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Posts For: January 23, 2011

Palestine Papers: 99 Percent Hype, 1 Percent News

You wouldn’t expect Al-Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper in Britain to do anything but spin the “Palestine Papers” — the leaked transcripts of late Bush administration negotiations between Israeli, Palestinian, and American officials — to the max. And so they have, today, with shocked responses from foreign-policy types. Indeed, an editor at Foreign Policy magazine went so far as to declare on Twitter that the “two state solution is dead” as a result.

But the reality of the papers themselves turns out to be incredibly boring. Yes, during the months surrounding the Annapolis summit in 2008, there were negotiations. Yes, these negotiations concerned issues such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security, and settlements. Yes, the two sides discussed land swaps that would enable Israel to retain major settlement blocs. Yes, in private, the Palestinians acknowledged that the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is not going to be handed over to them and that Israel will not consent to being flooded with millions of Arab refugees. Yes, in private, the negotiators treated each other with respect and even graciousness. No, the talks did not succeed. This is news?

The Palestine Papers, however, come off badly for the leader of Israel’s opposition, Tzipi Livni, who was then-PM Ehud Olmert’s foreign minister at the time and one of the dramatis personae of the negotiations. Livni’s political liability is that too many Israelis think she isn’t tough enough to be prime minister. She has a tendency to denigrate her own side as a way of ingratiating herself to hostile audiences. To this day, she forcefully criticizes her own country and government while abroad and in front of audiences who have little affection for Israel (see her recent appearance with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour). She seems to think this wins her points for impartiality.

The Palestine Papers show her doing much the same in private, offering to collude with the Palestinians to invent pretexts for letting terrorists out of jail and dismissing Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights (“We’re giving up the Golan”). These indulgences may stick in voters’ minds in Israel and make it that much harder for her to dispel the fear that if awarded the premiership, she’ll give the store away.

But the biggest loser in the Palestine Papers is someone who was not even on the scene at the time. That is President Obama, who chose to make Israeli settlements the centerpiece of the peace process. The papers show that one of the only areas on which the sides had come close to an agreement was the acceptability of land swaps as a solution to the settlements controversy. Today, at Obama’s behest, the Palestinians insist on a complete settlement freeze before they’ll even talk — including in areas that just two years ago they had agreed were already de facto Israeli. Thus did Obama turn back the clock on one of the only points of relative consensus and progress between the two sides. The opener to this Jerusalem Post story captures the absurdity of the situation:

With the Palestinian Authority making an international incident over every plan to build in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, a cache of some 1,600 documents—mostly form [sic] the Palestinian Negotiating Unit—shows that in 2008 the PA was willing to recognize eventual Israeli control over all those neighborhoods, with the exception of Har Homa.

This is actually unfair to the Palestinians. They didn’t make construction in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem an “international incident.” That was Obama, who has criticized construction in these neighborhoods repeatedly. There is not much news in the Palestine Papers to anyone familiar with the Annapolis-era negotiations. But they do provide another example of how badly the Obama administration has handled the peace process.

You wouldn’t expect Al-Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper in Britain to do anything but spin the “Palestine Papers” — the leaked transcripts of late Bush administration negotiations between Israeli, Palestinian, and American officials — to the max. And so they have, today, with shocked responses from foreign-policy types. Indeed, an editor at Foreign Policy magazine went so far as to declare on Twitter that the “two state solution is dead” as a result.

But the reality of the papers themselves turns out to be incredibly boring. Yes, during the months surrounding the Annapolis summit in 2008, there were negotiations. Yes, these negotiations concerned issues such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security, and settlements. Yes, the two sides discussed land swaps that would enable Israel to retain major settlement blocs. Yes, in private, the Palestinians acknowledged that the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is not going to be handed over to them and that Israel will not consent to being flooded with millions of Arab refugees. Yes, in private, the negotiators treated each other with respect and even graciousness. No, the talks did not succeed. This is news?

The Palestine Papers, however, come off badly for the leader of Israel’s opposition, Tzipi Livni, who was then-PM Ehud Olmert’s foreign minister at the time and one of the dramatis personae of the negotiations. Livni’s political liability is that too many Israelis think she isn’t tough enough to be prime minister. She has a tendency to denigrate her own side as a way of ingratiating herself to hostile audiences. To this day, she forcefully criticizes her own country and government while abroad and in front of audiences who have little affection for Israel (see her recent appearance with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour). She seems to think this wins her points for impartiality.

The Palestine Papers show her doing much the same in private, offering to collude with the Palestinians to invent pretexts for letting terrorists out of jail and dismissing Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights (“We’re giving up the Golan”). These indulgences may stick in voters’ minds in Israel and make it that much harder for her to dispel the fear that if awarded the premiership, she’ll give the store away.

But the biggest loser in the Palestine Papers is someone who was not even on the scene at the time. That is President Obama, who chose to make Israeli settlements the centerpiece of the peace process. The papers show that one of the only areas on which the sides had come close to an agreement was the acceptability of land swaps as a solution to the settlements controversy. Today, at Obama’s behest, the Palestinians insist on a complete settlement freeze before they’ll even talk — including in areas that just two years ago they had agreed were already de facto Israeli. Thus did Obama turn back the clock on one of the only points of relative consensus and progress between the two sides. The opener to this Jerusalem Post story captures the absurdity of the situation:

With the Palestinian Authority making an international incident over every plan to build in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, a cache of some 1,600 documents—mostly form [sic] the Palestinian Negotiating Unit—shows that in 2008 the PA was willing to recognize eventual Israeli control over all those neighborhoods, with the exception of Har Homa.

This is actually unfair to the Palestinians. They didn’t make construction in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem an “international incident.” That was Obama, who has criticized construction in these neighborhoods repeatedly. There is not much news in the Palestine Papers to anyone familiar with the Annapolis-era negotiations. But they do provide another example of how badly the Obama administration has handled the peace process.

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Chinese Anti-American Propaganda Song Played at State Dinner

So that lavish state dinner President Obama hosted for Chinese President Hu Jintao last week? Turns out it was an even worse decision than previously thought. Not only did Obama honor a regime of human-rights abusers, but it turns out they weren’t even appreciative. According to the Epoch Times, a pianist at the event played a well-known Chinese propaganda song that’s about defeating the U.S. in a war. And it sounds like the Chinese government may have known the song would be played beforehand.

Lang Lang the pianist says he chose it. Chairman Hu Jintao recognized it as soon as he heard it. Patriotic Chinese Internet users were delighted as soon as they saw the videos online. Early morning TV viewers in China knew it would be played an hour or two beforehand. At the White House State dinner on Jan. 19, about six minutes into his set, Lang Lang began tapping out a famous anti-American propaganda melody from the Korean War: the theme song to the movie “Battle on Shangganling Mountain.”

The Epoch Times provided some of the song’s lyrics, which literally translate into: “When friends are here, there is fine wine /But if the jackal comes /What greets it is the hunting rifle.” The “jackal” line refers to the U.S.

The song apparently thrilled hardliners in China, who saw it as a major humiliation of America:

“In the eyes of all Chinese, this will not be seen as anything other than a big insult to the U.S.,” says Yang Jingduan, a Chinese psychiatrist now living in Philadelphia who had in China been a doctor in the Chinese military. “It’s like insulting you in your face and you don’t know it, it’s humiliating.”

The whole concept of the Chinese playing an anti-American song during a state dinner in their honor is too petty and childish to even be insulting. The embarrassing part is that Obama-administration officials didn’t bother to find out the background of the songs on the agenda before they were played. In comparison, the Chinese delegation reportedly knew about the song in advance, and may have been the ones who tipped off news outlets in China beforehand:

Cheng said that “The White House had to report in advance to the Chinese delegation and so the Chinese delegation would have certainly known Lang Lang’s program.”

Cheng believes, however, that the Chinese delegation would see no reason to suggest a change in the program. “The program is not against the interests of China. In fact, it is the opposite.”

Awful. This is worse than Obama’s bow to the Japanese emperor in 2009. The White House better have a serious explanation for why this song was allowed to be played at its own party. And it should also serve as a lesson to Obama for why we don’t throw state dinners in honor of openly anti-American governments.

So that lavish state dinner President Obama hosted for Chinese President Hu Jintao last week? Turns out it was an even worse decision than previously thought. Not only did Obama honor a regime of human-rights abusers, but it turns out they weren’t even appreciative. According to the Epoch Times, a pianist at the event played a well-known Chinese propaganda song that’s about defeating the U.S. in a war. And it sounds like the Chinese government may have known the song would be played beforehand.

Lang Lang the pianist says he chose it. Chairman Hu Jintao recognized it as soon as he heard it. Patriotic Chinese Internet users were delighted as soon as they saw the videos online. Early morning TV viewers in China knew it would be played an hour or two beforehand. At the White House State dinner on Jan. 19, about six minutes into his set, Lang Lang began tapping out a famous anti-American propaganda melody from the Korean War: the theme song to the movie “Battle on Shangganling Mountain.”

The Epoch Times provided some of the song’s lyrics, which literally translate into: “When friends are here, there is fine wine /But if the jackal comes /What greets it is the hunting rifle.” The “jackal” line refers to the U.S.

The song apparently thrilled hardliners in China, who saw it as a major humiliation of America:

“In the eyes of all Chinese, this will not be seen as anything other than a big insult to the U.S.,” says Yang Jingduan, a Chinese psychiatrist now living in Philadelphia who had in China been a doctor in the Chinese military. “It’s like insulting you in your face and you don’t know it, it’s humiliating.”

The whole concept of the Chinese playing an anti-American song during a state dinner in their honor is too petty and childish to even be insulting. The embarrassing part is that Obama-administration officials didn’t bother to find out the background of the songs on the agenda before they were played. In comparison, the Chinese delegation reportedly knew about the song in advance, and may have been the ones who tipped off news outlets in China beforehand:

Cheng said that “The White House had to report in advance to the Chinese delegation and so the Chinese delegation would have certainly known Lang Lang’s program.”

Cheng believes, however, that the Chinese delegation would see no reason to suggest a change in the program. “The program is not against the interests of China. In fact, it is the opposite.”

Awful. This is worse than Obama’s bow to the Japanese emperor in 2009. The White House better have a serious explanation for why this song was allowed to be played at its own party. And it should also serve as a lesson to Obama for why we don’t throw state dinners in honor of openly anti-American governments.

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Cuba Suspends Postal Service to the U.S.

Last weekend, the Obama administration eased travel restrictions to Cuba. And now the Cuban government has decided to thank them by suspending postal service to the U.S. indefinitely:

The suspension follows the introduction of stricter security measures by the US last year after the attempted mailing of explosives from Yemen.

The Cuban postal service says large amounts of mail were refused entry and returned in the following months.

Correspondents say the cost of so many returns may have led to the decision to stop the service.

It was President Obama who resumed postal service between the U.S. and Cuba (via third-party countries) back in 2009. Before that, it had been blocked for 42 years.

Establishing better relations with Cuba was one of Obama’s campaign promises, and so far it’s turned out to be a total failure. Despite the administration’s attempts to ease the embargo on Cuba, Havana has responded with indifference — and now this. Obama’s election was supposed to herald a new age of diplomacy between the U.S. and South America. Instead, his overtures toward both Cuba and Venezuela have blown up in his face.

Last weekend, the Obama administration eased travel restrictions to Cuba. And now the Cuban government has decided to thank them by suspending postal service to the U.S. indefinitely:

The suspension follows the introduction of stricter security measures by the US last year after the attempted mailing of explosives from Yemen.

The Cuban postal service says large amounts of mail were refused entry and returned in the following months.

Correspondents say the cost of so many returns may have led to the decision to stop the service.

It was President Obama who resumed postal service between the U.S. and Cuba (via third-party countries) back in 2009. Before that, it had been blocked for 42 years.

Establishing better relations with Cuba was one of Obama’s campaign promises, and so far it’s turned out to be a total failure. Despite the administration’s attempts to ease the embargo on Cuba, Havana has responded with indifference — and now this. Obama’s election was supposed to herald a new age of diplomacy between the U.S. and South America. Instead, his overtures toward both Cuba and Venezuela have blown up in his face.

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Still Another Peace Plan

Today’s New York Times describes the report by David Makovsky of the Washington Institute — “Imagining the Border: Options for Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Territorial Issue” — which provides detailed maps showing that Israel’s borders could cover 80 percent of the settlers while providing Palestinians a contiguous state on 95 percent of the West Bank. Makovsky tells the Times that his report shows peace is possible:

The goal, Mr. Makovsky said, is to “demystify” the territorial hurdles that divide Israelis and Palestinians, and to debunk the notion that there is no way to reconcile the Palestinian demand for sovereignty over the West Bank with the Israeli demand for control over a majority of the settlers. … “There are land swaps that would offset whatever settlements Israel would retain. The impossible is attainable.”

Makovsky’s report demonstrates that the stated premise of the Palestinian’s draft UN resolution — that the settlements are “a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace” — is false. But this is not exactly news: the premise has been demonstrably false for more than 10 years. If you look at the Makovsky map the Times links to in its article and compare it to Dennis Ross’s map of the Clinton Parameters (posted here), you can see the two maps are substantially the same.

In the past 10 years, the Palestinians received two offers of a contiguous state on virtually the entire West Bank — first in 2000 and again in 2008 — and rejected them both (for a total of seven rejections of a state since 1919). They received a settlementrein Gaza in 2005 and turned it into Hamastan. They demanded a settlement freeze as a precondition to negotiations (without offering any concessions of their own), got a 10-month moratorium on new construction … and refused to negotiate.

They could have had a state long ago, if a second state were what they wanted. But the Palestinian Authority is already a failed state several times over — unwilling to recognize a Jewish state next to it, unable to “live side by side in peace and security”™ even when given land without a single settler in it, unable to negotiate even when given a 10-month settlement freeze, unable even to hold local elections in the half-state it governs.

The Makovsky report is ultimately irrelevant, since it proposes a “solution” to what is not the problem.

Today’s New York Times describes the report by David Makovsky of the Washington Institute — “Imagining the Border: Options for Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Territorial Issue” — which provides detailed maps showing that Israel’s borders could cover 80 percent of the settlers while providing Palestinians a contiguous state on 95 percent of the West Bank. Makovsky tells the Times that his report shows peace is possible:

The goal, Mr. Makovsky said, is to “demystify” the territorial hurdles that divide Israelis and Palestinians, and to debunk the notion that there is no way to reconcile the Palestinian demand for sovereignty over the West Bank with the Israeli demand for control over a majority of the settlers. … “There are land swaps that would offset whatever settlements Israel would retain. The impossible is attainable.”

Makovsky’s report demonstrates that the stated premise of the Palestinian’s draft UN resolution — that the settlements are “a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace” — is false. But this is not exactly news: the premise has been demonstrably false for more than 10 years. If you look at the Makovsky map the Times links to in its article and compare it to Dennis Ross’s map of the Clinton Parameters (posted here), you can see the two maps are substantially the same.

In the past 10 years, the Palestinians received two offers of a contiguous state on virtually the entire West Bank — first in 2000 and again in 2008 — and rejected them both (for a total of seven rejections of a state since 1919). They received a settlementrein Gaza in 2005 and turned it into Hamastan. They demanded a settlement freeze as a precondition to negotiations (without offering any concessions of their own), got a 10-month moratorium on new construction … and refused to negotiate.

They could have had a state long ago, if a second state were what they wanted. But the Palestinian Authority is already a failed state several times over — unwilling to recognize a Jewish state next to it, unable to “live side by side in peace and security”™ even when given land without a single settler in it, unable to negotiate even when given a 10-month settlement freeze, unable even to hold local elections in the half-state it governs.

The Makovsky report is ultimately irrelevant, since it proposes a “solution” to what is not the problem.

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Jim DeMint to Boycott CPAC

The last time I wrote about social conservatives’ boycott of CPAC due to the participation of GOProud, a Republican gay-rights group, I predicted that it would have little impact on the success of the event unless major speakers or financial backers began to pull out. But now Sen. Jim DeMint, a regular speaker at the conference, has announced that he’ll be skipping it this year:

“With leading conservatives organizations not participating this year, Sen. DeMint will not be attending. He hopes to attend a unified CPAC next year,” DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton said in an e-mail.

Prominent social conservatives have dropped out of the event and criticized it for its inclusion of the gay conservative group GOProud. Rep. Jim Jordan, who heads the House’s Republican Study Committee, also has joined the boycott.

This in itself isn’t a huge blow to CPAC. But it could be a sign of more problems to come. DeMint is highly influential in the conservative movement, and his decision could make it easier for other speakers to drop out of the conference as well.

And while it’s unlikely that prospective candidates for the Republican presidential nomination will drop out of the event — they wouldn’t want to risk alienating disparate segments of the conservative movement at this point — it could make it more difficult for the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC, to book prominent speakers next year.

CPAC makes a good deal of its money off students, who attend the event to hear speeches from top conservative leaders. If the conference isn’t able to draw as many big names, it may start to lose out on student fees.

Over at Slate, Dave Weigel also notes that Rep. Mike Pence hasn’t confirmed whether he’ll be speaking. Pence is considered more mainstream than DeMint, and if he’s a no-show, that would be a major indicator that the conference’s influence in the movement is waning.

The last time I wrote about social conservatives’ boycott of CPAC due to the participation of GOProud, a Republican gay-rights group, I predicted that it would have little impact on the success of the event unless major speakers or financial backers began to pull out. But now Sen. Jim DeMint, a regular speaker at the conference, has announced that he’ll be skipping it this year:

“With leading conservatives organizations not participating this year, Sen. DeMint will not be attending. He hopes to attend a unified CPAC next year,” DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton said in an e-mail.

Prominent social conservatives have dropped out of the event and criticized it for its inclusion of the gay conservative group GOProud. Rep. Jim Jordan, who heads the House’s Republican Study Committee, also has joined the boycott.

This in itself isn’t a huge blow to CPAC. But it could be a sign of more problems to come. DeMint is highly influential in the conservative movement, and his decision could make it easier for other speakers to drop out of the conference as well.

And while it’s unlikely that prospective candidates for the Republican presidential nomination will drop out of the event — they wouldn’t want to risk alienating disparate segments of the conservative movement at this point — it could make it more difficult for the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC, to book prominent speakers next year.

CPAC makes a good deal of its money off students, who attend the event to hear speeches from top conservative leaders. If the conference isn’t able to draw as many big names, it may start to lose out on student fees.

Over at Slate, Dave Weigel also notes that Rep. Mike Pence hasn’t confirmed whether he’ll be speaking. Pence is considered more mainstream than DeMint, and if he’s a no-show, that would be a major indicator that the conference’s influence in the movement is waning.

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Turkel Commission Report: Israel Followed Law During Flotilla Raid

The Turkel Commission, an investigation launched by the Israeli government into the flotilla raid, has found that Israel acted in accordance with international law during the incident.

Nothing in the report comes as a major surprise, since it was what we all knew at the time: Israel’s enforcement of the naval blockade was legitimate, and IDF soldiers had the right to board the ship. The soldiers were attacked with deadly force by flotilla members and it was appropriate for them to defend themselves.

And while the commission heard testimony from all sides — including left-wing human-rights groups — it found the charge that Israel committed war crimes to be without merit.

Of course, the impact of the findings will probably be pretty inconsequential, at least from a public-relations perspective. Anyone who looked at the flotilla situation honestly and objectively already knew that Israel handled it appropriately. And the people who claimed that Israel’s acts of self-defense were “war crimes” are unlikely to be convinced by any investigation that disproves that notion — especially one that was carried out by the Israeli government.

In fact, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Erdogan, has already dismissed the findings, telling the press that the inquiry has “no value or credibility.”

With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if this report incites renewed calls for an “independent” investigation of the incident, probably led by the same NGOs that helped fund the flotilla in the first place.

The Turkel Commission, an investigation launched by the Israeli government into the flotilla raid, has found that Israel acted in accordance with international law during the incident.

Nothing in the report comes as a major surprise, since it was what we all knew at the time: Israel’s enforcement of the naval blockade was legitimate, and IDF soldiers had the right to board the ship. The soldiers were attacked with deadly force by flotilla members and it was appropriate for them to defend themselves.

And while the commission heard testimony from all sides — including left-wing human-rights groups — it found the charge that Israel committed war crimes to be without merit.

Of course, the impact of the findings will probably be pretty inconsequential, at least from a public-relations perspective. Anyone who looked at the flotilla situation honestly and objectively already knew that Israel handled it appropriately. And the people who claimed that Israel’s acts of self-defense were “war crimes” are unlikely to be convinced by any investigation that disproves that notion — especially one that was carried out by the Israeli government.

In fact, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Erdogan, has already dismissed the findings, telling the press that the inquiry has “no value or credibility.”

With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if this report incites renewed calls for an “independent” investigation of the incident, probably led by the same NGOs that helped fund the flotilla in the first place.

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What Now for Keith Olbermann?

Since Keith Olbermann’s abrupt departure from MSNBC on Friday, there’s been a lot of speculation about where the liberal commentator will go next.

Though it seems clear that Olbermann had been anxious to leave the network for a while — the New York Post reported that he’s wanted out for at least a year — it also sounds like the breakup was mutual, and may have even preempted a firing. Olbermann was notoriously tough to deal with, and with the rise of other liberal stars on the network and a pending change in ownership, it wasn’t much of a loss for MSNBC to let him out of his contract.

Of course, the question is, Where will he go now? As far as liberal-commentary careers go, hosting a nightly show on MSNBC is the peak. You don’t really go up from there.

So far, there have been some interesting predictions. The New York Daily News wonders whether he’ll go back into sports commentary (based on one of his Twitter updates). The Huffington Post and Entertainment Weekly predict that he may change career direction and star in Aaron Sorkin’s new TV series Network.

And the Wrap reports that Olbermann is planning to stake out on his own and build a media outlet similar to the Huffington Post — which sounds far more likely:

With two years left on his $7 million a year contract, Olbermann was seeking a full exit package but he really has his eye on creating his own media empire in the style of Huffington Post, according to the individual. That way, Olbermann would control his own brand and, in his view, potentially earn far more as an owner.

Olbermann already has a high-profile brand as a liberal opinionater, and he might as well take advantage of it. The move also wouldn’t be without precedent. Former and current cable news hosts Glenn Beck and Tucker Carlson have both launched pretty successful media outlets.

Since Keith Olbermann’s abrupt departure from MSNBC on Friday, there’s been a lot of speculation about where the liberal commentator will go next.

Though it seems clear that Olbermann had been anxious to leave the network for a while — the New York Post reported that he’s wanted out for at least a year — it also sounds like the breakup was mutual, and may have even preempted a firing. Olbermann was notoriously tough to deal with, and with the rise of other liberal stars on the network and a pending change in ownership, it wasn’t much of a loss for MSNBC to let him out of his contract.

Of course, the question is, Where will he go now? As far as liberal-commentary careers go, hosting a nightly show on MSNBC is the peak. You don’t really go up from there.

So far, there have been some interesting predictions. The New York Daily News wonders whether he’ll go back into sports commentary (based on one of his Twitter updates). The Huffington Post and Entertainment Weekly predict that he may change career direction and star in Aaron Sorkin’s new TV series Network.

And the Wrap reports that Olbermann is planning to stake out on his own and build a media outlet similar to the Huffington Post — which sounds far more likely:

With two years left on his $7 million a year contract, Olbermann was seeking a full exit package but he really has his eye on creating his own media empire in the style of Huffington Post, according to the individual. That way, Olbermann would control his own brand and, in his view, potentially earn far more as an owner.

Olbermann already has a high-profile brand as a liberal opinionater, and he might as well take advantage of it. The move also wouldn’t be without precedent. Former and current cable news hosts Glenn Beck and Tucker Carlson have both launched pretty successful media outlets.

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Reading The Longest War

Normally, I like a hanging judge, and I am certainly a big fan of Michael Mukasey, the esteemed former federal judge and attorney general. He is one of the most reasonable, learned, and authoritative voices around on most matters relating to the law — and especially on the war on terror with which he has been closely connected ever since he sentenced the “blind sheikh” to life in prison in 1996. Yet I can’t help but conclude that his review of Peter Bergen’s The Longest War in the Wall Street Journal metes out a harsher verdict than the book deserves.

Having read the book myself — and having interviewed Bergen about it for an upcoming episode of C-SPAN’s Afterwords — I agree with many of Mukasey’s specific criticisms. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he makes withering criticisms of Guantanamo and the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques on the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he criticizes “renditions” of terrorists and when he claims (in words not quoted by Mukasey) that “by any rational standard” Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “did not pose a real threat to the United States.” The last is a particularly puzzling statement considering that Saddam Hussein had invaded his neighbors twice, schemed to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and had already sparked one war with the United States and numerous lesser military actions.

But by focusing on these dubious assertions, Mukasey gives the impression that Bergen’s book is an anti-Bush screed along the lines of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. It isn’t. It’s actually a fairly balanced account of the past decade’s fight against al-Qaeda. Read More

Normally, I like a hanging judge, and I am certainly a big fan of Michael Mukasey, the esteemed former federal judge and attorney general. He is one of the most reasonable, learned, and authoritative voices around on most matters relating to the law — and especially on the war on terror with which he has been closely connected ever since he sentenced the “blind sheikh” to life in prison in 1996. Yet I can’t help but conclude that his review of Peter Bergen’s The Longest War in the Wall Street Journal metes out a harsher verdict than the book deserves.

Having read the book myself — and having interviewed Bergen about it for an upcoming episode of C-SPAN’s Afterwords — I agree with many of Mukasey’s specific criticisms. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he makes withering criticisms of Guantanamo and the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques on the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he criticizes “renditions” of terrorists and when he claims (in words not quoted by Mukasey) that “by any rational standard” Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “did not pose a real threat to the United States.” The last is a particularly puzzling statement considering that Saddam Hussein had invaded his neighbors twice, schemed to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and had already sparked one war with the United States and numerous lesser military actions.

But by focusing on these dubious assertions, Mukasey gives the impression that Bergen’s book is an anti-Bush screed along the lines of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. It isn’t. It’s actually a fairly balanced account of the past decade’s fight against al-Qaeda.

In the first place, many of the criticisms Bergen offers are on the money — for instance, about the failure of the Bush administration to send more troops to trap Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora and about the failure to prepare for the post-invasion phase of the Iraq war. Both assertions should, by now, be fairly uncontroversial even in conservative circles. For that matter, I think Bergen is convincing in arguing that no tangible links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda have been uncovered and that mainstream Islam has rejected al-Qaeda — both assertions that Mukasey questions.

In the second place, Bergen also offers praise for Bush that Mukasey doesn’t quote. He writes, for example, “There is little doubt that some of the measures the Bush administration and Congress took after 9/11 made Americans safer.” Among the positives he cites are the Patriot Act and other enhanced security measures.

Bergen also endorses Bush’s decision to  attack al-Qaeda with the full weight of the U.S. military — not just with law enforcement and intelligence agencies. This led the Economist to criticize Bergen’s book for dismissing “the view of some Europeans that al-Qaeda is essentially a law and order problem—more or less arguing, with odd logic, that since it declared war on America, then America must be at war.”

Unlike Michael Scheuer, the eccentric former CIA analyst whose new book about Osama bin Laden is also reviewed by Mukasey, Bergen does not think that Bush fell into a trap by sending troops into Afghanistan. Although bin Laden has talked about how he was luring America into a guerrilla war, Bergen concludes that this is largely an ex post facto justification and that the invasion of Afghanistan actually did significant damage to al-Qaeda. Moreover, unlike many of those who backed the initial decision to intervene, he strongly supports the current war effort in Afghanistan. Indeed Bergen and I teamed up at an Intelligence Squared US debate not long ago to argue that Afghanistan isn’t a lost cause.

In short, I think Mukasey is being harder on Bergen than the facts of the case warrant. But judge for yourself — read the book and watch my interview with Bergen in which I press him on some of the very points that Mukasey raises.

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