Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 9, 2011

Obama, Egypt, and Military ‘Messaging’

There is a happy medium to be struck in public rhetoric about military activities, but the Obama administration has had an unfortunate pattern of missing the mark. By maintaining its peculiar silence about U.S. military movements in proximity to the uprising in Egypt, the administration is missing an opportunity to frame U.S. interests and have a reassuring effect on the region.

Its lack of communication about U.S. force movements is instead producing the opposite effect. On Tuesday, the ever-fertile DEBKAfile interpreted the arrival of the USS Kearsarge amphibious group at the southern entrance to the Suez Canal as a sign that an Egyptian coup is imminent. On January 31, news reporting suggested that the 700 U.S. troops in the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) mission in the Sinai, the international force monitoring the Israeli-Egyptian demilitarization accord, were to be evacuated. That is improbable; Connecticut National Guard troops are currently being rotated into the MFO, which would account for troops in Egypt rotating out. But this rumor and others are flying around the Web.

There may be a temptation to shrug off the media speculation, but in the Internet age, it is increasingly widespread, unavoidable, and counterproductive. The rumors matter because there is no coherent message coming from the Obama administration. Where U.S. forces are bound to show up, they will be seen and speculated about. There are good reasons, especially under shifting political conditions, to make public statements about U.S. interests that clarify the purpose of those forces.

The Kearsarge amphibious group may simply be on the way home, having been deployed to the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean since August 2010. The group would have headed for the Suez Canal at this time on its normal schedule, regardless of conditions in Egypt. But if this Business Insider report from the weekend is accurate, the Kearsarge group is likely to support the continued evacuation of Americans from Egypt. Why a common and highly visible operation — a “non-combatant evacuation” — should be held close to the vest is not clear. The spread of unrest makes large-scale evacuations advisable, and whether the evacuations are seen as a sign of prudence or fear depends largely on what the U.S. administration says about them — or fails to say. The same goes for regional perceptions of the other purposes the Kearsarge may have.

It’s time for the administration to start speaking purposefully. America has justifiable national interests in the Egyptian situation, interests that are not in conflict with supporting reform and liberalization. Topping the list are the safety of Americans, the security of the Suez Canal, and the continued observation of the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement. That we propose to guard these interests is one of the main things the rest of the region wants to know. Nothing is gained from being uncommunicative about it; in fact, the opposite is true. If we want Egypt to have the latitude for instituting meaningful political reform, the best thing we can do is overtly signify our commitment to the key conditions underlying stability.

There is a happy medium to be struck in public rhetoric about military activities, but the Obama administration has had an unfortunate pattern of missing the mark. By maintaining its peculiar silence about U.S. military movements in proximity to the uprising in Egypt, the administration is missing an opportunity to frame U.S. interests and have a reassuring effect on the region.

Its lack of communication about U.S. force movements is instead producing the opposite effect. On Tuesday, the ever-fertile DEBKAfile interpreted the arrival of the USS Kearsarge amphibious group at the southern entrance to the Suez Canal as a sign that an Egyptian coup is imminent. On January 31, news reporting suggested that the 700 U.S. troops in the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) mission in the Sinai, the international force monitoring the Israeli-Egyptian demilitarization accord, were to be evacuated. That is improbable; Connecticut National Guard troops are currently being rotated into the MFO, which would account for troops in Egypt rotating out. But this rumor and others are flying around the Web.

There may be a temptation to shrug off the media speculation, but in the Internet age, it is increasingly widespread, unavoidable, and counterproductive. The rumors matter because there is no coherent message coming from the Obama administration. Where U.S. forces are bound to show up, they will be seen and speculated about. There are good reasons, especially under shifting political conditions, to make public statements about U.S. interests that clarify the purpose of those forces.

The Kearsarge amphibious group may simply be on the way home, having been deployed to the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean since August 2010. The group would have headed for the Suez Canal at this time on its normal schedule, regardless of conditions in Egypt. But if this Business Insider report from the weekend is accurate, the Kearsarge group is likely to support the continued evacuation of Americans from Egypt. Why a common and highly visible operation — a “non-combatant evacuation” — should be held close to the vest is not clear. The spread of unrest makes large-scale evacuations advisable, and whether the evacuations are seen as a sign of prudence or fear depends largely on what the U.S. administration says about them — or fails to say. The same goes for regional perceptions of the other purposes the Kearsarge may have.

It’s time for the administration to start speaking purposefully. America has justifiable national interests in the Egyptian situation, interests that are not in conflict with supporting reform and liberalization. Topping the list are the safety of Americans, the security of the Suez Canal, and the continued observation of the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement. That we propose to guard these interests is one of the main things the rest of the region wants to know. Nothing is gained from being uncommunicative about it; in fact, the opposite is true. If we want Egypt to have the latitude for instituting meaningful political reform, the best thing we can do is overtly signify our commitment to the key conditions underlying stability.

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Ron Paul Going All Out to Win CPAC Straw Poll Again

The CPAC straw poll is supposed to be an indicator of whom the conservative movement supports for president. Of course, after Ron Paul’s dumbfounding win last year (which prompted an outpouring of boos from the crowd), it’s hard to tell if the poll is really a prediction of anything significant. As Ben Smith writes at Politico: “The Conservative Political Action Conference’s annual straw poll typically indicates three things: Whom CPAC’s segment of the conservative base prefers for president; who bought tickets for their supporters; and whether Ron Paul is really trying.”

Paul is known for drawing hordes of his zealous supporters to the event by offering cheap tickets and transportation. And, according to Smith, it looks like the congressman is going all out this year:

Paul’s Campaign for Liberty, the a 501(c)4 organization he founded after ending his ’08 campaign, has in fact put together an extensive, and expensive, campaign for the conference. A source close to the conference said the Paul group bought 1,000 tickets to the conference, and a Paul aide told another Republican that they’d recruited at least 700 supporters to vote for him.

Best of luck to Paul in his important straw-poll ventures. And if he does pull off another victory this year, at least pundits will know better than to read too much into it.

The CPAC straw poll is supposed to be an indicator of whom the conservative movement supports for president. Of course, after Ron Paul’s dumbfounding win last year (which prompted an outpouring of boos from the crowd), it’s hard to tell if the poll is really a prediction of anything significant. As Ben Smith writes at Politico: “The Conservative Political Action Conference’s annual straw poll typically indicates three things: Whom CPAC’s segment of the conservative base prefers for president; who bought tickets for their supporters; and whether Ron Paul is really trying.”

Paul is known for drawing hordes of his zealous supporters to the event by offering cheap tickets and transportation. And, according to Smith, it looks like the congressman is going all out this year:

Paul’s Campaign for Liberty, the a 501(c)4 organization he founded after ending his ’08 campaign, has in fact put together an extensive, and expensive, campaign for the conference. A source close to the conference said the Paul group bought 1,000 tickets to the conference, and a Paul aide told another Republican that they’d recruited at least 700 supporters to vote for him.

Best of luck to Paul in his important straw-poll ventures. And if he does pull off another victory this year, at least pundits will know better than to read too much into it.

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Trips Are Indication of Pro-Israel Consensus, Not Mere Pandering

Politico did no more than state the obvious today in an article in which it noted that a trip to Israel has become almost as much of a requirement for Republican presidential hopefuls as one to Iowa. The piece is right to note that a big part of the motivation for the need for candidates to demonstrate their affection for Israel is the evangelical vote. Indeed, while even those liberal Jewish Democrats who do care about Israel make it clear that they are not one-issue voters, Christian supporters of Israel have not been shy about seeing support for the Jewish state as a key litmus test.

But while some will dismiss the current presence of both Haley Barbour and Mike Huckabee in Israel as mere pandering to right-wing Christians or to potential Jewish donors, any attempt to downplay the importance of a pro-Israel stand as mere ethnic or religious politics (in the way, as Politico rightly recalls, New York City mayoral candidates in the days before that office was the sinecure of a billionaire had to dot the three ethnic I’s of Ireland, Italy, and Israel) would be a misreading of the significance of this issue.

In contemporary American politics, taking out a position as a supporter of the Jewish state and as someone who takes seriously the threat of Islamist terror and the Iranian nuclear program isn’t so much a path to the affections of evangelicals and Jews as it is a statement that a candidate is taking foreign policy seriously. While foreign policy will almost always play second fiddle to the economy and other domestic issues, the ability to articulate a coherent stand on the primary security threats to the West is still a requirement for a demonstration of Oval Office readiness. It is true that a large segment of the chattering classes who speak about foreign policy are increasingly uncomfortable with an assertion of unapologetic belief in the defense of the West as well as alienated from Israel. But the vast majority of Americans understand that a president who would seek to abandon or to distance the U.S. from the Jewish state is someone without a firm grasp of fundamental American values or a sense of the nation’s strategic priorities. Ultimately, presidential candidates must go to Israel (as Barack Obama did in 2008) and attempt to convince voters that they support it (as Obama also attempted to do) because disinterest in the defense of Israel and an understanding of its plight as the sole democracy in the Middle East is tantamount to an admission of foreign-policy idiocy.

Israel-bashers will put down the candidates’ pilgrimages to the Middle East as an overt manifestation of the grip of the vaunted “Israel lobby.” But that lobby that is so central to the theories of anti-Zionists like Walt and Mearsheimer as well as to those less respectable anti-Semitic conspiracy mongers is not a meager alliance of AIPAC donors and cynical politicians but a broad bipartisan consensus that reflects the views of the overwhelming majority of voters. Just as a trip to the Berlin Wall once was a way to show the world that you cared about freedom and resisting Communism, so now a visit to Israel is the most effective way to show that you comprehend the stakes involved in defending the West.

Politico did no more than state the obvious today in an article in which it noted that a trip to Israel has become almost as much of a requirement for Republican presidential hopefuls as one to Iowa. The piece is right to note that a big part of the motivation for the need for candidates to demonstrate their affection for Israel is the evangelical vote. Indeed, while even those liberal Jewish Democrats who do care about Israel make it clear that they are not one-issue voters, Christian supporters of Israel have not been shy about seeing support for the Jewish state as a key litmus test.

But while some will dismiss the current presence of both Haley Barbour and Mike Huckabee in Israel as mere pandering to right-wing Christians or to potential Jewish donors, any attempt to downplay the importance of a pro-Israel stand as mere ethnic or religious politics (in the way, as Politico rightly recalls, New York City mayoral candidates in the days before that office was the sinecure of a billionaire had to dot the three ethnic I’s of Ireland, Italy, and Israel) would be a misreading of the significance of this issue.

In contemporary American politics, taking out a position as a supporter of the Jewish state and as someone who takes seriously the threat of Islamist terror and the Iranian nuclear program isn’t so much a path to the affections of evangelicals and Jews as it is a statement that a candidate is taking foreign policy seriously. While foreign policy will almost always play second fiddle to the economy and other domestic issues, the ability to articulate a coherent stand on the primary security threats to the West is still a requirement for a demonstration of Oval Office readiness. It is true that a large segment of the chattering classes who speak about foreign policy are increasingly uncomfortable with an assertion of unapologetic belief in the defense of the West as well as alienated from Israel. But the vast majority of Americans understand that a president who would seek to abandon or to distance the U.S. from the Jewish state is someone without a firm grasp of fundamental American values or a sense of the nation’s strategic priorities. Ultimately, presidential candidates must go to Israel (as Barack Obama did in 2008) and attempt to convince voters that they support it (as Obama also attempted to do) because disinterest in the defense of Israel and an understanding of its plight as the sole democracy in the Middle East is tantamount to an admission of foreign-policy idiocy.

Israel-bashers will put down the candidates’ pilgrimages to the Middle East as an overt manifestation of the grip of the vaunted “Israel lobby.” But that lobby that is so central to the theories of anti-Zionists like Walt and Mearsheimer as well as to those less respectable anti-Semitic conspiracy mongers is not a meager alliance of AIPAC donors and cynical politicians but a broad bipartisan consensus that reflects the views of the overwhelming majority of voters. Just as a trip to the Berlin Wall once was a way to show the world that you cared about freedom and resisting Communism, so now a visit to Israel is the most effective way to show that you comprehend the stakes involved in defending the West.

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The Obama Undertow and the 2012 Elections

A few weeks ago, Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota announced he will not seek re-election in 2012. A few days ago, Representative Jane Harman of California announced she will resign immediately. And today Senator James Webb of Virginia announced he will not seek re-election in 2012, “confirm[ing] the news Democrats have been dreading for weeks,” according to Politico. Taken together, the resignations of these Democratic lawmakers are signs of a damaged party, one that is getting weaker rather than stronger.

The Obama Undertow is alive and well.

The most interesting state to consider may be Virginia. President Obama carried Old Dominion in 2008; it was said to be emblematic of the rise of the Democratic Party under Obama, with formerly Red States like Virginia trending Blue. But then came the hard part, governing — and with it, the collapse of the Democratic Party in states like the Commonwealth, where in 2009 Bob McDonnell won a crushing (17 point) gubernatorial victory, Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling won his re-election bid almost as easily, and Ken Cuccinelli beat his Democratic challenger by 16 points. That was followed by the 2010 midterm elections, where Republicans picked up several House seats, including in Virginia’s 2nd and 5th Districts.

Senator Webb clearly senses which way the political winds are blowing — in the face rather than at the backs of Democrats in Virginia and in states beyond Virginia.

Thanks to Mr. Obama, these are not good years to be a Democratic lawmaker.

A few weeks ago, Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota announced he will not seek re-election in 2012. A few days ago, Representative Jane Harman of California announced she will resign immediately. And today Senator James Webb of Virginia announced he will not seek re-election in 2012, “confirm[ing] the news Democrats have been dreading for weeks,” according to Politico. Taken together, the resignations of these Democratic lawmakers are signs of a damaged party, one that is getting weaker rather than stronger.

The Obama Undertow is alive and well.

The most interesting state to consider may be Virginia. President Obama carried Old Dominion in 2008; it was said to be emblematic of the rise of the Democratic Party under Obama, with formerly Red States like Virginia trending Blue. But then came the hard part, governing — and with it, the collapse of the Democratic Party in states like the Commonwealth, where in 2009 Bob McDonnell won a crushing (17 point) gubernatorial victory, Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling won his re-election bid almost as easily, and Ken Cuccinelli beat his Democratic challenger by 16 points. That was followed by the 2010 midterm elections, where Republicans picked up several House seats, including in Virginia’s 2nd and 5th Districts.

Senator Webb clearly senses which way the political winds are blowing — in the face rather than at the backs of Democrats in Virginia and in states beyond Virginia.

Thanks to Mr. Obama, these are not good years to be a Democratic lawmaker.

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GOProud Speaks Out on CPAC Boycott

Despite the fact that the CPAC boycott has drawn a few big names (the Heritage Foundation and Jim DeMint), the campaign has turned out to be a pretty big bust. On the eve of CPAC, the conference is still expected to draw the usual large crowd of prominent conservatives, and organizers claim that attendance is actually up from last year. So it’s understandable that GOProud — the gay conservative group that boycotters were attempting to ostracize — is taking the opportunity to gloat a bit in the pages of Metro Weekly:

Of the Heritage Foundation’s decision, he says, ”They’ve chosen to – and it’s a mystery to me why – but they’ve chosen to align themselves with the losers.” …

”Look, Heritage does a lot of good work, and I didn’t want — it looks terrible for them, and I didn’t want to have them humiliate themselves. But they’ve seemed hell-bent on it. Their story keeps changing and now we’re down to the truth, which is: It was about us. And they’ve lost donors. They’ve lost supporters.” …

Of those calling for the boycott, Barron says, ”They’re all excited that Jim DeMint is boycotting. And that’s fantastic. I’m glad that he’s willing to be on the Island of Political Misfit Toys with [World Net Daily's Joseph] Farah and the Concerned Women for America.”

Honestly, who can blame them? Obviously GOProud’s won this battle. Social-conservative groups went into the boycott believing that they could turn GOProud’s attendance into a major controversy. And while it may have been a headache for the conference organizers to deal with — especially after DeMint and Heritage dropped out and it looked like the boycott could catch on — the campaign actually had very little impact on the event.

In the end, it’s the boycotters who have to deal with the image problem. If they had taken their concerns to the conference, written op-eds about them, or otherwise engaged in dialogue, they might be in a better position right now. Instead, they look closed-minded, petty, and unwilling to communicate with those they disagree with. The plan could not have backfired more spectacularly.

Despite the fact that the CPAC boycott has drawn a few big names (the Heritage Foundation and Jim DeMint), the campaign has turned out to be a pretty big bust. On the eve of CPAC, the conference is still expected to draw the usual large crowd of prominent conservatives, and organizers claim that attendance is actually up from last year. So it’s understandable that GOProud — the gay conservative group that boycotters were attempting to ostracize — is taking the opportunity to gloat a bit in the pages of Metro Weekly:

Of the Heritage Foundation’s decision, he says, ”They’ve chosen to – and it’s a mystery to me why – but they’ve chosen to align themselves with the losers.” …

”Look, Heritage does a lot of good work, and I didn’t want — it looks terrible for them, and I didn’t want to have them humiliate themselves. But they’ve seemed hell-bent on it. Their story keeps changing and now we’re down to the truth, which is: It was about us. And they’ve lost donors. They’ve lost supporters.” …

Of those calling for the boycott, Barron says, ”They’re all excited that Jim DeMint is boycotting. And that’s fantastic. I’m glad that he’s willing to be on the Island of Political Misfit Toys with [World Net Daily's Joseph] Farah and the Concerned Women for America.”

Honestly, who can blame them? Obviously GOProud’s won this battle. Social-conservative groups went into the boycott believing that they could turn GOProud’s attendance into a major controversy. And while it may have been a headache for the conference organizers to deal with — especially after DeMint and Heritage dropped out and it looked like the boycott could catch on — the campaign actually had very little impact on the event.

In the end, it’s the boycotters who have to deal with the image problem. If they had taken their concerns to the conference, written op-eds about them, or otherwise engaged in dialogue, they might be in a better position right now. Instead, they look closed-minded, petty, and unwilling to communicate with those they disagree with. The plan could not have backfired more spectacularly.

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Rumsfeld Is Wrong on the Surge

Kimberley Strassel’s interview with former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, author of Known and Unknown, includes these paragraphs:

Mr. Rumsfeld thus takes an unorthodox view of the significance of President Bush’s surge, which began to take effect in early 2007. He argues that by 2006 things were, in fact, improving in Iraq. The Anbar Awakening—which Mr. Rumsfeld credits as beginning in the fall of 2006—”had convinced a lot of Sunnis they didn’t want to be associated with al Qaeda,” and “the government of Iraq was evolving the ability to take on some of the radicals” with the help of Iraqi security forces that had become “very capable.”

As a result, he argues, the force of President Bush’s surge was as much “psychological” as anything else. “The president’s decision galvanized the opinion in Iraq. It said: ‘Look, if you think it is going to go to the insurgents, you are wrong.’” The fact of the statement, argues Mr. Rumsfeld, mattered as much as did the increase of troops “tactically or strategically.”

Let’s examine Secretary Rumsfeld’s claims in order.

He says that in 2006 things were “improving” in Iraq. In fact Iraq, in the latter half of 2006, was in a death spiral. The insurgency and Shia militias were gaining strength. Sectarian divisions were deepening. Millions of Iraqis had fled the country. In the words of the Iraq Study Group Report, “The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.” Indeed, December 2006 saw civilian killings reach their highest level, with an average of more than 50 civilians killed on average every day in Baghdad alone.

For Iraq, 2006 was the annus horribilis. Read More

Kimberley Strassel’s interview with former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, author of Known and Unknown, includes these paragraphs:

Mr. Rumsfeld thus takes an unorthodox view of the significance of President Bush’s surge, which began to take effect in early 2007. He argues that by 2006 things were, in fact, improving in Iraq. The Anbar Awakening—which Mr. Rumsfeld credits as beginning in the fall of 2006—”had convinced a lot of Sunnis they didn’t want to be associated with al Qaeda,” and “the government of Iraq was evolving the ability to take on some of the radicals” with the help of Iraqi security forces that had become “very capable.”

As a result, he argues, the force of President Bush’s surge was as much “psychological” as anything else. “The president’s decision galvanized the opinion in Iraq. It said: ‘Look, if you think it is going to go to the insurgents, you are wrong.’” The fact of the statement, argues Mr. Rumsfeld, mattered as much as did the increase of troops “tactically or strategically.”

Let’s examine Secretary Rumsfeld’s claims in order.

He says that in 2006 things were “improving” in Iraq. In fact Iraq, in the latter half of 2006, was in a death spiral. The insurgency and Shia militias were gaining strength. Sectarian divisions were deepening. Millions of Iraqis had fled the country. In the words of the Iraq Study Group Report, “The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.” Indeed, December 2006 saw civilian killings reach their highest level, with an average of more than 50 civilians killed on average every day in Baghdad alone.

For Iraq, 2006 was the annus horribilis.

The Anbar Awakening, which was motivated by the sadism of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), was important and predated the surge. Still, the surge provided crucial support to the sheiks of Anbar. Retired Colonel Peter Mansoor summarized things well when he wrote, “The surge did not create the first of the tribal ‘awakenings,’ but it was the catalyst for their expansion and eventual success.”

As for the claim that the surge’s psychological effects were as important as its tactical and strategic influence: the Bush surge did send an important psychological signal to both our allies and our adversaries in Iraq. But the psychological advantage this created couldn’t have been sustained without a dramatic change in our strategy. And here, I think, Rumsfeld is missing something essential.

The surge changed the entire counterinsurgency approach in Iraq — away from trying to hand off security tasks to Iraqi forces (which couldn’t handle the increasing levels of violence) to focusing on securing the population. This, in turn, led to a massive increase in tips and actionable intelligence. The surge weakened Shia militia and inflicted enormous damage to AQI, took away its sanctuaries, and held areas that had been cleared. That had never been done prior to the surge.

The most authoritative voice to listen to on this whole matter is General David Petraeus, the individual most responsible for executing the turnabout in Iraq. His April 2008 congressional testimony can be found here.

Secretary Rumsfeld’s approach — which was shared by Generals Sanchez, Abizaid, and Casey — was the antithesis of the surge philosophy. They believed in the “light footprint” approach, a strategy premised on the conviction that American forces were an irritant fueling the insurgency. A key goal for Rumsfeld, therefore, was to expedite the drawdown of American troops rather than using them to increase security. A favorite metaphor for Rumsfeld was to refer to the Iraqis as children learning to ride a bike; our job was to take the training wheels off and let them learn to ride by themselves.

The problem is that we kept taking the training wheels off too early and the bike kept crashing. The American military would win control of an area and hand it over to the Iraqis, but they could not defend the gains that had been made. The surge changed all that.

Donald Rumsfeld certainly doesn’t deserve the entire blame for what went wrong in Iraq. But as defense secretary, he deserves a good deal of it. The Pentagon’s Phase IV (occupation and transition) planning was badly mismanaged. There was a huge gap between ends (a secure, stable Iraq) and means (the number of troops and their counterinsurgency mission). The early signs of the insurgency were misread. And Rumsfeld himself never accepted that a massive nation-building effort in Iraq was required.

I can understand Secretary Rumsfeld’s desire to shape the historical record in a way that is most flattering to him. But it is what it is. Iraq was on edge, not on the mend, when he resigned. For almost his entire tenure, Rumsfeld was indifferent or hostile to the strategy that turned a losing war into a winning one.

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Terrorists Already Within Our Borders, Indicates Napolitano

With the recent spate of homegrown terror arrests, this story doesn’t come as a major shock, but it should certainly serve as a wake-up call to lawmakers about the growing threat of domestic radicalization. Secretary Janet Napolitano was quite candid today when she told the House Homeland Security Committee (led by Rep. Pete King) that American citizens and residents are increasingly involved in terror plots, the Washington Examiner’s Sara Carter reports:

“One of the most striking elements of today’s threat picture is that plots to attack America increasingly involve American residents and citizens,” [Napolitano] said before a packed hearing on Capitol Hill. “We are now operating under the assumption, based on the latest intelligence and recent arrests, that individuals prepared to carry out terrorist attacks and acts of violence might be in the United States, and they could carry out acts of violence with little or no warning.”

Many people have dismissed Rep. King’s hearings on homegrown radicalization as unnecessary or potentially damaging to the Muslim community. The subject of Islam needs to be handled with care and respect by Congress, but there is also no way to deal with this issue without addressing the religious aspect.

It’s also undeniable that the way the federal government currently handles homegrown radicalization needs to change, especially in light of the recent congressional report revealing that the FBI and the Pentagon could have prevented the Fort Hood incident. As Napolitano said at the hearing today, “[T]he threat has evolved in such a way that we have to add to our traditional counterterrorism strategies, which, in the past, have looked at the attack as coming from abroad.” A serious congressional review of how to best combat radicalization sounds like it can only help that process.

With the recent spate of homegrown terror arrests, this story doesn’t come as a major shock, but it should certainly serve as a wake-up call to lawmakers about the growing threat of domestic radicalization. Secretary Janet Napolitano was quite candid today when she told the House Homeland Security Committee (led by Rep. Pete King) that American citizens and residents are increasingly involved in terror plots, the Washington Examiner’s Sara Carter reports:

“One of the most striking elements of today’s threat picture is that plots to attack America increasingly involve American residents and citizens,” [Napolitano] said before a packed hearing on Capitol Hill. “We are now operating under the assumption, based on the latest intelligence and recent arrests, that individuals prepared to carry out terrorist attacks and acts of violence might be in the United States, and they could carry out acts of violence with little or no warning.”

Many people have dismissed Rep. King’s hearings on homegrown radicalization as unnecessary or potentially damaging to the Muslim community. The subject of Islam needs to be handled with care and respect by Congress, but there is also no way to deal with this issue without addressing the religious aspect.

It’s also undeniable that the way the federal government currently handles homegrown radicalization needs to change, especially in light of the recent congressional report revealing that the FBI and the Pentagon could have prevented the Fort Hood incident. As Napolitano said at the hearing today, “[T]he threat has evolved in such a way that we have to add to our traditional counterterrorism strategies, which, in the past, have looked at the attack as coming from abroad.” A serious congressional review of how to best combat radicalization sounds like it can only help that process.

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A ‘Marshall Plan’ Sighting in Egypt

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned my list of inaccurate historical analogies that warn of further fallacies to come. The leading such analogy was “We need a Marshall Plan.” Sure enough, reliable as a broken watch, along comes Roger Cohen in the New York Times, demanding just such a plan, contradicting himself up and down, and posing a wonderful false dichotomy to boot.

Cohen’s premise — indeed, his lead sentence — is: “The core issue in Egypt can be boiled down to this: are we witnessing Tehran 1979 or Berlin 1989?” Well, those are two possibilities, certainly. But quite likely, we’re witnessing neither of these. We might, for example, be witnessing 1952, an Egyptian revolution against a decayed regime lacking in popular legitimacy that led to the formation of another such regime. If there’s one thing more misleading than the random grab bag use of historical analogies, it’s the idea that only two of them, in binary opposition, are relevant.

But even more delightful than this is Cohen’s belief that success “will involve … borrowing from 1947 in the form of a Marshall Plan to back dawning Egyptian and Arab democracy.” Curious words for a columnist who, after Obama’s first interview with Al Arabyia in January 2009, praised Obama for rejecting George W. Bush and for making “a significant ideological leap for an American leader, from the post-cold-war doctrine of supremacy to a new doctrine of inclusiveness dictated by globalization.” Now we’re back to Cold War analogies and a U.S. that has the power to “ensure Egyptian democracy delivers by preparing an oil-money-funded Marshall Plan for a democratic Arab world.”

Looking for any kind of consistency here, except that of partisanship, is obviously a waste of time. The analogy with the Marshall Plan is so hopeless, so trite, so — pardon me — bereft of knowledge of what the Marshall Plan actually did that it is almost beside the point to protest that what Cohen proposes is nonsensical. To ask the obvious question: How exactly will the U.S. get oil money to fund a transition to democracy when it is the region’s autocrats who control that money now, and who are the ones the U.S. will be proposing to overthrow?

In rereading Richard Neustadt’s classic study, Alliance Politics, to which I alluded yesterday, I came across his own wise comments on the Marshall Plan, which apply to much else — in the realms of domestic as well as foreign policy:

The Marshall Plan of happy memory had … simplicity, despite the then unorthodoxy of its claims on American resources. It called for us to do no more than we knew how to do through the machines of other governments which had the wherewithal to meet a shared and limited objective. Alas, it often has been cited since as precedent for ventures lacking in these saving qualities. Our contemporary “big” bureaucracy in national security affairs … is a blunt instrument. … Subtlety, however, is a thing for which this instrument was not designed, with which I have my doubts that it can learn to cope. What remains? Simplicity.

Neustadt ends Alliance Politics with a haunting regret that he did not do more to stop the Vietnam War, which he regards — as of 1970, the publication date — as an example of a very unsimple endeavor. Be that as it may, Vietnam was child’s play compared to creating a Marshall Plan for democracy in the Middle East.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned my list of inaccurate historical analogies that warn of further fallacies to come. The leading such analogy was “We need a Marshall Plan.” Sure enough, reliable as a broken watch, along comes Roger Cohen in the New York Times, demanding just such a plan, contradicting himself up and down, and posing a wonderful false dichotomy to boot.

Cohen’s premise — indeed, his lead sentence — is: “The core issue in Egypt can be boiled down to this: are we witnessing Tehran 1979 or Berlin 1989?” Well, those are two possibilities, certainly. But quite likely, we’re witnessing neither of these. We might, for example, be witnessing 1952, an Egyptian revolution against a decayed regime lacking in popular legitimacy that led to the formation of another such regime. If there’s one thing more misleading than the random grab bag use of historical analogies, it’s the idea that only two of them, in binary opposition, are relevant.

But even more delightful than this is Cohen’s belief that success “will involve … borrowing from 1947 in the form of a Marshall Plan to back dawning Egyptian and Arab democracy.” Curious words for a columnist who, after Obama’s first interview with Al Arabyia in January 2009, praised Obama for rejecting George W. Bush and for making “a significant ideological leap for an American leader, from the post-cold-war doctrine of supremacy to a new doctrine of inclusiveness dictated by globalization.” Now we’re back to Cold War analogies and a U.S. that has the power to “ensure Egyptian democracy delivers by preparing an oil-money-funded Marshall Plan for a democratic Arab world.”

Looking for any kind of consistency here, except that of partisanship, is obviously a waste of time. The analogy with the Marshall Plan is so hopeless, so trite, so — pardon me — bereft of knowledge of what the Marshall Plan actually did that it is almost beside the point to protest that what Cohen proposes is nonsensical. To ask the obvious question: How exactly will the U.S. get oil money to fund a transition to democracy when it is the region’s autocrats who control that money now, and who are the ones the U.S. will be proposing to overthrow?

In rereading Richard Neustadt’s classic study, Alliance Politics, to which I alluded yesterday, I came across his own wise comments on the Marshall Plan, which apply to much else — in the realms of domestic as well as foreign policy:

The Marshall Plan of happy memory had … simplicity, despite the then unorthodoxy of its claims on American resources. It called for us to do no more than we knew how to do through the machines of other governments which had the wherewithal to meet a shared and limited objective. Alas, it often has been cited since as precedent for ventures lacking in these saving qualities. Our contemporary “big” bureaucracy in national security affairs … is a blunt instrument. … Subtlety, however, is a thing for which this instrument was not designed, with which I have my doubts that it can learn to cope. What remains? Simplicity.

Neustadt ends Alliance Politics with a haunting regret that he did not do more to stop the Vietnam War, which he regards — as of 1970, the publication date — as an example of a very unsimple endeavor. Be that as it may, Vietnam was child’s play compared to creating a Marshall Plan for democracy in the Middle East.

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Egyptian Hospitals Asked to Downplay Number of Deaths

The Egyptian government is already denying the claim that 300 people have been killed during the protests, an estimate that was obtained by Human Rights Watch. But now it looks like the number of deaths may be significantly higher. Doctors who spoke to HRW said that hospital officials have been pressured by the Egyptian government to downplay the number of casualties:

According to some of the doctors to whom Human Rights Watch spoke, hospital officials have been under pressure to downplay the overall number of deaths. It is possible that the actual number of deaths is significantly higher than the 302 reported to Human Rights Watch, because that figure is based on visits to eight hospitals in only three cities. This count only includes numbers directly reported by medical personnel to Human Rights Watch and to the International Federation for Human Rights in those hospitals.

That the government is still attempting to cover up the number of protester deaths shows that the necessary reforms are not coming. Police brutality and prisoner abuse is still rampant, and emergency law is still in place. President Obama has condemned these actions, but thanks to his mixed messages, the Egyptian government obviously doesn’t feel the need to take him seriously.

The Egyptian government is already denying the claim that 300 people have been killed during the protests, an estimate that was obtained by Human Rights Watch. But now it looks like the number of deaths may be significantly higher. Doctors who spoke to HRW said that hospital officials have been pressured by the Egyptian government to downplay the number of casualties:

According to some of the doctors to whom Human Rights Watch spoke, hospital officials have been under pressure to downplay the overall number of deaths. It is possible that the actual number of deaths is significantly higher than the 302 reported to Human Rights Watch, because that figure is based on visits to eight hospitals in only three cities. This count only includes numbers directly reported by medical personnel to Human Rights Watch and to the International Federation for Human Rights in those hospitals.

That the government is still attempting to cover up the number of protester deaths shows that the necessary reforms are not coming. Police brutality and prisoner abuse is still rampant, and emergency law is still in place. President Obama has condemned these actions, but thanks to his mixed messages, the Egyptian government obviously doesn’t feel the need to take him seriously.

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How the Muslim Brotherhood Built Its Empire

“Many Brothers are clean-shaven, wear suits and ties, and are physically indistinguishable from other Egyptians of the same class,” writes Jonathan Wright, a longtime Reuters correspondent based in Cairo. In 1987, the Brotherhood won control of the Engineers’ Syndicate, an enormous body with 200,000 members, and by the early 1990s the Islamist group had taken over nearly all the prominent associations, many of which had been viewed as strongholds of liberal-secular nationalism.

The current Islamist leaders are the children of this successful strategy. The new Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, wears elegant pinstripes and is one of the most respected veterinarians in Egypt. The general-secretary, Mahmoud Hussein, is a professor of civil engineering, and the No. 2 of the organization, Rashad El Bayoumi, is a geologist. The Brotherhood promotes the same cure-all for today’s ills as it did when it was founded in 1928: “Islam is the solution.”

They have built a mini Egyptian empire. About a quarter of the funds of the Brotherhood comes from the contributions required of each member. Tycoons with Islamist sympathies began to support the movement in the 70s, and a new Islamic middle class took root in Cairo, investing in real estate, medical supplies, school supplies, automobiles, and food production. The Brotherhood tried its hand at tourism, especially organizing pilgrimages to Mecca (700,000 Egyptians make this pilgrimage every year). Read More

“Many Brothers are clean-shaven, wear suits and ties, and are physically indistinguishable from other Egyptians of the same class,” writes Jonathan Wright, a longtime Reuters correspondent based in Cairo. In 1987, the Brotherhood won control of the Engineers’ Syndicate, an enormous body with 200,000 members, and by the early 1990s the Islamist group had taken over nearly all the prominent associations, many of which had been viewed as strongholds of liberal-secular nationalism.

The current Islamist leaders are the children of this successful strategy. The new Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, wears elegant pinstripes and is one of the most respected veterinarians in Egypt. The general-secretary, Mahmoud Hussein, is a professor of civil engineering, and the No. 2 of the organization, Rashad El Bayoumi, is a geologist. The Brotherhood promotes the same cure-all for today’s ills as it did when it was founded in 1928: “Islam is the solution.”

They have built a mini Egyptian empire. About a quarter of the funds of the Brotherhood comes from the contributions required of each member. Tycoons with Islamist sympathies began to support the movement in the 70s, and a new Islamic middle class took root in Cairo, investing in real estate, medical supplies, school supplies, automobiles, and food production. The Brotherhood tried its hand at tourism, especially organizing pilgrimages to Mecca (700,000 Egyptians make this pilgrimage every year).

The Brotherhood has spread to all Arab countries and now constitutes a powerful financial network, which has gradually acquired huge significance in Europe. The group calls Europe “dar al shaadi,” the land of mission. After the September 11 attacks, investigators searched the homes of many leaders of al-Taqwa (in Arabic it means “Fear of God”), an Islamic Swiss bank based in Lugano, hoping to trace the channels of al-Qaeda’s finances. Instead they discovered a document describing the financial strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood. Their European operations started in 1977 with the founding of the Islamic Bank in Luxembourg, and six years later the network had seven financial firms across Denmark, London, the Cayman Islands, and the United States. Today the Brotherhood has big investments in the cultural industry and luxury hotels. The Brothers are largely funded by Saudi Arabia and Gulf states. In a country increasingly Islamized, such as Egypt, the “zakat,” the personal offering, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, serves to strengthen the movement.

The Brotherhood has also attracted teachers in both the suburbs and rural areas. A nostalgic, utopian, and well-ordered traditionalism is the future heralded by the Brotherhood. Fifty years ago, the Muslim Brotherhood recruited mainly among the children of urban employees, the so-called “white collars.” Today it turns to the countryside, filling it with Islam and opportunities. These areas are inhabited by workers who in the 70s went to seek jobs in Saudi Arabia, returning home with the Wahhabi version of Islam.

The Brotherhood today also controls a network of 22 hospitals. Of the 5,000 non-governmental organizations in Egypt, 20 percent are Islamist. Perhaps the best illustration of the Brotherhood’s capability was its remarkably efficient and politically opportune response to the 1992 Cairo earthquake. The Brotherhood’s engineering and medical branches built shelters and medical tents that served thousands of victims. The group’s growing financial resources provided an influx of food, clothing, and blankets, and the Brotherhood even donated US$1,000 to every newly homeless family in the city. University dormitories and lecture halls were, and still are, overcrowded, and the costs of textbooks, lecture notes, food, and transportation constituted a serious economic hardship for students. Again, these are the circumstances in which the Brotherhood traditionally has been most successful.

The Muslim Brotherhood has always launched its electoral campaigns on an anti-corruption platform. Its slogan in the Doctors Syndicate council elections, for instance, has been “Vote for the Cleansed Hands.” The Islamists running these unions offered medical insurance for tens of thousands of members, loans to buy houses and cars, as well as short-term funds for getting married.

The same process took place in Gaza with Hamas, the Palestinian offspring of the Brotherhood.

And so the question now is: Will Egypt will become the next Islamic utopia? A Brotherhood victory there would mean a very sad day for the West.

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Obama’s Lack of Passion on Egypt

During the 2008 presidential campaign, the media painted President Obama as a brilliant communicator, in sharp contrast to the outgoing President Bush, whose speaking style was often ridiculed by the press. But looking back at President Bush’s speeches on democracy in the Arab world, it becomes apparent how passionate, fervent, and articulate he was on the subject.

In other words, he was nothing like Obama. As Elliott Abrams points out, our current president has displayed a notable lack of passion on the Egyptian uprising:

Administration defenders point to a word here and a sentence there that show how hard the President and his staff are pressing the Egyptian regime. They can show you the words, the lyrics. Missing entirely is the music—the sense of passion, the message that we are inspired by the demonstrators and loathe stagnant dictatorships like the one that has ruled Egypt’s people for decades. …

In the face of a freedom revolution in Tunisia and Egypt, the President has not used his voice; he has not inspired the demonstrators nor has he been an articulate defender of our own values. Will he miss this historic moment, as he missed the moment when Iran’s people rebelled in June 2009?

The problem is President Obama’s strategy. In order for him to keep toeing that fine line between supporting the demonstrators and supporting the status quo, he needs to maintain a moderate tone and choose his words especially carefully. As Ben Smith wrote yesterday:

But the improvisational — critics say closer to schizophrenic — nature of U.S. diplomacy during the crisis leaves the administration in the unwelcome position of having to make amends with whichever side emerges from the Egyptian tumult as the governing power. The anti-Mubarak forces clearly will wonder whether the White House ever had their back — but Mubarak and those close to him also will question whether Washington was ready to throw him over the side.

It’s enough to make anyone nostalgic for one of the old speeches by George W. Bush.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, the media painted President Obama as a brilliant communicator, in sharp contrast to the outgoing President Bush, whose speaking style was often ridiculed by the press. But looking back at President Bush’s speeches on democracy in the Arab world, it becomes apparent how passionate, fervent, and articulate he was on the subject.

In other words, he was nothing like Obama. As Elliott Abrams points out, our current president has displayed a notable lack of passion on the Egyptian uprising:

Administration defenders point to a word here and a sentence there that show how hard the President and his staff are pressing the Egyptian regime. They can show you the words, the lyrics. Missing entirely is the music—the sense of passion, the message that we are inspired by the demonstrators and loathe stagnant dictatorships like the one that has ruled Egypt’s people for decades. …

In the face of a freedom revolution in Tunisia and Egypt, the President has not used his voice; he has not inspired the demonstrators nor has he been an articulate defender of our own values. Will he miss this historic moment, as he missed the moment when Iran’s people rebelled in June 2009?

The problem is President Obama’s strategy. In order for him to keep toeing that fine line between supporting the demonstrators and supporting the status quo, he needs to maintain a moderate tone and choose his words especially carefully. As Ben Smith wrote yesterday:

But the improvisational — critics say closer to schizophrenic — nature of U.S. diplomacy during the crisis leaves the administration in the unwelcome position of having to make amends with whichever side emerges from the Egyptian tumult as the governing power. The anti-Mubarak forces clearly will wonder whether the White House ever had their back — but Mubarak and those close to him also will question whether Washington was ready to throw him over the side.

It’s enough to make anyone nostalgic for one of the old speeches by George W. Bush.

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Extension of Patriot Act Provisions Fails to Pass House

In a development that surprised Republican congressional leaders, three provisions of the Patriot Act didn’t pass in a House vote last night. The reason was because several new Republicans affiliated with the Tea Party movement teamed up with liberal Democrats to oppose the provisions:

Nine freshmen and three inaugural members of the House Tea Party Caucus cast votes against a proposed extension of three Patriot Act provisions Tuesday night, helping block the measure from passage under fast-track rules. …

Those [Republicans] who voted no Tuesday night included Roscoe G. Bartlett (Md.), Paul Broun (Ga.) and Walter B. Jones (N.C.), all of whom were original members of the House Tea Party Caucus when it was founded last summer.

Allahpundit writes that, despite the media hyping the Tea Party angle on this issue, many prominent House Tea Parties actually ended up voting for it, including Rep. Michele Bachmann and Rep. Allen West.

He also notes that the provisions will likely pass once they’re reintroduced on the House floor under normal “slow track” rules, which allow for passage by a majority. The final vote was 277 in favor to 148 opposed, but House Republicans had introduced it under a fast-track rule that required a three-quarter approval to pass. So while the situation can be fixed, it’s definitely an embarrassment for the House GOP.

In a development that surprised Republican congressional leaders, three provisions of the Patriot Act didn’t pass in a House vote last night. The reason was because several new Republicans affiliated with the Tea Party movement teamed up with liberal Democrats to oppose the provisions:

Nine freshmen and three inaugural members of the House Tea Party Caucus cast votes against a proposed extension of three Patriot Act provisions Tuesday night, helping block the measure from passage under fast-track rules. …

Those [Republicans] who voted no Tuesday night included Roscoe G. Bartlett (Md.), Paul Broun (Ga.) and Walter B. Jones (N.C.), all of whom were original members of the House Tea Party Caucus when it was founded last summer.

Allahpundit writes that, despite the media hyping the Tea Party angle on this issue, many prominent House Tea Parties actually ended up voting for it, including Rep. Michele Bachmann and Rep. Allen West.

He also notes that the provisions will likely pass once they’re reintroduced on the House floor under normal “slow track” rules, which allow for passage by a majority. The final vote was 277 in favor to 148 opposed, but House Republicans had introduced it under a fast-track rule that required a three-quarter approval to pass. So while the situation can be fixed, it’s definitely an embarrassment for the House GOP.

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Obama’s Approval Ratings on Major Issues Remain Weak

According to a new Gallup poll, only 27 percent of Americans approve of President Obama’s handling of the issue of the deficit, down from 32 percent in November, while 68 percent disapprove. (His approval rating among independents is only 19 percent.)

On the economy, the approve-disapprove split is 37 vs. 60. On health care, it’s 40 percent vs. 56 percent. And on taxes it’s 42 vs. 54 percent. The president’s approval rating among independents was below 50 percent on eight separate domestic and foreign policy issues.

The bottom line, according to Gallup, is that (a) President Obama has failed to build public support in recent months for his handling of major U.S. economic matters; (b) his approval rating on the economy is no better than it was last fall; and (c) his approval rating on the federal budget deficit — a top issue for Republicans in Congress since the midterm elections — is even worse. The president’s broadest support on the issues comes on foreign-policy matters, most notably the situation in Egypt — but even on these, his approval ratings register just below 50 percent.

The president, then, is weak if not enfeebled — and weakest on the issues (the economy, the deficit, taxes, and health care) that matter the most to the public. What is most encouraging for the president is that his RealClearPolitics job-approval average is a fairly impressive 49.8 percent.

In sum: Obama’s standing with the public isn’t great — but given the conditions in the country, it’s not all that bad, either.

According to a new Gallup poll, only 27 percent of Americans approve of President Obama’s handling of the issue of the deficit, down from 32 percent in November, while 68 percent disapprove. (His approval rating among independents is only 19 percent.)

On the economy, the approve-disapprove split is 37 vs. 60. On health care, it’s 40 percent vs. 56 percent. And on taxes it’s 42 vs. 54 percent. The president’s approval rating among independents was below 50 percent on eight separate domestic and foreign policy issues.

The bottom line, according to Gallup, is that (a) President Obama has failed to build public support in recent months for his handling of major U.S. economic matters; (b) his approval rating on the economy is no better than it was last fall; and (c) his approval rating on the federal budget deficit — a top issue for Republicans in Congress since the midterm elections — is even worse. The president’s broadest support on the issues comes on foreign-policy matters, most notably the situation in Egypt — but even on these, his approval ratings register just below 50 percent.

The president, then, is weak if not enfeebled — and weakest on the issues (the economy, the deficit, taxes, and health care) that matter the most to the public. What is most encouraging for the president is that his RealClearPolitics job-approval average is a fairly impressive 49.8 percent.

In sum: Obama’s standing with the public isn’t great — but given the conditions in the country, it’s not all that bad, either.

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