Commentary Magazine


Topic: AIDS

David Denby’s Sneering Ignorance

In his piece about the Academy Awards, the New Yorker’s David Denby wrote this:

I can’t give up my feeling that people are approving of their own tears when they respond to “Les Misérables.” After all, Michael Gerson, George Bush’s principal speechwriter, wrote an entire column in the Washington Post about how much he cried at “Les Mis.” But how much did the Bush Administration do for the downtrodden? I can’t think of a better definition of sentimentality—an emotion disconnected from what one actually is and does—than effusions like Gerson’s.

This is a sneering ignorance. Even a liberal film critic should be familiar with President Bush’s 2003 announcement of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest program in history to fight a single disease. The plan included a massive increase in funding–$15 billion over five years–to promote prevention, treatment, and compassionate care, mainly in Africa. Many were skeptical that large-scale AIDS treatment was even possible in the developing world. But studies show that PEPFAR is estimated to have saved 1.2 million lives between 2003-2007. The most recent data show that the number of AIDS-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa has fallen by about a third. 

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In his piece about the Academy Awards, the New Yorker’s David Denby wrote this:

I can’t give up my feeling that people are approving of their own tears when they respond to “Les Misérables.” After all, Michael Gerson, George Bush’s principal speechwriter, wrote an entire column in the Washington Post about how much he cried at “Les Mis.” But how much did the Bush Administration do for the downtrodden? I can’t think of a better definition of sentimentality—an emotion disconnected from what one actually is and does—than effusions like Gerson’s.

This is a sneering ignorance. Even a liberal film critic should be familiar with President Bush’s 2003 announcement of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest program in history to fight a single disease. The plan included a massive increase in funding–$15 billion over five years–to promote prevention, treatment, and compassionate care, mainly in Africa. Many were skeptical that large-scale AIDS treatment was even possible in the developing world. But studies show that PEPFAR is estimated to have saved 1.2 million lives between 2003-2007. The most recent data show that the number of AIDS-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa has fallen by about a third. 

“The substantial life expectancy afforded by widespread access to cART [combination antiretroviral therapy] underscores the fact that HIV diagnosis and treatment in resource-limited settings should no longer be considered a death sentence,” according to Dr. Edward Mills, who helped oversee a large-scale analysis of life expectancy outcomes in Africa for HIV patients. “Instead, HIV-infected people should plan and prepare for a long and fulfilling life.”

“PEPFAR is changing the course of the AIDS epidemic,” according to Dr. Peter Piot, former executive director of the Joint United Nations Programm on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief was among George W. Bush’s finest hours–and for the record, Michael Gerson was one of the main advocates for PEPFAR in the Bush White House.

It takes a particularly confused and cynical individual to dismiss as “sentimentality” one of the most humane and effective enterprises in our lifetime. PEPFAR is certainly a more unambiguous success, and has saved many more lives, than the War on Poverty.

I can’t think of a better example of moral idiocy–of words disconnected from what reality actually is and what people have done–than columns like Denby’s. 

He should stick to movie reviews. 

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The Human Drama of Saving Lives

The Daily Caller links to a video of a speech in which Elton John praises former President George W. Bush and “conservative American politicians” for pledging billions of dollars to “save the lives of Africans with HIV.”

“We’ve seen George W. Bush and conservative American politicians pledge tens of billions to save the lives of Africans with HIV. Think of all the love. Think of where we’d be without it, nowhere, that’s where. We’d be nowhere at all,” John said at the International AIDS conference in Washington on Monday. “Thanks to all this compassion, thanks to all this love, more than 8 million people are in treatment. Thanks to people who have chosen to care and to act, we can see an end to this epidemic on the horizon.”

Elton John is onto something, as this story in the Washington Post makes clear. It reports that leaders in AIDS vaccine research say they may finally be on the cusp of a period of major discovery leading to a vaccine. “The past few years have been a turning point,” said Gary Nabel, director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “I’m more optimistic than I’ve probably ever been in my career.”

As for President Bush, in 2003 he announced the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest program in history to fight a single disease. The plan included $15 billion over five years to promote prevention, treatment, and compassionate care, mainly in Africa. Many at the time were skeptical that large-scale AIDS treatment was even possible in the developing world. But a study at the University of British Columbia found that PEPFAR saved 1.2 million lives in just its first three years.

Read More

The Daily Caller links to a video of a speech in which Elton John praises former President George W. Bush and “conservative American politicians” for pledging billions of dollars to “save the lives of Africans with HIV.”

“We’ve seen George W. Bush and conservative American politicians pledge tens of billions to save the lives of Africans with HIV. Think of all the love. Think of where we’d be without it, nowhere, that’s where. We’d be nowhere at all,” John said at the International AIDS conference in Washington on Monday. “Thanks to all this compassion, thanks to all this love, more than 8 million people are in treatment. Thanks to people who have chosen to care and to act, we can see an end to this epidemic on the horizon.”

Elton John is onto something, as this story in the Washington Post makes clear. It reports that leaders in AIDS vaccine research say they may finally be on the cusp of a period of major discovery leading to a vaccine. “The past few years have been a turning point,” said Gary Nabel, director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “I’m more optimistic than I’ve probably ever been in my career.”

As for President Bush, in 2003 he announced the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest program in history to fight a single disease. The plan included $15 billion over five years to promote prevention, treatment, and compassionate care, mainly in Africa. Many at the time were skeptical that large-scale AIDS treatment was even possible in the developing world. But a study at the University of British Columbia found that PEPFAR saved 1.2 million lives in just its first three years.

It has never been clear to me why this achievement is celebrated more by those on the left (like Elton John and Bono) than on the right. Perhaps it’s because of the nature of the disease and its early association in this country with the gay community. Perhaps it’s because such enormous good was achieved through the instrument of the federal government, which conservatives are instinctively wary of. Or perhaps it’s because the disease has historically afflicted people who have, in different ways and to varying degrees, been marginalized and are not part of the conservative coalition: gays, African villagers, IV drug users, and minorities in America.

To be clear: conservatives haven’t denigrated the global AIDS initiative; it’s simply that it has never really registered with them. It hasn’t touched their moral imagination.

We are all drawn to different things and animated by different causes. But I would have thought that an effort that has so clearly served the cause of human dignity – that has saved so many lives and prevented so much suffering – would be one that people of every political persuasion, including conservatives (particularly social conservatives and those active in the pro-life movement), would be held up far more often than it is. The global AIDS initiative has been an extraordinary human achievement that fits our national character.

I understand that discussing AIDS policy may not make for riveting political theater. But there is also a great human drama in emancipating millions of people from the bondage of fear and the grip of death; and there is great drama, too, in the story of a moral leader who was able to bend history in the direction of justice.

Leave it to Elton John to point that out.

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Bush’s Book Triumph

According to the UK’s Daily Mail, President George W. Bush’s book, Decision Points, has sold 2 million copies since it was released early last month. By way of comparison, President Clinton’s memoir, My Life, has sold 2.2 million since it was published in 2004. A spokesman for Crown, which published Decision Points, called the performance “remarkable” and said that he could not think of any other non-fiction hardback book that has sold even a million copies in 2010.

At the end of the Bush presidency, some people argued that no publisher worth its salt would publish Bush’s memoir — and if it did, Bush should be paid much less than Clinton. The argument was that Bush was terribly unpopular and no one would have any interest in revisiting the Bush years. There was even speculation by a few that if Decision Points leaked out prior to the 2010 mid-term election, it would damage GOP prospects of taking back the House. And there were even a few who believed that Democrats who ran against Mr. Bush after his presidency would triumph (for example, the New York Times‘s Paul Krugman thought running against Bush would be the path to victory for Jon Corzine against Chris Christie).

All of this turned out to be complete nonsense. President Bush’s memoir is extremely well done, particularly for a presidential memoir (they tend to be poorly written and not terribly revealing). It provides readers with keen insights into the decision-making process that defined the Bush presidency, from stem cells to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the Freedom Agenda to AIDS and malaria initiatives and much more.

As has often been the case with this two-term president, Mr. Bush’s critics misunderestimated him. His presidency is in the process of undergoing a significant reevaluation; the success of Decision Points is simply more testimony to this.

According to the UK’s Daily Mail, President George W. Bush’s book, Decision Points, has sold 2 million copies since it was released early last month. By way of comparison, President Clinton’s memoir, My Life, has sold 2.2 million since it was published in 2004. A spokesman for Crown, which published Decision Points, called the performance “remarkable” and said that he could not think of any other non-fiction hardback book that has sold even a million copies in 2010.

At the end of the Bush presidency, some people argued that no publisher worth its salt would publish Bush’s memoir — and if it did, Bush should be paid much less than Clinton. The argument was that Bush was terribly unpopular and no one would have any interest in revisiting the Bush years. There was even speculation by a few that if Decision Points leaked out prior to the 2010 mid-term election, it would damage GOP prospects of taking back the House. And there were even a few who believed that Democrats who ran against Mr. Bush after his presidency would triumph (for example, the New York Times‘s Paul Krugman thought running against Bush would be the path to victory for Jon Corzine against Chris Christie).

All of this turned out to be complete nonsense. President Bush’s memoir is extremely well done, particularly for a presidential memoir (they tend to be poorly written and not terribly revealing). It provides readers with keen insights into the decision-making process that defined the Bush presidency, from stem cells to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the Freedom Agenda to AIDS and malaria initiatives and much more.

As has often been the case with this two-term president, Mr. Bush’s critics misunderestimated him. His presidency is in the process of undergoing a significant reevaluation; the success of Decision Points is simply more testimony to this.

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A Response to John Derbyshire

In his post responding to George W. Bush’s op-ed on combating AIDS in Africa, John Derbyshire writes this:

The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive. The high incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by customary practices there. What is needed is for people to change those customary practices. Instead, at a cost of billions to the U.S. taxpayer, we have made it possible for Africans to continue in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits.

Perhaps the future of sub-Saharan Africa would be brighter if the people of that place changed some of their customs; but now, thanks to us, they don’t have to.

Here are a few facts that undermine Derbyshire’s case: (a) Africans have fewer sex partners on average over a lifetime than do Americans; (b) 22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years (for South African and Namibian youth, the figure is 50 percent in five years); and (c) America’s efforts are helping to create a remarkable shifts in how, in Africa, boys view girls — reflected in a decline of more than 50 percent in sexual partners among boys.

So Derbyshire’s argument that our AIDS efforts are “more likely to be negative than positive” because they will continue to subsidize and encourage “unhealthy, disease-spreading habits” is not only wrong but the opposite of reality.

There is more. Derbyshire’s view might best be expressed as “the Africans had an AIDS death sentence coming to them.” But in Africa, gender violence and abuse is involved in the first sexual encounter up to 85 percent of time. And where President Bush’s PEPFAR initiative has been particularly effective is in slowing the transmission of the disease from mothers to children. Perhaps Derbyshire can explain to us how exactly infants are complicit in their AIDS affliction. Or maybe he doesn’t much care if they are. Read More

In his post responding to George W. Bush’s op-ed on combating AIDS in Africa, John Derbyshire writes this:

The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive. The high incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by customary practices there. What is needed is for people to change those customary practices. Instead, at a cost of billions to the U.S. taxpayer, we have made it possible for Africans to continue in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits.

Perhaps the future of sub-Saharan Africa would be brighter if the people of that place changed some of their customs; but now, thanks to us, they don’t have to.

Here are a few facts that undermine Derbyshire’s case: (a) Africans have fewer sex partners on average over a lifetime than do Americans; (b) 22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years (for South African and Namibian youth, the figure is 50 percent in five years); and (c) America’s efforts are helping to create a remarkable shifts in how, in Africa, boys view girls — reflected in a decline of more than 50 percent in sexual partners among boys.

So Derbyshire’s argument that our AIDS efforts are “more likely to be negative than positive” because they will continue to subsidize and encourage “unhealthy, disease-spreading habits” is not only wrong but the opposite of reality.

There is more. Derbyshire’s view might best be expressed as “the Africans had an AIDS death sentence coming to them.” But in Africa, gender violence and abuse is involved in the first sexual encounter up to 85 percent of time. And where President Bush’s PEPFAR initiative has been particularly effective is in slowing the transmission of the disease from mothers to children. Perhaps Derbyshire can explain to us how exactly infants are complicit in their AIDS affliction. Or maybe he doesn’t much care if they are.

Let’s now turn to Derbyshire’s characterization that America is becoming the “welfare provider of last resort to all the world’s several billion people”: he is more than a decade behind in his understanding of overseas-development policy.

President Bush’s policies were animated by the belief that the way to save lives was to rely on the principle of accountability. That is what was transformational about Bush’s development effort. He rejected handing out money with no strings attached in favor of tying expenditures to reform and results. And it has had huge radiating effects. When PEPFAR was started, America was criticized by others for setting goals. Now the mantra around the world is “results-based development.” Yet Derbyshire seems to know nothing about any of this. That isn’t necessarily a problem — unless, of course, he decides to write on the topic.

Beyond that, though, the notion that AIDS relief in Africa is AFDC on a global scale is silly. We are not talking about providing food stamps to able-bodied adults or subsidizing illegitimacy; we’re talking about saving the lives of millions of innocent people and taking steps to keep human societies from collapsing. Private charity clearly wasn’t enough.

On the matter of Derbyshire’s claim that AIDS relief in Africa is unconnected to our national interest: al-Qaeda is actively trying to establish a greater presence in nations like Tanzania, Kenya, and Nigeria, which have become major ideological battlegrounds. And mass disease and death, poverty and hopelessness, make the rise of radicalism more, not less, likely. (Because of AIDS, in some countries nearly a half-century of public-health gains have been wiped away.)

Many things allow militant Islam to take root and grow; eliminating AIDS would certainly not eliminate jihadism. Still, a pandemic, in addition to being a human tragedy, makes governments unstable and regions ungovernable. And as one report put it, “Unstable and ungoverned regions of the world … pose dangers for neighbors and can become the setting for broader problems of terrorism … The impoverished regions of the world can be unstable, volatile, and dangerous and can represent great threats to America, Europe, and the world. We must work with the people of these regions to promote sustainable economic growth, better health, good governance and greater human security. …”

One might think that this observation very nearly qualifies as banal — but for Derbyshire, it qualifies as a revelation.

For the sake of the argument, though, let’s assume that the American government acts not out of a narrow interpretation of the national interest but instead out of benevolence — like, say, America’s response to the 2004 tsunami that hit Indonesia and other nations in the Indian Ocean. Why is that something we should oppose, or find alarming, or deem un-conservative? The impulse to act is, in fact, not only deeply humane but also deeply American.

In a speech in Lewiston, Illinois, in 1858, Abraham Lincoln, in quoting from the Declaration (“all men are created equal … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable right”), said:

This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows.

This belief about inherent human dignity does not mean that America can solve every problem in the world or that we shouldn’t focus most of our energy and treasure on America itself. But if the United States is able, at a reasonable cost ($25 billion over five years), to help prevent widespread death, that is something we should be proud of it. (A recent Stanford study found that PEPFAR was responsible for saving the lives of more than a million Africans in just its first three years.)

Derbyshire seems to take an almost childish delight in advertising his indifference to the suffering of others, at least when the others live on a different continent and come from a different culture. Back in February 2006, when more than 1,000 people were believed to have died when an Egyptian ferry sank in the Red Sea, Derbyshire wrote:

In between our last two posts I went to Drudge to see what was happening in the world. The lead story was about a ship disaster in the Red Sea. From the headline picture, it looked like a cruise ship. I therefore assumed that some people very much like the Americans I went cruising with last year were the victims. I went to the news story. A couple of sentences in, I learned that the ship was in fact a ferry, the victims all Egyptians. I lost interest at once, and stopped reading. I don’t care about Egyptians.

Cultivating what Adam Smith (in The Theory of Moral Sentiments) called “sympathy” and “fellow feeling” is a complicated matter. Suffice it to say that very few of us care about the suffering and fate of others as much as we should. Yet most of us aren’t proud of this fact; we are, rather, slightly embarrassed by it. Not John Derbyshire. He seems eager to celebrate his callousness, as if it were a sign of manliness and tough-mindedness. I haven’t a clue whether this is a pose, done for shock value or some such thing, or real. All we can do is judge Derbyshire by his public words. And they are not only unpersuasive; they are at times downright ugly.

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George W. Bush Champions the Fight Against AIDS in Africa

George W. Bush has written a powerful and elegant op-ed on why AIDS in Africa is America’s fight. The former president argues that it has served American interests to help prevent the collapse of portions of the African continent. He points out that early in 2003, there were perhaps 50,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa on AIDS treatment; today, nearly 4 million are. He recounts how on World AIDS Day in 2005, two young children from South Africa, Emily and Lewis, came for a White House visit. “They chased around the Oval Office before Emily did what many others no doubt wanted to do,” Bush writes. “She fell asleep in her mother’s lap during my speech. Both young children were HIV-positive but had begun treatment. I could not even imagine all that curiosity and energy still and silent.”

President Bush concludes this way:

I am happily out of the political business. But I can offer some friendly advice to members of Congress, new and old. A thousand pressing issues come with each day. But there are only a few that you will want to talk about in retirement with your children. The continuing fight against global AIDS is something for which America will be remembered. And you will never regret the part you take.

The United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is a historically impressive achievement. It will rank among the handful of the most important things George W. Bush did as president. And it’s an excellent example of a federal government program that works and has advanced tremendous human good — the kind of effort conservatives, some of whom have a tendency simply to denigrate government, should proudly champion and seek to replicate.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,” the book of Proverbs tells us, “for the rights of all who are destitute.”

There are worse ways a president can spend his time than speaking up for, and saving the lives of, the defenseless and the voiceless.

George W. Bush has written a powerful and elegant op-ed on why AIDS in Africa is America’s fight. The former president argues that it has served American interests to help prevent the collapse of portions of the African continent. He points out that early in 2003, there were perhaps 50,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa on AIDS treatment; today, nearly 4 million are. He recounts how on World AIDS Day in 2005, two young children from South Africa, Emily and Lewis, came for a White House visit. “They chased around the Oval Office before Emily did what many others no doubt wanted to do,” Bush writes. “She fell asleep in her mother’s lap during my speech. Both young children were HIV-positive but had begun treatment. I could not even imagine all that curiosity and energy still and silent.”

President Bush concludes this way:

I am happily out of the political business. But I can offer some friendly advice to members of Congress, new and old. A thousand pressing issues come with each day. But there are only a few that you will want to talk about in retirement with your children. The continuing fight against global AIDS is something for which America will be remembered. And you will never regret the part you take.

The United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is a historically impressive achievement. It will rank among the handful of the most important things George W. Bush did as president. And it’s an excellent example of a federal government program that works and has advanced tremendous human good — the kind of effort conservatives, some of whom have a tendency simply to denigrate government, should proudly champion and seek to replicate.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,” the book of Proverbs tells us, “for the rights of all who are destitute.”

There are worse ways a president can spend his time than speaking up for, and saving the lives of, the defenseless and the voiceless.

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A Man Like Bush

At the New Yorker, George Packer has a harsh assessment of George Bush’s Decision Points, a book he predicts “will not endure.”  Packer’s 3,300-word piece has only two sentences of praise, stuck in a parenthetical: “(The chapter on AIDS in Africa shows Bush at his best. His desire to display American caring led directly to a generous policy.)”

In the paragraph to which that parenthetical is appended, Packer relates that “one of the voices in the President’s ear [in the run-up to the Iraq war] was Elie Wiesel’s, speaking of ‘a moral obligation to act against evil.’” Packer writes that:

The words were bound to move a man like Bush. “Many of those who demonstrated against military action in Iraq were devoted advocates of human rights,” he says. “I understood why people might disagree on the threat Saddam Hussein posed to the United States. But I didn’t see how anyone could deny that liberating Iraq advanced the cause of human rights.” Some of Bush’s critics found this argument specious and hypocritical; they failed to grasp the President’s profound need to be on the side of the redeeming angels.

Packer treats Bush’s motivation as an idiosyncratic psychological trait (apparently admirable if limited to a “desire to display caring” in Africa). But Bush’s reaction to Iraq tracked that of a knowledgeable observer writing in 2004:

I can’t wish the fall of Saddam’s regime undone. Before going to Iraq I knew abstractly that it was one of the worst in modern history and there’s been plenty of stiff competition. After five weeks there, my appreciation of its terribleness is more concrete and emotional. I know that’s hardly the best or only basis for foreign policy decisions, but in this case it’s decisive for me: The slaughter and misery of Iraqis (and their neighbors) justified the war. …

That was George Packer in a January 2004 Slate symposium of liberal hawks about a war they had supported but began abandoning in less than a year.

In his July 14, 2004, response to the British commission investigating the war, Tony Blair reached a similar conclusion about what Packer had called in 2004 “the moral imperative”:

And though in neither case [in Iraq and Afghanistan] was the nature of the regime the reason for conflict, it was decisive for me in the judgment as to the balance of risk for action or inaction. Both countries now face an uncertain struggle for the future. But both at least now have a future. The one country in which you will find an overwhelming majority in favor of the removal of Saddam is Iraq. I am proud of this country and the part it played and especially our magnificent armed forces, in removing two vile dictatorships and giving people oppressed, almost enslaved, the prospect of democracy and liberty.

Tony Blair was a man like Bush. So were the liberal hawks, for a while, but in contrast with that of Bush, their commitments did not endure.

At the New Yorker, George Packer has a harsh assessment of George Bush’s Decision Points, a book he predicts “will not endure.”  Packer’s 3,300-word piece has only two sentences of praise, stuck in a parenthetical: “(The chapter on AIDS in Africa shows Bush at his best. His desire to display American caring led directly to a generous policy.)”

In the paragraph to which that parenthetical is appended, Packer relates that “one of the voices in the President’s ear [in the run-up to the Iraq war] was Elie Wiesel’s, speaking of ‘a moral obligation to act against evil.’” Packer writes that:

The words were bound to move a man like Bush. “Many of those who demonstrated against military action in Iraq were devoted advocates of human rights,” he says. “I understood why people might disagree on the threat Saddam Hussein posed to the United States. But I didn’t see how anyone could deny that liberating Iraq advanced the cause of human rights.” Some of Bush’s critics found this argument specious and hypocritical; they failed to grasp the President’s profound need to be on the side of the redeeming angels.

Packer treats Bush’s motivation as an idiosyncratic psychological trait (apparently admirable if limited to a “desire to display caring” in Africa). But Bush’s reaction to Iraq tracked that of a knowledgeable observer writing in 2004:

I can’t wish the fall of Saddam’s regime undone. Before going to Iraq I knew abstractly that it was one of the worst in modern history and there’s been plenty of stiff competition. After five weeks there, my appreciation of its terribleness is more concrete and emotional. I know that’s hardly the best or only basis for foreign policy decisions, but in this case it’s decisive for me: The slaughter and misery of Iraqis (and their neighbors) justified the war. …

That was George Packer in a January 2004 Slate symposium of liberal hawks about a war they had supported but began abandoning in less than a year.

In his July 14, 2004, response to the British commission investigating the war, Tony Blair reached a similar conclusion about what Packer had called in 2004 “the moral imperative”:

And though in neither case [in Iraq and Afghanistan] was the nature of the regime the reason for conflict, it was decisive for me in the judgment as to the balance of risk for action or inaction. Both countries now face an uncertain struggle for the future. But both at least now have a future. The one country in which you will find an overwhelming majority in favor of the removal of Saddam is Iraq. I am proud of this country and the part it played and especially our magnificent armed forces, in removing two vile dictatorships and giving people oppressed, almost enslaved, the prospect of democracy and liberty.

Tony Blair was a man like Bush. So were the liberal hawks, for a while, but in contrast with that of Bush, their commitments did not endure.

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Reassessing the Bush Presidency

Earlier this week, I was in Dallas to participate in events surrounding the groundbreaking of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which will include his library and policy institute.

I found the people there to be, almost to a person, in very good spirits, the mood upbeat, relaxed, and celebratory. Part of the reason for this has to do with being reunited with colleagues with whom you stood shoulder-to-shoulder during dramatic and even historic times. Sharing moments of great achievement and hardship can forge deep and lasting bonds of affection.

But there was something else at play — the sense that for America’s 43rd president, certain qualities and achievements are coming into sharper focus.

One area concerns George W. Bush’s core decency and integrity. He was endowed with the gifts of grace and class that have eluded others who have served as president, including Bush’s successor. President Bush is incapable of self-pity and self-conceit. And he has a deep, heartfelt, and unconflicted love for America. He clearly reveres the nation he served. That cannot be said for everyone who has held the office of the presidency.

Beyond that, though, is the realization that the public’s verdict of the Bush presidency is changing. A recalibration is under way.

After several intense, eventful years in office — years in which Bush stood atop the political world and was as popular as any man who has served as president — much of the public grew weary of his administration. The last years of his presidency were spent in a valley he had to fight through, day by day, especially on the matter of Iraq. By the end of his presidency, things that were viewed as strengths were seen as weaknesses. The strong, principled, decisive leader of the first term was viewed as a stubborn, inflexible leader during the second term. The twisting kaleidoscope moves us all in turn.

No matter; Bush persevered and refused to grow weary. He made unpopular decisions (from a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq to TARP) that turned out to be the right decisions. And one can now see that Bush’s achievements, particularly in the realm of foreign policy — his response to 9/11; keeping America safe from future attacks by putting the country on a war footing; the surge; deposing two sadistic regimes; championing freedom, human rights and the cause of dissidents; the global AIDS and malaria initiatives; and more — are growing in stature. That is something many of us were confident would happen, but it is happening at a quicker pace than we anticipated. As Vice President Cheney said in his splendid remarks, “History is beginning to come around.”

George W. Bush would not be the first president for whom this occurred. “I am not sure he was right about the atomic bomb, or even Korea,” the CBS correspondent Eric Sevareid said of Harry Truman. “But remembering him reminds people what a man in that office ought to be like. It’s character, just character. He stands like a rock in memory now.”

So he does. And so, one day, will George W. Bush.

Earlier this week, I was in Dallas to participate in events surrounding the groundbreaking of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which will include his library and policy institute.

I found the people there to be, almost to a person, in very good spirits, the mood upbeat, relaxed, and celebratory. Part of the reason for this has to do with being reunited with colleagues with whom you stood shoulder-to-shoulder during dramatic and even historic times. Sharing moments of great achievement and hardship can forge deep and lasting bonds of affection.

But there was something else at play — the sense that for America’s 43rd president, certain qualities and achievements are coming into sharper focus.

One area concerns George W. Bush’s core decency and integrity. He was endowed with the gifts of grace and class that have eluded others who have served as president, including Bush’s successor. President Bush is incapable of self-pity and self-conceit. And he has a deep, heartfelt, and unconflicted love for America. He clearly reveres the nation he served. That cannot be said for everyone who has held the office of the presidency.

Beyond that, though, is the realization that the public’s verdict of the Bush presidency is changing. A recalibration is under way.

After several intense, eventful years in office — years in which Bush stood atop the political world and was as popular as any man who has served as president — much of the public grew weary of his administration. The last years of his presidency were spent in a valley he had to fight through, day by day, especially on the matter of Iraq. By the end of his presidency, things that were viewed as strengths were seen as weaknesses. The strong, principled, decisive leader of the first term was viewed as a stubborn, inflexible leader during the second term. The twisting kaleidoscope moves us all in turn.

No matter; Bush persevered and refused to grow weary. He made unpopular decisions (from a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq to TARP) that turned out to be the right decisions. And one can now see that Bush’s achievements, particularly in the realm of foreign policy — his response to 9/11; keeping America safe from future attacks by putting the country on a war footing; the surge; deposing two sadistic regimes; championing freedom, human rights and the cause of dissidents; the global AIDS and malaria initiatives; and more — are growing in stature. That is something many of us were confident would happen, but it is happening at a quicker pace than we anticipated. As Vice President Cheney said in his splendid remarks, “History is beginning to come around.”

George W. Bush would not be the first president for whom this occurred. “I am not sure he was right about the atomic bomb, or even Korea,” the CBS correspondent Eric Sevareid said of Harry Truman. “But remembering him reminds people what a man in that office ought to be like. It’s character, just character. He stands like a rock in memory now.”

So he does. And so, one day, will George W. Bush.

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RE: NPR: Shut Up and Get Out, Juan

I suspect NPR has been looking for an excuse to fire Juan Williams for a long time and decided this would do. It will, I think, backfire big time on NPR, which is in the middle of one of its periodic, unendurable begathons to raise money. The comments, even on NPR’s own websites and Facebook page, are overwhelmingly negative, and many make the connection: “This morning, as I listened to pleas for funding support, I made a mental note to write a check and send it in to NPR. This afternoon, I changed my mind.”

NPR states that Williams was fired because what he said on The O’Reilly Factor was “inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a News Analyst with NPR.” OK. But then these comments that Nina Totenberg made 15 years ago about the late Jesse Helms must have been consistent with them, because she still works for NPR.

So let’s recap. Admitting to feeling a whiff of fear at the sight of ethnically dressed Muslims on a plane he’s about to fly on, a fear Williams himself thinks is irrational but no less real for that, is beyond the pale. At the same time, effectively calling upon God to strike down with AIDS someone Totenberg disagrees with is hunky-dory with NPR. So, apparently, is calling upon God to have one of that man’s innocent grandchildren develop AIDS so that the grandfather could suffer. The grandchild’s suffering, I guess, would just be collateral damage in a worthy cause.

The death of a once-great political movement — American liberalism — sure is painful to watch.

I suspect NPR has been looking for an excuse to fire Juan Williams for a long time and decided this would do. It will, I think, backfire big time on NPR, which is in the middle of one of its periodic, unendurable begathons to raise money. The comments, even on NPR’s own websites and Facebook page, are overwhelmingly negative, and many make the connection: “This morning, as I listened to pleas for funding support, I made a mental note to write a check and send it in to NPR. This afternoon, I changed my mind.”

NPR states that Williams was fired because what he said on The O’Reilly Factor was “inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a News Analyst with NPR.” OK. But then these comments that Nina Totenberg made 15 years ago about the late Jesse Helms must have been consistent with them, because she still works for NPR.

So let’s recap. Admitting to feeling a whiff of fear at the sight of ethnically dressed Muslims on a plane he’s about to fly on, a fear Williams himself thinks is irrational but no less real for that, is beyond the pale. At the same time, effectively calling upon God to strike down with AIDS someone Totenberg disagrees with is hunky-dory with NPR. So, apparently, is calling upon God to have one of that man’s innocent grandchildren develop AIDS so that the grandfather could suffer. The grandchild’s suffering, I guess, would just be collateral damage in a worthy cause.

The death of a once-great political movement — American liberalism — sure is painful to watch.

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Dowd vs. Obama

I admit it: I was looking forward to Maureen Dowd’s column today. Nothing quite gets her dander up and her claws out like a reminder that Obama is not merely a disappointment to the left but also an embarrassment. She  seethes:

When the president skittered back from his grandiose declaration at an iftar celebration at the White House Friday that Muslims enjoy freedom of religion in America and have the right to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan, he offered a Clintonesque parsing. …

Let me be perfectly clear, Mr. Perfectly Unclear President: You cannot take such a stand on a matter of first principle and then take it back the next morning when, lo and behold, Harry Reid goes craven and the Republicans attack.

Well he can and did, but she’s fit to be tied about it — so much so that’s she’s praising George W. Bush for saying nice things about Muslims, championing AIDS prevention in Africa, and making a real effort on immigration reform. (I was not pleased with his excessive genuflecting on the first, but we’ve certainly entered the Twilight Zone of politics when she throws Bush in Obama’s face. Nothing like a woman scorned.) Anyway, she’s not done with the unflattering comparisons. Bill Clinton, at least, “never presented himself as a moral guide to the country,” so it’s all the more painful when Obama “flops around” on the mosque and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Now this is Maureen Dowd — who is apparently so powerful that fact checkers and editors dare not raise their hands to caution her about lines like this: “By now you have to be willfully blind not to know that the imam in charge of the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the moderate Muslim we have allegedly been yearning for.” Uh, not really. We’re yearning for a Muslim who specifically condemns Hamas as a terrorist group and doesn’t suggest that the U.S. is responsible for 9/11. We’re yearning for a Muslim who doesn’t use “hallowed ground” – where 3,000 Americans died at the hands of Islamist extremists — to build a “a symbol of victory for militant Muslims around the world.” (That from an American Muslim whose mother was incinerated on 9/11 by those who “believed that all non-Muslims are infidels and that the duty of Muslims is to renounce them.”) We’re yearning for a Muslim who is “desperate to reform his faith” and forthright in his assessment that the placement of the mosque at Ground Zero is based on “a belief that Islamic structures are a political statement and even Ground Zero should be looked upon through the lens of political Islam and not a solely American one.” (That from a Muslim and former U.S. Navy officer.)

So while her fury at the ever-shrinking Obama may be amusing, her analysis is about what you’d expect from someone who thinks women have it pretty good in Saudi Arabia. The most important insight to be gained from her rant-athon is this: if Democrats were depressed and faced a turnout problem before this incident, watch out. There might not be a poll model in use that accurately measures the enthusiasm gap between Democratic and Republican voters, nor, as a result, the extent of the electoral damage Obama is about to wreak on his party.

I admit it: I was looking forward to Maureen Dowd’s column today. Nothing quite gets her dander up and her claws out like a reminder that Obama is not merely a disappointment to the left but also an embarrassment. She  seethes:

When the president skittered back from his grandiose declaration at an iftar celebration at the White House Friday that Muslims enjoy freedom of religion in America and have the right to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan, he offered a Clintonesque parsing. …

Let me be perfectly clear, Mr. Perfectly Unclear President: You cannot take such a stand on a matter of first principle and then take it back the next morning when, lo and behold, Harry Reid goes craven and the Republicans attack.

Well he can and did, but she’s fit to be tied about it — so much so that’s she’s praising George W. Bush for saying nice things about Muslims, championing AIDS prevention in Africa, and making a real effort on immigration reform. (I was not pleased with his excessive genuflecting on the first, but we’ve certainly entered the Twilight Zone of politics when she throws Bush in Obama’s face. Nothing like a woman scorned.) Anyway, she’s not done with the unflattering comparisons. Bill Clinton, at least, “never presented himself as a moral guide to the country,” so it’s all the more painful when Obama “flops around” on the mosque and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Now this is Maureen Dowd — who is apparently so powerful that fact checkers and editors dare not raise their hands to caution her about lines like this: “By now you have to be willfully blind not to know that the imam in charge of the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the moderate Muslim we have allegedly been yearning for.” Uh, not really. We’re yearning for a Muslim who specifically condemns Hamas as a terrorist group and doesn’t suggest that the U.S. is responsible for 9/11. We’re yearning for a Muslim who doesn’t use “hallowed ground” – where 3,000 Americans died at the hands of Islamist extremists — to build a “a symbol of victory for militant Muslims around the world.” (That from an American Muslim whose mother was incinerated on 9/11 by those who “believed that all non-Muslims are infidels and that the duty of Muslims is to renounce them.”) We’re yearning for a Muslim who is “desperate to reform his faith” and forthright in his assessment that the placement of the mosque at Ground Zero is based on “a belief that Islamic structures are a political statement and even Ground Zero should be looked upon through the lens of political Islam and not a solely American one.” (That from a Muslim and former U.S. Navy officer.)

So while her fury at the ever-shrinking Obama may be amusing, her analysis is about what you’d expect from someone who thinks women have it pretty good in Saudi Arabia. The most important insight to be gained from her rant-athon is this: if Democrats were depressed and faced a turnout problem before this incident, watch out. There might not be a poll model in use that accurately measures the enthusiasm gap between Democratic and Republican voters, nor, as a result, the extent of the electoral damage Obama is about to wreak on his party.

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Priorities

Obama appointed an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. Plainly, ingratiating the administration with the Muslim World is a priority. What is not a priority is the cause of religious freedom and human rights, more generally. Thomas Farr writes:

The United States’ 12-year-old policy of advancing religious freedom abroad has received a fair amount of attention in recent months. Two reports — one by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the other by the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships — have recommended that President Barack Obama emphasize religious freedom in his foreign policy. Two nonpartisan letters — one from a group of scholars, policy thinkers, and activists, the other from members of Congress — have echoed those recommendations. Yet there is no sign the administration is paying attention. Indeed, nearly 15 months in, Obama has not even nominated a candidate for the position of ambassador at large for international religious freedom.

As with human rights more broadly, there are both practical and philosophical reasons for promoting religious freedom. “First, the United States was founded on the premise that an attack on religious liberty is an attack on human dignity and an affront to justice. To be true to its history, the United States must stand for religious freedom at home and overseas. Second, countries with religious freedom are likely to be more politically stable.” Obama and his secretary of state have appointed diplomats on everything from AIDS to climate change, but not for religious freedom. Is it an aversion to recognizing that religion has a public dimension and is not simply “a private activity with few if any public-policy implications”? Or is it indicative of a foreign-policy approach that eschews promotion of American values, shrinks from challenging despots, and regards human rights as a hindrance to obtaining better relations with hostile regimes? Sadly, it seems the latter is more likely.

Obama appointed an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. Plainly, ingratiating the administration with the Muslim World is a priority. What is not a priority is the cause of religious freedom and human rights, more generally. Thomas Farr writes:

The United States’ 12-year-old policy of advancing religious freedom abroad has received a fair amount of attention in recent months. Two reports — one by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the other by the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships — have recommended that President Barack Obama emphasize religious freedom in his foreign policy. Two nonpartisan letters — one from a group of scholars, policy thinkers, and activists, the other from members of Congress — have echoed those recommendations. Yet there is no sign the administration is paying attention. Indeed, nearly 15 months in, Obama has not even nominated a candidate for the position of ambassador at large for international religious freedom.

As with human rights more broadly, there are both practical and philosophical reasons for promoting religious freedom. “First, the United States was founded on the premise that an attack on religious liberty is an attack on human dignity and an affront to justice. To be true to its history, the United States must stand for religious freedom at home and overseas. Second, countries with religious freedom are likely to be more politically stable.” Obama and his secretary of state have appointed diplomats on everything from AIDS to climate change, but not for religious freedom. Is it an aversion to recognizing that religion has a public dimension and is not simply “a private activity with few if any public-policy implications”? Or is it indicative of a foreign-policy approach that eschews promotion of American values, shrinks from challenging despots, and regards human rights as a hindrance to obtaining better relations with hostile regimes? Sadly, it seems the latter is more likely.

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Mbeki’s Mania

Michael Gerson’s Washington Post column last week contained a major scoop that hasn’t received nearly enough press attention. In a piece about South Africa’s woeful support for despots around the world, Gerson revealed:

In late April, about the time this e-mail was written, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa — Zimbabwe’s influential neighbor — addressed a four-page letter to President Bush. Rather than coordinating strategy to end Zimbabwe’s nightmare, Mbeki criticized the United States, in a text packed with exclamation points, for taking sides against President Robert Mugabe’s government and disrespecting the views of the Zimbabwean people. “He said it was not our business,” recalls one American official, and “to butt out, that Africa belongs to him.” Adds another official, “Mbeki lost it; it was outrageous.”

South Africa’s Sunday Times reports that while Mbeki’s office does not acknowledge the letter, the American embassy in Pretoria confirmed that President Bush did receive a letter from Mbeki.

That Mbeki would write a rambling, 4-page screed “packed with exclamation points” to the President of the States is yet further confirmation of his paranoid, conspiratorial world view, and complete unfitness for executive office. It is of a piece with his belief that HIV does not cause AIDS and that those who complain about South Africa’s rampant crime problem are all closet racists. Moreover, as Gerson notes, Mbeki is but symptomatic of the African National Congress’s broader attempt to position South Africa in an anti-Western, Third-Worldist posture on the international stage. Allowing Robert Mugabe to ruin his country is simply the price to be paid when the alternative is the election of a political party favored by the West.

Meanwhile, not long after Mbeki fired off his strange missive to President Bush, Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai sent his thoughts to the dictator-abetting South African president, who had been tasked by both Bush and regional leaders with mediating Zimbabwe’s ongoing political crisis. He does not mince words, informing Mbeki that if his style of “diplomacy” persists, “there will be no country left.” While Mbeki tells President Bush to “butt out” of African affairs (a strange request, considering the fact that the United States has been relatively passive about the chaos in Zimbabwe), Zimbabwe’s democrats wish the reverse: that the United States take a more proactive role while Mbeki exit the stage.

Michael Gerson’s Washington Post column last week contained a major scoop that hasn’t received nearly enough press attention. In a piece about South Africa’s woeful support for despots around the world, Gerson revealed:

In late April, about the time this e-mail was written, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa — Zimbabwe’s influential neighbor — addressed a four-page letter to President Bush. Rather than coordinating strategy to end Zimbabwe’s nightmare, Mbeki criticized the United States, in a text packed with exclamation points, for taking sides against President Robert Mugabe’s government and disrespecting the views of the Zimbabwean people. “He said it was not our business,” recalls one American official, and “to butt out, that Africa belongs to him.” Adds another official, “Mbeki lost it; it was outrageous.”

South Africa’s Sunday Times reports that while Mbeki’s office does not acknowledge the letter, the American embassy in Pretoria confirmed that President Bush did receive a letter from Mbeki.

That Mbeki would write a rambling, 4-page screed “packed with exclamation points” to the President of the States is yet further confirmation of his paranoid, conspiratorial world view, and complete unfitness for executive office. It is of a piece with his belief that HIV does not cause AIDS and that those who complain about South Africa’s rampant crime problem are all closet racists. Moreover, as Gerson notes, Mbeki is but symptomatic of the African National Congress’s broader attempt to position South Africa in an anti-Western, Third-Worldist posture on the international stage. Allowing Robert Mugabe to ruin his country is simply the price to be paid when the alternative is the election of a political party favored by the West.

Meanwhile, not long after Mbeki fired off his strange missive to President Bush, Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai sent his thoughts to the dictator-abetting South African president, who had been tasked by both Bush and regional leaders with mediating Zimbabwe’s ongoing political crisis. He does not mince words, informing Mbeki that if his style of “diplomacy” persists, “there will be no country left.” While Mbeki tells President Bush to “butt out” of African affairs (a strange request, considering the fact that the United States has been relatively passive about the chaos in Zimbabwe), Zimbabwe’s democrats wish the reverse: that the United States take a more proactive role while Mbeki exit the stage.

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Our Fault Again

Poor Reverend Wright. In an interview with Bill Moyers to run tomorrow–I wonder if he asked whether white people really created AIDS ?–Wright says he’s been maligned. The New York Times reveals this snippet of accusation:

It’s to paint me as something — ‘Something’s wrong with me. There’s nothing wrong with this country . . . for its policies. We’re perfect. Our hands are free. Our hands have no blood on them,’” he said. “That’s not a failure to communicate. The message that is being communicated by the sound bites is exactly what those pushing those sound bites want to communicate.

Hmm. Weren’t these his own words? Has he moved on, seen the error of his ways? In a word, no:

He did not apologize or back away from his remarks in the interview, instead saying that people wanted to paint him as “some sort of fanatic.”

Somehow “those people” (Americans? Republicans? Karl Rove, with an assist from Hillary Clinton?) made him out to be “unpatriotic,” “un-American,” and “filled with hate speech.”

But then he lets on that just maybe Barack Obama’s Philadelphia speech was, you know, a contrived political response: “So that what happened in Philadelphia where he had to respond to the sound bytes, he responded as a politician.”

All this makes me wonder why Obama thinks this man is “brilliant:” He seems like a garden-variety demagogue. But Andrew Sullivan needs to amend his out-to-sink Obama conspiracy theory: I think Wright is in on the plot.

Poor Reverend Wright. In an interview with Bill Moyers to run tomorrow–I wonder if he asked whether white people really created AIDS ?–Wright says he’s been maligned. The New York Times reveals this snippet of accusation:

It’s to paint me as something — ‘Something’s wrong with me. There’s nothing wrong with this country . . . for its policies. We’re perfect. Our hands are free. Our hands have no blood on them,’” he said. “That’s not a failure to communicate. The message that is being communicated by the sound bites is exactly what those pushing those sound bites want to communicate.

Hmm. Weren’t these his own words? Has he moved on, seen the error of his ways? In a word, no:

He did not apologize or back away from his remarks in the interview, instead saying that people wanted to paint him as “some sort of fanatic.”

Somehow “those people” (Americans? Republicans? Karl Rove, with an assist from Hillary Clinton?) made him out to be “unpatriotic,” “un-American,” and “filled with hate speech.”

But then he lets on that just maybe Barack Obama’s Philadelphia speech was, you know, a contrived political response: “So that what happened in Philadelphia where he had to respond to the sound bytes, he responded as a politician.”

All this makes me wonder why Obama thinks this man is “brilliant:” He seems like a garden-variety demagogue. But Andrew Sullivan needs to amend his out-to-sink Obama conspiracy theory: I think Wright is in on the plot.

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The Futility of Talking to Tehran

In today’s Washington Times, Michael O’Hanlon suggests the U.S. should engage Iran diplomatically, for “hawkish” reasons:

U.S. diplomatic contact with Iran, the sooner the better, still makes sense — not because it will likely produce any breakthroughs, but because . . . “hawkish engagement” can set the U.S. up more effectively to galvanize the kind of growing international pressure on Iran that is probably our only long-term hope of producing better behavior from Tehran. By trying to talk, we better position ourselves to get tough and have others join the effort.

Through negotiation, we can prove to the world that American recalcitrance, Texas cowboy foreign policymaking, and pre-emption doctrine are not the real problems here. Only by patiently trying to work with Iran, and consistently failing to make progress, will we gradually convince Bush-haters and U.S. doubters around the world that the real problem does not lie in Washington.

Where have I heard this before? Oh yeah! When people said that Israel’s handing over Gaza would give the Jewish state the moral high ground in the eyes of the world. And how did that work out? International opinion described the second Lebanon War as a violent overreaction, and the international community talks about the Israeli government as if the Kadima party was formed in the sole hope of occupying more land.

O’Hanlon’s recommendation is based on two false premises, and together they create a circular bind. The first falsehood is the notion that America (like Israel) incurs more hatred through its actions than through its mere existence. If expressed sentiment toward America was based only on American policy, then most nations of the world would celebrate America Is Great Day every day of the year. In the history of the world there’s simply never been a country to extend either the largess or make the sacrifices of the United States today. Whether it’s monetary aid for Palestinians, natural disaster relief for Indonesia, military action on behalf of Muslims being killed in the Balkans, AIDS relief to Africa, or missile defense for Eastern Europe, if the rest of the world were to respond to the U.S. reciprocally, we’d never have another problem again.

The second false premise is that America’s ally deficit on Iran is one of number rather than approach. We have allies in opposition to Iran—many European countries are on board with tougher sanctions. But, in the end, these countries aren’t doing much aside from offering lip service. Why? Because the U.S. has ended up taking care of their geostrategy problems for half a century—which brings us right back to the first false premise.

If the U.S. talked to Iran, anti-Americans would point to it as a sign of defeat and weakness. They’d switch from enjoying self-righteous rage to savoring perceived superiority. And America’s allies wouldn’t pay all that much attention. They know full well that if the talks failed, the U.S. would still do something to keep the threat at bay.

In today’s Washington Times, Michael O’Hanlon suggests the U.S. should engage Iran diplomatically, for “hawkish” reasons:

U.S. diplomatic contact with Iran, the sooner the better, still makes sense — not because it will likely produce any breakthroughs, but because . . . “hawkish engagement” can set the U.S. up more effectively to galvanize the kind of growing international pressure on Iran that is probably our only long-term hope of producing better behavior from Tehran. By trying to talk, we better position ourselves to get tough and have others join the effort.

Through negotiation, we can prove to the world that American recalcitrance, Texas cowboy foreign policymaking, and pre-emption doctrine are not the real problems here. Only by patiently trying to work with Iran, and consistently failing to make progress, will we gradually convince Bush-haters and U.S. doubters around the world that the real problem does not lie in Washington.

Where have I heard this before? Oh yeah! When people said that Israel’s handing over Gaza would give the Jewish state the moral high ground in the eyes of the world. And how did that work out? International opinion described the second Lebanon War as a violent overreaction, and the international community talks about the Israeli government as if the Kadima party was formed in the sole hope of occupying more land.

O’Hanlon’s recommendation is based on two false premises, and together they create a circular bind. The first falsehood is the notion that America (like Israel) incurs more hatred through its actions than through its mere existence. If expressed sentiment toward America was based only on American policy, then most nations of the world would celebrate America Is Great Day every day of the year. In the history of the world there’s simply never been a country to extend either the largess or make the sacrifices of the United States today. Whether it’s monetary aid for Palestinians, natural disaster relief for Indonesia, military action on behalf of Muslims being killed in the Balkans, AIDS relief to Africa, or missile defense for Eastern Europe, if the rest of the world were to respond to the U.S. reciprocally, we’d never have another problem again.

The second false premise is that America’s ally deficit on Iran is one of number rather than approach. We have allies in opposition to Iran—many European countries are on board with tougher sanctions. But, in the end, these countries aren’t doing much aside from offering lip service. Why? Because the U.S. has ended up taking care of their geostrategy problems for half a century—which brings us right back to the first false premise.

If the U.S. talked to Iran, anti-Americans would point to it as a sign of defeat and weakness. They’d switch from enjoying self-righteous rage to savoring perceived superiority. And America’s allies wouldn’t pay all that much attention. They know full well that if the talks failed, the U.S. would still do something to keep the threat at bay.

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Bush v. Carter

The ever-alert James Taranto provides us with this contrast in today’ Best of the Web:

A Clear Difference

  • “Bush Embraces Pope Benedict XVI”–headline, ABCNews.com, April 15
  • “Carter Embraces Hamas Official”–headline, Associated Press, April 16

The contrast between Bush and Carter is striking. President Bush has a profound repugnance for dictators; Jimmy Carter has a soft spot in his heart for them. Bush has spent his presidency supporting the spread of freedom; on Carter’s watch, it receded. Jimmy Carter spoke about human rights; George W. Bush acted to promote them. Jimmy Carter spoke about his concern for the African continent; George W. Bush took unprecedented steps to help those with AIDS and malaria.

During his presidency, Bush understood the threat posed by totalitarianism; Carter, who once spoke about America’s “inordinate fear of communism,” never did. During the Bush presidency, America confronted the threat posed by radical Islam; during the Carter presidency, radical Islam gained perhaps its greatest modern victory (the revolution in Iran). In 2002, Bush sidelined the corrupt and malevolent Yassir Arafat; yesterday Carter reverentially laid a wreath at Arafat’s grave. President Bush is arguably the best American friend Israel has ever had; President Carter is among Israel’s most irresponsible critics.

This list could go on. Suffice it to say that George W. Bush will be seen as a great liberator of oppressed people, whereas James Earl Carter will be judged as one of the weakest defenders of freedom ever to sit in the Oval Office. Carter is in a league by himself: an awful president and an awful ex-president. He qualifies as one of America’s greatest mistakes.

The ever-alert James Taranto provides us with this contrast in today’ Best of the Web:

A Clear Difference

  • “Bush Embraces Pope Benedict XVI”–headline, ABCNews.com, April 15
  • “Carter Embraces Hamas Official”–headline, Associated Press, April 16

The contrast between Bush and Carter is striking. President Bush has a profound repugnance for dictators; Jimmy Carter has a soft spot in his heart for them. Bush has spent his presidency supporting the spread of freedom; on Carter’s watch, it receded. Jimmy Carter spoke about human rights; George W. Bush acted to promote them. Jimmy Carter spoke about his concern for the African continent; George W. Bush took unprecedented steps to help those with AIDS and malaria.

During his presidency, Bush understood the threat posed by totalitarianism; Carter, who once spoke about America’s “inordinate fear of communism,” never did. During the Bush presidency, America confronted the threat posed by radical Islam; during the Carter presidency, radical Islam gained perhaps its greatest modern victory (the revolution in Iran). In 2002, Bush sidelined the corrupt and malevolent Yassir Arafat; yesterday Carter reverentially laid a wreath at Arafat’s grave. President Bush is arguably the best American friend Israel has ever had; President Carter is among Israel’s most irresponsible critics.

This list could go on. Suffice it to say that George W. Bush will be seen as a great liberator of oppressed people, whereas James Earl Carter will be judged as one of the weakest defenders of freedom ever to sit in the Oval Office. Carter is in a league by himself: an awful president and an awful ex-president. He qualifies as one of America’s greatest mistakes.

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BLT on Whites

As more information comes out on the Trinity United Church of Christ, where Barack Obama has been a congregant for decades, we’re getting a fuller picture of what pastor Jeremiah Wright calls “black liberation theology.” There’s a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal highlighting some interesting aspects of the gospel according to Rev. Wright.

The Journal claims Wright described black liberation theology “as a sister of liberation theology, the lay Catholic movement that fueled political activism in Latin America in the 1960′s.” It’s worth noting that the Latin American liberation theology of the 1960′s was heavily rooted in Marxism. Using Marxist categorizations to analyze economic oppression and social injustice, liberation theologians shifted the focus of salvation off the individual and onto larger societal structures. The problem with the emulation of Latin America’s liberation theology in the U.S. is not that preachers like Wright are necessarily Marxists, but that they can give short shrift to the notion of personal responsibility in favor of diffuse societal blame.

Fiery condemnation of the country’s white political and social power structure would be justified if we were back in the 1960′s. America’s long and unpardonable delay in living up to its Bill of Rights demanded nothing less. But in 2008, almost forty-five years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, black liberation theology, like other left-wing anachronisms, is almost quaintly misguided. I mean, if you discount the damning of America, the accusation that the U.S. government created AIDS, and the charge that we brought 9/11 on ourselves, the Trinity United Church is almost as curiously out-of-date as one of those recreated historical villages where you can ask the blacksmith about his trade.

Except that this isn’t entertainment. It’s what passes for spirituality and activism for a large number of American citizens, and that’s a tragedy. (According to this poll, Wright’s comments made black voters more likely, on balance, to vote for Obama.) Aside from the toxic looniness of the charges themselves, what’s most distressing about Wright’s blather is that it abets a mindset that keeps disaffected people disaffected. John McWhorter coined the term “therapeutic alienation” to describe the strain of default resistance to societal expectations that’s found in some black communities. In peddling justifications for therapeutic alienation, Rev. Wright is damning his congregation most. Trinity officials say Wright’s words were taken “out of context,” but the only thing out of context here is the sentiment behind his words. History has left Wright behind. It’s time to retire this petrified line of preachment and liberate the minds of its adherents.

As more information comes out on the Trinity United Church of Christ, where Barack Obama has been a congregant for decades, we’re getting a fuller picture of what pastor Jeremiah Wright calls “black liberation theology.” There’s a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal highlighting some interesting aspects of the gospel according to Rev. Wright.

The Journal claims Wright described black liberation theology “as a sister of liberation theology, the lay Catholic movement that fueled political activism in Latin America in the 1960′s.” It’s worth noting that the Latin American liberation theology of the 1960′s was heavily rooted in Marxism. Using Marxist categorizations to analyze economic oppression and social injustice, liberation theologians shifted the focus of salvation off the individual and onto larger societal structures. The problem with the emulation of Latin America’s liberation theology in the U.S. is not that preachers like Wright are necessarily Marxists, but that they can give short shrift to the notion of personal responsibility in favor of diffuse societal blame.

Fiery condemnation of the country’s white political and social power structure would be justified if we were back in the 1960′s. America’s long and unpardonable delay in living up to its Bill of Rights demanded nothing less. But in 2008, almost forty-five years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, black liberation theology, like other left-wing anachronisms, is almost quaintly misguided. I mean, if you discount the damning of America, the accusation that the U.S. government created AIDS, and the charge that we brought 9/11 on ourselves, the Trinity United Church is almost as curiously out-of-date as one of those recreated historical villages where you can ask the blacksmith about his trade.

Except that this isn’t entertainment. It’s what passes for spirituality and activism for a large number of American citizens, and that’s a tragedy. (According to this poll, Wright’s comments made black voters more likely, on balance, to vote for Obama.) Aside from the toxic looniness of the charges themselves, what’s most distressing about Wright’s blather is that it abets a mindset that keeps disaffected people disaffected. John McWhorter coined the term “therapeutic alienation” to describe the strain of default resistance to societal expectations that’s found in some black communities. In peddling justifications for therapeutic alienation, Rev. Wright is damning his congregation most. Trinity officials say Wright’s words were taken “out of context,” but the only thing out of context here is the sentiment behind his words. History has left Wright behind. It’s time to retire this petrified line of preachment and liberate the minds of its adherents.

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What Do They Do Now?

Some intellectually honest liberals are starting to realize that the Reverend Wright problem is a significant one for Barack Obama. From The New Republic:

It’s also clear that the question of whether Obama was present for those particular sermons now in the news isn’t really the issue. Wright’s oft-iterated political worldview, which apparently includes the belief that the US created AIDS to keep the Third World in poverty, should be quite apparent to anyone who knows him as well as Obama does. . .This is really bad news for Obama, both in the primary and if he makes it to the general. He’s worked successfully to escape the image of the “angry black man,” and here he is linked to that image in the most emotionally searing way.

From Gerald Posner at Huffington Post(h/t Instapundit):

If the parishioners of Trinity United Church were not buzzing about Reverend Wright’s post 9/11 comments, then it could only seem to be because those comments were not out of character with what he preached from the pulpit many times before. In that case, I have to wonder if it is really possible for the Obamas to have been parishioners there – by 9/11 they were there more than a decade – and not to have known very clearly how radical Wright’s views were. If, on the other hand, parishioners were shocked by Wright’s vitriol only days after more than 3,000 Americans had been killed by terrorists, they would have talked about it incessantly. Barack – a sitting Illinois State Senator – would have been one of the first to hear about it. . . .

But Barack now claims he never heard about any of this until after he began his run for the presidency, in February, 20007.And even if Barack is correct – and I desperately want to believe him – then it still does not explain why, when he learned in 2007 of Wright’s fringe comments about 9/11 and other subjects, the campaign did not then disassociate itself from the Reverend. Wright was not removed from the campaign’s Spiritual Advisory Committee until two days ago, and it appears likely that nothing would have been done had this story not broken nationally.

Well, where does this leave the Democrats now? Had this happened in January the party would have different and better options. But here we are in March with a 100 plus delegate lead for Obama.

Possible but not likely: This all blows over in a day or so, none of this impacts Obama’s appeal among white voters, he sails to the nomination, and this is a non-issue in the general election since most voters don’t see that there’s much of anything wrong with what Reverend Wright said. Yeah, right. (This scenario becomes more likely only if the writers go back on strike for the rest of the year, and SNL and the late night talk shows shut down.)

Possible but more likely: Obama hangs on to his lead, but a revived Hillary Clinton (now emboldened that the Democratic establishment will abandon Obama) takes her fight to the bitter end. Obama eventually wins the nomination after a bloody fight. The 527′s run hundreds of ads in the general election with Obama’s picture and the text of Wright’s sermons.

Also possible: Obama’s poll numbers begin to tank, Clinton wins all the remaining primaries except North Carolina, the superdelegates throw in their lot with her and a lot of really angry Obama supporters make a very big stink about racial politics.

Everyone can choose their favorite scenario, but you can bet the damage is significant when even the Clinton camp figures it’s better to leave well enough alone.

Some intellectually honest liberals are starting to realize that the Reverend Wright problem is a significant one for Barack Obama. From The New Republic:

It’s also clear that the question of whether Obama was present for those particular sermons now in the news isn’t really the issue. Wright’s oft-iterated political worldview, which apparently includes the belief that the US created AIDS to keep the Third World in poverty, should be quite apparent to anyone who knows him as well as Obama does. . .This is really bad news for Obama, both in the primary and if he makes it to the general. He’s worked successfully to escape the image of the “angry black man,” and here he is linked to that image in the most emotionally searing way.

From Gerald Posner at Huffington Post(h/t Instapundit):

If the parishioners of Trinity United Church were not buzzing about Reverend Wright’s post 9/11 comments, then it could only seem to be because those comments were not out of character with what he preached from the pulpit many times before. In that case, I have to wonder if it is really possible for the Obamas to have been parishioners there – by 9/11 they were there more than a decade – and not to have known very clearly how radical Wright’s views were. If, on the other hand, parishioners were shocked by Wright’s vitriol only days after more than 3,000 Americans had been killed by terrorists, they would have talked about it incessantly. Barack – a sitting Illinois State Senator – would have been one of the first to hear about it. . . .

But Barack now claims he never heard about any of this until after he began his run for the presidency, in February, 20007.And even if Barack is correct – and I desperately want to believe him – then it still does not explain why, when he learned in 2007 of Wright’s fringe comments about 9/11 and other subjects, the campaign did not then disassociate itself from the Reverend. Wright was not removed from the campaign’s Spiritual Advisory Committee until two days ago, and it appears likely that nothing would have been done had this story not broken nationally.

Well, where does this leave the Democrats now? Had this happened in January the party would have different and better options. But here we are in March with a 100 plus delegate lead for Obama.

Possible but not likely: This all blows over in a day or so, none of this impacts Obama’s appeal among white voters, he sails to the nomination, and this is a non-issue in the general election since most voters don’t see that there’s much of anything wrong with what Reverend Wright said. Yeah, right. (This scenario becomes more likely only if the writers go back on strike for the rest of the year, and SNL and the late night talk shows shut down.)

Possible but more likely: Obama hangs on to his lead, but a revived Hillary Clinton (now emboldened that the Democratic establishment will abandon Obama) takes her fight to the bitter end. Obama eventually wins the nomination after a bloody fight. The 527′s run hundreds of ads in the general election with Obama’s picture and the text of Wright’s sermons.

Also possible: Obama’s poll numbers begin to tank, Clinton wins all the remaining primaries except North Carolina, the superdelegates throw in their lot with her and a lot of really angry Obama supporters make a very big stink about racial politics.

Everyone can choose their favorite scenario, but you can bet the damage is significant when even the Clinton camp figures it’s better to leave well enough alone.

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Huh?

Today, in a damage-control speech about unity and tolerance, Barack Obama said this:

Most recently, you heard some statements from my former pastor that were incendiary and that I completely reject, although I knew him and know him as somebody in my church who talked to me about Jesus and family and friendships, but clearly had — but if all I knew was those statements that I saw on television, I would be shocked.

When syntax is that bad usually the speaker, especially an ordinarily articulate one, is trying to hide the ball.

Let’s unpack it. First, it is clear that Obama is not sticking to his initial story that this toxic rhetoric is all new to him. He begins to say that had he only known about the comments (“but clearly had”) . . . and then veers off. Why? Because he has admitted that he did know of some of these comments. Second, he acknowledges that he “knew” Reverend Wright, but of course does not offer any explanation for how his mentor for decades could have so cleverly concealed his views and rhetoric from the unwary Obama. Then, comes the really strange part: “if all I knew was those statements I saw on television, I would be shocked.” That’s awfully puzzling, no? Is this a confession that since he knew more, the comments aren’t so shocking? Or is he saying we shouldn’t be shocked because we have an incomplete picture of the great Rev. Wright. (You get a few “damn America” and “the U.S. caused AIDS” comments for free if you’ve talked about brotherly love?) It is all terribly, and purposefully, unclear.

You think those superdelegates are getting nervous yet?

Today, in a damage-control speech about unity and tolerance, Barack Obama said this:

Most recently, you heard some statements from my former pastor that were incendiary and that I completely reject, although I knew him and know him as somebody in my church who talked to me about Jesus and family and friendships, but clearly had — but if all I knew was those statements that I saw on television, I would be shocked.

When syntax is that bad usually the speaker, especially an ordinarily articulate one, is trying to hide the ball.

Let’s unpack it. First, it is clear that Obama is not sticking to his initial story that this toxic rhetoric is all new to him. He begins to say that had he only known about the comments (“but clearly had”) . . . and then veers off. Why? Because he has admitted that he did know of some of these comments. Second, he acknowledges that he “knew” Reverend Wright, but of course does not offer any explanation for how his mentor for decades could have so cleverly concealed his views and rhetoric from the unwary Obama. Then, comes the really strange part: “if all I knew was those statements I saw on television, I would be shocked.” That’s awfully puzzling, no? Is this a confession that since he knew more, the comments aren’t so shocking? Or is he saying we shouldn’t be shocked because we have an incomplete picture of the great Rev. Wright. (You get a few “damn America” and “the U.S. caused AIDS” comments for free if you’ve talked about brotherly love?) It is all terribly, and purposefully, unclear.

You think those superdelegates are getting nervous yet?

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Geldof’s Bush Interview

Bob Geldof interviewed George Bush aboard Air Force One for a must-read piece in Time magazine. It should come as no surprise that it takes an individual outside of journalism and politics to cut through the fog of false perceptions about the president. Here’s Geldof on Bush’s “Africa story”:

It is some story. And I have always wondered why it was never told properly to the American people, who were paying for it. It was, for example, Bush who initiated the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) with cross-party support led by Senators John Kerry and Bill Frist. In 2003, only 50,000 Africans were on HIV antiretroviral drugs — and they had to pay for their own medicine. Today, 1.3 million are receiving medicines free of charge. The U.S. also contributes one-third of the money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — which treats another 1.5 million. It contributes 50% of all food aid (though some critics find the mechanism of contribution controversial). On a seven-day trip through Africa, Bush announced a fantastic new $350 million fund for other neglected tropical diseases that can be easily eradicated; a program to distribute 5.2 million mosquito nets to Tanzanian kids; and contracts worth around $1.2 billion in Tanzania and Ghana from the Millennium Challenge Account, another initiative of the Bush Administration.

While expendable legislators in New Hampshire and elsewhere waste taxpayers’ money on proceedings to impeach George Bush, Geldof—a man who’s spent decades staring humanitarian crisis in the face—gets to the heart of the President’s sense of morality and responsibility in history:

Bush adds, “One thing I will say: Human suffering should preempt commercial interest.”
It’s a wonderful sentence, and it comes in the wake of a visit to Rwanda’s Genocide Memorial Center. The museum is built on the site of a still-being-filled open grave. There are 250,000 individuals in that hole, tumbled together in an undifferentiated tangle of humanity. The President and First Lady were visibly shocked by the museum. “Evil does exist,” Bush says in reaction to the 1994 massacres. “And in such a brutal form.” He is not speechifying; he is horror-struck by the reality of ethnic madness. “Babies had their skulls smashed,” he says, his mind violently regurgitating an image he has just witnessed. The sentence peters out, emptied of words to describe the ultimately incomprehensible.

Geldof goes too easy on China, and he’s disappointingly clichéd on Iraq. But even there, he evinces a natural respect for Bush that’s vanished from the sphere of public criticism. In all, it’s an indispensible character portrait of the president.

Bob Geldof interviewed George Bush aboard Air Force One for a must-read piece in Time magazine. It should come as no surprise that it takes an individual outside of journalism and politics to cut through the fog of false perceptions about the president. Here’s Geldof on Bush’s “Africa story”:

It is some story. And I have always wondered why it was never told properly to the American people, who were paying for it. It was, for example, Bush who initiated the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) with cross-party support led by Senators John Kerry and Bill Frist. In 2003, only 50,000 Africans were on HIV antiretroviral drugs — and they had to pay for their own medicine. Today, 1.3 million are receiving medicines free of charge. The U.S. also contributes one-third of the money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — which treats another 1.5 million. It contributes 50% of all food aid (though some critics find the mechanism of contribution controversial). On a seven-day trip through Africa, Bush announced a fantastic new $350 million fund for other neglected tropical diseases that can be easily eradicated; a program to distribute 5.2 million mosquito nets to Tanzanian kids; and contracts worth around $1.2 billion in Tanzania and Ghana from the Millennium Challenge Account, another initiative of the Bush Administration.

While expendable legislators in New Hampshire and elsewhere waste taxpayers’ money on proceedings to impeach George Bush, Geldof—a man who’s spent decades staring humanitarian crisis in the face—gets to the heart of the President’s sense of morality and responsibility in history:

Bush adds, “One thing I will say: Human suffering should preempt commercial interest.”
It’s a wonderful sentence, and it comes in the wake of a visit to Rwanda’s Genocide Memorial Center. The museum is built on the site of a still-being-filled open grave. There are 250,000 individuals in that hole, tumbled together in an undifferentiated tangle of humanity. The President and First Lady were visibly shocked by the museum. “Evil does exist,” Bush says in reaction to the 1994 massacres. “And in such a brutal form.” He is not speechifying; he is horror-struck by the reality of ethnic madness. “Babies had their skulls smashed,” he says, his mind violently regurgitating an image he has just witnessed. The sentence peters out, emptied of words to describe the ultimately incomprehensible.

Geldof goes too easy on China, and he’s disappointingly clichéd on Iraq. But even there, he evinces a natural respect for Bush that’s vanished from the sphere of public criticism. In all, it’s an indispensible character portrait of the president.

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Huckabee’s Further Flip-Flopping

According to The Hill,

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has reversed his position on a federal ban aimed at workplace smoking and now believes the issue should be addressed by state and local governments. The about-face is apparent in a Huckabee campaign statement, sent to The Hill Tuesday evening in response to questions about the smoking ban proposal. It clashes with the stance Huckabee has taken during his race for the White House and with his record as governor of Arkansas, when he signed into law a measure prohibiting smoking in most indoor public places. At an August 2007 forum on cancer hosted by cyclist and activist Lance Armstrong and moderated by MSNBC host Chris Matthews, Huckabee said he supported a federal smoking ban. “If you are president in 2009 and Congress brings you a bill to outlaw smoking nationwide in public places, would you sign it?” Matthews asked. “I would, certainly would. In fact, I would, just like I did as governor of Arkansas, I think there should be no smoking in any indoor area where people have to work,” Huckabee responded, triggering applause from the crowd.

This comes in the aftermath of Huckabee’s head-snapping change on immigration. Only a few weeks after he lectured the other candidates about the virtues of providing student loans to children of illegal immigrants, he proudly accepted the endorsement of Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minuteman Project, a group fiercely critical of illegal immigrants. Huckabee then adapted an immigration plan that is very much at odds with his past position.

It also comes in the wake of Huckabee’s declaration that his conscience would not allow him to run advertisements critical of Mitt Romney in Iowa—a declaration, it’s worth pointing out, he made at a press conference in which he revealed to reporters the ad he refused to run, thereby ensuring it would get widespread attention. But Huckabee’s conscience seems to have gone on sabbatical the other day, when he responded to Fred Thompson’s substantive criticisms of his record this way: “Fred Thompson talks about putting America first, and yet he’s the one who is a registered foreign agent, lobbied for foreign countries, was in a law firm that did lobbying work for Libya. I certainly wouldn’t put my name on something like that.”

Such things might be dismissed as par for the political course, except that Huckabee, who once favored quarantining AIDS patients but now denies it, has made a virtue out of his supposed steadfastness. “You are not going to find moments on YouTube of me saying something different about the sanctity of life today than I said ten years ago, ten minutes ago, or fifty years ago,” Huckabee has said, referring to footage of Governor Romney declaring his support for abortion rights, a position he later changed. “You are not going to find something in YouTube where I said something completely different about gun ownership and the second amendment than I did last week, ten weeks ago, ten years go.”

Those words seem far less compelling than they once did. What we are finding is that Huckabee, who has long believed in religious conversions, appears to have a new-found affinity for political ones.

According to The Hill,

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has reversed his position on a federal ban aimed at workplace smoking and now believes the issue should be addressed by state and local governments. The about-face is apparent in a Huckabee campaign statement, sent to The Hill Tuesday evening in response to questions about the smoking ban proposal. It clashes with the stance Huckabee has taken during his race for the White House and with his record as governor of Arkansas, when he signed into law a measure prohibiting smoking in most indoor public places. At an August 2007 forum on cancer hosted by cyclist and activist Lance Armstrong and moderated by MSNBC host Chris Matthews, Huckabee said he supported a federal smoking ban. “If you are president in 2009 and Congress brings you a bill to outlaw smoking nationwide in public places, would you sign it?” Matthews asked. “I would, certainly would. In fact, I would, just like I did as governor of Arkansas, I think there should be no smoking in any indoor area where people have to work,” Huckabee responded, triggering applause from the crowd.

This comes in the aftermath of Huckabee’s head-snapping change on immigration. Only a few weeks after he lectured the other candidates about the virtues of providing student loans to children of illegal immigrants, he proudly accepted the endorsement of Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minuteman Project, a group fiercely critical of illegal immigrants. Huckabee then adapted an immigration plan that is very much at odds with his past position.

It also comes in the wake of Huckabee’s declaration that his conscience would not allow him to run advertisements critical of Mitt Romney in Iowa—a declaration, it’s worth pointing out, he made at a press conference in which he revealed to reporters the ad he refused to run, thereby ensuring it would get widespread attention. But Huckabee’s conscience seems to have gone on sabbatical the other day, when he responded to Fred Thompson’s substantive criticisms of his record this way: “Fred Thompson talks about putting America first, and yet he’s the one who is a registered foreign agent, lobbied for foreign countries, was in a law firm that did lobbying work for Libya. I certainly wouldn’t put my name on something like that.”

Such things might be dismissed as par for the political course, except that Huckabee, who once favored quarantining AIDS patients but now denies it, has made a virtue out of his supposed steadfastness. “You are not going to find moments on YouTube of me saying something different about the sanctity of life today than I said ten years ago, ten minutes ago, or fifty years ago,” Huckabee has said, referring to footage of Governor Romney declaring his support for abortion rights, a position he later changed. “You are not going to find something in YouTube where I said something completely different about gun ownership and the second amendment than I did last week, ten weeks ago, ten years go.”

Those words seem far less compelling than they once did. What we are finding is that Huckabee, who has long believed in religious conversions, appears to have a new-found affinity for political ones.

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Zuma’s In

There is good and bad news from South Africa. The good news is that the ruling party, the African National Congress, had its first wide-open and competitive election to choose a new leader. The bad news is that the winner is Jacob Zuma, an uneducated populist given to violent rhetoric (at campaign rallies he sings a catchy ditty called, “Bring me my machine gun”). With this victory, Zuma becomes a shoo-in for the Presidency. Zuma was fired as Deputy President over charges of corruption, and still faces trial over those allegations. He has beaten charges of rape in the past (his defense was that the woman was asking for it by wearing a short skirt in his house). It is almost as if Huey Long had become the Democratic Party Presidential nominee in the 1930′s, except that democracy in South Africa is much newer and more fragile than it was in America at the time.

The incumbent President and ANC leader, Thabo Mbeki, has hardly had an unimpeachable tenure. As my fellow contentions blogger Jamie Kirchick has pointed out, he has been guilty of not paying enough attention to AIDS or to human-rights abuses next door in Zimbabwe. But he has been a model of economic stewardship, eschewing the ANC’s Marxist rhetoric in favor of sound fiscal management. Despite pressure from his party’s base, he has not moved to punish whites or to dispossess them of their farms and businesses. Instead, he has continued the reconciliation policies of Nelson Mandela, one of the great men of the 20th century. In the process, Mbeki has made his country a model of democracy and economic growth on a continent that badly needs some success stories.

The concern now is that Zuma could undo Mbeki’s legacy, the worst case being that he could turn into another out-of-control tyrant like Robert Mugabe. Such concerns seem overblown, at least for the moment. Zuma has been promising business leaders that he will not depart too radically from Mbeki’s pro-business policies. More importantly, although South Africa has a fairly anemic, if vocal, opposition party, it does have some robust checks and balances from an independent press and judiciary. The latter may wind up being the country’s salvation. If Zuma is convicted in a pending bribery case, he would be ineligible to serve as President, and a more moderate ANC leader might emerge to succeed Mbeki.

There is good and bad news from South Africa. The good news is that the ruling party, the African National Congress, had its first wide-open and competitive election to choose a new leader. The bad news is that the winner is Jacob Zuma, an uneducated populist given to violent rhetoric (at campaign rallies he sings a catchy ditty called, “Bring me my machine gun”). With this victory, Zuma becomes a shoo-in for the Presidency. Zuma was fired as Deputy President over charges of corruption, and still faces trial over those allegations. He has beaten charges of rape in the past (his defense was that the woman was asking for it by wearing a short skirt in his house). It is almost as if Huey Long had become the Democratic Party Presidential nominee in the 1930′s, except that democracy in South Africa is much newer and more fragile than it was in America at the time.

The incumbent President and ANC leader, Thabo Mbeki, has hardly had an unimpeachable tenure. As my fellow contentions blogger Jamie Kirchick has pointed out, he has been guilty of not paying enough attention to AIDS or to human-rights abuses next door in Zimbabwe. But he has been a model of economic stewardship, eschewing the ANC’s Marxist rhetoric in favor of sound fiscal management. Despite pressure from his party’s base, he has not moved to punish whites or to dispossess them of their farms and businesses. Instead, he has continued the reconciliation policies of Nelson Mandela, one of the great men of the 20th century. In the process, Mbeki has made his country a model of democracy and economic growth on a continent that badly needs some success stories.

The concern now is that Zuma could undo Mbeki’s legacy, the worst case being that he could turn into another out-of-control tyrant like Robert Mugabe. Such concerns seem overblown, at least for the moment. Zuma has been promising business leaders that he will not depart too radically from Mbeki’s pro-business policies. More importantly, although South Africa has a fairly anemic, if vocal, opposition party, it does have some robust checks and balances from an independent press and judiciary. The latter may wind up being the country’s salvation. If Zuma is convicted in a pending bribery case, he would be ineligible to serve as President, and a more moderate ANC leader might emerge to succeed Mbeki.

Read Less




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