Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 11, 2012

Sound Familiar? Islamists Storm U.S. Embassy and America Apologizes

Is it possible to learn from history? Apparently not if you are an American president determined to win the love of the Islamic world. Over 33 years ago, Islamist rioters stormed an American embassy. U.S. sovereignty was violated and hostages were taken. The immediate response from America, though, was conciliatory–as if those who had insulted the United States could be convinced to think better of their target if those who had just been attacked made enough apologies. The result was the Iran hostage crisis that helped bring down the administration of Jimmy Carter. You might think American diplomats would have learned the lessons of Carter’s Iran debacle but judging by the statement issued today by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, perhaps that chapter of history is no longer considered required reading in the age of Obama.

Today a mob numbering in the hundreds stormed the Cairo embassy on the pretext of being upset about the alleged appearance on YouTube of a film made by Egyptian-American that is derogatory to Islam. The mob scaled the wall of the embassy, entered the courtyard and tore down and burned the U.S. flag that flew over the diplomatic enclave and raised in its place a black Islamic banner that is associated with al-Qaeda. According to the Associated Press, no embassy personnel were hurt since nearly all of them had fled the compound before the mob arrived. Egyptian riot police did not stop the rioters.

In response to this outrage, this is the statement issued by the United States in Egypt:

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others

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Is it possible to learn from history? Apparently not if you are an American president determined to win the love of the Islamic world. Over 33 years ago, Islamist rioters stormed an American embassy. U.S. sovereignty was violated and hostages were taken. The immediate response from America, though, was conciliatory–as if those who had insulted the United States could be convinced to think better of their target if those who had just been attacked made enough apologies. The result was the Iran hostage crisis that helped bring down the administration of Jimmy Carter. You might think American diplomats would have learned the lessons of Carter’s Iran debacle but judging by the statement issued today by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, perhaps that chapter of history is no longer considered required reading in the age of Obama.

Today a mob numbering in the hundreds stormed the Cairo embassy on the pretext of being upset about the alleged appearance on YouTube of a film made by Egyptian-American that is derogatory to Islam. The mob scaled the wall of the embassy, entered the courtyard and tore down and burned the U.S. flag that flew over the diplomatic enclave and raised in its place a black Islamic banner that is associated with al-Qaeda. According to the Associated Press, no embassy personnel were hurt since nearly all of them had fled the compound before the mob arrived. Egyptian riot police did not stop the rioters.

In response to this outrage, this is the statement issued by the United States in Egypt:

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others

No mention was made to the invasion of the embassy or the insult to the symbol of the United States that is as dear to Americans than Islam is to Egyptians. Rather than making it clear that this breach of diplomatic immunity and common decency requires the apology of the Egyptian government and the punishment of those responsible, the Obama administration bowed and apologized.

Americans do respect all faiths and religious believers including Islam. But we also respect freedom of speech and that gives the person who made the offending film — a member of the Egyptian Coptic faith that has suffered bitter persecution and violence at the hands of the Muslim majority — the right to say what he likes whether the Egyptians like it or not. More to the point, it is not the business of the State Department, the Cairo Embassy or any American official to apologize for or to in any engage in the controversy over this film, let alone issue a statement that appears to rationalize a violent assault on a U.S. embassy on the 9/11 anniversary.

Ruthie Blum’s new book To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama and the “Arab Spring,” traces the eerie parallels between Carter’s Middle East blunders and those of the current administration as it has failed to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat and the Arab Spring. The fiasco in Cairo is just one more piece of evidence proving her thesis.

It should also be pointed out that Democrats have scoffed at Mitt Romney’s criticism of President Obama’s inveterate apologizing for America and claimed it was an inaccurate Republican calumny of the president. Romney, who has been taking an unjustified beating in the press on foreign and defense policy, should have something to say about this latest instance of Obama’s supine attitude toward America’s foes.

UPDATE: Subsequent developments have made it clear that the timeline for the U.S. embassy apology was not as damning as it first appeared. Further thoughts on why the problem here is bigger than one ill-considered apology can be found here.

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Has Netanyahu’s Iran Bluff Been Called?

Earlier, John channeled the spirit of William Safire and gave us an imaginative and probably not inaccurate assessment of President Obama’s motivation for refusing to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu later this month during the meetings of the United Nations General Assembly. Given Obama’s personal antipathy for Netanyahu and his ardent desire to avoid any meeting that would place him under some obligation to strengthen his stand on Iran, the snub is hardly surprising. The intent, as with a number of previous stunts by the president aimed at the Israeli, was to embarrass Netanyahu as well as to stiff him on the one issue his country cares about: Iran.

The decision is particularly problematic because the assumption in the Israeli press had been that Obama would use a planned September 26 meeting with Netanyahu to not only reaffirm his commitment to stopping Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. The consensus was that it would also be the occasion for the enunciation of some “red lines” that would state with some degree of certainty just how far the diplomatic process would be allowed to go before Iran would be called to account by the United States. Instead, Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have made it clear that there will be no red lines, meaning that a policy predicated on the idea that diplomacy and sanctions to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear goal will be allowed to go on, perhaps indefinitely. Netanyahu doesn’t need to read Contentions to understand that in doing so Obama has just shown that he doesn’t believe the Israeli’s threats to attack Iran. Just as important, the president is also signaling that the U.S. has no intention of ever resorting to force even though everyone in Washington already knows that diplomacy has no chance of success.

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Earlier, John channeled the spirit of William Safire and gave us an imaginative and probably not inaccurate assessment of President Obama’s motivation for refusing to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu later this month during the meetings of the United Nations General Assembly. Given Obama’s personal antipathy for Netanyahu and his ardent desire to avoid any meeting that would place him under some obligation to strengthen his stand on Iran, the snub is hardly surprising. The intent, as with a number of previous stunts by the president aimed at the Israeli, was to embarrass Netanyahu as well as to stiff him on the one issue his country cares about: Iran.

The decision is particularly problematic because the assumption in the Israeli press had been that Obama would use a planned September 26 meeting with Netanyahu to not only reaffirm his commitment to stopping Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. The consensus was that it would also be the occasion for the enunciation of some “red lines” that would state with some degree of certainty just how far the diplomatic process would be allowed to go before Iran would be called to account by the United States. Instead, Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have made it clear that there will be no red lines, meaning that a policy predicated on the idea that diplomacy and sanctions to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear goal will be allowed to go on, perhaps indefinitely. Netanyahu doesn’t need to read Contentions to understand that in doing so Obama has just shown that he doesn’t believe the Israeli’s threats to attack Iran. Just as important, the president is also signaling that the U.S. has no intention of ever resorting to force even though everyone in Washington already knows that diplomacy has no chance of success.

That leaves the Israeli stuck with a grim choice between ordering an attack or to simply accept the American decision and wait until the inevitable moment when the Iranians announce their success.

The divisive debate about a unilateral attack that has gone on in Israel in recent months has obviously undermined Netanyahu’s position with the Americans. Whereas earlier in the year, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak seemed to have their country with them as they blustered about the nuclear peril from Iran. Their saber rattling was credible enough to force a reluctant Obama administration as well as the Europeans to finally enforce tough sanctions on Iran’s oil exports. The P5+1 talks would never have happened had the Western powers and the Russians and Chinese not feared that Israel would act on its own if they didn’t get serious about pressuring Iran. But the abject failure of those talks and Iran’s ability to continue to generate oil revenue despite the sanctions allowed Tehran to escalate its drive to enrich enough uranium for a bomb. And the Americans and the international coalition they assembled weren’t interested in pushing the issue beyond the show of diplomacy.

In essence, Netanyahu is back where he was a year ago with the only difference being that Iran is one year closer to a nuke and President Obama seems to think he need no longer fear Israel’s threats. As John rightly predicts, that sets the stage for Obama to demonstrate the sort of “flexibility” on Iran that he has promised to show to Russia if re-elected. That will leave Israel not only facing the peril of a nuclear Iran but also having lost the help of its sole ally on the issue.

That leaves us wondering not so much what Obama or Netanyahu is thinking right now but what American Jewish supporters of the president are making of this dispiriting display of pique from the White House. Over the last year the president has embarked on a charm offensive intended to minimize the decline in his share of the Jewish vote. But by choosing to avoid an opportunity to reassure them and Israel of his intentions on the existential threat from Iran, Jewish voters have just been given another reason to abandon the president.

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A Better 9/11 Comparison

On this, the latest anniversary of 9/11, there is an understandable tendency to compare the Al Qaeda attack on American soil with the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941. While the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon was actually deadlier than the attack on Pearl Harbor, there is a significant difference between the two events: the latter was the work of a nation state, the former the work of a non-governmental organization. Al Qaeda is not, of course, entirely independent of nation states—it needs shelter somewhere, meaning in some nation state, especially for training and higher-level command and control structures, and it benefits from alliances with certain states, such as Taliban-era Afghanistan or Iran or, possibly, Pakistan. But it is not state-directed and even overthrowing the state that gave its leadership shelter—the Taliban-run Afghanistan—has not put an end to the organization. It has simply migrated to Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, and other spots where there is not a strong government willing and able to keep the terrorists out.

This may be to belabor the obvious, but the difference between Imperial Japan and Al Qaeda is worth contemplating on this anniversary because it helps to explain why there has not been a neat and final resolution to the conflict once known as the Global War on Terror. Quite simply, it is difficult to imagine the leaders of Al Qaeda ever signing instruments of surrender as the leaders of Japan did on the deck of the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945. And even if, by some remote chance, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s successor, did sign a peace treaty, it would be disregarded by many fanatics who claim to fight in Al Qaeda’s name. Al Qaeda is not a rigidly organized, tightly hierarchical structure that can impose discipline on its followers. It is, rather, a loose-knit network over which its leaders exercise only limited control.

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On this, the latest anniversary of 9/11, there is an understandable tendency to compare the Al Qaeda attack on American soil with the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941. While the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon was actually deadlier than the attack on Pearl Harbor, there is a significant difference between the two events: the latter was the work of a nation state, the former the work of a non-governmental organization. Al Qaeda is not, of course, entirely independent of nation states—it needs shelter somewhere, meaning in some nation state, especially for training and higher-level command and control structures, and it benefits from alliances with certain states, such as Taliban-era Afghanistan or Iran or, possibly, Pakistan. But it is not state-directed and even overthrowing the state that gave its leadership shelter—the Taliban-run Afghanistan—has not put an end to the organization. It has simply migrated to Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, and other spots where there is not a strong government willing and able to keep the terrorists out.

This may be to belabor the obvious, but the difference between Imperial Japan and Al Qaeda is worth contemplating on this anniversary because it helps to explain why there has not been a neat and final resolution to the conflict once known as the Global War on Terror. Quite simply, it is difficult to imagine the leaders of Al Qaeda ever signing instruments of surrender as the leaders of Japan did on the deck of the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945. And even if, by some remote chance, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s successor, did sign a peace treaty, it would be disregarded by many fanatics who claim to fight in Al Qaeda’s name. Al Qaeda is not a rigidly organized, tightly hierarchical structure that can impose discipline on its followers. It is, rather, a loose-knit network over which its leaders exercise only limited control.

It seems to me, then, that we need a better historical analogy to understand what happened in 2001. The analogy I propose, with some important caveats, is to the events of March 22, 1622. That was the day when Powhatan Indians staged a devastating raid on the English settlement at Jamestown, killing 347 out of 1,240 colonists—a far higher percentage of the population than died on 9/11 even if the absolute number killed was considerable smaller. The settlers subsequently carried out a bloody revenge on the Powhatans but no matter how savagely the settlers fought, peace would prove elusive. The location of the Indian Wars changed over the years: By the early nineteenth century the eastern United States had been effectively secured against Indian attack; in subsequent years battles with the Indians would be fought primarily in the trans-Mississippi West. But what did not change was the persistence of the conflict: America’s European settlers spent roughly three centuries fighting Native Americans. Only in 1890 was the frontier declared closed and the era of Indian Wars ended.

I do not mean to suggest that Native Americans were motivated by the same sort of extremist religious ideology as Al Qaeda; although some Native Americans did fall prey to religious cults such as the Ghost Dance, they were, on the whole, simply fighting admirably and understandably to defend their homes and hunting grounds from the encroachments of avaricious newcomers. Nor do I mean to suggest we are doomed to spend three centuries fighting Islamist fanatics. But the model of the Indian Wars is one that is more apt for this kind of conflict than a short, conventional war like World War II.

The Indians, after all, generally lacked strong central government; they were split into numerous tribes and these were further subdivided into clans and families, some of them in favor of peace with the white man, others in favor of war. Even moderate chiefs such as the Cheyenne leader Black Kettle (whose people were the victims of the infamous Sand Creek Massacre in 1864) had trouble controlling their headstrong warriors, and so the Indian Wars persisted for decade after decade, century after century.

Most of the armed conflicts against the Indians were hardly worthy of the name “war” in the European sense—they were more skirmishes and raids than conventional battles. So too with Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups which we are more likely to fight with drone strikes than with massive tank battles. But simply because they could not muster conventional ground forces in the European sense did not mean that the Indians were not a threat. Settler families (both Mexican and American) living on the frontier were far more terrified of an Indian raid than Americans today are of an Al Qaeda attack. Yet Al Qaeda, thanks to advances in technology, is able to inflict far worse damage on its enemies than Geronimo or Cochise could possibly have imagined.

The key to success in the War on Terror, just like in the Indian Wars, is patience and persistence. Although we can hope that the current conflict lasts a lot less than 300 years, it has already lasted longer than World War II and shows no sign of ending anytime soon. Indeed, despite the losses suffered by Al Qaeda’s central organization in the 11 years since 9/11, it remains in business, while various other jihadist groups including Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Shabaab in Somalia, Ansar al Dine in Mali, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban, and on and on, remain a growing danger. I don’t think the West is losing this conflict; indeed, by many indicators, it is the jihadists who are losing. But NGOs like Al Qaeda and its ilk can endure decades, even centuries, of losing and still remain a potent threat. For all of our tactical successes, such as the raid that killed bin Laden, the Long War is not going away anytime soon.

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Not Meeting Bibi: What Obama Is Secretly Thinking

With apologies to the late William Safire, who came up with this imaginative format:

“So Netanyahu wants to meet me when he comes to the States for the U.N. General Assembly. Of course he does. Last time he was here and we met, that arrogant SOB showed me up during our joint press availability and delivered me and America a lecture on Palestinian intransigence. Then he goes and gets dozens of standing ovations speaking before a Joint Session of Congress. He makes me look bad, I find myself with fundraising problems, and the chance that in an incredibly close election even the loss of 10,000 Jewish votes in Florida could make all the difference. And who is to blame for my difficulties? Netanyahu. He has stoked this. He has nurtured this. He has made this flower.

“Now here we are, and he wants to corner me again. He wants to talk about Iran. He knows we’re just a few weeks from the election, when it would be best for me to look really tough. But that’s not my strategy here. I want to do what I can to squeeze Iran, but I want to make sure the Iranians have wiggle room to get themselves out of the nuclear trap they’ve walked into without looking as though they’ve surrendered. What does he want? He wants me to establish ‘red lines’ for Iranian conduct that will set up a tripwire. If they cross those lines, war begins.

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With apologies to the late William Safire, who came up with this imaginative format:

“So Netanyahu wants to meet me when he comes to the States for the U.N. General Assembly. Of course he does. Last time he was here and we met, that arrogant SOB showed me up during our joint press availability and delivered me and America a lecture on Palestinian intransigence. Then he goes and gets dozens of standing ovations speaking before a Joint Session of Congress. He makes me look bad, I find myself with fundraising problems, and the chance that in an incredibly close election even the loss of 10,000 Jewish votes in Florida could make all the difference. And who is to blame for my difficulties? Netanyahu. He has stoked this. He has nurtured this. He has made this flower.

“Now here we are, and he wants to corner me again. He wants to talk about Iran. He knows we’re just a few weeks from the election, when it would be best for me to look really tough. But that’s not my strategy here. I want to do what I can to squeeze Iran, but I want to make sure the Iranians have wiggle room to get themselves out of the nuclear trap they’ve walked into without looking as though they’ve surrendered. What does he want? He wants me to establish ‘red lines’ for Iranian conduct that will set up a tripwire. If they cross those lines, war begins.

“Meaning a U.S. war. Bibi figures it would be best if the U.S. did Israel’s work for it, because we have all the weaponry and the long-range capability. He wants to scare me and everybody else by saying, ‘We don’t know if we Israelis can do this, can take the Iranian nuclear program out. But we’ll have to try if you don’t. We may fail. We may do badly and there may be horrible repercussions and loss of life and chaos in the Middle East and oil at $200. But I’m just crazy enough to do it.’

“I don’t think he’s crazy. I think he’s hateful. I think he wants to destroy my presidency and he doesn’t care how he does it. I think this close to the election he wants to force me into a corner I don’t want to be forced into, and get a soapbox to stand on to preach his word while I stand there mutely and say nothing.

“No way. I’m not meeting with him. Let them scream. Let Romney try to play this for votes and money. What’s done is done. I’ve raised the money I can raise and the Jewish vote will go the way the Jewish vote will go. People who really agree with him are not going to vote for me already. I figure no matter what, I can get 60 percent of the Jewish vote and that will have to do.

“Remember what I said to Medvedev? That after the election I’ll have more flexibility? Oh, am I going to flex some of that Bibi’s way. You can count on that.”

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Is Romney Losing the Medicare Argument?

Although today’s Washington Post/ABC poll gives Mitt Romney no reason to panic–he’s down just one point among likely voters–it should at least raise a red flag: Romney does not seem to be pulling away on the economy, the centerpiece of his campaign. But even more frustrating for the campaign may be that Romney picked a fight he now seems to be losing: Medicare. According to the poll, he’s trailing the president on that question too.

Before Romney picked Paul Ryan as his running mate, Gallup’s polling showed that few were thinking about Medicare heading into the election. Think of it as the opportunity cost–which was raised at the time–of diverting the campaign messaging away from the economy. But you can divert attention from the economy if it’s to an issue voters care about, and if you can win the argument over it. Here’s Gallup’s mid-August chart of the “non-economic” issue voters thought presented the “most important problem” (most recent results from left):

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Although today’s Washington Post/ABC poll gives Mitt Romney no reason to panic–he’s down just one point among likely voters–it should at least raise a red flag: Romney does not seem to be pulling away on the economy, the centerpiece of his campaign. But even more frustrating for the campaign may be that Romney picked a fight he now seems to be losing: Medicare. According to the poll, he’s trailing the president on that question too.

Before Romney picked Paul Ryan as his running mate, Gallup’s polling showed that few were thinking about Medicare heading into the election. Think of it as the opportunity cost–which was raised at the time–of diverting the campaign messaging away from the economy. But you can divert attention from the economy if it’s to an issue voters care about, and if you can win the argument over it. Here’s Gallup’s mid-August chart of the “non-economic” issue voters thought presented the “most important problem” (most recent results from left):

 

See “care for the elderly/Medicare” way down there? It went from 1 percent to zero percent. Now, obviously introducing it as a major campaign theme will increase its importance. The New York Times claimed it had become a key issue in swing states, but their poll was so thoroughly discredited as to be useless. And if Romney does succeed in making Medicare a top voter priority, he has another problem: Gallup found two weeks ago that voters give Obama a 12-point advantage on that issue. (Today’s poll has Romney within five points on the question.) That may change, but it seems Romney may have mimicked, rather than learned from, Obama’s health care mistake. Even after Obama passed health care reform, making it by far the most talked-about issue, it remained low on the list of priorities for voters heading into the following election. With time, health care rose on that list of priorities–in part because voters hated the new law so much they resolved to get rid of it.

Obama made two mistakes: he ignored more important issues in favor of health care, and then lost the argument over it once he elevated it in voters’ minds. Romney has the winning argument on the economy, but he’s elevated an issue that just a month ago was far from voters’ top priority. If he loses the Medicare argument, he’ll replicate both of those mistakes.

This is not to say that Medicare shouldn’t be reformed. Indeed, entitlements need reforming even if it’s not too popular politically, and the Democrats’ Mediscare tactics are designed to uphold an unsustainable status quo and strike a devastating blow to the reform agenda in the service of maintaining their hold on power.

Which brings up another challenge for the Romney campaign: to succeed, they must convince voters that if Obama is re-elected, and then chooses to do nothing, entitlements will bring on a fiscal disaster.

It’s a worthy and responsible argument to make, but until voters develop that same sense of urgency, their campaign has shifted from facts (unemployment is high) to speculation (Obama will let Medicare go bankrupt). As I wrote after the Ryan selection, voters were enthused about having “a choice, not a referendum,” as the popular refrain went. But giving voters an argument isn’t good enough; Romney will have to win that argument too. Today’s poll is another indication that he’s struggling to do more than break even on this issue.

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Arguing About the Jewish Vote

At the Jewish Journal, Shmuel Rosner takes me to task for “manipulating the facts” in a post I wrote yesterday about the Investors Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll of the presidential race. What facts did I “manipulate”? Just this: I reported that the poll’s breakdown of voters by religion showed President Obama leading Mitt Romney by a 59-35 percent margin with 6 percent undecided. But Rosner doesn’t say I falsified the numbers. His criticism is that I didn’t ignore them.

According to Rosner, the sample size of the poll is too small for any statistics about the admittedly tiny percentage of the voting public that is Jewish to be meaningful. That’s a fair point and I should have noted that the sample here, as in just about any poll that is not focused only on Jews, is pretty small and might not be accurate. But it is significant that even this small sample seems to reflect the same trend that other larger and perhaps (or perhaps not) more reliable polls have consistently shown for the last year: Barack Obama is going to get far fewer Jewish votes than he got in 2008. To deny that, as some of the president’s Jewish cheering section has been urging us to do, is absurd.

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At the Jewish Journal, Shmuel Rosner takes me to task for “manipulating the facts” in a post I wrote yesterday about the Investors Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll of the presidential race. What facts did I “manipulate”? Just this: I reported that the poll’s breakdown of voters by religion showed President Obama leading Mitt Romney by a 59-35 percent margin with 6 percent undecided. But Rosner doesn’t say I falsified the numbers. His criticism is that I didn’t ignore them.

According to Rosner, the sample size of the poll is too small for any statistics about the admittedly tiny percentage of the voting public that is Jewish to be meaningful. That’s a fair point and I should have noted that the sample here, as in just about any poll that is not focused only on Jews, is pretty small and might not be accurate. But it is significant that even this small sample seems to reflect the same trend that other larger and perhaps (or perhaps not) more reliable polls have consistently shown for the last year: Barack Obama is going to get far fewer Jewish votes than he got in 2008. To deny that, as some of the president’s Jewish cheering section has been urging us to do, is absurd.

Rosner also says I’m wrong to cite the figure of 78 percent as being Obama’s percentage of the Jewish vote in 2008. He says it was 74 percent. He might be right, as exit polls are far from exact. You never know whether people are telling canvassers the truth about how they voted and several times in recent history the actual results have been quite different than what the exit polls said they would be. But the initial reports from national exit polling done on Election Day four years ago was 78 percent. Indeed, that is the number that the National Jewish Democratic Council trumpeted in their triumphal post-election press release. It is also still the number published by the reference site Jewish Virtual Library. Of course, in contrast to 2008, Democrats are eager these days to lower estimates of Obama’s vote rather than to inflate it since it will cushion the blow this fall when he winds up with a far lower percentage of Jewish support than last time.

Rosner also assumes that Obama will get more than 59 percent of the vote and chides me for assuming that’s the number he will get, even though all I did was to speculate that he will likely not wind up with all of the undecided voters and might get a result closer to that number than to the 64 percent of Jewish votes that Michael Dukakis got in 1988.

Perhaps Obama will equal Dukakis’s total or slightly better it. My point was not to harp so much on the 59 percent figure but to point out that any result in that vicinity or even the number Dukakis would get constitutes the worst result among Jews for a Democrat in 24 years. As it happens, a Gallup poll of Jewish voters conducted in July showed Obama doing no better than Dukakis. And since Jewish polling in the last year has consistently shown that this is a very real possibility, it’s hard to take claims of “manipulation” seriously. No matter how you slice it, unless there is a dramatic shift in the president’s direction, the result will be a historic decline for the Democrats that will (if you assume he’ll get 64 percent this year and got only 78 percent in 2008) see him lose at least 14 percent off the total he got four years ago.

As I’ve written about some of those other polls in the past months, the main point to be gleaned from them is not so much the absolute totals but the same one I discussed yesterday. No matter how much you soft-pedal Obama’s decline in Jewish support, the only explanation for it that makes any sense is concern over Israel. That is the only conceivable reason why Jewish voters, no matter how large or small the sample, have consistently shown a greater willingness to desert the president than any other ethnic or religious group.

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Obama, Romney, and the Ludicrousness of Political Determinism

Eight weeks from today, 140 million people will go to the polls to elect a president. According to the most confidently expressed theories about this election, the result is already determined. It is the operative theory at Romney headquarters that their man is going to win because the economy is so sour, two-thirds of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, and the small number of undecided voters will break for Romney three-to-one and he’ll edge across the finish line in first place.

The Obamans appear to believe that their man is going to win because he was ahead in the polls after the conventions and the candidate ahead after the conventions usually wins (except in 2008, when John McCain was ahead, but whatever). He has a four point lead today in the Real Clear Politics average and, as former George W. Bush pollster (and later political turncoat) Matthew Dowd said today, “A 4 or 5 point lead in this environment is as significant as a 10-12 point lead 15, 20 years ago.” Polls suggest voters like Obama more than Romney; there’s even a data point on one today about whom you would like by your bedside when you are sick, a question the very existence of which indicates we are halfway on the road to Idiocracy. One eager-beaver website has even already declared Romney the loser of the debates.

So here’s my question: Why campaign at all? If it’s all baked in the cake, why will the candidates travel relentlessly, spend hundreds of millions of dollars, and wake up in cold sweats five nights out of six?

Because, of course, it’s not.

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Eight weeks from today, 140 million people will go to the polls to elect a president. According to the most confidently expressed theories about this election, the result is already determined. It is the operative theory at Romney headquarters that their man is going to win because the economy is so sour, two-thirds of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, and the small number of undecided voters will break for Romney three-to-one and he’ll edge across the finish line in first place.

The Obamans appear to believe that their man is going to win because he was ahead in the polls after the conventions and the candidate ahead after the conventions usually wins (except in 2008, when John McCain was ahead, but whatever). He has a four point lead today in the Real Clear Politics average and, as former George W. Bush pollster (and later political turncoat) Matthew Dowd said today, “A 4 or 5 point lead in this environment is as significant as a 10-12 point lead 15, 20 years ago.” Polls suggest voters like Obama more than Romney; there’s even a data point on one today about whom you would like by your bedside when you are sick, a question the very existence of which indicates we are halfway on the road to Idiocracy. One eager-beaver website has even already declared Romney the loser of the debates.

So here’s my question: Why campaign at all? If it’s all baked in the cake, why will the candidates travel relentlessly, spend hundreds of millions of dollars, and wake up in cold sweats five nights out of six?

Because, of course, it’s not.

The problem with all these theories is this kind of determinism serves as crazed comfort to those working on these campaigns when things may be going wrong with their strategy. I suspect that is true of the Romney campaign, which is relying to a strange extent on the presumption that its leader can win without giving people much of a reason to vote for him. I expand on this point in today’s New York Post. Suffice it to say that if the panjandrums in Boston are relying on the voters to make up their own reasons to vote for Romney, they might be on the way to making the biggest political blunder in our lifetimes.

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Who’s Playing Politics on Israel Now?

At a joint event sponsored by J Street and the American Arab Institute during the Democratic National Convention last week, Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen claimed that Mitt Romney “would be game over for Israel’s existence,” according to the JTA. Surely Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the National Jewish Democratic Council will strongly rebuke this partisan attack on Romney’s Israel policy any minute now?

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) is going on the offensive, accusing Mitt Romney of not just being bad for Israel, but of being an existential threat to the future of the Jewish state.

“I think that Mitt Romney would be game over for Israel’s existence,” he said at a panel discussion co-sponsored Tuesday by the Arab American Institute and J Street, “because just allowing us to follow what Netanyahu wants and not to try to force the process into bringing about a two-state solution will lead to  Israel’s nonexistence.”

He said that such a path “inevitably will result in a war,” warning that nuclear weapons could be involved.

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At a joint event sponsored by J Street and the American Arab Institute during the Democratic National Convention last week, Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen claimed that Mitt Romney “would be game over for Israel’s existence,” according to the JTA. Surely Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the National Jewish Democratic Council will strongly rebuke this partisan attack on Romney’s Israel policy any minute now?

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) is going on the offensive, accusing Mitt Romney of not just being bad for Israel, but of being an existential threat to the future of the Jewish state.

“I think that Mitt Romney would be game over for Israel’s existence,” he said at a panel discussion co-sponsored Tuesday by the Arab American Institute and J Street, “because just allowing us to follow what Netanyahu wants and not to try to force the process into bringing about a two-state solution will lead to  Israel’s nonexistence.”

He said that such a path “inevitably will result in a war,” warning that nuclear weapons could be involved.

So, in Cohen’s estimation, the real looming existential threat to Israel is if the U.S. allows Israel’s democratically-elected leader to determine his government’s own policies. This is one of those “America must save Israel from itself” arguments that is wrong, patronizing, and anti-democratic on its own. But the additional hyperbole about Romney’s policies destroying Israel is ridiculously tone deaf during a time when Cohen’s own party is insisting any criticism of GOP or Democratic policies on Israel is “dangerous” for the Jewish state.

That notion — promoted by DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the National Jewish Democratic Council — seems unnecessarily closed-minded. Most Israel supporters would surely welcome a debate over which presidential candidate has a stronger pro-Israel policy, and, of course, politicians can’t be held accountable unless we have an open discussion about their records.

Still, that is the stance of Democratic Party leaders. On CNN last weekend, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz reiterated her position that nobody should ever criticize GOP or Democratic policies as anti-Israel.

“I did not say that Republican policies were dangerous for Israel,” she told CNN’s Don Lemon. “In fact, saying that policies are different between the Republicans and Democrats on the United States is harmful to Israel, and I didn’t say it.”

If DWS actually believes that (as opposed to the alternative that she’s just trying to shut down legitimate GOP criticism of Obama’s Israel policies), where’s her condemnation of Cohen’s comments?

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Nobody Was Prepared for 9/11

Perhaps it’s because we’re in an election season or perhaps it’s that more than ten years have passed since 9/11, but either way the New York Times has dropped its pretense of solemnity when noting the anniversary of the most deadly attack on the American homeland. Though it’s taken a while, the day of reflection and remembrance is now just another tawdry news “peg” on which to hang sordid partisan accusations.

The accusation itself? Oh, nothing new—George W. Bush is to blame for 9/11, naturally. Places like the Nation are labeling today’s Times op-ed by Kurt Eichenwald a “bombshell,” but that’s only so if you’ve been living in a bomb-shelter. Eichenwald’s main revelation is no revelation at all—just a cynically timed cut-and-paste job. He writes that the oft-cited “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” intelligence document given to Bush a month before 9/11 “is not nearly as shocking as the briefs that came before it.” Taken together, Eichenwald maintains, “ the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed.” So Bush is even more to blame than you thought he was.

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Perhaps it’s because we’re in an election season or perhaps it’s that more than ten years have passed since 9/11, but either way the New York Times has dropped its pretense of solemnity when noting the anniversary of the most deadly attack on the American homeland. Though it’s taken a while, the day of reflection and remembrance is now just another tawdry news “peg” on which to hang sordid partisan accusations.

The accusation itself? Oh, nothing new—George W. Bush is to blame for 9/11, naturally. Places like the Nation are labeling today’s Times op-ed by Kurt Eichenwald a “bombshell,” but that’s only so if you’ve been living in a bomb-shelter. Eichenwald’s main revelation is no revelation at all—just a cynically timed cut-and-paste job. He writes that the oft-cited “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” intelligence document given to Bush a month before 9/11 “is not nearly as shocking as the briefs that came before it.” Taken together, Eichenwald maintains, “ the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed.” So Bush is even more to blame than you thought he was.

Except, of course, Eichenwald’s information is rehashed and inconsequential. He writes:

The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.

But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster.

This is undoubtedly earth-shattering news to those who didn’t bother to read the 9/11 Commission Report (published in 2004), in which these warnings were first disclosed. Perhaps for Eichenwald’s next bombshell he’ll reveal that a highly trained Navy SEAL team killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May of 2011. That successive American administrations had underestimated the threat of Islamist terrorism for a quarter century before 9/11 isn’t exactly news. Ronald Reagan responded to terrorist acts with discrete and ineffective cruise missile strikes. In 1989, George H.W. Bush closed the American embassy in Afghanistan and left us clueless as to what the Taliban and al-Qaeda were up to. Bill Clinton was president during the 1993 Islamist bombing of the World Trade Center; passed on several opportunities to kill Osama bin Laden; and did nothing after the 2000 strike on the USS Cole, which was known for a fact to be the work of al-Qaeda.

As for those who “considered the warning to be just bluster,” they included more than Iraq-obsessed neocons (Eichenwald’s charge). In fact, the New York Times itself ran a telling op-ed by former State Department official Larry C. Johnson on July 10, 2001. It reads like a perfect mirror image of today’s op-ed. In it, Johnson claimed that,

Americans are bedeviled by fantasies about terrorism. They seem to believe that terrorism is the greatest threat to the United States and that it is becoming more widespread and lethal. They are likely to think that the United States is the most popular target of terrorists. And they almost certainly have the impression that extremist Islamic groups cause most terrorism.

None of these beliefs are based in fact.

Silly Americans. Thanks to the New York Times, we were made to understand (two months prior to 9/11) that terrorism hype was just a matter of “bureaucracies in the military and in intelligence agencies that are desperate to find an enemy to justify budget growth.”

Not so much a bombshell as a bomb.

But still, Johnson’s piece is useful in getting at the real issue of pre-9/11 vigilance. As that ridiculous document makes plain, absolutely nothing about the United States—not its political, intelligence, or military institutions, nor its civilian culture—was remotely prepared for what happened 11 years ago.

In Eichenwald’s telling, the would-be heroes are his anonymous sources in the intelligence community. “[T]he C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real,” he writes. But nothing he quotes in the all-important briefings told of who, where, and when al-Qaeda would attack. What were administration officials left with but a sense of purblind and pervasive foreboding? Presidents are briefed on real dangers everyday, but to act on each vague warning with maximum vigilance is to preside over a country on lockdown. Eichenwald rightly laments that while 9/11 conspirators Zacarias Moussaoui and Mohamed al-Kahtani were both detained in the summer of 2001, “the dots were not connected, and Washington did not react.” But who exactly is being identified by the proper noun “Washington” here? Was it not the job of the intelligence community to connect those dots? A small unit within the CIA was charged with tracking bin Laden since the mid-1990s. Yet the community that was so bent on forcing the immovable Bush administration to see the danger before its very eyes gleaned precisely nothing from the detention of two terrorists involved in a plot that would soon kill some 3,000 Americans.

One last thought. Life-saving anti-terrorism policies met extraordinary public opposition even after the United States was attacked on 9/11. Just imagine that the Bush administration (or any administration) had sought to topple the Taliban, waterboard suspects, or institute the Patriot Act during peacetime. Such measures would have been the only possible prophylactic against 9/11—and they would have made manifest every leftist delusion about America being a tyrannical police state. The truth is, we need no more “bombshell” revelations about pre-9/11 warnings. Osama bin Laden announced his intention to attack the United States at least as early as 1997. We just didn’t take him at his word. Look around and see if history isn’t preparing to repeat itself while we play 9/11 politics.

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The “Crazed Veteran”

On this 11th anniversary of 9/11, I am struck by how little of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have wormed their way into American fiction. The main character in Michael Chabon’s brand new Telegraph Avenue is a veteran of the first Gulf War, but by the time the novel opens in 2004, his Army hitch is already 12 years behind him, and his problems are no longer a veteran’s problems. The protagonist of Nicholson Baker’s Checkpoint (2004) spends his time denouncing the Iraq war when he is not daydreaming about murdering President George W. Bush. Stephen King makes an Iraq war veteran the hero of Under the Dome (2009), but only, perhaps, because he regrets the atrocity he committed during the war. The voice of reason in William Giraldi’s Busy Monsters is a former Navy SEAL who “has murdered many men — in Iraq, Afghanistan, the former Yugoslavia — some of whom didn’t even know they were in the same room with him.”

The tone of admiration is even rarer than a character who is also a veteran. Robert Olen Butler, a Vietnam veteran who began his career with The Alleys of Eden (1981), a novel about an Army deserter who stays behind to live with a bar girl in Vietnam because he can “never feel innocent again in the United States,” tried to explain why to the Virginia Quarterly Review:

Most of the best writers in Vietnam did not go there voluntarily. They maintained that sense of distance from what they were doing because they weren’t there from a natural personal impulse. They were not ontologically comfortable with the role they were cast in. . . . If you go there involuntarily the intensities of war make you doubt even more profoundly why you are there.

But I wonder if there isn’t a simpler explanation, one that is rooted in Butler’s own generation (and revealed in Butler’s own attitude). From his first appearance in American fiction, the Vietnam veteran was already well on his way to becoming a stock figure: the unhinged killer, the suicidal maniac, the post-traumatic ghost of himself. In Joseph Hayes’s Like Any Other Fugitive (1971), the vet is suffering from battle fatigue and instead of surrendering to the police when falsely accused of a crime, he leads them on a cross-country chase. In Edward Connelly’s Deer Run (1971), the vet wants to escape his painful memories of Vietnam by starting a commune, which goes badly. In Harry Mark Petrarkis’s In the Land of Morning (1973), the vet’s alienation from post-war America is symbolized by his fear of sleep, which feels to him like a “black, bottomless pit too close to death.” In Jim Harrison’s A Good Day to Die (1973), the vet is a violent and suicidal goon who is first seen beating up a sailor, muttering that nobody makes trouble “if you get a good one in first.”

Michael Cimino’s film The Deer Hunter (1978), in which Christopher Walken gives an unforgettable performance as the ex-U.S. infantryman who stays behind in Saigon to become a vacant-eyed and empty-souled legend at Russian roulette, and then Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) with Marlon Brando as the war-crazed former Green Beret, sealed the Vietnam vet’s fate in American culture. By the turn of the decade, TV critics were complaining that the “deranged veteran” had become a predictable stereotype, but what they didn’t understand was that that was its whole purpose. To identify a character as dangerously berserk, all a writer needed was to describe him as a Vietnam veteran. Even novelists who should have known better — or at least worked harder — fell for the narrative shortcut. As Philip Roth reminded his readers late last week in his “Open Letter to Wikipedia,” the “executioner” of the main characters in The Human Stain (2000) is “the tormented, violent Vietnam vet Les Farley.” He could have saved on words by merely saying “Vietnam vet.”

Where did the image of the “crazed vet” come from? The figment is not to be found in novels about veterans of the Second World War. Even when the veterans are emotionally scarred by battle, as in Sloan Wilson’s The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955) or N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn (1968), their biggest problem in these novels is readjusting to a civilian culture — as represented by the corporation or the Indian reservation — which gives them neither the opportunity nor the resources for sniffing out the meaning of their experience. The fault of the Vietnam vets, though, is in themselves.

Or perhaps in the attitude displayed by Robert Olen Butler — the attitude of “ontological discomfort” with war, and the suspicion that anyone who chooses voluntarily to join the military has a “natural impulse” for killing and violence. A writer who feels superior to men and women in uniform is unlikely to be interested in their experience, in combat or out. Small surprise the literature of 9/11 is almost entirely a bystander’s literature. And since American writers seem incapable of imagining veterans as anything other than ontologically unhinged, their absence from post-9/11 fiction is probably a very good thing.

Update: Last Friday, Jacob Silverman had a long satisfying review of four recent Iraq war novels at Slate: T. Geronimo Johnson’s Hold It ’Til It Hurts, Kevin Powers’s The Yellow Birds, David Abrams’s Fobbit, and Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. (A fifth title, which Silverman does not get to, is Brian Castner’s The Long Walk.) Silverman’s conclusion is instructive:

It’s clear . . . that these new American wars have bred manifold types of isolation. Here, actual indigenous peoples are rare, whether enemy or civilian; the one named Iraqi that appears in The Yellow Birds is killed almost as soon as he’s introduced. There is little attempt to explore the perspectives of the very people these wars are being waged upon. . . . Three of these four war novels take place primarily in the United States, with the setting of Fobbit basically representing a miniaturized America plopped down in Baghdad. Even Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk . . . is mostly a stateside affair. A decade on, we read about life over here, so we don’t have to think about what we’ve done over there.

The only one of these I’ve read is Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which I found dreary and far-fetched. But if Silverman is right about them as a set, these four novels belong less to the Global War on Terror than to post-Vietnam American writing. They echo Tim O’Brien’s observation in Going after Cacciato (1978), the first truly good novel about the Vietnam war, in which the American soliders, who had little knowledge of the country in which they were fighting and less contact with its people, “did not know good from evil.” Vietnam continues to supply the literary frame of reference for American wars even after four decades.

On this 11th anniversary of 9/11, I am struck by how little of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have wormed their way into American fiction. The main character in Michael Chabon’s brand new Telegraph Avenue is a veteran of the first Gulf War, but by the time the novel opens in 2004, his Army hitch is already 12 years behind him, and his problems are no longer a veteran’s problems. The protagonist of Nicholson Baker’s Checkpoint (2004) spends his time denouncing the Iraq war when he is not daydreaming about murdering President George W. Bush. Stephen King makes an Iraq war veteran the hero of Under the Dome (2009), but only, perhaps, because he regrets the atrocity he committed during the war. The voice of reason in William Giraldi’s Busy Monsters is a former Navy SEAL who “has murdered many men — in Iraq, Afghanistan, the former Yugoslavia — some of whom didn’t even know they were in the same room with him.”

The tone of admiration is even rarer than a character who is also a veteran. Robert Olen Butler, a Vietnam veteran who began his career with The Alleys of Eden (1981), a novel about an Army deserter who stays behind to live with a bar girl in Vietnam because he can “never feel innocent again in the United States,” tried to explain why to the Virginia Quarterly Review:

Most of the best writers in Vietnam did not go there voluntarily. They maintained that sense of distance from what they were doing because they weren’t there from a natural personal impulse. They were not ontologically comfortable with the role they were cast in. . . . If you go there involuntarily the intensities of war make you doubt even more profoundly why you are there.

But I wonder if there isn’t a simpler explanation, one that is rooted in Butler’s own generation (and revealed in Butler’s own attitude). From his first appearance in American fiction, the Vietnam veteran was already well on his way to becoming a stock figure: the unhinged killer, the suicidal maniac, the post-traumatic ghost of himself. In Joseph Hayes’s Like Any Other Fugitive (1971), the vet is suffering from battle fatigue and instead of surrendering to the police when falsely accused of a crime, he leads them on a cross-country chase. In Edward Connelly’s Deer Run (1971), the vet wants to escape his painful memories of Vietnam by starting a commune, which goes badly. In Harry Mark Petrarkis’s In the Land of Morning (1973), the vet’s alienation from post-war America is symbolized by his fear of sleep, which feels to him like a “black, bottomless pit too close to death.” In Jim Harrison’s A Good Day to Die (1973), the vet is a violent and suicidal goon who is first seen beating up a sailor, muttering that nobody makes trouble “if you get a good one in first.”

Michael Cimino’s film The Deer Hunter (1978), in which Christopher Walken gives an unforgettable performance as the ex-U.S. infantryman who stays behind in Saigon to become a vacant-eyed and empty-souled legend at Russian roulette, and then Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) with Marlon Brando as the war-crazed former Green Beret, sealed the Vietnam vet’s fate in American culture. By the turn of the decade, TV critics were complaining that the “deranged veteran” had become a predictable stereotype, but what they didn’t understand was that that was its whole purpose. To identify a character as dangerously berserk, all a writer needed was to describe him as a Vietnam veteran. Even novelists who should have known better — or at least worked harder — fell for the narrative shortcut. As Philip Roth reminded his readers late last week in his “Open Letter to Wikipedia,” the “executioner” of the main characters in The Human Stain (2000) is “the tormented, violent Vietnam vet Les Farley.” He could have saved on words by merely saying “Vietnam vet.”

Where did the image of the “crazed vet” come from? The figment is not to be found in novels about veterans of the Second World War. Even when the veterans are emotionally scarred by battle, as in Sloan Wilson’s The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955) or N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn (1968), their biggest problem in these novels is readjusting to a civilian culture — as represented by the corporation or the Indian reservation — which gives them neither the opportunity nor the resources for sniffing out the meaning of their experience. The fault of the Vietnam vets, though, is in themselves.

Or perhaps in the attitude displayed by Robert Olen Butler — the attitude of “ontological discomfort” with war, and the suspicion that anyone who chooses voluntarily to join the military has a “natural impulse” for killing and violence. A writer who feels superior to men and women in uniform is unlikely to be interested in their experience, in combat or out. Small surprise the literature of 9/11 is almost entirely a bystander’s literature. And since American writers seem incapable of imagining veterans as anything other than ontologically unhinged, their absence from post-9/11 fiction is probably a very good thing.

Update: Last Friday, Jacob Silverman had a long satisfying review of four recent Iraq war novels at Slate: T. Geronimo Johnson’s Hold It ’Til It Hurts, Kevin Powers’s The Yellow Birds, David Abrams’s Fobbit, and Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. (A fifth title, which Silverman does not get to, is Brian Castner’s The Long Walk.) Silverman’s conclusion is instructive:

It’s clear . . . that these new American wars have bred manifold types of isolation. Here, actual indigenous peoples are rare, whether enemy or civilian; the one named Iraqi that appears in The Yellow Birds is killed almost as soon as he’s introduced. There is little attempt to explore the perspectives of the very people these wars are being waged upon. . . . Three of these four war novels take place primarily in the United States, with the setting of Fobbit basically representing a miniaturized America plopped down in Baghdad. Even Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk . . . is mostly a stateside affair. A decade on, we read about life over here, so we don’t have to think about what we’ve done over there.

The only one of these I’ve read is Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which I found dreary and far-fetched. But if Silverman is right about them as a set, these four novels belong less to the Global War on Terror than to post-Vietnam American writing. They echo Tim O’Brien’s observation in Going after Cacciato (1978), the first truly good novel about the Vietnam war, in which the American soliders, who had little knowledge of the country in which they were fighting and less contact with its people, “did not know good from evil.” Vietnam continues to supply the literary frame of reference for American wars even after four decades.

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A Strong Case for Syria Intervention

Retired General Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, has just published an excellent op-ed in The Independent newspaper in the UK. He writes: “A gradual military intervention along the lines of the Libyan model of a Western aerial campaign seems the most effective response to the Syrian crisis.” He then goes on to demolish, one by one, all the arguments against such an intervention, showing that Syria need not become Iraq Redux and that the challenge of Syrian military power can be met handily by the air forces of the West.

His article is all the more interesting given that, until the start of the anti-Assad uprising last year, the consensus in Israeli security circles seemed to be that the West should deal with Assad on the “better the devil you know” principle. When the war against him broke out many Israelis privately took the view that it was in their interest for the fighting to continue indefinitely because a weakened and embattled Assad would not cause much trouble for Israel. Similar arguments were and are popular among Realpolitikers in the West. Even today, many in the West argue for inaction on the grounds that we don’t really know who the Syrian rebels are and that Assad’s ouster could give an opening to radical Islamists to take over.

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Retired General Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, has just published an excellent op-ed in The Independent newspaper in the UK. He writes: “A gradual military intervention along the lines of the Libyan model of a Western aerial campaign seems the most effective response to the Syrian crisis.” He then goes on to demolish, one by one, all the arguments against such an intervention, showing that Syria need not become Iraq Redux and that the challenge of Syrian military power can be met handily by the air forces of the West.

His article is all the more interesting given that, until the start of the anti-Assad uprising last year, the consensus in Israeli security circles seemed to be that the West should deal with Assad on the “better the devil you know” principle. When the war against him broke out many Israelis privately took the view that it was in their interest for the fighting to continue indefinitely because a weakened and embattled Assad would not cause much trouble for Israel. Similar arguments were and are popular among Realpolitikers in the West. Even today, many in the West argue for inaction on the grounds that we don’t really know who the Syrian rebels are and that Assad’s ouster could give an opening to radical Islamists to take over.

Israel has a lot more reason to be concerned about those dangers than the U.S. simply because it’s located right on Syria’s border, but Yadlin believes, as do a growing number of current and former Israeli officials, that the greatest risk of all is to leave Assad in power indefinitely.

Let us hope that President Obama and his advisers read Yadlin’s article carefully and ponder whether the case for inaction is really as compelling as they seem to think.

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WaPo/ABC Poll Shows Race Still Tied

Whatever bounce President Obama (or Clinton) procured from last week’s convention is fading, according to today’s Washington Post/ABC News poll. Both candidates are virtually tied among likely voters:

The survey shows that the race remains close among likely voters, with Obama at 49 percent and Romney at 48 percent, virtually unchanged from a poll taken just before the conventions.

But among a wider sample of all registered voters, Obama holds an apparent edge, topping Romney at 50 percent to 44 percent, and has clear advantages on important issues in the campaign when compared with his rival.

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Whatever bounce President Obama (or Clinton) procured from last week’s convention is fading, according to today’s Washington Post/ABC News poll. Both candidates are virtually tied among likely voters:

The survey shows that the race remains close among likely voters, with Obama at 49 percent and Romney at 48 percent, virtually unchanged from a poll taken just before the conventions.

But among a wider sample of all registered voters, Obama holds an apparent edge, topping Romney at 50 percent to 44 percent, and has clear advantages on important issues in the campaign when compared with his rival.

Polls of registered voters are usually more favorable to Democrats, but they’re not as meaningful as polls of likely voters. The left will trumpet Obama’s 6-point lead among registered voters, but it’s the 49 percent-to-48 percent split among likelies that really matters. That’s also with a voter sample that heavily favors Democrats, as Ed Morrissey explains:

We’re less than 60 days out.  Registered-voter samples don’t mean much at this stage of the election; it’s likely voters that provide predictive data from surveys.  They mean even less when only 26% in the sample are Republicans.  The likely voter sample improves that by a point to 27%, but still has a D+6 D/R/I at 33/27/36.  The 2010 midterms had a national turnout D/R/I of 35/35/30; the 2008 election was D+7 at 39/32/29.  A GOP turnout of 27% would be among the worst ever in a presidential race, if not a record.  Since enthusiasm measures in other surveys, notably Gallup’s, show an enthusiasm gap favoring Republicans, I’m not inclined to buy this poll’s likely-voter split as a model for this election.

That’s not to say Republicans shouldn’t continue to worry. The fact that Obama got any bounce at all from a lackluster and controversy-plagued convention is a bad sign for Romney, and same goes for the fact that Friday’s disappointing jobs report seems to have had little, if any, effect on Obama’s poll numbers. As Jonathan wrote yesterday, unless the public is willing to hold Obama responsible for the faltering recovery, Romney will have a difficult time winning this argument.

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No U.S. Red Lines Equals Iranian Nuke

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is bubbling over with frustration at U.S. policy toward Iran. While President Obama has continued to reiterate his pledge not to allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, this concern was shown once again to be an empty boast by Secretary of State Clinton’s statement on Sunday that the United States was not “setting any deadlines” to make Iran stop enriching uranium. That was reinforced on Monday when State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “It is not useful to be parsing it, to be setting deadlines one way or the other, red lines.” Far from responding to Israeli requests for a firm statement of an intent to set some red lines beyond which Tehran dare not cross, Washington has sent a clear signal to Iran that the U.S. was content to sit back and watch events as they unfolded.

The subtext to this exchange is that the hints coming out of Jerusalem about a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran to forestall the nuclear threat may very well turn out to have been a bluff. The United States remains firmly focused on preventing any such attempt to resolve this problem and the Israeli PM knows that he would be risking a confrontation with his country’s main ally should it decide to strike on its own. Netanyahu is a cautious man and those who have been predicting all along that he would back down if President Obama remained obdurate may be right. If true, this would be a tactical triumph for the president but there shouldn’t be any doubt as to its ultimate meaning. In the absence of the sort of deadline that Clinton dismissed, time may soon run out on any chance for the West to stop Iran.

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is bubbling over with frustration at U.S. policy toward Iran. While President Obama has continued to reiterate his pledge not to allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, this concern was shown once again to be an empty boast by Secretary of State Clinton’s statement on Sunday that the United States was not “setting any deadlines” to make Iran stop enriching uranium. That was reinforced on Monday when State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “It is not useful to be parsing it, to be setting deadlines one way or the other, red lines.” Far from responding to Israeli requests for a firm statement of an intent to set some red lines beyond which Tehran dare not cross, Washington has sent a clear signal to Iran that the U.S. was content to sit back and watch events as they unfolded.

The subtext to this exchange is that the hints coming out of Jerusalem about a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran to forestall the nuclear threat may very well turn out to have been a bluff. The United States remains firmly focused on preventing any such attempt to resolve this problem and the Israeli PM knows that he would be risking a confrontation with his country’s main ally should it decide to strike on its own. Netanyahu is a cautious man and those who have been predicting all along that he would back down if President Obama remained obdurate may be right. If true, this would be a tactical triumph for the president but there shouldn’t be any doubt as to its ultimate meaning. In the absence of the sort of deadline that Clinton dismissed, time may soon run out on any chance for the West to stop Iran.

The most recent report of the International Atomic Energy Agency should have been enough to concentrate the minds of the president and secretary of state. The IAEA report underlined the fears being expressed in Israel about Iran moving inevitably into a zone of “immunity” beyond which attacks on their nuclear facilities might be futile. It stated that Iran had doubled the number of its centrifuges enriching the uranium needed for a bomb and is now housing them in a secure underground bunker. Yet the news left Clinton unmoved even though her boss and his re-election campaign continued to issue boilerplate statements about his promise to prevent an Iranian bomb.

Under the circumstances, Netanyahu’s outburst is entirely understandable:

 “The world tells Israel ‘wait, there’s still time.’ And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?’ Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”

The United States may not have a moral right to prevent Israel from defending itself but it can make it difficult and expensive for it do so. The question for Netanyahu is whether he is sure that waiting another few months will render any attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities — even a theoretical assault by the far more powerful U.S. forces in the region — too little and too late.

The idea that Israel must have a green light from the United States before it attacks Iran is not backed up by history. The Jewish state has pre-empted threats throughout its history and rarely has it gotten permission in advance from the United States for doing so. Netanyahu knows the costs of inaction could be incalculable. But an Iran attack against a hardened diversified target that is so widely anticipated and against a powerful country with terrorist auxiliaries is not analogous to previous strikes on Syria or even the one on the nuclear reactor at Osirak, Iraq.

Moreover, Netanyahu also knows that an attack on Iran, especially one that takes place during an American presidential campaign, will be viewed as a transparent tactic aimed at forcing Washington’s hands and might not play well even among some supporters of Israel. Given the fact that there is at least a 50-50 chance that Barack Obama will be re-elected, the prime minister may reason that alienating a re-elected American incumbent in this manner is not an acceptable risk. What we don’t know is whether Netanyahu is sufficiently alarmed about the time frame of the Iranian program that he will be willing to hazard such a confrontation in order to save his country.

But no matter what Netanyahu’s calculations may turn out to be, there should be no mistaking the fact that by digging in and refusing to offer red lines or deadlines to the regime in Tehran, the United States is making a conscious decision to accept an Iranian nuke. Though President Obama has vowed he opposes containment of Iran, his continued reliance on failed diplomacy and belated and loosely enforced sanctions is a guarantee that containment may be America’s policy destination in a second term.

If so, it will not just be a betrayal of every promise President Obama has made on the issue since he was elected. It will be an act of moral cowardice that will, at the very least, ensure a less stable and more violent Middle East in his second term.

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Obama Has Held More Fundraisers than Intel Briefings Since Campaign Began

At the Washington Post yesterday, Marc Thiessen reported on a study by the Government Accountability Institute that found President Obama has attended less than half of his daily intelligence briefings since taking office, based on his public schedule. This is a sharp contrast to President Bush, who reportedly rarely missed an intelligence briefing.

According to the 2011 and 2012 digests of Obama’s public schedule from the U.S. Government Printing Office, he attended 198 of his daily intelligence briefings between April 14, 2011 (the day he hosted the first fundraiser of his reelection campaign) and August 24, 2012 (the last day included in the latest GPO digest). By August 14, 2012, Obama had already reached 203 fundraising events since launching his reelection campaign, slightly more than the number of intelligence briefings he had attended during that time period.

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At the Washington Post yesterday, Marc Thiessen reported on a study by the Government Accountability Institute that found President Obama has attended less than half of his daily intelligence briefings since taking office, based on his public schedule. This is a sharp contrast to President Bush, who reportedly rarely missed an intelligence briefing.

According to the 2011 and 2012 digests of Obama’s public schedule from the U.S. Government Printing Office, he attended 198 of his daily intelligence briefings between April 14, 2011 (the day he hosted the first fundraiser of his reelection campaign) and August 24, 2012 (the last day included in the latest GPO digest). By August 14, 2012, Obama had already reached 203 fundraising events since launching his reelection campaign, slightly more than the number of intelligence briefings he had attended during that time period.

Republicans have been blasting Obama for routinely skipping the meetings. Vice President Cheney sharply criticized the president in a statement to the Daily Caller’s Jamie Weinstein last night:

“If President Obama were participating in his intelligence briefings on a regular basis then perhaps he would understand why people are so offended at his efforts to take sole credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden,” Cheney told The Daily Caller in an email through a spokeswoman.

“Those who deserve the credit are the men and women in our military and intelligence communities who worked for many years to track him down. They are the ones who deserve the thanks of a grateful nation.”

White House officials defended Obama’s attendance record to Politico yesterday, with Jay Carney dismissing the allegations as “hilarious.”

“[Obama] receives and reads his [Presidential Daily Brief] every day, and most days when he’s at the White House receives a briefing in person,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told Politico in an email. “When necessary he probes the arguments, requests more information or seeks alternate analysis. Sometimes that’s via a written assessment and other times it’s in person.”

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Palestinians Joining the Arab Spring?

The Arab Spring has made reporters understandably excitable at the first sign of popular discontent in the Arab world, especially in places previously unaffected by the revolutionary wave. And so the Associated Press report out of Hebron yesterday took the step of repeating for readers just how unprecedented the Palestinian anti-government protests were. It began with this sentence: “Palestinian demonstrators fed up with high prices and unpaid salaries shuttered shops, halted traffic with burning tires and clashed with riot police in demonstrations across the West Bank on Monday— the largest show of popular discontent with the Palestinian Authority in its 18-year existence.”

Seven paragraphs later, the reporters made explicit the comparison, and in an attempt to ward off the dismissal of the analogy repeated again the rarity factor at work here: “The unrest was reminiscent of the mass demonstrations of the Arab Spring that topped aging dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and sparked civil war in Syria. While there is no sign that the protests are approaching that level, they nonetheless are the largest show of popular discontent with the governing Palestinian Authority in its 18-year history.” Yes, the AP is right: the protests have reached unprecedented levels. But the more interesting aspects of the public unrest are not the parallels with the Arab Spring, but the contrasts.

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The Arab Spring has made reporters understandably excitable at the first sign of popular discontent in the Arab world, especially in places previously unaffected by the revolutionary wave. And so the Associated Press report out of Hebron yesterday took the step of repeating for readers just how unprecedented the Palestinian anti-government protests were. It began with this sentence: “Palestinian demonstrators fed up with high prices and unpaid salaries shuttered shops, halted traffic with burning tires and clashed with riot police in demonstrations across the West Bank on Monday— the largest show of popular discontent with the Palestinian Authority in its 18-year existence.”

Seven paragraphs later, the reporters made explicit the comparison, and in an attempt to ward off the dismissal of the analogy repeated again the rarity factor at work here: “The unrest was reminiscent of the mass demonstrations of the Arab Spring that topped aging dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and sparked civil war in Syria. While there is no sign that the protests are approaching that level, they nonetheless are the largest show of popular discontent with the governing Palestinian Authority in its 18-year history.” Yes, the AP is right: the protests have reached unprecedented levels. But the more interesting aspects of the public unrest are not the parallels with the Arab Spring, but the contrasts.

First of all, as the AP story notes, some of the rioting was the outgrowth of what I’m sure had seemed like a brilliant idea to the Fatah party apparatchiks who hatched it. They wanted to stir up trouble against Salam Fayyad, the only Palestinian leader with good relations with the West, as part of the intra-party scheming that goes on inside the Palestinian Authority instead of governing. It turns out that most of the Fatah leaders are more corrupt than Fayyad, so the protesters soon aimed their fire more generally at the PA itself, including, but not limited to, Fayyad.

The Palestinians were also protesting recent tax hikes and the lack of living-wage jobs in the West Bank. Fatah party leaders passed the buck onto the international community for failing to follow through on donor funds the PA says it is owed. But what do they do with that money when it comes in? As I wrote recently, the money seems to fund Abbas’s lifestyle and that of his family, while a good chunk goes to paying terrorists. (Can you imagine the PA’s chutzpah in pocketing donor funds instead of passing it along to poor Palestinians, and then taxing those Palestinians?)

Meanwhile, in Gaza, Hamas is trying desperately not to laugh its face off. At the same time, they have big plans of their own. Jonathan Schanzer reports that Hamasniks are in secret talks with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi over the possibility of Gaza declaring independence. On paper, it seems to be slightly less crazy than one would think. Egypt would love the tax revenue and GDP boost from opening a legal trade route with Gaza, but they don’t love the idea of letting Israel off the hook. (It would be difficult to blame Israel for the “occupation” of a fully independent state.) Schanzer notes that Israelis might like the idea of being rid of Gaza once and for all–a real disengagement, this time—but are wary of the dangers of allowing Hamas free rein to import whatever it wants, which would likely include more advanced weaponry, not just cookies and cigarettes.

But there is one obstacle Hamas has not found a way around, and it would doom this project from the start: Hamas is still listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and others, making trade with the West illegal. One Hamasnik proposed a solution, and it is utterly ridiculous:

In hopes of avoiding sanctions or other roadblocks, unaffiliated businessmen in Gaza are now working to create an independent corporation to manage the Rafah crossing. According to a Gaza entrepreneur who wishes to remain anonymous, it is slated to be called the “Palestine Company for Free Trade Zone Area.”

Good luck with that. But while Gaza will not be seceding from the Palestinian territories just yet–for one thing, their troublemakers on the ground in Hebron will keep stoking the flames in hopes that one day Hamas can take over the entire West Bank as well–the detailed planning that has taken place demonstrates that Hamas still has other ways to expand its reach and influence. The Times of Israel reports that Egypt has agreed to allow Hamas to relocate its abroad-headquarters to Cairo.

Since Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Brotherhood now runs Egypt, increased ties between the two were inevitable. This entails a political challenge for the U.S. and probably a bit of a security challenge for Israel, but nobody stands to lose more than Abbas, whose government is asleep at the wheel and whose population is finally awake to the raw deal they’re getting.

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Hollywood Gets OBL Info, SEAL Gets Sued

There’s plenty of disagreement over whether it was appropriate for SEAL Team 6 member Mark Owen — a pseudonym — to write a firsthand account of the Osama bin Laden raid. While I haven’t read the book myself, it seems (from interviews and excerpts) that Owen is not intending to spill tactical secrets or act in ways that are malicious and harmful to national security — despite the fact that he didn’t allow the Pentagon to vet the book beforehand and appears to have broken his non-disclosure agreement.

The question isn’t whether Owen should be held accountable for writing a book that may violate the non-disclosure agreement he signed with the Pentagon. Of course he should. But the controversy has also exposed the administration’s glaring double standard when it comes to classified information.

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There’s plenty of disagreement over whether it was appropriate for SEAL Team 6 member Mark Owen — a pseudonym — to write a firsthand account of the Osama bin Laden raid. While I haven’t read the book myself, it seems (from interviews and excerpts) that Owen is not intending to spill tactical secrets or act in ways that are malicious and harmful to national security — despite the fact that he didn’t allow the Pentagon to vet the book beforehand and appears to have broken his non-disclosure agreement.

The question isn’t whether Owen should be held accountable for writing a book that may violate the non-disclosure agreement he signed with the Pentagon. Of course he should. But the controversy has also exposed the administration’s glaring double standard when it comes to classified information.

The same administration that is suing Owen for his book reportedly gave unprecedented, classified access and assistance to Hollywood filmmakers working on a tick-tock movie about the mission. The difference? The Obama administration was providing the filmmakers with classified information that backed up its narrative about the bin Laden raid. Owen’s book, in contrast, is the only minute-by-minute account that the White House didn’t sign off on.

If the men who risked their lives in the bin Laden mission aren’t allowed to publicly give accounts of the raid, then the administration should honor that by also keeping quiet. Instead, the White House has pushed its authorized bin Laden narrative to the media and Hollywood, with selective release of classified information. This narrative has portrayed Obama and the administration in a favorable light, but as Owen’s book shows, it’s not the whole story.

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The Problem With Moving On From 9/11

It was inevitable that as the years since 9/11 passed, the grief would become less intense and the commemorations of the atrocity would become more subdued. So it is probably no surprise that today’s ceremonies on the 11th anniversary of the day Islamist terrorists killed thousands of Americans will be far less imposing than those held last year. The depth of the tragedy is such that for those who experienced it and who lost loved ones, no memorial service can ever suffice to express the sorrow and the anger this day conjures up in the souls of Americans. But just as December 7 eventually became just another day in the calendar, 9/11 will also be transformed into a date in history like Pearl Harbor; a mute reminder of the past rather than the gaping wound it once was.

Yet there is something distinctly unsatisfying, even distasteful about the way Americans are “moving on” from 9/11. The closure from Pearl Harbor was made possible by the sacrifice of millions of American serviceman who secured total victory over the Japanese and their German Nazi allies. After 1945, there could never be a sense of unfinished business about the memory of those lost on the “date that will live in infamy,” as President Franklin Roosevelt memorably expressed it. But 11 years after 9/11, Americans cannot say that. Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the crime, is dead, as President Obama and his supporters constantly remind us and for that we are thankful. But Al Qaeda is far from destroyed. The Islamist terrorist war against the West is not over and those who act as if it is are doing the country a disservice.

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It was inevitable that as the years since 9/11 passed, the grief would become less intense and the commemorations of the atrocity would become more subdued. So it is probably no surprise that today’s ceremonies on the 11th anniversary of the day Islamist terrorists killed thousands of Americans will be far less imposing than those held last year. The depth of the tragedy is such that for those who experienced it and who lost loved ones, no memorial service can ever suffice to express the sorrow and the anger this day conjures up in the souls of Americans. But just as December 7 eventually became just another day in the calendar, 9/11 will also be transformed into a date in history like Pearl Harbor; a mute reminder of the past rather than the gaping wound it once was.

Yet there is something distinctly unsatisfying, even distasteful about the way Americans are “moving on” from 9/11. The closure from Pearl Harbor was made possible by the sacrifice of millions of American serviceman who secured total victory over the Japanese and their German Nazi allies. After 1945, there could never be a sense of unfinished business about the memory of those lost on the “date that will live in infamy,” as President Franklin Roosevelt memorably expressed it. But 11 years after 9/11, Americans cannot say that. Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the crime, is dead, as President Obama and his supporters constantly remind us and for that we are thankful. But Al Qaeda is far from destroyed. The Islamist terrorist war against the West is not over and those who act as if it is are doing the country a disservice.

Americans are, we are constantly told, weary of the wars that followed 9/11 and it is hard to blame them for that. The United States has left Iraq and the mess that our exit is causing may undo the victory that President Bush’s surge made possible. We are soon to leave Afghanistan, a decision that may eventually lead to power for Al Qaeda’s Taliban allies. Throughout the Middle East, terrorists loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda persist. So do others that call themselves by different names. In Gaza, the Islamists of Hamas have created an independent terrorist state in all but name. In Lebanon, the Islamists of Hezbollah now dominate the government. In Iran, an Islamist state funds terror throughout the region and works to build a nuclear bomb as the West pursues ineffectual measures to stop them.

It is true that more than a decade of hard work by American intelligence services has prevented another 9/11. Given that most experts thought a second tragedy was almost inevitable, this is no small achievement. But the problem with this battle is that it needs more than constant vigilance from those tasked with protecting the country. It also requires the sort of patience that the citizens of democracies rarely possess.

Americans have throughout the last century vacillated between a belief in a global mission that understood that U.S. security would only be found by bringing democracy to the world and a small-minded isolationism that asked nothing more than to be left alone. We may be on the brink of another such bout of isolationism as Americans turn away from the world and seek only to balance their own budget or to do some nation building at home, depending on which political party you are listening to. But the problem with such an impulse is that foreign perils have an annoying habit of intruding on our national solitude.

America’s encounter with Islamist terror did not begin on 9/11. Nor did it end on that date or even on the day that bin Laden was dealt justice. As long as Islamists plot against America and our allies, we will never be able to truly move on from it. That is a hard thing to accept and it is to be expected that we will do anything to avoid thinking about it. Rather than congratulating ourselves for having the maturity to move on from 9/11, it is this hard truth that we should be contemplating today.

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Keller Hopes for a “Liberated Obama”

In an article yesterday, placed prominently in the center of the New York Times op-ed page, Bill Keller wrote that if he were faced with only two choices — (a) Iran with a bomb, or (b) bombing Iran — he would “swallow hard” and live with a nuclear Iran.

It is not clear from his op-ed why any swallowing would be involved on his part: in his view: (1) it is “hard to believe the aim of an Iranian nuclear program is the extermination of Israel;” (2) the worry about a regional nuclear arms race is “probably an exaggerated fear;” and (3) “history suggests that nuclear weapons make even aggressive countries more cautious.” It seems like an easy choice for him.

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In an article yesterday, placed prominently in the center of the New York Times op-ed page, Bill Keller wrote that if he were faced with only two choices — (a) Iran with a bomb, or (b) bombing Iran — he would “swallow hard” and live with a nuclear Iran.

It is not clear from his op-ed why any swallowing would be involved on his part: in his view: (1) it is “hard to believe the aim of an Iranian nuclear program is the extermination of Israel;” (2) the worry about a regional nuclear arms race is “probably an exaggerated fear;” and (3) “history suggests that nuclear weapons make even aggressive countries more cautious.” It seems like an easy choice for him.

Nevertheless, Keller concludes that we should “focus all of our intelligence and energy” on a third approach: cutting a deal with Iran. It is amazing no one has thought of this idea before; perhaps we should give it a try for four years.

Keller believes that “of course, [a deal] won’t happen before November,” because Republicans would point out “the abandonment of Israel” in favor of a regime “that recently beat a democracy movement bloody” –  and American voters would react negatively. But Keller hopes “a liberated Obama” would do it thereafter. Keller seems to have absorbed the message that this is Obama’s last election, and that he can be more flexible after he’s re-elected.

The tragedy of the current situation is that, because the U.S. will not set a deadline or a redline, a U.S. ally is faced with an existential decision that may have to be made sooner rather than later. Articles such as Keller’s may lead it to conclude that its own deadline is November.

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Will Enemy Drones Cause the Next 9/11?

American counterterrorism strategy is too often geared to preventing the last terrorist attack. Terrorists and their sponsors are creative, however. They will not pursue a strategy against which they know the United States is well prepared to defend itself but will instead look to maintain surprise. Eleven years ago, it was using airplanes for suicide attacks. In intervening years, it has been using liquid to construct explosives in flight, or concealing bombs in underwear. Counterterror specialists already worry about the possibility that Al Qaeda doctors could surgically implant bombs in terrorists. Other specialists worry that ship-borne cargo could harbor nuclear or chemical weapons.

The United States is not preparing, however, for a new threat which is, literally, over-the-horizon. Drones have become the counterterror tool of choice for the Obama administration, with devastating effect. But the days when the United States monopolizes drones have already come to an end. China and Russia have built drones, and Pakistan is exploring the technology. Using technology provided by the Obama administration, Turkey is building its own drones and preparing to sell them without regard to U.S. national security interests. After all, Turkey’s prime minister even considers Hamas a viable partner. Iran already has constructed and put into operation a robust drone fleet, perhaps enhanced with technology derived from the U.S. drone lost over its territory. Iran is helping Venezuela build its own drones. While the nightmare scenario for the counterterror community is Iran or other states providing terror groups with unconventional weapons, the likelihood that they might provide drones is greater.

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American counterterrorism strategy is too often geared to preventing the last terrorist attack. Terrorists and their sponsors are creative, however. They will not pursue a strategy against which they know the United States is well prepared to defend itself but will instead look to maintain surprise. Eleven years ago, it was using airplanes for suicide attacks. In intervening years, it has been using liquid to construct explosives in flight, or concealing bombs in underwear. Counterterror specialists already worry about the possibility that Al Qaeda doctors could surgically implant bombs in terrorists. Other specialists worry that ship-borne cargo could harbor nuclear or chemical weapons.

The United States is not preparing, however, for a new threat which is, literally, over-the-horizon. Drones have become the counterterror tool of choice for the Obama administration, with devastating effect. But the days when the United States monopolizes drones have already come to an end. China and Russia have built drones, and Pakistan is exploring the technology. Using technology provided by the Obama administration, Turkey is building its own drones and preparing to sell them without regard to U.S. national security interests. After all, Turkey’s prime minister even considers Hamas a viable partner. Iran already has constructed and put into operation a robust drone fleet, perhaps enhanced with technology derived from the U.S. drone lost over its territory. Iran is helping Venezuela build its own drones. While the nightmare scenario for the counterterror community is Iran or other states providing terror groups with unconventional weapons, the likelihood that they might provide drones is greater.

Enemies can launch drones from across America’s borders, or from cargo ships sailing just outside American territorial waters. The drones can carry payloads of increasing lethality, or can simply be deployed into the paths of civilian air traffic.

The next 9/11 could be around the corner. Let’s hope that the Obama administration or its successor will not approach the problem with eyes wide shut. Not every threat can be mitigated by removing shoes or testing colas bought in airports.

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Mitt Romney Sides With Rahm Emanuel

A week after Rahm Emanuel decided to extend his services to his former boss, President Barack Obama, in order to do some fundraising, this was probably the last headline he expected to read. At midnight Monday the Chicago Teachers Union announced that it would begin an indefinite strike, which would only end when their contract dispute with the city of Chicago is settled.

Despite an offer for a 16-percent pay raise in addition to an average annual salary of $71,000 the teachers already receive, the union refuses to budge, embarking on the city’s first teachers’ strike in twenty-five years. The pay raises offered would be mandatory and could not be rescinded for a lack of funds. The raises, insisted upon by a teachers’ union which claims to represent people who have the best interests of children at heart, could bankrupt the already failing school system. Bankrupting the schools where Chicago’s children already receive a below-average education is apparently not enough for the unions paid to represent the city’s teachers. The teachers’ union demands more concessions before agreeing to sign.

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A week after Rahm Emanuel decided to extend his services to his former boss, President Barack Obama, in order to do some fundraising, this was probably the last headline he expected to read. At midnight Monday the Chicago Teachers Union announced that it would begin an indefinite strike, which would only end when their contract dispute with the city of Chicago is settled.

Despite an offer for a 16-percent pay raise in addition to an average annual salary of $71,000 the teachers already receive, the union refuses to budge, embarking on the city’s first teachers’ strike in twenty-five years. The pay raises offered would be mandatory and could not be rescinded for a lack of funds. The raises, insisted upon by a teachers’ union which claims to represent people who have the best interests of children at heart, could bankrupt the already failing school system. Bankrupting the schools where Chicago’s children already receive a below-average education is apparently not enough for the unions paid to represent the city’s teachers. The teachers’ union demands more concessions before agreeing to sign.

Despite being placated on the wage demands, the union demands a degree of job security that is unparalleled in the rest of the economy, especially in its current state. If a teacher’s school closes, their union wants a guaranteed future job elsewhere else in the system. The union seems to be unaware that schools aren’t closed on a whim. They are closed because students are performing so poorly that the district decides that they would be better served elsewhere. Why would the district then move those teachers to another school, where the same students would then be instructed by the same teachers, but in another building? Do teachers really think that their students’ failures are due to the room they’re in or the blackboard they’re using?

Another aspect of job security, the scope of teacher evaluations and the possibility of dismissals based on job performance, is also a sticking point for the Chicago Teachers Union. Apparently being measured on one’s ability to teach is too much to ask of grown adults given the task of teaching the next generation not only math and science, but also responsibility and maturity.

Some of the union’s demands are actually reasonable. The Sun Times reports,

The union also has pushed for improved working conditions, such as smaller class sizes, more libraries, air-conditioned schools, and more social workers and counselors to address the increasing needs of students surrounded by violence — all big-ticket items.

Does the Chicago Teachers Union think that the city is in possession of a money tree? With a $1 billion deficit at the end of the year, how could the union expect that the city could possibly afford guaranteed pay raises, these “big-ticket” items, and paychecks for teachers whose schools have performed so badly? In a choice between the increased wages and the “big-ticket” items, one has to wonder what would be a greater priority for the union.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has refused to capitulate to these demands, stating “This is totally unnecessary. It’s avoidable and our kids don’t deserve this. … This is a strike of choice.” All strikes are strikes of choice, but what Emanuel seems to be implying is that the Chicago Teachers Union has no business striking based on their stated demands nor on the small differences of position between the city and the union — on almost every issue the two parties have worked to meet more or less in the middle.

In a surprising turn of events, Emanuel received support from the Romney campaign. The surprise is not that Romney has sided with the children of Chicago over their teachers’ union; he issued a statement today which read, “Teachers unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children, and today we are seeing one of the clearest examples yet.” What is surprising is the total lack of support the Obama administration has offered to their fundraising surrogate and former coworker. Today White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters, “We hope that both sides are able to come together to settle this quickly in the best interests of Chicago’s students. Beyond that, I haven’t got a specific reaction from the president.”

In the choice between students and greed, teachers’ unions have chosen greed. In the choice between unions and students, President Obama is yet again voting present.

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