Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 13, 2013

Iran’s Mixed Signals Designed to Mislead

Is Iran backing down on its plans to build a nuclear weapon? Some Western observers may be encouraged to think so after reading reports saying that Iran has decided to resume negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency about monitoring its program. Iran has been stonewalling the United Nations Agency for months and has prevented inspectors from visiting the Parchin site where military nuclear research has been conducted. As the New York Times reports, an Iranian news agency has also claimed that new and more sophisticated devices for enriching uranium being installed at the Natanz site have been designed so as to ensure that the product created by the process won’t be useable for weapons.

If true, both developments could be considered hopeful signs that Iran is responding to the pressure created by international economic sanctions in a way that may lead to a solution to the nuclear impasse. Even if that is a bit optimistic even for those who are still convinced that a window of diplomacy exists to end the dispute, it could at least mean that Iran is desirous of slowing down the pace of escalation of the conflict leaving more time for a deal to be worked out.

But after a decade of Iranian deceptions and diplomatic dead ends, taking this information at face value is the sort of mistake that Tehran has come to count on the West making on a regular basis. The one thing we know for sure is that Iran is installing more centrifuges and that the commitment of the Islamist regime to achieving its nuclear goal is undiminished. Moreover, the refusal of the Iranians to engage in direct talks with the United States shows that the only kind of diplomatic process it wants is a multilateral one with weak-willed Europeans like EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton that will let it get away with more delay. That’s why these mixed signals are far more likely to be just the latest in a long series of prevarications designed to convince the West that it has more time than actually exists before it is too late to do anything about the Iranian nuclear threat than a genuine breakthrough.

Read More

Is Iran backing down on its plans to build a nuclear weapon? Some Western observers may be encouraged to think so after reading reports saying that Iran has decided to resume negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency about monitoring its program. Iran has been stonewalling the United Nations Agency for months and has prevented inspectors from visiting the Parchin site where military nuclear research has been conducted. As the New York Times reports, an Iranian news agency has also claimed that new and more sophisticated devices for enriching uranium being installed at the Natanz site have been designed so as to ensure that the product created by the process won’t be useable for weapons.

If true, both developments could be considered hopeful signs that Iran is responding to the pressure created by international economic sanctions in a way that may lead to a solution to the nuclear impasse. Even if that is a bit optimistic even for those who are still convinced that a window of diplomacy exists to end the dispute, it could at least mean that Iran is desirous of slowing down the pace of escalation of the conflict leaving more time for a deal to be worked out.

But after a decade of Iranian deceptions and diplomatic dead ends, taking this information at face value is the sort of mistake that Tehran has come to count on the West making on a regular basis. The one thing we know for sure is that Iran is installing more centrifuges and that the commitment of the Islamist regime to achieving its nuclear goal is undiminished. Moreover, the refusal of the Iranians to engage in direct talks with the United States shows that the only kind of diplomatic process it wants is a multilateral one with weak-willed Europeans like EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton that will let it get away with more delay. That’s why these mixed signals are far more likely to be just the latest in a long series of prevarications designed to convince the West that it has more time than actually exists before it is too late to do anything about the Iranian nuclear threat than a genuine breakthrough.

The claim that Iran is pulling back on its enrichment activities and diverting more of its fuel to research reactors may or not be true. If that is the case, then this would justify the continued patience of the Obama administration which has refused to set red lines about the nuclear threat that might give teeth to the threats it has issued about leaving nothing off the table when it comes to stopping the Iranians. A longer timeline before the Iranian stockpile of weapons-grade nuclear material would allow the P5+1 diplomatic process to be restarted and conducted with the sort of patience that the Europeans have always demonstrated when it comes to dealing with the Iranians.

But the very fact that this is exactly what Iran has always wanted the West to believe calls for some skepticism about the fuel conversion story. Without full access to all the relevant nuclear sites in Iran, it is impossible to be sure whether promises about enrichment are real or not. But even if some limited inspections are resumed with the IAEA, that can’t be considered a guarantee of progress since the Iranians have already shown their desire to conceal their actions as well as to deceive the inspectors.

Whether or not the enrichment process has slowed, there is no denying that the Iranians are still building their uranium stockpile and that sooner or later — with the emphasis on sooner — they will have enough to build a bomb.

In his State of the Union speech last night, President Obama devoted but one line to the issue that could prove to be the most fateful in his second term:

The leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.

These are fine words but the problem is that everything this administration and its European partners have done up until now has convinced the Iranians that they have nothing to worry about. The foolish attempts at engagement and the watered down sanctions that were belated implemented have done little to impress upon the ayatollahs the stern resolution that the president claims exists to halt their nuclear gambit. If the president buys into these latest mixed that may be exactly the mistake the Iranians are hoping for. 

Read Less

Lapid Gives the Lie to Election Peace Spin

Liberal critics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were quick to seize on the results of the recent Knesset election that the Israeli people had rendered a negative verdict on his stands on the peace process. Left-wing parties that blamed Netanyahu and his government may have fared poorly in the vote and even the Labor Party abandoned a peace platform in the hope of winning back centrist voters who have understandably given up on the Palestinians. Yet that hasn’t stopped some talking heads from jumping to the conclusion that Netanyahu’s showing was proof that Israelis were actually voting for a renewed emphasis on negotiations and would approve of foreign pressure on their government to make concessions.

But the latest statement by the man whose party was the big winner in the election makes it clear that any idea that Israelis cast their ballot on other issues. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party was the runner up in the vote as the former journalists new faction came out of nowhere to win 19 Knesset seats and made him the lynchpin of any future coalition headed by Netanyahu. Yet despite the hopes of some Americans that he represents a different point of view about peace, yesterday he told a gathering of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations that his views were very much in line with those of Netanyahu. As Haaretz reports, the only criticism about Israel’s negotiating stance that he uttered was of Netanyahu’s predecessor for offering to give away too much:

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid opposes any division of Jerusalem as part of negotiations with the Palestinians, he said on Tuesday evening.

“Ehud Olmert’s government went too far” in its talks with the Palestinians, Lapid said. “It was wrong when it began discussing issues that bore waiting on, such as Jerusalem and the right of return. I oppose any withdrawal in Jerusalem, which isn’t only a place, but an idea as well.”

Read More

Liberal critics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were quick to seize on the results of the recent Knesset election that the Israeli people had rendered a negative verdict on his stands on the peace process. Left-wing parties that blamed Netanyahu and his government may have fared poorly in the vote and even the Labor Party abandoned a peace platform in the hope of winning back centrist voters who have understandably given up on the Palestinians. Yet that hasn’t stopped some talking heads from jumping to the conclusion that Netanyahu’s showing was proof that Israelis were actually voting for a renewed emphasis on negotiations and would approve of foreign pressure on their government to make concessions.

But the latest statement by the man whose party was the big winner in the election makes it clear that any idea that Israelis cast their ballot on other issues. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party was the runner up in the vote as the former journalists new faction came out of nowhere to win 19 Knesset seats and made him the lynchpin of any future coalition headed by Netanyahu. Yet despite the hopes of some Americans that he represents a different point of view about peace, yesterday he told a gathering of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations that his views were very much in line with those of Netanyahu. As Haaretz reports, the only criticism about Israel’s negotiating stance that he uttered was of Netanyahu’s predecessor for offering to give away too much:

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid opposes any division of Jerusalem as part of negotiations with the Palestinians, he said on Tuesday evening.

“Ehud Olmert’s government went too far” in its talks with the Palestinians, Lapid said. “It was wrong when it began discussing issues that bore waiting on, such as Jerusalem and the right of return. I oppose any withdrawal in Jerusalem, which isn’t only a place, but an idea as well.”

This places Lapid very much on the same page with Netanyahu and in clear opposition to the terms that many American liberals and President Obama has endorsed. In 2008, Olmert offered Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas an independent Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a large share of Jerusalem. Abbas fled the talks rather than formally turn the deal down. But Lapid, along with most Israelis, believes Jerusalem shouldn’t be divided.

President Obama has treated Netanyahu’s decision to build homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem as an insult to the U.S. but Lapid agrees with the prime minister that cutting up the country’s capital is unthinkable. Since, like Lapid, Netanyahu has reaffirmed his support for a two state solution, there likely will be very little tension on peace issues between the two men in the next government.

Lapid’s rise reflects the way the overwhelming majority of Israelis have moved on from their prior obsession with the peace process. Since the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected peace and used Israeli withdrawals to create terror enclaves like Gaza, there is a consensus that until a sea change occurs among Arabs, more such concessions are unthinkable. Lapid and Netanyahu may have their disagreements over the economic issues that helped propel Yesh Atid to second place in the vote. But they appear willing to work together along with Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party (which is to the right of the Likud on peace issues) to craft new legislation that would end the ultra-Orthodox draft exemptions that anger the rest of the country.

The next Israeli government may not be as stable as its predecessor due to the outsized personalities and egos of its predecessor. But as Lapid’s statement indicates, any American expectation that Yesh Atid will change Netanyahu’s negotiating position has no basis in fact.

Read Less

re: Obama Emboldened Taliban in SOTU

I fully agree with Max Boot: Obama emboldened the Taliban with his timeline for withdrawal. Such statements may run afoul of the White House spin machine, but it’s important therefore to see how Afghans perceive the speech.  From Kabul’s 1TV in Dari today with a translation from the Open Source Center, here’s former deputy interior minister General Abdol Hadi Khaled:

Insurgency has now spread to almost all parts of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is very insecure. Threats to the security of Afghanistan and the region have increased by a long way. There is a very high level of interference by the neighbors, especially of Pakistan and Iran, in Afghanistan’s affairs. Their withdrawal at this time is a decision they have taken and their decision is not their reaction to the realities on the ground in Afghanistan and the region.

Afghans have never lost a war: They just defect to the winning side. The Taliban may have steamrolled through Afghanistan in the mid-1990s. But they relied more on momentum and defection of their enemies than on their own military prowess. This time, the civil war will likely be worse: There are more power centers, and both Iran and Pakistan are emboldened. Rather than aim for victory, it seems Obama is determined to bring defeat.

Read More

I fully agree with Max Boot: Obama emboldened the Taliban with his timeline for withdrawal. Such statements may run afoul of the White House spin machine, but it’s important therefore to see how Afghans perceive the speech.  From Kabul’s 1TV in Dari today with a translation from the Open Source Center, here’s former deputy interior minister General Abdol Hadi Khaled:

Insurgency has now spread to almost all parts of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is very insecure. Threats to the security of Afghanistan and the region have increased by a long way. There is a very high level of interference by the neighbors, especially of Pakistan and Iran, in Afghanistan’s affairs. Their withdrawal at this time is a decision they have taken and their decision is not their reaction to the realities on the ground in Afghanistan and the region.

Afghans have never lost a war: They just defect to the winning side. The Taliban may have steamrolled through Afghanistan in the mid-1990s. But they relied more on momentum and defection of their enemies than on their own military prowess. This time, the civil war will likely be worse: There are more power centers, and both Iran and Pakistan are emboldened. Rather than aim for victory, it seems Obama is determined to bring defeat.

What’s the alternative? If we strip away the mission creep and the ill-considered efforts at development, we are in Afghanistan for a simple reason: Before 9/11, a vacuum developed in the country and terrorists took root. From their Afghan safe-haven, the reached out and attacked us. The goal of the U.S. mission was to fill that vacuum, creating a government that could control the territory of Afghanistan and security forces capable of monopolizing the use of force.

Former U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad’s desire to strongly centralize the government, however, traded short-term dividends for long-term difficulties for which we are now paying the price as the Karzai government does more harm than good as it chafes provincial leaders. Still, Afghan security forces are a formidable counter-insurgency force–and some units may actually stay together after the U.S. departure–albeit their loyalty to the central government could be more fleeting. Under a best-case scenario, however, the Afghan security forces are challenged tremendously by logistics, triage, and intelligence, without which they will be unable to counter the Pakistan-backed Taliban effectively.  More time training the security forces would help, and the U.S. government could mitigate that expense by withdrawing the ineffective USAID mission and any diplomat whose job does not require them to leave their compound’s perimeter.  But, absent that, the discussion Obama should have is not simply whether to withdraw troops “on schedule” but rather what alternate strategy he has in place to fill the vacuum their withdrawal risks creating.

It is that vacuum that is deadly. It is, after all, the reason why the United States had to become involved in Afghanistan initially.

Read Less

Is a Hagel Filibuster Still Possible?

Just when it seemed as if Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense seemed almost certain, a crucial Senate Republican may be changing his mind about supporting a filibuster of the embattled nominee. As Politico reports, Senator John McCain is now leaving open the possibility of joining a filibuster of Hagel if the White House continues to refuse to release information about the president’s “actions and orders” on the night of the 9/11 terrorist attack in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of four Americans.

By joining his friend and colleague Lindsey Graham in demanding more data about Benghazi as the price for removing a hold on Hagel, McCain is moving away from his previous stand that a filibuster of a nominee for a senior Cabinet post is inappropriate. With two Republicans saying they would vote to confirm Hagel and several others agreeing with McCain that an up or down vote should not be denied their former colleague, it had looked as if the president’s choice was certain to be confirmed this week. But by adding his weight to the request for more about Benghazi, McCain may have, at least temporarily, changed the dynamic of the Hagel battle. Since the administration has resisted Senate demands to learn more about the president’s involvement in the Libya fiasco, this could mean that Hagel will have to wait until at least after the President’s Day holiday to get his vote.

Read More

Just when it seemed as if Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense seemed almost certain, a crucial Senate Republican may be changing his mind about supporting a filibuster of the embattled nominee. As Politico reports, Senator John McCain is now leaving open the possibility of joining a filibuster of Hagel if the White House continues to refuse to release information about the president’s “actions and orders” on the night of the 9/11 terrorist attack in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of four Americans.

By joining his friend and colleague Lindsey Graham in demanding more data about Benghazi as the price for removing a hold on Hagel, McCain is moving away from his previous stand that a filibuster of a nominee for a senior Cabinet post is inappropriate. With two Republicans saying they would vote to confirm Hagel and several others agreeing with McCain that an up or down vote should not be denied their former colleague, it had looked as if the president’s choice was certain to be confirmed this week. But by adding his weight to the request for more about Benghazi, McCain may have, at least temporarily, changed the dynamic of the Hagel battle. Since the administration has resisted Senate demands to learn more about the president’s involvement in the Libya fiasco, this could mean that Hagel will have to wait until at least after the President’s Day holiday to get his vote.

On the surface, Benghazi has little if anything to do with Hagel’s questionable fitness for high office. Many in the Senate have justified qualms about Hagel’s views about Israel, Iran, terrorism and defense cuts but McCain has taken the position that escalating the use of the filibuster to encompass cabinet nominations is a step towards all out partisan warfare that he isn’t willing to take. But McCain seems to agree with Graham and other Republicans that it is vital that the truth about Benghazi isn’t swept down the memory hole by the administration and their complacent media cheerleaders. If linking Hagel to that affair is the only way to drag more information out of the White House, then McCain may have concluded that it is the right thing to do.

It may be that a delay won’t convince Democrats to abandon their party line on Hagel. The strict partisan divide in the Senate Defense committee confirmation vote illustrated the willingness of pro-Israel Democrats to swallow even as unsatisfactory and unprepared a candidate as Hagel if the president demanded it of them. But if McCain feels that the Senate is being stiffed by the White House on Benghazi that may convince him to take actions on Hagel that he might otherwise not think about. With McCain joining a filibuster, finding 40 votes to stop the nomination would still be difficult but not as impossible as it seems today.

As I wrote yesterday, such a filibuster entails risks to the Republicans. But his dismal performance at his confirmation hearing and the transparent manner with which he sought to disavow previous controversial positions undermines the rationale that the president deserves his choice at the Pentagon. Hagel may still be on track for confirmation. But if the White House isn’t forthcoming with the information Graham and McCain want, it’s going to be even more difficult than he might have thought.

Read Less

Jack Lew’s Lie and Obama’s ‘Not One Dime’

Today’s Senate hearing on the confirmation of Jack Lew as Treasury Secretary isn’t attracting as much attention as those of Chuck Hagel and John Brennan. Nor is it likely that Republicans will have any more success in derailing his nomination than they did with the president’s national security picks. Nevertheless, the proceedings will afford Republicans plenty of opportunities to skewer both the Obama administration’s economic policies as well as give the nominee a hard time about his time leading a financial institution that got bailed out by the government after the 2008 fiscal meltdown. But the real focus on Lew today ought not to be on the slim chance that he will slip up in a way that will delay his confirmation. Rather, senators and the public should be zeroing in on the ominous similarity between something Lew said under oath in 2010 when he was White House Budget Director and a key point in the president’s State of the Union address last night.

Testifying before the Senate Budget Committee in 2010, Lew pledged that the budget the president had put forward as an alternative to Republican plans “would not add to the debt.” If that sounds familiar this morning, it should. Last night during the SOTU, President Obama presented another laundry list of liberal projects that he said Congress must enact into law. But, he added, no one should worry about the cost since the left-wing wish list of “investments” would add “not a single dime” to the nation’s debt. Unfortunately for the president, a hard look at the facts about Lew’s testimony makes the president’s current pledge look like just another politician’s fib.

Read More

Today’s Senate hearing on the confirmation of Jack Lew as Treasury Secretary isn’t attracting as much attention as those of Chuck Hagel and John Brennan. Nor is it likely that Republicans will have any more success in derailing his nomination than they did with the president’s national security picks. Nevertheless, the proceedings will afford Republicans plenty of opportunities to skewer both the Obama administration’s economic policies as well as give the nominee a hard time about his time leading a financial institution that got bailed out by the government after the 2008 fiscal meltdown. But the real focus on Lew today ought not to be on the slim chance that he will slip up in a way that will delay his confirmation. Rather, senators and the public should be zeroing in on the ominous similarity between something Lew said under oath in 2010 when he was White House Budget Director and a key point in the president’s State of the Union address last night.

Testifying before the Senate Budget Committee in 2010, Lew pledged that the budget the president had put forward as an alternative to Republican plans “would not add to the debt.” If that sounds familiar this morning, it should. Last night during the SOTU, President Obama presented another laundry list of liberal projects that he said Congress must enact into law. But, he added, no one should worry about the cost since the left-wing wish list of “investments” would add “not a single dime” to the nation’s debt. Unfortunately for the president, a hard look at the facts about Lew’s testimony makes the president’s current pledge look like just another politician’s fib.

Senator Jeff Sessions hasn’t let go of his anger about Lew’s 2010 debt promise and has even vowed to attempt to filibuster his nomination because of what he says was an outright lie under oath to Congress. It doesn’t look as if many of his colleagues will join him in that endeavor so Lew’s confirmation isn’t in much doubt. But as he wrote last month in National Review, Sessions is right on target when he points out just how egregious Lew’s lie about the Obama budget and the debt really was. Far from being deficit neutral, the budget proposal that Lew tried to sell to Congress would have added $13 trillion to the national debt by the figures provided by the White House. Many senators, especially Democrats, are probably inclined to give Lew a pass for the fib rather than agree with Sessions’ characterization of it as a “campaign of financial deception,” But there’s no denying that Lew was blowing smoke about expenditures that almost always turn out to be far higher than originally promised.

Combined with his role in the 2008 disaster as head of Citigroup, that’s the sort of lie that ought to worry Americans who were told last night by the president that the economy was in pretty good shape and getting better even if unemployment remains high. But more to the point, it ought to serve as a red flag to anyone inclined to take the president’s “not one dime” promise seriously.

If politicians, even the one who just won re-election as president, wonder why Americans are increasingly cynical about politics, they can look no further than the Kabuki dance the Obama administration has been enacting for the past few years about the debt. Republicans need to be more than the party of austerity if they are ever to take back the White House. But if Democrats think they can go on lying about the deficit or the need to enact far reaching reforms of entitlements they are mistaken. While fibs about spending are a time-honored Washington tradition, no one should be under the impression that these kinds of lies about the debt crisis will be tolerated indefinitely.

Read Less

Hero’s Dilemma Exaggerated Yet Real

Esquire magazine has just posted a much-discussed article about “the Shooter” who is said to have killed Osama bin Laden. This is not a simple tale of heroism, a la “No Easy Day,” the best-selling book written by another member of SEAL Team Six who was on the raid. This article has a strong point of view, as is made clear by the headline: “The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden… Is Screwed.”

Journalist Phil Bronstein, who interviewed “the Shooter,” laments “that a man with hundreds of successful war missions, one of the most decorated combat veterans of our age, who capped his career by terminating bin Laden, has no landing pad in civilian life.” He explains that “the Shooter will discover soon enough that when he leaves after sixteen years in the Navy, his body filled with scar tissue, arthritis, tendonitis, eye damage, and blown disks, here is what he gets from his employer and a grateful nation: Nothing. No pension, no healthcare for his wife and kids, no protection for himself or his family.”

Numerous veterans have pointed out that this is an exaggeration and in fact Esquire has already posted a correction and changed the language above which had previously suggested that there is no healthcare for him, not just for his (separated) wife and his kids. The magazine notes: “A previous version of this story misstated the extent of the five-year health care benefits offered to cover veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers comprehensive health care to eligible veterans during that period, though not to their families.” There are also numerous other benefits such as the GI Bill which would enable “the Shooter” to go to college.

Nevertheless the article does have a serious point to make—the nation is not doing right by the small number of infantrymen and special operators, a tiny percentage of the overall armed forces, who are at the pointy tip of the spear. The problem is two-fold.

Read More

Esquire magazine has just posted a much-discussed article about “the Shooter” who is said to have killed Osama bin Laden. This is not a simple tale of heroism, a la “No Easy Day,” the best-selling book written by another member of SEAL Team Six who was on the raid. This article has a strong point of view, as is made clear by the headline: “The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden… Is Screwed.”

Journalist Phil Bronstein, who interviewed “the Shooter,” laments “that a man with hundreds of successful war missions, one of the most decorated combat veterans of our age, who capped his career by terminating bin Laden, has no landing pad in civilian life.” He explains that “the Shooter will discover soon enough that when he leaves after sixteen years in the Navy, his body filled with scar tissue, arthritis, tendonitis, eye damage, and blown disks, here is what he gets from his employer and a grateful nation: Nothing. No pension, no healthcare for his wife and kids, no protection for himself or his family.”

Numerous veterans have pointed out that this is an exaggeration and in fact Esquire has already posted a correction and changed the language above which had previously suggested that there is no healthcare for him, not just for his (separated) wife and his kids. The magazine notes: “A previous version of this story misstated the extent of the five-year health care benefits offered to cover veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers comprehensive health care to eligible veterans during that period, though not to their families.” There are also numerous other benefits such as the GI Bill which would enable “the Shooter” to go to college.

Nevertheless the article does have a serious point to make—the nation is not doing right by the small number of infantrymen and special operators, a tiny percentage of the overall armed forces, who are at the pointy tip of the spear. The problem is two-fold.

First, the military’s retirement system is designed to provide generous benefits to those who retire after 20 years but far less to those who get out sooner, as “the Shooter” has decided to do. This is counter-productive because it leads the military to lose many who could make an important contribution even after 20 years of service, while not providing adequate recompense for those who serve for a slightly shorter period.

The second problem is that there is little if any difference in combat pay between those like “the Shooter” who routinely go on extremely dangerous raids or patrols and clerks who spend their entire deployment in Afghanistan or Iraq sitting behind a computer on a comparatively safe Forward Operating Base. We should offer more generous financial rewards to those who are in the thick of combat given the risk they take and the psychological trauma they will have to live with.  

Finally “the Shooter” faces an issue unique to his case: He will be a marked man for the rest of his life. Many people already know his name and it is a safe bet that Al Qaeda will be gunning for him. Under those circumstances the Navy owes him more than a handshake: It should offer him a new life and a new identity in a version of the “Witness Protection” program.

Even if Bronstein’s indictment is overstated, he has a valid point that we as a nation need to do a better job of caring for our heroes.

Read Less

Obama’s Timetable Emboldens Taliban

President Obama’s announcement that half of the 66,000 US troops now in Afghanistan would be pulled out over the next year is not as bad as it could have been. He could have announced that the 34,000 troops would be pulled out by September—just as he had previously set a deadline of September 2012 to pull out roughly the same number of surge forces. This would have been especially unfortunate because September is still part of the “fighting season” in Afghanistan and taking them off the battlefield at this time cedes an important advantage to the enemy. 

That is not what Obama did, however: He backloaded the withdrawal, with only 6,000 troops coming out by the end of May, another 8,000 by the end of November, and the remaining 20,000 in February 2014. That at least gives Gen. Joe Dunford, the new US/NATO commander in Kabul, the majority of the existing forces to work with during the 2013 fighting season, even if it does mean that US forces will be so denuded by April 2014 that they will have a hard time securing the presidential election which is scheduled to be held then—and which could prove of great importance to Afghanistan’s long-term stability.

Read More

President Obama’s announcement that half of the 66,000 US troops now in Afghanistan would be pulled out over the next year is not as bad as it could have been. He could have announced that the 34,000 troops would be pulled out by September—just as he had previously set a deadline of September 2012 to pull out roughly the same number of surge forces. This would have been especially unfortunate because September is still part of the “fighting season” in Afghanistan and taking them off the battlefield at this time cedes an important advantage to the enemy. 

That is not what Obama did, however: He backloaded the withdrawal, with only 6,000 troops coming out by the end of May, another 8,000 by the end of November, and the remaining 20,000 in February 2014. That at least gives Gen. Joe Dunford, the new US/NATO commander in Kabul, the majority of the existing forces to work with during the 2013 fighting season, even if it does mean that US forces will be so denuded by April 2014 that they will have a hard time securing the presidential election which is scheduled to be held then—and which could prove of great importance to Afghanistan’s long-term stability.

A corrupt, illegitimate election would undermine the country’s long-term prospects, while a free and fair vote resulting in the election of a strong and honest leader could be the salvation of Afghanistan. Unfortunately the U.S. will be hard-put to guarantee the election but at least there is one more fighting season to try to solidify recent gains and to give a boost to the Afghan National Security Forces.

There are sharp limits, however, to what U.S. troops can achieve in the next year, especially because they are increasingly confined to base and cut off from everyday interactions with their Afghan counterparts by concerns about “friendly fire” attacks. American troops have never carried out the kind of “clear and hold” operations in eastern Afghanistan that they mounted in the south, and now they never will: Thus the bulk of U.S. forces will pull out with the Haqqani Network still enjoying secure sanctuaries an hour’s drive from Kabul.

That makes it all the more imperative that the U.S. maintain a robust commitment in Afghanistan post-2014 to enable the Afghan security forces to cope with the threat presented by a still-dangerous insurgency with secure sanctuaries in Pakistan. Obama did not announce post-2014 troop figures last night because the debate over what they will be is apparently still ongoing. It is a little surreal to read in the Washington Post that generals and senior officials are debating troop figures not only for 2015, but also for 2016, 2017, and beyond. 

The Post reports that “the Pentagon is pushing a plan that would keep about 8,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan once the NATO military mission there ends in 2014,” while some of “the proposals under consideration call for reducing the U.S. presence by early 2016 to between 3,500 and 6,000 troops” and “one option under serious discussion envisages further reducing troop levels to under 1,000 by early 2017, with most of the personnel operating from the giant U.S. Embassy in Kabul.”

Why is this surreal? Because no one—not Napoleon, not Alexander the Great, not the Duke of Wellington, and certainly not President Obama—could possibly predict what a war will look like four years into the future. The battlefield is a dynamic environment where things can change markedly in a matter of months. It is the height of folly to lock the U.S. military into ironclad plans today governing troop commitments years from now. Those kinds of decisions should be made much closer to the fact based on battlefield considerations—not on domestic political concerns.

Yet not only is the White House apparently contemplating keeping far fewer forces after 2014 than Gen. John Allen, the recently departed US commander, had judged prudent (he wanted 20,000) but it is also considering telegraphing in advance even steeper reductions. This can only embolden the Taliban whose mantra is “you have the watches, we have the time.” They are already convinced they can wait us out. Obama’s timetable for withdrawal, based on arbitrary numbers divorced from military realities, will only heighten that perception and make it even more difficult for the remaining U.S. troops to achieve anything meaningful.

Read Less

Where’s Steve Kroft When You Need Him?

In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama spent much of the early part of his speech savaging the idea of sequestration. In his typically understated way, Mr. Obama referred to the sequester cuts as “sudden, harsh, and arbitrary.” In case he wasn’t clear, Obama also referred to them as “reckless.” And just in case this indictment was too vague, the president said the sequester was a “really bad idea.” 

Which makes this interview between Fox News’ Bret Baier and White House press secretary Jay Carney so delicious. Under Baier’s firm, skillful questioning, Carney is forced to admit that yes, that really bad, terrible, awful, reckless, harsh, vicious, offense-against-God-and-Man idea was … the president’s.  

How terribly inconvenient for Mr. Carney.

Read More

In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama spent much of the early part of his speech savaging the idea of sequestration. In his typically understated way, Mr. Obama referred to the sequester cuts as “sudden, harsh, and arbitrary.” In case he wasn’t clear, Obama also referred to them as “reckless.” And just in case this indictment was too vague, the president said the sequester was a “really bad idea.” 

Which makes this interview between Fox News’ Bret Baier and White House press secretary Jay Carney so delicious. Under Baier’s firm, skillful questioning, Carney is forced to admit that yes, that really bad, terrible, awful, reckless, harsh, vicious, offense-against-God-and-Man idea was … the president’s.  

How terribly inconvenient for Mr. Carney.

What is also worth noting isn’t simply the admission by Carney, but his petulance. The former-Time-journalist-turned-Obama-mouthpiece is clearly very unhappy to be pressed on this matter. Because Mr. Carney, like the president, seems to believe that tough, direct, and respectful questions are a violation of journalist ethics in the age of Obama.

You can just imagine what’s going through Carney’s mind during the Baier interview: Where is Steve Kroft when you need him?

This of course explains why the White House, and the president in particular, has obsessed about Fox News and targeted it so often (full disclosure: I appear on Special Report w/ Bret Baier from time to time). Mr. Obama seems to believe that being cosseted by the press is a basic human right, at least when it comes to him. And given how he’s treated by so much of the press corps, I can understand why.

Read Less

Big Gulp Doesn’t Drown Rubio’s Response

Judging Marco Rubio’s performance in his official Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union depends upon whether you think satire outweighs substance and style. There is little doubt that Rubio’s case of dry mouth will be endlessly mocked in the days, weeks and even years to come. Television comics will ruthlessly parody his hurried grab for a drink in the middle of the speech. But it would be a mistake to think his on camera water break will come to define the speech or his future presidential hopes.

But take the big gulp out of the equation and what you are talking about is easily the best response to a State of the Union speech since the genre was invented. Rubio’s authentic invocation of his immigrant roots combined with an articulate and passionate argument about opportunity struck exactly the right tone for a Republican Party that is in desperate need of a reboot. Rubio’s persona was, as it always is, intensely likeable as well as informed. Though liberals jibed that his talk was merely a repackaging of traditional conservative themes, that shouldn’t be considered an insult. In Rubio, the GOP has a spokesman who can champion the middle class and immigrants while speaking to the core values of conservatism that still resonate with most Americans. Though the skewering he’ll get over his water problem reduces the impact of his showing, he survived a thankless task with his reputation as one of his party’s leading contenders for the 2016 presidential nomination intact.

Read More

Judging Marco Rubio’s performance in his official Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union depends upon whether you think satire outweighs substance and style. There is little doubt that Rubio’s case of dry mouth will be endlessly mocked in the days, weeks and even years to come. Television comics will ruthlessly parody his hurried grab for a drink in the middle of the speech. But it would be a mistake to think his on camera water break will come to define the speech or his future presidential hopes.

But take the big gulp out of the equation and what you are talking about is easily the best response to a State of the Union speech since the genre was invented. Rubio’s authentic invocation of his immigrant roots combined with an articulate and passionate argument about opportunity struck exactly the right tone for a Republican Party that is in desperate need of a reboot. Rubio’s persona was, as it always is, intensely likeable as well as informed. Though liberals jibed that his talk was merely a repackaging of traditional conservative themes, that shouldn’t be considered an insult. In Rubio, the GOP has a spokesman who can champion the middle class and immigrants while speaking to the core values of conservatism that still resonate with most Americans. Though the skewering he’ll get over his water problem reduces the impact of his showing, he survived a thankless task with his reputation as one of his party’s leading contenders for the 2016 presidential nomination intact.

There is something to be said for the thesis that Republicans need more than a good spokesman in order to compete in the future. But in Rubio, the GOP has more than fresh and articulate face. His ability to speak calmly and rationally about why the president’s soak the rich effort is not just a matter of good marketing. To listen to many in the mainstream liberal media, President Obama’s narrow yet clear victory last November means liberalism is ascendant and conservatism is dead. But the notion that Americans are really prepared to double down on another stimulus boondoggle and sink the country further into debt is one that the election results can’t entirely sustain.

That leaves an opening for a conservative who can combine common sense about the government’s spending problem with an optimistic pro-growth message. That is why Rubio’s speech — Gunga Din jokes notwithstanding — gives him a leg up on 2016.

The comparison with the other Republican responder also won’t hurt Rubio.

Rand Paul’s Tea Party response to the State of the Union got even less attention that it might have otherwise gotten because of the cable networks decision to switch to coverage of the hunt for the California gunman. None of the networks covered Paul’s speech live and watching it online via the Tea Party Express website was hit or miss for many viewers.

But the problem with Paul’s speech went further than its minimal exposure. He welcome the sequester cuts that most Americans don’t like. He even advocated deeper cuts in defense spending that libertarians will like but not most Republicans. His libertarian base will cheer this but it’s not clear that is a path to winning mainstream GOP support in 2016.

Rubio will take his lumps about his dry mouth but no one can argue that his speech was not effective. It was not the unadulterated triumph it might have been absent his thirst, but I’d be surprised if we didn’t look back three years from now and see this is a moment when Rubio solidified his rip on a spot in the first tier of GOP presidential candidates.

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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