The hearts of all Americans go out to the family of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the only known U.S. soldier being held captive by the Taliban. Bergdahl was captured by the enemy in June 2009 and is thought to be in the control of the Haqqani network in the tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan. He has never been allowed to send his parents any word nor has he been visited by the Red Cross. He was last seen in a Taliban video, but U.S. officials believe he is still alive. But after years of keeping silent about the ongoing negotiations that the government has attempted to free him, the Bergdahl family went public today and discussed their son’s plight with the New York Times. Their goal is to heighten the pressure on President Obama and his foreign policy team to give in to the demands of the Taliban on the release of prisoners held by the United States and our Afghan allies.
While their frustration with the slow pace of the negotiations is understandable, we can only hope the president will resist the pressure to give in to unreasonable demands not only on the prisoner exchange but concessions that would affect the future of Afghanistan. Though the United States should make every effort to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s safe return, his situation should not be used as a pretext for handing Afghanistan back to the Taliban and their terrorist allies.
While the Obama administration continues its shameful dithering on Syria, the violence, which has been going on for more than a year, is accelerating. The latest news is that two car bombs have exploded in the center of Damascus, near an intelligence headquarters, killing at least 55 people and injuring more than 350 others.
These types of attacks are a hallmark of al-Qaeda in Iraq. All indications are that this terrorist organization has now migrated from western Iraq into neighboring Syria where it is, in effect, stoking another sectarian war pitting majority Sunnis against the ruling Alawite minority (a Shi’ite offshoot sect). Meanwhile, there are credible reports of Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-dominated government apparently helping Bashar al-Assad’s regime, especially by serving as a conduit for Iranian assistance. In other words, a deadly sectarian civil war is under way in Syria, and one that, like previous civil wars in Lebanon and Iraq, is drawing in its neighbors. We could be in for years of hellish, destabilizing violence.
Michael Hastings reports on President Obama’s waning support in Tinseltown:
Over the past week, I’d spoken to more than a dozen Hollywood players, and all had a litany of criticisms. “I’ll write the check,” one top producer, whose films have made over a billion at the box office, told me. “But I’m not going to bother voting for him.” Another studio exec—in a land where the hard driven deal is cultural requirement —wondered if the president’s penchant for compromise meant he had, in the parlance of our times, “no balls.”
A number of other actors and producers lamented how they’d gone so far as to donate and volunteer for Obama in 2008—and now, disgusted, they were planning on doing neither this time around. They had bought what Obama was selling for four years—about the wars, about Gitmo, about changing things in Washington, about the hope and the change—and Obama had let them down. Even Matt Damon—one of the president’s most stalwart celebrity supporters—famously said last year he was disappointed.
We’ve been hearing a lot from Jewish Democrats and the administration itself that Barack Obama is the best friend Israel has ever had or as in Joe Biden’s fractured fairy tale version of history, “has done more for Israel’s security than any president since Harry Truman” — a president who actually did nothing for Israel’s security. The incessant sniping and attempts to pressure Israel during the first three years of the Obama administration makes this hyperbole the height of absurdity. But, as I have written before, it is possible to overstate Obama’s hostility to Israel and its government.
The issue now is not so much what the president has done with regard to Israel. After three years of hostility, his re-election effort has given birth to a full-blown Jewish charm offensive that, if it were to continue into a second term, would do much to allay the concerns of even his most fervent critics. The question in the minds of most friends of Israel is what will happen when a re-elected Obama has the “flexibility” to do as he likes with regard to the Jewish state and the Middle East. In that regard, the report in Politico about Obama sitting down with a group of left-wing pundits, many of whom have views wildly out of touch with the reality of the Middle East, to brainstorm about how to deal with the region and, in particular Israel, has to scare mainstream pro-Israel Democrats. That the president is listening to people like Peter Beinart, David Remnick and Joe Klein tells us all we need to know about how long the Jewish charm offensive will last after a November victory for the Democrats.
Remember the World War II slogan, “Loose lips sink ships”? Perhaps those posters should be reprinted and spread around the most classified departments of the U.S. government because our soldiers and spooks just can’t seem to keep their lips sealed–at least not when they have a triumph to brag about.
The first case in point was of course Operation Neptune Spear, which killed Osama bin Laden. Details of how it was done, and of the resulting intelligence cache, were soon spread all over the news, notwithstanding an agreement among senior administration officials to keep the operation secret. More details have been gushing out in recent days–with still more to come–as President Obama uses this Special Operations Command triumph to bolster his reelection chances, never mind the palpable unease in Special Operations circles about the damage being done from the revelation of their “TTPs” (tactics, techniques, and procedures).
Now something similar is occurring with all the publicity resulting from an Associated Press leak about the double-agent who blew up the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula plot to blow up a U.S. airliner with a more sophisticated form of “underwear bomb.” No doubt Saudi intelligence officials who ran the double agent and provided information to the CIA are aghast to see the details splashed across front pages.
Are the Taliban the sort of people we can successfully negotiate with to guarantee the future of Afghanistan? You would think so based on the number of voices in Washington claiming the Taliban have learned lessons from the past decade and they will not be as dedicated to their hateful agenda in the future. We hear they supposedly are willing to give up their alliance with al-Qaeda, their insistence on enslaving the Afghan people to their fundamentalist philosophy, and so on. If only it were so. Alas, this is all wishful thinking from those who want to pull out of the war but avert their eyes from the consequences of an American pullout.
In reality, there is not a shred of evidence the Taliban have moderated in any way. Witness recent Taliban attacks on those trying to educate Afghan boys and girls. In Ghazni Province, Taliban threats recently forced the closure of a school teaching boys and girls together. Indeed, the Taliban have forced the closing of all schools (about 50 in all) in 14 of 17 districts in that province, where Polish troops have had not had much success in pacification efforts. (A brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division is now coming into Ghazni to increase security.) In Paktika Province, meanwhile, Taliban goons ambushed with bombs and guns a convoy of education officials, killing five and wounding three. Paktika is a province in eastern Afghanistan where there have not been nearly enough American and Afghan troops and where plans for “clear and hold” operations are on hold because of the overly hasty troop drawdown ordered by President Obama.
So much for the “kinder, gentler” Taliban. These latest atrocities expose this conceit for the wishful thinking that it is. The Taliban must be defeated, not accommodated.
Jonathan wrote about this weak WaPo hit on Mitt Romney earlier today. In some ways, this story actually highlights the difficulty the Obama campaign has had in finding anything scandalous in his past. Biden was a plagiarist. Obama has spoken openly about his drug use. Meanwhile, Romney…cut some kid’s hair as a prank in high school? It’s not very nice, but wasn’t that sort of stunt par for the course in 1960s prep schools?
Anyway, now that Romney has apologized for a practical joke from 48 years ago, the difficult path to healing and redemption can finally begin:
I commend Michael Rubin for challenging conventional wisdom about Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s power grab in Iraq. He argues that what we are seeing is a commendable consolidation of power rather than the alarming sings of incipient authoritarianism. While I am intrigued by his argument, I am not convinced.
It is hard to see anything but sectarian motives in the criminal charges filed against Vice President Tariq al Hashemi, a Sunni, and Maliki’s attempt to remove from office Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al Mutlaq, another Sunni, for, ironically, criticizing Maliki for his dictatorial tendencies. There are widespread reports that Hashemi’s bodyguards implicated him after having been subjected to torture by security forces. Read More
Conservatives often complain that when the mainstream media is forced by events to pay attention to conservative views they have long ignored, the tone of the reporting often is that of an anthropological grant application. The reporters brave the native habitat of conservatives and find that they’re practically human. But that’s actually better than what we witnessed after Richard Mourdock defeated Richard Lugar in the Indiana GOP Senate primary this week.
Lugar, you may have heard, has been in the Senate a very long time, and he is a statesman and throwback to the gilded era of Republican acquiescence–sorry, bipartisanship, and statesmanship. A true mensch, a centrist Republican, Dick Lugar was, above all, a statesman, we are now told. But what about Mourdock, the man vying to replace Lugar in the Senate? Is he a statesman? Let’s find out, by reading some of the liberal write-ups of the election. The results may surprise you.
I applaud House Republicans for voting to suspend the sequester which threatens to decimate military spending and replacing it with cuts to social welfare programs. But the Republican leadership knows their legislation has little chance of passage in the Senate. They are simply hoping to set the stage for negotiations later this year that would at least suspend the first stage of the sequester which could cut another $500 billion or so from the defense budget on top of $450 billion or cuts already set in motion last summer.
The question is whether those negotiations will succeed. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that the answer is yes, but I join Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute in being skeptical of that consensus. She points out that there is no intrinsic reason to think Democrats and Republicans, who couldn’t agree on alternative spending cuts or revenue increases until now, will suddenly find some way to sing “Kumbaya” after the election–especially when the composition of Congress will be exactly what it is today. And there are many reasons to expect that an attempt to stop sequestration will not be a high priority item for Congress also grappling with expiring tax cuts and the need to raise the debt ceiling once again.
A day is a long time in politics. In Israel, apparently so are a few hours. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s new coalition, comprising an extraordinary 94 MKs (of 120), leavesIsrael’s unprecedented election campaign…unprecedented. Inevitably, the flights of these fowl have been scrutinized to divine the causes and forecast the effects of this rather stunning development.
In today’s New York Times,new Israel correspondent Jodi Rudoren writes of how the recently deceased Palestinian governor of the city of Jenin is being viewed as a “martyr” in the fight against gangs and the symbol of the failing struggle to transform the Palestinian Authority into a viable state. Qadoura Moussa, who died of a heart attack following an assassination attempt that is interpreted as part of the battle in which control of the streets is at stake, helped create the idea that there was a “Jenin model” in which good government would replace the mafia-style corruption and violence that had heretofore characterized Palestinian life.
Moussa’s death is rightly seen as yet another blow to Fayyadism, the term that Times columnist Thomas Friedman attached to the efforts of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to transform Palestinian society so as to allow for the rise of a rational modern state. But, as the insightful journalist Khaled Abu Toameh wrote just a day earlier on the website of the Gatestone Institute, the truth about the reality of life in Jenin has been apparent for years. The problem is, the foreign and Palestinian press was far too intimidated to report that the illusion of law and order in Jenin was always a lie.
Wherever one stands on the issue of same-sex marriage, having the president of the United States endorse the concept is a major achievement for the gay rights movement. And it didn’t happen by accident.
The shift in the public’s attitudes toward gay marriage, and the subsequent alteration of the political landscape, is arguably the most significant we’ve seen in the last quarter-century. And among the people who are most responsible for this moment is Jonathan Rauch, a former columnist for National Journal and a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution.
Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng is still confined to a hospital in Beijing, and the Chinese government is reportedly dragging its feet on issuing him a passport. As with any case like this, time is not on Chen’s side. With each passing day, media attention and public pressure diminishes. Already, the Chinese government is allegedly holding members of Chen’s family under house arrest. And obviously the crackdown could get worse as the story continues to fade from the front pages.
In an effort to keep attention on the case, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) plans to hold a hearing on Chen’s plight next week, Josh Rogin reports:
In an interview in the Capitol building, Smith said he intends to hold another congressional hearing on May 15 on the Chen case — to follow up on the hearing he held May 3, which Chen actually phoned into. Smith has invited Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and State Department Counselor Harold Koh to the hearing, but those officials have yet to RSVP.
“I don’t think they want the hearing frankly. But we need to keep the focus on this,” Smith said. …
“The administration has hermetically sealed his message, the man and why he was in trouble, from this incident,” Smith told The Cable. “Have you heard anybody talk about that he was defending women from forced abortion? Hillary Clinton? Not a word. I Googled it.”
As Pete noted yesterday, the talk about the evolution of President Obama’s stand on gay marriage tends to gloss over the fact that rather than a straight path to enlightenment, it has been a typical cynical politician’s approach to controversy. Since he supported it while running for the State Senate, opposed it while running for the Senate in 2004 and for the presidency in 2008 and now supports it again in 2012, we can see that his position was not principled but the product of careful analysis about the needs of the voters he was facing in each case. This is hardly shocking, but I suspect the president won’t be branded as a flip-flopper by his adoring fans in the mainstream press.
That’s significant not so much because it reveals the media’s bias on social issues but because it shows the different standard to which Mitt Romney has been subjected for his stands on social issues by some of the same outlets that are celebrating Obama’s statement today. Though Democratic strategists are currently attempting to paint Romney as a right-wing extremist, for most of the last year they and their allies in the press regularly lambasted Romney for being a serial flip-flopper. But in the wake of Obama’s politically motivated zigzag path to support for gay marriage, isn’t it time to acknowledge there is no difference between that and Romney’s equally tortured route to opposition to abortion?
Rudy Giuliani was on CBS News this morning cautioning Republicans to stay out of the gay marriage debate. It looks like he’s a bit late. Last night, the House passed a Republican-backed bill that would prevent the Justice Department from using taxpayer funds to oppose the Defense of Marriage Act, Politico reports:
With a 245-171 vote, the House voted to stop the Justice Department from using taxpayer funds to actively oppose DOMA — the Clinton-era law defining marriage as between a man and a woman that the Obama administration stopped enforcing in February 2011. …
Democrats immediately attacked Republicans for the vote.
“On an historic day and in the dark of night, House Republicans have voted to tie the hands of the Obama administration with respect to their efforts to end discrimination against America’s families,” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said in a statement. “House Republicans continue to plant their feet firmly on the wrong side of history.”
A general rule of thumb is that when you run for president you’ve got to expect every moment of your life will come under scrutiny. Of course, that hasn’t always applied to Barack Obama, as questions even about his associations as an adult politician have been widely interpreted as a form of racism. But if your name is Mitt Romney, the other rules apply, as any reader of today’s edition of the Washington Post will discover when they take a look at a nearly 5,500 word feature–a fine-tooth comb examination of the Republican candidate’s high school career which includes a single incident in which he is alleged to have played a rough prank on a schoolmate.
The story of Romney and others giving a kid a forced haircut doesn’t reflect well on him. But considering it took place 47 years ago when the future businessman and politician was a teenager living at a boarding school in which such hijinks were obviously far from rare, it hardly rises to the level of a major scandal. Nor, considering the other evidence in the article which points to Romney being more of a dorky, do-gooding hard worker than the school bully, you’ve got to wonder why the Post bothered to devote so much space to a story that is clearly framed so as to portray him as such as well as a social climbing prig. That is especially true because — correct me if I’m wrong dear readers — I don’t recall any massive stories in major media outlets like this in 2008 seeking to dig up dirt on Obama’s time at the Punahou School, the elite Hawaii private prep where the current president hung out as a teenager. Some outlets may have recycled stories that Obama told about his past but frankly, I don’t recall anything but hagiographic coverage of the first African-American presidential nominee. But as Romney should have learned by now, being the first Mormon presidential nominee has been treated as a license for prejudicial writing by mainstream newspapers–not the kind of kid glove treatment Obama received.
As Peter pointed out yesterday, “In 2004, when it was politically convenient for him, Obama argued that his religious faith dictated that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Now his faith dictates the opposite. What has changed during the last eight years isn’t the Golden Rule or the words and teachings of Jesus, the New Testament, or the Hebrew Bible; it is what is most politically expedient for a certain politician from Chicago.”
So, it seems that, at least in Obama’s mind, the whole moral basis of the Judeo-Christian tradition serves at the pleasure of the president.
But consider what he also said in his statement: “When I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage…”