Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 12, 2012

Petraeus Was Right to Resign

As I wrote on Friday, I agree with Max Boot that the resignation of David Petraeus is a tragedy. That such a distinguished career should end on such a tawdry note is appalling, especially since Petraeus’s place in our military history ought to guarantee him the nation’s highest accolades rather than to be subjected to the sort of tabloid scrutiny that is usually reserved for the denizens of reality television shows. Yet as much as I regret the circumstances, I disagree with those like Max who take the position that the former general’s resignation was unnecessary. Petraeus stumbled badly when he engaged in extramarital activity that wound up involving him in a bizarre harassment case that was investigated by the FBI. But he was right to assume that the only honorable course of action once it was uncovered was for him to leave the CIA.

Whenever public figures are driven from office as a result of private misconduct, the decision is often followed by a chorus of criticism about the puritanical nature of American society. We are also inevitably asked to compare the actions of the wrongdoer to those of former President Bill Clinton, whose outrageous behavior and lies didn’t put a dent his popularity let alone cause him to step down, even after impeachment. A better argument is that made by those, like Max, who ask us how much the country would have lost if the same standards were applied to heroes of the past who were also guilty of similar bad judgment. Yet in spite of that, I think Petraeus would have been wrong to “brazen it out” by attempting to hold on to his office. Doing so would have been an unpardonable distraction for the CIA at a time when it is under fire for the Benghazi fiasco. Moreover, no man, no matter how great he might be, is indispensable. While the general may well serve his country again in some capacity in the future, having called his judgment into question in this manner, it was impossible for him to remain at the CIA.

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As I wrote on Friday, I agree with Max Boot that the resignation of David Petraeus is a tragedy. That such a distinguished career should end on such a tawdry note is appalling, especially since Petraeus’s place in our military history ought to guarantee him the nation’s highest accolades rather than to be subjected to the sort of tabloid scrutiny that is usually reserved for the denizens of reality television shows. Yet as much as I regret the circumstances, I disagree with those like Max who take the position that the former general’s resignation was unnecessary. Petraeus stumbled badly when he engaged in extramarital activity that wound up involving him in a bizarre harassment case that was investigated by the FBI. But he was right to assume that the only honorable course of action once it was uncovered was for him to leave the CIA.

Whenever public figures are driven from office as a result of private misconduct, the decision is often followed by a chorus of criticism about the puritanical nature of American society. We are also inevitably asked to compare the actions of the wrongdoer to those of former President Bill Clinton, whose outrageous behavior and lies didn’t put a dent his popularity let alone cause him to step down, even after impeachment. A better argument is that made by those, like Max, who ask us how much the country would have lost if the same standards were applied to heroes of the past who were also guilty of similar bad judgment. Yet in spite of that, I think Petraeus would have been wrong to “brazen it out” by attempting to hold on to his office. Doing so would have been an unpardonable distraction for the CIA at a time when it is under fire for the Benghazi fiasco. Moreover, no man, no matter how great he might be, is indispensable. While the general may well serve his country again in some capacity in the future, having called his judgment into question in this manner, it was impossible for him to remain at the CIA.

The notion that there is something wrong with a standard of conduct that treats infidelity as warranting nothing more than a scolding is one that seems to be increasingly popular. It is argued that the privacy of public officials should be respected just as much as that of private citizens. Viewed from that perspective, David Petraeus’s private life is none of our business. Unlike Bill Clinton, who committed perjury in order to cover up his affairs, Petraeus appears to have broken no laws. So long as that remains the case, why should the nation be deprived of the services of the man who was arguably the ablest American general in more than half a century?

It all sounds quite reasonable, but there are serious problems with this line of thought.

Although it is true that a number of famous Americans in the past have also been guilty of sexual indiscretions, it is incorrect to say the American people gave them a pass for it. For example, had John F. Kennedy’s disgusting conduct in the White House with multiple partners — including interns — been made public, it is doubtful he would have survived the furor. If there is something puritanical about a society in which promiscuous goings-on in the presidential mansion is considered beyond the pale, then so be it. As much as we know that human beings are fallible, there is nothing unreasonable about expecting leaders to behave as if their high office requires them to be on their best behavior while being so honored.

Indeed, the one prominent philanderer who is often cited as a precedent for a man surviving such a scandal — Alexander Hamilton — only did so because he exposed his own private misbehavior so as to make it clear that he was innocent of any public malfeasance, as his critics had charged.

Being the head of the CIA is also a circumstance that should also have made it more, rather than less, important that Petraeus not engage in this sort of behavior. It is a given that intelligence officials ought not do anything that renders them vulnerable to blackmail of any sort. Once he was told of the affair, the immediate response of James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, was that Petraeus must step down. That was in keeping with that standard. The idea that Petraeus is so uniquely talented that his presence in his post obligates us to ignore his bad judgment doesn’t hold water. As a battlefield and theater commander, Petraeus had no peers in the armed forces. But as important as his work in Langley was, he cannot make the same claim in the field of intelligence.

David Petraeus had a unique status in our public life. That was not just because of his brilliance in Iraq but because he had come to exemplify the ideals of military honor, sacrifice and public service. It may be unfair to expect a hero to behave like one, but that is the price you pay for the sort of applause the general deservedly received. Indeed, unlike his many supporters who are right to mourn his retirement, Petraeus understood that the only proper thing to do once his predicament had become public was to withdraw from his office. This exile from responsibility need not be permanent. But in stepping down, Petraeus has reaffirmed the notion that misconduct warrants more than a shrug. In doing so, he has rendered the country a service that should be applauded.

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Gaza Missiles a Bigger Threat Than Syria

Over the weekend, provocations on two of Israel’s borders presented the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with new challenges. In the Golan Heights, what was described in reports as “erratic mortar fire” from Syrian army positions brought a sharp, though limited, response from the Israel Defense Forces. In the south, Hamas launched a rocket offensive aimed at Israeli civilian targets. But while the Syrian incident made headlines in the international press since it threatened to drag Israel into the Syrian civil war, it was the situation in Gaza that was the more troubling.

As troubling as the possibility that Israel could be dragged into the ongoing chaos of Syria is, the country’s Gaza dilemma is far more worrisome. Rockets continued to fall on Israel Monday as the Hamas rulers of Gaza continued their own attempt to provoke Israel into an offensive. While both Israel and neighboring Egypt have little to gain from either a repeat of the 2008 Operation Cast Lead, in which Israel knocked out terrorist positions inside Gaza, or a more far-reaching offensive, in which the Islamist terrorist group would actually be deposed, the possibility that at some point Netanyahu will have to do something to stop the rain of fire on his country is very real.

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Over the weekend, provocations on two of Israel’s borders presented the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with new challenges. In the Golan Heights, what was described in reports as “erratic mortar fire” from Syrian army positions brought a sharp, though limited, response from the Israel Defense Forces. In the south, Hamas launched a rocket offensive aimed at Israeli civilian targets. But while the Syrian incident made headlines in the international press since it threatened to drag Israel into the Syrian civil war, it was the situation in Gaza that was the more troubling.

As troubling as the possibility that Israel could be dragged into the ongoing chaos of Syria is, the country’s Gaza dilemma is far more worrisome. Rockets continued to fall on Israel Monday as the Hamas rulers of Gaza continued their own attempt to provoke Israel into an offensive. While both Israel and neighboring Egypt have little to gain from either a repeat of the 2008 Operation Cast Lead, in which Israel knocked out terrorist positions inside Gaza, or a more far-reaching offensive, in which the Islamist terrorist group would actually be deposed, the possibility that at some point Netanyahu will have to do something to stop the rain of fire on his country is very real.

Israelis don’t know for sure whether, as some observers seem to think, the fire from Syria was an attempt by the faltering Assad regime to portray its struggle as one against Israel rather than its own people. Given that such a ploy is a tried and true standby for Arab dictators, it seems logical to think that a desperate Bashar Assad thinks involving Israel in the fighting will bolster support for his embattled government. Yet it is just as likely that the fire into the Golan was unintentional spillover from that war. Certainly it was nothing comparable to the deliberate attacks from the regime on the Turkish border, which is actually a transit and supply route for the rebels who have the support of Ankara.

While Israel has no love for Assad and would be happy to see Iran’s ally fall, it must also ponder whether his replacement by a weak rebel regime would lead to more conflict in the future. Israel is likely to do just about anything to stay out of that mess, and it will take more than a few stray mortar shells to drag it into that war.

But Netanyahu’s choices with regards to Gaza are not so easy. Though Israel’s main strategic focus in the last year has understandably been on the Iranian nuclear threat, Hamas’ ability to make the lives of Israelis living in the south a living hell is a reminder that the enemies on the Jewish state’s border can’t be ignored. Since Saturday, more than 160 rockets have fallen on the region bordering Gaza. Their motives for this offensive are complex.

The impetus for the escalation may stem in part from a desire to remind the world that the Palestinian Authority is merely one of two groups competing for control of a future Palestinian state. The surge in violence doesn’t help PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s efforts to get the United Nations to unilaterally recognize Palestinian independence without first making peace with Israel, and that suits Hamas’s purposes.

The Hamas fire may also have a tactical purpose. Last Thursday, the Israel Defense Forces discovered a tunnel along the border with Gaza, the intent of which was obviously to facilitate a cross-border terror raid along the lines of the one that resulted in Gilad Shalit’s kidnapping as well as the murder of two other soldiers. Israel has sought to establish a 300-meter no-go zone on the Gaza side of the border in order to prevent such attacks, but Hamas uses rocket fire to defend its freedom of action.

Whether thinking tactically or strategically, Hamas continues to hold approximately one million Israelis living in the south hostage. Anti-missile defense systems like Iron Dome help limit the damage, but they can’t stop all or even most of the rockets, as the last two days showed. Hamas seems to be assuming that an Israeli counter-offensive into Gaza to silence the fire would be too bloody and too unpopular abroad to be worth it for Netanyahu. Another option would be to return to targeted killings of Hamas leaders, but that is likely to lead to more rockets fired at Israeli civilians rather than to stop the attacks.

The bottom line is that Israel has no good choices open to it with regard to Gaza. But with elections looming in January, Netanyahu can’t afford to let the people of the south sit in shelters indefinitely. If their Muslim Brotherhood friends in Egypt — who also worry about the spillover from a new war — can’t persuade Hamas to stand down soon, the prime minister may have to consider raising the ante with the Islamist terrorist movement. While the world is more interested in the violence in Syria, Gaza remains the more difficult dilemma facing the Israelis.

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Will GOP Learn Its GOTV Lesson?

Last week, I discussed the disaster that was the Romney campaign’s Project ORCA. On Election Day over 37,000 volunteers spent the day struggling with a flawed and crashing GOTV (get out the vote) computer program, instead of actually getting out the vote. Those volunteers were supposed to be reporting on voter turnout in swing states, and in many instances spent the day troubleshooting with overwhelmed Romney campaign staffers in Boston over a computer program that had never been stress tested. 

Since the election, some details have emerged from frustrated staffers involved with the campaign alleging that the difficulties the Romney campaign encountered with ORCA, as well as other digital problems, were the responsibility of consultants hired by the campaign who were more interested in their own bottom line than winning. Indeed, Romney’s digital director Zac Moffat told the Daily Caller that “he would not elaborate on the record about who made Project ORCA, but said it was not developed by Targeted Victory [Moffat's co-founded firm] or the campaign itself.”

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Last week, I discussed the disaster that was the Romney campaign’s Project ORCA. On Election Day over 37,000 volunteers spent the day struggling with a flawed and crashing GOTV (get out the vote) computer program, instead of actually getting out the vote. Those volunteers were supposed to be reporting on voter turnout in swing states, and in many instances spent the day troubleshooting with overwhelmed Romney campaign staffers in Boston over a computer program that had never been stress tested. 

Since the election, some details have emerged from frustrated staffers involved with the campaign alleging that the difficulties the Romney campaign encountered with ORCA, as well as other digital problems, were the responsibility of consultants hired by the campaign who were more interested in their own bottom line than winning. Indeed, Romney’s digital director Zac Moffat told the Daily Caller that “he would not elaborate on the record about who made Project ORCA, but said it was not developed by Targeted Victory [Moffat's co-founded firm] or the campaign itself.”

We’ve heard very little about what went wrong on the record from top-level campaign staff. Today Romney’s political director Rich Beeson gave a very perplexing interview to National Review’s Katrina Trinko. He told Trinko, 

“We hit the numbers we needed to hit. Our ground game turned out the people it needed to turnout. They just turned out more. They turned out 18 to 29 [year olds] at a higher level. They turned out African-Americans at a higher level. They turned out Hispanics at a higher level.”

“We hit the numbers we needed to hit”? Really? The numbers the Romney campaign needed to hit were, as NRO’s Ramesh Ponnuru tweeted, the numbers needed to win. Republicans saw 1.4 million fewer votes in 2012 verses 2008. Granted, turnout for Obama was off by a far greater amount–7.7 million voters– yet if Romney had brought out the same number of voters as McCain did in 2008 we would be talking about a Romney victory, not a Romney defeat. Romney even drew fewer Mormon voters than George W. Bush did in 2004 (numbers for the 2008 race are unavailable). Romney staffers could point to several positive stories from their campaign, but turnout isn’t one of them. 

Beeson went on to defend not only ORCA in principle, but also in practice on Election Day:

Beeson contends that while Orca had its flaws on Election Day, it was a smart idea. “Did the overall system work the way that we wanted it to? No. But it is a good precursor for what I think we’ll want to be able to design and implement and improve on in coming elections? Absolutely,” he says.

With an election as close as Tuesday’s (NRO’s Jim Geraghty put the margin of victory at 407,000 votes between Romney and Obama in key swing states) what would have been a better use of resources? Should volunteers have been tracking voter turnout in order to get results to Boston a few hours before the networks would have, or should they have instead focused on traditional GOTV efforts like door knocks, transportation to polling locations, and calling undecided voters? 

Worryingly, it appears the Romney campaign and the consultants it hired refuse to admit that ORCA was a bad strategy in theory and in practice, and that they also hope to replicate it for future campaigns. Given the huge financial investment the campaign gave to the consultants responsible for the program, it’s understandable that its utter failure is an inconvenient detail for those who would like to try to sell the program all over again. For the GOP’s sake in 2014 and 2016 and beyond, one would hope that the track record not only of ORCA, but also of the consultants and firms responsible, don’t disappear down the memory hole. For that to happen, the creators of ORCA need to be exposed by the Romney campaign’s staff as a last service to future GOP candidates. 

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Petraeus Needn’t Have Resigned

It’s a good thing that current political standards for handling adultery were not in place during World War II. Otherwise Dwight Eisenhower, who was notoriously close with his attractive English chauffeur, Kay Summersby, would never have remained as supreme allied commander, much less been elected to the presidency. These days, by contrast, sexual misconduct is one of the few sins that can bring down a senior military officer or civilian officeholder, such as David Petraeus.  

We do not, of course, have a consistent standard of disqualifying adulterers. But unless you are as brazen and charming as Bill Clinton, you are likely to be toast. Whether this makes sense is another question. Given how many of our greatest leaders, from Alexander Hamilton to Franklin Roosevelt, have been guilty of sexual impropriety, it is hard to imagine how American history might have turned out if today’s Puritanical standards had been enforced in the past.

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It’s a good thing that current political standards for handling adultery were not in place during World War II. Otherwise Dwight Eisenhower, who was notoriously close with his attractive English chauffeur, Kay Summersby, would never have remained as supreme allied commander, much less been elected to the presidency. These days, by contrast, sexual misconduct is one of the few sins that can bring down a senior military officer or civilian officeholder, such as David Petraeus.  

We do not, of course, have a consistent standard of disqualifying adulterers. But unless you are as brazen and charming as Bill Clinton, you are likely to be toast. Whether this makes sense is another question. Given how many of our greatest leaders, from Alexander Hamilton to Franklin Roosevelt, have been guilty of sexual impropriety, it is hard to imagine how American history might have turned out if today’s Puritanical standards had been enforced in the past.

Certainly it makes sense to hold officers and officials responsible for other misconduct arising out of a sexual situation, whether it’s committing perjury or creating a hostile workplace environment. But in the case of Petraeus, at least to judge by what has come out so far, there is no sign that he did anything wrong beyond violating his marriage vows.

If newspaper reports are to be believed, the FBI only became involved when his biographer, Paula Broadwell, with whom he had an extramarital relationship, sent anonymous harassing emails to a Tampa socialite named Jill Kelley, who, along with her husband, was friends with Petraeus and his wife. The case was then investigated by an FBI agent who was apparently a friend of Kelley’s; certainly it is hard to imagine the FBI getting involved in a random case of cyber-harassment. In the course of their investigation, the FBI found out that Broadwell had sent the messages and that she and Petraeus were involved in a relationship. The FBI seems to have investigated further to see if there was a breach of national security, but, based on what has come out so far, there was none. Yet this did not stop the agents from notifying their superiors about Petraeus’s private affairs.

There is not even a credible allegation in the public domain that Petraeus shared classified information with Broadwell although, given the way that the government overclassifies even routine information, that is hard to avoid in normal interactions, much less amorous ones, involving someone as privy to as many secrets as the director of central intelligence. (To take but one ridiculous example of many: the existence of Delta Force, the nation’s elite counter-terrorist unit, is officially secret. You can read all about Delta’s exploits in numerous books and articles, but if a government official mentions that Delta exists he is technically breaking the law.)

No charges have been lodged against Petraeus, nor are there likely to be. He cannot even be accused of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice by committing adultery since he was apparently already retired from the military when he had his relationship with Broadwell. Adultery is not against the law for a CIA director or a CIA employee, although intelligence operatives are supposed to disclose all of their relationships so as to avoid the possibility of blackmail. Even in the military, charges of adultery are seldom prosecuted unless the relations occurred with a subordinate to the detriment of the general command climate or there was some other evidence of wrongdoing. Thus Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, an army officer, is currently on trial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, because his former mistress accused him of forcible sodomy and other crimes; it is doubtful if he would ever have been prosecuted if their relationship had ended amicably.

A similar standard is followed in corporate America, where a number of high-level executives, most recently Lockheed Martin President Christopher Kubasik, have been fired for inappropriate relationships with subordinates. But Broadwell never worked for Petraeus. He certainly made a mistake in having a relationship with her (not least because of her bizarre conduct with Kelley), and he forthrightly admitted as much in resigning, but it is far from clear that it should have been a firing offense.

Petraeus might very well have survived in office if he had decided to brazen it out. Instead, he apparently chose to fall on his sword, samurai-style, because he thought he had disgraced himself and his family. That speaks well to his standard of honor, but our government will suffer if we lose the services of such extraordinary public servants over such personal peccadilloes.

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Obama on Autopilot: The President Can’t Stop Campaigning

Yesterday, Abe wrote that “Barack Obama ushered in America’s first large-scale experiment in personality-cult politics. The experiment continues apace.” The experiment really has two parts to it, and only one of them continues. Electorally speaking, it was a success–Obama was elected and then reelected with a majority of the popular vote both times. But the other side of the experiment is how a personality-driven campaign incentivizes governing. Because President Obama ran on personality more than policy, the latter has been shaped throughout his presidency with the former in mind, producing not so much a governing philosophy as a slogan factory.

One of the more interesting aspects of the president’s health care reform legislation is how many liberals hate it. Conservatives don’t like it on constitutional grounds and on policy grounds. But liberals I meet often tell me how much they hate the bill on ideological grounds, because it took an idea that sprang forth from the perceived failure and greed of the insurance companies and then forced everyone in the country to buy their product. The left wanted universal health coverage; they got a bill that encourages the young and healthy, who currently often don’t buy health insurance, to continue not buying health insurance. But the left misunderstands Obama’s intent: he is not a detail man, nor a policy wonk. He is a man in constant search of a slogan, and saying he reformed health care was all he wanted out of the bill, even if the end result was a logical and regulatory nightmare. And health care is far from the only such issue.

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Yesterday, Abe wrote that “Barack Obama ushered in America’s first large-scale experiment in personality-cult politics. The experiment continues apace.” The experiment really has two parts to it, and only one of them continues. Electorally speaking, it was a success–Obama was elected and then reelected with a majority of the popular vote both times. But the other side of the experiment is how a personality-driven campaign incentivizes governing. Because President Obama ran on personality more than policy, the latter has been shaped throughout his presidency with the former in mind, producing not so much a governing philosophy as a slogan factory.

One of the more interesting aspects of the president’s health care reform legislation is how many liberals hate it. Conservatives don’t like it on constitutional grounds and on policy grounds. But liberals I meet often tell me how much they hate the bill on ideological grounds, because it took an idea that sprang forth from the perceived failure and greed of the insurance companies and then forced everyone in the country to buy their product. The left wanted universal health coverage; they got a bill that encourages the young and healthy, who currently often don’t buy health insurance, to continue not buying health insurance. But the left misunderstands Obama’s intent: he is not a detail man, nor a policy wonk. He is a man in constant search of a slogan, and saying he reformed health care was all he wanted out of the bill, even if the end result was a logical and regulatory nightmare. And health care is far from the only such issue.

The president initiated the Russian “reset” to accomplish a fairly superficial goal: as long as the president and his administration were nice to Vladimir Putin (and Dmitry Medvedev, when Medvedev was pretending to be in charge) no matter what, the reset would be considered a success. The reset was never about a more productive U.S.-Russian relationship; it was about a change in our tone. Russia’s tone only changed for the worse, but we took the abuse silently, and so the personality-cult president is much better personally liked by Putin than his mean cowboy predecessor, who had no such need to be flattered.

What would the personality-cult president’s military policy look like? It would be “leading from behind,” never mind that the phrase just means “following.” It’s catchy, it sounds thoughtful. “Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive” makes a great bumper sticker. But try to expand that into a full-fledged governing philosophy and you get a dedication to corporate bailouts and the pretension that al-Qaeda and its affiliates have been nearly defeated–two very disastrous ways of looking at things.

And so the New York Times reports today that with the “fiscal cliff” looming and the need for negotiations with Republicans, Obama is… hitting the campaign trail:

As he prepares to meet with Congressional leaders at the White House on Friday, aides say, Mr. Obama will not simply hunker down there for weeks of closed-door negotiations as he did in mid-2011, when partisan brinkmanship over raising the nation’s debt limit damaged the economy and his political standing. He will travel beyond the Beltway at times to rally public support for a deficit-cutting accord that mixes tax increases on the wealthy with spending cuts.

The president knows one thing: campaigning, and so that’s what he does even when he’s got no more elections to win. No doubt he’ll have his slogans at the ready, as he leaves Congress to figure all this fiscal stuff out while he basks in the glow of a shallow adoration. Can the personality-cult president govern? Who knows? But he sure can campaign.

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Obama’s Collapsing Foreign Policy Doctrine

At the Washington Post, Jackson Diehl writes that the Benghazi attack is the first sign of the collapse of Obama’s foreign policy doctrine, and Syria is right on its heels:

Is “leading from behind” an unfair monicker for this? Then call it the light footprint doctrine. It’s a strategy that supposes that patient multilateral diplomacy can solve problems like Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability; that drone strikes can do as well at preventing another terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland as do ground forces in Afghanistan; that crises like that of Syria can be left to the U.N. Security Council.

For the last couple of years, the light footprint worked well enough to allow Obama to turn foreign policy into a talking point for his reelection. But the terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 should have been a red flag to all who believe this president has invented a successful new model for U.S. leadership. Far from being an aberration, Benghazi was a toxic byproduct of the light footprint approach — and very likely the first in a series of boomerangs. …

At best, Libya will be a steady, low-grade headache for Obama in his second term. But the worst blowback from his policies will come in Syria. What began as a peaceful mass rebellion against another Arab dictator has turned, in the absence of U.S. leadership, into a brutal maelstrom of sectarian war in which al-Qaeda and allied jihadists are playing a growing role. Obama’s light footprint strategy did much to produce this mess; without a change of U.S. policy, it will become, like Bosnia for Bill Clinton or Iraq for George W. Bush, the second term’s “problem from hell.”

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At the Washington Post, Jackson Diehl writes that the Benghazi attack is the first sign of the collapse of Obama’s foreign policy doctrine, and Syria is right on its heels:

Is “leading from behind” an unfair monicker for this? Then call it the light footprint doctrine. It’s a strategy that supposes that patient multilateral diplomacy can solve problems like Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability; that drone strikes can do as well at preventing another terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland as do ground forces in Afghanistan; that crises like that of Syria can be left to the U.N. Security Council.

For the last couple of years, the light footprint worked well enough to allow Obama to turn foreign policy into a talking point for his reelection. But the terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 should have been a red flag to all who believe this president has invented a successful new model for U.S. leadership. Far from being an aberration, Benghazi was a toxic byproduct of the light footprint approach — and very likely the first in a series of boomerangs. …

At best, Libya will be a steady, low-grade headache for Obama in his second term. But the worst blowback from his policies will come in Syria. What began as a peaceful mass rebellion against another Arab dictator has turned, in the absence of U.S. leadership, into a brutal maelstrom of sectarian war in which al-Qaeda and allied jihadists are playing a growing role. Obama’s light footprint strategy did much to produce this mess; without a change of U.S. policy, it will become, like Bosnia for Bill Clinton or Iraq for George W. Bush, the second term’s “problem from hell.”

Before Benghazi, Obama was able to reduce the U.S.’s international footprint while still basically keeping a lid on global terrorism. But it was never sustainable. The president’s lead-from-behind approach is a reflection of his worldview, his discomfort with overt displays of American power, and his general disinterest in concepts like “the War on Terror.” On terrorism, he does only as much as he feels is necessary to protect the country in the short term. Dealing with national security issues is a necessary evil to him, not a priority.

Afghanistan is a prime example. After campaigning on Afghanistan as the more important war and ordering a troop surge, he pulled out without finishing the job in order to focus on “nation building here at home.” Another example is drone strikes. Obama has relied heavily on drones because they’re covert and don’t require much of his attention. Administration officials don’t even have to talk to the media about them, unless they feel like leaking details of some particularly successful strike.

But drones aren’t a long-term solution, and they’re becoming a problem for Obama, as Diehl notes. The American left has been notably silent on the subject for the past four years, but now that Obama’s been safely reelected, you can bet this will become a political football. Complaints from U.S. allies and countries like Libya and Pakistan are also getting louder. If this was a president with strong principles on the issue, that might not matter. But Obama is very sensitive to global opinion. Drones have been useful for him because they’ve allowed him to target terrorists while protecting him from the international political backlash the Bush administration received. Will he have the spine to defend them against growing objections from the left, the United Nations, the Hague, our European allies, and the Muslim world?

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No Need for Conspiracy Theories in Petraeus Timeline

Reuters has a rundown of the timeline for the Petraeus investigation:

2011-2012: Broadwell and Petraeus extramarital affair started after he left military service and ended about four months ago.

Sometime within the past four or five months – one official said “early summer” – a woman complained to the FBI about harassing emails that were later determined to have been written by Broadwell. In the course of investigating that complaint, the FBI discovered an affair between Broadwell and Petraeus.

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Reuters has a rundown of the timeline for the Petraeus investigation:

2011-2012: Broadwell and Petraeus extramarital affair started after he left military service and ended about four months ago.

Sometime within the past four or five months – one official said “early summer” – a woman complained to the FBI about harassing emails that were later determined to have been written by Broadwell. In the course of investigating that complaint, the FBI discovered an affair between Broadwell and Petraeus.

Week of October 21: Federal investigators interview Broadwell.

Week of October 28: Federal investigators interview Petraeus. Prosecutors conclude afterward they likely will not bring criminal charges.

Tuesday, November 6, Election Day, at about 5 p.m.: the FBI notifies Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who oversees the CIA and other intelligence agencies, about Petraeus. Clapper speaks to Petraeus that evening and again Wednesday and advises him to step down.

Wednesday, November 7: Clapper informs White House National Security Council official that Petraeus may resign and President Barack Obama should be informed. The president is told about it later that day.

Thursday, November 8: At 11 a.m. a Petraeus meeting with foreign dignitaries scheduled for 2:30 p.m. is canceled and his visitors are informed he has to go to the White House to meet with Obama. Petraeus meets with Obama at the White House and offers his resignation, explaining the circumstances behind it. Obama did not immediately accept the resignation.

Friday, November 9 – Obama calls Petraeus and accepts his resignation.

There have been some questions raised about the timing of Petraeus’s resignation, but this timeline seems reasonable. The FBI and Attorney General Eric Holder knew about the affair as early as late summer, according to the Wall Street Journal, but there’s no indication they believed there was a security breach at that point. They may not have informed other intelligence officials or the president about it over the summer because they thought they had discovered an affair, and nothing more.

There is also no evidence Petraeus was pushed out because of his role in the Benghazi response. The fact that he resigned right after the election and right before another closed-door Benghazi hearing is interesting, to say the least, but it could be just that — a coincidence. There is no need for conspiracy theories in this case.

That still doesn’t mean journalists shouldn’t question the administration’s account, particularly why Congress and the director of national intelligence weren’t informed of the investigation by the FBI when classified information was discovered on Paula Broadwell’s computer. There are also questions about the FBI whistle-blower who tipped off House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in October — what was this person’s motivation, and what was he concerned about? But from what we know so far, it doesn’t sound like there is anything sinister going on here.

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Conservatism in the Wake of Defeat

“Politics have taken an orientation not favourable to Papa.” So wrote Clementine Churchill to her son Randolph in 1930. That’s a sentiment some of us who are conservatives today understand.

The Churchill example is apposite to our time. As Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert points out, in 1928 Churchill was at the height of his career. But a year later, Conservatives were defeated — and when a National Government was formed in 1931, Churchill was not asked to join it. The years 1930-1931 “marked the lowest point of Churchill’s personal and political fortunes,” according to Gilbert. The man who would later become prime minister referred to that period in Britain as “anxious and dubious times.” The tide was running strongly against his ideas — on India, on trade, and on the rearmament of Germany. He even confided to his wife that if Neville Chamberlain were made leader of the Conservative Party, he would “clear out of politics.” 

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“Politics have taken an orientation not favourable to Papa.” So wrote Clementine Churchill to her son Randolph in 1930. That’s a sentiment some of us who are conservatives today understand.

The Churchill example is apposite to our time. As Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert points out, in 1928 Churchill was at the height of his career. But a year later, Conservatives were defeated — and when a National Government was formed in 1931, Churchill was not asked to join it. The years 1930-1931 “marked the lowest point of Churchill’s personal and political fortunes,” according to Gilbert. The man who would later become prime minister referred to that period in Britain as “anxious and dubious times.” The tide was running strongly against his ideas — on India, on trade, and on the rearmament of Germany. He even confided to his wife that if Neville Chamberlain were made leader of the Conservative Party, he would “clear out of politics.” 

If the premiership was out of his reach, as he believed it was, “I should quit the dreary field for pastures new.”

But of course Churchill couldn’t do such a thing, because there were too many causes in which be believed. As Gilbert puts it:

As long as he was fighting a cause, … [Churchill] was not afraid of anything, ‘nor’, he added, ‘do I weary as the struggle proceeds’. The Party machine, [Stanley] Baldwin, public office: all these, he said, were ‘mere irrelevancies’. Policy alone was what counted: ‘win there, win everywhere’.

Fast forward to the here and now. Based on my conversations, e-mails, and some public commentary, many conservatives are despondent. “The shock of this [Romney] loss is overwhelming,” one person e-mailed to me last night.

It would be silly to deny that in some important respects, the tide is running against our ideas. And I’m all for using this period to reassess where the nation stands and what it means for conservatism. Some adjustments and refinements are clearly needed; the questions are which ones and how can they be made in a way that remains true to conservative principles. 

The impulse for most of us is to argue after the election for exactly what we were arguing prior to the election. Perhaps a better way to approach things is to step back a bit and consider the challenges America faces today, which in some respects are quite different than what we faced in, say, 1980. What do conservatives have to say about wage stagnation, income inequality, poverty and social mobility, crony capitalism, educational mediocrity, family breakdown, and reforming our entitlement system and tax code? Has conservatism become adamantine on certain issues (Bill Kristol suggests conservatives should agree to increasing taxes on the wealthy, for example)? How much of our problem is tone v. substance?  

I for one believe we should use this moment to encourage fresh thinking and not vilify those who engage in it. At the same time, it seems to me that trying to fully understand the consequences of this election and what it means for conservatism 72 hours or so after the vote is probably unwise. We have plenty of time to sort through the exit polling data and think things through in a prudent manner. And because politics has taken an orientation not favorable to us now doesn’t mean that is a permanent condition. As Gilbert reminds us, “Central to Churchill’s belief was the conviction that the public would respond fairly to a good case, well presented.” Nor should we grow weary as the struggle proceeds. Because there are still things worth fighting for. 

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WaPo: Broadwell Sent Threatening Emails

The Washington Post reports that the FBI investigation stumbled across David Petraeus’s affair while investigating threatening emails allegedly sent by his mistress Paula Broadwell — some of them from Petraeus’s own email account:

The collapse of the impressive career of CIA Director David H. Petraeus was triggered when a woman with whom he was having an affair sent threatening e-mails to another woman close to him, according to three senior law enforcement officials with know­ledge of the episode.

The recipient of the e-mails was so frightened that she went to the FBI for protection and help tracking down the sender, according to the officials. The FBI investigation traced the threats to Paula Broadwell, a former military officer and a Petraeus biographer, and uncovered explicit e-mails between Broadwell and Petraeus, the officials said. …

The law enforcement officials did not provide an exact timeline for the investigation, but they said the inquiry started several months ago. They said investigators thought they were dealing with a routine harassment case until some communications were traced to a private e-mail account belonging to Petraeus.

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The Washington Post reports that the FBI investigation stumbled across David Petraeus’s affair while investigating threatening emails allegedly sent by his mistress Paula Broadwell — some of them from Petraeus’s own email account:

The collapse of the impressive career of CIA Director David H. Petraeus was triggered when a woman with whom he was having an affair sent threatening e-mails to another woman close to him, according to three senior law enforcement officials with know­ledge of the episode.

The recipient of the e-mails was so frightened that she went to the FBI for protection and help tracking down the sender, according to the officials. The FBI investigation traced the threats to Paula Broadwell, a former military officer and a Petraeus biographer, and uncovered explicit e-mails between Broadwell and Petraeus, the officials said. …

The law enforcement officials did not provide an exact timeline for the investigation, but they said the inquiry started several months ago. They said investigators thought they were dealing with a routine harassment case until some communications were traced to a private e-mail account belonging to Petraeus.

Broadwell wasn’t charged for accessing Petraeus’s email account, and WSJ reports that the two my have shared access to it:

Over the course of the probe, prosecutors realized there wasn’t a cyber-breach. Instead, Mr. Petraeus had shared some access to the account with Ms. Broadwell, possibly to exchange messages, these people said. 

A shared email account would be one way to communicate without actually sending the messages (you could just save them as drafts) and leaving a digital trail that could be intercepted by spouses, the FBI, or other intel agencies.

We don’t know all the details, but sending anonymous email threats sounds like pretty erratic behavior. Perhaps that was a bigger concern to the FBI than the affair itself. The shared account reportedly included a trove of personal messages, which could have caused a lot of problems in the hands of someone in an emotionally unsteady state.

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that classified information was also found on Broadwell’s computer (Petraeus said he was not the source), and Arutz Sheva notes that she discussed potentially secret details about the Benghazi attack during a recent speech.

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For Israel’s Critics, Reality Intervenes Again

Ever since Israel ceased to be dominated by one political party, when Menachem Begin’s Likud finally won the 1977 national elections, there has been a striking and ever-increasing disconnect between the Israeli left and the Western, especially American, left. The Israeli leftist establishment was not innocent this disconnect; they in fact planted the seeds. As the Columbia Journalism Review recently noted in an article about Israel and American media bias, Israeli establishment figures like Abba Eban were very close with the New York Times and other American outlets, and after Begin’s victory they worked assiduously to sabotage Israeli relations with American media figures.

The American press bought it hook, line and sinker, and their coverage reflected it: the Likud was not to be taken seriously as an electoral force, for they would disappear soon, but they were to be taken seriously as a threat to the moral order, for they were dangerous warmongers who could not be trusted. Not much has changed in the way the Israeli right has been portrayed in the press, but this behavior has poisoned relations with Israel in part because the Israeli electorate has now overwhelmingly embraced Likudnik politics. So it is no longer just the Likud portrayed as racists and fascists; it is the Israeli Jewish population on the whole.

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Ever since Israel ceased to be dominated by one political party, when Menachem Begin’s Likud finally won the 1977 national elections, there has been a striking and ever-increasing disconnect between the Israeli left and the Western, especially American, left. The Israeli leftist establishment was not innocent this disconnect; they in fact planted the seeds. As the Columbia Journalism Review recently noted in an article about Israel and American media bias, Israeli establishment figures like Abba Eban were very close with the New York Times and other American outlets, and after Begin’s victory they worked assiduously to sabotage Israeli relations with American media figures.

The American press bought it hook, line and sinker, and their coverage reflected it: the Likud was not to be taken seriously as an electoral force, for they would disappear soon, but they were to be taken seriously as a threat to the moral order, for they were dangerous warmongers who could not be trusted. Not much has changed in the way the Israeli right has been portrayed in the press, but this behavior has poisoned relations with Israel in part because the Israeli electorate has now overwhelmingly embraced Likudnik politics. So it is no longer just the Likud portrayed as racists and fascists; it is the Israeli Jewish population on the whole.

Of course, this caricature of the Likud in particular, and Israelis in general, is nothing more than a fantasy. But this fantasy world is the one inhabited by the Western press, and Israeli publications viewed with suspicion in Israel but eagerly absorbed in America and Europe, like Haaretz. And we see the effects of this delusion every day: Should Ehud Olmert, the failed ex-prime minister just convicted of breach of trust while premier, return to lead the Israeli opposition to Benjamin Netanyahu? Yes, say the fantasists. Are you crazy? say those with memories longer than a week or so.

And it was only a matter of time before the American media backers of Olmert were blindsided by reality, and the folly of their choices; as Sheldon Adelson wrote here on Friday, Olmert has now taken to spreading conspiracy theories of powerful Jews like Adelson manipulating world leaders to exert control in the name of right-wing Zionism. Olmert’s behavior is: 1.) Gobsmackingly offensive to both countries; 2.) The behavior of a man who should clearly not be in charge of the Jewish state; and 3.) Entirely predictable.

Do Olmert’s backers in Washington- and New York-based publications think it wise for an aspiring Israeli prime minister to target leading Jewish philanthropic actors for character assassination in the name of leftist party politics?

The conversation around Netanyahu is perhaps less reality-based than even the talk about Olmert. There is a visceral hatred of Netanyahu in the press that colors and distorts a very observable reality. In 2010, after Peter Beinart had written his New York Review of Books attack on the “American Jewish establishment,” the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg pitched him a series of questions challenging some of Beinart’s assertions in the piece. The Israeli historian Yaacov Lozowick wrote a blog post after reading the third round of the interview, during which Beinart flatly asserted that Netanyahu came to power in 1996 explicitly opposing the Oslo process, and this curious fact went unchallenged by Goldberg. Lozowick wondered what country the two could have been talking about, because it sure wasn’t Israel. He explained that, leading up the elections, Likud held a series of meetings about its approach to Oslo that culminated in Netanyahu offering “an unequivocal acceptance of the fundamental structure of the Oslo process,” in Lozowick’s formulation. He continued:

When we went to the polls in May 1996, there were parties that were campaigning on platforms of rejection of the Oslo process, but the Likud wasn’t one of them. Since Netanyahu won the elections by less than one percent of the vote, it’s safe to say that had he not repositioned his party, he’d have lost.

Once he won he never (never: not once) rejected the Oslo process. He slowed it down, he added conditions, he did all sorts of things. But the leader of Likud was elected in 1996 on a platform that explicitly accepted the principle of partition.

14 years later – that’s all – a noticeable voice in American Jewry can glibly invent a story about Israel that contradicts the facts, and no-one calls him out on it because no-one knows any better, or if they do they join him in preferring to imagine a fantasy world rather than face reality.

Lozowick added that he did not vote for Netanyahu in any elections preceding that blog post, so he was not speaking as Likud’s defender or a partisan voice. He just didn’t understand the utter lack of interest in the truth.

If you believe what Beinart said about Netanyahu in 1996, Netanyahu’s entire career has been misconstrued and misrepresented, nearly from the beginning. But it surely goes back further, as CJR notes—it goes back to Likud’s first victory. From the moment Likud became a player in world politics by winning in 1977, it has been falsely presented to readers of the American press. And in the media’s desperation to stop Netanyahu, they have now turned to whitewashing the career of Olmert—a plan that was ill conceived and is already backfiring. Reality can only be kept at bay for so long.

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