Commentary Magazine


Topic: advisors

McCain Health Care Conference Call

Doug Holtz-Eakin, senior policy advisor, and Carly Fiorina, RNC Victory 2008 Chair and former Hewlett-Packard CEO, held a conference call today as part of John McCain’s healthcare rollout.

There’s good in the McCain plan. Both advisors stressed that McCain’s plan puts “patients in charge,” and they both emphasized that under the McCain plan drug importation would be permitted. McCain has broken with many Republicans and drug industry interests in pushing to allow drug imports from places like Canada.

But there are real problems with the plan as well. Skeptical questioners on the call asked how McCain is going to compete with Democratic plans that guarantee health insurance universally. This is an intractable problem. McCain will need to convince people that the Democratic plan is either unrealistic (see the Massachusetts example), too expensive, or will impair the good things in the American health care system (e.g. doctor choice innovation). And we have yet to see McCain get fired up on a domestic issue to the extent he can sell something like this, which is not at first glance better than what the Democrats are offering.

There is also a fair amount of fudging going on. Where are all the cost savings going to come from? In large part, says the McCain team, from innovation. But, as they revealed in response to a question, these are things that private companies (e.g. insurers or employers) do. So where is government going to get money to cover or subsidize all those hard-to-insure people in the GAP plan? Not clear.

And isn’t GAP really another entitlement? The McCain campaign said in response to my follow-up question after the call that the GAP plan is “an effort to work with states to develop approaches to establishing a market to assure coverage for higher-risk folks who find it hard to get insurance.” That is thin gruel for those advocating universal coverage, and ominous for fiscal conservatives concerned this will be a drain on taxpayers. So the McCain team has its work cut out for it. But it is best to start practicing healthcare salesmanship now, on a day when the media is consumed with Obama-Wright coverage.

Doug Holtz-Eakin, senior policy advisor, and Carly Fiorina, RNC Victory 2008 Chair and former Hewlett-Packard CEO, held a conference call today as part of John McCain’s healthcare rollout.

There’s good in the McCain plan. Both advisors stressed that McCain’s plan puts “patients in charge,” and they both emphasized that under the McCain plan drug importation would be permitted. McCain has broken with many Republicans and drug industry interests in pushing to allow drug imports from places like Canada.

But there are real problems with the plan as well. Skeptical questioners on the call asked how McCain is going to compete with Democratic plans that guarantee health insurance universally. This is an intractable problem. McCain will need to convince people that the Democratic plan is either unrealistic (see the Massachusetts example), too expensive, or will impair the good things in the American health care system (e.g. doctor choice innovation). And we have yet to see McCain get fired up on a domestic issue to the extent he can sell something like this, which is not at first glance better than what the Democrats are offering.

There is also a fair amount of fudging going on. Where are all the cost savings going to come from? In large part, says the McCain team, from innovation. But, as they revealed in response to a question, these are things that private companies (e.g. insurers or employers) do. So where is government going to get money to cover or subsidize all those hard-to-insure people in the GAP plan? Not clear.

And isn’t GAP really another entitlement? The McCain campaign said in response to my follow-up question after the call that the GAP plan is “an effort to work with states to develop approaches to establishing a market to assure coverage for higher-risk folks who find it hard to get insurance.” That is thin gruel for those advocating universal coverage, and ominous for fiscal conservatives concerned this will be a drain on taxpayers. So the McCain team has its work cut out for it. But it is best to start practicing healthcare salesmanship now, on a day when the media is consumed with Obama-Wright coverage.

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Obama’s Radioactive Potato

Was North Korea helping Syria build a plutonium-producing reactor? The emerging consensus in the intelligence world is that it was. Indeed, the evidence, now including videotapes taken inside the facility before it was obliterated by Israeli jets last September 6, appears almost unequivocal.

It is therefore fascinating — and disturbing — to recall the alacrity with which Joseph Cirincione, Barack Obama’s top expert on matters nuclear, the author of a book called the Bomb Scare, was so quick back in September to dismiss the report as “nonsense.”

To Cirincione, writing on the blog of Foreign Policy Magazine, the stories surrounding surrounding the Israeli strike, namely that North Korea was building a Yongbyong-type plutonium reactor not far from the Euphrates River, was nothing more than a lie. It was a reprise, wrote Cirincione, of the way in which administration officials “misled the press” in the run-up to the second Gulf war.

Who was behind this nefarious manipulation? It seems, wrote Circincione, “to be the work of a small group of officials leaking cherry-picked, unvetted ‘intelligence’ to key reporters in order to promote a preexisting political agenda.” What exactly was that political agenda? “[I]t appears aimed at derailing the U.S.-North Korean agreement that administration hardliners think is appeasement.” There was also a dose of Zionist mischief thrown in: “Some Israelis want to thwart any dialogue between the U.S. and Syria.”

Along with Israel and the American hardliners, another villain in Cirincione’s take is the American press, which treats “selective leaks” from the administration “as if they were absolute truth.” Indeed, the lazy reporters pushing the story appear not “to have done even basic investigation of the miniscule Syrian nuclear program.”

All told, the “misleading story” of North Korean nuclear proliferation “will now enter the lexicon of the far Right” and “attempts to negotiate an end to North Korea’s program are bound fail in the face of such duplicity, etc., etc.”

In writing all these things, Cirincione sounds remarkably similar to Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations. “There was no Syria-North Korea cooperation whatsoever in Syria. We deny these rumors,” Bashar Ja’afari said yesterday.

Cirincione’s instant dismissal of the Syrian-North Korean nuclear axis raises a number of interesting questions.

One of them is: has Cirincione changed his mind in light of the latest intelligence?

A second: is he going to be the official called by Obama at 3AM when an intelligence cable comes in reporting that North Korea has shipped nuclear materials somewhere else?

A third: why are so many of Obama’s advisors so prone to blame, in whole or in part, the machinations of Israel for the problems of the world? See here and here and here.

A fourth: Is Joseph Cirincione going to go the way of Samatha Power and get dropped from the campaign like a radioactive potato.

Was North Korea helping Syria build a plutonium-producing reactor? The emerging consensus in the intelligence world is that it was. Indeed, the evidence, now including videotapes taken inside the facility before it was obliterated by Israeli jets last September 6, appears almost unequivocal.

It is therefore fascinating — and disturbing — to recall the alacrity with which Joseph Cirincione, Barack Obama’s top expert on matters nuclear, the author of a book called the Bomb Scare, was so quick back in September to dismiss the report as “nonsense.”

To Cirincione, writing on the blog of Foreign Policy Magazine, the stories surrounding surrounding the Israeli strike, namely that North Korea was building a Yongbyong-type plutonium reactor not far from the Euphrates River, was nothing more than a lie. It was a reprise, wrote Cirincione, of the way in which administration officials “misled the press” in the run-up to the second Gulf war.

Who was behind this nefarious manipulation? It seems, wrote Circincione, “to be the work of a small group of officials leaking cherry-picked, unvetted ‘intelligence’ to key reporters in order to promote a preexisting political agenda.” What exactly was that political agenda? “[I]t appears aimed at derailing the U.S.-North Korean agreement that administration hardliners think is appeasement.” There was also a dose of Zionist mischief thrown in: “Some Israelis want to thwart any dialogue between the U.S. and Syria.”

Along with Israel and the American hardliners, another villain in Cirincione’s take is the American press, which treats “selective leaks” from the administration “as if they were absolute truth.” Indeed, the lazy reporters pushing the story appear not “to have done even basic investigation of the miniscule Syrian nuclear program.”

All told, the “misleading story” of North Korean nuclear proliferation “will now enter the lexicon of the far Right” and “attempts to negotiate an end to North Korea’s program are bound fail in the face of such duplicity, etc., etc.”

In writing all these things, Cirincione sounds remarkably similar to Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations. “There was no Syria-North Korea cooperation whatsoever in Syria. We deny these rumors,” Bashar Ja’afari said yesterday.

Cirincione’s instant dismissal of the Syrian-North Korean nuclear axis raises a number of interesting questions.

One of them is: has Cirincione changed his mind in light of the latest intelligence?

A second: is he going to be the official called by Obama at 3AM when an intelligence cable comes in reporting that North Korea has shipped nuclear materials somewhere else?

A third: why are so many of Obama’s advisors so prone to blame, in whole or in part, the machinations of Israel for the problems of the world? See here and here and here.

A fourth: Is Joseph Cirincione going to go the way of Samatha Power and get dropped from the campaign like a radioactive potato.

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What We Have To Look Forward To

Barack Obama met with a group of Pennsylvania Jewish leaders today. According to reports, he said “We should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and abide by past agreements.” He refused to condemn Jimmy Carter’s Hamas outreach, but said he had a “fundamental disagreement” with Carter. (No word on whether he was asked about visiting graves of terrorists.)

The report concludes: “Obama also said at the meeting that he’s willing to make diplomatic overtures to Iran” even though it had “funded Hamas and other militant groups.” What about applying the standards he applies to Hamas? Nope. And no explanation was given as to why Iran, which is indisputably helping to kill Americans in Iraq, gets better treatment than Hamas. This whirlwind of inconsistency is what we have to look forward to in an Obama administration.

Another report adds this curious response:

Would he continue to veto anti-Israeli resolutions at the UN? He said he would and that he would be “uniquely positioned” to do so due to his background. “That kind of blunt talk is something I can deliver with more credibility than some other presidents might.”

Does he mean to suggest that because he is African-American, Israel’s enemies will accept a veto more readily? It’s hard to imagine what “background” he has that gives him superior credibility in dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict. This comment is frankly baffling. In a separate interview, Obama made clear the real reasons why he is having a difficult time allaying the concerns of Jewish voters:

“Let’s be clear, there has been a really systematic effort to suggest that I’m not sufficiently pro-Israel,” he said. “The fact that my middle name is Hussein, I’m sure, does not help in that regard . . . Again some of this dates back to the ’60s between the African-American and the Jewish community as a consequence of [Louis] Farrakhan. There was flap about some of Jesse Jackson’s statements during his presidential race, so I inherit all this baggage.”

But not to worry. He says “no one’s been a more stalwart ally of Israel.” Never mind his choice of advisors, his past embrace of Palestinian activists, or his association with the hate-mongering Reverend Wright. It’s the fault of of those pesky Jews, who are (for some incomprehensible, asinine reason) spooked by the rhetoric of his advisers and close associates. Voters can be so dim.

Barack Obama met with a group of Pennsylvania Jewish leaders today. According to reports, he said “We should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and abide by past agreements.” He refused to condemn Jimmy Carter’s Hamas outreach, but said he had a “fundamental disagreement” with Carter. (No word on whether he was asked about visiting graves of terrorists.)

The report concludes: “Obama also said at the meeting that he’s willing to make diplomatic overtures to Iran” even though it had “funded Hamas and other militant groups.” What about applying the standards he applies to Hamas? Nope. And no explanation was given as to why Iran, which is indisputably helping to kill Americans in Iraq, gets better treatment than Hamas. This whirlwind of inconsistency is what we have to look forward to in an Obama administration.

Another report adds this curious response:

Would he continue to veto anti-Israeli resolutions at the UN? He said he would and that he would be “uniquely positioned” to do so due to his background. “That kind of blunt talk is something I can deliver with more credibility than some other presidents might.”

Does he mean to suggest that because he is African-American, Israel’s enemies will accept a veto more readily? It’s hard to imagine what “background” he has that gives him superior credibility in dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict. This comment is frankly baffling. In a separate interview, Obama made clear the real reasons why he is having a difficult time allaying the concerns of Jewish voters:

“Let’s be clear, there has been a really systematic effort to suggest that I’m not sufficiently pro-Israel,” he said. “The fact that my middle name is Hussein, I’m sure, does not help in that regard . . . Again some of this dates back to the ’60s between the African-American and the Jewish community as a consequence of [Louis] Farrakhan. There was flap about some of Jesse Jackson’s statements during his presidential race, so I inherit all this baggage.”

But not to worry. He says “no one’s been a more stalwart ally of Israel.” Never mind his choice of advisors, his past embrace of Palestinian activists, or his association with the hate-mongering Reverend Wright. It’s the fault of of those pesky Jews, who are (for some incomprehensible, asinine reason) spooked by the rhetoric of his advisers and close associates. Voters can be so dim.

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Democrats’ Economic Plans

Neither Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton are going to give John McCain a run for his money with fiscal conservatives. Indeed, it may be that in an economic downturn their proposals sound even worse.

Obama in an interview yesterday on CNBC said he would raise the capital gains tax (the exact amount to be determined later), raise the top marginal individual income tax rate to 39%, raise the cap on social security taxes (currently $102,000), raise taxes on “dirty energy” like coal ( Did they know about this in Ohio? Are they listening in West Virginia?), and hike a few others (e.g. death tax, dividends). The only question he wouldn’t answer is whether he is a “liberal,” instead declaring that “My attitude is that I believe in the market, I believe in entrepreneurship, I believe in opportunity, I believe in capitalism and I want to do what works. . . But what I want to make sure of is it works for all America and not just a small sliver of America.” (Perhaps someone should tell him that capitalism requires capital.)

Obama has repeatedly said that he would raise income taxes only on those making more than $75,000. Americans For Tax Reform provided me with this interesting statistical information :

According to the IRS Statistics of Income Bulletin, the top 20% of households earn more than $75,000 in Adjusted Gross Income. This represents about 30 million households. A good guess would be about 100 million affected Americans. (The source for this is also IRS-SO.) The top 20% of income earners (that is, those earning $75,000 or more) pay nearly 90% of all federal income taxes (Source: Tax Foundation).

Interestingly in a debate last November Hillary Clinton took exception with the notion that Obama’s plan to raise the social security tax cap (then $97,500) would only impact the rich. She said that “it is absolutely the case that there are people who would find that burdensome. I represent firefighters. I represent school supervisors. I’m not talking — and, you know, it’s different parts of the country. So you have to look at this across the board and the numbers are staggering.” She also said that she does “not want to fix the problems of Social Security on the backs of middle-class families and seniors. If you lift the cap completely, that is a $1 trillion tax increase. I don’t think we need to do that.” (So if $97,500 isn’t rich then one supposes she agrees with McCain and his advisors today who asserted that $75,000 isn’t rich either.)

But Clinton is no role model for free marketers. The New York Times may kvell over her mastery of health care policy, but she declared in an interview that she’s going to cap health care insurance at 5 to 10% of individuals’ earnings and require all insurers to cover consumers regardless of health status or age. But what if insurers can’t do this ( i.e. suppose it costs more than 10% of the average American’s salary to insure them, especially the sick people)? Ah, not to worry: “Government insurance similar to Medicare would be available to all consumers.” And of course, those taxes increases she would enact to pay for this aren’t tax increases. Rolling back the Bush tax cuts “should not be rightly labeled as a tax increase,” she says, since they will expire in 2011.

Perhaps McCain won’t be disadvantaged on domestic policy after all.

Neither Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton are going to give John McCain a run for his money with fiscal conservatives. Indeed, it may be that in an economic downturn their proposals sound even worse.

Obama in an interview yesterday on CNBC said he would raise the capital gains tax (the exact amount to be determined later), raise the top marginal individual income tax rate to 39%, raise the cap on social security taxes (currently $102,000), raise taxes on “dirty energy” like coal ( Did they know about this in Ohio? Are they listening in West Virginia?), and hike a few others (e.g. death tax, dividends). The only question he wouldn’t answer is whether he is a “liberal,” instead declaring that “My attitude is that I believe in the market, I believe in entrepreneurship, I believe in opportunity, I believe in capitalism and I want to do what works. . . But what I want to make sure of is it works for all America and not just a small sliver of America.” (Perhaps someone should tell him that capitalism requires capital.)

Obama has repeatedly said that he would raise income taxes only on those making more than $75,000. Americans For Tax Reform provided me with this interesting statistical information :

According to the IRS Statistics of Income Bulletin, the top 20% of households earn more than $75,000 in Adjusted Gross Income. This represents about 30 million households. A good guess would be about 100 million affected Americans. (The source for this is also IRS-SO.) The top 20% of income earners (that is, those earning $75,000 or more) pay nearly 90% of all federal income taxes (Source: Tax Foundation).

Interestingly in a debate last November Hillary Clinton took exception with the notion that Obama’s plan to raise the social security tax cap (then $97,500) would only impact the rich. She said that “it is absolutely the case that there are people who would find that burdensome. I represent firefighters. I represent school supervisors. I’m not talking — and, you know, it’s different parts of the country. So you have to look at this across the board and the numbers are staggering.” She also said that she does “not want to fix the problems of Social Security on the backs of middle-class families and seniors. If you lift the cap completely, that is a $1 trillion tax increase. I don’t think we need to do that.” (So if $97,500 isn’t rich then one supposes she agrees with McCain and his advisors today who asserted that $75,000 isn’t rich either.)

But Clinton is no role model for free marketers. The New York Times may kvell over her mastery of health care policy, but she declared in an interview that she’s going to cap health care insurance at 5 to 10% of individuals’ earnings and require all insurers to cover consumers regardless of health status or age. But what if insurers can’t do this ( i.e. suppose it costs more than 10% of the average American’s salary to insure them, especially the sick people)? Ah, not to worry: “Government insurance similar to Medicare would be available to all consumers.” And of course, those taxes increases she would enact to pay for this aren’t tax increases. Rolling back the Bush tax cuts “should not be rightly labeled as a tax increase,” she says, since they will expire in 2011.

Perhaps McCain won’t be disadvantaged on domestic policy after all.

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Obama Doesn’t Have A “Jewish Problem.” Really.

Barack Obama has no imperfection or shortcoming that can’t be glossed over by liberal pundits. The latest gloss: he has no Jewish problem and all this “guilt by association” is terribly imprecise and unfair.

You see, Obama is not responsible for Reverend Wright or Tony McPeak. But what about Samantha Power, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Robert Malley? Isn’t it reasonable to ask “Why does Barack Obama have so many foreign policy and national security advisers whose statements about Israel and American Jews are problematic? ” Apparently we should not hold him responsible for selecting these individuals, nor attribute any of their views to him. And we shouldn’t be bothered either, I suppose, by his own comment that “nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.”

The evidence that none of this matters? A Gallup poll showing Obama and Clinton splitting the Jewish vote. Others have pointed out that this does not tell us whether Jewish general election voters, given the choice between John McCain and Obama, will stick with the latter.

While it is correct that Jewish voters have favored Democrats in presidential elections, the GOP share of the Jewish vote has risen steadily. Will American Jews stick by a Democratic candidate who surrounds himself with the type of advisors Obama has, who feels unable to reject his pastor even after vile anti-Semitic remarks become known (and still insists his remarks are no big deal, apparently because the really objectionable ones only number “five or six”), and whose foreign policy embraces the notion of meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? We’ll get a hint with the primary in Pennsylvania, a state with a significant number of Jewish voters (5% in the hotly contested 2006 Senate race).

But everything is fine, perfectly fine, say the liberal media Obamaphiles. (And the Italian vote isn’t a problem, either.)

Barack Obama has no imperfection or shortcoming that can’t be glossed over by liberal pundits. The latest gloss: he has no Jewish problem and all this “guilt by association” is terribly imprecise and unfair.

You see, Obama is not responsible for Reverend Wright or Tony McPeak. But what about Samantha Power, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Robert Malley? Isn’t it reasonable to ask “Why does Barack Obama have so many foreign policy and national security advisers whose statements about Israel and American Jews are problematic? ” Apparently we should not hold him responsible for selecting these individuals, nor attribute any of their views to him. And we shouldn’t be bothered either, I suppose, by his own comment that “nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.”

The evidence that none of this matters? A Gallup poll showing Obama and Clinton splitting the Jewish vote. Others have pointed out that this does not tell us whether Jewish general election voters, given the choice between John McCain and Obama, will stick with the latter.

While it is correct that Jewish voters have favored Democrats in presidential elections, the GOP share of the Jewish vote has risen steadily. Will American Jews stick by a Democratic candidate who surrounds himself with the type of advisors Obama has, who feels unable to reject his pastor even after vile anti-Semitic remarks become known (and still insists his remarks are no big deal, apparently because the really objectionable ones only number “five or six”), and whose foreign policy embraces the notion of meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? We’ll get a hint with the primary in Pennsylvania, a state with a significant number of Jewish voters (5% in the hotly contested 2006 Senate race).

But everything is fine, perfectly fine, say the liberal media Obamaphiles. (And the Italian vote isn’t a problem, either.)

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Life Goes On… If You Have A Life

The media certainly is rooting for Hillary Clinton to pack up and go home. The only debate is whether she has a 10% or 5% chance to win. But aside from the potential that she could, after all, still win, it seems entirely out of character for her to up and leave–except under duress. For the Clintons, not to mention their camp of advisors poised to retake the White House, it may be inconceivable to think about losing and returning to life off the presidential trail.

For others, life goes on after campaigns. Rudy Giuliani, for example, seamlessly returned to law and business. (Likewise, his communications director Katie Levinson landed at a top PR firm and his campaign manager Mike DuHaime is back at the RNC.) Yet for the Clintons and their hangers-on, giving up and going back to life before their presidential aspirations would be an exercise in time travel. For decades this is what they strived to achieve. I don’t imagine her (or him) simply walking away voluntarily.

The media certainly is rooting for Hillary Clinton to pack up and go home. The only debate is whether she has a 10% or 5% chance to win. But aside from the potential that she could, after all, still win, it seems entirely out of character for her to up and leave–except under duress. For the Clintons, not to mention their camp of advisors poised to retake the White House, it may be inconceivable to think about losing and returning to life off the presidential trail.

For others, life goes on after campaigns. Rudy Giuliani, for example, seamlessly returned to law and business. (Likewise, his communications director Katie Levinson landed at a top PR firm and his campaign manager Mike DuHaime is back at the RNC.) Yet for the Clintons and their hangers-on, giving up and going back to life before their presidential aspirations would be an exercise in time travel. For decades this is what they strived to achieve. I don’t imagine her (or him) simply walking away voluntarily.

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What Is Left To Say?

Bill Clinton is Joseph McCarthy and Bill Richardson is Judas. That’s what Democrats are saying about each other. If this goes on for a few more months there will be little more for John McCain and the RNC to add that hasn’t been said already about either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton ( or their spouses, supporters or potential advisors).

Indeed, McCain is trying hard not to add too much, even going so far as to suspend an aide for a rather innocuous video replaying the already familiar Reverend Wright vitriol. While this may seem overly cautious or even odd, there is a rationale for his insistence on a high-road approach.

In the wake of the Wright controversy, McCain may have gone a long way toward solving his residual problem in unifying the Republican base. (After getting an earful of Wright’s hate speech and Obama’s excuse mongering, the GOP base will be plenty energized on McCain’s behalf if Obama is the nominee.) So McCain’s pitch on both syle and substance can be focused increasingly on independent voters who will determine the election’s outcome. It is these voters McCain is hoping to secure, in large part on the basis of his record of bipartisanship, but also with his insistence on a gentlemanly tone. He is banking that these voters cringe when they hear the ever more hostile rhetoric and over-the-top accusations flying between Democrats. He intends to look and sound presidential, and in particular sell independents on the notion that the entire Democratic primary is just the latest example of the rancor and animosity which these voters have come to dread. For now, it seems to be working as an ever larger segment of independents, according to polls, lean toward McCain. With some help from the Democrats’ continued hysterical accusations, McCain hopes to cement that relationship.

Bill Clinton is Joseph McCarthy and Bill Richardson is Judas. That’s what Democrats are saying about each other. If this goes on for a few more months there will be little more for John McCain and the RNC to add that hasn’t been said already about either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton ( or their spouses, supporters or potential advisors).

Indeed, McCain is trying hard not to add too much, even going so far as to suspend an aide for a rather innocuous video replaying the already familiar Reverend Wright vitriol. While this may seem overly cautious or even odd, there is a rationale for his insistence on a high-road approach.

In the wake of the Wright controversy, McCain may have gone a long way toward solving his residual problem in unifying the Republican base. (After getting an earful of Wright’s hate speech and Obama’s excuse mongering, the GOP base will be plenty energized on McCain’s behalf if Obama is the nominee.) So McCain’s pitch on both syle and substance can be focused increasingly on independent voters who will determine the election’s outcome. It is these voters McCain is hoping to secure, in large part on the basis of his record of bipartisanship, but also with his insistence on a gentlemanly tone. He is banking that these voters cringe when they hear the ever more hostile rhetoric and over-the-top accusations flying between Democrats. He intends to look and sound presidential, and in particular sell independents on the notion that the entire Democratic primary is just the latest example of the rancor and animosity which these voters have come to dread. For now, it seems to be working as an ever larger segment of independents, according to polls, lean toward McCain. With some help from the Democrats’ continued hysterical accusations, McCain hopes to cement that relationship.

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Hillary Isn’t the Monster

I was at first relieved to learn that Senator Barack Obama had chosen Samantha Power as a foreign policy advisor. Her book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide is hardly wishy-washy or leftist, and I concur with Max Boot that it could have been written by a neoconservative. It had been years, though, since I had paid her any attention. Until, that is, Noah Pollak forced me to take a fresh look. Much of what she has written and said since her book’s publication has been troubling, and she turned out to be the most controversial of Obama’s advisors. Yesterday she resigned after calling Senator Hillary Clinton a “monster” in an interview with a Scottish newspaper. I suspect an additional (though unstated) reason may have been the unwanted storm of controversy surrounding her, a storm that has had the Obama campaign on the defensive for some time now.

To her credit, Power disavowed her most controversial idea–that American troops be sent to Israel and the Palestinian territories–but troubling questions remain. If she thinks Clinton is a monster, what does she think about the dictators of Syria and Iran? She doesn’t approve of them. That’s obvious. But neither she nor Obama has ever been so “undiplomatic” as to suggest that they’re monsters.

Though not actual monsters, they are indeed monstrous.

Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seeks nuclear weapons and has compared the state of Israel to “bacteria” after threatening to wipe it off the map. Power called Clinton deceitful, but that goes ten-fold for Syria’s Bashar Assad, the assassin of prime ministers, the armorer of Hezbollah, and the car-bomber of liberal Lebanese journalists.

It has been said before that conservatives rely too much on military force and that liberals rely too much on diplomacy. Perhaps that’s true. In any case, I suspect the liberal yearning for dialogue with the likes of Ahmadinejad and Assad might be less troublesome if advocates of diplomacy gave some sign that they consider the tyrants and terrorist regimes of the Middle East to be more of a threat than election opponents.

We have met the enemy. And it isn’t us.

I was at first relieved to learn that Senator Barack Obama had chosen Samantha Power as a foreign policy advisor. Her book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide is hardly wishy-washy or leftist, and I concur with Max Boot that it could have been written by a neoconservative. It had been years, though, since I had paid her any attention. Until, that is, Noah Pollak forced me to take a fresh look. Much of what she has written and said since her book’s publication has been troubling, and she turned out to be the most controversial of Obama’s advisors. Yesterday she resigned after calling Senator Hillary Clinton a “monster” in an interview with a Scottish newspaper. I suspect an additional (though unstated) reason may have been the unwanted storm of controversy surrounding her, a storm that has had the Obama campaign on the defensive for some time now.

To her credit, Power disavowed her most controversial idea–that American troops be sent to Israel and the Palestinian territories–but troubling questions remain. If she thinks Clinton is a monster, what does she think about the dictators of Syria and Iran? She doesn’t approve of them. That’s obvious. But neither she nor Obama has ever been so “undiplomatic” as to suggest that they’re monsters.

Though not actual monsters, they are indeed monstrous.

Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seeks nuclear weapons and has compared the state of Israel to “bacteria” after threatening to wipe it off the map. Power called Clinton deceitful, but that goes ten-fold for Syria’s Bashar Assad, the assassin of prime ministers, the armorer of Hezbollah, and the car-bomber of liberal Lebanese journalists.

It has been said before that conservatives rely too much on military force and that liberals rely too much on diplomacy. Perhaps that’s true. In any case, I suspect the liberal yearning for dialogue with the likes of Ahmadinejad and Assad might be less troublesome if advocates of diplomacy gave some sign that they consider the tyrants and terrorist regimes of the Middle East to be more of a threat than election opponents.

We have met the enemy. And it isn’t us.

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No Great Shakes Either

Hillary Clinton’s campaign teammates have come in for some well-deserved criticism lately. They’ve come close to running her “inevitable” campaign into “inevitable” mathematical elimination and they have perfected the art of public finger-pointing (and won the prize for the most “[Expletive] you!” quotes in a single news story this election season). Still, they are not alone in the “needs improvement” category.

Within the last week, Barack Obama advisors have gotten caught up in an embarrassing conversation with a foreign government, let on that their own candidate is not all that prepared to be commander-in-chief, and made the error of saying out loud what most of the Obama team privately believes (that Hillary Clinton is a “monster” and “who is stooping to anything to win”). Yes, Michael Kinsley is right that a gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. But why have so many people gone off the reservation? What happened to the team that could do no wrong?

It just might be that Obama has a lot of advisers who have never served on a presidential campaign and have never been in the spotlight for any extended period of time. Granted, they don’t disparage each other in public like the Clinton team. But by the same token they are not projecting the message discipline and competence that usually go along with a winning team. (Why haven’t they been able to get out a comment on the bombing of the U.S. military recruiting station? And you would think they could have managed by now to condemn yesterday’s terrorist attack.)

More fundamentally, they are not doing a particularly good job of demonstrating that Obama really can assume the role of commander-in-chief. Rather than give substantive speeches, he recites the same talking points: he will talk to world leaders who despise us, he was “right” on Iraq. Now he has added this:

Barack Obama also has the unique experience of living in the wider world. He is a leader who will know not just world leaders – but the world’s people. He saw life in foreign lands firsthand, when he lived with his mother and stepfather in Indonesia. His father came from Kenya to seek the dream of America, and he still has a grandmother living in Kenya with no plumbing or electricity. He will be able to show the world a new face, and he will offer a new voice for America.

For those who don’t believe the state of your relatives’ plumbing is relevant to anything, I suppose you just have to operate on faith that a resume like that will blow ‘em away in Moscow and Tehran.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign teammates have come in for some well-deserved criticism lately. They’ve come close to running her “inevitable” campaign into “inevitable” mathematical elimination and they have perfected the art of public finger-pointing (and won the prize for the most “[Expletive] you!” quotes in a single news story this election season). Still, they are not alone in the “needs improvement” category.

Within the last week, Barack Obama advisors have gotten caught up in an embarrassing conversation with a foreign government, let on that their own candidate is not all that prepared to be commander-in-chief, and made the error of saying out loud what most of the Obama team privately believes (that Hillary Clinton is a “monster” and “who is stooping to anything to win”). Yes, Michael Kinsley is right that a gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. But why have so many people gone off the reservation? What happened to the team that could do no wrong?

It just might be that Obama has a lot of advisers who have never served on a presidential campaign and have never been in the spotlight for any extended period of time. Granted, they don’t disparage each other in public like the Clinton team. But by the same token they are not projecting the message discipline and competence that usually go along with a winning team. (Why haven’t they been able to get out a comment on the bombing of the U.S. military recruiting station? And you would think they could have managed by now to condemn yesterday’s terrorist attack.)

More fundamentally, they are not doing a particularly good job of demonstrating that Obama really can assume the role of commander-in-chief. Rather than give substantive speeches, he recites the same talking points: he will talk to world leaders who despise us, he was “right” on Iraq. Now he has added this:

Barack Obama also has the unique experience of living in the wider world. He is a leader who will know not just world leaders – but the world’s people. He saw life in foreign lands firsthand, when he lived with his mother and stepfather in Indonesia. His father came from Kenya to seek the dream of America, and he still has a grandmother living in Kenya with no plumbing or electricity. He will be able to show the world a new face, and he will offer a new voice for America.

For those who don’t believe the state of your relatives’ plumbing is relevant to anything, I suppose you just have to operate on faith that a resume like that will blow ‘em away in Moscow and Tehran.

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Nader Raises Obama’s Israel Issue

Ralph Nader finagled airtime on Meet the Press to announce he is mounting another presidential run, which certainly will garner even less attention than last time. He also contributed this analysis of Barack Obama:

But his better instincts and his knowledge have been censored by himself. And I give you the example, the Palestinian-Israeli issue, which is a real off the table issue for the candidates. So don’t touch that, even though it’s central to our security and to, to the situation in the Middle East. He was pro-Palestinian when he was in Illinois before he ran for the state Senate, during he ran–during the state Senate. Now he’s, he’s supporting the Israeli destruction of the tiny section called Gaza with a million and a half people. He doesn’t have any sympathy for a civilian death ratio of about 300-to-1; 300 Palestinians to one Israeli. He’s not taking a leadership position in supporting the Israeli peace movement, which represents former Cabinet ministers, people in the Knesset, former generals, former security officials, in addition to mayors and leading intellectuals. One would think he would at least say, “Let’s have a hearing for the Israeli peace movement in the Congress,” so we don’t just have a monotone support of the Israeli government’s attitude toward the Palestinians and their illegal occupation of Palestine.
The Republican Jewish Coalition responded with a press release which read, in part:
“People should be very skeptical of Barack Obama’s shaky Middle East policies. When a long-time political activist like Ralph Nader, with a well-documented, anti-Israel bias, claims that Senator Obama shares this anti-Israel bias, that is alarming,” said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks. “If Senator Obama supports Ralph Nader’s policies, which consistently condemn Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism, and if Sen. Obama has only reversed his positions to run for president, it once again raises serious questions about his grasp of the geo-political realities of the Middle East and puts into doubt his commitment to the safety and security of Israel. These are important questions we in the Jewish community will be asking.”
Now Ralph Nader is not exactly a keen or accurate political observer, but the problematic issue of Obama’s views and advisors on Israel, explored at length here, here and here, is not something the Obama camp can ignore. He recently had this to say in Cleveland:
“Well here’s my starting orientation is A – Israel’s security is sacrosanct, is non negotiable. That’s point number one. Point number two is that the status quo I believe is unsustainable over time. So we’re going to have to make a shift from the current deadlock that we’re in. Number three that Israel has to remain a Jewish state and what I believe that means is that any negotiated peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is going to have to involve the Palestinians relinquishing the right of return as it has been understood in the past. And that doesn’t mean that there may not be conversations about compensation issues. It also means the Israelis will have to figure out how do we work with a legitimate Palestinian government to create a Palestinian state that is sustainable. It’s going to have to be contiguous, its going to have to work its going to have to function in some way. That’s in Israel’s interest by the way. If you have a balkanized unsustainable state, it will break down and we will be back in the same boat. So those are the starting points of my orientation. My goal then would be to solicit as many practical opinions as possible in terms of how we’re going to move forward on a improvement of relations and a sustainable peace.”
He also sought to distance himself from association with Zbigniew Brzezinski:

“I do not share his views with respect to Israel. I have said so clearly and unequivocally,” Obama said. “He’s not one of my key advisers. I’ve had lunch with him once. I’ve exchanged e-mails with him maybe three times. He came to Iowa to introduce . . . for a speech on Iraq.”

No word as yet on whether he is having second thoughts about advice from Samantha Power or whether his “talking to our enemies” mantra includes Hamas and Hezbollah. This certainly will be a general election issue. It remains to be seen whether Hillary Clinton will raise this as an example of the risk of getting an “unknown quantity” with an Obama presidency (perhaps it would be a more effective argument for her than desperation moves like this).

Ralph Nader finagled airtime on Meet the Press to announce he is mounting another presidential run, which certainly will garner even less attention than last time. He also contributed this analysis of Barack Obama:

But his better instincts and his knowledge have been censored by himself. And I give you the example, the Palestinian-Israeli issue, which is a real off the table issue for the candidates. So don’t touch that, even though it’s central to our security and to, to the situation in the Middle East. He was pro-Palestinian when he was in Illinois before he ran for the state Senate, during he ran–during the state Senate. Now he’s, he’s supporting the Israeli destruction of the tiny section called Gaza with a million and a half people. He doesn’t have any sympathy for a civilian death ratio of about 300-to-1; 300 Palestinians to one Israeli. He’s not taking a leadership position in supporting the Israeli peace movement, which represents former Cabinet ministers, people in the Knesset, former generals, former security officials, in addition to mayors and leading intellectuals. One would think he would at least say, “Let’s have a hearing for the Israeli peace movement in the Congress,” so we don’t just have a monotone support of the Israeli government’s attitude toward the Palestinians and their illegal occupation of Palestine.
The Republican Jewish Coalition responded with a press release which read, in part:
“People should be very skeptical of Barack Obama’s shaky Middle East policies. When a long-time political activist like Ralph Nader, with a well-documented, anti-Israel bias, claims that Senator Obama shares this anti-Israel bias, that is alarming,” said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks. “If Senator Obama supports Ralph Nader’s policies, which consistently condemn Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism, and if Sen. Obama has only reversed his positions to run for president, it once again raises serious questions about his grasp of the geo-political realities of the Middle East and puts into doubt his commitment to the safety and security of Israel. These are important questions we in the Jewish community will be asking.”
Now Ralph Nader is not exactly a keen or accurate political observer, but the problematic issue of Obama’s views and advisors on Israel, explored at length here, here and here, is not something the Obama camp can ignore. He recently had this to say in Cleveland:
“Well here’s my starting orientation is A – Israel’s security is sacrosanct, is non negotiable. That’s point number one. Point number two is that the status quo I believe is unsustainable over time. So we’re going to have to make a shift from the current deadlock that we’re in. Number three that Israel has to remain a Jewish state and what I believe that means is that any negotiated peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is going to have to involve the Palestinians relinquishing the right of return as it has been understood in the past. And that doesn’t mean that there may not be conversations about compensation issues. It also means the Israelis will have to figure out how do we work with a legitimate Palestinian government to create a Palestinian state that is sustainable. It’s going to have to be contiguous, its going to have to work its going to have to function in some way. That’s in Israel’s interest by the way. If you have a balkanized unsustainable state, it will break down and we will be back in the same boat. So those are the starting points of my orientation. My goal then would be to solicit as many practical opinions as possible in terms of how we’re going to move forward on a improvement of relations and a sustainable peace.”
He also sought to distance himself from association with Zbigniew Brzezinski:

“I do not share his views with respect to Israel. I have said so clearly and unequivocally,” Obama said. “He’s not one of my key advisers. I’ve had lunch with him once. I’ve exchanged e-mails with him maybe three times. He came to Iowa to introduce . . . for a speech on Iraq.”

No word as yet on whether he is having second thoughts about advice from Samantha Power or whether his “talking to our enemies” mantra includes Hamas and Hezbollah. This certainly will be a general election issue. It remains to be seen whether Hillary Clinton will raise this as an example of the risk of getting an “unknown quantity” with an Obama presidency (perhaps it would be a more effective argument for her than desperation moves like this).

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Obama Imitates Olmert

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has one of the lowest approval ratings in his country’s history thanks to his disastrous prosecution of the July 2006 war in Lebanon against Hezbollah.

Nevertheless, and contrary to Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s delusional and arrogant boasts, Hezbollah didn’t win. I toured South Lebanon and the suburbs south of Beirut – Hezbollah’s two major strongholds – after the war. The magnitude of the destruction was stunning. It looked like World War II blew through the place. (Click here and here to see photos.) Nasrallah survived and replenished his arsensal stocks, but, as Israeli military historian Michael Oren put it, “If he has enough victories like this one, he’s dead.”

Israel didn’t win, either. None of Israel’s objectives in Lebanon were accomplished.

The best that can be said of that war is that it was a strategic draw with losses on both sides. Hezbollah absorbed the brunt of the damage.

It should be obvious why Israel didn’t prevail to observers of modern asymmetrical warfare and counterinsurgency. Olmert’s plan, such as it was, was doomed to fail from Day One. It may not have been obvious then, but it certainly should be by now.

American General David Petraeus proved counterinsurgency in Arabic countries can work. His surge of troops in Iraq is about a change of tactics more than an increase in numbers, and his tactics so far have surpassed all expectations. The “light footprint” model used during former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but American soldiers and Marines had no chance of defeating insurgents from behind barbed wire garrisons. Only now that the troops have left the relative safety and comfort of their bases and intimately integrated themselves into the Iraqi population are they able to isolate and track down the killers. They do so with help from the locals. They acquired that help because they slowly forged trusting relationships and alliances, and because they protect the civilians from violence.

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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has one of the lowest approval ratings in his country’s history thanks to his disastrous prosecution of the July 2006 war in Lebanon against Hezbollah.

Nevertheless, and contrary to Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s delusional and arrogant boasts, Hezbollah didn’t win. I toured South Lebanon and the suburbs south of Beirut – Hezbollah’s two major strongholds – after the war. The magnitude of the destruction was stunning. It looked like World War II blew through the place. (Click here and here to see photos.) Nasrallah survived and replenished his arsensal stocks, but, as Israeli military historian Michael Oren put it, “If he has enough victories like this one, he’s dead.”

Israel didn’t win, either. None of Israel’s objectives in Lebanon were accomplished.

The best that can be said of that war is that it was a strategic draw with losses on both sides. Hezbollah absorbed the brunt of the damage.

It should be obvious why Israel didn’t prevail to observers of modern asymmetrical warfare and counterinsurgency. Olmert’s plan, such as it was, was doomed to fail from Day One. It may not have been obvious then, but it certainly should be by now.

American General David Petraeus proved counterinsurgency in Arabic countries can work. His surge of troops in Iraq is about a change of tactics more than an increase in numbers, and his tactics so far have surpassed all expectations. The “light footprint” model used during former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but American soldiers and Marines had no chance of defeating insurgents from behind barbed wire garrisons. Only now that the troops have left the relative safety and comfort of their bases and intimately integrated themselves into the Iraqi population are they able to isolate and track down the killers. They do so with help from the locals. They acquired that help because they slowly forged trusting relationships and alliances, and because they protect the civilians from violence.

The Israel Defense Forces did nothing of the sort in Lebanon. Most Lebanese Shias are so hostile to Israel that such a strategy might not work even if David Petraeus himself were in charge of it. Even then it would take years to produce the desired results, just as it has taken several years in Iraq. Israelis have no wish to spend years fighting Hezbollah in Lebanon. International pressure would force them out if they did.

A Petraeus-like strategy wasn’t an option for Olmert. That, however, doesn’t mean we can’t compare the effectiveness of the Olmert and Petraeus strategies.

The Israel Defense Forces fought a month-long asymmetrical war in Lebanon mostly with air strikes. Israel didn’t aim at civilians, but it goes without saying that Israel likewise didn’t protect civilians from violence as the Americans protect Iraqis from violence. That can’t be done from the air. Israel did nothing at all to inspire the people of South Lebanon to come around to their side. Israelis, from the point of view of South Lebanese, are faceless enemies that devastated their towns from the heavens.

Many Hezbollah fighters were killed in the targeted strikes. Bunkers and weapons caches were destroyed. Safe houses proved to be anything but. Civilians as well as combatants were heavily punished.

At the end of the day, though, none of it mattered. Hezbollah remains standing. Their weapons stocks have been replenished by Iran through Syria. Civilian supporters of Nasrallah’s militia are more ferociously anti-Israel than ever. United Nations troops who deployed to the area will inadvertently function as “human shields” for Hezbollah if war breaks out again.

Meanwhile in Iraq, Al Qaeda has been vanquished almost everywhere. Moqtada al Sadr’s radical Shia Mahdi Army militia declared a unilateral ceasefire. Many previously anti-American enemies have flipped to our side. Overall violence has been reduced by almost 90 percent. 75 percent of Baghdad is now secure.

Responsible political leaders and military commanders would be well-advised to analyze both approaches to assymetrical warfare and counterinsurgency, and to hew as closely as possible to the Petraeus model. Olmert’s is broken.

Senator Barack Obama, though, prefers the Olmert model whether he thinks of it that way or not. (Actually, I’m sure he doesn’t think of it as Olmert’s model, though basically that’s what it is.)

“Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq,” says a statement on the senator’s Web site. “He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.” [Emphasis added.]

Targeted strikes do kill some terrorists (and often, tragically, civilians, as well). But they have little or no effect overall in counterinsurgent urban warfare. Perhaps the senator or his advisors should read the new counterinsurgency manual – the one that has proven effective – and compare its strategy to targeted strikes which have proven to fail.

Here is just one critical excerpt:

Sometimes, the More You Protect Your Force, the Less Secure You May Be

1-149. Ultimate success in COIN [Counter-insurgency] is gained by protecting the populace, not the COIN force. If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the initiative to the insurgents. Aggressive saturation patrolling, ambushes, and listening post operations must be conducted, risk shared with the populace, and contact maintained… . These practices ensure access to the intelligence needed to drive operations. Following them reinforces the connections with the populace that help establish real legitimacy.

From “Counterinsurgency/FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5”

This strategy was not available to Olmert and the Israel Defense Forces. It will be available to Obama and the United States military should he choose to excercise it.

Obama is competing in a Democratic primary race. Perhaps if he is elected commander in chief and no longer needs to appease the left-wing of his party he will reverse himself and keep Petraeus right where he is. Reality has a way of imposing itself on presidents.

He would be wise to carefully consider what works and what doesn’t, not only for the sakes of the United States and Iraq, but also for purely calculating and self-interested reasons. Obama is a likeable guy. He could, in theory, be a popular president. Olmert, though, was also popular once. He probably never will be again.

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How Thoughtless!

Page one of today’s Wall Street Journal features a piece by Monica Langley about Barack and Michelle Obama. The article is intended as a portrait of the enviable power couple who have struck a charming balance through each other’s strengths and weaknesses. However, the reader should be immediately struck by something far less than ideal about the two of them. Here’s Ms. Langley writing about a brainstorming call between Barack, his advisors and his wife Michelle:

“Barack,” she interjected, “Feel — don’t think!” Telling her husband his “over-thinking” during past debates had tripped him up with rival Hillary Clinton, she said: “Don’t get caught in the weeds. Be visceral. Use your heart — and your head.”

Is it not more than a little worrisome that the leading presidential candidate is a man for whom thoughts represent a hazard? Cognitions are “weeds” in which he shouldn’t get caught—and this is the assessment of his wife! Just imagine the headlines if this excerpt appeared in a story about George and Laura Bush: “First Lady Scolds Prez for Thinking Again” or “Laura Sits in on Brainshorting Call.” Perhaps what’s most shocking is not that Obama finds thinking a challenge or that his wife readily points this out, but that the candidate who spends his time concerned that he may be called upon to think while campaigning has had nothing to worry about so far.

Page one of today’s Wall Street Journal features a piece by Monica Langley about Barack and Michelle Obama. The article is intended as a portrait of the enviable power couple who have struck a charming balance through each other’s strengths and weaknesses. However, the reader should be immediately struck by something far less than ideal about the two of them. Here’s Ms. Langley writing about a brainstorming call between Barack, his advisors and his wife Michelle:

“Barack,” she interjected, “Feel — don’t think!” Telling her husband his “over-thinking” during past debates had tripped him up with rival Hillary Clinton, she said: “Don’t get caught in the weeds. Be visceral. Use your heart — and your head.”

Is it not more than a little worrisome that the leading presidential candidate is a man for whom thoughts represent a hazard? Cognitions are “weeds” in which he shouldn’t get caught—and this is the assessment of his wife! Just imagine the headlines if this excerpt appeared in a story about George and Laura Bush: “First Lady Scolds Prez for Thinking Again” or “Laura Sits in on Brainshorting Call.” Perhaps what’s most shocking is not that Obama finds thinking a challenge or that his wife readily points this out, but that the candidate who spends his time concerned that he may be called upon to think while campaigning has had nothing to worry about so far.

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Assad Suckers Obama

Senator Barack Obama went on the record about the never-ending political meltdown in Lebanon, and for a moment there I thought he might have it just right.

“The ongoing political crisis is resulting in the destabilization of Lebanon,” he said, “which is an important country in the Middle East. The US cannot watch while Lebanon’s fresh democracy is about to collapse.” So far so good. “We must keep supporting the democratically-elected government of PM Fouad Siniora, strengthening the Lebanese army and insisting on the disarmament of Hezbollah before it leads Lebanon into another unnecessary war.”

This is all excellent, so let’s get something out of the way. Barack Obama is not a leftist. He is a liberal. The difference between an American liberal and an American leftist on Lebanon is enormous. I can’t tell you how many Western leftists I’ve met who ran off to Beirut where they endlessly excuse or even outright support Hezbollah. (They are “victims” of Zionism, they aren’t pro-American like those icky “right-wing” bourgeois Maronite Christians, etc.) Some of these Hezbollah supporters, tragically, are journalists. They put me in the right-wing “imperialist” and “orientalist” camp for no more than saying what Barack Obama just said.

Obama’s problem isn’t that he’s on the wrong side. His problem is he’s the latest in a seemingly limitless supply of naïve Westerners who think they can reason with Syria’s tyrant Bashar Assad.

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Senator Barack Obama went on the record about the never-ending political meltdown in Lebanon, and for a moment there I thought he might have it just right.

“The ongoing political crisis is resulting in the destabilization of Lebanon,” he said, “which is an important country in the Middle East. The US cannot watch while Lebanon’s fresh democracy is about to collapse.” So far so good. “We must keep supporting the democratically-elected government of PM Fouad Siniora, strengthening the Lebanese army and insisting on the disarmament of Hezbollah before it leads Lebanon into another unnecessary war.”

This is all excellent, so let’s get something out of the way. Barack Obama is not a leftist. He is a liberal. The difference between an American liberal and an American leftist on Lebanon is enormous. I can’t tell you how many Western leftists I’ve met who ran off to Beirut where they endlessly excuse or even outright support Hezbollah. (They are “victims” of Zionism, they aren’t pro-American like those icky “right-wing” bourgeois Maronite Christians, etc.) Some of these Hezbollah supporters, tragically, are journalists. They put me in the right-wing “imperialist” and “orientalist” camp for no more than saying what Barack Obama just said.

Obama’s problem isn’t that he’s on the wrong side. His problem is he’s the latest in a seemingly limitless supply of naïve Westerners who think they can reason with Syria’s tyrant Bashar Assad.

“Washington must rectify the wrong policy of President George Bush in Lebanon and resort to an efficient and permanent diplomacy, rather than empty slogans,” he said.

“What is bizarre about this sentence,” Lebanese political analyst Tony Badran said to me in an email, “is that the Lebanon policy has been precisely that. While Sen. Obama’s statement — and indeed conventional wisdom — tries to paint all Bush administration policies with the old brush of arrogant unilateralism, in reality, the Lebanon policy has always been a multilateral policy of consensus, through the UN security council, through international law, and through close partnership with European and regional allies like France and Saudi Arabia. It is unclear how Sen. Obama wishes to ‘replace’ that. The current policy is as consensual, multilateral and internationalist as you can get. What you need to replace ‘hollow rhetoric,’ as he put it, is not more ‘diplomatic engagement,’ it’s more tools of pressure.”

This is exactly right. Pressure of one kind or another is the only thing Bashar Assad, or his more ruthless father Hafez Assad, ever responds to.

Syria has exported terrorism to almost all its neighbors – to Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey. So far only Turkey has managed to put an end to it once for all, and did so by threatening to invade. Turkey could smash Syria to pieces almost as quickly and easily as the Israelis were they so inclined. So that, as they say, was that.

Likewise, Assad withdrew all his occupation troops from Lebanon in 2005 after a million Lebanese citizens – almost a third of the total population – protested in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square and demanded their evacuation. It wasn’t the protest, though, that forced Assad out. It was what he felt was extraordinary pressure from the international community, most pointedly from the United States. “I am not Saddam Hussein,” he said at the time. “I want to cooperate.”

I doubt the Bush Administration threatened an invasion of Syria. It wasn’t necessary. The United States had just pulled the trigger in Iraq.

“We have,” Tony Badran continued, “as have our allies and friends, tried talking to the Syrians and the result is always the same: disastrous failure. Mr. Obama might think that his own personal charm is enough to turn Assad into a gushing 14 year old girl at an N’Sync concert, but he should pay close attention to the recent experience of one of our closest trans-Atlantic allies, French president Nicholas Sarkozy.”

Sarkozy thought he could achieve what Obama says he’ll achieve. After finally getting over the learning curve he decided, as have all others before him, that the only solution is a united Western front against Syria. That united Western front would join the already existing united Arab front against Syria. Every Arab government in the world is aligned against Syria already. The only Assad-friendly government in the region is the (Persian) Islamic Republic of Iran. All Arab governments are ahead of Obama, just as they were ahead of Sarkozy, who refused to listen when they warned him.

Assad is not going to break the Syrian-Iranian-Hamas-Hezbollah axis because Obama talks him into it over tea after everyone else who has ever tried has failed utterly. Obama could be counted on to iron out at least some differences with European diplomats and Republicans in Congress, but that’s because they’re democratic, civilized, and basically on the same side. Syria is an enemy state and acts accordingly. Assad isn’t a spouse in a troubled marriage on the Dr. Phil show. Obama is no more able to flip Syria into the Western camp than Syria can convince the U.S. to join Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas.

Common ground does not exist. We have nothing to talk about because what Assad wants first and foremost – Syria’s re-domination of Lebanon and its absorption into its state-sponsored terrorist axis – is unacceptable for everyone involved from Barack Obama to Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Seniora to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

A united Arab-Western front against Syria might be effective. That’s what Assad is afraid of, and it’s the reason he continues to pretend what he wants is just “dialogue.” As if he just wants a friend and Bush is mean for not listening, as if “dialogue” is a cry for help so someone can help him kick his terrorist habit. There is always another sucker, somewhere, who thinks he or she can talk sense into the man and is willing to sabotage a united front in order to try.

Everyone who has ever tried to reason with Assad at length will tell you what I’m telling you now. It’s not a “liberal” or “conservative” thing, it just is. Obama is like the smart and popular college kid with a bright future, yet who still needs time to learn how the world works. He hasn’t acquired any foreign policy experience or expertise, and unfortunately his advisors are failing him here. They, of all people, should know this by now, yet they do not.

Obama desperately needs an advisor who understands Syria, and if he wants one who isn’t conservative he could could far worse than bringing on board political analyst and blogger Abu Kais, a Lebanese Shia who moved to Washington and is a critic of the Bush Administration.

“Murder has been profitable in our country, and in the region,” he wrote last month after assassins murdered anti-terrorist investigator Wissam Eid with a car bomb. “No one is going after the killers – their harshest punishment to date took the form of ‘initiatives’ and ‘dialogue.’ Lebanon, once again, is where anything goes, a free killing zone sanctioned by its enemies, and by friends who talk too much and do nothing.”

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Still More Clinton Collapse

As things get desperate, the Clinton campaign is taking on Brittany Spears-like media undulations. Fox News reports that former Bill Clinton advisors James Carville and Paul Begala have been added to Hillary’s team.

Carville and Begala will serve as top strategists on politics and communication and likely overshadow the current role of Mark Penn, Hillary’s senior strategist, and Patty Solis Doyle, Hillary’s current campaign manager.

Yet, when contacted, Carville had this to say:

Fox was, is and will continue to be an asinine and ignorant network. I have not spoken to anyone in the Clinton campaign about this. I have not done domestic political consulting since President Clinton was elected. I’m not getting back into domestic political consulting. If I do go back, it would be safe to say that I’m the biggest liar in America.

Hail Marys, rumors, and denials. The machine that turned image management into religion and redefined spin has lost control. If Carville and Begala do come back it should be noted that Hillary can’t very well continue to call herself an agent of change by bringing in the old guard to steady the ship.

As things get desperate, the Clinton campaign is taking on Brittany Spears-like media undulations. Fox News reports that former Bill Clinton advisors James Carville and Paul Begala have been added to Hillary’s team.

Carville and Begala will serve as top strategists on politics and communication and likely overshadow the current role of Mark Penn, Hillary’s senior strategist, and Patty Solis Doyle, Hillary’s current campaign manager.

Yet, when contacted, Carville had this to say:

Fox was, is and will continue to be an asinine and ignorant network. I have not spoken to anyone in the Clinton campaign about this. I have not done domestic political consulting since President Clinton was elected. I’m not getting back into domestic political consulting. If I do go back, it would be safe to say that I’m the biggest liar in America.

Hail Marys, rumors, and denials. The machine that turned image management into religion and redefined spin has lost control. If Carville and Begala do come back it should be noted that Hillary can’t very well continue to call herself an agent of change by bringing in the old guard to steady the ship.

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Boot and Hanson, Final Round: Fixing Our Mistakes

Dear Max,

I wouldn’t necessarily conflate being more aggressive with being more brutal. We can patrol more, embed more advisors, shoot and arrest more insurgents, all without being gratuitously cruel or needlessly overbearing to civilian sensibilities.

Here is what I think happened in Iraq after April 2003. Bolstered by a 70-percent approval rating, and still smarting from all the prewar hysteria from the Left, the Bush administration felt that it could run out the clock, so to speak.

Thus, each time a challenge arose—looting, the Fallujah outbreak, the Sadr uprising—their idea was to finesse the crisis as much as possible. They were afraid to squander the capital of hard-won public support through (unneeded?) escalation, escalation that would increase casualties and only encourage further domestic and international condemnation of the war.

As a result of this policy, public support vanished anyway, in dribs and drabs, each time we did not react strongly and decisively enough to a provocation. The administration thought, apparently, that using more aggressive tactics would only further incite the growing anti-war movement and that the good news of progress in reconstruction would only continue to be ignored by a biased media.

And so with a whimper rather than a bang, our complacency and over-sensitive attention to perceived public opinion made us ever less aggressive and ever more attuned to “force protection”—at precisely the time more and more offensive operations were needed to break the insurgency and win back public opinion.

Now we must shatter that complacency and do in nine months what textbooks warn takes years. It is still not too late; history might still record as a considerable military achievement the removal of Saddam and the creation of a constitutional government in Iraq. The President and the military believe they can pull it off, while the opposition (whose proposals to withdraw are not matched by votes to reduce budget appropriations) remains, to say the least, doubtful. But the American public’s patience will, apparently, tolerate this final effort.

I am tired of reading the latest declarations of moral outrage from politicians and pundits blaming Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney, Franks, Sanchez, Casey, Abizaid, etc., for “their” three-year-long occupation that ruined “our” perfect three-week war. What happened in Iraq pales when compared to the horrifying mistakes our government and military made in the Civil War, in World War I and World War II, in Korea and Vietnam. What would this generation of politicians and journalists have said after Cold Harbor and the Battle of the Wilderness, after the two-year-long nightmare of the fall of France, after our World War II losses in the Atlantic, after the debacle in Greece, after the surrenders at Singapore and Tobruk? One can only imagine.

All that matters now is correcting our mistakes, countering the defeatists, and defeating the insurgents. We have to keep firmly in mind the correct notion that a functional democracy in Iraq would be the worst nightmare of jihadists the world over, of Iran, Syria, and the royal Gulf “moderates.” Allowing Iraq to devolve into the Lebanon of the 1980’s or the Afghanistan of the 1990’s, on the other hand, would restore al Qaeda’s lost sanctuary and provide a new base of operations for Iranian-backed terrorists. To paraphrase one commentator, such a failure would inflict “1,000 Mogadishus”-worth of damage on the reputation of the U.S. military and on a nascent and necessary U.S. Middle East policy, a policy seeking to transcend the dangerous (and cynical) “realism” of the past.

Best,
Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IV

Dear Max,

I wouldn’t necessarily conflate being more aggressive with being more brutal. We can patrol more, embed more advisors, shoot and arrest more insurgents, all without being gratuitously cruel or needlessly overbearing to civilian sensibilities.

Here is what I think happened in Iraq after April 2003. Bolstered by a 70-percent approval rating, and still smarting from all the prewar hysteria from the Left, the Bush administration felt that it could run out the clock, so to speak.

Thus, each time a challenge arose—looting, the Fallujah outbreak, the Sadr uprising—their idea was to finesse the crisis as much as possible. They were afraid to squander the capital of hard-won public support through (unneeded?) escalation, escalation that would increase casualties and only encourage further domestic and international condemnation of the war.

As a result of this policy, public support vanished anyway, in dribs and drabs, each time we did not react strongly and decisively enough to a provocation. The administration thought, apparently, that using more aggressive tactics would only further incite the growing anti-war movement and that the good news of progress in reconstruction would only continue to be ignored by a biased media.

And so with a whimper rather than a bang, our complacency and over-sensitive attention to perceived public opinion made us ever less aggressive and ever more attuned to “force protection”—at precisely the time more and more offensive operations were needed to break the insurgency and win back public opinion.

Now we must shatter that complacency and do in nine months what textbooks warn takes years. It is still not too late; history might still record as a considerable military achievement the removal of Saddam and the creation of a constitutional government in Iraq. The President and the military believe they can pull it off, while the opposition (whose proposals to withdraw are not matched by votes to reduce budget appropriations) remains, to say the least, doubtful. But the American public’s patience will, apparently, tolerate this final effort.

I am tired of reading the latest declarations of moral outrage from politicians and pundits blaming Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney, Franks, Sanchez, Casey, Abizaid, etc., for “their” three-year-long occupation that ruined “our” perfect three-week war. What happened in Iraq pales when compared to the horrifying mistakes our government and military made in the Civil War, in World War I and World War II, in Korea and Vietnam. What would this generation of politicians and journalists have said after Cold Harbor and the Battle of the Wilderness, after the two-year-long nightmare of the fall of France, after our World War II losses in the Atlantic, after the debacle in Greece, after the surrenders at Singapore and Tobruk? One can only imagine.

All that matters now is correcting our mistakes, countering the defeatists, and defeating the insurgents. We have to keep firmly in mind the correct notion that a functional democracy in Iraq would be the worst nightmare of jihadists the world over, of Iran, Syria, and the royal Gulf “moderates.” Allowing Iraq to devolve into the Lebanon of the 1980’s or the Afghanistan of the 1990’s, on the other hand, would restore al Qaeda’s lost sanctuary and provide a new base of operations for Iranian-backed terrorists. To paraphrase one commentator, such a failure would inflict “1,000 Mogadishus”-worth of damage on the reputation of the U.S. military and on a nascent and necessary U.S. Middle East policy, a policy seeking to transcend the dangerous (and cynical) “realism” of the past.

Best,
Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IV

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