Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 12, 2012

Did Intelligence Tell WH There Were Protests in Benghazi?

The White House has clarified Vice President Biden’s comment that he wasn’t aware of security requests, saying he was speaking for himself and President Obama, not the State Department. But they still haven’t explained Biden’s even more troubling claim that the intelligence community told the White House there were protesters outside the Benghazi embassy:

MS. RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on for weeks?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Because that’s exactly what we were told —

MS. RADDATZ: By who?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: — by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment.

When the Obama administration rolled out its initial “blame the video” storyline in the days after the attack, they strongly implied that there was a protest outside the Benghazi consulate, but usually avoided stating it explicitly. If you listen to Jay Carney, Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, they tended to use vague words like “spontaneous reaction” and “unrest.” When they did use the word “protests,” it was usually in reference to the demonstrations across the Muslim world, not Benghazi specifically.

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The White House has clarified Vice President Biden’s comment that he wasn’t aware of security requests, saying he was speaking for himself and President Obama, not the State Department. But they still haven’t explained Biden’s even more troubling claim that the intelligence community told the White House there were protesters outside the Benghazi embassy:

MS. RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on for weeks?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Because that’s exactly what we were told —

MS. RADDATZ: By who?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: — by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment.

When the Obama administration rolled out its initial “blame the video” storyline in the days after the attack, they strongly implied that there was a protest outside the Benghazi consulate, but usually avoided stating it explicitly. If you listen to Jay Carney, Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, they tended to use vague words like “spontaneous reaction” and “unrest.” When they did use the word “protests,” it was usually in reference to the demonstrations across the Muslim world, not Benghazi specifically.

This is because the CIA intelligence at the time didn’t support the idea that there was a protest outside the consulate. By cherry-picking the initial intelligence report, the administration could provide some flimsy cover for its claim that the terrorist attack was a “spontaneous reaction” to the Cairo demonstrations over the video. But no amount of intelligence manipulation can create a protest where none existed.

Biden’s unequivocal claim that the intelligence community told the White House there were protesters is simply not credible, and, worse, it glues the administration to its failed initial narrative. White House spokesperson Jay Carney had spent weeks slowly backing away from the protest story, and Biden has now made that impossible.

There are also risks to scapegoating the intelligence community, as FP’s Peter Feaver writes:

Second, the IC can fight back. Frustration has been mounting for years within the IC over the way the administration has politicized intelligence. At some point, that frustration could bubble over into retaliatory leaks and damaging revelations.

So far, the Obama campaign has been careful not to finger a specific person as the scapegoat. Last night, Biden kept it vague. But the talking points Biden was hiding behind were CIA talking points and the head of the CIA is David Petraeus, undoubtedly the person in the administration the American people trust most on national security — and yet, paradoxically, perhaps the person the hardened partisans in the Obama White House trust the least. I have been surprised that Petraeus has not personally been drawn into the fight thus far, but I wonder if he heard Biden calling him out last night.

Benghazi was reportedly teeming with CIA operatives; a top State Department official has testified that she monitored the entire attack in real time; and there were survivors who were able to piece together a tick-tock of the attack for the media. The CIA should would have easily known if there was or a protest outside or not, so Biden’s comment is a blatant accusation of incompetence.

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Hezbollah’s Iranian Calling Card

Last weekend we discussed the significance of the drone that penetrated Israeli airspace before shot down in the southern part of the country. Though there was little doubt that the flight was the work of Hezbollah, yesterday the leader of the Lebanese terrorist group claimed credit for the incident. In a televised speech, Hassan Nasrallah bragged about the launching of the drone from Lebanon and the fact that it “flew over sensitive installations inside southern Palestine” while referencing territory that is part of pre-1967 Israel. Nasrallah also said the drone was made in Iran, Hezbollah’s ally and sponsor. While the drone may not have got anywhere near the Dimona nuclear reactor as Nasrallah claimed, it is a reminder that Iran’s auxiliaries have the capability to hit Israeli targets. While Nasrallah spoke as if the drone increases the prestige of his organization but the flight is clearly intended as a warning to Israel, as well as the United States, about the cost of a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Yet as much as it is a reminder to Israelis of their own vulnerability and the siege under which they live, it is also a reminder of the costs of inaction about Iran’s nuclear program. If there was any constituency in Israel for a wait and see attitude about Iran as opposed to Netanyahu’s focus on averting the threat, Hezbollah’s provocation cuts it off at the knees. Though an Iranian weapon constitutes a grave danger in of itself, it could also serve to provide a nuclear umbrella to its Lebanese allies as well as the tottering Assad regime in Syria.

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Last weekend we discussed the significance of the drone that penetrated Israeli airspace before shot down in the southern part of the country. Though there was little doubt that the flight was the work of Hezbollah, yesterday the leader of the Lebanese terrorist group claimed credit for the incident. In a televised speech, Hassan Nasrallah bragged about the launching of the drone from Lebanon and the fact that it “flew over sensitive installations inside southern Palestine” while referencing territory that is part of pre-1967 Israel. Nasrallah also said the drone was made in Iran, Hezbollah’s ally and sponsor. While the drone may not have got anywhere near the Dimona nuclear reactor as Nasrallah claimed, it is a reminder that Iran’s auxiliaries have the capability to hit Israeli targets. While Nasrallah spoke as if the drone increases the prestige of his organization but the flight is clearly intended as a warning to Israel, as well as the United States, about the cost of a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Yet as much as it is a reminder to Israelis of their own vulnerability and the siege under which they live, it is also a reminder of the costs of inaction about Iran’s nuclear program. If there was any constituency in Israel for a wait and see attitude about Iran as opposed to Netanyahu’s focus on averting the threat, Hezbollah’s provocation cuts it off at the knees. Though an Iranian weapon constitutes a grave danger in of itself, it could also serve to provide a nuclear umbrella to its Lebanese allies as well as the tottering Assad regime in Syria.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions present an existential threat to Israel as well as one to the security and stability of the Middle East and the West. But Iran’s power rests on more than the despotic Tehran government. It is the leading sponsor of international terror via Hezbollah, a group that has in recent months been responsible for a series of deadly attacks in Europe.

Indeed, far from intimidating the Israelis to stand down, it is likely that drone flight strengthens the hand of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as he heads toward new elections that he hopes will give his government a mandate to defend the nation’s security.

Though Nasrallah is playing to his own supporters as well as hoping to get credit from the ayatollahs in Tehran, his little stunt has re-emphasized the need for Israelis to be focused above all on the Iranian threat. While there is a lively debate within Israel about the wisdom of striking against Iran on its own, there is no debate about the nature of the threat or the need to address it. So long as the main issue facing Israelis in the upcoming January election is defense policy, Netanyahu remains the only plausible choice among the country’s political leaders.

Iran’s calling card ought to focus both President Obama and Mitt Romney on the need to have a coherent policy that will force the Iranians to back down. But for Israelis, it is a wake up call that reinforces the imperative need of having a strong and determined leader at the helm of the country.

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In Iraq, No Signs Can Be Good Signs

I’m currently in Baghdad catching up with old friends. I am not here with U.S. sponsorship and so am not trapped behind embassy walls or surrounded by a phalanx of security. Over the next few days, I’ll offer some observations both good and bad. Baghdad is definitely a mixed bag. But first, a positive sign:

Many American writers, including some friends and colleagues, describe Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki as a burgeoning dictator. They accuse him of making a power play upon the departure of U.S. troops, and some also suggest his administration to be somehow illegitimate because he did not win as many votes as Ayad Allawi. Such criticisms are unfair: It is a simple fact that it was Maliki and not Allawi who managed to cobble together a coalition. Broad coalition governments never work. If Governor Romney defeats President Obama, I would not expect him to keep Joe Biden on or appoint Sen. John Kerry to be his Secretary of State. Nor, for that matter, would I expect a second term Obama administration to put Paul Ryan in change of the budget. The test of Maliki’s commitment to democracy will be in both rule-of-law and allowing free-and-fair elections.

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I’m currently in Baghdad catching up with old friends. I am not here with U.S. sponsorship and so am not trapped behind embassy walls or surrounded by a phalanx of security. Over the next few days, I’ll offer some observations both good and bad. Baghdad is definitely a mixed bag. But first, a positive sign:

Many American writers, including some friends and colleagues, describe Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki as a burgeoning dictator. They accuse him of making a power play upon the departure of U.S. troops, and some also suggest his administration to be somehow illegitimate because he did not win as many votes as Ayad Allawi. Such criticisms are unfair: It is a simple fact that it was Maliki and not Allawi who managed to cobble together a coalition. Broad coalition governments never work. If Governor Romney defeats President Obama, I would not expect him to keep Joe Biden on or appoint Sen. John Kerry to be his Secretary of State. Nor, for that matter, would I expect a second term Obama administration to put Paul Ryan in change of the budget. The test of Maliki’s commitment to democracy will be in both rule-of-law and allowing free-and-fair elections.

Frankly, whatever Americans may think, Maliki’s popularity is growing. Iraqis are tired of senseless political violence and, generally, applaud the death sentence—issued in absentia—against former vice president Tariq al-Hashemi. They note that the judges hearing the case came from a variety of political trends, and most Iraqis—including some supportive of Ayad Allawi—acknowledge al-Hashemi’s guilt. True, Hashemi is far from alone in supporting death squads and sponsoring terror, but the proper response to this is not to argue for suspending the sentence or amnesty, but rather to seek justice against Muqtada al-Sadr, Mansour Barzani, and others whom many Iraqis accuse of similar offenses. Muqtada al-Sadr made a fateful error in the Al-Hashemi dispute by backing the Kurds and Allawi against Maliki. Muqtada showed himself more interested in personal power than justice, and many Iraqis now laugh at his claim to be the protector of oppressed Shi’ites. His influence is declining.

Another positive sign is the lack of signs: I’ve lived in or traveled through many dictatorships: Syria, Iran, Hezbollah-controlled areas in southern Lebanon, for example. Pictures of dictators plaster walls, streets, and schools. Not so in Iraq. The pictures of Saddam are gone. For all the talk about Maliki being a dictator, he has not plastered his photo about town. There are no statues of Maliki. He shows no sign of developing a personality cult. While various Iraqi television channels will cover Iraqi politics, they do not always prioritize Maliki and they certainly do not all sing his praises. The same cannot be said for Masud Barzani, whom some U.S. officials consider more democratic. As soon as Saddam’s pictures came down in Iraqi Kurdistan, Barzani’s went up. Those who criticize him and his dictatorial ways often end up dead or in prison.

(While Maliki’s picture is absent across Baghdad, the same is not true for some Shi’ite religious leaders and I’ve spotted one sizable portrait of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, though he’s not the most popular figure here either).

Iraq is a complicated place. The government is staking out positions, some positive and some negative. I certainly worry as much as others about Iranian influence, but not every Shi’ite backs Iran. Maliki must walk a tightrope, both domestically and internationally. Two things are certain: To label Maliki a dictator would be unfair, and to openly push for his removal—as the Turks and Saudis do for largely sectarian reasons—will backfire.

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Should the Pentagon Respect North Korean Intellectual Property?

Twenty years ago, when still a young college student reconsidering early plans to become a research biologist (a C- in organic chemistry helped that decision along considerably), I interned at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. In an age before Google and when Internet resources were few and far between, one of my jobs was to go to the University of Pennsylvania’s library and read through the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) and the Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS).

For five decades beginning in 1946, FBIS would translate important newspaper articles and television and radio broadcasts from around the globe. Its corollary, JPRS, would translate journal and magazine articles. The U.S. government would recoup some of the cost of the operation by selling subscriptions to think tanks and universities. On an almost daily basis, FBIS and JPRS would mail out booklets sorted by region. The subscriptions were priceless for anyone who for research purposes wanted to read what the Soviet, Chinese, North Korean, Pakistani, or Cuban media was saying.

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Twenty years ago, when still a young college student reconsidering early plans to become a research biologist (a C- in organic chemistry helped that decision along considerably), I interned at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. In an age before Google and when Internet resources were few and far between, one of my jobs was to go to the University of Pennsylvania’s library and read through the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) and the Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS).

For five decades beginning in 1946, FBIS would translate important newspaper articles and television and radio broadcasts from around the globe. Its corollary, JPRS, would translate journal and magazine articles. The U.S. government would recoup some of the cost of the operation by selling subscriptions to think tanks and universities. On an almost daily basis, FBIS and JPRS would mail out booklets sorted by region. The subscriptions were priceless for anyone who for research purposes wanted to read what the Soviet, Chinese, North Korean, Pakistani, or Cuban media was saying.

The Clinton administration witnessed the rise of the lawyers at all levels of the U.S. government. Through his two terms and onward to the present, lawyers became the kings of policy, inserting themselves into almost every policy decision, no matter how mundane. Certainly, working within the law can be valuable, but often lawyers’ efforts to expand their domains would lead bureaucracies to lose focus on the metaphorical forest, and instead obsess about the trees.

Knowing one’s enemies is important. Whether in government or beyond, analysts and academics should study what enemies do, say, and try to understand how they think. Government lawyers, however, questioned whether FBIS and JPRS were violating the intellectual property of enemy regimes and their broadcasters by translating and disseminating reports.

FBIS and JPRS ended their run, but the CIA’s Open Source Center moved to fill the gap. While academics and government employees can access Open Source, the government is stingy with outside subscription and, regardless, the service is a shadow of its former self. Its idea of presenting articles is, too often, reprinting articles published in English and available on the Internet. While the Open Source Center publishes useful summaries, it translates very few articles in their entirety.

The situation is getting worse. Within the U.S. military, for example, certain outlets publish excerpts and analysis of important foreign news with the aim of educating officers and enlisted both regarding the nuances of foreign affairs and insight into crises which may not be covered on a day-to-day basis in The New York Times, Washington Post, Stars & Stripes, or The Early Bird. Foul cried the lawyers: Translating articles or even excerpting too much about what Koreans, Russians, Iranians, or Chinese say could violate their copyright laws. Never mind that no one had ever complained. Nor will playing nice stop Pyongyang from counterfeiting $100 bills, or stop Tehran bazaaris from knocking off American DVDs.

Within government, there are two types of lawyers: Those who see their jobs to obstruct policy and those who take the goals of policymakers and find ways to make them legal.  Unfortunately, the U.S. government is increasingly saddled with the former, taking an already slow and inefficient process and making it slower and even more inefficient.

A strong defense budget is essential. It should go to state-of-the-art weapons programs, equipment for our troops, salaries for those who put themselves in harm’s way, and services for veterans who have sacrificed their health and well-being. Never was the U.S. military meant to be a jobs program for lawyers. The more Pentagon lawyers sit around worrying about North Korean intellectual property rights and the evils of translating Syrian newspapers, the more Leon Panetta should conclude that the military’s lawyers should be at the front of the line when the budget axe falls.

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Biden’s Lie About Religious Freedom

Here’s one final note about the vice presidential debate. Both Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan had their weak moments. Ryan couldn’t explain what Mitt Romney would do differently in the future to deal with the tragedy in Syria even if he was right about President Obama’s mistakes. He was also flummoxed by Biden’s comeback about his request for stimulus funds for his Wisconsin congressional district, something for which he should have been prepared. The list of Biden’s mistakes is much longer. Biden told a flat out lie when he claimed he opposed the Iraq War and the add-on of the prescription drug plan to Medicare. He voted for both of the wars and the free drugs for seniors. But as bad as that was, far more offensive was the lie about the administration’s attack on religious freedom via ObamaCare.

In response to Ryan’s accurate charge that the HHS Mandate under ObamaCare forces religious institutions to violate their consciences to pay for services their faith opposes, Biden claimed the following:

With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed, one might ask Biden if Georgetown is not being compelled to pay for contraception, then what exactly was behind the ruckus about Sandra Fluke’s complaints about the university’s refusal to do so. Biden’s claim was not only an offensive falsehood, it was a stupid one since even his liberal supporters know that is what is happening.

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Here’s one final note about the vice presidential debate. Both Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan had their weak moments. Ryan couldn’t explain what Mitt Romney would do differently in the future to deal with the tragedy in Syria even if he was right about President Obama’s mistakes. He was also flummoxed by Biden’s comeback about his request for stimulus funds for his Wisconsin congressional district, something for which he should have been prepared. The list of Biden’s mistakes is much longer. Biden told a flat out lie when he claimed he opposed the Iraq War and the add-on of the prescription drug plan to Medicare. He voted for both of the wars and the free drugs for seniors. But as bad as that was, far more offensive was the lie about the administration’s attack on religious freedom via ObamaCare.

In response to Ryan’s accurate charge that the HHS Mandate under ObamaCare forces religious institutions to violate their consciences to pay for services their faith opposes, Biden claimed the following:

With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed, one might ask Biden if Georgetown is not being compelled to pay for contraception, then what exactly was behind the ruckus about Sandra Fluke’s complaints about the university’s refusal to do so. Biden’s claim was not only an offensive falsehood, it was a stupid one since even his liberal supporters know that is what is happening.

In truth, the attempt to force both church institutions and individuals to bow to the dictates of the president’s signature health care legislation is the subject of legal challenges that are still making their way through the courts. As the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty noted today, there are currently 33 such cases representing over 100 hospitals, universities, businesses and schools that are seeking to defend their constitutional rights against the administration’s attempt to compel them to do exactly what Biden says they are not being asked to do. These plaintiffs face potential government fines of millions of dollars, but they are determined to stand up for their faith and their beliefs in spite of the government’s efforts to intimidate them.

There is a lively debate going on about the future of health care, but there may be no more insidious aspect to the ObamaCare issue than this threat to religious liberty. Both Biden and his party support the HHS Mandate, something that was made abundantly clear at the Democratic Convention at which Ms. Fluke was unveiled as a prime time liberal star. But the vice president’s willingness to lie about that support tells us that he understands just how unpopular this stand is outside of the precincts of the left. He should have had the guts and the honesty to say so.

Democrats repeating their “liar, liar” mantra about Romney and Ryan (and claiming that this justified Biden’s boorishness) need to own up to the barefaced lies Biden told at the debate.

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The Rising Veep Futures Market

Analysis of the vice presidential debate has rightly focused on whether the dustup between Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan will influence the fortunes of their respective tickets next month. The jury is obviously out on that question, but though we ought not to get too far ahead of ourselves, the debate is also very likely to impact the 2016 contest. Whatever one may think of their performances, both Biden and Ryan are likely to be players on the national scene for some time to come.

That this would be so for the 42-year-old Ryan is hardly news. Ryan is already a major figure in his party and the Congress, so win or lose this year, he’s going to be a factor in the future. But despite, or perhaps because of, his ludicrous behavior during the debate, the same can probably be said of the 69-year-old vice president. Though many may have laughed about Biden’s thinly concealed ambition to succeed President Obama, on the strength of his well-received Democratic National Convention acceptance speech as well as his debate performance, no one should be chuckling about such a prospect today. Though only the most hard-core Democratic partisans were not appalled by his boorish behavior in the debate, both appearances capture his appeal to the party base. If he maintains his health and especially if he is the sitting vice president, Biden will be a formidable competitor for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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Analysis of the vice presidential debate has rightly focused on whether the dustup between Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan will influence the fortunes of their respective tickets next month. The jury is obviously out on that question, but though we ought not to get too far ahead of ourselves, the debate is also very likely to impact the 2016 contest. Whatever one may think of their performances, both Biden and Ryan are likely to be players on the national scene for some time to come.

That this would be so for the 42-year-old Ryan is hardly news. Ryan is already a major figure in his party and the Congress, so win or lose this year, he’s going to be a factor in the future. But despite, or perhaps because of, his ludicrous behavior during the debate, the same can probably be said of the 69-year-old vice president. Though many may have laughed about Biden’s thinly concealed ambition to succeed President Obama, on the strength of his well-received Democratic National Convention acceptance speech as well as his debate performance, no one should be chuckling about such a prospect today. Though only the most hard-core Democratic partisans were not appalled by his boorish behavior in the debate, both appearances capture his appeal to the party base. If he maintains his health and especially if he is the sitting vice president, Biden will be a formidable competitor for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

It is true that Biden is something of a buffoon, as he so clearly demonstrated last night. But it is the sort of buffoonery that the liberal core of the Democratic Party adores. His bloviating is of the sort that engenders disgust among his opponents but liberals have always longed for a leader who doesn’t merely argue with the other side but bullies them into submission. Biden combines the glad-handing spirit of the traditional politicians with the conduct of a bare-knuckles brawler, exactly the combination that is most likely to charm some of the interest groups who are most likely to turn out in Democratic primaries. He will also benefit from his close association with the president, a not inconsiderable credential in a 2016 race that is unlikely to have a major African-American in the running (sorry, Corey Booker, you won’t be ready by then, if ever). Biden will also have no trouble raising the money needed for a presidential run.

That is not to say I’m predicting Biden will be the Democratic nominee four years from now. Though his party’s bench is terribly thin, someone else is bound to emerge and any fresh face will have an edge against what will by then be a terribly familiar and somewhat elderly Biden whom most rational Democrats will have to know would be a disastrous top of the ticket in a general election. But I do think Biden has a more than decent chance to be competitive in the primaries.

As for Ryan, as most of the TV talking heads said last night, he did himself no damage last night. He remains the intellectual leader of his party and should Romney win, Ryan will be his natural successor as well as the next in line during his presidency. Even if he loses, Ryan will assume the role of the de facto leader of Congressional Republicans and spend the next four years in the spotlight as speculation about the next round grows. Indeed, as the nation’s drift toward insolvency becomes even more apparent, entitlement reform will grow in importance as an issue. That means the Wisconsin congressman will be even more of a player in the next few years than he was in the past.

Unlike the Democrats, the Republican bench is deep and strong. Marco Rubio and Chris Christie are just two of a formidable array of potential GOP candidates. As much as I admire Ryan’s intellect, integrity and good manners, unless Ryan is the sitting vice president, he will be hard pressed to beat either Rubio or Christie. But if he runs, he has as good a chance as anyone.

All of which means it is entirely conceivable, if not necessarily likely, that we haven’t seen the last debate between Biden and Ryan. If so, you can bet that Ryan will insist on rules about interruptions the next time around.

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Poll: Romney Opens 7-Point Lead in Florida

Mitt Romney’s 7-point lead in the TBT/Herald/Mason-Dixon poll is the latest sign of a Florida surge:

The survey conducted this week found 51 percent of likely Florida voters supporting Romney, 44 percent backing Obama and 4 percent undecided. That’s a major shift from a month ago when the same poll showed Obama leading 48 percent to 47 percent — and a direct result of what Obama himself called a “bad night” at the first debate.

The debate prompted 5 percent of previously undecided voters and 2 percent of Obama backers to move to Romney. Another 2 percent of Obama supporters said they are now undecided because of the debate.

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Mitt Romney’s 7-point lead in the TBT/Herald/Mason-Dixon poll is the latest sign of a Florida surge:

The survey conducted this week found 51 percent of likely Florida voters supporting Romney, 44 percent backing Obama and 4 percent undecided. That’s a major shift from a month ago when the same poll showed Obama leading 48 percent to 47 percent — and a direct result of what Obama himself called a “bad night” at the first debate.

The debate prompted 5 percent of previously undecided voters and 2 percent of Obama backers to move to Romney. Another 2 percent of Obama supporters said they are now undecided because of the debate.

Any poll that shows a shift as significant as this one should be taken with caution. But there are other indications that there’s strong momentum behind Romney in Florida, including today’s Rasmussen (which shows Romney +4) and ARG (which shows Romney +3). There’s also the assessment of the Suffolk University pollsters, who pulled out of Florida, Virginia and North Carolina this week after saying Romney has already definitively locked up these states.

According to the TBT/Herald/Mason-Dixon poll, Obama is in serious trouble with Hispanic voters in the state:

Especially ominous were the numbers for Hispanic voters, a demographic where the Obama campaign is banking on an advantage of at least 15 percentage points. The poll showed 44 percent of likely Hispanic voters favoring Obama and 46 for Romney, though the margin of error is higher with that smaller group of voters. …

The bottom line? Obama appears to be in serious trouble in America’s biggest battleground state. He has two debates and 25 days to turn it around, but the poll points to a race that had been close and stable for months shifting significantly toward the Republican nominee.

Making up 17-points with Hispanic voters seems close to impossible at this point. Obama can cite an executive order on immigration every day between now and the election, but if the TBT/Herald/Mason-Dixon numbers are correct, he still won’t be anywhere near where he needs to be.

These numbers are also devastating for Obama:

• Who do you trust more to improve the economy? Romney 50 percent, Obama 44 percent.

• Who do you trust more on foreign policy? Romney 49 percent, Obama 46 percent.

• Who do you trust more to look out for the middle class? Romney 50 percent, Obama 47 percent.

• Who do you consider more trustworthy to lead the nation? Romney 51 percent, Obama 46 percent.

• Whose plans are more likely to do more long-term harm to Medicare? Obama 54 percent, Romney 40 percent.

All that foreign policy cheerleading at the Democratic National Convention? It came to nothing. Romney has taken the lead on foreign policy, a subject the Obama campaign thought they had a comfortable advantage on. Romney’s lead on economic issues was predictable, but now he’s overtaken Obama on “looking out for the middle class” — the “empathy” question that Obama typically rules. The biggest surprise at all may be on Medicare. Likely voters say Obama’s plans are far more likely to harm Medicare in the long-term, which suggests the Obama campaign’s Mediscaring has been a complete bust.

We’ll have to see whether other polls back this up in the next few days. But this is disastrous for the Obama campaign.

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The Nobel Peace Bribe and Bureaucratic Self-Congratulation

In 2009, when Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, it was pointed out that his nomination for the award almost perfectly coincided with his inauguration as president–that is, he was given the award not for anything he had done, but rather for what the Nobel Committee wanted him to do. Hoping for American surrender in the Middle East and capitulation in the war on terror, the Nobel Committee assumed Obama shared their penchant for appeasement and decided to nudge him along.

Since there are often candidates for the prize that actually deserve it, this did not go over all too well. Yet the Nobel Committee has done exactly this again, awarding this year’s Peace Prize to the European Union for what it hopes the union will–or, more accurately, won’t–do. The commission ostensibly gave the EU the prize for completing European integration and reconciliation after the two world wars, stressing that today war between France and Germany is unthinkable. Of course, as Max noted, the Second World War may have revolved around the violence and depredations in Western Europe, but peace was delivered by Americans and Russians most of all. (Speaking of Russians, this has been a momentous year in the Russian people’s willingness to challenge the thugocracy of Vladimir Putin; was there no Russian thought worthy of the prize by the Nobel Committee?) As the New York Times reports, the committee was open about the real reason for the prize:

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In 2009, when Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, it was pointed out that his nomination for the award almost perfectly coincided with his inauguration as president–that is, he was given the award not for anything he had done, but rather for what the Nobel Committee wanted him to do. Hoping for American surrender in the Middle East and capitulation in the war on terror, the Nobel Committee assumed Obama shared their penchant for appeasement and decided to nudge him along.

Since there are often candidates for the prize that actually deserve it, this did not go over all too well. Yet the Nobel Committee has done exactly this again, awarding this year’s Peace Prize to the European Union for what it hopes the union will–or, more accurately, won’t–do. The commission ostensibly gave the EU the prize for completing European integration and reconciliation after the two world wars, stressing that today war between France and Germany is unthinkable. Of course, as Max noted, the Second World War may have revolved around the violence and depredations in Western Europe, but peace was delivered by Americans and Russians most of all. (Speaking of Russians, this has been a momentous year in the Russian people’s willingness to challenge the thugocracy of Vladimir Putin; was there no Russian thought worthy of the prize by the Nobel Committee?) As the New York Times reports, the committee was open about the real reason for the prize:

Thorbjorn Jagland, the former Norwegian prime minister who is chairman of the panel awarding the prize, said there had been deep concern about Europe’s destiny as it faces the debt-driven woes that have placed the future of the single currency in jeopardy.

“There is a great danger,” he said in an interview in Oslo. “We see already now an increase of extremism and nationalistic attitudes. There is a real danger that Europe will start disintegrating. Therefore, we should focus again on the fundamental aims of the organization.”

Asked if the euro currency would survive, he replied: “That I don’t know. What I know is that if the euro fails, then the danger is that many other things will disintegrate as well, like the internal market and free borders. Then you will get nationalistic policies again. So it may set in motion a process which most Europeans would dislike.”

When Jagland warns of the dangers of disintegration and the reemergence of borders and “nationalism,” he is concerned first and foremost with preventing the revival of democracy and sovereignty–two things he neither cares for nor truly understands. The lessons some Eurocrats have learned from the Continent’s battle with fascism and communism is to give a centralized government more power over its citizens.

Jagland also explains that the Continent may be dealing with an economic crisis, but that economic crisis was caused by the United States in his expert opinion, so no one need bother with Greek debt or French socialism. Speaking of Greece, how do they feel about this year’s award winner? Not great:

“I think it’s unfair,” said Stavros Polychronopoulos, 60, a retired lawyer, as he stood on Friday in central Syntagma Square in Athens, where residue from tear gas fired by the police during demonstrations on Tuesday to protest a visit by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, still clung to the sidewalks.

“The leader of the E.U. is Germany, which is in an economic war with southern Europe,” Mr. Polychronopoulos said. “I consider this war equal to a real war. They don’t help peace.”

So some Greeks think they’re currently at war with Germany, in part due to the very lack of sovereignty and self-determination that Jagland credits for its contribution to European peace.

And then there’s another problem: who will accept the award on behalf of “Europe”? The Times notes that the European Commission, European Council, and European Parliament are fighting over the honor. This is, in a way, perfect, since it shows that not even the mostly unaccountable bureaucrats running the EU can keep the peace among themselves.

There’s also the minor point of America’s role both in propping up NATO and in keeping much of the world free from the anarchy that likely would prevail if the U.S. took the same attitude toward security and defense as does the EU. In other words, though Europe is at peace currently, we have yet to arrive at a time at which Europe is responsible for that peace.

Although the Times story reads like the Onion, it is neither satirical nor particularly funny. Europe’s turn away from democracy, sovereignty, and identity undermines the West’s dedication to freedom around the world. Additionally, the EU’s dismissive approach to self-defense means either the world becomes less secure or the United States shoulders even more of the burden. A collection of welfare states becomes a welfare continent, though since most Eurocrats couldn’t lose their jobs if they tried, the attendant skyrocketing unemployment will be a curious statistic to them, and nothing more.

This future is also unlikely to be particularly peaceful. But the EU knows full well that if needed, the U.S. will help set things right so that nameless, faceless bureaucrats can once again take credit for someone else’s success.

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Biden’s Reckless Rhetoric on Afghanistan

I just hope the Taliban were too busying planting roadside bombs, shooting school girls, extorting merchants, or doing whatever is they normally do at 5:30 a.m.–when the vice presidential debate started by Kabul time–to watch the Biden-Ryan slugfest. Because if they had tuned in, they would have heard a message from the vice president–the deputy satan–that would have been music to their ears (if, that is, they did not prohibit music as contrary to their extremist beliefs).

Here is what Biden had to say about Afghanistan:

It is the responsibility of the Afghans to take care of their own security. We have trained over 315,000, mostly without incident. There have been more than two dozen cases of green-on-blue where Americans have been killed. If we do not — if the measures the military has taken do not take hold, we will not go on joint patrols. We will not train in the field. We’ll only train in the — in the Army bases that exist there.

But we are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. Period. And in the process, we’re going to be saving over the next 10 years another $800 billion. We’ve been in this war for over a decade. The primary objective is almost completed. Now, all we’re doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security.

It’s their responsibility, not America’s.

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I just hope the Taliban were too busying planting roadside bombs, shooting school girls, extorting merchants, or doing whatever is they normally do at 5:30 a.m.–when the vice presidential debate started by Kabul time–to watch the Biden-Ryan slugfest. Because if they had tuned in, they would have heard a message from the vice president–the deputy satan–that would have been music to their ears (if, that is, they did not prohibit music as contrary to their extremist beliefs).

Here is what Biden had to say about Afghanistan:

It is the responsibility of the Afghans to take care of their own security. We have trained over 315,000, mostly without incident. There have been more than two dozen cases of green-on-blue where Americans have been killed. If we do not — if the measures the military has taken do not take hold, we will not go on joint patrols. We will not train in the field. We’ll only train in the — in the Army bases that exist there.

But we are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. Period. And in the process, we’re going to be saving over the next 10 years another $800 billion. We’ve been in this war for over a decade. The primary objective is almost completed. Now, all we’re doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security.

It’s their responsibility, not America’s.

But we did not invade Afghanistan in 2001 (a war that Biden supported, as he supported the one in Iraq) as a favor to the Afghans. We invaded because we had been attacked from its soil and wanted to punish the perpetrators and, more importantly, to prevent a recurrence in the future. Yet if we leave prematurely there is a very real danger that the Afghan security forces will fall apart and the Taliban will come back into power, bringing their buddies in al-Qaeda with them.

It is precisely to avert this danger that Biden’s boss, the president, signed a Strategic Partnership Accord with Hamid Karzai this past spring, pledging to support the Afghan government until at least 2014. Biden might have mentioned this accord, which could be seen as a foreign policy achievement of this administration. He did not. Nor did he mention the need to maintain a residual force of American trainers and Special Operations personnel in Afghanistan after 2014, even though all serious military experts agree that such a force will be absolutely essential to buttress the fledgling Afghan National Security Forces, which lack key “enablers,” such as airpower, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, and route-clearance vehicles.

All that Biden said, over and over again, is that we are going to pull out completely in 2014. Obviously that message was intended for domestic consumption, to win votes among a war-weary electorate. But it will resonate on the battlefield and it will do much to buttress the morale of the enemies that 68,000 U.S. troops are still fighting.

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Why Dems Loved Biden’s Boorish Behavior

The morning after the vice presidential debate, Democrats are delighted. Vice President Joe Biden’s obnoxious display was exactly what was needed to cheer them up after a week of morose speculation about why President Obama was so passive and uninspired at last week’s first presidential debate with Mitt Romney. Indeed, the more Biden giggled, smirked and interrupted Paul Ryan, the better they liked it. While his condescending and bullying behavior contradicted liberal doctrine about conservatives being the ones guilty of polluting the public square with political incivility, it embodied their complete contempt for both Republicans and their ideas. Biden’s nastiness may have re-invigorated a Democratic base that wanted nothing so much as to tell their opponents to shut up, even if it may have also alienated a great many independents. But with the main focus of the election still on the remaining two presidential debates, it’s not clear that President Obama can profit from Biden’s example.

The reason for this is not very complicated. The Democrats cheering on Biden’s bullying, while ignoring the fact that he had nothing to offer on the future of entitlements and his disgraceful alibis about Libya, did so because at bottom they really do not feel Republicans or conservatives are worthy of respect or decency. Though they rarely own up to it, they don’t think Republicans are so much wrong as they are bad. By contrast, most Republicans think Democrats are wrong, not evil. Ryan, whose polite behavior was entirely proper but was made to appear passive and even weak when compared to his bloviating opponent, demonstrated this paradigm by patiently trying to explain his positions even when he was constantly interrupted.

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The morning after the vice presidential debate, Democrats are delighted. Vice President Joe Biden’s obnoxious display was exactly what was needed to cheer them up after a week of morose speculation about why President Obama was so passive and uninspired at last week’s first presidential debate with Mitt Romney. Indeed, the more Biden giggled, smirked and interrupted Paul Ryan, the better they liked it. While his condescending and bullying behavior contradicted liberal doctrine about conservatives being the ones guilty of polluting the public square with political incivility, it embodied their complete contempt for both Republicans and their ideas. Biden’s nastiness may have re-invigorated a Democratic base that wanted nothing so much as to tell their opponents to shut up, even if it may have also alienated a great many independents. But with the main focus of the election still on the remaining two presidential debates, it’s not clear that President Obama can profit from Biden’s example.

The reason for this is not very complicated. The Democrats cheering on Biden’s bullying, while ignoring the fact that he had nothing to offer on the future of entitlements and his disgraceful alibis about Libya, did so because at bottom they really do not feel Republicans or conservatives are worthy of respect or decency. Though they rarely own up to it, they don’t think Republicans are so much wrong as they are bad. By contrast, most Republicans think Democrats are wrong, not evil. Ryan, whose polite behavior was entirely proper but was made to appear passive and even weak when compared to his bloviating opponent, demonstrated this paradigm by patiently trying to explain his positions even when he was constantly interrupted.

Hard-core Democrats would have been happy had Obama treated Romney the same way Biden did Ryan (some even falsely claim that Romney behaved in a similar manner to Biden), and there were plenty of signs that he shares his number two’s contempt for the opposition. But while a vice president, especially one who has often been treated as something of a national joke during his four years in office, might be allowed to get away with playing the buffoon, a president cannot. That means next week the president will have to again behave like a grown up. Given the town hall meeting format at the Hofstra University debate, it will be even more important for him to be as civil as Biden was rude. If, as is very likely, Romney again gives a strong performance and doesn’t allow himself to be run roughshod over (as perhaps Ryan did at times), then the odds are Democrats will again be unhappy with their leader’s showing.

The problem here is not just that presidents and would-be commanders-in-chief must appear presidential. It is that the liberal base of the president’s party is so filled with anger and contempt for Republicans that they can’t abide even a show of civility from their champions.

Though President Obama may decide to show up and demonstrate a bit more involvement and passion in the upcoming debates, he is unlikely to satisfy his supporters’ need to bash the GOP. Though liberals are saying Biden has stopped the bleeding begun last week in Denver, the president’s failure to misbehave in the same manner is bound to raise the same complaints next week.

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Nobel Nonsense

Congratulations to the U.S. armed forces for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. They really deserve it for preventing a Third World War and winning the Cold War. They kept the peace (most of the time) in Europe and East Asia, thereby making possible the transformation of these regions into powerhouses of the global economy after centuries of costly strife. I am sure Gen. Martin Dempsey is looking forward to traveling to Oslo to receive….

Oops. Sorry about that. Seems I got it wrong. Silly me. The Nobel Peace Prize Committee didn’t actually award the U.S. military its annual tribute; instead it chose the European Union. Which would not exist had not the U.S. armed forces not ended the long hostility between France and Germany, created a new, democratic Germany, and enforced the peace for more than sixty years. But of course the U.S. military is more likely to be reviled than credited by advanced thinkers in Europe.

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Congratulations to the U.S. armed forces for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. They really deserve it for preventing a Third World War and winning the Cold War. They kept the peace (most of the time) in Europe and East Asia, thereby making possible the transformation of these regions into powerhouses of the global economy after centuries of costly strife. I am sure Gen. Martin Dempsey is looking forward to traveling to Oslo to receive….

Oops. Sorry about that. Seems I got it wrong. Silly me. The Nobel Peace Prize Committee didn’t actually award the U.S. military its annual tribute; instead it chose the European Union. Which would not exist had not the U.S. armed forces not ended the long hostility between France and Germany, created a new, democratic Germany, and enforced the peace for more than sixty years. But of course the U.S. military is more likely to be reviled than credited by advanced thinkers in Europe.

So we have the spectacle of the most laughable of awards going to the EU just at the moment when it appears to be in the middle of an economic meltdown and the future of the Eurozone is up for grabs. Well, it could have been worse. At least the EU didn’t get the Nobel Economics Prize.

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Biden’s Self-Damage on Libya Narrative

Now that the spin-room arguments about debate winners and losers has died down, the most enduring part of last night’s debate may be Vice President Biden’s comments on Libya. Because the administration has been so tight-lipped on the issue, Biden’s remarks are important in piecing together the puzzle of exactly what the White House knew and when.

As Jonathan noted earlier, Biden specifically contradicted the senior State Department officials and whistle blowers who just testified under oath before the House Oversight Committee earlier this week, and also took a direct swipe at the intelligence community. Josh Rogin reports on more:

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Now that the spin-room arguments about debate winners and losers has died down, the most enduring part of last night’s debate may be Vice President Biden’s comments on Libya. Because the administration has been so tight-lipped on the issue, Biden’s remarks are important in piecing together the puzzle of exactly what the White House knew and when.

As Jonathan noted earlier, Biden specifically contradicted the senior State Department officials and whistle blowers who just testified under oath before the House Oversight Committee earlier this week, and also took a direct swipe at the intelligence community. Josh Rogin reports on more:

Vice President Joe Biden claimed that the administration wasn’t aware of requests for more security in Libya before the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi during Thursday night’s debate, contradicting two State Department officials and the former head of diplomatic security in Libya.

“We weren’t told they wanted more security. We did not know they wanted more security there,” Biden said.

In fact, two security officials who worked for the State Department in Libya at the time testified Thursday that they repeatedly requested more security and two State Department officials admitted they had denied those requests.

This, along with Obama spokesperson Stephanie Cutter’s bombshell gaffe about politicizing Benghazi yesterday, means that last night’s debate probably won’t help shift the news cycle away from Libya, as the Obama campaign may have hoped. Instead, it raises even more questions for them, including: who’s telling the truth on security requests, the State Department and the security personnel on the ground or Vice President Biden?

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The Army’s Language Problem

A decade of war has reinforced to the U.S. Army the importance of cultural awareness. Senior flag officers and junior enlisted men and women have all heard presentations about Islam, and basic elements of Iraqi and Afghan culture. True, discussing the confluence of theology and terrorism remains largely taboo in the politically correct U.S. military, but few troops deploy without knowing basic information about Islam and cultural sensitivities. The notable exception was Gen. Janis Karpinski, whose unit embarrassed the United States at Abu Ghraib; she dismissed cultural awareness as below her and irrelevant to her mission.

Foreign language acquisition remains a problem. Paul Wolfowitz deserves credit when deputy secretary of defense for focusing military attention not only on cultural awareness, but also on the poor state of language acquisition among American servicemen. When I work in Germany, or among Bosnian, Romanian, or Polish troops, there are few that do not speak fluently a second language; few American servicemen do, however, except for many Hispanic soldiers or those from elsewhere who are first-generation immigrants. In recent years, the situation has improved, but only slightly. Senior officers will be the first to admit that the Army and the Marines still have a long way to go.

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A decade of war has reinforced to the U.S. Army the importance of cultural awareness. Senior flag officers and junior enlisted men and women have all heard presentations about Islam, and basic elements of Iraqi and Afghan culture. True, discussing the confluence of theology and terrorism remains largely taboo in the politically correct U.S. military, but few troops deploy without knowing basic information about Islam and cultural sensitivities. The notable exception was Gen. Janis Karpinski, whose unit embarrassed the United States at Abu Ghraib; she dismissed cultural awareness as below her and irrelevant to her mission.

Foreign language acquisition remains a problem. Paul Wolfowitz deserves credit when deputy secretary of defense for focusing military attention not only on cultural awareness, but also on the poor state of language acquisition among American servicemen. When I work in Germany, or among Bosnian, Romanian, or Polish troops, there are few that do not speak fluently a second language; few American servicemen do, however, except for many Hispanic soldiers or those from elsewhere who are first-generation immigrants. In recent years, the situation has improved, but only slightly. Senior officers will be the first to admit that the Army and the Marines still have a long way to go.

Some of the criticism directed toward the U.S. military for alleged cultural mishaps has been unwarranted. For example, many (not all) of the allegations that American male troops patted down and searched Iraqi women were false: When troops wear full battle rattle, it’s hard to tell males from females and so Iraqis—and some American journalists—just got carried away with assumptions. Criticism about American raids on mosques was also often unwarranted. Rather than simply treat mosques as inviolate sacred space off-limits to American forces, critics of American raids would be far better off questioning why some mosques became safe havens for terrorists or storage depots for weapons. When push comes to shove, force protection of American troops must always come first.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. military has assembled all-female engagement teams to meet and work with Afghan women who oppose the Taliban but whose culture and religious practice would not allow them to interact with any unit which incorporated males.

The cultural mishaps which have occurred—burning the Quran at Bagram, for example—are inexcusable and they were punished promptly. Still, they are exceptions, and rare ones at that. Likewise, abusing the bodies of Taliban fighters was an empty crisis: Americans seemed more outraged than Afghans. There is no evidence that any sought revenge because of the behavior of the few troops who desecrated Taliban bodies.

Still, there is one major problem which no level of the Army or Pentagon appears ready to address: foul language. It would sound like a silly complaint if it was not so corrosive to our mission and responsible at times for kinetic backlash. Especially among younger troops and out-in-the-field, every tenth word seems to be “sh-t” or especially creative constructions revolving around “f-ck.” Afghans may not understand English and even those that do will have a poor grasp of idiom, but all understand foul language. While not all “Green on Blue” violence is the result of cultural affront, some is. Likewise, I recently heard of a case in eastern Afghanistan where, watching women carrying heavy loads in the fields, one American soldier exclaimed, “Will you look at how much those f-cking women can carry!” Three days later, tribal leaders lodged a protest complaining that Americans had suggested that Afghan women working in the fields were sexually loose. In certain societies, honor matters. Americans are not the only guilty party. The Canadians had an incident in Somalia two decades ago in which a similar young private exclaimed to a Somali standing guard duty with him outside a meeting, “Boy is your sheikh pig-headed.” The young Somali understood two words: “Sheikh” and “Pig” and four Canadians died over the next couple days because of the misunderstanding.

Before his retirement from the military, Gen. David Petraeus often spoke about how every soldier was also a diplomat. He was right. Few American diplomats emerge anymore from behind the blast walls which fence in American embassies in trouble spots, and so the face of the United States is the soldier. While we might be the strongest country on earth, we are still guests in the countries in which our troops deploy, and so it is imperative to act as guests instead of occupiers. There are few employers in the United States who would let employees interacting with the public swear non-stop.

Now, don’t get me wrong: Political correctness is nonsense, but this isn’t about political correctness. Not only do we pay consequences in our battle to win hearts and minds, but so long as the military also serves as important job training for those entering at the lowest ranks, it does a disservice by tolerating this lack of professionalism. It may be an uphill battle and, admittedly, there are greater battles which must be won. Language may be a detail, but we ignore such details are our peril.

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Biden’s Behavior Will Become the Story

As I predicted yesterday, Vice President Biden came out aggressive and swinging against his opponent, GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Even when it wasn’t his turn to speak, Biden interjected himself into Ryan’s speaking time. According to RNC Chairman Reince Preibus, Biden interrupted Ryan a total of 82 times. CNN instant polling after the debate showed 70 percent of respondents noting that Biden, not Ryan, spent the debate attacking his opponent (compare this to 19 percent for Ryan).

As Jonathan noted last night, Biden’s incivility could end up causing him more harm than good with voters in the long term. CNN and NBC anchors immediately weighed in on Biden’s tendency to smirk and laugh during his opponent’s allotted time. In the age of split-screen television, Biden’s aggression may have come off well with the Democratic base, but it likely did nothing but turn off undecided voters. His behavior, as already noted by the GOP’s research team, was deemed inappropriate at best by many in the mainstream media.

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As I predicted yesterday, Vice President Biden came out aggressive and swinging against his opponent, GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Even when it wasn’t his turn to speak, Biden interjected himself into Ryan’s speaking time. According to RNC Chairman Reince Preibus, Biden interrupted Ryan a total of 82 times. CNN instant polling after the debate showed 70 percent of respondents noting that Biden, not Ryan, spent the debate attacking his opponent (compare this to 19 percent for Ryan).

As Jonathan noted last night, Biden’s incivility could end up causing him more harm than good with voters in the long term. CNN and NBC anchors immediately weighed in on Biden’s tendency to smirk and laugh during his opponent’s allotted time. In the age of split-screen television, Biden’s aggression may have come off well with the Democratic base, but it likely did nothing but turn off undecided voters. His behavior, as already noted by the GOP’s research team, was deemed inappropriate at best by many in the mainstream media.

There were few sound-bite worthy comments from Paul Ryan tonight, save for perhaps his telling Biden, “I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way.” After a debate that many in the mainstream media and instant polls are calling a tie, the GOP has already settled on a message for how they think the vice presidential debate went down, and it’s Biden’s physical reactions during Ryan’s remarks on Libya, Iran and Afghanistan. They released a web video less than two hours after the conclusion of the debate highlighting Biden’s worst laughs, gestures, and smirks:

We’ll see how many Americans actually watched this debate, but it appears that enough people were thrown off by Biden’s behavior to make that, not his words, the story after last night’s debate. After the last debate, many in the news media commented on Obama’s much more subtle smirk (the GOP even made an ad out of that, too). One can only wonder why Biden wasn’t instructed by his debate coaches to tone down the condescension instead of ramping it up several notches.

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Biden Throws Intel Community Under Bus

The vice presidential debate opened with a question about the Libyan consulate attack. While that section of the evening probably didn’t figure heavily in forming opinions about whether Vice President Biden or Paul Ryan prevailed, it did provide an interesting twist in the unfolding tale of administration prevarications about the murders in Benghazi.

In response to a pointed question from moderator Martha Raddatz about what he and the president knew about the Benghazi attack, Biden threw the intelligence community and the State Department under the bus. The vice president claimed that the story the administration put out about the terrorist attack on the consulate and the murder of the U.S. ambassador being part of the fallout from a controversial anti-Muslim video was the fault of the intelligence they were given. But rather than put the issue to bed, it raises even more troubling questions not only about the security disaster but also about the lack of leadership shown by senior administration officials, including the president. It also contradicts State Department testimony and other comments from intelligence officials that they knew it was a terror attack within 24 hours of it happening.

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The vice presidential debate opened with a question about the Libyan consulate attack. While that section of the evening probably didn’t figure heavily in forming opinions about whether Vice President Biden or Paul Ryan prevailed, it did provide an interesting twist in the unfolding tale of administration prevarications about the murders in Benghazi.

In response to a pointed question from moderator Martha Raddatz about what he and the president knew about the Benghazi attack, Biden threw the intelligence community and the State Department under the bus. The vice president claimed that the story the administration put out about the terrorist attack on the consulate and the murder of the U.S. ambassador being part of the fallout from a controversial anti-Muslim video was the fault of the intelligence they were given. But rather than put the issue to bed, it raises even more troubling questions not only about the security disaster but also about the lack of leadership shown by senior administration officials, including the president. It also contradicts State Department testimony and other comments from intelligence officials that they knew it was a terror attack within 24 hours of it happening.

For Biden to put all of the blame for the lies about the video and the denial of terrorism on intelligence officials says a lot about the complete breakdown of administration counter-terror policy. His denial that anyone in Washington knew that the story put forward by Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, wasn’t true seems implausible. Even if true, it speaks to administration incompetence. The narrative here is still confused and Biden’s contribution only furthers muddies the waters.

It also demonstrates how absurd and hypocritical Democratic attacks are on Mitt Romney for his criticism of the initial reactions from Washington to both the Libya attack and the assault on the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt. Efforts such as those of Biden to deflect blame for a disaster that unfolded without any leadership from the top onto the Republicans are clearly not going to work.

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