Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 13, 2012

Missing the Point On Arms Control

Over the last several weeks, Rose Gottemoeller, the Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, has given speeches in Stockholm and Helsinki that, while focusing on Europe, set out the administration’s broader philosophy on arms control and verification.

This philosophy is profoundly misguided. It proceeds from the erroneous premise that arms control increases U.S. security by reducing arms all around, including (or perhaps especially) on the U.S. side. That premise, in turn, rests on the assumption that the world will be safer if democracies are no better armed than autocracies, and that the problems of security derive from arms, not from the nature of the regime that has them. In reality, arms control, even at its best, aims only at the symptoms of the problem — which is political — and it can easily damage U.S. security by reducing our ability to protect and defend ourselves and our allies.

Read More

Over the last several weeks, Rose Gottemoeller, the Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, has given speeches in Stockholm and Helsinki that, while focusing on Europe, set out the administration’s broader philosophy on arms control and verification.

This philosophy is profoundly misguided. It proceeds from the erroneous premise that arms control increases U.S. security by reducing arms all around, including (or perhaps especially) on the U.S. side. That premise, in turn, rests on the assumption that the world will be safer if democracies are no better armed than autocracies, and that the problems of security derive from arms, not from the nature of the regime that has them. In reality, arms control, even at its best, aims only at the symptoms of the problem — which is political — and it can easily damage U.S. security by reducing our ability to protect and defend ourselves and our allies.

Gottemoeller claims that, in the New START Resolution of Ratification, the Senate “placed a priority on seeking to initiate new negotiations with the Russians on nonstrategic nuclear weapons.” As a result, she says, NATO “has indicated that it is prepared to consider further reducing its requirement for nonstrategic nuclear weapons . . . in the context of reciprocal steps by Russia.” She implies that the Senate called for reductions in the U.S. tactical stockpile. It did not. The Resolution calls for “an agreement . . . that would address the disparity between the tactical nuclear weapons stockpiles of the Russian Federation and of the United States.”

In other words, the Senate wanted an agreement that would reduce Russian stockpiles, not U.S. inventories. This revealing misstatement demonstrates just how eager the administration is to press ahead with further negotiations, even after Russia in 2007 suspended adherence to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. The U.S. did not acknowledge this breach until 2011, and even today, the U.S. continues to implement the Treaty voluntarily, except for the provisions that pertain to Russia specifically.

That raises the broader problem of compliance and verification, which Gottemoeller addressed in Helsinki. This was avowedly a “think piece,” and it is not inherently bad for officials to think outside the box. But in this case, the administration needs — as my colleague Baker Spring implies in a recent review of its unfocused approach to compliance — to get back in the box and pull the lid on tight. Gottemoeller’s remarks focused on the idea that arms control agreements could be verified by the public, either via social networks or distributed sensors in smartphones.

It is hard to believe that Gottemoeller has thought this through. What she is proposing is the application of the same “civil society verification” model to arms control that has distorted human rights treaties and turned them into sticks that NGOs and dictatorships use to beat up the U.S. In the arms control realm, this approach would lead to even more vigorous repression in totalitarian societies. It would also provide a ready-made justification of leaks from the U.S. — paging Bradley Manning — on the ground that the leaker was participating in a public verification exercise. It amounts to a partial outsourcing of verification, which, “when necessary,” can be partially funded by governments but where many costs will be born by others.

And that is what is most troubling of all about Gottemoeller’s remarks: they are shot through with remarks about budgetary problems. Implementation of the Open Skies Treaty is subject to “budgetary constraints.” Verification of the Vienna Document must not “impose unreasonable expenses.” Finally — and worst of all — arms control can help the U.S. “to spend our stretched defense budgets wisely.” Wrong! Arms control has no necessary connection to defense spending, because arms control addresses systems or regions, whereas the defense budget must take all security challenges into account. And if the U.S. is unwilling to spend the money necessary to verify arms control agreements, it should not enter into those agreements in the first place, because without verification, the limits they place on the U.S. run the risk of being completely one-sided.

Gottemoeller’s remarks demonstrate that the administration: is more interested in getting treaties than in verifying them; understands arms control as, in part, an exercise in the control of U.S. defense spending; and views U.S. and allied armaments as part of the security problem to be addressed via these treaties. These are all fundamental errors. Congress should demand a more serious treatment of U.S. arms control and verification efforts. It is obvious that this Administration has no intention of providing one on its own.

Read Less

Bloomberg’s War on Individual Freedom

Today New York City’s Board of Health approved a ban on the sale of large sodas and sugary drinks in many establishments. It is, as the New York Times pointed out, the first such law enacted in the country. The intent of this initiative pursued by Mayor Michael Bloomberg is to combat the epidemic of obesity in this country. But good intentions have always paved the road to hell or, more important, the path to tyranny. Bloomberg is right to say that New Yorkers ought to be watching their diets. He’s dead wrong in attempting to use the ubiquitous power of the state to impose his ideas about what they should be eating and drinking on them.

The mayor has said he doesn’t want to take away anyone’s right to drink as much soda as they want, but rather his goal is, as he said on the “Today” show, to “force you to understand” that what you are doing is wrong. But at the heart of the latest instance of the mayor’s attempt to become New York’s nanny-in-chief, is an idea put forward in the New York Times by one of his measure’s supporters. As filmmaker Casey Neistat wrote on Saturday, the issue is “that some people just aren’t responsible enough to feed themselves.” That is exactly the frame of reference of Bloomberg on this and all such measures where he and other do-gooders seek to govern the lives of fellow citizens. It is not that they oppose individual freedom per se but that they think the rest of us are too sick or too stupid to be allowed to exercise it freely.

Read More

Today New York City’s Board of Health approved a ban on the sale of large sodas and sugary drinks in many establishments. It is, as the New York Times pointed out, the first such law enacted in the country. The intent of this initiative pursued by Mayor Michael Bloomberg is to combat the epidemic of obesity in this country. But good intentions have always paved the road to hell or, more important, the path to tyranny. Bloomberg is right to say that New Yorkers ought to be watching their diets. He’s dead wrong in attempting to use the ubiquitous power of the state to impose his ideas about what they should be eating and drinking on them.

The mayor has said he doesn’t want to take away anyone’s right to drink as much soda as they want, but rather his goal is, as he said on the “Today” show, to “force you to understand” that what you are doing is wrong. But at the heart of the latest instance of the mayor’s attempt to become New York’s nanny-in-chief, is an idea put forward in the New York Times by one of his measure’s supporters. As filmmaker Casey Neistat wrote on Saturday, the issue is “that some people just aren’t responsible enough to feed themselves.” That is exactly the frame of reference of Bloomberg on this and all such measures where he and other do-gooders seek to govern the lives of fellow citizens. It is not that they oppose individual freedom per se but that they think the rest of us are too sick or too stupid to be allowed to exercise it freely.

The justification presented for this unprecedented government interference in both commerce and individual behavior is that the public and the government bear much of the cost of the illnesses that derive from obesity. But the logic of this argument breaks down when you realize that such reasoning would allow government to interfere in just about any sphere of private behavior including procreation. That is exactly the point that the Communist regime in Beijing has given in defense of its tyrannical one-child policy and the forced abortions that are performed in order to enforce it.

One needn’t paint the billionaire mayor as a would-be totalitarian to understand that a government that can tell you how much soda to drink or fat to eat because the sugar in your super-sized cup will eventually cost it something is one that can, in theory, tell you to do or not do just anything else you can think of.

America’s grand experiment with do-gooder government early in the 20th century was no less well intentioned than that undertaken by Bloomberg and his food and drink police. Indeed, the prohibition of the sale of alcohol addressed a far more urgent health problem facing the nation then (and now) as well as one that cost it, even in that era of small government, a lot of money. But Americans soon learned that legislating personal choices in such a manner is always a colossal mistake that tells us more about our faults than our virtues.

Personal choices, such as the consumption of sugar, do not fall under any reasonable definition of government responsibility. However serious our obesity problem may be, it cannot be solved by government fiat. Indeed, it isn’t likely that there will be a single less fat person in New York because of Bloomberg’s power play. But there will be a little less individual freedom in the city and elsewhere if his noxious idea spreads. The issue here is freedom, not sugar or obesity. The damage from this infringement on the fundamental values that are the foundation of democracy will hurt us far more than the extra few ounces of soda that the mayor begrudges New York’s citizens.

Read Less

State Dept. Contradicts Obama on Egypt

When President Obama said during an interview that “we” don’t consider Egypt an ally, apparently that “we” didn’t include his own State Department. After being pressed by a reporter, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland confirmed today that, yes, technically Egypt is still a U.S. ally (via Politico):

That’s all the State Department can really say, given the fact that Egypt is classified as a major non-NATO ally, which makes it eligible to receive certain types of military assistance and other benefits. Which begs the question — what exactly was Obama getting at when he said otherwise?

Read More

When President Obama said during an interview that “we” don’t consider Egypt an ally, apparently that “we” didn’t include his own State Department. After being pressed by a reporter, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland confirmed today that, yes, technically Egypt is still a U.S. ally (via Politico):

That’s all the State Department can really say, given the fact that Egypt is classified as a major non-NATO ally, which makes it eligible to receive certain types of military assistance and other benefits. Which begs the question — what exactly was Obama getting at when he said otherwise?

So far, the White House hasn’t given a clear answer. Spokesperson Jay Carney struggled to spin Obama out of the blunder earlier today, and only ended up making matters worse:

The White House said immediately that there was no change in policy.

“The president, in diplomatic and legal terms, was speaking correctly,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “We do not have an alliance treaty with Egypt. Ally is a legal term of art. As I said, we do not have a mutual defense treaty with Egypt, like we do, for example, with our NATO allies.”

As Politico’s Byron Tau points out, that would mean other designated major non-NATO allies — including Israel — aren’t technically “allies,” at least according to Obama’s “legal term of art” definition. Complicating matters further is the fact that the term “ally” is in the title of the designation.

It’s actually pretty clear what Obama meant to say about Egypt. Obviously the Obama administration is wary about the new government, and for good reason. But the ally comment was a mistake from both a diplomatic and legal perspective. It certainly couldn’t have sent a comforting sign to other major non-NATO allies in the region, and it stepped on his campaign’s efforts to portray him as a competent leader on foreign policy.

Read Less

The Problem of Polling Intangibles

Chris Cillizza, who blogs about politics at the Washington Post, wrote a defense of the seemingly off-topic questions—such as “On a ship in a storm, who would you rather have as the captain?”–asked by the WaPo’s latest poll that I want to find convincing, but just can’t quite get there. Here is how Cillizza explains the controversy, and the Post’s justification:

The response — via Twitter, Facebook and even email (yes, people still email sometimes) — was overwhelming and (stunningly, at least to us) negative. And it went something like this: “Who cares about who the better ship captain is? This has NOTHING to do with the election.”

Ditto for other questions in the Post-ABC poll like “who do you think would be the more loyal friend” and “who would you rather take care of you when you’re sick”….

We’ve long maintained that the vote for president, more so than any other vote, is a feel vote.  That is, the up-for-grabs voters don’t simply go to the websites of the two candidates, make a check next to every issue they agree with Obama or Romney on and then add up the columns — voting for whichever of the two men had more checks to his name.  If they did, George Bush wouldn’t likely have beaten either Al Gore or John Kerry.

Read More

Chris Cillizza, who blogs about politics at the Washington Post, wrote a defense of the seemingly off-topic questions—such as “On a ship in a storm, who would you rather have as the captain?”–asked by the WaPo’s latest poll that I want to find convincing, but just can’t quite get there. Here is how Cillizza explains the controversy, and the Post’s justification:

The response — via Twitter, Facebook and even email (yes, people still email sometimes) — was overwhelming and (stunningly, at least to us) negative. And it went something like this: “Who cares about who the better ship captain is? This has NOTHING to do with the election.”

Ditto for other questions in the Post-ABC poll like “who do you think would be the more loyal friend” and “who would you rather take care of you when you’re sick”….

We’ve long maintained that the vote for president, more so than any other vote, is a feel vote.  That is, the up-for-grabs voters don’t simply go to the websites of the two candidates, make a check next to every issue they agree with Obama or Romney on and then add up the columns — voting for whichever of the two men had more checks to his name.  If they did, George Bush wouldn’t likely have beaten either Al Gore or John Kerry.

Count me among those who believe that voters are generally rational but that the presence of some irrationality–call it instinct if you want–plays a role, especially in close elections. But here’s the thing: the WaPo/ABC poll didn’t just ask voters who they’d rather have dinner with or take care of them when they’re sick. The poll also asked… who they’re going to vote for. Now, I think the poll pretty effectively demonstrated that voters can be all over the place when it comes these questions. But if you value the ship captain question, or the loyal friend question, you have to confront the fact that it’s either a worthless barometer–or the question of who voters plan to vote for is a worthless barometer. That latter one is a pretty difficult thing for a pollster to confront.

Yet it’s hard to avoid this problem. Among likely voters, Obama wins this poll by one point, and among registered voters by six. All the other questions Cillizza is defending were asked of registered voters. Yet Obama wins the ship captain question by only three—half his advantage among registered voters when asked who they’ll vote for. Obama wins the who “would make a more loyal friend” question by fourteen points, and the “take care of you if you were sick” question by thirteen. On who voters would rather have dinner with, Obama wins by nineteen. So respondents are telling the Post that they obviously don’t care who they’d rather have dinner with, be around when they’re sick, or be friends with.

So how do we make the argument that these questions are relevant? And if we argue that these questions are relevant, don’t we have to discard the “who are you going to vote for” question? And if we discard the “who are you going to vote for” question, aren’t we kind of giving up on polling voters?

Again, there is absolutely a case to be made that a certain amount of instinct or irrationality creeps into voters’ minds when they choose a president. But there’s another name for those metrics: intangible, which Oxford defines as “unable to be touched or grasped.” It seems they are still unable to be polled, as well.

Read Less

Biden’s Strange Definition of Daylight

Unlike Senator Barbara Boxer, who understood that a clear breach has developed between Israel and the United States, Vice President Joe Biden is in denial. As Seth wrote earlier today, Boxer demanded that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu retract his statements about the administration’s refusal to set red lines about Iran’s nuclear program. She asked him to reaffirm his comments from earlier in the year in which he said the two countries stand together. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case, with the Americans still implausibly insisting that failed diplomacy and inadequate sanctions will make the Iranians give up their nuclear ambitions. Boxer seems to think it’s the Israeli duty to subordinate their own ideas of security to those of an administration that has demonstrated no interest in translating their rhetoric into action on Iran. But while Boxer’s statement was as impertinent as it was wrongheaded, Biden’s comments are either obtuse or totally disingenuous.

Biden made the comment at a pre-Rosh Hashanah event at the vice presidential mansion. JTA reports that:

According to tweets posted by Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union, Biden said that “Both our nations are intently focused on the threat of Iran” and “there is no daylight” between the United States and Israel.

Diament also quoted Biden as saying that “We will use all the elements of our national security, including military” to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The problem with these statements is that they are at variance with the comments made over the weekend by Secretary of State Clinton in which she pointedly refused to set any deadlines for the Iranians. The recent report of the International Atomic Energy Agency showed that the Iranians are making good use of the time President Obama has wasted during his four years in office pursuing feckless diplomacy to make substantial progress toward a nuclear weapon. The Israeli government has complained loudly that it is obvious, as the IAEA report made clear, that Tehran is fast approaching the point where it would be too late to use force to forestall Iran’s bomb. The contrast between Israel’s sense of urgency about this existential threat and the laconic manner of the administration could not be starker. If that doesn’t constitute daylight, then the term has no meaning.

Read More

Unlike Senator Barbara Boxer, who understood that a clear breach has developed between Israel and the United States, Vice President Joe Biden is in denial. As Seth wrote earlier today, Boxer demanded that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu retract his statements about the administration’s refusal to set red lines about Iran’s nuclear program. She asked him to reaffirm his comments from earlier in the year in which he said the two countries stand together. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case, with the Americans still implausibly insisting that failed diplomacy and inadequate sanctions will make the Iranians give up their nuclear ambitions. Boxer seems to think it’s the Israeli duty to subordinate their own ideas of security to those of an administration that has demonstrated no interest in translating their rhetoric into action on Iran. But while Boxer’s statement was as impertinent as it was wrongheaded, Biden’s comments are either obtuse or totally disingenuous.

Biden made the comment at a pre-Rosh Hashanah event at the vice presidential mansion. JTA reports that:

According to tweets posted by Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union, Biden said that “Both our nations are intently focused on the threat of Iran” and “there is no daylight” between the United States and Israel.

Diament also quoted Biden as saying that “We will use all the elements of our national security, including military” to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The problem with these statements is that they are at variance with the comments made over the weekend by Secretary of State Clinton in which she pointedly refused to set any deadlines for the Iranians. The recent report of the International Atomic Energy Agency showed that the Iranians are making good use of the time President Obama has wasted during his four years in office pursuing feckless diplomacy to make substantial progress toward a nuclear weapon. The Israeli government has complained loudly that it is obvious, as the IAEA report made clear, that Tehran is fast approaching the point where it would be too late to use force to forestall Iran’s bomb. The contrast between Israel’s sense of urgency about this existential threat and the laconic manner of the administration could not be starker. If that doesn’t constitute daylight, then the term has no meaning.

The decision of the president to snub Netanyahu later this month when they will both be in New York was more than a symbolic snub. It was also a message that under no circumstances would Obama be pressured into behaving as if this wasn’t just a problem that could be jawboned while being postponed until after the election when, presumably, he will have the freedom to change his mind about his pledges on the issue. That he is arranging to meet with the President of Egypt while avoiding Netanyahu tells us all we need to know about whether he regards the friendship of the Muslim Brotherhood as being more valuable than that of Israel.

The president’s Telemundo interview — which received notice for his bizarre equivocation about Egypt’s status as an ally or an enemy — was also notable for his saying that the “red line” about Iran was merely their acquisition of a nuclear weapon. While that sounds plausible, it is far from satisfactory from Israel’s point of view since the priority is to ensure that they don’t have the materials from which they can quickly assemble a bomb. Waiting until they have one is simply too late to head off the problem or to deny them the leverage such a weapon would afford Tehran and its terrorist auxiliaries.

Netanyahu may have no choice but to accept this lamentable decision, but American Jews do have the ability to exercise their democratic privilege to speak truth to power and to inform the administration of their displeasure. That is why Biden is attempting to pretend that all is well between Israel and the United States, even if doing so this of all weeks strains even his considerable ability to fib with a straight face.

Biden’s statement was probably applauded by Democratic politicians at the event, such as Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who has plenty of experience of her own lying about the U.S.-Israel relationship (and who wouldn’t have wanted to be a fly on the wall if she and Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, who was also at the event, had a private word together?). But it is to be hoped that others present were not cynical. The leaders of the major American Jewish groups in attendance at the reception are used to such pretenses. The question is whether any of them had the chutzpah to point out just how disingenuous Biden’s comments were.

Read Less

Future of U.S.-Egypt Relations Not So Clear

President Obama’s comments on Egypt conform to Michael Kinsley’s famous definition of a gaffe: when a politician inadvertently tells the truth. In an interview with Telemundo, Obama said:

I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy. They’re a new government that is trying to find its way. They were democratically elected. I think that we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident.”

As Alana notes, the administration immediately tried to walk back the president’s comment, with an NSC spokesman saying, “I think folks are reading way too much into this.” Hardly. When the president publicly questions whether a country like Egypt, which has been the second-largest recipient of American aid since the 1970s, is still an ally, it suggests that profound changes are afoot. As Obama suggested, it is still unclear where the new government led by Mohamed Morsi will end up–as an ally, an enemy or (more likely) somewhere in between, as a North African version of Pakistan.

Read More

President Obama’s comments on Egypt conform to Michael Kinsley’s famous definition of a gaffe: when a politician inadvertently tells the truth. In an interview with Telemundo, Obama said:

I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy. They’re a new government that is trying to find its way. They were democratically elected. I think that we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident.”

As Alana notes, the administration immediately tried to walk back the president’s comment, with an NSC spokesman saying, “I think folks are reading way too much into this.” Hardly. When the president publicly questions whether a country like Egypt, which has been the second-largest recipient of American aid since the 1970s, is still an ally, it suggests that profound changes are afoot. As Obama suggested, it is still unclear where the new government led by Mohamed Morsi will end up–as an ally, an enemy or (more likely) somewhere in between, as a North African version of Pakistan.

The events of the past few days show just how hard it is to determine the future course of Egyptian policy: Morsi did not grant enough police protection to the U.S. embassy to prevent demonstrators from getting inside the grounds and he was halting and late in condemning the attack. His hesitancy stands in contrast to the prompt, full-throated condemnations from Libyan leaders–who are genuinely pro-American–of the attack which killed our ambassador in Benghazi. Morsi has been a little tougher in his language and actions today but only after a telephone conversation with Obama that had to be uncomfortable for both of them.

Like most politicians, Morsi appears to be triangulating between competing demands–in this case the demands of the U.S., which holds Egypt’s purse strings, and the demands of hard-line Salafists and Muslim Brothers. Morsi’s own views are unclear, perhaps conveniently cloaked for the time being. To make matters more complicated, it is unclear to what extent Morsi controls his own security forces even after having replaced many of the senior generals. There is even a conspiracy theory floating around that the security men might be tacitly cooperating with the Salafists to embarrass Morsi.

To understand how complicated and uncertain the situation is, it helps to recall Iran in 1979. After the shah was toppled, there was a power struggle between Islamists and secularists for control of the government. Radical students stormed the US Embassy and took its personnel hostage primarily to embarrass the moderates and force a crisis with the “Great Satan” that would allow the extremists around Ayatollah Khomeini to consolidate power. Something similar could be occurring in Egypt today. The U.S. must use what leverage it has–at this point, primarily financial–to shape the conduct of Egypt, but we must be aware that attacks on our embassy are primarily a manifestation of a local power struggle whose outcome we cannot dictate.

Read Less

Why Aren’t Marines Carrying Live Ammo?

The Washington Free Beacon reports that Anne Patterson, the U.S. Ambassador to Cairo, forbade U.S. Marines guarding the embassy from carrying live ammo. Ambassadors might be kings (or queens) of the compound, but her pronouncement was nothing short of professional incompetence.

Forget about the Obama administration reverting to the pre-9/11 era. Patterson set the clock back to pre-1983. After all, it was during that year that Ronald Reagan, in perhaps one of the greatest mistakes of his presidency, ordered U.S. Marines into Beirut as peacekeepers. The Marines guarding their barracks, however, were not authorized to carry live ammunition. Had the guards been carrying loaded weapons, they might have shot the suicide truck bomber who rushed the gates, setting off an explosion which killed 241 American servicemen.

Read More

The Washington Free Beacon reports that Anne Patterson, the U.S. Ambassador to Cairo, forbade U.S. Marines guarding the embassy from carrying live ammo. Ambassadors might be kings (or queens) of the compound, but her pronouncement was nothing short of professional incompetence.

Forget about the Obama administration reverting to the pre-9/11 era. Patterson set the clock back to pre-1983. After all, it was during that year that Ronald Reagan, in perhaps one of the greatest mistakes of his presidency, ordered U.S. Marines into Beirut as peacekeepers. The Marines guarding their barracks, however, were not authorized to carry live ammunition. Had the guards been carrying loaded weapons, they might have shot the suicide truck bomber who rushed the gates, setting off an explosion which killed 241 American servicemen.

Nor should we dismiss the attack on the embassy as simply a protest that got out of hand, but which was fortunately diffused without the loss of life. Remember: The November 4, 1979 hostage seizure in Iran was actually the second assault on the U.S. embassy in Tehran. On February 14, radicals stormed the embassy much like they did in Cairo, in an incident now long since forgotten. Had Carter upped the defense of the embassy then, Iranian revolutionaries might not have triumphed the second time around. Alas, it seems that Obama’s team, like Carter’s before it, refuses to learn from experience and so condemns Americans to make the same mistakes repeatedly.

Read Less

Libya Attack Pre-Planned By Terror Group?

Yesterday I flagged a USA Today report that this week’s Cairo embassy protest was actually announced on Aug. 30 by an Egyptian terrorist group calling for the release of Omar Abdel Rahman (aka the “blind sheik”). Today, CNN reports that the Libya attack also appeared to be orchestrated in advance, by a pro-al-Qaeda group called the “Imprisoned Omar Abdel Rahman Brigades,” which, as its name suggests, also follows the Egyptian blind sheik (h/t Heritage):

A pro-al Qaeda group responsible for a previous armed assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is the chief suspect in Tuesday’s attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, sources tracking militant Islamist groups in eastern Libya say.

They also note that the attack immediately followed a call from al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri for revenge for the death in June of Abu Yahya al-Libi, a senior Libyan member of the terror group.

The group suspected to be behind the assault — the Imprisoned Omar Abdul Rahman Brigades — first surfaced in May when it claimed responsibility for an attack on the International Red Cross office in Benghazi. The following month the group claimed responsibility for detonating an explosive device outside the U.S. Consulate and later released a video of that attack.

Read More

Yesterday I flagged a USA Today report that this week’s Cairo embassy protest was actually announced on Aug. 30 by an Egyptian terrorist group calling for the release of Omar Abdel Rahman (aka the “blind sheik”). Today, CNN reports that the Libya attack also appeared to be orchestrated in advance, by a pro-al-Qaeda group called the “Imprisoned Omar Abdel Rahman Brigades,” which, as its name suggests, also follows the Egyptian blind sheik (h/t Heritage):

A pro-al Qaeda group responsible for a previous armed assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is the chief suspect in Tuesday’s attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, sources tracking militant Islamist groups in eastern Libya say.

They also note that the attack immediately followed a call from al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri for revenge for the death in June of Abu Yahya al-Libi, a senior Libyan member of the terror group.

The group suspected to be behind the assault — the Imprisoned Omar Abdul Rahman Brigades — first surfaced in May when it claimed responsibility for an attack on the International Red Cross office in Benghazi. The following month the group claimed responsibility for detonating an explosive device outside the U.S. Consulate and later released a video of that attack.

Yesterday it appeared that Islamist leaders had seized on the low-budget anti-Islam film “The Innocence of Muslims” in order to gin up outrage and attract more people to the protests. But the purpose of the film may have been even more sinister than that, according to U.S. and Libyan sources who spoke to CNN. The protest over the film may have been conceived as a diversion, so that militants could launch an attack on U.S. officials being evacuated from the embassy in Libya:

Noman Benotman, once a leading member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and now based at the Quilliam Foundation in London told CNN, “An attack like this would likely have required preparation. This would not seem to be merely a protest which escalated.” …

“According to our sources, the attack against the consulate had two waves. The first attack led to U.S. officials being evacuated from the consulate by Libyan security forces, only for the second wave to be launched against U.S. officials after they were kept in a secure location.”

That analysis is supported by U.S. sources who say the attack on the consulate is believed to have been pre-planned. The sources say the attackers used the protest as a diversion to launch the attack, although the sources could not say if the attackers instigated the protest or merely took advantage of it.

If true, the implications may be far more serious than initially thought. It could mean that this wasn’t a spontaneous act of mob violence, but a pre-conceived terrorist attack on a U.S. embassy, on the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

Read Less

Brotherhood: Do as I Say, Not as I Say

Even before President Morsi’s accession to power in Egypt, many journalists, diplomats, and former officials traveled to Cairo to engage with the Muslim Brotherhood. In the forthcoming issue of COMMENTARY, I’ll talk a lot more about how so many Western officials came to see the Brotherhood as a partner rather than pariah. I won’t spoil that article, but not surprisingly, one theme is that the Brotherhood sometimes says one thing in Arabic and quite another in English.

The protests and riots in Egypt over the last couple days have provided a priceless example. While the Muslim Brotherhood’s twitter account in English said they were “relieved none of @USembassycairo staff was hurt,” their Arabic language tweets were praising and inciting the protestors. According to Al Ahram:

This reconciliatory tweet, however, was posted while the Brotherhood’s Arabic-language Twitter account and its official website were both praising the protests — staged against a US-made film judged defamatory towards Islam — and calling for a million man march on Friday.  One Arabic language article on the Brotherhood’s site sported the headline ‘Egyptians rise to defend the Prophet’. Noting the contradiction, the US Embassy in Cairo tweeted a tart response from its own account: “Thanks. By the way, have you checked out your own Arabic feeds? I hope you know we read those too.”

Even before President Morsi’s accession to power in Egypt, many journalists, diplomats, and former officials traveled to Cairo to engage with the Muslim Brotherhood. In the forthcoming issue of COMMENTARY, I’ll talk a lot more about how so many Western officials came to see the Brotherhood as a partner rather than pariah. I won’t spoil that article, but not surprisingly, one theme is that the Brotherhood sometimes says one thing in Arabic and quite another in English.

The protests and riots in Egypt over the last couple days have provided a priceless example. While the Muslim Brotherhood’s twitter account in English said they were “relieved none of @USembassycairo staff was hurt,” their Arabic language tweets were praising and inciting the protestors. According to Al Ahram:

This reconciliatory tweet, however, was posted while the Brotherhood’s Arabic-language Twitter account and its official website were both praising the protests — staged against a US-made film judged defamatory towards Islam — and calling for a million man march on Friday.  One Arabic language article on the Brotherhood’s site sported the headline ‘Egyptians rise to defend the Prophet’. Noting the contradiction, the US Embassy in Cairo tweeted a tart response from its own account: “Thanks. By the way, have you checked out your own Arabic feeds? I hope you know we read those too.”

Read Less

Obama Sounding Confused About Egypt

In an interview with Telemundo, President Obama said that he did not consider Egypt an ally or an enemy. He may want to confirm that with the State Department, which still appears to have Egypt designated as a major non-NATO ally (MMNA). That designation gives it special status under the Foreign Assistance Act and the Arms Export Control Act:

The following countries have been designated as major non-NATO allies: Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Republic of Korea. Taiwan shall be treated as though it were designated a major non-NATO ally (as defined in section 644(q) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2403(q)).

Read More

In an interview with Telemundo, President Obama said that he did not consider Egypt an ally or an enemy. He may want to confirm that with the State Department, which still appears to have Egypt designated as a major non-NATO ally (MMNA). That designation gives it special status under the Foreign Assistance Act and the Arms Export Control Act:

The following countries have been designated as major non-NATO allies: Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Republic of Korea. Taiwan shall be treated as though it were designated a major non-NATO ally (as defined in section 644(q) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2403(q)).

If Egypt is not an ally, can Obama explain why the U.S. continues to support the country via military cooperation and foreign aid? And can he also explain when exactly Egypt dropped from “ally” status? As recently as March 23, White House spokesman Jay Carney referred to the country as “an important ally in the region” during a press briefing. When was the severing point? Before or after Morsi’s election?

UPDATE: Josh Rogin spoke to National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, who slammed critics for “reading way too much into” Obama’s comments, and said Egypt’s status as a Major Non-NATO Ally hasn’t been changed:

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Cable Thursday that the administration is not signaling a change in that status.

“I think folks are reading way too much into this,” Vietor said. “‘Ally’ is a legal term of art. We don’t have a mutual defense treaty with Egypt like we do with our NATO allies. But as the president has said, Egypt is longstanding and close partner of the United States, and we have built on that foundation by supporting Egypt’s transition to democracy and working with the new government.”

That doesn’t exactly clarify the situation.

Read Less

The Literary Fallacy Revisited

Ted’s wonderful addition to our knowledge about the provenance of the “crazed veteran” stereotype is also a welcome reminder to be skeptical — very, very skeptical — when listening to literary types like me. For we are prey to what Bernard DeVoto, the historian and twenty-year columnist for Harper’s, called the literary fallacy. That is: the shiftless and insular mistake of thinking that we can somehow (in DeVoto’s words) “judge our society by means of literature and nothing else.”

DeVoto published The Literary Fallacy in 1944. (Fred Siegel, writing in COMMENTARY two years ago, called it DeVoto’s most important book, despite a Pulitzer Prize in history for Across the Wide Missouri and a National Book Award for The Course of Empire.) To the literary way of thinking, DeVoto said,

the criterion of an idea is its rightness as idea, not the knowledge which it represents or its correspondence to reality. The method of literary thinking proceeds from idea to idea by way of idea, with no check or control outside idea. It deduces ideas from assumptions, general principles, and universal abstract truths. It requires facts to conform to logic and it ascertains facts by determining what logic implies.

A literary historian may succeed, then, in tracing the figure of the “crazed veteran” through the literature of the Vietnam vet from Joseph Hayes to Philip Roth without any awareness at all that the true source might exist outside the literature. The fallacy has a power not unlike that of psychosis: no facts can penetrate from without, because they are converted into literary facts at the door.

Some novelists make sport of the fallacy. They have a lot of fun trying to show that the game of fiction — what Philip Roth calls the “game of let’s pretend” — is indistinguishable from the many ordinary ways in which we construct and comprehend the physical world. (Paul Auster comes to mind. See my review of his novel Invisible.) I like to think of this as the Kafka strategy, in which objective reality can be altered by a single sentence. (Except that Kafka then remains faithful to the alteration, which became as inalterable for the length of his fiction as any reality.) The glorification of the literary fallacy is Derrida’s deconstructionist axiom (self-refuting, but never mind) that literary thinking must proceed from idea to idea by way of idea, because there is no getting “outside idea.”

There’s a better way for writers to come to terms with the literary fallacy. Not surprisingly, it is Philip Roth who says it best. In American Pastoral, defending his approach to telling another person’s story, Nathan Zuckerman reflects:

You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations . . . and yet you never fail to get them wrong. . . . You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception. And yet what are we to do about this terribly significant business of other people, which gets bled of the significance we think it has and takes on instead a significance that is ludicrous, so ill-equipped are we all to envision one another’s interior workings and invisible aims? Is everyone to go off and lock the door and sit secluded like the lonely writers do, in a soundproof cell, summoning people out of words and then proposing that these word people are closer to the real thing than the real people that we mangle out of ignorance every day? The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong.

And how we know we’re dead — intellectually, at least? When we give up on trying to get them right. Whatever lies outside literature and encourages some writers to struggle (and fail) to get it right, including the history of slandering Vietnam veterans that Ted so ably sketches below, is the only thing that gives literature any value. Otherwise it is a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, like so much contemporary American fiction.

Ted’s wonderful addition to our knowledge about the provenance of the “crazed veteran” stereotype is also a welcome reminder to be skeptical — very, very skeptical — when listening to literary types like me. For we are prey to what Bernard DeVoto, the historian and twenty-year columnist for Harper’s, called the literary fallacy. That is: the shiftless and insular mistake of thinking that we can somehow (in DeVoto’s words) “judge our society by means of literature and nothing else.”

DeVoto published The Literary Fallacy in 1944. (Fred Siegel, writing in COMMENTARY two years ago, called it DeVoto’s most important book, despite a Pulitzer Prize in history for Across the Wide Missouri and a National Book Award for The Course of Empire.) To the literary way of thinking, DeVoto said,

the criterion of an idea is its rightness as idea, not the knowledge which it represents or its correspondence to reality. The method of literary thinking proceeds from idea to idea by way of idea, with no check or control outside idea. It deduces ideas from assumptions, general principles, and universal abstract truths. It requires facts to conform to logic and it ascertains facts by determining what logic implies.

A literary historian may succeed, then, in tracing the figure of the “crazed veteran” through the literature of the Vietnam vet from Joseph Hayes to Philip Roth without any awareness at all that the true source might exist outside the literature. The fallacy has a power not unlike that of psychosis: no facts can penetrate from without, because they are converted into literary facts at the door.

Some novelists make sport of the fallacy. They have a lot of fun trying to show that the game of fiction — what Philip Roth calls the “game of let’s pretend” — is indistinguishable from the many ordinary ways in which we construct and comprehend the physical world. (Paul Auster comes to mind. See my review of his novel Invisible.) I like to think of this as the Kafka strategy, in which objective reality can be altered by a single sentence. (Except that Kafka then remains faithful to the alteration, which became as inalterable for the length of his fiction as any reality.) The glorification of the literary fallacy is Derrida’s deconstructionist axiom (self-refuting, but never mind) that literary thinking must proceed from idea to idea by way of idea, because there is no getting “outside idea.”

There’s a better way for writers to come to terms with the literary fallacy. Not surprisingly, it is Philip Roth who says it best. In American Pastoral, defending his approach to telling another person’s story, Nathan Zuckerman reflects:

You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations . . . and yet you never fail to get them wrong. . . . You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception. And yet what are we to do about this terribly significant business of other people, which gets bled of the significance we think it has and takes on instead a significance that is ludicrous, so ill-equipped are we all to envision one another’s interior workings and invisible aims? Is everyone to go off and lock the door and sit secluded like the lonely writers do, in a soundproof cell, summoning people out of words and then proposing that these word people are closer to the real thing than the real people that we mangle out of ignorance every day? The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong.

And how we know we’re dead — intellectually, at least? When we give up on trying to get them right. Whatever lies outside literature and encourages some writers to struggle (and fail) to get it right, including the history of slandering Vietnam veterans that Ted so ably sketches below, is the only thing that gives literature any value. Otherwise it is a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, like so much contemporary American fiction.

Read Less

Faithless Electors Could Cost Romney

Throughout the winter and spring, supporters of defeated libertarian extremist Rep. Ron Paul were fond of claiming that they had the power to either disrupt the Republican National Convention or generate enough defections in November to sabotage the mainstream GOP’s efforts to win back the presidency. Though the Paulbots managed to amuse some bored members of the press corps at the Tampa convention, their attempts to gain attention barely deserved to be called a distraction. Their threats about affecting the vote in the general election appear to be even emptier as polling showed that much of Paul’s limited support came from Democrats crossing over to participate in GOP primaries and caucuses. However, it appears that the libertarian fringe could actually materially affect the outcome in a way that no one seems to have foreseen.

As the Associated Press reports today, three of the Republicans who will become members of the Electoral College should Mitt Romney win their states are now saying they will refuse to vote for the Republican. All three are Paul backers who somehow managed to be appointed to this usually symbolic post but who have the power to thwart the will of the voters if that is their pleasure. Two are from potential tossup states, Iowa and Nevada. Another is from Texas, a state certain to go Republican this fall. All profess to be not merely disgusted with Romney’s relatively moderate stands on the issues but angry with some of the petty slights dealt out to Paul delegates in Tampa. Together, they could deprive Romney of a majority should the election turn out to be a nail-biter. If this happens, those in the GOP leadership who insisted on net letting Paul’s name be placed in nomination or in counting the votes cast for him will rue their decisions.

Read More

Throughout the winter and spring, supporters of defeated libertarian extremist Rep. Ron Paul were fond of claiming that they had the power to either disrupt the Republican National Convention or generate enough defections in November to sabotage the mainstream GOP’s efforts to win back the presidency. Though the Paulbots managed to amuse some bored members of the press corps at the Tampa convention, their attempts to gain attention barely deserved to be called a distraction. Their threats about affecting the vote in the general election appear to be even emptier as polling showed that much of Paul’s limited support came from Democrats crossing over to participate in GOP primaries and caucuses. However, it appears that the libertarian fringe could actually materially affect the outcome in a way that no one seems to have foreseen.

As the Associated Press reports today, three of the Republicans who will become members of the Electoral College should Mitt Romney win their states are now saying they will refuse to vote for the Republican. All three are Paul backers who somehow managed to be appointed to this usually symbolic post but who have the power to thwart the will of the voters if that is their pleasure. Two are from potential tossup states, Iowa and Nevada. Another is from Texas, a state certain to go Republican this fall. All profess to be not merely disgusted with Romney’s relatively moderate stands on the issues but angry with some of the petty slights dealt out to Paul delegates in Tampa. Together, they could deprive Romney of a majority should the election turn out to be a nail-biter. If this happens, those in the GOP leadership who insisted on net letting Paul’s name be placed in nomination or in counting the votes cast for him will rue their decisions.

Faithless electors are not unknown in American history, and approximately half of the states have laws prohibiting electors from voting for anyone but the choice of the voters. But as the AP points out, Nevada’s law carries no punishment, meaning that one of the GOP electors who has said he’ll vote for Ron Paul rather than Romney could probably do so with impunity.

Other Paul supporters who have managed to become potential members of the Electoral College promise they’ll defect only if it won’t influence the outcome of the election. Thus if Romney exceeds or falls short of the 270-vote majority he needs, there may be more than three votes for Paul or abstentions.

This possibility will raise the usual objections to the Electoral College as an institution. The faithless electors are right that the founders of the republic did intend them to act as a deliberative body of elites. Yet the College persists because changing it would alter the balance of power between the states and because it is difficult to shuck tradition. It was bad enough when it produced, as it did in 2000, an outcome that did not match the popular vote. But should faithless electors thwart the will of individual states, it will be difficult to refute the inevitable calls for change that will ensue.

But if Paul supporters didn’t like the top-down rules that were imposed on the RNC to silence them, this will only serve to motivate both parties to create regulations that will be even more draconian attempts to weed out dissidents from positions of influence. Any state Republican party, such as the one in Nevada, that allowed its electors to be chosen by the Paul faction will be likely to do everything to ensure that this never happens again.

The odds are, either Romney or President Obama will wind up getting more than 273 votes, making the potential Paul protest merely a matter of symbolism. But if, as is entirely possible, the outcome does come down to a couple of Electoral votes, the focus on these individuals will be intense. If they manage to deadlock the College and send the decision to Congress — something that last happened in 1824 — it will turn the election into more of a circus than the 2000 debacle in Florida.

Read Less

Is the Obama Convention Bounce Over?

After a week that has made it appear as if the presidential election is slipping away from him, Mitt Romney got a bit of good news this morning when Rasmussen released its latest daily tracking poll showing him with a narrow 47-46 percent lead over President Obama. It’s the first time in a week that Romney has had any kind of a lead and only a couple of days ago had fallen a few points behind in this survey.

Given the avalanche of bad results the Republican has gotten in the past few days, the Rasmussen numbers provide a dose of badly needed relief for Romney. Polls released in the last week have shown President Obama with leads as large as 7 points (Gallup), 6 points (CNN), 5 points (Fox News) and 3 points (Reuters). All reflected a clear post-Democratic convention bounce for the president that was in no way diminished by the dismal jobs report released on Friday. The expectation in some quarters is that this trend will continue as the president reaps the benefit of leading the nation during a time of crisis in the aftermath of the attacks on American embassies in the Middle East. But the Rasmussen survey provides at least one ray of hope for the GOP in that it shows that the post-Convention bubble may have burst. Indeed, it may be the harbinger of results from other sources that may show the race tightening rather than moving even further in Obama’s direction.

Read More

After a week that has made it appear as if the presidential election is slipping away from him, Mitt Romney got a bit of good news this morning when Rasmussen released its latest daily tracking poll showing him with a narrow 47-46 percent lead over President Obama. It’s the first time in a week that Romney has had any kind of a lead and only a couple of days ago had fallen a few points behind in this survey.

Given the avalanche of bad results the Republican has gotten in the past few days, the Rasmussen numbers provide a dose of badly needed relief for Romney. Polls released in the last week have shown President Obama with leads as large as 7 points (Gallup), 6 points (CNN), 5 points (Fox News) and 3 points (Reuters). All reflected a clear post-Democratic convention bounce for the president that was in no way diminished by the dismal jobs report released on Friday. The expectation in some quarters is that this trend will continue as the president reaps the benefit of leading the nation during a time of crisis in the aftermath of the attacks on American embassies in the Middle East. But the Rasmussen survey provides at least one ray of hope for the GOP in that it shows that the post-Convention bubble may have burst. Indeed, it may be the harbinger of results from other sources that may show the race tightening rather than moving even further in Obama’s direction.

Democrats will be quick to point out that Rasmussen’s results have tended to favor the Republican throughout the race and that its focus on likely rather than registered voters may underestimate Democratic turnout in November. We won’t know until then whether Rasmussen’s turnout model is more accurate than other pollsters who are assuming that the president will duplicate his 2008 effort, when an outpouring of minority and young voters propelled him to a decisive victory.

However, Rasmussen’s numbers, which show, as has been the case throughout the year, more enthusiasm on the right than on the left, may indicate that contrary to the prevailing narrative of the last week, the campaign is essentially back to where it was two weeks ago in a virtual stalemate. That is the best indication that the Charlotte bounce is over since it appeared as if Democrats had closed the enthusiasm gap after the convention.

Nevertheless, Republicans should not be surprised if the all out media assault on their candidate in the last 24 hours after his criticism of administration apologies to Islamists will produce another surge for the president. Many in the country may agree with the GOP candidate that the initial apology to rioters that was produced by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt was disgraceful. Others may expect that the bungling of U.S. security in Libya and the administration’s supine posture in Egypt will become problems rather than strengths. But once the chattering classes settle on a theme to the disadvantage of conservatives, whether it is Romney’s foreign trip or the supposed brilliance of speakers at the Democratic convention, it has a way of becoming accepted conventional wisdom.

That said, though the polls have shown in the last week just how decisive an advantage a compliant media can be for the president, the latest results demonstrate that the race remains tight with Romney still very much in the hunt.

Read Less

Libyans Remember Ambassador Stevens

As the United States mourns the horrific murders of four Americans at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, it’s also important to remember that the violent thugs who stormed the embassy do not represent all Libyans. Yesterday, a crowd of Libyans hit the streets to protest the attack, waving signs in broken English that read “Sorry People of America this is not the [b]ehavior of our [I]slam and pro[phe]t,” and “Chris Stevens Was a Friend to All Libyans.”

Stevens, 52, had devoted himself to helping liberate the country he died in. ABC News reports on his daring entrance into Libya during the first days of the civil war:

Read More

As the United States mourns the horrific murders of four Americans at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, it’s also important to remember that the violent thugs who stormed the embassy do not represent all Libyans. Yesterday, a crowd of Libyans hit the streets to protest the attack, waving signs in broken English that read “Sorry People of America this is not the [b]ehavior of our [I]slam and pro[phe]t,” and “Chris Stevens Was a Friend to All Libyans.”

Stevens, 52, had devoted himself to helping liberate the country he died in. ABC News reports on his daring entrance into Libya during the first days of the civil war:

During the early days of the Libyans’ fight to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi, Christopher Stevens wrangled a ride on a Greek cargo ship and sailed into the rebels’ stronghold city of Benghazi. He arrived at a time when the crackle of gunfire could be heard each night.

Stevens and his team didn’t even have a place to stay, but found space in a hotel briefly, moving out after a car bomb went off in the parking lot, according to his own account in State Magazine last year.

Stevens, whose diplomatic foothold were a couple of battered tables, was on literally on the rebels’ side while the revolution was at its most vulnerable and in danger of being crushed by Gadhafi’s troops who were moving on the city. The threat was pushed back at the last minute by the intervention of NATO planes which began bombing Gadhafi’s tanks and troops.

It’s impossible to thank the late Ambassador Stevens — and many of the other American diplomats abroad — enough for the sacrifices they make daily to try to build a better future for volatile and dangerous countries that are not even their own. Without them, much of the good that America does in the world would not be possible.

Read Less

Time to Discard Liberal Caricature of Bibi

Earlier this month, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz found herself in hot water after she seemingly fabricated a statement she attributed to Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, essentially accusing Republicans of playing politics on Israel. Now Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer has taken it a step further, echoing a sentiment that has been floating around the American media for a while. Boxer wrote an open letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accusing him of “inject[ing] politics” into the effort to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Of course, we should always be wary of someone accusing a country’s most senior political figure of playing politics, as if presidents and prime ministers are somehow non-political actors. Boxer writes that she is “stunned” that Netanyahu would ever doubt President Obama’s commitment to Israel, and then played a bit of politics herself, instructing Netanyahu to publicly recant his comments and replace them with statements that might better help the president’s image on this issue:

Read More

Earlier this month, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz found herself in hot water after she seemingly fabricated a statement she attributed to Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, essentially accusing Republicans of playing politics on Israel. Now Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer has taken it a step further, echoing a sentiment that has been floating around the American media for a while. Boxer wrote an open letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accusing him of “inject[ing] politics” into the effort to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Of course, we should always be wary of someone accusing a country’s most senior political figure of playing politics, as if presidents and prime ministers are somehow non-political actors. Boxer writes that she is “stunned” that Netanyahu would ever doubt President Obama’s commitment to Israel, and then played a bit of politics herself, instructing Netanyahu to publicly recant his comments and replace them with statements that might better help the president’s image on this issue:

I urge you to step back and clarify your remarks so that the world sees that there is no daylight between the United States and Israel. As you personally stated during an appearance with President Obama in March, “We are you, and you are us. We’re together. So if there’s one thing that stands out clearly in the Middle East today, it’s that Israel and America stand together.”

Thank you for that statement. I am hoping to hear that statement again.

At the heart of this controversy is the ignorant assumption, produced by a suspicious liberal establishment that seems willing to believe just about anything about Netanyahu, that the prime minister’s statements and actions are designed not to protect his own people from nuclear annihilation but from a desire to meddle in the American election. They worry he’s trying to influence the election and may be contemplating going to war with Iran to achieve that end.

But the truth is, as usual, much more mundane. Netanyahu simply understands the value of having a credible threat of force to back up sanctions and diplomacy. Rather than encourage military conflict, Netanyahu has been working to convince the West to enact tough sanctions for the last decade and a half, in order to prevent the necessity of war.

This is in keeping with Netanyahu’s general demeanor. The caricature of him in the American press as a right-wing ideologue could not be farther from the truth. In Israel, he is perceived as just the opposite—a cautious pragmatist who prioritizes stability over everything else. This is not always meant as a compliment in Israel; indeed, many Israelis wish they could say Bibi was “on their side.”

In Israel achieving a stable Knesset coalition is difficult–and maintaining one even more so—but is also beneficial to a populace that at times tires of the permanent campaigning that takes place when coalitions crumble every two years. Neither the settlers nor the left may see Netanyahu as an ideological ally, but they appreciate, at least, his even-tempered disposition that usually keeps the country out of trouble–and war.

And on that last point, it’s instructive to look back at Netanyahu’s two premierships. He has been as reluctant to use the military as any modern Israeli prime minister, and perhaps even more reluctant than most. Some of this is surely circumstantial—he wasn’t in office during the Palestinian intifadas, for example. But he has always been the opposite of a warmonger.

This lends him some credibility at home, then, when the issue of Iran’s nuclear program arises. As the New York Times discovered, “Israelis were generally sympathetic to Mr. Netanyahu even as they mulled the possible damage to ties with the White House.” Netanyahu’s rift with President Obama, they understand, stems in large part from his desire to keep Israel out of war.

Additionally, the idea that any Israeli leader would be more inclined to strike during an American presidential election does not pass the laugh test. Israeli history leads to the opposite conclusion—just look at how the Israelis wrapped up their Gaza counteroffensive in January 2009 in time for Obama’s swearing-in ceremony, declaring a unilateral ceasefire and beginning their withdrawal two days before the event. Israelis may not prioritize the opinion of the “international community” over their own self-defense, but they certainly take American opinion into consideration. Boxer’s letter to Netanyahu is predicated on an alternate reality that exists only in the minds of liberals, and deserves to be discarded rather than indulged.

Read Less

Re: The “Crazed Veteran”

David notes that American fiction has done little with the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan — but that, given the way literature and movies have treated Vietnam veterans and the fact that, even after four decades “Vietnam continues to supply the literary frame of reference for American wars,” the absence of veterans from post-9/11 fiction “is probably a very good thing.”

Agreed. But in passing, David asks where the image of the “crazed vet” came from. That question cannot be answered without reference to B. G. Burkett and Glenna Whitely’s Stolen Valor, one of the most remarkable and surprising books I have ever read. Like Whitely herself, I came to the subject with the belief, inspired by years of media coverage, that the “crazed vet” (always a Vietnam vet) was a reality. The virtue of Stolen Valor is the way that it methodically and systemically uses documents obtained by Freedom of Information Act requests, reveals fraud after fraud, fake after fake, and lie after lie from supposedly traumatized veterans who in reality rarely even served in the military or saw combat at all.

And these lies started well before the 1978 release The Deer Hunter and, indeed, even before 1971 — the publication date of the earliest book David cites. Burkett and Whitely point out that Robert Jay Lifton, a former Yale psychiatry professor, propagandized against the Vietnam War in 1969 on the grounds that ending the war was (as the American Psychiatric Association put it in a 1971 statement) imperative “to build a mentally healthier nation.” The irony is obvious: the works David cites were fictional in that they advanced the narrative that Burkett and Whitely explode. But they were not even inventive works of fiction: they merely elaborated (sometimes skillfully, sometimes less so) a preexisting trope that was invented for political reasons.

Perhaps the reason why today’s writers have little to say about combat and veterans is they are uneasily aware that, while they can’t get away from Vietnam in their own minds, the device of the crazed vet has — thirty years after Rambo — become a cliché best avoided. Or perhaps the answer is a bit more optimistic: the “crazed veteran” was a product of the anti-war movement, and the anti-war movement (including its literary vanguard) has by and large recognized that going after veterans, no matter how good it may make them feel, is bad politics.

David notes that American fiction has done little with the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan — but that, given the way literature and movies have treated Vietnam veterans and the fact that, even after four decades “Vietnam continues to supply the literary frame of reference for American wars,” the absence of veterans from post-9/11 fiction “is probably a very good thing.”

Agreed. But in passing, David asks where the image of the “crazed vet” came from. That question cannot be answered without reference to B. G. Burkett and Glenna Whitely’s Stolen Valor, one of the most remarkable and surprising books I have ever read. Like Whitely herself, I came to the subject with the belief, inspired by years of media coverage, that the “crazed vet” (always a Vietnam vet) was a reality. The virtue of Stolen Valor is the way that it methodically and systemically uses documents obtained by Freedom of Information Act requests, reveals fraud after fraud, fake after fake, and lie after lie from supposedly traumatized veterans who in reality rarely even served in the military or saw combat at all.

And these lies started well before the 1978 release The Deer Hunter and, indeed, even before 1971 — the publication date of the earliest book David cites. Burkett and Whitely point out that Robert Jay Lifton, a former Yale psychiatry professor, propagandized against the Vietnam War in 1969 on the grounds that ending the war was (as the American Psychiatric Association put it in a 1971 statement) imperative “to build a mentally healthier nation.” The irony is obvious: the works David cites were fictional in that they advanced the narrative that Burkett and Whitely explode. But they were not even inventive works of fiction: they merely elaborated (sometimes skillfully, sometimes less so) a preexisting trope that was invented for political reasons.

Perhaps the reason why today’s writers have little to say about combat and veterans is they are uneasily aware that, while they can’t get away from Vietnam in their own minds, the device of the crazed vet has — thirty years after Rambo — become a cliché best avoided. Or perhaps the answer is a bit more optimistic: the “crazed veteran” was a product of the anti-war movement, and the anti-war movement (including its literary vanguard) has by and large recognized that going after veterans, no matter how good it may make them feel, is bad politics.

Read Less

Attack the Embassy? No Visas for You

Americans may think about U.S. embassies in terms of diplomats meeting with foreign officials and negotiating on items of U.S. national interest, but for most locals, the embassy and its attached consulate is just the place one needs to go to get a visa. Whereas most Europeans and some other nationals can get visa requirements waived, the process throughout the Middle East is onerous, involving interviews and background checks and can take weeks.

If locals attack the U.S. embassy, one response should be easy: Closing the consulates. There is no reason why U.S. diplomats should put themselves at risk for the convenience of nationals whose governments refuse to abide by their commitment to protect diplomats and diplomatic property. This does not by any means ban Egyptians, Yemenis, or Libyans from receiving American visas, but like their Iranian counterparts, it would force them to travel to a neighboring country—sometimes repeatedly—to undertake the visa application and interview process. Let Libyans travel to Tunis or Egyptians and Yemenis to Jeddah. If they can’t afford the trip, too bad.

Read More

Americans may think about U.S. embassies in terms of diplomats meeting with foreign officials and negotiating on items of U.S. national interest, but for most locals, the embassy and its attached consulate is just the place one needs to go to get a visa. Whereas most Europeans and some other nationals can get visa requirements waived, the process throughout the Middle East is onerous, involving interviews and background checks and can take weeks.

If locals attack the U.S. embassy, one response should be easy: Closing the consulates. There is no reason why U.S. diplomats should put themselves at risk for the convenience of nationals whose governments refuse to abide by their commitment to protect diplomats and diplomatic property. This does not by any means ban Egyptians, Yemenis, or Libyans from receiving American visas, but like their Iranian counterparts, it would force them to travel to a neighboring country—sometimes repeatedly—to undertake the visa application and interview process. Let Libyans travel to Tunis or Egyptians and Yemenis to Jeddah. If they can’t afford the trip, too bad.

Such a sanction is reversible. The State Department could return visa services to such countries after their governments prosecute those who violated the embassy and when host countries make restitution to the United States for the attack on its property. It should be a priority to identify those criminals involved in the riots and attacks. Those who attack the embassy—and their immediate families—should be banned in perpetuity from any U.S. visa, be it for medical reasons, education, or tourism. It is shameful that no such sanction, for example, exists for Iranians involved in the hostage crisis. Under no circumstance should U.S. consular officials risk their lives to convenience countries in which mobs violate American embassies and consulates.

Read Less

New York, New York

Maureen Corrigan’s review of The Scientists yesterday at NPR makes an interesting claim in its first paragraph. Marco Roth’s new memoir of growing up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in the Eighties nudges Corrigan into a taxonomy of New York literature:

Every New York story ever written or filmed falls into one of two categories. The first — like Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or the musical On the Town — regards New York as the representative American city, a jam-packed distillation of the country’s dreams and nightmares. The second group views New York as a foreign place — a city off the coast of the U.S. mainland that somehow drifted away from Paris or Mars.

The normal response to any two-part invention like this is to begin coughing up exceptions. (What about Edith Wharton’s Old New York? The Lower East Side and Jewish Brooklyn of Anzia Yezierska, Henry Roth, and Daniel Fuchs? The Harlem of Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin? The Queens of Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker?) The protesting sputter of exceptions may be the whole purpose of such an exercise, which can’t stand up to logical scrutiny on its own. To divide every “story ever written” into just two categories is to invite you to think about the stories carefully and in detail.

But I’m thinking about something else. Ever since I started book blogging four years ago, I have been moaning about “the almost complete disappearance of regionalism from American fiction” and groaning how very few writers these days are “striking roots in any single American soil.” It’s one of my tiresome little themes. Even when a novelist is successful in evoking the peculiar genius of a place — recent examples would include Michael Chabon’s borderland between Berkeley and Oakland in Telegraph Avenue, Pauls Toutonghi’s Butte in Evel Knievel Days, Richard Ford’s wind-blown prairie town in Canada — the place is not his native ground. Chabon’s previous novel was set in a possible (not an actual) Alaska; Toutonghi’s, in Milwaukee; Ford’s, in suburban New Jersey. The last true regionalist in American fiction may be Louise Erdrich, who maps the same corner of North Dakota where the Indian reservation collides with the white man’s town in novel after novel.

There have been New York regionalists. To think of Wharton as a New York regionalist is to arrive at a new appreciation of her. Francine Prose sticks close to the city — if the metropolitan region of New York stretches north to the Taconics, east to Fire Island, and west to the New Jersey suburbs. (There is nothing south of New York.) Paul Auster writes again and again of New York, although the unmarked intersection where fictional worlds meet physical reality is where he prefers to set up camp.

The truth is that New York is either an anthology of places — Cynthia Ozick’s Bronx, Jonathan Lethem’s Brooklyn, Alice McDermott’s Long Island, Richard Price’s Jersey City — or it is Manhattan, which can turn pretty quickly into a symbol rather than a human habitation (as in Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin). Even Saul Bellow, whose 1947 novel The Victim is one of the best books about the city, edges away from geography and into allegory:

On some nights New York is as hot as Bangkok. The whole continent seems to have moved from its place and slid nearer the equator, the bitter gray Atlantic to have become green and tropical, and the poeple, thronging the streets, barbaric fellahin among the stupendous monuments of their mystery, the lights of which, a dazzling profusion, climb upward endlessly into the heat of the sky.

The best New York book of all time is Alfred Kazin’s 1951 memoir A Walker in the City, because it explores Brooklyn at street level. That’s really the only way to know New York, which is why an entire literature is required to study the city as a whole. Early last year the novelist Edmund White named his choices for the ten best New York books. Not to duplicate him, I’ll list ten more (in chronological order):

  1. Abraham Cahan, The Rise of David Levinsky (1917)
  2. Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence (1920)
  3. Dawn Powell, Turn, Magic Wheel (1936)
  4. Ann Petry, The Street (1946)
  5. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
  6. Paule Marshall, Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959)
  7. Saul Bellow, Mr Sammler’s Planet (1970)
  8. Chang-rae Lee, Native Speaker (1995)
  9. Steven Millhauser, Martin Dressler (1997)
10. Zoë Heller, The Believers (2009)

Maureen Corrigan’s review of The Scientists yesterday at NPR makes an interesting claim in its first paragraph. Marco Roth’s new memoir of growing up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in the Eighties nudges Corrigan into a taxonomy of New York literature:

Every New York story ever written or filmed falls into one of two categories. The first — like Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or the musical On the Town — regards New York as the representative American city, a jam-packed distillation of the country’s dreams and nightmares. The second group views New York as a foreign place — a city off the coast of the U.S. mainland that somehow drifted away from Paris or Mars.

The normal response to any two-part invention like this is to begin coughing up exceptions. (What about Edith Wharton’s Old New York? The Lower East Side and Jewish Brooklyn of Anzia Yezierska, Henry Roth, and Daniel Fuchs? The Harlem of Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin? The Queens of Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker?) The protesting sputter of exceptions may be the whole purpose of such an exercise, which can’t stand up to logical scrutiny on its own. To divide every “story ever written” into just two categories is to invite you to think about the stories carefully and in detail.

But I’m thinking about something else. Ever since I started book blogging four years ago, I have been moaning about “the almost complete disappearance of regionalism from American fiction” and groaning how very few writers these days are “striking roots in any single American soil.” It’s one of my tiresome little themes. Even when a novelist is successful in evoking the peculiar genius of a place — recent examples would include Michael Chabon’s borderland between Berkeley and Oakland in Telegraph Avenue, Pauls Toutonghi’s Butte in Evel Knievel Days, Richard Ford’s wind-blown prairie town in Canada — the place is not his native ground. Chabon’s previous novel was set in a possible (not an actual) Alaska; Toutonghi’s, in Milwaukee; Ford’s, in suburban New Jersey. The last true regionalist in American fiction may be Louise Erdrich, who maps the same corner of North Dakota where the Indian reservation collides with the white man’s town in novel after novel.

There have been New York regionalists. To think of Wharton as a New York regionalist is to arrive at a new appreciation of her. Francine Prose sticks close to the city — if the metropolitan region of New York stretches north to the Taconics, east to Fire Island, and west to the New Jersey suburbs. (There is nothing south of New York.) Paul Auster writes again and again of New York, although the unmarked intersection where fictional worlds meet physical reality is where he prefers to set up camp.

The truth is that New York is either an anthology of places — Cynthia Ozick’s Bronx, Jonathan Lethem’s Brooklyn, Alice McDermott’s Long Island, Richard Price’s Jersey City — or it is Manhattan, which can turn pretty quickly into a symbol rather than a human habitation (as in Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin). Even Saul Bellow, whose 1947 novel The Victim is one of the best books about the city, edges away from geography and into allegory:

On some nights New York is as hot as Bangkok. The whole continent seems to have moved from its place and slid nearer the equator, the bitter gray Atlantic to have become green and tropical, and the poeple, thronging the streets, barbaric fellahin among the stupendous monuments of their mystery, the lights of which, a dazzling profusion, climb upward endlessly into the heat of the sky.

The best New York book of all time is Alfred Kazin’s 1951 memoir A Walker in the City, because it explores Brooklyn at street level. That’s really the only way to know New York, which is why an entire literature is required to study the city as a whole. Early last year the novelist Edmund White named his choices for the ten best New York books. Not to duplicate him, I’ll list ten more (in chronological order):

  1. Abraham Cahan, The Rise of David Levinsky (1917)
  2. Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence (1920)
  3. Dawn Powell, Turn, Magic Wheel (1936)
  4. Ann Petry, The Street (1946)
  5. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
  6. Paule Marshall, Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959)
  7. Saul Bellow, Mr Sammler’s Planet (1970)
  8. Chang-rae Lee, Native Speaker (1995)
  9. Steven Millhauser, Martin Dressler (1997)
10. Zoë Heller, The Believers (2009)

Read Less

Obama’s Terror Touchdown Dance is Over

Yesterday, when most of the mainstream media busied themselves pounding Mitt Romney for having the chutzpah to denounce the initial apology for American freedom of speech issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, they were missing a much more important story. As Islamist attacks on the U.S. escalated throughout the Middle East, it became apparent that the Obama administration’s recent bout of back slapping celebration over its foreign and defense policy was completely unjustified. Not only were the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department sleeping while terrorist forces plotted a full-scale assault on our mission in Benghazi, Libya but other al Qaeda operatives were at work throughout the region plotting mischief.

As the New York Times reports today, the assault on the U.S. embassy in Sana, Yemen was apparently fomented by one Abdul Majid al-Zandani, whom they describe as, “a onetime mentor to Osama bin Laden” and someone who, “was named a ‘specially designated global terrorist’ by the United States Treasury Department in 2004.” Would it be considered in bad taste to ask why, if the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism policy is such a raging success, such a person is still on the loose? Equally interesting is the answer to the question of how it is that in Libya, a country where American influence is supposed to be currently strong, this administration found itself surprised by the appearance of armed foes. Though Democrats spent the last week furiously patting themselves on the back for having such a tough and successful leader at the helm, it appears that not only is the country just as unpopular in the Middle East as it was when George W. Bush was president, but that the security situation there may be rapidly unraveling. Though no one in Washington is allowed to say the phrase “war on terror” anymore, it appears that Islamists have no trouble in continuing their war on America.

Read More

Yesterday, when most of the mainstream media busied themselves pounding Mitt Romney for having the chutzpah to denounce the initial apology for American freedom of speech issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, they were missing a much more important story. As Islamist attacks on the U.S. escalated throughout the Middle East, it became apparent that the Obama administration’s recent bout of back slapping celebration over its foreign and defense policy was completely unjustified. Not only were the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department sleeping while terrorist forces plotted a full-scale assault on our mission in Benghazi, Libya but other al Qaeda operatives were at work throughout the region plotting mischief.

As the New York Times reports today, the assault on the U.S. embassy in Sana, Yemen was apparently fomented by one Abdul Majid al-Zandani, whom they describe as, “a onetime mentor to Osama bin Laden” and someone who, “was named a ‘specially designated global terrorist’ by the United States Treasury Department in 2004.” Would it be considered in bad taste to ask why, if the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism policy is such a raging success, such a person is still on the loose? Equally interesting is the answer to the question of how it is that in Libya, a country where American influence is supposed to be currently strong, this administration found itself surprised by the appearance of armed foes. Though Democrats spent the last week furiously patting themselves on the back for having such a tough and successful leader at the helm, it appears that not only is the country just as unpopular in the Middle East as it was when George W. Bush was president, but that the security situation there may be rapidly unraveling. Though no one in Washington is allowed to say the phrase “war on terror” anymore, it appears that Islamists have no trouble in continuing their war on America.

These events in Libya, Egypt and Yemen may be just the tip of the Islamist iceberg. We now know that the kerfuffle over a trailer for an anti-Muslim movie was merely a cover for attacks on American targets in the Middle East by an al-Qaeda movement that is, despite the death of Osama bin Laden, very much alive and well. As the Times relates, U.S. forces continue to try to battle al-Qaeda. Earlier this week, one of the group’s top operatives in Yemen was killed by a U.S. drone strike. But not all of America’s security problems can be solved with remote control bombs.

Rather than this topic being a source of strength for President Obama, the embarrassing and tragic events of the past few days show it to be a weakness. This is a president who came into office desperate to ingratiate himself with the Arab and Muslim worlds, but who has discovered that a policy of engagement with Islamists has utterly failed.

In Egypt, Obama equivocated while the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power. He has chosen to embrace the now Islamist government there with debt forgiveness and continued aid only to see it stand by and watch while our embassy was assaulted.

In Iran, the president spent years on failed policies of engagement and diplomacy. Rather than set red lines on the Iranian nuclear program that would trigger action rather than more talk, he has made it abundantly clear he is more interested in stopping Israel from forestalling Tehran’s bomb than he is about the threat itself.

It is true that Osama bin Laden is dead, but that creditable action hasn’t ended the Islamist threat. The president has lost his way in the Middle East and is too full of self-regard to acknowledge the problem. Rather than dumping on Romney for stating the obvious about a disgraceful apology, the media needs to start scrutinizing an administration with a floundering foreign policy. Whether he knows it or not, the president’s long-running touchdown dance over bin Laden is over.

Read Less

Shut Up, They Explained: Romney’s Day

In the New York Post today, I write about the astonishing spectacle of the mainstream media and the foreign-policy establishment waxing wroth at Mitt Romney for daring to describe the statement from the Cairo embassy expressing sympathy for the expression of offense by Egyptian radicals at the gates as having been issued by “the Obama administration.” It was, in fact, its “first response,” as the statement opened with the words “the Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”

This was, the enraged managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine said on Twitter last night, a “disgusting response, and most sane people have rightly condemned it.” (italics added)

Foreign Policy‘s man—half-shrink, half Savonarola—was crystallizing the general attitude being expressed all day yesterday on Twitter, on chat shows, in blog posts, and in articles. That attitude hardened, deepened, and became conventional wisdom literally before our eyes. It was not just that Romney had erred in making a statement too hastily, before the facts were in; it was not just that Romney had behaved in a politically opportunistic fashion; it was not just that Romney had sought political advantage on 9/11 when he and Obama had supposedly promised not to do politics (a useful corrective to this fantasy can be found here by Steve Hayes); it was not just that it was illegitimate for Romney to criticize Obama in the midst of a foreign crisis; it was that the very view he was expressing was itself illegitimate.

Read More

In the New York Post today, I write about the astonishing spectacle of the mainstream media and the foreign-policy establishment waxing wroth at Mitt Romney for daring to describe the statement from the Cairo embassy expressing sympathy for the expression of offense by Egyptian radicals at the gates as having been issued by “the Obama administration.” It was, in fact, its “first response,” as the statement opened with the words “the Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”

This was, the enraged managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine said on Twitter last night, a “disgusting response, and most sane people have rightly condemned it.” (italics added)

Foreign Policy‘s man—half-shrink, half Savonarola—was crystallizing the general attitude being expressed all day yesterday on Twitter, on chat shows, in blog posts, and in articles. That attitude hardened, deepened, and became conventional wisdom literally before our eyes. It was not just that Romney had erred in making a statement too hastily, before the facts were in; it was not just that Romney had behaved in a politically opportunistic fashion; it was not just that Romney had sought political advantage on 9/11 when he and Obama had supposedly promised not to do politics (a useful corrective to this fantasy can be found here by Steve Hayes); it was not just that it was illegitimate for Romney to criticize Obama in the midst of a foreign crisis; it was that the very view he was expressing was itself illegitimate.

It was, in other words, illegitimate to say that the official statement released by Obama’s mission to Egypt was not to be taken as an expression of the view of the Obama administration, especially since it was echoed in later tweets and in a statement by Hillary Clinton. The line yesterday was that since the statement had been disavowed, Romney had been dishonest by “doubling down” on his view in a press conference. But that disavowal was political, not ideological. It is the gospel of the foreign-policy establishment that the rages of Islamic radicals are to be understood and the views of anti-Islamic radicals are to be apologized for by people who are not responsible for them and a nation that did not disseminate them and therefore are neither responsible for nor the appropriate deliverers of an apology. And the Obama administration represents the distillation of the current foreign-policy establishment view.

Romney can be criticized for attacking it. Romney can be criticized for what he said, for his wording, for his ideas. He can be faulted for his timing—although such criticism is really only about style and political smarts, not substance. But the onslaught yesterday wasn’t about that. What Mark Halperin calls “the gang of 500″—the world of conventional opinion—was saying one thing and one thing only to Mitt Romney, and that was: You are not to speak.

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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