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Posts For: September 23, 2010

After Triumph with Russia on Iran, Obama Signals Return to Appeasement

In his 20 months in office, Barack Obama hasn’t had many foreign-policy triumphs to crow about. But yesterday when he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly, for once the president could cite an actual diplomatic achievement for his administration. Russia’s announcement that it will not honor the contract it had signed to sell S-300 missiles to Iran showed that efforts undertaken by Obama to sweet-talk Moscow out of acting as an enabler for the rogue regime in Tehran have not been completely in vain.

Stopping the sale of these weapons had been an urgent issue for both the United States and Israel. Had they been deployed by the Iranians, those missiles would have acted as the centerpiece of an air-defense system that would have posed a formidable obstacle to any effort to knock out the Iranians’ nuclear-weapons program from the air. Russia’s willingness to join in the ban on arms sales to Iran puts some teeth in the otherwise mild sanctions that the international community has placed on Tehran.

But despite this setback, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can’t be too downhearted about the way things have been going for his despotic regime during the UN jamboree in New York this week. Just when the Russian announcement gave Obama something to brag about, the administration was sending signals that it was prepared to step back from its recent tough talk about bringing Iran to heel.

The New York Times reports that: “At a meeting today with France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China, diplomats planned what one senior American official described to reporters as a ‘phased approach’ that would include reviving an earlier proposal to supply Iran with enriched fuel for a research reactor in Tehran in return for Iran’s shipping the bulk of its stockpile of uranium to Russia and France. ‘We’re prepared to engage and see if we can’t produce what would be a confidence-building step,’ said a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.”

Thus, just when it seemed as if he were making some real progress on isolating Iran, Obama sends Ahmadinejad a signal that he is in no real trouble after all. Dating back to the Bush administration’s own feckless diplomacy on Iran’s nukes, Tehran has happily exploited the West’s efforts to appease it. Every initiative that sought to cajole or bribe the Islamist tyranny to back away from its nuclear ambitions has been welcomed by the ayatollahs. They were only too happy to string European or American diplomats along to buy more time in order to get closer to the day when they could announce their possession of a nuclear device. Last year, the Iranians agreed to a porous deal that called for the export of their uranium stockpile. But then, when it suited them, they repudiated it, leaving Obama and the rest of his foreign-policy team with egg on their faces. As with the rest of Obama’s pathetic attempt to “engage” Iran, such initiatives only convinced Tehran that the new American president was not to be taken seriously. With non-military trade with Russia still booming and with neighboring Turkey’s Islamic government providing Ahmadinejad with a reliable ally and trading partner, the Iranians understand that the UN sanctions are inconvenient but not crippling. And so long as Obama is still wedded to the absurd idea that he can talk them out of their nuclear plans, the Iranians have to be thinking that it will soon be too late for anyone to stop them from gaining a nuclear weapon.

In his 20 months in office, Barack Obama hasn’t had many foreign-policy triumphs to crow about. But yesterday when he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly, for once the president could cite an actual diplomatic achievement for his administration. Russia’s announcement that it will not honor the contract it had signed to sell S-300 missiles to Iran showed that efforts undertaken by Obama to sweet-talk Moscow out of acting as an enabler for the rogue regime in Tehran have not been completely in vain.

Stopping the sale of these weapons had been an urgent issue for both the United States and Israel. Had they been deployed by the Iranians, those missiles would have acted as the centerpiece of an air-defense system that would have posed a formidable obstacle to any effort to knock out the Iranians’ nuclear-weapons program from the air. Russia’s willingness to join in the ban on arms sales to Iran puts some teeth in the otherwise mild sanctions that the international community has placed on Tehran.

But despite this setback, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can’t be too downhearted about the way things have been going for his despotic regime during the UN jamboree in New York this week. Just when the Russian announcement gave Obama something to brag about, the administration was sending signals that it was prepared to step back from its recent tough talk about bringing Iran to heel.

The New York Times reports that: “At a meeting today with France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China, diplomats planned what one senior American official described to reporters as a ‘phased approach’ that would include reviving an earlier proposal to supply Iran with enriched fuel for a research reactor in Tehran in return for Iran’s shipping the bulk of its stockpile of uranium to Russia and France. ‘We’re prepared to engage and see if we can’t produce what would be a confidence-building step,’ said a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.”

Thus, just when it seemed as if he were making some real progress on isolating Iran, Obama sends Ahmadinejad a signal that he is in no real trouble after all. Dating back to the Bush administration’s own feckless diplomacy on Iran’s nukes, Tehran has happily exploited the West’s efforts to appease it. Every initiative that sought to cajole or bribe the Islamist tyranny to back away from its nuclear ambitions has been welcomed by the ayatollahs. They were only too happy to string European or American diplomats along to buy more time in order to get closer to the day when they could announce their possession of a nuclear device. Last year, the Iranians agreed to a porous deal that called for the export of their uranium stockpile. But then, when it suited them, they repudiated it, leaving Obama and the rest of his foreign-policy team with egg on their faces. As with the rest of Obama’s pathetic attempt to “engage” Iran, such initiatives only convinced Tehran that the new American president was not to be taken seriously. With non-military trade with Russia still booming and with neighboring Turkey’s Islamic government providing Ahmadinejad with a reliable ally and trading partner, the Iranians understand that the UN sanctions are inconvenient but not crippling. And so long as Obama is still wedded to the absurd idea that he can talk them out of their nuclear plans, the Iranians have to be thinking that it will soon be too late for anyone to stop them from gaining a nuclear weapon.

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RE: Where Is the International Community When You Need It?

Yesterday, the Polisario Front’s jackboots nabbed their former police chief, who had broken with the group and embraced an autonomy plan for Western Sahara put forth by Morocco. In true Orwellian fashion the Polisario Front justified the suppression of free speech and the arrest of a former official who threatened to rally the Polisario camps in favor of the autonomy plan:

Polisario Front on Wednesday justified the arrest of former Inspector General of Police Salma Mustafa Ould Sidi Mouloud, which supports the autonomy plan proposed by Morocco to solve the Western Sahara conflict, saying he is suspected of “espionage” for the “enemy.” “The policeman Mustafa Salma denied their legal obligations and responsibilities imposed by its membership of the Sahrawi police, including the defense of the integrity, sovereignty and unity of the country,” said a statement picked up by Saharawi Press Service (SPS).

The Polisario Front dubs Sidi Mouloud a “deserter” and accuses him of supporting the “enemy.” The Polisario Front claims he “revealed secrets related to the institutions of the Saharawi Republic and served spying for a country at war with the SADR with the aim of harming its security and sovereignty.” He’s now been deemed to have committed “treason and espionage.” To even casual students of totalitarian regimes, this is sickeningly familiar. The “trial” — if they bother — will be brief and unsuspenseful.

You wonder what it will take for liberal western elites, who have fawned over the Polisario Front and hosted them in salons, to sour on these thugs. I look at it this way: if stoning women, abusing little girls, hanging gays, and propounding virulent anti-Semitism in the “Muslim World” aren’t enough to persuade the left that Israel’s Muslim neighbors are not on the side of the angels, I suppose the kidnapping, jailing, and potential execution of a defector from the Polisario vanguard won’t have much of an impact on them either.

This is an issue that the Obama team actually got “right” — Hillary Clinton was extremely supportive of the Moroccan autonomy plan, which would spell the demise of the Polisario Front. Now the administration needs to act in support of Sidi Mouloud and push for a resolution to the Western Sahara issue — hopefully before more “deserters” are captured and/or slain.

Yesterday, the Polisario Front’s jackboots nabbed their former police chief, who had broken with the group and embraced an autonomy plan for Western Sahara put forth by Morocco. In true Orwellian fashion the Polisario Front justified the suppression of free speech and the arrest of a former official who threatened to rally the Polisario camps in favor of the autonomy plan:

Polisario Front on Wednesday justified the arrest of former Inspector General of Police Salma Mustafa Ould Sidi Mouloud, which supports the autonomy plan proposed by Morocco to solve the Western Sahara conflict, saying he is suspected of “espionage” for the “enemy.” “The policeman Mustafa Salma denied their legal obligations and responsibilities imposed by its membership of the Sahrawi police, including the defense of the integrity, sovereignty and unity of the country,” said a statement picked up by Saharawi Press Service (SPS).

The Polisario Front dubs Sidi Mouloud a “deserter” and accuses him of supporting the “enemy.” The Polisario Front claims he “revealed secrets related to the institutions of the Saharawi Republic and served spying for a country at war with the SADR with the aim of harming its security and sovereignty.” He’s now been deemed to have committed “treason and espionage.” To even casual students of totalitarian regimes, this is sickeningly familiar. The “trial” — if they bother — will be brief and unsuspenseful.

You wonder what it will take for liberal western elites, who have fawned over the Polisario Front and hosted them in salons, to sour on these thugs. I look at it this way: if stoning women, abusing little girls, hanging gays, and propounding virulent anti-Semitism in the “Muslim World” aren’t enough to persuade the left that Israel’s Muslim neighbors are not on the side of the angels, I suppose the kidnapping, jailing, and potential execution of a defector from the Polisario vanguard won’t have much of an impact on them either.

This is an issue that the Obama team actually got “right” — Hillary Clinton was extremely supportive of the Moroccan autonomy plan, which would spell the demise of the Polisario Front. Now the administration needs to act in support of Sidi Mouloud and push for a resolution to the Western Sahara issue — hopefully before more “deserters” are captured and/or slain.

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Blaming James Madison

Obama has blamed George Bush. He’s blamed the Republican minority. He’s blamed Wall Street. He’s blamed the 24/7 media cycle. Now he’s blaming the First Amendment for the decimation of the Democratic Party on his watch. In a speech in Philadelphia he proclaimed:

[T]he biggest impediment we have right now is that independent expenditures coming from special interests — who we don’t know because they’re not obligated to disclose their contributions under a Supreme Court decision called Citizens United — means that in some places, you’ve got third parties that are spending millions more than the candidates combined, more than the parties in these states.

That’s the biggest problem that we have all across the country right now. We’ve got great candidates who are taking their case directly to the American people, but they are being drowned out by groups like Americans for Prosperity. Nobody knows who they are. Well, we know who they are — but nobody knows where the money is coming from, and they certainly don’t appear on those ads.

Good golly. Is this to be the excuse for the 2010 wipeout — too many Americans exercising First Amendment rights in opposition to a president, a Congress, and an agenda to which they object? On one level, it’s pathetic — another in a long line of excuses that tell us more about Obama’s delusional view of himself than it does about the voters.

But like much of Obama’s rhetoric, it is primarily distinguished by its utter disregard of the facts. Obama’s poll numbers have been tumbling for a year, ObamaCare has never been popular, and the Tea Party movement has organized millions of Americans — yet not one of these issues qualifies as the “biggest problem.” And why is it that Obama and his side are having such fundraising issues (forget for a moment the Big Labor piggybank)? Might it be that his hyper-partisanship and extreme agenda have helped mobilize conservatives to an extent they never imagined in 2008, when Obama was raking in the money?

All the whining about how Democrats “can’t get their message out” or are “being outspent” is the talk of losers. As the GOP learned in their fundraising difficulties in 2008, money follows enthusiasm, excitement, and, yes, anger. Money is the least of the Democrats’ worries, and blaming the First Amendment isn’t going to help matters.

Obama has blamed George Bush. He’s blamed the Republican minority. He’s blamed Wall Street. He’s blamed the 24/7 media cycle. Now he’s blaming the First Amendment for the decimation of the Democratic Party on his watch. In a speech in Philadelphia he proclaimed:

[T]he biggest impediment we have right now is that independent expenditures coming from special interests — who we don’t know because they’re not obligated to disclose their contributions under a Supreme Court decision called Citizens United — means that in some places, you’ve got third parties that are spending millions more than the candidates combined, more than the parties in these states.

That’s the biggest problem that we have all across the country right now. We’ve got great candidates who are taking their case directly to the American people, but they are being drowned out by groups like Americans for Prosperity. Nobody knows who they are. Well, we know who they are — but nobody knows where the money is coming from, and they certainly don’t appear on those ads.

Good golly. Is this to be the excuse for the 2010 wipeout — too many Americans exercising First Amendment rights in opposition to a president, a Congress, and an agenda to which they object? On one level, it’s pathetic — another in a long line of excuses that tell us more about Obama’s delusional view of himself than it does about the voters.

But like much of Obama’s rhetoric, it is primarily distinguished by its utter disregard of the facts. Obama’s poll numbers have been tumbling for a year, ObamaCare has never been popular, and the Tea Party movement has organized millions of Americans — yet not one of these issues qualifies as the “biggest problem.” And why is it that Obama and his side are having such fundraising issues (forget for a moment the Big Labor piggybank)? Might it be that his hyper-partisanship and extreme agenda have helped mobilize conservatives to an extent they never imagined in 2008, when Obama was raking in the money?

All the whining about how Democrats “can’t get their message out” or are “being outspent” is the talk of losers. As the GOP learned in their fundraising difficulties in 2008, money follows enthusiasm, excitement, and, yes, anger. Money is the least of the Democrats’ worries, and blaming the First Amendment isn’t going to help matters.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not even able to hire competent speechwriters, is he? “But even Google seems to have failed the battalion of  swell-headed policy twits you employ, one or two of whom might have studied, oh, let’s say history, at some fabulously famous institution of higher learning—if they still teach that kind of thing—but are now so busy live-tweeting their ice-cream socials among dictators, for example, that they just haven’t got the time to LOOK STUFF UP.”

Not in Delaware, but GOP Senate candidates are leading in Wisconsin, Colorado, and Pennsylvania.

Not even liberals can excuse Obama’s collapse. “It’s a long time now since Obama was a community organizer. Even then, he might have been more comfortable dealing with communities than with individuals. Democrats are best with groups. If I break down on the side of the road, I hope a Republican stops — he’ll fix my flat and offer me a drink. A Democrat will get busy forming a Committee to Protect Women Who Own Vulnerable Cars.” Ouch.

Not a lot of good news for Democratic gubernatorial candidates: “[Democratic] nominees are currently trailing in 13 of the 19 states where they hold the governorships. Only three of their nominees have double digit leads — in Bill Clinton’s home states of Arkansas and New York and in Colorado, where the Republican nominee has been disavowed by many party leaders. Most unnerving for Democrats is that their nominees are currently trailing by double digits in the nation’s industrial heartland — in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. These are states Barack Obama carried with 54, 51, 57 and 62 percent of the vote.”

Not a surprise: “A report by three UN-appointed human rights experts Wednesday said that Israeli forces violated international law when they raided a Gaza-bound aid flotilla killing nine activists earlier this year. The UN Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission concluded that the naval blockade of Gaza was unlawful because of the humanitarian crisis there, and described the military raid on the flotilla as brutal and disproportionate.” But the Obami say we’re doing great things by sitting on the UNHRC. Time to pull out and pull the plug on the thugs’ funding.

Not looking good for Obama’s class-warfare gambit: “A number of ‘moderate’ House Dems have privately given Nancy Pelosi and other Dem leaders an earful in recent days, urging them not to hold a vote on whether to extend just the middle class tax cuts and not the high end ones, because it will leave them vulnerable to Republican ads, sources involved in the discussions tell me.”

Not much for Tea Partiers, mainstream conservatives, and independents to disagree with here: “The Republicans’ new Contract with America, which will be unveiled on Thursday, calls for a crackdown on government spending, repealing the new healthcare law and extending all of the expiring Bush tax cuts.”

Not going to stick around for the Election Day body count? “White House aides are preparing for the possibility that Rahm Emanuel may step down as chief of staff as soon as early October if he decides to run for mayor of Chicago, according to a person familiar with deliberations in the West Wing.”

Not even able to hire competent speechwriters, is he? “But even Google seems to have failed the battalion of  swell-headed policy twits you employ, one or two of whom might have studied, oh, let’s say history, at some fabulously famous institution of higher learning—if they still teach that kind of thing—but are now so busy live-tweeting their ice-cream socials among dictators, for example, that they just haven’t got the time to LOOK STUFF UP.”

Not in Delaware, but GOP Senate candidates are leading in Wisconsin, Colorado, and Pennsylvania.

Not even liberals can excuse Obama’s collapse. “It’s a long time now since Obama was a community organizer. Even then, he might have been more comfortable dealing with communities than with individuals. Democrats are best with groups. If I break down on the side of the road, I hope a Republican stops — he’ll fix my flat and offer me a drink. A Democrat will get busy forming a Committee to Protect Women Who Own Vulnerable Cars.” Ouch.

Not a lot of good news for Democratic gubernatorial candidates: “[Democratic] nominees are currently trailing in 13 of the 19 states where they hold the governorships. Only three of their nominees have double digit leads — in Bill Clinton’s home states of Arkansas and New York and in Colorado, where the Republican nominee has been disavowed by many party leaders. Most unnerving for Democrats is that their nominees are currently trailing by double digits in the nation’s industrial heartland — in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. These are states Barack Obama carried with 54, 51, 57 and 62 percent of the vote.”

Not a surprise: “A report by three UN-appointed human rights experts Wednesday said that Israeli forces violated international law when they raided a Gaza-bound aid flotilla killing nine activists earlier this year. The UN Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission concluded that the naval blockade of Gaza was unlawful because of the humanitarian crisis there, and described the military raid on the flotilla as brutal and disproportionate.” But the Obami say we’re doing great things by sitting on the UNHRC. Time to pull out and pull the plug on the thugs’ funding.

Not looking good for Obama’s class-warfare gambit: “A number of ‘moderate’ House Dems have privately given Nancy Pelosi and other Dem leaders an earful in recent days, urging them not to hold a vote on whether to extend just the middle class tax cuts and not the high end ones, because it will leave them vulnerable to Republican ads, sources involved in the discussions tell me.”

Not much for Tea Partiers, mainstream conservatives, and independents to disagree with here: “The Republicans’ new Contract with America, which will be unveiled on Thursday, calls for a crackdown on government spending, repealing the new healthcare law and extending all of the expiring Bush tax cuts.”

Not going to stick around for the Election Day body count? “White House aides are preparing for the possibility that Rahm Emanuel may step down as chief of staff as soon as early October if he decides to run for mayor of Chicago, according to a person familiar with deliberations in the West Wing.”

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If Rolling Stone Sank McChrystal, What Will Woodward Do to the Obami?

The New York Times’s Michael Shear makes an excellent point about the Bob Woodward book and the various recriminations from administration sources that it airs: “Stanley A. McChrystal got fired for less.” While the dirt dished by the general’s aides in the Rolling Stone profile of McChrystal was considered a hanging offense, what will the president do about the far worse gossip that is reported by Woodward? As Shear points out, “If anything, the recriminations in Bob Woodward’s new book, “Obama’s Wars,” are more numerous, more substantive and more personal than the ones in the Rolling Stones article about General McChrystal. Rather than a few off-color comments from military subordinates, the Woodward book details personal animosities among the president’s most senior advisers.”

Shear thinks a big part of the reason there will be no repercussions about the Woodward book is that some of the top players in the Obama White House have at least one foot out the door. In addition to the chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who everyone seems to think will run for mayor of Chicago, Woodward mentions National Security Adviser Jim Jones as another staffer planning to flee.

More to the point is the fact that Obama had given his advisers permission to be candid with Woodward. Having done so it would be hypocritical for the president to then punish those whose candor included a healthy dose of dissension and backbiting.

This Woodward book, like all the others he has written in the past 30 years in which he has demonstrated an ability to get inside (and almost always unsourced) dope about every administration, is merely a Washington cause célèbre that will soon be largely forgotten. But while it may not amount to much in the long run, it is an interesting snapshot of an administration in disarray, divided on policy and sinking in the polls. While Stanley McChrystal may have paid with his career for the offhand (and generally truthful) remarks made about some of his colleagues, the Obami will, as always, forgive themselves for the same sort of behavior.

The New York Times’s Michael Shear makes an excellent point about the Bob Woodward book and the various recriminations from administration sources that it airs: “Stanley A. McChrystal got fired for less.” While the dirt dished by the general’s aides in the Rolling Stone profile of McChrystal was considered a hanging offense, what will the president do about the far worse gossip that is reported by Woodward? As Shear points out, “If anything, the recriminations in Bob Woodward’s new book, “Obama’s Wars,” are more numerous, more substantive and more personal than the ones in the Rolling Stones article about General McChrystal. Rather than a few off-color comments from military subordinates, the Woodward book details personal animosities among the president’s most senior advisers.”

Shear thinks a big part of the reason there will be no repercussions about the Woodward book is that some of the top players in the Obama White House have at least one foot out the door. In addition to the chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who everyone seems to think will run for mayor of Chicago, Woodward mentions National Security Adviser Jim Jones as another staffer planning to flee.

More to the point is the fact that Obama had given his advisers permission to be candid with Woodward. Having done so it would be hypocritical for the president to then punish those whose candor included a healthy dose of dissension and backbiting.

This Woodward book, like all the others he has written in the past 30 years in which he has demonstrated an ability to get inside (and almost always unsourced) dope about every administration, is merely a Washington cause célèbre that will soon be largely forgotten. But while it may not amount to much in the long run, it is an interesting snapshot of an administration in disarray, divided on policy and sinking in the polls. While Stanley McChrystal may have paid with his career for the offhand (and generally truthful) remarks made about some of his colleagues, the Obami will, as always, forgive themselves for the same sort of behavior.

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Did Obama Say What Cheney Said? Oh, No.

In Slate, John Dickerson defends Obama from people like me who were horrified by his remark quoted yesterday that we could “absorb” another terrorist attack and come out “stronger” from it. A senior White House official told him Obama was talking to Bob Woodward about the panoply of threats:

Objectively, the president said, you would want to be able to stop every attack, but a president has to prioritize. So what does the president put at the top of the danger list? A nuclear weapon or a weapon of mass destruction. Why? Because—and here’s where the quote in question comes in—as bad as 9/11 was, the United States was not crippled. A nuclear attack or weapon of mass destruction, however, would be a “game changer”…

This line of reasoning is identical to what I heard regularly when I covered the Bush White House. Former Vice President Dick Cheney … said: “We have to assume there will be more attacks. And for the first time in our history, we will probably suffer more casualties here at home in America than will our troops overseas.”

I remember being a little shocked at how brutal the calculus was when I heard officials in Cheney’s office … say that they had to focus their energy first on “mass casualty” events. What were they talking about? The same thing the president was: a nuclear attack or one that used a weapon of mass destruction.

I generally like Dickerson’s reporting, but even if the White House official is telling the truth, and we don’t know that yet, this analysis is preposterous. I interviewed those people too, including in Cheney’s office, at the time, and I’m pretty sure there were no  “brutal” calculations about absorbing a second terrorist attack. The truth is that officials dealing with these matters were gripped with fear and anxiety about everything they were hearing and seeing in the intelligence. Every morning. For years. They were the opposite of certain that the country could absorb even a second major attack, though of course, as I said in my blog post yesterday, it could have and it can now in the narrowest possible sense. We would not roll over and die.

The last thing the Bush White House was airy and accepting about was the possibility of another terrorist attack. Why else were Bush’s critics screaming about the imposition of a fascist regime at home and a torture regime abroad? They were complaining of tactics and measures taken to interdict not only a “game changer” but anything — like the panoply of conventional attacks and ideas for them revealed to interrogators who waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and Abu Zubaydah. I know the logic of the most extreme of Bush’s critics seemed to be that the administration was doing it for sadistic kicks. But minimally rational people who strongly opposed the policy do acknowledge the fact that it arose from a true threat and that the people who instituted the policy did so out of a rational concern for preventing any conceivable attack, not just a nuclear one.

What was being sought was not only information on suitcase nukes. A colossal program of attack prevention was instituted over the objection from, among other people, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy. The United States didn’t institute Homeland Security measures in airports and ballparks and office buildings and the like because of fears of a nuclear attack. A conventional attack would suffice.

On the second day of his presidency, Barack Obama signed an executive order ending the CIA’s interrogation program. Since the White House official who talked to Dickerson told him Obama’s line — “we can absorb a terrorist attack … we absorbed it and we are stronger” — had to do with “the national security threats he faced upon becoming the president,” Obama’s quote to Woodward might prove even more damning.

In other words, it was acceptable to end the interrogation program in part because Obama had journeyed beyond the adrenalized alarm that characterized the condition of Bush national security officials for more than seven years. It was change Obama could believe in.

In Slate, John Dickerson defends Obama from people like me who were horrified by his remark quoted yesterday that we could “absorb” another terrorist attack and come out “stronger” from it. A senior White House official told him Obama was talking to Bob Woodward about the panoply of threats:

Objectively, the president said, you would want to be able to stop every attack, but a president has to prioritize. So what does the president put at the top of the danger list? A nuclear weapon or a weapon of mass destruction. Why? Because—and here’s where the quote in question comes in—as bad as 9/11 was, the United States was not crippled. A nuclear attack or weapon of mass destruction, however, would be a “game changer”…

This line of reasoning is identical to what I heard regularly when I covered the Bush White House. Former Vice President Dick Cheney … said: “We have to assume there will be more attacks. And for the first time in our history, we will probably suffer more casualties here at home in America than will our troops overseas.”

I remember being a little shocked at how brutal the calculus was when I heard officials in Cheney’s office … say that they had to focus their energy first on “mass casualty” events. What were they talking about? The same thing the president was: a nuclear attack or one that used a weapon of mass destruction.

I generally like Dickerson’s reporting, but even if the White House official is telling the truth, and we don’t know that yet, this analysis is preposterous. I interviewed those people too, including in Cheney’s office, at the time, and I’m pretty sure there were no  “brutal” calculations about absorbing a second terrorist attack. The truth is that officials dealing with these matters were gripped with fear and anxiety about everything they were hearing and seeing in the intelligence. Every morning. For years. They were the opposite of certain that the country could absorb even a second major attack, though of course, as I said in my blog post yesterday, it could have and it can now in the narrowest possible sense. We would not roll over and die.

The last thing the Bush White House was airy and accepting about was the possibility of another terrorist attack. Why else were Bush’s critics screaming about the imposition of a fascist regime at home and a torture regime abroad? They were complaining of tactics and measures taken to interdict not only a “game changer” but anything — like the panoply of conventional attacks and ideas for them revealed to interrogators who waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and Abu Zubaydah. I know the logic of the most extreme of Bush’s critics seemed to be that the administration was doing it for sadistic kicks. But minimally rational people who strongly opposed the policy do acknowledge the fact that it arose from a true threat and that the people who instituted the policy did so out of a rational concern for preventing any conceivable attack, not just a nuclear one.

What was being sought was not only information on suitcase nukes. A colossal program of attack prevention was instituted over the objection from, among other people, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy. The United States didn’t institute Homeland Security measures in airports and ballparks and office buildings and the like because of fears of a nuclear attack. A conventional attack would suffice.

On the second day of his presidency, Barack Obama signed an executive order ending the CIA’s interrogation program. Since the White House official who talked to Dickerson told him Obama’s line — “we can absorb a terrorist attack … we absorbed it and we are stronger” — had to do with “the national security threats he faced upon becoming the president,” Obama’s quote to Woodward might prove even more damning.

In other words, it was acceptable to end the interrogation program in part because Obama had journeyed beyond the adrenalized alarm that characterized the condition of Bush national security officials for more than seven years. It was change Obama could believe in.

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