Commentary Magazine


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Speaking of Retirements . . .

With more and more senators and congressmen heading for the exits, it’s a good question how this will affect two other possible retirements from the Washington stage: those of Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Stevens will soon be 90 and has not hired his usual quota of clerks for next year — traditionally a sign of impending retirement. Justice Ginsburg (who will be 77 next month) has not been in good health in recent years, having had two bouts with cancer.

But if they retire at the close of the current term, in late June, will President Obama be able to get his nominees to replace them through the Senate before the election in November? If present trends continue (they usually don’t, of course), that’s unlikely.  The more probable a Republican landslide in  November comes to seem, the more probable is a Republican filibuster to prevent liberal replacements for these liberal justices.

In 1968, lame duck Lyndon Johnson tried to get his buddy Justice Abe Fortas raised to the chief justiceship upon Earl Warren’s retirement. Although Republicans were in the minority, they and their Dixiecrat allies were able to block Fortas. And Warren stayed on as chief justice, as it appeared that, with a likely impending Republican victory in November, no Johnson nominee could be confirmed. The following year, President Nixon nominated the lackluster Warren Burger to replace Warren as chief justice and, when Fortas had to resign in a scandal, ended up nominating Harold Blackmun (author of Roe v. Wade) as his replacement after two failed attempts to nominate Southerners.

If there is a Republican Senate majority next year, President Obama would have no choice but to nominate moderates in order to get them confirmed. Wouldn’t it be a delicious irony if President Obama’s picks had the effect of moving the Court to the right, however incrementally?

With more and more senators and congressmen heading for the exits, it’s a good question how this will affect two other possible retirements from the Washington stage: those of Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Stevens will soon be 90 and has not hired his usual quota of clerks for next year — traditionally a sign of impending retirement. Justice Ginsburg (who will be 77 next month) has not been in good health in recent years, having had two bouts with cancer.

But if they retire at the close of the current term, in late June, will President Obama be able to get his nominees to replace them through the Senate before the election in November? If present trends continue (they usually don’t, of course), that’s unlikely.  The more probable a Republican landslide in  November comes to seem, the more probable is a Republican filibuster to prevent liberal replacements for these liberal justices.

In 1968, lame duck Lyndon Johnson tried to get his buddy Justice Abe Fortas raised to the chief justiceship upon Earl Warren’s retirement. Although Republicans were in the minority, they and their Dixiecrat allies were able to block Fortas. And Warren stayed on as chief justice, as it appeared that, with a likely impending Republican victory in November, no Johnson nominee could be confirmed. The following year, President Nixon nominated the lackluster Warren Burger to replace Warren as chief justice and, when Fortas had to resign in a scandal, ended up nominating Harold Blackmun (author of Roe v. Wade) as his replacement after two failed attempts to nominate Southerners.

If there is a Republican Senate majority next year, President Obama would have no choice but to nominate moderates in order to get them confirmed. Wouldn’t it be a delicious irony if President Obama’s picks had the effect of moving the Court to the right, however incrementally?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

If you thought Obama was talking “We are the World” gibberish again to the “Muslim World,” you were right. He sort of seemed to be saying (if you get the plain English translation): “We’ll pull out of Iraq, soon and responsibly (is there any other way?); also, we’ll close our eyes and click our heels together three times and wish upon a star over and over again until Israelis and Palestinians reach Peace; in return you, in Afghanistan and beyond, will become modern, woman-respecting democrats because of our forged partnerships (and a few troops? Oh, never mind them!).” Read the whole thing, as they say.

Mickey Kaus reads the typically aggressive and hyper-partisan Obami’s invitation to Republicans to the health-care summit and finds: “Unsubtle subtext: We like our bill and the purpose of this meeting is to set things up so it can pass. … But what if, as a Republican, you don’t think we are ‘the closest … to resolving this issue in … nearly 100 years’? Maybe you don’t think the bill will resolve the issue at all! (I disagree, but I’m not a Republican.) … Even if Obama’s only trying to appear bipartisan, his aides are doing a mighty poor job of conveying that impression.”

Even Dana Milbank can figure out that the Washington blizzards were “an inconvenient meteorological phenomenon for Al Gore.” He writes: “In Washington’s blizzards, the greens were hoisted by their own petard. For years, climate-change activists have argued by anecdote to make their case. Gore, in his famous slide shows, ties human-caused global warming to increasing hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, drought, and the spread of mosquitoes, pine beetles, and disease.” He even concedes, “The scientific case has been further undermined by high-profile screw-ups. First there were the hacked e-mails of a British research center that suggested the scientists were stacking the deck to overstate the threat. Now comes word of numerous errors in a 2007 report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including the bogus claim that the Himalayan glaciers would disappear in 25 years.” Maybe Al Gore should give back the Oscar.

I suppose it’s not news when Harry Reid screws up a potential bipartisan deal and blindsides the White House. But, on his sinking down the bipartisan Senate bill, even the New York Times acknowledges that “it was a telling glimpse into the state of mind of rattled Senate Democrats.” And another reason why Reid’s defeat might be a very welcome development by his party.

There is an alternative to civilian trials for terrorists. And it’s legal and everything: “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) repeated his call Saturday for the Obama administration to try suspected terrorists in military tribunals. A former military lawyer himself, Graham said the tribunal system was well-equipped to handle delicate terrorism cases. . . . Graham was a main author of the Military Commission Act of 2009, which modified the tribunal system to align with a Supreme Court ruling.” Funny how none of the Obama spinners defending their handling of terrorist even mention the 2009 statute.

Politico asks “Why Cheney attacks?” The insiderish Beltway outlet can’t really be that dense, right? For starters, Cheney has been right and is in sync with the American people. And then the former VP does manage to get under the skin of the Obami and send them scrambling. (Politico might want to cut out the Stephen Walt and Keith Olbermann quotes — jeez – as well as the Beagle Blogger psychobabble if it wants to be taken seriously on these sorts of stories.)

Gov. Chris Christie earns plaudits: “As politicians spend America into the fiscal abyss, Republican Gov. Chris Christie has a novel idea: Freeze spending. For such statesmanship, watch him be demonized like no one before. . . New Jersey’s new governor, the successor of so many corrupt chief executives, is taking action that will make him, like Reagan, the focus of pure hate from those who think what taxpayers earn is Monopoly money to be treated according to the whims and desires of politicians, bureaucrats, union bosses and other power players.”

Not everyone (anyone?) is buying the itsy-bitsy-sanctions approach. (“Sanctions on the accounts of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in WESTERN banks?”) Amitai Etzioni writes: ” You can fool some people some of the time, but the Obama Administration credibility is melting faster than the snow in Washington.”

If you thought Obama was talking “We are the World” gibberish again to the “Muslim World,” you were right. He sort of seemed to be saying (if you get the plain English translation): “We’ll pull out of Iraq, soon and responsibly (is there any other way?); also, we’ll close our eyes and click our heels together three times and wish upon a star over and over again until Israelis and Palestinians reach Peace; in return you, in Afghanistan and beyond, will become modern, woman-respecting democrats because of our forged partnerships (and a few troops? Oh, never mind them!).” Read the whole thing, as they say.

Mickey Kaus reads the typically aggressive and hyper-partisan Obami’s invitation to Republicans to the health-care summit and finds: “Unsubtle subtext: We like our bill and the purpose of this meeting is to set things up so it can pass. … But what if, as a Republican, you don’t think we are ‘the closest … to resolving this issue in … nearly 100 years’? Maybe you don’t think the bill will resolve the issue at all! (I disagree, but I’m not a Republican.) … Even if Obama’s only trying to appear bipartisan, his aides are doing a mighty poor job of conveying that impression.”

Even Dana Milbank can figure out that the Washington blizzards were “an inconvenient meteorological phenomenon for Al Gore.” He writes: “In Washington’s blizzards, the greens were hoisted by their own petard. For years, climate-change activists have argued by anecdote to make their case. Gore, in his famous slide shows, ties human-caused global warming to increasing hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, drought, and the spread of mosquitoes, pine beetles, and disease.” He even concedes, “The scientific case has been further undermined by high-profile screw-ups. First there were the hacked e-mails of a British research center that suggested the scientists were stacking the deck to overstate the threat. Now comes word of numerous errors in a 2007 report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including the bogus claim that the Himalayan glaciers would disappear in 25 years.” Maybe Al Gore should give back the Oscar.

I suppose it’s not news when Harry Reid screws up a potential bipartisan deal and blindsides the White House. But, on his sinking down the bipartisan Senate bill, even the New York Times acknowledges that “it was a telling glimpse into the state of mind of rattled Senate Democrats.” And another reason why Reid’s defeat might be a very welcome development by his party.

There is an alternative to civilian trials for terrorists. And it’s legal and everything: “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) repeated his call Saturday for the Obama administration to try suspected terrorists in military tribunals. A former military lawyer himself, Graham said the tribunal system was well-equipped to handle delicate terrorism cases. . . . Graham was a main author of the Military Commission Act of 2009, which modified the tribunal system to align with a Supreme Court ruling.” Funny how none of the Obama spinners defending their handling of terrorist even mention the 2009 statute.

Politico asks “Why Cheney attacks?” The insiderish Beltway outlet can’t really be that dense, right? For starters, Cheney has been right and is in sync with the American people. And then the former VP does manage to get under the skin of the Obami and send them scrambling. (Politico might want to cut out the Stephen Walt and Keith Olbermann quotes — jeez – as well as the Beagle Blogger psychobabble if it wants to be taken seriously on these sorts of stories.)

Gov. Chris Christie earns plaudits: “As politicians spend America into the fiscal abyss, Republican Gov. Chris Christie has a novel idea: Freeze spending. For such statesmanship, watch him be demonized like no one before. . . New Jersey’s new governor, the successor of so many corrupt chief executives, is taking action that will make him, like Reagan, the focus of pure hate from those who think what taxpayers earn is Monopoly money to be treated according to the whims and desires of politicians, bureaucrats, union bosses and other power players.”

Not everyone (anyone?) is buying the itsy-bitsy-sanctions approach. (“Sanctions on the accounts of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in WESTERN banks?”) Amitai Etzioni writes: ” You can fool some people some of the time, but the Obama Administration credibility is melting faster than the snow in Washington.”

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You Have to Perform

After the election you have to govern. That is an opportunity for some and the undoing of others. Recall Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. He won the governorship of a key swing state, was on the short list for Obama’s VP, accomplished virtually nothing as governor, presided as head of the DNC over a disastrous run of high-profile Democratic losses, and is now everyone’s favorite whipping boy. What ever happened to Tim Kaine? Well, he couldn’t do his job well. So he ends, at least for now, a promising political career.

Last year, Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell won high-profile gubernatorial races. McDonnell is sticking to his no-tax pledge and has unveiled an impressive charter-school program. He’s setting out to do precisely what he said he would, including selling off state-owned liquor stores. He seems serious about governance. If he is, he’ll avoid his predecessor’s fate.

Then there is Chris Christie. He’s also doing what he promised. He appointed a school-choice advocate to the howls of the teachers’ union. And he has announced a real spending freeze:

Announcing the freeze on $1.6 billion of unspent money, Mr. Christie was blunt: “Today, we come to terms with the fact that we cannot spend money on everything we want. Today, the days of Alice in Wonderland budgeting in Trenton end.”

That seems like a better idea than hiking taxes, if the aim here is to fix the gaping hole in the state budget. The liberal tax-and-spend policies of his predecessors have been stark and debilitating for his state:

From 2004-2008, author John Havens found “a large decline in the number of wealthy households entering New Jersey” as well as “a moderate increase in the outflow of wealthy households leaving.” The result: a net decline of $70 billion in household wealth while the “expected giving” became a net outflow of $1.132 billion.

So what happened in 2004? The study doesn’t purport to explain what caused the wealth movements. But the state’s most notable economic policy event that year was an increase in its top income tax rate to 8.97% from 6.37%, on incomes starting at $500,000. That’s a 40% increase.

Christie also seems to be in the “sober about governance” category. The lesson here for politicians of both parties is quite simple: you have to deliver. If McDonnell and Christie make good on their promises and continue their early focus on smart reform, fiscal sobriety, and conservative economic policy, they will become the models for the next generation of conservative governors and presidential hopefuls.

And, yes, that brings us back to Obama. At this point he seems headed for Tim Kaine-like flash-in-the-pan status. All that anticipation and so little ability. So much hype was followed by virtually no interest in doing the job to which he was elected. Challengers have the luxury of convincing voters to take a leap of faith; incumbents must defend what they have done. And if they don’t deliver, no amount of hype and no blame-shifting is going to rescue them. That is why, I suspect, Obama now thinks out loud about a single term. It could not have escaped his notice that he is not remotely pulling a ” B+” in the presidency.

After the election you have to govern. That is an opportunity for some and the undoing of others. Recall Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. He won the governorship of a key swing state, was on the short list for Obama’s VP, accomplished virtually nothing as governor, presided as head of the DNC over a disastrous run of high-profile Democratic losses, and is now everyone’s favorite whipping boy. What ever happened to Tim Kaine? Well, he couldn’t do his job well. So he ends, at least for now, a promising political career.

Last year, Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell won high-profile gubernatorial races. McDonnell is sticking to his no-tax pledge and has unveiled an impressive charter-school program. He’s setting out to do precisely what he said he would, including selling off state-owned liquor stores. He seems serious about governance. If he is, he’ll avoid his predecessor’s fate.

Then there is Chris Christie. He’s also doing what he promised. He appointed a school-choice advocate to the howls of the teachers’ union. And he has announced a real spending freeze:

Announcing the freeze on $1.6 billion of unspent money, Mr. Christie was blunt: “Today, we come to terms with the fact that we cannot spend money on everything we want. Today, the days of Alice in Wonderland budgeting in Trenton end.”

That seems like a better idea than hiking taxes, if the aim here is to fix the gaping hole in the state budget. The liberal tax-and-spend policies of his predecessors have been stark and debilitating for his state:

From 2004-2008, author John Havens found “a large decline in the number of wealthy households entering New Jersey” as well as “a moderate increase in the outflow of wealthy households leaving.” The result: a net decline of $70 billion in household wealth while the “expected giving” became a net outflow of $1.132 billion.

So what happened in 2004? The study doesn’t purport to explain what caused the wealth movements. But the state’s most notable economic policy event that year was an increase in its top income tax rate to 8.97% from 6.37%, on incomes starting at $500,000. That’s a 40% increase.

Christie also seems to be in the “sober about governance” category. The lesson here for politicians of both parties is quite simple: you have to deliver. If McDonnell and Christie make good on their promises and continue their early focus on smart reform, fiscal sobriety, and conservative economic policy, they will become the models for the next generation of conservative governors and presidential hopefuls.

And, yes, that brings us back to Obama. At this point he seems headed for Tim Kaine-like flash-in-the-pan status. All that anticipation and so little ability. So much hype was followed by virtually no interest in doing the job to which he was elected. Challengers have the luxury of convincing voters to take a leap of faith; incumbents must defend what they have done. And if they don’t deliver, no amount of hype and no blame-shifting is going to rescue them. That is why, I suspect, Obama now thinks out loud about a single term. It could not have escaped his notice that he is not remotely pulling a ” B+” in the presidency.

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Israel Lobby Author Compares Pro-Israel Pastor to Hitler

Over at the Foreign Policy magazine website, Harvard professor and Israel Lobby author Stephen Walt weighs in on Germany’s decision to continue to ban the publication of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf even after the Nazi leader’s 70-year copyright expired in 2015. Walt is right when he says that banning the publication of this evil book is pointless and does nothing either to suppress racism in Germany or to promote a proper understanding of the history it evokes.

But that said, there is also something ironic, if not downright creepy about the author of a book that promoted its own dangerous conspiracy theory about Jewish power and sought to demonize American Jews and others who support Israel, pontificating about Hitler’s work.

Granted, The Israel Lobby is not to be compared to Mein Kampf in its intent, vitriol, or historical impact. The former, written by Harvard’s Walt and the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer, is far more sophisticated in its language and purpose than Hitler’s screed. But its agenda, while not as avowedly vicious or murderous as the Nazi book, still sought to single out the advocates of a particular political cause and not only to treat them with opprobrium but also to brand them as working against the national interests of the United States. Of course, The Israel Lobby was widely excoriated not just because of its clearly anti-Zionist bent, but because Walt and Mearsheimer’s error-filled book painted a picture of a pro-Israel conspiracy that was so large it included virtually everyone in the mainstream media and just about the entire political system in this country — except, of course, for anti-Semitic elements of the far Right and far Left. The book tars Jews and a vast number of non-Jewish Americans who back the State of Israel as an alien force subverting United States foreign policy. Which is to say that there is a clear path from its pages to those who espouse more overt forms of Jew hatred and Israel-bashing.

Yet just as egregious as Walt posing as the scholarly arbiter of questions about the publication of hate literature is his notion of contemporary analogies to Mein Kampf. Walt writes: “When you actually look at the book, and read about the history of Nazism, it may be hard to believe that serious people in an advanced society could be persuaded by arguments of this sort. But they were. And while Hitler may be the extreme case, we live in an era where plenty of political (and I regret to say, religious) figures offer all sorts of memoirs and tracts of their own, some of them nearly as bizarre and illogical (if not as murderous) as Hitler’s infamous tome.”

So which religious figure is Walt referring to here? His link is not to the many Muslim religious leaders whose works have inspired not only hatred of Jews, Israel, and the West but also actual attempts at mass murder. It is rather to an American pastor whose primary claim to fame is his support for the State of Israel: Pastor John Hagee.

Hagee’s religious beliefs may seem a bit loopy to non-evangelicals. And he is the sort of fellow who is prone to saying foolish things for which he must apologize. But the main impact of Hagee’s life work has been to try building support for the one democratic state in the Middle East and to fight against those — like Walt — who have aided those who seek to delegitimize both Israel’s existence and its right to self-defense. The idea that this cleric is the best analogy to Hitler in our own day is more than ludicrous. This analogy is quite an insight into the mindset of an academic who, while happily condemning the work of a great anti-Semite and mass murderer of the 20th century, is so full of hate against Israel and the Jews of our own day that he views anyone who supports them as somehow comparable to Hitler.

Walt is right when he writes about Mein Kampf that while the marketplace of ideas in a democracy is not perfect, it is generally competent enough to sort out hate speech from legitimate comment. That is why The Israel Lobby has had little impact on American politics or foreign policy. It is also why his anti-Israel policy prescriptions, though given a bully pulpit by Foreign Policy, will continue to be ignored by the overwhelming bi-partisan pro-Israel consensus in this country.

Over at the Foreign Policy magazine website, Harvard professor and Israel Lobby author Stephen Walt weighs in on Germany’s decision to continue to ban the publication of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf even after the Nazi leader’s 70-year copyright expired in 2015. Walt is right when he says that banning the publication of this evil book is pointless and does nothing either to suppress racism in Germany or to promote a proper understanding of the history it evokes.

But that said, there is also something ironic, if not downright creepy about the author of a book that promoted its own dangerous conspiracy theory about Jewish power and sought to demonize American Jews and others who support Israel, pontificating about Hitler’s work.

Granted, The Israel Lobby is not to be compared to Mein Kampf in its intent, vitriol, or historical impact. The former, written by Harvard’s Walt and the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer, is far more sophisticated in its language and purpose than Hitler’s screed. But its agenda, while not as avowedly vicious or murderous as the Nazi book, still sought to single out the advocates of a particular political cause and not only to treat them with opprobrium but also to brand them as working against the national interests of the United States. Of course, The Israel Lobby was widely excoriated not just because of its clearly anti-Zionist bent, but because Walt and Mearsheimer’s error-filled book painted a picture of a pro-Israel conspiracy that was so large it included virtually everyone in the mainstream media and just about the entire political system in this country — except, of course, for anti-Semitic elements of the far Right and far Left. The book tars Jews and a vast number of non-Jewish Americans who back the State of Israel as an alien force subverting United States foreign policy. Which is to say that there is a clear path from its pages to those who espouse more overt forms of Jew hatred and Israel-bashing.

Yet just as egregious as Walt posing as the scholarly arbiter of questions about the publication of hate literature is his notion of contemporary analogies to Mein Kampf. Walt writes: “When you actually look at the book, and read about the history of Nazism, it may be hard to believe that serious people in an advanced society could be persuaded by arguments of this sort. But they were. And while Hitler may be the extreme case, we live in an era where plenty of political (and I regret to say, religious) figures offer all sorts of memoirs and tracts of their own, some of them nearly as bizarre and illogical (if not as murderous) as Hitler’s infamous tome.”

So which religious figure is Walt referring to here? His link is not to the many Muslim religious leaders whose works have inspired not only hatred of Jews, Israel, and the West but also actual attempts at mass murder. It is rather to an American pastor whose primary claim to fame is his support for the State of Israel: Pastor John Hagee.

Hagee’s religious beliefs may seem a bit loopy to non-evangelicals. And he is the sort of fellow who is prone to saying foolish things for which he must apologize. But the main impact of Hagee’s life work has been to try building support for the one democratic state in the Middle East and to fight against those — like Walt — who have aided those who seek to delegitimize both Israel’s existence and its right to self-defense. The idea that this cleric is the best analogy to Hitler in our own day is more than ludicrous. This analogy is quite an insight into the mindset of an academic who, while happily condemning the work of a great anti-Semite and mass murderer of the 20th century, is so full of hate against Israel and the Jews of our own day that he views anyone who supports them as somehow comparable to Hitler.

Walt is right when he writes about Mein Kampf that while the marketplace of ideas in a democracy is not perfect, it is generally competent enough to sort out hate speech from legitimate comment. That is why The Israel Lobby has had little impact on American politics or foreign policy. It is also why his anti-Israel policy prescriptions, though given a bully pulpit by Foreign Policy, will continue to be ignored by the overwhelming bi-partisan pro-Israel consensus in this country.

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But He Was the Harvard Law Review Editor!

The chattering class was entranced with candidate Barack Obama. So literate. So polished. So cool. We were assured that his lack of executive experience was irrelevant. After all, he ran a campaign. And then there were his years as a community organizer and Harvard Law Review editor, which showed… well… it showed something about his magnificent intellectual skills. But it turns out he lacks some key abilities — executive leadership, decisiveness, deal-making prowess, flexibility, and basic people skills — that are essential to a successful presidency.

This is not simply the conclusion of conservatives. The entire country witnessed his agonizing decision-making process on the Afghanistan war strategy. Now on health-care reform, his own party is frustrated and dismayed with the non-governing president. As this report notes:

President Barack Obama has left Democrats as confused as ever over how the White House plans to deliver a health care reform bill this year, following two weeks of inconsistent statements, negligible hands-on involvement and a sudden shift to a jobs-first message. Democrats on Capitol Hill and beyond say they have no clear understanding of the White House strategy – or even whether there is one – and are growing impatient with Obama’s reluctance to guide them toward a legislative solution.

…And some Democrats feel that every time they look to White House for clarity, they hear something different, as though the strategy is whatever the president or his top advisers said that day.

His floundering is not surprising, considering that Obama never ran a state, a city, or a business, and during his brief time in the U.S. Senate, he was never front-and-center in any significant legislative undertaking. Yes, he’s touted as an author, and he won the presidency (beating two flawed candidates who ran awful campaigns). But it turns out that all this was insufficient preparation to be chief executive and commander in chief.

In 2012, Republicans will look for a standard-bearer to retake the White House. And while a grounding in conservative principles will be essential to winning the nomination, Republican voters might do well to consider what experience and what talents are essential for a successful presidency. They might look for candidates who have done something – other than graduating from Ivy League schools, writing memoirs, and giving frothy speeches. By 2012, the country might be ready for someone who knows how to get something done.

The chattering class was entranced with candidate Barack Obama. So literate. So polished. So cool. We were assured that his lack of executive experience was irrelevant. After all, he ran a campaign. And then there were his years as a community organizer and Harvard Law Review editor, which showed… well… it showed something about his magnificent intellectual skills. But it turns out he lacks some key abilities — executive leadership, decisiveness, deal-making prowess, flexibility, and basic people skills — that are essential to a successful presidency.

This is not simply the conclusion of conservatives. The entire country witnessed his agonizing decision-making process on the Afghanistan war strategy. Now on health-care reform, his own party is frustrated and dismayed with the non-governing president. As this report notes:

President Barack Obama has left Democrats as confused as ever over how the White House plans to deliver a health care reform bill this year, following two weeks of inconsistent statements, negligible hands-on involvement and a sudden shift to a jobs-first message. Democrats on Capitol Hill and beyond say they have no clear understanding of the White House strategy – or even whether there is one – and are growing impatient with Obama’s reluctance to guide them toward a legislative solution.

…And some Democrats feel that every time they look to White House for clarity, they hear something different, as though the strategy is whatever the president or his top advisers said that day.

His floundering is not surprising, considering that Obama never ran a state, a city, or a business, and during his brief time in the U.S. Senate, he was never front-and-center in any significant legislative undertaking. Yes, he’s touted as an author, and he won the presidency (beating two flawed candidates who ran awful campaigns). But it turns out that all this was insufficient preparation to be chief executive and commander in chief.

In 2012, Republicans will look for a standard-bearer to retake the White House. And while a grounding in conservative principles will be essential to winning the nomination, Republican voters might do well to consider what experience and what talents are essential for a successful presidency. They might look for candidates who have done something – other than graduating from Ivy League schools, writing memoirs, and giving frothy speeches. By 2012, the country might be ready for someone who knows how to get something done.

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North Korea’s Dilemma

Uncanny events in North Korea this week hint at the fragility of the regime and the effectiveness of sanctions. Though tough to confirm, it’s being reported that two senior members of the government have been canned, and the DRPK has had to backtrack on some of its pet policies, which were targeted at centralizing the economy and choking the black market.

In November, Pyongyang enacted major economic changes. It cracked down on private markets allowed to operate with very limited freedom since 2002. It restricted imports from China. It revalued the currency, replacing old bank notes with new ones and limiting how much money a normal citizen could swap out, introducing the new currency in a way that flagrantly favored corrupt party members and the elite. That policy alone wiped out the savings of many average North Koreans. Reports suggest the price of rice is now 100 times what it was in October, and starvation deaths are on the rise.

This problem is worsened because aid has been cut off. The South Koreans, led by the formidable Lee Myung-bak, have made aid contingent upon North Korean nuclear concessions. And North Korea lost 500,000 tons of food from the United States last year.

Though it’s tough to say exactly what’s going on in North Korea, the food shortage seems to have elicited popular outrage, becoming a turning point for its citizenry. Veterans from the Korean War staged a protest in Danchon, riots have broken out, and citizens have attacked officials patrolling the markets, according to news reports gathered from defectors, smugglers, South Korean news agencies, and off-the-record comments from Seoul officials. The ruthlessly repressive North Korean government appears to be caught off guard by the uprisings.

Now Pyongyang is yielding slightly. The author of the November policies has been fired, as was the government official responsible for ensuring access to foreign currency for Kim Jong-Il, almost certainly because European Union blacklisting. The North Korean government is likely easing some of the November restrictions.

This isn’t the concession the West has been looking for, by any means. But it’s a good sign. The sanctions, paired with North Korea’s own suicidal policies, are inflicting pain – pain that is evoking reaction from ordinary North Koreans, pain that is forcing Pyongyang to make at least some changes against its will. If Obama and his friends are smart, they’ll acknowledge that their sanctions can put Kim Jung-Il’s government in a corner. One of these punches may just be a deadringer.

Uncanny events in North Korea this week hint at the fragility of the regime and the effectiveness of sanctions. Though tough to confirm, it’s being reported that two senior members of the government have been canned, and the DRPK has had to backtrack on some of its pet policies, which were targeted at centralizing the economy and choking the black market.

In November, Pyongyang enacted major economic changes. It cracked down on private markets allowed to operate with very limited freedom since 2002. It restricted imports from China. It revalued the currency, replacing old bank notes with new ones and limiting how much money a normal citizen could swap out, introducing the new currency in a way that flagrantly favored corrupt party members and the elite. That policy alone wiped out the savings of many average North Koreans. Reports suggest the price of rice is now 100 times what it was in October, and starvation deaths are on the rise.

This problem is worsened because aid has been cut off. The South Koreans, led by the formidable Lee Myung-bak, have made aid contingent upon North Korean nuclear concessions. And North Korea lost 500,000 tons of food from the United States last year.

Though it’s tough to say exactly what’s going on in North Korea, the food shortage seems to have elicited popular outrage, becoming a turning point for its citizenry. Veterans from the Korean War staged a protest in Danchon, riots have broken out, and citizens have attacked officials patrolling the markets, according to news reports gathered from defectors, smugglers, South Korean news agencies, and off-the-record comments from Seoul officials. The ruthlessly repressive North Korean government appears to be caught off guard by the uprisings.

Now Pyongyang is yielding slightly. The author of the November policies has been fired, as was the government official responsible for ensuring access to foreign currency for Kim Jong-Il, almost certainly because European Union blacklisting. The North Korean government is likely easing some of the November restrictions.

This isn’t the concession the West has been looking for, by any means. But it’s a good sign. The sanctions, paired with North Korea’s own suicidal policies, are inflicting pain – pain that is evoking reaction from ordinary North Koreans, pain that is forcing Pyongyang to make at least some changes against its will. If Obama and his friends are smart, they’ll acknowledge that their sanctions can put Kim Jung-Il’s government in a corner. One of these punches may just be a deadringer.

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Threatening Israel Isn’t Enough Anymore

Iran’s tyrant Ali Khamenei posted a comment on his website (yes, even he’s doing it now) predicting the inevitable destruction of Israel, a task he generally delegates to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “Definitely, the day will come when nations of the region will witness the destruction of the Zionist regime,” he wrote. “How soon or late … depends on how Islamic countries and Muslim nations approach the issue.”

Israelis should be pleased to hear they’ll be allowed to exist a bit longer if Saudi Arabia dithers. And Saudi Arabia is going to dither for a long time.

According to the Financial Times, a majority of citizens in 18 Arab countries think Iran is more dangerous than Israel. And according to a report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a substantial number of Saudi citizens are even willing to support military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities.

A third of Saudi respondents say they would approve an American strike, and a fourth say they’d back an Israeli strike. The actual number is almost certainly higher. Supporting Israel is taboo in the Arab world, and that goes double when Israel is at war. This is not the sort of thing most Arabs are comfortable admitting to strangers, yet one-fourth of Saudis just did. Read More

Iran’s tyrant Ali Khamenei posted a comment on his website (yes, even he’s doing it now) predicting the inevitable destruction of Israel, a task he generally delegates to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “Definitely, the day will come when nations of the region will witness the destruction of the Zionist regime,” he wrote. “How soon or late … depends on how Islamic countries and Muslim nations approach the issue.”

Israelis should be pleased to hear they’ll be allowed to exist a bit longer if Saudi Arabia dithers. And Saudi Arabia is going to dither for a long time.

According to the Financial Times, a majority of citizens in 18 Arab countries think Iran is more dangerous than Israel. And according to a report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a substantial number of Saudi citizens are even willing to support military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities.

A third of Saudi respondents say they would approve an American strike, and a fourth say they’d back an Israeli strike. The actual number is almost certainly higher. Supporting Israel is taboo in the Arab world, and that goes double when Israel is at war. This is not the sort of thing most Arabs are comfortable admitting to strangers, yet one-fourth of Saudis just did.

(Intriguingly, a clear majority of Saudis interviewed in the same survey think their own terrorism and religious extremism is more troubling than either Iran or Israel. There may be hope, at least in the long run, for that region yet.)

Iran’s rulers constantly threaten Israel with violence and even destruction because they know the Arabs are against them. They need to change the subject to something they all can agree on. Ever since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in 1979 and voided Iran’s treaty with Israel, regime leaders have believed they’ll meet less resistance while amassing power for themselves in the region by saying, Hey, we’re not after you, we’re after the Jews.

It isn’t enough anymore. Even arming and bankrolling terrorist organizations that fight Israel isn’t enough anymore. Most Arabs simply do not believe Ahmadinejad and Khamenei when they not-so-cryptically suggest that their nuclear weapons will be pointed only at Israel. By a factor of 3-to-1, Saudis believe Iran would use nuclear weapons against either them or another Arab state in the Persian Gulf before using nuclear weapons against Israel.

Most Arabs hate or at the very least have serious problems with Israel, and I expect that will be true for the rest of my life, even if the Arab-Israeli conflict comes to an end. Yet the Middle East is forever interesting and surprising, and “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” even applies to an extent when “the enemy of my enemy” is the “Zionist Entity.”

This was made abundantly clear during the Second Lebanon War, in 2006, when Sunni Arab regimes tacitly took Jerusalem’s side by blaming Hezbollah for starting it and saying nothing, at least initially, about the Israeli response. The war was fought in an Arab country, but it was a proxy war between two non-Arab powers. Lebanon merely provided the battle space.

The Sunni Arab “street,” so to speak, didn’t take Israel’s side. Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah managed to turn himself into a heroic big shot for a while by taking the fight to the enemy, but the most recent victims of Hezbollah’s violence were Sunnis in Beirut in 2008, and no one in the Middle East has forgotten it.

With only a few exceptions, the region has been firmly controlled by Sunni Arab regimes since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, yet none of these governments are strong enough to project power abroad. As author Lee Smith notes, they can’t even defend themselves. A number of analysts have pointed out in the last couple of years that the political agenda in the Arab Middle East is now set by non-Arabs in Jerusalem, Tehran, Washington, and to a lesser extent, Ankara. Syria’s Bashar Assad helps set the regional agenda as the logistics hub in the Iranian-Hezbollah axis, but he’s a non-Muslim Alawite, not a Sunni, and he’s doing it as a mere sidekick of the Persians. If all that weren’t enough, the Sunnis now depend on Israelis to defend them, and they’re not even sure the Israelis will do it.

We’ll know Iran’s power play is actually working if and when Sunni Arab governments issue not just boilerplate denunciations of the “Zionist Entity” but actually join the Iran-led resistance and fight Israel like they used to. In the meantime, they’re falling in behind their enemy, although they dare not admit it to anyone.

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Consensus Forms: Obama’s Terror Approach Is Mindless

Broad-based criticism is mounting in response to the Obami’s unthinking fixation on handling terrorists within the criminal-justice model. National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair got the ball rolling in a testimony concerning the Christmas Day bomber. Stephen Hayes quotes his testimony, in which he acknowledges that no thought was given to designating Abdulmutallab for questioning by the high-value interrogation unit:

Frankly, we were thinking more of overseas people and—duh! [here Blair theatrically slaps palm to forehead]—we didn’t put it [into effect] then. That’s what we will do now. .  .  .I was not consulted; the decision was made on the scene. It seemed logical to the people there, but it should have been taken using this HIG format at a higher level.

Hayes explains: “We had a load of information on Abdulmutallab—his background, his movements, his contacts—that never came into play in the cursory questioning of him. And we missed a chance to get a load of information from him which could have greatly aided efforts to head off future attacks and destroy al Qaeda assets in Yemen and elsewhere.”

He is not alone in his condemnation of the Obami’s approach. The Washington Post editors agree that “the decision to try Mr. Abdulmutallab turns out to have resulted not from a deliberative process but as a knee-jerk default to a crime-and-punishment model. . . The administration claims Mr. Abdulmutallab provided valuable information — and probably exhausted his knowledge of al-Qaeda operations — before he clammed up. This was immediately after he was read his Miranda rights and provided with a court-appointed lawyer. The truth is, we may never know whether the administration made the right call or whether it squandered a valuable opportunity.”

How could this be, you ask? Well, it’s simple. Obama made the call. This is his vision of how we should respond to terrorism. He is the author of the “not Bush” anti-terror approach. He has empowered Eric Holder to wage war on the intelligence community and to put Justice Department lawyers, rather than intelligence officials, in the driver seat. If this seems to have been foolhardy and fraught with peril, it will take bipartisan action to reverse it. Oversight hearings, use of the power of the purse, and ultimately legislation to determine the jurisdiction of the federal course are all within the purview of Congress. As Democratic lawmakers have learned on domestic policy, following Obama’s lead is politically unwise. Perhaps it is time they showed some independence and exercised their own constitutional responsibilities to think through our approach and set a sensible policy for handling terrorists whom we capture. The White House sure isn’t doing so.

Broad-based criticism is mounting in response to the Obami’s unthinking fixation on handling terrorists within the criminal-justice model. National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair got the ball rolling in a testimony concerning the Christmas Day bomber. Stephen Hayes quotes his testimony, in which he acknowledges that no thought was given to designating Abdulmutallab for questioning by the high-value interrogation unit:

Frankly, we were thinking more of overseas people and—duh! [here Blair theatrically slaps palm to forehead]—we didn’t put it [into effect] then. That’s what we will do now. .  .  .I was not consulted; the decision was made on the scene. It seemed logical to the people there, but it should have been taken using this HIG format at a higher level.

Hayes explains: “We had a load of information on Abdulmutallab—his background, his movements, his contacts—that never came into play in the cursory questioning of him. And we missed a chance to get a load of information from him which could have greatly aided efforts to head off future attacks and destroy al Qaeda assets in Yemen and elsewhere.”

He is not alone in his condemnation of the Obami’s approach. The Washington Post editors agree that “the decision to try Mr. Abdulmutallab turns out to have resulted not from a deliberative process but as a knee-jerk default to a crime-and-punishment model. . . The administration claims Mr. Abdulmutallab provided valuable information — and probably exhausted his knowledge of al-Qaeda operations — before he clammed up. This was immediately after he was read his Miranda rights and provided with a court-appointed lawyer. The truth is, we may never know whether the administration made the right call or whether it squandered a valuable opportunity.”

How could this be, you ask? Well, it’s simple. Obama made the call. This is his vision of how we should respond to terrorism. He is the author of the “not Bush” anti-terror approach. He has empowered Eric Holder to wage war on the intelligence community and to put Justice Department lawyers, rather than intelligence officials, in the driver seat. If this seems to have been foolhardy and fraught with peril, it will take bipartisan action to reverse it. Oversight hearings, use of the power of the purse, and ultimately legislation to determine the jurisdiction of the federal course are all within the purview of Congress. As Democratic lawmakers have learned on domestic policy, following Obama’s lead is politically unwise. Perhaps it is time they showed some independence and exercised their own constitutional responsibilities to think through our approach and set a sensible policy for handling terrorists whom we capture. The White House sure isn’t doing so.

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Who First Said That Universalism Was the Parochialism of the Jews?

I need to make a correction to my post about faux Jewish-Arab dialogue from last Friday. In it I quoted the distinguished American literary critic Edward Alexander as the author of the quip that rightly noted, “universalism is the parochialism of the Jews.” The source, or so I thought, for that quote was Alexander’s wonderful 1988 book The Jewish Idea and Its Enemies. However, my memory appears to have betrayed me: a look at the original text revealed that, in fact, on page 101 of that volume, while endorsing the substance of this remark, Alexander credits this insight to writer Cynthia Ozick. My apologies go to both Mr. Alexander and Ms. Ozick.

I need to make a correction to my post about faux Jewish-Arab dialogue from last Friday. In it I quoted the distinguished American literary critic Edward Alexander as the author of the quip that rightly noted, “universalism is the parochialism of the Jews.” The source, or so I thought, for that quote was Alexander’s wonderful 1988 book The Jewish Idea and Its Enemies. However, my memory appears to have betrayed me: a look at the original text revealed that, in fact, on page 101 of that volume, while endorsing the substance of this remark, Alexander credits this insight to writer Cynthia Ozick. My apologies go to both Mr. Alexander and Ms. Ozick.

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Something’s Rotten in the State of Israel’s Legal System

Something is deeply wrong with a justice system when mainstream journalists and politicians take it for granted that a suspect’s political views will affect the legal proceedings against him.

Consider the following sentence from a column that appeared Monday in Israel’s left-wing daily Haaretz: “If the attorney general decides to bring charges against Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister may decide that, in his bid to reach a plea bargain that will keep him out of prison, he is better off bringing down the government, and possibly even the Knesset, and disguising himself as a moderate in a government that has Kadima and Labor [two left-of-center parties] at its center.”

The author, Amir Oren, is no right-wing conspiracy theorist; he’s a veteran, left-of-center journalist and star columnist for a respected highbrow daily. And he considers it patently obvious that if Lieberman wants prosecutors to treat him leniently, he would be wise to swerve Left.

Nor is Oren alone in this belief. In 2007, after then prime minister Ehud Olmert appointed Daniel Friedmann, a well-known critic of the Supreme Court’s judicial activism, as justice minister, Yossi Verter wrote in Haaretz: “The justice system … has two alternatives for coping with this blow: hunkering down in its bunker and waiting for the government to change, or speeding up criminal proceedings against Olmert and working with greater vigor to topple him, which would also bring about Friedmann’s departure.”

Like Oren, Verter is a veteran left-of-center journalist and a star Haaretz columnist. And like Oren, he considers it self-evident that legal officials could and would use their prosecutorial powers to oust a politician whose policies they oppose.

And here’s another star Haaretz columnist and veteran left-of-center journalist, Ari Shavit, writing after the 2006 indictment of then Justice Minister Haim Ramon for sexual harassment:

Twelve hours before kissing the soldier identified as H, Haim Ramon sat at a private dinner and joked that he had to be careful, because something was liable to happen to him. Because something has happened to every justice minister who intended to shake up the judicial system the way he did, something that prevented the minister from ultimately filling the post. …

[Another] senior minister, whose lifelong dream has been to serve as minister of justice, decided at the beginning of the week to concede the coveted position because he was convinced that if he didn’t do so, he would shortly find himself questioned under caution in a police investigation. The senior minister … determined that there was no chance that a person known as a critic of the rule of law would be able to serve as justice minister without the rule of law finding a way to distance him from the public arena on some criminal pretext or another.

That mainstream politicians and journalists believe the legal system biased in this fashion is worrying even if they’re wrong. That so many probably wouldn’t believe it were there not some truth to it is even worse. But perhaps most disturbing of all is the lack of concern: it’s just a fact of life, to be noted casually in a column.

Something is deeply wrong with a justice system when mainstream journalists and politicians take it for granted that a suspect’s political views will affect the legal proceedings against him.

Consider the following sentence from a column that appeared Monday in Israel’s left-wing daily Haaretz: “If the attorney general decides to bring charges against Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister may decide that, in his bid to reach a plea bargain that will keep him out of prison, he is better off bringing down the government, and possibly even the Knesset, and disguising himself as a moderate in a government that has Kadima and Labor [two left-of-center parties] at its center.”

The author, Amir Oren, is no right-wing conspiracy theorist; he’s a veteran, left-of-center journalist and star columnist for a respected highbrow daily. And he considers it patently obvious that if Lieberman wants prosecutors to treat him leniently, he would be wise to swerve Left.

Nor is Oren alone in this belief. In 2007, after then prime minister Ehud Olmert appointed Daniel Friedmann, a well-known critic of the Supreme Court’s judicial activism, as justice minister, Yossi Verter wrote in Haaretz: “The justice system … has two alternatives for coping with this blow: hunkering down in its bunker and waiting for the government to change, or speeding up criminal proceedings against Olmert and working with greater vigor to topple him, which would also bring about Friedmann’s departure.”

Like Oren, Verter is a veteran left-of-center journalist and a star Haaretz columnist. And like Oren, he considers it self-evident that legal officials could and would use their prosecutorial powers to oust a politician whose policies they oppose.

And here’s another star Haaretz columnist and veteran left-of-center journalist, Ari Shavit, writing after the 2006 indictment of then Justice Minister Haim Ramon for sexual harassment:

Twelve hours before kissing the soldier identified as H, Haim Ramon sat at a private dinner and joked that he had to be careful, because something was liable to happen to him. Because something has happened to every justice minister who intended to shake up the judicial system the way he did, something that prevented the minister from ultimately filling the post. …

[Another] senior minister, whose lifelong dream has been to serve as minister of justice, decided at the beginning of the week to concede the coveted position because he was convinced that if he didn’t do so, he would shortly find himself questioned under caution in a police investigation. The senior minister … determined that there was no chance that a person known as a critic of the rule of law would be able to serve as justice minister without the rule of law finding a way to distance him from the public arena on some criminal pretext or another.

That mainstream politicians and journalists believe the legal system biased in this fashion is worrying even if they’re wrong. That so many probably wouldn’t believe it were there not some truth to it is even worse. But perhaps most disturbing of all is the lack of concern: it’s just a fact of life, to be noted casually in a column.

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Once-Triumphalist Democrats Face Bleak Election Outlook

The widely respected political analyst Charlie Cook, writing in the wake of political developments throughout the last week, says this:

In the world of economics, a virtuous circle is created when a series of positive events triggers a self-perpetuating pattern of other good occurrences — a positive feedback loop, in other words. A vicious circle, of course, is just the opposite and appears to be what Democrats are caught in these days.

Cook goes on to say that in the House, he is still forecasting that Democrats will lose “only” 20 to 30 seats (when Republicans lost 30 seats in 2006, it was said to be a landslide). But he adds:

Another half-dozen or more retirements in tough districts, however, perhaps combined with another party switch or two, would reduce Democrats’ chances of holding the House to only an even-money bet. We rate 217 seats either “Solid Democratic” or “Likely Democratic,” meaning that the GOP would have to win every single race now thought to be competitive to reach 218, the barest possible majority. But if Democrats suffer much more erosion in their “Solid” and “Likely” columns, control of the House will suddenly be up for grabs.

The political troubles for Obama and the Democrats continue to mount, so much so that many people would not be surprised by a repeat of what happened in the 1994 mid-term elections, where Democrats lost more than 50 House seats and control of the House of Representatives. Today’s Democratic Party is in worse shape — and arguably considerably worse shape — now than it was then.

“Today,” proclaimed the Democratic strategist James Carville not all that long ago, “a Democratic majority is emerging, and it’s my hypothesis, one I share with a great many others, that this majority will guarantee the Democrats remain in power for the next 40 years.” Sidney Blumenthal, author of The Strange Death of Republican America, declared, “No one can even envision when the Republicans will control the presidency and both houses of the Congress as they did as recently as 2006.” And Michael Lind added this: “The election of Barack Obama to the presidency may signal more than the end of an era of Republican presidential dominance and conservative ideology. It may mark the beginning of a Fourth Republic of the United States.”

If so, the Fourth Republic of the United States — unlike the French Fourth Republic – will not have lasted long or turned out well.

Republicans should not succumb to the same intoxication that Democrats did in 2008. Politics is a fluid business; a lot can change in a hurry. But right now there is no question that Obamaism and the Democratic Party are in very dangerous territory — and if present trends continue, 2010 will be a monumentally bad year for both.

The widely respected political analyst Charlie Cook, writing in the wake of political developments throughout the last week, says this:

In the world of economics, a virtuous circle is created when a series of positive events triggers a self-perpetuating pattern of other good occurrences — a positive feedback loop, in other words. A vicious circle, of course, is just the opposite and appears to be what Democrats are caught in these days.

Cook goes on to say that in the House, he is still forecasting that Democrats will lose “only” 20 to 30 seats (when Republicans lost 30 seats in 2006, it was said to be a landslide). But he adds:

Another half-dozen or more retirements in tough districts, however, perhaps combined with another party switch or two, would reduce Democrats’ chances of holding the House to only an even-money bet. We rate 217 seats either “Solid Democratic” or “Likely Democratic,” meaning that the GOP would have to win every single race now thought to be competitive to reach 218, the barest possible majority. But if Democrats suffer much more erosion in their “Solid” and “Likely” columns, control of the House will suddenly be up for grabs.

The political troubles for Obama and the Democrats continue to mount, so much so that many people would not be surprised by a repeat of what happened in the 1994 mid-term elections, where Democrats lost more than 50 House seats and control of the House of Representatives. Today’s Democratic Party is in worse shape — and arguably considerably worse shape — now than it was then.

“Today,” proclaimed the Democratic strategist James Carville not all that long ago, “a Democratic majority is emerging, and it’s my hypothesis, one I share with a great many others, that this majority will guarantee the Democrats remain in power for the next 40 years.” Sidney Blumenthal, author of The Strange Death of Republican America, declared, “No one can even envision when the Republicans will control the presidency and both houses of the Congress as they did as recently as 2006.” And Michael Lind added this: “The election of Barack Obama to the presidency may signal more than the end of an era of Republican presidential dominance and conservative ideology. It may mark the beginning of a Fourth Republic of the United States.”

If so, the Fourth Republic of the United States — unlike the French Fourth Republic – will not have lasted long or turned out well.

Republicans should not succumb to the same intoxication that Democrats did in 2008. Politics is a fluid business; a lot can change in a hurry. But right now there is no question that Obamaism and the Democratic Party are in very dangerous territory — and if present trends continue, 2010 will be a monumentally bad year for both.

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Comic Book Hate: a New Chapter in Anti-Israel Bias at the New York Times

The debate about the extent of the New York Times’ anti-Israel bias was revived this past weekend in the book-review treatment of Joe Sacco’s Footnotes From Gaza, a volume that purports to tell the story of massacres of innocent Palestinian Arabs in Gaza by evil Israelis in 1956 during the Sinai Campaign.

The review is notable for two reasons.

First is the fact that the review is a rave for what can only be described as a 418-page piece of anti-Israel propaganda. Masquerading as history, this graphic novel is a detailed compendium of slanders against Israeli forces engaged in a counteroffensive against Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, an area used as a base for murderous terror raids into Israel since the 1949 armistice. But that fact is ignored by the reviewer, who accepts the author’s single-minded obsession with placing all of the blame on the Jews for the fighting in Gaza at that time and for the entire duration of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The piece claims that it is a “bias against history” that has prevented the publication of more such accounts of Israeli brutality. Yet this book has nothing to do with a genuine search for historical truth and everything to do with anti-Israel bias. Indeed, the core accusation of Sacco’s book—that these incidents in 1956 “planted hatred” in Palestinian hearts against Israelis—is absurd.

The fighting in that year had been precipitated by Arab cross-border murder raids, whose brutality was rooted in anti-Jewish hatred and intolerance for the Jewish presence in the land, which long predated the events this cartoon purports to explain. The point of Sacco’s cartoons is not very different from more recent attempts to portray last year’s invasion of Gaza as aggression when, in fact, it was merely a response to missile attacks on Israel. But as with other such examples of “journalism” aimed at vilifying the Israelis, Sacco’s only goal is to paint Israeli self-defense as illegitimate and to portray the Palestinians as innocent victims whose agenda to destroy the Jewish state cannot be mentioned.

Sacco’s use of crude pictures to tell a one-sided story of Jewish evil will, no doubt, remind some readers of similarly crude anti-Semitic graphics employed by the Nazis. We need not linger on this obvious comparison to dismiss Footnotes from Gaza as the nastiest sort of polemic that sheds little light on either the origins of the current conflict or the nature of war. At a time when anti-Israel invective and Jew-hatred is on the rise around the world, the publication of works like this is far from unique. But when the Times’s prestigious Sunday Book Review not only treats books like Sacco’s as worthy of consideration but also lauds their use of cartoons as “highly informed and intelligent” and raves that “it is difficult to imagine how any other form of journalism could make these events so interesting,” it must be acknowledged that a tipping point has been reached.

The second important fact about this review is the choice of the reviewer: Patrick Cockburn, a virulent critic of Israel who has used his post as Middle East correspondent of Britain’s the Independent (as well as occasional pieces at CounterPunch, a leftist rag edited by his equally anti-Israel brother Alexander) to skewer every effort of Israel to defend itself and to delegitimize its people. You have to wonder what was going through the mind of Sam Tanenhaus, the Book Review editor, when he made such a choice. If his goal was to publish a sympathetic review of this vile book, then certainly Cockburn could be counted on because his writings about current Israeli efforts to stop Gaza-based terrorism have been as biased as Sacco’s book. But one would think that if the credibility of his section were his priority, Tanenhaus would have chosen a less obviously prejudiced reviewer.

That he felt free to choose a creature such as Cockburn to give a rave to this disgusting tract rather than selecting someone not already identified with hatred of Israel speaks volumes about the atmosphere at the Times. Based on the excellent biography that he penned of Whittaker Chambers, Tanenhaus himself has a reputation as a fine historian, though his most recent effort predicting the end of American conservatism was, as criticism of the Obama administration has mounted, obviously premature. But his championing of Sacco’s picture propaganda and his decision to allow Cockburn, of all people, to proclaim it a praiseworthy work of history, ought to debunk Tanenhaus’s claim to any distinction in either history or fair-minded journalism.

The debate about the extent of the New York Times’ anti-Israel bias was revived this past weekend in the book-review treatment of Joe Sacco’s Footnotes From Gaza, a volume that purports to tell the story of massacres of innocent Palestinian Arabs in Gaza by evil Israelis in 1956 during the Sinai Campaign.

The review is notable for two reasons.

First is the fact that the review is a rave for what can only be described as a 418-page piece of anti-Israel propaganda. Masquerading as history, this graphic novel is a detailed compendium of slanders against Israeli forces engaged in a counteroffensive against Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, an area used as a base for murderous terror raids into Israel since the 1949 armistice. But that fact is ignored by the reviewer, who accepts the author’s single-minded obsession with placing all of the blame on the Jews for the fighting in Gaza at that time and for the entire duration of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The piece claims that it is a “bias against history” that has prevented the publication of more such accounts of Israeli brutality. Yet this book has nothing to do with a genuine search for historical truth and everything to do with anti-Israel bias. Indeed, the core accusation of Sacco’s book—that these incidents in 1956 “planted hatred” in Palestinian hearts against Israelis—is absurd.

The fighting in that year had been precipitated by Arab cross-border murder raids, whose brutality was rooted in anti-Jewish hatred and intolerance for the Jewish presence in the land, which long predated the events this cartoon purports to explain. The point of Sacco’s cartoons is not very different from more recent attempts to portray last year’s invasion of Gaza as aggression when, in fact, it was merely a response to missile attacks on Israel. But as with other such examples of “journalism” aimed at vilifying the Israelis, Sacco’s only goal is to paint Israeli self-defense as illegitimate and to portray the Palestinians as innocent victims whose agenda to destroy the Jewish state cannot be mentioned.

Sacco’s use of crude pictures to tell a one-sided story of Jewish evil will, no doubt, remind some readers of similarly crude anti-Semitic graphics employed by the Nazis. We need not linger on this obvious comparison to dismiss Footnotes from Gaza as the nastiest sort of polemic that sheds little light on either the origins of the current conflict or the nature of war. At a time when anti-Israel invective and Jew-hatred is on the rise around the world, the publication of works like this is far from unique. But when the Times’s prestigious Sunday Book Review not only treats books like Sacco’s as worthy of consideration but also lauds their use of cartoons as “highly informed and intelligent” and raves that “it is difficult to imagine how any other form of journalism could make these events so interesting,” it must be acknowledged that a tipping point has been reached.

The second important fact about this review is the choice of the reviewer: Patrick Cockburn, a virulent critic of Israel who has used his post as Middle East correspondent of Britain’s the Independent (as well as occasional pieces at CounterPunch, a leftist rag edited by his equally anti-Israel brother Alexander) to skewer every effort of Israel to defend itself and to delegitimize its people. You have to wonder what was going through the mind of Sam Tanenhaus, the Book Review editor, when he made such a choice. If his goal was to publish a sympathetic review of this vile book, then certainly Cockburn could be counted on because his writings about current Israeli efforts to stop Gaza-based terrorism have been as biased as Sacco’s book. But one would think that if the credibility of his section were his priority, Tanenhaus would have chosen a less obviously prejudiced reviewer.

That he felt free to choose a creature such as Cockburn to give a rave to this disgusting tract rather than selecting someone not already identified with hatred of Israel speaks volumes about the atmosphere at the Times. Based on the excellent biography that he penned of Whittaker Chambers, Tanenhaus himself has a reputation as a fine historian, though his most recent effort predicting the end of American conservatism was, as criticism of the Obama administration has mounted, obviously premature. But his championing of Sacco’s picture propaganda and his decision to allow Cockburn, of all people, to proclaim it a praiseworthy work of history, ought to debunk Tanenhaus’s claim to any distinction in either history or fair-minded journalism.

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Painful Changes in the Publishing Industry

I am not usually saddened to hear that publications that I never read will cease to be published. But I am saddened to learn of the fate of Editor & Publisher and Kirkus Reviews, two publishing-industry trade titles.

From my vantage point as an author, their demise is part and parcel of the general decline of the publishing industry. There are still lots of publishers producing plenty of titles, but there are increasingly fewer bookstores and book reviews to peddle their wares. To some extent the slack has been taken up by the Internet — but only to an extent. Amazon is a godsend for all sorts of reasons, not least because it makes it so easy to acquire even obscure titles — a service of which I make ample use.

But Amazon is also leading the march toward e-books. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; you can argue from an author’s standpoint that it shouldn’t matter whether words are delivered by paper and ink or by digital means. But the pricing structure of e-books — with most new titles going for less than $10 — severely undercuts the economics that have traditionally underpinned the industry. If books no longer sell for $15 or $20 or more in hardcover, there will not be much left over to support editors, publishers, publicists, designers, and all the rest. It’s not as if book publishing had fat margins to begin with; e-books threaten to make financial statements that once looked weak into sheer catastrophes.

I realize that there’s a danger of sounding old and cranky when you complain about the impact of technology upon any industry. No doubt buggy makers around the turn of the 20th century felt similarly threatened by the arrival of automobiles and missed the fact that the transportation industry as a whole was growing even as their small sector of it was receding into nothingness. And no doubt information will continue to be purveyed in the digital age, and information purveyors will continue to be paid — just not in the same way as they were before.

Still, the adjustment is a painful one. The scribbling classes are now feeling the pain felt for decades by industrial workers. Wonder who will be next as computers continue to transform one economic sector after another?

I am not usually saddened to hear that publications that I never read will cease to be published. But I am saddened to learn of the fate of Editor & Publisher and Kirkus Reviews, two publishing-industry trade titles.

From my vantage point as an author, their demise is part and parcel of the general decline of the publishing industry. There are still lots of publishers producing plenty of titles, but there are increasingly fewer bookstores and book reviews to peddle their wares. To some extent the slack has been taken up by the Internet — but only to an extent. Amazon is a godsend for all sorts of reasons, not least because it makes it so easy to acquire even obscure titles — a service of which I make ample use.

But Amazon is also leading the march toward e-books. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; you can argue from an author’s standpoint that it shouldn’t matter whether words are delivered by paper and ink or by digital means. But the pricing structure of e-books — with most new titles going for less than $10 — severely undercuts the economics that have traditionally underpinned the industry. If books no longer sell for $15 or $20 or more in hardcover, there will not be much left over to support editors, publishers, publicists, designers, and all the rest. It’s not as if book publishing had fat margins to begin with; e-books threaten to make financial statements that once looked weak into sheer catastrophes.

I realize that there’s a danger of sounding old and cranky when you complain about the impact of technology upon any industry. No doubt buggy makers around the turn of the 20th century felt similarly threatened by the arrival of automobiles and missed the fact that the transportation industry as a whole was growing even as their small sector of it was receding into nothingness. And no doubt information will continue to be purveyed in the digital age, and information purveyors will continue to be paid — just not in the same way as they were before.

Still, the adjustment is a painful one. The scribbling classes are now feeling the pain felt for decades by industrial workers. Wonder who will be next as computers continue to transform one economic sector after another?

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RE: Blame America First

Jonathan Tobin does a fantastic job of dissecting James Bradley’s ludicrous attempt to blame Theodore Roosevelt, of all people, for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I had read Bradley’s New York Times op-ed and thought of responding as well, but held off because, frankly, I was so baffled by the author’s convoluted reasoning. Not the least of Tobin’s services is to lay out Bradley’s argument more clearly than Bradley himself does, before going on to show why the argument holds no water. I have only a few points to add.

If I understand correctly (and I admit to not having read the book in question, The Imperial Cruise), Bradley wants to blame TR for holding racist, imperialist views — for being a staunch supporter of our acquisition of Asian colonies, namely Hawaii and the Philippines. Since those territories were subsequently attacked by Japan, presumably Bradley thinks acquiring them in the first place was a bad idea, that they were somehow an affront to Japan’s desire to exercise hegemony in the Pacific. A more logical conclusion to draw would be that those territories should have been more strongly defended in the 1930s so as to dissuade Japanese aggression.

But then Bradley heads off in a different and somewhat self-contradictory direction in his Times article, blaming Roosevelt for implicitly ceding Korea to Japan’s sphere of influence in 1905 after the Russo-Japanese War. TR certainly was misguided in thinking that Japan could be a liberal, responsible stakeholder in the international system, as Britain and the U.S. were, but it is hard to know what he could have done differently. Does Bradley think that Roosevelt should have gone to war in 1905 to champion Korean independence? In fact, if Roosevelt had done more to oppose Japanese imperialism, Bradley could simply bash him for his racist lack of sympathy for the Empire of Japan. In Bradley’s worldview, TR must be guilty of either stirring up the Japanese or appeasing them — maybe both. His argument is the height of unfairness.

Actually if he is looking for unfair scapegoats for the events of December 7, 1941 — and his father’s subsequent rendezvous with destiny on Iwo Jima — he would be better advised to skip TR and go straight for Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill? Yup. As I noted in my book War Made New, Japanese naval aviation got its start in 1920, when Britain sent an advisory mission to Japan, “complete with over 100 demonstration aircraft in a bid to boost the British aviation industry.” I went on to write:

British pilots formed the first faculty of the newly established Japanese naval aviation school at Lake Kasumigaura. British naval architects helped Japan complete its first aircraft carrier, the Hosho, in 1922. British aircraft designers helped Mitsubishi design its initial carrier aircraft. Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for both War and Air, was confident Britain and Japan would never go to war—“I do not believe there is the slightest chance of it in our lifetime,” he exclaimed in 1924. So what was the harm?

There you have it: Winston Churchill was responsible for the raid on Pearl Harbor.

Simply to lay out this line of reasoning is to show, of course, how absurd it is — only slightly less absurd than Bradley’s attempts to blame Theodore Roosevelt for events that occurred 22 years after his death. Let’s place blame where it really belongs: in the ruling circles of the Japanese Empire, where the decision to fight America was made. And if we want to find culprits on the American side, look at the “America Firsters” and other isolationists who made it impossible to undertake the kind of American military buildup prior to December 7 that might have deterred Japanese aggression.

Jonathan Tobin does a fantastic job of dissecting James Bradley’s ludicrous attempt to blame Theodore Roosevelt, of all people, for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I had read Bradley’s New York Times op-ed and thought of responding as well, but held off because, frankly, I was so baffled by the author’s convoluted reasoning. Not the least of Tobin’s services is to lay out Bradley’s argument more clearly than Bradley himself does, before going on to show why the argument holds no water. I have only a few points to add.

If I understand correctly (and I admit to not having read the book in question, The Imperial Cruise), Bradley wants to blame TR for holding racist, imperialist views — for being a staunch supporter of our acquisition of Asian colonies, namely Hawaii and the Philippines. Since those territories were subsequently attacked by Japan, presumably Bradley thinks acquiring them in the first place was a bad idea, that they were somehow an affront to Japan’s desire to exercise hegemony in the Pacific. A more logical conclusion to draw would be that those territories should have been more strongly defended in the 1930s so as to dissuade Japanese aggression.

But then Bradley heads off in a different and somewhat self-contradictory direction in his Times article, blaming Roosevelt for implicitly ceding Korea to Japan’s sphere of influence in 1905 after the Russo-Japanese War. TR certainly was misguided in thinking that Japan could be a liberal, responsible stakeholder in the international system, as Britain and the U.S. were, but it is hard to know what he could have done differently. Does Bradley think that Roosevelt should have gone to war in 1905 to champion Korean independence? In fact, if Roosevelt had done more to oppose Japanese imperialism, Bradley could simply bash him for his racist lack of sympathy for the Empire of Japan. In Bradley’s worldview, TR must be guilty of either stirring up the Japanese or appeasing them — maybe both. His argument is the height of unfairness.

Actually if he is looking for unfair scapegoats for the events of December 7, 1941 — and his father’s subsequent rendezvous with destiny on Iwo Jima — he would be better advised to skip TR and go straight for Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill? Yup. As I noted in my book War Made New, Japanese naval aviation got its start in 1920, when Britain sent an advisory mission to Japan, “complete with over 100 demonstration aircraft in a bid to boost the British aviation industry.” I went on to write:

British pilots formed the first faculty of the newly established Japanese naval aviation school at Lake Kasumigaura. British naval architects helped Japan complete its first aircraft carrier, the Hosho, in 1922. British aircraft designers helped Mitsubishi design its initial carrier aircraft. Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for both War and Air, was confident Britain and Japan would never go to war—“I do not believe there is the slightest chance of it in our lifetime,” he exclaimed in 1924. So what was the harm?

There you have it: Winston Churchill was responsible for the raid on Pearl Harbor.

Simply to lay out this line of reasoning is to show, of course, how absurd it is — only slightly less absurd than Bradley’s attempts to blame Theodore Roosevelt for events that occurred 22 years after his death. Let’s place blame where it really belongs: in the ruling circles of the Japanese Empire, where the decision to fight America was made. And if we want to find culprits on the American side, look at the “America Firsters” and other isolationists who made it impossible to undertake the kind of American military buildup prior to December 7 that might have deterred Japanese aggression.

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Blame America First — World War II Edition

Today is the 68th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. President Franklin Roosevelt memorably described December 7, 1941, as a “date that will live in infamy,” but as the number of veterans and the witnesses of that war dwindle, its importance in the American calendar has declined. Though the solemn ceremonies in Honolulu’s harbor continue, as far as the New York Times is concerned, the subject of the Japanese surprise attack is nowadays only dragged out of mothballs to make a political point that reinforces its current view of the United States. Thus, the only mention of Pearl Harbor in the print edition of the paper came a day early in an op-ed that placed the blame for the naval disaster and America’s forced entry in that war on Roosevelt.

But not, as author James Bradley points out, on Franklin but on his cousin Theodore, whose presidential term ended nearly 33 years before the Japanese navy set out to sink our Pacific fleet. Bradley’s claim to fame is that he is the author of Flags of Our Fathers, a book that chronicled the lives of the five Marines and one sailor (Bradley’s father) who raised the American flag over Mount Suribachi during the taking of the island of Iwo Jima from the Japanese in February 1945. Bradley’s main theme was that the famous photograph and the patriotic fervor it generated were, in a fundamental sense, fraudulent. His book was the source of an overpraised and equally cynical film by Clint Eastwood (who followed it with a companion film that treated the Japanese side of the battle without the same sort of cynicism). Bradley followed that up with a subsequent book, Fly Boys, which took on the same mission of viewing the war against Japan with moral relativism, and then another new volume, The Imperial Cruise, which elaborates on his thesis that it was all somehow the fault of TR. The Imperial Cruise earned a favorable review from the Times last month.

This revisionist take on the history of World War II may seem familiar to those who have seen the way some have taken our generation’s Pearl Harbor — the 9/11 attacks — and sought to blame it on American foreign policy or support for Israel rather than on America-hating al-Qaeda terrorists. The sheer wrongheadedness of an argument that seeks to mitigate the guilt of those who actually committed these atrocities and instead blame the victims is insufferable. But while most Americans know enough about the contemporary world to dismiss such garbage out of hand, given the well-documented decline in our knowledge of our own history, Bradley’s assault on the first president Roosevelt deserves at least a brief refutation.

First, contrary to Bradley’s thesis, the Japanese needed no encouragement from TR to set them on an imperialist path. The 1868 Meiji Restoration in Japan launched a long period of military and industrial buildup that aimed to create a modern state that would have the power not only to resist Western pressures but also to make the country a regional power. The roots of Japan’s attempt to extend its empire over the entire Pacific in the 1930s and 1940s can be found in that event and the subsequent development of a political and military culture that saw service to the militarized state as a religious duty for all Japanese.

Bradley also accuses TR of siding with the Japanese in their 1905 war with tsarist Russia and thereby facilitating their imperialist ambitions and their brutal control of Korea. But a full decade earlier, Japan had fought a war with China over that same issue without any assistance or encouragement from Roosevelt. As for the peace treaty that Roosevelt brokered (and that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize), far from it being a case of the president openly siding with Japan, as Bradley alleges, the treaty was criticized by many Japanese because its restrained terms took some of the fruits of their military victory away from them, as most of Manchuria was given back to China. Bradley also omits the fact that it was Britain, not the United States, that was the principal military ally of Japan during this period.

We may well look back on the racist attitudes of Theodore Roosevelt and other Americans toward Asia a century ago with some regret. But the idea that our 26th president was in any way responsible for the creation of a Japanese state that viewed the subjugation of the Eastern Hemisphere as a divinely inspired mission for whom any atrocity or deceit was permissible is utterly devoid of historical truth.

While an earlier generation of historical revisionists blamed Franklin Roosevelt for Pearl Harbor because they thought he welcomed a Japanese attack that would convince Americans to join World War II, today’s revisionists have an even broader agenda. As with interpretations of our current battle with Islamists that seek to blame it all on our own sins, Bradley prefers to spin tales about Teddy Roosevelt rather than to face up to the truth about the Japan that his father fought. It speaks volumes about the state of the New York Times that its editors would choose this crackpot historian’s rant as their only acknowledgement of the anniversary of December 7, 1941.

Today is the 68th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. President Franklin Roosevelt memorably described December 7, 1941, as a “date that will live in infamy,” but as the number of veterans and the witnesses of that war dwindle, its importance in the American calendar has declined. Though the solemn ceremonies in Honolulu’s harbor continue, as far as the New York Times is concerned, the subject of the Japanese surprise attack is nowadays only dragged out of mothballs to make a political point that reinforces its current view of the United States. Thus, the only mention of Pearl Harbor in the print edition of the paper came a day early in an op-ed that placed the blame for the naval disaster and America’s forced entry in that war on Roosevelt.

But not, as author James Bradley points out, on Franklin but on his cousin Theodore, whose presidential term ended nearly 33 years before the Japanese navy set out to sink our Pacific fleet. Bradley’s claim to fame is that he is the author of Flags of Our Fathers, a book that chronicled the lives of the five Marines and one sailor (Bradley’s father) who raised the American flag over Mount Suribachi during the taking of the island of Iwo Jima from the Japanese in February 1945. Bradley’s main theme was that the famous photograph and the patriotic fervor it generated were, in a fundamental sense, fraudulent. His book was the source of an overpraised and equally cynical film by Clint Eastwood (who followed it with a companion film that treated the Japanese side of the battle without the same sort of cynicism). Bradley followed that up with a subsequent book, Fly Boys, which took on the same mission of viewing the war against Japan with moral relativism, and then another new volume, The Imperial Cruise, which elaborates on his thesis that it was all somehow the fault of TR. The Imperial Cruise earned a favorable review from the Times last month.

This revisionist take on the history of World War II may seem familiar to those who have seen the way some have taken our generation’s Pearl Harbor — the 9/11 attacks — and sought to blame it on American foreign policy or support for Israel rather than on America-hating al-Qaeda terrorists. The sheer wrongheadedness of an argument that seeks to mitigate the guilt of those who actually committed these atrocities and instead blame the victims is insufferable. But while most Americans know enough about the contemporary world to dismiss such garbage out of hand, given the well-documented decline in our knowledge of our own history, Bradley’s assault on the first president Roosevelt deserves at least a brief refutation.

First, contrary to Bradley’s thesis, the Japanese needed no encouragement from TR to set them on an imperialist path. The 1868 Meiji Restoration in Japan launched a long period of military and industrial buildup that aimed to create a modern state that would have the power not only to resist Western pressures but also to make the country a regional power. The roots of Japan’s attempt to extend its empire over the entire Pacific in the 1930s and 1940s can be found in that event and the subsequent development of a political and military culture that saw service to the militarized state as a religious duty for all Japanese.

Bradley also accuses TR of siding with the Japanese in their 1905 war with tsarist Russia and thereby facilitating their imperialist ambitions and their brutal control of Korea. But a full decade earlier, Japan had fought a war with China over that same issue without any assistance or encouragement from Roosevelt. As for the peace treaty that Roosevelt brokered (and that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize), far from it being a case of the president openly siding with Japan, as Bradley alleges, the treaty was criticized by many Japanese because its restrained terms took some of the fruits of their military victory away from them, as most of Manchuria was given back to China. Bradley also omits the fact that it was Britain, not the United States, that was the principal military ally of Japan during this period.

We may well look back on the racist attitudes of Theodore Roosevelt and other Americans toward Asia a century ago with some regret. But the idea that our 26th president was in any way responsible for the creation of a Japanese state that viewed the subjugation of the Eastern Hemisphere as a divinely inspired mission for whom any atrocity or deceit was permissible is utterly devoid of historical truth.

While an earlier generation of historical revisionists blamed Franklin Roosevelt for Pearl Harbor because they thought he welcomed a Japanese attack that would convince Americans to join World War II, today’s revisionists have an even broader agenda. As with interpretations of our current battle with Islamists that seek to blame it all on our own sins, Bradley prefers to spin tales about Teddy Roosevelt rather than to face up to the truth about the Japan that his father fought. It speaks volumes about the state of the New York Times that its editors would choose this crackpot historian’s rant as their only acknowledgement of the anniversary of December 7, 1941.

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Dershowitz, for the Opposition

A week and a half ago, Alan Dershowitz took the stage in a packed auditorium at Fordham Law School in Manhattan. He was supposed to debate Richard Goldstone, the author of the Goldstone Report. But the august international jurist refused, telling the organizers that Dershowitz had “demeaned” him. So Dershowitz stood a copy of the Goldstone Report on the table in the author’s place. And then he demolished the report and eviscerated its author with remarkable clarity, passion, and brilliance. A truly memorable performance.

And finally, the video is up. Click here to watch it. It’s listed as 93 minutes long, but a great deal of that is Q&A at the end. The presentation itself takes only 45 minutes.

A week and a half ago, Alan Dershowitz took the stage in a packed auditorium at Fordham Law School in Manhattan. He was supposed to debate Richard Goldstone, the author of the Goldstone Report. But the august international jurist refused, telling the organizers that Dershowitz had “demeaned” him. So Dershowitz stood a copy of the Goldstone Report on the table in the author’s place. And then he demolished the report and eviscerated its author with remarkable clarity, passion, and brilliance. A truly memorable performance.

And finally, the video is up. Click here to watch it. It’s listed as 93 minutes long, but a great deal of that is Q&A at the end. The presentation itself takes only 45 minutes.

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Is This Really Worth It?

Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo writes:

Trying KSM in civilian court will be an intelligence bonanza for al Qaeda and the hostile nations that will view the U.S. intelligence methods and sources that such a trial will reveal. The proceedings will tie up judges for years on issues best left to the president and Congress.

Whether a jury ultimately convicts KSM and his fellows, or sentences them to death, is beside the point. The treatment of the 9/11 attacks as a criminal matter rather than as an act of war will cripple American efforts to fight terrorism. It is in effect a declaration that this nation is no longer at war.

Yoo was the object of much ire from the Obami and their supporters. As one author of the Bush-era interrogation memos, he was accused of promoting “torture” — an assertion that now will be wielded like a sword by KSM’s lawyers as they try to put the U.S. on trial. And what will Eric Holder’s Justice Department say — no, it wasn’t torture after all? No, none of the information derived from the enhanced interrogations was used for the “prosecution”? It will be only one aspect of a multi-ring circus.

And as Yoo explains, the danger to the U.S. is great, as we will be “forced to reveal U.S. intelligence on KSM, the methods and sources for acquiring its information, and his relationships to fellow al Qaeda operatives.” Aside from blowing the “cover” of personnel and plans known to us, we will be taking an unmistakable step toward criminalizing the battlefield:

Even more harmful to our national security will be the effect a civilian trial of KSM will have on the future conduct of intelligence officers and military personnel. Will they have to read al Qaeda terrorists their Miranda rights? Will they have to secure the “crime scene” under battlefield conditions? Will they have to take statements from nearby “witnesses”? Will they have to gather evidence and secure its chain of custody for transport all the way back to New York? All of this while intelligence officers and soldiers operate in a war zone, trying to stay alive, and working to complete their mission and get out without casualties.

The mind reels as one considers the multiple ways in which the decision to extract KSM from the military-tribunal system and plop him down into a Manhattan courtroom will harm our national security. And will it really stay in Manhattan, in such close proximity to Ground Zero, or should I say, “the crime scene”? Certainly a change of venue motion will be forthcoming among the hundreds, if not thousands, of motions that will flow from the defendant — oh yes, that’s defendant KSM, now entitled to the presumption of innocence – and his stable of lawyers.

If you think Yoo or Obama’s critics are exaggerating, Yoo reminds us of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker: “His trial never made it to a jury. Moussaoui’s lawyers tied the court up in knots. All they had to do was demand that the government hand over all its intelligence on him. The case became a four-year circus, giving Moussaoui a platform to air his anti-American tirades.”

The president would have us believe that this is all Holder’s doing. Obama wasn’t even in the country when the announcement was made. If true, Obama has abandoned his obligation to make key decisions affecting national security. But who really believes that? No, this is the president’s call. KSM is landing in a civilian courtroom because Obama wants him there. Whatever flows from that, whatever damage is done to our national security, is his responsibility. And frankly, whatever anguish is experienced by the victims’ families, who will now hear KSM proclaim the virtue of his cause, is also Obama’s. He should have had the decency and the courage to tell them and the American people why he thought this was necessary.

Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo writes:

Trying KSM in civilian court will be an intelligence bonanza for al Qaeda and the hostile nations that will view the U.S. intelligence methods and sources that such a trial will reveal. The proceedings will tie up judges for years on issues best left to the president and Congress.

Whether a jury ultimately convicts KSM and his fellows, or sentences them to death, is beside the point. The treatment of the 9/11 attacks as a criminal matter rather than as an act of war will cripple American efforts to fight terrorism. It is in effect a declaration that this nation is no longer at war.

Yoo was the object of much ire from the Obami and their supporters. As one author of the Bush-era interrogation memos, he was accused of promoting “torture” — an assertion that now will be wielded like a sword by KSM’s lawyers as they try to put the U.S. on trial. And what will Eric Holder’s Justice Department say — no, it wasn’t torture after all? No, none of the information derived from the enhanced interrogations was used for the “prosecution”? It will be only one aspect of a multi-ring circus.

And as Yoo explains, the danger to the U.S. is great, as we will be “forced to reveal U.S. intelligence on KSM, the methods and sources for acquiring its information, and his relationships to fellow al Qaeda operatives.” Aside from blowing the “cover” of personnel and plans known to us, we will be taking an unmistakable step toward criminalizing the battlefield:

Even more harmful to our national security will be the effect a civilian trial of KSM will have on the future conduct of intelligence officers and military personnel. Will they have to read al Qaeda terrorists their Miranda rights? Will they have to secure the “crime scene” under battlefield conditions? Will they have to take statements from nearby “witnesses”? Will they have to gather evidence and secure its chain of custody for transport all the way back to New York? All of this while intelligence officers and soldiers operate in a war zone, trying to stay alive, and working to complete their mission and get out without casualties.

The mind reels as one considers the multiple ways in which the decision to extract KSM from the military-tribunal system and plop him down into a Manhattan courtroom will harm our national security. And will it really stay in Manhattan, in such close proximity to Ground Zero, or should I say, “the crime scene”? Certainly a change of venue motion will be forthcoming among the hundreds, if not thousands, of motions that will flow from the defendant — oh yes, that’s defendant KSM, now entitled to the presumption of innocence – and his stable of lawyers.

If you think Yoo or Obama’s critics are exaggerating, Yoo reminds us of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker: “His trial never made it to a jury. Moussaoui’s lawyers tied the court up in knots. All they had to do was demand that the government hand over all its intelligence on him. The case became a four-year circus, giving Moussaoui a platform to air his anti-American tirades.”

The president would have us believe that this is all Holder’s doing. Obama wasn’t even in the country when the announcement was made. If true, Obama has abandoned his obligation to make key decisions affecting national security. But who really believes that? No, this is the president’s call. KSM is landing in a civilian courtroom because Obama wants him there. Whatever flows from that, whatever damage is done to our national security, is his responsibility. And frankly, whatever anguish is experienced by the victims’ families, who will now hear KSM proclaim the virtue of his cause, is also Obama’s. He should have had the decency and the courage to tell them and the American people why he thought this was necessary.

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A Vacation with Benefits—a Conference with a Vacation Attached

It’s never too early to make plans for summer travel, so why not plan on attending the first COMMENTARY Conference of Ideas from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Navigator as it spends a week sailing around and about Alaska? We will spend the week discussing Israel, Iran, the 2010 elections, the 2012 elections, the Obama agenda and what it means for America, and the lessons of history for the present and the future. Speakers include former chief White House Mideast hand Elliott Abrams; the great historian Andrew Roberts; Michael Medved, talk-show host, author, movie critic, and man who knows everything about everything; CONTENTIONS superstar Jennifer Rubin; Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, who need no introduction; and me. Dine with us, meet fellow thinking iconoclasts from across the nation, and visit some of the most dazzling scenery in the world. You can learn more about the conference that’s also a vacation here.

It’s never too early to make plans for summer travel, so why not plan on attending the first COMMENTARY Conference of Ideas from August 4 through August 11, 2010, aboard the Regent Navigator as it spends a week sailing around and about Alaska? We will spend the week discussing Israel, Iran, the 2010 elections, the 2012 elections, the Obama agenda and what it means for America, and the lessons of history for the present and the future. Speakers include former chief White House Mideast hand Elliott Abrams; the great historian Andrew Roberts; Michael Medved, talk-show host, author, movie critic, and man who knows everything about everything; CONTENTIONS superstar Jennifer Rubin; Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, who need no introduction; and me. Dine with us, meet fellow thinking iconoclasts from across the nation, and visit some of the most dazzling scenery in the world. You can learn more about the conference that’s also a vacation here.

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Bookshelf

• One good book deserves another, and I’m sorry to say that Daniel J. Levitin, the author of This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, has not quite lived up to expectations the second time around.

This Is Your Brain on Music, which I reviewed in this space last year, is that rarity of rarities, a lively and informative book written in a clear, straightforward style by a specialist in a field notable for its technical complexity. It was and still is the best introductory discussion of the psychology of musical perception and cognition ever to see print. But Levitin, a musician and record producer turned neuroscientist, has since succumbed to the urge to simplify and theorize, and The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature (Dutton, 333 pp., $25.95), while full of good things, doesn’t add up to a persuasive whole.

Part of the problem-most of it, really-is that The World in Six Songs makes a promise that it fails to keep. “I have come to believe,” Levitin writes, “that there are basically six kinds of songs, six ways that we use music in our lives, six broad categories of music. . . . They are songs of friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, and love.” This sentence is breathtakingly broad in its implications, and the book appears at first glance to be organized in such a way as to prove the point, though no more than a moment’s thought will leave most readers suspecting that the world of music is rather more complicated than Levitin suggests. What about songs of sorrow? Or story-driven ballads whose subject matter is not romantic love? Into which of his six pigeonholes would Levitin stuff, say, Irving Berlin’s “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails,” the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer,” or Donald Fagen’s “Morph the Cat”? And his decision to disregard instrumental music is so cavalier as to require far more justification than he offers:

The evolution of mind and music is easiest to follow in music that involves lyrics, because the meaning of the musical expression is less debatable. . . . Because music wasn’t recorded until about a hundred years ago, nor even accurately notated until a few hundred years before that, the historic record of music is substantially lyrics. For these two reasons, music with lyrics will be the predominant focus of The World in Six Songs.

That near-exclusive focus, alas, negates much of the explanatory power of The World in Six Songs, for it is impossible to take seriously any account of “the impact music has had on the course of our social history” that completely ignores the culture-shaping power of abstract instrumental music.

Fortunately, a closer look at Levitin’s book reveals that its purpose is not nearly so sweeping as the title suggests. In fact, the real subject matter of The World in Six Songs turns out to be “the evolution of music and brains over tens of thousands of years and across the six inhabited continents.” According to Levitin, music is “a core element of our identity as a species, an activity that paved the way for more complex behaviors such as language, large-scale cooperative undertakings, and the passing down of important information from one generation to the next.” Thus his six categories of song turn out not to be all-encompassing, but merely to represent the principal ways in which music “influenced the eveolution of human emotion, reason, and spirit.”

That I’ll buy, necessarily conjectural though it is. What I still find hard to accept is the loose organization of The World in Six Songs, which is less a well-structured book than a bagful of factual goodies into which the reader reaches more or less blindly to see which one comes out next. To be sure, I learned a lot from The World in Six Songs, but Levitin’s style is so discursive, anecdote-driven and gratuitously autobiographical (at one point he interrupts the narrative for an eight-page account of the development of his pacifist views) that I found much of the book needlessly difficult to follow. If you read it with patience, you’ll come away knowing more than when you started, but I wouldn’t blame you for giving up well before the halfway point.

• One good book deserves another, and I’m sorry to say that Daniel J. Levitin, the author of This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, has not quite lived up to expectations the second time around.

This Is Your Brain on Music, which I reviewed in this space last year, is that rarity of rarities, a lively and informative book written in a clear, straightforward style by a specialist in a field notable for its technical complexity. It was and still is the best introductory discussion of the psychology of musical perception and cognition ever to see print. But Levitin, a musician and record producer turned neuroscientist, has since succumbed to the urge to simplify and theorize, and The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature (Dutton, 333 pp., $25.95), while full of good things, doesn’t add up to a persuasive whole.

Part of the problem-most of it, really-is that The World in Six Songs makes a promise that it fails to keep. “I have come to believe,” Levitin writes, “that there are basically six kinds of songs, six ways that we use music in our lives, six broad categories of music. . . . They are songs of friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, and love.” This sentence is breathtakingly broad in its implications, and the book appears at first glance to be organized in such a way as to prove the point, though no more than a moment’s thought will leave most readers suspecting that the world of music is rather more complicated than Levitin suggests. What about songs of sorrow? Or story-driven ballads whose subject matter is not romantic love? Into which of his six pigeonholes would Levitin stuff, say, Irving Berlin’s “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails,” the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer,” or Donald Fagen’s “Morph the Cat”? And his decision to disregard instrumental music is so cavalier as to require far more justification than he offers:

The evolution of mind and music is easiest to follow in music that involves lyrics, because the meaning of the musical expression is less debatable. . . . Because music wasn’t recorded until about a hundred years ago, nor even accurately notated until a few hundred years before that, the historic record of music is substantially lyrics. For these two reasons, music with lyrics will be the predominant focus of The World in Six Songs.

That near-exclusive focus, alas, negates much of the explanatory power of The World in Six Songs, for it is impossible to take seriously any account of “the impact music has had on the course of our social history” that completely ignores the culture-shaping power of abstract instrumental music.

Fortunately, a closer look at Levitin’s book reveals that its purpose is not nearly so sweeping as the title suggests. In fact, the real subject matter of The World in Six Songs turns out to be “the evolution of music and brains over tens of thousands of years and across the six inhabited continents.” According to Levitin, music is “a core element of our identity as a species, an activity that paved the way for more complex behaviors such as language, large-scale cooperative undertakings, and the passing down of important information from one generation to the next.” Thus his six categories of song turn out not to be all-encompassing, but merely to represent the principal ways in which music “influenced the eveolution of human emotion, reason, and spirit.”

That I’ll buy, necessarily conjectural though it is. What I still find hard to accept is the loose organization of The World in Six Songs, which is less a well-structured book than a bagful of factual goodies into which the reader reaches more or less blindly to see which one comes out next. To be sure, I learned a lot from The World in Six Songs, but Levitin’s style is so discursive, anecdote-driven and gratuitously autobiographical (at one point he interrupts the narrative for an eight-page account of the development of his pacifist views) that I found much of the book needlessly difficult to follow. If you read it with patience, you’ll come away knowing more than when you started, but I wouldn’t blame you for giving up well before the halfway point.

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The Fiasco in Iraq

The title speaks for itself: Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005. Tom Ricks, the military correspondent of the Washington Post wrote that book in 2006.

Here we are two years later and we see a short item  – together with a chart — in today’s Post by Tom Ricks that shows some numbers that also, as the author says, “pretty much speak for themselves.

The chart shows

a major improvement in the safety of driving around Iraq with the U.S. Army. In January 2007, about 1 in 5 convoys in Iraq was attacked. By the end of last year, that ratio had fallen to 1 in 33. By April, it was just 1 in 100.

One reason the attacks have declined is that many Sunni insurgents have switched sides and are now on the U.S. payroll, in local militias that U.S. officials call the “Sons of Iraq.” Another is that al-Qaeda in Iraq has come under severe and prolonged attack over the last 12 months, with many of its leaders killed or captured. Finally, the redeployment of U.S. troops out into the Iraqi population, along with a rise in the quality of Iraqi forces, has helped produce better intelligence on the people carrying out roadside bombings.

Let’s hope that this particular “fiasco” continues.

The title speaks for itself: Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005. Tom Ricks, the military correspondent of the Washington Post wrote that book in 2006.

Here we are two years later and we see a short item  – together with a chart — in today’s Post by Tom Ricks that shows some numbers that also, as the author says, “pretty much speak for themselves.

The chart shows

a major improvement in the safety of driving around Iraq with the U.S. Army. In January 2007, about 1 in 5 convoys in Iraq was attacked. By the end of last year, that ratio had fallen to 1 in 33. By April, it was just 1 in 100.

One reason the attacks have declined is that many Sunni insurgents have switched sides and are now on the U.S. payroll, in local militias that U.S. officials call the “Sons of Iraq.” Another is that al-Qaeda in Iraq has come under severe and prolonged attack over the last 12 months, with many of its leaders killed or captured. Finally, the redeployment of U.S. troops out into the Iraqi population, along with a rise in the quality of Iraqi forces, has helped produce better intelligence on the people carrying out roadside bombings.

Let’s hope that this particular “fiasco” continues.

Read Less




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