In the wake of the murder of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya on 9/11/12, the administration made up for its deceptive accounts of the incident with bloodthirsty avowals that the persons responsible would be hunted to the ends of the earth. Nearly four months later, those promises remain unfulfilled. That stark reality was brought home today by the news that the only known suspect who had been arrested in connection with the terror attack that took the life of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans is no longer in custody. The suspect, a Tunisian named Ali Harzi, was being held in Tunis but was let go even though he is reportedly still considered a suspect by the United States.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland attempted to deflect questions about the investigation today by saying that it was the FBI’s responsibility. But that lame response goes right to the heart of the government’s ongoing failure in this case. The administration has consistently failed to treat Benghazi the way we ought to expect the U.S. government to respond to what was a direct terror attack on a symbol of American sovereignty. Instead of a full-court press from security and intelligence services, it was handed off to an FBI that seems to still be lost in Libya. From the first days during which we were told a fairy tale about the murders being a case of film criticism run amok to the present when questions about an investigation that shows no sign of life are stonewalled, Benghazi remains a fiasco for which there has no been accountability.
The Washington Post published a whip count this morning of where senators on the Armed Services Committee stand on Chuck Hagel’s nomination. By the afternoon, Bill Nelson had also joined the “yeas”–a key victory for Hagel supporters, since Nelson was seen as a Democrat who could have crossed over. That’s seven likely “no” votes and six likely “yes” votes so far.
Here the latest breakdown (the rest are undecided):
Democrats had good reason to celebrate President Obama’s victory in the fiscal cliff. The House Republican caucus wasn’t just routed; it was nearly torn apart, leading some observers as well as many of the president’s supporters to suppose that this was just the first of a series of triumphs in which their liberal agenda will be imposed on the nation as the GOP fades into insignificance. Perhaps they actually think the president can get away with making the deficit or the debt ceiling go away by merely minting a trillion-dollar platinum coin. But like other triumphalist predictions from both parties in the last decade, such expectations are bound to lead to severe disappointment. Republicans remain in control of the House and any idea that the president can impose further tax increases on the nation while failing to address the need for entitlement reform that is necessary to solve our long-term fiscal crisis is pure fantasy. That’s why so many on the left are pushing hard right now to persuade Republicans to give up the one clear piece of leverage they have over the budget process: the need to raise the debt ceiling within the next two months.
As Pete Wehner wrote last week, using that upcoming deadline to force the president to give in on spending cuts is a perilous enterprise. Past attempts to hold Democrats’ feet to the fire on the budget in this manner have failed miserably. Nevertheless, as I pointed out on Sunday, unilateral surrender on the debt ceiling is not an option for Speaker John Boehner. They must fight not only for the sake of the cause of fiscal sanity but to avoid a meltdown of their caucus that will strengthen the ability of Democrats to get their way on taxes and spending and lessening their own chances of a comeback in 2014. The question is how to do so without being seen as irresponsible hostage takers who don’t care about the damage a government shutdown would have on the economy. A number of ideas are floating around, but Dick Morris floated one yesterday in the Hill that is worth considering: phasing in limited debt ceiling hikes that would avoid a government shutdown but would not be enough to allow the president to avoid having to negotiate on entitlement reform and other spending issues.
Assuming John Brennan is confirmed to lead the CIA, the next question is who will replace him as President Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor? If we’re just reading tea leaves, it sounds like long-time counterterrorism aide and Department of Homeland Security official Rand Beers may be a possibility.
The DHS is touting in a press release that Beers just led a delegation to Sana’a, Yemen yesterday. It’s interesting timing, considering Yemen has been Brennan’s major focus since 2009:
How low can they go? After leaks suggesting that the White House is decreasing projected troop levels in Afghanistan post-2014 to as low as 3,000, now the deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes has suggested that the zero option is a very real possibility.
This might be just a bargaining ploy to put pressure on Hamid Karzai as negotiations over a Status of Forces Agreement heat up, but it could also be where the White House ends up. That was certainly the outcome in Iraq. There, as in Afghanistan, the view of most experts and military officers was that we needed a substantial residual force but after negotiations hit a snag, President Obama pulled all the troops out. He may well do so again in Afghanistan—an option that Chuck Hagel and John Kerry would be more likely to support than their predecessors at Defense and State.
All throughout the Syrian civil war, analysts and human rights groups were at pains to point out the rising death toll and falling share of media and public attention. But underlying the legitimate frustration was a perhaps forced belief–straining under the weight of reality–in the conventional wisdom: the house of Assad will fall; the victims’ deaths will not be in vain.
But the standard rule of conventional wisdom–that it may be the former but is rarely the latter–applies here as well. As Emile Hokayem writes in the wake of Bashar al-Assad’s recent defiant speech:
Presenting his nominee for secretary of defense yesterday, President Obama began with a self-congratulatory assessment of his own national security record, asserting he had protected American security “by ending the war in Iraq, and beginning a transition in Afghanistan.”
As Bret Stephens notes in the Wall Street Journal, it was President Bush whose surge in Iraq (against the advice of Senators Obama, Kerry and Hagel) ended that war, and whose status of forces agreement with Iraq could have led to a long-term U.S. security relationship, had President Obama not fumbled it. In Afghanistan, Obama approved a 3/4 surge, announcing it with a speech setting a time limit and asserting the country he really wanted to build was his own. He will “transition” next year without a victory. In that regard, it may be useful to recall President Bush’s December 1, 2008 interview with Charlie Gibson:
I rarely agree with New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, but he spoke the truth when he wrote yesterday on his blog at the paper that the notion of President Obama appointing him to the post of treasury secretary was a “bad idea.” The economy is in bad enough shape as it is without exacerbating our problems by putting a doctrinaire liberal like Krugman in the position once held by Alexander Hamilton. But what is interesting about the question of Krugman’s future plans is not so much the negligible merits of the proposal but the idea that anyone other than the columnist and a few of his devoted readers who signed a petition to the effect ever considered it for a moment.
It is to be expected that those who have attained the lofty status held by the Times’s op-ed gods live in something like a bubble. That is especially true for those columnists who regularly appeal to the ideological prejudices of the paper’s core readership, as Krugman does. It is to be imagined that some of (as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto likes to call him) the former Enron advisor’s fans really do believe he should be running the country’s finances. But it takes a special kind of egotism, if not hubris, for a writer—even one with a position at Princeton University and a Nobel Prize—to take such babblings seriously enough to write a straight-faced post about why they wouldn’t deign to sit at the cabinet table with the president of the United States. The result is a self-parody that provides a cringe-inducing explanation about why he thinks he is too important to accept the position. Even Krugman’s greatest admirers had to be left scratching their heads.
Yesterday Chuck Hagel told the Lincoln Journal Star there wasn’t “one shred of evidence that [he is] anti-Israeli.” President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense claimed the criticism of his record and statements on both Israel and Iran is nothing but “falsehoods and distortions.” That’s a message that is being taken up with gusto by Hagel’s defenders on the news talks shows this week. In particular, some of those who are fighting for his confirmation are taking the position that not only is Hagel pro-Israel but that those who have criticized his positions are in fact a noisy, extremist minority that doesn’t speak for American interests or those of American Jewry, or even the people of Israel.
This is a nasty piece of business that was best exemplified by journalist Carl Bernstein who, during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program today, denounced Hagel’s critics as “Likud” supporters that didn’t speak for American Jews like him. Bernstein’s diatribe in which he claimed the prime minister of Israel also didn’t speak for Israel was then praised effusively by fellow guest Zbigniew Brzezinski, whose own reputation as a bitter critic of Israel seemingly gave him the authority to decide what is and isn’t pro-Israel (something that could perhaps only happen on a show hosted by his daughter). Bernstein—a typical example of a public figure who only cites his Jewish heritage so as to enable him to bash supporters of Israel—has as little authority to speak on the subject as Brzezinski, but his comments go to the heart of the effort to push back at criticism of Hagel. The point here isn’t really about false accusations, since Hagel’s opposition to Iran sanctions or the use of force to stop its nuclear program as well as his boasts about standing up to the “Jewish lobby” are a matter of record. The issue here is one more attempt by Israel’s critics to change the terms of discussion on the issue, in order to make those who are outside the national consensus on the U.S.-Israel alliance appear to be mainstream thinkers while those who support it are castigated as extremists.
Back in 2008, John Brennan was passed over for the CIA director role largely because of his record on enhanced interrogation. After his nomination to the post yesterday, the anti-war movement is trying to make it an issue again. The ACLU has released a statement calling on the Senate to delay his confirmation and investigate his involvement with the Bush administration’s enhanced interrogation techniques:
President Obama this afternoon nominated his counterterrorism advisor John Brennan to become the next director of the CIA. Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, had the following concerns with the president’s choice to fill this critical national security post.
Despite media reports that Brennan continually raised civil liberties concerns within the White House, noted Murphy, the Senate should not move forward with his nomination until it assesses the legality of his actions in past leadership positions in the CIA during the early years of the George W. Bush administration and in his current role in the ongoing targeted killing program.
Who would’ve thought the scientific community could be so hostile to dissent? Just like the reaction to attempts to debate climate change, the environmental community is up in arms over one scientist’s about-face on the dangers of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in farming. Huffington Post reports on the controversy:
Last Thursday, Lynas gave a speech at a conference on farming at Oxford University. The response was immediate and overwhelming. Bloggers blogged, tweeters tweeted and Lynas’s own website crashed under the onslaught.
Had Lynas revealed some dramatic discovery, or unveiled a path-breaking new campaign? No, he simply stated, in measured and scientific terms, that he had changed his mind.
Lynas had been a leading voice against using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in farming. He was also sounding the alarm over climate change, and had immersed himself in climate science. When he belatedly did the same with GMOs, he found that a careful reading of the scientific evidence revealed that his previous opposition was untenable. At Oxford Lynas said he was, in a word, sorry.
Our valued contributor and friend David Gelernter, who is also a painter, has a splendid show up at the Yeshiva University Museum on 16th Street in Manhattan, which everyone in the New York area should go and see. This week, on Thursday, January 10, Gelernter will be delivering a characteristically provocative and original talk at 7 p.m. The talk is described thus:
Christian art, encompassing the architectural masterpieces of the Gothic era and much of the greatest painting and sculpture from the Renaissance through modern times, was molded in part by the genius of classical Greece, but ultimately owes its greatest debt, according to David Gelernter, to Judaism and the Jewish artistic sense. Join Gelernter for a discussion of the roots and nature of this debt, as well as of the duty of Jewish art and artists to help create worldwide recognition of the foundational role of Judaism in Western civilization. The program will be moderated by Jacob Wisse, director of the YU Museum.
David’s show, Sh’ma, can be viewed there from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. before his talk. Tickets are $15. For reservations, go to www.smarttix.com or call 212‐868‐4444. The museum is located at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street.
In December, I wrote about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempts to find a big-name successor, which focused on Hillary Clinton. Clinton is at the very least keeping her options open for a possible 2016 presidential run, which would have to start far too early to take on a responsibility like running New York City. But according to a report in the New York Times today, Bloomberg has been a one-man search committee, floating not just Clinton but also Ed Rendell, Mortimer Zuckerman, Chuck Schumer, and former Bloomberg deputy Edward Skyler.
That’s quite a list, and says much about how Bloomberg views the job. New York City is the media capital of the world, the front lines of 21st century homeland security, and a powerhouse when it comes to urban policymaking, especially with regard to fighting crime. There’s a reason that, as Rendell put it to the Times, he often hears it described as “the second most difficult job in the country.” There’s no doubt Bloomberg believes this–after all, he’s been in office three terms and still hasn’t gotten it right. But Bloomberg’s opinion of what it takes to run the city diverges both with precedent and the judgment of New Yorkers.