Commentary Magazine


Topic: American Enterprise Institute

Suffering a Fool

Avi Lewis is a Canadian television host and the husband of Naomi Klein, author and columnist for the Nation and herald of the anti-American, proto-socialist, “anti-globalization” movement. (Klein is infamous for a 2004 column she wrote the week of the Republican National Convention in New York City entitled, “Bring Najaf to New York.”) Klein and Lewis make, as you might imagine, a politically pugnacious couple.

Recently, for his show “On the Map,” Lewis interviewed the prominent ex-Muslim critic of fundamentalist Islam Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who, next to Burmese democracy activist Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, qualifies as perhaps the most remarkable woman of our age. By way of introduction, Lewis glossed over Hirsi Ali’s childhood as a Muslim in Somalia (from which she escaped to the Netherlands), informing viewers that she got her start in politics with the “right-wing Dutch Liberal Party” and now holds “a job at the arch-conservative American Enterprise Institute.”

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Avi Lewis is a Canadian television host and the husband of Naomi Klein, author and columnist for the Nation and herald of the anti-American, proto-socialist, “anti-globalization” movement. (Klein is infamous for a 2004 column she wrote the week of the Republican National Convention in New York City entitled, “Bring Najaf to New York.”) Klein and Lewis make, as you might imagine, a politically pugnacious couple.

Recently, for his show “On the Map,” Lewis interviewed the prominent ex-Muslim critic of fundamentalist Islam Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who, next to Burmese democracy activist Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, qualifies as perhaps the most remarkable woman of our age. By way of introduction, Lewis glossed over Hirsi Ali’s childhood as a Muslim in Somalia (from which she escaped to the Netherlands), informing viewers that she got her start in politics with the “right-wing Dutch Liberal Party” and now holds “a job at the arch-conservative American Enterprise Institute.”

Lewis was, apparently, incredulous that anyone could be as stringently critical of Islam as Hirsi Ali, and appeared doubly perplexed that the person in front of him spouting what he considers “Islamophobia” is a black woman. He challenged Hirsi Ali’s unremarkable statement that Islam is the only religion that threatens liberal democracy today, pointing south to the United States as the prime example of a country where “evangelical Christianity has ascended to the highest ranks of power, where conservative social values drawn and justified by the Bible are imposed upon people every day.” Lewis didn’t not stop there. “North American Muslims really feel under siege these days,” he informs Hirsi Ali. (How Muslims feel under the rule of the Saudi monarchy or the Mullahs in Iran is something Lewis doesn’t bother to consider.) What causes peaceable, everyday North American Muslims to feel this way? Are they being rounded up and sent to prison in massive police sweeps? Are prominent American political figures calling for their deportation? Not exactly: Lewis’s claim that “North American Muslims really feel under siege these days” rests on his contention that “People don’t want to travel because flying is such a hassle.”

Towards the end of the interview, Hirsi Ali praised the prosperity of the United States and the opportunities it provides to immigrants such as herself. Lewis, really sinking his teeth into the role of a provincial twit, replies sarcastically: “Your faith in American democracy is just delightful,” and chides, “Is there a school where they teach you these American clichés? Is it part of your application process?” Hirsi Ali took this in stride. A lifetime spent dealing with intimidation and vitriol has given her the ability to suffer fools with considerable grace.

As one already too familiar with Naomi Klein’s work, I never thought I would call her her husband’s better half. Either way, they deserve each other.

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A Kagan Primer

Fred Kagan, of the American Enterprise Institute, has become one of the most prolific and influential voices when it comes to Iraq policy. Just keeping up with his writings can be a full-time job—but a rewarding one. What he has to say is always worth paying attention to. He has a number of new articles that are “must reads” for those following the debate over the war and the surge.

• This cover article in the Weekly Standard explaining what al Qaeda in Iraq is all about, focusing on its relationship to “al Qaeda central” and why U.S. troops have been having so much success fighting it lately.

• This essay explaining the shortcomings of the GAO report on Iraq.

• This article explaining why the Jones commission report on the state of the Iraqi security forces has been widely misinterpreted by the news media.

• This long, compelling report outlining why the most detailed troop drawdown proposal put forward by critics of the administration—a study from the Center for a New American Security proposing a rapid reduction to 60,000 troops—won’t work.

Read ‘em all.

Fred Kagan, of the American Enterprise Institute, has become one of the most prolific and influential voices when it comes to Iraq policy. Just keeping up with his writings can be a full-time job—but a rewarding one. What he has to say is always worth paying attention to. He has a number of new articles that are “must reads” for those following the debate over the war and the surge.

• This cover article in the Weekly Standard explaining what al Qaeda in Iraq is all about, focusing on its relationship to “al Qaeda central” and why U.S. troops have been having so much success fighting it lately.

• This essay explaining the shortcomings of the GAO report on Iraq.

• This article explaining why the Jones commission report on the state of the Iraqi security forces has been widely misinterpreted by the news media.

• This long, compelling report outlining why the most detailed troop drawdown proposal put forward by critics of the administration—a study from the Center for a New American Security proposing a rapid reduction to 60,000 troops—won’t work.

Read ‘em all.

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Teaching Soldiers

It seems fairly certain that the Army will expand over the next few years. The only question is by how much. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wants to increase it from 510,000 soldiers to 547,000. Many of the presidential candidates, both Republican and Democratic, are calling for even bigger increases. Tom Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute argues persuasively in the Weekly Standard that we should aim for a force of 750,000, which would represent a return to the level at the end of the cold war.

These calls for expansion are necessary. But an important secondary issue, and one not discussed publicly as much as it should be, is what to do with all these extra troops. Donnelly lays out a wide variety of missions that the U.S. armed forces need to carry out around the world. Unfortunately, as we are learning in Afghanistan and Iraq, today’s military is still not well-prepared for the challenges of a post-9/11 world. But now one of the Army’s most innovative thinkers, Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, has come forward with a simple but brilliant idea for one step that his service should take to reshape itself: create a standing Advisor Corps of 20,000 soldiers for the training of foreign military services.

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It seems fairly certain that the Army will expand over the next few years. The only question is by how much. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wants to increase it from 510,000 soldiers to 547,000. Many of the presidential candidates, both Republican and Democratic, are calling for even bigger increases. Tom Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute argues persuasively in the Weekly Standard that we should aim for a force of 750,000, which would represent a return to the level at the end of the cold war.

These calls for expansion are necessary. But an important secondary issue, and one not discussed publicly as much as it should be, is what to do with all these extra troops. Donnelly lays out a wide variety of missions that the U.S. armed forces need to carry out around the world. Unfortunately, as we are learning in Afghanistan and Iraq, today’s military is still not well-prepared for the challenges of a post-9/11 world. But now one of the Army’s most innovative thinkers, Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, has come forward with a simple but brilliant idea for one step that his service should take to reshape itself: create a standing Advisor Corps of 20,000 soldiers for the training of foreign military services.

Nagl’s views deserve to be taken very seriously. Not only is he a combat veteran of Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, he is a contributor to the new U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual and the author of an influential study of counterinsurgency, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam. Nagl also commands a battalion at Fort Riley, Kansas, that trains teams to educate and advise security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Though the Army has made advances in how it sets up such training teams, Nagl points out that the soldiers who “train the trainers” don’t, for the most part, have much real-world experience in training foreign militaries. Nagl’s proposed Advisor Corps is a remedy to this problem. “This corps,” he writes, “would develop doctrine and oversee the training and deployment of 750 advisory teams of 25 soldiers each.” Soldiers would rotate through assignments in this Corps just as they currently rotate through the 10th Mountain Division or the 101st Airborne Division. In an ideal world, their advisory service would count as much as service in a “line” unit when it comes to promotion.

Creating such a Corps would enable us to make the kind of long-term commitment to Afghanistan and Iraq necessary to achieve a modicum of stability and democracy. As things stand now, the Army is straining to produce a few thousand embedded advisors—far too few for the challenges ahead.

Adopting Nagl’s idea would make more sense than simply creating more infantry or armor brigades focused on “kinetic” action. We need those too, of course. But we also need different kinds of competencies within our armed forces—and the government at large—if we are to prevail in the long war we now face.

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Will They Have Died in Vain?

On October 23, 1983, 241 American Marines were killed by a suicide bomber in Lebanon. “Not easy,” wrote Ronald Reagan in his diary about the painful task of telephoning the parents of the dead. “One father asked if they were in Lebanon for anything that was worth his son’s life.” The answer—not spoken but implicit in the fact that Reagan was shortly to withdraw all American forces from the war-torn country—was evidently “no.” Lebanon’s civil war raged on for almost another decade without further American interference. From the standpoint of history, the Marines had perished in vain.

We have now lost almost 3,400 soldiers in Iraq. Over the weekend another dozen Americans were added to the list, along with a great many more Iraqis. Will they, too, be seen to have perished in vain, their lives “wasted”—to employ the politically insensitive word that Barack Obama used earlier this year and then apologized for?

With each American casualty, the pressure is building for a rapid American withdrawal. The Democratic-controlled Congress wants to impose a deadline on the American presence. It is threatening to cut off funds for the war effort. Yet if the United States withdraws from Iraq, leaving in its wake a raging civil war and a fertile breeding ground for Islamic terrorists, history’s answer to that terrible question—have they died in vain?—will be all too clear.

But supporting a war that is going badly, in which American forces are getting continually hammered, is emotionally, morally, and intellectually arduous. To those of us who do not want to see American soldiers die and die needlessly, it may be time, then, to tip our hats to those in public life—soldiers, politicians, and intellectuals—who are not only being steadfast but are finding a way forward.

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On October 23, 1983, 241 American Marines were killed by a suicide bomber in Lebanon. “Not easy,” wrote Ronald Reagan in his diary about the painful task of telephoning the parents of the dead. “One father asked if they were in Lebanon for anything that was worth his son’s life.” The answer—not spoken but implicit in the fact that Reagan was shortly to withdraw all American forces from the war-torn country—was evidently “no.” Lebanon’s civil war raged on for almost another decade without further American interference. From the standpoint of history, the Marines had perished in vain.

We have now lost almost 3,400 soldiers in Iraq. Over the weekend another dozen Americans were added to the list, along with a great many more Iraqis. Will they, too, be seen to have perished in vain, their lives “wasted”—to employ the politically insensitive word that Barack Obama used earlier this year and then apologized for?

With each American casualty, the pressure is building for a rapid American withdrawal. The Democratic-controlled Congress wants to impose a deadline on the American presence. It is threatening to cut off funds for the war effort. Yet if the United States withdraws from Iraq, leaving in its wake a raging civil war and a fertile breeding ground for Islamic terrorists, history’s answer to that terrible question—have they died in vain?—will be all too clear.

But supporting a war that is going badly, in which American forces are getting continually hammered, is emotionally, morally, and intellectually arduous. To those of us who do not want to see American soldiers die and die needlessly, it may be time, then, to tip our hats to those in public life—soldiers, politicians, and intellectuals—who are not only being steadfast but are finding a way forward.

Among the last-named group is Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, a penetrating analyst of military affairs and one of the initial proponents of the current “surge.” In yesterday’s New York Times, Kagan offered some preliminary evidence suggesting that the new strategy is working. He also offered compelling answers to the many critics of the war who are eager to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

We cannot know yet whether Kagan will be proved right or wrong. History may charge the Bush administration with the unforgivable offense of having done too little too late when it moved in this new direction. But what Kagan’s analysis does make plain is that the decisive battle is not in Iraq, but here at home.

There are many—liberals and conservatives alike—who initially supported the war but who now appear to believe that defeat is inevitable. Some of them are busy retroactively revising their own earlier hawkish positions by means of flimsily constructed, ex-post-facto analyses of what led us into what one such intellectual—Andrew Sullivan—has called “a bloody and endless trap.” His reversal—see my Tiramisu Andrew?—is a case study in irresponsibility in wartime.

Giving in to such pessimism now would generate a self-fulfilling prophecy. But pushing forward without regaining the backing of the public may just prolong the agony—which is why the Bush administration and supporters of the war need to mount a concentrated campaign to persuade the American people to give our forces time to let the new strategy succeed.

If we fail in this, and if the Democrats make good on their promise to pull the plug, then the American soldiers who are killed between now and then will be added by history to the tally of those who died pointlessly.

That would be both a disaster and a crime.

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The Military’s Media Problem

I’ve been traveling around Iraq for more than a week, spending time with U.S. forces. One constant is complaints about the news media. “Why doesn’t the press show the good we’re doing?,” soldiers ask. They wonder why the coverage seems so slanted.

Part of the answer is that the soldiers’ tactical successes may not be adding up to strategic success. Another part of the answer is undoubtedly the bias of the press—not only against the war but also in favor of negative news. But another important factor is the ham-handed reticence with which the military makes its own case.

The conventional military mindset sees the media as a potential enemy to be shunned at all costs. Officers who get quoted too much are derided behind their backs as “glory-seekers” or “self-promoters.” The focus is always supposed to be on the team, not the individual, and there is a general assumption that good deeds will speak for themselves. General George Casey, the former U.S. commander in Iraq (now about to become Army chief of staff), exemplified this point of view. He seldom spoke to the media and tightly limited who could speak on behalf of his command.

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I’ve been traveling around Iraq for more than a week, spending time with U.S. forces. One constant is complaints about the news media. “Why doesn’t the press show the good we’re doing?,” soldiers ask. They wonder why the coverage seems so slanted.

Part of the answer is that the soldiers’ tactical successes may not be adding up to strategic success. Another part of the answer is undoubtedly the bias of the press—not only against the war but also in favor of negative news. But another important factor is the ham-handed reticence with which the military makes its own case.

The conventional military mindset sees the media as a potential enemy to be shunned at all costs. Officers who get quoted too much are derided behind their backs as “glory-seekers” or “self-promoters.” The focus is always supposed to be on the team, not the individual, and there is a general assumption that good deeds will speak for themselves. General George Casey, the former U.S. commander in Iraq (now about to become Army chief of staff), exemplified this point of view. He seldom spoke to the media and tightly limited who could speak on behalf of his command.

The result of such caution is to cede the “information battlespace” to critics of the war and even to outright enemies such as Osama bin Laden and Moqtada al Sadr, who have shrewdly manipulated press coverage. General David Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, wants to engage more actively in what are known as “information operations,” and he’s off to a good start. He is, for instance, taking reporters with him on tours of the battlefield. On Saturday he had a correspondent from the San Antonio newspaper along when he traveled to Baqubah. (I also accompanied him, as did Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute.) But to be successful, Petraeus will have to get more officers to follow his example.

Some officers I met with earlier this week at Task Force Justice in the Khadimiya neighborhood of northwest Baghdad offered useful suggestions for what should be done: (1) require all battalions to set up a secure, comfortable room where reporters can stay and file stories; (2) contact media organizations to invite them to send embeds; (3) distribute lists of media contacts down to battalion and even company level and encourage officers to contact the press directly, bypassing the ponderous public-affairs bureaucracy; (4) grade battalion, brigade, and division commanders on how well they engage the press.

To this I would add one other idea: troops on the ground who see inaccurate reports about their operations should contact the media outlets in question and demand corrections—or take other steps to publicize the facts as they know them. In short: stop griping about the press in private and start doing something about it in public. That’s just what some military bloggers are already doing, but their activities are often frowned upon.

What the armed forces have to realize is that in today’s world engaging in information ops can no longer be a peripheral part of a military campaign. In a sense, the kinetic operations have come to be peripheral to the core struggle for hearts and minds in Iraq—and back home. If the armed forces don’t do a better job of waging this part of the struggle, they can lose the war, no matter what happens on the battlefield.

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Maybe Al Gore Is Right

Conservatives like to think of themselves as hard-headed, flinty-eyed realists who draw conclusions based on the way the world actually works, not on the way they would prefer it to work. They deride liberals as sentimentalists who never let facts interfere with their preferred policy prescriptions, whether in favor of the minimum wage or arms control. Yet there are some issues on which conservatives will not let any amount of evidence shake their own faith-based politics. Global warming is a prime example.

Last week the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change released its fourth Summary for Policymakers, a publication representing the consensus view of hundreds of scientists from around the world. The experts found with “very high confidence” (meaning 90 percent certainty) that human activity is responsible for a substantial increase in greenhouse gases, and they warn that if left unchecked, these trends could have catastrophic ecological consequences within our lifetime. Similar reports have been issued by other expert bodies such as the National Academy of Sciences and the American Meteorological Society.

I’ve always been skeptical of global-warming arguments, but as a scientific illiterate, it’s hard for me to argue with the consensus of the scientific community. Many of my fellow conservatives, by contrast, refuse to concede the possibility that Al Gore may be right after all. Check out, among others: George Will, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Senator James Inhofe, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and even Kevin Shapiro in the September 2006 issue of COMMENTARY.

I am sympathetic to some of their arguments, in particular when they point out the problems with the Kyoto Protocol, which mandates major emissions reductions by the U.S. and other rich nations while allowing growing pollution by developing nations such as China and India. In fact, some of the most effective answers to global warming may be politically incorrect—for instance, substituting nuclear energy for oil or coal.

But too many on the Right still refuse to acknowledge the basic reality that the climate is changing in potentially dangerous ways due to human activity, and that we need to reduce carbon emissions to address this looming crisis. Skeptics can always dredge up a rogue scientist or two to buttress their case, just as liberals can always find an economist or two to make the case for raising the minimum wage. But why should a few fringe figures dictate governmental policy?

I would think supporters of the invasion of Iraq would be more sympathetic to arguments for preventative action based on the best available intelligence.

Conservatives like to think of themselves as hard-headed, flinty-eyed realists who draw conclusions based on the way the world actually works, not on the way they would prefer it to work. They deride liberals as sentimentalists who never let facts interfere with their preferred policy prescriptions, whether in favor of the minimum wage or arms control. Yet there are some issues on which conservatives will not let any amount of evidence shake their own faith-based politics. Global warming is a prime example.

Last week the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change released its fourth Summary for Policymakers, a publication representing the consensus view of hundreds of scientists from around the world. The experts found with “very high confidence” (meaning 90 percent certainty) that human activity is responsible for a substantial increase in greenhouse gases, and they warn that if left unchecked, these trends could have catastrophic ecological consequences within our lifetime. Similar reports have been issued by other expert bodies such as the National Academy of Sciences and the American Meteorological Society.

I’ve always been skeptical of global-warming arguments, but as a scientific illiterate, it’s hard for me to argue with the consensus of the scientific community. Many of my fellow conservatives, by contrast, refuse to concede the possibility that Al Gore may be right after all. Check out, among others: George Will, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Senator James Inhofe, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and even Kevin Shapiro in the September 2006 issue of COMMENTARY.

I am sympathetic to some of their arguments, in particular when they point out the problems with the Kyoto Protocol, which mandates major emissions reductions by the U.S. and other rich nations while allowing growing pollution by developing nations such as China and India. In fact, some of the most effective answers to global warming may be politically incorrect—for instance, substituting nuclear energy for oil or coal.

But too many on the Right still refuse to acknowledge the basic reality that the climate is changing in potentially dangerous ways due to human activity, and that we need to reduce carbon emissions to address this looming crisis. Skeptics can always dredge up a rogue scientist or two to buttress their case, just as liberals can always find an economist or two to make the case for raising the minimum wage. But why should a few fringe figures dictate governmental policy?

I would think supporters of the invasion of Iraq would be more sympathetic to arguments for preventative action based on the best available intelligence.

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