The Obama administration has been blaming Congress for the failure to close Gitmo. But it was the White House that blocked the effort, Sen. Lindsey Graham said during an interview with The Cable. “We came really close, quite frankly,” Graham said. “I just think there are people in the White House, second-level down, who were very resistant to the idea of legitimizing that we were at war.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted that the president is still committed to closing the detention facility eventually. Maybe so–but the chances of its ever happening seem pretty slim. Dates for the 9/11 tribunals haven’t even been set yet. And from a political perspective, Obama will probably want to put off any high-profile Gitmo trials until after the presidential election. Even if he does end up winning a second term in 2012 and the tribunals begin immediately afterward, they will likely drag on for years. Not to mention, there’s no guarantee that Congress (or Obama administration officials, for that matter) will be any more open to the idea of closing Guantanamo down the road.
Over the last few years it has been difficult to figure out whether champions of the Goldstone Report actually believed their blood libel. Some fanatics are so far gone they truly believe Israel is an apartheid regime engaged in ethnic cleansing. For them, accepting Goldstone’s fabrications would not result in a moment’s cognitive dissonance.
And then there are the anti-Israel activists who have an Orwellian swagger. They demonstrate fidelity to the Palestinian cause by forcing themselves to swallow increasingly absurd propaganda. That the Israelis have checkpoints in the West Bank or a blockade on Gaza is something that anyone can know. It takes a true believer to insist that the checkpoints were deployed to cause harm to pregnant women, or that the blockade is a plot designed to flood the Gaza Strip with poisoned drugs. For the faithful, repeating Goldstone’s wild-eyed accusations is to make a joyful noise.
There are undoubtedly more cynical partisans who clearly understood the miscarriage of justice represented by the Report, but who paid it lip service because it advanced their anti-Israel agendas. They didn’t necessarily care much about the Report’s content. Its mere existence, and the anti-Israel demonization it triggered, was a useful weapon against Israel. If they had to pretend the fictions were credible, so be it. If they didn’t have to defend them, so much the better.
Where many anti-Israel foreign policy experts ended up on that spectrum is an open question.
The left’s battle against the Koch brothers is pressing forward, with Demos senior fellow David Callahan calling for the Koch Foundation to be more transparent about its organizational ties in a New York Times column yesterday:
The billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch have drawn sharp criticism for their extensive giving to libertarian causes. Though some of their organizational ties are public, many are unknown, thanks to a provision in the tax code that allows the Koch brothers and other donors, on both the left and the right, to conceal the recipients of their largess, even as they get to write it off on their taxes. Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem: require all nonprofit organizations that engage in political advocacy to reveal their donors.
There’s nothing especially wrong with this request, except for the fact that many of the groups attacking the Koch brothers aren’t particularly transparent about their donor information either. Callahan argues that this lack of transparency is a problem on both the left and the right–but his column goes after groups like Freedom Works, while ignoring liberal organizations that engage in the same practices.
Take one, for example. The Center for American Progress, which is reportedly among the top agitators behind the anti-Koch campaign, doesn’t disclose all of its donors to the general public. And George Soros, who has contributed to both CAP and Demos, has a well-documented history of not revealing the recipients of his donations.
Callahan’s own organization, Demos, doesn’t disclose its donor list on its website. When I contacted Demos about this, I was told that the development director would “pull together this information” and “be back in touch with [me] by the end of the week.”
The real problem is not the lack of disclosure. For groups to keep this information private is perfectly acceptable. But if Callahan is truly concerned about transparency, it’s only fair for him to take the issue up with some of his organization’s own donors and associates.
Jon Stewart mocks (among other things) Barack Obama’s re-election video. “How did we go from ‘yes we can’ to ‘you know, whatever’?” Stewart asks. The Comedy Central star has zeroed in on something real. The Obama campaign video is strange. Several of the Obama supporters featured in it are, as Stewart points out, suffering from ennui.
The stratospheric expectations of the 2008 campaign crashed a long time ago. They now look as silly and evanescent as an adolescent romance. Obama supporters are reduced to arguing that “there are so many things still on the table that need to be addressed”–and it’s supposed to follow, I guess, that Obama is the person to do it. What goes unmentioned in the video is why this far into the Obama administration the problems appear to be piling up rather than being cleared off the table.
Today on Morning Joe, Rudy Giuliani slammed President Obama over his complaints that Congress had blocked criminal trials for 9/11 terrorists:
And the reality is, the explanation now is insulting. . . . The explanation [from Attorney General Eric Holder] is: ‘Congress forced me to do it.’ The reality is it made no sense ever to attempt to try [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] in New York—and 70 percent of the American people believe that, bipartisan majorities in Congress believe that, and the president once again has become a follower, which is what our president generally does, he follows—he follows France, he follows the Arab League, he follows the Congress, he follows public opinion.
The president’s explanation is not so much insulting as it is cowardly. His decision to try KSM at Gitmo is the right one, but the least he could do is stand by it, instead of shifting the blame to Congress. The uncomfortable truth is that closing the detention center was an Obama campaign promise—and he never predicated it on Congress’s embracing the policy with open arms. If legislators have not gone along, the failure is the president’s. It was his job to persuade them, and clearly his argument was not convincing. This sort of petty finger-pointing has become a characteristic of Obama’s presidency, which may explain why growing numbers of Americans find him deficient in leadership.
Human Rights Watch absorbed a major blow to its credibility when Richard Goldstone recanted his September 2009 report on Israel’s war in Gaza. After all, the organization has been one of the report’s leading cheerleaders, and it has long stood at the center of the campaign to delegitimize Israeli self-defense against Palestinian terrorism. No one should have been surprised when Kenneth Roth, the executive director, claimed that the charge that Israel deliberately targeted civilians—now shown to be false—is somehow still true.
Writing in the Guardian, itself a hotbed of anti-Zionism, Roth first claims that Goldstone is right to say now “that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.” But then he contradicts himself by asserting that Israel’s “large-scale attacks” and use of artillery was nevertheless a war crime. Roth’s conclusion is that “this misconduct was so widespread and systematic that it clearly reflected Israeli policy.”
Roth apparently is not to be shaken from his belief that Israel’s entire campaign was illegitimate for no other reason than that the Hamas terrorists took up their positions among civilians.
While I have yet to read the whole thing, Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity strikes me as a quite workable proposal, remarkably free of pie in the sky, smoke and mirrors, and bloviation. It attacks the problem of government finances from both the revenue and expense ends. It reforms a tax code that is a tissue of special-interest loopholes, and lowers rates to stimulate investment. It reduces spending by more than anyone thought it would—$6.2 trillion over ten years. And it fundamentally changes the design of entitlement programs, especially the disastrous fee-for-service model of Medicare that makes it almost impossible to rein in costs and invites fraud.
If only it stripped politicians of the power to decide how the government’s books are kept! Maybe next year.
To watch the Democrats respond will be interesting. They have already put forth a proposal for the 2012 budget that is a monument to the fiscal habits that got us into this mess to begin with. A serious counterproposal from them is unlikely. The left side of American politics has not had a new idea in decades, and on fiscal matters it is strictly Johnny-one-note: “Raise taxes on the rich!” Of course, that note is not exactly new, since it was first advocated by Karl Marx in the 1840’s as a way to destabilize the economic system and advance the cause of socialism.
So that leaves two options. First is a serious critique of Ryan’s proposal, pointing out its flaws and suggesting alternatives. The second is demagogy. I’d love to be proved wrong, but I am betting on the latter. Prepare to hear about grandma freezing in her bed, the poor dying in the streets for lack of medical care, and societal collapse if the government were to return to the spending levels of 2006.
Peter Beinart today says Barack Obama will win in 2012. Forget the fact that in the very same piece he reveals his utter confidence that John Kerry was going to win in 2004, and focus instead on this passage: “Unlike 2004, it’s not likely to offer much suspense. Barack Obama will almost certainly win because, well, incumbents usually win.”
Ah. Well, yes, it’s true; three of the five presidents who preceded Obama did win reelection. But two didn’t. And while two out of five is, statistically, 40 percent, I’m sure it doesn’t feel like 40 percent to Barack Obama. That’s why he’s gotten a quick jump on 2012—both to raise a historic amount of money and to try to muscle out any possible primary challenges.
A week, they used to say, is a lifetime in politics. The next 18 months before the 2012 elections are not a lifetime; they are akin to a millennium. The world is generating news at an unprecedented clip, and there’s no way of telling what’s next. Remember that the conflagration in the Arab world wasn’t even a blip on the radar screen in December, or that an earthquake-tsunami-radiation disaster in Japan was the farthest thing from anybody’s mind when the nation stopped for a few days in the wake of the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in January. No one had then heard of Scott Walker, even though he had won the governorship of Wisconsin.
In the next few months we could be seeing an inflation surge from oil and food prices; an Israel-Hamas war; a major shift in American public opinion on Afghanistan as a weird blowback effect from our involvement in Libya; continuing political unrest in state capitals in the United States; and Charlie Sheen returning to “Two and a Half Men.” And this is just what is conceivably foreseeable. To be certain of a 2012 outcome in any direction, given the nature of the change going on outside the United States and the degree of worry and fear and anger inside the United States is delusional.
American politics, like the news, has entered into a period of great instability, with ideological waves crashing into each other every two years. Independents are sloshing about in the undertow, and seem to be carried along in the political tide. Explaining the causes of these waves is simple: In 2006 and 2008, Iraq; in 2010, liberal overreach on health care and spending. But the fact that they happen so readily makes the act of predicting anything about American politics in the next two years all but impossible.
Judge Richard Goldstone has accepted Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s invitation to Israel, and now says that he will work at the UN to nullify his September 2009 on Israel’s war in Gaza, the Jerusalem Post reports:
According to Yishai, Goldstone said that he would be happy to come and that there will always be love in his heart for the State of Israel. . . . Additionally, Yishai said that Goldstone made a promise to work towards retracting his UN report. Former ambassador to the UN Danny Gillerman, who also spoke with Goldstone, added that the judge would not act immediately to do so.
This is a promising development, as well as a surprising one. The anti-Israel movement has largely dismissed Goldstone’s recantation in the Washington Post, arguing that it doesn’t discredit the actual UN report. But if Goldstone goes ahead with a petition to the UN to nullify the report, then he will be pitting himself against the same anti-Israel activists who once worshiped him.
Whether this actually happens remains to be seen. According to the Jerusalem Post, the justice wants to “wait for the dust to settle” before he begins working to rescind the report. This is a good idea. Since Goldstone’s column was published, he has faced an enormous backlash of criticism from his former allies. And he likely needs time to come to terms with the enormity of his actions before he will be fully prepared to take a more activist stance.
Al Qaeda has reportedly been smuggling loot from Libyan rebel weapon stockpiles over the past few days. And most disconcertingly, the North African wing of the terrorist group may have obtained shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, Reuters reports:
[An Algerian] official said a convoy of eight Toyota pick-up trucks left eastern Libya, crossed into Chad and then Niger, and from there into northern Mali where in the past few days it delivered a cargo of weapons. He said the weapons included Russian-made RPG-7 anti-tank rocket-propelled grenades, Kalashnikov heavy machine guns, Kalashnikov rifles, explosives and ammunition. He also said he had information that al Qaeda’s north African wing, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), had acquired from Libya Russian-made shoulder-fired Strela surface-to-air missiles known by the NATO designation SAM-7.
At the Washington Examiner, Sara Carter notes that surface-to-air missiles would be “a devastating weapon” if acquired by al Qaeda, since they would allow the terror group to easily take down planes. The CIA presence on the ground is even more critical in light of this report. Not only does the agency need to root out infiltration by al Qaeda fighters among the rebel forces, but it should also be keeping close tabs on weapon stockpiles to prevent this type of smuggling from taking place again.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced yesterday that the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, will be prosecuted in a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay.
In a statement befitting this whiniest of administrations, Holder was querulous. “Members of Congress have intervened and imposed restrictions blocking the Administration from bringing any Guantanamo detainees to trial in the United States,” Holder said. “Those unwise and unwarranted restrictions undermine our counterterrorism efforts and could undermine our national security,” he complained. And in case this point wasn’t clear enough, he pouted yet again, saying, “Sadly, this case has been marked by needless controversy since the beginning, but despite all the arguments and debate that it has engendered, the prosecution of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators should never have been about settling ideological arguments or scoring political points.”
It was never really about “settling ideological arguments or scoring political points”; it was about having an honest debate over how best to protect the nation in accordance with our laws and values.
Representative Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget, released today and accompanied by an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, is a document of tremendous ambition and integrity, unlike any we have seen in our lifetime.
What it does is to restore the GOP’s reputation for intellectual vitality. This cannot be achieved through incantations or the recitation of shallow talking points; it can only be done by offering a comprehensive governing agenda along with carefully argued and compellingly articulated programs of reform. And from state houses to the United States Congress, Republicans are now “setting the public policy agenda,” as Daniel DiSalvo argues in his important essay in the current issue of COMMENTARY. (DiSalvo quotes Paul Starr, editor of the American Prospect, who admits that liberalism has become largely “defensive” and “oppositional.”)
In the 1980s, one of the Republican Party’s main sources of attraction to younger conservatives like myself was its growing reputation for intellectual seriousness. “Of a sudden,” wrote Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat, in 1981, “the GOP has become a party of ideas.” Two years ago the Republican Party was flat on its back (“These days, Republicans have the desperate aura of an endangered species,” Time announced in a May 7, 2009, cover story). But the GOP—thanks to Governors like Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie and Members of Congress like Paul Ryan—has once again become the “party of ideas.” Conservatism, not contemporary liberalism, is the political movement that is energized and ascendant. Its most responsible voices have become advocates for modern, accountable, and responsive institutions, limited government, and therefore self-government.
For two years President Obama, a man of the left whose stated purpose was to “transform” America, had his way. But he badly overreached; Republicans have pushed back with vigor and passion and now, thanks to Ryan’s Path to Prosperity, a compelling governing alternative. So here we are at a political and philosophical inflection point, where issues of first principles are being debated and decided. There are worse things that can happen in a republic.
The Chinese government, worried about the prospect of a “Jasmine revolution,” has been cracking down on pro-democracy activists over the past six weeks. The highest-profile case occurred on Sunday, when the government detained prominent Chinese artist Ai Weiwei as he was boarding a plane to Hong Kong. The U.S., Britain, France, Germany, and the European Union have already called for his release. But according to the activist group Chinese Human Rights Defenders, hundreds of others have also been detained, “disappeared,” and put under house arrest since mid-February.
The crackdown was reportedly ordered by top Chinese Communist Party leaders at a secret meeting at a Beijing university on February 19. But according to Renee Xia at Foreign Policy, the growing number of detentions may also have to do with China’s increasing security budget, which has encouraged more aggressive behavior by local police:
For lower-level national security police, the order is also an opportunity to fatten their budgets by claiming a larger piece of the pie known as “funds to maintain stability.” On March 5, the Ministry of Finance announced the 2011 budget for maintaining stability would approach $95 billion—up 21.5 percent from 2010. With the incentive to boost local security budgets, police have aggressively pursued anyone who might fit the profile of “de-harmonizing elements.” In other words, the greater the number of individuals whom police can label as “dissidents” within their communities, the greater the amount of funding they can request in the future.
That has likely contributed to the number of detentions. But the fact that the government is going after internationally-known and widely respected figures like Ai Weiwei is also a sign that the Chinese Communist Party is growing increasingly fearful and paranoid.
“If they are willing to go this far with someone like him, then all bets are off,” said Joshua Rosenzweig, who heads the Hong Kong office of the Dui Hua Foundation, in the Wall Street Journal.
Freezing weapons shipments to Lebanon, which the Wall Street Journal disclosed yesterday, is the right thing for the Obama administration to do. As with so many of this administration’s foreign-policy moves, however, it’s a defensive and inadequate measure, applied because it’s the only move left after better opportunities have been lost.
The time when Lebanon’s fate could have been affected through useful diplomacy was in January, when Saudi Arabia and Turkey were seeking to broker a new unity government that would have prevented the concentration of power in Hezbollah’s hands. Active U.S. support for that effort could well have convinced Hezbollah that the time was not ripe for an audacious parliamentary coup. Moreover, such support would have met with acclaim just about everywhere on earth except Tehran and Damascus.
Suspending arms deliveries to the new Lebanese government, on the other hand, is little more than a gesture. And it’s a confusing one at that.