The major criticism of drone strikes–the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism policy especially in Pakistan and Yemen–is that they cause too many civilian casualties, thereby creating more militants than they eliminate. A new study from the New America Foundation disputes that conclusion.
Authors Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland write: “The estimated civilian death rate in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan has declined dramatically since 2008, when it was at its peak of almost 50 percent. Today, for the first time, the estimated civilian death rate is at or close to zero.” Their finding is based on analyzing three years’ worth of data in news sources ranging from Reuters and the New York Times to the Express Tribune and Dawn in Pakistan.
Any compilation based on such open-source materials must necessarily be suspect. But then counting casualties from the drone strikes is necessarily an inexact science–Washington has an interest in minimizing the figures while jihadists have an interest in maximizing them. Perhaps there is a better count out there, but I’m not aware of it. If the New America Foundation’s conclusion is accurate, the reduction in collateral damage is a tribute to better technology (e.g., drones that can linger longer over their targets and use better sensors to identify them), better intelligence gathering, and better controls over these strikes.
This is yet another reason why the strikes cannot be stopped–they are the most effective tool to combat Islamist terrorism in areas such as Pakistan and Yemen where U.S. troops are not deployed en masse. Indeed, far from curtailing them, I believe it is imperative to extend the strikes to towns such as Chaman, located near the border with Afghanistan, which is a major staging point for the Taliban–but has been off bounds so far for the drone strikes because it is located outside the tribal areas of Pakistan. That needs to change if the U.S. is going to sufficiently degrade the insurgency to allow U.S. troop numbers to be reduced by 2014 without a catastrophic collapse in security.
Obviously Chief Justice John Roberts was going to take a hit in the polls after his ObamaCare decision — but a 40-point drop among Republicans? There’s no way he ever bounces back from this, right?
A Gallup poll released Monday found that Roberts’s favorables dropped 11 percentage points among all Americans since the last survey in September 2005. The most recent polling showed Roberts with 39 percent of national adults having a favorable opinion of him. In 2005, the same poll found that 50 percent of adults had a favorable view of the chief justice.
Among Republicans, Roberts’s drop has been more drastic. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans had a favorable view of Roberts in 2005, a figure which plummets 40 points to 27 percent in the 2012 survey. Four percent had an unfavorable view of the chief justice in 2005, jumping to 44 percent in the new poll.
Roberts’s betrayal wouldn’t have been as gut-wrenching if his decision had been based on principled arguments, even if they were wrong. The elevation of politics over principle made it much worse. He wasn’t just mistaken; he sold out his own side for political expediency. Americans have come to expect that from politicians, but not from the Supreme Court.
The release of a new swing state poll from Purple Poll Strategies confirms what we have been seeing for months: the race between President Obama and Mitt Romney is looking like a dead heat. Romney has closed the gap nationally in this poll from a 4-point deficit to only 2 points with state polls in Florida, Virginia, Ohio and Colorado producing similar results that are well within the margin of error. Despite an avalanche of spending by both sides in these and other battleground states, neither the president nor his challenger has been able to build a statistically significant lead. That ought to leave Democrats and Republicans wondering whether there is anything they can do to create any daylight between the two contenders.
The reasons for this stalemate are complex, but it boils down to a situation where both the president and Romney have strengths and weaknesses that seem to balance each other out. As Sean Trende noted last week at RealClearPolitics.com, the remarkable consistency of poll results that tend to show Obama with a slight lead among registered voters and a tie when it is narrowed down to likely voters is based on the fact that neither side seems able to deliver a knockout punch. The president is not popular and his main accomplishments are viewed negatively. But Romney is also not terribly well-liked. Even more important in Trende’s view is that while the economy is in bad shape, it is not that much worse than it was 2000 and 2004. Which means that no matter how much mud the Democrats sling at Romney or how hard the GOP hits the president on unpopular policies like ObamaCare, we are probably doomed to an election that will be as close as those two squeakers.
Reading the coverage of the potential vice presidential picks is like reliving the worst days of last summer. We’re told, for a variety of arbitrary reasons, that all of the exciting possibilities (Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie) are long-shots. Each day it seems more likely that the VP pick will be impossibly boring; either Tim Pawlenty with his midwestern blandness or the smart but sleep-inducing Rob Portman.
Just this morning, the New York Times caused Pawlenty’s inTrade veepstakes stock to spike with yet another article speculating about his chances:
The vetting of possible vice-presidential candidates is approaching an end. It has been a deeply secretive process, but several Republicans close to the campaign believe Mr. Pawlenty and Mr. Portman stand out among those being considered.
In 2008, as Mr. McCain was narrowing in on a running mate, several aides recommended Mr. Pawlenty. Others pushed for a bolder choice, a candidate who would create more enthusiasm among Republican activists.
Four years later, being passed over for Sarah Palin may work in Mr. Pawlenty’s favor. “In a lot of ways, he’s the anti-Palin,” said Steve Schmidt, a strategist to Mr. McCain who expressed regret for her selection. “Here’s a guy who is prepared to be president on Day 1. In any normal year, he would have been the pick.”
In his column, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne once again issues a “challenge for conservatives.” This time his focus is on income inequality.
According to Dionne, “It’s good that conservatives are finally taking seriously the problems of inequality and declining upward mobility. It’s unfortunate that they often evade the ways in which structural changes in the economy, combined with conservative policies, have made matters worse.” Dionne goes on to praise European nations whose policies are more “’socialist’ or (to be precise) social democratic than ours” and which also have greater social mobility than we find in America today.
Dionne cites several factors for this – guaranteed health insurance, stronger union movements, more generous welfare states, and higher taxes. He then cites William Julius Wilson’s review of Timothy Noah’s book The Great Divergence, which mentions “the increasing importance of a college degree due to the shortage of better-educated workers; trade between the United States and low-wage nations; changes in government policy in labor and finance; and the decline of the labor movement. He also considers the extreme changes in the wage structure of corporations and the financial industry, in which American CEOs typically receive three times the salaries earned by their European counterparts.”
“Most conservatives accept the importance of education,” according to Dionne, “but then choose to ignore all the other forces Noah describes.”
In fact, some of us have written about income inequality in somewhat more detail than Dionne has. This essay in National Affairs, for example, is roughly 10 times longer than Dionne’s column – and is, I think it’s fair to say, less tendentious. (In reading Dionne and some others, I’m reminded of this description: “Like a magnet among iron filings, [his mind] either concentrated acceptable facts in a tight cluster, or repelled them and kept itself clean.”)
The Washington Post trod over some familiar territory this past weekend with a 7,000-word retrospective on the Obama administration’s Middle East peace process misadventures. The account strives to put President Obama in a favorable light. But even the most sympathetic narrative of this period must come to grips with the president’s blundering, most of which was rooted in his determination to distance the United States from Israel in a vain attempt to score points with the Arab world. For the first three years of his presidency, Washington was focused on pressuring Israel, a policy that alienated the Jewish state but did nothing to nudge the Palestinians to make peace.
The Post’s lengthy rehashing of the president’s Middle East follies is part of the paper’s series of pieces evaluating the history of the last four years. It is worthwhile for the way it places in perspective the administration’s election-year Jewish charm offensive that has walked back some of the previous stands. It also makes clear that while President Obama deserves the lion’s share of the blame for the way he made a bad situation worse, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also ought to be held accountable for her role in the ongoing debacle. That’s a not unimportant point considering that Clinton is in Israel this week as part of an attempt on Obama’s part to smooth over relations.
Remember the Buffett Rule, which was supposed to usher in an age of tax fairness and solve our debt crisis? (And by that, I mean cover .23 percent of our annual deficit while providing enough loopholes for top earners to dodge the rule altogether?)
Well, in the spirit of equality, here’s a new proposal aimed at federal employees. It’s called the Pay Your Taxes Plan. It’s fairly self-explanatory, and involves federal employees simply paying the $3.4 billion they owe in back taxes (including the $833,970 owed by White House staffers, $9.3 million owed by Treasury employees, and $17 million owed by the Justice Department). And the best part is that it would even raise more than the Buffett Plan’s annual revenue.
Remember last winter when some smart people were sufficiently spooked by what seemed like a stalemate in the Republican presidential race to predict a brokered convention? Of course, that didn’t happen. But even after it became clear early on that Mitt Romney was going to be the nominee, we still heard fearsome premonitions of how Ron Paul’s supporters were going to disrupt the convention. While the media will be keeping an eye on Paul’s band of pledged delegates in Tampa, the notion that they have the ability to hijack Romney’s party turns out to be another myth. Indeed, with Nebraska, the last state to select its delegates, holding its state convention this past weekend, it became clear Paul’s forces would not even be able to place his name in nomination.
As Politico reports, by failing to win a plurality of the delegates picked at the Nebraska GOP conclave, Paul won’t have effective control of at least five delegations in Tampa, which is the minimum required for being allowed to place a candidate’s name before the convention even as a symbolic gesture. That may strike some as unfair considering that although Paul won only 158 delegates, he still got a lot of primary votes. But the point is such expectations are the product of a bygone era. National political conventions stopped being deliberative bodies a couple of generations ago. The parties have crafted rules that not only make a deadlock highly unlikely; they also are geared toward squelching symbolic or protest candidacies. That makes it hard for outliers to disrupt the nominee’s parties but has also had the ancillary effect of rendering the conventions unwatchable and unimportant.
How’s this story for further proof that the real point of the DISCLOSE Act is not transparency, but kneecapping conservative groups while protecting labor unions from disclosure burdens? The Free Beacon’s CJ Ciaramella reports that Senate Democrats dropped a key provision from the DISCLOSE Act requiring political groups to disclose their names in the advertisements they fund:
“The ‘stand by your ad’ provision was dropped in response to objections we’ve heard from folks on the other side of the aisle,” the spokesman said. “It’s now targeted specifically at requiring disclosure.”
However, a senior Republican aide told the Free Beacon the provision was dropped due to union pressure.
The “stand by your ad” provision would have required the CEO or equivalent position of an organization buying electioneering ads—AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, for example—to endorse them, similar to the endorsements required at the end of ads purchased by political campaigns.
“The Trumkas of the world aren’t exactly the warm, fuzzy personalities you want appearing at the end of your ad,” the aide said.
Every time Iran faces increased pressure from the West to terminate its nuclear program it responds with blood-curdling threats to close the Strait of Hormuz. As I have previously argued, while Iran’s threats need to be taken seriously, they should not stop us from effective action: While Iran could disrupt traffic in the strait primarily with mines and speedboats, it could not close this important waterway, and even its disruptions would be effectively ended by the U.S. Navy within a relatively short period of time.
The Financial Times notes this morning that there is further cause not to be overly afraid of Iranian retaliation against the world’s oil supply: “Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have opened new pipelines bypassing the Strait of Hormuz, the shipping lane that Iran has repeatedly threatened to close, in a move that will reduce Tehran’s power over oil markets.” The Saudi pipeline goes to the Red Sea, the UAE pipeline to the Indian Ocean. Together, the FT notes, “The new links will more than double the total pipeline capacity bypassing the strait to 6.5m barrels a day, or about 40 percent of the 17m b/d that transits Hormuz.”
Based on all the sensational headlines last weekend, you might think there was actually a new break in the Bain Capital timeline story. The Huffington Post has: “Ed Gillespie: Mitt Romney Retired Retroactively From Bain.” MSNBC has: “Former Bain Capital partner says Romney was ‘legally’ CEO of Bain Capital Until 2002.”
Retired retroactively? Legally CEO? Sounds scandalous, but there’s nothing new when you get past the headlines. The New York Times report today concludes the exact same thing media fact checkers and the Romney campaign have been saying since January — Romney de facto left Bain in 1999, when he went to run the Olympics. His name remained on the SEC forms until the company a.) established that he wouldn’t return to a management role after the Olympics ended, b.) transitioned to a new ownership structure:
Indeed, no evidence has yet emerged that Mr. Romney exercised his powers at Bain after February 1999 or directed the funds’ investments after he left, although his campaign has declined to say if he attended any meetings or had any other contact with Bain during the period. And financial disclosures filed with the Massachusetts ethics commission show that he drew at least $100,000 in 2001 from Bain Capital Inc. — effectively his own till — as a “former executive” and from other Bain entities as a passive general partner.
An offering memorandum to investors in Bain’s seventh private equity fund that was circulated in June 2000 also suggests that Mr. Romney was no longer actively involved in managing firm investments at the time. The memorandum, first published by Fortune, provides background on the “senior private equity investment professionals of Bain Capital.” Eighteen managers are listed; Mr. Romney is not among them.
On another filing with Massachusetts officials, Bain Capital listed all of Bain’s directors and officers for 2001. The form lists Michael F. Goss as “president, managing director and chief financial officer,” along with seventeen other managing directors. Mr. Romney is not among them, suggesting that while he still owned Bain’s management company, he was not an officer of the company.
There may be something obnoxious about the way candidates for high office are supposed to do a strip-tease in front of the media. But if Mitt Romney’s advisers aren’t telling him it’s time to release more tax returns, he needs new advisers. Bill Kristol was the latest conservative to say what everybody knows is common sense when he called the refusal to release more returns “crazy” on Fox News yesterday. He’s right, and the longer the Republican candidate ignores such advice the less it looks like he’s got a handle on what it takes to get elected president. It’s true that after being pounded on the question in the primaries, he released his 2010 return and an estimate about his 2011 form. But that isn’t enough, and he knows it.
The Romney campaign has been operating fairly smoothly since the primaries ended with only occasional hiccups such as his zigzags about whether ObamaCare was a tax. But by digging in their heels on this point, they are showing they are not as light on their feet as they should be. The tax return story may be a deliberate attempt by the left to distract the country from a bad economy, but it is also about transparency, something every presidential candidate must demonstrate in this day and age. Like it or not, a presidential candidate must reveal all of his financial data or doom himself to be the focus of conspiracy theories. If Romney wants to counter the Obama campaign’s vicious attacks on his record, he needs to show that he has nothing to hide. Once he does that, he can return to making substantive points about the president’s philosophical commitment to big government and against economic freedom. In refusing to give in to political fashion, he is not merely making a tactical blunder. Doing so also lends credence to the Democratic narrative seeking to portray him as a heartless plutocrat.
My colleague and Wall Street Journal Asia columnist Sadanand Dhume has one of the more valuable twitter feeds in Washington; it is a one-stop shop for anyone interested in South Asia, but he also on occasion includes references to interesting articles further afield. Today, Sadanand calls attention to this article from Egypt Independent regarding the dearth of acceptance in Egypt toward Charles Darwin and the concept of evolution:
A 2007 survey by sociologist Riaz Hassan found that only 8 percent of Egyptians accepted evolution as “true or probably true,” with more than 50 percent saying it could not possibly be true. Such antagonistic attitudes were reflected at a more regional level in October 2009, when Al Jazeera Arabic published an article on the discovery of “Ardi,” a 4.4 million-year-old hominid fossil. Rather than describing how the fossil brought scientists closer than ever to finding a common ancestor between humans and chimpanzees, the news item boasted that Ardi “proves Darwin’s theory is wrong.” The local press in Egypt enthusiastically picked up on the story, with several major papers running headlines that declared “the end of Darwin.”
While the state curriculum during Hosni Mubarak’s regime mandated the teaching of a unit on Darwin, the article quotes a teacher acknowledging that he tells his students to discount the theory.
It has now been a month since Mawloud Afand, the editor of Israel-Kurd magazine, went missing in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaymani. Afand had published Israel-Kurd for two years when he disappeared. Abe Greenwald covered the kidnapping, here.
Both Israeli intelligence sources and the Kurdish press say he was kidnapped by Iranian intelligence agents in Sulaymani after the Kurdish government ignored Iran’s demands that the Kurdish government shut down the magazine. In July 2010, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s representative to Tehran sent a letter to Barham Salih, the Kurdish prime minister, in which he reported Iranian unhappiness with the magazine, after Kurdish authorities promised Tehran that it would be closed down.
Rudaw, a Kurdish news outlet funded by Nechirvan Barzani, places blame on both Iranian authorities and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The PUK, for its part, refuses to investigate the case. While the PUK has a pro-American reputation in Washington, thanks largely to the efforts of Barham Salih and Qubad Talabani, the pro-Iranian faction inside the organization has long been dominant. Indeed, Barham Salih recently left for a four-day trip to Iran, and Qubad’s eldest brother Bafil Talabani was exiled after he helped Iranian agents infiltrate through PUK territory and into Mosul, where they killed American contractors.
According to Kurdish authorities, the exile came after an American intelligence ultimatum that he either leave Kurdistan or suffer the consequences more directly. Former PUK Prime Minister Kosrat Rasul has once again cast his lot with the Iranians, after concluding the Americans are a fleeting power, at least in Iraq. Barham Salih, while perceived as pro-American in Washington, is perceived as pro-Iranian in Tehran. He often travels to Iran to meet with senior Iranian politicians and security officials and, according to the Iranian press, he is there now. When Jalal Talabani fell ill several years ago, Barham met Iranian authorities to help him fill the vacuum should Talabani not recover. Abe Greenwald was right when he concluded that Afand’s kidnapping was “another reminder of the Iranian regime’s implacable and ever more brazen savagery in a world abandoned by the leadership of the American superpower.”