Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 21, 2011

Unapologetic in Israel

Sarah Palin has a gift for encapsulating issues into a memorable phrase, and her reported question to Israelis while in Israel (“Why are you apologizing all the time?”) crystallizes a trait psychiatrist/historian Kenneth Levin explored in his monumental book, The Oslo Syndrome.

Palin probably knew her question reflected a profound historical echo, from a famous essay by Ze’ev Jabotinsky entitled “Instead of Excessive Apology:”

We constantly and very loudly apologize… Instead of turning our backs to the accusers, as there is nothing to apologize for, and nobody to apologize to, we swear again and again that it is not our fault…. Every accusation causes among us such a commotion that people unwittingly think, “why are they so afraid of everything?” … We think that our constant readiness to undergo a search without hesitation and to turn out our pockets, will eventually convince mankind of our nobility.

And if she did not know, more power to her. It is another indication she has a visceral feeling for the issues she champions. She may or may not be a good candidate for president, may or may not even run, but it is not entirely obvious that she would be worse than Mr. Next-in-Line, Mr. Double-Decaf, Mr. Three-Marriages-for-His-Country, and Mr. I-Dunno-I’m-Making-a-Lot-of-Money-Right-Now.

Sarah Palin has a gift for encapsulating issues into a memorable phrase, and her reported question to Israelis while in Israel (“Why are you apologizing all the time?”) crystallizes a trait psychiatrist/historian Kenneth Levin explored in his monumental book, The Oslo Syndrome.

Palin probably knew her question reflected a profound historical echo, from a famous essay by Ze’ev Jabotinsky entitled “Instead of Excessive Apology:”

We constantly and very loudly apologize… Instead of turning our backs to the accusers, as there is nothing to apologize for, and nobody to apologize to, we swear again and again that it is not our fault…. Every accusation causes among us such a commotion that people unwittingly think, “why are they so afraid of everything?” … We think that our constant readiness to undergo a search without hesitation and to turn out our pockets, will eventually convince mankind of our nobility.

And if she did not know, more power to her. It is another indication she has a visceral feeling for the issues she champions. She may or may not be a good candidate for president, may or may not even run, but it is not entirely obvious that she would be worse than Mr. Next-in-Line, Mr. Double-Decaf, Mr. Three-Marriages-for-His-Country, and Mr. I-Dunno-I’m-Making-a-Lot-of-Money-Right-Now.

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UN Official Expressed 9/11 Doubts in Radio Interview

Richard Falk, the UN rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories, was sharply admonished by Ambassador Susan Rice and UN Chief Ban Ki Moon after he posted a blog questioning the “official explanations” for the Sept. 11 attacks. Falk responded by defending his comments, and claimed that they were “not connected with my UN role.”

But today, UN Watch released audio of Falk expressing doubts about the “official version” of what happened on Sept. 11 during an appearance on the conspiracy-theorist radio show Truth Jihad. On the show, Falk spoke briefly about his role at the UN. Read More

Richard Falk, the UN rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories, was sharply admonished by Ambassador Susan Rice and UN Chief Ban Ki Moon after he posted a blog questioning the “official explanations” for the Sept. 11 attacks. Falk responded by defending his comments, and claimed that they were “not connected with my UN role.”

But today, UN Watch released audio of Falk expressing doubts about the “official version” of what happened on Sept. 11 during an appearance on the conspiracy-theorist radio show Truth Jihad. On the show, Falk spoke briefly about his role at the UN.

At one point during the interview, the host asked Falk, “Can we change the way that Middle East policy is perceived by calling into question the events of 9/11?”

“I think it’s possible,” Falk replied. “It’s very hard to say how that would play out, but I think it’s possible. Of course the truth is a positive value of its own, and even aside from whether it has these secondary effects, it’s important to speak the truth in matters that are so vital to understanding the integrity and legality of our own governing process.”

Later in the interview, the host asked Falk why Obama White House official Cass Sunstein is “so extreme in his urging the government to drop the constitution and take down the 9/11 truth movement?”

Falk responded that Sunstein’s position “seems to reflect either an implicit or explicit anxiety in the power elite that is running this country that they have to do everything they can to discredit those that are questioning the official version of what took place on 9/11. That they do this in part by pretending that by calling something a conspiracy theory, you’ve eliminated the need to investigate the factual reality of what took place. The liberal press has gone along with that to a frightening degree.”

Ambassador Rice called for Falk’s termination during his blog post controversy, and this newly uncovered interview may reinvigorate calls for his ouster. He certainly wouldn’t be missed, for more reasons than one. The rapporteur’s views on Israel are about as objectionable as his views on the 9/11 attacks. Today, Falk accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” and he’s previously compared the Israeli government to the Nazi regime.

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Mission: Unintelligible

According to the Washington Post, in a briefing for reporters traveling with President Obama in South America, National Security Adviser Thomas E. Donilon said that command of the Libyan conflict would be transferred, possibly to NATO, in “days, not weeks,” and described the goal of the first phase of the mission as “crystal clear.”

“The focus right now was on a direct threat to citizens” of Libya, he said, “in response to requests” from Arab governments and under last week’s UN resolution authorizing member states to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians. “This is a limited-in-scope-duration-and-task operation,” Donilon said of the U.S. role. U.S. forces will quickly move into the background, he said, providing jamming of Libyan government communications, surveillance and intelligence, and refueling for coalition aircraft.

Then we read this:

Donilon and [Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike] Mullen said that while the short-term goal was to remove the threat to Libyan civilians, other efforts would bring about Gaddafi’s increasing international isolation, including previously adopted economic sanctions, an arms embargo, and a travel ban on members of his family and government, and help persuade his remaining supporters in Libya to abandon him.

But they stressed that while Obama has called for Gaddafi to step down, unseating him is not an objective of the military operation.

This whole account is problematic. Read More

According to the Washington Post, in a briefing for reporters traveling with President Obama in South America, National Security Adviser Thomas E. Donilon said that command of the Libyan conflict would be transferred, possibly to NATO, in “days, not weeks,” and described the goal of the first phase of the mission as “crystal clear.”

“The focus right now was on a direct threat to citizens” of Libya, he said, “in response to requests” from Arab governments and under last week’s UN resolution authorizing member states to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians. “This is a limited-in-scope-duration-and-task operation,” Donilon said of the U.S. role. U.S. forces will quickly move into the background, he said, providing jamming of Libyan government communications, surveillance and intelligence, and refueling for coalition aircraft.

Then we read this:

Donilon and [Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike] Mullen said that while the short-term goal was to remove the threat to Libyan civilians, other efforts would bring about Gaddafi’s increasing international isolation, including previously adopted economic sanctions, an arms embargo, and a travel ban on members of his family and government, and help persuade his remaining supporters in Libya to abandon him.

But they stressed that while Obama has called for Gaddafi to step down, unseating him is not an objective of the military operation.

This whole account is problematic. For one thing, the mission is not “crystal clear,” as anyone who watched yesterday’s interviews with Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, can tell you. What we have right now is, in Abe’s words, “mission murk.” Second, to stress that this operation is limited in scope and that America will move in the background soon sends the wrong signals to just about everyone, including Qaddafi and the rebels. A country shouldn’t enter a conflict and, immediately upon entering it, emphasize the limited nature of its involvement. That can change, based on unforeseeable circumstances; and it sends a message in bright, neon lights: Our will is weak, our commitment limited, our attention span short.

As for the statement that unseating Qaddafi is not an objective of military operations: This can only increase the odds that Qaddafi stays in power. Taking regime decapitation off the table removes a powerful incentive for Qaddafi to leave sooner rather than later.

And whether the president fully grasps this or not, it’s now imperative that Qaddafi relinquish power, in part for the sake of the Libyan people and in part to protect the prestige and reputation of the United States. The president has already said Qaddafi “must go.” Having joined a military operation against him, the stakes are now ten-fold what they were. Yet Obama seems to view his chief responsibility as reassuring the world of American reticence rather than achieving military success.

This is not the mindset one would hope for from our commander in chief at the outset of a military conflict. He’s in it now; Obama can’t vote “present” in a war. The president better ensure we, rather than Qaddafi, prevail — and make no mistake, anything less than the ouster of Qaddafi is a loss for us.

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The Arab Revolt Hits Syria

When Muammar Qaddafi began to re-conquer Libya it briefly appeared that only the moderate and nominally “pro-American” dictatorships in the Middle East were at risk, but the hard and violent anti-American regimes aren’t yet in the clear. The region-wide revolt is now hitting Syria and will almost certainly grow.

In the southern city of Daraa, along the border with Jordan, regime opponents set fire to the local Baath Party headquarters, a courthouse, and two government-run phone company offices. Police officers fired live rounds into crowds of demonstrators, but Bashar al-Assad also dispatched government officials in the hopes of making some kind of amends.

If Libyans are willing to stand up to the ruthlessness of Qaddafi, and if the West is willing to back them, Syria’s tyrant should be deathly afraid. And here is a country where we don’t need to worry quite so much about what might replace the regime if it falls. Read More

When Muammar Qaddafi began to re-conquer Libya it briefly appeared that only the moderate and nominally “pro-American” dictatorships in the Middle East were at risk, but the hard and violent anti-American regimes aren’t yet in the clear. The region-wide revolt is now hitting Syria and will almost certainly grow.

In the southern city of Daraa, along the border with Jordan, regime opponents set fire to the local Baath Party headquarters, a courthouse, and two government-run phone company offices. Police officers fired live rounds into crowds of demonstrators, but Bashar al-Assad also dispatched government officials in the hopes of making some kind of amends.

If Libyans are willing to stand up to the ruthlessness of Qaddafi, and if the West is willing to back them, Syria’s tyrant should be deathly afraid. And here is a country where we don’t need to worry quite so much about what might replace the regime if it falls.

Al-Assad is not an Islamist. He’s not, in the eyes of some, even a Muslim—he’s a secular Alawite whom both Sunnis and Shias have long considered heretical infidels. This hardly makes any difference, however. He has aligned himself with Iran’s Islamic Republic, Hamas, and Hezbollah. He helped insurgents transit into Iraq to kill American soldiers. His replacement could be a bit worse, but not by a lot.

The Israelis worry that if he goes he’ll be replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s certainly possible. A little more than 70 percent of Syria’s population is Sunni. Still, it’s hard to imagine a Muslim Brotherhood regime being more hostile to Israel and the West than the Arab Socialist Baath Party.

It’s also hard to imagine that Damascus could so effectively dominate Lebanon and forcibly keep it in the Iran-led resistance bloc after a thorough change at the top. Syria has a great deal of leverage inside its smaller and strategically critical neighbor, but it took decades to build the intricate web of relationships with its willing and unwilling Lebanese proxies. A new Syrian government will have to start over if the entire leadership of the Alawite state is deposed. And in Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood gets precious little traction where around 90 percent of the country’s Sunnis back Saad Hariri’s Future Movement, a party with a liberal and capitalist ideology.

I have my doubts that Syria is prepared for democracy at this time, but there is enormous room for improvement. A totalitarian terrorist-sponsoring state is hardly the only illiberal option. Even if, under a worst-case scenario, Damascus under new management continues to support Hamas and Hezbollah, maintains the alliance with Iran’s Islamic Republic, continues oppressing the people of Syria, and keeps “resistance” against Israel the state’s ideological raison d’etre, the situation could not be much worse than it already is. Let us hope, then, that the Syrian people can finally be rid of him.

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Dick Cheney: The HBO Miniseries

From the folks at HBO who brought us the absurdly skewed dramatization of the 2000 election, comes a new miniseries detailing the political career of the left’s favorite villain, Vice President Dick Cheney:

The mini, which will be based on the bestselling book [Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency] and the Frontline documentary The Dark Side, tells the story of Richard Bruce Cheney from his early days as Donald Rumsfeld’s protégé in the Nixon administration, to the nation’s youngest Chief of Staff under President Ford, to serving as Secretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush, through two controversial terms as Vice President under President George W. Bush.

And from the looks of the production team, there’s little hope that this will be halfway impartial. The book that it will be based on, Barton Gellman’s Angler, portrays the former vice president as the ruthless puppet-master of the Bush administration. According to Gellman, his book exposed “a man of deep conviction and remorseless will who reshaped his office and his times.”

The book is the subject of a takedown by Christopher Willcox at the Weekly Standard, who wrote, “Angler is most notable for is its obvious animus and its disregard for the traditional newsman’s separation of church (editorial opinion) and state (fact-based reporting).”

The series, which is still in the development stages, may be worth watching just for the sheer entertainment value. Deadspin also notes that the Cheney film will be the “second HBO longform project about prominent Republican party figures announced in the past few weeks. The pay cable network also has greenlit Game Change, a Jay Roach-directed movie, which follows John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign from his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate to their ultimate defeat in the general election.”

What Deadspin doesn’t mention is that Game Change also portrays President Obama’s candidacy in a less-than-flattering light at times. Based on its previous political films, HBO has shown that it’s willing to depict high-profile Republicans in a gratuitously unfavorable way, so it will be interesting to see if it does the same for prominent Democrats.

From the folks at HBO who brought us the absurdly skewed dramatization of the 2000 election, comes a new miniseries detailing the political career of the left’s favorite villain, Vice President Dick Cheney:

The mini, which will be based on the bestselling book [Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency] and the Frontline documentary The Dark Side, tells the story of Richard Bruce Cheney from his early days as Donald Rumsfeld’s protégé in the Nixon administration, to the nation’s youngest Chief of Staff under President Ford, to serving as Secretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush, through two controversial terms as Vice President under President George W. Bush.

And from the looks of the production team, there’s little hope that this will be halfway impartial. The book that it will be based on, Barton Gellman’s Angler, portrays the former vice president as the ruthless puppet-master of the Bush administration. According to Gellman, his book exposed “a man of deep conviction and remorseless will who reshaped his office and his times.”

The book is the subject of a takedown by Christopher Willcox at the Weekly Standard, who wrote, “Angler is most notable for is its obvious animus and its disregard for the traditional newsman’s separation of church (editorial opinion) and state (fact-based reporting).”

The series, which is still in the development stages, may be worth watching just for the sheer entertainment value. Deadspin also notes that the Cheney film will be the “second HBO longform project about prominent Republican party figures announced in the past few weeks. The pay cable network also has greenlit Game Change, a Jay Roach-directed movie, which follows John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign from his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate to their ultimate defeat in the general election.”

What Deadspin doesn’t mention is that Game Change also portrays President Obama’s candidacy in a less-than-flattering light at times. Based on its previous political films, HBO has shown that it’s willing to depict high-profile Republicans in a gratuitously unfavorable way, so it will be interesting to see if it does the same for prominent Democrats.

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What’s Killing NPR? It’s Not Bad PR

Media watcher Howard Kurtz is generally a keen observer of how the media works, but his piece in Newsweek about National Public Radio’s troubles shows that for all of his smarts, the longtime Washington Post/CNN figure is still too far inside the Beltway to understand why the network is viewed as a government-funded jobs program for liberal journalists.

According to Kurtz, NPR’s problems can be put down to bad, inarticulate management that has wrongly allowed it to be put on the defensive. All the talk about the liberal bias of the network is just so much hooey, says Kurtz who approvingly quotes a number of hardworking NPR journalists claiming that they are accused of being too conservative as often as they are called liberals. That may be true but it just shows that a lot of those who listen to the left-leaning NPR would probably be comfortable with the even more radical Radio Pacifica and other far left outlets that do, in fact, make NPR look fairly moderate. The fact that a liberal stalwart like Congressman Henry Waxman thinks NPR is “objective” illustrates how off-kilter the network’s political compass really is. Read More

Media watcher Howard Kurtz is generally a keen observer of how the media works, but his piece in Newsweek about National Public Radio’s troubles shows that for all of his smarts, the longtime Washington Post/CNN figure is still too far inside the Beltway to understand why the network is viewed as a government-funded jobs program for liberal journalists.

According to Kurtz, NPR’s problems can be put down to bad, inarticulate management that has wrongly allowed it to be put on the defensive. All the talk about the liberal bias of the network is just so much hooey, says Kurtz who approvingly quotes a number of hardworking NPR journalists claiming that they are accused of being too conservative as often as they are called liberals. That may be true but it just shows that a lot of those who listen to the left-leaning NPR would probably be comfortable with the even more radical Radio Pacifica and other far left outlets that do, in fact, make NPR look fairly moderate. The fact that a liberal stalwart like Congressman Henry Waxman thinks NPR is “objective” illustrates how off-kilter the network’s political compass really is.

Kurtz approvingly cites figures such as Ira Glass, the host of the network’s insufferable show “This American Life,” as saying that NPR’s leaders should speak up about how “superpopular” it is. Their point is that the quality of NPR’s programming is so high that it needs no defense. It is true that some of the news reports one might encounter on an NPR station are examples of good journalism. But, like the quality news reporting that is broadcast on FOX News when it is not airing the opinions of conservative talkers like O’Reilly and Hannity, this is beside the point. The embarrassing incidents involving Juan Williams and the sting interview of the network’s chief fundraiser are, contrary to the belief of Kurtz and the NPR stalwarts he quotes, not the real problem. They are merely the symbols of the widely perceived bias of the organization.

Whether NPR’s news product is great or terrible isn’t the issue. Like many newspapers and other broadcast outlets, NPR appeals to a certain group of listeners, many of whom are entirely comfortable with the prejudiced frame of reference that often characterizes its coverage. It may not be what everybody likes, but so what? The point is, why should this particular brand of journalism, whether it is good or bad, blessed with a large audience or a small one, be subsidized by the government? If it is as good and as popular as its fans claim, then it will survive in the marketplace the same as any other station, either via sponsorships or the donations of people like George Soros who already gave it $1.8 million.

Until NPR fans like Kurtz can come up with a coherent rationale for government-funded liberal broadcasting instead of merely parroting the network’s praise for itself, the momentum behind the drive to defund it will continue to grow. The fact that he and his friends at the network are so baffled by taxpayer resentment at the public subsidies for what is nothing more than a publicly funded liberal sinecure, speaks volumes about the sense of elitist entitlement that is so deep-seated in Washington insiders.

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Top Generals Defect to Yemeni Opposition

Yemeni domestic politics are such a Mulligan stew that it’s hard to identify “sides” or predict outcomes. Iran provides support to at least one ethnic rebel group (the Houthi Zaidi Shias of the northwestern province), and al Qaeda works with some of Yemen’s homegrown Sunni extremists. It would be optimistic to identify a unified Yemeni opposition with a true political agenda. The neighboring Saudis and Omanis have relied on the Ali Abdullah Saleh regime to impose order on the fractured nation. U.S. prosecution of the war on terror depends heavily on cooperation from the Saleh government. The multinational coalition against piracy is increasingly relying on such cooperation as well.

So it’s not the best of news that Monday saw the defection of several of Saleh’s most senior military commanders to the opposition. Some media reports indicate that Saleh’s senior tank commander has deployed armored forces against the government loyalists in Sanaa. These moves are especially significant because of the geographic commands involved: the Northwestern Military District, where Sanaa is located, and the Eastern Military District, which Saleh has little hope of holding with the forces that remain loyal. Two lower-ranking generals who command forces in smaller areas have also thrown in with the opposition. Read More

Yemeni domestic politics are such a Mulligan stew that it’s hard to identify “sides” or predict outcomes. Iran provides support to at least one ethnic rebel group (the Houthi Zaidi Shias of the northwestern province), and al Qaeda works with some of Yemen’s homegrown Sunni extremists. It would be optimistic to identify a unified Yemeni opposition with a true political agenda. The neighboring Saudis and Omanis have relied on the Ali Abdullah Saleh regime to impose order on the fractured nation. U.S. prosecution of the war on terror depends heavily on cooperation from the Saleh government. The multinational coalition against piracy is increasingly relying on such cooperation as well.

So it’s not the best of news that Monday saw the defection of several of Saleh’s most senior military commanders to the opposition. Some media reports indicate that Saleh’s senior tank commander has deployed armored forces against the government loyalists in Sanaa. These moves are especially significant because of the geographic commands involved: the Northwestern Military District, where Sanaa is located, and the Eastern Military District, which Saleh has little hope of holding with the forces that remain loyal. Two lower-ranking generals who command forces in smaller areas have also thrown in with the opposition.

Saleh is putting a brave face on the crisis. But his ambassador in Saudi Arabia today announced support for the opposition – another telling development, given the conservative viewpoint of Yemen’s dominant neighbor. The ambassador apparently doesn’t fear offending the Saudis or sending a prejudicial signal about the Saleh government. Yemen’s ambassador to the UN is also reported to have resigned over the government’s lethal suppression of protesters.

The Saudis intervened in Bahrain last week, but none of Yemen’s neighbors has the resources to forcibly restore order inside the country. Neither does the United States. Yemen doesn’t have the benefit Egypt and Tunisia do, of nationalist traditions and respect for the central government; the nation’s prospects for peaceful democracy are poor at the moment, and its vulnerability to exploitation by terrorist groups is high.

Yemen’s territory, with long frontage on the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, has already served as a haven for Somalis – both terrorists and refugees – as well as a training ground for al Qaeda. The establishment of an Iran-friendly government there would be a major blow to regional stability. In the realm of maritime piracy, a poorly governed Yemen would be a huge headache, as opposed to the asset Yemen can be if it controls its territory and maintains its current relationships.

The U.S. need not prop up superannuated dictators in order to foster stability. But in a country like Yemen, merely urging the failing government to avoid injuring its people – the mantra repeated by Hillary Clinton – is valueless. Iran, al Qaeda, and an assortment of indigenous Islamists are already seeking to influence the outcome there. The forces for liberalization are entirely urban and badly outnumbered. Perhaps we can hope that one of the defecting generals will establish himself as the new national leader and shoulder off the extremists. Someone has to.

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Battle of the Sexes Over Libya at the White House

One Libya narrative that’s been gaining traction is that the female members of the Obama foreign policy team – Clinton, Rice, and Power – were the ones who finally pushed the president to take military action. While this is an interesting piece of trivia, it’s not particularly significant. After all, it doesn’t make much of a difference whether the more hawkish members of the administration are men or women.

But for some reason (macho insecurity? Pride? Self-aggrandizement?), the media meme appears to have particularly irked Obama. Mike Allen reports in the Playbook this morning:

The White House is pushing back hard against a narrative that started in the blogosphere, was echoed in weekend papers, and culminated on the front page of today’s Times of London, with the tease, “The three women who persuaded the President to take action,” and photos of Secretary Clinton; Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Samantha Power, the senior director for multilateral affairs on the National Security Staff. Top aides insist that it was Obama who exerted decisive leadership throughout the debate, making calls behind the scenes to “nudge” allies, expressing impatience when he wasn’t given options responsive to events on the ground, and forcing his team back to the drawing board.

A senior administration official griped to Allen that “this notion of a gender split is just totally fabricated.”

“I know of male staff that were in favor of action; I know female staff that were not,” said the official. “At the end of the day, what mattered to the president was 1) the clear information that indicated Qaddafi would create a humanitarian crisis in Benghazi, and the message that would send Libya’s neighbors and the world, and 2) that there was a true international coalition.”

The most amusing part of this story is that Obama is apparently so concerned about the perception that his foreign policy was driven by a bunch of women that he felt the need to “push back hard” against the narrative. If anything, you’d think he’d embrace this story, but instead he seems to be almost embarrassed by it.

One Libya narrative that’s been gaining traction is that the female members of the Obama foreign policy team – Clinton, Rice, and Power – were the ones who finally pushed the president to take military action. While this is an interesting piece of trivia, it’s not particularly significant. After all, it doesn’t make much of a difference whether the more hawkish members of the administration are men or women.

But for some reason (macho insecurity? Pride? Self-aggrandizement?), the media meme appears to have particularly irked Obama. Mike Allen reports in the Playbook this morning:

The White House is pushing back hard against a narrative that started in the blogosphere, was echoed in weekend papers, and culminated on the front page of today’s Times of London, with the tease, “The three women who persuaded the President to take action,” and photos of Secretary Clinton; Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Samantha Power, the senior director for multilateral affairs on the National Security Staff. Top aides insist that it was Obama who exerted decisive leadership throughout the debate, making calls behind the scenes to “nudge” allies, expressing impatience when he wasn’t given options responsive to events on the ground, and forcing his team back to the drawing board.

A senior administration official griped to Allen that “this notion of a gender split is just totally fabricated.”

“I know of male staff that were in favor of action; I know female staff that were not,” said the official. “At the end of the day, what mattered to the president was 1) the clear information that indicated Qaddafi would create a humanitarian crisis in Benghazi, and the message that would send Libya’s neighbors and the world, and 2) that there was a true international coalition.”

The most amusing part of this story is that Obama is apparently so concerned about the perception that his foreign policy was driven by a bunch of women that he felt the need to “push back hard” against the narrative. If anything, you’d think he’d embrace this story, but instead he seems to be almost embarrassed by it.

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Into the Breach (again) with Mark Levin

Mark Levin has offered a long rebuttal to my post about about the Bush record. Herewith, my counterpoints:

1. Mark says, “[W]hen Pete says that Bush never supported amnesty, he’s incorrect. Bush supported massive amnesty, but was loath to admit it, and he did so without learning from Reagan’s experience.”That statement is false. “Amnesty” means, by definition, to exempt from penalty. The Bush position was that illegal immigrants who have roots in our country and want to stay should have to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law, including (a) paying a fine, (b) making good on back taxes, (c) learning English and (d) working in a job for a number of years. People who met those conditions would be able to apply for citizenship — but approval would not be automatic. In addition, they would have to wait in line behind those who played by the rules and followed the law.

Now one may believe the penalties Bush recommended should have been more punitive. But Mark’s assertion that Bush’s position constitutes amnesty, no matter how often he repeats it, is incorrect. President Reagan, on the other hand, provided illegal immigrants with blanket amnesty and defended the idea in principle in his 1984 debate with Walter Mondale.  Read More

Mark Levin has offered a long rebuttal to my post about about the Bush record. Herewith, my counterpoints:

1. Mark says, “[W]hen Pete says that Bush never supported amnesty, he’s incorrect. Bush supported massive amnesty, but was loath to admit it, and he did so without learning from Reagan’s experience.”That statement is false. “Amnesty” means, by definition, to exempt from penalty. The Bush position was that illegal immigrants who have roots in our country and want to stay should have to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law, including (a) paying a fine, (b) making good on back taxes, (c) learning English and (d) working in a job for a number of years. People who met those conditions would be able to apply for citizenship — but approval would not be automatic. In addition, they would have to wait in line behind those who played by the rules and followed the law.

Now one may believe the penalties Bush recommended should have been more punitive. But Mark’s assertion that Bush’s position constitutes amnesty, no matter how often he repeats it, is incorrect. President Reagan, on the other hand, provided illegal immigrants with blanket amnesty and defended the idea in principle in his 1984 debate with Walter Mondale. 

2. On the Supreme Court, my point remains un-refuted: Bush appointed two orginalists, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, while Reagan appointed one, Antonin Scalia, and two individuals (Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy) who tend to embrace the “living Constitution” theory. Harriet Miers may or may not have turned out to be a reliable conservative vote, but it’s a moot point. The acid test, in terms of legacy and Supreme Court cases, are the appointments themselves, not the ones that weren’t made. When it came to the failure to overturn Roe v. Wade, for example, what mattered were the votes cast by Justices Kennedy and O’Connor, not the ones that could have been cast by someone else. Mark believes Reagan should be immune from criticism for those whom he placed on the high court while Bush should be blamed for those he did not. In any event, Roberts and Alito are exceptional justices, as Mark admits. As for the other points Levin makes about Reagan’s contributions to the courts and originalism, I fully agree: they are worthy of high praise.

3. On taxes: again, my original point remains un-contradicted. Reagan made historic tax cuts for which he deserves enormous credit. Beyond that, he introduced (with the encouragement of Jack Kemp) a new theory of economics, supply side, which was a huge intellectual breakthrough and a great economic success. I simply pointed out that Reagan also raised taxes many times during his administration, including what then the largest tax increase in American history. Bush’s tax cuts were not nearly as large as Reagan’s were, but they were substantial. And Bush, unlike Reagan, never raised taxes. Because of the size, reach, and scope of the 1981 tax cuts, Reagan’s record is unrivaled. But Bush’s record on taxes is, from a conservative perspective, unvarnished and outstanding.

4. On spending: there’s a bit of an irony in Mark citing the Cato Institute, which eviscerated Reagan on spending when he was president — accusing him (absurdly) of being a big-government sellout. In any event, as I said before, Reagan gets the nod over Bush on spending. But for a fair-minded account of Bush’s spending record, I would strongly urge people to read this analysis by Keith Hennessy. Among the relevant findings:

*       Average federal spending was a smaller share of the economy during the George W. Bush administration than during each of the Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Reagan administrations.

*       The same is true for taxes. Average federal taxes were a smaller share of the economy under our 43rd President than under our 40th, 41st, or 42nd.

*       Of the four, President Clinton’s deficits were smallest, almost entirely because his revenues were highest. President George W. Bush had the second-smallest deficits of the four.

5. On Libya, Mark’s recounting of events is a bit mangled and misleading. As Elliott Abrams explains here, Muammar Gaddafi — fearful in the immediate aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s regime being overthrown — raised a white flag of sorts, agreeing (a) to abandon terrorism and (b) relinquish his programs for developing missiles and weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration ensured that Gaddafi upheld his end of the deal. In addition, Libya began making payments (totaling $1.5 billion) to the families of those killed on Pan Am 103. As for claims from Libyans related to airstrikes from 1986, no U.S. taxpayer funds were sent, though $300 million in compensation from other sources were.

6. On Israel, Mark writes, “Pete gratuitously asserts that Bush was Israel’s best presidential friend. I have no idea what he means, since he does not explain himself.” I’m delighted to elaborate. I actually wrote that Bush was “perhaps” the greatest friend Israel ever had as president, with Truman in mind. To that end, here’s the view of Thomas Neumann, executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, which is widely shared: “This [the Bush administration] is the best administration for Israel since Harry Truman [who first recognized an independent Israel].”

Former Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spoke about “a special closeness” with Bush. “Sharon was describing what his American supporters call the closest relationship in decades, perhaps ever, between a U.S. president and an Israeli government,” according to this account. Elihu Ben-Onn, a former Israeli general, put it this way: “Many Israelis look at Bush as one of the best friends we’ve ever had in terms of understanding our problems and his attitudes towards Israel.” This article provides details on why Bush was so beloved in Israel.

7. Mark says this about the withdrawal of American forces from Beirut after the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks: “the problem Reagan faced was not one of omission or passivity or priorities. It was not so clear who was responsible at the time, or who or how to effectively strike…. I would also caution Pete that although bin Laden mentioned [Beirut], let me suggest that bin Laden didn’t need that act of terrorism or any other excuse to motivate him to unleashed the 9/11 attacks on our country…”

That’s actually not quite right. Robert C. McFarlane, President Reagan’s national security adviser at the time, was awakened by the duty officer at the White House situation room, who reported that Marine barracks in Lebanon had been attacked by Iranian-trained Hezbollah terrorists. As McFarlane has written, “Once American intelligence confirmed who was responsible and where the attack had been planned, President Reagan approved a joint French-American air assault on the camp — only to have the mission aborted just before launching.

In retaliation for the attacks, France (which suffered far fewer casualties than America) launched an airstrike in the Beqaa Valley against Islamic Revolutionary Guards positions. The United States sat it out.

There’s more. Islamic Jihad phoned in new threats against the Multinational Force (MNF) pledging that “the earth would tremble” unless the MNF withdrew by New Year’s Day 1984. In response, Marines were moved offshore. On February 7, 1984, Reagan ordered the Marines to begin withdrawing. Their withdrawal was completed later that month, four months after the barracks bombing and several months before the rest of the multinational force was withdrawn.

As for bin Laden: I didn’t argue that the American withdrawal from Beirut increased his hatred for America; what I argued is that it led him to believe we were a “paper tiger” that would crumble if later attacked. And McFarlane, in summing up the lessons of our withdrawal from Beirut, wrote, “One could draw several conclusions from this episode. To me the most telling was the one reached by Middle Eastern terrorists, that the United States had neither the will nor the means to respond effectively to a terrorist attack.” It was, Reagan’s national security adviser admitted, “one of the most tragic and costly policy defeats in the brief modern history of American counterterrorism operations.”

Here, now, are a few summary thoughts on our exchanges:

Mark claims I am “unimpressed by Reagan’s conservatism but evocative of Bush’s.” That claim is slightly bizarre, given that I wrote in my original post, “I wouldn’t dispute for a moment that in the totality of his acts, Reagan was the most influential conservative ever to serve as president. He also ranks as among the greatest presidents in our history.”

My point in engaging Mark in the first place was to challenge his claim that “Bush’s record, at best, is marginally conservative, and depending on the issue, worse.” This assertion, echoed in his second response, is belied by the facts. The best way to illustrate this, I think, isn’t to judge Bush against an abstract standard of fidelity to conservatism but to compare Bush’s record on a range of issue to the great champion of conservatism, Ronald Reagan, who, like every president, had to govern in less than ideal conditions, with cross-cutting pressures, often having to make difficult decisions based on lots of uncertainties.

I never said Bush’s record as a conservative exceeds Reagan’s. I said, and the weight of the evidence shows, that it stacks up pretty well, and certainly much better than Levin believes. As for another charge by Mark: I have no interest in rewriting the Bush administration’s record. I myself have criticized it on occasion (most especially our Phase IV strategy in Iraq). I am simply trying to rescue it from sometimes false, sometimes sloppy, and sometimes misleading attacks.

Mark, with whom I have a cordial relationship, is a very good lawyer. In this case, though, he has erred in two respects. His piece reads like a lawyer’s brief against Bush and for Reagan. That’s fine in a courtroom; I’m not sure it works nearly as well when assessing the full historical record.

On Bush, Mark has been a relentless critic, admitting successes only sparingly and reluctantly. The tip-off here may be that nowhere does he credit Bush for the surge, a remarkable demonstration of presidential leadership; for keeping America safe in the aftermath of 9/11, when almost everyone thought another attack would occur; or for Bush’s fierce and vigilant prosecution against militant Islam. Even some of Bush’s liberal critics credit him with these.

Mark is a ferocious critic of amnesty, but when it came to Reagan, the one president who actually (and proudly) signed a blanket amnesty bill, Mark spins it in the best light possible. On Anthony Kennedy, “there was no indication of his later activism.” On Sandra Day O’Connor, the defense is that Barry Goldwater recommended her and that she was an affirmative action appointment (Mark is usually not inclined to defend such things). And I have already shown how Mark portrayal of what happened after the Beirut bombing was highly selective.

Notice the pattern? President Reagan’s mistakes, which were blessedly few, are always explained away. Had any other political figure committed anything like these transgressions from conservative orthodoxy, regardless of extenuating circumstances, Mark would have ripped the hide off of him and repeated those failings like an incantation. The effect of this would be to create a false, cartoon-like impression instead of a balanced, historically accurate one — rather like what Mark does with Bush, come to think of it.

Mark is a fiercely loyal defender of Reagan, which is admirable. Yet in this case what he’s doing is actually something of a disservice to Reagan. Ronald Reagan was a human being, not a demigod. The fact that he was merely human and achieved such excellence makes him even more impressive. And to portray my original critique as an assault on Reagan, to react as if I had thrown a brick through the stain-glass window of a cathedral, strikes me as silly. To rightly learn the lessons of history, we must see our leaders clearly — their strengths and their weaknesses, their successes and failures. That is as true of the presidency of Ronald Reagan as it is of the presidency of George W. Bush.

Mark concludes by saying he’s eager for third parties to read our debates and judge for themselves whose perspective and account of things is more accurate and intellectually honest. On that he and I are in full agreement.

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Palin’s Israel Visit May be Political But it is not a Pure Pander

Sarah Palin has said and done a lot of the wrong things in the last several months. But today she made no missteps. The former Alaska governor is in Israel today, wondering why Israelis (and American Jews) are so defensive about asserting their rights (especially in Jerusalem) and taking on their critics.

Palin’s right about that, though one imagines that the discussion about her comments will center solely on her presidential ambitions. Her trip to the Jewish state does have some of the flavor of the traditional New York mayoral candidate tour that used to include mandatory visits to the three “I’s” — Ireland, Italy ,and Israel. As I’ve written before, showing respect for the sensibilities of the voters may be put down as pandering but it is also a manifestation of how democracy works in that it forces some politicians to at least pay lip service if not more to issues that they don’t actually care about. Those seeking examples of such a trip would do well to cite Haley Barbour’s visit to Israel, not to mention Barack Obama’s mandatory excursion during the 2008 presidential race intended to convince Jewish Democrats that, in spite of everything he had previously said and done, the candidate actually harbored positive feelings about Israel.

But to put down Palin’s Israel sojourn exclusively in that context would be unfair to her. Palin’s concern for Israel seems to have predated her parachuting into national politics in 2008 and is based as much if not more in her evangelical faith than in any delusion that she will attract many Jewish votes should she actually run for president. Indeed, that is part, though by no means all, of the reason why so many Jews distrust and dislike Palin. She has always worn her faith on her sleeve and her strong conservative Christian views have made her anathema to liberals even as those views have also been at the core of her down-the-line backing for the Jewish state. While it is not clear that she would be in Israel (after a stop in India) were she not a potential presidential candidate, she has enough of a record of pro-Israel statements that she is entitled to be taken at her word when she speaks of her affection for that nation.

Sarah Palin has said and done a lot of the wrong things in the last several months. But today she made no missteps. The former Alaska governor is in Israel today, wondering why Israelis (and American Jews) are so defensive about asserting their rights (especially in Jerusalem) and taking on their critics.

Palin’s right about that, though one imagines that the discussion about her comments will center solely on her presidential ambitions. Her trip to the Jewish state does have some of the flavor of the traditional New York mayoral candidate tour that used to include mandatory visits to the three “I’s” — Ireland, Italy ,and Israel. As I’ve written before, showing respect for the sensibilities of the voters may be put down as pandering but it is also a manifestation of how democracy works in that it forces some politicians to at least pay lip service if not more to issues that they don’t actually care about. Those seeking examples of such a trip would do well to cite Haley Barbour’s visit to Israel, not to mention Barack Obama’s mandatory excursion during the 2008 presidential race intended to convince Jewish Democrats that, in spite of everything he had previously said and done, the candidate actually harbored positive feelings about Israel.

But to put down Palin’s Israel sojourn exclusively in that context would be unfair to her. Palin’s concern for Israel seems to have predated her parachuting into national politics in 2008 and is based as much if not more in her evangelical faith than in any delusion that she will attract many Jewish votes should she actually run for president. Indeed, that is part, though by no means all, of the reason why so many Jews distrust and dislike Palin. She has always worn her faith on her sleeve and her strong conservative Christian views have made her anathema to liberals even as those views have also been at the core of her down-the-line backing for the Jewish state. While it is not clear that she would be in Israel (after a stop in India) were she not a potential presidential candidate, she has enough of a record of pro-Israel statements that she is entitled to be taken at her word when she speaks of her affection for that nation.

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Recognize Alternate Libyan Government Now

Max and Abe make good points. Strategists talk about the DIME paradigm: Every cohesive strategy should have diplomatic, information, military, and economic components. By trying to treat the military component in isolation, the Obama administration is proving it does not understand the psychological aspect of war. By telegraphing that Qaddafi could remain, the White House simply tells the Libyan leader that he should hunker down and outlast the airstrikes.

It is essential that the State Department recognize a provisional government in Benghazi now. The White House recognizes the probability that Qaddafi will use terrorists to extract revenge. The Libyans have used diplomats as terrorists before. Why give him the benefit of a diplomatic pouch or give Libyan terrorists the use of diplomatic passports?

Likewise, the Kremlin has yet to get the message that President Obama’s rhetoric has reset relations. If Obama’s interest is humanitarian protection, Russian realists have more monetary motives. Libyan money can corrupt. It led the British government to free the Lockerbie bomber, and it led Assistant Secretary of State David Welch to cash in on his Libyan connections. International oil and infrastructure firms will think twice about reinvesting in Qaddafi, however, if a competing Libyan government can dispute Qaddafi’s contracts. That Qaddafi continues to control most Libyan territory is irrelevant: After all, the international community—with the exception of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan—recognized Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, even though the Taliban controlled 90 percent of the country. Likewise, the United Nations recognizes a Somali government that controls even less territory than did Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance.

Ordering military action is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. Alas, it seems that Obama is on vacation in more ways than one.

Max and Abe make good points. Strategists talk about the DIME paradigm: Every cohesive strategy should have diplomatic, information, military, and economic components. By trying to treat the military component in isolation, the Obama administration is proving it does not understand the psychological aspect of war. By telegraphing that Qaddafi could remain, the White House simply tells the Libyan leader that he should hunker down and outlast the airstrikes.

It is essential that the State Department recognize a provisional government in Benghazi now. The White House recognizes the probability that Qaddafi will use terrorists to extract revenge. The Libyans have used diplomats as terrorists before. Why give him the benefit of a diplomatic pouch or give Libyan terrorists the use of diplomatic passports?

Likewise, the Kremlin has yet to get the message that President Obama’s rhetoric has reset relations. If Obama’s interest is humanitarian protection, Russian realists have more monetary motives. Libyan money can corrupt. It led the British government to free the Lockerbie bomber, and it led Assistant Secretary of State David Welch to cash in on his Libyan connections. International oil and infrastructure firms will think twice about reinvesting in Qaddafi, however, if a competing Libyan government can dispute Qaddafi’s contracts. That Qaddafi continues to control most Libyan territory is irrelevant: After all, the international community—with the exception of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan—recognized Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, even though the Taliban controlled 90 percent of the country. Likewise, the United Nations recognizes a Somali government that controls even less territory than did Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance.

Ordering military action is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. Alas, it seems that Obama is on vacation in more ways than one.

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A Liberal Intervention That Still Leaves “Liberal Hawks” Cold

As Ross Douthat points out in today’s New York Times, our intervention in Libya is more or less a “clinic in the liberal way of waging war.” Which is to say that it’s multilateral, blessed by the United Nations, humanitarian in intent, tangential to the national interest and conducted in a somewhat half-hearted manner without a clear goal such as victory.

These concerns are well founded and the month of dithering before the air strikes began made the task a lot more difficult. The precedents set by similar U.S. interventions, such as the 1999 air war with Serbia over Kosovo ought to worry everyone, especially since, as Douthat notes, the ultimate result there, ethnic cleansing and yet another small unviable ethnic Balkan state wasn’t what Americans set out to accomplish.

But that doesn’t mean that President Obama’s ultimate decision to commit U.S. forces to the fight wasn’t right. The war that we have put ourselves in the middle of may be a lot messier than Obama thought but ending Muammar Qaddafi’s rule of terror is an eminently defensible policy. And if American and other international forces are properly used to achieve that end, then Obama will have, almost in spite of his own distrust of American power and disbelief in his country as a force for good, done the right thing. Read More

As Ross Douthat points out in today’s New York Times, our intervention in Libya is more or less a “clinic in the liberal way of waging war.” Which is to say that it’s multilateral, blessed by the United Nations, humanitarian in intent, tangential to the national interest and conducted in a somewhat half-hearted manner without a clear goal such as victory.

These concerns are well founded and the month of dithering before the air strikes began made the task a lot more difficult. The precedents set by similar U.S. interventions, such as the 1999 air war with Serbia over Kosovo ought to worry everyone, especially since, as Douthat notes, the ultimate result there, ethnic cleansing and yet another small unviable ethnic Balkan state wasn’t what Americans set out to accomplish.

But that doesn’t mean that President Obama’s ultimate decision to commit U.S. forces to the fight wasn’t right. The war that we have put ourselves in the middle of may be a lot messier than Obama thought but ending Muammar Qaddafi’s rule of terror is an eminently defensible policy. And if American and other international forces are properly used to achieve that end, then Obama will have, almost in spite of his own distrust of American power and disbelief in his country as a force for good, done the right thing.

But curiously enough, Obama’s dotting of all the internationalist i’s and crossing all his multilateralist t’s isn’t enough for some of the liberal hawks who prayed for a president who would eschew George W. Bush’s unilateralist tendencies. At the other end of the ideological spectrum from Douthat is Peter Beinart, who writes in today’s Daily Beast to express skepticism about the Libyan adventure and to ponder the rights and wrongs of liberal interventionism. Like Douthat, Beinart says that the roots of the current war are to be found in an examination of the Balkan wars of the 1990s and describes himself as a “Bosnia hawk.” Beinart says he and fellow advocates of stopping Serbian atrocities were spared having to deal with the complications of a messy war because Milosevic caved twice just when push might have come to shove. He worries that Qaddafi will prove more obdurate and bring the current enterprise to grief since liberals haven’t the staying power to support wars that create casualties and other complications.

It’s an interesting point but his caveats about Libya say much more about the character of these self-described “liberal hawks” than it does about the virtues of President Obama’s decision. It’s not that the American people are unwilling to make sacrifices or show patience when those qualities are needed during wars, though it must be admitted that everyone likes short, easy, and bloodless conflicts better than long drawn out ones. Rather, the truth about liberal hawkism is that while Beinart and his fellow left-leaning birds like to talk a good game about human rights and preventing genocides, they are only for wars when they are cost-free and popular. As Abe Greenwald wrote in COMMENTARY in May 2009, in “Liberal Hawks, RIP,” tracing the history of Beinart and similar writers on the Iraq war reveals this school of thought to be one that is devoid of even a semblance of principle or consistency. They were all for a war until the going got tough and were AWOL even after possible defeat was transformed into victory by the surge without which any future consideration of humanitarian intervention today would not be possible.

Beinart’s carping at Obama shows that the bottom of line of such liberal hawks is their distrust of American power even when a president who shares their sensibilities employs it. The virtue of waging war while a liberal leads the country is that it is less likely that the left will take to the streets in great numbers against a Democratic president. But if Obama is counting on ideological fellow travelers like Beinart to have his back as he tiptoes into a war whose objective he has difficulty articulating, he’s dreaming.

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RE: Defining Our Objectives in Libya

Max is correct. A great public mystery is descending on events in Libya: Why is America there? Is it strictly to protect rebels from Muammar Qaddafi or to topple his regime altogether? Weeks ago, President Obama said, “Let me just be very unambiguous about this. Colonel Qaddafi needs to step down from power and leave…. It is good for his people. It’s the right thing to do. It’s time for Qaddafi to go.” Today, ambiguity reigns. Over the weekend, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked on Meet the Press if Qaddafi could retain his rule when all is said and done. “That’s certainly potentially one outcome,” he said. At the same time, reports were streaming in with news of the leader’s compound in Tripoli being targeted by allied missiles.

One gets the sense the Obama administration has confused mission constraint with mission murk.  Americans want to know we won’t be bogged down endlessly in Libya. They are not reassured to hear we are engaged there for an ill-defined purpose. Once the U.S. commits to military action, all options cannot remain on the table.

There is one outcome that would constitute success: Qaddafi’s exit from the world stage. As Max writes in the Weekly Standard, “[Qaddafi] has already threatened to retaliate against ‘all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea.’ That is no idle threat, given that in the past he has been responsible for numerous acts of terrorism, including the midair bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988.” Moreover, without getting rid of Qaddafi, the mission becomes exactly what the administration fears most: an open-ended, resource-draining patrol operation. If Qaddafi stays, the protection of Libyans becomes a perennial obligation.

The source of confusion is the White House’s reluctance to wield traditional American power. The president acts as if tentativeness is a virtue that serves to keep leaders grounded and realistic. It isn’t and it doesn’t.  We’ve seen the results of this muddle before. In December 2009, Barack Obama announced in one breath both a troop surge to Afghanistan and an exit date for all troops in the country. Confusion and frustration among our commanders and allies led to the near disaster of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s resignation and Hamid Karzai’s threatening to join up with the Taliban.

The American public will not tolerate the framing of differing mission objectives as a false choice. Obama needs to resolve this confusion quickly and decisively by explaining what is at stake in Libya and leading the effort to rid the world of the man President Ronald Reagan rightly called the “mad dog of the Middle East.” The lesson of Afghanistan and Iraq is, let’s do these things right and thoroughly or not do them at all. Somehow Obama has taken away the opposite message: Let’s be quick and confusing so no one can call us bad guys.  If our commander in chief does not begin to lead this effort with clarity and conviction, he will soon find that being thought of as inconsiderate is the least of a president’s worries.

Max is correct. A great public mystery is descending on events in Libya: Why is America there? Is it strictly to protect rebels from Muammar Qaddafi or to topple his regime altogether? Weeks ago, President Obama said, “Let me just be very unambiguous about this. Colonel Qaddafi needs to step down from power and leave…. It is good for his people. It’s the right thing to do. It’s time for Qaddafi to go.” Today, ambiguity reigns. Over the weekend, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked on Meet the Press if Qaddafi could retain his rule when all is said and done. “That’s certainly potentially one outcome,” he said. At the same time, reports were streaming in with news of the leader’s compound in Tripoli being targeted by allied missiles.

One gets the sense the Obama administration has confused mission constraint with mission murk.  Americans want to know we won’t be bogged down endlessly in Libya. They are not reassured to hear we are engaged there for an ill-defined purpose. Once the U.S. commits to military action, all options cannot remain on the table.

There is one outcome that would constitute success: Qaddafi’s exit from the world stage. As Max writes in the Weekly Standard, “[Qaddafi] has already threatened to retaliate against ‘all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea.’ That is no idle threat, given that in the past he has been responsible for numerous acts of terrorism, including the midair bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988.” Moreover, without getting rid of Qaddafi, the mission becomes exactly what the administration fears most: an open-ended, resource-draining patrol operation. If Qaddafi stays, the protection of Libyans becomes a perennial obligation.

The source of confusion is the White House’s reluctance to wield traditional American power. The president acts as if tentativeness is a virtue that serves to keep leaders grounded and realistic. It isn’t and it doesn’t.  We’ve seen the results of this muddle before. In December 2009, Barack Obama announced in one breath both a troop surge to Afghanistan and an exit date for all troops in the country. Confusion and frustration among our commanders and allies led to the near disaster of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s resignation and Hamid Karzai’s threatening to join up with the Taliban.

The American public will not tolerate the framing of differing mission objectives as a false choice. Obama needs to resolve this confusion quickly and decisively by explaining what is at stake in Libya and leading the effort to rid the world of the man President Ronald Reagan rightly called the “mad dog of the Middle East.” The lesson of Afghanistan and Iraq is, let’s do these things right and thoroughly or not do them at all. Somehow Obama has taken away the opposite message: Let’s be quick and confusing so no one can call us bad guys.  If our commander in chief does not begin to lead this effort with clarity and conviction, he will soon find that being thought of as inconsiderate is the least of a president’s worries.

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Obama Names Iranian Political Prisoners for First Time

In a special message for the Persian New Year Nowruz, President Obama listed the names of Iranian political prisoners for the first time since he took office.

“The world has watched these unjust actions with alarm,” said Obama, in a filmed message posted on the White House website. “We’ve seen Nasrin Sotoudeh, jailed for defending human rights. Jafar Panahi, imprisoned and unable to make his films. Abdul Reza Tajik, thrown in jail for being a journalist. The Bahai community, Sufi Muslims punished for their faith. Mohammad Valian, a young student sentenced to death for throwing three stones. These choices do not demonstrate strength; they show fear. For it’s telling when a government is so afraid of its own citizens that it won’t even allow them the freedom to access information, or to communicate with each other.”

Obama’s message came just a few days after the Iranian government ruled that several political prisoners would not be allowed the customary temporary leave for the Nowruz holiday. Last year, high profile political prisoners were permitted to spend New Year’s eve with their families, after posting up to $960,000 in bail.

The tone and substance of the message also indicate an important shift in the administration’s policy toward Iran. After the uprisings across the Middle East, Obama is making it clear that the Iranian government can no longer avoid human rights reforms. It looks like the administration may be taking a page from Bush’s freedom agenda, by beginning to make human rights and democratic reforms a stronger focus of its foreign policy.

In a special message for the Persian New Year Nowruz, President Obama listed the names of Iranian political prisoners for the first time since he took office.

“The world has watched these unjust actions with alarm,” said Obama, in a filmed message posted on the White House website. “We’ve seen Nasrin Sotoudeh, jailed for defending human rights. Jafar Panahi, imprisoned and unable to make his films. Abdul Reza Tajik, thrown in jail for being a journalist. The Bahai community, Sufi Muslims punished for their faith. Mohammad Valian, a young student sentenced to death for throwing three stones. These choices do not demonstrate strength; they show fear. For it’s telling when a government is so afraid of its own citizens that it won’t even allow them the freedom to access information, or to communicate with each other.”

Obama’s message came just a few days after the Iranian government ruled that several political prisoners would not be allowed the customary temporary leave for the Nowruz holiday. Last year, high profile political prisoners were permitted to spend New Year’s eve with their families, after posting up to $960,000 in bail.

The tone and substance of the message also indicate an important shift in the administration’s policy toward Iran. After the uprisings across the Middle East, Obama is making it clear that the Iranian government can no longer avoid human rights reforms. It looks like the administration may be taking a page from Bush’s freedom agenda, by beginning to make human rights and democratic reforms a stronger focus of its foreign policy.

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Defining Our Objectives in Libya

There is nothing wrong with wars fought for limited ends–in some circumstances. The Korean War was still a success even if we didn’t reunite the peninsula. More recently the involvements in Bosnia and Kosovo were triumphs even though NATO troops did not march on Belgrade. Likewise there is nothing intrinsically wrong with redefining objectives as a war goes along–starting with one set of ends in mind and then winding up with something else. That’s what the Union did during the Civil War, which started as simply an effort to restore the status quo ante bellum and wound up with a more ambitious goal of eradicating slavery.

All that said, I would be a lot more sanguine about the outcome in Libya if the Obama administration and our allies had done a better job of defining its objectives–and did so in more sweeping terms than we have so far heard. Although Obama and other heads of state have talked about how desirable it would be for Qaddafi to go, his departure has not been made a formal objective of the international coalition. On TV yesterday, Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, even said that the war could conclude with Qaddafi still in power.

As I argue in a Weekly Standard editorial, that doesn’t make any sense–allowing Qaddafi to remain in power would consign us to a costly stalemate. A limited objective makes sense in places like Bosnia and Kosovo where the rebels seek autonomy or independence from the central government–objectives that can be achieved without toppling the central government. But the rebels in Libya are not fighting to carve out a Republic of Eastern Libya. They want to change the government in Tripoli. As long as Qaddafi continues to rule over any part of Libyan territory, the war will go on–and with it a drain on American military resources which are in short supply these days.

To quote Lincoln: “I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.” The sooner Obama and other coalition heads of state recognize that, the better. Then perhaps they will make the commitment necessary to help the rebels toss out Qaddafi.

Beyond that, it is imperative that we also make plans for a post-Qaddafi world. To ensure that Libya does not slip into chaos, we should begin planning now for the dispatch of a peacekeeping force, preferably under the joint auspices of NATO, the UN, and the Arab League. America’s presence should be kept to a minimum on the ground, because our troops tend to be a lightning rod, but we need to make sure that there is not a vacuum of authority after Qaddafi’s eventual departure.  I only hope that the necessary planning is taking place behind closed doors at the Pentagon and Africom (African Command) despite the administration’s troubling failure to articulate clear war aims in public.

There is nothing wrong with wars fought for limited ends–in some circumstances. The Korean War was still a success even if we didn’t reunite the peninsula. More recently the involvements in Bosnia and Kosovo were triumphs even though NATO troops did not march on Belgrade. Likewise there is nothing intrinsically wrong with redefining objectives as a war goes along–starting with one set of ends in mind and then winding up with something else. That’s what the Union did during the Civil War, which started as simply an effort to restore the status quo ante bellum and wound up with a more ambitious goal of eradicating slavery.

All that said, I would be a lot more sanguine about the outcome in Libya if the Obama administration and our allies had done a better job of defining its objectives–and did so in more sweeping terms than we have so far heard. Although Obama and other heads of state have talked about how desirable it would be for Qaddafi to go, his departure has not been made a formal objective of the international coalition. On TV yesterday, Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, even said that the war could conclude with Qaddafi still in power.

As I argue in a Weekly Standard editorial, that doesn’t make any sense–allowing Qaddafi to remain in power would consign us to a costly stalemate. A limited objective makes sense in places like Bosnia and Kosovo where the rebels seek autonomy or independence from the central government–objectives that can be achieved without toppling the central government. But the rebels in Libya are not fighting to carve out a Republic of Eastern Libya. They want to change the government in Tripoli. As long as Qaddafi continues to rule over any part of Libyan territory, the war will go on–and with it a drain on American military resources which are in short supply these days.

To quote Lincoln: “I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.” The sooner Obama and other coalition heads of state recognize that, the better. Then perhaps they will make the commitment necessary to help the rebels toss out Qaddafi.

Beyond that, it is imperative that we also make plans for a post-Qaddafi world. To ensure that Libya does not slip into chaos, we should begin planning now for the dispatch of a peacekeeping force, preferably under the joint auspices of NATO, the UN, and the Arab League. America’s presence should be kept to a minimum on the ground, because our troops tend to be a lightning rod, but we need to make sure that there is not a vacuum of authority after Qaddafi’s eventual departure.  I only hope that the necessary planning is taking place behind closed doors at the Pentagon and Africom (African Command) despite the administration’s troubling failure to articulate clear war aims in public.

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Some Bad Numbers for Obama

Mood swings within political parties are commonplace and notoriously wide, and right now there’s a fair amount of pessimism among Republicans about their prospects for beating Barack Obama in 2012. But there’s a figure in the most recent Gallup Poll that should encourage the GOP and conservatives of every stripe: When asked whether they think President Obama is doing a good job or a poor job at making America prosperous, 55 percent of Americans said a poor job while 36 percent said a good job. To have a 19-point gap on an issue of this salience cannot be good news for the White House; and if gas prices continue to rise, the recovery remains anemic, and the housing market remains weak, both Obama and his party may be looking back wistfully at the 2010 mid-term elections.

There’s a lot of time between now and the next presidential election, of course, and we have yet to see a single GOP candidate formally announce his candidacy. The individual Obama will face matters a great deal — but so do the conditions in the country and the public’s perception of things. And right now, neither is particularly good.

Mood swings within political parties are commonplace and notoriously wide, and right now there’s a fair amount of pessimism among Republicans about their prospects for beating Barack Obama in 2012. But there’s a figure in the most recent Gallup Poll that should encourage the GOP and conservatives of every stripe: When asked whether they think President Obama is doing a good job or a poor job at making America prosperous, 55 percent of Americans said a poor job while 36 percent said a good job. To have a 19-point gap on an issue of this salience cannot be good news for the White House; and if gas prices continue to rise, the recovery remains anemic, and the housing market remains weak, both Obama and his party may be looking back wistfully at the 2010 mid-term elections.

There’s a lot of time between now and the next presidential election, of course, and we have yet to see a single GOP candidate formally announce his candidacy. The individual Obama will face matters a great deal — but so do the conditions in the country and the public’s perception of things. And right now, neither is particularly good.

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Human Rights Watch Founder Starts New NGO

Robert Bernstein – the founder of Human Rights Watch who publicly criticized the group last year for its unhealthy obsession with Israel – is forming a new human-rights organization that will focus on authoritarian countries without freedom of speech.

At the Huffington Post, Ben Cohen compares Bernstein’s new group to Helsinki Watch, a Reagan-era NGO, which held that human rights begins “with the individual person, and not a nation, or a social class, or a religious faith.”

“That a significant segment of the human rights community has lost sight of the original purpose of human rights advocacy can be explained, at least in part, by the resurgence of ‘anti-imperialist’ rhetoric in the years since the 9/11 atrocities,” notes Cohen. In contrast, he writes, Bernstein’s new group Advancing Human Rights “is explicit that its focus will be, in the spirit of Helsinki Watch, upon ‘authoritarian countries without free speech or corrective mechanisms.’”

Many of the most prominent NGOs, like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, spend an excessive amount of time and energy focused on human-rights issues in democratic countries, such as Israel and the United States. In doing so, they ignore or downplay many of the abuses that take place in autocratic, closed societies. The formation of Advancing Human Rights is a welcome development, since it sounds like it will break with the status quo.

Robert Bernstein – the founder of Human Rights Watch who publicly criticized the group last year for its unhealthy obsession with Israel – is forming a new human-rights organization that will focus on authoritarian countries without freedom of speech.

At the Huffington Post, Ben Cohen compares Bernstein’s new group to Helsinki Watch, a Reagan-era NGO, which held that human rights begins “with the individual person, and not a nation, or a social class, or a religious faith.”

“That a significant segment of the human rights community has lost sight of the original purpose of human rights advocacy can be explained, at least in part, by the resurgence of ‘anti-imperialist’ rhetoric in the years since the 9/11 atrocities,” notes Cohen. In contrast, he writes, Bernstein’s new group Advancing Human Rights “is explicit that its focus will be, in the spirit of Helsinki Watch, upon ‘authoritarian countries without free speech or corrective mechanisms.’”

Many of the most prominent NGOs, like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, spend an excessive amount of time and energy focused on human-rights issues in democratic countries, such as Israel and the United States. In doing so, they ignore or downplay many of the abuses that take place in autocratic, closed societies. The formation of Advancing Human Rights is a welcome development, since it sounds like it will break with the status quo.

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PBS Frontline Embraces Fake Bios of Conservatives

After briefly taking down its links to “dossiers” of conservatives, PBS Frontline has returned them, with a note that argued, “We find that the biographies on the Right Web site are not at all fake or fabricated, and seem to be well-sourced.” That the editors at PBS Frontline are unable to differentiate between assertions of opinion on hard-left blogs and fact-checked news sources suggests an unfortunate lack of judgment and professionalism and an organization undeserving of tax-payer subsidy. Let’s take a look at that. PBS Frontline, for example, links to a Right Web dossier on “Office of Special Plans.”

  • Right Web sources to Robert Dreyfuss, who was a correspondent for Lyndon LaRouche’s magazine, and dedicated his first book to the discredited conspiracy theorist. In hindsight and with the declassification of documents, most of his allegations turned out to be false and, in some cases, fabricated.
  • Right Web sources to Karen Kwiatkowski, who, after writing numerous anonymous articles about The Office of Special Plans (OSP), was called by Congressional investigators to testify on the topic. They discovered she had never been a part of OSP, nor did she have direct knowledge about the subject; she was a fabricator.
  • Right Web sources to Seymour Hersh, who allowed personal animus toward the Bush administration to supplant fact-checking, much to the embarrassment of the New Yorker.
  • Of course,the charge that OSP “provided the White House with inaccurate, skewed intelligence linking Iraq and al-Qaida that was used to justify the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq,” is not accurate. The editors at Right Web did not provide a link to support their statement for good reason: The Inspector General’s report found, “The actual Office of Special Plans had no responsibility and did not perform any of the activities examined in this review.” As for Douglas Feith, the report found he did not act in an “illegal or unauthorized” way.
  • Perhaps PBS Frontline might find a source other than Right Web to support the assertion that Harold Rhode worked in the Office of Special Plans? He retired after many years in the Office of Net Assessment, a different office. Does anyone fact-check at PBS Frontline?
  • Let’s hope that the editors of PBS Frontline never fact-check the editor of Right Web’s claim that he has published in the Washington Post because neither LEXIS-NEXIS nor WashingtonPost.com seem to have any record of any such article.

If PBS Frontline wants, I can continue to deconstruct the Right Web dossiers, which its editors embrace.  Going back to the sources and determining what’s cherry-picked and what is simply made up is fun to do. PBS Frontline has in the past produced excellent reporting but when PBS plays these political games, it does a disservice to its brand and raises legitimate questions about its judgment and bias.

After briefly taking down its links to “dossiers” of conservatives, PBS Frontline has returned them, with a note that argued, “We find that the biographies on the Right Web site are not at all fake or fabricated, and seem to be well-sourced.” That the editors at PBS Frontline are unable to differentiate between assertions of opinion on hard-left blogs and fact-checked news sources suggests an unfortunate lack of judgment and professionalism and an organization undeserving of tax-payer subsidy. Let’s take a look at that. PBS Frontline, for example, links to a Right Web dossier on “Office of Special Plans.”

  • Right Web sources to Robert Dreyfuss, who was a correspondent for Lyndon LaRouche’s magazine, and dedicated his first book to the discredited conspiracy theorist. In hindsight and with the declassification of documents, most of his allegations turned out to be false and, in some cases, fabricated.
  • Right Web sources to Karen Kwiatkowski, who, after writing numerous anonymous articles about The Office of Special Plans (OSP), was called by Congressional investigators to testify on the topic. They discovered she had never been a part of OSP, nor did she have direct knowledge about the subject; she was a fabricator.
  • Right Web sources to Seymour Hersh, who allowed personal animus toward the Bush administration to supplant fact-checking, much to the embarrassment of the New Yorker.
  • Of course,the charge that OSP “provided the White House with inaccurate, skewed intelligence linking Iraq and al-Qaida that was used to justify the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq,” is not accurate. The editors at Right Web did not provide a link to support their statement for good reason: The Inspector General’s report found, “The actual Office of Special Plans had no responsibility and did not perform any of the activities examined in this review.” As for Douglas Feith, the report found he did not act in an “illegal or unauthorized” way.
  • Perhaps PBS Frontline might find a source other than Right Web to support the assertion that Harold Rhode worked in the Office of Special Plans? He retired after many years in the Office of Net Assessment, a different office. Does anyone fact-check at PBS Frontline?
  • Let’s hope that the editors of PBS Frontline never fact-check the editor of Right Web’s claim that he has published in the Washington Post because neither LEXIS-NEXIS nor WashingtonPost.com seem to have any record of any such article.

If PBS Frontline wants, I can continue to deconstruct the Right Web dossiers, which its editors embrace.  Going back to the sources and determining what’s cherry-picked and what is simply made up is fun to do. PBS Frontline has in the past produced excellent reporting but when PBS plays these political games, it does a disservice to its brand and raises legitimate questions about its judgment and bias.

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Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Calls for Airstrikes on Israel

After assuring both Libyans and Turks that Turkey was not involved in airstrikes on Libya, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, of Turkey, said, “We wish that the United Nations had made such resolutions and countries had taken action in the face of incidents in Gaza, Palestine and the other regions.” While Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, tries to assure Jewish groups that his government really isn’t anti-Semitic and anti-Israel, someone might want to ask him why his boss is calling for airstrikes on the Jewish state?

And perhaps Senators Levin and McCain on the Senate Armed Service Committee might finally want to ask some tough questions about why the United States plans to give Turkey the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter replete with its stealth technology?

After assuring both Libyans and Turks that Turkey was not involved in airstrikes on Libya, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, of Turkey, said, “We wish that the United Nations had made such resolutions and countries had taken action in the face of incidents in Gaza, Palestine and the other regions.” While Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, tries to assure Jewish groups that his government really isn’t anti-Semitic and anti-Israel, someone might want to ask him why his boss is calling for airstrikes on the Jewish state?

And perhaps Senators Levin and McCain on the Senate Armed Service Committee might finally want to ask some tough questions about why the United States plans to give Turkey the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter replete with its stealth technology?

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When the Bullied Fight Back

Here’s a link to a moving interview with, and story about, a 12-year-old Australian boy, Casey Heynes, who was picked on by a bully, fought back and won, and (thanks to the Internet) became a symbol of courage. 

Casey talks about how hard his life has been as the object of years of cruel bullying (Casey talks about contemplating suicide). There’s also a very touching element to this story. Casey seems like a good kid (his sister, who has defended him, is wonderful); and his willingness to fight back has transformed a boy who had been ridiculed and abandoned by his friends into a hero of sorts.

The popularity of the original video of the fight tells us something socially significant. It appeals to moral sentiments that are deep within us — a hatred for bullies, identification with the underdog, wanting to see justice done. 

Sometimes the good guys do win; and when they do, it’s something we like to celebrate.

Here’s a link to a moving interview with, and story about, a 12-year-old Australian boy, Casey Heynes, who was picked on by a bully, fought back and won, and (thanks to the Internet) became a symbol of courage. 

Casey talks about how hard his life has been as the object of years of cruel bullying (Casey talks about contemplating suicide). There’s also a very touching element to this story. Casey seems like a good kid (his sister, who has defended him, is wonderful); and his willingness to fight back has transformed a boy who had been ridiculed and abandoned by his friends into a hero of sorts.

The popularity of the original video of the fight tells us something socially significant. It appeals to moral sentiments that are deep within us — a hatred for bullies, identification with the underdog, wanting to see justice done. 

Sometimes the good guys do win; and when they do, it’s something we like to celebrate.

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