Commentary Magazine


Topic: assistant director

The Health-Care Bill: A Millstone Around the President’s Neck

While President Obama’s overall standing with the public is increasing, his standing on health care is not.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll, by a margin of 48-43 percent, the public wants Congress to repeal his health-care overhaul.

According to Quinnipiac’s analysis, the key to the public support for repealing the new health-care law is among independent voters. They want it taken off the books by a margin of 54 percent v. 37 percent. (Republicans favor repeal by a margin of 83 percent vs. 12 percent, while Democrats support the health-care reform 76 percent vs. 16 percent.)

“The Republicans pushing repeal of the health care law have more American people on their side. They may not have the votes in the Senate, but they have many on Main Street,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “While President Obama’s poll rating has improved in recent weeks, the coalition against his health care plan remains and is quite similar to the one that existed when his numbers were at their nadir.”

According to a Resurgent Republic poll, a plurality of registered voters (49 to 44 percent) supports Republican plans to repeal and replace the health-care reform bill, including a majority of independents (54 to 36 percent support). While overall intensity is balanced (37 percent strongly support and 34 percent strongly oppose), independents are more intense in their preference for repeal (39 percent strongly support and 24 percent strongly oppose).

And the most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that public approval of the president’s handling of health care is 43 percent, while the percentage of people who say they trust Obama rather than the Republicans on health care stands at 42 percent — nine points lower than it was only a month ago.

“This is the first Post-ABC poll in which Obama has not led the GOP on health-care reform,” according to the Post story.

What these polls show is that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act remains a political millstone around the neck of Democrats. Republicans are right to push for its repeal, on both substantive and policy grounds. In the unfolding entitlement debate, ObamaCare should be front and center. Conservative lawmakers should make a very simply argument: if President Obama is serious about getting America’s fiscal house in order, he needs to repeal last year’s health-care bill and start over again. It’s a budget buster, as this op-ed makes clear. Until Obama himself admits as much, until he undoes the enormous damage of his own making, his credibility on fiscal matters is shattered beyond repair.

While President Obama’s overall standing with the public is increasing, his standing on health care is not.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll, by a margin of 48-43 percent, the public wants Congress to repeal his health-care overhaul.

According to Quinnipiac’s analysis, the key to the public support for repealing the new health-care law is among independent voters. They want it taken off the books by a margin of 54 percent v. 37 percent. (Republicans favor repeal by a margin of 83 percent vs. 12 percent, while Democrats support the health-care reform 76 percent vs. 16 percent.)

“The Republicans pushing repeal of the health care law have more American people on their side. They may not have the votes in the Senate, but they have many on Main Street,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “While President Obama’s poll rating has improved in recent weeks, the coalition against his health care plan remains and is quite similar to the one that existed when his numbers were at their nadir.”

According to a Resurgent Republic poll, a plurality of registered voters (49 to 44 percent) supports Republican plans to repeal and replace the health-care reform bill, including a majority of independents (54 to 36 percent support). While overall intensity is balanced (37 percent strongly support and 34 percent strongly oppose), independents are more intense in their preference for repeal (39 percent strongly support and 24 percent strongly oppose).

And the most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that public approval of the president’s handling of health care is 43 percent, while the percentage of people who say they trust Obama rather than the Republicans on health care stands at 42 percent — nine points lower than it was only a month ago.

“This is the first Post-ABC poll in which Obama has not led the GOP on health-care reform,” according to the Post story.

What these polls show is that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act remains a political millstone around the neck of Democrats. Republicans are right to push for its repeal, on both substantive and policy grounds. In the unfolding entitlement debate, ObamaCare should be front and center. Conservative lawmakers should make a very simply argument: if President Obama is serious about getting America’s fiscal house in order, he needs to repeal last year’s health-care bill and start over again. It’s a budget buster, as this op-ed makes clear. Until Obama himself admits as much, until he undoes the enormous damage of his own making, his credibility on fiscal matters is shattered beyond repair.

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Needed: Better Dem Salesmen

The latest Quinnipiac poll shows the precarious situation in which Obama now finds himself. His approval is at 44 percent. The poll’s director explains the extent of Obama’s problem:

“President Barack Obama’s job approval is an ominous measure of his problems with American voters,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “He does poorly among whites, older voters, men, political independents and those who earn more than $50,000 a year.”

“We see similar results on whether the country is better off because of the president’s policies, and his handling of the economy. He has lost his majority support in the middle class and that’s why his numbers remain at an all-time low,” Brown added. …  “Americans want both sides to compromise, but they want the president to make concessions more than they do congressional Republicans,” said Brown.

If it’s any consolation to Obama, he’s still a rock star with the voters compared to Nancy Pelosi, who is sporting a 25/55 percent approval-disapproval rating, or Harry Reid, who has the approval rating of only 17 percent of voters. Unfortunately, that’s little comfort to Democrats as a whole, who now are led by figures in whom the American people, at least for now, have lost confidence.

The latest Quinnipiac poll shows the precarious situation in which Obama now finds himself. His approval is at 44 percent. The poll’s director explains the extent of Obama’s problem:

“President Barack Obama’s job approval is an ominous measure of his problems with American voters,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “He does poorly among whites, older voters, men, political independents and those who earn more than $50,000 a year.”

“We see similar results on whether the country is better off because of the president’s policies, and his handling of the economy. He has lost his majority support in the middle class and that’s why his numbers remain at an all-time low,” Brown added. …  “Americans want both sides to compromise, but they want the president to make concessions more than they do congressional Republicans,” said Brown.

If it’s any consolation to Obama, he’s still a rock star with the voters compared to Nancy Pelosi, who is sporting a 25/55 percent approval-disapproval rating, or Harry Reid, who has the approval rating of only 17 percent of voters. Unfortunately, that’s little comfort to Democrats as a whole, who now are led by figures in whom the American people, at least for now, have lost confidence.

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The New Republic’s Keith Olbermann

In a story in the Washington Examiner, Stephen Hess, an expert on the presidency at the Brookings Institution, said Robert Gibbs’ remarks attacking the “professional left” shows how “unprepared” many in the Obama administration were for the rigors of the White House. “A lot of things had come too easy for them — a substantial election victory, and an almost messianic moment with the inauguration,” Hess said. “Governing is hard.”

The governing-is-hard theme is something some of us warned about a long time ago. And charting some of Obama’s early missteps caused commentators on the left, such as the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, enormous irritation. In May 2009 he wrote:

In anticipation of his prophesy coming true, [Wehner’s] blogging for Commentary has become a gleeful chronicle of Obama’s imagined descent into dysfunction and popular repudiation.

Well, now. The “imagined descent” into popular repudiation (and dysfunction, for that matter) is no longer imagined, is it?

Popular repudiation is precisely what Obama and Democrats are experiencing on a scale that is extremely rare — one the may prove to be unprecedented — for a president who has been in office for less than two years.

William Galston, who served in the Clinton administration, has warned his party that it might not only lose the House; its majority in the Senate is endangered, too. And the polarization some of us highlighted early on in Obama’s presidency was in fact on the mark. Chait dismissed the observation at the time, but then came (for Chait) a rather unfortunate Gallup survey released in January 2010, which reported that Barack Obama was the most polarizing first-year president in recorded history.

Now we should keep in mind that Chait is the same individual who, in December 2008, assured his readers that “undiluted liberalism” in the area of health care was hugely popular and that the path to political dominance for Obama and Democrats; and who, in February 2007, wrote that there was “something genuinely bizarre” about those Americans who supported President Bush’s surge strategy in Iraq. “It is not just that they are wrong,” our modern-day Metternich insisted. “It’s that they are completely detached from reality.”

Such detached-from-reality insights continue apace. Earlier this year, for example, Chait wrote:

The perception has formed, perhaps indelibly, that the reason Democrats will get hammered in the 2010 elections is that the party moved too far left in general and tried to reform health care in particular. This perception owes itself, above all, to the habit that political analysts in the media and other outposts of mainstream thought have of ignoring structural factors.

Of course; health-care reform has nothing to do with Obama’s plight or that of the Democratic Party. So sayeth The Great Chait.

Never mind that Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, analyzes the empirical data and declares that “the health overhaul remains a political loser in most of the country.” Or that Democratic pollster Doug Schoen writes that “recent polling shows that the [health care] bill has been a disaster for the party. … There may well be no single initiative as unpopular as the administration’s health care reform bill.” Or that Charlie Cook, who specializes in election forecasts and political trends, declared earlier this year that from a political perspective, pushing health care was a “colossal miscalculation.” Yet Chait – who doesn’t specialize in election forecasts or political trends – knows better.

And what should we make of the fact that by nearly a 3-to-1 margin, voters in Missouri voters rejected a key provision of President Obama’s health-care law? Easy. “Missouri is not a ‘bellwether’ state right now,” Chait cheerfully informs us. Missouri, you see, has suddenly become Utah. And the individual mandate never was popular, don’t you know?

Chait has been reduced to arguing (ad nauseam) that Obama’s unpopularity has virtually nothing to do with Obama’s policies or his liberal ideology; it has to do with the very bad economy and those darn “structural factors.” Barack Obama is a fantastic president, you see; it’s just too bad the conditions in the country are miserable.

Jonathan has become something of an amusing read. It is not simply watching him try to twist reality to fit his ideological presuppositions, which is amusing enough; it is the whole packaged deal – the adolescent rage, exemplified in his “I hate Bush” rant, the playground taunts, the pretense of governing and policy expertise.

And there is the matter of Chait’s slightly peculiar personal obsessions. For example, he admits that one of his “guilty pleasures” is a “morbid fascination” with me and that one of his “shameful hobbies” is watching the “almost sensual pleasure” taken by me at the coming November elections – with the latter written under the headline “Wehner Throbs with Anticipation.” Now this doesn’t particularly bother me, but perhaps it should bother Mrs. Chait.

The New Republic was once the professional home to some of the nation’s preeminent intellectuals, public figures, and journalists. Today it provides a perch to Jonathan Chait, TNR’s version of Keith Olbermann

In a story in the Washington Examiner, Stephen Hess, an expert on the presidency at the Brookings Institution, said Robert Gibbs’ remarks attacking the “professional left” shows how “unprepared” many in the Obama administration were for the rigors of the White House. “A lot of things had come too easy for them — a substantial election victory, and an almost messianic moment with the inauguration,” Hess said. “Governing is hard.”

The governing-is-hard theme is something some of us warned about a long time ago. And charting some of Obama’s early missteps caused commentators on the left, such as the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, enormous irritation. In May 2009 he wrote:

In anticipation of his prophesy coming true, [Wehner’s] blogging for Commentary has become a gleeful chronicle of Obama’s imagined descent into dysfunction and popular repudiation.

Well, now. The “imagined descent” into popular repudiation (and dysfunction, for that matter) is no longer imagined, is it?

Popular repudiation is precisely what Obama and Democrats are experiencing on a scale that is extremely rare — one the may prove to be unprecedented — for a president who has been in office for less than two years.

William Galston, who served in the Clinton administration, has warned his party that it might not only lose the House; its majority in the Senate is endangered, too. And the polarization some of us highlighted early on in Obama’s presidency was in fact on the mark. Chait dismissed the observation at the time, but then came (for Chait) a rather unfortunate Gallup survey released in January 2010, which reported that Barack Obama was the most polarizing first-year president in recorded history.

Now we should keep in mind that Chait is the same individual who, in December 2008, assured his readers that “undiluted liberalism” in the area of health care was hugely popular and that the path to political dominance for Obama and Democrats; and who, in February 2007, wrote that there was “something genuinely bizarre” about those Americans who supported President Bush’s surge strategy in Iraq. “It is not just that they are wrong,” our modern-day Metternich insisted. “It’s that they are completely detached from reality.”

Such detached-from-reality insights continue apace. Earlier this year, for example, Chait wrote:

The perception has formed, perhaps indelibly, that the reason Democrats will get hammered in the 2010 elections is that the party moved too far left in general and tried to reform health care in particular. This perception owes itself, above all, to the habit that political analysts in the media and other outposts of mainstream thought have of ignoring structural factors.

Of course; health-care reform has nothing to do with Obama’s plight or that of the Democratic Party. So sayeth The Great Chait.

Never mind that Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, analyzes the empirical data and declares that “the health overhaul remains a political loser in most of the country.” Or that Democratic pollster Doug Schoen writes that “recent polling shows that the [health care] bill has been a disaster for the party. … There may well be no single initiative as unpopular as the administration’s health care reform bill.” Or that Charlie Cook, who specializes in election forecasts and political trends, declared earlier this year that from a political perspective, pushing health care was a “colossal miscalculation.” Yet Chait – who doesn’t specialize in election forecasts or political trends – knows better.

And what should we make of the fact that by nearly a 3-to-1 margin, voters in Missouri voters rejected a key provision of President Obama’s health-care law? Easy. “Missouri is not a ‘bellwether’ state right now,” Chait cheerfully informs us. Missouri, you see, has suddenly become Utah. And the individual mandate never was popular, don’t you know?

Chait has been reduced to arguing (ad nauseam) that Obama’s unpopularity has virtually nothing to do with Obama’s policies or his liberal ideology; it has to do with the very bad economy and those darn “structural factors.” Barack Obama is a fantastic president, you see; it’s just too bad the conditions in the country are miserable.

Jonathan has become something of an amusing read. It is not simply watching him try to twist reality to fit his ideological presuppositions, which is amusing enough; it is the whole packaged deal – the adolescent rage, exemplified in his “I hate Bush” rant, the playground taunts, the pretense of governing and policy expertise.

And there is the matter of Chait’s slightly peculiar personal obsessions. For example, he admits that one of his “guilty pleasures” is a “morbid fascination” with me and that one of his “shameful hobbies” is watching the “almost sensual pleasure” taken by me at the coming November elections – with the latter written under the headline “Wehner Throbs with Anticipation.” Now this doesn’t particularly bother me, but perhaps it should bother Mrs. Chait.

The New Republic was once the professional home to some of the nation’s preeminent intellectuals, public figures, and journalists. Today it provides a perch to Jonathan Chait, TNR’s version of Keith Olbermann

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They Don’t Have George W. Bush to Kick Around Anymore

To a greater extent than any administration that preceded it, the Obama team has obsessively blamed its predecessor for everything and anything. The public, however, has not been distracted. Americans have a president, only one, who is responsible for domestic and foreign policy. Regardless of whether they consider George W. Bush at fault for some of our current ills, they are no less annoyed with Obama’s performance. (Similarly, blaming BP for the Gulf oil spill hasn’t gotten Obama a free pass from the voters. They can be mad at both.)

Recent polling shows that there is no mileage left in the “Bush did it” strategy:

New polling shows that Bush’s standing among the electorate remains weak, and that voters for the most part still fault him for the nation’s ailing economy. But as President Obama’s popularity has stagnated, Democratic strategists say that drawing simple comparisons between the two leaders is not a surefire strategy to move voters their way.

Our current data brings into question the notion that you can run against Bush and win,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Obviously Bush is not popular. The question is: Does it help Obama to run against the past in debating the future?”

The answer seems to be no. For one thing, Bush isn’t that much less popular than Obama:

A survey from Gallup released last week found that Bush’s personal favorability rating had increased 10 points since the last such poll in 2009. At 45%, it was just 7 points behind Obama’s, bringing into question whether attacking the Bush legacy would be very effective.

Moreover, with each passing month, Obama’s policies — from Israel to relations with allies to national security to taxes — compare unfavorably to Bush’s. If you take away the names and ask: “Close or keep open Gitmo?” or “Embrace or put daylight between the U.S. and Israel?” or “Raise or cut taxes?” the public doesn’t favor the policies of Obama. And by a wide margin:

A recent survey from Benenson Strategy Group, which has polled for the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee, specifically tested the potency of the Bush message. When asked to choose between a candidate who would support the Obama economic policies or one who “will start from scratch with new ideas to shrink government, cut taxes and grow the economy,” respondents preferred the latter by more than a 2-1 ratio.

It was, from the get-go, unseemly for Obama to blame his predecessor whenever his own policies didn’t turn out as advertised. (Maybe that is why no previous president resorted to this tactic for over a year into his term.) Now that it also has proven to be an ineffective tactic, we can only hope that Obama finally will stop employing it.

One final note: many conservatives have been miffed by Bush’s silence since he left office and by his steadfast refusal to defend his own record and that of those who worked long and hard for him. But perhaps there was great wisdom in that. The public needed time and distance to reacquaint themselves with Bush’s many positive attributes and accomplishments. (And Dick Cheney more than picked up the slack.) With the foil of the not-Bush president — one lacking in warmth for his fellow citizens, loyalty to allies, and magnanimity to foes —  the public has, in fact, grown fonder of Bush, the 43th president.

That is altogether fitting and deserved for a president who endured endless attacks and who was willing to sacrifice popularity for victory in war. It should also give some encouragement to those intrigued by the prospect of Bush the 45th president (Jeb). Maybe the Bush name isn’t so much of a liability after all.

To a greater extent than any administration that preceded it, the Obama team has obsessively blamed its predecessor for everything and anything. The public, however, has not been distracted. Americans have a president, only one, who is responsible for domestic and foreign policy. Regardless of whether they consider George W. Bush at fault for some of our current ills, they are no less annoyed with Obama’s performance. (Similarly, blaming BP for the Gulf oil spill hasn’t gotten Obama a free pass from the voters. They can be mad at both.)

Recent polling shows that there is no mileage left in the “Bush did it” strategy:

New polling shows that Bush’s standing among the electorate remains weak, and that voters for the most part still fault him for the nation’s ailing economy. But as President Obama’s popularity has stagnated, Democratic strategists say that drawing simple comparisons between the two leaders is not a surefire strategy to move voters their way.

Our current data brings into question the notion that you can run against Bush and win,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Obviously Bush is not popular. The question is: Does it help Obama to run against the past in debating the future?”

The answer seems to be no. For one thing, Bush isn’t that much less popular than Obama:

A survey from Gallup released last week found that Bush’s personal favorability rating had increased 10 points since the last such poll in 2009. At 45%, it was just 7 points behind Obama’s, bringing into question whether attacking the Bush legacy would be very effective.

Moreover, with each passing month, Obama’s policies — from Israel to relations with allies to national security to taxes — compare unfavorably to Bush’s. If you take away the names and ask: “Close or keep open Gitmo?” or “Embrace or put daylight between the U.S. and Israel?” or “Raise or cut taxes?” the public doesn’t favor the policies of Obama. And by a wide margin:

A recent survey from Benenson Strategy Group, which has polled for the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee, specifically tested the potency of the Bush message. When asked to choose between a candidate who would support the Obama economic policies or one who “will start from scratch with new ideas to shrink government, cut taxes and grow the economy,” respondents preferred the latter by more than a 2-1 ratio.

It was, from the get-go, unseemly for Obama to blame his predecessor whenever his own policies didn’t turn out as advertised. (Maybe that is why no previous president resorted to this tactic for over a year into his term.) Now that it also has proven to be an ineffective tactic, we can only hope that Obama finally will stop employing it.

One final note: many conservatives have been miffed by Bush’s silence since he left office and by his steadfast refusal to defend his own record and that of those who worked long and hard for him. But perhaps there was great wisdom in that. The public needed time and distance to reacquaint themselves with Bush’s many positive attributes and accomplishments. (And Dick Cheney more than picked up the slack.) With the foil of the not-Bush president — one lacking in warmth for his fellow citizens, loyalty to allies, and magnanimity to foes —  the public has, in fact, grown fonder of Bush, the 43th president.

That is altogether fitting and deserved for a president who endured endless attacks and who was willing to sacrifice popularity for victory in war. It should also give some encouragement to those intrigued by the prospect of Bush the 45th president (Jeb). Maybe the Bush name isn’t so much of a liability after all.

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Who Likes Obama and Who Doesn’t?

The new Quinnipiac poll has many interesting nuggets of information. We learn:

President Barack Obama’s job approval, which bounced slightly to a 45 – 46 percent split March 25 in the wake of his health care victory, has flattened out at 44 – 46 percent, his lowest approval rating since his inauguration, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. … “President Barack Obama’s approval rating hovers at an all-time low. The White House had predicted passage of the health care overhaul would boost his fortunes, but that has not been the case, and that legislation itself remains decidedly unpopular,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. Voters disapprove 55 – 40 percent of the way Obama is handling the economy and disapprove 55 – 40 percent of the way he is handling health care. By a narrow 42 – 39 percent margin voters trust Obama, rather than congressional Republicans to handle health care. But they disapprove 53 – 39 percent of the federal health care overhaul that he recently signed into law.

Even more interesting is the breakdown along racial and religious lines. Obama is down to 35 percent approval among whites, while African Americans remain his most loyal supporters, with a 92 percent approval. Among religious groups — yes, you know where this is going — Jews are his most devoted followers, with 59 percent approval, far ahead of Evangelicals (20 percent approval), other Protestants (27 percent), and Catholics (35 percent).

Obama’s broad-based ideological coalition has fractured. Among liberals, 77 percent approve of his performance (accounting, no doubt, for high approval among Jews and African Americans, who are more liberal than the population as a whole), while 54 percent of moderates and only 38 percent of independents, 10 percent of Tea Partiers, and 11 percent of Republicans approve of his job performance.

Obama has essentially lost the carefully assembled, broad-based majority that elected him. He is now kept from drifting into George W. Bush–like polling by the loyalty of devoted African Americans, Jews, and liberals. It’s not a winning model for re-election, but then he hasn’t governed in a way to maintain a majority of support from Americans.

The new Quinnipiac poll has many interesting nuggets of information. We learn:

President Barack Obama’s job approval, which bounced slightly to a 45 – 46 percent split March 25 in the wake of his health care victory, has flattened out at 44 – 46 percent, his lowest approval rating since his inauguration, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. … “President Barack Obama’s approval rating hovers at an all-time low. The White House had predicted passage of the health care overhaul would boost his fortunes, but that has not been the case, and that legislation itself remains decidedly unpopular,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. Voters disapprove 55 – 40 percent of the way Obama is handling the economy and disapprove 55 – 40 percent of the way he is handling health care. By a narrow 42 – 39 percent margin voters trust Obama, rather than congressional Republicans to handle health care. But they disapprove 53 – 39 percent of the federal health care overhaul that he recently signed into law.

Even more interesting is the breakdown along racial and religious lines. Obama is down to 35 percent approval among whites, while African Americans remain his most loyal supporters, with a 92 percent approval. Among religious groups — yes, you know where this is going — Jews are his most devoted followers, with 59 percent approval, far ahead of Evangelicals (20 percent approval), other Protestants (27 percent), and Catholics (35 percent).

Obama’s broad-based ideological coalition has fractured. Among liberals, 77 percent approve of his performance (accounting, no doubt, for high approval among Jews and African Americans, who are more liberal than the population as a whole), while 54 percent of moderates and only 38 percent of independents, 10 percent of Tea Partiers, and 11 percent of Republicans approve of his job performance.

Obama has essentially lost the carefully assembled, broad-based majority that elected him. He is now kept from drifting into George W. Bush–like polling by the loyalty of devoted African Americans, Jews, and liberals. It’s not a winning model for re-election, but then he hasn’t governed in a way to maintain a majority of support from Americans.

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The CIA’s Grand Champion

 From 2002-05, Mark M. Lowenthal was an assistant director of the CIA and vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council. He has written one of the more useful books by an intelligence official: Intelligence: From Secrets To Policy. An even more significant accomplishment to my mind — one that offers outside validation of his smarts — is having become a “Grand Champion” on Jeopardy in 1988.

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Lowenthal candidly admitted that the “U.S. intelligence community has failed” both as “a public institution and as a profession.” But the failure, in his eyes, does not reside in either inability to intercept the 9/11 plot or the erroneous assessment of Iraq weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

September 11, Lowenthal argues, was not something that could have been forestalled by intelligence:

No one has yet revealed the one or two or 10 things that, had they been done differently, might have prevented the attacks. In my view, and in the view of many of my colleagues, even the missed “operational opportunities” identified by the 9/11 Commission would have done little more than force al-Qaeda to send different terrorists into the United States, especially considering the legal rules in play at the time. Even if every “dot” had been connected, they would not have led to the tactical intelligence needed to stop those four planes on that Tuesday morning.

I am not fully persuaded, but, for the sake of argument, let’s grant Lowenthal the point. He makes a similar observation about the botched 2003 WMD National Intelligence Estimate. Even if the tradecraft in producing that NIE had not been so shoddy, the result, he contends, might well have been the same:

it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to envision an NIE based on good intelligence that would have come up with the correct answer. The best my fellow analysts could have done, I think, would have been to offer three analytical options: Saddam Hussein has WMD; he does not have WMD; or we simply do not know. And of course, given his track record of gassing Kurds, attacking neighbors and resisting U.N. weapons inspections, the most likely of the three still would have been that he had WMD. But analytical responses that cover the waterfront of possibilities are not seen as very useful to policymakers, for obvious reasons. Moreover, even if we had concluded that we just didn’t know what Iraq had, Bush would have probably favored going to war anyway, and Congress would have gone along, largely out of political expediency.

This is more persuasive. But if these two alleged failures were not really failures at all, why then is Lowenthal so down on U.S. intelligence? His answer:

We failed because we have not explained ourselves adequately and comprehensibly to the public — describing our role, the limits within which we work and our view of what can be reasonably expected from us. We have failed because we have allowed ourselves to be caricatured, vilified and misrepresented by people who do not know us, do not like us and do not understand us — or simply see us as convenient fall guys.

This is preposterous. Lowenthal is undoubtedly right that the public is ill informed about what can reasonably be expected from intelligence in view of the insuperable challenges it continually faces. I have made a similar observation in The CIA Follies (Cont’d.) in COMMENTARY. But the idea that intelligence officials have allowed themselves “to be caricatured, vilified and misrepresented by people who do not know us, do not like us and do not understand us — or simply see us as convenient fall guys” does not hold up.

I would point Lowenthal to the 2005 declassified summary of the Inspector General’s report on the CIA’s counterterrorism branch,  including its al-Qaeda unit run by Michael Scheuer. Perhaps the CIA could not have stopped the 9/11 plot no matter what it did. But the managerial and analytical ineptitude on display in that critical unit is staggering.  

I would point him to the decision to put Richard Immerman, an anti-war activist professor, in charge of analytical standards and integrity in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

I would point him to the tendentious declassified summary of the December 2007 NIE on Iran.

I would point him to the endless leaks from the intelligence community designed to undercut the policies of the administration it is tasked with serving. The intelligence community has not been vilified; rather, elements in it have been villainous and the entire operation has been paying the price. One doesn’t need to be a Jeopardy grand champion to understand that.

 From 2002-05, Mark M. Lowenthal was an assistant director of the CIA and vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council. He has written one of the more useful books by an intelligence official: Intelligence: From Secrets To Policy. An even more significant accomplishment to my mind — one that offers outside validation of his smarts — is having become a “Grand Champion” on Jeopardy in 1988.

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Lowenthal candidly admitted that the “U.S. intelligence community has failed” both as “a public institution and as a profession.” But the failure, in his eyes, does not reside in either inability to intercept the 9/11 plot or the erroneous assessment of Iraq weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

September 11, Lowenthal argues, was not something that could have been forestalled by intelligence:

No one has yet revealed the one or two or 10 things that, had they been done differently, might have prevented the attacks. In my view, and in the view of many of my colleagues, even the missed “operational opportunities” identified by the 9/11 Commission would have done little more than force al-Qaeda to send different terrorists into the United States, especially considering the legal rules in play at the time. Even if every “dot” had been connected, they would not have led to the tactical intelligence needed to stop those four planes on that Tuesday morning.

I am not fully persuaded, but, for the sake of argument, let’s grant Lowenthal the point. He makes a similar observation about the botched 2003 WMD National Intelligence Estimate. Even if the tradecraft in producing that NIE had not been so shoddy, the result, he contends, might well have been the same:

it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to envision an NIE based on good intelligence that would have come up with the correct answer. The best my fellow analysts could have done, I think, would have been to offer three analytical options: Saddam Hussein has WMD; he does not have WMD; or we simply do not know. And of course, given his track record of gassing Kurds, attacking neighbors and resisting U.N. weapons inspections, the most likely of the three still would have been that he had WMD. But analytical responses that cover the waterfront of possibilities are not seen as very useful to policymakers, for obvious reasons. Moreover, even if we had concluded that we just didn’t know what Iraq had, Bush would have probably favored going to war anyway, and Congress would have gone along, largely out of political expediency.

This is more persuasive. But if these two alleged failures were not really failures at all, why then is Lowenthal so down on U.S. intelligence? His answer:

We failed because we have not explained ourselves adequately and comprehensibly to the public — describing our role, the limits within which we work and our view of what can be reasonably expected from us. We have failed because we have allowed ourselves to be caricatured, vilified and misrepresented by people who do not know us, do not like us and do not understand us — or simply see us as convenient fall guys.

This is preposterous. Lowenthal is undoubtedly right that the public is ill informed about what can reasonably be expected from intelligence in view of the insuperable challenges it continually faces. I have made a similar observation in The CIA Follies (Cont’d.) in COMMENTARY. But the idea that intelligence officials have allowed themselves “to be caricatured, vilified and misrepresented by people who do not know us, do not like us and do not understand us — or simply see us as convenient fall guys” does not hold up.

I would point Lowenthal to the 2005 declassified summary of the Inspector General’s report on the CIA’s counterterrorism branch,  including its al-Qaeda unit run by Michael Scheuer. Perhaps the CIA could not have stopped the 9/11 plot no matter what it did. But the managerial and analytical ineptitude on display in that critical unit is staggering.  

I would point him to the decision to put Richard Immerman, an anti-war activist professor, in charge of analytical standards and integrity in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

I would point him to the tendentious declassified summary of the December 2007 NIE on Iran.

I would point him to the endless leaks from the intelligence community designed to undercut the policies of the administration it is tasked with serving. The intelligence community has not been vilified; rather, elements in it have been villainous and the entire operation has been paying the price. One doesn’t need to be a Jeopardy grand champion to understand that.

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