Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 20, 2013

Looming Threat of Civil War in Iraq

The situation in Iraq continues to get grimmer and grimmer. Here is the latest: “A wave of car bombings and gunfire attacks hit cities in Iraq overnight and on Monday, killing at least 64 people and wounding more than 170, medical and security officials said.”

What is most alarming about this growth of violence is the intransigence increasingly displayed by both sides. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is blaming “terrorist” politicians of Sunni persuasion for the attacks, while Sunnis once active in the Anbar Awakening are vowing to resist with force the presence of the Iraqi army in Anbar Province. It is difficult, if not yet impossible, to imagine some kind of negotiated solution. In all likelihood, the violence will get worse as al-Qaeda in Iraq stages a dismaying comeback from its near-defeat during the surge in 2007-2008.

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The situation in Iraq continues to get grimmer and grimmer. Here is the latest: “A wave of car bombings and gunfire attacks hit cities in Iraq overnight and on Monday, killing at least 64 people and wounding more than 170, medical and security officials said.”

What is most alarming about this growth of violence is the intransigence increasingly displayed by both sides. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is blaming “terrorist” politicians of Sunni persuasion for the attacks, while Sunnis once active in the Anbar Awakening are vowing to resist with force the presence of the Iraqi army in Anbar Province. It is difficult, if not yet impossible, to imagine some kind of negotiated solution. In all likelihood, the violence will get worse as al-Qaeda in Iraq stages a dismaying comeback from its near-defeat during the surge in 2007-2008.

This is exactly the kind of scenario that advocates of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq past 2014 warned about–with no honest broker in the middle, Shiite and Sunni extremists are on the verge of restarting the civil war that was extinguished during the surge at such great cost by American troops.

Unfortunately, President Obama’s pullback in Iraq has coincided with his unwillingness to do much of anything in Syria, raising the danger that the wars in the two countries will merge, involve other nations such as Israel, Lebanon and Turkey, and thus become a true regional conflagration. If we are not there yet, we are fast on the way to such a catastrophic outcome.

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Whatever Happened to Yair Lapid?

The biggest winner of Israel’s January Knesset elections was Yair Lapid, the former TV personality who led his Yesh Atid Party to a tremendous showing, gaining 19 Knesset seats in its first try for office. In the aftermath of that victory and prior to his joining Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government, I speculated as to whether Lapid could survive success since every previous such newcomer to Israeli electoral politics who had such a good showing was soon brought to grief. The definitive answer to that question will have to wait until at least after the next Israeli election. But four months later the tentative response would have to be that he appears on track to be felled by the same sin that every other “centrist” new voice has committed: accepting the responsibility of government.

Lapid’s personal popularity has plummeted as a result of him getting the short straw when Netanyahu handed out Cabinet posts. As finance minister, Lapid, whose party was catapulted to a second place finish by capitalizing on middle class discontent, has had the unfortunate responsibility of paying the bills in a country where most people and their government live on credit. There was no rational alternative to the austerity budget that he presented to the Knesset, but the tax increases and budget cuts in it were not exactly what his voters had in mind when they put him in office. Polls show half of those who backed Yesh Atid won’t do so again and that has left Lapid, who has not given interviews in recent months, with the need to reboot his personality cult. As part of this effort, he gave an interview to the New York Times to talk about his political education in terms that seem painfully familiar for those who remember how other centrist leaders were schooled by reality once they took office.

But what’s fascinating about the interview isn’t his confession that he “used to have so many opinions before I learned the facts.” Nor is it his bold prediction that all will come right in the end for him. It’s that despite the best efforts of the Times to entice him to win some popularity abroad by separating himself from Netanyahu on the peace process, Lapid’s positions remain virtually identical to those of the prime minster. For all of his current political problems, Lapid understands there’s no future in Israel for those who curry favor with the country’s foreign critics.

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The biggest winner of Israel’s January Knesset elections was Yair Lapid, the former TV personality who led his Yesh Atid Party to a tremendous showing, gaining 19 Knesset seats in its first try for office. In the aftermath of that victory and prior to his joining Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government, I speculated as to whether Lapid could survive success since every previous such newcomer to Israeli electoral politics who had such a good showing was soon brought to grief. The definitive answer to that question will have to wait until at least after the next Israeli election. But four months later the tentative response would have to be that he appears on track to be felled by the same sin that every other “centrist” new voice has committed: accepting the responsibility of government.

Lapid’s personal popularity has plummeted as a result of him getting the short straw when Netanyahu handed out Cabinet posts. As finance minister, Lapid, whose party was catapulted to a second place finish by capitalizing on middle class discontent, has had the unfortunate responsibility of paying the bills in a country where most people and their government live on credit. There was no rational alternative to the austerity budget that he presented to the Knesset, but the tax increases and budget cuts in it were not exactly what his voters had in mind when they put him in office. Polls show half of those who backed Yesh Atid won’t do so again and that has left Lapid, who has not given interviews in recent months, with the need to reboot his personality cult. As part of this effort, he gave an interview to the New York Times to talk about his political education in terms that seem painfully familiar for those who remember how other centrist leaders were schooled by reality once they took office.

But what’s fascinating about the interview isn’t his confession that he “used to have so many opinions before I learned the facts.” Nor is it his bold prediction that all will come right in the end for him. It’s that despite the best efforts of the Times to entice him to win some popularity abroad by separating himself from Netanyahu on the peace process, Lapid’s positions remain virtually identical to those of the prime minster. For all of his current political problems, Lapid understands there’s no future in Israel for those who curry favor with the country’s foreign critics.

Lapid’s great showing was rooted in the fact that the election was largely fought on economic issues rather than the traditional left/right lines on the peace process. As such, his appeal was to a middle class that feels it has not benefited from the country’s prosperous economy. But while it’s easy to represent the views of those Israelis who complain about the high price of cottage cheese on TV or on the campaign trail, it’s impossible to do so from an office in the Finance Ministry. Lapid may still be the coolest politician in Israel with his trademark black T-shirts and good looks, but all the charisma in the world can’t produce cheap cottage cheese that has become the Israeli equivalent of the free lunch that American libertarians talk about.

Having taken on the job of running the economy, Lapid has assumed a post that breaks most politicians. Indeed, other than Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu, both of whom were the rara avis of Israeli politics in that they actually understood economics, virtually every person who has shuttled in and out of Lapid’s current office has failed. So that gives him every chance to wind up as his predecessors from the Dash, Tzomet, Center, Third Way and Shinui and be a one-election wonder rather than challenging Netanyahu for prime minister the next time Israelis head to the polls.

Yet in his favor is the same basic fact that earned Yesh Atid its big win: Israeli voters are no longer divided so easily between the two competing camps of left and right about the peace process. Lapid’s big showing was made possible by the collapse of the traditional left and a willingness by many Israelis to cast their vote on other issues. While his star has been dimmed by his inability to play the outsider anymore, there will still be a large constituency for a centrist alternative to Netanyahu that isn’t compromised by leftist illusions about the Palestinians.

And that is the thing about Lapid that seems most interesting to the Times. Rather than looking to separate himself from the prime minister in a way that would make him look good to the Times and other critics of the country’s security policies, Lapid stuck to the hard line he espoused during the election:

While he described the two-state solution as “crucial” to preserving Israel as a Jewish nation, he offered no hints of Israeli concessions that could break the stalemate in the peace process. Instead, he repeatedly said he hoped that Secretary of State John Kerry, who is scheduled to arrive here this week for his fourth visit in two months, would “jump-start” it.

And he expressed extreme skepticism about the likelihood of reaching a deal with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, saying, “He’s one of the founding fathers of the victimizing concept of the Palestinians.”

He also questioned whether Palestinians truly wanted a state.

Also of interest to the Times was the fact that Lapid doesn’t share the sensibilities of Americans liberals and the far left of the Israeli political spectrum in another fashion:

One of the things that led some to turn on Mr. Lapid was the revelation that he met in April with Sheldon Adelson, the ultraconservative financier who backs Mr. Netanyahu and owns the Israel Hayom newspaper that loyally supports him. Mr. Lapid said Thursday that Mr. Adelson requested the meeting to ensure that the government would continue its matching grant of about $40 million to Birthright, a program that brings young Jews to Israel, and that “there was nothing political about it.”

While Adelson has been thoroughly demonized in the Times for backing Republicans, bureau chief Jodi Rudoren seems blissfully unaware that his Israeli paper is the best-read publication (approximately 40 percent read it) in a country where newspaper readership is still high. Only in the Times could there be anything remotely controversial about an Israeli finance minister meeting with the one of the world’s leading donors to Jewish philanthropies.

Yair Lapid is a savvy politician and if anyone can break the curse of Israeli centrism it will be him. But whether he does survive past the next election or not, he has made the wise determination that anyone who wants a future in his country’s politics can’t bet their careers on the myth that the Palestinians want peace. Those who hope he will challenge Netanyahu on the peace process are barking up the wrong tree.

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Britain, the EU, and Reverse Integration

In 2007, James Mann published a book called The China Fantasy, about American leaders downplaying Chinese human rights violations in the interest of integrating China into the global economy. The aim of “integration” was to involve China in world affairs and force it to play by certain rules, which would hopefully be habit-forming and result in more domestic freedom. It didn’t exactly happen that way, and Mann offered an explanation why: reverse integration. As he wrote:

The fundamental problem with this strategy of integration is that it raises the obvious question “Who’s integrating whom?” Is the United States now integrating China into a new international economic order based upon free market principles? Or, on the other hand, is China now integrating the United States into a new international political order where democracy is no longer favored and where a government’s continuing eradication of all organized political opposition is accepted or ignored?

Needless to say, the United States itself doesn’t have to become more like China for reverse integration to take place; it merely needs to accept that China’s existing values are welcome in the international community. It’s worth keeping this concept of reverse integration in mind when examining the thorny question of Britain’s membership in the European Union. Not only does there seem to be a case of reverse integration taking place, but in contrast with the U.S./China analogy Britain is actually at risk of becoming more like the rest of the EU through its participation–even if it holds on to its sovereign currency.

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In 2007, James Mann published a book called The China Fantasy, about American leaders downplaying Chinese human rights violations in the interest of integrating China into the global economy. The aim of “integration” was to involve China in world affairs and force it to play by certain rules, which would hopefully be habit-forming and result in more domestic freedom. It didn’t exactly happen that way, and Mann offered an explanation why: reverse integration. As he wrote:

The fundamental problem with this strategy of integration is that it raises the obvious question “Who’s integrating whom?” Is the United States now integrating China into a new international economic order based upon free market principles? Or, on the other hand, is China now integrating the United States into a new international political order where democracy is no longer favored and where a government’s continuing eradication of all organized political opposition is accepted or ignored?

Needless to say, the United States itself doesn’t have to become more like China for reverse integration to take place; it merely needs to accept that China’s existing values are welcome in the international community. It’s worth keeping this concept of reverse integration in mind when examining the thorny question of Britain’s membership in the European Union. Not only does there seem to be a case of reverse integration taking place, but in contrast with the U.S./China analogy Britain is actually at risk of becoming more like the rest of the EU through its participation–even if it holds on to its sovereign currency.

In January, the Obama administration sought to pressure Britain to resist calls to leave the European Union, and then at a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Cameron a week ago, President Obama reiterated the message. The Obama administration’s logic has been simple: Britain can be a voice for the Anglosphere from within the EU and help counteract European anti-Americanism. Outside the EU, Britain’s influence–and thus its use to the current U.S. administration–would fade to near-irrelevancy. From Obama’s perspective–and it is not without its merit–Britain has far more to offer American interests by working the system from the inside.

But what if Britain falls victim to reverse integration and instead of improving America’s standing inside the EU its dissent is stifled and conformity is thoroughly enforced? That’s where the relationship seems to be heading, if recent stories are any indication. Heading into the weekend the Financial Times reported that once the EU passed its cap on financial-sector bonuses for all member countries, it began to make some changes: “Europe’s banking regulator has this week significantly widened the definition of staff who will be affected by the incoming bonus cap.” But the actual pay cap amount was never the point. As Daniel Hannan explained after the initial bonus cap was passed:

In any event, what has any of this to do with Brussels? When we talk about bankers’ remuneration in the EU, we really mean bankers’ remuneration in London. Again and again, the effect of anti-London regulation is to disadvantage Europe’s only major financial centre. The business driven away from the City is not going to Frankfurt or Milan, but to New York and Hong Kong.

Last night’s vote neatly symbolised Britain’s weakness within the EU. We were outvoted 26-to-1 on an issue that was, fundamentally, no one’s business but ours. The Treasury will lose billions in tax revenue. My constituency, which surrounds London, and benefits from the knock-on impact of the financial services industry, will suffer. Britain will fall behind in one of the few sectors where it enjoys a global lead. The EU will pile on regulations which, paradoxically, make a future crash more likely (see here). All to satisfy the prejudices of people who dislike the whole notion of capitalism.

Of course, that actually does advance American financial interests to a certain extent, but it’s doubtful that’s what Obama had in mind. And while class warfare will always find plenty of supporters in Europe, perhaps more audacious has been the EU’s efforts to crack down on press freedom across the continent. To that end, in January an EU-commissioned report advocated that EU countries establish media watchdogs to be monitored by the European Commission. A group of publishers pronounced themselves horrified.

A few months later, it was revealed that the EU has been spending millions to fund groups advocating for more press restrictions, and that Britain’s feisty euroskeptic press was the target. And yet in March of this year, the three major British parties–Cameron’s Tories among them, of course–seemed to agree, coming together on a proposal to crack down on that feisty press. That’s not to say there wasn’t plenty of opposition to the proposal, which began building right away. But you would think the prime minister and leader of the Conservatives would know better.

When the EU strikes at what it sees as the symbol of capitalism on the continent, Britain is powerless to stop it. And when the EU seeks to chip away at basic freedoms, like that of the press, Cameron is a step ahead of even the EU. The U.S. may want Britain in the EU to be an advocate for Western values, but the administration may be surprised to see just how fast the EU can integrate its member states.

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U.S. Should Reject Venezuela’s Overtures

Ever since the death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez back in March, his successors have been flinging insult after insult at the United States. The volley began at the very moment of Chavez’s death, when his anointed heir Nicolas Maduro, pointing an accusatory finger at the U.S., claimed that Chavez had been “assassinated.” Maduro then accused the U.S. of plotting to kill his opposition rival, Henrique Capriles, in order to engineer a coup. Finally, after weeks of blaming the U.S. for everything from food shortages to the violence that followed the disputed April 14 presidential election, Maduro recycled a barb that Chavez had previously deployed against George W. Bush, when he declared that President Obama was the “grand chief of devils.”

Now, however, conciliatory noises are emerging from Caracas. Over the weekend, Maduro’s foreign minister, Elias Jaua, announced that Venezuela wanted to mend diplomatic fences with the United States. “We are going to remain open to normalizing relations with the United States,” Jaua said during a television interview. “The first thing would be to resume diplomatic representation at the highest level.”

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Ever since the death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez back in March, his successors have been flinging insult after insult at the United States. The volley began at the very moment of Chavez’s death, when his anointed heir Nicolas Maduro, pointing an accusatory finger at the U.S., claimed that Chavez had been “assassinated.” Maduro then accused the U.S. of plotting to kill his opposition rival, Henrique Capriles, in order to engineer a coup. Finally, after weeks of blaming the U.S. for everything from food shortages to the violence that followed the disputed April 14 presidential election, Maduro recycled a barb that Chavez had previously deployed against George W. Bush, when he declared that President Obama was the “grand chief of devils.”

Now, however, conciliatory noises are emerging from Caracas. Over the weekend, Maduro’s foreign minister, Elias Jaua, announced that Venezuela wanted to mend diplomatic fences with the United States. “We are going to remain open to normalizing relations with the United States,” Jaua said during a television interview. “The first thing would be to resume diplomatic representation at the highest level.”

Should the United States restore its relations with Venezuela, which were severed in 2008 when Chavez expelled the U.S. Ambassador, Patrick Duddy? Here are three good reasons why it shouldn’t do so.

First, Venezuela last month incarcerated an American filmmaker, Timothy Hallet Tracy, on fabricated charges of stoking the violence which accompanied opposition accusations of fraud against Maduro, following his election victory by a margin of less than two points. Tracy’s arrest was personally ordered by Maduro, who insists that he is a spy, while the State Department maintains that he is a private citizen.

It might be argued that a returning American ambassador could secure Tracy’s release. If that is indeed the case, then the U.S. should demand that Tracy be set free as a non-negotiable condition for the resumption of any talks about restoring diplomatic relations. Essentially, this would amount to a test of Venezuela’s honorable intentions–one there is little reason to believe the chavista regime will pass.

Reason number two: sending an ambassador to Caracas would amount to a complete reversal of the American decision not to recognize the results of the April 14 election. There should be no doubt that Maduro would portray such a move as proof that the fraud charges leveled by Capriles and the opposition have no basis in reality. Additionally, a climbdown by the U.S. would silence the only significant objection to the election process voiced within the international community. Most of Latin America has already acquiesced to Maduro’s triumph, including countries like Brazil, Argentina and Chile, for whom military rule of the sort that now prevails in Venezuela–Maduro uses the sinister term “political-military command”–is a recent memory. There is nothing to be gained from the U.S. joining in with this chorus of hypocrisy.

Finally: given the degree of control the Cuban regime exercises over Maduro, one might reasonably wonder whether diplomatic relations are really being restored with Havana, and not Caracas. Venezuelans have spent much of today glued to their TV screens after the opposition released an audio recording of a conversation between Mario Silva, a prominent television anchor and incorrigible chavista, and Aramis Palacios, a senior official of the G2, Cuba’s secret police. As far as the opposition is concerned, the exchange between the two men amounts to satisfactory confirmation that Cuba is the real power behind Maduro’s throne.

The conversation, which largely consists of Silva confiding in Palacios his fears about the current situation, is certainly revealing. Silva uses some rather pungent language in describing his feelings towards Maduro’s principal rival, the National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello, whose corrupt business practices, he says, are partly responsible for the successive devaluations of the Bolivar, Venezuela’s currency. Silva also voices his approval of the view expressed to him by Fidel Castro that Chavez was wasting his time with such “bourgeois” trifles as elections. “Elections here as they stand right now, they can blow us and can bring our revolution down,” the breathless Silva tells the sympathetic Palacios, inadvertently  

bolstering the opposition’s long-held belief that the chavistas will hold elections only if they are sure they can win them.

The Silva-Palacios recording builds on evidence of Cuban meddling that was recently unveiled by a former confidante of Chavez, Maj. Gen. Antonio Rivero, who defected to the opposition in 2010. According to Rivero, more than 200,000 Cubans arrived in Venezuela following Chavez’s assumption of power in 1999. Among the projects they launched was the “Strategic Cooperation Team,” which involved a wholesale revision of Venezuela’s military doctrine under the watchful eye of a Cuban commander. As Rivero’s own experience demonstrates, those Venezuelan officers who rejected their Cuban overseers quickly found themselves purged from the ranks of the military.

Meanwhile, Mario Silva’s own response to the broadcast of his conversation with a Cuban agent offers an instructive glimpse of what the U.S. can expect should it elect to deal with Maduro. Rather than comment on the substance of the exchange, Silva whined that he was the victim of a set-up. And who was responsible? Why, that bottomless pit of conspiracy and intrigue otherwise known as… “El sionismo.”

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Can Congress Force Action to Oust Assad?

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is due to deliberate on Tuesday on bipartisan legislation introduced by Democrat Robert Menendez and Republican Bob Corker that would, as Robert Zarate of the Foreign Policy Initiative notes, “allow U.S. military assistance to vetted Syrian rebels, authorize the imposition of new sanctions on sellers of arms and oil to the Assad regime, and create a $250 million transition fund for post-Assad Syria.”

These are all good ideas, although the provision of military assistance to the rebels should have begun a year or two ago; if it had, extremists might not have gained such prominence in the rebels’ ranks and Bashar Assad would not have been able to stage a dismaying comeback with the aid of Hezbollah and Iran. Yet is never too late to act.

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The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is due to deliberate on Tuesday on bipartisan legislation introduced by Democrat Robert Menendez and Republican Bob Corker that would, as Robert Zarate of the Foreign Policy Initiative notes, “allow U.S. military assistance to vetted Syrian rebels, authorize the imposition of new sanctions on sellers of arms and oil to the Assad regime, and create a $250 million transition fund for post-Assad Syria.”

These are all good ideas, although the provision of military assistance to the rebels should have begun a year or two ago; if it had, extremists might not have gained such prominence in the rebels’ ranks and Bashar Assad would not have been able to stage a dismaying comeback with the aid of Hezbollah and Iran. Yet is never too late to act.

A major battle is now unfolding in the city of Qusayr pitting Hezbollah and Assad fighters against rebels in what both sides say could be a turning point in the war. A signal now from the U.S. that it will do more to help the rebels could tilt the balance of power in their favor. Perception matters a great deal in war and the prospect of American support for the insurgency could lead more Syrians to join its ranks while causing some of Assad’s fighters to lose heart.

Yet the Obama administration appears opposed to such action. It raises legitimate concerns about the dangers of arming the rebels, without offering any alternative policy to avert this slow-motion catastrophe. The best bet now is that, just as with Iran sanctions, Congress could force the administration’s hand.

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Blame the Middle Manager for Benghazi?

Nine months after the terrorist attack in Benghazi that cost four American lives, we’re finally finding out who it was that the State Department thinks is responsible for the debacle: the middle managers. Josh Rogin’s exclusive interview at the Daily Beast with the only person to lose his job over the tragedy doesn’t tell us much about why Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were left without security in the face of clear danger from an al-Qaeda affiliate. But it does tell us everything we need to know about how Hillary Clinton’s State Department functioned.

Benghazi is one of the worst disasters in American diplomatic history, but the sum total of accountability for it is limited to the career of Raymond Maxwell, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) who was placed on administrative leave in December after the now-famous Administrative Review Board (ARB) led by Thomas Pickering issued its report. Pickering didn’t bother interviewing the person in charge of the department—Secretary Clinton—but according to Rogin’s sources, Maxwell was consigned to perdition for not reading his daily intelligence reports. If so, perhaps he deserves his fate even though Maxwell claims he had “no involvement to any degree with decisions on security and the funding of security at our diplomatic mission in Benghazi.” That is something that cannot be said of others, including the secretary, who sent Stevens on what proved to be a fatal mission. Yet what comes across loud and clear in the piece is that what happened at Foggy Bottom in the aftermath of the debacle was that a middle manager was made to walk the plank while all senior personnel were spared from the consequences of the mistakes that were made.

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Nine months after the terrorist attack in Benghazi that cost four American lives, we’re finally finding out who it was that the State Department thinks is responsible for the debacle: the middle managers. Josh Rogin’s exclusive interview at the Daily Beast with the only person to lose his job over the tragedy doesn’t tell us much about why Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were left without security in the face of clear danger from an al-Qaeda affiliate. But it does tell us everything we need to know about how Hillary Clinton’s State Department functioned.

Benghazi is one of the worst disasters in American diplomatic history, but the sum total of accountability for it is limited to the career of Raymond Maxwell, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) who was placed on administrative leave in December after the now-famous Administrative Review Board (ARB) led by Thomas Pickering issued its report. Pickering didn’t bother interviewing the person in charge of the department—Secretary Clinton—but according to Rogin’s sources, Maxwell was consigned to perdition for not reading his daily intelligence reports. If so, perhaps he deserves his fate even though Maxwell claims he had “no involvement to any degree with decisions on security and the funding of security at our diplomatic mission in Benghazi.” That is something that cannot be said of others, including the secretary, who sent Stevens on what proved to be a fatal mission. Yet what comes across loud and clear in the piece is that what happened at Foggy Bottom in the aftermath of the debacle was that a middle manager was made to walk the plank while all senior personnel were spared from the consequences of the mistakes that were made.

The ARB actually fixed the blame for Benghazi at the assistant secretary level that would have meant that Maxwell’s boss, Beth Jones, should have been the one to fall on her sword along with others of similar rank. But according to Rogin:

But Jones was not disciplined in any way following the release of the report, nor was the principal deputy assistant secretary of State at NEA, Liz Dibble, who is slated to receive a plush post as the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in London this summer. In the DS bureau, the assistant secretary, principal deputy, and deputy assistant all lost their jobs. In the NEA bureau, only Maxwell was asked to leave.

Jones and Dibble were responsible for security in Libya, Maxwell and three State Department officials said. What’s more, when Maxwell was promoted to his DAS position in August 2011, most responsibility for Libya was carved out of his portfolio, which also included Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Although Maxwell did some work on Libya, all security related decisions were handled by Dibble and Jones, according to the three officials.

At the time he was placed in career limbo, Rogin reports Maxwell was told that after the political storm about Benghazi blew over, he would come back to his department and get a senior job. But apparently Clinton and Mills reneged, leaving him out in the cold to face the music while they were allowed to go on in their positions.

Suffice to say that if Mrs. Clinton had a shred of personal honor, she would have taken genuine responsibility for Benghazi rather than merely says those words as a figure of speech. If she did, she might not have let her department sacrifice a low-level person like Maxwell for supposedly not reading every item he was sent to read while her defenders claimed it was unreasonable, if not defamatory, to hold her responsible for the documents that went out under her name. Instead, she left State to the applause of her acolytes to wait for a propitious moment to resume her quest for the presidency, all the way claiming none of what happened in Benghazi was her fault.

If the Obama administration took the issue of embassy security as seriously as it claims to—while insisting that any attention paid to the lies it told about Benghazi is a distraction—it might have cleaned house at State in a way that made it clear that all those involved with the refusal to give Stevens adequate security did not escape accountability.

Maxwell’s saga is a depressing reminder of everything that is wrong with Obama and Clinton’s sense of entitlement and a refusal to be accountable for mistakes. It will be up to the Congress and a slowly awakening mainstream press to keep the issue alive and reopen the question who, other than a middle manager with unrelated job responsibilities, should be blamed for Benghazi.

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More on Sexual Assault in the Military

I previously expressed skepticism that the U.S. armed forces were really experiencing the surge of sexual assault suggested in overheated news stories and echoed by lawmakers eager to change the traditional military justice system so as to make it more responsive to all these supposed victims.

Further confirmation for skepticism comes from this Wall Street Journal op-ed from Marine captain and judge advocate Lindsay Rodman. She points out that the headline-grabbing figure of 26,000 sexual assaults in the military in 2012 breaks down on closer analysis. That dubious statistic comes from a survey distributed to more than 100,000 individuals but completed by fewer than 23,000. It is not clear exactly who in the military completed the survey or whether it is a scientifically valid sampling (to the extent that such a thing even exists). She suggests there is good cause to believe the females, who constitute only 14.6 percent of the military, are oversampled.

Moreover, Rodman notes:

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I previously expressed skepticism that the U.S. armed forces were really experiencing the surge of sexual assault suggested in overheated news stories and echoed by lawmakers eager to change the traditional military justice system so as to make it more responsive to all these supposed victims.

Further confirmation for skepticism comes from this Wall Street Journal op-ed from Marine captain and judge advocate Lindsay Rodman. She points out that the headline-grabbing figure of 26,000 sexual assaults in the military in 2012 breaks down on closer analysis. That dubious statistic comes from a survey distributed to more than 100,000 individuals but completed by fewer than 23,000. It is not clear exactly who in the military completed the survey or whether it is a scientifically valid sampling (to the extent that such a thing even exists). She suggests there is good cause to believe the females, who constitute only 14.6 percent of the military, are oversampled.

Moreover, Rodman notes:

The term “sexual assault” was not used in the WGRA survey. Instead, the survey refers to “unwanted sexual contact,” which includes touching the buttocks and attempted touching. All of that behavior is wrongful, but it doesn’t comport with the conventional definition of sexual assault or with the legal definition of sexual assault in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, as enacted by Congress.

Notwithstanding Captain Rodman’s welcome scrutiny, the media continue to hype numbers about sexual abuse in the military of dubious reliability. The latest is this headline from the Associated Press: “More than 85,000 veterans treated last year over alleged military sex abuse, report says.”

This finding conjures up images of victims such as Ruth Moore who, according to AP, “was raped twice while she was stationed in Europe with the Navy” some sixteen years ago.

Yet the Veterans’ Administration definition of “military sexual trauma” is far broader than rape–it is defined as “any sexual activity where you are involved against your will.” According to AP: “Some report that they were victims of rape, while others say they were groped or subjected to verbal abuse or other forms of sexual harassment.” Being subjected to “verbal abuse” is a quintessential part of the military experience, at least in the training phase, and is a long way from what is commonly thought of as “sexual assault.” It is wrong, as is sexual harassment, but it is a long way from the commonly accepted definition of “sexual abuse” which has more in common with the notorious Cleveland sex-slavery case than it does with a few offensive words in the workplace.

As I said before, none of this is to deny that the problem of sexual assault exists in the military, as it does in civilian society, and that it needs to be addressed with treatment for victims and punishment for malefactors. But we should be wary of accepting, as so many in the media do, the sensationalist claims of feminist activists and trial lawyers who have a stake in hyping this issue.

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Yes, Liberals Run the Government

Over the weekend, some in the mainstream press began the job of trying to resurrect the original story put out by the IRS that the targeting of conservative groups for scrutiny was the act of isolated rogue employees. The massive story attempting to unravel the confusing story of the targeting published in the New York Times yesterday not only seemed to get us back to thinking the affair was simply the product of people at the Cincinnati regional office who were “alienated” from the agency’s broader culture. It also portrayed the agents who perpetrated what almost everyone on both sides of the aisle thinks is an outrage as an underfunded, overworked band of “low-level” hard working people coping with an impossible task made necessary by conservatives trying to evade the tax laws.

The details provided by the Times investigation are interesting in that they give us a sense of the timeline of the targeting and the inadequate nature of supervision of the unit tasked with giving approval for requests by organizations for nonprofit status. But what it admittedly doesn’t do is to answer the main question that looms over the entire story: who gave the order for the targeting and who or what inspired the IRS officials to adopt such a blatantly partisan policy. It also ignores a clue toward solving this problem that Dave Weigel helpfully pointed out in Slate on Friday in his reaction to the astoundingly tone deaf performance of outgoing IRS chief Steven Miller at a congressional hearing: most of the people who work at the IRS are liberal.

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Over the weekend, some in the mainstream press began the job of trying to resurrect the original story put out by the IRS that the targeting of conservative groups for scrutiny was the act of isolated rogue employees. The massive story attempting to unravel the confusing story of the targeting published in the New York Times yesterday not only seemed to get us back to thinking the affair was simply the product of people at the Cincinnati regional office who were “alienated” from the agency’s broader culture. It also portrayed the agents who perpetrated what almost everyone on both sides of the aisle thinks is an outrage as an underfunded, overworked band of “low-level” hard working people coping with an impossible task made necessary by conservatives trying to evade the tax laws.

The details provided by the Times investigation are interesting in that they give us a sense of the timeline of the targeting and the inadequate nature of supervision of the unit tasked with giving approval for requests by organizations for nonprofit status. But what it admittedly doesn’t do is to answer the main question that looms over the entire story: who gave the order for the targeting and who or what inspired the IRS officials to adopt such a blatantly partisan policy. It also ignores a clue toward solving this problem that Dave Weigel helpfully pointed out in Slate on Friday in his reaction to the astoundingly tone deaf performance of outgoing IRS chief Steven Miller at a congressional hearing: most of the people who work at the IRS are liberal.

As Weigel writes:

In theory, the civil-servant structure should make an organization less prone to an eruption of bias or of hive-mind behavior. But that’s not how it works. Liberals are more likely to enter the civil service, and to stick to it, than conservatives are. And why not? Conservatives want to shrink the size of government; Republicans have negotiated deals federally, and in the states, that slashed or froze the size of the bureaucracies. Ron Swanson aside, the public sector is no place for a libertarian.

Every single number proves this. Tim Carney has collected the campaign finance figures for IRS employees nationally and in the Cincinnati office. In the past three election cycles, IRS workers donated $247,000 to Democrats and $145,000 to Republicans. In Ohio, the number was skewed even further—75 percent to Democrats. According to a 2011 Gallup poll, around 40 percent of unionized federal employees identified as Democrats; only 27 percent identified as Republicans. State and local government employees are far more likely to be Democrats than Republicans.

None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who has had contact with the federal bureaucracy in the last century. Yet on every news talk show discussing this scandal, liberals and Democrats have accused Republicans of politicizing the scandal. But the reality is that the political slant on the story is the product of those who created this mess, not the conservatives who have complained about it. And the people who did the targeting are part of a largely liberal bunch of civil servants that are very likely to have been influenced by the complaints being lodged about the Tea Party by the president, his party and the mainstream liberal media.

The White House is working hard to provide President Obama with what another generation would have termed “plausible deniability” about his knowledge of the scandal, and liberals are screaming bloody murder about any conservative who dares to accuse the administration of creating a culture which made such lapses inevitable. But while the president can claim he didn’t issue the order, it is another thing entirely to assert that those who did it weren’t seeking to do his will.

The Times story, like the inspector general’s report on the scandal that was made public last week, tells us what happened–but they don’t say why. That’s why the need for a more far-reaching and official investigation of the targeting, conducted with the sort of zeal that the Department of Justice normally reserves these days for the press, must follow.

The Times may have convinced itself that the people who targeted conservatives were isolated from the culture of the rest of the agency. But does anyone really believe that the singling out of every single group with the words “Tea Party” in their names for special scrutiny was hatched in a vacuum? The very fact that, as Weigel notes, the employees of a tax collection agency are probably inclined to think ill of tax protest groups should alert us to the very real possibility that politics and partisan bias are at the heart of this activity.

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Iran’s Septuagenarians

Analysts continue to obsess about next month’s presidential elections in Iran. The latest source of speculation is that the Guardian Council, an unelected body charged with vetting presidential candidates (and disqualifying, in practice, more than 95 percent of them) might give the hook, on account of advanced age, to 78-year-old former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who last week declared his intention to run again for the office. If he were elected, that would mean Rafsanjani would turn 79 within weeks of assuming the presidency and would be nearly 83 by the time his term ended. That the Guardian Council would disqualify on the basis of age is, of course, a bit rich given that Ahmad Jannati, the Council’s chairman, is himself 86.

Ali Khamenei—Iran’s Supreme Leader—is also getting up in age, as he prepares to celebrate his 74th birthday. Influential cleric Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi is now 79; radical former premier turned self-declared reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi is 71; and perennial candidate Mehdi Karroubi is 75. Former Foreign Minister and current candidate Ali Velayati is a relative spry 67. There is a new crop of candidates—former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalali is just a wee lad of 47, and Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqir Qalibaf is just four years Jalali’s senior.

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Analysts continue to obsess about next month’s presidential elections in Iran. The latest source of speculation is that the Guardian Council, an unelected body charged with vetting presidential candidates (and disqualifying, in practice, more than 95 percent of them) might give the hook, on account of advanced age, to 78-year-old former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who last week declared his intention to run again for the office. If he were elected, that would mean Rafsanjani would turn 79 within weeks of assuming the presidency and would be nearly 83 by the time his term ended. That the Guardian Council would disqualify on the basis of age is, of course, a bit rich given that Ahmad Jannati, the Council’s chairman, is himself 86.

Ali Khamenei—Iran’s Supreme Leader—is also getting up in age, as he prepares to celebrate his 74th birthday. Influential cleric Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi is now 79; radical former premier turned self-declared reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi is 71; and perennial candidate Mehdi Karroubi is 75. Former Foreign Minister and current candidate Ali Velayati is a relative spry 67. There is a new crop of candidates—former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalali is just a wee lad of 47, and Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqir Qalibaf is just four years Jalali’s senior.

The attention on Rafsanjani’s age should raise larger questions, however, about the looming succession once Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei meets his maker. Iran’s supreme leaders have a bad habit of leading a long life but, as Ayatollah Khomeini proved in 1989, they do eventually die. In theory, the 86-member Assembly of Experts chooses the new supreme leader, but precedent suggests they are more of a rubber-stamp body and that Iran’s notables will seek a consensus candidate even before any name is submitted to the Assembly of Experts.

Many of the leading candidates for this spot, however, are getting onward in age, and many of the younger possibilities remain too polarizing. The entrenchment of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in politics means that there could likely be no candidate who does not meet first with their approval. Another possibility—and one which harkens back to the first decade of the Islamic Republic—is for the supreme leader’s position to be taken up by a committee rather than an individual. This, in turn, might create more problems than it solves as Iran’s factional disputes might permeate and paralyze its highest institution.

Of course, for the United States, paralysis at the top of the Islamic Republic might not be such a bad thing, nor would it be for the Iranian people if its inherent instability hastens the Islamic Republic’s collapse. Perhaps there is something to be said for Iran’s septuagenarian revolution after all.

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The Consequences of an Assad Victory

Now that we refer to the timeline of the Syrian civil war in years instead of days or months, it can be difficult to perceive singular turning points. But the reports coming today out of Homs Province on the battle over the strategic city of Qusayr seem to be describing just that. As the New York Times notes, the battle, which is pitting the Syrian government’s forces and Hezbollah against Syrian rebels, has resulted thus far in government control over more than half the city for the first time.

The importance of Qusayr can be gleaned from the Washington Post’s essential story from May 11 as well. “All [Assad’s forces] need now,” a Syrian analyst tells reporter Liz Sly, “is to hold the coast, Homs and Damascus, where the institutions of governance are.” The Assad regime has stabilized, and the portrait being painted now is one in which the outcome of the conflict is more likely than not to be a Syria with Bashar al-Assad still in power controlling most of the country except for some jihadist-run enclaves. But it would be a mistake to consider this a return to the status quo. In many ways, the perpetuation of current trends is going to yield a balance of power very different from the pre-war one.

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Now that we refer to the timeline of the Syrian civil war in years instead of days or months, it can be difficult to perceive singular turning points. But the reports coming today out of Homs Province on the battle over the strategic city of Qusayr seem to be describing just that. As the New York Times notes, the battle, which is pitting the Syrian government’s forces and Hezbollah against Syrian rebels, has resulted thus far in government control over more than half the city for the first time.

The importance of Qusayr can be gleaned from the Washington Post’s essential story from May 11 as well. “All [Assad’s forces] need now,” a Syrian analyst tells reporter Liz Sly, “is to hold the coast, Homs and Damascus, where the institutions of governance are.” The Assad regime has stabilized, and the portrait being painted now is one in which the outcome of the conflict is more likely than not to be a Syria with Bashar al-Assad still in power controlling most of the country except for some jihadist-run enclaves. But it would be a mistake to consider this a return to the status quo. In many ways, the perpetuation of current trends is going to yield a balance of power very different from the pre-war one.

If Assad does indeed retain power, it will bolster Iran’s influence in Syria and Lebanon because of the role played by the Iranian client Hezbollah. It will strengthen Iran’s hand in negotiations with the West, increase Iran’s threat to Israel, and encourage Iranian adventurism and expansionism thanks to President Obama’s penchant for lobbing empty threats. It will be more difficult to isolate Syria not only because of Iran’s increased influence across the region but because Russia will have taken a more public stance in support of the Assad regime. Additionally, if the U.S. plays any role in an armistice that leaves Assad in power the Obama administration will have endorsed Assad’s continued rule.

The other major difference between pre-war Syria and this vision of post-war Syria is the presence of Islamist extremists. Pre-war Syria was a police state with Assad firmly in control. There may have been jihadists there unconnected to the Assad regime, but not nearly to the extent there will be going forward. If the Post’s story is an accurate preview, post-war Syria will have jihadist carve-outs similar to Hezbollah’s center of control in south Lebanon. That will only further destabilize Lebanon and virtually assure some sustained low-level conflict in Syria even after an armistice is signed. (Ironically, it may bear some resemblance to Russia’s fight with Islamist extremists in the Caucasus.)

Strategically for the U.S., there is a difference between a jihadist safe haven in a country whose government cooperates with us to some extent, like Yemen or even Pakistan (the latter having the advantage of at least bordering on a state with U.S. troops–for now), and a jihadist safe haven operating out of a state like Syria. Such jihadists may be beyond the West’s reach, but they won’t be disconnected from Qatari cash. American strategists may think the Qatari link can stand in for our own, but the Qataris have been playing the U.S. and will continue to do so, and will now have a hand in influencing anti-Western extremists in Gaza, Syria, and, as the Wall Street Journal is reporting, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government.

The Times report closes on this note:

Mr. Assad, according to people who have spoken with him, believes that reasserting his hold in the province is crucial to maintaining control of a string of population centers in western Syria, and eventually to military campaigns to retake rebel-held territory in the north and east. Many analysts say that it is unlikely that the government will be able to regain control of those areas, but that it could consolidate its grip on the west, leading to a de facto division of the country.

Such a division would collapse whatever nominal independence Lebanon has because the Assad regime, buoyed by its military alliance with Hezbollah, would control areas that border on Lebanon. It would give Syria renewed control over Lebanese territory and expand Hezbollah’s reach as well. That might be a fair trade for Assad, but it wouldn’t be for Western interests. If Assad loses territory in Syria’s north or east, those areas may become Islamist operating bases near American allies–Iraq and to some extent Jordan to the east and southeast, Turkey to the north. The latter is a NATO ally with a predilection for funding some Islamic terror groups while fighting others.

Turkey has threatened to invoke NATO’s common defense obligations during the Syrian civil war, but is more likely to join Qatar in funding the jihadists on its border, if only to co-opt them instead of fight them. The danger posed by a permanent, well-funded, battle-scarred jihadist presence near Jordan is quite obvious, though seemingly underappreciated by too many in the West. It may be too late for any resolution that does not leave Assad in power, but we should not delude ourselves into thinking such an outcome would simply turn back the clock to 2011.

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James Rosen on Robert Bork and Watergate

Veteran reporter James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News, is at the center of the latest controversy involving the Obama administration’s treatment of the press, stemming from a story he broke in 2009. Rosen’s insightful review of Robert Bork’s posthumously published memoir of his involvement in the Watergate affair–given new relevance by the current scandals–is in the current issue of COMMENTARY and can be read here.

Veteran reporter James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News, is at the center of the latest controversy involving the Obama administration’s treatment of the press, stemming from a story he broke in 2009. Rosen’s insightful review of Robert Bork’s posthumously published memoir of his involvement in the Watergate affair–given new relevance by the current scandals–is in the current issue of COMMENTARY and can be read here.

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Compare Obama Scandals to W., Not Nixon

The Obama administration’s scandal trifecta has caused some Republicans and even some media figures to start throwing the most dreaded comparison you can throw at a president: Richard Milhous Nixon. But though Democrats understand that the politicization of the IRS will, at the very least, energize their opponents next year, they’ve also rightly understood that at this stage talk about Nixon is, at best, premature. Thus when the White House sent out one of the president’s inner circle yesterday to do all five Sunday news talk shows, their strategy for surviving the scandals was clear. After the worst week of the Obama presidency, senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer played the one card that has always worked for the Democrats in the last few years: alleged Republican extremism. To listen to Pfeiffer, instead of the president needing to be accountable to the country for what’s been happening, it’s the GOP that owes the country an apology for preventing Obama from implementing his policies by prioritizing the scandals.

Turning the tables on your opponents is always a useful tactic, especially if it is done as shamelessly as this. After all, the same media that has turned on the president in the last week spent the previous four years lapping up this stuff. But if Pfeiffer’s boss thinks he can live through this siege of bad news merely by repeating the same media strategy he’s been employing all along, he’s mistaken. Talk about Nixon or impeachment doesn’t hurt Obama. But what he and his advisors are missing is that the most dangerous comparison to him right now is a president with whom they are much better acquainted: George W. Bush.

Mentioning Bush in the same breath as Obama is bound to offend both Democrats and Republicans. The former because they despise W. even more than a GOP demon from the past like Nixon, and the latter because they rightly believe evaluations of Bush as a failed president are unfair and the product of liberal slanders and media bias. But the 43rd president’s second term provides an object lesson in how a president can be done in by an impression of incompetence.

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The Obama administration’s scandal trifecta has caused some Republicans and even some media figures to start throwing the most dreaded comparison you can throw at a president: Richard Milhous Nixon. But though Democrats understand that the politicization of the IRS will, at the very least, energize their opponents next year, they’ve also rightly understood that at this stage talk about Nixon is, at best, premature. Thus when the White House sent out one of the president’s inner circle yesterday to do all five Sunday news talk shows, their strategy for surviving the scandals was clear. After the worst week of the Obama presidency, senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer played the one card that has always worked for the Democrats in the last few years: alleged Republican extremism. To listen to Pfeiffer, instead of the president needing to be accountable to the country for what’s been happening, it’s the GOP that owes the country an apology for preventing Obama from implementing his policies by prioritizing the scandals.

Turning the tables on your opponents is always a useful tactic, especially if it is done as shamelessly as this. After all, the same media that has turned on the president in the last week spent the previous four years lapping up this stuff. But if Pfeiffer’s boss thinks he can live through this siege of bad news merely by repeating the same media strategy he’s been employing all along, he’s mistaken. Talk about Nixon or impeachment doesn’t hurt Obama. But what he and his advisors are missing is that the most dangerous comparison to him right now is a president with whom they are much better acquainted: George W. Bush.

Mentioning Bush in the same breath as Obama is bound to offend both Democrats and Republicans. The former because they despise W. even more than a GOP demon from the past like Nixon, and the latter because they rightly believe evaluations of Bush as a failed president are unfair and the product of liberal slanders and media bias. But the 43rd president’s second term provides an object lesson in how a president can be done in by an impression of incompetence.

Right now, Republicans aren’t satisfied with damning the administration for its incompetent response to the failure to protect diplomats in Benghazi, the IRS scandal or the Justice Department’s spying on journalists. The implications of the lies that were told about Benghazi, the politicization of the IRS and the DOJ’s campaign of intimidation against whistle-blowers go much deeper than that. Indeed, Democrats lately seem to think that putting all of these problems down to stupidity is a safer strategy than the alternative. They believe Americans will forgive the government for not knowing what it is doing a lot quicker than they will deceit or a malevolent manipulation of power.

Perhaps. But what they are forgetting is that what made Bush’s second term so problematic was not so much the allegations about him “lying us into a war” as it was the impression that he lost control of the government. The tipping point was Hurricane Katrina and the attempt to portray that disaster as not only being Bush’s fault but that government agencies were not up to the task of handling the problem. The Iraq war dragged down his presidency not so much because many Americans came to the conclusion it was a mistake but because for a crucial period, the bloodletting seemed to be beyond his control. The financial crisis in the closing months of his term solidified the idea that Bush wasn’t in command and couldn’t fix problems.

Let me specify that I think much of this case against Bush was off base. Indeed, Iraq showed that Bush could take a crisis on and largely fix it, as the surge he adopted in 2007 won the war even if Obama’s subsequent withdrawal may wind up losing it. But the lesson here is that once a president is branded as out of touch and incompetent, not even a war-winning strategy shift can make it go away.

So while Democrats may think they are taking the easy way out by trying to persuade the public that the government just didn’t know what it was doing in these scandals, this is actually a fatal mistake. For a party and a president that are ideologically committed to the cause of big government to play this card undermines everything they stand for. As bad as Bush seemed to be doing, it is even worse for his successor to behave as if he hears about every problem in the media the same as everyone else and that he had nothing to do with any of it.

Pfeiffer and the rest of Obama’s advisers need to understand that rather than the incompetence argument being a plea bargain that will get him off the hook, it is actually an admission that the lame duck portion of this presidency has already begun. Accusing Republicans of being extremists won’t change that verdict.

By the same token, as much as Republicans are right to focus on the lies about Benghazi and the illegality of what the IRS has done, they need to remember just how badly Bush suffered from being labeled as a president who didn’t know what he was doing. Calling Obama a liar may be more satisfying than calling him incompetent, but it is the latter that may do more damage in the long run.

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Obama’s Courtiers at the New York Times

In a New York Times story about how President Obama is seeking a path forward beyond his troubles, we’re told this: “In the last few days, the administration appears to have stopped the bleeding. The release of internal e-mails on Benghazi largely confirmed the White House’s account.”

No it hasn’t.

The original White House account was that the White House and the State Department made only minor, stylistic changes to the Benghazi talking points. That claim was utterly untrue. In addition, the president, the secretary of state, the president’s press secretary, and the ambassador to the United Nations all blamed the lethal attacks on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi on an anti-Muslim YouTube video, a claim that was false and never even appeared in the talking points. And the early (correct) talking point references to Islamic terrorist attacks and Ansar al-Sharia were removed, which is one reason why then-CIA director David Petraeus concluded he’d just as soon not use them.

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In a New York Times story about how President Obama is seeking a path forward beyond his troubles, we’re told this: “In the last few days, the administration appears to have stopped the bleeding. The release of internal e-mails on Benghazi largely confirmed the White House’s account.”

No it hasn’t.

The original White House account was that the White House and the State Department made only minor, stylistic changes to the Benghazi talking points. That claim was utterly untrue. In addition, the president, the secretary of state, the president’s press secretary, and the ambassador to the United Nations all blamed the lethal attacks on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi on an anti-Muslim YouTube video, a claim that was false and never even appeared in the talking points. And the early (correct) talking point references to Islamic terrorist attacks and Ansar al-Sharia were removed, which is one reason why then-CIA director David Petraeus concluded he’d just as soon not use them.

To add insult to injury, the White House continues to deny its role in the deception. For example, Mr. Carney continues to stand by his statement made last November that the White House and the State Department “have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of those two, of these two institutions were changing the word ‘consulate’ to ‘diplomatic facility’.” He does so despite documents that prove he is wrong. It doesn’t matter. For the Obama White House, we’re in the “Who do you believe, me or your lying eyes?” phase. For the Times to therefore conclude that the internal e-mails on Benghazi “largely confirmed the White House’s account” is largely ludicrous and transparently incorrect.

It’s yet one more example of the Times specifically, and the elite press more broadly, parroting White House claims that are misleading and which no Republican administration could ever hope to get away with.

Based on the last 10 days, some journalists have turned on the president in the short run. But most of them will revert back to their pattern of the last four-plus years. Which is to say they will once again settle into their role as courtiers for the Obama White House. There is no other plausible explanation for why so many journalists continue to downplay or even misrepresent the Benghazi scandal. They are determined to make this story go away.

Whether or not that happens is an open question. What is not in dispute, however, is that the American people were systematically misled by the president and his top advisers. And journalists with integrity would say so.

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Baghdad: What Might Have Been

My favorite museum in London is without doubt the Soane Museum. Born in 1753, John Soane started his career as a bricklayer, but quickly established himself as an architect and as an eclectic collector, gathering everything from sarcophagae to clocks to nineteenth century latches, weights, and even nails. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, he was commissioned to build some of London’s finest neo-classical structures. His best-known work was the Bank of England building, although much of it was destroyed in an early twentieth century renovation. Many of the other structures he designed were never built, owing to the interruption of and financial drain caused by the Napoleonic Wars.

That didn’t stop Soane from painting his monumental structures, not only depicting them as new but also speculating how they might look centuries into the future if in ruins. (A stroll through his cluttered former house—packed so full with antiquities that many of the paintings are hung on hinged panels and can only be seen if the panels are opened exposing the other side—is an experience that won’t be forgotten).

It’s against the backdrop of the window Soane provides into a London that never came to be that this article about a Baghdad that likewise never came to be is so fascinating:

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My favorite museum in London is without doubt the Soane Museum. Born in 1753, John Soane started his career as a bricklayer, but quickly established himself as an architect and as an eclectic collector, gathering everything from sarcophagae to clocks to nineteenth century latches, weights, and even nails. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, he was commissioned to build some of London’s finest neo-classical structures. His best-known work was the Bank of England building, although much of it was destroyed in an early twentieth century renovation. Many of the other structures he designed were never built, owing to the interruption of and financial drain caused by the Napoleonic Wars.

That didn’t stop Soane from painting his monumental structures, not only depicting them as new but also speculating how they might look centuries into the future if in ruins. (A stroll through his cluttered former house—packed so full with antiquities that many of the paintings are hung on hinged panels and can only be seen if the panels are opened exposing the other side—is an experience that won’t be forgotten).

It’s against the backdrop of the window Soane provides into a London that never came to be that this article about a Baghdad that likewise never came to be is so fascinating:

Le Corbusier’s Gymnasium was born during Iraq’s post-Second World War renaissance, when the country was flush with cash from its oil concessions. The country’s ruling elite were desperate to trade their Mesopotamian past for a modern identity. King Faisal II was the third and last of Iraq’s kings, and ruled from 1939 until 1958. He created a Development Board that would invest the country’s petrodollars into massive infrastructure projects and redevelop the city to create a cosmopolitan centre of the Arab world. The board envisaged a set of landmark buildings designed by high-profile international architects. The design for Baghdad University was awarded to Walter Gropius, an opera house to Frank Lloyd Wright, a museum to Alvar Aalto, a sporting facility to Le Corbusier, and the Development Board headquarters building to Gio Ponti… Wright’s opera house was to be built on an undeveloped island, which he planned to name the Isle of Eden, located on the Tigris. The building would perch on a hilltop surrounded by a pool and gardens. His “Plan for Greater Baghdad” also included a cultural centre, a university and a theatre.

My first impression of Baghdad in 2003—before the ubiquitous blast walls went up—was what a depressing city it was, and that impression has not changed. Kanan Makiya—more famous for his books chronicling Saddam’s tyranny—was at his most concise and interesting in The Monument which chronicled how Saddam Hussein sought to remake Baghdad and, more broadly Iraq, in an equally grandiose if not tasteful manner.

This transformation he never completed because of years of war and sanctions, although some of the monuments (and, indeed, his palaces) litter the Green Zone. Baghdad is now starting to change once again for the better, albeit slowly. Nevertheless, as Iraqis gaze back at how history might have treated their city had it not been for the revolutions in 1958 and 1968, and the wars which followed, it will be hard for them not to be depressed, far more so than Londoners were when myriad wars changed George III’s priorities. In Baghdad, at least, the scars of dictatorships past continue to scar the land and will do so for many decades more.

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