Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 28, 2010

Why We Must Prevail in Afghanistan

I don’t agree with everything in George Packer’s short New Yorker article on Afghanistan, but after reviewing the problems with the current policy, he makes a very important point that other critics miss:

No one, however, has been able to come up with an alternative to the current strategy that doesn’t carry great risks. If there were a low-cost way to contain the interconnected groups of extremists in the Hindu Kush—with drones and Special Forces, as Vice-President Biden, among others, has urged—the President would have pursued it. If a return to power of the Taliban, which may well be the outcome of a U.S. withdrawal, did not pose a threat to international security, Obama would have already abandoned Karzai to his fate. But anyone who believes that a re-Talibanized Afghanistan would be a low priority should read the kidnapping narratives of two American journalists, Jere Van Dyk and David Rohde, who were held by the Taliban, along with the autobiography of the former Taliban official known as Mullah Zaeef. Together, these accounts show that the years since 2001 have radicalized the insurgents and imbued them with Al Qaeda’s global agenda. Tactically and ideologically, it’s more and more difficult to distinguish local insurgents from foreign jihadists.

I think Packer is exactly right — which is why it’s so important that we prevail in Afghanistan. I believe our current strategy, under the leadership of General Petraeus and backed by what seems to be a freshly committed president, gives us a good chance to do that, notwithstanding the myriad difficulties we face. I will learn more, however, in Afghanistan itself, which is where I am currently headed.

I don’t agree with everything in George Packer’s short New Yorker article on Afghanistan, but after reviewing the problems with the current policy, he makes a very important point that other critics miss:

No one, however, has been able to come up with an alternative to the current strategy that doesn’t carry great risks. If there were a low-cost way to contain the interconnected groups of extremists in the Hindu Kush—with drones and Special Forces, as Vice-President Biden, among others, has urged—the President would have pursued it. If a return to power of the Taliban, which may well be the outcome of a U.S. withdrawal, did not pose a threat to international security, Obama would have already abandoned Karzai to his fate. But anyone who believes that a re-Talibanized Afghanistan would be a low priority should read the kidnapping narratives of two American journalists, Jere Van Dyk and David Rohde, who were held by the Taliban, along with the autobiography of the former Taliban official known as Mullah Zaeef. Together, these accounts show that the years since 2001 have radicalized the insurgents and imbued them with Al Qaeda’s global agenda. Tactically and ideologically, it’s more and more difficult to distinguish local insurgents from foreign jihadists.

I think Packer is exactly right — which is why it’s so important that we prevail in Afghanistan. I believe our current strategy, under the leadership of General Petraeus and backed by what seems to be a freshly committed president, gives us a good chance to do that, notwithstanding the myriad difficulties we face. I will learn more, however, in Afghanistan itself, which is where I am currently headed.

Read Less

A Pernicious New Tax, A Disastrous Bill

A friend who works in finance writes:

Just hours before finishing the 2,000-page Dodd-Frank financial reform bill at 5:40am Friday morning, leaders of the Democratic majority snuck in a wholly new, unprecedented, and very damaging tax on U.S.-based institutions that provide critical capital to small and large businesses across the country.

Specifically, a new Financial Stability Oversight Council (will impose an “assessment” on almost all types of financial institutions with more than $50 billion in assets (excluding banks that have deposit insurance, as well as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and other types of “government-sponsored enterprise”) as well as hedge funds that manage more than $10 billion.

Collection of the tax will begin at yet-to-be-determined time prior to September 2012.  The funds will be placed in a “Financial Crisis Special Assessment Fund” at Treasury and cannot be removed for 25 years, after which time they will be used to pay down the deficit.

The insidious maneuver is the clearest indication that supporters of the Dodd-Frank bill will gladly sacrifice the growth and prosperity of the U.S. economy if it means they can spitefully “stick it” to U.S. financial institutions one more time. With unemployment figures lingering at recent highs and a growing recognition that previous so-called “stimulus” measures have failed to have a meaningful impact on the U.S. economy, the Democratic majority’s new tax will confiscate nearly $20 billion from institutions that lend money and provide equity capital to all types of businesses — including start-ups, large manufacturers, healthcare providers, and small family-owned businesses.

In its wildest dreams, the government could not conceive of a more anti-stimulative policy: To take $20 billion from the firms whose role it is to allocate money to the fastest growing and most productive, job-creating firms, and have that money lie dormant in a vault at the U.S. Treasury for two-and-a-half decades.

And it gets much worse. The criteria used to determine how much any given firm will owe are so nebulous that it is impossible for a firm to calculate its share of the tax.  For instance, included among the sixteen or so factors used to calculate an individual firm’s tax obligation are the following:

  • “the nature, scope, and mix of the company’s activities;”
  • “the extent and nature of the company’s transactions and relationships with other financial companies;”
  • “the amount and nature of the company’s financial assets;”
  • “the company’s importance as a source of credit for households, businesses, and State and local governments and as a source of liquidity for the financial system”
  • “the company’s importance as a source of credit for low-income, minority, or underserved communities and the impact the failure of such company would have on the availability of credit in such communities;”
  • “such other risk-related factors as the Council may determine to be appropriate.”

The uncertainty created by these completely ambiguous factors will invariably lead firms subject to this tax to reserve amounts that are several times what it may ultimately owe.  This will keep considerably more than the $20 billion from being put to productive use in the economy.  Banks, insurance companies, and investment funds are already hesitant to lend to businesses.  The tax will ensure that those capital providers sit indefinitely on the sidelines. Further, the imposition of last minute, middle-of-the-night tax increases make businesses even more apprehensive because they have no idea what government “surprises” lay in the future.

Can it get even worse?  Of course.  The largest hedge funds have achieved their size because they have demonstrated consistent success over one or more decades.  As responsible safe havens of capital, these investment funds attract a disproportionate amount of the money that public and private pension funds dedicate to the hedge fund sector.  The Dodd-Frank tax will flow directly from the investors of these hedge funds and punish hundreds of thousands (even millions?) of pensioners.

Similarly, the millions of investors and customers of the companies in the $50+ billion institutions will also feel the pain of the Dodd-Frank tax. Messrs Dodd and Frank seem to believe that you can punish a business without harming the millions of investors, customers and suppliers connected to that business. They suspend disbelief to not recognize that businesses are merely formal collections of people organized to provide services and goods to other people. Punitive measures against corporations do not impact the faceless corporation itself, but the millions of people whose livelihoods revolve around the services and goods provided by the corporation.

The Dodd-Frank tax also comes with exceptionally onerous information sharing obligations that allow regulators to perform on-site inspections and rummage through all of the firm’s books and records. There are no limitations; regulators are allowed to view anything deemed “necessary to determine appropriate risk-based assessments.” These burdensome requirements alone are sufficient to encourage financial institutions to pack up and move overseas.

Putting aside the tax issues for a moment, I see another cynical purpose for the new tax. The initial versions of both the House and Senate bills had bailout funds that would be stacked with money in advance of the next economic crisis. The money would sit patiently (and unproductively) and wait for a future economic crisis, at which time it would be used to support creditors of floundering Too Big To Fail firms. Due to public revulsion of bailouts, these “pre-crisis funds” ($150 billion in the House bill and $50 billion in the Senate bill) were eliminated in the final bill. However, it seems increasingly clear that the new Dodd-Frank tax is merely a clandestine attempt to reinstitute the pre-crisis fund.

The Dodd-Frank tax is being imposed on the exact same collection of businesses that were targeted in the House bill, and the assessments are being calculated based on the exact same criteria in the House and Senate bills. In fact, the only difference between the pre-crisis fund and the Dodd-Frank tax is a line that says the “Fund shall not be used in connection with the liquidation of any financial company under Title II [Orderly Liquidation Authority].”

But if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck…you know the rest.  There is no getting around the fact that in both form and substance, the Dodd-Frank tax is the pre-crisis fund’s clone.  The meager line about not being used in an orderly liquidation can easily be removed by a future Congress or merely be ignored when the next crisis arrives.  Does anyone truly believe that if there’s a pool of money sitting at Treasury, that it won’t be used during an economic crisis? Besides, government funds are fungible and forever being misappropriated. How many times has government dipped previously “untouchable” pools of money, such as Social Security, to pay for a misguided government adventure?

This is noxious and injurious economic policy that will transform the fundamental relationship between business and government.  It will transfes billions of productive, job-creating dollars out of the economy, delaying additional growth for years.  And it is an insidious bait-and-switch tactic designed to re-insert, when no one is looking, a bailout fund that was previously rejected by the Senate and reviled by the public.

A friend who works in finance writes:

Just hours before finishing the 2,000-page Dodd-Frank financial reform bill at 5:40am Friday morning, leaders of the Democratic majority snuck in a wholly new, unprecedented, and very damaging tax on U.S.-based institutions that provide critical capital to small and large businesses across the country.

Specifically, a new Financial Stability Oversight Council (will impose an “assessment” on almost all types of financial institutions with more than $50 billion in assets (excluding banks that have deposit insurance, as well as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and other types of “government-sponsored enterprise”) as well as hedge funds that manage more than $10 billion.

Collection of the tax will begin at yet-to-be-determined time prior to September 2012.  The funds will be placed in a “Financial Crisis Special Assessment Fund” at Treasury and cannot be removed for 25 years, after which time they will be used to pay down the deficit.

The insidious maneuver is the clearest indication that supporters of the Dodd-Frank bill will gladly sacrifice the growth and prosperity of the U.S. economy if it means they can spitefully “stick it” to U.S. financial institutions one more time. With unemployment figures lingering at recent highs and a growing recognition that previous so-called “stimulus” measures have failed to have a meaningful impact on the U.S. economy, the Democratic majority’s new tax will confiscate nearly $20 billion from institutions that lend money and provide equity capital to all types of businesses — including start-ups, large manufacturers, healthcare providers, and small family-owned businesses.

In its wildest dreams, the government could not conceive of a more anti-stimulative policy: To take $20 billion from the firms whose role it is to allocate money to the fastest growing and most productive, job-creating firms, and have that money lie dormant in a vault at the U.S. Treasury for two-and-a-half decades.

And it gets much worse. The criteria used to determine how much any given firm will owe are so nebulous that it is impossible for a firm to calculate its share of the tax.  For instance, included among the sixteen or so factors used to calculate an individual firm’s tax obligation are the following:

  • “the nature, scope, and mix of the company’s activities;”
  • “the extent and nature of the company’s transactions and relationships with other financial companies;”
  • “the amount and nature of the company’s financial assets;”
  • “the company’s importance as a source of credit for households, businesses, and State and local governments and as a source of liquidity for the financial system”
  • “the company’s importance as a source of credit for low-income, minority, or underserved communities and the impact the failure of such company would have on the availability of credit in such communities;”
  • “such other risk-related factors as the Council may determine to be appropriate.”

The uncertainty created by these completely ambiguous factors will invariably lead firms subject to this tax to reserve amounts that are several times what it may ultimately owe.  This will keep considerably more than the $20 billion from being put to productive use in the economy.  Banks, insurance companies, and investment funds are already hesitant to lend to businesses.  The tax will ensure that those capital providers sit indefinitely on the sidelines. Further, the imposition of last minute, middle-of-the-night tax increases make businesses even more apprehensive because they have no idea what government “surprises” lay in the future.

Can it get even worse?  Of course.  The largest hedge funds have achieved their size because they have demonstrated consistent success over one or more decades.  As responsible safe havens of capital, these investment funds attract a disproportionate amount of the money that public and private pension funds dedicate to the hedge fund sector.  The Dodd-Frank tax will flow directly from the investors of these hedge funds and punish hundreds of thousands (even millions?) of pensioners.

Similarly, the millions of investors and customers of the companies in the $50+ billion institutions will also feel the pain of the Dodd-Frank tax. Messrs Dodd and Frank seem to believe that you can punish a business without harming the millions of investors, customers and suppliers connected to that business. They suspend disbelief to not recognize that businesses are merely formal collections of people organized to provide services and goods to other people. Punitive measures against corporations do not impact the faceless corporation itself, but the millions of people whose livelihoods revolve around the services and goods provided by the corporation.

The Dodd-Frank tax also comes with exceptionally onerous information sharing obligations that allow regulators to perform on-site inspections and rummage through all of the firm’s books and records. There are no limitations; regulators are allowed to view anything deemed “necessary to determine appropriate risk-based assessments.” These burdensome requirements alone are sufficient to encourage financial institutions to pack up and move overseas.

Putting aside the tax issues for a moment, I see another cynical purpose for the new tax. The initial versions of both the House and Senate bills had bailout funds that would be stacked with money in advance of the next economic crisis. The money would sit patiently (and unproductively) and wait for a future economic crisis, at which time it would be used to support creditors of floundering Too Big To Fail firms. Due to public revulsion of bailouts, these “pre-crisis funds” ($150 billion in the House bill and $50 billion in the Senate bill) were eliminated in the final bill. However, it seems increasingly clear that the new Dodd-Frank tax is merely a clandestine attempt to reinstitute the pre-crisis fund.

The Dodd-Frank tax is being imposed on the exact same collection of businesses that were targeted in the House bill, and the assessments are being calculated based on the exact same criteria in the House and Senate bills. In fact, the only difference between the pre-crisis fund and the Dodd-Frank tax is a line that says the “Fund shall not be used in connection with the liquidation of any financial company under Title II [Orderly Liquidation Authority].”

But if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck…you know the rest.  There is no getting around the fact that in both form and substance, the Dodd-Frank tax is the pre-crisis fund’s clone.  The meager line about not being used in an orderly liquidation can easily be removed by a future Congress or merely be ignored when the next crisis arrives.  Does anyone truly believe that if there’s a pool of money sitting at Treasury, that it won’t be used during an economic crisis? Besides, government funds are fungible and forever being misappropriated. How many times has government dipped previously “untouchable” pools of money, such as Social Security, to pay for a misguided government adventure?

This is noxious and injurious economic policy that will transform the fundamental relationship between business and government.  It will transfes billions of productive, job-creating dollars out of the economy, delaying additional growth for years.  And it is an insidious bait-and-switch tactic designed to re-insert, when no one is looking, a bailout fund that was previously rejected by the Senate and reviled by the public.

Read Less

The Angry Left Is Angry Again. Go Figure.

The Angry Left is, well, angry. Very angry. In fact, they are foot-stomping, name-calling, my-opponents-are-scum-of-the-earth angry. The proximate cause for the latest temper tantrum is the firing of David Weigel by the Washington Post. But it could have been any topic on any given day.

This time the target is Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, who is lectured by Glenn Greenwald for bitter, shrill, and screechy attacks, for casting “snide insults,” for lashing out with vindictiveness and “spit[ting] petulant playground epithets with absolutely no accountability.” Next up at Salon: Tiger Woods preaching on the importance of marital fidelity.

There is by now a boring predictability to the left’s modus operandi. Any disagreement with them rises to the level of an assault on truth, beauty, and goodness, requiring a full retaliatory, ad hominem response. So if Goldberg thinks the Post’s firing of Weigel was justified, he is a really evil fellow. Worse, Goldberg actually supported the Iraq war. And David Bradley offered “money and gifts” — even ponies to Goldberg’s children! — in order to lure Goldberg from the New Yorker to the Atlantic. Just where will the corruption end?

The question many thoughtful writers confront, in the face of the huffing and puffing of the lunatic fringe, is how does one respond? It’s not always obvious or easy. In this case, Goldberg does a nice job of showing admirable self-restraint (and humor) and offers Greenwald an invitation. We’ll see what transpires.

It has long struck me as peculiar that the left is so morally outraged that one of the most sadistic rulers in modern times, Saddam Hussein, was deposed from power. One can oppose the wisdom of the Iraq war while still being grateful for how far Iraq has traveled since Saddam was removed from power. But not the left. For them, the Iraq war was and shall forever be George W. Bush’s War, the Neocon’s War, the Immoral War. In point of fact, it was, in part, a war of liberation. And what is really disconcerting to the left is that the surge worked and progress is being made (even if slowly and with setbacks). Talk about indignities.

In any event, as between the informed and nuanced views of Goldberg (on just about any subject) and the simplistic and ideological approach used by Greenwald (on just about every subject), discerning readers can decide for themselves.

The Angry Left is, well, angry. Very angry. In fact, they are foot-stomping, name-calling, my-opponents-are-scum-of-the-earth angry. The proximate cause for the latest temper tantrum is the firing of David Weigel by the Washington Post. But it could have been any topic on any given day.

This time the target is Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, who is lectured by Glenn Greenwald for bitter, shrill, and screechy attacks, for casting “snide insults,” for lashing out with vindictiveness and “spit[ting] petulant playground epithets with absolutely no accountability.” Next up at Salon: Tiger Woods preaching on the importance of marital fidelity.

There is by now a boring predictability to the left’s modus operandi. Any disagreement with them rises to the level of an assault on truth, beauty, and goodness, requiring a full retaliatory, ad hominem response. So if Goldberg thinks the Post’s firing of Weigel was justified, he is a really evil fellow. Worse, Goldberg actually supported the Iraq war. And David Bradley offered “money and gifts” — even ponies to Goldberg’s children! — in order to lure Goldberg from the New Yorker to the Atlantic. Just where will the corruption end?

The question many thoughtful writers confront, in the face of the huffing and puffing of the lunatic fringe, is how does one respond? It’s not always obvious or easy. In this case, Goldberg does a nice job of showing admirable self-restraint (and humor) and offers Greenwald an invitation. We’ll see what transpires.

It has long struck me as peculiar that the left is so morally outraged that one of the most sadistic rulers in modern times, Saddam Hussein, was deposed from power. One can oppose the wisdom of the Iraq war while still being grateful for how far Iraq has traveled since Saddam was removed from power. But not the left. For them, the Iraq war was and shall forever be George W. Bush’s War, the Neocon’s War, the Immoral War. In point of fact, it was, in part, a war of liberation. And what is really disconcerting to the left is that the surge worked and progress is being made (even if slowly and with setbacks). Talk about indignities.

In any event, as between the informed and nuanced views of Goldberg (on just about any subject) and the simplistic and ideological approach used by Greenwald (on just about every subject), discerning readers can decide for themselves.

Read Less

Success Without Victory

Developments with the war in Afghanistan are causing us to question our methods of warfare as we have not since Vietnam. Comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam are mushrooming, of course; Fouad Ajami has a useful one today, in which he considers the effect of withdrawal deadlines on the American people’s expectations as well as the enemy’s. But on Friday, Caroline Glick took a broader view of contemporary Western methods, comparing the U.S. operating profile in Afghanistan to that of the IDF in Lebanon in the 1990s.

As I have done here, she invoked the White House guidance report in December, according to which “we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever.” Such guidance, she says, “when executed … brings not victory nor even stability.” She is right; Fouad Ajami is right; and both are focusing where our attention should be right now, which is on the conduct of the war at the political level.

There’s a good reason why comparisons with Vietnam are gathering steam. It’s not the geography, the campaign plan, or the details of the historical context, alliances, or political purposes: it’s the behavior of the American leadership. As Senator McCain points out, President Obama has steadfastly refused to affirm that the July 2011 deadline is conditions-based. But I was particularly struck by the recent words of Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy for the “AfPak” problem, because they evoke a whole political doctrine of “limited war,” which dates back to the Vietnam era.

Holbrooke has been keeping a low profile. But he’s a crucial actor in this drama, and in early June he made these observations:

Let me be clear on one thing, everybody understands that this war will not end in a clear-cut military victory. It’s not going to end on the deck of a battleship like World War Two, or Dayton, Ohio, like the Bosnian war. …

It’s going to have some different ending from that, some form of political settlements are necessary … you can’t have a settlement with al-Qaeda, you can’t talk to them, you can’t negotiate with them, it’s out of the question. But it is possible to talk to Taliban leaders. …

What do [critics] mean by win? We don’t use the word win, we use the word succeed.

As an aside, I would have thought the Dayton process did, in fact, have relevance for the “peace jirga” process now underway with the Afghan factions, and that we might expect an outcome with some similarities to the Dayton Accords. But my central concern here is the virtually exact overlap of Holbrooke’s conceptual language with that of the Johnson-era prosecution of the Vietnam War.

That we had to seek a “settlement” with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong was received wisdom under Lyndon Johnson; in this memo from a key reevaluation of the war effort in 1965, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara leads off with it. His reference to “creating conditions for a favorable settlement” by demonstrating to the North Vietnamese that “the odds are against their winning” is a near-perfect statement of the limited-war proposition encapsulated by Henry Kissinger in his influential 1958 book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (quotations are from the W. W. Norton & Co. edition of 1969). Said Kissinger:

The goal of war can no longer be military victory, strictly speaking, but the attainment of certain specific political conditions, which are fully understood by the opponent. … Our purpose is to affect the will of the enemy, not to destroy him. … War can be limited only by presenting the enemy with an unfavorable calculus of risks. (p. 189)

Kissinger’s title reminds us that it was the emerging nuclear threat that galvanized limited-war thinking in the period leading up to Vietnam. But that was only one of the factors in our selection of limited objectives for that conflict. Another was an attribution to the enemy of aspirations that mirrored ours, with the persistent characterization of the North Vietnamese Communists – much like Richard Holbrooke’s of the Taliban – as potential partners in negotiation. A seminal example of that occurred in Johnson’s celebrated “Peace without Conquest” speech of April 7, 1965:

For what do the people of North Vietnam want? They want what their neighbors also desire: food for their hunger; health for their bodies; a chance to learn; progress for their country; and an end to the bondage of material misery. And they would find all these things far more readily in peaceful association with others than in the endless course of battle.

It was not, of course, what the people of North Vietnam wanted that mattered; this political factor was sadly miscast. The LBJ speech was beautifully crafted and full of poignant and powerful rhetoric. But the rhetoric could not ultimately hide the bald facts, which were that Johnson wanted a settlement in Vietnam, that he had no concept of victory to outline, and that his main desire was to get out.

The speech was recognized at the time as “defensive” in character. And we must not deceive ourselves that Holbrooke’s words from earlier this month are being interpreted abroad in any other way. I’ve seen no reference to his comments in a leading American publication, but media outlets across Asia, Europe, and Africa have quoted him. It’s interesting that in 2010, he feels no need to cloak his blunt observations – so consonant with Kissinger’s dryly precise limited-war formulation – in the elliptical, emotive language favored by the Johnson administration in its public utterances. In the 1960s, the limited-war concept of disclaiming all desire to “win” was still suspect. But, as much as we have criticized it in the decades since, we have internalized and mainstreamed it as well. Holbrooke apparently feels empowered to speak clearly in these terms, without euphemism or caveat.

There is no good record to invoke for pursuing the strategy of “peace without conquest.” It took almost exactly 10 years after the LBJ speech for the strategy to produce the total collapse of the U.S. effort in Vietnam; a wealthy superpower can keep “not-winning” for a long time. All but 400 of the 58,000 American lives given to Vietnam were lost in that 10-year period, along with the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives taken in the fighting and the Communist victory.

But there was a lot of success in that period too. U.S. troops won every tactical engagement, including the defeat of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Under Nixon, North Vietnam was isolated and driven to the bargaining table. Under General Creighton Abrams, the defense of the South had, with the exception of air support, been successfully “Vietnamized” when the U.S. pulled out our last ground forces in 1972. But these successes could not establish a sustainable status quo.

Vietnam is our example of what “success without victory” looks like. We should be alarmed that the current administration seeks that defensive objective in Afghanistan. Such a pursuit is, itself, one of the main conditions for producing failure – and failure that is compounded by being protracted and bloody. As for the reason why that should be, Dr. Kissinger, with his clinical precision, must have the last word:

In any conflict the side which is animated by faith in victory has a decided advantage over an opponent who wishes above all to preserve the status quo. It will be prepared to run greater risks because its purpose will be stronger. (p. 246)

Kissinger acknowledged when he wrote these words – having both Vietnam and the larger Soviet threat in mind – that this was a limiting factor the Western powers had not devised a means of overcoming. In Afghanistan today, meanwhile, by Team Obama’s affirmation, we are the side not animated by faith in victory.

Developments with the war in Afghanistan are causing us to question our methods of warfare as we have not since Vietnam. Comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam are mushrooming, of course; Fouad Ajami has a useful one today, in which he considers the effect of withdrawal deadlines on the American people’s expectations as well as the enemy’s. But on Friday, Caroline Glick took a broader view of contemporary Western methods, comparing the U.S. operating profile in Afghanistan to that of the IDF in Lebanon in the 1990s.

As I have done here, she invoked the White House guidance report in December, according to which “we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever.” Such guidance, she says, “when executed … brings not victory nor even stability.” She is right; Fouad Ajami is right; and both are focusing where our attention should be right now, which is on the conduct of the war at the political level.

There’s a good reason why comparisons with Vietnam are gathering steam. It’s not the geography, the campaign plan, or the details of the historical context, alliances, or political purposes: it’s the behavior of the American leadership. As Senator McCain points out, President Obama has steadfastly refused to affirm that the July 2011 deadline is conditions-based. But I was particularly struck by the recent words of Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy for the “AfPak” problem, because they evoke a whole political doctrine of “limited war,” which dates back to the Vietnam era.

Holbrooke has been keeping a low profile. But he’s a crucial actor in this drama, and in early June he made these observations:

Let me be clear on one thing, everybody understands that this war will not end in a clear-cut military victory. It’s not going to end on the deck of a battleship like World War Two, or Dayton, Ohio, like the Bosnian war. …

It’s going to have some different ending from that, some form of political settlements are necessary … you can’t have a settlement with al-Qaeda, you can’t talk to them, you can’t negotiate with them, it’s out of the question. But it is possible to talk to Taliban leaders. …

What do [critics] mean by win? We don’t use the word win, we use the word succeed.

As an aside, I would have thought the Dayton process did, in fact, have relevance for the “peace jirga” process now underway with the Afghan factions, and that we might expect an outcome with some similarities to the Dayton Accords. But my central concern here is the virtually exact overlap of Holbrooke’s conceptual language with that of the Johnson-era prosecution of the Vietnam War.

That we had to seek a “settlement” with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong was received wisdom under Lyndon Johnson; in this memo from a key reevaluation of the war effort in 1965, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara leads off with it. His reference to “creating conditions for a favorable settlement” by demonstrating to the North Vietnamese that “the odds are against their winning” is a near-perfect statement of the limited-war proposition encapsulated by Henry Kissinger in his influential 1958 book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (quotations are from the W. W. Norton & Co. edition of 1969). Said Kissinger:

The goal of war can no longer be military victory, strictly speaking, but the attainment of certain specific political conditions, which are fully understood by the opponent. … Our purpose is to affect the will of the enemy, not to destroy him. … War can be limited only by presenting the enemy with an unfavorable calculus of risks. (p. 189)

Kissinger’s title reminds us that it was the emerging nuclear threat that galvanized limited-war thinking in the period leading up to Vietnam. But that was only one of the factors in our selection of limited objectives for that conflict. Another was an attribution to the enemy of aspirations that mirrored ours, with the persistent characterization of the North Vietnamese Communists – much like Richard Holbrooke’s of the Taliban – as potential partners in negotiation. A seminal example of that occurred in Johnson’s celebrated “Peace without Conquest” speech of April 7, 1965:

For what do the people of North Vietnam want? They want what their neighbors also desire: food for their hunger; health for their bodies; a chance to learn; progress for their country; and an end to the bondage of material misery. And they would find all these things far more readily in peaceful association with others than in the endless course of battle.

It was not, of course, what the people of North Vietnam wanted that mattered; this political factor was sadly miscast. The LBJ speech was beautifully crafted and full of poignant and powerful rhetoric. But the rhetoric could not ultimately hide the bald facts, which were that Johnson wanted a settlement in Vietnam, that he had no concept of victory to outline, and that his main desire was to get out.

The speech was recognized at the time as “defensive” in character. And we must not deceive ourselves that Holbrooke’s words from earlier this month are being interpreted abroad in any other way. I’ve seen no reference to his comments in a leading American publication, but media outlets across Asia, Europe, and Africa have quoted him. It’s interesting that in 2010, he feels no need to cloak his blunt observations – so consonant with Kissinger’s dryly precise limited-war formulation – in the elliptical, emotive language favored by the Johnson administration in its public utterances. In the 1960s, the limited-war concept of disclaiming all desire to “win” was still suspect. But, as much as we have criticized it in the decades since, we have internalized and mainstreamed it as well. Holbrooke apparently feels empowered to speak clearly in these terms, without euphemism or caveat.

There is no good record to invoke for pursuing the strategy of “peace without conquest.” It took almost exactly 10 years after the LBJ speech for the strategy to produce the total collapse of the U.S. effort in Vietnam; a wealthy superpower can keep “not-winning” for a long time. All but 400 of the 58,000 American lives given to Vietnam were lost in that 10-year period, along with the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives taken in the fighting and the Communist victory.

But there was a lot of success in that period too. U.S. troops won every tactical engagement, including the defeat of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Under Nixon, North Vietnam was isolated and driven to the bargaining table. Under General Creighton Abrams, the defense of the South had, with the exception of air support, been successfully “Vietnamized” when the U.S. pulled out our last ground forces in 1972. But these successes could not establish a sustainable status quo.

Vietnam is our example of what “success without victory” looks like. We should be alarmed that the current administration seeks that defensive objective in Afghanistan. Such a pursuit is, itself, one of the main conditions for producing failure – and failure that is compounded by being protracted and bloody. As for the reason why that should be, Dr. Kissinger, with his clinical precision, must have the last word:

In any conflict the side which is animated by faith in victory has a decided advantage over an opponent who wishes above all to preserve the status quo. It will be prepared to run greater risks because its purpose will be stronger. (p. 246)

Kissinger acknowledged when he wrote these words – having both Vietnam and the larger Soviet threat in mind – that this was a limiting factor the Western powers had not devised a means of overcoming. In Afghanistan today, meanwhile, by Team Obama’s affirmation, we are the side not animated by faith in victory.

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Senator Robert Byrd, R.I.P.

Senator Robert Bryd was the longest serving senator in U.S. history. He cast more votes than any other senator. Others have commented on his maturation on civil rights issues. We’re told that his colleagues are bereft — they hardly can imagine the place without him. Indeed, he was a model – and the envy of many an eye. Really, who could come close to him when it came to looting the taxpayers?

The largess he bestowed on his state is legendary. He has more than 30 buildings, roads, and monuments — in a very small state (41st in the nation) — named after him. But we do have some data that put into perspective how much taxpayer money was spent on all those buildings and countless other pork-barrel projects. As the Tax Foundation explained:

West Virginia taxpayers benefit significantly more than the average state from federal spending. Per dollar of federal tax collected, West Virginia citizens received approximately $1.76 in the way of federal spending. This ranks West Virginia 5th highest among all states. This represents a significant rise from 1995, when West Virginia received $1.59 per dollar of taxes in federal spending, ranking it 2nd nationally.

With a huge helping hand from Byrd, since 1981, West Virginia never dropped below 13th in the grabbing-money-from-taxpayers department.
I asked a number of budget gurus the total value of the taxpayers’ money that Byrd has hauled into his state since 1959. The unanimous response: it’s impossible to tell. But it’s a really big number. You can imagine that’s the sort of epitaph many a U.S. senator would love to have.

Senator Robert Bryd was the longest serving senator in U.S. history. He cast more votes than any other senator. Others have commented on his maturation on civil rights issues. We’re told that his colleagues are bereft — they hardly can imagine the place without him. Indeed, he was a model – and the envy of many an eye. Really, who could come close to him when it came to looting the taxpayers?

The largess he bestowed on his state is legendary. He has more than 30 buildings, roads, and monuments — in a very small state (41st in the nation) — named after him. But we do have some data that put into perspective how much taxpayer money was spent on all those buildings and countless other pork-barrel projects. As the Tax Foundation explained:

West Virginia taxpayers benefit significantly more than the average state from federal spending. Per dollar of federal tax collected, West Virginia citizens received approximately $1.76 in the way of federal spending. This ranks West Virginia 5th highest among all states. This represents a significant rise from 1995, when West Virginia received $1.59 per dollar of taxes in federal spending, ranking it 2nd nationally.

With a huge helping hand from Byrd, since 1981, West Virginia never dropped below 13th in the grabbing-money-from-taxpayers department.
I asked a number of budget gurus the total value of the taxpayers’ money that Byrd has hauled into his state since 1959. The unanimous response: it’s impossible to tell. But it’s a really big number. You can imagine that’s the sort of epitaph many a U.S. senator would love to have.

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Supreme Court Bats .500

In case you had any doubt about the centrality of the Supreme Court in our society, the Court handed down two critically important decisions today.

In  McDonald v. Chicago, the Court held in a 5-to-4 decision (not surprisingly, Justice Sonia Sotomayor was in the minority) that the Second Amendment is applicable in states and localities via the Fourteenth Amendment. Local and state handgun bans will certainly be struck down, although the Court left room for some regulation, as it does with regard to other fundamental rights. A generation’s worth of conservative legal scholarship and thoughtful jurisprudence have vindicated a right so central in the Founders’ vision that it grabbed the No. 2 spot in the Bill of Rights. Elena Kagan, what say you on this?

In the other headline grabber of the day, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Court ruled that schools can require religious groups to open their doors to everyone, even if it violates the members’ beliefs (well, the original members’ beliefs). Specifically, the issue was “whether a public institution’s conditioning access to a student organization forum on compliance with an all-comers policy violates the Constitution.” The Court held it was a content-neutral policy (e.g., Republican clubs have to take Democrats; Democratic clubs must take Republicans), so there was no First Amendment violation. (The inanity of such a policy is further proof that law schools, Hastings in this case, are fonts of many things except wisdom.) So pro-choice advocates gain entry into Catholic groups, Muslims may join the Hillel, and yes, gun-ban advocates can join an NRA group. It seems shocking, I am sure, to many Americans that the rights of association and religion don’t protect against mischief-making. In dissent, Justice Sam Alito argued:

Religious groups like CLS obviously engage in expressive association, and no legitimate state interest could override the powerful effect that an accept-all-comers law would have on the ability of religious groups to express their views. The State of California surely could not demand that all Christian groups admit members who believe that Jesus was merely human. Jewish groups could not be required to admit anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers. Muslim groups could not be forced to admit persons who are viewed as slandering Islam.

While there can be no question that the State of California could not impose such restrictions on all religious groups in the State, the Court now holds that Hastings, a state institution, may impose these very same requirements on students who wish to participate in a forum that is designed to foster the expression of diverse viewpoints.

Alito adds a final, devastating critique of the majority’s reasoning:

In response to the argument that the accept-all-comers-policy would permit a small and unpopular group to be taken over by students who wish to silence its message, the Court states that the policy would permit a registered group to impose membership requirements “designed to ensure that students join because of their commitment to a group’s vitality, not its demise.” … With this concession, the Court tacitly recognizes that Hastings does not really have an accept-all-comers policy—it has an accept-some-dissident-comers policy—and the line between members who merely seek to change a group’s message (who apparently must be admitted) and those who seek a group’s “demise” (who may be kept out) is hopelessly vague.

The result, I suspect, will not be chaos but rather the privatization of — and thus discrimination against — religious groups, which will no longer enjoy school financial support, use of facilities, etc. It is a perverse result but one that, for now, is the law of the land. Is Kagan keen on this one?

Don’t expect her to answer queries on either of these cases. The senators — both liberal and conservative — would do well to insist she does, however.

In case you had any doubt about the centrality of the Supreme Court in our society, the Court handed down two critically important decisions today.

In  McDonald v. Chicago, the Court held in a 5-to-4 decision (not surprisingly, Justice Sonia Sotomayor was in the minority) that the Second Amendment is applicable in states and localities via the Fourteenth Amendment. Local and state handgun bans will certainly be struck down, although the Court left room for some regulation, as it does with regard to other fundamental rights. A generation’s worth of conservative legal scholarship and thoughtful jurisprudence have vindicated a right so central in the Founders’ vision that it grabbed the No. 2 spot in the Bill of Rights. Elena Kagan, what say you on this?

In the other headline grabber of the day, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Court ruled that schools can require religious groups to open their doors to everyone, even if it violates the members’ beliefs (well, the original members’ beliefs). Specifically, the issue was “whether a public institution’s conditioning access to a student organization forum on compliance with an all-comers policy violates the Constitution.” The Court held it was a content-neutral policy (e.g., Republican clubs have to take Democrats; Democratic clubs must take Republicans), so there was no First Amendment violation. (The inanity of such a policy is further proof that law schools, Hastings in this case, are fonts of many things except wisdom.) So pro-choice advocates gain entry into Catholic groups, Muslims may join the Hillel, and yes, gun-ban advocates can join an NRA group. It seems shocking, I am sure, to many Americans that the rights of association and religion don’t protect against mischief-making. In dissent, Justice Sam Alito argued:

Religious groups like CLS obviously engage in expressive association, and no legitimate state interest could override the powerful effect that an accept-all-comers law would have on the ability of religious groups to express their views. The State of California surely could not demand that all Christian groups admit members who believe that Jesus was merely human. Jewish groups could not be required to admit anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers. Muslim groups could not be forced to admit persons who are viewed as slandering Islam.

While there can be no question that the State of California could not impose such restrictions on all religious groups in the State, the Court now holds that Hastings, a state institution, may impose these very same requirements on students who wish to participate in a forum that is designed to foster the expression of diverse viewpoints.

Alito adds a final, devastating critique of the majority’s reasoning:

In response to the argument that the accept-all-comers-policy would permit a small and unpopular group to be taken over by students who wish to silence its message, the Court states that the policy would permit a registered group to impose membership requirements “designed to ensure that students join because of their commitment to a group’s vitality, not its demise.” … With this concession, the Court tacitly recognizes that Hastings does not really have an accept-all-comers policy—it has an accept-some-dissident-comers policy—and the line between members who merely seek to change a group’s message (who apparently must be admitted) and those who seek a group’s “demise” (who may be kept out) is hopelessly vague.

The result, I suspect, will not be chaos but rather the privatization of — and thus discrimination against — religious groups, which will no longer enjoy school financial support, use of facilities, etc. It is a perverse result but one that, for now, is the law of the land. Is Kagan keen on this one?

Don’t expect her to answer queries on either of these cases. The senators — both liberal and conservative — would do well to insist she does, however.

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The Malaysia Example

Jackson Diehl, in an immensely important column, writes:

Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of Malaysia’s political opposition, has become known over the past decade as one of the foremost advocates of liberal democracy in Muslim countries. … Lately, Anwar has been getting attention for something else: strident rhetoric about Israel and alleged “Zionist influence” in Malaysia. He recently joined a demonstration outside the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur where an Israeli flag was burned. He’s made dark insinuations about the “Jewish-controlled” Washington public relations firm Apco Worldwide, which is working for Malaysia’s quasi-authoritarian government. Therein lies a story of the Obama era — about a beleaguered democrat fighting for political and personal survival with little help from Washington; about the growing global climate of hostility toward Israel; and about the increasing willingness of U.S. friends in places such as Turkey and Malaysia to exploit it.

Diehl explains that Anwar is being prosecuted. (“Freed after six years, he built a multi-ethnic democratic opposition movement that shocked the ruling party with its gains in recent elections. It now appears to have a chance at winning the next parliamentary campaign, which would allow Malaysia to join Indonesia and Turkey as full-fledged majority-Muslim democracies.”) But, once again, the Obama administration is of no help:

Obama said nothing in public about Anwar when he granted Najib a prized bilateral meeting in Washington in April. After a “senior officials dialogue” between the two governments this month, the State Department conceded that the ongoing trial again had not been raised, “because this issue was recently discussed at length.” When it comes to human rights, the Obama administration apparently does not wish to be repetitive.

Diehl provides a vivid example of why Obama’s foreign policy is precisely — and dangerously — wrongheaded. By ingratiating ourselves with Muslim despots, slapping around Israel, and downgrading human rights, we are systematically encouraging aggression and repression by Muslim governments. Rather than use a combination of carrots and sticks to encourage helpful conduct, we have given radicals every incentive to become more radical and have undercut moderates. It is the most counterproductive and, yes, uninformed foreign policy in memory. Obama says he “gets” the Muslim World, but he really doesn’t. If he truly understood the motives and incentives of these countries and the political landscape in which they operate, he’d being do the exact opposite of what he has been doing. Rather than telling radical Muslims what they want to hear, maybe it’s time to start telling Muslim governments what is expected if they want to have a productive relationship with the U.S. and avoid some adverse consequences. Now, that would be smart diplomacy.

Jackson Diehl, in an immensely important column, writes:

Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of Malaysia’s political opposition, has become known over the past decade as one of the foremost advocates of liberal democracy in Muslim countries. … Lately, Anwar has been getting attention for something else: strident rhetoric about Israel and alleged “Zionist influence” in Malaysia. He recently joined a demonstration outside the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur where an Israeli flag was burned. He’s made dark insinuations about the “Jewish-controlled” Washington public relations firm Apco Worldwide, which is working for Malaysia’s quasi-authoritarian government. Therein lies a story of the Obama era — about a beleaguered democrat fighting for political and personal survival with little help from Washington; about the growing global climate of hostility toward Israel; and about the increasing willingness of U.S. friends in places such as Turkey and Malaysia to exploit it.

Diehl explains that Anwar is being prosecuted. (“Freed after six years, he built a multi-ethnic democratic opposition movement that shocked the ruling party with its gains in recent elections. It now appears to have a chance at winning the next parliamentary campaign, which would allow Malaysia to join Indonesia and Turkey as full-fledged majority-Muslim democracies.”) But, once again, the Obama administration is of no help:

Obama said nothing in public about Anwar when he granted Najib a prized bilateral meeting in Washington in April. After a “senior officials dialogue” between the two governments this month, the State Department conceded that the ongoing trial again had not been raised, “because this issue was recently discussed at length.” When it comes to human rights, the Obama administration apparently does not wish to be repetitive.

Diehl provides a vivid example of why Obama’s foreign policy is precisely — and dangerously — wrongheaded. By ingratiating ourselves with Muslim despots, slapping around Israel, and downgrading human rights, we are systematically encouraging aggression and repression by Muslim governments. Rather than use a combination of carrots and sticks to encourage helpful conduct, we have given radicals every incentive to become more radical and have undercut moderates. It is the most counterproductive and, yes, uninformed foreign policy in memory. Obama says he “gets” the Muslim World, but he really doesn’t. If he truly understood the motives and incentives of these countries and the political landscape in which they operate, he’d being do the exact opposite of what he has been doing. Rather than telling radical Muslims what they want to hear, maybe it’s time to start telling Muslim governments what is expected if they want to have a productive relationship with the U.S. and avoid some adverse consequences. Now, that would be smart diplomacy.

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The Kagan Confirmation Hearings

I’m going to go out on a limb (not really): the confirmation hearings will be dull as dishwater and Elena Kagan will be confirmed easily. What’s more, I doubt that she will heed the advice — or that the Senate will insist that she does — of the Washington Post editors:

Ms. Kagan presents the committee with a challenge it has not encountered for four decades: how to judge a nominee with no prior judicial experience. … It should be possible to engage in a conversation about the processes employed by judges without inappropriately boxing Ms. Kagan into a corner or improperly seeking her commitment on a future vote. A discussion of this type would provide a valuable and public test of Ms. Kagan’s knowledge of the law, her appreciation or displeasure with different theories, and her skill in communicating clearly and in layman’s terms.

Given her skimpy litigation experience and writings and her lack of a judicial record, it would be entirely appropriate for the Senate to insist on some level of specificity from her, and some evidence of her judicial reasoning skills. Frankly, her record is so devoid of useful information that it would seem entirely reasonable for the Senate to refuse to confirm her unless and until she coughs up some answers. It’s not going to happen, in part because she’s probably the least objectionable nominee conservatives could hope for. But then, senators should explain how, with no meaningful information available to them, they can possibly fulfill their constitutional obligation to provide advice and consent for a lifetime appointment.

I’m going to go out on a limb (not really): the confirmation hearings will be dull as dishwater and Elena Kagan will be confirmed easily. What’s more, I doubt that she will heed the advice — or that the Senate will insist that she does — of the Washington Post editors:

Ms. Kagan presents the committee with a challenge it has not encountered for four decades: how to judge a nominee with no prior judicial experience. … It should be possible to engage in a conversation about the processes employed by judges without inappropriately boxing Ms. Kagan into a corner or improperly seeking her commitment on a future vote. A discussion of this type would provide a valuable and public test of Ms. Kagan’s knowledge of the law, her appreciation or displeasure with different theories, and her skill in communicating clearly and in layman’s terms.

Given her skimpy litigation experience and writings and her lack of a judicial record, it would be entirely appropriate for the Senate to insist on some level of specificity from her, and some evidence of her judicial reasoning skills. Frankly, her record is so devoid of useful information that it would seem entirely reasonable for the Senate to refuse to confirm her unless and until she coughs up some answers. It’s not going to happen, in part because she’s probably the least objectionable nominee conservatives could hope for. But then, senators should explain how, with no meaningful information available to them, they can possibly fulfill their constitutional obligation to provide advice and consent for a lifetime appointment.

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Wanted: Grown-Ups to Take On Obama’s Iran Policy

On Afghanistan, we have seen the emergence of a bipartisan, sober group of senators who understand the stakes and who aren’t shy about giving advice to the president. The same should be the case on Iran. Rather than platitudinous letters or resolutions, the most worthwhile endeavor at this point (one to three years from the time Iran has a nuclear weapon) would be to develop a bipartisan group that is candid on the administration’s deficiencies and vocal about the options we have for preventing Iran from going nuclear.

A fine starting point would be this, from Dan Coats, a candidate for the Senate, who explains the problem:

This is the most urgent national security issue America confronts today. Unfortunately, none of the actions taken, including inspections, reports and sanctions, has effectively challenged the Iranian regime’s nuclear ambitions. … Advocating an international group hug does nothing but encourage the enemy; all talk and no action emboldens bullies to be even more aggressive toward its neighbors and the world community.

He recommends three steps:

A much-enhanced international coalition devoted to the same objective: to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. A strong, ever-tightening sanctions track. The six UN Security Council sanctions resolutions over the past four years are far too weak to compel Iran to comply with the international community’s demands. Concrete military preparations. We are dealing with a regime that appears to respect little other than the genuine threat of force.

As to the first, we have done nothing to isolate and ostracize the Iranian regime diplomatically; to the contrary, we have welcomed the regime into UN bodies and afforded it the respect that the mullahs crave (and which will demoralize the internal opposition). But it is the third recommendation that is the most critical. Coats explains:

If it is true that a nuclear weapons-capable Iran is “unacceptable,” then our nation and the international community must understand what few options remain should the first two tracks fail. And Iran must be especially clear-eyed about those potential consequences. Indeed, to give the diplomatic and sanctions tracks the credibility they require, the military option must be genuinely credible.

It seems as though there is already a core group of grown-ups in the U.S. Senate — John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Dianne Feinstein, and Joe Lieberman immediately come to mind — who have the respect of their colleagues, the expertise, and the appropriate demeanor to take on this task. The administration is sleepwalking toward a national-security disaster, and the time for biting lips and pulling punches is over. It is time to tell the administration what it is doing wrong and how to fix it — before it is too late.

On Afghanistan, we have seen the emergence of a bipartisan, sober group of senators who understand the stakes and who aren’t shy about giving advice to the president. The same should be the case on Iran. Rather than platitudinous letters or resolutions, the most worthwhile endeavor at this point (one to three years from the time Iran has a nuclear weapon) would be to develop a bipartisan group that is candid on the administration’s deficiencies and vocal about the options we have for preventing Iran from going nuclear.

A fine starting point would be this, from Dan Coats, a candidate for the Senate, who explains the problem:

This is the most urgent national security issue America confronts today. Unfortunately, none of the actions taken, including inspections, reports and sanctions, has effectively challenged the Iranian regime’s nuclear ambitions. … Advocating an international group hug does nothing but encourage the enemy; all talk and no action emboldens bullies to be even more aggressive toward its neighbors and the world community.

He recommends three steps:

A much-enhanced international coalition devoted to the same objective: to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. A strong, ever-tightening sanctions track. The six UN Security Council sanctions resolutions over the past four years are far too weak to compel Iran to comply with the international community’s demands. Concrete military preparations. We are dealing with a regime that appears to respect little other than the genuine threat of force.

As to the first, we have done nothing to isolate and ostracize the Iranian regime diplomatically; to the contrary, we have welcomed the regime into UN bodies and afforded it the respect that the mullahs crave (and which will demoralize the internal opposition). But it is the third recommendation that is the most critical. Coats explains:

If it is true that a nuclear weapons-capable Iran is “unacceptable,” then our nation and the international community must understand what few options remain should the first two tracks fail. And Iran must be especially clear-eyed about those potential consequences. Indeed, to give the diplomatic and sanctions tracks the credibility they require, the military option must be genuinely credible.

It seems as though there is already a core group of grown-ups in the U.S. Senate — John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Dianne Feinstein, and Joe Lieberman immediately come to mind — who have the respect of their colleagues, the expertise, and the appropriate demeanor to take on this task. The administration is sleepwalking toward a national-security disaster, and the time for biting lips and pulling punches is over. It is time to tell the administration what it is doing wrong and how to fix it — before it is too late.

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Don’t Let Afghanistan Distract from Iraq

This Los Angeles Times article encapsulates many of the concerns I had about Iraq during my last visit a couple of months ago. Correspondent Ned Parker writes:

The Iraqis describe U.S. Embassy officials in Baghdad as obsessed with bringing an end to the large-scale U.S. troop presence in Iraq. They believe the embassy’s single-mindedness has often left the United States veering from crisis to crisis here. Some U.S. military officers and Western analysts have also criticized what they see as a failure to think beyond the planned drawdown to 50,000 noncombat troops by the end of August. The lack of focus may leave an opening for Iraq’s neighbor and the United States’ rival — Iran.

The greater attention being focused on Afghanistan — while necessary and commendable — risks exacerbating the risks in Iraq. Iraq has made considerable progress in recent years, but as a recent string of violent attacks, and the continuing failure to form a government since the March 7 election, make clear, Iraq is not yet stable enough that it can flourish on its own without substantial help from the United States. Yet the Obama administration appears to be focused on withdrawal as its top priority; certainly there is scant public comment from the administration about any plan to build a long-term strategic relationship with Iraq.

The president should realize that the gains of recent years can still be lost, and that preserving what so many American personnel — military and civilian alike — have sacrificed so much to achieve will require sustained, high-level attention.

This Los Angeles Times article encapsulates many of the concerns I had about Iraq during my last visit a couple of months ago. Correspondent Ned Parker writes:

The Iraqis describe U.S. Embassy officials in Baghdad as obsessed with bringing an end to the large-scale U.S. troop presence in Iraq. They believe the embassy’s single-mindedness has often left the United States veering from crisis to crisis here. Some U.S. military officers and Western analysts have also criticized what they see as a failure to think beyond the planned drawdown to 50,000 noncombat troops by the end of August. The lack of focus may leave an opening for Iraq’s neighbor and the United States’ rival — Iran.

The greater attention being focused on Afghanistan — while necessary and commendable — risks exacerbating the risks in Iraq. Iraq has made considerable progress in recent years, but as a recent string of violent attacks, and the continuing failure to form a government since the March 7 election, make clear, Iraq is not yet stable enough that it can flourish on its own without substantial help from the United States. Yet the Obama administration appears to be focused on withdrawal as its top priority; certainly there is scant public comment from the administration about any plan to build a long-term strategic relationship with Iraq.

The president should realize that the gains of recent years can still be lost, and that preserving what so many American personnel — military and civilian alike — have sacrificed so much to achieve will require sustained, high-level attention.

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Our Petulant President

I wanted to pick up on a point you made, Jen, about the latest example of petulance by our commander in chief. In Politico we read:

Obama chastised what he dubbed a current “obsession” over a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops. “My focus right now is how do we make sure what we’re doing there is successful,” he said. “By next year we will begin a transition.”

Perhaps the “obsession” is based on the fact that (a) Obama included a deadline for beginning troop withdrawals in his December 2009 West Point speech; (b) Vice President Biden has said that in “July of 2011 you’re going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it. Bet. On. It”; and (c) as recently as a week ago yesterday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said that July 2011 is a “firm date. … The July 2011 date, as stated by the president, that’s not moving. That’s not changing.”

It’s clear that the government and people in Afghanistan, as well as the Taliban (among others), are “obsessed” about Obama’s timeline and take it seriously. Silly them.

If the president recognizes the errors of his ways and deems the deadline inoperative, terrific. And if he has to pretend that his shift is not really a shift, okay. But we could all do with a little less lecturing and self-righteousness from Captain Kick-A**.

As is usually the case with Obama, the weaker his arguments are, the more peevish and mocking of his critics he becomes. When he can’t refute criticisms with facts, he resorts to ridicule. It’s an old game — and when it comes to our president, an increasingly wearying one. It’s worth noting, I suppose, that as Obama’s failures mount, his ill-temper and irritation increase. Which means that Obama, and the country, have an increasingly dyspeptic few years ahead of us.

I wanted to pick up on a point you made, Jen, about the latest example of petulance by our commander in chief. In Politico we read:

Obama chastised what he dubbed a current “obsession” over a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops. “My focus right now is how do we make sure what we’re doing there is successful,” he said. “By next year we will begin a transition.”

Perhaps the “obsession” is based on the fact that (a) Obama included a deadline for beginning troop withdrawals in his December 2009 West Point speech; (b) Vice President Biden has said that in “July of 2011 you’re going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it. Bet. On. It”; and (c) as recently as a week ago yesterday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said that July 2011 is a “firm date. … The July 2011 date, as stated by the president, that’s not moving. That’s not changing.”

It’s clear that the government and people in Afghanistan, as well as the Taliban (among others), are “obsessed” about Obama’s timeline and take it seriously. Silly them.

If the president recognizes the errors of his ways and deems the deadline inoperative, terrific. And if he has to pretend that his shift is not really a shift, okay. But we could all do with a little less lecturing and self-righteousness from Captain Kick-A**.

As is usually the case with Obama, the weaker his arguments are, the more peevish and mocking of his critics he becomes. When he can’t refute criticisms with facts, he resorts to ridicule. It’s an old game — and when it comes to our president, an increasingly wearying one. It’s worth noting, I suppose, that as Obama’s failures mount, his ill-temper and irritation increase. Which means that Obama, and the country, have an increasingly dyspeptic few years ahead of us.

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Rewarding Dictators

Mary O’Grady frets that at the moment when Cuba is facing an economic squeeze, Democrats in Congress are throwing the Communist dictatorship a lifeline by seeking to lift the travel ban “without any human-rights concession from Castro.” She sees a disturbing pattern:

Why were the Obama administration and key congressional Democrats obsessed, for seven months, with trying to force Honduras to take Mr. Zelaya back? Why did the U.S. pull visas, deny aid, and lead an international campaign to isolate the tiny Central American democracy? To paraphrase many Americans who wrote to me during the stand-off: “Whose side are these guys on anyway?”

As O’Grady notes, Cuba is economically vulnerable:

The dictatorship is hard up for hard currency. The regime now relies heavily on such measures as sending Cuban doctors to Venezuela in exchange for marked-down oil. But according to a recent Associated Press story, “Cuba’s foreign trade plunged by more than a third in 2009,” perhaps because Caracas, running out of money itself, is no longer a reliable sugar daddy. …

Cuba owes sovereign lenders billions of dollars, according to the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, and according to a June 23 Reuters report, it is so cash-strapped that it had “froze[n] up to $1 billion in the accounts of 600 foreign suppliers by the start of 2009.”

Now there is a serious food shortage. This month the independent media in Cuba reported that a scarcity of rice had the government so worried about civil unrest that it had to send police to accompany deliveries to shops.

It seems a humanitarian flotilla for Cuba would be in order. But rather than push Cuba to show progress on human rights, the Obama team and its Democratic allies are giving the regime a way out. (It’s the reverse of Ronald Reagan’s strategy of bankrupting the Soviet Union.) As with many other foreign policy endeavors during this presidency, one can chalk up the give-Cuba-a-break approach to foolishness or a frightful desire to cozy up to despots. Whatever the rationale, it’s not “smart” — but it will help facilitate Cuba’s influence in our hemisphere and keep Cuban dissidents’ jailers in power.

Mary O’Grady frets that at the moment when Cuba is facing an economic squeeze, Democrats in Congress are throwing the Communist dictatorship a lifeline by seeking to lift the travel ban “without any human-rights concession from Castro.” She sees a disturbing pattern:

Why were the Obama administration and key congressional Democrats obsessed, for seven months, with trying to force Honduras to take Mr. Zelaya back? Why did the U.S. pull visas, deny aid, and lead an international campaign to isolate the tiny Central American democracy? To paraphrase many Americans who wrote to me during the stand-off: “Whose side are these guys on anyway?”

As O’Grady notes, Cuba is economically vulnerable:

The dictatorship is hard up for hard currency. The regime now relies heavily on such measures as sending Cuban doctors to Venezuela in exchange for marked-down oil. But according to a recent Associated Press story, “Cuba’s foreign trade plunged by more than a third in 2009,” perhaps because Caracas, running out of money itself, is no longer a reliable sugar daddy. …

Cuba owes sovereign lenders billions of dollars, according to the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, and according to a June 23 Reuters report, it is so cash-strapped that it had “froze[n] up to $1 billion in the accounts of 600 foreign suppliers by the start of 2009.”

Now there is a serious food shortage. This month the independent media in Cuba reported that a scarcity of rice had the government so worried about civil unrest that it had to send police to accompany deliveries to shops.

It seems a humanitarian flotilla for Cuba would be in order. But rather than push Cuba to show progress on human rights, the Obama team and its Democratic allies are giving the regime a way out. (It’s the reverse of Ronald Reagan’s strategy of bankrupting the Soviet Union.) As with many other foreign policy endeavors during this presidency, one can chalk up the give-Cuba-a-break approach to foolishness or a frightful desire to cozy up to despots. Whatever the rationale, it’s not “smart” — but it will help facilitate Cuba’s influence in our hemisphere and keep Cuban dissidents’ jailers in power.

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RE: Oren Spills the Beans

Michael Oren is learning the hard way that Israeli politics isn’t beanbag. Over the weekend his remarks to foreign ministry officials were leaked to Haaretz. The report suggested that Oren was candidly critical of Obama. Now Oren is scrambling to deny the remarks and erase the impression — which just about everyone knows to be true — that the Israelis have never faced an American president quite so antagonistic toward the Jewish state. His explanation isn’t all that compelling:

In an interview, Oren said that he had spoken of a “tectonic shift in American foreign and domestic policies” under President Obama and that “Israel has to adjust to that.” But he suggested that his description was much more benign than that reported by anonymous sources who heard his briefing, explaining that he was merely emphasizing that Obama is an ambitious change agent not satisfied with the status quo.

Oren said the briefing, given in Hebrew at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, was no different from what he often says to various groups. “I said shift, not rift, but that may be a subtlety that escaped the Israeli ear,” he said.

Shift, rift — is it all that different? One also wonders how the jibe at his countrymen (“a subtlety that escaped the Israeli ear”) is received. (Had the American ambassador to Israel said that, an apology would be in order.) Oren denied much of the rest of the story:

Oren on Sunday emphatically denied as “a lie” a report that he had suggested in the briefing that Obama operated out of cold calculation, not emotional attachment to Israel. But he confirmed that he did say Obama runs a very tight ship, with key decision-making done at the White House, not the State Department or other agencies.

These are trying times for Israel, and the most seasoned officials find it difficult to both preserve their credibility and avert a blow-up with the Obama administration. Oren is plainly striving to walk a very fine line and navigate through the thicket of domestic critics and rivals. He certainly has his work cut out for him, as does the entire Israeli government, which must figure out how (quite literally) the Jewish state is to survive the Obama presidency.

Michael Oren is learning the hard way that Israeli politics isn’t beanbag. Over the weekend his remarks to foreign ministry officials were leaked to Haaretz. The report suggested that Oren was candidly critical of Obama. Now Oren is scrambling to deny the remarks and erase the impression — which just about everyone knows to be true — that the Israelis have never faced an American president quite so antagonistic toward the Jewish state. His explanation isn’t all that compelling:

In an interview, Oren said that he had spoken of a “tectonic shift in American foreign and domestic policies” under President Obama and that “Israel has to adjust to that.” But he suggested that his description was much more benign than that reported by anonymous sources who heard his briefing, explaining that he was merely emphasizing that Obama is an ambitious change agent not satisfied with the status quo.

Oren said the briefing, given in Hebrew at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, was no different from what he often says to various groups. “I said shift, not rift, but that may be a subtlety that escaped the Israeli ear,” he said.

Shift, rift — is it all that different? One also wonders how the jibe at his countrymen (“a subtlety that escaped the Israeli ear”) is received. (Had the American ambassador to Israel said that, an apology would be in order.) Oren denied much of the rest of the story:

Oren on Sunday emphatically denied as “a lie” a report that he had suggested in the briefing that Obama operated out of cold calculation, not emotional attachment to Israel. But he confirmed that he did say Obama runs a very tight ship, with key decision-making done at the White House, not the State Department or other agencies.

These are trying times for Israel, and the most seasoned officials find it difficult to both preserve their credibility and avert a blow-up with the Obama administration. Oren is plainly striving to walk a very fine line and navigate through the thicket of domestic critics and rivals. He certainly has his work cut out for him, as does the entire Israeli government, which must figure out how (quite literally) the Jewish state is to survive the Obama presidency.

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Panetta Stalls for Time on Iran

CIA director Leon Panetta had this exchange with Jake Tapper on This Week:

TAPPER: Do you think these latest sanctions will dissuade the Iranians from trying to enrich uranium?

PANETTA: I think the sanctions will have some impact. You know, the fact that we had Russia and China agree to that, that there is at least strong international opinion that Iran is on the wrong track, that’s important. Those sanctions will have some impact. The sanctions that were passed by the Congress this last week will have some additional impact. It could help weaken the regime. It could create some serious economic problems. Will it deter them from their ambitions with regards to nuclear capability? Probably not.

TAPPER: The 2007 national intelligence estimate said all of Iran’s work on nuclear weapons ended in 2003. You don’t still believe that, do you?

PANETTA: I think they continue to develop their know-how. They continue to develop their nuclear capability.

TAPPER: Including weaponization?

PANETTA: I think they continue to work on designs in that area. There is a continuing debate right now as to whether or nor they ought to proceed with the bomb. But they clearly are developing their nuclear capability, and that raises concerns. It raises concerns about, you know, just exactly what are their intentions, and where they intend to go. I mean, we think they have enough low-enriched uranium right now for two weapons. They do have to enrich it, fully, in order to get there. And we would estimate that if they made that decision, it would probably take a year to get there, probably another year to develop the kind of weapon delivery system in order to make that viable.

But having said that, you know, the president and the international community has said to Iran, you’ve got to wake up, you’ve got to join the family of nations, you’ve got to abide by international law. That’s in the best interests of Iran. It’s in the best interests of the Iranian people.

After Panetta declined to say whether the Iranians’ “technical troubles in their nuclear program” was the result of our sabotage (we certainly hope this is the case), there was this final discussion:

TAPPER: How likely do you think it is that Israel strikes Iran’s nuclear facilities within the next two years?

PANETTA: I think, you know, Israel obviously is very concerned, as is the entire world, about what’s happening in Iran. And they in particular because they’re in that region in the world, have a particular concern about their security. At the same time, I think, you know, on an intelligence basis, we continue to share intelligence as to what exactly is Iran’s capacity. I think they feel more strongly that Iran has already made the decision to proceed with the bomb. But at the same time, I think they know that sanctions will have an impact, they know that if we continue to push Iran from a diplomatic point of view, that we can have some impact, and I think they’re willing to give us the room to be able to try to change Iran diplomatically and culturally and politically as opposed to changing them militarily.

The interview is, to put it mildly, distressing. Americans should understand that it is not a question of whether the Iranians have enough material for a bomb — but how to get what they already have out of their hands. (So what were we doing last year offering to let them ship an unverifiable amount of their enriched uranium out of the country?) As Panetta explained, before Obama leaves office, Iran will probably have figured out how to boost the level of uranium enrichment and how to weaponize the material.

Moreover, the administration, at the risk of appearing ludicrously naive, is not willing to say what everyone now knows to be true: the 2007 NIE was rubbish. (The 2007 NIE was supposed to be modified or dispensed with last December, but the intelligence agencies continue to drag out the process.) As long as the NIE remains on the books, the administration is wedded to ambiguity on the topic, and therefore must in essence characterize the Israelis’ assessment as more alarmist than our own.

And finally, Panetta lets on that the Israelis are willing to give us some time to allow sanctions to work, but neither he nor the Israelis, we presume, seem all that confident they will work. “Some impact” doesn’t really provide comfort that the mullahs will give up on their nuclear ambitions.

All this is designed, no doubt, to forestall demands for decisive (i.e., military) action on our part and to keep Israel in a holding pattern. If we conceded that the Iranians — of course — are seeking nuclear weapons, have the material they need (once they are able to enrich the material further and weaponize it) to threaten its neighbors with annihilation, and that sanctions are too little, too late, why then Obama might be expected to do something about the greatest threat to our and our allies’ security in a generation. And that is a responsibility our president is unwilling to bear at present.

The administration, the Congress, and American Jewish groups continue the dance — pretending but not believing (unless Jewish leaders are entirely out to lunch) that Obama has a plan and the will to prevent the “unacceptable” (a nuclear-armed Iran). The Israelis meanwhile are left to consider: just how long do they dare wait before acting on their own to eliminate (or at least set back) the threat of nuclear attack on the Jewish state?

CIA director Leon Panetta had this exchange with Jake Tapper on This Week:

TAPPER: Do you think these latest sanctions will dissuade the Iranians from trying to enrich uranium?

PANETTA: I think the sanctions will have some impact. You know, the fact that we had Russia and China agree to that, that there is at least strong international opinion that Iran is on the wrong track, that’s important. Those sanctions will have some impact. The sanctions that were passed by the Congress this last week will have some additional impact. It could help weaken the regime. It could create some serious economic problems. Will it deter them from their ambitions with regards to nuclear capability? Probably not.

TAPPER: The 2007 national intelligence estimate said all of Iran’s work on nuclear weapons ended in 2003. You don’t still believe that, do you?

PANETTA: I think they continue to develop their know-how. They continue to develop their nuclear capability.

TAPPER: Including weaponization?

PANETTA: I think they continue to work on designs in that area. There is a continuing debate right now as to whether or nor they ought to proceed with the bomb. But they clearly are developing their nuclear capability, and that raises concerns. It raises concerns about, you know, just exactly what are their intentions, and where they intend to go. I mean, we think they have enough low-enriched uranium right now for two weapons. They do have to enrich it, fully, in order to get there. And we would estimate that if they made that decision, it would probably take a year to get there, probably another year to develop the kind of weapon delivery system in order to make that viable.

But having said that, you know, the president and the international community has said to Iran, you’ve got to wake up, you’ve got to join the family of nations, you’ve got to abide by international law. That’s in the best interests of Iran. It’s in the best interests of the Iranian people.

After Panetta declined to say whether the Iranians’ “technical troubles in their nuclear program” was the result of our sabotage (we certainly hope this is the case), there was this final discussion:

TAPPER: How likely do you think it is that Israel strikes Iran’s nuclear facilities within the next two years?

PANETTA: I think, you know, Israel obviously is very concerned, as is the entire world, about what’s happening in Iran. And they in particular because they’re in that region in the world, have a particular concern about their security. At the same time, I think, you know, on an intelligence basis, we continue to share intelligence as to what exactly is Iran’s capacity. I think they feel more strongly that Iran has already made the decision to proceed with the bomb. But at the same time, I think they know that sanctions will have an impact, they know that if we continue to push Iran from a diplomatic point of view, that we can have some impact, and I think they’re willing to give us the room to be able to try to change Iran diplomatically and culturally and politically as opposed to changing them militarily.

The interview is, to put it mildly, distressing. Americans should understand that it is not a question of whether the Iranians have enough material for a bomb — but how to get what they already have out of their hands. (So what were we doing last year offering to let them ship an unverifiable amount of their enriched uranium out of the country?) As Panetta explained, before Obama leaves office, Iran will probably have figured out how to boost the level of uranium enrichment and how to weaponize the material.

Moreover, the administration, at the risk of appearing ludicrously naive, is not willing to say what everyone now knows to be true: the 2007 NIE was rubbish. (The 2007 NIE was supposed to be modified or dispensed with last December, but the intelligence agencies continue to drag out the process.) As long as the NIE remains on the books, the administration is wedded to ambiguity on the topic, and therefore must in essence characterize the Israelis’ assessment as more alarmist than our own.

And finally, Panetta lets on that the Israelis are willing to give us some time to allow sanctions to work, but neither he nor the Israelis, we presume, seem all that confident they will work. “Some impact” doesn’t really provide comfort that the mullahs will give up on their nuclear ambitions.

All this is designed, no doubt, to forestall demands for decisive (i.e., military) action on our part and to keep Israel in a holding pattern. If we conceded that the Iranians — of course — are seeking nuclear weapons, have the material they need (once they are able to enrich the material further and weaponize it) to threaten its neighbors with annihilation, and that sanctions are too little, too late, why then Obama might be expected to do something about the greatest threat to our and our allies’ security in a generation. And that is a responsibility our president is unwilling to bear at present.

The administration, the Congress, and American Jewish groups continue the dance — pretending but not believing (unless Jewish leaders are entirely out to lunch) that Obama has a plan and the will to prevent the “unacceptable” (a nuclear-armed Iran). The Israelis meanwhile are left to consider: just how long do they dare wait before acting on their own to eliminate (or at least set back) the threat of nuclear attack on the Jewish state?

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Goldberg: What’s Wrong with J Street?

Jeffrey Goldberg shares a letter from a frustrated reader:

I watched your debate with Jeremy Ben-Ami the other night and it seemed like you agreed with nearly everything the guy had to say. You should understand that J Street is not a Zionist group at all. It supports congressional candidates who are hostile to Israel, and, in its own statements it says it’s opposed even to the threat of military action against Iran, something that Obama does regularly. Why don’t you understand that J Street is a wolf in sheep’s clothing? It is designed to separate Israel from the Democratic Party. It is not interested in supporting Israel, it is interested in providing cover for Jews who dislike Israel but need a Jewish cover to say so.

Goldberg’s retort is as unpersuasive as it is sad. He doesn’t rebut the readers’ points but says he’s troubled that the reader thinks such awful things. He also assures us that the people from J Street he’s met love Israel (he knows this, I guess, because they say so) and that they’re in favor of ending settlements just like Goldberg is. They are also in favor of carving up Jerusalem and lifting the Gaza blockade — and opposed to sanctions against Iran and statements, however bland, in support of Israel’s right of self-defense. But Goldberg doesn’t bother with all that. Nor does he address why it is that J Street hosted a confab filled with apologists for the mullahs.

He then makes this mind-boggling assertion: “Since I’m for an end to the settlements myself, I find it hard to believe that J Street is anti-Israel, since I am certainly not anti-Israel.” What?! (CAIR is in favor of ending settlements too, so does that mean … oh never mind.) He ends with a non-sequitur: “There has to be room in American Jewry for people who disagree with the policies of Israeli governments but want Israel to survive as a Jewish democracy. ” This of course sidesteps the question as to whether J Street is really pro-Israel and what it means by “survive.” (And there is “room” for everyone engaged in nonviolent debate in America, but not everyone deserves recognition as “pro-Israel.”)

Goldberg’s post is so halfhearted and unreasoned that one almost suspects he is mocking those who defend J Street. But alas, I think he’s serious — and exemplifies the difficulty that liberal Jews have in discerning who is on Israel’s side and what it means to be on Israel’s side.

In any case, next time there is a debate with Jeremy Ben-Ami, the organizers should come up with someone (Goldberg’s reader, maybe) who actually disagrees with J Street and can explain why not everyone who is against settlements (Jimmy Carter?) is pro-Israel. But maybe the organizers of these events aren’t so much interested in shedding light on J Street as in providing cover for it. In that case, they picked the perfect man. Goldberg is, by the way, also the perfect man to run Politics and Prose.

Jeffrey Goldberg shares a letter from a frustrated reader:

I watched your debate with Jeremy Ben-Ami the other night and it seemed like you agreed with nearly everything the guy had to say. You should understand that J Street is not a Zionist group at all. It supports congressional candidates who are hostile to Israel, and, in its own statements it says it’s opposed even to the threat of military action against Iran, something that Obama does regularly. Why don’t you understand that J Street is a wolf in sheep’s clothing? It is designed to separate Israel from the Democratic Party. It is not interested in supporting Israel, it is interested in providing cover for Jews who dislike Israel but need a Jewish cover to say so.

Goldberg’s retort is as unpersuasive as it is sad. He doesn’t rebut the readers’ points but says he’s troubled that the reader thinks such awful things. He also assures us that the people from J Street he’s met love Israel (he knows this, I guess, because they say so) and that they’re in favor of ending settlements just like Goldberg is. They are also in favor of carving up Jerusalem and lifting the Gaza blockade — and opposed to sanctions against Iran and statements, however bland, in support of Israel’s right of self-defense. But Goldberg doesn’t bother with all that. Nor does he address why it is that J Street hosted a confab filled with apologists for the mullahs.

He then makes this mind-boggling assertion: “Since I’m for an end to the settlements myself, I find it hard to believe that J Street is anti-Israel, since I am certainly not anti-Israel.” What?! (CAIR is in favor of ending settlements too, so does that mean … oh never mind.) He ends with a non-sequitur: “There has to be room in American Jewry for people who disagree with the policies of Israeli governments but want Israel to survive as a Jewish democracy. ” This of course sidesteps the question as to whether J Street is really pro-Israel and what it means by “survive.” (And there is “room” for everyone engaged in nonviolent debate in America, but not everyone deserves recognition as “pro-Israel.”)

Goldberg’s post is so halfhearted and unreasoned that one almost suspects he is mocking those who defend J Street. But alas, I think he’s serious — and exemplifies the difficulty that liberal Jews have in discerning who is on Israel’s side and what it means to be on Israel’s side.

In any case, next time there is a debate with Jeremy Ben-Ami, the organizers should come up with someone (Goldberg’s reader, maybe) who actually disagrees with J Street and can explain why not everyone who is against settlements (Jimmy Carter?) is pro-Israel. But maybe the organizers of these events aren’t so much interested in shedding light on J Street as in providing cover for it. In that case, they picked the perfect man. Goldberg is, by the way, also the perfect man to run Politics and Prose.

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Time for Obama to Lead

On Fox News Sunday, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Diane Feinstein provided some sage advice and bipartisan leadership on the war in Afghanistan. Graham explained:

The ambassador’s a fine man, has a poor working relationship with President Karzai. That’s true of Ambassador Holbrooke. Can they function together with General Petraeus? That’s one thing I’d like to know. But the main problem I have going forward is that we’ve got to clarify this withdrawal date of July 2011. If it is a goal where we’ll all try to start transferring power over to the Afghans, I’m OK with that. If it’s a date where people are going to begin to leave no matter what, a predetermined withdrawal date, that, in my view, will doom this operation.

Feinstein was even more direct:

If the team isn’t right, I think Petraeus’ views should be taken into consideration and observed by the administration. This is kind of, if you will, not a last ditch stand, but it is a major change in the middle of the surge, and I think you put the general in, he should make the call. If he can’t work with the ambassador, the ambassador should be changed. If he can’t work with Holbrooke, that should change. I mean, I think we put all of our eggs in the Petraeus basket at this stage.

(I don’t always agree with her, but this reminds me that Feinstein, as she demonstrated on her report on the administration’s failings regarding the Christmas Day bomber, is one of the grown-ups on the Democratic side of the aisle.)

During the Fox Roundtable, both Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol noted that it is now up to Obama to exercise the same leadership as these two senators. If Obama can’t come up with a civilian team that is competent and cooperative, Gen. Petraeus will not succeed. Cheney argued that Obama should “completely and explicitly repudiate the July 2011 deadline,” while Kristol noted that “it would be better if the president ultimately repudiates that July 2011 date” but that Obama, as he has begun to do, can certainly distance himself from what has been another self-imposed obstacle to victory.

Over on Meet the Press, Sen. John McCain went after Obama’s rationale for the timeline: “In wars, you declare when you’re leaving after you’ve succeeded. And, by the way, no military adviser recommended to the president that he set a date of the middle of 2011. So it was purely a political decision, not one based on facts on the ground, not based on military strategy or anything. … They need to have a clear signal that we are staying.”

Unfortunately Obama turned petulant again yesterday, whining about the “obsession” with the timeline. Sigh. Yes, foes and allies do pay attention to his words, and it matters whether or not he gives a definitive commitment to stay until victory is achieved.

Despite relatively small differences in tone and language, there is remarkable agreement among the three senators who took to the airwaves on Sunday, as well as among other responsible figures, that if Obama fails to do what is needed (walk away from the timeline and replace the civilian leaders), the U.S. will suffer a devastating defeat. For Obama, it will be a blot on his legacy. No president will be fondly remembered if the first item in the history books is “He lost the war.”

On Fox News Sunday, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Diane Feinstein provided some sage advice and bipartisan leadership on the war in Afghanistan. Graham explained:

The ambassador’s a fine man, has a poor working relationship with President Karzai. That’s true of Ambassador Holbrooke. Can they function together with General Petraeus? That’s one thing I’d like to know. But the main problem I have going forward is that we’ve got to clarify this withdrawal date of July 2011. If it is a goal where we’ll all try to start transferring power over to the Afghans, I’m OK with that. If it’s a date where people are going to begin to leave no matter what, a predetermined withdrawal date, that, in my view, will doom this operation.

Feinstein was even more direct:

If the team isn’t right, I think Petraeus’ views should be taken into consideration and observed by the administration. This is kind of, if you will, not a last ditch stand, but it is a major change in the middle of the surge, and I think you put the general in, he should make the call. If he can’t work with the ambassador, the ambassador should be changed. If he can’t work with Holbrooke, that should change. I mean, I think we put all of our eggs in the Petraeus basket at this stage.

(I don’t always agree with her, but this reminds me that Feinstein, as she demonstrated on her report on the administration’s failings regarding the Christmas Day bomber, is one of the grown-ups on the Democratic side of the aisle.)

During the Fox Roundtable, both Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol noted that it is now up to Obama to exercise the same leadership as these two senators. If Obama can’t come up with a civilian team that is competent and cooperative, Gen. Petraeus will not succeed. Cheney argued that Obama should “completely and explicitly repudiate the July 2011 deadline,” while Kristol noted that “it would be better if the president ultimately repudiates that July 2011 date” but that Obama, as he has begun to do, can certainly distance himself from what has been another self-imposed obstacle to victory.

Over on Meet the Press, Sen. John McCain went after Obama’s rationale for the timeline: “In wars, you declare when you’re leaving after you’ve succeeded. And, by the way, no military adviser recommended to the president that he set a date of the middle of 2011. So it was purely a political decision, not one based on facts on the ground, not based on military strategy or anything. … They need to have a clear signal that we are staying.”

Unfortunately Obama turned petulant again yesterday, whining about the “obsession” with the timeline. Sigh. Yes, foes and allies do pay attention to his words, and it matters whether or not he gives a definitive commitment to stay until victory is achieved.

Despite relatively small differences in tone and language, there is remarkable agreement among the three senators who took to the airwaves on Sunday, as well as among other responsible figures, that if Obama fails to do what is needed (walk away from the timeline and replace the civilian leaders), the U.S. will suffer a devastating defeat. For Obama, it will be a blot on his legacy. No president will be fondly remembered if the first item in the history books is “He lost the war.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Candid. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon’s interview should be read in full. A sample: “Yaalon said bluntly that he believes Iran’s regime is ‘not sure that there is a will’ on the part of the United States right now to exercise the military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities. … When asked if he felt the Obama administration was open to military action against Iran, Yaalon said that, according to the traditions of Israel’s forefathers, righteous people hope that the job might be done by others. On the other hand, he said, there is another old saying that goes like this: ‘If I’m not for myself, then who is for me?’ He added, ‘So we should be ready.'”

Intriguing. And the timing couldn’t be worse for him: “First it was President Barack Obama, then White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, now U.S. Senate Candidate Alexi Giannoulias is joining the Rod Blagojevich corruption trial subpoena list.” His opponent pours salt in the wound: “[Rep. Mark] Kirk’s campaign said the development is part of a ‘troubling pattern’ with Giannoulias that includes regulators shutting down his family’s Chicago bank in April after it failed to raise new capital. ‘Now we’ve learned Giannoulias’ name has come up on federal wire taps talking about the Illinois Senate seat and he has been subpoenaed in former and disgraced Governor Rod Blagojevich’s public corruption trial. This revelation raises additional questions about Alexi Giannoulias that he needs to answer,’ Kirk spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said in a statement.”

Effective. Timothy Dalrymple dismantles the mischaracterizations by liberal Christians of the Tea Party movement, and includes this on taxation: “To resent a tax hike (or the prospect of one) is not to neglect the needy, and to wish to retain control over the funds one has secured in order to care for one’s family is not necessarily selfish. Conservatives generally are more generous with their giving than liberals, yet they resent it when a distant bureaucracy extracts their money in order to distribute public funds to the special interest groups on whose votes and donations they rely. Conservatives would prefer that care for the needy remain as local and personal as possible.”

Curious. Who are the 32% who view Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano favorably? “Forty-two percent (42%) regard the attorney general unfavorably, with 26% who have a Very Unfavorable opinion. One-in-four voters (26%) still don’t know enough about Holder to venture any kind of opinion of him. This marks a very slight worsening of the numbers for Holder from last August just after his announcement that the Justice Department was investigating how the Bush administration treated imprisoned terrorists.”

Explosive. A Justice Department trial team lawyer goes public: “Based on my firsthand experiences, I believe the dismissal of the Black Panther case was motivated by a lawless hostility toward equal enforcement of the law. Others still within the department share my assessment. The department abetted wrongdoers and abandoned law-abiding citizens victimized by the New Black Panthers. The dismissal raises serious questions about the department’s enforcement neutrality in upcoming midterm elections and the subsequent 2012 presidential election.”

Grouchy. The left is dismayed again: “On the eve of Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings her record on race in the Clinton White House and at Harvard Law School is producing discomfort among some leading civil rights organizations, leaving them struggling to decide whether they want her to join the Supreme Court.”

Frightful. From an MIT professor: “The president should nominate Paul Krugman to replace Peter Orszag as director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).” Because the deficit plainly isn’t big enough, and we’ve been too miserly in our spending.

Unfair? Maybe. Ezra Klein, who recommended Dave Weigel as a “conservative voice,” seems to have gotten away scot-free, while Weigel had to resign and his bosses had to scrape egg off their faces.

Candid. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon’s interview should be read in full. A sample: “Yaalon said bluntly that he believes Iran’s regime is ‘not sure that there is a will’ on the part of the United States right now to exercise the military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities. … When asked if he felt the Obama administration was open to military action against Iran, Yaalon said that, according to the traditions of Israel’s forefathers, righteous people hope that the job might be done by others. On the other hand, he said, there is another old saying that goes like this: ‘If I’m not for myself, then who is for me?’ He added, ‘So we should be ready.'”

Intriguing. And the timing couldn’t be worse for him: “First it was President Barack Obama, then White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, now U.S. Senate Candidate Alexi Giannoulias is joining the Rod Blagojevich corruption trial subpoena list.” His opponent pours salt in the wound: “[Rep. Mark] Kirk’s campaign said the development is part of a ‘troubling pattern’ with Giannoulias that includes regulators shutting down his family’s Chicago bank in April after it failed to raise new capital. ‘Now we’ve learned Giannoulias’ name has come up on federal wire taps talking about the Illinois Senate seat and he has been subpoenaed in former and disgraced Governor Rod Blagojevich’s public corruption trial. This revelation raises additional questions about Alexi Giannoulias that he needs to answer,’ Kirk spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said in a statement.”

Effective. Timothy Dalrymple dismantles the mischaracterizations by liberal Christians of the Tea Party movement, and includes this on taxation: “To resent a tax hike (or the prospect of one) is not to neglect the needy, and to wish to retain control over the funds one has secured in order to care for one’s family is not necessarily selfish. Conservatives generally are more generous with their giving than liberals, yet they resent it when a distant bureaucracy extracts their money in order to distribute public funds to the special interest groups on whose votes and donations they rely. Conservatives would prefer that care for the needy remain as local and personal as possible.”

Curious. Who are the 32% who view Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano favorably? “Forty-two percent (42%) regard the attorney general unfavorably, with 26% who have a Very Unfavorable opinion. One-in-four voters (26%) still don’t know enough about Holder to venture any kind of opinion of him. This marks a very slight worsening of the numbers for Holder from last August just after his announcement that the Justice Department was investigating how the Bush administration treated imprisoned terrorists.”

Explosive. A Justice Department trial team lawyer goes public: “Based on my firsthand experiences, I believe the dismissal of the Black Panther case was motivated by a lawless hostility toward equal enforcement of the law. Others still within the department share my assessment. The department abetted wrongdoers and abandoned law-abiding citizens victimized by the New Black Panthers. The dismissal raises serious questions about the department’s enforcement neutrality in upcoming midterm elections and the subsequent 2012 presidential election.”

Grouchy. The left is dismayed again: “On the eve of Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings her record on race in the Clinton White House and at Harvard Law School is producing discomfort among some leading civil rights organizations, leaving them struggling to decide whether they want her to join the Supreme Court.”

Frightful. From an MIT professor: “The president should nominate Paul Krugman to replace Peter Orszag as director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).” Because the deficit plainly isn’t big enough, and we’ve been too miserly in our spending.

Unfair? Maybe. Ezra Klein, who recommended Dave Weigel as a “conservative voice,” seems to have gotten away scot-free, while Weigel had to resign and his bosses had to scrape egg off their faces.

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