Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 21, 2010

Horrible Message Discipline Indeed

Andrew Exum (aka Abu Muqawama) at the Center for a New American Security isn’t exactly going out on a limb when he says Vice President Joe Biden has terrible message discipline. “We’re starting this process [of withdrawal from Afghanistan],” Biden said on Meet the Press, “just like we did in Iraq. We’re starting it in July of 2011, and we’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014.”

“It became immediately clear,” Exum wrote, “to pretty much everyone but a few folks who think of only winning another election in 2012 that the president’s 1 December 2009 declaration that U.S. troops would begin a withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011 was a terrible mistake: the message may have reassured a domestic audience, but it was exactly the wrong thing to tell the Taliban, the Pakistanis, and the Afghan people. You need to be telling the latter audiences, for a wide variety of reasons, that U.S. support for Afghanistan will be enduring. You are simply not going to make any progress on the president’s policy aims if everyone in Afghanistan and Pakistan thinks you are headed for the exits.”

Following up on Max’s commentary from yesterday, I’m not sure why this isn’t obvious even to party leaders who are more worried about re-election than anything else. How can any president of either political party be expected to win an election after losing a war, especially a defensive war that began in New York and Washington?

I, too, would the like the war in that country to be over yesterday, but let’s not kid ourselves: we don’t get to withdraw under fire and let the Taliban take over again and call it a draw. We certainly couldn’t call that a win. Not every war has a victor, but every war has at least one loser — and it would not be the Taliban if we give up and they manage to reconquer the country.

The Obama administration does need to say something reassuring to those of us who are sick of this war whether we support withdrawal or not, and it’s not that difficult, really, to think of something to say to make voters feel better without boosting the morale of the Taliban.

Instead of saying “we’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014,” as Biden did, try this: “We will destroy the Taliban in short order and end this once and for all.” Maybe we can’t win that war. I don’t know. But I do know that the odds of our losing are higher if the president and vice president tell the Taliban we’re willing to lose because we are tired. We need, instead, to exhaust them and to convince them they’re better off quitting.

Andrew Exum (aka Abu Muqawama) at the Center for a New American Security isn’t exactly going out on a limb when he says Vice President Joe Biden has terrible message discipline. “We’re starting this process [of withdrawal from Afghanistan],” Biden said on Meet the Press, “just like we did in Iraq. We’re starting it in July of 2011, and we’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014.”

“It became immediately clear,” Exum wrote, “to pretty much everyone but a few folks who think of only winning another election in 2012 that the president’s 1 December 2009 declaration that U.S. troops would begin a withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011 was a terrible mistake: the message may have reassured a domestic audience, but it was exactly the wrong thing to tell the Taliban, the Pakistanis, and the Afghan people. You need to be telling the latter audiences, for a wide variety of reasons, that U.S. support for Afghanistan will be enduring. You are simply not going to make any progress on the president’s policy aims if everyone in Afghanistan and Pakistan thinks you are headed for the exits.”

Following up on Max’s commentary from yesterday, I’m not sure why this isn’t obvious even to party leaders who are more worried about re-election than anything else. How can any president of either political party be expected to win an election after losing a war, especially a defensive war that began in New York and Washington?

I, too, would the like the war in that country to be over yesterday, but let’s not kid ourselves: we don’t get to withdraw under fire and let the Taliban take over again and call it a draw. We certainly couldn’t call that a win. Not every war has a victor, but every war has at least one loser — and it would not be the Taliban if we give up and they manage to reconquer the country.

The Obama administration does need to say something reassuring to those of us who are sick of this war whether we support withdrawal or not, and it’s not that difficult, really, to think of something to say to make voters feel better without boosting the morale of the Taliban.

Instead of saying “we’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014,” as Biden did, try this: “We will destroy the Taliban in short order and end this once and for all.” Maybe we can’t win that war. I don’t know. But I do know that the odds of our losing are higher if the president and vice president tell the Taliban we’re willing to lose because we are tired. We need, instead, to exhaust them and to convince them they’re better off quitting.

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One More Reason Why the Military Is Among the Most Trusted of Institutions

I wanted to issue a concurring opinion to what Max wrote. I suspect the opposition to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will, over time, appear either misplaced or exaggerated. Because social attitudes have shifted on gay rights so dramatically since the early 1990s, I rather doubt that the fears of DADT critics will be realized. As Max points out, the military has shown an impressive ability to adjust to shifting social mores. And other nations have adjusted fairly well to having openly gay members serve in the military.

I would add that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made a persuasive argument, I think, in favor of congressional repeal because he foresaw a judgment by courts overturning the law. A legal judgment would require instant compliance, Gates warned, whereas a congressional repeal would allow time for the military to adapt.

Marine Corps commandant General James Amos was the most passionate advocate among the service chiefs against repealing DADT. “Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines lives,” Amos said in explaining his views on DADT. “That’s the currency of this fight. I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center, in Maryland] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.” But now that the decision has been made, General Amos pledged to lead the effort to integrate openly gay Marines. Here is the text of the statement:

Fidelity is the essence of the United States Marine Corps. Above all else, we are loyal to the Constitution, our Commander in Chief, Congress, our Chain of Command, and the American people.  The House of Representatives and the Senate have voted to repeal Title 10, US Code 654 “Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the United States Armed Forces.” As stated during my testimony before Congress in September and again during hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, the Marine Corps will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy. I, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, will personally lead this effort, thus ensuring the respect and dignity due all Marines. On this matter, we look forward to further demonstrating to the American people the discipline and loyalty that have been the hallmark of the United States Marine Corps for over 235 years.

Whatever one thinks of General Amos’s opposition to repealing DADT, his action today is quite impressive, and quite important. It’s also yet more evidence as to why the military is among the most trusted institutions in American life.

I wanted to issue a concurring opinion to what Max wrote. I suspect the opposition to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will, over time, appear either misplaced or exaggerated. Because social attitudes have shifted on gay rights so dramatically since the early 1990s, I rather doubt that the fears of DADT critics will be realized. As Max points out, the military has shown an impressive ability to adjust to shifting social mores. And other nations have adjusted fairly well to having openly gay members serve in the military.

I would add that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made a persuasive argument, I think, in favor of congressional repeal because he foresaw a judgment by courts overturning the law. A legal judgment would require instant compliance, Gates warned, whereas a congressional repeal would allow time for the military to adapt.

Marine Corps commandant General James Amos was the most passionate advocate among the service chiefs against repealing DADT. “Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines lives,” Amos said in explaining his views on DADT. “That’s the currency of this fight. I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center, in Maryland] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.” But now that the decision has been made, General Amos pledged to lead the effort to integrate openly gay Marines. Here is the text of the statement:

Fidelity is the essence of the United States Marine Corps. Above all else, we are loyal to the Constitution, our Commander in Chief, Congress, our Chain of Command, and the American people.  The House of Representatives and the Senate have voted to repeal Title 10, US Code 654 “Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the United States Armed Forces.” As stated during my testimony before Congress in September and again during hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, the Marine Corps will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy. I, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, will personally lead this effort, thus ensuring the respect and dignity due all Marines. On this matter, we look forward to further demonstrating to the American people the discipline and loyalty that have been the hallmark of the United States Marine Corps for over 235 years.

Whatever one thinks of General Amos’s opposition to repealing DADT, his action today is quite impressive, and quite important. It’s also yet more evidence as to why the military is among the most trusted institutions in American life.

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Reapportionment Means Obama Just Lost Six Electoral Votes

Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election so handily that losing a few electoral votes from his 365 to 173 margin of victory wouldn’t have made much of a difference. But there is every indication that the public’s repudiation of Obama’s policies at the polls this past November shows he will not have as easy a time of it in 2012. And now that the results of the reapportionment based on the 2010 census have been announced, Obama’s re-election just got a bit more difficult.

The new totals for each state’s representation in the House of Representatives will also change the number of electoral votes they can cast for president. So if we tally up the states’ new electoral votes based on the 2008 election, it shows that states that voted for Obama lost a net total of six votes, and those that backed McCain gained the same number. If you look back to the election before that, in which George W. Bush beat John Kerry, although some Blue States in 2008 were Red in 2004, the new electoral vote totals shows the same difference, a net gain of six for Bush states and a net loss of six for those that went for Kerry.

The big winners in the reapportionment are Texas, with four more seats, and Florida, with two. Washington, Utah, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, and Arizona all gained one. The biggest losers are New York and Ohio, which each lost two seats. Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all lost one.

Of course, there is no telling how these states will vote in 2012; but however you slice it, the hill may have just gotten a little steeper for Obama in his quest for re-election.

Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election so handily that losing a few electoral votes from his 365 to 173 margin of victory wouldn’t have made much of a difference. But there is every indication that the public’s repudiation of Obama’s policies at the polls this past November shows he will not have as easy a time of it in 2012. And now that the results of the reapportionment based on the 2010 census have been announced, Obama’s re-election just got a bit more difficult.

The new totals for each state’s representation in the House of Representatives will also change the number of electoral votes they can cast for president. So if we tally up the states’ new electoral votes based on the 2008 election, it shows that states that voted for Obama lost a net total of six votes, and those that backed McCain gained the same number. If you look back to the election before that, in which George W. Bush beat John Kerry, although some Blue States in 2008 were Red in 2004, the new electoral vote totals shows the same difference, a net gain of six for Bush states and a net loss of six for those that went for Kerry.

The big winners in the reapportionment are Texas, with four more seats, and Florida, with two. Washington, Utah, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, and Arizona all gained one. The biggest losers are New York and Ohio, which each lost two seats. Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all lost one.

Of course, there is no telling how these states will vote in 2012; but however you slice it, the hill may have just gotten a little steeper for Obama in his quest for re-election.

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Stalling for Time the Best Hope for Iran … and Its Apologists

The Islamist extremists running Iran have consistently spurned any attempt to entice them to abandon their nuclear ambitions via Western bribes. Though Barack Obama arrived in Washington in 2009 determined to “engage” with them, they humiliated the president, leaving him no choice but to pursue the weak sanctions that have been imposed on Iran, which have done nothing but further convince the mullahs and their chief front man, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that the United States is a paper tiger whose warnings can be ignored with impunity. The Iranians know that their smartest strategy is to combine an intransigent refusal to give on their desire for a nuclear weapon with Fabian diplomacy in which they play upon the West’s belief in negotiations with endless delays.

Unfortunately, that Fabian strategy fits perfectly with Secretary of Defense Gates’s continued assurance that Iran is years away from nuclear capability, as well as the administration’s blind faith that the sort of ineffectual sanctions it has been pursuing will ultimately persuade Tehran to behave in a responsible fashion.

But rather than the failure of sanctions serving to persuade the administration that it is time to get tougher with Iran, this is just the moment it has decided to soften its approach. Tony Karon noted with approval in the National that there was been a “Significant though … little noted but potentially profound shift in the U.S. negotiating position. Speaking in a recent BBC interview, the secretary of state Hillary Clinton suggested that the West could accept Iran enriching uranium for peaceful purposes, once it had ‘restored the confidence of the international community’ that its program had no military objective. ‘They can enrich uranium at some future date once they have demonstrated that they can do so in a responsible manner in accordance with international obligations,’ Mrs. Clinton said.”

This is an open invitation to Iran for more stalling and pretense. Moreover, it is an open betrayal of the position the United States — along with France and Israel — took  on Iran. The Bush administration rightly determined that the Iranian regime — a brutal religious dictatorship that has repressed its own people, stolen elections, sponsored terrorism throughout the Middle East, and threatened Israel with extinction — could not be trusted with even a purely civilian nuclear program, since there was no way to prevent it from converting to a more sinister purpose. If Clinton is going to start down the path of approving an Iranian nuclear program of any sort, it is an indication that the administration is not serious about ending this threat. Indeed, it is a signal that Obama and Clinton are willing to appease Ahmadinejad in order to gain his signature on an agreement that will pretend to stop an Iranian nuke but will, in fact, facilitate one.

Of course, for writers like Karon, the real danger is not a nuclear Iran but the possibility that the United States or Israel will move to remove this threat. Thus, Karon applauds the recent statements from Clinton and Gates. His talk of a “diplomatic solution” that “could be years in the making” helps to stifle the calls for action against Iran from sensible Americans that rightly fear the consequences of the mullahs’ gaining possession of a nuclear weapon while giving Ahmadinejad and his confederates all the breathing space they need.

The Islamist extremists running Iran have consistently spurned any attempt to entice them to abandon their nuclear ambitions via Western bribes. Though Barack Obama arrived in Washington in 2009 determined to “engage” with them, they humiliated the president, leaving him no choice but to pursue the weak sanctions that have been imposed on Iran, which have done nothing but further convince the mullahs and their chief front man, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that the United States is a paper tiger whose warnings can be ignored with impunity. The Iranians know that their smartest strategy is to combine an intransigent refusal to give on their desire for a nuclear weapon with Fabian diplomacy in which they play upon the West’s belief in negotiations with endless delays.

Unfortunately, that Fabian strategy fits perfectly with Secretary of Defense Gates’s continued assurance that Iran is years away from nuclear capability, as well as the administration’s blind faith that the sort of ineffectual sanctions it has been pursuing will ultimately persuade Tehran to behave in a responsible fashion.

But rather than the failure of sanctions serving to persuade the administration that it is time to get tougher with Iran, this is just the moment it has decided to soften its approach. Tony Karon noted with approval in the National that there was been a “Significant though … little noted but potentially profound shift in the U.S. negotiating position. Speaking in a recent BBC interview, the secretary of state Hillary Clinton suggested that the West could accept Iran enriching uranium for peaceful purposes, once it had ‘restored the confidence of the international community’ that its program had no military objective. ‘They can enrich uranium at some future date once they have demonstrated that they can do so in a responsible manner in accordance with international obligations,’ Mrs. Clinton said.”

This is an open invitation to Iran for more stalling and pretense. Moreover, it is an open betrayal of the position the United States — along with France and Israel — took  on Iran. The Bush administration rightly determined that the Iranian regime — a brutal religious dictatorship that has repressed its own people, stolen elections, sponsored terrorism throughout the Middle East, and threatened Israel with extinction — could not be trusted with even a purely civilian nuclear program, since there was no way to prevent it from converting to a more sinister purpose. If Clinton is going to start down the path of approving an Iranian nuclear program of any sort, it is an indication that the administration is not serious about ending this threat. Indeed, it is a signal that Obama and Clinton are willing to appease Ahmadinejad in order to gain his signature on an agreement that will pretend to stop an Iranian nuke but will, in fact, facilitate one.

Of course, for writers like Karon, the real danger is not a nuclear Iran but the possibility that the United States or Israel will move to remove this threat. Thus, Karon applauds the recent statements from Clinton and Gates. His talk of a “diplomatic solution” that “could be years in the making” helps to stifle the calls for action against Iran from sensible Americans that rightly fear the consequences of the mullahs’ gaining possession of a nuclear weapon while giving Ahmadinejad and his confederates all the breathing space they need.

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The Wisdom of Michael Novak

Yesterday in my post on the moral case for conservative economics, I mentioned that a very wise political strategist I know wrote me and said that the person who “captures the moral critique (in addition to the intellectual one) of Obamanomics” will be the Republican Party’s nominee and the next president. In a follow-up note, he told me, “The way I’ve been putting it is, ‘whoever distills the essence of Michael Novak’s Spirit of Democratic Capitalism’ will win.”

That was, I thought, a very nice way of paying tribute to the man who, better than anyone I know, has articulated the moral case for democratic capitalism. Beyond that, Michael has been a significant influence on a whole generation of people (like me) who were well-disposed toward conservatism but wanted it placed in an ethical and moral context, and in a way that convinced us that it was not only consistent with human nature but also was the best way to ensure human flourishing. And in re-reading Michael’s many works in preparation for co-authoring (with AEI’s Arthur Brooks) Wealth & Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism, I was reminded of the power and elegance of his words, like these (from “A Closet Capitalist Confesses,” March 14, 1976):

Finally, I realized the socialism is not a political proposal, not an economic plan. Socialism is the residue of Judeo-Christian faith, without religion. It is a belief in community, the goodness of the human race and paradise on earth.

That’s when I discovered I was an incurable and inveterate, as well as secret, sinner. I believe in sin. I’m for capitalism, modified and made intelligent and public-spirited, because it makes the world free for sinners. It allows human beings to do pretty much what they will. Socialism is a system built on belief in human goodness, so it never works. Capitalism is a system built on belief in human selfishness; given checks and balances, it is nearly always a smashing, scandalous success. …

There is an innate tendency in socialism toward authoritarianism. Left to themselves all human beings won’t be good; most must be converted. Capitalism, accepting human sinfulness, rubs sinner against sinner, making even dry wood yield a spark of grace. …

The saintliness of socialism will not feed the poor. The United States may be, as many of you say, the worthless and despicable prodigal son among the nations. Just wait and see who gets the fatted calf.

As the political strategist I was corresponding with understood, what the rest of us do on the subject of democratic capitalism consists of a series of footnotes to Novak.

Yesterday in my post on the moral case for conservative economics, I mentioned that a very wise political strategist I know wrote me and said that the person who “captures the moral critique (in addition to the intellectual one) of Obamanomics” will be the Republican Party’s nominee and the next president. In a follow-up note, he told me, “The way I’ve been putting it is, ‘whoever distills the essence of Michael Novak’s Spirit of Democratic Capitalism’ will win.”

That was, I thought, a very nice way of paying tribute to the man who, better than anyone I know, has articulated the moral case for democratic capitalism. Beyond that, Michael has been a significant influence on a whole generation of people (like me) who were well-disposed toward conservatism but wanted it placed in an ethical and moral context, and in a way that convinced us that it was not only consistent with human nature but also was the best way to ensure human flourishing. And in re-reading Michael’s many works in preparation for co-authoring (with AEI’s Arthur Brooks) Wealth & Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism, I was reminded of the power and elegance of his words, like these (from “A Closet Capitalist Confesses,” March 14, 1976):

Finally, I realized the socialism is not a political proposal, not an economic plan. Socialism is the residue of Judeo-Christian faith, without religion. It is a belief in community, the goodness of the human race and paradise on earth.

That’s when I discovered I was an incurable and inveterate, as well as secret, sinner. I believe in sin. I’m for capitalism, modified and made intelligent and public-spirited, because it makes the world free for sinners. It allows human beings to do pretty much what they will. Socialism is a system built on belief in human goodness, so it never works. Capitalism is a system built on belief in human selfishness; given checks and balances, it is nearly always a smashing, scandalous success. …

There is an innate tendency in socialism toward authoritarianism. Left to themselves all human beings won’t be good; most must be converted. Capitalism, accepting human sinfulness, rubs sinner against sinner, making even dry wood yield a spark of grace. …

The saintliness of socialism will not feed the poor. The United States may be, as many of you say, the worthless and despicable prodigal son among the nations. Just wait and see who gets the fatted calf.

As the political strategist I was corresponding with understood, what the rest of us do on the subject of democratic capitalism consists of a series of footnotes to Novak.

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Special January 2011 Preview: The Democrats and Health Care

The passage of Barack Obama’s health-care legislation in the spring of 2010 proved profoundly injurious to the president and his party in the November midterm elections. Studies conducted at Stanford University and the University of Minnesota agree that at least one-third of the 63-seat Democratic loss in the House of Representatives can be attributed to the electorate’s negative reaction to the health-care bill—which suggests that the legislation was responsible for taking a bad election and turning it into a historic disaster.

To read the rest of this feature article from the upcoming January issue of COMMENTARY magazine, click here.

To make sure you never miss an article or issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

The passage of Barack Obama’s health-care legislation in the spring of 2010 proved profoundly injurious to the president and his party in the November midterm elections. Studies conducted at Stanford University and the University of Minnesota agree that at least one-third of the 63-seat Democratic loss in the House of Representatives can be attributed to the electorate’s negative reaction to the health-care bill—which suggests that the legislation was responsible for taking a bad election and turning it into a historic disaster.

To read the rest of this feature article from the upcoming January issue of COMMENTARY magazine, click here.

To make sure you never miss an article or issue of COMMENTARY, click here.

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Iraq’s Democracy Works but Needs Continued U.S. Presence for Long-Term Survival

Iraq continues to make progress — slow, halting, often frustrating, incomplete progress, but progress nonetheless. Nearly a year after elections were held, parliament has finally approved a new government, which includes representation from all the major blocs. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, showing an impressive canniness for hanging on to power, has managed to propitiate all the other major powerbrokers, including his archrival, Ayad Allawi, who won more seats than Maliki did. He has even cut a deal with the Sadrists, whom he battled as recently as 2008 — and without giving the Sadrists control of one of the really important ministries, such as Interior or Defense.

It may not be pretty, but Iraq is showing that it does have a functional democracy, thereby refuting the argument made by so many critics of the “surge” that its gains were transitory and unsustainable. The good news is that throughout the year-long political crisis that has followed the elections, Iraq’s major factions have mostly refrained from violence, preferring to settle their differences in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms. There have been terrorist atrocities committed during the past year, but they have not upset Iraq’s political equilibrium, and the overall rate of violence has remained low despite a drawdown of American forces.

For all that, I remain concerned about what will happen in a year’s time if the remaining 50,000 U.S. troops are withdrawn. That appears to be an increasingly likely prospect, since there seems to be little enthusiasm on the part of either Maliki or Obama to negotiate an accord to allow a substantial body of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq post-2012. Iraq may very well be fine even without much American help. Certainly, its security forces continue to grow in size and competence. They don’t need nearly as much help as they once did, but nor are they yet capable of operating entirely on their own.

More important, the fragile peace of Iraqi politics constructed by General Petraeus in 2007-2008 needs years to set into concrete. The continued presence of U.S. troops would create some certainty about Iraq’s continued progress. Their departure will, on the contrary, raises the risks of Iraq once again falling apart. Admittedly, that risk is much lower than it was a few years ago, but there is a good deal to be said for an insurance policy — in the form of, say, 20,000 U.S. troops — to ensure that the gains that so many of our soldiers gave so much to achieve will last for the long-term.

Iraq continues to make progress — slow, halting, often frustrating, incomplete progress, but progress nonetheless. Nearly a year after elections were held, parliament has finally approved a new government, which includes representation from all the major blocs. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, showing an impressive canniness for hanging on to power, has managed to propitiate all the other major powerbrokers, including his archrival, Ayad Allawi, who won more seats than Maliki did. He has even cut a deal with the Sadrists, whom he battled as recently as 2008 — and without giving the Sadrists control of one of the really important ministries, such as Interior or Defense.

It may not be pretty, but Iraq is showing that it does have a functional democracy, thereby refuting the argument made by so many critics of the “surge” that its gains were transitory and unsustainable. The good news is that throughout the year-long political crisis that has followed the elections, Iraq’s major factions have mostly refrained from violence, preferring to settle their differences in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms. There have been terrorist atrocities committed during the past year, but they have not upset Iraq’s political equilibrium, and the overall rate of violence has remained low despite a drawdown of American forces.

For all that, I remain concerned about what will happen in a year’s time if the remaining 50,000 U.S. troops are withdrawn. That appears to be an increasingly likely prospect, since there seems to be little enthusiasm on the part of either Maliki or Obama to negotiate an accord to allow a substantial body of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq post-2012. Iraq may very well be fine even without much American help. Certainly, its security forces continue to grow in size and competence. They don’t need nearly as much help as they once did, but nor are they yet capable of operating entirely on their own.

More important, the fragile peace of Iraqi politics constructed by General Petraeus in 2007-2008 needs years to set into concrete. The continued presence of U.S. troops would create some certainty about Iraq’s continued progress. Their departure will, on the contrary, raises the risks of Iraq once again falling apart. Admittedly, that risk is much lower than it was a few years ago, but there is a good deal to be said for an insurance policy — in the form of, say, 20,000 U.S. troops — to ensure that the gains that so many of our soldiers gave so much to achieve will last for the long-term.

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Liberal Pundit: Opposition to Obama “Unpatriotic”

Even though proponents of passage of the New START treaty with Russia seem to be gaining support in the lame-duck Senate, they’re still pretty cranky over the willingness of some to question the pact. The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Cynthia Tucker is mad enough about it to start some serious name-calling.

According to Tucker, the fact that the usual chorus line of foreign-policy grandees has endorsed the treaty ought to obligate everyone with questions about the wisdom of the treaty and the need to rush it through a lame-duck session to just shut up. But she isn’t satisfied with calling treaty foes “petty and petulant” and their arguments “nonsense.” As far as she is concerned, they are also “unpatriotic.”

How so? Well, in spite of quite cogent arguments from the other side about the inconsequential nature of the obligations that the pact puts on Russia and the complete lack of a connection between arms control and national security, Tucker’s so convinced of the treaty’s worth that she thinks it is a “victory” for America, and we all know that anybody who doesn’t want America to “win” in arms control is not patriotic, right?

But Tucker’s real reason for besmirching the loyalty of those opposed to this measure is that she is convinced that the signing of this treaty — or really any treaty, no matter what it says, and it’s far from clear that she has any grasp of what New START will entail — is a victory for Barack Obama. So she thinks GOP opponents are simply desperate to prevent Obama from having a treaty-signing photo-op. It’s true that Republicans don’t want Obama to be re-elected, but that doesn’t make them any less patriotic than Democrats who viewed the prevention of George W. Bush’s re-election as a matter of national security. But just as support for Bush wasn’t a matter of patriotism, neither is backing Obama. But Obama fans such as Tucker are so oblivious to their blind partisanship that she actually believes there is no difference between loving your country and loving Obama.

This is another moment to note that those who blame the Tea Party movement and conservative opponents of the president for the abasement of civil discourse are hypocrites. If simply wanting to delay the passage of a nuclear-arms treaty until after the new Congress is seated is enough to justify a slur on your patriotism, then is there any smear to which allegedly respectable liberal pundits won’t sink?

Even though proponents of passage of the New START treaty with Russia seem to be gaining support in the lame-duck Senate, they’re still pretty cranky over the willingness of some to question the pact. The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Cynthia Tucker is mad enough about it to start some serious name-calling.

According to Tucker, the fact that the usual chorus line of foreign-policy grandees has endorsed the treaty ought to obligate everyone with questions about the wisdom of the treaty and the need to rush it through a lame-duck session to just shut up. But she isn’t satisfied with calling treaty foes “petty and petulant” and their arguments “nonsense.” As far as she is concerned, they are also “unpatriotic.”

How so? Well, in spite of quite cogent arguments from the other side about the inconsequential nature of the obligations that the pact puts on Russia and the complete lack of a connection between arms control and national security, Tucker’s so convinced of the treaty’s worth that she thinks it is a “victory” for America, and we all know that anybody who doesn’t want America to “win” in arms control is not patriotic, right?

But Tucker’s real reason for besmirching the loyalty of those opposed to this measure is that she is convinced that the signing of this treaty — or really any treaty, no matter what it says, and it’s far from clear that she has any grasp of what New START will entail — is a victory for Barack Obama. So she thinks GOP opponents are simply desperate to prevent Obama from having a treaty-signing photo-op. It’s true that Republicans don’t want Obama to be re-elected, but that doesn’t make them any less patriotic than Democrats who viewed the prevention of George W. Bush’s re-election as a matter of national security. But just as support for Bush wasn’t a matter of patriotism, neither is backing Obama. But Obama fans such as Tucker are so oblivious to their blind partisanship that she actually believes there is no difference between loving your country and loving Obama.

This is another moment to note that those who blame the Tea Party movement and conservative opponents of the president for the abasement of civil discourse are hypocrites. If simply wanting to delay the passage of a nuclear-arms treaty until after the new Congress is seated is enough to justify a slur on your patriotism, then is there any smear to which allegedly respectable liberal pundits won’t sink?

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The Unexpected Triumph of New START

It appears that yesterday, Republican opposition to the New START treaty in the Senate melted down; the treaty is on its way to passage tomorrow with, Rich Lowry says, as many as 75 votes. So what happened here? As late as the end of last week, it appeared that the principled objections to the treaty — specifically, the language of its preamble, which may be read as placing limits on America’s ability to defend itself against nuclear missiles — had the upper hand. Or at least a strong-enough hand either to prevent the treaty from coming to a vote or to deny it the 67 votes needed in the Senate to secure passage of any treaty (two-thirds of senators need to approve a treaty, according to the Constitution).

This is an unnecessary treaty, made with a bad international actor of the second rank whose word cannot be trusted and who does not deserve to be elevated to the level of a bilateral negotiator with the United States. That said, I think the problem the anti-START forces ran into is that the treaty itself is, arguably, anodyne. In other words, it’s unnecessary but not dangerous. And it appears the Obama administration made an effective case to wavering Republican senators that it would be dangerous to reject it. That argument may be specious, but it runs like this: We need Russian cooperation to keep Iran from going nuclear, there are signs we’re getting that cooperation, and it will end instantly if the treaty dies in the Senate. The administration might have dropped some important classified information into the ears of senators to demonstrate the seriousness of the situation. And there are enough intellectuals and policy thinkers on the right who agree that the risk of rejecting the treaty is worse than the risk of signing it that the wavering senators were given all sorts of good reasons for supporting it.

How bad a defeat is this for the conservatives making the case against New START? Opposing political action on the basis of principle or honestly maintained concern is never a defeat; the principle doesn’t end because the vote doesn’t go your way, nor does the concern simply vanish. Just because your view doesn’t prevail doesn’t mean the fight wasn’t worth it. So there’s no ideological cost.

There is a political cost, or rather two political costs, for those whose primary interest was in handing the Obama administration and its foreign policy a defeat. The first is that the relative intensity of the opposition just makes the president’s victory all the sweeter and helps make the argument that he has recovered his political footing after the November election more quickly than anyone expected. That is just a matter of perception — the Republican takeover of the House is looming, and dark days are coming for him legislatively — but perception matters in politics. Some people picked a fight on this with the hope that they could deliver an uppercut to Obama just after he had come off the ropes; they swung and they missed; and he knocked them down instead.

The second cost is that it will raise to some senators and staffers in the GOP the possibility that, on foreign policy at least, they need to be somewhat skeptical of the voices of some on the right whose counsel might now seem untrustworthy and politically imprudent to them.

On the other hand, it’s one thing for Barack Obama to get a lot done in a lame-duck session that no longer reflects the beliefs and ideological makeup of the country at large. Come 2011, there will be five more Republican senators (the sixth new senator, Mark Kirk of Illinois, has already been seated) and 63 new Republicans on Capitol Hill. Obama should savor these victories, because they’re likely to be among the last he sees for a long time.

It appears that yesterday, Republican opposition to the New START treaty in the Senate melted down; the treaty is on its way to passage tomorrow with, Rich Lowry says, as many as 75 votes. So what happened here? As late as the end of last week, it appeared that the principled objections to the treaty — specifically, the language of its preamble, which may be read as placing limits on America’s ability to defend itself against nuclear missiles — had the upper hand. Or at least a strong-enough hand either to prevent the treaty from coming to a vote or to deny it the 67 votes needed in the Senate to secure passage of any treaty (two-thirds of senators need to approve a treaty, according to the Constitution).

This is an unnecessary treaty, made with a bad international actor of the second rank whose word cannot be trusted and who does not deserve to be elevated to the level of a bilateral negotiator with the United States. That said, I think the problem the anti-START forces ran into is that the treaty itself is, arguably, anodyne. In other words, it’s unnecessary but not dangerous. And it appears the Obama administration made an effective case to wavering Republican senators that it would be dangerous to reject it. That argument may be specious, but it runs like this: We need Russian cooperation to keep Iran from going nuclear, there are signs we’re getting that cooperation, and it will end instantly if the treaty dies in the Senate. The administration might have dropped some important classified information into the ears of senators to demonstrate the seriousness of the situation. And there are enough intellectuals and policy thinkers on the right who agree that the risk of rejecting the treaty is worse than the risk of signing it that the wavering senators were given all sorts of good reasons for supporting it.

How bad a defeat is this for the conservatives making the case against New START? Opposing political action on the basis of principle or honestly maintained concern is never a defeat; the principle doesn’t end because the vote doesn’t go your way, nor does the concern simply vanish. Just because your view doesn’t prevail doesn’t mean the fight wasn’t worth it. So there’s no ideological cost.

There is a political cost, or rather two political costs, for those whose primary interest was in handing the Obama administration and its foreign policy a defeat. The first is that the relative intensity of the opposition just makes the president’s victory all the sweeter and helps make the argument that he has recovered his political footing after the November election more quickly than anyone expected. That is just a matter of perception — the Republican takeover of the House is looming, and dark days are coming for him legislatively — but perception matters in politics. Some people picked a fight on this with the hope that they could deliver an uppercut to Obama just after he had come off the ropes; they swung and they missed; and he knocked them down instead.

The second cost is that it will raise to some senators and staffers in the GOP the possibility that, on foreign policy at least, they need to be somewhat skeptical of the voices of some on the right whose counsel might now seem untrustworthy and politically imprudent to them.

On the other hand, it’s one thing for Barack Obama to get a lot done in a lame-duck session that no longer reflects the beliefs and ideological makeup of the country at large. Come 2011, there will be five more Republican senators (the sixth new senator, Mark Kirk of Illinois, has already been seated) and 63 new Republicans on Capitol Hill. Obama should savor these victories, because they’re likely to be among the last he sees for a long time.

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DADT Will Soon Be a Non-Event

In a year’s time, I predict, the lifting of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy to allow gays to serve openly in the military will have become a non-event. The military will adjust, as it always does, sooner or later, to social trends. The military rules that now govern relations between men and women will be extended to gays. There will undoubtedly be issues of sexual harassment and sexual relations and sexual tensions to handle — just as there are today. But handle them the military will.

There will not be, I predict, much resistance within the ranks, a few nasty comments by hard-bitten NCOs aside, because attitudes toward gays have shifted so much toward acceptance in the years since DADT was enacted in 1993. In any case, the numbers involved will be small (gays are a tiny minority of the population and presumably only a tiny minority of that minority will sign up for uniformed service — just as only a tiny minority of the heterosexual population volunteers). So their incorporation will not be disruptive and will not change the overall culture of the armed forces, much less lead to a loss of combat competence — which is as high as it has ever been because today’s troops have seen action nonstop since 2001.

Perhaps the most lasting impact of this policy change will be the return of ROTC to Ivy League campuses. Already Harvard and Yale are talking about reinstating their ROTC programs. This, too, will not make much of a change in either the Ivy League or the military, but it is a small, welcome step toward bridging the chasm that separates the armed forces from society’s elites.

In a year’s time, I predict, the lifting of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy to allow gays to serve openly in the military will have become a non-event. The military will adjust, as it always does, sooner or later, to social trends. The military rules that now govern relations between men and women will be extended to gays. There will undoubtedly be issues of sexual harassment and sexual relations and sexual tensions to handle — just as there are today. But handle them the military will.

There will not be, I predict, much resistance within the ranks, a few nasty comments by hard-bitten NCOs aside, because attitudes toward gays have shifted so much toward acceptance in the years since DADT was enacted in 1993. In any case, the numbers involved will be small (gays are a tiny minority of the population and presumably only a tiny minority of that minority will sign up for uniformed service — just as only a tiny minority of the heterosexual population volunteers). So their incorporation will not be disruptive and will not change the overall culture of the armed forces, much less lead to a loss of combat competence — which is as high as it has ever been because today’s troops have seen action nonstop since 2001.

Perhaps the most lasting impact of this policy change will be the return of ROTC to Ivy League campuses. Already Harvard and Yale are talking about reinstating their ROTC programs. This, too, will not make much of a change in either the Ivy League or the military, but it is a small, welcome step toward bridging the chasm that separates the armed forces from society’s elites.

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When Leaker Becomes Leakee

Julian Assange thinks he’s doing the world an incalculable humanitarian favor by exposing all manner of leaked documentation to the public. But transparency has its limits, of course: “Speaking from the English mansion where he is confined on bail, the 39-year-old Australian said that the decision [by the Guardian newspaper] to publish incriminating police files about him was ‘disgusting.’”

Oh, really? Why is that? “Mr. Assange claimed the newspaper received leaked documents from Swedish authorities or ‘other intelligence agencies’ intent on jeopardising his defence. ‘The leak was clearly designed to undermine my bail application,’ he said.”

Only he can leak things to undermine targets of his choosing — understand? The hypocrisy doesn’t end there. Assange, naturally enough, has gone from whistleblower to blackmailer.

Mr. Assange also confirmed that WikiLeaks was holding a vast amount of material about a bank which it intends to release early next year.

Shares in Bank of America recently fell after speculation spread that it was the target.

“We don’t want the bank to suffer unless it’s called for,” Mr Assange said. “But if its management is operating in a responsive way there will be resignations.”

Julian Assange does not expose secrets. He traffics in them. He is not an enemy of secrecy. He is a secrecy entrepreneur. Secrecy is his métier. It’s his capital and source of leverage. How far will his defenders go in sticking up for blackmail and hypocrisy?

Julian Assange thinks he’s doing the world an incalculable humanitarian favor by exposing all manner of leaked documentation to the public. But transparency has its limits, of course: “Speaking from the English mansion where he is confined on bail, the 39-year-old Australian said that the decision [by the Guardian newspaper] to publish incriminating police files about him was ‘disgusting.’”

Oh, really? Why is that? “Mr. Assange claimed the newspaper received leaked documents from Swedish authorities or ‘other intelligence agencies’ intent on jeopardising his defence. ‘The leak was clearly designed to undermine my bail application,’ he said.”

Only he can leak things to undermine targets of his choosing — understand? The hypocrisy doesn’t end there. Assange, naturally enough, has gone from whistleblower to blackmailer.

Mr. Assange also confirmed that WikiLeaks was holding a vast amount of material about a bank which it intends to release early next year.

Shares in Bank of America recently fell after speculation spread that it was the target.

“We don’t want the bank to suffer unless it’s called for,” Mr Assange said. “But if its management is operating in a responsive way there will be resignations.”

Julian Assange does not expose secrets. He traffics in them. He is not an enemy of secrecy. He is a secrecy entrepreneur. Secrecy is his métier. It’s his capital and source of leverage. How far will his defenders go in sticking up for blackmail and hypocrisy?

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Morning Commentary

New START picked up support from Republican Sens. Scott Brown, Bob Corker, Judd Gregg, and George Voinovich on Monday, making it look like the treaty may actually get ratified before the end of the week. Sens. Richard Lugar, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins had previously come out in favor of New START, which means Democrats now just need to pick up two more GOP “yes” votes to get the treaty ratified.

The latest Public Policy Polling survey of conservative voters in eight states found Sarah Palin to be the top pick for a 2012 presidential run. She’s followed closely by Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich, with Mitt Romney in last place. PPP has more results and analysis from the poll on its blog.

Sadness: Melanie Phillips explains why the left is at war with itself over whether to canonize Julian Assange as a hero or convict him as a rapist without trial: “To understand why there is such an ear-splitting screeching of brakes from The Guardian, it is necessary to consider the mind-bending contradictions of what passes for thinking on the Left. For it believes certain things as articles of faith which cannot be denied. One is that America is a force for bad in the world and so can never be anything other than guilty. Another is that all men are potential rapists, and so can never be anything other than guilty.”

Steve Chapman discusses how political correctness in American schools helps turn top students into mediocre ones: “The danger in putting the brightest kids in general classes is that they will be bored by instruction geared to the middle. But their troubles don’t elicit much sympathy. Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless told The Atlantic magazine, ‘The United States does not do a good job of educating kids at the top. There’s a long-standing attitude that, “Well, smart kids can make it on their own.”’ But can they? Only 6 percent of American kids achieve advanced proficiency in math—lower than in 30 other countries. In Taiwan, the figure is 28 percent.”

Nathan Glazer reviews Kenneth Marcus’s latest book on campus anti-Semitism and the inclusion of Jews in Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. An essay adapted from Marcus’s book was published in the September issue of COMMENTARY.

The nastiness of the anti-Israel fringe is now invading the morning commute. JTA reports that Seattle buses will soon be plastered with ads decrying “Israeli war-crimes.” From JTA: “The Seattle Midwest Awareness Campaign has paid $1,794 to place the advertisements on 12 buses beginning Dec. 27, the day Israel entered Gaza to stop rocket attacks on its southern communities, according to Seattle’s King 5 News. The ads feature a group of children looking at a demolished building under the heading ‘Israeli War Crimes: Your tax dollars at work.’”

New START picked up support from Republican Sens. Scott Brown, Bob Corker, Judd Gregg, and George Voinovich on Monday, making it look like the treaty may actually get ratified before the end of the week. Sens. Richard Lugar, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins had previously come out in favor of New START, which means Democrats now just need to pick up two more GOP “yes” votes to get the treaty ratified.

The latest Public Policy Polling survey of conservative voters in eight states found Sarah Palin to be the top pick for a 2012 presidential run. She’s followed closely by Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich, with Mitt Romney in last place. PPP has more results and analysis from the poll on its blog.

Sadness: Melanie Phillips explains why the left is at war with itself over whether to canonize Julian Assange as a hero or convict him as a rapist without trial: “To understand why there is such an ear-splitting screeching of brakes from The Guardian, it is necessary to consider the mind-bending contradictions of what passes for thinking on the Left. For it believes certain things as articles of faith which cannot be denied. One is that America is a force for bad in the world and so can never be anything other than guilty. Another is that all men are potential rapists, and so can never be anything other than guilty.”

Steve Chapman discusses how political correctness in American schools helps turn top students into mediocre ones: “The danger in putting the brightest kids in general classes is that they will be bored by instruction geared to the middle. But their troubles don’t elicit much sympathy. Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless told The Atlantic magazine, ‘The United States does not do a good job of educating kids at the top. There’s a long-standing attitude that, “Well, smart kids can make it on their own.”’ But can they? Only 6 percent of American kids achieve advanced proficiency in math—lower than in 30 other countries. In Taiwan, the figure is 28 percent.”

Nathan Glazer reviews Kenneth Marcus’s latest book on campus anti-Semitism and the inclusion of Jews in Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. An essay adapted from Marcus’s book was published in the September issue of COMMENTARY.

The nastiness of the anti-Israel fringe is now invading the morning commute. JTA reports that Seattle buses will soon be plastered with ads decrying “Israeli war-crimes.” From JTA: “The Seattle Midwest Awareness Campaign has paid $1,794 to place the advertisements on 12 buses beginning Dec. 27, the day Israel entered Gaza to stop rocket attacks on its southern communities, according to Seattle’s King 5 News. The ads feature a group of children looking at a demolished building under the heading ‘Israeli War Crimes: Your tax dollars at work.’”

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Israelis Think No Concession Will Ever Satisfy the West

A newly released WikiLeaks cable quotes Ron Dermer, a top adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling a U.S. diplomat of Israelis’ frustration with the peace process. Surprisingly, however, Dermer didn’t focus primarily on Palestinian behavior. Rather, he charged, “the Israeli public is skeptical regarding the benefits of returning to negotiations” because “all the GOI [government of Israel] has received in return for its efforts [to date] was a ‘slap-down from the international community.’”

Dermer didn’t offer evidence to support his claim about Israeli frustration with the “international community,” but the data are shocking: according to the August Peace Index poll, fully 77 percent of Jewish Israelis think “it makes no difference what Israel does and how far it may go on the Palestinian issue; the world will continue to be very critical of it.” And in fact, Israelis have good reasons for this belief.

For instance, when Hezbollah continued attacking Israel even after Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the world, far from condemning Hezbollah, excoriated Israel when it finally responded to these attacks in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Moreover, after having certified the withdrawal as 100 percent complete in 2000, the UN Security Council then rewarded Hezbollah’s aggression in 2006 by voting to remap Lebanon’s borders, “especially in those areas where the border is disputed” by Hezbollah, with an eye toward forcing Israel to quit additional territory.

Then, when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, evacuating 25 settlements in the process, it was rewarded by daily rocket fire on its cities from the evacuated territory. Yet when it finally fought back, in 2008, it was slapped with the Goldstone Report, which accused it of “war crimes” and urged its indictment in the International Criminal Court. And far from coming to Israel’s defense, most Western countries abstained in both UN votes on the report.

Moreover, even though two Israeli offers (in 2000 and 2008) to give the Palestinians the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank have been unmatched by any parallel Palestinian concessions, the West continues to demand ever more concessions from Israel while refusing to publicly demand anything of the Palestinians — even on issues like the “right of return,” where Palestinian concessions are clearly essential for any deal. For instance, a European Union statement earlier this month demanded several explicit Israeli concessions, including withdrawal to the “pre-1967 borders” and Jerusalem as the “capital of two states,” but made no similarly explicit demands of the Palestinians. It merely called for an “agreed, just, fair and realistic solution to the refugee question,” without specifying that such a solution cannot include resettling the refugees in Israel.

All this has made Israelis believe that no matter what they give, the world will still find new reasons to condemn it. And if the West actually wants a peace deal, that ought to concern it deeply, because Israelis thought a deal was supposed to give them two benefits: peace with the Arabs and support from the West. Instead, Israel discovered that concession after concession has brought neither. And if so, what’s the point of continuing to make them?

A newly released WikiLeaks cable quotes Ron Dermer, a top adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling a U.S. diplomat of Israelis’ frustration with the peace process. Surprisingly, however, Dermer didn’t focus primarily on Palestinian behavior. Rather, he charged, “the Israeli public is skeptical regarding the benefits of returning to negotiations” because “all the GOI [government of Israel] has received in return for its efforts [to date] was a ‘slap-down from the international community.’”

Dermer didn’t offer evidence to support his claim about Israeli frustration with the “international community,” but the data are shocking: according to the August Peace Index poll, fully 77 percent of Jewish Israelis think “it makes no difference what Israel does and how far it may go on the Palestinian issue; the world will continue to be very critical of it.” And in fact, Israelis have good reasons for this belief.

For instance, when Hezbollah continued attacking Israel even after Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the world, far from condemning Hezbollah, excoriated Israel when it finally responded to these attacks in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Moreover, after having certified the withdrawal as 100 percent complete in 2000, the UN Security Council then rewarded Hezbollah’s aggression in 2006 by voting to remap Lebanon’s borders, “especially in those areas where the border is disputed” by Hezbollah, with an eye toward forcing Israel to quit additional territory.

Then, when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, evacuating 25 settlements in the process, it was rewarded by daily rocket fire on its cities from the evacuated territory. Yet when it finally fought back, in 2008, it was slapped with the Goldstone Report, which accused it of “war crimes” and urged its indictment in the International Criminal Court. And far from coming to Israel’s defense, most Western countries abstained in both UN votes on the report.

Moreover, even though two Israeli offers (in 2000 and 2008) to give the Palestinians the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank have been unmatched by any parallel Palestinian concessions, the West continues to demand ever more concessions from Israel while refusing to publicly demand anything of the Palestinians — even on issues like the “right of return,” where Palestinian concessions are clearly essential for any deal. For instance, a European Union statement earlier this month demanded several explicit Israeli concessions, including withdrawal to the “pre-1967 borders” and Jerusalem as the “capital of two states,” but made no similarly explicit demands of the Palestinians. It merely called for an “agreed, just, fair and realistic solution to the refugee question,” without specifying that such a solution cannot include resettling the refugees in Israel.

All this has made Israelis believe that no matter what they give, the world will still find new reasons to condemn it. And if the West actually wants a peace deal, that ought to concern it deeply, because Israelis thought a deal was supposed to give them two benefits: peace with the Arabs and support from the West. Instead, Israel discovered that concession after concession has brought neither. And if so, what’s the point of continuing to make them?

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Cut and Run Was No Strategy for Iraq and Isn’t One for Afghanistan

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has written in the Wall Street Journal that we should “un-surge” in Afghanistan. While arguing against total withdrawal, he says “the U.S. effort there should be sharply reduced.”

Mr. Haass’s recommendation on Afghanistan sounds similar to his (flawed) recommendation on Iraq during the debate about the surge.

In a November 13, 2006, interview with Der Spiegel, Haass said: “We’ve reached a point in Iraq where we’ve got to get real. … The Iraq situation is not winnable in any meaningful sense of the word ‘winnable.’ So what we need to do now is look for a way to limit the losses and costs, try to advance on other fronts in the region and try to limit the fallout of Iraq. That’s what you have to do sometimes when you’re a global power.”

A few weeks later, on November 30, Haass said, “It’s not clear to me that even if you double the level of American troops you would somehow stabilize the situation [in Iraq].”

And on December 10, 2006, on NBC’s Meet the Press, he said this:

I would perhaps do it for a short amount of time, a surge, as part, again, of this narrative, as part of saying, “We’ve gone the extra mile.” I want to take away the arguments, quite honestly, from the critics of the [Iraq Study Group] report. I want to take away the argument that if Iraq turns out as badly as I fear it might, I want to take away the argument that it was because of what we didn’t do. If Iraq doesn’t work, I think it’s incredibly important for the future of the Middle East and for the future of American foreign policy around the world that the principle lesson not be that the United States is unreliable or we lacked staying power. “If only we’d done a little bit more for a little bit longer it would’ve succeeded.” To me, it is essentially important for the future of this country that Iraq be seen, if you will, as Iraq’s failure, not as America’s failure.

So Haass supported a temporary surge in Iraq not because he thought it would work but in order to place the blame on the Iraqis when it failed. There was a notably amoral quality to Haass’s recommendation (the realpolitik Haass might accept this as a compliment). Read More

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has written in the Wall Street Journal that we should “un-surge” in Afghanistan. While arguing against total withdrawal, he says “the U.S. effort there should be sharply reduced.”

Mr. Haass’s recommendation on Afghanistan sounds similar to his (flawed) recommendation on Iraq during the debate about the surge.

In a November 13, 2006, interview with Der Spiegel, Haass said: “We’ve reached a point in Iraq where we’ve got to get real. … The Iraq situation is not winnable in any meaningful sense of the word ‘winnable.’ So what we need to do now is look for a way to limit the losses and costs, try to advance on other fronts in the region and try to limit the fallout of Iraq. That’s what you have to do sometimes when you’re a global power.”

A few weeks later, on November 30, Haass said, “It’s not clear to me that even if you double the level of American troops you would somehow stabilize the situation [in Iraq].”

And on December 10, 2006, on NBC’s Meet the Press, he said this:

I would perhaps do it for a short amount of time, a surge, as part, again, of this narrative, as part of saying, “We’ve gone the extra mile.” I want to take away the arguments, quite honestly, from the critics of the [Iraq Study Group] report. I want to take away the argument that if Iraq turns out as badly as I fear it might, I want to take away the argument that it was because of what we didn’t do. If Iraq doesn’t work, I think it’s incredibly important for the future of the Middle East and for the future of American foreign policy around the world that the principle lesson not be that the United States is unreliable or we lacked staying power. “If only we’d done a little bit more for a little bit longer it would’ve succeeded.” To me, it is essentially important for the future of this country that Iraq be seen, if you will, as Iraq’s failure, not as America’s failure.

So Haass supported a temporary surge in Iraq not because he thought it would work but in order to place the blame on the Iraqis when it failed. There was a notably amoral quality to Haass’s recommendation (the realpolitik Haass might accept this as a compliment).

In his Journal op-ed arguing for undoing the surge in Afghanistan, Haass lays out the “broader reasons to recast policy.” They include:

The greatest threat to U.S. national security stems from our own fiscal crisis. Afghanistan is a significant contributor to this situation and could play an important role in reducing it. A savings of $75 billion a year could help finance much-needed military modernization and reduce the deficit.

Another factor is the increased possibility of a conflict with a reckless North Korea and the continued possibility of a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program. U.S. military forces must be freed up to contend with these issues. The perception that we are tied down in Afghanistan makes it more difficult to threaten North Korea or Iran credibly—and makes it more difficult to muster the forces to deal with either if necessary.

Haass’s somewhat novel argument, then, is that in order to preserve our capacity to wage future wars, we should lose (in the guise of de-escalation) our current ones. He doesn’t take into account that retreating in Afghanistan would be (rightly) interpreted by nations like Iran and North Korea as weakness on the part of America, thereby emboldening our adversaries. And nowhere does Haass explain how his recommended offshore counterterrorism strategy would work, since credible counterterrorism strikes depend on good intelligence, which is best gathered by ground forces that enjoy the trust of the local population. If we pull out our troops, we lose even that capacity.

One cannot help but suspect that Haass has arrived at a position based on a theory he holds to with dogmatic certitude and has gone in search of arguments to support it. This may explain why Haass is forced to mimic David Stockman on the deficit and Richard Perle on Iran. It’s not a terribly persuasive pose.

Mr. Haass concludes his op-ed this way:

Ultimately Afghanistan is a strategic distraction. U.S. interests there are limited. So, too, are the resources available for national security. It is not surprising that the commander in the field, Gen. David Petraeus, is calling for committing greater resources to the theater. But it is the commander-in-chief’s responsibility to take into account the nation’s capacity to meet all of its challenges, national and international. It is for this reason that the perspectives of Gen. Petraeus and President Obama must necessarily diverge.

The notion that Afghanistan is nothing more than a “strategic distraction” is not terribly serious. Events of the past decade have turned it into something very much more than that.

Defeat there would have profound, negative effects on, among other nations, nuclear-armed Pakistan. While it’s obviously true that events in Afghanistan don’t have unlimited effects on Pakistan, Haass’s insistence that they are almost completely unrelated will come as news to the Pakistani government and virtually everyone else in the region. The capitulation of the United States and the fall of the existing government in a neighboring state, Afghanistan, would have significant ramifications in Pakistan. It would be an enormously important psychological victory for jihadists and the Taliban. Islamists all over the world would assume that if they wait long enough, the U.S. will cut out and move on. And defeat in Afghanistan would have baleful consequences for the people, and especially the women, of Afghanistan (though that dimension of this issue doesn’t appear to enter into Haass’s calculus at all).

When it comes to both military planning and strategic thinking, General Petraeus is simply in a different league than Mr. Haass. The four-star general and Princeton Ph.D. has proved himself to be far wiser, more prescient, and more knowledgeable than the former State Department official. Which is why I’m thankful that America’s 44th president, like America’s 43rd president, is listening to David Petraeus rather than to Richard Haass.

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Honduras, Obama, and Occam’s Razor

In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote that cables released by WikiLeaks show that the administration knew Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had threatened Honduran democracy — but supported him in order to offer President Obama a “bonding opportunity” with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a chance to ingratiate himself with Latin America’s hard left.

O’Grady believes this helps explain why the administration went to such extremes to try to force Zelaya’s reinstatement despite the obvious remedy once the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court had upheld his removal for attempting to thwart the election of his successor — hold the already scheduled election between the already duly-chosen candidates, on the date already set, which was only a few months away.

I have a simpler explanation — not inconsistent with O’Grady’s analysis but closer to the common theme in Obama’s foreign policy in other areas. The day after Zelaya was removed, Obama pronounced it a “coup.” That snap judgment remained American policy even as more and more facts contradicting Obama’s description emerged. After months pushing a reinstatement that virtually every element of Honduran political and civil society opposed, and even though the proper and practical solution was apparent, Obama still engaged in mystifying diplomacy, cutting off aid to a poverty-stricken ally. Three months into the “crisis,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley made this statement about the Honduran government’s intent to hold its election:

There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking, if we can just get to an election, that this would absolve them of all their sins. And we’re saying, clearly, that is not the case.

Crowley asserted the election the Honduran legislature and judiciary sought to preserve would not “absolve” them of “all their sins.” Honduras had apparently offended some sort of god.

Obama brought to the Oval Office a self-regard probably unmatched in American history. He apologized for his country while praising it for electing him. He thought that Iran could be handled with his outstretched hand; that a foreign head of state should receive an iPod with his speeches on it; that a video of him was sufficient for the Berlin Wall anniversary; that a prime minister should be summoned to the White House after-hours without press or pictures; that a Palestinian state would be created because this time they had Him. Russia and China were treated with respect, as was Iran, even as it held a fraudulent election and blew through his successive “deadlines.” But allies such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Israel, and Britain were treated differently.

What was visited upon Honduras last year was of a piece.

In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote that cables released by WikiLeaks show that the administration knew Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had threatened Honduran democracy — but supported him in order to offer President Obama a “bonding opportunity” with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a chance to ingratiate himself with Latin America’s hard left.

O’Grady believes this helps explain why the administration went to such extremes to try to force Zelaya’s reinstatement despite the obvious remedy once the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court had upheld his removal for attempting to thwart the election of his successor — hold the already scheduled election between the already duly-chosen candidates, on the date already set, which was only a few months away.

I have a simpler explanation — not inconsistent with O’Grady’s analysis but closer to the common theme in Obama’s foreign policy in other areas. The day after Zelaya was removed, Obama pronounced it a “coup.” That snap judgment remained American policy even as more and more facts contradicting Obama’s description emerged. After months pushing a reinstatement that virtually every element of Honduran political and civil society opposed, and even though the proper and practical solution was apparent, Obama still engaged in mystifying diplomacy, cutting off aid to a poverty-stricken ally. Three months into the “crisis,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley made this statement about the Honduran government’s intent to hold its election:

There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking, if we can just get to an election, that this would absolve them of all their sins. And we’re saying, clearly, that is not the case.

Crowley asserted the election the Honduran legislature and judiciary sought to preserve would not “absolve” them of “all their sins.” Honduras had apparently offended some sort of god.

Obama brought to the Oval Office a self-regard probably unmatched in American history. He apologized for his country while praising it for electing him. He thought that Iran could be handled with his outstretched hand; that a foreign head of state should receive an iPod with his speeches on it; that a video of him was sufficient for the Berlin Wall anniversary; that a prime minister should be summoned to the White House after-hours without press or pictures; that a Palestinian state would be created because this time they had Him. Russia and China were treated with respect, as was Iran, even as it held a fraudulent election and blew through his successive “deadlines.” But allies such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Israel, and Britain were treated differently.

What was visited upon Honduras last year was of a piece.

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