Last night Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart turned his comic genius on Barack Obama’s Libya speech. The critique works because the points he makes are both funny and true. Take a look. You’ll enjoy it.
Posts For: March 2011
With the recent events across the Muslim world, a serious task force on the Iranian threat couldn’t be more needed. The Iran Strategy Task Force, a new collaboration between Freedom House and the Progressive Policy Institute, says it will push the Obama administration to “rethink its Middle East strategy” and look “beyond sanctions.”
When some Iranian lobbying groups –NIAC, for example – say that the administration needs to look “beyond sanctions,” they are really arguing for the U.S. to drop them entirely. In comparison, the ISTF is supportive of sanctions, and maintains that more may even be necessary. But the group will also look for other ways to pressure the Iranian regime for reform.
The ISTF’s first step will be to meet with experts in academia, government, intelligence and the Iran democracy movement, in order to come up with a report of policy recommendations that it can present to lawmakers. “The point is, we’re going to help people make sense of this puzzle,” said Freedom House’s Andrew Apostolou, who is co-chairing the ISTF along with PPI’s Josh Block.
Other members of the task force include Ken Pollack of the Brookings Institution, Steve Beckerman of AIPAC, Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Michael Adler of the Woodrow Wilson Center.
With NIAC’s focus shifting to human rights issues recently, it’s important to have a group in Washington that will push for reforms while also supporting crucial sanctions.
Thirty years ago today I was doing research in the Local History and Genealogy Room of the New York Public Library when Tim Beard, the director, came up to me. I looked up, hoping he had found something I’d been looking for. Instead he said, “Reagan’s been shot.” For a moment we just stared at each other, processing the enormity of the news.
“Is he alive?” I asked.
“At least at the moment. He’s been taken to the hospital.”
I packed up my stuff and raced home, where I, like much of the nation, was glued to the television for the rest of the day and much of the night.
He survived, of course, the first president to have been shot and do so. (Theodore Roosevelt was shot and survived while campaigning in 1912, but that was after his presidency.) Reagan’s survival, however, was a very, very near-run thing, and only some very fancy doctoring within minutes of the event saw him through. It was months before he was fully recovered.
Only millimeters and minutes separated what became the most significant presidency of the last half of the 20th century from being instead a footnote in American history, a presidency that lasted only twice as long as William Henry Harrison’s in 1841.
History, of course, is full of such contingencies, which support a whole genre of historical writing called counterfactual history. What if Catherine of Aragon had borne Henry VIII a healthy son? What if the Royal Navy hadn’t let Washington’s army escape across the East River from Brooklyn? What if Britain and France had resisted the military reoccupation of the Rhineland?
Equally, how George H. W. Bush would have handled the opportunities and perils that Reagan lived to face we will never know.
As the House of Representatives prepares to vote today on Speaker Boehner’s bill to revive the Washington D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program that gives disadvantaged children a chance to escape failing public schools and to get a quality private education, the administration continued to advocate its defeat.
Among the arguments put forward by the White House yesterday was the claim that scholarship recipients don’t do any better than other students. But, as the Washington Post pointed out in a trenchant editorial, the evidence points in a different direction. There is, in fact, a wealth of evidence that students who take advantage of voucher programs do better in reading and have better graduation rates than other low-income inner city students. Read More
Funny, last time I checked, Sarah Palin was in trouble for being too comfortable with the language of combat. Today, it’s a disgrace that she’s not more fluent in it.
As far as slips of the tongue go, I’ll take a commentator’s “squirmish” over a commander in chief’s “corpsemen,” any day. In fact, there is something unwittingly brilliant about the latest Palinism. Try to find a term better than squirmish for a military effort the great superpower was shamed into by the French and the Arab League, one whose leadership the American president has repeatedly refused, one whose description has brought about the most pusillanimous linguistic contortions imaginable, and one we may very well wriggle out of before accomplishing our goal. A war against Qaddafi’s regime was a noble prospect. But I fear Sarah Palin is right. What we have on our hands is a squirmish.
The eye-opening poll of the week comes from Gallup, which shows Barack Obama with the worst numbers of his presidency when it comes to “leadership.” Only 52 percent of Americans describe him as a “strong and decisive leader,” compared to 47 percent who say he’s not. That may not sound bad, but this is how Gallup puts it: “Americans have grown increasingly less likely to view President Obama as a strong and decisive leader since he took office. Roughly half now believe this aptly describes him compared with 60% a year ago and 73% in April 2009.”
This is especially striking because it comes at a moment when one would have expected a “rally round the flag” feeling in the body politic due to the fact that the United States has undertaken a new military effort. Even when Americans are unhappy about American involvement abroad—as they were, for example, when Ronald Reagan sought the overthrow of the Communist regime in Nicaragua—they usually recognize that a president’s decision to commit forces and spend political capital on something controversial marks him as a leader to be reckoned with.
But that has not happened here, and the reason is simple: Obama undertook the Libya mission with the bizarre promise to the American people and the world that he and we would not be leading it, even though we were. The day he decided to act, he said we were doing so at the behest of the United Nations. Hillary Clinton said it was France and Britain who talked us into it. And he went ten days without offering a comprehensive explanation of what we were doing in Libya. The Gallup poll was done before the president’s speech, but it’s unlikely to change anyone’s mind in this regard since it seemed in part designed to reassure people that NATO was taking charge and that our task in Libya was largely completed.
Who would think such a leader was a strong leader when he is practically shouting from the rafters that he doesn’t want to be a strong leader?
The potential presence of al Qaeda and Hezbollah isn’t the only concern about the makeup of the Libyan rebel forces. Former jihadist Noman Benotman, who used to lead Libya’s al Qaeda affiliate, told the Washington Times today that the unaffiliated “freelance jihadists” have joined the fight to oust Qaddafi:
“We have freelance jihadists,” he said. “But everything is still under control of the interim national council. There is no other organization that says, ‘We are leaders of the revolution with this emir,’ like al Qaeda would. Everyone is afraid to do this; they would be labeled as undermining the people.”
Benotman told the Washington Times that he estimates there are “around a thousand” unaffiliated jihadists in Libya, though he didn’t say how many were involved in the fight. He also made it clear that the leaders of the opposition are seeking democracy.
Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting that Washington is in a heated debate over whether to supply arms – and the necessary training – to the rebels, who badly need it. According to the paper, the French government is “mounting pressure on the United States to provide greater assistance to the rebels.”
While American officials who have met with the opposition forces say that they’re largely democratic, nobody has been able to give a clear picture of the composition yet. If the U.S. decides against giving arms to the rebels, it may still be able to provide important assistance in the form of humanitarian and financial aid.
Yuval Levin, the indispensible editor of an indispensible magazine, National Affairs, has written a newly published essay, “Beyond the Welfare State.”
Yuval writes that the vision of social democracy that has dominated our political life for many decades is now failing us. Moreover, he says, the economic crisis of 2008 might well be seen as having marked the beginning of the end of the social democratic welfare state by “making suddenly urgent what was otherwise a gradually oncoming problem” (our crushing deficit and debt).
Democratic capitalism, Levin argues, is the ideal that must guide the work for American domestic policy in the coming years. If the Republican Party is to be a truly conservative party, my Ethics and Public Policy center colleague writes, “it will need to think its way to an agenda of conservative reform.” He lays out his thoughts on the tax system, discretionary and entitlement spending, our health care system, and the administrative state. But there’s one part of the essay I want to tease out a bit. Among the major failings of the modern welfare state is what Yuval calls “a kind of spiritual failing.” Read More
At Slate, Dave Weigel analyzes the changing focus of Media Matters, which he says is a response to attacks from conservative groups:
Conservatives had always claimed that Media Matters was an attack-dog group, not an accuracy group—so it became an attack group. Conservatives claimed that the group was funded by George Soros when it wasn’t, so in October 2010 it accepted $1 million from Soros, who asked that Media Matters “hold Fox News accountable.” Slowly, Media Matters became what the right claimed it had always been. It was like watching Bruce Banner get picked on until his eyes turned green and he started smashing things.
Maybe. Read More
For those who still remember Roger Cohen’s shilling for the despicable anti-Semitic Iranian regime in early 2009, his current stand as a champion of democracy in the Islamic world still chafes. But ever since the crackdown in Tehran after the stolen presidential election that year, he has been a consistent critic of the tyrannical regimes that dominate the Middle East. However his animus toward Israel — the conceit behind his original dishonest claim that the Ahmadinejad government was actually benign — still informs his writing.
Hence although his ringing manifesto “Arabs Will Be Free” in today’s New York Times was ostensibly about the cause of freedom in the Arab world that he says won’t be denied, it paired a call for the end of the Assad regime in Syria as well as other autocracies with support for Hezbollah. What, you may ask, does the Iranian-supported Lebanese terrorist movement have to do with the Arab Spring? Isn’t Hezbollah the main ally of two of the most repressive regimes in the region: Iran and Syria? Read More
There was nothing particularly wrong about Sen. Dick Durbin holding a hearing today on anti-Muslim bigotry. It’s just that nobody at the hearing was able to give a particularly compelling reason for it.
Muslim Advocates Executive Director Farhana Khera testified about “a growing menace” of “rising” bigotry against Muslim Americans. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez spoke of the “steady stream of violence” against the Islamic community. The hearing was heavy on anecdotes and light on statistics.
There’s no denying that there have been contemptible attacks against Muslims in this country. But the idea that the number of incidents are “increasing” simply hasn’t been supported by federal hate crime reports. Since the spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes immediately after 9/11, the number of these crimes has actually decreased.
Further, the most recent FBI statistics – which reported that 70 percent of hate crimes are committed against Jews, compared to 9 percent against Muslims – also had some confused about the point of the hearing. “I’m a bit perplexed by the focus,” said Sen. Jon Kyl. “The point is, all bigotry is to be condemned…Selective indignation is not helpful.”
But the fact that the vast majority of hate crimes are committed against Jews seemed to be lost on others at the hearing.“The headwinds of intolerance these [Muslim] communities face today are no different from the bigotry confronted by groups throughout our history — by Catholics, by Jews,” said Perez. “With each new wave of intolerance, our nation has responded – passing new civil rights laws, striking down old laws that sanctioned discrimination, and eventually recognizing the value of diverse communities and embracing those previously shunned.”
Or if all else fails, the nation forgets about it. Perez may believe that discrimination against Jews has been banished by laws and diversity and embracement, but the statistics tell a different story.
In his speech last night President Obama – after laying out in detail the “brutal repression” of the Qaddafi regime — said, “Of course, there is no question that Libya – and the world – will be better off with Gaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.”
This remains the core defect with Obama’s approach to Libya. The president cares more about means than he does about ends, more about the process (keeping the coalition from splintering) than removing Qaddafi from power. The danger, of course, is that Qaddafi may not be dislodged by non-military means. In that case, what then? Do we continue to act as a shield for the rebels while denying them the sword? Do we allow a stalemate to continue ad infinitum? Is it a greater moral and geopolitical achievement if Qaddafi remains in power than if we aid rebels in order to topple him from power? The answer, I think, is clearly no. But to use military means to put an end to Qaddafi’s reign of terror would exceed the mandate of the coalition, and that is a red line Obama is unwilling to cross. Read More
One of stranger moments of Sen. Dick Durbin’s hearing on “Protecting the Civil Rights of American Muslims,” came today when Sen. Jon Kyl’s began questioning Farhana Khera, the executive director of Muslim Advocates, about whether she would condemn death threats against other minorities – and Khera seemed to try to filibuster out of answering the question:
Kyl: I wonder if you’ve made any public pronouncement or statement condemning those religious leaders who’ve employed violent or hateful rhetoric or promoted hateful views of other’s religious groups. Have you done that or has your website done that?
Khera: Well let me, maybe by way of background, just clarify…
Kyl: As a former staffer you know that my time is very limited. I don’t have a lot for background. I have three quick questions here, have you done that? Read More
Reports of al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Taliban fighters among the Libyan rebels continue to be worrisome:
Adm. James Stavridis, the NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, told Congress that officials have seen “flickers” of possible al Qaeda and Hezbollah among the rebel forces, but at this point no evidence there are significant numbers within the group’s leadership.
Some political and media figures have been jumping-to-conclusions about the extent of al Qaeda’s involvement, which isn’t helpful. It’s too early to say whether it’s going to pose a significant problem.
But even if al Qaeda involvement is very small, it’s likely to play a role in whether or not we arm the rebels (which the U.S. still hasn’t ruled out). If the NATO forces do decide to supply the fighters with weapons, it might be necessary to have our military on the ground to make sure the ammunitions aren’t falling into the wrong hands. But since Barack Obama has been strongly opposed to sending in ground forces, this possibility may not even be on the table.
There were good reasons to be skeptical of the reasons behind Senator Dick Durbin’s decision to hold hearings today that were supposedly intended to reinforce our right to freedom of religion. The proceedings were clearly intended as an answer to the House hearings conducted by Representative Peter King about the threat from Muslim extremism. The idea that there was something illegitimate about a probe that sought to examine the ideological foundations of the largest source of international and domestic terrorism was absurd. For as much as all Congressional hearings tend to be excuses for politicians to grandstand and rarely lead to anything productive, this was surely a topic that deserved attention.
But, as many of us feared, the rationale behind the criticism of King was not to do with his threatening anyone’s right of free expression or religion. He did nothing of the kind. Rather, it was that focusing on the real threat from Islamists and their fellow travelers distracts attention from another narrative that radical groups purporting to represent American Muslims have gone all out to sell to Americans: the myth that there has been a post 9/11 backlash against followers of Islam. Read More
A great deal has already been said about President Obama’s Libya speech last night. He has been rightly praised for taking action (albeit belated), and it was about time that he gave Americans a clear rationale for that action. His attempt to launch such a war while claiming that the object of the fighting, Qaddafi’s removal, is something that America won’t pursue is both illogical and counter-productive. But Obama’s biggest problem, and that of many of his supporters, is that Libya is a war of choice and enunciating a doctrine for where and when the United States would engage in such a war inevitably invites comparison to America’s last war of choice in Iraq. And it was in drawing a clear distinction between Iraq and Libya that he was most passionate.
Obama’s identity as a national political figure is rooted in his opposition to the Iraq war. But as president, he has found himself not only finishing that successful fight but also intensifying the war in Afghanistan and now using force in Libya. Obama was right to do both of these things but he has spent so much time denying that his actions were in any way comparable to President Bush’s conduct that such comparisons are inevitable. While many Americans are eager to persuade themselves that what Obama is doing is radically different than what Bush did, it is obvious that these distinctions are more a matter of political posturing than anything else. Read More
Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, following the same formulaic path as the recently-toppled dictators in Egypt and Tunisia, has fired his entire government. There are now hints that he may lift the country’s emergency law, which has been in place for nearly half a century.
But let’s look at what the removal of the law would actually mean. It’s a symbolic victory that could energize the Syrian protesters – but from a practical standpoint, it would probably mean very little. It’s simply another concession that Assad hopes will help him keep his grip on power.
Rescinding the law would reinstate “about 40 items in the constitution which were frozen because of it, like freedom of speech and the right to demonstrate,” Ayman Abdel-Nour, a Syrian activist living in Dubai, told Time magazine.
But, as the past week has shown, Syrians are already demonstrating and speaking freely. The problem is the government crackdowns on these protesters – which likely wouldn’t end with the lifting of the law. There is already a separate legislative decree shielding members of both the intelligence service and security forces from prosecution. So while abandoning the emergency law certainly isn’t a bad thing, it’s not going to be enough to save Assad from the justified wrath of his people.
Not exactly. In fact, according to the New York Times, we may be expanding our role, at least in terms of air power and intelligence gathering:
From the air, the United States is supplying much more firepower than any other country. The allies have fired nearly 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles since the campaign started on March 19, all but 7 from the United States. …
Besides taking part in the airstrikes, the American military is taking the lead role in gathering intelligence, intercepting Libyan radio transmissions, for instance, and using the information to orchestrate attacks against the Libyan forces on the ground. And over the weekend the Air Force quietly sent three of its most fearsome weapons to the operation.
As the AP points out, Barack Obama’s reassurance in his speech yesterday that NATO has taken over the mission from the U.S. doesn’t actually mean much in practice. “In transferring command and control to NATO, the U.S. is turning the reins over to an organization dominated by the U.S., both militarily and politically,” AP reports. “In essence, the U.S. runs the show that is taking over running the show.” The U.S. will reportedly still be supplying much of the most-needed weaponry and military equipment, including attack and surveillance planes, intelligence equipment, and refueling tankers.
According to the AP, 22 percent of NATO’s budget is provided by the U.S. – which by far exceeds the contributions of any other country. And while the operations in Libya are being run by a Canadian general, he will answer to an American admiral. The American admiral will, in turn, answer to the supreme NATO commander, also an America. In other words, this will be a coalition-led war in name only – which is a good thing. Otherwise, the allied forces would have to settle for using less effective equipment, which would make the operation less likely to succeed. And we would also have to allow a foreign country to control our troops, which is unthinkable.
“The Elders” are a self-proclaimed group of self-proclaimed wise men and women, including former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former Irish President Mary Robinson, and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. While “The Elders” say they “offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity,” they are better known for espousing moral equivalence and legitimizing terrorists.
While “The Elders” have jumped on the bandwagon to demand that Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi must step down, here’s a modest, tongue-in-cheek proposal: Why not invite him to join The Elders? After all, he’d fit right in. As the UN director for peacekeeping, Annan stepped aside to enable the Rwandan genocide to commence, so it’s debatable that conscience is a disqualifying factor. After rising to the secretary-generalship of the UN, Annan turned a blind eye to the oil-for-food program’s massive corruption—and, indeed, may have even participated in it, and so Qaddafi’s embezzlement shouldn’t be a disqualifying factor. Read More
Six years ago the American intelligence community scrambled to determine if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s newly-elected president, had been among the radical students who had seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, ultimately holding 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days. To me, the larger question was not whether Ahmadinejad was guilty but why, a quarter century later, the American intelligence community had not used its considerable resources to comb through myriad photographs and identify every single hostage-taker. It is astounding to realize that because the CIA is so inefficient, those Iranians who broke every diplomatic protocol, abused America’s representatives, and burned its flags might receive visas to visit Disneyland, or benefit from American taxpayer money to participate in State Department-sponsored trips to the United States.
Alas, we might be in the midst of another intelligence failure. Byron York called my attention to the fact that among Libya’s rebels are many of the terrorists who infiltrated into Iraq to support terrorism against American forces participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom. While at West Point’s Counter Terrorism Center, Brian Fishman (now at New America Foundation), penned the best analysis of the Sinjar documents, the foreign fighter records seized by American forces in 2007. He found that Libyans represented the second largest national foreign fighter component. Many blew themselves up, but others returned to Libya, in areas now controlled by the rebels. If President Obama truly wanted to disincentivize terrorism, he should task American Special Forces to track down these Libyan terrorists and kill them. If the CIA does not know the names and whereabouts of the Libyans who hunted Americans in Iraq, then heads should roll at Langley. Any terrorist who took up arms against America should not sleep well, ever again.