Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 3, 2011

Debating Interrogation Techniques

There are now several media reports that the killing of Osama bin Laden, as the New York Times put it, was the “culmination of years of painstaking intelligence work, including the interrogation of C.I.A. detainees in secret prisons in Eastern Europe.”

According to the Washington Post:

A crucial break appears to have come on May 2, 2005, when Pakistani special forces arrested a senior al-Qaeda operative known as Abu Faraj al-Libbi, who had been designated bin Laden’s “official messenger” to others within the organization. Libbi was later turned over to the CIA and held at a “black site” prison where he was subjected to the harsh methods that the George W. Bush administration termed “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Libbi and other detainees pointed CIA interrogators to another messenger with close ties to the al-Qaeda leader. U.S. officials said they started only with the mystery courier’s nom de guerre, and that it took four years to uncover his actual identity, his approximate location in Pakistan and ultimately the compound where bin Laden was found.

Now, it may be that these preliminary reports are incomplete or incorrect; we may soon learn more about how the intelligence that led to bin Laden’s capture was collected, or we may never know all the details. But at this early stage, it appears that arguably the greatest achievement of the Obama administration, the killing of Osama bin Laden, was the result—at least in part—of policies that Obama himself was hyper-critical of.

In any event, let’s assume for the sake of argument that EITs did play a role in finding bin Laden. It doesn’t follow that they are therefore appropriate. Some people will oppose them on principle, arguing that they are wrong regardless of their efficacy. That’s a debate worth having. But those who oppose EITs should not make life too easy on themselves by hiding behind manufactured arguments. Michael Hayden, director of the CIA from 2006 to 2009, and Michael Mukasey, attorney general from 2007 to 2009, have written, “As late as 2006 . . . fully half of the government knowledge about the structure and activities of al Qaeda came from those interrogations.”

This gets back to a point I’ve made before, which is that too often in our political debates we settle on a position and never concede a single point to an opposing argument. In fact, life is usually more complicated than all that–and public policies are often a mixture of strengths and drawbacks. On the matter of EITs, the president (and those who share his position) should state just how strongly they hold to their principle. For example, even if EITs elicited information that could save 100,000 innocent people, would they, as a matter of principle, oppose them? Or is their opposition contingent on outcomes? Would they oppose EITs if they saved a single life–but use them if they prevented the death of tens of thousands?

There are now several media reports that the killing of Osama bin Laden, as the New York Times put it, was the “culmination of years of painstaking intelligence work, including the interrogation of C.I.A. detainees in secret prisons in Eastern Europe.”

According to the Washington Post:

A crucial break appears to have come on May 2, 2005, when Pakistani special forces arrested a senior al-Qaeda operative known as Abu Faraj al-Libbi, who had been designated bin Laden’s “official messenger” to others within the organization. Libbi was later turned over to the CIA and held at a “black site” prison where he was subjected to the harsh methods that the George W. Bush administration termed “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Libbi and other detainees pointed CIA interrogators to another messenger with close ties to the al-Qaeda leader. U.S. officials said they started only with the mystery courier’s nom de guerre, and that it took four years to uncover his actual identity, his approximate location in Pakistan and ultimately the compound where bin Laden was found.

Now, it may be that these preliminary reports are incomplete or incorrect; we may soon learn more about how the intelligence that led to bin Laden’s capture was collected, or we may never know all the details. But at this early stage, it appears that arguably the greatest achievement of the Obama administration, the killing of Osama bin Laden, was the result—at least in part—of policies that Obama himself was hyper-critical of.

In any event, let’s assume for the sake of argument that EITs did play a role in finding bin Laden. It doesn’t follow that they are therefore appropriate. Some people will oppose them on principle, arguing that they are wrong regardless of their efficacy. That’s a debate worth having. But those who oppose EITs should not make life too easy on themselves by hiding behind manufactured arguments. Michael Hayden, director of the CIA from 2006 to 2009, and Michael Mukasey, attorney general from 2007 to 2009, have written, “As late as 2006 . . . fully half of the government knowledge about the structure and activities of al Qaeda came from those interrogations.”

This gets back to a point I’ve made before, which is that too often in our political debates we settle on a position and never concede a single point to an opposing argument. In fact, life is usually more complicated than all that–and public policies are often a mixture of strengths and drawbacks. On the matter of EITs, the president (and those who share his position) should state just how strongly they hold to their principle. For example, even if EITs elicited information that could save 100,000 innocent people, would they, as a matter of principle, oppose them? Or is their opposition contingent on outcomes? Would they oppose EITs if they saved a single life–but use them if they prevented the death of tens of thousands?

Read Less

Who Got a Bin Laden Bump, Who Didn’t

Public opinion polls have been trickling out all day, and they’re starting to give a picture of the political ramifications of Osama bin Laden’s assassination. While some politicians got a bump, the results aren’t good for everyone.

As expected, President Obama’s approval ratings shot up in some polls, including a 9-point bounce from the Pew Research Center. But the conclusions were mixed–for example, a Daily Beast poll found that his approval rating remained virtually stagnant.

The War on Terror also got a boost, with 73 percent of Americans saying that bin Laden’s assassination gave them more confidence in the fight, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll. And while a plurality told the Daily Beast’s pollsters that President Bush did a better job at prosecuting the War on Terror than Obama, a plurality also said that Obama deserves more credit for the capture of bin Laden than his predecessor.

There were also some losers in the polls. The assassination has done little to change low opinions on the economy. Once the thrill of bin Laden’s death subsides, Obama’s approval rating will likely drop back down because of economic concerns. Donald Trump has also seen a dip in the polls. It’s unclear whether the reason is that the birth certificate issue has been put to rest or a renewed seriousness in the wake of the bin Laden assassination. Whatever the reason, it has to be a good development for the GOP presidential field.

Public opinion polls have been trickling out all day, and they’re starting to give a picture of the political ramifications of Osama bin Laden’s assassination. While some politicians got a bump, the results aren’t good for everyone.

As expected, President Obama’s approval ratings shot up in some polls, including a 9-point bounce from the Pew Research Center. But the conclusions were mixed–for example, a Daily Beast poll found that his approval rating remained virtually stagnant.

The War on Terror also got a boost, with 73 percent of Americans saying that bin Laden’s assassination gave them more confidence in the fight, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll. And while a plurality told the Daily Beast’s pollsters that President Bush did a better job at prosecuting the War on Terror than Obama, a plurality also said that Obama deserves more credit for the capture of bin Laden than his predecessor.

There were also some losers in the polls. The assassination has done little to change low opinions on the economy. Once the thrill of bin Laden’s death subsides, Obama’s approval rating will likely drop back down because of economic concerns. Donald Trump has also seen a dip in the polls. It’s unclear whether the reason is that the birth certificate issue has been put to rest or a renewed seriousness in the wake of the bin Laden assassination. Whatever the reason, it has to be a good development for the GOP presidential field.

Read Less

Now Get Qaddafi

President Barack Obama, thank heaven, did not ask permission from anyone to take down Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. It would have been outrageous had he done so even if permission were granted. He knew it, too, which is why he didn’t dare. So it’s not clear why he seems to think we need permission or authorization from the United Nations to target Moammar Qaddafi in Libya.

It has been a long time since Qaddafi topped our enemies list, if in fact he ever did, but he’s awfully high on it now that NATO war planes are bombing his country. And the longer this stalemate in Libya drags on, the greater the likelihood that this will end badly for us and for Libya. Has it occurred to the White House and NATO commanders that Al Qaeda fighters, who already exist on the ground among the rebels in at least small numbers, may well flood the zone from all over the world as they did in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, and Iraq?

It’s hard to imagine many people getting bent out of shape if we decide to target Qaddafi—aside from his family and loyalists, of course—and it’s even harder to imagine anyone who actually matters making a fuss. We’re already fighting a war against him whether or not that’s what we’re calling it, and the war will end sooner rather than later, and with fewer people killed, if the leadership is eliminated.

Multilateralism is great and all, but unilateralism has its place, not just in the foreign policy toolbox of the Bush administration, but now for the Obama administration, as well. If targeting Qaddafi will end the war quickly and cleanly, then there is no reason in the world that we should not do it.

President Barack Obama, thank heaven, did not ask permission from anyone to take down Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. It would have been outrageous had he done so even if permission were granted. He knew it, too, which is why he didn’t dare. So it’s not clear why he seems to think we need permission or authorization from the United Nations to target Moammar Qaddafi in Libya.

It has been a long time since Qaddafi topped our enemies list, if in fact he ever did, but he’s awfully high on it now that NATO war planes are bombing his country. And the longer this stalemate in Libya drags on, the greater the likelihood that this will end badly for us and for Libya. Has it occurred to the White House and NATO commanders that Al Qaeda fighters, who already exist on the ground among the rebels in at least small numbers, may well flood the zone from all over the world as they did in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, and Iraq?

It’s hard to imagine many people getting bent out of shape if we decide to target Qaddafi—aside from his family and loyalists, of course—and it’s even harder to imagine anyone who actually matters making a fuss. We’re already fighting a war against him whether or not that’s what we’re calling it, and the war will end sooner rather than later, and with fewer people killed, if the leadership is eliminated.

Multilateralism is great and all, but unilateralism has its place, not just in the foreign policy toolbox of the Bush administration, but now for the Obama administration, as well. If targeting Qaddafi will end the war quickly and cleanly, then there is no reason in the world that we should not do it.

Read Less

Who Says Bin Laden’s Killing Was Not Legal?

Der Spiegel is asking whether the killing of Bin Laden was legal, and the United Nations Human Rights Council chairman is demanding more information so that the operation’s conformity with international law can be determined.

Let’s put aside the argument that the U.S. President is sworn to uphold American law first and foremost. That should be enough for most politicians, but it probably isn’t for a coterie of internationalists and multilateralists, or those who care about the feelings of European bureaucrats. As usual, its armchair proponents in Europe must be highly selective in their reading of international law force it to march in step with their own tendentious political opinions.

Five years ago, in the context of the Israel-Hezbollah war, I published a piece in National Review, arguing that not only is assassination legal, but we should also embrace assassination as a key national security tool. It was a controversial piece, but international legal experts who reviewed drafts said the legal interpretation was correct. Let’s hope that President Obama doesn’t shrink from the inevitable chorus of global naysayers and will prioritize now and in the future a strategy that, used carefully, can not only enhance American national security but also can dis-incentivize rogue behavior and avert far greater bloodshed.

Der Spiegel is asking whether the killing of Bin Laden was legal, and the United Nations Human Rights Council chairman is demanding more information so that the operation’s conformity with international law can be determined.

Let’s put aside the argument that the U.S. President is sworn to uphold American law first and foremost. That should be enough for most politicians, but it probably isn’t for a coterie of internationalists and multilateralists, or those who care about the feelings of European bureaucrats. As usual, its armchair proponents in Europe must be highly selective in their reading of international law force it to march in step with their own tendentious political opinions.

Five years ago, in the context of the Israel-Hezbollah war, I published a piece in National Review, arguing that not only is assassination legal, but we should also embrace assassination as a key national security tool. It was a controversial piece, but international legal experts who reviewed drafts said the legal interpretation was correct. Let’s hope that President Obama doesn’t shrink from the inevitable chorus of global naysayers and will prioritize now and in the future a strategy that, used carefully, can not only enhance American national security but also can dis-incentivize rogue behavior and avert far greater bloodshed.

Read Less

A Modest Peace Proposal

Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors (CJHS) has released a video of its panel discussion last week entitled “Goldstone, International Law, and the Coming Crisis in September,” in which Avi Bell, J. J. Surbeck and I participated. American Thinker has published an edited version of my remarks, “The Coming Crisis at the UN—And How Not to Waste It.” As I said:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could offer a new plan or new concessions when he speaks to Congress at the end of May, but they will be rejected by the Palestinians out of hand. The U.S. could offer its own peace plan, as the New York Times and J Street have been urging President Obama to do, but it will meet the same response, and make the U.S. look powerless and foolish in the process.  So what do you do?

My modest proposal: tell Fatah and Hamas to hold the election they have purportedly agreed to hold. We might as well find out beforehand what kind of state they are planning. If they can’t manage to hold an election, or field a candidate endorsing recognition of a Jewish state with defensible borders, or elect that candidate, or actually install him in office, it is not clear why a Palestinian state should continue to be a goal of American foreign policy.

Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors (CJHS) has released a video of its panel discussion last week entitled “Goldstone, International Law, and the Coming Crisis in September,” in which Avi Bell, J. J. Surbeck and I participated. American Thinker has published an edited version of my remarks, “The Coming Crisis at the UN—And How Not to Waste It.” As I said:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could offer a new plan or new concessions when he speaks to Congress at the end of May, but they will be rejected by the Palestinians out of hand. The U.S. could offer its own peace plan, as the New York Times and J Street have been urging President Obama to do, but it will meet the same response, and make the U.S. look powerless and foolish in the process.  So what do you do?

My modest proposal: tell Fatah and Hamas to hold the election they have purportedly agreed to hold. We might as well find out beforehand what kind of state they are planning. If they can’t manage to hold an election, or field a candidate endorsing recognition of a Jewish state with defensible borders, or elect that candidate, or actually install him in office, it is not clear why a Palestinian state should continue to be a goal of American foreign policy.

Read Less

Hiding in Plain Sight

Hundreds of al Qaeda supporters have taken to the streets to protest the Pakistani government’s alleged involvement in the Osama bin Laden’s death. This may bolster Pakistan’s claims that it was unaware bin Laden was living in Abbotabad, a military garrison town, despite the fact that the terror chief reportedly spent the past five or six years there.

But it’s still hard to imagine that bin Laden could have been living in such a conspicuous fashion for so many years without raising any suspicion from the Pakistani military. His compound was eight times the size of other homes in the neighborhood. He burned his trash instead of leaving it out for pickup like his neighbors. And despite the $1 million pricetag of his house, there were reportedly no phone lines that ran into the compound.

Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari wrote a column in today’s Washington Post denying that he had been aware of the terror leader’s location, but he also failed to address how Pakistani intelligence could have failed so miserably.

“Some in the U.S. press have suggested that Pakistan lacked vitality in its pursuit of terrorism, or worse yet that we were disingenuous and actually protected the terrorists we claimed to be pursuing,” Zardari wrote. “Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn’t reflect fact. Pakistan had as much reason to despise al-Qaeda as any nation.”

That may be the case, but even Brennan said today that the U.S. will launch an investigation into the situation.

“[I]t would be premature to rule out the possibility [that Pakistan was assisting bin Laden],” Brennan said on NPR this morning. “[W]e’re not accusing anybody at this point, but we want to make sure we get to the bottom of this.”

Hundreds of al Qaeda supporters have taken to the streets to protest the Pakistani government’s alleged involvement in the Osama bin Laden’s death. This may bolster Pakistan’s claims that it was unaware bin Laden was living in Abbotabad, a military garrison town, despite the fact that the terror chief reportedly spent the past five or six years there.

But it’s still hard to imagine that bin Laden could have been living in such a conspicuous fashion for so many years without raising any suspicion from the Pakistani military. His compound was eight times the size of other homes in the neighborhood. He burned his trash instead of leaving it out for pickup like his neighbors. And despite the $1 million pricetag of his house, there were reportedly no phone lines that ran into the compound.

Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari wrote a column in today’s Washington Post denying that he had been aware of the terror leader’s location, but he also failed to address how Pakistani intelligence could have failed so miserably.

“Some in the U.S. press have suggested that Pakistan lacked vitality in its pursuit of terrorism, or worse yet that we were disingenuous and actually protected the terrorists we claimed to be pursuing,” Zardari wrote. “Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn’t reflect fact. Pakistan had as much reason to despise al-Qaeda as any nation.”

That may be the case, but even Brennan said today that the U.S. will launch an investigation into the situation.

“[I]t would be premature to rule out the possibility [that Pakistan was assisting bin Laden],” Brennan said on NPR this morning. “[W]e’re not accusing anybody at this point, but we want to make sure we get to the bottom of this.”

Read Less

Time for GOP to Get Serious About Foreign Policy

Since Barack Obama’s election, the debate about his presidency has largely centered on his ambitious domestic agenda. The stimulus boondoggle that expanded the debt but did nothing to help the economy and the vast expansion of entitlements that were part of Obama’s healthcare plan helped galvanize the Republican opposition to the president and paved the way for the GOP’s massive midterm election win last November. Fiscal issues have continued to dominate the discussion since then, but the killing of Osama bin Laden has altered the focus of American politics, at least for the moment. That should be a signal for the Republican presidential field to devote at least some attention to the primary job of any president: foreign policy and security issues.

It’s not as if nobody in the GOP has been talking about foreign policy. Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty have been sharply critical of Obama’s heretofore-apologetic demeanor towards the world. Radical libertarian Ron Paul is an unrepentant isolationist. That’s a foreign policy of a sort, albeit an irrational one. Former United Nations ambassador John Bolton may be running more for the post of secretary of state in a future Republican administration than president, but his largely symbolic candidacy has been all about the need to address the threats we face from abroad.

But with the first Republican presidential debate scheduled for this Thursday in South Carolina on Thursday, security issues are probably moving up on the priority list for the candidates. The race can probably be broken down at this stage into two separate battles.

Read More

Since Barack Obama’s election, the debate about his presidency has largely centered on his ambitious domestic agenda. The stimulus boondoggle that expanded the debt but did nothing to help the economy and the vast expansion of entitlements that were part of Obama’s healthcare plan helped galvanize the Republican opposition to the president and paved the way for the GOP’s massive midterm election win last November. Fiscal issues have continued to dominate the discussion since then, but the killing of Osama bin Laden has altered the focus of American politics, at least for the moment. That should be a signal for the Republican presidential field to devote at least some attention to the primary job of any president: foreign policy and security issues.

It’s not as if nobody in the GOP has been talking about foreign policy. Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty have been sharply critical of Obama’s heretofore-apologetic demeanor towards the world. Radical libertarian Ron Paul is an unrepentant isolationist. That’s a foreign policy of a sort, albeit an irrational one. Former United Nations ambassador John Bolton may be running more for the post of secretary of state in a future Republican administration than president, but his largely symbolic candidacy has been all about the need to address the threats we face from abroad.

But with the first Republican presidential debate scheduled for this Thursday in South Carolina on Thursday, security issues are probably moving up on the priority list for the candidates. The race can probably be broken down at this stage into two separate battles.

There is one battle in which the more establishment-oriented candidates who try to speak as if they could actually be a president are competing against each other. And there is another battle to determine the most viable populist. With Romney opting out of the South Carolina debate (and who can blame him since nothing that happens this early can be termed decisive), Pawlenty has a chance to step to the fore in the first category. It will be interesting to see if the former Minnesota governor who espouses an assertive role in the world for the United States will directly challenge Paul. With bin Laden on everyone’s mind and the need for any presidential challenger to address the fact that he will be running for the post of commander-in-chief and not accountant-in-chief, Pawlenty as well as the others could seize this early opportunity to stake out a position of credibility on foreign affairs.

Unlike 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, bin Laden’s death doesn’t transform the next election the way the 2004 race was altered. Just as the fate of the economy will ultimately determine Obama’s chances of reelection, there is little doubt that stances on fiscal issues will be determinative in the GOP primary.

The only candidate from either party with serious security or foreign policy experience to be elected president in the last 40 years was George H.W. Bush so the current contenders shouldn’t despair. But this week has been a wake-up call for Republicans. If they thought they could cruise through the next election cycle by focusing solely on the budget, they were mistaken. Like it or not, they are going to have to nominate someone whom the country can at least imagine as being capable of ordering American troops into action as Obama has just done.

Read Less

Multitasking Fail

Sen. Bill Nelson was supposed to hold a press conference to combat a Florida election bill yesterday, but it was scheduled before the news broke that Osama bin Laden had been killed. Instead of postponing the presser, Nelson apparently decided to kill two birds with one stone. And you can probably guess how that went down:

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson used the years-long covert operation that culminated last night in the death of the country’s No. 1 enemy to slam a GOP-backed elections overhaul the Senate is slated to vote on today. “We have cut off the head of the snake,” said Nelson, joined in the Capitol by a host of fellow Democrats, voters rights groups and civil rights advocates at a previously-scheduled press conference about the elections package. After congratulating President Barack Obama and the White House administration for killing Osama bin Laden, Nelson paralleled the fight for democracy overseas to Democrats’ fight against the elections package.

Nelson can’t afford these types of political flubs, especially as he gears up for what looks like it will be a tough reelection race in 2012. His political opponents are already taking him to task for the tactless press conference, and rightly so.

“Today I stood on the Senate floor and congratulated President Obama for a job well done by bringing justice to the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks,” said Mike Haridopolos, president of the Florida senate. “Then a few hours later, Senator Bill Nelson stoops to a new low and plays political games by comparing pending legislation to a terrorist organization that has killed thousands of people.” He added that “Bill Nelson should be ashamed of himself.”

Sen. Bill Nelson was supposed to hold a press conference to combat a Florida election bill yesterday, but it was scheduled before the news broke that Osama bin Laden had been killed. Instead of postponing the presser, Nelson apparently decided to kill two birds with one stone. And you can probably guess how that went down:

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson used the years-long covert operation that culminated last night in the death of the country’s No. 1 enemy to slam a GOP-backed elections overhaul the Senate is slated to vote on today. “We have cut off the head of the snake,” said Nelson, joined in the Capitol by a host of fellow Democrats, voters rights groups and civil rights advocates at a previously-scheduled press conference about the elections package. After congratulating President Barack Obama and the White House administration for killing Osama bin Laden, Nelson paralleled the fight for democracy overseas to Democrats’ fight against the elections package.

Nelson can’t afford these types of political flubs, especially as he gears up for what looks like it will be a tough reelection race in 2012. His political opponents are already taking him to task for the tactless press conference, and rightly so.

“Today I stood on the Senate floor and congratulated President Obama for a job well done by bringing justice to the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks,” said Mike Haridopolos, president of the Florida senate. “Then a few hours later, Senator Bill Nelson stoops to a new low and plays political games by comparing pending legislation to a terrorist organization that has killed thousands of people.” He added that “Bill Nelson should be ashamed of himself.”

Read Less

Britain Votes on the Vote

Great Britain votes Thursday on whether to adopt a newfangled electoral system in which voters would rank candidates for office in order of preference. Opinion polling suggests the new voting method, called the alternative vote (or AV for short), is likely to lose. Anyone who would like to see Britain saved from unsustainably high levels of entitlement spending and further submerging in the European Union ought to breathe a sigh of relief.

AV is intended to promote the virtue of proportional representation Its early advocates were Victorian liberals who, fearing the socialistic tendencies of the masses in the coming age of democracy, hoped to find an electoral system that would guarantee the election of economists—whom, never having met Keynes or Krugman, they believed would always support limited government.

Today’s liberals champion AV because they cherish the exact opposite. AV would be proportional in name only: it tends to hurt the Tories badly when they are down and to help Labour when it is up, and it always boosts the Liberal Democrats, Britain’s third party, which both Labour and Tory voters tend to regard as the more acceptable second choice. Indeed, it would award the deciding vote in over 100 constituencies to the Liberals, who not surprisingly have urged the necessity of proportional representation for decades. Worst of all, AV will encourage candidates in all but the safest seats to run in the center. Far from promoting independent candidates, it would empower bland non-entities and friends of big government, who can always promise to benefit the many at the expense of the few.

In a partisan sense, then, AV runs the risk of making the Liberal Democrats the permanent kingmakers of British politics. More importantly, though, it risks cementing the dominance of establishment convictions. It locks in entitlement spending and the subordination of Britain to the EU. If Cameron loses this referendum he will be a failure, regardless of whatever else he achieves, because then he will have made it extremely difficult to elect a government that would genuinely challenge this faded status quo.

Ironically, having demanded the AV referendum as part of the price for supporting the coalition, the Liberals may end up being the reason the referendum goes down to defeat. Support for the Liberals has collapsed over the past year, from the mid-20s to less than half that today. Their supporters believe that they are getting nothing out of the coalition except reproach for backing Tory measures. Nonsense: for one thing, they got this referendum. But the Liberals’ lack of enthusiasm for this achievement is a measure of just how limited is Alternative Vote’s appeal.

Great Britain votes Thursday on whether to adopt a newfangled electoral system in which voters would rank candidates for office in order of preference. Opinion polling suggests the new voting method, called the alternative vote (or AV for short), is likely to lose. Anyone who would like to see Britain saved from unsustainably high levels of entitlement spending and further submerging in the European Union ought to breathe a sigh of relief.

AV is intended to promote the virtue of proportional representation Its early advocates were Victorian liberals who, fearing the socialistic tendencies of the masses in the coming age of democracy, hoped to find an electoral system that would guarantee the election of economists—whom, never having met Keynes or Krugman, they believed would always support limited government.

Today’s liberals champion AV because they cherish the exact opposite. AV would be proportional in name only: it tends to hurt the Tories badly when they are down and to help Labour when it is up, and it always boosts the Liberal Democrats, Britain’s third party, which both Labour and Tory voters tend to regard as the more acceptable second choice. Indeed, it would award the deciding vote in over 100 constituencies to the Liberals, who not surprisingly have urged the necessity of proportional representation for decades. Worst of all, AV will encourage candidates in all but the safest seats to run in the center. Far from promoting independent candidates, it would empower bland non-entities and friends of big government, who can always promise to benefit the many at the expense of the few.

In a partisan sense, then, AV runs the risk of making the Liberal Democrats the permanent kingmakers of British politics. More importantly, though, it risks cementing the dominance of establishment convictions. It locks in entitlement spending and the subordination of Britain to the EU. If Cameron loses this referendum he will be a failure, regardless of whatever else he achieves, because then he will have made it extremely difficult to elect a government that would genuinely challenge this faded status quo.

Ironically, having demanded the AV referendum as part of the price for supporting the coalition, the Liberals may end up being the reason the referendum goes down to defeat. Support for the Liberals has collapsed over the past year, from the mid-20s to less than half that today. Their supporters believe that they are getting nothing out of the coalition except reproach for backing Tory measures. Nonsense: for one thing, they got this referendum. But the Liberals’ lack of enthusiasm for this achievement is a measure of just how limited is Alternative Vote’s appeal.

Read Less

Bin Laden Was Obama’s Circuit Breaker

Among the (many) ways the killing of Osama bin Laden helps President Obama politically is that it acts as a significant circuit breaker.

Prior to the raid that ended with a bullet in the head of bin Laden, a very damaging political narrative was forming. Mr. Obama was seen (with some justification, in my view) as increasingly inept and feckless, a man who preferred to “lead from behind.” Worse for Obama, there was a growing sense that America was in decline, well on the path to becoming a second rate power, and the president saw his task as shepherding us through this phase. The specter of Jimmy Carter was beginning to haunt the Obama administration.

For now, at least, that narrative is stopped in its tracks. It isn’t simply that the raid succeeded; it is the fact that President Obama took a risky (but wise) gamble in opting for sending in Navy SEALs instead of bombing the bin Laden compound to smithereens. The president’s decision was rewarded. Bin Laden was killed; his body has been identified; a treasure trove of intelligence was reportedly found; and innocent lives were saved. Mr. Obama’s role was not incidental in all this; it was his decision that made it come to pass. That won’t be forgotten. Bin Laden, after all, had taken a special place in the moral imagination of the American people. He was an emblem of evil.

This doesn’t mean the president is unbeatable by any means. The objective conditions of the country, most especially in the economy, remain fragile. Obama’s record, including his foreign policy record, won’t be airbrushed from history. And a lot can go wrong in the world between now and 2012. A continued stalemate in Libya, another quarter of anemic growth, higher gas prices in the summer and/or an uptick in unemployment will have a greater effect on the 2012 election than what happened Sunday night in Abbottabad. Killing bin Laden may be seen as a wonderful but isolated incident rather than one that changes the arc of events.

Nevertheless, Osama bin Laden’s death happened on Barack Obama’s watch. He’ll receive credit for that and he’ll deserve it.

Among the (many) ways the killing of Osama bin Laden helps President Obama politically is that it acts as a significant circuit breaker.

Prior to the raid that ended with a bullet in the head of bin Laden, a very damaging political narrative was forming. Mr. Obama was seen (with some justification, in my view) as increasingly inept and feckless, a man who preferred to “lead from behind.” Worse for Obama, there was a growing sense that America was in decline, well on the path to becoming a second rate power, and the president saw his task as shepherding us through this phase. The specter of Jimmy Carter was beginning to haunt the Obama administration.

For now, at least, that narrative is stopped in its tracks. It isn’t simply that the raid succeeded; it is the fact that President Obama took a risky (but wise) gamble in opting for sending in Navy SEALs instead of bombing the bin Laden compound to smithereens. The president’s decision was rewarded. Bin Laden was killed; his body has been identified; a treasure trove of intelligence was reportedly found; and innocent lives were saved. Mr. Obama’s role was not incidental in all this; it was his decision that made it come to pass. That won’t be forgotten. Bin Laden, after all, had taken a special place in the moral imagination of the American people. He was an emblem of evil.

This doesn’t mean the president is unbeatable by any means. The objective conditions of the country, most especially in the economy, remain fragile. Obama’s record, including his foreign policy record, won’t be airbrushed from history. And a lot can go wrong in the world between now and 2012. A continued stalemate in Libya, another quarter of anemic growth, higher gas prices in the summer and/or an uptick in unemployment will have a greater effect on the 2012 election than what happened Sunday night in Abbottabad. Killing bin Laden may be seen as a wonderful but isolated incident rather than one that changes the arc of events.

Nevertheless, Osama bin Laden’s death happened on Barack Obama’s watch. He’ll receive credit for that and he’ll deserve it.

Read Less

Next Up: Zawahiri

The Navy SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden’s enclave ended up netting a trove of computer documents that may lead troops to al Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri:

The hidden trophy of Sunday’s raid: The JSOC team captured intelligence materials from the compound that might reveal the location of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the organization’s new commander. “That’s where we’re going next,” says one U.S. official involved in planning the operation.

While announcing where you’re going next in the Washington Post may not be the stealthiest strategy, it’s great news that the military is on Zawahiri’s trail. With bin Laden’s death, officials say that al Qaeda is now at a tipping point. The quick assassination of the terror mastermind’s likely successor could be the final blow needed to collapse the organization.

The Navy SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden’s enclave ended up netting a trove of computer documents that may lead troops to al Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri:

The hidden trophy of Sunday’s raid: The JSOC team captured intelligence materials from the compound that might reveal the location of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the organization’s new commander. “That’s where we’re going next,” says one U.S. official involved in planning the operation.

While announcing where you’re going next in the Washington Post may not be the stealthiest strategy, it’s great news that the military is on Zawahiri’s trail. With bin Laden’s death, officials say that al Qaeda is now at a tipping point. The quick assassination of the terror mastermind’s likely successor could be the final blow needed to collapse the organization.

Read Less

The Torturous Torture Meme

This morning, the counterattack began against the idea that Bush-era “enhanced interrogation techniques”—extended wakefulness, use of animals to frighten, belly slaps, and most especially the simulated drowning known as “waterboarding”—played a key role in gathering the intelligence that eventually led to bin Laden’s killing. Jane Mayer, the New Yorker writer whose book The Dark Side is essentially the prosecution brief against the Bush administration, wrote: “Funny. You would think that if the C.I.A.’s interrogation of high-value detainees was all it took, the U.S. government would have succeeded in locating bin Laden before 2006, which is when the C.I.A.’s custody of so-called ‘high-value detainees’ ended.” And on Talking Points Memo, Brian Beutler uses an updated piece of information from an AP story yesterday to demonstrate that “the rationale for giving the Bush [sic] credit for bin Laden’s death falls apart.” Here’s the detail he quotes: “Mohammed did not reveal the names while being subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, former officials said. He identified them many months later under standard interrogation, they said, leaving it once again up for debate as to whether the harsh technique was a valuable tool or an unnecessarily violent tactic.”

So according to Mayer and Beutler, the fact that Khalid Sheikh Muhammad was broken through the use of these techniques and turned into a useful source for intelligence doesn’t matter, because he may not have revealed the information itself during a waterboarding session. That is exceptionally ludicrous and sophistic, though predictable, because people like them were responsible for turning the “torture meme” into a ju-jitsu attack method on the war on terror itself.

The truth is that there is far too much we don’t know here, and many people who are talking about the events surrounding the intelligence themselves know absolutely nothing about what went down and are just talking to aggrandize themselves. (This is a particular weakness with reporting on intelligence issues. In my experience, there is no field on earth about which people who claim to be experts flat-out lie more than  intelligence. It seems to draw fantasists and frauds and deceivers.)  Even the people who do know don’t know, as we learned yesterday after it turned out that some of the stunning details offered by White House terrorism chief John Brennan about bin Laden’s being armed and using a wife as a human shield were likely wrong.

This morning, the counterattack began against the idea that Bush-era “enhanced interrogation techniques”—extended wakefulness, use of animals to frighten, belly slaps, and most especially the simulated drowning known as “waterboarding”—played a key role in gathering the intelligence that eventually led to bin Laden’s killing. Jane Mayer, the New Yorker writer whose book The Dark Side is essentially the prosecution brief against the Bush administration, wrote: “Funny. You would think that if the C.I.A.’s interrogation of high-value detainees was all it took, the U.S. government would have succeeded in locating bin Laden before 2006, which is when the C.I.A.’s custody of so-called ‘high-value detainees’ ended.” And on Talking Points Memo, Brian Beutler uses an updated piece of information from an AP story yesterday to demonstrate that “the rationale for giving the Bush [sic] credit for bin Laden’s death falls apart.” Here’s the detail he quotes: “Mohammed did not reveal the names while being subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, former officials said. He identified them many months later under standard interrogation, they said, leaving it once again up for debate as to whether the harsh technique was a valuable tool or an unnecessarily violent tactic.”

So according to Mayer and Beutler, the fact that Khalid Sheikh Muhammad was broken through the use of these techniques and turned into a useful source for intelligence doesn’t matter, because he may not have revealed the information itself during a waterboarding session. That is exceptionally ludicrous and sophistic, though predictable, because people like them were responsible for turning the “torture meme” into a ju-jitsu attack method on the war on terror itself.

The truth is that there is far too much we don’t know here, and many people who are talking about the events surrounding the intelligence themselves know absolutely nothing about what went down and are just talking to aggrandize themselves. (This is a particular weakness with reporting on intelligence issues. In my experience, there is no field on earth about which people who claim to be experts flat-out lie more than  intelligence. It seems to draw fantasists and frauds and deceivers.)  Even the people who do know don’t know, as we learned yesterday after it turned out that some of the stunning details offered by White House terrorism chief John Brennan about bin Laden’s being armed and using a wife as a human shield were likely wrong.

Read Less

President Obama Deserves the Nobel Prize After All

Let’s face it—President Obama is starting to deserve the Nobel Prize he received in December 2009, although it is unlikely that this is what the mild-mannered Norwegians had in mind in awarding it to him.

Obama promised to close Guantanamo—no doubt a factor for the Nobel Committee. Yet Guantanamo is still there, and we now know that it was intelligence dug up at Guantanamo that led to Osama bin Laden’s liquidation.

Before becoming president, Obama was an anti-war candidate—yet he ordered the surge in Afghanistan, expanded the aggressive use of predator-drone strikes on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border, and endorsed the Libya no-fly zone. Again, probably not what the Committee had in mind.

Speaking of which—the killing of Osama bin Laden is the kind of extrajudicial killings (I prefer the more sanguine “targeted assassinations”) that invariably secures condemnation for Israel at the UN Human Rights Council, the European Parliament, and other august institutions whose mind-set is on the same wavelength as the Nobel Committee. Can you imagine Ariel Sharon’s winning the Nobel Prize for having Sheikh Ahmed Yassin eliminated? Obama’s dispatching of Osama bin Laden to the flaming depths of hell is not the first instance of this president ordering the termination of a jihadist (see under: drones, above). With any luck, it will not be the last time either.

Finally, Obama was the multilateralist president—respectful of international law, keen on the UN, open to dialogue, ready for negotiation, mindful of the sensitivities of other cultures and countries. One more reason for the Nobel Peace Prize. How does his reputation for multilateralism square with conducting such a daring military operation without even asking permission to Pakistan—the fugitive’s host country?

Obama’s first, magnificent foreign-policy success resulted from going against all the reasons that probably brought him the Prize in the first place. Good on him—and a vote of thanks to America and its firepower, still the best guarantees for making the world a safer place.

Let’s face it—President Obama is starting to deserve the Nobel Prize he received in December 2009, although it is unlikely that this is what the mild-mannered Norwegians had in mind in awarding it to him.

Obama promised to close Guantanamo—no doubt a factor for the Nobel Committee. Yet Guantanamo is still there, and we now know that it was intelligence dug up at Guantanamo that led to Osama bin Laden’s liquidation.

Before becoming president, Obama was an anti-war candidate—yet he ordered the surge in Afghanistan, expanded the aggressive use of predator-drone strikes on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border, and endorsed the Libya no-fly zone. Again, probably not what the Committee had in mind.

Speaking of which—the killing of Osama bin Laden is the kind of extrajudicial killings (I prefer the more sanguine “targeted assassinations”) that invariably secures condemnation for Israel at the UN Human Rights Council, the European Parliament, and other august institutions whose mind-set is on the same wavelength as the Nobel Committee. Can you imagine Ariel Sharon’s winning the Nobel Prize for having Sheikh Ahmed Yassin eliminated? Obama’s dispatching of Osama bin Laden to the flaming depths of hell is not the first instance of this president ordering the termination of a jihadist (see under: drones, above). With any luck, it will not be the last time either.

Finally, Obama was the multilateralist president—respectful of international law, keen on the UN, open to dialogue, ready for negotiation, mindful of the sensitivities of other cultures and countries. One more reason for the Nobel Peace Prize. How does his reputation for multilateralism square with conducting such a daring military operation without even asking permission to Pakistan—the fugitive’s host country?

Obama’s first, magnificent foreign-policy success resulted from going against all the reasons that probably brought him the Prize in the first place. Good on him—and a vote of thanks to America and its firepower, still the best guarantees for making the world a safer place.

Read Less

O Canada! They Got That One Right

Attempts to treat elections in separate countries as part of an international trend are usually foolish if not downright misleading. So the Conservative Party victory in yesterday’s Canadian election should not be interpreted as either a followup to last November’s Republican victory in the United States or a foreshadowing of a GOP win in 2012. All politics is local, and Stephen Harper’s big victory is strictly a Canadian deal.

The reasons for that victory are complicated. After several years of leading a government with only a minority of seats in parliament, Harper finally convinced Canadians that it was time to trust the Tories with a majority. The Liberals were undercut by the rise of the leftist New Democratic Party, and the Liberal leader, former Harvard professor Michael Ignatieff, fell flat. Ignatieff lost his own seat as well as the national election. Perhaps Canadians agreed with William F. Buckley, who once said he’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.

In Canada, the Conservatives aren’t very conservative, at least not by American standards. And even Harper, who is very conservative by Canadian standards, wouldn’t be considered much of a right-winger south of the border. But unlike many Canadians who seem to define themselves primarily as non-Americans, Harper is a true friend of the United States and someone who understands the importance of the West’s standing up for its values and collective security. He is also a good friend of the State of Israel, an increasingly rare commodity in international affairs.

So even though the Canadian vote has nothing to do with our own political battles, Americans should be cheered by Harper’s victory. As their anthem says, under his leadership Canada will remain the “True North, strong and free.”

Attempts to treat elections in separate countries as part of an international trend are usually foolish if not downright misleading. So the Conservative Party victory in yesterday’s Canadian election should not be interpreted as either a followup to last November’s Republican victory in the United States or a foreshadowing of a GOP win in 2012. All politics is local, and Stephen Harper’s big victory is strictly a Canadian deal.

The reasons for that victory are complicated. After several years of leading a government with only a minority of seats in parliament, Harper finally convinced Canadians that it was time to trust the Tories with a majority. The Liberals were undercut by the rise of the leftist New Democratic Party, and the Liberal leader, former Harvard professor Michael Ignatieff, fell flat. Ignatieff lost his own seat as well as the national election. Perhaps Canadians agreed with William F. Buckley, who once said he’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.

In Canada, the Conservatives aren’t very conservative, at least not by American standards. And even Harper, who is very conservative by Canadian standards, wouldn’t be considered much of a right-winger south of the border. But unlike many Canadians who seem to define themselves primarily as non-Americans, Harper is a true friend of the United States and someone who understands the importance of the West’s standing up for its values and collective security. He is also a good friend of the State of Israel, an increasingly rare commodity in international affairs.

So even though the Canadian vote has nothing to do with our own political battles, Americans should be cheered by Harper’s victory. As their anthem says, under his leadership Canada will remain the “True North, strong and free.”

Read Less

The Intellectual Dishonesty of Nancy Pelosi

Here’s Nancy Pelosi from a press conference on September 7, 2006:

[E]ven if [Osama bin Laden] is caught tomorrow, it is five years too late. He has done more damage the longer he has been out there. But, in fact, the damage that he has done . . . is done. And even to capture him now I don’t think makes us any safer.

And here’s Nancy Pelosi yesterday:

The death of Osama bin Laden marks the most significant development in our fight against al-Qaida. . . . I salute President Obama, his national security team, Director Panetta, our men and women in the intelligence community and military, and other nations who supported this effort for their leadership in achieving this major accomplishment. . . . [T]he death of Osama bin Laden is historic. . . .

This devastating then-and-now comparison comes to us courtesy of John Hinderaker of Power Line. It underscores the degree to which partisanship can ravage people’s fair-mindedness and, in the process, make them look like fools and hacks. Such things aren’t uncommon in politics—but what is rare is to see such intellectual dishonesty proven so conclusively.

Here’s Nancy Pelosi from a press conference on September 7, 2006:

[E]ven if [Osama bin Laden] is caught tomorrow, it is five years too late. He has done more damage the longer he has been out there. But, in fact, the damage that he has done . . . is done. And even to capture him now I don’t think makes us any safer.

And here’s Nancy Pelosi yesterday:

The death of Osama bin Laden marks the most significant development in our fight against al-Qaida. . . . I salute President Obama, his national security team, Director Panetta, our men and women in the intelligence community and military, and other nations who supported this effort for their leadership in achieving this major accomplishment. . . . [T]he death of Osama bin Laden is historic. . . .

This devastating then-and-now comparison comes to us courtesy of John Hinderaker of Power Line. It underscores the degree to which partisanship can ravage people’s fair-mindedness and, in the process, make them look like fools and hacks. Such things aren’t uncommon in politics—but what is rare is to see such intellectual dishonesty proven so conclusively.

Read Less

Are Muslims Insulted that Bin Laden Sleeps with the Fishes?

The U.S. may have wanted to highlight its respect for Islam—“the United States is not . . . at war with Islam,” the president stressed again on Sunday night—but it appears that the niceties that attended to the burial at sea of Osama bin Laden have not been greeted with acclaim by those whom the administration wished to mollify. John O. Brennan, President Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser consulted with “Islamic experts” to make sure that bin Laden’s corpse was handled in accord with Islamic law, but according to the New York Times, the reaction to this in the Muslim world is mixed. In a story that appeared on Wednesday under the headline, “Islamic Scholars Split Over Sea Burial for Bin Laden,” the paper claims that several such scholars and clerics whom it consulted were of the opinion that the burial at sea “was an insult to Muslims.” The right thing to do, they believed, was for the United States to bury him “on land in a simple grave.”

But the paper doesn’t elaborate on the religious reasons why this was an insult. Were Muslim sailors never buried at sea? Other than the desire on the part of his apostles to have a shrine to visit, what is the theological objection to Osama’s sleeping with the fishes? If there is one, the Grey Lady hasn’t managed to get anyone to explain what it might be. The Times also appears to have struck out in coaxing an Islamic scholar who objected to the burial to speak on the record. Although the whole point of the piece was to explore Muslim reactions to bin Laden’s death rites, in fact, the only source quoted by name was Akbar Ahmed, the chairman of the Islamic studies department at American University, who didn’t express an opinion about this alleged insult but only explained the dangers of a land burial.

Despite the sexy headline, in other words, the Times went hunting for Muslims who were insulted by the burial, but found no one who would do so on the record. That they went ahead and published the story anyway speaks volumes about the agenda of the editors who assigned this bogus piece and pushed it through to publication despite the paper’s failure to prove its case.

The U.S. may have wanted to highlight its respect for Islam—“the United States is not . . . at war with Islam,” the president stressed again on Sunday night—but it appears that the niceties that attended to the burial at sea of Osama bin Laden have not been greeted with acclaim by those whom the administration wished to mollify. John O. Brennan, President Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser consulted with “Islamic experts” to make sure that bin Laden’s corpse was handled in accord with Islamic law, but according to the New York Times, the reaction to this in the Muslim world is mixed. In a story that appeared on Wednesday under the headline, “Islamic Scholars Split Over Sea Burial for Bin Laden,” the paper claims that several such scholars and clerics whom it consulted were of the opinion that the burial at sea “was an insult to Muslims.” The right thing to do, they believed, was for the United States to bury him “on land in a simple grave.”

But the paper doesn’t elaborate on the religious reasons why this was an insult. Were Muslim sailors never buried at sea? Other than the desire on the part of his apostles to have a shrine to visit, what is the theological objection to Osama’s sleeping with the fishes? If there is one, the Grey Lady hasn’t managed to get anyone to explain what it might be. The Times also appears to have struck out in coaxing an Islamic scholar who objected to the burial to speak on the record. Although the whole point of the piece was to explore Muslim reactions to bin Laden’s death rites, in fact, the only source quoted by name was Akbar Ahmed, the chairman of the Islamic studies department at American University, who didn’t express an opinion about this alleged insult but only explained the dangers of a land burial.

Despite the sexy headline, in other words, the Times went hunting for Muslims who were insulted by the burial, but found no one who would do so on the record. That they went ahead and published the story anyway speaks volumes about the agenda of the editors who assigned this bogus piece and pushed it through to publication despite the paper’s failure to prove its case.

Read Less

Warning: American Intelligence May Be Harmful to Your Health

The U.S. government spends roughly $80 billion a year to gather intelligence. Much of that budget is wasted by a hideously bloated bureaucracy (as intelligence community veterans will readily attest in private and sometimes in public). But we certainly got our money’s worth with the operation that took down Osama bin Laden.

Kudos to the CIA, the NSA, and the rest of the intelligence community for finally tracking down the world’s most wanted man: no small feat, given how easy it is for a fugitive to hide even in the United States, much less in a vast, alien place like Pakistan. Not only did the spooks get their man, they managed to do so in secrecy. It is fascinating to read that the CIA has been on the trail of  bin Laden’s courier—a trail that ultimately led to the leader of Al Qaeda—since last summer, and no one in the wider world had any idea. Given how hard it is to hold a secret in the age of Woodward and WikiLeaks, that is a significant accomplishment.

Now, with bin Laden gone, it will be possible to redirect significant resources to other targets. The remaining Al Qaeda Central leadership, headed now presumably by Ayman al Zawahiri, is an obvious target. As they try to reorganize after bin Laden’s death, they may well make themselves even more vulnerable. But there are also plenty of other Islamist terrorists in places like Yemen, as well as other groups based in Pakistan (e.g. the Haqqani network), that deserve more attention from the intel community. As bin Laden learned, attracting the full attention of the American intel community—and its de-facto strike arm, the Joint Special Operations Command whose SEALs carried out the raid in Pakistan—can be fatal.

The U.S. government spends roughly $80 billion a year to gather intelligence. Much of that budget is wasted by a hideously bloated bureaucracy (as intelligence community veterans will readily attest in private and sometimes in public). But we certainly got our money’s worth with the operation that took down Osama bin Laden.

Kudos to the CIA, the NSA, and the rest of the intelligence community for finally tracking down the world’s most wanted man: no small feat, given how easy it is for a fugitive to hide even in the United States, much less in a vast, alien place like Pakistan. Not only did the spooks get their man, they managed to do so in secrecy. It is fascinating to read that the CIA has been on the trail of  bin Laden’s courier—a trail that ultimately led to the leader of Al Qaeda—since last summer, and no one in the wider world had any idea. Given how hard it is to hold a secret in the age of Woodward and WikiLeaks, that is a significant accomplishment.

Now, with bin Laden gone, it will be possible to redirect significant resources to other targets. The remaining Al Qaeda Central leadership, headed now presumably by Ayman al Zawahiri, is an obvious target. As they try to reorganize after bin Laden’s death, they may well make themselves even more vulnerable. But there are also plenty of other Islamist terrorists in places like Yemen, as well as other groups based in Pakistan (e.g. the Haqqani network), that deserve more attention from the intel community. As bin Laden learned, attracting the full attention of the American intel community—and its de-facto strike arm, the Joint Special Operations Command whose SEALs carried out the raid in Pakistan—can be fatal.

Read Less

The Difference Between Bush in 1992 and Obama in 2012

Like a great many other writers, yesterday I noted the expectations that the killing Osama bin Laden sewed up the 2012 election for President Obama are, at best, premature. As proof, I cited, as did many others, the example of President George H. W. Bush who was assumed in 1991 to be unbeatable the following year because of America’s smashing victory in the first Persian Gulf War. But a poor economy, a Republican base demoralized by the president’s broken promise on tax cuts (“read my lips”), and the emergence of a viable third party bid by Ross Perot all combined to make the elder Bush a one-term president.

But while Obama loyalists shouldn’t book their second inaugural hotel rooms yet, Republicans shouldn’t rely on the 1992 precedent. On closer examination, the differences between that election and the one we will hold next year are far greater than the similarities.

The difference between the effect of the Gulf War victory on Bush and the bin Laden factor for Obama is that Bush, like most Republicans already had a solid reputation on security issues. By contrast, Obama, like most Democrats, has always been more vulnerable on the war and peace front. The killing of bin Laden, which will allow Obama’s supporters to portray him as a decisive and successful commander-in-chief, buttresses his presidency on an issue that was always a potential weak point. The death of bin Laden has the potential to be a greater boost for him than the Gulf War was for the first Bush.

Read More

Like a great many other writers, yesterday I noted the expectations that the killing Osama bin Laden sewed up the 2012 election for President Obama are, at best, premature. As proof, I cited, as did many others, the example of President George H. W. Bush who was assumed in 1991 to be unbeatable the following year because of America’s smashing victory in the first Persian Gulf War. But a poor economy, a Republican base demoralized by the president’s broken promise on tax cuts (“read my lips”), and the emergence of a viable third party bid by Ross Perot all combined to make the elder Bush a one-term president.

But while Obama loyalists shouldn’t book their second inaugural hotel rooms yet, Republicans shouldn’t rely on the 1992 precedent. On closer examination, the differences between that election and the one we will hold next year are far greater than the similarities.

The difference between the effect of the Gulf War victory on Bush and the bin Laden factor for Obama is that Bush, like most Republicans already had a solid reputation on security issues. By contrast, Obama, like most Democrats, has always been more vulnerable on the war and peace front. The killing of bin Laden, which will allow Obama’s supporters to portray him as a decisive and successful commander-in-chief, buttresses his presidency on an issue that was always a potential weak point. The death of bin Laden has the potential to be a greater boost for him than the Gulf War was for the first Bush.

It is true a stalled economy that generates higher unemployment numbers than the ones Obama inherited in January 2009 could doom his reelection bid. Skyrocketing gasoline prices could also spell trouble for him. If unrest in the Middle East sends the price to $5 per gallon or even higher, Obama is in big trouble. Bin Laden’s death won’t save him if the economy is in a downward spiral. But most pundits who are invoking the specter of 1992 to cheer up Obama critics or sober up his friends are forgetting the most decisive factors in that election: Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot.

Buchanan’s primary challenge to Bush gave a focus to Republican dissatisfaction with the president. It unsettled and demoralized the party base, and as has been the case in other elections where the incumbent faced a serious primary opponent, undermined Bush’s chances of winning the general election.

As damaging as Buchanan’s candidacy was to Bush, Perot’s third party movement with its focus on the rising deficit made mincemeat of the GOP’s 1988 electoral arithmetic. While some analysts claimed that Perot drew votes from Democrats as well as Republicans, there is little question that his entry in the race was the key element that elected Bill Clinton.

Barack Obama will be far luckier. As the first African-American president, Obama is inoculated against a serious primary challenge. No matter what happens in the year ahead, the odds are heavily against a Democrat of any stature or hopes of a political future stepping forward to run against him. As for the third party factor, while the crackpot left will probably have a candidate or two on the ballot in November 2012, this won’t affect the outcome in any way. Unlike Bill Clinton, Obama’s GOP opponent next year will have to beat the president by himself.

No election is won 19 months before the votes are counted. Obama’s reelection remains a hostage to fate. The ups and downs of the economy will have more to do with his reelection or defeat than the death of bin Laden. But his chances have clearly been strengthened by this event and it would be foolish for Republicans to believe that the example of 1992 provides much comfort for them.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.