Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 25, 2010

Another Day, Another Security Leak

The New York Times reported Monday that General David Petraeus issued a secret directive in September, expanding covert military operations in the Middle East. The author, Mark Mazzetti, states that the Times’ staff has viewed a copy of the document. Preparation for the article included speaking to government officials who discussed its contents only on condition of anonymity, because it’s classified.

Fortunately, our information security usually works better than this. Leaks of national-security secrets are the exception and not the rule. But once again, someone on the government payroll, with a clearance, and with knowledge of classified current operations, has broken the law by disclosing what he knows to unauthorized recipients in the press.

It’s unlikely that we will be told someday that the leaker of the Petraeus directive took action because of sleepless nights and professional agony, as Newsweek reported in 2008 of one warrantless-wiretapping leaker who called the New York Times in 2004. In the case of the Petraeus directive, there is no apparent reason for a leaker to be motivated by concern about government overreach or civil rights. Perhaps the motive is disagreement with the policy.

But these leakers aren’t romantic heroes; they are people breaking their government’s security oaths. Thomas Tamm, the known wiretapping leaker, has been investigated (and lionized by the left) but never prosecuted. Yet it’s clear he broke his security oath by going to the media. It’s also clear from the Newsweek story that he came nowhere near exhausting his lawful options for registering concern about the wiretapping program. He apparently talked to a former colleague on the Senate Judiciary Committee — but not to his full chain of command at the Justice Department, to the Justice Department Inspector General, or to the intelligence oversight committee of either house of Congress.

James Risen, the Times reporter who broke the wiretapping story, was subpoenaed by Eric Holder last month to disclose the government sources for another of his classified revelations: this one involving information about U.S. efforts against Iran in his 2006 book State of War. Risen has refused to comply. His fate is uncertain; presumably, he might be jailed for contempt of court as Judith Miller was in the Valerie Plame Wilson case.

Miller ultimately agreed to testify after obtaining immunity. While the Plame Wilson case is not the best example of the real problems created by national-security leaks, the outcome with Miller was the right one for more genuinely damaging cases. The “journalist shield” exception should not protect government leakers who are committing felonies by the very act of disclosing classified information to the press.  Journalists should have to tell the authorities who they are.

The New York Times reported Monday that General David Petraeus issued a secret directive in September, expanding covert military operations in the Middle East. The author, Mark Mazzetti, states that the Times’ staff has viewed a copy of the document. Preparation for the article included speaking to government officials who discussed its contents only on condition of anonymity, because it’s classified.

Fortunately, our information security usually works better than this. Leaks of national-security secrets are the exception and not the rule. But once again, someone on the government payroll, with a clearance, and with knowledge of classified current operations, has broken the law by disclosing what he knows to unauthorized recipients in the press.

It’s unlikely that we will be told someday that the leaker of the Petraeus directive took action because of sleepless nights and professional agony, as Newsweek reported in 2008 of one warrantless-wiretapping leaker who called the New York Times in 2004. In the case of the Petraeus directive, there is no apparent reason for a leaker to be motivated by concern about government overreach or civil rights. Perhaps the motive is disagreement with the policy.

But these leakers aren’t romantic heroes; they are people breaking their government’s security oaths. Thomas Tamm, the known wiretapping leaker, has been investigated (and lionized by the left) but never prosecuted. Yet it’s clear he broke his security oath by going to the media. It’s also clear from the Newsweek story that he came nowhere near exhausting his lawful options for registering concern about the wiretapping program. He apparently talked to a former colleague on the Senate Judiciary Committee — but not to his full chain of command at the Justice Department, to the Justice Department Inspector General, or to the intelligence oversight committee of either house of Congress.

James Risen, the Times reporter who broke the wiretapping story, was subpoenaed by Eric Holder last month to disclose the government sources for another of his classified revelations: this one involving information about U.S. efforts against Iran in his 2006 book State of War. Risen has refused to comply. His fate is uncertain; presumably, he might be jailed for contempt of court as Judith Miller was in the Valerie Plame Wilson case.

Miller ultimately agreed to testify after obtaining immunity. While the Plame Wilson case is not the best example of the real problems created by national-security leaks, the outcome with Miller was the right one for more genuinely damaging cases. The “journalist shield” exception should not protect government leakers who are committing felonies by the very act of disclosing classified information to the press.  Journalists should have to tell the authorities who they are.

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Connecticut GOP Is Stuck with McMahon and Her WWF Baggage

Only days after a staggering blunder by Connecticut Democratic Senate nominee Richard Blumenthal seemed to raise the stock of Republican Rob Simmons in his attempt to snare the GOP nod, the former congressman has bowed out of the race.

The Hartford Courant reports that Simmons announced today that he is ending his campaign for the Senate after the state Republican Convention endorsed his opponent Linda McMahon on Friday. The revelation that Blumenthal had lied repeatedly about his military service should have helped Simmons, since unlike the state’s attorney general, he was a veteran who had actually served in Vietnam and had been decorated for his actions. But the story, which seems to have been uncovered by researchers working for the McMahon campaign, didn’t help Simmons. Instead, it merely demonstrated to Connecticut Republicans that the wealthy McMahon had unlimited resources and thus was, by definition, the more viable candidate.

Simmons, who received 46 percent of the state convention vote, could have forced a primary against the former World Wrestling Federation CEO, but in pulling out he said, “We understand the mathematical reality of competing against an opponent with unlimited financial resources who has already invested … $16.5 million in this campaign.” McMahon has been quoted as saying that she will spend up to $50 million of her own money to win a Senate seat.

Simmons’s decision not to try and knock off McMahon in the primary is good news for the latter and is being greeted with acclaim by Connecticut Republicans who were eager to avoid a bruising and divisive intra-party battle before facing off against the well-financed and, up until last week, heavily favored Blumenthal.

But the fact that McMahon is now the overwhelming favorite to be the GOP nominee is also good news for Blumenthal. Rather than finding himself juxtaposed against a genuine war hero, whose mere presence on the ballot would have reminded voters of his Vietnam lies, a well-heeled but highly vulnerable opponent will oppose the Democrat. The shady background of the WWF is fertile ground for the Democrats’ own opposition researchers, whose efforts will be redoubled after Blumenthal’s “Vietnam veteran” fiasco.

Republicans may be right in thinking that Blumenthal has been irreparably damaged by his Vietnam falsehoods and the self-righteous way he sought to evade apologizing for “misspeaking” about his military record. But they need to brace themselves for what will undoubtedly be months of stories about the WWF, the most flattering of which will center on its unsavory if comical promotion of violence and steroid abuse. In a year in which anti-establishment fervor seems to be the keynote of political discourse, an unconventional candidate like McMahon might have a chance, especially against a compromised figure like Blumenthal. But it is far from certain she will be able to weather the sort of scrutiny that her candidacy will mandate. McMahon’s involvement in what has always been thought a less than respectable business may have given her the wherewithal to damage Blumenthal and sink Simmons, but it may also prove the undoing of the GOP in Connecticut.

Only days after a staggering blunder by Connecticut Democratic Senate nominee Richard Blumenthal seemed to raise the stock of Republican Rob Simmons in his attempt to snare the GOP nod, the former congressman has bowed out of the race.

The Hartford Courant reports that Simmons announced today that he is ending his campaign for the Senate after the state Republican Convention endorsed his opponent Linda McMahon on Friday. The revelation that Blumenthal had lied repeatedly about his military service should have helped Simmons, since unlike the state’s attorney general, he was a veteran who had actually served in Vietnam and had been decorated for his actions. But the story, which seems to have been uncovered by researchers working for the McMahon campaign, didn’t help Simmons. Instead, it merely demonstrated to Connecticut Republicans that the wealthy McMahon had unlimited resources and thus was, by definition, the more viable candidate.

Simmons, who received 46 percent of the state convention vote, could have forced a primary against the former World Wrestling Federation CEO, but in pulling out he said, “We understand the mathematical reality of competing against an opponent with unlimited financial resources who has already invested … $16.5 million in this campaign.” McMahon has been quoted as saying that she will spend up to $50 million of her own money to win a Senate seat.

Simmons’s decision not to try and knock off McMahon in the primary is good news for the latter and is being greeted with acclaim by Connecticut Republicans who were eager to avoid a bruising and divisive intra-party battle before facing off against the well-financed and, up until last week, heavily favored Blumenthal.

But the fact that McMahon is now the overwhelming favorite to be the GOP nominee is also good news for Blumenthal. Rather than finding himself juxtaposed against a genuine war hero, whose mere presence on the ballot would have reminded voters of his Vietnam lies, a well-heeled but highly vulnerable opponent will oppose the Democrat. The shady background of the WWF is fertile ground for the Democrats’ own opposition researchers, whose efforts will be redoubled after Blumenthal’s “Vietnam veteran” fiasco.

Republicans may be right in thinking that Blumenthal has been irreparably damaged by his Vietnam falsehoods and the self-righteous way he sought to evade apologizing for “misspeaking” about his military record. But they need to brace themselves for what will undoubtedly be months of stories about the WWF, the most flattering of which will center on its unsavory if comical promotion of violence and steroid abuse. In a year in which anti-establishment fervor seems to be the keynote of political discourse, an unconventional candidate like McMahon might have a chance, especially against a compromised figure like Blumenthal. But it is far from certain she will be able to weather the sort of scrutiny that her candidacy will mandate. McMahon’s involvement in what has always been thought a less than respectable business may have given her the wherewithal to damage Blumenthal and sink Simmons, but it may also prove the undoing of the GOP in Connecticut.

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Progress on Crime

According to the FBI’s Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report (see here and here), compared with data from 2008, violent crime in America decreased by 5.5 percent; property crime declined by 4.9 percent; and arson offenses declined by 10.4 percent.

When disaggregating the data, we find that all four violent crime offenses — murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault — declined. Robbery dropped by 8.1 percent; murder by 7.2 percent; aggravated assault by 4.2 percent; and forcible rape by 3.1 percent. Violent crime declined by 4 percent in the nation’s metropolitan counties and by 3 percent in non-metropolitan counties. And all four regions in the nation showed decreases in violent crime in 2009 compared with data from 2008. Violent crime decreased by 6.6 percent in the South, 5.6 percent in the West, 4.6 percent in the Midwest, and 3.5 percent in the Northeast.

In addition, all property crime offenses — burglary, larceny-theft, and motor-vehicle theft — decreased in 2009 compared with 2008 data. Motor-vehicle theft showed the largest drop in volume, by 17.2 percent, larceny-thefts declined by 4.2 percent, and burglaries decreased by 1.7 percent.

The figures, which are still preliminary, indicate a third straight year of crime decreases, along with a sharply accelerating rate of decline.

The New York Times begins its story by saying, “Despite turmoil in the economy and high unemployment, crimes rates fell significantly across the Unites States in 2009.” Richard Rosenfeld, a sociologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said, “That’s a remarkable decline, given the economic conditions.”

Actually, it’s not all that remarkable. Crime rates, for example, fell significantly during the Great Depression. As David Rubinstein of the University of Illinois has pointed out, if you chart homicide beginning in 1900, its rates began to rise in 1905, continued through the prosperous 20s, and crested in 1933. They began to decline in 1934, as the Great Depression began to deepen. And between 1933 and 1940, the murder rate dropped by nearly 40 percent, while property crimes revealed a similar pattern. One possible explanation is that times of crisis, including economic crisis, create greater social cohesion.

The drop in all levels of crime since the early 90s has been staggering and counts as a truly remarkable success story. There are undoubtedly many explanations for it, from higher incarceration rates to private security to improved technology. But surely advances in policing deserve a healthy share of the credit. As William Bratton, the former police chief in Los Angeles and New York has said: “We’ve gotten better at spotting crime trends more quickly. We can respond much more quickly.”

It’s perhaps worth noting that at a time when faith in many public institutions, including government and the media, is almost nonexistent, two institutions that command public trust are the military and law-enforcement officials. It’s no surprise, either, as they have impressive results to show for their efforts — from the battlefields in Iraq to the streets of New York.

One final thought: one of the things that characterized the 70s was a deep distrust of authority and of symbols of authority. Animus and disrespect were directed against our military and our cops. The former were accused of war crimes because of their service to our country in Vietnam; the latter were called pigs. Today the situation is dramatically reversed and dramatically better. In that sense, and in many other respects, our nation is a great deal better off than in the 70s.

We certainly have our share of social challenges. But in addressing them, we shouldn’t forget about the progress we have made, both practically and in terms of some of our social attitudes.

According to the FBI’s Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report (see here and here), compared with data from 2008, violent crime in America decreased by 5.5 percent; property crime declined by 4.9 percent; and arson offenses declined by 10.4 percent.

When disaggregating the data, we find that all four violent crime offenses — murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault — declined. Robbery dropped by 8.1 percent; murder by 7.2 percent; aggravated assault by 4.2 percent; and forcible rape by 3.1 percent. Violent crime declined by 4 percent in the nation’s metropolitan counties and by 3 percent in non-metropolitan counties. And all four regions in the nation showed decreases in violent crime in 2009 compared with data from 2008. Violent crime decreased by 6.6 percent in the South, 5.6 percent in the West, 4.6 percent in the Midwest, and 3.5 percent in the Northeast.

In addition, all property crime offenses — burglary, larceny-theft, and motor-vehicle theft — decreased in 2009 compared with 2008 data. Motor-vehicle theft showed the largest drop in volume, by 17.2 percent, larceny-thefts declined by 4.2 percent, and burglaries decreased by 1.7 percent.

The figures, which are still preliminary, indicate a third straight year of crime decreases, along with a sharply accelerating rate of decline.

The New York Times begins its story by saying, “Despite turmoil in the economy and high unemployment, crimes rates fell significantly across the Unites States in 2009.” Richard Rosenfeld, a sociologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said, “That’s a remarkable decline, given the economic conditions.”

Actually, it’s not all that remarkable. Crime rates, for example, fell significantly during the Great Depression. As David Rubinstein of the University of Illinois has pointed out, if you chart homicide beginning in 1900, its rates began to rise in 1905, continued through the prosperous 20s, and crested in 1933. They began to decline in 1934, as the Great Depression began to deepen. And between 1933 and 1940, the murder rate dropped by nearly 40 percent, while property crimes revealed a similar pattern. One possible explanation is that times of crisis, including economic crisis, create greater social cohesion.

The drop in all levels of crime since the early 90s has been staggering and counts as a truly remarkable success story. There are undoubtedly many explanations for it, from higher incarceration rates to private security to improved technology. But surely advances in policing deserve a healthy share of the credit. As William Bratton, the former police chief in Los Angeles and New York has said: “We’ve gotten better at spotting crime trends more quickly. We can respond much more quickly.”

It’s perhaps worth noting that at a time when faith in many public institutions, including government and the media, is almost nonexistent, two institutions that command public trust are the military and law-enforcement officials. It’s no surprise, either, as they have impressive results to show for their efforts — from the battlefields in Iraq to the streets of New York.

One final thought: one of the things that characterized the 70s was a deep distrust of authority and of symbols of authority. Animus and disrespect were directed against our military and our cops. The former were accused of war crimes because of their service to our country in Vietnam; the latter were called pigs. Today the situation is dramatically reversed and dramatically better. In that sense, and in many other respects, our nation is a great deal better off than in the 70s.

We certainly have our share of social challenges. But in addressing them, we shouldn’t forget about the progress we have made, both practically and in terms of some of our social attitudes.

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Covert Operations Story Evades White House “Jihad” on Leaks

Politico reported today that a White House “jihad” against leaks of government information exacted a heavy toll on a former FBI official who was sentenced to 20 months in prison for passing classified information to a member of the media. The story describes the rigorous prosecution of former FBI linguist Shamai Leibowitz as just the latest instance of an Obama administration decision to crack down on leaking.

What, exactly, Leibowitz leaked went unmentioned in court, and even the sentencing judge admitted that he didn’t know what was leaked or what impact it might have had on policy. In accepting responsibility for his crime, Leibowitz admitted he had erred but said he was “trying to bring to light something he considered illegal.”

Obama’s insistence on prosecuting leakers is interesting, considering the ruckus raised by liberals over government secrecy during the George W. Bush administration. In those days, liberals considered leakers of secret information “whistle blowers,” not felons, even if they were spilling the beans about the most sensitive matters regarding measures against al-Qaeda terror attacks — for example, the New York Times published the details of a warrant-less wiretapping program in 2005. The Times was lauded on the left for blowing up a successful counter-terror operation, but the man whom the same newspaper backed for the presidency in 2008 seems to be treating any similar leaks of information about his administration’s actions as worthy of prison time, not Pulitzers.

However, a story published the same day in the Times leads one to wonder just how committed the administration really is to stopping leaks. Today’s newspaper led its front page with a story about a “broad expansion of clandestine military activity” to disrupt terror groups in the Middle East. It spoke of a “secret directive” signed last fall by Gen. David Petraeus that authorizes the sending of American troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the region to gather intelligence and possibly pave the way for military strikes in Iran. It said the order was a “more systematic” and “long term” version of previous actions ordered by the Bush administration.

The story went on to claim that “some Pentagon officials worry that the expanded role carries risks” and that “several government officials who described the impetus for the order” that the Times reporters appear to have read (they said it stretched over seven pages) did so anonymously.

All of which raises the question of who exactly leaked this story and why. Was it a leak from the White House? If so, is it an effort to bolster the president’s reputation as tough on security? An attempted signal to Tehran that the administration means business about stopping Iran’s nuclear program? (That might be wishful thinking, but let’s hope Tehran doesn’t treat it as a bluff.) Or was it a Pentagon leak by those within the administration or the military who might oppose a more forward American policy against terror or the threat from Iran? We don’t know the answer to those questions, but if the White House response to this leak is tepid rather than white-hot outrage, that might be considered a clue.

At any rate, I’ll bet that Mr. Leibowitz and members of the media who have been placed under investigation for publishing leaks that the White House didn’t approve of will be looking to see whether similar draconian treatment is meted out to Times reporters Mark Mazzetti, Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt for their story.

Politico reported today that a White House “jihad” against leaks of government information exacted a heavy toll on a former FBI official who was sentenced to 20 months in prison for passing classified information to a member of the media. The story describes the rigorous prosecution of former FBI linguist Shamai Leibowitz as just the latest instance of an Obama administration decision to crack down on leaking.

What, exactly, Leibowitz leaked went unmentioned in court, and even the sentencing judge admitted that he didn’t know what was leaked or what impact it might have had on policy. In accepting responsibility for his crime, Leibowitz admitted he had erred but said he was “trying to bring to light something he considered illegal.”

Obama’s insistence on prosecuting leakers is interesting, considering the ruckus raised by liberals over government secrecy during the George W. Bush administration. In those days, liberals considered leakers of secret information “whistle blowers,” not felons, even if they were spilling the beans about the most sensitive matters regarding measures against al-Qaeda terror attacks — for example, the New York Times published the details of a warrant-less wiretapping program in 2005. The Times was lauded on the left for blowing up a successful counter-terror operation, but the man whom the same newspaper backed for the presidency in 2008 seems to be treating any similar leaks of information about his administration’s actions as worthy of prison time, not Pulitzers.

However, a story published the same day in the Times leads one to wonder just how committed the administration really is to stopping leaks. Today’s newspaper led its front page with a story about a “broad expansion of clandestine military activity” to disrupt terror groups in the Middle East. It spoke of a “secret directive” signed last fall by Gen. David Petraeus that authorizes the sending of American troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the region to gather intelligence and possibly pave the way for military strikes in Iran. It said the order was a “more systematic” and “long term” version of previous actions ordered by the Bush administration.

The story went on to claim that “some Pentagon officials worry that the expanded role carries risks” and that “several government officials who described the impetus for the order” that the Times reporters appear to have read (they said it stretched over seven pages) did so anonymously.

All of which raises the question of who exactly leaked this story and why. Was it a leak from the White House? If so, is it an effort to bolster the president’s reputation as tough on security? An attempted signal to Tehran that the administration means business about stopping Iran’s nuclear program? (That might be wishful thinking, but let’s hope Tehran doesn’t treat it as a bluff.) Or was it a Pentagon leak by those within the administration or the military who might oppose a more forward American policy against terror or the threat from Iran? We don’t know the answer to those questions, but if the White House response to this leak is tepid rather than white-hot outrage, that might be considered a clue.

At any rate, I’ll bet that Mr. Leibowitz and members of the media who have been placed under investigation for publishing leaks that the White House didn’t approve of will be looking to see whether similar draconian treatment is meted out to Times reporters Mark Mazzetti, Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt for their story.

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The Solution Is in Damascus and Tehran

Adam Brodsky at the New York Post says that if Israel wants to kneecap Iran, it should take out Hezbollah in Lebanon. That would indeed go a long way toward rolling back Tehran’s imperial ambitions in the Middle East. Hezbollah moonlights as a Syrian proxy militia, but it is first and foremost Iranian “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei’s army in Lebanon, effectively the Mediterranean branch of the Pasdaran.

It’s also the most resilient and capable terrorist army in the world and, for that very reason, difficult to root out conventionally. The Israel Defense Forces fought Hezbollah to a standstill between 1982 and 2000 and failed to destroy it during the Second Lebanon War in July and August of 2006. Hezbollah emerged stronger than ever after the 18-year counterinsurgency in 2000 and emerged stronger still from the 2006 war. After neutralizing the Lebanese government during another short war in the spring of 2008, it is now, like Israel itself, an undefeated heavyweight of the Levant.

Effective counterinsurgency of the type General David Petraeus waged in Iraq is impossible for Israel in Lebanon for three reasons. First, it takes a long time, years when applied correctly, and time is something Israel just doesn’t have. Second, the American counterinsurgency effort in Iraq would have failed if the insurgents hadn’t murdered and terrorized so many Iraqis while fighting Americans — something Hezbollah is most unlikely to do in the Shia regions of Lebanon where it is embedded. Third, anti-Israel sentiment is too broad and too deep in Lebanon for the IDF to recruit sufficient local assistance — especially after the abrupt collapse of its allies in the South Lebanon Army following the withdrawal in 2000.

Prior to getting bogged down in Lebanon in the early 1980s, the Israelis racked up one lightning fast military victory over their enemies after another. That was before hostile Middle Eastern governments learned they stood no chance of prevailing in conventional warfare and before they opted for asymmetric terrorist warfare instead. Hit-and-run guerrilla tactics work for them, sort of, so it’s in the interest of those who haven’t yet made peace with Israel, or at least acceded to some kind of modus vivendi, to keep at it.

It is therefore not in Jerusalem’s interests to let them. Israel has a perfect record against standing state armies in the Middle East foolish enough to pick fights they can’t win. So why agree to fight some of the very same states asymmetrically in wars with ambiguous endings?

The Israelis should consider returning to what they do best, if and when they have to fight again. If they want to beat their enemies rather than fight to bloody and destructive standstills, they’ll wage the kind of war they’re good at and shatter one or both of the governments that field third-party proxies against them.

Adam Brodsky at the New York Post says that if Israel wants to kneecap Iran, it should take out Hezbollah in Lebanon. That would indeed go a long way toward rolling back Tehran’s imperial ambitions in the Middle East. Hezbollah moonlights as a Syrian proxy militia, but it is first and foremost Iranian “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei’s army in Lebanon, effectively the Mediterranean branch of the Pasdaran.

It’s also the most resilient and capable terrorist army in the world and, for that very reason, difficult to root out conventionally. The Israel Defense Forces fought Hezbollah to a standstill between 1982 and 2000 and failed to destroy it during the Second Lebanon War in July and August of 2006. Hezbollah emerged stronger than ever after the 18-year counterinsurgency in 2000 and emerged stronger still from the 2006 war. After neutralizing the Lebanese government during another short war in the spring of 2008, it is now, like Israel itself, an undefeated heavyweight of the Levant.

Effective counterinsurgency of the type General David Petraeus waged in Iraq is impossible for Israel in Lebanon for three reasons. First, it takes a long time, years when applied correctly, and time is something Israel just doesn’t have. Second, the American counterinsurgency effort in Iraq would have failed if the insurgents hadn’t murdered and terrorized so many Iraqis while fighting Americans — something Hezbollah is most unlikely to do in the Shia regions of Lebanon where it is embedded. Third, anti-Israel sentiment is too broad and too deep in Lebanon for the IDF to recruit sufficient local assistance — especially after the abrupt collapse of its allies in the South Lebanon Army following the withdrawal in 2000.

Prior to getting bogged down in Lebanon in the early 1980s, the Israelis racked up one lightning fast military victory over their enemies after another. That was before hostile Middle Eastern governments learned they stood no chance of prevailing in conventional warfare and before they opted for asymmetric terrorist warfare instead. Hit-and-run guerrilla tactics work for them, sort of, so it’s in the interest of those who haven’t yet made peace with Israel, or at least acceded to some kind of modus vivendi, to keep at it.

It is therefore not in Jerusalem’s interests to let them. Israel has a perfect record against standing state armies in the Middle East foolish enough to pick fights they can’t win. So why agree to fight some of the very same states asymmetrically in wars with ambiguous endings?

The Israelis should consider returning to what they do best, if and when they have to fight again. If they want to beat their enemies rather than fight to bloody and destructive standstills, they’ll wage the kind of war they’re good at and shatter one or both of the governments that field third-party proxies against them.

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Fiorina Pulls Ahead

When the Survey USA poll came out showing Carly Fiorina ahead in the California Senate race, I wondered whether it was out of whack. That poll hasn’t always been a reliable indicator. But then Public Policy Polling — a Democratic poll — comes out with this:

Carly Fiorina’s superior resources always had the potential to blow her opponents for the California Republican Senate nomination out of the water, and in the closing stretch that appears to be exactly what’s happening. Fiorina has now opened up a 20 point lead with 41% to 21% for Tom Campbell and 16% for Chuck DeVore.

Even if these polls are somewhat off, it seems like Fiorina has pulled ahead just in the nick of time. But why?

Having lived most of my life in California, I can tell you that politics is not at the center of most people’s lives there, and in off-year elections and primaries, voters don’t often pay much attention until a week or so before the election. The lead for Campbell was ephemeral and built largely on name recognition.

Second, the GOP primary electorate is conservative, and Campbell isn’t. “Campbell actually leads the way among moderate voters, 32-30 over Fiorina. But Campbell is a distant third among conservatives with 15%, running slightly behind DeVore at 19% and way behind Fiorina’s 47% standing. The attacks on Campbell’s moderation are clearly proving to be effective.” It may well be that a part of this is Campbell’s voting record, statements on Israel (remember, the Republican Party is the one that adores the Jewish state), and engagement with and campaign donations from radical Muslim groups.

Third, Campbell has run out of money and enjoys little or no TV presence. That may be a function of No. 2, but — in any case — Fiorina has out-raised him and out-hustled him. She is now, as Public Policy Polling puts it, “the overwhelming favorite.”

As a side note, I received a Facebook invitation to a rally for Campbell scheduled for June 8. Uh, maybe one problem is that the Campbell team hasn’t really targeted the right audience.

When the Survey USA poll came out showing Carly Fiorina ahead in the California Senate race, I wondered whether it was out of whack. That poll hasn’t always been a reliable indicator. But then Public Policy Polling — a Democratic poll — comes out with this:

Carly Fiorina’s superior resources always had the potential to blow her opponents for the California Republican Senate nomination out of the water, and in the closing stretch that appears to be exactly what’s happening. Fiorina has now opened up a 20 point lead with 41% to 21% for Tom Campbell and 16% for Chuck DeVore.

Even if these polls are somewhat off, it seems like Fiorina has pulled ahead just in the nick of time. But why?

Having lived most of my life in California, I can tell you that politics is not at the center of most people’s lives there, and in off-year elections and primaries, voters don’t often pay much attention until a week or so before the election. The lead for Campbell was ephemeral and built largely on name recognition.

Second, the GOP primary electorate is conservative, and Campbell isn’t. “Campbell actually leads the way among moderate voters, 32-30 over Fiorina. But Campbell is a distant third among conservatives with 15%, running slightly behind DeVore at 19% and way behind Fiorina’s 47% standing. The attacks on Campbell’s moderation are clearly proving to be effective.” It may well be that a part of this is Campbell’s voting record, statements on Israel (remember, the Republican Party is the one that adores the Jewish state), and engagement with and campaign donations from radical Muslim groups.

Third, Campbell has run out of money and enjoys little or no TV presence. That may be a function of No. 2, but — in any case — Fiorina has out-raised him and out-hustled him. She is now, as Public Policy Polling puts it, “the overwhelming favorite.”

As a side note, I received a Facebook invitation to a rally for Campbell scheduled for June 8. Uh, maybe one problem is that the Campbell team hasn’t really targeted the right audience.

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A New Low for Obama

Obama and his spinners keep saying that the president will head out to campaign for all the endangered Democrats. But they might want to reconsider, in light of this:

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Tuesday shows that 24% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as president. Forty-four percent (44%) Strongly Disapprove, giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -20. … Overall, 42% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the president’s performance. That is the lowest level of approval yet measured for this president.

Perhaps it is a blip, but it is also quite possible that the combination of a sluggish economy, a jittery stock market, and Obama’s non-handling of the BP spill is taking its toll. The primary elections have also refocused the voters on Obama and on how closely or not candidates should cling to him. Whatever the cause, if this keeps up, the damage to the Democratic Party in November will be great because, more than the economy or any other factor, it is the president’s standing that affects his party’s fortunes in midterm elections. As of right now, that spells disaster for the Democrats. So Obama might want to stay home — he would probably only make things worse for fellow Democrats.

Obama and his spinners keep saying that the president will head out to campaign for all the endangered Democrats. But they might want to reconsider, in light of this:

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Tuesday shows that 24% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as president. Forty-four percent (44%) Strongly Disapprove, giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -20. … Overall, 42% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the president’s performance. That is the lowest level of approval yet measured for this president.

Perhaps it is a blip, but it is also quite possible that the combination of a sluggish economy, a jittery stock market, and Obama’s non-handling of the BP spill is taking its toll. The primary elections have also refocused the voters on Obama and on how closely or not candidates should cling to him. Whatever the cause, if this keeps up, the damage to the Democratic Party in November will be great because, more than the economy or any other factor, it is the president’s standing that affects his party’s fortunes in midterm elections. As of right now, that spells disaster for the Democrats. So Obama might want to stay home — he would probably only make things worse for fellow Democrats.

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What Real Threats Look Like

There is a set of realities identified by the American left as threats to national, if not global, security. These include things like the U.S.’s own nuclear arsenal, the stationing abroad of some 370,000 American troops, Israel’s capable defenses, and warm weather. To call these phenomena threats is no mere act of speculation. It is a bold inversion of the truth.

Few policies boast a perfect record of 50-plus years, but U.S. nuclear deterrence has the right to do so. The American arsenal kept Russia from invading Western Europe throughout the entirety of the Cold War. Similarly, U.S. military bases, whether established in postwar Germany and Japan or set up 50 years later in the Balkans, have underwritten long-term stability in every hemisphere.

The left has ignored entirely the debt owed to Israel’s military. In 1981, the Israeli Airforce’s Operation Babylon took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Osirak, robbing the world’s most dangerous leader of his own deterrence capabilities. This is to say nothing of Israel’s attack on other dangerous weapons programs and of the Jewish state’s perpetual battle to defeat Islamist terrorism the world over.

As for the deadly threat of high temperatures, a 2007 study reported: “From 1979 to 1997, extreme cold killed roughly twice as many Americans as heat waves, according to Indur Goklany of the U.S. Department of the Interior.”

It is remarkable how fast these boutique “threats” fall by the wayside when the genuine article appears. Today, the AP reports, “The Dow Jones industrials plunged below 10,000 Tuesday after traders dumped stocks on worries about the global economy and tensions between North and South Korea.” Funny, you never read about a stock-market nosedive in response to a balmy June, the ongoing maintenance of American nuclear weapons, an Israeli response to Hamas, or the construction of a distant American military base.

The world sets itself on edge like this only when an unmistakable, demonstrable threat to peace emerges. We now see one in the increasing bellicosity of Kim Jong-il’s regime.

And speaking of those dangerous American military bases abroad, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak doesn’t seem to be too offended by President Obama’s declaration that “the Republic of Korea can continue to count on the full support of the United States.” When Seoul turns down that support, we can start worrying about the left’s critical-threat list. Until then, the world has some actual problems to deal with, thanks very much.

There is a set of realities identified by the American left as threats to national, if not global, security. These include things like the U.S.’s own nuclear arsenal, the stationing abroad of some 370,000 American troops, Israel’s capable defenses, and warm weather. To call these phenomena threats is no mere act of speculation. It is a bold inversion of the truth.

Few policies boast a perfect record of 50-plus years, but U.S. nuclear deterrence has the right to do so. The American arsenal kept Russia from invading Western Europe throughout the entirety of the Cold War. Similarly, U.S. military bases, whether established in postwar Germany and Japan or set up 50 years later in the Balkans, have underwritten long-term stability in every hemisphere.

The left has ignored entirely the debt owed to Israel’s military. In 1981, the Israeli Airforce’s Operation Babylon took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Osirak, robbing the world’s most dangerous leader of his own deterrence capabilities. This is to say nothing of Israel’s attack on other dangerous weapons programs and of the Jewish state’s perpetual battle to defeat Islamist terrorism the world over.

As for the deadly threat of high temperatures, a 2007 study reported: “From 1979 to 1997, extreme cold killed roughly twice as many Americans as heat waves, according to Indur Goklany of the U.S. Department of the Interior.”

It is remarkable how fast these boutique “threats” fall by the wayside when the genuine article appears. Today, the AP reports, “The Dow Jones industrials plunged below 10,000 Tuesday after traders dumped stocks on worries about the global economy and tensions between North and South Korea.” Funny, you never read about a stock-market nosedive in response to a balmy June, the ongoing maintenance of American nuclear weapons, an Israeli response to Hamas, or the construction of a distant American military base.

The world sets itself on edge like this only when an unmistakable, demonstrable threat to peace emerges. We now see one in the increasing bellicosity of Kim Jong-il’s regime.

And speaking of those dangerous American military bases abroad, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak doesn’t seem to be too offended by President Obama’s declaration that “the Republic of Korea can continue to count on the full support of the United States.” When Seoul turns down that support, we can start worrying about the left’s critical-threat list. Until then, the world has some actual problems to deal with, thanks very much.

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Welcome, Ricochet

Peter Robinson (with whom I speak here) and Rob Long (author of, among many other things, one of the funniest books ever written about Hollywood, Conversations with My Agent) have just opened up their new group blog Ricochet for general viewing, and I have to say, as a veteran group blogger here and at National Review‘s The Corner, it’s a triumphant debut. Give it a look. There are also some very, very amusing podcasts featuring Rob, Peter, and Mark Steyn.

Peter Robinson (with whom I speak here) and Rob Long (author of, among many other things, one of the funniest books ever written about Hollywood, Conversations with My Agent) have just opened up their new group blog Ricochet for general viewing, and I have to say, as a veteran group blogger here and at National Review‘s The Corner, it’s a triumphant debut. Give it a look. There are also some very, very amusing podcasts featuring Rob, Peter, and Mark Steyn.

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Reviewing Our First Principles

David Brooks has an excellent column on my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin’s dissertation, “The Great Law of Change: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Meaning of the Past in a Democratic Age.”

Yuval traces the pedigree of our political ideas to Burke and Paine and examines their differences about the nature of man and society, the character of our social relations, the capacity of human reason, and the proper uses of political power. It is an important reminder that so many of the contemporary issues we face in politics turn decisively on our presuppositions, on our operating assumptions and prejudices, and, in Levin’s words, “upon our view of our own place in the great human story — past, present, and future.”

Such things are always important, but it strikes me that they are triply important today, since the debates we are currently engaged in are about political first principles. It’s vital that from time to time we step back from the fray and examine, and reexamine, our political philosophy and most cherished beliefs in light of present circumstances.

Oh, and Brooks’s column is a reminder of something else as well: Yuval Levin — who edits the indispensible National Affairs magazine — is one of the brightest stars in the conservative constellation.

David Brooks has an excellent column on my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin’s dissertation, “The Great Law of Change: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Meaning of the Past in a Democratic Age.”

Yuval traces the pedigree of our political ideas to Burke and Paine and examines their differences about the nature of man and society, the character of our social relations, the capacity of human reason, and the proper uses of political power. It is an important reminder that so many of the contemporary issues we face in politics turn decisively on our presuppositions, on our operating assumptions and prejudices, and, in Levin’s words, “upon our view of our own place in the great human story — past, present, and future.”

Such things are always important, but it strikes me that they are triply important today, since the debates we are currently engaged in are about political first principles. It’s vital that from time to time we step back from the fray and examine, and reexamine, our political philosophy and most cherished beliefs in light of present circumstances.

Oh, and Brooks’s column is a reminder of something else as well: Yuval Levin — who edits the indispensible National Affairs magazine — is one of the brightest stars in the conservative constellation.

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Oil Spill Looking More and More Like Katrina

Marc Ambinder, perhaps the most eager Obama-spinner in the blogosphere (unlike others on the left who take principled stances against Obama’s insufficiently extreme positions, Ambinder invariably has an excuse at the ready), says this about the BP oil spill:

If you watched the first block of the evening news programs, especially CBS Evening News and ABC’s World News, you can plainly see that the White House’s effort to pre-emptively choke off the assignment of blame for the continuing existentially-threatening oil spill has failed. The perceived problem: they’re not doing enough. They deferred too much to BP. The real problem: nothing like this has ever happened before. There is no script. Sadly, BP does seem to be the only entity remotely capable of doing anything. [emphasis in original]

Hmm. Was it an excuse for the Bush administration that a hurricane (Katrina) of that magnitude had never hit New Orleans? Was there a script then? Weren’t the local and state authorities the ones charged with the immediate response?

Moreover, Ambinder is simply wrong. From the very same ABC News report:

As thick oil flows into the sensitive marshes of the Louisiana coast, Gov. Bobby Jindal called on the White House and BP today to either stop the oil spill or get out of his way. Jindal is still waiting for the federal government to provide millions of feet in boom and to approve an emergency permit for a state plan to dredge and build new barrier islands to keep the oil from reaching the marshes and wetlands. Jindal is so desperate for the islands, he’s said he’ll build them even if it sends him to jail.

In fact, even the liberals’ favorite cable network, MSNBC, is starting to ask some tough questions. Ed Shultz (h/t Glenn Reynolds) queries whether there isn’t something the administration can do — send clean-up squads or at least work on keeping the oil offshore. Unlike Ambinder’s spin-a-thon, Shultz blasts:

It’s on your watch. We need to come up with some kind of huge plan on what we’re going to do, because we’ve spent thirty days waiting for BP, waiting for Transocean, who’ve done a great job of just washing their hands of all of this. Let me just say this, Washington: It’s time to get it on. It’s time to get real serious about this.

It’s apparent that the feds lack the expertise to cap the spill and that BP is trying an array of methods to cut off the flow. But that doesn’t mean Obama and his minions can’t assist rather than hinder local authorities in dealing with the aftermath. Moreover, the administration hasn’t been fulfilling its regulatory function:

The federal agency responsible for regulating U.S. offshore oil drilling repeatedly ignored warnings from government scientists about environmental risks in its push to approve energy exploration activities quickly, according to numerous documents and interviews. … Interviews and documents show numerous examples in which senior officials discounted scientific data and advice — even from scientists elsewhere in the federal government — that would have impeded oil and gas companies drilling offshore.

Yes, the problem existed under the Bush administration. “But the pattern of dismissing biologists’ input has continued under the Obama administration.”

In sum, Obama has grandstanded and excoriated BP but done nothing to help the situation. Setting up a commission to find fault doesn’t really count. That, after all, is Obama’s usual tact — blame others and give speeches. This time, not withstanding the helpful spin of a few devoted fans like Ambinder, it doesn’t seem to be working.

Marc Ambinder, perhaps the most eager Obama-spinner in the blogosphere (unlike others on the left who take principled stances against Obama’s insufficiently extreme positions, Ambinder invariably has an excuse at the ready), says this about the BP oil spill:

If you watched the first block of the evening news programs, especially CBS Evening News and ABC’s World News, you can plainly see that the White House’s effort to pre-emptively choke off the assignment of blame for the continuing existentially-threatening oil spill has failed. The perceived problem: they’re not doing enough. They deferred too much to BP. The real problem: nothing like this has ever happened before. There is no script. Sadly, BP does seem to be the only entity remotely capable of doing anything. [emphasis in original]

Hmm. Was it an excuse for the Bush administration that a hurricane (Katrina) of that magnitude had never hit New Orleans? Was there a script then? Weren’t the local and state authorities the ones charged with the immediate response?

Moreover, Ambinder is simply wrong. From the very same ABC News report:

As thick oil flows into the sensitive marshes of the Louisiana coast, Gov. Bobby Jindal called on the White House and BP today to either stop the oil spill or get out of his way. Jindal is still waiting for the federal government to provide millions of feet in boom and to approve an emergency permit for a state plan to dredge and build new barrier islands to keep the oil from reaching the marshes and wetlands. Jindal is so desperate for the islands, he’s said he’ll build them even if it sends him to jail.

In fact, even the liberals’ favorite cable network, MSNBC, is starting to ask some tough questions. Ed Shultz (h/t Glenn Reynolds) queries whether there isn’t something the administration can do — send clean-up squads or at least work on keeping the oil offshore. Unlike Ambinder’s spin-a-thon, Shultz blasts:

It’s on your watch. We need to come up with some kind of huge plan on what we’re going to do, because we’ve spent thirty days waiting for BP, waiting for Transocean, who’ve done a great job of just washing their hands of all of this. Let me just say this, Washington: It’s time to get it on. It’s time to get real serious about this.

It’s apparent that the feds lack the expertise to cap the spill and that BP is trying an array of methods to cut off the flow. But that doesn’t mean Obama and his minions can’t assist rather than hinder local authorities in dealing with the aftermath. Moreover, the administration hasn’t been fulfilling its regulatory function:

The federal agency responsible for regulating U.S. offshore oil drilling repeatedly ignored warnings from government scientists about environmental risks in its push to approve energy exploration activities quickly, according to numerous documents and interviews. … Interviews and documents show numerous examples in which senior officials discounted scientific data and advice — even from scientists elsewhere in the federal government — that would have impeded oil and gas companies drilling offshore.

Yes, the problem existed under the Bush administration. “But the pattern of dismissing biologists’ input has continued under the Obama administration.”

In sum, Obama has grandstanded and excoriated BP but done nothing to help the situation. Setting up a commission to find fault doesn’t really count. That, after all, is Obama’s usual tact — blame others and give speeches. This time, not withstanding the helpful spin of a few devoted fans like Ambinder, it doesn’t seem to be working.

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What Were You Thinking, Dean Kagan?

Sen. Jeff Sessions took to the floor of the Senate to ask a wonderfully phrased question of Elena Kagan: “What were you thinking when you punished our men and women in uniform because you didn’t like what Congress and your president, President Clinton, did with regard to their policies on  gays in the military?”

This and Kagan’s lack of judicial experience (and only minimal litigation experience) will and should be the focus of the confirmation hearings. Unless those concerns are put to rest, many senators will (and in my view should) vote against her nomination.

The filibuster is a different story, however. That involves a political calculation: will the alternative be any better? I suppose that depends in part on whether the new nomination and confirmation vote happens before or after November, when certainly there will be more Republicans on their way to the Senate. In any event, conservative senators may assess the other possible nominees, who may be more ideologically rigid and more capable, size up Kagan’s novice standing, and review the cases she will be recused from – and conclude she’s the worst alternative, except for all the others. In that event, a no vote and no filibuster would be the most prudent course of action.

Sen. Jeff Sessions took to the floor of the Senate to ask a wonderfully phrased question of Elena Kagan: “What were you thinking when you punished our men and women in uniform because you didn’t like what Congress and your president, President Clinton, did with regard to their policies on  gays in the military?”

This and Kagan’s lack of judicial experience (and only minimal litigation experience) will and should be the focus of the confirmation hearings. Unless those concerns are put to rest, many senators will (and in my view should) vote against her nomination.

The filibuster is a different story, however. That involves a political calculation: will the alternative be any better? I suppose that depends in part on whether the new nomination and confirmation vote happens before or after November, when certainly there will be more Republicans on their way to the Senate. In any event, conservative senators may assess the other possible nominees, who may be more ideologically rigid and more capable, size up Kagan’s novice standing, and review the cases she will be recused from – and conclude she’s the worst alternative, except for all the others. In that event, a no vote and no filibuster would be the most prudent course of action.

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Obama Needs a Korea Strategy Focused on Liberation, Not Engagement

It’s fascinating to see the ideological blinders slipping a bit in the Obama administration. First the president had to acknowledge that his efforts to reach out to Iran were going nowhere; now a similar outreach effort to North Korea mounted over many years by South Korea has been officially declared DOA. South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, is suspending a large measure of the South’s trade with the North, barring Northern ships from entering Southern waters, ramping up propaganda aimed at the North, and taking other steps to signal displeasure with the North’s sinking of a Southern frigate, which resulted in the loss of 46 sailors. The Obama administration, to its credit, is offering “unequivocal” support for the South’s get-tough policy, including agreeing to hold joint military maneuvers.

Such measures are necessary but insufficient. No one imagines they will seriously change the behavior of Kim Jong-il’s rogue regime. That kind of change is probably beyond our power to impose; only China has the leverage needed to really punish the North, and it won’t exercise that leverage for fear of accelerating the North’s collapse. Nevertheless, it would make sense to set a long-term goal for U.S. and South Korea policy — to bring about the peaceful collapse of North Korea.

That is something that South Korea has long been ambivalent about; the South Koreans are keenly aware of how much German unification cost, and they know that North Korea will be even tougher to integrate than East Germany was. But the Cheonan‘s sinking shows that the status quo has significant costs too.

Likewise, when it comes to Iran, the Obama administration needs to stop pretending that a fourth watered-down UN sanctions resolution is going to achieve anything. Here, too, the administration needs to set peaceful regime change as the goal for American policy. In neither case is regime change a panacea; the rulers in both Tehran and Pyongyang are firmly entrenched in power and will not easily be dislodged despite their lack of popular support. It will be a long, difficult process to help the peoples of North Korea and Iran to liberate themselves. All the more reason, then, to make this a priority for American policy now rather than succumbing to more wishful thinking about the possibilities of “engagement” with these criminal regimes.

It’s fascinating to see the ideological blinders slipping a bit in the Obama administration. First the president had to acknowledge that his efforts to reach out to Iran were going nowhere; now a similar outreach effort to North Korea mounted over many years by South Korea has been officially declared DOA. South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, is suspending a large measure of the South’s trade with the North, barring Northern ships from entering Southern waters, ramping up propaganda aimed at the North, and taking other steps to signal displeasure with the North’s sinking of a Southern frigate, which resulted in the loss of 46 sailors. The Obama administration, to its credit, is offering “unequivocal” support for the South’s get-tough policy, including agreeing to hold joint military maneuvers.

Such measures are necessary but insufficient. No one imagines they will seriously change the behavior of Kim Jong-il’s rogue regime. That kind of change is probably beyond our power to impose; only China has the leverage needed to really punish the North, and it won’t exercise that leverage for fear of accelerating the North’s collapse. Nevertheless, it would make sense to set a long-term goal for U.S. and South Korea policy — to bring about the peaceful collapse of North Korea.

That is something that South Korea has long been ambivalent about; the South Koreans are keenly aware of how much German unification cost, and they know that North Korea will be even tougher to integrate than East Germany was. But the Cheonan‘s sinking shows that the status quo has significant costs too.

Likewise, when it comes to Iran, the Obama administration needs to stop pretending that a fourth watered-down UN sanctions resolution is going to achieve anything. Here, too, the administration needs to set peaceful regime change as the goal for American policy. In neither case is regime change a panacea; the rulers in both Tehran and Pyongyang are firmly entrenched in power and will not easily be dislodged despite their lack of popular support. It will be a long, difficult process to help the peoples of North Korea and Iran to liberate themselves. All the more reason, then, to make this a priority for American policy now rather than succumbing to more wishful thinking about the possibilities of “engagement” with these criminal regimes.

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South Korea, Yes. Israel, No.

The Obama administration is perking up when it comes to North Korea:

The White House said Monday that North Korea should stop its “belligerent and threatening behavior,” and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged “unequivocal” support for Seoul in its escalating dispute with its neighbor.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that Obama “fully supports” South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who on Sunday cut off trade with North Korea and shut down sea lanes to North Korean ships in response to the March 26 sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan. North Korea was found responsible for the attack by an international group of investigators.

It remains to be seen what “fully supports” means, but it’s a step in the right direction.

And now it’s time to do the same with Israel. After all, Israel is an ally subjected to the “belligerent and threatening behavior” of a neighbor that seeks nuclear weapons. But Obama seems not remotely interested in providing a firm guarantee for Israel that might have some deterrent value and at the very least expanding the array of options we currently have. (Nor do American Jewish leaders demand that he do so.) Such a notion, in fact, seems nearly preposterous for this president. His antipathy for Israel is too great, as is his desperation to avoid confrontation with the thugocracy that seeks the Jewish state’s destruction, to contemplate a promise of unqualified support for our democratic ally.

If the president ever gave a press conference or faced a tough interviewer, he might be asked: why South Korea and not Israel?

The Obama administration is perking up when it comes to North Korea:

The White House said Monday that North Korea should stop its “belligerent and threatening behavior,” and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged “unequivocal” support for Seoul in its escalating dispute with its neighbor.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that Obama “fully supports” South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who on Sunday cut off trade with North Korea and shut down sea lanes to North Korean ships in response to the March 26 sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan. North Korea was found responsible for the attack by an international group of investigators.

It remains to be seen what “fully supports” means, but it’s a step in the right direction.

And now it’s time to do the same with Israel. After all, Israel is an ally subjected to the “belligerent and threatening behavior” of a neighbor that seeks nuclear weapons. But Obama seems not remotely interested in providing a firm guarantee for Israel that might have some deterrent value and at the very least expanding the array of options we currently have. (Nor do American Jewish leaders demand that he do so.) Such a notion, in fact, seems nearly preposterous for this president. His antipathy for Israel is too great, as is his desperation to avoid confrontation with the thugocracy that seeks the Jewish state’s destruction, to contemplate a promise of unqualified support for our democratic ally.

If the president ever gave a press conference or faced a tough interviewer, he might be asked: why South Korea and not Israel?

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Appeasing Russia

“Reset” in our relations with Russia has proved an abject failure. Robert Kagan makes a key point in his must-read column: relations with Russia are no better than during the Bush administration, arguably worse, and we’ve paid handsomely for this:

Given that history, few accomplishments have been more oversold than the Obama administration’s “success” in getting Russia to agree, for the fourth time in five years, to another vacuous U.N. Security Council resolution. It is being trumpeted as a triumph of the administration’s “reset” of the U.S.-Russian relationship, the main point of which was to get the Russians on board regarding Iran. All we’ve heard in recent months is how the Russians finally want to work with us on Iran and genuinely see the Iranian bomb as a threat — all because Obama has repaired relations with Russia that were allegedly destroyed by Bush.

Kagan allows that this resolution might be marginally more productive than the last three but at a steep price. (“The latest draft resolution tightens sanctions in some areas around the margins, but the administration was forced to cave to some Russian and Chinese demands.”) In sum, Russia’s behavior is no different than it has been, and the ”only thing that has changed is the price the United States has been willing to pay.” We’ve sold out Poland and the Czech Republic, undermined our own sanctions effort, and in essence thrown in the towel on opposing the Russian occupation of Georgian territory (“Obama has officially declared that Russia’s continued illegal military occupation of Georgia is no ‘obstacle’ to U.S.-Russian civilian nuclear cooperation”).

No wonder Europe is jittery, Russia has inked a deal for a naval base in the Ukraine (suggesting that’s the next former Soviet state to fall back under Russian domination), and the mullahs “are laughing up their sleeves — along with the men in Moscow.” And remarkably, there’s been very little fuss — from Congress or from mainstream Jewish groups. But we are in an election season, and Republicans would be wise to raise the issue of the Obama Russian appeasement. Opposition to Obama’s failing Iran policy, failing Israel policy, failing China policy, and failing Russia policy (yes, there is a pattern here) is good policy and good politics. And those who make it an issue in 2010 and 2012 will have a mandate to do something about it.

Obama officials must assume that no one will bother to check the record (as, so far, none of the journalists covering the story has). The fact is, the Russians have not said or done anything in the past few months that they didn’t do or say during the Bush years. In fact, they sometimes used to say and do more.

“Reset” in our relations with Russia has proved an abject failure. Robert Kagan makes a key point in his must-read column: relations with Russia are no better than during the Bush administration, arguably worse, and we’ve paid handsomely for this:

Given that history, few accomplishments have been more oversold than the Obama administration’s “success” in getting Russia to agree, for the fourth time in five years, to another vacuous U.N. Security Council resolution. It is being trumpeted as a triumph of the administration’s “reset” of the U.S.-Russian relationship, the main point of which was to get the Russians on board regarding Iran. All we’ve heard in recent months is how the Russians finally want to work with us on Iran and genuinely see the Iranian bomb as a threat — all because Obama has repaired relations with Russia that were allegedly destroyed by Bush.

Kagan allows that this resolution might be marginally more productive than the last three but at a steep price. (“The latest draft resolution tightens sanctions in some areas around the margins, but the administration was forced to cave to some Russian and Chinese demands.”) In sum, Russia’s behavior is no different than it has been, and the ”only thing that has changed is the price the United States has been willing to pay.” We’ve sold out Poland and the Czech Republic, undermined our own sanctions effort, and in essence thrown in the towel on opposing the Russian occupation of Georgian territory (“Obama has officially declared that Russia’s continued illegal military occupation of Georgia is no ‘obstacle’ to U.S.-Russian civilian nuclear cooperation”).

No wonder Europe is jittery, Russia has inked a deal for a naval base in the Ukraine (suggesting that’s the next former Soviet state to fall back under Russian domination), and the mullahs “are laughing up their sleeves — along with the men in Moscow.” And remarkably, there’s been very little fuss — from Congress or from mainstream Jewish groups. But we are in an election season, and Republicans would be wise to raise the issue of the Obama Russian appeasement. Opposition to Obama’s failing Iran policy, failing Israel policy, failing China policy, and failing Russia policy (yes, there is a pattern here) is good policy and good politics. And those who make it an issue in 2010 and 2012 will have a mandate to do something about it.

Obama officials must assume that no one will bother to check the record (as, so far, none of the journalists covering the story has). The fact is, the Russians have not said or done anything in the past few months that they didn’t do or say during the Bush years. In fact, they sometimes used to say and do more.

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Mia Farrow Speaks Up Again

Mia Farrow has been sounding the alarm about Sudan and risking the ire of her movie pals by calling out Obama for his abominable human rights record. She is at it again:

Last week U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that although he remains supportive of “international efforts” to bring Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to justice, the Obama administration is also pursuing “locally owned accountability and reconciliation mechanisms in light of the recommendations made by the African Union’s high-level panel on Darfur.” … Perversely, Mr. Gration has now thrown U.S. government support to a [African Union] tribunal that does not and probably will never exist. Even if it did, the “locally owned accountability” he refers to is not feasible under prevailing political conditions, as any Sudan-based court will be controlled by the perpetrators themselves.

This is a far cry from candidate Obama. And Farrow isn’t shy about reminding her readers that Obama has badly let down human rights activists — and more important, the suffering 3 million Sudanese:

When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, hope abounded, even in Darfur’s bleak refugee camps. Darfuris believed this son of Africa could understand their suffering, end the violence that has taken so much from them, and bring Mr. Bashir to justice. The refugees hoped that “Yes we can” was meant for them too. They believed President Obama would bring peace and protection to Darfur and would settle for nothing less than true justice. … Such hopes did not last long.

Her advice is clear-headed and equally applicable to many rogue regimes that continue to brutalize their people: “lead a diplomatic offensive to convince the world to isolate [war criminal Omar] al-Bashir as a fugitive from justice.” (I’m not a fan of the International Criminal Court, in which she suggests trying him, but in this case, there may be no alternative.) But the Obama team is not in the isolating business. Rather, Obama engages thugs, sends envoys hither and yon to accomplish nothing, and leaves the oppressed to their own devices. Obama’s academic exercise in “smart diplomacy” has failed, and in Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Burma, Eygpt, China, and elsewhere, the despots cheer.

Mia Farrow has been sounding the alarm about Sudan and risking the ire of her movie pals by calling out Obama for his abominable human rights record. She is at it again:

Last week U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that although he remains supportive of “international efforts” to bring Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to justice, the Obama administration is also pursuing “locally owned accountability and reconciliation mechanisms in light of the recommendations made by the African Union’s high-level panel on Darfur.” … Perversely, Mr. Gration has now thrown U.S. government support to a [African Union] tribunal that does not and probably will never exist. Even if it did, the “locally owned accountability” he refers to is not feasible under prevailing political conditions, as any Sudan-based court will be controlled by the perpetrators themselves.

This is a far cry from candidate Obama. And Farrow isn’t shy about reminding her readers that Obama has badly let down human rights activists — and more important, the suffering 3 million Sudanese:

When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, hope abounded, even in Darfur’s bleak refugee camps. Darfuris believed this son of Africa could understand their suffering, end the violence that has taken so much from them, and bring Mr. Bashir to justice. The refugees hoped that “Yes we can” was meant for them too. They believed President Obama would bring peace and protection to Darfur and would settle for nothing less than true justice. … Such hopes did not last long.

Her advice is clear-headed and equally applicable to many rogue regimes that continue to brutalize their people: “lead a diplomatic offensive to convince the world to isolate [war criminal Omar] al-Bashir as a fugitive from justice.” (I’m not a fan of the International Criminal Court, in which she suggests trying him, but in this case, there may be no alternative.) But the Obama team is not in the isolating business. Rather, Obama engages thugs, sends envoys hither and yon to accomplish nothing, and leaves the oppressed to their own devices. Obama’s academic exercise in “smart diplomacy” has failed, and in Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Burma, Eygpt, China, and elsewhere, the despots cheer.

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Another Competitive Senate Race

This report explains that Patty Murray now has a popular and well-funded challenger in the Washington Senate race: “Two-time Republican gubernatorial nominee Dino Rossi will announce, likely Wednesday, that he is challenging three-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, sources close to Rossi said Monday. It will mark Rossi’s third statewide run in six years.”

He’s lost two gubernatorial races (in 2004 by only 133 votes, and in 2008 by a much larger margin), but he is well known and is polling close to Murray. (In the last poll, he trails Murray by only four points.)

In order to maximize their options in the Senate races, the GOP must put into play races that usually aren’t — California, New York, and Washington. Two of those will now require that the Democrats expend time and money to keep afloat two of their more liberal senators who have dutifully rubber-stamped Obama’s agenda. New York is the exception — although Kirsten Gillibrand is no rock star, the GOP has yet to field a high-profile and popular candidate. You can’t win, even in the best of political times for your side, without attractive, well-financed, and well-suited candidates. Fortunately for the Republicans, there are many seats where they have precisely that.

This report explains that Patty Murray now has a popular and well-funded challenger in the Washington Senate race: “Two-time Republican gubernatorial nominee Dino Rossi will announce, likely Wednesday, that he is challenging three-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, sources close to Rossi said Monday. It will mark Rossi’s third statewide run in six years.”

He’s lost two gubernatorial races (in 2004 by only 133 votes, and in 2008 by a much larger margin), but he is well known and is polling close to Murray. (In the last poll, he trails Murray by only four points.)

In order to maximize their options in the Senate races, the GOP must put into play races that usually aren’t — California, New York, and Washington. Two of those will now require that the Democrats expend time and money to keep afloat two of their more liberal senators who have dutifully rubber-stamped Obama’s agenda. New York is the exception — although Kirsten Gillibrand is no rock star, the GOP has yet to field a high-profile and popular candidate. You can’t win, even in the best of political times for your side, without attractive, well-financed, and well-suited candidates. Fortunately for the Republicans, there are many seats where they have precisely that.

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A Response to Elvis Costello

As I noted last week, Elvis Costello, with great fanfare and sanctimony, decided to boycott Israel. A response was penned by Assaf Wohl, for whom I think some sort of award should be named that celebrates those who debunk and undo Israel-bashers. (Alan Dershowitz, Elliott Abrams, and Sen. Joe Lieberman have lifetime-achievement awards and so won’t eligible.) Wohl wrote a “Dear Costello” letter that must be read in full. Here’s a sample:

I attempted to understand the reasons you referred to in your cancellation notice. You addressed the “humiliation of Palestinians civilians in the name of national security,” and I wonder what you meant. Perhaps you’re referring to the roadblocks and fence we built in order to prevent suicide bombers from exploding in our buses and coffee shops. The dramatic decline in Palestinian massacres, from an average of one a day to almost nil may indeed be humiliating for them, as you noted.

Or maybe you referred to Operation Cast Lead. If that’s the case, you are in fact condemning us for deciding to put an end to eight years of rocket attacks targeting our kindergartens. If you think this is demagoguery, please go ahead and check the timers which the “humiliated” terrorists set for the rockets. They were aiming for the hours where our children head to kindergarten and to school.

And on the democracy front Wohl, explained:

You refer to human rights, Costello, while ignoring the fact that Israel is a democracy. You should look into the State of Israel’s attitude to minorities, compared to our neighbors whose side you took. Let’s see how long it will take before you’re decapitated, should you aim to lead a Gay Pride Parade in Gaza or Hebron. Are you aware of the state of Christians in the Gaza Strip, or the state of women’s rights there? Your silence on these matters attests to the honesty of your claims. You should also ask yourself why all these “humiliated” people would love to get an Israeli ID card. If we’re so bad to them, why are they infiltrating Israel in every possible way?

This deliciously exacting letter is precisely what defenders of Israel need to do on a consistent basis. Whether the gibberish is coming from the White House, from J Street, from feeble-minded “artists,” or from the legions of Israel-haters on the left or right (who are sounding remarkably similar — is Andrew Sullivan saying anything that Pat Buchanan doesn’t?), Israel’s defenders need to consistently and robustly respond. The war to delegitimize and slander the Jewish state succeeds when the accusations are not rebutted.

So yasher ko’ah, Assaf Wohl. And I welcome future nominees.

As I noted last week, Elvis Costello, with great fanfare and sanctimony, decided to boycott Israel. A response was penned by Assaf Wohl, for whom I think some sort of award should be named that celebrates those who debunk and undo Israel-bashers. (Alan Dershowitz, Elliott Abrams, and Sen. Joe Lieberman have lifetime-achievement awards and so won’t eligible.) Wohl wrote a “Dear Costello” letter that must be read in full. Here’s a sample:

I attempted to understand the reasons you referred to in your cancellation notice. You addressed the “humiliation of Palestinians civilians in the name of national security,” and I wonder what you meant. Perhaps you’re referring to the roadblocks and fence we built in order to prevent suicide bombers from exploding in our buses and coffee shops. The dramatic decline in Palestinian massacres, from an average of one a day to almost nil may indeed be humiliating for them, as you noted.

Or maybe you referred to Operation Cast Lead. If that’s the case, you are in fact condemning us for deciding to put an end to eight years of rocket attacks targeting our kindergartens. If you think this is demagoguery, please go ahead and check the timers which the “humiliated” terrorists set for the rockets. They were aiming for the hours where our children head to kindergarten and to school.

And on the democracy front Wohl, explained:

You refer to human rights, Costello, while ignoring the fact that Israel is a democracy. You should look into the State of Israel’s attitude to minorities, compared to our neighbors whose side you took. Let’s see how long it will take before you’re decapitated, should you aim to lead a Gay Pride Parade in Gaza or Hebron. Are you aware of the state of Christians in the Gaza Strip, or the state of women’s rights there? Your silence on these matters attests to the honesty of your claims. You should also ask yourself why all these “humiliated” people would love to get an Israeli ID card. If we’re so bad to them, why are they infiltrating Israel in every possible way?

This deliciously exacting letter is precisely what defenders of Israel need to do on a consistent basis. Whether the gibberish is coming from the White House, from J Street, from feeble-minded “artists,” or from the legions of Israel-haters on the left or right (who are sounding remarkably similar — is Andrew Sullivan saying anything that Pat Buchanan doesn’t?), Israel’s defenders need to consistently and robustly respond. The war to delegitimize and slander the Jewish state succeeds when the accusations are not rebutted.

So yasher ko’ah, Assaf Wohl. And I welcome future nominees.

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Sestak’s Stall Not Working

Joe Sestak, not unlike Rand Paul and Richard Blumenthal, has gotten off to a poor start, which threatens to drag him under before the general election race starts in earnest. Even the New York Times is shining a light on the cooperative stonewall going on between the least transparent White House in history and Sestak:

For three months, the White House has refused to say whether it offered a job to Representative Joe Sestak to induce him to drop his challenge to Senator Arlen Specter in a Pennsylvania Democratic primary, as Mr. Sestak has asserted. But the White House wants everyone who suspects that something untoward, or even illegal, might have happened to rest easy: it still will not reveal what happened, but the White House says it has examined its own actions and decided that it did nothing wrong. Whatever it was that it did.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the “trust us” response from the White House has not exactly put the matter to rest. Though Mr. Sestak stayed in the race, and defeated Mr. Specter in the primary last Tuesday, the questions have returned with intensity and remain unanswered. Mr. Gibbs deflected questions about the matter 13 times at a White House news briefing last Thursday, while Mr. Sestak reaffirmed his assertion without providing any specifics about what the offer was or who made it.

There are two possibilities here. One is that Sestak was embellishing or outright fibbing, and the White House doesn’t want to hang him out to dry (unlike what happened to Harry Reid). The other is that there was some kind of offer, which might be illegal but is — in any case — the epitome of Washington insiderness and backroom deals, which the voters have come to loathe.

His opponent, Pat Toomey, echoes the New York Times (yeah, it’s a weird election year all right), putting out a statement that is restrained in tone but asks for a full accounting: “My response is simply this: Congressman Sestak should tell the public everything he knows about the job he was offered, and who offered it.  To do otherwise will only continue to raise questions and continue to be a needless distraction in this campaign.”

It is a measure of how frustrated the press has become with the perpetual stonewalling and outright contempt this president has shown the media that the Times and other outlets are now aligned with a conservative Republican in demanding that one of the most liberal Democrats on the ballot come clean.

Joe Sestak, not unlike Rand Paul and Richard Blumenthal, has gotten off to a poor start, which threatens to drag him under before the general election race starts in earnest. Even the New York Times is shining a light on the cooperative stonewall going on between the least transparent White House in history and Sestak:

For three months, the White House has refused to say whether it offered a job to Representative Joe Sestak to induce him to drop his challenge to Senator Arlen Specter in a Pennsylvania Democratic primary, as Mr. Sestak has asserted. But the White House wants everyone who suspects that something untoward, or even illegal, might have happened to rest easy: it still will not reveal what happened, but the White House says it has examined its own actions and decided that it did nothing wrong. Whatever it was that it did.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the “trust us” response from the White House has not exactly put the matter to rest. Though Mr. Sestak stayed in the race, and defeated Mr. Specter in the primary last Tuesday, the questions have returned with intensity and remain unanswered. Mr. Gibbs deflected questions about the matter 13 times at a White House news briefing last Thursday, while Mr. Sestak reaffirmed his assertion without providing any specifics about what the offer was or who made it.

There are two possibilities here. One is that Sestak was embellishing or outright fibbing, and the White House doesn’t want to hang him out to dry (unlike what happened to Harry Reid). The other is that there was some kind of offer, which might be illegal but is — in any case — the epitome of Washington insiderness and backroom deals, which the voters have come to loathe.

His opponent, Pat Toomey, echoes the New York Times (yeah, it’s a weird election year all right), putting out a statement that is restrained in tone but asks for a full accounting: “My response is simply this: Congressman Sestak should tell the public everything he knows about the job he was offered, and who offered it.  To do otherwise will only continue to raise questions and continue to be a needless distraction in this campaign.”

It is a measure of how frustrated the press has become with the perpetual stonewalling and outright contempt this president has shown the media that the Times and other outlets are now aligned with a conservative Republican in demanding that one of the most liberal Democrats on the ballot come clean.

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Andrew Cuomo’s Challenge

In the New York Post today, I suggest the overwhelming favorite in this year’s race for governor of New York has a problem:

Andrew Cuomo faces a profound test of character over the course of the next five months — a test that will go a long way to demonstrating his ability to lead New York state should he be elected its next governor.

Cuomo has to keep himself from destroying himself.

That should be a simple test, but Cuomo has failed it before. And early indications suggest it would be a great pity if he were to fail it this time — because the candidate is saying some pretty extraordinary things.

The piece is here.

In the New York Post today, I suggest the overwhelming favorite in this year’s race for governor of New York has a problem:

Andrew Cuomo faces a profound test of character over the course of the next five months — a test that will go a long way to demonstrating his ability to lead New York state should he be elected its next governor.

Cuomo has to keep himself from destroying himself.

That should be a simple test, but Cuomo has failed it before. And early indications suggest it would be a great pity if he were to fail it this time — because the candidate is saying some pretty extraordinary things.

The piece is here.

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