Commentary Magazine


Topic: administration official

From Gitmo to Algeria

Obama’s cockeyed national security policy (which seeks ephemeral PR benefits from releasing terror detainees and handcuffing our own intelligence operatives) and his indifference to human rights have collided in the return of an Algerian Gitmo detainee to his home country — against his will. This report explains:

Aziz Abdul Naji, 35, an Algerian who had been held at Guantanamo for more than eight years, had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to remain at the military detention center in Cuba. He argued that he would be tortured or killed in Algeria, either by the government or by terrorist groups that might try to recruit him.

In a unanimous decision, the justices declined late Friday to hear Naji’s appeal, and the Defense Department announced Monday that he had been repatriated.

We are told not to worry about his fate:

The government said that Algeria has provided diplomatic assurances that Naji would not be mistreated, assurances that administration officials say are credible because 10 other detainees have been returned to Algeria without incident.

“We take our human rights responsibilities seriously,” said an administration official.

Attorneys for Naji said they were disappointed by the transfer and vowed to continue to monitor Naji’s treatment.

“We are pretty stunned; you are never prepared,” said Doris Tennant, one of the lawyers. “We hope very much that the Algerian government will protect him. We plan to do everything we can to stay on top of it, and we are working with NGOs to make sure he is well protected.”

Algeria takes its human rights seriously? One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Apparently, the Obami are willing to play along with this farce. Algeria takes many things seriously — prolonging the Western Sahara humanitarian crisis, for example — but not human rights. Don’t take my word for it:

France must not deport a man convicted of terrorist acts to Algeria where he may be at risk of incommunicado detention and torture or other ill-treatment, Amnesty International said on Thursday. According to a European Court of Human Rights’ judgement on Thursday, Kamel Daoudi’s expulsion to Algeria would expose him to inhuman or degrading treatment and would be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. “Sending Kamel Daoudi to Algeria would put him at risk of being tortured. As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, France must not carry out the expulsion,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Deputy Programme Director.

That’s a 2009 Amnesty International report. Want a more authoritative source? There is this:

Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices; however, NGO and local human rights activists reported that government officials sometimes employed them to obtain confessions. Government agents can face prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for committing such acts, and some were tried and convicted in 2008. Nonetheless, impunity remained a problem.

Local human rights lawyers maintained that torture continued to occur in detention facilities, most often against those arrested on “security grounds.” …

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally did not meet international standards. Overcrowding was a problem in many prisons. According to human rights lawyers, the problem of overpopulation was partially explained by an abusive recourse to pretrial detention. In 2008 the [National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights] conducted 34 prison visits and highlighted concerns with overcrowding, insufficient bed space, as well as poor lighting, ventilation, nutrition, and hygiene.

That’s from our State Department’s 2009 Human Rights Report.

No wonder a total of six Algerians (the other five are nearly certain to be repatriated) didn’t want to go back. But Obama thinks it is important (at least to his own image with international elite) to eject the Algerians from a safe, comfortable detention facility. So back they will go. Good luck to them. Let’s hope the NGOs are able to keep track of them and offer some protection. The United States sure won’t.

Obama’s cockeyed national security policy (which seeks ephemeral PR benefits from releasing terror detainees and handcuffing our own intelligence operatives) and his indifference to human rights have collided in the return of an Algerian Gitmo detainee to his home country — against his will. This report explains:

Aziz Abdul Naji, 35, an Algerian who had been held at Guantanamo for more than eight years, had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to remain at the military detention center in Cuba. He argued that he would be tortured or killed in Algeria, either by the government or by terrorist groups that might try to recruit him.

In a unanimous decision, the justices declined late Friday to hear Naji’s appeal, and the Defense Department announced Monday that he had been repatriated.

We are told not to worry about his fate:

The government said that Algeria has provided diplomatic assurances that Naji would not be mistreated, assurances that administration officials say are credible because 10 other detainees have been returned to Algeria without incident.

“We take our human rights responsibilities seriously,” said an administration official.

Attorneys for Naji said they were disappointed by the transfer and vowed to continue to monitor Naji’s treatment.

“We are pretty stunned; you are never prepared,” said Doris Tennant, one of the lawyers. “We hope very much that the Algerian government will protect him. We plan to do everything we can to stay on top of it, and we are working with NGOs to make sure he is well protected.”

Algeria takes its human rights seriously? One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Apparently, the Obami are willing to play along with this farce. Algeria takes many things seriously — prolonging the Western Sahara humanitarian crisis, for example — but not human rights. Don’t take my word for it:

France must not deport a man convicted of terrorist acts to Algeria where he may be at risk of incommunicado detention and torture or other ill-treatment, Amnesty International said on Thursday. According to a European Court of Human Rights’ judgement on Thursday, Kamel Daoudi’s expulsion to Algeria would expose him to inhuman or degrading treatment and would be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. “Sending Kamel Daoudi to Algeria would put him at risk of being tortured. As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, France must not carry out the expulsion,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Deputy Programme Director.

That’s a 2009 Amnesty International report. Want a more authoritative source? There is this:

Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices; however, NGO and local human rights activists reported that government officials sometimes employed them to obtain confessions. Government agents can face prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for committing such acts, and some were tried and convicted in 2008. Nonetheless, impunity remained a problem.

Local human rights lawyers maintained that torture continued to occur in detention facilities, most often against those arrested on “security grounds.” …

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally did not meet international standards. Overcrowding was a problem in many prisons. According to human rights lawyers, the problem of overpopulation was partially explained by an abusive recourse to pretrial detention. In 2008 the [National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights] conducted 34 prison visits and highlighted concerns with overcrowding, insufficient bed space, as well as poor lighting, ventilation, nutrition, and hygiene.

That’s from our State Department’s 2009 Human Rights Report.

No wonder a total of six Algerians (the other five are nearly certain to be repatriated) didn’t want to go back. But Obama thinks it is important (at least to his own image with international elite) to eject the Algerians from a safe, comfortable detention facility. So back they will go. Good luck to them. Let’s hope the NGOs are able to keep track of them and offer some protection. The United States sure won’t.

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Obama’s Race Obsession

It seems a lifetime ago that Obama represented hope for a post-racial presidency and in fact a post-racial era in American politics. Like so much else about Obama, the reality is the opposite of what was promised. Jake Tapper relates a rather amazing effort to inject race into the war against Islamic terrorists:

In an interview earlier today with the South African Broadcasting Corporation to air in a few hours, President Obama disparaged al Qaeda and affiliated groups’ willingness to kill Africans in a manner that White House aides say was an argument that the terrorist groups are racist.

Speaking about the Uganda bombings, the president said, “What you’ve seen in some of the statements that have been made by these terrorist organizations is that they do not regard African life as valuable in and of itself.  They see it as a potential place where you can carry out ideological battles that kill innocents without regard to long-term consequences for their short-term tactical gains.” …

Explaining the president’s comment, an administration official said Mr. Obama “references the fact that both U.S. intelligence and past al Qaeda actions make clear that al Qaeda — and the groups like al Shabaab that they inspire — do not value African life. The actions of al Qaeda and the groups that it has inspired show a willingness to sacrifice innocent African life to reach their targets.” … “In short,” the official said, “al Qaeda is a racist organization that treats black Africans like cannon fodder and does not value human life.”

Oh, good grief. Al-Qaeda isn’t a racist organization — it’s an organization that kills regardless of race anyone who stands in the way of its Islamo-fascist vision. The notion that it is racist is not only ignorant but also transparently manipulative. Does the administration really think that Africans can only be motivated if they think race is behind the slaughter of their people? And does Obama mean to suggest that al-Qaeda is pro-white? The mind reels.

It is this sort of thing that fills one with dread and raises this question: is there no limit to the lengths Obama will go to avoid spelling out the real motive behind Islamic fundamentalist terror? It’s the Islamic fundamentalism, of course. The Obami, however, would rather make up a counter-factual narrative and introduce a potentially divisive racial theme (don’t we want Europeans to take the war on terror seriously? what about Indonesians?) into the worldwide war against terrorism than be candid with the American people. Despite his worldly credentials, Obama’s foreign policy is strikingly condescending toward the rest of the world. Muslims will get confused and upset if we identify radical Islam as the basis for terrorism! Africans won’t join us unless they think it’s all about race!

I think we need a post-post-racial commander in chief who doesn’t assume that the rest of the world is populated by dolts.

It seems a lifetime ago that Obama represented hope for a post-racial presidency and in fact a post-racial era in American politics. Like so much else about Obama, the reality is the opposite of what was promised. Jake Tapper relates a rather amazing effort to inject race into the war against Islamic terrorists:

In an interview earlier today with the South African Broadcasting Corporation to air in a few hours, President Obama disparaged al Qaeda and affiliated groups’ willingness to kill Africans in a manner that White House aides say was an argument that the terrorist groups are racist.

Speaking about the Uganda bombings, the president said, “What you’ve seen in some of the statements that have been made by these terrorist organizations is that they do not regard African life as valuable in and of itself.  They see it as a potential place where you can carry out ideological battles that kill innocents without regard to long-term consequences for their short-term tactical gains.” …

Explaining the president’s comment, an administration official said Mr. Obama “references the fact that both U.S. intelligence and past al Qaeda actions make clear that al Qaeda — and the groups like al Shabaab that they inspire — do not value African life. The actions of al Qaeda and the groups that it has inspired show a willingness to sacrifice innocent African life to reach their targets.” … “In short,” the official said, “al Qaeda is a racist organization that treats black Africans like cannon fodder and does not value human life.”

Oh, good grief. Al-Qaeda isn’t a racist organization — it’s an organization that kills regardless of race anyone who stands in the way of its Islamo-fascist vision. The notion that it is racist is not only ignorant but also transparently manipulative. Does the administration really think that Africans can only be motivated if they think race is behind the slaughter of their people? And does Obama mean to suggest that al-Qaeda is pro-white? The mind reels.

It is this sort of thing that fills one with dread and raises this question: is there no limit to the lengths Obama will go to avoid spelling out the real motive behind Islamic fundamentalist terror? It’s the Islamic fundamentalism, of course. The Obami, however, would rather make up a counter-factual narrative and introduce a potentially divisive racial theme (don’t we want Europeans to take the war on terror seriously? what about Indonesians?) into the worldwide war against terrorism than be candid with the American people. Despite his worldly credentials, Obama’s foreign policy is strikingly condescending toward the rest of the world. Muslims will get confused and upset if we identify radical Islam as the basis for terrorism! Africans won’t join us unless they think it’s all about race!

I think we need a post-post-racial commander in chief who doesn’t assume that the rest of the world is populated by dolts.

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The Missing Link: It’s Not McChrystal

General Stanley McChrystal’s frustration – some of it most improperly expressed – reminded me of the Washington Post background piece from December 2009, in which the authors communicated the Obama Afghanistan policy thus:

The White House’s desired end state in Afghanistan, officials said, envisions more informal local security arrangements than in Iraq, a less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence.

According to an administration official:

The guidance they [the military] have is that we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever. … The hardest intellectual exercise will be settling on how much is enough.

I wrote at the time that this was not executable guidance. It’s the kind of guidance that can be used with some limited success by an individual leader who has a more specific plan and enjoys latitude, trust, and support from his seniors. But success will always be limited — local, situational, and tactical — when the overarching guidance consists not of an objective but of an anti-objective. McChrystal has made the most of his options within the framework of guidance, which amounts to a politically-manipulable exit strategy. But it has been clear for months that his political supervisors — Karl Eikenberry, Richard Holbrooke, the president — are fundamentally disengaged from the actual campaign plan being implemented.

Who has the sense that President Obama is politically and morally invested in the surge being ramped up in Kandahar? When does he speak of it in public? When does he lend the weight of statesmanlike rhetoric to the military effort in its specific incarnations? As commander in chief, he has confined himself largely to expressing generic thanks to the troops for their service and sacrifice. He speaks occasionally about political relations with Afghanistan and the Karzai regime, but we never hear him making a military-operational case for NATO’s endeavors there — or tying the military approach to our political goals.

That is a virtually unique failing in an American president. Think back through all the presidents in your lifetime: each one of them, even Jimmy Carter, gave a stronger impression of integrated, accountable leadership in the military realm. This is not a matter of putting on a show or cultivating appearances either. The issue is conveying that what’s being done in the field in Afghanistan represents the president’s will and intention and has a purpose he is fully committed to.

The truth is, however, that there is no commitment to an objective. That’s what it means when Obama’s advisers speak vaguely of a “less-capable national government” for Afghanistan than for Iraq, a “greater tolerance of insurgent violence,” and “not doing everything and not doing it forever.” I believe, with Max Boot and others, that Afghanistan is winnable; but even with McChrystal’s strategy, I do not believe it can be won while the political guidance is temporizing and uncommitted. Military force is a tool of political will, not a substitute for it.

Sadly, a chastened General McChrystal will function even less effectively in this environment. When your job entails offering unpalatable truths and unwelcome advice, breaches of trust are very hard to overcome. In this painful situation, it would be a better sign of Obama’s own engagement if he picked a new commander. If he doesn’t, I wish McChrystal all the lucky breaks he can get. He’s going to need them.

General Stanley McChrystal’s frustration – some of it most improperly expressed – reminded me of the Washington Post background piece from December 2009, in which the authors communicated the Obama Afghanistan policy thus:

The White House’s desired end state in Afghanistan, officials said, envisions more informal local security arrangements than in Iraq, a less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence.

According to an administration official:

The guidance they [the military] have is that we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever. … The hardest intellectual exercise will be settling on how much is enough.

I wrote at the time that this was not executable guidance. It’s the kind of guidance that can be used with some limited success by an individual leader who has a more specific plan and enjoys latitude, trust, and support from his seniors. But success will always be limited — local, situational, and tactical — when the overarching guidance consists not of an objective but of an anti-objective. McChrystal has made the most of his options within the framework of guidance, which amounts to a politically-manipulable exit strategy. But it has been clear for months that his political supervisors — Karl Eikenberry, Richard Holbrooke, the president — are fundamentally disengaged from the actual campaign plan being implemented.

Who has the sense that President Obama is politically and morally invested in the surge being ramped up in Kandahar? When does he speak of it in public? When does he lend the weight of statesmanlike rhetoric to the military effort in its specific incarnations? As commander in chief, he has confined himself largely to expressing generic thanks to the troops for their service and sacrifice. He speaks occasionally about political relations with Afghanistan and the Karzai regime, but we never hear him making a military-operational case for NATO’s endeavors there — or tying the military approach to our political goals.

That is a virtually unique failing in an American president. Think back through all the presidents in your lifetime: each one of them, even Jimmy Carter, gave a stronger impression of integrated, accountable leadership in the military realm. This is not a matter of putting on a show or cultivating appearances either. The issue is conveying that what’s being done in the field in Afghanistan represents the president’s will and intention and has a purpose he is fully committed to.

The truth is, however, that there is no commitment to an objective. That’s what it means when Obama’s advisers speak vaguely of a “less-capable national government” for Afghanistan than for Iraq, a “greater tolerance of insurgent violence,” and “not doing everything and not doing it forever.” I believe, with Max Boot and others, that Afghanistan is winnable; but even with McChrystal’s strategy, I do not believe it can be won while the political guidance is temporizing and uncommitted. Military force is a tool of political will, not a substitute for it.

Sadly, a chastened General McChrystal will function even less effectively in this environment. When your job entails offering unpalatable truths and unwelcome advice, breaches of trust are very hard to overcome. In this painful situation, it would be a better sign of Obama’s own engagement if he picked a new commander. If he doesn’t, I wish McChrystal all the lucky breaks he can get. He’s going to need them.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Where is the administration when Israel is being savaged? Hiding at the UN: “Where was she this time? The United Nations Security Council held an emergency Security Council meeting Monday on Israel’s raid of a ship headed to Gaza — and the United States was represented by the deputy at the US Mission. Reporters, UN members and activists were mystified as to why Susan Rice, the American Ambassador to the UN, was a no-show to the roughly 12-hour negotiations which left a key ally fending off global criticism without the top American diplomat to help. … Rice’s absence sends a powerful message to the UN members attending the emergency meeting, unfortunately, the message is that she is either unable to lead or afraid of the consequences that come with taking a controversial stand.”

Where is the American media? It seems there is no fuel shortage and plenty of food in the markets of Gaza City.

Where are those moderate Muslims pushing back against jihadism? “Halalco is the largest store of its kind in the Washington, D.C. area. In addition to halal meat, the store carries a large selection of Islamic books, recordings and clothing. In an exclusive investigation, CBN News discovered that Halalco was also selling CDs and DVDs by none other than al-Awlaki [the imam who inspired the Fort Hood and Times Square jihadists]. In the store, was a display devoted entirely to al-Awlaki’s works just one day after he released a video calling for the killing of U.S. civilians.” The next day, after the CBN crew had arrived, the al-Awlaki display was gone.

Where is Steny Hoyer? In a much better position on Israel than the dim Speaker of the House: “While the majority of ships in the flotilla — 5 out of 6 — reacted peacefully when approached by Israeli Defense Forces, activists on board the Mavi Marmara were clearly bent on a violent confrontation.  They further chose this path despite two week’s worth of repeated warnings from Israel that the ship would not be allowed to come ashore, and despite Israel’s offer to instead receive the humanitarian goods at Ashdod, inspect them there for weapons, and ensure their distribution to Palestinians in Gaza. Finally, to the extent that this act was in protest of the Gaza blockade, let’s be clear: Hamas could end the blockade at any time by recognizing Israel’s right to exist, renouncing violence, and releasing Gilad Shalit.”

Where is the groundswell for ObamaCare? Nowhere. Two polls show new lows in public support.

Where is the Obama cover story this time? The White House will need one. “Administration officials dangled the possibility of a job for former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff last year in hopes he would forego a challenge to Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. Administration officials on Wednesday declined to specify the job that was floated or the name of the administration official who approached Romanoff, and said no formal offer was ever made. They spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not cleared to discuss private conversations.”

Where is support for Rand Paul heading? He’s gone from 25 points to nine points ahead in the Rasmussen poll. I suspect he’ll be in negative territory soon enough.

Where is the administration when Israel is being savaged? Hiding at the UN: “Where was she this time? The United Nations Security Council held an emergency Security Council meeting Monday on Israel’s raid of a ship headed to Gaza — and the United States was represented by the deputy at the US Mission. Reporters, UN members and activists were mystified as to why Susan Rice, the American Ambassador to the UN, was a no-show to the roughly 12-hour negotiations which left a key ally fending off global criticism without the top American diplomat to help. … Rice’s absence sends a powerful message to the UN members attending the emergency meeting, unfortunately, the message is that she is either unable to lead or afraid of the consequences that come with taking a controversial stand.”

Where is the American media? It seems there is no fuel shortage and plenty of food in the markets of Gaza City.

Where are those moderate Muslims pushing back against jihadism? “Halalco is the largest store of its kind in the Washington, D.C. area. In addition to halal meat, the store carries a large selection of Islamic books, recordings and clothing. In an exclusive investigation, CBN News discovered that Halalco was also selling CDs and DVDs by none other than al-Awlaki [the imam who inspired the Fort Hood and Times Square jihadists]. In the store, was a display devoted entirely to al-Awlaki’s works just one day after he released a video calling for the killing of U.S. civilians.” The next day, after the CBN crew had arrived, the al-Awlaki display was gone.

Where is Steny Hoyer? In a much better position on Israel than the dim Speaker of the House: “While the majority of ships in the flotilla — 5 out of 6 — reacted peacefully when approached by Israeli Defense Forces, activists on board the Mavi Marmara were clearly bent on a violent confrontation.  They further chose this path despite two week’s worth of repeated warnings from Israel that the ship would not be allowed to come ashore, and despite Israel’s offer to instead receive the humanitarian goods at Ashdod, inspect them there for weapons, and ensure their distribution to Palestinians in Gaza. Finally, to the extent that this act was in protest of the Gaza blockade, let’s be clear: Hamas could end the blockade at any time by recognizing Israel’s right to exist, renouncing violence, and releasing Gilad Shalit.”

Where is the groundswell for ObamaCare? Nowhere. Two polls show new lows in public support.

Where is the Obama cover story this time? The White House will need one. “Administration officials dangled the possibility of a job for former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff last year in hopes he would forego a challenge to Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. Administration officials on Wednesday declined to specify the job that was floated or the name of the administration official who approached Romanoff, and said no formal offer was ever made. They spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not cleared to discuss private conversations.”

Where is support for Rand Paul heading? He’s gone from 25 points to nine points ahead in the Rasmussen poll. I suspect he’ll be in negative territory soon enough.

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The Scud Saga Continues

Michael Young, the opinion editor of the Beirut Daily Star, has a fine column parsing the latest developments on Syria, Lebanon, and the Obama administration. He confirms the interpretation I made recently on this blog, that the administration is puzzled at the failure of its opening gambits and unsure of what to do next:

The problem is that Washington is of several minds over what to do about Syria…because there is no broad accord, and because the president has not provided clear guidance on resolving Mideastern problems, there is confusion in Washington. And where there is confusion there is policy bedlam, with everyone trying to fill the vacuum. That explains why the Syrians feel they can relax for now, and why the Iranians see no reason yet to fear an American riposte.

Lebanon should be worried about American uncertainty. When there is doubt in Washington, it usually means the Israelis have wide latitude to do what they see fit here. With much of the Lebanese political class openly or objectively siding with Hezbollah, rather than shaping an American approach to Lebanon that might reinforce its sovereignty, we can guess the calamitous effect of that abdication.

Young’s worry is confirmed by this remarkable report from Foreign Policy‘s Josh Rogin:

As for why Syria seems to be playing such an unhelpful role, “that’s the million-dollar question,” the [Obama administration] official said….”We do not understand Syrian intentions. No one does, and until we get to that question we can never get to the root of the problem,” the official said. “Until then it’s all damage control.”

This is quite simply amazing. The Assads, father and now son, have run the same foreign policy for decades. It is a very simple model, and one that gets discussed in detail on a regular basis: They are the arsonists who sell water to the fire department. The administration official should start his odyssey of discovery by reading Bret Stephens’s 2009 Commentary essay, “The Syrian Temptation — and Why Obama Must Resist It.”

Bashar is a promoter of a remarkable array of death and destruction in the Middle East: killing American soldiers in Iraq, murdering Lebanon’s pro-democracy community into submission, killing Israelis, arming Hezbollah, hosting Hamas, and so on. This is intended not only to make Syria into a bigger player than it would otherwise be, but allows Bashar to maintain his illegitimate police state of a regime by constantly invoking foreign threats. And it ensures that the United States and other western powers will continuously drag themselves to Syria to beg for cooperation. “The road to Damascus is a road to peace,” Nancy Pelosi famously declared on her visit in 2007, unintentionally confirming to Assad the wisdom of the mayhem he sponsors. This is like saying that the road to the brothel is a road to virginity.

In the Obama administration, there are a few people, like Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who understand Syria. But foreign policy is run from the top. The person who doesn’t get it is the president, who seems confused by the failure of the region’s dictators and terrorists to respond constructively to his sensitive reorientation of American foreign policy. Right now he is stuck between his ideological commitments and the reality of their failure, and in the meantime the Middle East’s rogues are not waiting around for The One to figure out what level of nuance he ultimately wishes to pursue. They see naivety and irresolution, and they capitalize.

Michael Young, the opinion editor of the Beirut Daily Star, has a fine column parsing the latest developments on Syria, Lebanon, and the Obama administration. He confirms the interpretation I made recently on this blog, that the administration is puzzled at the failure of its opening gambits and unsure of what to do next:

The problem is that Washington is of several minds over what to do about Syria…because there is no broad accord, and because the president has not provided clear guidance on resolving Mideastern problems, there is confusion in Washington. And where there is confusion there is policy bedlam, with everyone trying to fill the vacuum. That explains why the Syrians feel they can relax for now, and why the Iranians see no reason yet to fear an American riposte.

Lebanon should be worried about American uncertainty. When there is doubt in Washington, it usually means the Israelis have wide latitude to do what they see fit here. With much of the Lebanese political class openly or objectively siding with Hezbollah, rather than shaping an American approach to Lebanon that might reinforce its sovereignty, we can guess the calamitous effect of that abdication.

Young’s worry is confirmed by this remarkable report from Foreign Policy‘s Josh Rogin:

As for why Syria seems to be playing such an unhelpful role, “that’s the million-dollar question,” the [Obama administration] official said….”We do not understand Syrian intentions. No one does, and until we get to that question we can never get to the root of the problem,” the official said. “Until then it’s all damage control.”

This is quite simply amazing. The Assads, father and now son, have run the same foreign policy for decades. It is a very simple model, and one that gets discussed in detail on a regular basis: They are the arsonists who sell water to the fire department. The administration official should start his odyssey of discovery by reading Bret Stephens’s 2009 Commentary essay, “The Syrian Temptation — and Why Obama Must Resist It.”

Bashar is a promoter of a remarkable array of death and destruction in the Middle East: killing American soldiers in Iraq, murdering Lebanon’s pro-democracy community into submission, killing Israelis, arming Hezbollah, hosting Hamas, and so on. This is intended not only to make Syria into a bigger player than it would otherwise be, but allows Bashar to maintain his illegitimate police state of a regime by constantly invoking foreign threats. And it ensures that the United States and other western powers will continuously drag themselves to Syria to beg for cooperation. “The road to Damascus is a road to peace,” Nancy Pelosi famously declared on her visit in 2007, unintentionally confirming to Assad the wisdom of the mayhem he sponsors. This is like saying that the road to the brothel is a road to virginity.

In the Obama administration, there are a few people, like Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who understand Syria. But foreign policy is run from the top. The person who doesn’t get it is the president, who seems confused by the failure of the region’s dictators and terrorists to respond constructively to his sensitive reorientation of American foreign policy. Right now he is stuck between his ideological commitments and the reality of their failure, and in the meantime the Middle East’s rogues are not waiting around for The One to figure out what level of nuance he ultimately wishes to pursue. They see naivety and irresolution, and they capitalize.

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Obama’s Appalling Double Standards

The Obama-Israel showdown is an example of high hypocrisy, double standards, and political stupidity, all on display for a global audience.

As Barry Rubin reminds us:

For more than four months the U.S. government has been celebrating Israel agreeing to stop construction on settlements in the West Bank while continuing building in east Jerusalem as a great step forward and Israeli concession deserving a reward. Suddenly, all of this is forgotten to say that Israel building in east Jerusalem is some kind of terrible deed which deserves punishment.

Israelis are used to this pattern: give a big concession and a few months later that step is forgotten as Israel is portrayed as intransigent and more concessions are demanded with nothing in return.

The administration is using an instance of bad timing to revisit the terms of the settlement freeze in order to accomplish what was impossible before — a freeze in Jewish construction in Obama-disapproved parts of Jerusalem. Robert Gibbs said this morning on Fox News that “condemning” such construction “is, and has been, the policy of the United States.”

Never mind that even the PA has already agreed that these neighborhoods, such as Gilo and Ramat Shlomo, will remain part of Israel in any settlement. Chris Wallace should have asked Gibbs how he reconciles such a statement, and the administration’s behavior over the past week, with the U.S. endorsement of the settlement freeze four months ago that explicitly exempted Jerusalem. In fact, it might make sense for the Israelis to ask for such a clarification. It’s obvious that Obama is trying to change the terms of the agreement by bullying and unilateralism, not by negotiation.

And it is important to note that the kind of rhetoric and outrage we are witnessing on Israel has never been employed by the administration against Syria, Iran, Hamas, North Korea, or any of America’s actual enemies. Regarding “announcements about expanding settlements,” a “senior Obama administration official” told Reuters that “the Israelis know the only way to stay on the positive side of the ledger — internationally and with us — is to not have them recurring.”

Strong stuff! Yet when the administration’s effort to warm ties with Syria over the past month were greeted with a trilateral meeting of terrorists in Damascus — Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, and Assad — including heated public denouncements of America and pledges to destroy Israel, the administration was silent. No response.

Maybe this is because the administration is focusing on the peace process and treating Syria and Iran as back-burner problems not worthy of U.S. outrage? No, that doesn’t make sense. If this were true, the administration would have criticized the Palestinians for their far greater obstructions to the peace process. As Rubin points out:

Even though the Palestinian Authority has refused to negotiate for 14 months; made President Brack Obama look very foolish after destroying his publicly announced September plan to have negotiations in two months; broke its promise not to sponsor the Goldstone report in the UN; and rejected direct negotiations after months of pleading by the Obama White House, not a single word of criticism has ever been offered by any administration official regarding the PA’s continuous and very public sabotage of peace process efforts.

And as Tom Gross points out, the moment Joe Biden departed the West Bank, the PA held a ceremony to name the town square in Ramallah after Dalal Mughrabi, one of the perpetrators of the infamous Coastal Road Massacre and among the most successful terrorists in Palestinian history. This, too, goes unmentioned by the Obama administration. Palestinian celebrations of mass-murderers are not a hindrance to the peace process, but building apartments in Jewish neighborhoods is. Why doesn’t one of the intrepid Sunday morning hosts ask an administration official why this is?

We have reached a strange new chapter in American diplomacy in which our greatest outrage and our greatest denunciations are reserved for our allies. Maybe that’s not quite right: they’re reserved for one of our allies.

The Obama-Israel showdown is an example of high hypocrisy, double standards, and political stupidity, all on display for a global audience.

As Barry Rubin reminds us:

For more than four months the U.S. government has been celebrating Israel agreeing to stop construction on settlements in the West Bank while continuing building in east Jerusalem as a great step forward and Israeli concession deserving a reward. Suddenly, all of this is forgotten to say that Israel building in east Jerusalem is some kind of terrible deed which deserves punishment.

Israelis are used to this pattern: give a big concession and a few months later that step is forgotten as Israel is portrayed as intransigent and more concessions are demanded with nothing in return.

The administration is using an instance of bad timing to revisit the terms of the settlement freeze in order to accomplish what was impossible before — a freeze in Jewish construction in Obama-disapproved parts of Jerusalem. Robert Gibbs said this morning on Fox News that “condemning” such construction “is, and has been, the policy of the United States.”

Never mind that even the PA has already agreed that these neighborhoods, such as Gilo and Ramat Shlomo, will remain part of Israel in any settlement. Chris Wallace should have asked Gibbs how he reconciles such a statement, and the administration’s behavior over the past week, with the U.S. endorsement of the settlement freeze four months ago that explicitly exempted Jerusalem. In fact, it might make sense for the Israelis to ask for such a clarification. It’s obvious that Obama is trying to change the terms of the agreement by bullying and unilateralism, not by negotiation.

And it is important to note that the kind of rhetoric and outrage we are witnessing on Israel has never been employed by the administration against Syria, Iran, Hamas, North Korea, or any of America’s actual enemies. Regarding “announcements about expanding settlements,” a “senior Obama administration official” told Reuters that “the Israelis know the only way to stay on the positive side of the ledger — internationally and with us — is to not have them recurring.”

Strong stuff! Yet when the administration’s effort to warm ties with Syria over the past month were greeted with a trilateral meeting of terrorists in Damascus — Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, and Assad — including heated public denouncements of America and pledges to destroy Israel, the administration was silent. No response.

Maybe this is because the administration is focusing on the peace process and treating Syria and Iran as back-burner problems not worthy of U.S. outrage? No, that doesn’t make sense. If this were true, the administration would have criticized the Palestinians for their far greater obstructions to the peace process. As Rubin points out:

Even though the Palestinian Authority has refused to negotiate for 14 months; made President Brack Obama look very foolish after destroying his publicly announced September plan to have negotiations in two months; broke its promise not to sponsor the Goldstone report in the UN; and rejected direct negotiations after months of pleading by the Obama White House, not a single word of criticism has ever been offered by any administration official regarding the PA’s continuous and very public sabotage of peace process efforts.

And as Tom Gross points out, the moment Joe Biden departed the West Bank, the PA held a ceremony to name the town square in Ramallah after Dalal Mughrabi, one of the perpetrators of the infamous Coastal Road Massacre and among the most successful terrorists in Palestinian history. This, too, goes unmentioned by the Obama administration. Palestinian celebrations of mass-murderers are not a hindrance to the peace process, but building apartments in Jewish neighborhoods is. Why doesn’t one of the intrepid Sunday morning hosts ask an administration official why this is?

We have reached a strange new chapter in American diplomacy in which our greatest outrage and our greatest denunciations are reserved for our allies. Maybe that’s not quite right: they’re reserved for one of our allies.

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Holder’s Just a Political Dunce, You See

As the Obama anti-terrorism approach unwinds and the handiwork of Eric Holder has proved to be politically untenable and substantively unworkable, there is certainly reason to think Eric Holder’s days are numbered. His decisions are the subject of bipartisan criticism, and White House aides are scrambling to separate themselves from the KSM and other ill-fated decisions, making clear they had nothing to do with these calls.

Along comes a report from the New York Times that confirms the degree to which Holder has become a liability. (“Mr. Emanuel and others also worried that political fights over national security issues could hamper progress on the administration’s fundamental goals, like overhauling health care, and seemed to lack confidence in Mr. Holder as an administration spokesman on the volatile issue of terrorism detainees.”) It is so bad, and his performance so tone-deaf, that the White House now insists that they “proposed installing a minder alongside Mr. Holder to prevent further gaffes — someone with better ‘political antennae,’ as one administration official put it.” The report explains:

Now Mr. Holder has switched from resisting what he had considered encroachment by White House political officials to seeking their guidance. Two weeks ago, he met with advisers there to discuss how to unite against common foes. They agreed to allow Mr. Holder, who has not appeared on a Sunday talk show since entering office, to speak out more; he agreed to let them help hone his message.

The political attacks over terrorism cases were “starting to constrain my ability to function as attorney general,” he said in an interview last week. “I have to do a better job in explaining the decisions that I have made,” Mr. Holder also said, adding, “I have to be more forceful in advocating for why I believe these are trials that should be held on the civilian side.”

All of this is a bit disingenuous, if not downright silly. Holder is painted as such a by-the-book and “on the merits” lawyer that, by gosh, he just didn’t get the politics right. But in fact, his legal defense of Obama policies has been slipshod and the underlying decisions have been deeply flawed and ill-conceived. But I suppose it sounds better to say he’s just a political neophyte than to say he’s a sloppy lawyer or that his decision-making is in thrall to a far-Left agenda (which neatly coincides with the views of lawyers with whom he’s surrounded himself who used to be on the other side, representing terrorists).

Moreover, it is strange indeed for the White House to be bragging about its political handling of  the attorney general. What happened to the “Look, no hands!” denials of political interference and the pledges that Holder was to depoliticize the Department of Justice? Now they not only concede but take pride in bossing around the attorney general, who after all was carrying out the president’s own wishes to adopt a criminal-justice model for fighting terrorism.

In between the self-serving spin and the modified, limited hangout (i.e., Holder is a political dolt but we’re keeping him anyway) is a telling concession that none of the not-Bush terror policies are working out as planned. Perhaps rather than try to excuse the attorney general’s performance they should can him and start over with policies that have broad support and make sense in fighting Islamic fundamentalists. Now there’s an idea.

As the Obama anti-terrorism approach unwinds and the handiwork of Eric Holder has proved to be politically untenable and substantively unworkable, there is certainly reason to think Eric Holder’s days are numbered. His decisions are the subject of bipartisan criticism, and White House aides are scrambling to separate themselves from the KSM and other ill-fated decisions, making clear they had nothing to do with these calls.

Along comes a report from the New York Times that confirms the degree to which Holder has become a liability. (“Mr. Emanuel and others also worried that political fights over national security issues could hamper progress on the administration’s fundamental goals, like overhauling health care, and seemed to lack confidence in Mr. Holder as an administration spokesman on the volatile issue of terrorism detainees.”) It is so bad, and his performance so tone-deaf, that the White House now insists that they “proposed installing a minder alongside Mr. Holder to prevent further gaffes — someone with better ‘political antennae,’ as one administration official put it.” The report explains:

Now Mr. Holder has switched from resisting what he had considered encroachment by White House political officials to seeking their guidance. Two weeks ago, he met with advisers there to discuss how to unite against common foes. They agreed to allow Mr. Holder, who has not appeared on a Sunday talk show since entering office, to speak out more; he agreed to let them help hone his message.

The political attacks over terrorism cases were “starting to constrain my ability to function as attorney general,” he said in an interview last week. “I have to do a better job in explaining the decisions that I have made,” Mr. Holder also said, adding, “I have to be more forceful in advocating for why I believe these are trials that should be held on the civilian side.”

All of this is a bit disingenuous, if not downright silly. Holder is painted as such a by-the-book and “on the merits” lawyer that, by gosh, he just didn’t get the politics right. But in fact, his legal defense of Obama policies has been slipshod and the underlying decisions have been deeply flawed and ill-conceived. But I suppose it sounds better to say he’s just a political neophyte than to say he’s a sloppy lawyer or that his decision-making is in thrall to a far-Left agenda (which neatly coincides with the views of lawyers with whom he’s surrounded himself who used to be on the other side, representing terrorists).

Moreover, it is strange indeed for the White House to be bragging about its political handling of  the attorney general. What happened to the “Look, no hands!” denials of political interference and the pledges that Holder was to depoliticize the Department of Justice? Now they not only concede but take pride in bossing around the attorney general, who after all was carrying out the president’s own wishes to adopt a criminal-justice model for fighting terrorism.

In between the self-serving spin and the modified, limited hangout (i.e., Holder is a political dolt but we’re keeping him anyway) is a telling concession that none of the not-Bush terror policies are working out as planned. Perhaps rather than try to excuse the attorney general’s performance they should can him and start over with policies that have broad support and make sense in fighting Islamic fundamentalists. Now there’s an idea.

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Why Shouldn’t Holder Be Fired?

Some of us suspected that the Obama team would find a reason to pull the plug on the KSM trial as it became increasingly apparent how unworkable and dangerous a public trial of a jihadist was. Few suspected that the entire stunt would collapse so quickly. But it has. The New York Times reports:

The Obama administration on Friday gave up on its plan to try the Sept. 11 plotters in Lower Manhattan, bowing to almost unanimous pressure from New York officials and business leaders to move the terrorism trial elsewhere.

“I think I can acknowledge the obvious,” an administration official said. “We’re considering other options.”

How did we get from there to here so quickly? The Times explains:

The story of how prominent New York officials seemed to have so quickly moved from a kind of “bring it on” bravado to an “anywhere but here” involves many factors, including a new anxiety about terrorism after the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day.

Ultimately, it appears, New York officials could not tolerate ceding much of the city to a set of trials that could last for years.

But something else, I suspect, more fundamental has occurred. The entire premise of the Obama anti-terrorism approach, which entailed  a willful ignorance on the nature of our enemy, a cavalier indifference to the concerns of ordinary Americans (be they 9/11 families or New York tax payers), and a headlong plunge into uncharted legal terrain has evaporated in the wake of the Christmas Day bomber and the general perception that the Obama team has not a clue what they are doing. The public is no longer willing to accept it on faith that the Obami know best. To the contrary, the illusion of competence has been shattered. Elected leaders are now willing to stand up and say what we all knew to be true. As Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University quoted by the Times, observes, “This will be one more stroke for al-Qaeda’s propaganda.” And a nightmare for New York.

The question remains as the White House scramble for Plan B: what is Eric Holder still doing there? It was he, the president tells us, who came up with this scheme. (His Department also implemented the “Mirandize the terrorist” policy.) It appears as though Holder exercised no due diligence (just as there had been none exercised prior to the announcement to close Guantanamo):

Mr. Holder called Mr. Bloomberg and Gov. David A. Paterson only a few hours before his public announcement on Nov. 13; and Mr. Kelly got a similar call that morning from Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, whose office had been picked to prosecute the cases.

But by the time those calls were made, the decision had already been reported in the news media, which was how Mr. Bloomberg learned about it, according to mayoral aides.

One senior Bloomberg official, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to antagonize the White House, said: “When Holder was making the decision he didn’t call Ray Kelly and say, ‘What do you think?’ He didn’t call the mayor and say, ‘What would your position be?’ They didn’t reach out until it got out there.”

There seems to have been, aside from the lack of any reasoned legal judgment, no basic political groundwork laid for this momentous decision. Had we not grown accustomed to the jaw-dropping incompetence of the Obami, this would be stunning. Now, it frankly seems to be par for the course.

Two things are clear from all of this. First, the administration’s critics have been vindicated. And second, those who came up with this harebrained scheme, including but not limited to Holder, should be canned. The president isn’t fond of firing anyone, but if ever there was a time to show that the president really does possess some rudimentary executive skills, this is it. Otherwise, the public will assume that bungling through one national-security issue after another is simply business as usual in the Obama administration.

Some of us suspected that the Obama team would find a reason to pull the plug on the KSM trial as it became increasingly apparent how unworkable and dangerous a public trial of a jihadist was. Few suspected that the entire stunt would collapse so quickly. But it has. The New York Times reports:

The Obama administration on Friday gave up on its plan to try the Sept. 11 plotters in Lower Manhattan, bowing to almost unanimous pressure from New York officials and business leaders to move the terrorism trial elsewhere.

“I think I can acknowledge the obvious,” an administration official said. “We’re considering other options.”

How did we get from there to here so quickly? The Times explains:

The story of how prominent New York officials seemed to have so quickly moved from a kind of “bring it on” bravado to an “anywhere but here” involves many factors, including a new anxiety about terrorism after the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day.

Ultimately, it appears, New York officials could not tolerate ceding much of the city to a set of trials that could last for years.

But something else, I suspect, more fundamental has occurred. The entire premise of the Obama anti-terrorism approach, which entailed  a willful ignorance on the nature of our enemy, a cavalier indifference to the concerns of ordinary Americans (be they 9/11 families or New York tax payers), and a headlong plunge into uncharted legal terrain has evaporated in the wake of the Christmas Day bomber and the general perception that the Obama team has not a clue what they are doing. The public is no longer willing to accept it on faith that the Obami know best. To the contrary, the illusion of competence has been shattered. Elected leaders are now willing to stand up and say what we all knew to be true. As Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University quoted by the Times, observes, “This will be one more stroke for al-Qaeda’s propaganda.” And a nightmare for New York.

The question remains as the White House scramble for Plan B: what is Eric Holder still doing there? It was he, the president tells us, who came up with this scheme. (His Department also implemented the “Mirandize the terrorist” policy.) It appears as though Holder exercised no due diligence (just as there had been none exercised prior to the announcement to close Guantanamo):

Mr. Holder called Mr. Bloomberg and Gov. David A. Paterson only a few hours before his public announcement on Nov. 13; and Mr. Kelly got a similar call that morning from Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, whose office had been picked to prosecute the cases.

But by the time those calls were made, the decision had already been reported in the news media, which was how Mr. Bloomberg learned about it, according to mayoral aides.

One senior Bloomberg official, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to antagonize the White House, said: “When Holder was making the decision he didn’t call Ray Kelly and say, ‘What do you think?’ He didn’t call the mayor and say, ‘What would your position be?’ They didn’t reach out until it got out there.”

There seems to have been, aside from the lack of any reasoned legal judgment, no basic political groundwork laid for this momentous decision. Had we not grown accustomed to the jaw-dropping incompetence of the Obami, this would be stunning. Now, it frankly seems to be par for the course.

Two things are clear from all of this. First, the administration’s critics have been vindicated. And second, those who came up with this harebrained scheme, including but not limited to Holder, should be canned. The president isn’t fond of firing anyone, but if ever there was a time to show that the president really does possess some rudimentary executive skills, this is it. Otherwise, the public will assume that bungling through one national-security issue after another is simply business as usual in the Obama administration.

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Reversing Obama’s Worst Decision Yet?

Michael Isikoff reports:

Top administration officials are getting nervous that they may not be able to proceed with one of their most controversial national-security moves: trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused 9/11 conspirators in federal court in New York City. Last November Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. portrayed the trial as a way to showcase the American justice system to the world — and to accelerate President Obama’s stalled plans to shut down the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay. But because of shifting political winds in Congress, the trial is now “potentially in jeopardy,” a senior official, who did not want to be named talking about a sensitive situation, tells Newsweek. The chief concern: that Republicans will renew attempts to strip funding for the trial and, in the aftermath of the bombing attempt aboard Northwest Flight 253, pick up enough support from moderate Democrats to prevail.

It seems that Sen. Lindsay Graham and Rep. Frank Wolf will try to force votes in Congress to cut off funding for the trial. And one additional issue: the more than $200 million price tag for each year of the trial. The kicker: “If Holder’s plans are thwarted, though, one top administration official, who also didn’t want to be named talking about delicate issues, notes there is a Plan B — reviving the case against the alleged 9/11 conspirators before a military tribunal, just as the Bush administration tried to do.”

This would be a stunning turnaround, an admission of Holder’s irresponsibility and of the Justice Department’s loony leftism. But this, of course, was part and parcel of Obama’s personal vision and his “not-Bush” approach to the war against Islamic fascists. Obama spent his campaign and the first year of his presidency eschewing the Bush anti-terror policies — employing enhanced interrogation techniques, maintaining Guantanamo, using military tribunals to prosecute terrorists — and pronouncing that they represented a betrayal of “our values.” He told us we’d rack up credit with … with whom was never quite clear, but we’d rack up credit. Those who sought to incinerate innocents or who were attracted to the words of Major Hassan’s favorite imam (or was it the European elites who give out prizes for such foolishness?) would, presumably, be impressed. And we’d lure the butchers of children and women out of their mindset by impressing them with the wonders of the federal criminal procedure.

But alas, that proved to be politically untenable and logistically difficult. We had three domestic terror attacks. The president was hammered for his clueless reserve and the Keystone Kops response to the Christmas Day bombing. So now being “not Bush” doesn’t seem like such a good idea. It was born of arrogance and from a distorted view of the nature of our enemy. If Obama retreats on both this and Guantanamo, it will be a bitter pill for the Left and sweet vindication for those who kept us safe for seven and a half years after 9/11. But more important, it will be a step toward sanity in the administration’s national security policies. And should Obama and Holder feel the sting of humiliation if forced to abandon their plans to shutter Guantanamo and give KSM a propagandistic platform, the White House may find that a small price to pay to sync up its anti-terror policies with both reality and public opinion.

Michael Isikoff reports:

Top administration officials are getting nervous that they may not be able to proceed with one of their most controversial national-security moves: trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused 9/11 conspirators in federal court in New York City. Last November Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. portrayed the trial as a way to showcase the American justice system to the world — and to accelerate President Obama’s stalled plans to shut down the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay. But because of shifting political winds in Congress, the trial is now “potentially in jeopardy,” a senior official, who did not want to be named talking about a sensitive situation, tells Newsweek. The chief concern: that Republicans will renew attempts to strip funding for the trial and, in the aftermath of the bombing attempt aboard Northwest Flight 253, pick up enough support from moderate Democrats to prevail.

It seems that Sen. Lindsay Graham and Rep. Frank Wolf will try to force votes in Congress to cut off funding for the trial. And one additional issue: the more than $200 million price tag for each year of the trial. The kicker: “If Holder’s plans are thwarted, though, one top administration official, who also didn’t want to be named talking about delicate issues, notes there is a Plan B — reviving the case against the alleged 9/11 conspirators before a military tribunal, just as the Bush administration tried to do.”

This would be a stunning turnaround, an admission of Holder’s irresponsibility and of the Justice Department’s loony leftism. But this, of course, was part and parcel of Obama’s personal vision and his “not-Bush” approach to the war against Islamic fascists. Obama spent his campaign and the first year of his presidency eschewing the Bush anti-terror policies — employing enhanced interrogation techniques, maintaining Guantanamo, using military tribunals to prosecute terrorists — and pronouncing that they represented a betrayal of “our values.” He told us we’d rack up credit with … with whom was never quite clear, but we’d rack up credit. Those who sought to incinerate innocents or who were attracted to the words of Major Hassan’s favorite imam (or was it the European elites who give out prizes for such foolishness?) would, presumably, be impressed. And we’d lure the butchers of children and women out of their mindset by impressing them with the wonders of the federal criminal procedure.

But alas, that proved to be politically untenable and logistically difficult. We had three domestic terror attacks. The president was hammered for his clueless reserve and the Keystone Kops response to the Christmas Day bombing. So now being “not Bush” doesn’t seem like such a good idea. It was born of arrogance and from a distorted view of the nature of our enemy. If Obama retreats on both this and Guantanamo, it will be a bitter pill for the Left and sweet vindication for those who kept us safe for seven and a half years after 9/11. But more important, it will be a step toward sanity in the administration’s national security policies. And should Obama and Holder feel the sting of humiliation if forced to abandon their plans to shutter Guantanamo and give KSM a propagandistic platform, the White House may find that a small price to pay to sync up its anti-terror policies with both reality and public opinion.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Time to see if the Senate Cash for Cloture deal can survive scrutiny (legal and otherwise): “Republican attorneys general in 13 states say congressional leaders must remove Nebraska’s political deal from the federal health care reform bill or face legal action, according to a letter provided to The Associated Press Wednesday. ‘We believe this provision is constitutionally flawed,’ South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster and the 12 other attorneys general wrote in the letter to be sent Wednesday night to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.”

The Obami don’t like “Islamic terrorism” or “war on terror” but they are a never-ending font of bureaucratic gibberish: “‘Pulsing it.’ ‘Pulsing the system.’ That’s the language used Tuesday by a senior Obama White House administration official to describe how the administration is scrambling to find out about the intelligence failures that led to a Nigerian suspected terrorist boarding Detroit bound Northwest Flight 253 with explosives in his underwear on Christmas Day.” Yeah, I don’t feel comforted by this either.

Sounds good in theory: “President Barack Obama on Tuesday ordered the federal government to rethink how it protects the nation’s secrets, in a move that was expected to declassify more than 400 million pages of Cold War-era documents and curb the number of government records hidden from the public.” But then why hasn’t the administration released all the Bush-era interrogation documents requested by Dick Cheney, the information on the dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter case, and the data Congress has requested about the domestic-terror attacks on the Obami’s watch?

More people than ever hate ObamaCare — 58 percent, a new high in the Rasmussen poll, oppose it.

Because we haven’t had enough government bailouts? “The federal government said Wednesday it will take a majority ownership stake in the troubled auto lender GMAC, providing another $3.8 billion in aid to the company, which has been unable to raise from private investors the money it needs to stanch its losses. The new aid package for GMAC, coming as most large banks are repaying the government, underscores both the problems afflicting the company and its importance to the Obama administration’s efforts to revive the auto industry.” Hmm, sounds like we’re never getting our money back.

What’s wrong with a criminal-justice approach to terrorism? “By whatever name, designating Mutallab as an enemy of the United States would have provided interrogators much greater flexibility in questioning him and given him no legal right to resist. The decision to charge Mutallab as a criminal, rather than designate him as an enemy combatant, was a momentous one that in all likelihood guarantees we will gain less intelligence about how the attack was planned, who planned it, and whether others are on the way.”

They have a point: “Members of the Allied Pilots Association, the pilots’ union at American Airlines, said Wednesday that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration didn’t do enough to warn in-air flight crews of the Christmas Day terrorist threat on a Northwest Airlines flight.” But then no one was warned, so it’s not like they were treated any differently than anyone else.

Despite the White House’s best efforts, Fox News doesn’t look as though it is going away any time soon.

Time to see if the Senate Cash for Cloture deal can survive scrutiny (legal and otherwise): “Republican attorneys general in 13 states say congressional leaders must remove Nebraska’s political deal from the federal health care reform bill or face legal action, according to a letter provided to The Associated Press Wednesday. ‘We believe this provision is constitutionally flawed,’ South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster and the 12 other attorneys general wrote in the letter to be sent Wednesday night to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.”

The Obami don’t like “Islamic terrorism” or “war on terror” but they are a never-ending font of bureaucratic gibberish: “‘Pulsing it.’ ‘Pulsing the system.’ That’s the language used Tuesday by a senior Obama White House administration official to describe how the administration is scrambling to find out about the intelligence failures that led to a Nigerian suspected terrorist boarding Detroit bound Northwest Flight 253 with explosives in his underwear on Christmas Day.” Yeah, I don’t feel comforted by this either.

Sounds good in theory: “President Barack Obama on Tuesday ordered the federal government to rethink how it protects the nation’s secrets, in a move that was expected to declassify more than 400 million pages of Cold War-era documents and curb the number of government records hidden from the public.” But then why hasn’t the administration released all the Bush-era interrogation documents requested by Dick Cheney, the information on the dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter case, and the data Congress has requested about the domestic-terror attacks on the Obami’s watch?

More people than ever hate ObamaCare — 58 percent, a new high in the Rasmussen poll, oppose it.

Because we haven’t had enough government bailouts? “The federal government said Wednesday it will take a majority ownership stake in the troubled auto lender GMAC, providing another $3.8 billion in aid to the company, which has been unable to raise from private investors the money it needs to stanch its losses. The new aid package for GMAC, coming as most large banks are repaying the government, underscores both the problems afflicting the company and its importance to the Obama administration’s efforts to revive the auto industry.” Hmm, sounds like we’re never getting our money back.

What’s wrong with a criminal-justice approach to terrorism? “By whatever name, designating Mutallab as an enemy of the United States would have provided interrogators much greater flexibility in questioning him and given him no legal right to resist. The decision to charge Mutallab as a criminal, rather than designate him as an enemy combatant, was a momentous one that in all likelihood guarantees we will gain less intelligence about how the attack was planned, who planned it, and whether others are on the way.”

They have a point: “Members of the Allied Pilots Association, the pilots’ union at American Airlines, said Wednesday that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration didn’t do enough to warn in-air flight crews of the Christmas Day terrorist threat on a Northwest Airlines flight.” But then no one was warned, so it’s not like they were treated any differently than anyone else.

Despite the White House’s best efforts, Fox News doesn’t look as though it is going away any time soon.

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Less Cowbell

The Washington Post article Jennifer cited in “Flotsam and Jetsam” today appears to indicate that a dangerous rift is opening between the White House and the Pentagon regarding their expectations for Afghanistan. In a way, the echoes of Vietnam are actually amplified in this piece’s survey of strategic thinking. During the Kennedy-Johnson years, we tried an unworkably “calibrated” approach to Vietnam, but at least the direction from Robert McNamara and the president’s senior advisers was specific and largely executable. The White House direction for Afghanistan, as captured by the Post’s writer, appears to deserve neither epithet.

The article adopts the perspective that our military leaders are failing to conform to the president’s view of what our objectives should be in Afghanistan. But to an experienced planner, the most obvious thing in the whole piece is that President Obama has not expressed an identifiable objective to conform with. He has decided to send General McChrystal 30,000 more troops instead of 40,000, and has decided to authorize the training of 230,000 Afghan security personnel instead of the 400,000 McChrystal had proposed. He has moreover decided to begin a drawdown by July 2011. But he has done these things without outlining a new objective.

McChrystal’s original August 2009 proposal was based on the objectives of securing specified regions of Afghanistan – not the whole country – against the Taliban, and improving the Afghans’ confidence in their government. Obama has not redefined this job; he has only changed the toolset. The best his administration can seem to communicate is “not really the McChrystal plan, and definitely not the Iraqi surge.” The Post puts it this way:

The White House’s desired end state in Afghanistan, officials said, envisions more informal local security arrangements than in Iraq, a less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence.

The “greater tolerance of insurgent violence” is, of course, disquieting. Equally so is this passage from an administration official:

The guidance they [the military] have is that we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever. . . The hardest intellectual exercise will be settling on how much is enough.

Apparently the military is supposed to decide how much is enough, using the entirely negative guidance that “we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever.” And that’s a problem. This is not executable guidance. It’s also not guidance designed to achieve a positive, deliberate outcome.

We learned in Vietnam that if you’re not actively trying to achieve a positive outcome with force, you won’t. But the military doesn’t even need to have that lesson in mind to automatically translate Obama’s recent decisions into objectives more specific than the president may have intended. Requiring specific objectives is simply the nature of military force.

Obama comes off here as Christopher Walken demanding “less cowbell” – a formula that works in jokes and music but is inadequate to directing military operations. It’s Obama himself who needs to tell the troops exactly how much insurgent violence is the right amount to tolerate, and what level of competence we aim to cultivate in the Afghan central government. He should explain that to the American people too.

The Washington Post article Jennifer cited in “Flotsam and Jetsam” today appears to indicate that a dangerous rift is opening between the White House and the Pentagon regarding their expectations for Afghanistan. In a way, the echoes of Vietnam are actually amplified in this piece’s survey of strategic thinking. During the Kennedy-Johnson years, we tried an unworkably “calibrated” approach to Vietnam, but at least the direction from Robert McNamara and the president’s senior advisers was specific and largely executable. The White House direction for Afghanistan, as captured by the Post’s writer, appears to deserve neither epithet.

The article adopts the perspective that our military leaders are failing to conform to the president’s view of what our objectives should be in Afghanistan. But to an experienced planner, the most obvious thing in the whole piece is that President Obama has not expressed an identifiable objective to conform with. He has decided to send General McChrystal 30,000 more troops instead of 40,000, and has decided to authorize the training of 230,000 Afghan security personnel instead of the 400,000 McChrystal had proposed. He has moreover decided to begin a drawdown by July 2011. But he has done these things without outlining a new objective.

McChrystal’s original August 2009 proposal was based on the objectives of securing specified regions of Afghanistan – not the whole country – against the Taliban, and improving the Afghans’ confidence in their government. Obama has not redefined this job; he has only changed the toolset. The best his administration can seem to communicate is “not really the McChrystal plan, and definitely not the Iraqi surge.” The Post puts it this way:

The White House’s desired end state in Afghanistan, officials said, envisions more informal local security arrangements than in Iraq, a less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence.

The “greater tolerance of insurgent violence” is, of course, disquieting. Equally so is this passage from an administration official:

The guidance they [the military] have is that we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever. . . The hardest intellectual exercise will be settling on how much is enough.

Apparently the military is supposed to decide how much is enough, using the entirely negative guidance that “we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever.” And that’s a problem. This is not executable guidance. It’s also not guidance designed to achieve a positive, deliberate outcome.

We learned in Vietnam that if you’re not actively trying to achieve a positive outcome with force, you won’t. But the military doesn’t even need to have that lesson in mind to automatically translate Obama’s recent decisions into objectives more specific than the president may have intended. Requiring specific objectives is simply the nature of military force.

Obama comes off here as Christopher Walken demanding “less cowbell” – a formula that works in jokes and music but is inadequate to directing military operations. It’s Obama himself who needs to tell the troops exactly how much insurgent violence is the right amount to tolerate, and what level of competence we aim to cultivate in the Afghan central government. He should explain that to the American people too.

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So Much for Home State Favors

The Obami have a holiday surprise for the president’s home state. Lynn Sweet reports:

Barring a last minute glitch, the Obama White House has settled on an Illinois prison to house detainees now at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, sources close to the decision told the Chicago Sun-Times. An announcement is expected shortly from the Obama administration to start the process to acquire the nearly vacant Thomson Correctional Center in northwestern Illinois.A leaked memo prepared by administration officials prompted speculation that the decision was finalized. An administration official said that memo was a draft and not to read anything into its existence because paperwork is readied just in case.

The memo declares that Guantanamo detainees will be transferred “as expeditiously as possible” to Illinois’ s Thomson Correction Center.

Sen. Dick Durbin and Gov. Pat Quinn say they are delighted, suggesting it will bring more jobs to the state. I suspect this will be a top issue in next year’s Illinois senate race. After all, Senate Democrats declined to block funding for this move. We’ll see how enthusiastic the good people of Illinois are when they learn about their new residents.

But more importantly, the question one must ask on the merits of this move is why? With whom are we supposed to be garnering “credit” for moving detainees from the relatively cushy environs of Guantanamo to the isolation cells of a Supermax prison? How long before the ACLU starts demanding that the terrorists enjoy computer access, letter writing, and visits from outsiders? The security concerns, the expense, and the risk of Islamic propaganda spreading among the general prison population should, one would think, weigh heavily against this move. But the lefty lawyers in the Justice Department have other ideas and will be setting a legal precedent which will burden other administrations.

Congress can still stop this recklessness. There are votes coming up in the Senate on the omnibus spending bill and the Defense Department appropriations bill. Both might be good vehicles to test whether senators really do want to enable another inexplicable move by the Obama administration, which seems insistent on returning to a judicial model for terrorism.

The Obami have a holiday surprise for the president’s home state. Lynn Sweet reports:

Barring a last minute glitch, the Obama White House has settled on an Illinois prison to house detainees now at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, sources close to the decision told the Chicago Sun-Times. An announcement is expected shortly from the Obama administration to start the process to acquire the nearly vacant Thomson Correctional Center in northwestern Illinois.A leaked memo prepared by administration officials prompted speculation that the decision was finalized. An administration official said that memo was a draft and not to read anything into its existence because paperwork is readied just in case.

The memo declares that Guantanamo detainees will be transferred “as expeditiously as possible” to Illinois’ s Thomson Correction Center.

Sen. Dick Durbin and Gov. Pat Quinn say they are delighted, suggesting it will bring more jobs to the state. I suspect this will be a top issue in next year’s Illinois senate race. After all, Senate Democrats declined to block funding for this move. We’ll see how enthusiastic the good people of Illinois are when they learn about their new residents.

But more importantly, the question one must ask on the merits of this move is why? With whom are we supposed to be garnering “credit” for moving detainees from the relatively cushy environs of Guantanamo to the isolation cells of a Supermax prison? How long before the ACLU starts demanding that the terrorists enjoy computer access, letter writing, and visits from outsiders? The security concerns, the expense, and the risk of Islamic propaganda spreading among the general prison population should, one would think, weigh heavily against this move. But the lefty lawyers in the Justice Department have other ideas and will be setting a legal precedent which will burden other administrations.

Congress can still stop this recklessness. There are votes coming up in the Senate on the omnibus spending bill and the Defense Department appropriations bill. Both might be good vehicles to test whether senators really do want to enable another inexplicable move by the Obama administration, which seems insistent on returning to a judicial model for terrorism.

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The Seminar Drags On

Just when we thought the White House seminars were winding down, we get this report:

That stance comes in the midst of forceful reservations about a possible troop buildup from the U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, according to a second top administration official.

President Barack Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team, pushing instead for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

Are we back to square one, or is someone in the Obami camp simply trying to gum up the works? Maybe the president would like some more research. Maybe another round of meetings. Who knows? The process seems to have taken on a life of its own, and the president appears unwilling to make a decision, any decision.

Certainly even the most die-hard defenders of the president must be appalled. This is no way to run a war. We are close to a decision. No we aren’t. Gen. Stanley McChrystal will get his men. Oh, maybe not. It is hard to recall a more excruciating decision-making process.

And yet we are told, “The White House has chafed under criticism from Republicans and some outside critics that Obama is dragging his feet to make a decision.” They seem blissfully unaware that the Obami are becoming a ludicrous spectacle, a cringe-inducing display of equivocation. So maybe they’ll take a few more weeks. Consider some more options. Have some more meetings. And what about the troops who are in the field, week after week, awaiting a strategy and support? Oh yes, them. Well, the president can’t be rushed.

Just when we thought the White House seminars were winding down, we get this report:

That stance comes in the midst of forceful reservations about a possible troop buildup from the U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, according to a second top administration official.

President Barack Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team, pushing instead for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

Are we back to square one, or is someone in the Obami camp simply trying to gum up the works? Maybe the president would like some more research. Maybe another round of meetings. Who knows? The process seems to have taken on a life of its own, and the president appears unwilling to make a decision, any decision.

Certainly even the most die-hard defenders of the president must be appalled. This is no way to run a war. We are close to a decision. No we aren’t. Gen. Stanley McChrystal will get his men. Oh, maybe not. It is hard to recall a more excruciating decision-making process.

And yet we are told, “The White House has chafed under criticism from Republicans and some outside critics that Obama is dragging his feet to make a decision.” They seem blissfully unaware that the Obami are becoming a ludicrous spectacle, a cringe-inducing display of equivocation. So maybe they’ll take a few more weeks. Consider some more options. Have some more meetings. And what about the troops who are in the field, week after week, awaiting a strategy and support? Oh yes, them. Well, the president can’t be rushed.

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More in Defense of Power

The lip-smacking glee with which the resignation of Obama adviser Samantha Power is being greeted on the right is perhaps an understandable reaction to the sanctimony (and success) of the Obama campaign. But some of the comments are simply over the top. For instance, Scott Johnson at Powerline (a blog which I regularly read and greatly respect) calls Power “self-righteous, high-minded, and utterly unserious — in short, a pompous phony.”

I can only imagine that Johnson has not read Power’s A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, a deeply serious, exhaustively-researched, 610-page work of history that garnered just about every literary prize in the known universe. If he has read it, I am at a loss to see how he could fling so many insults at its author.

Power doesn’t deserve all this venom. She is a centrist Democrat and a passionate human-rights activist who has risked her neck to cover carnage from Bosnia to Darfur. She shares a commitment with many conservatives that America is and should be a force for good in the world, even if she disagrees with them over some specific policies. Some of the very comments that got her into such hot water are, in fact, evidence of her fundamental seriousness.

When asked, for example, whether Obama would withdrew all American troops from Iraq within 16 months, she told a British interviewer “You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009. He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan–an operational plan–that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president.” That’s a gaffe only in the Kinsleyesque sense of the word, in which telling the truth in politics can be a faux pas.

Her downfall was not due to her having said anything intrinsically terrible; it was simply because her statements (calling Hillary Clinton a “monster”;  saying she was “confused by what’s happened to Gordon Brown”) have been subjected to the kind of minute scrutiny given to a high-level politician or administration official, rather than the kind of treatment she’s received in the past as an academic and author. No doubt Power erred in not realizing the greater weight her public words would carry given her closeness to the Democratic front-runner, but that hardly justifies the pummeling she is taking.

The lip-smacking glee with which the resignation of Obama adviser Samantha Power is being greeted on the right is perhaps an understandable reaction to the sanctimony (and success) of the Obama campaign. But some of the comments are simply over the top. For instance, Scott Johnson at Powerline (a blog which I regularly read and greatly respect) calls Power “self-righteous, high-minded, and utterly unserious — in short, a pompous phony.”

I can only imagine that Johnson has not read Power’s A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, a deeply serious, exhaustively-researched, 610-page work of history that garnered just about every literary prize in the known universe. If he has read it, I am at a loss to see how he could fling so many insults at its author.

Power doesn’t deserve all this venom. She is a centrist Democrat and a passionate human-rights activist who has risked her neck to cover carnage from Bosnia to Darfur. She shares a commitment with many conservatives that America is and should be a force for good in the world, even if she disagrees with them over some specific policies. Some of the very comments that got her into such hot water are, in fact, evidence of her fundamental seriousness.

When asked, for example, whether Obama would withdrew all American troops from Iraq within 16 months, she told a British interviewer “You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009. He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan–an operational plan–that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president.” That’s a gaffe only in the Kinsleyesque sense of the word, in which telling the truth in politics can be a faux pas.

Her downfall was not due to her having said anything intrinsically terrible; it was simply because her statements (calling Hillary Clinton a “monster”;  saying she was “confused by what’s happened to Gordon Brown”) have been subjected to the kind of minute scrutiny given to a high-level politician or administration official, rather than the kind of treatment she’s received in the past as an academic and author. No doubt Power erred in not realizing the greater weight her public words would carry given her closeness to the Democratic front-runner, but that hardly justifies the pummeling she is taking.

Read Less




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