, try glancing at the page of the Wall Street Journal once in a while. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship.

A nice sentiment — but one that reflects Obama’s assumptions and condescension toward his audience — and Americans more generally. As we know, a high percentage of Internet readers do precisely what Obama is advising. Pete, drawing on David Brooks’s column, noted, “It’s fashionable these days for many in the political class to complain about the Internet for, among other reasons, allowing people to ideologically self-segregate. But like much of conventional wisdom, this widespread view appears to be wrong.” But Obama feels compelled to instruct us to be more open-minded.

Frankly, this gets back to a lack of self-awareness. This is a president who derides political opponents, fails to engage them on the merits, and has perfected the straw-man and ad hominem attacks. It was his White House that declared war on Fox News. So it is the height of hypocrisy for him to now tell the rest of us to up the tolerance and intellectual diversity quotient in our lives. It’s sort of like Tom Friedman telling us to consume less and reduce our carbon footprint.

Taegan Goddard calls our attention to this portion of Obama’s commencement address at University of Michigan:

Still, if you’re somebody who only reads the editorial page of the New York Times, try glancing at the page of the Wall Street Journal once in a while. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship.

A nice sentiment — but one that reflects Obama’s assumptions and condescension toward his audience — and Americans more generally. As we know, a high percentage of Internet readers do precisely what Obama is advising. Pete, drawing on David Brooks’s column, noted, “It’s fashionable these days for many in the political class to complain about the Internet for, among other reasons, allowing people to ideologically self-segregate. But like much of conventional wisdom, this widespread view appears to be wrong.” But Obama feels compelled to instruct us to be more open-minded.

Frankly, this gets back to a lack of self-awareness. This is a president who derides political opponents, fails to engage them on the merits, and has perfected the straw-man and ad hominem attacks. It was his White House that declared war on Fox News. So it is the height of hypocrisy for him to now tell the rest of us to up the tolerance and intellectual diversity quotient in our lives. It’s sort of like Tom Friedman telling us to consume less and reduce our carbon footprint.

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Governors Echo GOP: What About Jobs?

This report suggests that the Republicans are going to get some help in framing the 2010 election from governors — some of whom are Democrats:

Frustrated with the pace of job-creation in Washington, the nation’s governors are putting homegrown employment programs into place, and calling on Congress to refocus on the issue.

“If I have 100 conversations with people, 95 of them will be about jobs and none of them will be about cap-and-trade and none of them will be about bank reform,” said Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a conservative Democrat, in an interview.

As Congressional lawmakers head toward 2010 midterm elections, polls indicate they are facing historic levels of public discontent, not least of which is a 9.7% unemployment rate that hasn’t budged for the past three months. About a half-dozen federal jobs bills have been mired in Congress while Democrats and Republicans wrangled over health care, the financial industry, energy and immigration legislation.

The Republicans have been hammering Obama and the Democratic leadership for some time about their misplaced priorities. They spent over a year and a huge amount of political capital on ObamaCare, which voters still overwhelmingly dislike. (Rasmussen reports that “52% say the plan will be bad for America, a view that went up slightly after the plan became law and has now held steady for five weeks. Thirty-eight percent (38%) view the plan as good for the country. … Over the past five weeks since Congress passed the measure, support for repeal has remained in a very narrow range from a low of 54% to a high of 58%.”) And now the summer will be spent on a Supreme Court confirmation and stalemates over immigration reform and cap-and-trade. Meanwhile, the Goldman Sachs case and financial regulation are proving perhaps not as potent in rallying populist fury as the Democrats hoped.

So it likely doesn’t help the Democrats to have their own party official echoing the Republican line, namely that politicians have spent over a year ignoring what voters care most about. Democratic governors, many of whom are facing tough races, are more than happy to point the finger at Washington, and in that regard, they’ll get no argument from Republicans. For Democrats, it is one more disagreeable development in an election year that seems to be going from bad to worse.

This report suggests that the Republicans are going to get some help in framing the 2010 election from governors — some of whom are Democrats:

Frustrated with the pace of job-creation in Washington, the nation’s governors are putting homegrown employment programs into place, and calling on Congress to refocus on the issue.

“If I have 100 conversations with people, 95 of them will be about jobs and none of them will be about cap-and-trade and none of them will be about bank reform,” said Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a conservative Democrat, in an interview.

As Congressional lawmakers head toward 2010 midterm elections, polls indicate they are facing historic levels of public discontent, not least of which is a 9.7% unemployment rate that hasn’t budged for the past three months. About a half-dozen federal jobs bills have been mired in Congress while Democrats and Republicans wrangled over health care, the financial industry, energy and immigration legislation.

The Republicans have been hammering Obama and the Democratic leadership for some time about their misplaced priorities. They spent over a year and a huge amount of political capital on ObamaCare, which voters still overwhelmingly dislike. (Rasmussen reports that “52% say the plan will be bad for America, a view that went up slightly after the plan became law and has now held steady for five weeks. Thirty-eight percent (38%) view the plan as good for the country. … Over the past five weeks since Congress passed the measure, support for repeal has remained in a very narrow range from a low of 54% to a high of 58%.”) And now the summer will be spent on a Supreme Court confirmation and stalemates over immigration reform and cap-and-trade. Meanwhile, the Goldman Sachs case and financial regulation are proving perhaps not as potent in rallying populist fury as the Democrats hoped.

So it likely doesn’t help the Democrats to have their own party official echoing the Republican line, namely that politicians have spent over a year ignoring what voters care most about. Democratic governors, many of whom are facing tough races, are more than happy to point the finger at Washington, and in that regard, they’ll get no argument from Republicans. For Democrats, it is one more disagreeable development in an election year that seems to be going from bad to worse.

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The Nasty Presidential Comic

Pete and I recently commented on Obama’s unfortunately snippy tone and nasty approach to his political adversaries. The evidence continues to mount that this president is lacking in basic graciousness and possesses, even for a politician, an overabundance of arrogance. The Washington Post reports on his comedy routine at the Correspondents’ Association Dinner over the weekend:

Breaking with presidential punch line tradition for the second consecutive year, Obama dropped zinger after zinger on his opponents and allies alike at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Obama went all Don Rickles on a broad range of topics and individuals: Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presidential advisers David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, the news media, Jay Leno, and Republicans Michael Steele, Scott Brown, John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Except for a mild joke pegged to his falling approval ratings, Obama mostly spared Obama during his 14-minute stand-up routine.

It did not go unnoticed by those who expect the president to be self-deprecating and ingratiating at these events:

Obama’s derisive tone surprises and dismays some of the people who’ve written jokes for presidents past.

“With these dinners you want the audience to like you more when you sit down than when you stood up,” says Landon Parvin, an author and speechwriter for politicians in both parties, and a gag writer for three Republican presidents (Reagan and Bushes I and II). “Something in [Obama’s] humor didn’t do that,” he said Sunday.

Parvin advises his political clients to practice a little partisan self-deprecation when they make lighthearted remarks: “If you’re a Democrat, you make fun of Democrats and go easy on the Republicans; if you’re a Republican, you do the opposite,” he says.

Presidents past have generally hewed to that tradition, even when they were under intense criticism or were deeply unpopular.

In isolation, one night of barbed humor doesn’t amount to much. But when seen in conjunction with his general lack of respect for adversaries and his nonstop attacks on everyone from Sarah Palin to Fox News to his predecessor, one comes away with a picture of a thin-skinned and rather nasty character. It’s not an attractive personality in a president, and he may regret having failed to extend a measure of kindness and magnanimity that we have come to expect from presidents.

Pete and I recently commented on Obama’s unfortunately snippy tone and nasty approach to his political adversaries. The evidence continues to mount that this president is lacking in basic graciousness and possesses, even for a politician, an overabundance of arrogance. The Washington Post reports on his comedy routine at the Correspondents’ Association Dinner over the weekend:

Breaking with presidential punch line tradition for the second consecutive year, Obama dropped zinger after zinger on his opponents and allies alike at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Obama went all Don Rickles on a broad range of topics and individuals: Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presidential advisers David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, the news media, Jay Leno, and Republicans Michael Steele, Scott Brown, John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Except for a mild joke pegged to his falling approval ratings, Obama mostly spared Obama during his 14-minute stand-up routine.

It did not go unnoticed by those who expect the president to be self-deprecating and ingratiating at these events:

Obama’s derisive tone surprises and dismays some of the people who’ve written jokes for presidents past.

“With these dinners you want the audience to like you more when you sit down than when you stood up,” says Landon Parvin, an author and speechwriter for politicians in both parties, and a gag writer for three Republican presidents (Reagan and Bushes I and II). “Something in [Obama’s] humor didn’t do that,” he said Sunday.

Parvin advises his political clients to practice a little partisan self-deprecation when they make lighthearted remarks: “If you’re a Democrat, you make fun of Democrats and go easy on the Republicans; if you’re a Republican, you do the opposite,” he says.

Presidents past have generally hewed to that tradition, even when they were under intense criticism or were deeply unpopular.

In isolation, one night of barbed humor doesn’t amount to much. But when seen in conjunction with his general lack of respect for adversaries and his nonstop attacks on everyone from Sarah Palin to Fox News to his predecessor, one comes away with a picture of a thin-skinned and rather nasty character. It’s not an attractive personality in a president, and he may regret having failed to extend a measure of kindness and magnanimity that we have come to expect from presidents.

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NPT Mischief-Making

Eli Lake details the three-ring circus that is about to open at the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty conference this week. He explains that while the Obmai are marshaling support for their anemic sanctions, Iran — with help from Egypt — is trying to make Israel the focus of the “international community”:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will attend the conference as the head of his country’s delegation. He is expected to raise the issue of Israel’s nuclear weapons to deflect attention from Iran’s enrichment of uranium. Iran could have an ally in traditional rival Egypt, whose delegation will be pushing for a resolution that would have the effect of singling out Israel, one of the three countries in the world that has never signed the NPT.

It seems for all our suck-uppery to the Muslim World, Egypt — who Obama has largely accommodated by his reticence on its political thuggery and human-rights abuses — is at the center of the trouble-making:

For 40 years, the United States has been a partner in Israel’s nuclear opacity as well. In a deal fashioned in 1969 between President Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, the United States does not pressure Israel to join the treaty, which would require the Jewish state to give up its nuclear weapons. Israel, in turn, does not acknowledge it has the weapons.

The Egyptian working paper of March 2010 on the nuclear-free Middle East threatens to upset this secret understanding. Specifically, it would require member states of the NPT to “disclose in their national reports on the implementation of the resolution on the Middle East all information available to them on the nature and scope of Israeli nuclear facilities and activities, including information pertaining to previous nuclear transfers to Israel.”

This aptly illustrates the many deficiencies with Obama’s Middle East policy and nuclear-proliferation approach. By elevating the non-proliferation gambit, he has given a forum to distract and complicate reasonable measures focused on the only nuclear threat that matters right now — Iran. By ingratiating himself with Arab states and savaging Israel, he has only encouraged the former to do the same. And by taking the nuclear-free Middle East pipe dream seriously, we only encourage further mischief. A case in point:

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said a deal with the Egyptians is within reach.

“The key is for the U.S. administration to quietly let the Egyptians know that at the presidential and vice-presidential level, the United States takes the issue of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East seriously.”

That’s exactly wrong. We should be signaling that we take this not seriously at all and want to focus solely on the Iranian threat. But then the Obami are willing players in the game of misdirection and stalling when it comes to confronting the mullahs, so don’t expect them to take a firm hand with Egypt.

Eli Lake details the three-ring circus that is about to open at the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty conference this week. He explains that while the Obmai are marshaling support for their anemic sanctions, Iran — with help from Egypt — is trying to make Israel the focus of the “international community”:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will attend the conference as the head of his country’s delegation. He is expected to raise the issue of Israel’s nuclear weapons to deflect attention from Iran’s enrichment of uranium. Iran could have an ally in traditional rival Egypt, whose delegation will be pushing for a resolution that would have the effect of singling out Israel, one of the three countries in the world that has never signed the NPT.

It seems for all our suck-uppery to the Muslim World, Egypt — who Obama has largely accommodated by his reticence on its political thuggery and human-rights abuses — is at the center of the trouble-making:

For 40 years, the United States has been a partner in Israel’s nuclear opacity as well. In a deal fashioned in 1969 between President Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, the United States does not pressure Israel to join the treaty, which would require the Jewish state to give up its nuclear weapons. Israel, in turn, does not acknowledge it has the weapons.

The Egyptian working paper of March 2010 on the nuclear-free Middle East threatens to upset this secret understanding. Specifically, it would require member states of the NPT to “disclose in their national reports on the implementation of the resolution on the Middle East all information available to them on the nature and scope of Israeli nuclear facilities and activities, including information pertaining to previous nuclear transfers to Israel.”

This aptly illustrates the many deficiencies with Obama’s Middle East policy and nuclear-proliferation approach. By elevating the non-proliferation gambit, he has given a forum to distract and complicate reasonable measures focused on the only nuclear threat that matters right now — Iran. By ingratiating himself with Arab states and savaging Israel, he has only encouraged the former to do the same. And by taking the nuclear-free Middle East pipe dream seriously, we only encourage further mischief. A case in point:

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said a deal with the Egyptians is within reach.

“The key is for the U.S. administration to quietly let the Egyptians know that at the presidential and vice-presidential level, the United States takes the issue of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East seriously.”

That’s exactly wrong. We should be signaling that we take this not seriously at all and want to focus solely on the Iranian threat. But then the Obami are willing players in the game of misdirection and stalling when it comes to confronting the mullahs, so don’t expect them to take a firm hand with Egypt.

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The Success of the Times Square Terrorist

In the nineteenth century, anarchist terrorists (who, by the way, were proud of the title) referred to their activities as “propaganda by the deed.” Terrorism has always been designed to make more of a psychological than a physical impact. By that standard, the Times Square bomber, whoever he is, has succeeded. Granted, the SUV packed with propane was an amateurish vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. It is, thankfully, worlds away from the sort of sophisticated truck bombs that al-Qaeda in Iraq has used to create carnage in Baghdad. Yet, nevertheless, it dominates news coverage in the “Great Satan” in a way that far more costly bombings overseas do not. Whether the culprit who placed the bomb is foreign or domestic, Islamist or survivalist, or some other creed, his purpose is to spread terror. That, after all, is the very definition of terrorism. And he has succeeded. Imagine what the impact of a bomb that actually went off would be. The very hysteria we currently exhibit — or that was evident after the Christmas Day attempted airline bombing — only make it clear to terrorists what an inviting target the American homeland remains. Of course they had better be careful. Al-Qaeda surely did not reckon with the size of the American response after 9/11; Osama bin Laden reportedly expected that we would fire a few cruise missiles and leave it at that. If a future terrorist attack succeeds on such a scale, the perpetrators may well come to regret their actions. In a way, then, such low-level attacks as the one in Times Square are actually more useful to terrorists than more successful bombings: they create terror but avoid a serious backlash.

In the nineteenth century, anarchist terrorists (who, by the way, were proud of the title) referred to their activities as “propaganda by the deed.” Terrorism has always been designed to make more of a psychological than a physical impact. By that standard, the Times Square bomber, whoever he is, has succeeded. Granted, the SUV packed with propane was an amateurish vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. It is, thankfully, worlds away from the sort of sophisticated truck bombs that al-Qaeda in Iraq has used to create carnage in Baghdad. Yet, nevertheless, it dominates news coverage in the “Great Satan” in a way that far more costly bombings overseas do not. Whether the culprit who placed the bomb is foreign or domestic, Islamist or survivalist, or some other creed, his purpose is to spread terror. That, after all, is the very definition of terrorism. And he has succeeded. Imagine what the impact of a bomb that actually went off would be. The very hysteria we currently exhibit — or that was evident after the Christmas Day attempted airline bombing — only make it clear to terrorists what an inviting target the American homeland remains. Of course they had better be careful. Al-Qaeda surely did not reckon with the size of the American response after 9/11; Osama bin Laden reportedly expected that we would fire a few cruise missiles and leave it at that. If a future terrorist attack succeeds on such a scale, the perpetrators may well come to regret their actions. In a way, then, such low-level attacks as the one in Times Square are actually more useful to terrorists than more successful bombings: they create terror but avoid a serious backlash.

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Not Your Father’s Tories

In the British general election to be held on Thursday, the latest polls show the Conservative Party in the lead. Normally, that would gladden the hearts of American conservatives, who have long regarded the Tories as their closest compatriots overseas. But this is not your father’s Conservative Party. It has been remade as a “centrist” (i.e., liberal) party by David Cameron. Nowhere is this clearer than in the area of defense. The Tories have been opportunistically attacking the Labor government for not doing enough for the troops. But what are the Tories going to do? If this Reuters report is to be believed, they will slash defense spending, which is already too low, to meet British commitments around the world:

The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank in London has said the most optimistic scenario would mean the Ministry of Defense could face a cut in its budget of around 11 percent in real terms over the six years to 2016/17.

The Tories claim they can make such cuts while enhancing military capabilities by slashing wasteful spending. Count me as skeptical. The British defense budget has already been cut to the bone, with the Royal Navy down to its lowest size in centuries. There is a desperate need to spend more — not less. If the Conservatives carry out this catastrophic program, it will have serious repercussions for the U.S. because we will be able to count on even less support from our closest ally. That, in turn, will mean more unilateral operations in places like Afghanistan.

In the British general election to be held on Thursday, the latest polls show the Conservative Party in the lead. Normally, that would gladden the hearts of American conservatives, who have long regarded the Tories as their closest compatriots overseas. But this is not your father’s Conservative Party. It has been remade as a “centrist” (i.e., liberal) party by David Cameron. Nowhere is this clearer than in the area of defense. The Tories have been opportunistically attacking the Labor government for not doing enough for the troops. But what are the Tories going to do? If this Reuters report is to be believed, they will slash defense spending, which is already too low, to meet British commitments around the world:

The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank in London has said the most optimistic scenario would mean the Ministry of Defense could face a cut in its budget of around 11 percent in real terms over the six years to 2016/17.

The Tories claim they can make such cuts while enhancing military capabilities by slashing wasteful spending. Count me as skeptical. The British defense budget has already been cut to the bone, with the Royal Navy down to its lowest size in centuries. There is a desperate need to spend more — not less. If the Conservatives carry out this catastrophic program, it will have serious repercussions for the U.S. because we will be able to count on even less support from our closest ally. That, in turn, will mean more unilateral operations in places like Afghanistan.

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The Global Reform Dodge

The original personal income tax law, passed in 1913, was only 14 pages long. Even the income tax law of 1942, which changed the tax from one on the affluent to include the middle class as well (and began withholding), was only 208 pages long. But the ObamaCare bill was over 2,400 pages, and the financial reform bill now working its way through Congress is about 1,400 pages long, at least at the moment.

The world is a more complicated place these days, but why are major congressional bills turning into such unreadable behemoths of mind-numbing legalese?

One reason, I cynically suspect, is precisely to make them unreadable. Nancy Pelosi’s now-famous remark that Congress would have to pass the health-care bill before people could know what was in it was more true than she realized.  The political elite would rather work in the dark and is confident that the Washington press corps won’t go to the trouble of actually reading a bill that’s longer than War and Peace (and a lot less entertaining). As a political public-relations man once told me, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the work ethic of the average reporter.”

But there are two other reasons. One is that a vast bill makes it easier to sneak in clauses that go unnoticed until they are law. If the best place to hide a book is in a library, then the best way to hide a favor for a contributor or a quiet little power grab is in a bill 2,000 pages long. The Washington Post recently reported that the financial reform bill would significantly increase the power of the Federal Trade Commission to regulate the Internet, something that has nothing to do with financial reform.

The second reason is Washington’s increasing fascination with global reform rather than piecemeal reform. Only touchdowns, it seems, are now allowed in the game of political football; moving the ball down the field just won’t do.  The health-care debate would have been a lot shorter and a lot less politically divisive had both sides simply agreed to enact those reforms that a substantial majority of each house agreed with — such as of insurance abuses — and then saw what else was needed. Regulating derivatives would be a piece of cake if it were not tied to “financial reform” in general.

And insisting on a global solution also makes it much easier to appear to favor reform while assuring that nothing actually gets reformed. Everyone supposedly agrees that the borders should be secured to prevent illegal immigration. The problem has been obvious for two decades and more. But by tying border security to the political hot potato of immigration reform in general, nothing is done and the possibility of offending the increasingly important Hispanic vote is avoided.

Roscoe Conkling, senator and Republican political boss of New York State in the 1870s and 1880s, once remarked that “when Dr. Johnson said that ‘patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,’ he was obviously unaware of the possibilities inherent in the word ‘reform.'”

The original personal income tax law, passed in 1913, was only 14 pages long. Even the income tax law of 1942, which changed the tax from one on the affluent to include the middle class as well (and began withholding), was only 208 pages long. But the ObamaCare bill was over 2,400 pages, and the financial reform bill now working its way through Congress is about 1,400 pages long, at least at the moment.

The world is a more complicated place these days, but why are major congressional bills turning into such unreadable behemoths of mind-numbing legalese?

One reason, I cynically suspect, is precisely to make them unreadable. Nancy Pelosi’s now-famous remark that Congress would have to pass the health-care bill before people could know what was in it was more true than she realized.  The political elite would rather work in the dark and is confident that the Washington press corps won’t go to the trouble of actually reading a bill that’s longer than War and Peace (and a lot less entertaining). As a political public-relations man once told me, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the work ethic of the average reporter.”

But there are two other reasons. One is that a vast bill makes it easier to sneak in clauses that go unnoticed until they are law. If the best place to hide a book is in a library, then the best way to hide a favor for a contributor or a quiet little power grab is in a bill 2,000 pages long. The Washington Post recently reported that the financial reform bill would significantly increase the power of the Federal Trade Commission to regulate the Internet, something that has nothing to do with financial reform.

The second reason is Washington’s increasing fascination with global reform rather than piecemeal reform. Only touchdowns, it seems, are now allowed in the game of political football; moving the ball down the field just won’t do.  The health-care debate would have been a lot shorter and a lot less politically divisive had both sides simply agreed to enact those reforms that a substantial majority of each house agreed with — such as of insurance abuses — and then saw what else was needed. Regulating derivatives would be a piece of cake if it were not tied to “financial reform” in general.

And insisting on a global solution also makes it much easier to appear to favor reform while assuring that nothing actually gets reformed. Everyone supposedly agrees that the borders should be secured to prevent illegal immigration. The problem has been obvious for two decades and more. But by tying border security to the political hot potato of immigration reform in general, nothing is done and the possibility of offending the increasingly important Hispanic vote is avoided.

Roscoe Conkling, senator and Republican political boss of New York State in the 1870s and 1880s, once remarked that “when Dr. Johnson said that ‘patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,’ he was obviously unaware of the possibilities inherent in the word ‘reform.'”

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Gulf States and a Nuclear Iran

Having just returned from the Persian Gulf region (the Arabian Gulf to the Arabs), I can echo the points made by John Bolton in this Wall Street Journal op-ed. Bolton suggests that sanctions have no chance of working and that, absent military action, Iran will go nuclear. That certainly is in line with the general view in the Gulf, where they can see up close how porous all attempts to sanction Iran have been. Indeed, the Gulf states most worried about the Iranian nuclear program also actively trade with Iran. They are starting to hedge their bets, too. Qatar, for example, which hosts a giant American military installation, sent representatives to watch recent Iranian war games.

There is a lot of support, albeit beneath the surface, for American military action against Iran, which, in the Gulfies’ view, could deal a decisive setback to the “Persians.” An Israeli strike, on the other hand, they fear, would not inflict much damage and would only allow the mullahs to rally the Arab street behind them. They are also “deathly afraid” (in the words of one American ambassador) that the U.S. will sell them out by reaching a deal with Iran.

With the growing likelihood of a nuclear Iran, talk has turned to containment, with Gulf states demanding more sophisticated air defenses from the U.S. and even talking about somehow turning the Gulf Cooperation Council into a NATO-like alliance to contain Iran. The Obama administration is clearly planning for a nuclear Iran by preparing to extend the American nuclear umbrella to regional allies. But the local leaders that we talked to (I traveled with a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations.) made clear that they would place little faith in an American guarantee. They want a Sunni bomb to offset the Shiite bomb, which means that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Turkey would be likely to build their own nuke to counter Iran’s. Thus, at a minimum, the Iranian nuclear program could set off a serious proliferation problem — and that’s without considering the possibility that Iran will share its technology with Syria and other allies.

What is the Obama administration going to do about all this? I agree with Bolton: U.S. airstrikes on Iran are out of the question (unless Iran were to attack shipping in the Persian Gulf, but probably not even then). Instead, the administration is pursuing toothless resolutions at the UN and making ridiculous gestures like revealing the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and trying to negotiate to make the Middle East a “nuclear-free zone.” The more of this that our Arab allies see, the less confidence they will have in American protection. That, in turn, will cause them to either pursue accommodation with Iran or build their own nuclear arsenal. Maybe both. And that makes the world a much more dangerous place.

Having just returned from the Persian Gulf region (the Arabian Gulf to the Arabs), I can echo the points made by John Bolton in this Wall Street Journal op-ed. Bolton suggests that sanctions have no chance of working and that, absent military action, Iran will go nuclear. That certainly is in line with the general view in the Gulf, where they can see up close how porous all attempts to sanction Iran have been. Indeed, the Gulf states most worried about the Iranian nuclear program also actively trade with Iran. They are starting to hedge their bets, too. Qatar, for example, which hosts a giant American military installation, sent representatives to watch recent Iranian war games.

There is a lot of support, albeit beneath the surface, for American military action against Iran, which, in the Gulfies’ view, could deal a decisive setback to the “Persians.” An Israeli strike, on the other hand, they fear, would not inflict much damage and would only allow the mullahs to rally the Arab street behind them. They are also “deathly afraid” (in the words of one American ambassador) that the U.S. will sell them out by reaching a deal with Iran.

With the growing likelihood of a nuclear Iran, talk has turned to containment, with Gulf states demanding more sophisticated air defenses from the U.S. and even talking about somehow turning the Gulf Cooperation Council into a NATO-like alliance to contain Iran. The Obama administration is clearly planning for a nuclear Iran by preparing to extend the American nuclear umbrella to regional allies. But the local leaders that we talked to (I traveled with a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations.) made clear that they would place little faith in an American guarantee. They want a Sunni bomb to offset the Shiite bomb, which means that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Turkey would be likely to build their own nuke to counter Iran’s. Thus, at a minimum, the Iranian nuclear program could set off a serious proliferation problem — and that’s without considering the possibility that Iran will share its technology with Syria and other allies.

What is the Obama administration going to do about all this? I agree with Bolton: U.S. airstrikes on Iran are out of the question (unless Iran were to attack shipping in the Persian Gulf, but probably not even then). Instead, the administration is pursuing toothless resolutions at the UN and making ridiculous gestures like revealing the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and trying to negotiate to make the Middle East a “nuclear-free zone.” The more of this that our Arab allies see, the less confidence they will have in American protection. That, in turn, will cause them to either pursue accommodation with Iran or build their own nuclear arsenal. Maybe both. And that makes the world a much more dangerous place.

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The War in Afghanistan: Where We Are Now

We have reached a key juncture in the Afghanistan war. Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal have spent the last year getting the right “inputs” in place, meaning getting the structures right, putting the best leaders in charge, developing the right concepts, providing the authority and resources necessary, and so forth. We are now at the very early stages of the “output” phase, with a counterinsurgency (COIN) offensive in Helmand province that began in February and a forthcoming offensive in Kandahar. This campaign will unfold over the next 18 months or so and will go a long way toward determining the outcome of the war.

As we enter this new phase of the war — with, for the first time, a properly resourced counterinsurgency strategy in place — it’s important to understand the situation on the ground, including public sentiment, which is a crucial component of a successful COIN strategy.

A new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), “Shaping the War in Afghanistan: The Situation in the Spring of 2010,” provides useful information, much of it culled from other recent reports and surveys (like the Department of Defense’s April report on progress toward security and stability in Afghanistan and an analysis of public opinion in Afghanistan conducted by ABC News, the BBC, and ARD).

Among the encouraging data points:

  • After steep declines in recent years there’s been a 30-point advance in views that the country is headed in the right direction; 70 percent now say so, the most since 2005. Afghans’ expectations that their own lives will be better a year from now have jumped by 20 points, to 71 percent, a new high. And there’s been a 14-point rise in expectations that the next generation will have a better life, to 61 percent.
  • Seventy (70) percent say living conditions are better now than they were under the Taliban.
  • Sixty-eight (68) percent of Afghans continue to support the presence of U.S. forces in their country – and nearly as many, 61 percent, favor the coming surge of Western troops initiated by President Obama.
  • There’s been a 14-point gain from last year, to 83 percent, in the view among Afghans that it was right for the United States to invade and overthrow the Taliban just more than eight years ago. And the number of Afghans who say attacking Western forces can be justified has dropped sharply, from 25 percent a year ago to 8 percent, a new low. (It jumps to 22 percent in the South – but that’s half of what it was there a year ago.)
  • President Karzai’s performance rating is only 40 percent in Helmand but 72 percent in the rest of the country – making him, by my count, more popular in Afghanistan than President Obama is in America.
  • Afghans confidence in their government reached a new high (since polling started in September 2008). Between September and March of 2009, Afghan confidence in the national administration increased by six percentage points to 45 percent, confidence in the provincial governor increased by five percentage points to 47 percent, and confidence in the district governors increased by six percentage points to 44 percent. When asked if the government was heading in the right direction, 59 percent of Afghans responded “yes.” This represents an increase of eight percent over the previous September 2009.
  • In March 2010, 30 percent of Afghans believed that the government was less corrupt than one year prior while 24 percent believed that it was more corrupt.

On the other side of the ledger:

  • Just 38 percent rate the work of the United States in Afghanistan positively – up 6 points in the past year, but far below its peak, 68 percent, in 2005. (NATO’s ratings are as low, and flat.) Fifty-one (51) percent have a favorable view of the United States overall – vastly below its high point, 83 percent, in 2005. And U.S. favorability drops to 35 percent in the East and 29 percent in the South (vs. 59 percent in the rest of the country) – again, plummeting where the United States is most actively engaged in combat.
  • Just 42 percent in the South and East support the presence of U.S. forces in their area, compared with 78 percent in the rest of the country.
  • More Afghans say the United States and NATO are doing worse, not better, in avoiding civilian casualties, by 43-24 percent. (This may reflect dismay over widely publicized individual incidents, such as the bombing of a pair of hijacked fuel tankers in September that killed scores of civilians in Kunduz province.
  • Nearly all Afghans – 95 percent – say official corruption is a problem in their area, up 23 points since 2007. Seventy-six (76) percent say it’s a big problem; both are new highs.
  • Only 29 percent of Afghans had a very good or good opinion of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), with an additional 34 percent reporting a neutral rating.
  • We are focusing on 121 districts that have been deemed as critical to success. Of those 121, there are just 29 (24 percent) in which the population sympathizes with the Afghan government. While doubts about Afghan governance, writ large, doesn’t translate directly into support for the Taliban, which is still much-hated, it certainly doesn’t help matters. (In addition, the data for the 121 districts are not necessarily indicative of all of Afghanistan, especially given that they are the focus of the COIN campaign precisely because of the level of threats within them.)
  • Just 38 percent rate the work of the United States in Afghanistan positively – up 6 points in the past year, but far below its peak, 68 percent, in 2005. (NATO’s ratings are as low, and flat.) Fifty-one (51) percent have a favorable view of the United States overall – vastly below its high point, 83 percent, in 2005. And U.S. favorability drops to 35 percent in the East and 29 percent in the South (vs. 59 percent in the rest of the country) – again, plummeting where the United States is most actively engaged in combat.
  • Just 42 percent in the South and East support the presence of U.S. forces in their area, compared with 78 percent in the rest of the country.
  • More Afghans say the United States and NATO are doing worse, not better, in avoiding civilian casualties, by 43-24 percent. (This may reflect dismay over widely publicized individual incidents, such as the bombing of a pair of hijacked fuel tankers in September that killed scores of civilians in Kunduz province.)
  • Nearly all Afghans – 95 percent – say official corruption is a problem in their area, up 23 points since 2007. Seventy-six (76) percent say it’s a big problem; both are new highs.
  • Only 29 percent of Afghans had a very good or good opinion of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), with an additional 34 percent reporting a neutral rating.
  • We are focusing on 121 districts that have been deemed as critical to success. Of those 121, there are just 29 (24 percent) in which the population sympathizes with the Afghan government. While doubts about Afghan governance, writ large, doesn’t translate directly into support for the Taliban, which is still much-hated, it certainly doesn’t help matters. (In addition, the data for the 121 districts are not necessarily indicative of all of Afghanistan, especially given that they are the focus of the COIN campaign precisely because of the level of threats within them.)

It’s quite a mixed picture, then — but since the beginning of 2009, a low-water mark, we’ve seen an increase in the performance ratings of the Afghan army, the Afghan government, Hamid Karzai, and the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

The CSIS report also documents the rising intensity of the fighting, the increase in IED attacks, opium-poppy-cultivation trends, the growth in the (licit) GDP, and the growing strength of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police (the ANA has largely exceeded its recruiting goals between 2009 and 2010 and now includes more than 112,000 Afghans; the ANP now counts more than 102,000 Afghans in its ranks). And according to the most recent Department of Defense report, 52 percent of Afghans believe insurgents are the greatest source of insecurity, while only 1 percent believes the National Army/Police are primarily to blame. In the words of the DoD report: “This perception provides an opportunity for the Afghan Government, with the support of the international community, to improve its legitimacy and enhance popular perception of the government.”

In the end, increasing the legitimacy of the government will be key as to whether the war has a successful outcome. Nobody understands this better than David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal.

Stay tuned.

We have reached a key juncture in the Afghanistan war. Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal have spent the last year getting the right “inputs” in place, meaning getting the structures right, putting the best leaders in charge, developing the right concepts, providing the authority and resources necessary, and so forth. We are now at the very early stages of the “output” phase, with a counterinsurgency (COIN) offensive in Helmand province that began in February and a forthcoming offensive in Kandahar. This campaign will unfold over the next 18 months or so and will go a long way toward determining the outcome of the war.

As we enter this new phase of the war — with, for the first time, a properly resourced counterinsurgency strategy in place — it’s important to understand the situation on the ground, including public sentiment, which is a crucial component of a successful COIN strategy.

A new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), “Shaping the War in Afghanistan: The Situation in the Spring of 2010,” provides useful information, much of it culled from other recent reports and surveys (like the Department of Defense’s April report on progress toward security and stability in Afghanistan and an analysis of public opinion in Afghanistan conducted by ABC News, the BBC, and ARD).

Among the encouraging data points:

  • After steep declines in recent years there’s been a 30-point advance in views that the country is headed in the right direction; 70 percent now say so, the most since 2005. Afghans’ expectations that their own lives will be better a year from now have jumped by 20 points, to 71 percent, a new high. And there’s been a 14-point rise in expectations that the next generation will have a better life, to 61 percent.
  • Seventy (70) percent say living conditions are better now than they were under the Taliban.
  • Sixty-eight (68) percent of Afghans continue to support the presence of U.S. forces in their country – and nearly as many, 61 percent, favor the coming surge of Western troops initiated by President Obama.
  • There’s been a 14-point gain from last year, to 83 percent, in the view among Afghans that it was right for the United States to invade and overthrow the Taliban just more than eight years ago. And the number of Afghans who say attacking Western forces can be justified has dropped sharply, from 25 percent a year ago to 8 percent, a new low. (It jumps to 22 percent in the South – but that’s half of what it was there a year ago.)
  • President Karzai’s performance rating is only 40 percent in Helmand but 72 percent in the rest of the country – making him, by my count, more popular in Afghanistan than President Obama is in America.
  • Afghans confidence in their government reached a new high (since polling started in September 2008). Between September and March of 2009, Afghan confidence in the national administration increased by six percentage points to 45 percent, confidence in the provincial governor increased by five percentage points to 47 percent, and confidence in the district governors increased by six percentage points to 44 percent. When asked if the government was heading in the right direction, 59 percent of Afghans responded “yes.” This represents an increase of eight percent over the previous September 2009.
  • In March 2010, 30 percent of Afghans believed that the government was less corrupt than one year prior while 24 percent believed that it was more corrupt.

On the other side of the ledger:

  • Just 38 percent rate the work of the United States in Afghanistan positively – up 6 points in the past year, but far below its peak, 68 percent, in 2005. (NATO’s ratings are as low, and flat.) Fifty-one (51) percent have a favorable view of the United States overall – vastly below its high point, 83 percent, in 2005. And U.S. favorability drops to 35 percent in the East and 29 percent in the South (vs. 59 percent in the rest of the country) – again, plummeting where the United States is most actively engaged in combat.
  • Just 42 percent in the South and East support the presence of U.S. forces in their area, compared with 78 percent in the rest of the country.
  • More Afghans say the United States and NATO are doing worse, not better, in avoiding civilian casualties, by 43-24 percent. (This may reflect dismay over widely publicized individual incidents, such as the bombing of a pair of hijacked fuel tankers in September that killed scores of civilians in Kunduz province.
  • Nearly all Afghans – 95 percent – say official corruption is a problem in their area, up 23 points since 2007. Seventy-six (76) percent say it’s a big problem; both are new highs.
  • Only 29 percent of Afghans had a very good or good opinion of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), with an additional 34 percent reporting a neutral rating.
  • We are focusing on 121 districts that have been deemed as critical to success. Of those 121, there are just 29 (24 percent) in which the population sympathizes with the Afghan government. While doubts about Afghan governance, writ large, doesn’t translate directly into support for the Taliban, which is still much-hated, it certainly doesn’t help matters. (In addition, the data for the 121 districts are not necessarily indicative of all of Afghanistan, especially given that they are the focus of the COIN campaign precisely because of the level of threats within them.)
  • Just 38 percent rate the work of the United States in Afghanistan positively – up 6 points in the past year, but far below its peak, 68 percent, in 2005. (NATO’s ratings are as low, and flat.) Fifty-one (51) percent have a favorable view of the United States overall – vastly below its high point, 83 percent, in 2005. And U.S. favorability drops to 35 percent in the East and 29 percent in the South (vs. 59 percent in the rest of the country) – again, plummeting where the United States is most actively engaged in combat.
  • Just 42 percent in the South and East support the presence of U.S. forces in their area, compared with 78 percent in the rest of the country.
  • More Afghans say the United States and NATO are doing worse, not better, in avoiding civilian casualties, by 43-24 percent. (This may reflect dismay over widely publicized individual incidents, such as the bombing of a pair of hijacked fuel tankers in September that killed scores of civilians in Kunduz province.)
  • Nearly all Afghans – 95 percent – say official corruption is a problem in their area, up 23 points since 2007. Seventy-six (76) percent say it’s a big problem; both are new highs.
  • Only 29 percent of Afghans had a very good or good opinion of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), with an additional 34 percent reporting a neutral rating.
  • We are focusing on 121 districts that have been deemed as critical to success. Of those 121, there are just 29 (24 percent) in which the population sympathizes with the Afghan government. While doubts about Afghan governance, writ large, doesn’t translate directly into support for the Taliban, which is still much-hated, it certainly doesn’t help matters. (In addition, the data for the 121 districts are not necessarily indicative of all of Afghanistan, especially given that they are the focus of the COIN campaign precisely because of the level of threats within them.)

It’s quite a mixed picture, then — but since the beginning of 2009, a low-water mark, we’ve seen an increase in the performance ratings of the Afghan army, the Afghan government, Hamid Karzai, and the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

The CSIS report also documents the rising intensity of the fighting, the increase in IED attacks, opium-poppy-cultivation trends, the growth in the (licit) GDP, and the growing strength of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police (the ANA has largely exceeded its recruiting goals between 2009 and 2010 and now includes more than 112,000 Afghans; the ANP now counts more than 102,000 Afghans in its ranks). And according to the most recent Department of Defense report, 52 percent of Afghans believe insurgents are the greatest source of insecurity, while only 1 percent believes the National Army/Police are primarily to blame. In the words of the DoD report: “This perception provides an opportunity for the Afghan Government, with the support of the international community, to improve its legitimacy and enhance popular perception of the government.”

In the end, increasing the legitimacy of the government will be key as to whether the war has a successful outcome. Nobody understands this better than David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal.

Stay tuned.

Read Less

Elena Kagan — Stealth Nominee?

Elena Kagan is the prohibitive favorite for the Supreme Court. She has made it through one confirmation hearing for her current post as solicitor general and possesses academic credentials, a reputation for collegiality with conservatives, and a limited paper trail. Moreover, she is the closest we have to a stealth candidate among the front-runners. As Tom Goldstein notes, “I don’t know anyone who has had a conversation with her in which she expressed a personal conviction on a question of constitutional law in the past decade.”

Casual observers assume that a dean of Harvard Law School and a domestic-policy aide in the Clinton administration must have a sizable body of work reflecting her legal views. But not so. Paul Campos has read all there is to read — and it’s not much:

Yesterday, I read everything Elena Kagan has ever published. It didn’t take long: in the nearly 20 years since Kagan became a law professor, she’s published very little academic scholarship—three law review articles, along with a couple of shorter essays and two brief book reviews. Somehow, Kagan got tenure at Chicago in 1995 on the basis of a single article in The Supreme Court Review—a scholarly journal edited by Chicago’s own faculty—and a short essay in the school’s law review. She then worked in the Clinton administration for several years before joining Harvard as a visiting professor of law in 1999. While there she published two articles, but since receiving tenure from Harvard in 2001 (and becoming dean of the law school in 2003) she has published nothing. (While it’s true law school deans often do little scholarly writing during their terms, Kagan is remarkable both for how little she did in the dozen years prior to becoming Harvard’s dean, and for never having written anything intended for a more general audience, either before or after taking that position.)

Campos goes so far as to suggest that Kagan is a Harriet Miers type — minus the cronyism. He concludes:

Indeed, the most impressive thing about Kagan is that she seems to have a remarkable ability to ingratiate herself with influential people across the ideological spectrum. … As a private lawyer, Miers, after all, had a fairly good excuse for having no public views on the great legal issues of our day. For most of the past 20 years, Kagan’s job has been to both develop and publicize such views. That she has nevertheless managed to almost completely avoid doing so is rather extraordinary.

What to make of this? Well, if a Republican president were to select a person with such a skimpy written record, conservatives would be (and were with the Miers nomination) rightfully worried. But do the same concerns — ideological infidelity, intellectual mediocrity — really apply to Kagan? Let’s be honest, it works differently for liberals. Very few are tempted to moderate their views and slide rightward, while Republican-nominated jurists (David Souter, John Paul Stevens) have a history of “disappointing” their side. And while no one has claimed that Kagan has achieved greatness in legal scholarship, the assumption — rightly or not — is that the dean of one of the top law schools in the country must have some intellectual wattage. Nevertheless, liberal legal activists might have reason to be a bit nervous — after all, would a justice who lacks judicial chops be the best choice to sway Justice Kennedy on those all-important 5-to-4 decisions? Is she really the one who is going to go toe-to-toe with Justice Scalia? There is some risk there if Obama were to choose a lesser known quantity than an appellate judge such as Diane Wood.

Nevertheless, there are clues as to Kagan’s legal mindset. Indeed, one such clue is also her primary shortcoming. Stuart Taylor explains:

The one issue that could slow down Kagan’s confirmation is her impassioned effort as dean to bar military recruiting on campus to protest the law banning openly gay people from serving in the military, which she called “a moral injustice of the first order.”

Kagan carried this opposition to the point of joining a 2005 amicus brief whose strained interpretation of a law denying federal funding to institutions that discriminate against military recruiters would — the Supreme Court held in an 8-0 decision — have rendered the statute “largely meaningless.” This helps to explain the 31 Republican votes against confirming her as solicitor general.

Well, that might be enough to lose her a batch of GOP Senate votes, but would it derail her nomination? Probably not. And it might just give enough comfort to the left that Kagan is a “safe” pick for them.

Elena Kagan is the prohibitive favorite for the Supreme Court. She has made it through one confirmation hearing for her current post as solicitor general and possesses academic credentials, a reputation for collegiality with conservatives, and a limited paper trail. Moreover, she is the closest we have to a stealth candidate among the front-runners. As Tom Goldstein notes, “I don’t know anyone who has had a conversation with her in which she expressed a personal conviction on a question of constitutional law in the past decade.”

Casual observers assume that a dean of Harvard Law School and a domestic-policy aide in the Clinton administration must have a sizable body of work reflecting her legal views. But not so. Paul Campos has read all there is to read — and it’s not much:

Yesterday, I read everything Elena Kagan has ever published. It didn’t take long: in the nearly 20 years since Kagan became a law professor, she’s published very little academic scholarship—three law review articles, along with a couple of shorter essays and two brief book reviews. Somehow, Kagan got tenure at Chicago in 1995 on the basis of a single article in The Supreme Court Review—a scholarly journal edited by Chicago’s own faculty—and a short essay in the school’s law review. She then worked in the Clinton administration for several years before joining Harvard as a visiting professor of law in 1999. While there she published two articles, but since receiving tenure from Harvard in 2001 (and becoming dean of the law school in 2003) she has published nothing. (While it’s true law school deans often do little scholarly writing during their terms, Kagan is remarkable both for how little she did in the dozen years prior to becoming Harvard’s dean, and for never having written anything intended for a more general audience, either before or after taking that position.)

Campos goes so far as to suggest that Kagan is a Harriet Miers type — minus the cronyism. He concludes:

Indeed, the most impressive thing about Kagan is that she seems to have a remarkable ability to ingratiate herself with influential people across the ideological spectrum. … As a private lawyer, Miers, after all, had a fairly good excuse for having no public views on the great legal issues of our day. For most of the past 20 years, Kagan’s job has been to both develop and publicize such views. That she has nevertheless managed to almost completely avoid doing so is rather extraordinary.

What to make of this? Well, if a Republican president were to select a person with such a skimpy written record, conservatives would be (and were with the Miers nomination) rightfully worried. But do the same concerns — ideological infidelity, intellectual mediocrity — really apply to Kagan? Let’s be honest, it works differently for liberals. Very few are tempted to moderate their views and slide rightward, while Republican-nominated jurists (David Souter, John Paul Stevens) have a history of “disappointing” their side. And while no one has claimed that Kagan has achieved greatness in legal scholarship, the assumption — rightly or not — is that the dean of one of the top law schools in the country must have some intellectual wattage. Nevertheless, liberal legal activists might have reason to be a bit nervous — after all, would a justice who lacks judicial chops be the best choice to sway Justice Kennedy on those all-important 5-to-4 decisions? Is she really the one who is going to go toe-to-toe with Justice Scalia? There is some risk there if Obama were to choose a lesser known quantity than an appellate judge such as Diane Wood.

Nevertheless, there are clues as to Kagan’s legal mindset. Indeed, one such clue is also her primary shortcoming. Stuart Taylor explains:

The one issue that could slow down Kagan’s confirmation is her impassioned effort as dean to bar military recruiting on campus to protest the law banning openly gay people from serving in the military, which she called “a moral injustice of the first order.”

Kagan carried this opposition to the point of joining a 2005 amicus brief whose strained interpretation of a law denying federal funding to institutions that discriminate against military recruiters would — the Supreme Court held in an 8-0 decision — have rendered the statute “largely meaningless.” This helps to explain the 31 Republican votes against confirming her as solicitor general.

Well, that might be enough to lose her a batch of GOP Senate votes, but would it derail her nomination? Probably not. And it might just give enough comfort to the left that Kagan is a “safe” pick for them.

Read Less

Times Square Bomb: An Israeli Perspective

Like all of us, I am greatly relieved that the Times Square car bomb didn’t go off, that we can talk about fear rather than death, about catching the perps rather than treating the wounded and comforting the bereaved. Judging from news reports, the bomb seems to be the work of amateurs more concerned with not being detected as they bought their supplies than with the actual deadliness of the explosion. Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary, has called it a “one-off.” Let’s hope she’s right.

Because if she’s not, what now looks like a policing success will start to look more and more like an intelligence failure. Here in Israel, the security of citizens has been bought after many years of fighting bombers, suicide and otherwise, the success of which battles forced our enemies to resort to lobbing rockets across the southern and northern borders — still a war, but somehow a lot more tolerable. Yes, part of it was good policing and the alert responses of civilians, some of them armed, in tough situations. And part of the credit goes to building a big, long wall between us and the terrorist hornet’s nests in the West Bank and Gaza. But the biggest factor in preventing terror attacks today is undoubtedly the vast intelligence apparatus that has prevented literally thousands of attacks like the Times Square bomb from being launched in the first place. Many of the IDF operations you hear about, and many more that never make the news, are acting on intel about planned terror attacks. Terrorists are arrested, sometimes killed, before they make it to our teeming public squares.

There is little one can do to prevent a determined nutcase, acting alone, from buying stuff that can blow up and parking his car in a public place. But if it turns out that the Taliban really were behind it, or that some other international terror group has determined to wreak havoc on New Yorkers again, the first question to ask will be why intel didn’t know about it in time to prevent it. It may sound unfair to place that kind of a burden on intelligence — after all, they can’t know everything, can they? But it’s been by setting the bar that high, and by allocating the resources to make it realistic, that has made it possible for me today to sit on a train between Tel Aviv and Haifa and write these words to you without feeling like my life is at risk.

Of course, America is much bigger, and its terrorist enemies live across Asia and the Middle East, not just in the relatively small areas of the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and a few other places. Yes, America is much bigger — but then again, so is the federal budget, right?

Like all of us, I am greatly relieved that the Times Square car bomb didn’t go off, that we can talk about fear rather than death, about catching the perps rather than treating the wounded and comforting the bereaved. Judging from news reports, the bomb seems to be the work of amateurs more concerned with not being detected as they bought their supplies than with the actual deadliness of the explosion. Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary, has called it a “one-off.” Let’s hope she’s right.

Because if she’s not, what now looks like a policing success will start to look more and more like an intelligence failure. Here in Israel, the security of citizens has been bought after many years of fighting bombers, suicide and otherwise, the success of which battles forced our enemies to resort to lobbing rockets across the southern and northern borders — still a war, but somehow a lot more tolerable. Yes, part of it was good policing and the alert responses of civilians, some of them armed, in tough situations. And part of the credit goes to building a big, long wall between us and the terrorist hornet’s nests in the West Bank and Gaza. But the biggest factor in preventing terror attacks today is undoubtedly the vast intelligence apparatus that has prevented literally thousands of attacks like the Times Square bomb from being launched in the first place. Many of the IDF operations you hear about, and many more that never make the news, are acting on intel about planned terror attacks. Terrorists are arrested, sometimes killed, before they make it to our teeming public squares.

There is little one can do to prevent a determined nutcase, acting alone, from buying stuff that can blow up and parking his car in a public place. But if it turns out that the Taliban really were behind it, or that some other international terror group has determined to wreak havoc on New Yorkers again, the first question to ask will be why intel didn’t know about it in time to prevent it. It may sound unfair to place that kind of a burden on intelligence — after all, they can’t know everything, can they? But it’s been by setting the bar that high, and by allocating the resources to make it realistic, that has made it possible for me today to sit on a train between Tel Aviv and Haifa and write these words to you without feeling like my life is at risk.

Of course, America is much bigger, and its terrorist enemies live across Asia and the Middle East, not just in the relatively small areas of the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and a few other places. Yes, America is much bigger — but then again, so is the federal budget, right?

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Less Engagement on the Middle East, Please

It was George W. Bush’s supposed “cowboy diplomacy” — high-handed, unilateral, and dismissive of valued allies — that incurred the ire of the left. (Never mind that we had warm relations with Europe, Israel, India, and other democracies.) Yet it is Obama who is unrivaled when it comes to shunning allies. If consensus with allies was really the order of the day in the Obama era, we would not have pulled the rug out from our Eastern European allies, repeatedly snubbed the Brits, irritated the French, bullied the Hondurans, and assaulted the Israelis. Jackson Diehl observes:

Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been defined so far by his attempts to “engage” with adversaries or rivals of the United States, such as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. The results have been mixed. But now the president’s focus is visibly shifting. In the next 18 months, Obama’s record abroad will be made or broken by his ability to do business with two nominal U.S. allies: Hamid Karzai and Binyamin Netanyahu.

The Obami of late have tried to repair the frayed relationship with Karzai but have shown no indication that they desire a more hospitable relationship with Bibi. Diehl speculates that perhaps it was “hubris from health care that brought on this burst of presidential imperialism” that precipitated the public war of words with both Karzai and Bibi. But there is, I think, a fundamental  difference between the assault on each leader and the clean-up-the-mess gambit that has followed.

With Karzai, it appears that the Obami reacted out of pique and with the nastiness that surfaces whenever — be it a foreign leader, a cable-news network, or a Supreme Court justice — they are confronted with insufficiently obsequious rivals. But with regard to Karzai, the verbal fisticuffs did not imply a change of policy. The Obami are not pulling up stakes, at least not yet, in Afghanistan and seem committed, at least for the balance of Obama’s 18-month time frame, to achieving success.

Bibi is a different story. Here the deliberate and sustained assault (from the fit over Jerusalem housing to the threats of an imposed peace plan and an abstention in the UN Security  Council) suggests that more than personal ire or irritation is at play. Here Obama plainly intends — he’s told us as much — a change in American policy. The charm offensive is meant to quiet domestic Jewish opinion, not to repair or moderate its stance toward the Jewish state.

Diehl argues that a personal failing on Obama’s part is at the root of these conflicts. (“Public bullying won’t do it. Assurances of U.S. support and stroking by special envoys go only so far. What’s missing is personal chemistry and confidence, the construction of a bond between leaders that can persuade a U.S. ally to take a risk; in other words, presidential ‘engagement.’ Isn’t that what Obama promised?”) But with regard to Israel, there is something far more fundamental at issue. Despite the PR offensive, Obama’s goal is not to re-establish a more robust relationship with the Jewish state; it is merely to mask the animus that bubbled to the surface over the past two months. It is not through neglect that relations with Israel have been strained — it is by design. We therefore should not expect that increased presidential attention will result in an improved U.S.-Israel relationship. Frankly, the more Obama focuses on Israel, the more damage to the relationship is likely to occur. At this point, benign neglect would be a welcome development.

It was George W. Bush’s supposed “cowboy diplomacy” — high-handed, unilateral, and dismissive of valued allies — that incurred the ire of the left. (Never mind that we had warm relations with Europe, Israel, India, and other democracies.) Yet it is Obama who is unrivaled when it comes to shunning allies. If consensus with allies was really the order of the day in the Obama era, we would not have pulled the rug out from our Eastern European allies, repeatedly snubbed the Brits, irritated the French, bullied the Hondurans, and assaulted the Israelis. Jackson Diehl observes:

Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been defined so far by his attempts to “engage” with adversaries or rivals of the United States, such as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. The results have been mixed. But now the president’s focus is visibly shifting. In the next 18 months, Obama’s record abroad will be made or broken by his ability to do business with two nominal U.S. allies: Hamid Karzai and Binyamin Netanyahu.

The Obami of late have tried to repair the frayed relationship with Karzai but have shown no indication that they desire a more hospitable relationship with Bibi. Diehl speculates that perhaps it was “hubris from health care that brought on this burst of presidential imperialism” that precipitated the public war of words with both Karzai and Bibi. But there is, I think, a fundamental  difference between the assault on each leader and the clean-up-the-mess gambit that has followed.

With Karzai, it appears that the Obami reacted out of pique and with the nastiness that surfaces whenever — be it a foreign leader, a cable-news network, or a Supreme Court justice — they are confronted with insufficiently obsequious rivals. But with regard to Karzai, the verbal fisticuffs did not imply a change of policy. The Obami are not pulling up stakes, at least not yet, in Afghanistan and seem committed, at least for the balance of Obama’s 18-month time frame, to achieving success.

Bibi is a different story. Here the deliberate and sustained assault (from the fit over Jerusalem housing to the threats of an imposed peace plan and an abstention in the UN Security  Council) suggests that more than personal ire or irritation is at play. Here Obama plainly intends — he’s told us as much — a change in American policy. The charm offensive is meant to quiet domestic Jewish opinion, not to repair or moderate its stance toward the Jewish state.

Diehl argues that a personal failing on Obama’s part is at the root of these conflicts. (“Public bullying won’t do it. Assurances of U.S. support and stroking by special envoys go only so far. What’s missing is personal chemistry and confidence, the construction of a bond between leaders that can persuade a U.S. ally to take a risk; in other words, presidential ‘engagement.’ Isn’t that what Obama promised?”) But with regard to Israel, there is something far more fundamental at issue. Despite the PR offensive, Obama’s goal is not to re-establish a more robust relationship with the Jewish state; it is merely to mask the animus that bubbled to the surface over the past two months. It is not through neglect that relations with Israel have been strained — it is by design. We therefore should not expect that increased presidential attention will result in an improved U.S.-Israel relationship. Frankly, the more Obama focuses on Israel, the more damage to the relationship is likely to occur. At this point, benign neglect would be a welcome development.

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What Happens When Iran Gets the Bomb

John Bolton writes that we can no longer avoid the obvious: “There are only two options: Iran gets nuclear weapons, or someone uses pre-emptive military force to break Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle and paralyze its program, at least temporarily.” The watered-down sanctions under contemplation by the UN or being slow-walked through Congress are too little, too late. And as Bolton notes, it is virtually inconceivable that Obama will employ military force to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear plans. So where does that leave us? Bolton explains:

That leaves Israel, which the administration is implicitly threatening not to resupply with airplanes and weapons lost in attacking Iran—thereby rendering Israel vulnerable to potential retaliation from Hezbollah and Hamas.

It is hard to conclude anything except that the Obama administration is resigned to Iran possessing nuclear weapons. While U.S. policy makers will not welcome that outcome, they certainly hope as a corollary that Iran can be contained and deterred. Since they have ruled out the only immediate alternative, military force, they are doubtless now busy preparing to make lemonade out of this pile of lemons.

The notion that we can contain a nuclear-armed Iran is preposterous — for we are not containing an Iran that lacks a nuclear capability. For those who perceive a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state as literally “unacceptable” — not merely regrettable, as the Obami seem to — Bolton suggests that it is time to begin marshalling support for Israel’s military action:

We should recognize that an Israeli use of military force would be neither precipitate nor disproportionate, but only a last resort in anticipatory self-defense. Arab governments already understand that logic and largely share it themselves. Such a strike would advance both Israel’s and America’s security interests, and also those of the Arab states.

Nonetheless, the intellectual case for that strike must be better understood in advance by the American public and Congress in order to ensure a sympathetic reaction by Washington. Absent Israeli action, no one should base their future plans on anything except coping with a nuclear Iran.

That would seem to be a worthwhile endeavor for American Jewish officialdom. If they can’t bring themselves to confront the Obami on the lack of a serious American policy to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran (where are the howls of protest about the administrations’ efforts to carve out Russia and China from petroleum sanctions?) and cannot bear to withhold electoral or financial support from those throwing sand in the gears of unilateral action (i.e., congressional Democrats), then perhaps they can work on another project: garnering support for Israel if and when the Jewish state is compelled to strike. And if the “leaders” of American Jewry can’t do even that – at the very least demand that members of Congress and the administration provide support (diplomatic, financial, and otherwise) to Israel in a military confrontation with the Iranian regime? If not, these “leaders” have become at best irrelevant and at worst enablers of an administration paralyzed and seeking to paralyze Israel from removing an existential threat to itself.

John Bolton writes that we can no longer avoid the obvious: “There are only two options: Iran gets nuclear weapons, or someone uses pre-emptive military force to break Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle and paralyze its program, at least temporarily.” The watered-down sanctions under contemplation by the UN or being slow-walked through Congress are too little, too late. And as Bolton notes, it is virtually inconceivable that Obama will employ military force to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear plans. So where does that leave us? Bolton explains:

That leaves Israel, which the administration is implicitly threatening not to resupply with airplanes and weapons lost in attacking Iran—thereby rendering Israel vulnerable to potential retaliation from Hezbollah and Hamas.

It is hard to conclude anything except that the Obama administration is resigned to Iran possessing nuclear weapons. While U.S. policy makers will not welcome that outcome, they certainly hope as a corollary that Iran can be contained and deterred. Since they have ruled out the only immediate alternative, military force, they are doubtless now busy preparing to make lemonade out of this pile of lemons.

The notion that we can contain a nuclear-armed Iran is preposterous — for we are not containing an Iran that lacks a nuclear capability. For those who perceive a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state as literally “unacceptable” — not merely regrettable, as the Obami seem to — Bolton suggests that it is time to begin marshalling support for Israel’s military action:

We should recognize that an Israeli use of military force would be neither precipitate nor disproportionate, but only a last resort in anticipatory self-defense. Arab governments already understand that logic and largely share it themselves. Such a strike would advance both Israel’s and America’s security interests, and also those of the Arab states.

Nonetheless, the intellectual case for that strike must be better understood in advance by the American public and Congress in order to ensure a sympathetic reaction by Washington. Absent Israeli action, no one should base their future plans on anything except coping with a nuclear Iran.

That would seem to be a worthwhile endeavor for American Jewish officialdom. If they can’t bring themselves to confront the Obami on the lack of a serious American policy to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran (where are the howls of protest about the administrations’ efforts to carve out Russia and China from petroleum sanctions?) and cannot bear to withhold electoral or financial support from those throwing sand in the gears of unilateral action (i.e., congressional Democrats), then perhaps they can work on another project: garnering support for Israel if and when the Jewish state is compelled to strike. And if the “leaders” of American Jewry can’t do even that – at the very least demand that members of Congress and the administration provide support (diplomatic, financial, and otherwise) to Israel in a military confrontation with the Iranian regime? If not, these “leaders” have become at best irrelevant and at worst enablers of an administration paralyzed and seeking to paralyze Israel from removing an existential threat to itself.

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The Times Square Attack and the Effort to Redefine “Terrorism”

Bill Burck and Dana Perino write: “No one yet knows for sure who is responsible for the attempted terrorist attack in Times Square last night. It could be al-Qaeda or some other Islamist terrorist group, or some other group, or an individual acting on his or her own. Initial reports are that it may have been a crude bomb and a relatively amateur attack.” But they warn this should serve as a reminder:

[I]t should remind us that the federal officials who continue to insist that New York City is the best place to try KSM and other 9/11 terrorists are, frankly, out of their minds. Attorney General Eric Holder remains delusional on this front, as he has continued to say that a civilian trial in New York remains on the table, despite the uniform protest of all major New York public officials from the mayor to the police chief to the governor.

New York is the world’s number-one terrorist target, and has been since at least he first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Those who claim, in spite of all logic and experience, that New York could be secured if KSM were brought there for trial are either being misleading or are plain old crazy.

It does suggest that those devising the administration’s approach to terrorism do so without consideration of or contact with the real world. It is the stuff of academic theory and law-school textbooks, not of the real world or the potential peril faced by ordinary Americans.

Moreover, the incident and the ensuing coverage have highlighted that there is a new definitional game afoot. The administration, in concert with the mainstream media, has begun to set up a false dichotomy: on the one hand, the perpetrators are amateurs, “lone wolves”; on the other, they are “real” Islamic terrorists. But this is folly. Was Major Hassan an “amateur” because he hadn’t perfected his terror skills in previous attacks? Was he a lone wolf because he merely e-mailed a radical imam and did not receive specific instructions from an al-Qaeda operative? When we are dealing with an enemy that does not observe the rules of war and does not conduct battle operations in uniform or within a defined chain of command, these distinctions make little sense.

What matters is that there are Islamic fundamentalists who seek to wage war on the West. (New York Police Chief Raymond Kelly supplied a moment of clarity when he explained, “A terrorist act doesn’t necessarily have to be conducted by an organization. An individual can do it on their own.”) So the notion that we should all breathe a sigh of relief if a particular jihadist is merely inspired by, but not directly linked to, an al-Qaeda operation seems designed only to inure ourselves to the dangers we face and to transform these incidents into “crimes” rather than acts of war.

As the New York Times noted, “Investigators were reviewing similarities between the incident in Times Square and coordinated attacks in the summer of 2007 at a Glasgow airport and a London neighborhood of nightclubs and theaters. Both attacks involved cars containing propane and gasoline that did not explode. Those attacks, the authorities believed, had their roots in Iraq.” We will learn more as the investigation proceeds about whether this was, in fact, a jihadist-motivated attack. But we should not fall into the trap of imagining that the number or organization structure of the attackers is what defines “terrorism.” That’s a recipe for ignoring the danger posed by stunts like affording KSM a public trial — where more “lone wolves” will hear the call to wage war on America.

Bill Burck and Dana Perino write: “No one yet knows for sure who is responsible for the attempted terrorist attack in Times Square last night. It could be al-Qaeda or some other Islamist terrorist group, or some other group, or an individual acting on his or her own. Initial reports are that it may have been a crude bomb and a relatively amateur attack.” But they warn this should serve as a reminder:

[I]t should remind us that the federal officials who continue to insist that New York City is the best place to try KSM and other 9/11 terrorists are, frankly, out of their minds. Attorney General Eric Holder remains delusional on this front, as he has continued to say that a civilian trial in New York remains on the table, despite the uniform protest of all major New York public officials from the mayor to the police chief to the governor.

New York is the world’s number-one terrorist target, and has been since at least he first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Those who claim, in spite of all logic and experience, that New York could be secured if KSM were brought there for trial are either being misleading or are plain old crazy.

It does suggest that those devising the administration’s approach to terrorism do so without consideration of or contact with the real world. It is the stuff of academic theory and law-school textbooks, not of the real world or the potential peril faced by ordinary Americans.

Moreover, the incident and the ensuing coverage have highlighted that there is a new definitional game afoot. The administration, in concert with the mainstream media, has begun to set up a false dichotomy: on the one hand, the perpetrators are amateurs, “lone wolves”; on the other, they are “real” Islamic terrorists. But this is folly. Was Major Hassan an “amateur” because he hadn’t perfected his terror skills in previous attacks? Was he a lone wolf because he merely e-mailed a radical imam and did not receive specific instructions from an al-Qaeda operative? When we are dealing with an enemy that does not observe the rules of war and does not conduct battle operations in uniform or within a defined chain of command, these distinctions make little sense.

What matters is that there are Islamic fundamentalists who seek to wage war on the West. (New York Police Chief Raymond Kelly supplied a moment of clarity when he explained, “A terrorist act doesn’t necessarily have to be conducted by an organization. An individual can do it on their own.”) So the notion that we should all breathe a sigh of relief if a particular jihadist is merely inspired by, but not directly linked to, an al-Qaeda operation seems designed only to inure ourselves to the dangers we face and to transform these incidents into “crimes” rather than acts of war.

As the New York Times noted, “Investigators were reviewing similarities between the incident in Times Square and coordinated attacks in the summer of 2007 at a Glasgow airport and a London neighborhood of nightclubs and theaters. Both attacks involved cars containing propane and gasoline that did not explode. Those attacks, the authorities believed, had their roots in Iraq.” We will learn more as the investigation proceeds about whether this was, in fact, a jihadist-motivated attack. But we should not fall into the trap of imagining that the number or organization structure of the attackers is what defines “terrorism.” That’s a recipe for ignoring the danger posed by stunts like affording KSM a public trial — where more “lone wolves” will hear the call to wage war on America.

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RE: Obama’s Sudan Engagement

Hillary Clinton was asked about the administration’s Sudan policy on Meet the Press. She prattled on as follows:

Well, I would say that, number one, I can’t take anything seriously that Bashir says. He is an indicted war criminal. The United States is very committed to seeing him brought to justice. …

But here’s what we’re trying to do. When we came into office, Bashir threw out the groups, the nongovernmental organizations, who were providing most of the aid in the camps in Darfur, which could have been a disastrous humanitarian crisis. We were able to get a lot of the help back in and we’re beginning to see some slight progress in Darfur. I don’t want to overstate it because it is still a deplorable situation. But we are working to try to get the people back to their homes, out of the camps.

At the same time, you had this election going on. It was, by any measure, a flawed election. There were many, many things wrong with it. But there hadn’t been an election in many years, and so part of our goal was to try to empower opposition parties, empower people to go out and vote. Thousands and thousands did. The result, I think, was pretty much foreordained that Bashir would come out the winner, and that’s unfortunate. We are turning all of our attention to trying to help the South and to mitigate against the attitudes of the North. I can’t sit here and say that we are satisfied, because I’m certainly not satisfied with where we are and what we’re doing, but it is an immensely complicated arena.

Now, the United States could back off and say we won’t deal with these people, we’re not going to have anything to do with them, Bashir is a war criminal. I don’t think that will improve the situation. So along with our partners — the UK, Norway, neighboring countries — we are trying to manage what is a very explosive problem.

Is there a policy in there somewhere? The election was a fraud, but we shouldn’t expect anything better. We’re not accomplishing anything, but if we stop “engaging,” the situation won’t improve, so we keep engaging the war criminal. There is no mystery as to why Hillary blathers on without actually answering whether it’s time to review our Sudan policy. The administration is reluctant to admit failure and lacks an alternative approach. Hillary would at least get points for honesty if she’d say that engagement has been a failure and we’ve given the war criminal cover by appointing a farcical special envoy. Come to think of it, the same would be true of much of the Obama foreign policy.

Hillary Clinton was asked about the administration’s Sudan policy on Meet the Press. She prattled on as follows:

Well, I would say that, number one, I can’t take anything seriously that Bashir says. He is an indicted war criminal. The United States is very committed to seeing him brought to justice. …

But here’s what we’re trying to do. When we came into office, Bashir threw out the groups, the nongovernmental organizations, who were providing most of the aid in the camps in Darfur, which could have been a disastrous humanitarian crisis. We were able to get a lot of the help back in and we’re beginning to see some slight progress in Darfur. I don’t want to overstate it because it is still a deplorable situation. But we are working to try to get the people back to their homes, out of the camps.

At the same time, you had this election going on. It was, by any measure, a flawed election. There were many, many things wrong with it. But there hadn’t been an election in many years, and so part of our goal was to try to empower opposition parties, empower people to go out and vote. Thousands and thousands did. The result, I think, was pretty much foreordained that Bashir would come out the winner, and that’s unfortunate. We are turning all of our attention to trying to help the South and to mitigate against the attitudes of the North. I can’t sit here and say that we are satisfied, because I’m certainly not satisfied with where we are and what we’re doing, but it is an immensely complicated arena.

Now, the United States could back off and say we won’t deal with these people, we’re not going to have anything to do with them, Bashir is a war criminal. I don’t think that will improve the situation. So along with our partners — the UK, Norway, neighboring countries — we are trying to manage what is a very explosive problem.

Is there a policy in there somewhere? The election was a fraud, but we shouldn’t expect anything better. We’re not accomplishing anything, but if we stop “engaging,” the situation won’t improve, so we keep engaging the war criminal. There is no mystery as to why Hillary blathers on without actually answering whether it’s time to review our Sudan policy. The administration is reluctant to admit failure and lacks an alternative approach. Hillary would at least get points for honesty if she’d say that engagement has been a failure and we’ve given the war criminal cover by appointing a farcical special envoy. Come to think of it, the same would be true of much of the Obama foreign policy.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Perhaps the smartest thing Hillary Clinton has ever said: “I do not and have never wanted to be a judge. Never … That’s never been anything I’ve even let cross my mind, because it’s not in my personality.”

Another public consensus Obama will ignore: “Only 18% of Americans are willing to pay higher taxes to lower the federal budget deficit, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Sixty-nine percent (69%) are not willing to have their taxes raised to deal with deficits that are projected to rise to historic levels over the next decade. Thirteen percent (13%) more are not sure.”

The November midterm election results will be harder to ignore: “Republicans are on offense in scores of House and Senate races as persistent economic woes and lukewarm support for President Barack Obama continue to weaken Democrats’ hold on Congress. The president and his party are determined to minimize the losses six months before the November elections. But Democrats privately acknowledge the economy and support for Obama must improve before then to avoid the defeats that could cost them control of the House and possibly the Senate.”

Charlie Crist mastering the art of appearing entirely without principles on how he’d vote for Senate leadership: “I might not vote for either one. I’m going to vote for who I think would be best for the people of Florida. And if that happens to be a Democrat, so be it. If it happens to be a Republican, so be it. But I’ve got to look out for the people of my state.” He’s not even intelligible at this point.

Crist sure is Exhibit A for Marco Rubio’s argument: “One of the things that’s missing in politics today is people that will run on a platform and then go to Washington, D.C., and actually carry it out. … And I think with Charlie Crist, we don’t know what that platform is and we never will. You are never going to be able to hold him accountable to anything, because his opinions are going to change based upon what the polling tells him or his political convenience tells him.”

Amateurs also brought down the Twin Towers: “Authorities reopened Times Square Sunday morning but urged vigilance after an apparently ‘amateurish’ but potentially dangerous car bomb failed to detonate. New York police said that bomb would have caused a “sizeable” number of deaths and injuries if it had gone off. … A U.S. counterterrorism official said that investigators had not determined whether the attempted bombing was part of a plot by al-Qaeda or another terrorist group.”

Fine as far as it goes: “US Jewish groups, gearing up for the Iranian leader’s visit to New York, have recently voiced loud opposition to Ahmadinejad’s participation in the NPT conference. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations contacted ambassadors of UN member states, and placed newspaper ads to appear on Monday, urging diplomats to walk out with he speaks on Monday morning.” But what about the Obami’s undermining of sanctions? Or allowing Iran to join the Commission on the Status of Women? No ads about that.

Megan McCardle raps the Beagle Blogger for swooning over GM’s “repayment” of some of the taxpayers’ money: “Am I really supposed to get excited by the astonishing revelation that when you pour tens of billions of dollars into a couple of failed companies, some of that money will end up in someone’s pocket, somewhere?  Maybe it’s the slightly-above 50% capacity utilization at our dying giants that should put a smile on my face and a song in my heart? … Perhaps I should just be happy to know that GM has taken some of the government money we gave it and ‘repaid’ its multi-billion dollar loan by giving our own money back to us, while still losing billions more. … I am genuinely struggling to come up with what principled argument [Me: Assumes facts not in evidence!] Andrew might be making in his head for what has always struck me as a pretty blatant handout to a powerful Democratic interest group.”

Perhaps the smartest thing Hillary Clinton has ever said: “I do not and have never wanted to be a judge. Never … That’s never been anything I’ve even let cross my mind, because it’s not in my personality.”

Another public consensus Obama will ignore: “Only 18% of Americans are willing to pay higher taxes to lower the federal budget deficit, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Sixty-nine percent (69%) are not willing to have their taxes raised to deal with deficits that are projected to rise to historic levels over the next decade. Thirteen percent (13%) more are not sure.”

The November midterm election results will be harder to ignore: “Republicans are on offense in scores of House and Senate races as persistent economic woes and lukewarm support for President Barack Obama continue to weaken Democrats’ hold on Congress. The president and his party are determined to minimize the losses six months before the November elections. But Democrats privately acknowledge the economy and support for Obama must improve before then to avoid the defeats that could cost them control of the House and possibly the Senate.”

Charlie Crist mastering the art of appearing entirely without principles on how he’d vote for Senate leadership: “I might not vote for either one. I’m going to vote for who I think would be best for the people of Florida. And if that happens to be a Democrat, so be it. If it happens to be a Republican, so be it. But I’ve got to look out for the people of my state.” He’s not even intelligible at this point.

Crist sure is Exhibit A for Marco Rubio’s argument: “One of the things that’s missing in politics today is people that will run on a platform and then go to Washington, D.C., and actually carry it out. … And I think with Charlie Crist, we don’t know what that platform is and we never will. You are never going to be able to hold him accountable to anything, because his opinions are going to change based upon what the polling tells him or his political convenience tells him.”

Amateurs also brought down the Twin Towers: “Authorities reopened Times Square Sunday morning but urged vigilance after an apparently ‘amateurish’ but potentially dangerous car bomb failed to detonate. New York police said that bomb would have caused a “sizeable” number of deaths and injuries if it had gone off. … A U.S. counterterrorism official said that investigators had not determined whether the attempted bombing was part of a plot by al-Qaeda or another terrorist group.”

Fine as far as it goes: “US Jewish groups, gearing up for the Iranian leader’s visit to New York, have recently voiced loud opposition to Ahmadinejad’s participation in the NPT conference. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations contacted ambassadors of UN member states, and placed newspaper ads to appear on Monday, urging diplomats to walk out with he speaks on Monday morning.” But what about the Obami’s undermining of sanctions? Or allowing Iran to join the Commission on the Status of Women? No ads about that.

Megan McCardle raps the Beagle Blogger for swooning over GM’s “repayment” of some of the taxpayers’ money: “Am I really supposed to get excited by the astonishing revelation that when you pour tens of billions of dollars into a couple of failed companies, some of that money will end up in someone’s pocket, somewhere?  Maybe it’s the slightly-above 50% capacity utilization at our dying giants that should put a smile on my face and a song in my heart? … Perhaps I should just be happy to know that GM has taken some of the government money we gave it and ‘repaid’ its multi-billion dollar loan by giving our own money back to us, while still losing billions more. … I am genuinely struggling to come up with what principled argument [Me: Assumes facts not in evidence!] Andrew might be making in his head for what has always struck me as a pretty blatant handout to a powerful Democratic interest group.”

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