Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 4, 2011

Obama’s Reality Principle, or Lack of It

According to Sam Stein in The Huffington Post:

Officials inside the Obama administration have grown discouraged by the abruptness with which the news over the killing of Osama bin Laden has turned into a debate over the efficacy of harsh interrogation techniques and torture. Just days after the al Qaeda leader was killed in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, the political conversation has shifted from the implications of the assassination to questions of whether the waterboarding of valuable detainees was crucial in gathering intelligence on bin Laden’s whereabouts.

But in this context, Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs) are a perfectly legitimate, and indeed an important, matter to discuss. After all, Barack Obama was a fierce critic of EITs during and after the 2008 campaign. In his speech at the National Archives, President Obama said about his predecessor: “Our government made decisions based upon fear rather than foresight and all too often trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions.”

A man of uncommon ideological rigidity, Obama must now know—at least on some level—that what President Bush did was based on foresight rather than fear. Obama is now reaping the rewards of the intelligence architecture put in place by his predecessor, and which Obama himself opposed. This appears to be a sore point within the administration. Obama seems to want all the credit for himself, even if it is undeserved.

How totally out of character for him.

In the same National Archives speech, Obama said this about EITs, “[T]hey did not advance our war and counter-terrorism efforts—they undermined them, and that is why I ended them once and for all.” Gosh, that doesn’t really seem to be the case now, does it? As Marc Thiessen writes, “[I]t turns out that the very CIA interrogators whose lives Obama turned upside down played a critical role in what the president rightly calls ‘the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.’ ”

The president seems to be having a hard time processing this reality, perhaps because it doesn’t appear to fit into his ideological predispositions.

Too bad.

According to Sam Stein in The Huffington Post:

Officials inside the Obama administration have grown discouraged by the abruptness with which the news over the killing of Osama bin Laden has turned into a debate over the efficacy of harsh interrogation techniques and torture. Just days after the al Qaeda leader was killed in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, the political conversation has shifted from the implications of the assassination to questions of whether the waterboarding of valuable detainees was crucial in gathering intelligence on bin Laden’s whereabouts.

But in this context, Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs) are a perfectly legitimate, and indeed an important, matter to discuss. After all, Barack Obama was a fierce critic of EITs during and after the 2008 campaign. In his speech at the National Archives, President Obama said about his predecessor: “Our government made decisions based upon fear rather than foresight and all too often trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions.”

A man of uncommon ideological rigidity, Obama must now know—at least on some level—that what President Bush did was based on foresight rather than fear. Obama is now reaping the rewards of the intelligence architecture put in place by his predecessor, and which Obama himself opposed. This appears to be a sore point within the administration. Obama seems to want all the credit for himself, even if it is undeserved.

How totally out of character for him.

In the same National Archives speech, Obama said this about EITs, “[T]hey did not advance our war and counter-terrorism efforts—they undermined them, and that is why I ended them once and for all.” Gosh, that doesn’t really seem to be the case now, does it? As Marc Thiessen writes, “[I]t turns out that the very CIA interrogators whose lives Obama turned upside down played a critical role in what the president rightly calls ‘the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.’ ”

The president seems to be having a hard time processing this reality, perhaps because it doesn’t appear to fit into his ideological predispositions.

Too bad.

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RE: Spiking the Football, Mr. President?

Barack Obama’s decision not to release the bin Laden photos put me in mind of another photo scandal. Cast your thoughts back to April, 2009, when stories like this one in the Los Angeles Times headlined “Obama administration to release Bush-era detainee photos” were in bloom:

The Obama administration agreed late Thursday to release dozens of photographs depicting alleged abuses at U.S. prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush White House.

The decision will make public for the first time photos obtained in military investigations at facilities other than the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

That, you see, was “spiking the football,” and not after scoring against al Qaeda, but against the Bush administration. Eventually the Obama administration came to its senses and held the photos back. But it’s more than slightly irksome that when it came to evidence of American misconduct the president’s instincts were practically exhibitionist and when it’s time to confirm American strength and achievement, bashfulness sets in.

UPDATE: According to today’s Telegraph (take that as you will), “President Barack Obama is to release up to 2,000 photographs of alleged abuse at American prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan in a move which will reignite the scandal surrounding Abu Ghraib prison in 2004.” If this is accurate (and no one yet is confirming it), its concurrence with Obama’s refusal to release the bin Laden photos it is an example of spectacular and offensive White House discombobulation beyond imagining.

Barack Obama’s decision not to release the bin Laden photos put me in mind of another photo scandal. Cast your thoughts back to April, 2009, when stories like this one in the Los Angeles Times headlined “Obama administration to release Bush-era detainee photos” were in bloom:

The Obama administration agreed late Thursday to release dozens of photographs depicting alleged abuses at U.S. prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush White House.

The decision will make public for the first time photos obtained in military investigations at facilities other than the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

That, you see, was “spiking the football,” and not after scoring against al Qaeda, but against the Bush administration. Eventually the Obama administration came to its senses and held the photos back. But it’s more than slightly irksome that when it came to evidence of American misconduct the president’s instincts were practically exhibitionist and when it’s time to confirm American strength and achievement, bashfulness sets in.

UPDATE: According to today’s Telegraph (take that as you will), “President Barack Obama is to release up to 2,000 photographs of alleged abuse at American prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan in a move which will reignite the scandal surrounding Abu Ghraib prison in 2004.” If this is accurate (and no one yet is confirming it), its concurrence with Obama’s refusal to release the bin Laden photos it is an example of spectacular and offensive White House discombobulation beyond imagining.

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Not Too Late for Daniels to Run, or to Formulate a Foreign Policy

Mitch Daniels appeared at the American Enterprise Institute today (you can watch his speech here on YouTube) to speak about the education reforms he pushed through in the recently concluded session of the Indiana General Assembly. But inevitably, the subject of his possible presidential campaign came up. Daniels didn’t have an answer but he did protest that he has plenty of time to decide.

He’s right about that. Despite the eagerness of the press corps to begin reporting on his candidacy and the desperation of many Republicans who are lamenting the thin field of declared contenders, Daniels can take as much time as he wants in deciding. In fact, the longer he waits the better it will probably be for him. The prolonged and artificially-enhanced tension that such a wait will provoke among voters and the press can only make him seem more desirable. Spending the summer chasing around Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina with the likes of Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain won’t enhance his desirability to GOP primary voters or caucus-goers. But a summer spent keeping the press and the party on their edge of their collective chairs waiting for his decision will make his eventual decision seem as if it is being handed down from Mount Sinai.

But as this week’s events ought to have brought home to him, Daniels should spend some of that time formulating some coherent positions on foreign policy. As governor of Indiana, he could afford to ignore security issues and concentrate on being America’s leading fiscal conservative/domestic policy wonk. As a presidential candidate, Daniels will need to present a viable case for his being a commander-in-chief. He will need to communicate a vision of how to deal with threats from Iran and its terrorist allies as well as the many other foreign policy dilemmas the next president will face.

Keeping us all guessing about his willingness to run is one thing. Keeping us guessing about his positions on war and peace is quite another.

Mitch Daniels appeared at the American Enterprise Institute today (you can watch his speech here on YouTube) to speak about the education reforms he pushed through in the recently concluded session of the Indiana General Assembly. But inevitably, the subject of his possible presidential campaign came up. Daniels didn’t have an answer but he did protest that he has plenty of time to decide.

He’s right about that. Despite the eagerness of the press corps to begin reporting on his candidacy and the desperation of many Republicans who are lamenting the thin field of declared contenders, Daniels can take as much time as he wants in deciding. In fact, the longer he waits the better it will probably be for him. The prolonged and artificially-enhanced tension that such a wait will provoke among voters and the press can only make him seem more desirable. Spending the summer chasing around Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina with the likes of Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain won’t enhance his desirability to GOP primary voters or caucus-goers. But a summer spent keeping the press and the party on their edge of their collective chairs waiting for his decision will make his eventual decision seem as if it is being handed down from Mount Sinai.

But as this week’s events ought to have brought home to him, Daniels should spend some of that time formulating some coherent positions on foreign policy. As governor of Indiana, he could afford to ignore security issues and concentrate on being America’s leading fiscal conservative/domestic policy wonk. As a presidential candidate, Daniels will need to present a viable case for his being a commander-in-chief. He will need to communicate a vision of how to deal with threats from Iran and its terrorist allies as well as the many other foreign policy dilemmas the next president will face.

Keeping us all guessing about his willingness to run is one thing. Keeping us guessing about his positions on war and peace is quite another.

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Playing the Victim Card to Deflect Any Questions

Every so often—usually after a terrorist attack, or when the country is preparing to have an honest discussion about Islamic terrorism—certain American Muslim organizations will suddenly start voicing concerns about a looming anti-Muslim “backlash” in the U.S. We’re always told that this phantom backlash will lead to a surge in hate-crimes, a claim that’s invariably debunked later by FBI statistics.

So it’s not a major surprise to see some of these groups asserting that the celebrations of Osama bin Laden’s death will lead to this same sort of backlash.

Meri Ayoub, of the Islamic Center of Minnesota said that, “I think there’s going to be a short period of time where we’re not going to be as safe. . . . The words, ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslims’ are back in the media, and they have polarized people again.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations also worried that the revived patriotism could cause anti-Muslim sentiment.

“The elation and the celebrations that are going on around the country are understandable,” said Edgar Hopida of San Diego’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “The hyper-patriotism that goes on with that. . . . It leads to things like harassing Muslim Americans.”

Some groups pointed to the vandalism of a mosque in Portland, Maine, after bin Laden’s death as evidence of this alleged hate-crime wave, and called for heightened security at Islamic prayer centers. The incident also caused some to cancel plans for rallies supporting the killing of bin Laden.

“Saba Ahmed of the Islamic Society of Greater Portland, who had planned the rally, said there’s been no specific or direct threat to local Muslims,” a Portland news site reported. “But after vandalism to a mosque on the East Coast and reading angry Internet posts aimed at American Muslims, they were concerned someone with bad intentions might come to the square. They didn’t want to put anyone in harms’ way.”

The killing of Osama bin Laden was a major victory for moderate Muslims, so why would these organizations try to scale back the celebration? Muslim leaders may legitimately fear hate-crimes, but in this way they are also able to avoid discussing uncomfortable or inconvenient aspects of Islam. Playing the victim card is a foolproof way for these groups to deflect any serious questions about where they stand on the issues.

Every so often—usually after a terrorist attack, or when the country is preparing to have an honest discussion about Islamic terrorism—certain American Muslim organizations will suddenly start voicing concerns about a looming anti-Muslim “backlash” in the U.S. We’re always told that this phantom backlash will lead to a surge in hate-crimes, a claim that’s invariably debunked later by FBI statistics.

So it’s not a major surprise to see some of these groups asserting that the celebrations of Osama bin Laden’s death will lead to this same sort of backlash.

Meri Ayoub, of the Islamic Center of Minnesota said that, “I think there’s going to be a short period of time where we’re not going to be as safe. . . . The words, ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslims’ are back in the media, and they have polarized people again.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations also worried that the revived patriotism could cause anti-Muslim sentiment.

“The elation and the celebrations that are going on around the country are understandable,” said Edgar Hopida of San Diego’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “The hyper-patriotism that goes on with that. . . . It leads to things like harassing Muslim Americans.”

Some groups pointed to the vandalism of a mosque in Portland, Maine, after bin Laden’s death as evidence of this alleged hate-crime wave, and called for heightened security at Islamic prayer centers. The incident also caused some to cancel plans for rallies supporting the killing of bin Laden.

“Saba Ahmed of the Islamic Society of Greater Portland, who had planned the rally, said there’s been no specific or direct threat to local Muslims,” a Portland news site reported. “But after vandalism to a mosque on the East Coast and reading angry Internet posts aimed at American Muslims, they were concerned someone with bad intentions might come to the square. They didn’t want to put anyone in harms’ way.”

The killing of Osama bin Laden was a major victory for moderate Muslims, so why would these organizations try to scale back the celebration? Muslim leaders may legitimately fear hate-crimes, but in this way they are also able to avoid discussing uncomfortable or inconvenient aspects of Islam. Playing the victim card is a foolproof way for these groups to deflect any serious questions about where they stand on the issues.

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Spiking the Football, Mr. President?

So the president has decided not to release the photos of a dead Osama bin Laden, even though we were told the photos had been taken to ensure the world would believe that bin Laden had been killed. I suspect there’s more to this decision than we know, given that CIA director Leon Panetta had promised flatly they would be seen. (A friend speculates, wildly and with no proof but interestingly, that Bin Laden, known to have had kidney disease requiring dialysis, might have been in a wheelchair.)  There are good arguments on both sides for releasing and not releasing; this isn’t a clear-cut call. But now, for some reason, the president himself is acting as though it is not only a clear-cut call, but a deeply moral call—and suggesting if you disagree with him that you’re somehow un-American or a bad sport. This is what he said to 60 Minutes:

“We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies,” Mr. Obama added…In explaining his choice not to release the photo, Mr. Obama said that “we don’t need to spike the football.” He said that “given the graphic nature of the photo it would create a national security risk.”

If he believes releasing the pictures would be injurious to national security, then fine. I understand Obama doesn’t want to give unnecessary offense to the world community, and he knows more about what the photos look like than the rest of us, and ultimately it’s his call. But what about Obama’s sensitivity toward Americans? To suggest that those in this country who believe such a photo should be seen are just trying to “spike the football” because they want to “trot out trophies” is to liken them to end-zone gloaters showing bad sportsmanship. At a moment when he is preaching the glories and need for unity, that is an awfully disunifying tone to strike.

So the president has decided not to release the photos of a dead Osama bin Laden, even though we were told the photos had been taken to ensure the world would believe that bin Laden had been killed. I suspect there’s more to this decision than we know, given that CIA director Leon Panetta had promised flatly they would be seen. (A friend speculates, wildly and with no proof but interestingly, that Bin Laden, known to have had kidney disease requiring dialysis, might have been in a wheelchair.)  There are good arguments on both sides for releasing and not releasing; this isn’t a clear-cut call. But now, for some reason, the president himself is acting as though it is not only a clear-cut call, but a deeply moral call—and suggesting if you disagree with him that you’re somehow un-American or a bad sport. This is what he said to 60 Minutes:

“We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies,” Mr. Obama added…In explaining his choice not to release the photo, Mr. Obama said that “we don’t need to spike the football.” He said that “given the graphic nature of the photo it would create a national security risk.”

If he believes releasing the pictures would be injurious to national security, then fine. I understand Obama doesn’t want to give unnecessary offense to the world community, and he knows more about what the photos look like than the rest of us, and ultimately it’s his call. But what about Obama’s sensitivity toward Americans? To suggest that those in this country who believe such a photo should be seen are just trying to “spike the football” because they want to “trot out trophies” is to liken them to end-zone gloaters showing bad sportsmanship. At a moment when he is preaching the glories and need for unity, that is an awfully disunifying tone to strike.

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Human Rights Chief Condemns Bin Laden Killing

So far, many left-wing groups have either welcomed the Osama bin Laden killing or stayed mum about it, but the director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, took to twitter to condemn the alleged lack of “due process” for the terror leader:

Kenneth Roth opined on bin Laden’s death via his Twitter account (@KenRoth), taking aim at comments made by the U.N.’s secretary-general: “Ban Ki-moon wrong on #Osama bin Laden: It’s not “justice” for him to be killed even if justified; no trial, conviction” [. . . .] Mr. Roth later pressed the Obama administration for a fuller accounting of the gunfight that preceded bin Laden’s death: “White House still hasn’t clarified: OBL ‘resisted’ but how did he pose lethal threat to US forces on scene? Need facts.”

As others have written, the due process argument doesn’t work in this situation. Bin Laden was a lawful military target, and the U.S. had the authority to use as much force against him as deemed necessary. Add that to the fact that the terror leader was said to have resisted, and a gunfight ensued. The military had every right to respond the way it did.

But at least Roth gets credit for being consistent. Those on the left cheering on the killing of bin Laden are also inherently supporting the method Obama used—unilaterally sending our military into a country, without that government’s knowledge, to carry out the targeted killing of an unarmed terrorist. This was a necessary and noble mission that will most likely save lives, but it’s doubtful that the left would have been so enthusiastic if it had taken place under President Bush.

So far, many left-wing groups have either welcomed the Osama bin Laden killing or stayed mum about it, but the director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, took to twitter to condemn the alleged lack of “due process” for the terror leader:

Kenneth Roth opined on bin Laden’s death via his Twitter account (@KenRoth), taking aim at comments made by the U.N.’s secretary-general: “Ban Ki-moon wrong on #Osama bin Laden: It’s not “justice” for him to be killed even if justified; no trial, conviction” [. . . .] Mr. Roth later pressed the Obama administration for a fuller accounting of the gunfight that preceded bin Laden’s death: “White House still hasn’t clarified: OBL ‘resisted’ but how did he pose lethal threat to US forces on scene? Need facts.”

As others have written, the due process argument doesn’t work in this situation. Bin Laden was a lawful military target, and the U.S. had the authority to use as much force against him as deemed necessary. Add that to the fact that the terror leader was said to have resisted, and a gunfight ensued. The military had every right to respond the way it did.

But at least Roth gets credit for being consistent. Those on the left cheering on the killing of bin Laden are also inherently supporting the method Obama used—unilaterally sending our military into a country, without that government’s knowledge, to carry out the targeted killing of an unarmed terrorist. This was a necessary and noble mission that will most likely save lives, but it’s doubtful that the left would have been so enthusiastic if it had taken place under President Bush.

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Was the Military Wrong to Call Bin Laden “Geronimo?”

The American people were largely united in their rejoicing over the killing of arch-terrorist Osama bin Laden by the U.S. military. But the aftermath of the incident has given rise to some bizarre controversies that say more about the state of American culture than it does about the actual event. A case in point is the anger that some Native Americans appear to feel about bin Laden being given the code name “Geronimo” by the personnel tasked with running the mass murderer to ground.

According to the Washington Post, various Native American officials, including some veterans are unhappy that the armed forces tagged the Al Qaeda leader with the code name of the legendary Apache medicine man that spent a decade evading capture by the U.S. Army. Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute, a Native American advocacy group based in Washington, says this shows “how deeply embedded the ‘Indian as enemy’ is in the collective mind of America. To this day, when soldiers are going into enemy territory, it’s common for it to be called ‘Indian country.” Read More

The American people were largely united in their rejoicing over the killing of arch-terrorist Osama bin Laden by the U.S. military. But the aftermath of the incident has given rise to some bizarre controversies that say more about the state of American culture than it does about the actual event. A case in point is the anger that some Native Americans appear to feel about bin Laden being given the code name “Geronimo” by the personnel tasked with running the mass murderer to ground.

According to the Washington Post, various Native American officials, including some veterans are unhappy that the armed forces tagged the Al Qaeda leader with the code name of the legendary Apache medicine man that spent a decade evading capture by the U.S. Army. Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute, a Native American advocacy group based in Washington, says this shows “how deeply embedded the ‘Indian as enemy’ is in the collective mind of America. To this day, when soldiers are going into enemy territory, it’s common for it to be called ‘Indian country.”

She’s right about that and it is understandable that Native Americans are unhappy about it. But it should be remembered that there is a difference between these associations and some other 19th cultural references that reflected despicable American racist attitudes toward African-Americans. Geronimo may have been an enemy to the Americans that fought him. But he was a foe they regarded with deep respect, as well they might, considering that he and his band ran rings around the U.S. Cavalry that sought to capture him. If, in the decades after he was run down, American paratroopers yelled “Geronimo” as they jumped out of airplanes, it was a sign that his name had become a symbol of martial ferocity, not one of contempt or racism.

Perhaps the Navy Seals, or whoever in the Pentagon came up with the code name for bin Laden should have chosen a more politically correct one that wouldn’t have generated any negative feedback from anyone. But those who claim to have their feelings hurt by the decision need to put the question in perspective and be a bit more honest about Geronimo. Keith Harper, a Washington lawyer and member of the Cherokee Nation that led Native American fundraising efforts for President Obama, claimed in an e-mail that was quoted in the Post article that, “No one would find acceptable calling this arch-terrorist by code name Man­dela, Revere or Ben-Gurion. An extraordinary Native leader and American hero deserves no less.”

Geronimo was an extraordinary leader but, unlike Nelson Mandela, Paul Revere or David Ben Gurion, he did make war on the United States. Many of us might think he had a good reason to fight Americans, but that doesn’t change the fact that he did or that as part of that conflict, he and his band committed atrocities against American civilians that would, in our own day, be termed terrorism (though the U.S. government might be considered guilty of the same crime in their attacks on hostile tribes).

Geronimo may have been no bin Laden. But neither was he a Martin Luther King Jr.

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Jewish Dems on Hamas-Fatah Pact: Keep Pushing Bibi and No Halt to PA Aid

While the reaction from many Democrats in Congress to the Hamas-Fatah peace pact was every bit as angry as that of most Republicans, it appears that National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) has taken a stand that is, if anything, less exercised by this development than the White House.

Whereas even the State Department and the White House expressed concern about the decision of the Palestinian Authority to choose peace with the Islamist terrorists of Hamas rather than with Israel, the NJDC seems unperturbed. Rather than calling upon Abbas to renounce his friendship with an organization that is not only committed to destroying the State of Israel but massacring its people, the NJDC merely wants both groups to play nice. The statement issued in the name of the group’s leader David J. Harris calls for Hamas to “renounce violence, abide by past agreements and recognize Israel’s right to exist” but has no word of reproach for Abbas and the PA, a major recipient of American aid. The NJDC seems to think there is nothing wrong with U.S. taxpayer dollars being donated by indirect means to Hamas via its new partners.

Even worse, the focus of the NJDC statement seems to imply that the lack of peace is the fault of Israel. Rather than expressing support for Israel’s democratically-elected government and its dismay over its peace partner’s abandonment of talks and embrace of the Islamic tyrants who rule over Gaza, the NJDC thinks the pressure should remain on Prime Minister Netanyahu:

We are hopeful that President Obama will show continuing strong leadership; that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not see this as a reason to be deterred from presenting bold steps towards a lasting peace.

You don’t have to read between the lines to see that this statement appears to be a not-so-subtle call for the administration to resume a policy of pressure on Israel to make even more concessions to the Palestinians in the futile hope that a Hamas-Fatah coalition will sign a peace deal that a Fatah government refused to accept.

The NJDC has a role to play as the official Jewish cheerleader for Obama and the Democrats much as their Republican counterparts do the same for the GOP. But one would think they would remember that their role is just as much to advocate for the Jewish community to the Democrats as the other way around. This is a moment when the pro-Israel community, from left to right, ought to be able to unite in opposition to this development and support for Israel’s refusal to deal with Hamas.

Most Jewish Democrats are ardent supporters of Israel, and, like many of their elected leaders, are horrified by the decision of Fatah to embrace the murderers of Hamas. Many Democrats in Congress understand that this is the time to ratchet up pressure on the Palestinians, not Israel and to cut aid to those who make common cause with terrorists. It is nothing less than shocking that the NJDC would issue a statement that is so at odds with the sense of the pro-Israel consensus and out of touch with the realities of the Middle East.

While the reaction from many Democrats in Congress to the Hamas-Fatah peace pact was every bit as angry as that of most Republicans, it appears that National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) has taken a stand that is, if anything, less exercised by this development than the White House.

Whereas even the State Department and the White House expressed concern about the decision of the Palestinian Authority to choose peace with the Islamist terrorists of Hamas rather than with Israel, the NJDC seems unperturbed. Rather than calling upon Abbas to renounce his friendship with an organization that is not only committed to destroying the State of Israel but massacring its people, the NJDC merely wants both groups to play nice. The statement issued in the name of the group’s leader David J. Harris calls for Hamas to “renounce violence, abide by past agreements and recognize Israel’s right to exist” but has no word of reproach for Abbas and the PA, a major recipient of American aid. The NJDC seems to think there is nothing wrong with U.S. taxpayer dollars being donated by indirect means to Hamas via its new partners.

Even worse, the focus of the NJDC statement seems to imply that the lack of peace is the fault of Israel. Rather than expressing support for Israel’s democratically-elected government and its dismay over its peace partner’s abandonment of talks and embrace of the Islamic tyrants who rule over Gaza, the NJDC thinks the pressure should remain on Prime Minister Netanyahu:

We are hopeful that President Obama will show continuing strong leadership; that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not see this as a reason to be deterred from presenting bold steps towards a lasting peace.

You don’t have to read between the lines to see that this statement appears to be a not-so-subtle call for the administration to resume a policy of pressure on Israel to make even more concessions to the Palestinians in the futile hope that a Hamas-Fatah coalition will sign a peace deal that a Fatah government refused to accept.

The NJDC has a role to play as the official Jewish cheerleader for Obama and the Democrats much as their Republican counterparts do the same for the GOP. But one would think they would remember that their role is just as much to advocate for the Jewish community to the Democrats as the other way around. This is a moment when the pro-Israel community, from left to right, ought to be able to unite in opposition to this development and support for Israel’s refusal to deal with Hamas.

Most Jewish Democrats are ardent supporters of Israel, and, like many of their elected leaders, are horrified by the decision of Fatah to embrace the murderers of Hamas. Many Democrats in Congress understand that this is the time to ratchet up pressure on the Palestinians, not Israel and to cut aid to those who make common cause with terrorists. It is nothing less than shocking that the NJDC would issue a statement that is so at odds with the sense of the pro-Israel consensus and out of touch with the realities of the Middle East.

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Re: Debating Interrogation Techniques

Apropos my post from yesterday on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, consider this exchange between Brian Williams of NBC and CIA director Leon Panetta:

WILLIAMS: I’d like to ask you about the sourcing on the intel that ultimately led to this successful attack. Can you confirm that it was as a result of waterboarding that we learned what we needed to learn to go after bin Laden?
PANETTA: You know Brian, in the intelligence business you work from a lot of sources of information, and that was true here. We had a multiple source—a multiple series of sources—that provided information with regards to this situation. Clearly, some of it came from detainees and the interrogation of detainees. But we also had information from other sources as well. So, it’s a little difficult to say it was due just to one source of information that we got.
WILLIAMS: Turned around the other way, are you denying that waterboarding was in part among the tactics used to extract the intelligence that led to this successful mission?
PANETTA: No, I think some of the detainees clearly were, you know, they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees. But I’m also saying that, you know, the debate about whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches I think is always going to be an open question.
WILLIAMS: So, finer point, one final time, enhanced interrogation techniques—which has always been kind of a handy euphemism in these post-9/11 years—that includes waterboarding?
PANETTA: That’s correct.

No one has argued that EITs alone led to finding bin Laden; the argument is that EITs provided crucial information in the search. And, according to the CIA director, they did. The issue, then, is whether the tactics used are (morally) appropriate. About that honorable people will disagree. But the efficacy of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques is not, and never really has been, in question. And President Obama, if he were candid, would say so.

Apropos my post from yesterday on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, consider this exchange between Brian Williams of NBC and CIA director Leon Panetta:

WILLIAMS: I’d like to ask you about the sourcing on the intel that ultimately led to this successful attack. Can you confirm that it was as a result of waterboarding that we learned what we needed to learn to go after bin Laden?
PANETTA: You know Brian, in the intelligence business you work from a lot of sources of information, and that was true here. We had a multiple source—a multiple series of sources—that provided information with regards to this situation. Clearly, some of it came from detainees and the interrogation of detainees. But we also had information from other sources as well. So, it’s a little difficult to say it was due just to one source of information that we got.
WILLIAMS: Turned around the other way, are you denying that waterboarding was in part among the tactics used to extract the intelligence that led to this successful mission?
PANETTA: No, I think some of the detainees clearly were, you know, they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees. But I’m also saying that, you know, the debate about whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches I think is always going to be an open question.
WILLIAMS: So, finer point, one final time, enhanced interrogation techniques—which has always been kind of a handy euphemism in these post-9/11 years—that includes waterboarding?
PANETTA: That’s correct.

No one has argued that EITs alone led to finding bin Laden; the argument is that EITs provided crucial information in the search. And, according to the CIA director, they did. The issue, then, is whether the tactics used are (morally) appropriate. About that honorable people will disagree. But the efficacy of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques is not, and never really has been, in question. And President Obama, if he were candid, would say so.

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Good News, Bad News for Obama in Latest Poll

Here’s the most recent poll from the New York Times and CBS News. The president’s overall approval rating is 57 percent as against 37 percent disapproval—not surprising in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s killing. But Obama’s approval/disapproval split on the economy is 34 percent approval as opposed 55 percent disapproval: the worst showing of the Obama presidency.

For those liberals who believe the events in Abbottabad on Sunday have helped ensure the president’s reelection, these polling results cannot be good news. Killing bin Laden has done very little to fortify Obama in his area of greatest vulnerability, the economy, which also happens to be the issue of greatest concern to most voters.

There is no question that the president’s decisive handling of the bin Laden raid will help him. But Obama cannot escape his economic record, and is that most voters will finally judge him by. Right now, on the economic front, the president is exceedingly weak.

Here’s the most recent poll from the New York Times and CBS News. The president’s overall approval rating is 57 percent as against 37 percent disapproval—not surprising in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s killing. But Obama’s approval/disapproval split on the economy is 34 percent approval as opposed 55 percent disapproval: the worst showing of the Obama presidency.

For those liberals who believe the events in Abbottabad on Sunday have helped ensure the president’s reelection, these polling results cannot be good news. Killing bin Laden has done very little to fortify Obama in his area of greatest vulnerability, the economy, which also happens to be the issue of greatest concern to most voters.

There is no question that the president’s decisive handling of the bin Laden raid will help him. But Obama cannot escape his economic record, and is that most voters will finally judge him by. Right now, on the economic front, the president is exceedingly weak.

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Carter and Malley, the Islamists’ Useful Idiots, Ride Again

With the world still buzzing about the killing of Osama bin Laden, yesterday the Washington Post turned its op-ed page over to two writers who advocate support for one of the dead terrorists’ most reliable allies: Hamas.

The peace pact between Hamas and its Fatah rivals that is to be signed in Cairo this week is an obvious blow to the already largely nonexistent chances of peace in the region. Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority have already proven that they are unable to bring themselves to make peace with Israel. Abbas refused an offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2008 just as his predecessor Yasir Arafat did at Camp David in July 2000. Both men feared that they and the cause of Palestinian nationalism could not survive the recognition of a Jewish state’s legitimacy no matter where its border was drawn.

By choosing peace with Hamas rather than with Israel, Fatah has indicated that rejectionism is its final answer and not, as the Obama administration hoped, a temporary position.

But that doesn’t stop former president Jimmy Carter and former Clinton administration staffer Robert Malley, from applauding the unity pact. According to Carter, Hamas will accept a two-state solution because one its leaders once told him it would. Carter deplores the Hamas Charter that calls not just for the end of the state of Israel but the slaughter of its people. But it is, he says, just a piece of a paper that can be annulled. No harm. No foul. Carter is in denial about the nature of the Islamist regime in Gaza much as he has been in the past about North Korea or—going back to his failed presidency—about Iran and the Soviet Union. Given his own history of outrageous slanders about Israel’s being an apartheid state, though, perhaps it is Hamas’s relentless hostility to the Jewish presence in the land that causes him to sympathize with them.

Malley, a man who has been a principal apologist for the Palestinians for a decade now (he’s the only member of Clinton’s team who claimed that Arafat was blameless for the collapse of the peace talks in 2000) believes the unity pact is a prerequisite for peace. How so? It will now give the PA the strength to deal with Israel. But the assertion is ridiculous assertion, because Hamas has no interest in peace with Israel. Malley is right when he points out that Abbas’s decision to unite with Hamas is a direct result of the Arab Spring and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. But he is wrong when he implies that the pact suggests Hamas is moving away from its Iranian and Syrian allies toward Egypt. Precisely the opposite is going on. With the Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas’s spiritual godfather) gaining influence there, Egypt is moving away from the United States and becoming friendlier with the Islamist alliance that links Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran.

Carter and Malley have no credibility on Hamas or the peace process, and official Washington needs to ignore their plea for the United States to make nice with the Islamists. Instead, the White House must listen to Congress and proceed to put Abbas on notice that if he follows through on the unity pact, it will spell the end of American support for the PA or Palestinian statehood.

With the world still buzzing about the killing of Osama bin Laden, yesterday the Washington Post turned its op-ed page over to two writers who advocate support for one of the dead terrorists’ most reliable allies: Hamas.

The peace pact between Hamas and its Fatah rivals that is to be signed in Cairo this week is an obvious blow to the already largely nonexistent chances of peace in the region. Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority have already proven that they are unable to bring themselves to make peace with Israel. Abbas refused an offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2008 just as his predecessor Yasir Arafat did at Camp David in July 2000. Both men feared that they and the cause of Palestinian nationalism could not survive the recognition of a Jewish state’s legitimacy no matter where its border was drawn.

By choosing peace with Hamas rather than with Israel, Fatah has indicated that rejectionism is its final answer and not, as the Obama administration hoped, a temporary position.

But that doesn’t stop former president Jimmy Carter and former Clinton administration staffer Robert Malley, from applauding the unity pact. According to Carter, Hamas will accept a two-state solution because one its leaders once told him it would. Carter deplores the Hamas Charter that calls not just for the end of the state of Israel but the slaughter of its people. But it is, he says, just a piece of a paper that can be annulled. No harm. No foul. Carter is in denial about the nature of the Islamist regime in Gaza much as he has been in the past about North Korea or—going back to his failed presidency—about Iran and the Soviet Union. Given his own history of outrageous slanders about Israel’s being an apartheid state, though, perhaps it is Hamas’s relentless hostility to the Jewish presence in the land that causes him to sympathize with them.

Malley, a man who has been a principal apologist for the Palestinians for a decade now (he’s the only member of Clinton’s team who claimed that Arafat was blameless for the collapse of the peace talks in 2000) believes the unity pact is a prerequisite for peace. How so? It will now give the PA the strength to deal with Israel. But the assertion is ridiculous assertion, because Hamas has no interest in peace with Israel. Malley is right when he points out that Abbas’s decision to unite with Hamas is a direct result of the Arab Spring and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. But he is wrong when he implies that the pact suggests Hamas is moving away from its Iranian and Syrian allies toward Egypt. Precisely the opposite is going on. With the Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas’s spiritual godfather) gaining influence there, Egypt is moving away from the United States and becoming friendlier with the Islamist alliance that links Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran.

Carter and Malley have no credibility on Hamas or the peace process, and official Washington needs to ignore their plea for the United States to make nice with the Islamists. Instead, the White House must listen to Congress and proceed to put Abbas on notice that if he follows through on the unity pact, it will spell the end of American support for the PA or Palestinian statehood.

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Did Bin Laden Expect to Be Tipped Off?

That’s what it sounds like, at least according to the officials that Politico’s Jonathan Allen spoke to. Osama bin Laden reportedly had cash and phone numbers sewn into his clothing when he was shot, and there seemed to be a curious lack of security around the compound. This led some officials to believe he was prepared to flee before the raid began—and makes one wonder whether he expected to get tipped off by government or military sources beforehand. Allen writes:

[CIA Director Leon] Panetta told lawmakers about the items found in bin Laden’s clothing in response to a question about why he wasn’t guarded by more security personnel at his relatively luxurious home in a military town north of Islamabad. The answer, according to one source: Bin Laden believed ‘his network was strong enough he’d get a heads-up’ before any U.S. strike against him.”

A senior Tajik counterterrorism official also told American diplomats that Pakistanis were tipping off bin Laden back in 2009, according to the London Telegraph (although he also said the terror leader was hiding in North Waziristan, which raises questions about how much he actually knew).

In addition to the lack of security forces at the compound, U.S. officials have also suggested that bin Laden did not have an escape tunnel. If that was the case, why had he been ready to take off? Not to mention, the amount of cash on him was too small—just 500 euros—to think that he would be on the run for long. The phone numbers sewed into his clothes will likely provide clues, but from the information so far it sounds as if he believed some source—maybe in Pakistani intelligence—would alert him to military raids, and possibly assist his escape.

That’s what it sounds like, at least according to the officials that Politico’s Jonathan Allen spoke to. Osama bin Laden reportedly had cash and phone numbers sewn into his clothing when he was shot, and there seemed to be a curious lack of security around the compound. This led some officials to believe he was prepared to flee before the raid began—and makes one wonder whether he expected to get tipped off by government or military sources beforehand. Allen writes:

[CIA Director Leon] Panetta told lawmakers about the items found in bin Laden’s clothing in response to a question about why he wasn’t guarded by more security personnel at his relatively luxurious home in a military town north of Islamabad. The answer, according to one source: Bin Laden believed ‘his network was strong enough he’d get a heads-up’ before any U.S. strike against him.”

A senior Tajik counterterrorism official also told American diplomats that Pakistanis were tipping off bin Laden back in 2009, according to the London Telegraph (although he also said the terror leader was hiding in North Waziristan, which raises questions about how much he actually knew).

In addition to the lack of security forces at the compound, U.S. officials have also suggested that bin Laden did not have an escape tunnel. If that was the case, why had he been ready to take off? Not to mention, the amount of cash on him was too small—just 500 euros—to think that he would be on the run for long. The phone numbers sewed into his clothes will likely provide clues, but from the information so far it sounds as if he believed some source—maybe in Pakistani intelligence—would alert him to military raids, and possibly assist his escape.

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Who Will Get Attention in South Carolina? Bet on Santorum.

The first Republican presidential debate tomorrow in South Carolina does not present a very inspiring prospect for GOP voters. Only one top tier candidate—former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty—will be on the podium. Pawlenty has plenty of potential to break out in the coming months. But, as they say in baseball, all prospects are suspects until they prove themselves.

It’s difficult to envision any of the other candidates who will be in South Carolina as the eventual GOP winner. Of the other four, Texas Congressman Ron Paul is a familiar face in presidential politics. He first ran for president in 1988 on the Libertarian ticket and has been rousing the far-right rabble ever since. Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson would like to be considered a reasonable presidential alternative, but his present obscurity is unlikely to be transformed into notoriety. Pizza mogul Herman Cain is a great success story: an African-American entrepreneur with conservative values. But Cain is just there because he has a big enough wallet and an ego to match. Let’s hope he enjoys the ride.

That leaves with the fifth candidate who will appear in Columbia: former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.

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The first Republican presidential debate tomorrow in South Carolina does not present a very inspiring prospect for GOP voters. Only one top tier candidate—former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty—will be on the podium. Pawlenty has plenty of potential to break out in the coming months. But, as they say in baseball, all prospects are suspects until they prove themselves.

It’s difficult to envision any of the other candidates who will be in South Carolina as the eventual GOP winner. Of the other four, Texas Congressman Ron Paul is a familiar face in presidential politics. He first ran for president in 1988 on the Libertarian ticket and has been rousing the far-right rabble ever since. Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson would like to be considered a reasonable presidential alternative, but his present obscurity is unlikely to be transformed into notoriety. Pizza mogul Herman Cain is a great success story: an African-American entrepreneur with conservative values. But Cain is just there because he has a big enough wallet and an ego to match. Let’s hope he enjoys the ride.

That leaves with the fifth candidate who will appear in Columbia: former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.

The conceit of Santorum’s campaign is that he is the only candidate who combines impeccable hard-right credentials on social issues with an equally long record of strong and generally spot-on positions on foreign-policy issues like the threat from Iran. As a two-term senator from a major northeastern state and a former member of the GOP senate leadership, the presentable and affable Santorum ought, at least in principle, to be considered a major contender. But he isn’t.

Santorum should have forgotten about his presidential ambitions after a landslide defeat for reelection in 2006. The point about that race is that it had little to do with the appeal of his opponent, Democrat Bob Casey Jr., who ran what amounted to a stealth campaign, saying virtually nothing. It was, more or less, a referendum on the all-too-talkative Santorum. And the people of Pennsylvania sent him packing.

But once politicians catch the presidential bug, it never leaves them. While he has little hope of winning the nomination, Santorum is perfectly constituted for the long slog until the actual voting and caucusing starts early in 2012. Endless gabbing is what he does best, after all. While a more reasonable candidate might shy away from making risky comments, like his willingness to continue bashing President Obama on foreign policy even as the nation celebrates the killing of Osama bin Laden, Santorum goes where less garrulous politicians fear to tread. And as the bête noire of the gay community, he won’t shy away from swinging away on social issues. He is good at making headlines, but at garnering votes not so much.

And then there is the always-present potential for a genuine Santorum whopper, the kind of gaffe that comes easily to a guy who seems to have no off switch on his mouth. Early this year, during a speech in South Carolina, Santorum endorsed the Crusades that turned both Europe and the Middle East into a bloodbath during the Middle Ages. Had more people been paying attention to him at that time, it might have caused a major dustup, as well as causing problems for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the real campaigning about to begin, expect more such moments.

The South Carolina debate won’t settle anything about the GOP race but if anyone is liable to make a splash at an early debate with an outrageous comment, it is Rick Santorum.

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The Tangled Narrative

Yesterday the Palestinian peace partner’s military wing announced it was in mourning about Osama bin Laden and had joined the “deather” movement:

The Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Brigades said Tuesday they were mourning the death of Osama bin Laden, following announcements Sunday that he had been killed in a US raid, [Palestinian News Agency] Ma’an reported. According to a statement received by Ma’an, the group said bin Laden’s death “won’t stop our Jihad mission against injustice and occupation,” and added that they doubt the veracity of claims that the al-Qaida leader was assassinated.

Someone must have recognized these were impolitic things to say in the on-going run-up to September, when the Palestinian Authority plans to ask the UN to recognize a Palestinian state. So Ma’an reported later in the day that the Al-Aqsa Brigades denied making the statement Ma’an had earlier reported:

The spokesman of Fatah’s military wing on Tuesday denied issuing a statement marking Osama bin Laden’s death. Abu Uday of the Al-Aqsa Brigades said the group did not and had no plans to comment because bin Laden’s death was unrelated to Palestine. He said a statement received by Ma’an’s Gaza City office must have been forged as the armed group “doesn’t know anything about it.”

Good to have the “armed group” clarify that. But here’s the more interesting question: how could the Al-Aqsa Brigades issue a statement, much less retract one—or even have a named “spokesman”—since the PA announced in 2007 and again in 2008 that the Al-Aqsa Brigades had been completely dismantled?

The Palestinian news agency forgot to adhere to the “narrative”—central to the fiction that the Palestinians have built the institutions of a state—that the Fatah terrorist group was “dismantled,” replaced by professional police. As the old saying goes, when you substitute a narrative for truth, it is often hard to keep the narrative straight.

Yesterday the Palestinian peace partner’s military wing announced it was in mourning about Osama bin Laden and had joined the “deather” movement:

The Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Brigades said Tuesday they were mourning the death of Osama bin Laden, following announcements Sunday that he had been killed in a US raid, [Palestinian News Agency] Ma’an reported. According to a statement received by Ma’an, the group said bin Laden’s death “won’t stop our Jihad mission against injustice and occupation,” and added that they doubt the veracity of claims that the al-Qaida leader was assassinated.

Someone must have recognized these were impolitic things to say in the on-going run-up to September, when the Palestinian Authority plans to ask the UN to recognize a Palestinian state. So Ma’an reported later in the day that the Al-Aqsa Brigades denied making the statement Ma’an had earlier reported:

The spokesman of Fatah’s military wing on Tuesday denied issuing a statement marking Osama bin Laden’s death. Abu Uday of the Al-Aqsa Brigades said the group did not and had no plans to comment because bin Laden’s death was unrelated to Palestine. He said a statement received by Ma’an’s Gaza City office must have been forged as the armed group “doesn’t know anything about it.”

Good to have the “armed group” clarify that. But here’s the more interesting question: how could the Al-Aqsa Brigades issue a statement, much less retract one—or even have a named “spokesman”—since the PA announced in 2007 and again in 2008 that the Al-Aqsa Brigades had been completely dismantled?

The Palestinian news agency forgot to adhere to the “narrative”—central to the fiction that the Palestinians have built the institutions of a state—that the Fatah terrorist group was “dismantled,” replaced by professional police. As the old saying goes, when you substitute a narrative for truth, it is often hard to keep the narrative straight.

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Bin Laden’s Killing Was Legal: Case Closed

It was probably inevitable in our legalistic age. “Questions” and “concerns” are now being raised in the usual, predictable corners about whether the killing of Osama bin Laden was lawful. Much of the controversy, such as it is, arises from the fact that he was unarmed when shot and killed by SEAL Team Six. Thus the Guardian quotes a British law professor sniffing that “the attack had the appearance of an ‘extrajudicial killing without due process of the law.’ ” The Guardian’s reporter even suggests that there was something extra dodgy about the raid “given the absence of prior debate in the UN security council”—as if a top-secret operation should be taken for authorization to an international forum before being carried out.

I am frankly puzzled by this criticism, which once again highlights the disparity between how we treat aerial and ground warfare. If American Predators or F-16s had flattened bin Laden’s compound with bombs, killing everyone inside, it is hard to imagine that anyone (other than Hamas of course) would claim that there was anything wrong with the strike. Bin Laden was, after all, the head of a group that had declared and waged war on the United States. He was, by any definition, a lawful target.

For an analogy, recall Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, the Japanese naval commander who carried out the Pearl Harbor raid. He was shot down and killed by U.S. P-38 fighters in an ambush in 1943. Don’t get me wrong, the moral difference between the two men was vast: Yamamoto was an honorable combatant who had opposed the Pearl Harbor attack, which in any case did not target civilians; bin Laden was a blood-thirsty savage happy to kill men, women, and children indiscriminately. But under the laws of war both were military leaders who could be killed without warning.

So if we could kill bin Laden from thousands of feet up, why couldn’t we kill him from a few feet away? The answer is that we could, and did.

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It was probably inevitable in our legalistic age. “Questions” and “concerns” are now being raised in the usual, predictable corners about whether the killing of Osama bin Laden was lawful. Much of the controversy, such as it is, arises from the fact that he was unarmed when shot and killed by SEAL Team Six. Thus the Guardian quotes a British law professor sniffing that “the attack had the appearance of an ‘extrajudicial killing without due process of the law.’ ” The Guardian’s reporter even suggests that there was something extra dodgy about the raid “given the absence of prior debate in the UN security council”—as if a top-secret operation should be taken for authorization to an international forum before being carried out.

I am frankly puzzled by this criticism, which once again highlights the disparity between how we treat aerial and ground warfare. If American Predators or F-16s had flattened bin Laden’s compound with bombs, killing everyone inside, it is hard to imagine that anyone (other than Hamas of course) would claim that there was anything wrong with the strike. Bin Laden was, after all, the head of a group that had declared and waged war on the United States. He was, by any definition, a lawful target.

For an analogy, recall Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, the Japanese naval commander who carried out the Pearl Harbor raid. He was shot down and killed by U.S. P-38 fighters in an ambush in 1943. Don’t get me wrong, the moral difference between the two men was vast: Yamamoto was an honorable combatant who had opposed the Pearl Harbor attack, which in any case did not target civilians; bin Laden was a blood-thirsty savage happy to kill men, women, and children indiscriminately. But under the laws of war both were military leaders who could be killed without warning.

So if we could kill bin Laden from thousands of feet up, why couldn’t we kill him from a few feet away? The answer is that we could, and did.

The laws of war don’t require an enemy to be pointing a gun at you before you can open fire; those are the rules of engagement for police officers, not soldiers. There is, in fact, a vast gray space in the heat of combat where combatants are given discretion to engage the enemy—unless that enemy is actively trying to surrender. Even then, as a practical matter, Allied soldiers in World Wars I and II (and other conflicts) often shot enemy soldiers trying to surrender without suffering any consequences. It is a different matter if you accept an enemy soldier’s surrender, have him in your custody, and then shoot him: that’s a cold-blooded execution and liable to be prosecuted.

In the case of bin Laden, there is no indication that he was trying to surrender. In fact, he had said many times that he would not be taken alive. Whether he had a weapon in his hands at the moment he was shot was irrelevant. A firefight was going on in the house, the SEALs had reason to believe they were in danger, and even if bin Laden wasn’t actually holding a weapon, they had no way of knowing that. What if he had a gun under his shirt? Or a suicide belt? Unless he threw up his arms and called for quarter, they had every right to shoot him on sight—as they did.

Case closed. At least as a legal matter.

As a practical matter of politics, bin Laden’s killing sends a good message: the United States will not restrain itself in the pursuit of those who have attacked us. There is a real danger that our deterrence will deteriorate if we are perceived as a gentle giant who is so paralyzed by moralistic and legalistic qualms that we are refuse to employ the resources at our disposal to hunt down and eliminate our foes. The fact that the SEALs did not hesitate before putting a bullet in bin Laden’s brain tells our foes to think twice before messing with us.

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The Politics of Palin’s “Shift” on Foreign Policy

Look for Sarah Palin to start taking a less interventionist approach on foreign policy. Not only has she split with her neoconservative advisers Orion Strategies (their decision, but apparently it was on good terms). What is more, she’s replaced them with Big Peace’s Peter Schweizer, who has been critical of the Libya intervention:

The personnel shift carries an ideological charge. [Orion Strategies’ Randy] Scheunemann, the former executive director of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, is a longtime neoconservative stalwart, as is [Michael] Goldfarb, a former reporter and protege of Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol. . .&nnbsp;. Schweizer has articulated a more skeptical view of the use of American force and promotion of democracy abroad.

Schweizer edits Big Peace along with Center for Security Policy’s Frank Gaffney, who focuses on threat of Islamic radicalization in America. While it’s not clear how much of a role (if any) Gaffney would play in shaping Palin’s foreign policy message, he and Schweizer have a close working relationship and it seems probable that his organization would have some influence.

From a political perspective, the shift does raise more doubts about the seriousness of Palin’s presidential aspirations. While most presidential hopefuls are building up their staff right now, Palin’s staff seems to be jumping ship. Orion Strategies was Palin’s major link to the Washington media, leaving her without a D.C. communications team—and putting her at a serious disadvantage if she is considering a run. The fact that Schweizer was chosen as a replacement, instead of someone more experienced in the communications arena, seems to indicate that this isn’t an issue of serious concern for her.

Look for Sarah Palin to start taking a less interventionist approach on foreign policy. Not only has she split with her neoconservative advisers Orion Strategies (their decision, but apparently it was on good terms). What is more, she’s replaced them with Big Peace’s Peter Schweizer, who has been critical of the Libya intervention:

The personnel shift carries an ideological charge. [Orion Strategies’ Randy] Scheunemann, the former executive director of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, is a longtime neoconservative stalwart, as is [Michael] Goldfarb, a former reporter and protege of Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol. . .&nnbsp;. Schweizer has articulated a more skeptical view of the use of American force and promotion of democracy abroad.

Schweizer edits Big Peace along with Center for Security Policy’s Frank Gaffney, who focuses on threat of Islamic radicalization in America. While it’s not clear how much of a role (if any) Gaffney would play in shaping Palin’s foreign policy message, he and Schweizer have a close working relationship and it seems probable that his organization would have some influence.

From a political perspective, the shift does raise more doubts about the seriousness of Palin’s presidential aspirations. While most presidential hopefuls are building up their staff right now, Palin’s staff seems to be jumping ship. Orion Strategies was Palin’s major link to the Washington media, leaving her without a D.C. communications team—and putting her at a serious disadvantage if she is considering a run. The fact that Schweizer was chosen as a replacement, instead of someone more experienced in the communications arena, seems to indicate that this isn’t an issue of serious concern for her.

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Time to Recall the U.S. Ambassador to Syria

Bin Laden’s death may be the story of the year (or decade) but the world still turns. In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown continues with hardly a word from the administration. If Obama treated Assad more like Qaddafi, and treated the Hamas leadership in Damascus more like he treated Bin Laden, he actually might do more to enable a lasting Middle East peace than he does by embracing the fiction of diplomacy when Arab states prefer to fulfill demands by terror. That’s an opportunity Obama will never create, but it doesn’t follow that he should not hold Assad to account. A bit over a week ago, an American diplomat stationed in Damascus was detained and roughed up by masked Syrian security forces.

I happen to know this diplomat, and consider him perhaps the most talented diplomat and linguist in the Foreign Service. It took the State Department days to react, and when they did, they merely filed a formal protest with the Syrian Ambassador to the United States. That’s not nearly good enough. Obama sent Robert Ford, a talented diplomat and an honorable man, to Damascus over Congressional objections as a recess appointment in order to catalyze engagement and encourage Syrian moderation. It certainly hasn’t work. Syrian behavior has worsened, and the harassment of an American diplomat should be the last straw. Responsible states deserve U.S. ambassadors, but Syria is not a responsible state. Keep the embassy open with a skeleton staff, but let’s not legitimize Assad.

Bin Laden’s death may be the story of the year (or decade) but the world still turns. In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown continues with hardly a word from the administration. If Obama treated Assad more like Qaddafi, and treated the Hamas leadership in Damascus more like he treated Bin Laden, he actually might do more to enable a lasting Middle East peace than he does by embracing the fiction of diplomacy when Arab states prefer to fulfill demands by terror. That’s an opportunity Obama will never create, but it doesn’t follow that he should not hold Assad to account. A bit over a week ago, an American diplomat stationed in Damascus was detained and roughed up by masked Syrian security forces.

I happen to know this diplomat, and consider him perhaps the most talented diplomat and linguist in the Foreign Service. It took the State Department days to react, and when they did, they merely filed a formal protest with the Syrian Ambassador to the United States. That’s not nearly good enough. Obama sent Robert Ford, a talented diplomat and an honorable man, to Damascus over Congressional objections as a recess appointment in order to catalyze engagement and encourage Syrian moderation. It certainly hasn’t work. Syrian behavior has worsened, and the harassment of an American diplomat should be the last straw. Responsible states deserve U.S. ambassadors, but Syria is not a responsible state. Keep the embassy open with a skeleton staff, but let’s not legitimize Assad.

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Can Americans Handle the Truth?

The magnificent Navy SEAL operation that surgically removed Osama bin Laden from humanity has given America a transcendent boost in national spirit. It served not only as a victory but as a reminder that victories happen. Yet after euphoria comes contemplation.  And, as Americans, we have, over the past two days, begun to confront our ultimate “You can’t handle the truth” moment.

Citizens of every political shape and size flooded the streets to rejoice over the terrorist’s death, but that death came as the end-result of many highly politicized Bush-era policy decisions. We now have to contend with truths that are intolerable but nevertheless have led to the country’s collective jubilation.

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The magnificent Navy SEAL operation that surgically removed Osama bin Laden from humanity has given America a transcendent boost in national spirit. It served not only as a victory but as a reminder that victories happen. Yet after euphoria comes contemplation.  And, as Americans, we have, over the past two days, begun to confront our ultimate “You can’t handle the truth” moment.

Citizens of every political shape and size flooded the streets to rejoice over the terrorist’s death, but that death came as the end-result of many highly politicized Bush-era policy decisions. We now have to contend with truths that are intolerable but nevertheless have led to the country’s collective jubilation.

Gitmo is a successful response to an almost impossible situation. Barack Obama’s first order of business as president was to sign an executive order calling for Gitmo to be shuttered. Imagine how such a move would poll today among Americans who now understand that information obtained at Gitmo contributed to finding bin Laden.

Enhanced interrogation works. Crucial intelligence was extracted from detainees Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi, both of whom were subjected to techniques whose very existence spawned self-righteous movements to bring the last administration up on charges. It would be entertaining—if it were possible—to measure the overlap between those who marched in favor of impeaching George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and those who celebrated publicly the success engendered by their most loathed policies.

Targeted assassinations are extremely effective. In the telling of leftist historians, America’s extra-judicial killings constitute a secret narrative of imperial bloodlust and world domination. In truth, targeting bin Laden the way we did meant greater American risk in order to facilitate the saving of many innocent Pakistani lives, a lighter strain on our conflicted relationship with Islamabad, and a greater degree of certainty about having hit our target. In what moral universe are these things to be deplored?

Sometimes it’s best for America to go it alone. Not always, but sometimes. Multilateralism can cost dearly in time, money, and innocent lives. We see that playing out now, as the NATO operation in Libya suffers from too many cooks and too little air power. In cases where multilateralism would actually jeopardize our ability to achieve a vital mission, as it might have done with the attack on bin Laden’s compound, a unilateral effort is our only option.

Genuine national security means spending big money on defense. The Wall Street Journal reports, “In December, the Central Intelligence Agency called a secret meeting with lawmakers to line up tens of millions of dollars in funding, kicking off a five-month scramble that climaxed in Sunday’s events.” Tens of millions in five months to nab a single man. Because Sunday’s operation was successful we won’t have to endure that factoid being put in service of fallacious “we need to spend that money at home” arguments. And this is not counting the billions spent prior to December on all the programs and institutions brought to bear on the hunt for bin Laden and other al Qaeda members.

The U.S. needs to maintain active military bases around the world. It is seductive to think that we’ve entered an age in which the traditional modes of power projection no longer rank. Those in favor of a humbler American foreign policy describe our global presence as a kind of obsolete holdover from a less thoughtful age. Yet there might have been no cheering in the streets if we did not have an American base in Afghanistan from which to send short-range aircraft into Pakistan.

Is the country up to evaluating these policy realities separate from their use as partisan cannon fodder? Unfortunately, the question is tainted by the beginnings of a presidential election season.  But if the intelligence picked up in Abbottabad, Pakistan proves actionable, don’t be surprised when 2012 candidates claim association with the tactics that lead to more success. It won’t necessarily be honest, but it will be an acknowledgment of the greater truths outlined above.

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