Commentary Magazine


Topic: Baghdad

Baghdad: What Might Have Been

My favorite museum in London is without doubt the Soane Museum. Born in 1753, John Soane started his career as a bricklayer, but quickly established himself as an architect and as an eclectic collector, gathering everything from sarcophagae to clocks to nineteenth century latches, weights, and even nails. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, he was commissioned to build some of London’s finest neo-classical structures. His best-known work was the Bank of England building, although much of it was destroyed in an early twentieth century renovation. Many of the other structures he designed were never built, owing to the interruption of and financial drain caused by the Napoleonic Wars.

That didn’t stop Soane from painting his monumental structures, not only depicting them as new but also speculating how they might look centuries into the future if in ruins. (A stroll through his cluttered former house—packed so full with antiquities that many of the paintings are hung on hinged panels and can only be seen if the panels are opened exposing the other side—is an experience that won’t be forgotten).

It’s against the backdrop of the window Soane provides into a London that never came to be that this article about a Baghdad that likewise never came to be is so fascinating:

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My favorite museum in London is without doubt the Soane Museum. Born in 1753, John Soane started his career as a bricklayer, but quickly established himself as an architect and as an eclectic collector, gathering everything from sarcophagae to clocks to nineteenth century latches, weights, and even nails. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, he was commissioned to build some of London’s finest neo-classical structures. His best-known work was the Bank of England building, although much of it was destroyed in an early twentieth century renovation. Many of the other structures he designed were never built, owing to the interruption of and financial drain caused by the Napoleonic Wars.

That didn’t stop Soane from painting his monumental structures, not only depicting them as new but also speculating how they might look centuries into the future if in ruins. (A stroll through his cluttered former house—packed so full with antiquities that many of the paintings are hung on hinged panels and can only be seen if the panels are opened exposing the other side—is an experience that won’t be forgotten).

It’s against the backdrop of the window Soane provides into a London that never came to be that this article about a Baghdad that likewise never came to be is so fascinating:

Le Corbusier’s Gymnasium was born during Iraq’s post-Second World War renaissance, when the country was flush with cash from its oil concessions. The country’s ruling elite were desperate to trade their Mesopotamian past for a modern identity. King Faisal II was the third and last of Iraq’s kings, and ruled from 1939 until 1958. He created a Development Board that would invest the country’s petrodollars into massive infrastructure projects and redevelop the city to create a cosmopolitan centre of the Arab world. The board envisaged a set of landmark buildings designed by high-profile international architects. The design for Baghdad University was awarded to Walter Gropius, an opera house to Frank Lloyd Wright, a museum to Alvar Aalto, a sporting facility to Le Corbusier, and the Development Board headquarters building to Gio Ponti… Wright’s opera house was to be built on an undeveloped island, which he planned to name the Isle of Eden, located on the Tigris. The building would perch on a hilltop surrounded by a pool and gardens. His “Plan for Greater Baghdad” also included a cultural centre, a university and a theatre.

My first impression of Baghdad in 2003—before the ubiquitous blast walls went up—was what a depressing city it was, and that impression has not changed. Kanan Makiya—more famous for his books chronicling Saddam’s tyranny—was at his most concise and interesting in The Monument which chronicled how Saddam Hussein sought to remake Baghdad and, more broadly Iraq, in an equally grandiose if not tasteful manner.

This transformation he never completed because of years of war and sanctions, although some of the monuments (and, indeed, his palaces) litter the Green Zone. Baghdad is now starting to change once again for the better, albeit slowly. Nevertheless, as Iraqis gaze back at how history might have treated their city had it not been for the revolutions in 1958 and 1968, and the wars which followed, it will be hard for them not to be depressed, far more so than Londoners were when myriad wars changed George III’s priorities. In Baghdad, at least, the scars of dictatorships past continue to scar the land and will do so for many decades more.

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Life Returning to Normal in Baghdad

It has been almost ten months since the last U.S. troops departed Iraq. Many Iraqis—including many in the Iraqi government—had hoped American forces would stay in one form or another, but as some Iraqi government advisors have made clear in informal chats with me, it was obvious that President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton would not take “yes” for an answer when they asked if an agreement was possible.

So how goes life in Iraq? It has been a couple years since I have been to either southern Iraq or northern Iraq but, by all accounts, both are booming, in the figurative rather than literal way. Basra’s new governor has been, according to many Iraqis with whom I have spoken, a breath of fresh air. Investment continues in Basra, Najaf, and their environs. Oil wealth is sparking real estate investment, the hotel and tourist sector, and leading Iraqis to invest in automobile dealerships, among other businesses.

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It has been almost ten months since the last U.S. troops departed Iraq. Many Iraqis—including many in the Iraqi government—had hoped American forces would stay in one form or another, but as some Iraqi government advisors have made clear in informal chats with me, it was obvious that President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton would not take “yes” for an answer when they asked if an agreement was possible.

So how goes life in Iraq? It has been a couple years since I have been to either southern Iraq or northern Iraq but, by all accounts, both are booming, in the figurative rather than literal way. Basra’s new governor has been, according to many Iraqis with whom I have spoken, a breath of fresh air. Investment continues in Basra, Najaf, and their environs. Oil wealth is sparking real estate investment, the hotel and tourist sector, and leading Iraqis to invest in automobile dealerships, among other businesses.

Iraqi Kurdistan is also doing well, although haphazard planning and corruption has led to the region having the hotels, restaurants, and clubs of Europe, with hospitals and schools reminiscent of sub-Saharan Africa.

For the past several years, however, Baghdad has been a pretty depressing place. After decades of war, it has long had a tired feel. While construction cranes dot the north and south of Iraq, there has not been equivalent development inside the capital city, much to the frustration of city residents.

Still, there is now more reason to be optimistic than in the past. The juxtaposition between the international zone, where American diplomats and many Iraqi politicians hole themselves up, and the rest of Baghdad is striking. While the International Zone is dead, the rest of Baghdad is alive. During both day and night, Iraqis are out and about. As several Iraqis have pointed out, so long as you are not a target (i.e., a politician or someone working for a politician or a foreigner), then life is now normal.

Baghdad is not a pretty town, but the streets are crowded and the restaurants are thriving. At the restaurants, those eating include both men and women. Most women are covered, but not everyone is. I visited one new place—built just recently—with multilevel outdoor dining along the banks of the Tigris River. Wild ducks swam around the lowest platform which jutted out into the river, hoping for scraps from the patrons. Some little girls obliged them. October is the perfect time in Baghdad. The days can still be uncomfortably warm—though no worse than Phoenix, Arizona—but the nights are downright pleasant. Every ice cream café I passed was packed full, with couples and teenagers milling around waiting for tables. It is a scene, alas, that American diplomats will not experience: They seldom emerge from behind the embassy’s walls.

The local government is also starting to take baby steps toward beautifying the city. There is a concerted effort to plant trees, curbs are painted, and fountains were working. So, too, were traffic lights, although no one paid any attention to them. There were no new bridges and roads were still in poor condition.

Larger developments—at least in the central neighborhoods where I was going—are still lacking. Sure, there were some nice new homes that looked like they had been transplanted from Kuwait (and designed by the same tasteless architects) and new car dealerships, but the one distinguishing feature of the Baghdad skyline—if you can call this city of overwhelmingly squat structures a skyline—is that working construction cranes are noticeably absent. The Iraqi budget may be huge, but most of the money goes toward the salaries of the inflated state bureaucracy, not to actual development. That may be fine so long as the price of oil is high, but if it ever drops precipitously, there will be trouble.

The State Department and USAID have never been as serious about lessons-learned as the Pentagon is, but the Iraq situation may be a good place to start. It is worth asking—and discussing in far more than passing—what USAID and American development income achieved in Baghdad. Almost a year after the American military presence officially ended, and more than eight years since Iraqi sovereignty was fully restored, there is precious little ordinary Iraqis can point to in terms of physical infrastructure and say, “The Americans did that.”

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The Unraveling of Seymour Hersh

The New Yorker’s investigative reporter Seymour Hersh seems to be unraveling. According to a story posted on Foreignpolicy.com, in a speech in Doha, Qatar, Hersh

delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday expressing his disappointment with President Barack Obama and his dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

“Just when we needed an angry black man,” he began, his arm perched jauntily on the podium, “we didn’t get one.”

It quickly went downhill from there.

Blake Hounshell reports that Hersh, who is writing a book on what he calls the “Cheney-Bush years,” charged that U.S. foreign policy had been hijacked by a cabal of neoconservative “crusaders” in the former vice president’s office and now in the special operations community. “What I’m really talking about is how eight or nine neoconservative, radicals if you will, overthrew the American government. Took it over,” he said of his forthcoming book. “It’s not only that the neocons took it over but how easily they did it — how Congress disappeared, how the press became part of it, how the public acquiesced.”

During his remarks, Hersh brought up the widespread looting that took place in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. “In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? … Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.’”

“That’s the attitude,” Hersh continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”

Hersh also alleged that General Stanley McChrystal, who headed Joint Special Operations Command before becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Admiral William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.”

“Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh continued. “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They seem themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”

“They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins,” he continued. “They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.”

These are the mutterings of a fevered, obsessive mind. His strange, conspiracy-plagued world is dominated by neo-conservatives and Opus Dei crusaders who are reliving the 13th century. Such writers now find a welcoming home at the New Yorker.

David Remnick must be so proud.

The New Yorker’s investigative reporter Seymour Hersh seems to be unraveling. According to a story posted on Foreignpolicy.com, in a speech in Doha, Qatar, Hersh

delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday expressing his disappointment with President Barack Obama and his dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

“Just when we needed an angry black man,” he began, his arm perched jauntily on the podium, “we didn’t get one.”

It quickly went downhill from there.

Blake Hounshell reports that Hersh, who is writing a book on what he calls the “Cheney-Bush years,” charged that U.S. foreign policy had been hijacked by a cabal of neoconservative “crusaders” in the former vice president’s office and now in the special operations community. “What I’m really talking about is how eight or nine neoconservative, radicals if you will, overthrew the American government. Took it over,” he said of his forthcoming book. “It’s not only that the neocons took it over but how easily they did it — how Congress disappeared, how the press became part of it, how the public acquiesced.”

During his remarks, Hersh brought up the widespread looting that took place in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. “In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? … Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.’”

“That’s the attitude,” Hersh continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”

Hersh also alleged that General Stanley McChrystal, who headed Joint Special Operations Command before becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Admiral William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.”

“Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh continued. “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They seem themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”

“They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins,” he continued. “They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.”

These are the mutterings of a fevered, obsessive mind. His strange, conspiracy-plagued world is dominated by neo-conservatives and Opus Dei crusaders who are reliving the 13th century. Such writers now find a welcoming home at the New Yorker.

David Remnick must be so proud.

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A Nation of Political Imbeciles

I strongly dislike, on general principle, descriptions of any country on earth as “a nation of political imbeciles,” or anything similarly obnoxious and dismissive, but I’m afraid Bret Stephens is right to describe Egypt this way in his latest Wall Street Journal piece “Egypt’s Prison of Hate.” “You know a nation is in political trouble,” he writes, “when it blames shark attacks on the Mossad.”

Uh huh.

Essam El-Irian, a ridiculous Muslim Brotherhood official I myself once interviewed years ago, now even suggests that al-Qaeda is under Israeli control. The Egyptian “street” loves taking this kind of hysterical nonsense with its coffee.

Iraq is a depressing, miserable, and frightening place, but I have to say that Cairo, in some ways, disturbs me more than Baghdad, despite the fact that I have much more personal security when visiting the former than the latter. One day Egypt’s current government will be replaced. And if it’s replaced by a regime that reflects the “street” and is popular — watch out.

Stephens is right that what Egypt needs more than anything is political liberalism, but God only knows how it is supposed to get it.

I strongly dislike, on general principle, descriptions of any country on earth as “a nation of political imbeciles,” or anything similarly obnoxious and dismissive, but I’m afraid Bret Stephens is right to describe Egypt this way in his latest Wall Street Journal piece “Egypt’s Prison of Hate.” “You know a nation is in political trouble,” he writes, “when it blames shark attacks on the Mossad.”

Uh huh.

Essam El-Irian, a ridiculous Muslim Brotherhood official I myself once interviewed years ago, now even suggests that al-Qaeda is under Israeli control. The Egyptian “street” loves taking this kind of hysterical nonsense with its coffee.

Iraq is a depressing, miserable, and frightening place, but I have to say that Cairo, in some ways, disturbs me more than Baghdad, despite the fact that I have much more personal security when visiting the former than the latter. One day Egypt’s current government will be replaced. And if it’s replaced by a regime that reflects the “street” and is popular — watch out.

Stephens is right that what Egypt needs more than anything is political liberalism, but God only knows how it is supposed to get it.

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Maliki’s Confidence

I am not terribly surprised that Prime Minister Maliki says in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that he doesn’t want U.S. troops in Iraq after 2010. He has never been particularly keen on the American military presence and he has long had exaggerated ideas about the ability of the Iraqi Security Forces to control the country on their own. He was at best a reluctant supporter of the surge in 2007, and that mainly because of all the pressure applied to him by President Bush, General Petraeus, and Ambassador Crocker.

If he is anything Maliki is a staunch Iraqi nationalist, which suggests that he is right that an American departure will not simply allow Iran to dominate Iraq — but Iranian influence will certainly grow without an American counterbalance.

In fairness, Maliki’s faith in his country has been to some extent vindicated since 2008. The original plan for Iraq — as they stand up, we will stand down — was misguided as violence climbed from 2003 to 2007, but it has actually worked out pretty well since the success of the surge. But there are still 50,000 U.S. troops in the country. Will the Iraqi Security Forces get the support and training they need if the figure is down to zero, or close to it, by the end of 2010? And, more importantly, will the various sectarian groups avoid clashes in the absence of American peacekeepers? I don’t know the answer to those questions but I do know that the U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad, Jim Jeffrey, is painting an overly rosey scenario with this claim reported in the Journal:

In a briefing for Western reporters last week, Mr. Jeffrey said that despite the requirement to pull out all American troops at the end of 2011, the framework document and other agreements between Baghdad and Washington contain “a very robust security agenda.”

The U.S. embassy in Baghdad will house a “significantly sized” office aimed at security cooperation, Mr. Jeffrey said, comprised of about 80 to 90 military personnel that would take over most of the current functions of the U.S. military in advising, assisting, training and equipping Iraqi forces.

Will 80-90 military personnel, plus an unspecified number of contractors, really be able to fill the gap left by the departure of 50,000 U.S. troops? Count me as skeptical. If such a wholesale departure of U.S. troops does occur, Iraq will face stiff challenges. It may very well surmount those obstacles, but I would be more confident in its future, as I have said before, if there were a substantial and longterm American presence just as there has been in Germany, Japan, and South Korea.

I am not terribly surprised that Prime Minister Maliki says in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that he doesn’t want U.S. troops in Iraq after 2010. He has never been particularly keen on the American military presence and he has long had exaggerated ideas about the ability of the Iraqi Security Forces to control the country on their own. He was at best a reluctant supporter of the surge in 2007, and that mainly because of all the pressure applied to him by President Bush, General Petraeus, and Ambassador Crocker.

If he is anything Maliki is a staunch Iraqi nationalist, which suggests that he is right that an American departure will not simply allow Iran to dominate Iraq — but Iranian influence will certainly grow without an American counterbalance.

In fairness, Maliki’s faith in his country has been to some extent vindicated since 2008. The original plan for Iraq — as they stand up, we will stand down — was misguided as violence climbed from 2003 to 2007, but it has actually worked out pretty well since the success of the surge. But there are still 50,000 U.S. troops in the country. Will the Iraqi Security Forces get the support and training they need if the figure is down to zero, or close to it, by the end of 2010? And, more importantly, will the various sectarian groups avoid clashes in the absence of American peacekeepers? I don’t know the answer to those questions but I do know that the U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad, Jim Jeffrey, is painting an overly rosey scenario with this claim reported in the Journal:

In a briefing for Western reporters last week, Mr. Jeffrey said that despite the requirement to pull out all American troops at the end of 2011, the framework document and other agreements between Baghdad and Washington contain “a very robust security agenda.”

The U.S. embassy in Baghdad will house a “significantly sized” office aimed at security cooperation, Mr. Jeffrey said, comprised of about 80 to 90 military personnel that would take over most of the current functions of the U.S. military in advising, assisting, training and equipping Iraqi forces.

Will 80-90 military personnel, plus an unspecified number of contractors, really be able to fill the gap left by the departure of 50,000 U.S. troops? Count me as skeptical. If such a wholesale departure of U.S. troops does occur, Iraq will face stiff challenges. It may very well surmount those obstacles, but I would be more confident in its future, as I have said before, if there were a substantial and longterm American presence just as there has been in Germany, Japan, and South Korea.

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Islamists Slaughter Christians, and Jews Are Blamed

The recent wave of deadly attacks on Iraqi Christians must have cast a pall over Christmas celebrations worldwide this year. But one can’t help wondering whether it also prompted any soul-searching at the Vatican.

After all, it was just two months ago that a synod of Middle East bishops proclaimed Israel the main source of Middle East Christians’ woes. As the Jerusalem Post reported, it “blamed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for spurring the flight of Christians from the Middle East” and “laid much of the blame for the conflict squarely on Israel.” The synod’s president, Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros, even implied that Jews had no right to a state here at all and that Israel should be eradicated through the “return” of millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees. And though the Vatican disavowed that comment, Pope Benedict XVI also said that Middle East peace – a term usually synonymous with “Israeli-Arab peace” – was the best way to halt Christian emigration.

In reality, of course, the plight of Palestinian Christians pales beside that of their Iraqi brethren. More than half of Iraq’s Christians – hundreds of thousands in all – have fled their country since 2003, after being targeted in numerous deadly attacks. And not even Al-Qaida has tried to link these attacks to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, though it’s not shy about inventing “justifications”: For instance, it deemed October’s bloody siege at a Baghdad church retaliation for an alleged offense by Egypt’s Coptic Church.

Compare this to the booming business scene in Bethlehem, where tourism is up 60 percent over 2009 despite Israeli “oppression.” One astute Palestinian businessman attributed the boom to the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to reduce violence – a tacit (and correct) acknowledgement that what previously destroyed the PA’s economy was not Israel, but Palestinian terror. Or compare Iraq’s Christian crisis to the fivefold increase in Israel’s Christian population, from 34,000 in 1949 to 152,000 in 2009.

This month, the New York Times reported that many fleeing Iraqi Christians “evoked the mass departure of Iraq’s Jews” after Israel’s establishment in 1948.

“It’s exactly what happened to the Jews,” said Nassir Sharhoom, 47, who fled last month to the Kurdish capital, Erbil, with his family from Dora, a once mixed neighborhood in Baghdad. “They want us all to go.”

It’s eerily reminiscent of Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous statement about the Nazis: “They came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me. And by that time, there was no one left to speak for me.”

But there’s one crucial difference. The Church, as the synod statement shows, isn’t merely remaining silent; it’s actively speaking out against the Jews – and thereby collaborating with its own enemies, the radical Islamists.

It evidently hopes to thereby turn the Islamists’ wrath away from Christians. But as the recent attacks show, appeasement hasn’t worked.

So perhaps it’s time for the Church to learn from its mistakes in World War II and instead try speaking out against its true enemies – the radical Islamists who seek to cleanse the Middle East of both Jews and Christians.

The recent wave of deadly attacks on Iraqi Christians must have cast a pall over Christmas celebrations worldwide this year. But one can’t help wondering whether it also prompted any soul-searching at the Vatican.

After all, it was just two months ago that a synod of Middle East bishops proclaimed Israel the main source of Middle East Christians’ woes. As the Jerusalem Post reported, it “blamed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for spurring the flight of Christians from the Middle East” and “laid much of the blame for the conflict squarely on Israel.” The synod’s president, Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros, even implied that Jews had no right to a state here at all and that Israel should be eradicated through the “return” of millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees. And though the Vatican disavowed that comment, Pope Benedict XVI also said that Middle East peace – a term usually synonymous with “Israeli-Arab peace” – was the best way to halt Christian emigration.

In reality, of course, the plight of Palestinian Christians pales beside that of their Iraqi brethren. More than half of Iraq’s Christians – hundreds of thousands in all – have fled their country since 2003, after being targeted in numerous deadly attacks. And not even Al-Qaida has tried to link these attacks to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, though it’s not shy about inventing “justifications”: For instance, it deemed October’s bloody siege at a Baghdad church retaliation for an alleged offense by Egypt’s Coptic Church.

Compare this to the booming business scene in Bethlehem, where tourism is up 60 percent over 2009 despite Israeli “oppression.” One astute Palestinian businessman attributed the boom to the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to reduce violence – a tacit (and correct) acknowledgement that what previously destroyed the PA’s economy was not Israel, but Palestinian terror. Or compare Iraq’s Christian crisis to the fivefold increase in Israel’s Christian population, from 34,000 in 1949 to 152,000 in 2009.

This month, the New York Times reported that many fleeing Iraqi Christians “evoked the mass departure of Iraq’s Jews” after Israel’s establishment in 1948.

“It’s exactly what happened to the Jews,” said Nassir Sharhoom, 47, who fled last month to the Kurdish capital, Erbil, with his family from Dora, a once mixed neighborhood in Baghdad. “They want us all to go.”

It’s eerily reminiscent of Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous statement about the Nazis: “They came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me. And by that time, there was no one left to speak for me.”

But there’s one crucial difference. The Church, as the synod statement shows, isn’t merely remaining silent; it’s actively speaking out against the Jews – and thereby collaborating with its own enemies, the radical Islamists.

It evidently hopes to thereby turn the Islamists’ wrath away from Christians. But as the recent attacks show, appeasement hasn’t worked.

So perhaps it’s time for the Church to learn from its mistakes in World War II and instead try speaking out against its true enemies – the radical Islamists who seek to cleanse the Middle East of both Jews and Christians.

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Sure, All Secular Leaders Have One of These

For no apparent reason, the Guardian is running a story on the limbo status of the Koran that Saddam Hussein commissioned to be transcribed in his own blood:

Over the course of two painstaking years in the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein had sat regularly with a nurse and an Islamic calligrapher; the former drawing 27 litres of his blood and the latter using it as a macabre ink to transcribe a Qur’an. But since the fall of Baghdad, almost eight years ago, it has stayed largely out of sight — locked away behind three vaulted doors. It is the one part of the ousted tyrant’s legacy that Iraq has simply not known what to do with.

There’s not much to the story beyond that. But it’s worth noting how little we heard of the “Blood Koran” back when the media was doggedly making the case that Saddam was not only secular but also averse to Muslim zealotry. Today, with no argument to make against Bush, the invasion, or its rationale, the press can begin to examine the truth — apropos of absolutely nothing. In any event, better to be stuck with this grotesque document on our hands than the man who dreamed up its execution.

For no apparent reason, the Guardian is running a story on the limbo status of the Koran that Saddam Hussein commissioned to be transcribed in his own blood:

Over the course of two painstaking years in the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein had sat regularly with a nurse and an Islamic calligrapher; the former drawing 27 litres of his blood and the latter using it as a macabre ink to transcribe a Qur’an. But since the fall of Baghdad, almost eight years ago, it has stayed largely out of sight — locked away behind three vaulted doors. It is the one part of the ousted tyrant’s legacy that Iraq has simply not known what to do with.

There’s not much to the story beyond that. But it’s worth noting how little we heard of the “Blood Koran” back when the media was doggedly making the case that Saddam was not only secular but also averse to Muslim zealotry. Today, with no argument to make against Bush, the invasion, or its rationale, the press can begin to examine the truth — apropos of absolutely nothing. In any event, better to be stuck with this grotesque document on our hands than the man who dreamed up its execution.

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Changing of the Ambassadorial Guard

With Richard Holbrooke’s death, questions will inevitably be asked about the fate of the post he held: Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The job was created expressly for him on the theory that Afghanistan and Pakistan (“AfPak”) were a related problem set that required the appointment of a high-level diplomatic coordinator to handle. The expectation was that Holbrooke would emerge as a dominant force in AfPak policy to rival the NATO commander in Kabul. It never happened. In fact, by the time of his death, it was generally agreed that Holbrooke had largely been marginalized in the policy process.

Part of this was due to some missteps on his part, but the larger problem was that there is not really much of a role for an “SRAP”: it was always a theory more than an actual job description. What we need are capable ambassadors in Islamabad and Kabul who can work closely with our military commander in Kabul, General Petraeus. The model  here is the special relationship that Petraeus had with Ryan Crocker, who was ambassador in Baghdad during the surge. Their close collaboration greatly maximized the impact of the surge forces and convinced Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki  to make hard decisions to cut off sectarian actors.

There is nothing similar in Kabul. General Stanley McChrystal famously feuded with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, leading to the elevation of the NATO representative, Mark Sedwill, to become McChrystal’s chief diplomatic partner. Sedwill is still in place, and he is a capable and shrewd diplomat, but he would be the first to acknowledge that, as a Brit, he cannot speak with the authority of the United States. Eikenberry also remains in place and has not gotten into any public dust-ups with Petraeus, but he has also burned his bridges to Hamid Karzai with the leak of numerous cables deprecating the Afghan president.

By April, Eikenberry will have completed two years in the job — longer than many last in such pressure-packed assignments. The priority now should not be to replace Holbrooke as the SRAP but rather to ensure that Eikenberry’s replacement will perform in Crocker-like fashion. In this regard, I can’t help but note that Crocker has also previously served as ambassador to Pakistan, so he is familiar with the region. Is there, I wonder, some way that President Obama could lure him out of retirement (he is currently dean of the Bush School at Texas A&M) for one more assignment to work with Petraeus to rescue another troubled war effort?

With Richard Holbrooke’s death, questions will inevitably be asked about the fate of the post he held: Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The job was created expressly for him on the theory that Afghanistan and Pakistan (“AfPak”) were a related problem set that required the appointment of a high-level diplomatic coordinator to handle. The expectation was that Holbrooke would emerge as a dominant force in AfPak policy to rival the NATO commander in Kabul. It never happened. In fact, by the time of his death, it was generally agreed that Holbrooke had largely been marginalized in the policy process.

Part of this was due to some missteps on his part, but the larger problem was that there is not really much of a role for an “SRAP”: it was always a theory more than an actual job description. What we need are capable ambassadors in Islamabad and Kabul who can work closely with our military commander in Kabul, General Petraeus. The model  here is the special relationship that Petraeus had with Ryan Crocker, who was ambassador in Baghdad during the surge. Their close collaboration greatly maximized the impact of the surge forces and convinced Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki  to make hard decisions to cut off sectarian actors.

There is nothing similar in Kabul. General Stanley McChrystal famously feuded with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, leading to the elevation of the NATO representative, Mark Sedwill, to become McChrystal’s chief diplomatic partner. Sedwill is still in place, and he is a capable and shrewd diplomat, but he would be the first to acknowledge that, as a Brit, he cannot speak with the authority of the United States. Eikenberry also remains in place and has not gotten into any public dust-ups with Petraeus, but he has also burned his bridges to Hamid Karzai with the leak of numerous cables deprecating the Afghan president.

By April, Eikenberry will have completed two years in the job — longer than many last in such pressure-packed assignments. The priority now should not be to replace Holbrooke as the SRAP but rather to ensure that Eikenberry’s replacement will perform in Crocker-like fashion. In this regard, I can’t help but note that Crocker has also previously served as ambassador to Pakistan, so he is familiar with the region. Is there, I wonder, some way that President Obama could lure him out of retirement (he is currently dean of the Bush School at Texas A&M) for one more assignment to work with Petraeus to rescue another troubled war effort?

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Cyberwar Is Here. Now What?

When al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. on 9/11, the country discovered to its complete shock that it was at war and ill-prepared to do much about it. Once again, the U.S. is waking up to the fact that it’s under attack and not yet up to fighting back. This enemy, like the last one, is nontraditional in nature, and the battle is asymmetrical.

Just as we’d been practiced in fighting other countries when we were attacked by a network of transnational Islamists, we’ve mostly considered the possibility of cyber-attack as coming from another nation, whereas it has come (and continues to come) from loosely connected global networks. After WikiLeaks exposed hundreds of thousands of national security secrets and put untold lives at risk, WikiLeaks’s cyber-allies are now attacking the websites (and, thus, the functional capabilities) of perceived corporate, organizational, and governmental enemies.  An expansion of these kinds of breaches and attacks has the potential to bring our hi-tech world to a standstill. The fecklessness being displayed by American officials, the insistent downplaying of the disaster, and the pervasive sense of confusion all point to the likelihood that we are in for yet another long, controversial, and little-understood war. Read More

When al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. on 9/11, the country discovered to its complete shock that it was at war and ill-prepared to do much about it. Once again, the U.S. is waking up to the fact that it’s under attack and not yet up to fighting back. This enemy, like the last one, is nontraditional in nature, and the battle is asymmetrical.

Just as we’d been practiced in fighting other countries when we were attacked by a network of transnational Islamists, we’ve mostly considered the possibility of cyber-attack as coming from another nation, whereas it has come (and continues to come) from loosely connected global networks. After WikiLeaks exposed hundreds of thousands of national security secrets and put untold lives at risk, WikiLeaks’s cyber-allies are now attacking the websites (and, thus, the functional capabilities) of perceived corporate, organizational, and governmental enemies.  An expansion of these kinds of breaches and attacks has the potential to bring our hi-tech world to a standstill. The fecklessness being displayed by American officials, the insistent downplaying of the disaster, and the pervasive sense of confusion all point to the likelihood that we are in for yet another long, controversial, and little-understood war.

Once again, we are not only unprepared in terms of legal frameworks and battle strategies; we find ourselves essentially weak of character. In the New York Times, Robert Wright writes that WikiLeaks “is doing God’s work.” Regarding the revelations about secret American actions taken against terrorists in the Middle East, he notes, “I’d put this stuff on the positive side of the ledger.” Meanwhile, civil libertarians go on television to rail against the mistreatment of WikiLeaks mastermind Julian Assange and liberal journalists, such as the Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan, decry Assange’s “demonization.”

The facts around Assange’s arrest provide a stick-figure sketch of the perplexing cultural battle now underway in the West. On the one side we have a hip techno-nihilism, utilizing the infinite resources of the Internet and finding support in a warped libertarianism. And on the other, the only thing going up against it with enough conviction to bring Assange to justice is the politically correct junior-high sex-ed police, who managed to collar him in Britain on an unsafe-sex rap. Perhaps Colin Powell used the wrong props at the UN back in 2003. Forget WMD. If he just held up some defective birth control nabbed from Saddam’s bedroom, the sanctioned social workers of Europe might have gone to Baghdad and toppled him for us.

Real threats are no longer taken seriously, while small antagonisms and inconveniences are elevated to capital crimes. This holds true across the political spectrum and in government and among the public. We’ve just had a record year in attempted jihadist attacks against America, but if you’re on the right, chances are you’re fighting the War on Airport Pat-Downs.  The Obama administration made prisoner transfer from Guantanamo Bay its very first order of business. Never mind that one out of every four prisoners released from Gitmo in the last two years is “confirmed or suspected” of having returned to terrorism. We’re too busy with cheap self-righteousness and cheaper “outreach” to address the previous enemy, let alone the new one.

In accordance with the new doctrine of Western war, we’ve taken the first step in response to attack: apology. After 9/11, we apologized to Muslims. Today Hillary Clinton is traveling the world apologizing to foreign governments for leaked State Department cables.  That’s fine as far as it goes, but saying, “Sorry, we’re weak” doesn’t do much to stop the attacks still underway. As someone recently put it, “The war is on. And everyone ought to spend some time thinking about it, discussing it with others, preparing yourselves so you know how to act if something compels you to make a decision. Be very careful not to err on the side of inaction.” Those are the words of a contributor to a cyber-anarchist site called whyweprotest.net. Once again, the enemy has a better handle on the war than we do. We’re sure to busy ourselves finding out more about why they “protest” than reaffirming our conviction to stop them.

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That Ominous Haze Over Kabul

I’m in Kabul now where two facts are evident every time you step outside.

First, security here is good — most days go by without a single insurgent attack in the capital, knock on wood. The streets are bustling. Movement is pretty unrestricted. This is nothing like Baghdad during the dark days of the Iraq war. Even Baghdad today remains less secure.

Second, the air quality is beyond terrible. I grew up in Southern California in the 1970s-80s, when smog was a fact of life. But seldom have I seen smog as bad as it is here. An ominous haze hovers over the city, and many people go around with a hacking cough. Turns out this is not just a quality-of-life problem — it’s a life or death issue.

Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Office (who knew that such a thing even existed?) claims that 3,000 people die annually from air pollution in Kabul — more than are killed in insurgent violence in the entire country. That’s not counting, of course, the dubious air quality in other parts of the country, which no doubt takes a serious toll as well. I have no idea if this statistic is accurate or not, but it’s clear that Afghanistan needs to act not just on the security front but on the environmental front as well.

Back home, I’m hardly a green activist, but spending time breathing the fumes of Kabul is enough to turn me into a fan of the EPA.

I’m in Kabul now where two facts are evident every time you step outside.

First, security here is good — most days go by without a single insurgent attack in the capital, knock on wood. The streets are bustling. Movement is pretty unrestricted. This is nothing like Baghdad during the dark days of the Iraq war. Even Baghdad today remains less secure.

Second, the air quality is beyond terrible. I grew up in Southern California in the 1970s-80s, when smog was a fact of life. But seldom have I seen smog as bad as it is here. An ominous haze hovers over the city, and many people go around with a hacking cough. Turns out this is not just a quality-of-life problem — it’s a life or death issue.

Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Office (who knew that such a thing even existed?) claims that 3,000 people die annually from air pollution in Kabul — more than are killed in insurgent violence in the entire country. That’s not counting, of course, the dubious air quality in other parts of the country, which no doubt takes a serious toll as well. I have no idea if this statistic is accurate or not, but it’s clear that Afghanistan needs to act not just on the security front but on the environmental front as well.

Back home, I’m hardly a green activist, but spending time breathing the fumes of Kabul is enough to turn me into a fan of the EPA.

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A Coalition Government Is Formed in Iraq

So it appears that a government is finally going to be formed in Iraq, after eight agonizing months of politicking.

As usual, Iraqi politicos waited until the 11th hour and a bit beyond to reach a deal, but that they finally managed to bridge their differences is a hopeful sign for that troubled country’s future as an emerging democracy.

It’s hard to know what took so long, since the deal that has finally been reached is not too different from what was envisioned in the beginning: Nouri al-Maliki remains as prime minister, but Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc, which won the most votes, will get the speakership of parliament along with the leadership of a new committee that will oversee national security policy. The Kurds, meanwhile, retain the symbolic presidency, which will continue to be held by Jalal Talabani. There are more details to be ironed out, of course, including the exact distribution of cabinet seats; it will be important that the Sadrists be kept out of positions of responsibility.

However the posts are distributed, this will be an unwieldy coalition government that will hardly be a model of efficiency. But that’s preferable to the alternative. The wounds of civil war in Iraq are still too raw to risk having Allawi’s bloc go into opposition, as surely would have happened in a more mature parliamentary democracy. In Iraq, that would have risked giving Sunnis a feeling of disenfranchisement, which might have led them to take up arms again.

Painful as this government-formation process was, the good news is that Iraq hasn’t gone to pieces. There have been occasional, horrific terrorist acts, but overall violence has remained low. Economic development has continued, with the Wall Street Journal reporting today on how Basra has become an oil boomtown. Expect even greater oil riches to be tapped once the new government takes office and ensures some political stability.

That Iraq has continued to inch forward despite the paralysis of its politicos is a tribute to the good sense of the Iraqi people and to the growing competency of the Iraqi security forces — supported, lest we forget, by 50,000 U.S. troops who still remain. The Obama administration also deserves some props for finally getting down to business in Baghdad with a new ambassador focused on forming a government, eschewing the more hands-off posture of his predecessor.

The first order of business now is to ensure that the gains Iraq has made don’t evaporate in the future. That means negotiating a new U.S.-Iraqi security accord that will allow U.S. troops to remain post-2011 to train the Iraqi security forces and to act implicitly as a peacekeeping force to ensure that tensions don’t boil over into renewed violence.

So it appears that a government is finally going to be formed in Iraq, after eight agonizing months of politicking.

As usual, Iraqi politicos waited until the 11th hour and a bit beyond to reach a deal, but that they finally managed to bridge their differences is a hopeful sign for that troubled country’s future as an emerging democracy.

It’s hard to know what took so long, since the deal that has finally been reached is not too different from what was envisioned in the beginning: Nouri al-Maliki remains as prime minister, but Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc, which won the most votes, will get the speakership of parliament along with the leadership of a new committee that will oversee national security policy. The Kurds, meanwhile, retain the symbolic presidency, which will continue to be held by Jalal Talabani. There are more details to be ironed out, of course, including the exact distribution of cabinet seats; it will be important that the Sadrists be kept out of positions of responsibility.

However the posts are distributed, this will be an unwieldy coalition government that will hardly be a model of efficiency. But that’s preferable to the alternative. The wounds of civil war in Iraq are still too raw to risk having Allawi’s bloc go into opposition, as surely would have happened in a more mature parliamentary democracy. In Iraq, that would have risked giving Sunnis a feeling of disenfranchisement, which might have led them to take up arms again.

Painful as this government-formation process was, the good news is that Iraq hasn’t gone to pieces. There have been occasional, horrific terrorist acts, but overall violence has remained low. Economic development has continued, with the Wall Street Journal reporting today on how Basra has become an oil boomtown. Expect even greater oil riches to be tapped once the new government takes office and ensures some political stability.

That Iraq has continued to inch forward despite the paralysis of its politicos is a tribute to the good sense of the Iraqi people and to the growing competency of the Iraqi security forces — supported, lest we forget, by 50,000 U.S. troops who still remain. The Obama administration also deserves some props for finally getting down to business in Baghdad with a new ambassador focused on forming a government, eschewing the more hands-off posture of his predecessor.

The first order of business now is to ensure that the gains Iraq has made don’t evaporate in the future. That means negotiating a new U.S.-Iraqi security accord that will allow U.S. troops to remain post-2011 to train the Iraqi security forces and to act implicitly as a peacekeeping force to ensure that tensions don’t boil over into renewed violence.

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Tea Leaves and the Taliban

In the New York Times report that NATO has escorted Taliban leaders to talks in Kabul, there is a slight but eye-catching overemphasis on the importance of withholding the names of the Taliban. The Times cites a request from U.S. and Afghan officials that the names be withheld for fear of retaliation against the Taliban delegates by Pakistani intelligence or other Taliban. But a moment’s reflection informs us that the Taliban leaders’ associates know exactly who they are — and there are plenty of cell phones in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It cannot be a secret for long who went to Kabul.

Strictly necessary or not, the security warning to the Times appears oddly pointed, fingering the Pakistani intelligence agency with an uncharacteristic lack of dissimulation about Pakistan’s quality as an antiterrorism ally. It is attributed to an Afghan official, but it comes across as representative of general concerns held also by the U.S. There seems to have been no attempt by Obama’s officials to leave a different impression. Intentionally or by default, the security warning serves as the rhetorical cutting of a tether: the end of a politically unifying narrative about the Afghan conflict and the beginning of something else. What that something else will be is not clear, but the central role of the Taliban in this strategic hinge point is informative.

The Times and others have picked up on the fact that the “discussions [in Kabul] appear to be unfolding without the approval of Pakistan’s leaders … The Afghan government seems to be trying to seek a reconciliation agreement that does not directly involve Pakistan.” If the U.S. is backing this play — and our concern about secrecy for the Taliban negotiators suggests we are – that’s a major development in our policy. Revealing such developments obliquely through oracles and signs is becoming a tiresome pattern with the Obama administration. It certainly doesn’t burnish our image of integrity as a global power. And as the Times points out, with masterly understatement, this particular policy shift “could backfire by provoking the Pakistanis.”

I agree with Max Boot that the military situation in Afghanistan is not such as to force the Taliban to negotiate. But the apparent import of the outreach to the Taliban is divorced from that consideration. This looks like evidence of an emerging policy initiative to exclude Pakistani influence from the reconciliation talks, independent of security conditions in Afghanistan.

If that is a misperception, it’s an awfully big and significant one to leave uncorrected. The U.S. headlines have been full of Pakistani perfidy for weeks now; my impression from the Obama administration’s effective silence has been that it has no interest in counteracting the animus that naturally arises in the American public in the face of such themes. In a rare editorial last week, Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Pakistan and Iraq, was moved to defend the difficult situation of the Pakistani government, urging the U.S. administration not to turn its back on partnership with the struggling democracy. He appears to be swimming against the tide of headlines and administration policy.

Something that requires no divination to understand is the goal of the Taliban. Long War Journal’s Threat Matrix blog reports that the Taliban website, Voice of Jihad, has posted a demand that the U.S. guarantee in writing to withdraw its troops on a specified timeline (i.e., July 2011), as a good-faith gesture toward reconciliation talks. It’s hard to ignore the uncanny similarity of this demand to Hezbollah’s demand for the same guarantee from a prospective Maliki government in Iraq. Maliki’s Hezbollah-backed coalition with the radical Shia cleric al-Sadr is emerging as a fait accompli in Baghdad, in spite of U.S. opposition; the Taliban cannot be pessimistic about their own chances with reconciliation talks and a withdrawal timeline.

In the New York Times report that NATO has escorted Taliban leaders to talks in Kabul, there is a slight but eye-catching overemphasis on the importance of withholding the names of the Taliban. The Times cites a request from U.S. and Afghan officials that the names be withheld for fear of retaliation against the Taliban delegates by Pakistani intelligence or other Taliban. But a moment’s reflection informs us that the Taliban leaders’ associates know exactly who they are — and there are plenty of cell phones in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It cannot be a secret for long who went to Kabul.

Strictly necessary or not, the security warning to the Times appears oddly pointed, fingering the Pakistani intelligence agency with an uncharacteristic lack of dissimulation about Pakistan’s quality as an antiterrorism ally. It is attributed to an Afghan official, but it comes across as representative of general concerns held also by the U.S. There seems to have been no attempt by Obama’s officials to leave a different impression. Intentionally or by default, the security warning serves as the rhetorical cutting of a tether: the end of a politically unifying narrative about the Afghan conflict and the beginning of something else. What that something else will be is not clear, but the central role of the Taliban in this strategic hinge point is informative.

The Times and others have picked up on the fact that the “discussions [in Kabul] appear to be unfolding without the approval of Pakistan’s leaders … The Afghan government seems to be trying to seek a reconciliation agreement that does not directly involve Pakistan.” If the U.S. is backing this play — and our concern about secrecy for the Taliban negotiators suggests we are – that’s a major development in our policy. Revealing such developments obliquely through oracles and signs is becoming a tiresome pattern with the Obama administration. It certainly doesn’t burnish our image of integrity as a global power. And as the Times points out, with masterly understatement, this particular policy shift “could backfire by provoking the Pakistanis.”

I agree with Max Boot that the military situation in Afghanistan is not such as to force the Taliban to negotiate. But the apparent import of the outreach to the Taliban is divorced from that consideration. This looks like evidence of an emerging policy initiative to exclude Pakistani influence from the reconciliation talks, independent of security conditions in Afghanistan.

If that is a misperception, it’s an awfully big and significant one to leave uncorrected. The U.S. headlines have been full of Pakistani perfidy for weeks now; my impression from the Obama administration’s effective silence has been that it has no interest in counteracting the animus that naturally arises in the American public in the face of such themes. In a rare editorial last week, Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Pakistan and Iraq, was moved to defend the difficult situation of the Pakistani government, urging the U.S. administration not to turn its back on partnership with the struggling democracy. He appears to be swimming against the tide of headlines and administration policy.

Something that requires no divination to understand is the goal of the Taliban. Long War Journal’s Threat Matrix blog reports that the Taliban website, Voice of Jihad, has posted a demand that the U.S. guarantee in writing to withdraw its troops on a specified timeline (i.e., July 2011), as a good-faith gesture toward reconciliation talks. It’s hard to ignore the uncanny similarity of this demand to Hezbollah’s demand for the same guarantee from a prospective Maliki government in Iraq. Maliki’s Hezbollah-backed coalition with the radical Shia cleric al-Sadr is emerging as a fait accompli in Baghdad, in spite of U.S. opposition; the Taliban cannot be pessimistic about their own chances with reconciliation talks and a withdrawal timeline.

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What to Do About Pakistan?

In the New York Times, Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Kabul and Baghdad, suggests getting “tough” with Pakistan. Good idea, but how? He writes: “The United States should demand that Pakistan shut down all sanctuaries and military support programs for insurgents or else we will carry out operations against those insurgent havens, with or without Pakistani consent.”

That is, in fact, pretty much what the U.S. has been threatening since 2001. By now such threats ring hollow because we haven’t carried them out — and for good reason. How are we to suppose to clear out “insurgent havens” without Pakistani consent? Are we going to send tens of thousands of troops into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas? Not likely. Maybe step up drone strikes? That we can do, but Predators would hardly clear out the terrorists. And in return for violating Pakistani sovereignty, we would be vulnerable to Pakistani counter-pressure, from closing the supply routes for U.S. forces in Afghanistan to ending cooperation with the drone strikes against al-Qaeda.

Khalilzad proposes sweeteners for the Pakistanis, such as providing “long-term assistance to Pakistan, focused on developing not only its security apparatus, but also its civil society, economy, and democratic institutions” and facilitating “a major diplomatic effort … to improve relations between India and Pakistan.” Again, been there and done that.

Last year Congress approved a five-year, $7.5 billion package of nonmilitary aid to Pakistan. Now the Obama administration is asking for $2 billion more in military aid. That’s a lot of money in a place like Pakistan, and yet there is no sign that it has done or will do much good. Given how U.S. foreign aid is routinely stolen or used for inappropriate projects (Afghanistan and Iraq are both textbook examples), we can have little confidence that all this money is going to lead to a fundamental reorientation of Pakistani foreign policy. Nor will U.S. efforts to mediate between Pakistan and India — something we’ve done before — affect the fundamental calculations of Pakistan’s army, which views the Taliban and Haqqani Network as instruments of Pakistani statecraft in Afghanistan.

I don’t know how to reorient Pakistani policy; I don’t think anyone does. It would help, however, if President Obama made it clear that we’re not leaving Afghanistan next July. As Khalilzad rightly notes, “Pakistani military leaders believe that our current surge will be the last push before we begin a face-saving troop drawdown next July. They are confident that if they continue to frustrate our military and political strategy — even actively impede reconciliation between Kabul and Taliban groups willing to make peace — pro-Pakistani forces will have the upper hand in Afghanistan after the United States departs.”

In the New York Times, Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Kabul and Baghdad, suggests getting “tough” with Pakistan. Good idea, but how? He writes: “The United States should demand that Pakistan shut down all sanctuaries and military support programs for insurgents or else we will carry out operations against those insurgent havens, with or without Pakistani consent.”

That is, in fact, pretty much what the U.S. has been threatening since 2001. By now such threats ring hollow because we haven’t carried them out — and for good reason. How are we to suppose to clear out “insurgent havens” without Pakistani consent? Are we going to send tens of thousands of troops into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas? Not likely. Maybe step up drone strikes? That we can do, but Predators would hardly clear out the terrorists. And in return for violating Pakistani sovereignty, we would be vulnerable to Pakistani counter-pressure, from closing the supply routes for U.S. forces in Afghanistan to ending cooperation with the drone strikes against al-Qaeda.

Khalilzad proposes sweeteners for the Pakistanis, such as providing “long-term assistance to Pakistan, focused on developing not only its security apparatus, but also its civil society, economy, and democratic institutions” and facilitating “a major diplomatic effort … to improve relations between India and Pakistan.” Again, been there and done that.

Last year Congress approved a five-year, $7.5 billion package of nonmilitary aid to Pakistan. Now the Obama administration is asking for $2 billion more in military aid. That’s a lot of money in a place like Pakistan, and yet there is no sign that it has done or will do much good. Given how U.S. foreign aid is routinely stolen or used for inappropriate projects (Afghanistan and Iraq are both textbook examples), we can have little confidence that all this money is going to lead to a fundamental reorientation of Pakistani foreign policy. Nor will U.S. efforts to mediate between Pakistan and India — something we’ve done before — affect the fundamental calculations of Pakistan’s army, which views the Taliban and Haqqani Network as instruments of Pakistani statecraft in Afghanistan.

I don’t know how to reorient Pakistani policy; I don’t think anyone does. It would help, however, if President Obama made it clear that we’re not leaving Afghanistan next July. As Khalilzad rightly notes, “Pakistani military leaders believe that our current surge will be the last push before we begin a face-saving troop drawdown next July. They are confident that if they continue to frustrate our military and political strategy — even actively impede reconciliation between Kabul and Taliban groups willing to make peace — pro-Pakistani forces will have the upper hand in Afghanistan after the United States departs.”

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Gibbs vs. the Historical Record

“What is certainly not up for question is that President Obama, then-candidate Obama, said that adding those 20,000 troops into Iraq would, indeed, improve the security situation, and it did,” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said on the Today show this morning, in anticipation of Mr. Obama’s Oval Office address this evening.

That statement is false. As I pointed out in this COMMENTARY essay, on the night of President Bush’s “surge” announcement, then-Senator Obama proclaimed: “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse” [emphasis added]. It’s worth pointing out as well that in January 2007 then-Senator Joseph Biden declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.”

It would be hard to find two more vociferous critics of the surge than Obama and Biden.

It’s regrettable that Obama’s press secretary would compound his error in judgment with a shameful (and stupid) attempt to falsify the historical record.

“What is certainly not up for question is that President Obama, then-candidate Obama, said that adding those 20,000 troops into Iraq would, indeed, improve the security situation, and it did,” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said on the Today show this morning, in anticipation of Mr. Obama’s Oval Office address this evening.

That statement is false. As I pointed out in this COMMENTARY essay, on the night of President Bush’s “surge” announcement, then-Senator Obama proclaimed: “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse” [emphasis added]. It’s worth pointing out as well that in January 2007 then-Senator Joseph Biden declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.”

It would be hard to find two more vociferous critics of the surge than Obama and Biden.

It’s regrettable that Obama’s press secretary would compound his error in judgment with a shameful (and stupid) attempt to falsify the historical record.

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“Victory Lap” Failure

Another “victory lap”? Really? Earlier this week, President Obama gave a speech on Iraq that was supposed to be part of a “victory lap” on making good his withdrawal from that country. Of course, we’ve seen before the problem with premature declarations of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. The situation is obviously much more stable now than it was in 2003, but it could still unravel if the U.S. doesn’t stay committed. Why take a “victory lap” now, when all indications of American disengagement weaken our leverage in Baghdad?

The question becomes even more acute in the case of Iran. The president held a White House meeting with some friendly columnists to discuss Iran. Jeff Goldberg, who was there, describes the session, as, yes, another “victory lap.” Marc Ambinder, also present, summed it up this way: “President Obama has detected ‘rumblings’ that global sanctions against Iran are slowly prodding the country to rethink its nuclear ambitions, though he conceded that Iran continues to pursue a fully-fledged nuclear weapons program.”

What rumblings are these? Other administration officials who were present explained “that Iran was recently forced to abandon an effort to develop an oil field because the IRGC didn’t have the expertise and the country could find no subcontractors who were willing to risk the penalties imposed by the sanctions.”

Good to hear that Iran is feeling some pressure, but there is, to put it mildly, no evidence that it is willing to abandon its nuclear ambitions — especially because Obama continues to talk of his burning desire to strike a deal with the mullahs, which only encourages their sense of invulnerability. In fact, in this very meeting, Obama indicated he has not given up his hope for negotiations, something that the Iranians have spurned as undiplomatically as possible. They are sure to see his groveling, continued even after their insulting refusals to talk, as a sign of weakness — as indeed it is.

Goldberg left the meeting unconvinced. His doubts are worth quoting:

I am skeptical, though, about the possibilities of a diplomatic breakthrough, for two reasons, one structural, and one related to the state of Iran’s opposition: The structural reason is simple; one of the pillars of Islamic Republic theology is anti-Americanism, and it would take an ideological earthquake to upend that pillar. And then there’s the problem of the Green Movement. If the Iranian opposition were vibrant and strong, the regime might have good reason to be sensitive to the economic impact of the new sanctions package. But the opposition is weak and divided. The regime has shown itself to be fully capable of suppressing dissent through terror. So I’m not sure how much pressure the regime feels to negotiate with the West.

Goldberg, with whom I don’t always agree, is being realistic. What’s scary is that the illusions about “outreach” in the upper reaches of this administration have still not been dispelled, despite a year and a half of experience (to say nothing of the previous 30 years of experience), which would suggest that the mullahs aren’t misunderstood moderates who are committed to “peaceful co-existence.”

Another “victory lap”? Really? Earlier this week, President Obama gave a speech on Iraq that was supposed to be part of a “victory lap” on making good his withdrawal from that country. Of course, we’ve seen before the problem with premature declarations of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. The situation is obviously much more stable now than it was in 2003, but it could still unravel if the U.S. doesn’t stay committed. Why take a “victory lap” now, when all indications of American disengagement weaken our leverage in Baghdad?

The question becomes even more acute in the case of Iran. The president held a White House meeting with some friendly columnists to discuss Iran. Jeff Goldberg, who was there, describes the session, as, yes, another “victory lap.” Marc Ambinder, also present, summed it up this way: “President Obama has detected ‘rumblings’ that global sanctions against Iran are slowly prodding the country to rethink its nuclear ambitions, though he conceded that Iran continues to pursue a fully-fledged nuclear weapons program.”

What rumblings are these? Other administration officials who were present explained “that Iran was recently forced to abandon an effort to develop an oil field because the IRGC didn’t have the expertise and the country could find no subcontractors who were willing to risk the penalties imposed by the sanctions.”

Good to hear that Iran is feeling some pressure, but there is, to put it mildly, no evidence that it is willing to abandon its nuclear ambitions — especially because Obama continues to talk of his burning desire to strike a deal with the mullahs, which only encourages their sense of invulnerability. In fact, in this very meeting, Obama indicated he has not given up his hope for negotiations, something that the Iranians have spurned as undiplomatically as possible. They are sure to see his groveling, continued even after their insulting refusals to talk, as a sign of weakness — as indeed it is.

Goldberg left the meeting unconvinced. His doubts are worth quoting:

I am skeptical, though, about the possibilities of a diplomatic breakthrough, for two reasons, one structural, and one related to the state of Iran’s opposition: The structural reason is simple; one of the pillars of Islamic Republic theology is anti-Americanism, and it would take an ideological earthquake to upend that pillar. And then there’s the problem of the Green Movement. If the Iranian opposition were vibrant and strong, the regime might have good reason to be sensitive to the economic impact of the new sanctions package. But the opposition is weak and divided. The regime has shown itself to be fully capable of suppressing dissent through terror. So I’m not sure how much pressure the regime feels to negotiate with the West.

Goldberg, with whom I don’t always agree, is being realistic. What’s scary is that the illusions about “outreach” in the upper reaches of this administration have still not been dispelled, despite a year and a half of experience (to say nothing of the previous 30 years of experience), which would suggest that the mullahs aren’t misunderstood moderates who are committed to “peaceful co-existence.”

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The Uncomfortable Commander in Chief

Obama gave a speech yesterday at the Disabled Veterans of America Conference. It was another disturbing example of Obama’s refusal to embrace fully his role as commander in chief. On the Iraq war, in what should have been a moment of triumph, a high point in our war against Islamic terrorists, he still could not bring himself to use the term victory or to explain the long-term significance of a unified, democratic Iraq. The best he could do was this:

As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. (Applause.) Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility. And I made it clear that by August 31st, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end. (Applause.) And that is exactly what we are doing — as promised and on schedule.  (Applause.)

Already, we have closed or turned over to Iraq hundreds of bases. We’re moving out millions of pieces of equipment in one of the largest logistics operations that we’ve seen in decades. By the end of this month, we’ll have brought more than 90,000 of our troops home from Iraq since I took office — more than 90,000 have come home. (Applause.)

Today — even as terrorists try to derail Iraq’s progress — because of the sacrifices of our troops and their Iraqi partners, violence in Iraq continues to be near the lowest it’s been in years.  And next month, we will change our military mission from combat to supporting and training Iraqi security forces.  (Applause.)  In fact, in many parts of the country, Iraqis have already taken the lead for security.

Obama was very concerned about reminding the crowd that he had kept his campaign promise. He was far less interested in explaining that a great victory had been achieved. And he was even less interested in explaining how we won. He preferred to credit the troops rather than the strategy or the president who championed it (over Obama and the left’s objections): “When invasion gave way to insurgency, our troops persevered, block by block, city by city, from Baghdad to Fallujah.” No, he didn’t use the word surge or even mention Gen. Petraeus’s name. Shocking, really.

Then on Afghanistan, he was surprisingly brief. He explained — in contrast to his muteness on Iraq — why we are there and what is at stake. That’s commendable. But on the fighting itself, he said only this:

We will continue to face huge challenges in Afghanistan. But it’s important that the American people know that we are making progress and we are focused on goals that are clear and achievable.

On the military front, nearly all the additional forces that I ordered to Afghanistan are now in place. Along with our Afghan and international partners, we are going on the offensive against the Taliban — targeting their leaders, challenging them in regions where they had free reign, and training Afghan national security forces. (Applause.) Our thoughts and prayers are with all our troops risking their lives for our safety in Afghanistan.

And on the civilian front, we’re insisting on greater accountability. And the Afghan government has taken concrete steps to foster development and combat corruption, and to put forward a reintegration plan that allows Afghans to lay down their arms.

The best he could come up with is “achievable goals”; he is apparently allergic to the word victory.

The major part of his speech had to do with veterans’ benefits. Even the Washington Post noticed the imbalance:

White House officials billed Obama’s remarks to the veterans group as a significant Iraq policy address, but a relatively small part of the roughly 20-minute speech was devoted to the subject. The president spoke most passionately about veterans benefits and received the most applause when he did.

Veterans’ benefits is an important topic. But it is all too apparent that this president is most comfortable when talking about social services and quite uncomfortable talking about victory in war. For those who hoped he would grow into the job of commander in chief, this is yet another sober reminder that he still doesn’t comprehend or excel at the most critical aspect of his job.

Obama gave a speech yesterday at the Disabled Veterans of America Conference. It was another disturbing example of Obama’s refusal to embrace fully his role as commander in chief. On the Iraq war, in what should have been a moment of triumph, a high point in our war against Islamic terrorists, he still could not bring himself to use the term victory or to explain the long-term significance of a unified, democratic Iraq. The best he could do was this:

As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. (Applause.) Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility. And I made it clear that by August 31st, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end. (Applause.) And that is exactly what we are doing — as promised and on schedule.  (Applause.)

Already, we have closed or turned over to Iraq hundreds of bases. We’re moving out millions of pieces of equipment in one of the largest logistics operations that we’ve seen in decades. By the end of this month, we’ll have brought more than 90,000 of our troops home from Iraq since I took office — more than 90,000 have come home. (Applause.)

Today — even as terrorists try to derail Iraq’s progress — because of the sacrifices of our troops and their Iraqi partners, violence in Iraq continues to be near the lowest it’s been in years.  And next month, we will change our military mission from combat to supporting and training Iraqi security forces.  (Applause.)  In fact, in many parts of the country, Iraqis have already taken the lead for security.

Obama was very concerned about reminding the crowd that he had kept his campaign promise. He was far less interested in explaining that a great victory had been achieved. And he was even less interested in explaining how we won. He preferred to credit the troops rather than the strategy or the president who championed it (over Obama and the left’s objections): “When invasion gave way to insurgency, our troops persevered, block by block, city by city, from Baghdad to Fallujah.” No, he didn’t use the word surge or even mention Gen. Petraeus’s name. Shocking, really.

Then on Afghanistan, he was surprisingly brief. He explained — in contrast to his muteness on Iraq — why we are there and what is at stake. That’s commendable. But on the fighting itself, he said only this:

We will continue to face huge challenges in Afghanistan. But it’s important that the American people know that we are making progress and we are focused on goals that are clear and achievable.

On the military front, nearly all the additional forces that I ordered to Afghanistan are now in place. Along with our Afghan and international partners, we are going on the offensive against the Taliban — targeting their leaders, challenging them in regions where they had free reign, and training Afghan national security forces. (Applause.) Our thoughts and prayers are with all our troops risking their lives for our safety in Afghanistan.

And on the civilian front, we’re insisting on greater accountability. And the Afghan government has taken concrete steps to foster development and combat corruption, and to put forward a reintegration plan that allows Afghans to lay down their arms.

The best he could come up with is “achievable goals”; he is apparently allergic to the word victory.

The major part of his speech had to do with veterans’ benefits. Even the Washington Post noticed the imbalance:

White House officials billed Obama’s remarks to the veterans group as a significant Iraq policy address, but a relatively small part of the roughly 20-minute speech was devoted to the subject. The president spoke most passionately about veterans benefits and received the most applause when he did.

Veterans’ benefits is an important topic. But it is all too apparent that this president is most comfortable when talking about social services and quite uncomfortable talking about victory in war. For those who hoped he would grow into the job of commander in chief, this is yet another sober reminder that he still doesn’t comprehend or excel at the most critical aspect of his job.

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No Victory Laps in Iraq — Yet

President Obama delivers a speech today marking the end of combat operations in Iraq as the number of U.S. troops falls to 50,000 by the end of the month. Politico describes this as “the first steps of a U.S. victory lap on the war.” Meanwhile, Iraq continues to suffer from chronic electricity shortages, terrorists have stepped up their attacks this summer, and, most worrying of all, Iraqi politicos agree there is no chance of a government being formed before the fall. These worrisome trends on the ground shouldn’t obscure the amazing progress that has been made since 2007, but they should warn us against the kind of complacency the administration has fallen prey to in the past.

Having 50,000 troops remain in Iraq for at least another year still gives us considerable leverage to influence events in a more positive direction — if we have smart representatives capable of doing that and if they have the support they need in Washington. General Ray Odierno, the senior military commander (who, unfortunately, is about to depart), has done a tremendous job, but he has been let down by his diplomatic partner, Ambassador Chris Hill, who had never served in the Arab world before being appointed last year and has taken a curiously hands-off attitude toward the Iraqi political process.

The good news is that Hill is on the way out and a more experienced ambassador, Jim Jeffrey, who has served in Iraq before, is due to arrive soon. He is smart enough to bring back a few key staff members from the “Dream Team” that helped General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker manage the surge:

Brett McGurk, an Iraq adviser to then-President George W. Bush who was among the key negotiators of a 2008 bilateral agreement, recently arrived in Baghdad. Sadi Othman, who was Gen. David H. Petraeus’s main interlocutor with Iraqi politicians during the surge, has been asked to return to work for the incoming U.S. commander, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III. Ali Khedery, who was an adviser to then-U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, will work temporarily for the next ambassador, James F. Jeffrey.

General Austin, the new military commander, doesn’t have the same level of experience in Iraq as Odierno, but overall this is a big upgrade of the American presence. Still, it’s not enough to have better representatives on the ground; success in Iraq will also require high-level engagement of the sort that the White House has conducted only intermittently. President Obama needs to pay closer attention and not simply hand Iraq off to Vice President Biden. It is still possible for our hard-won achievements in Iraq to be dissipated if the president is more interested in taking victory laps than in pushing the country forward.

President Obama delivers a speech today marking the end of combat operations in Iraq as the number of U.S. troops falls to 50,000 by the end of the month. Politico describes this as “the first steps of a U.S. victory lap on the war.” Meanwhile, Iraq continues to suffer from chronic electricity shortages, terrorists have stepped up their attacks this summer, and, most worrying of all, Iraqi politicos agree there is no chance of a government being formed before the fall. These worrisome trends on the ground shouldn’t obscure the amazing progress that has been made since 2007, but they should warn us against the kind of complacency the administration has fallen prey to in the past.

Having 50,000 troops remain in Iraq for at least another year still gives us considerable leverage to influence events in a more positive direction — if we have smart representatives capable of doing that and if they have the support they need in Washington. General Ray Odierno, the senior military commander (who, unfortunately, is about to depart), has done a tremendous job, but he has been let down by his diplomatic partner, Ambassador Chris Hill, who had never served in the Arab world before being appointed last year and has taken a curiously hands-off attitude toward the Iraqi political process.

The good news is that Hill is on the way out and a more experienced ambassador, Jim Jeffrey, who has served in Iraq before, is due to arrive soon. He is smart enough to bring back a few key staff members from the “Dream Team” that helped General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker manage the surge:

Brett McGurk, an Iraq adviser to then-President George W. Bush who was among the key negotiators of a 2008 bilateral agreement, recently arrived in Baghdad. Sadi Othman, who was Gen. David H. Petraeus’s main interlocutor with Iraqi politicians during the surge, has been asked to return to work for the incoming U.S. commander, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III. Ali Khedery, who was an adviser to then-U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, will work temporarily for the next ambassador, James F. Jeffrey.

General Austin, the new military commander, doesn’t have the same level of experience in Iraq as Odierno, but overall this is a big upgrade of the American presence. Still, it’s not enough to have better representatives on the ground; success in Iraq will also require high-level engagement of the sort that the White House has conducted only intermittently. President Obama needs to pay closer attention and not simply hand Iraq off to Vice President Biden. It is still possible for our hard-won achievements in Iraq to be dissipated if the president is more interested in taking victory laps than in pushing the country forward.

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A Stroll Down Memory Lane

According to USA Today, in an interview Vice President Biden said that

former president George W. Bush deserved some credit for sending additional troops to Iraq in 2007. But even though Biden said the surge worked militarily, he said he didn’t regret his vote in the Senate against it because Bush did not include a plan to address Iraq’s political problems. “I don’t regret a thing, what I said or did about Iraq policy,” he said. It was the Obama administration, Biden said, that put in the plan that led to success. “What was lacking in the past was a coherent political process.”

Where oh where to begin? Perhaps with a short journey down Memory Lane.

In January 2007, after President Bush announced the so-called surge of forces in Iraq, then-Senator Joseph Biden declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.” He called it “doomed” and “a fantasy.”

“The surge isn’t going to work either tactically or strategically,” Biden assured the Boston Globe in the summer of 2007. Even well into 2008, when the surge had made undeniable progress, Biden was still insisting it was a failure, that Bush had no strategy, and that “there is little evidence the Iraqis will settle their differences peacefully any time soon.”

If you’d like to see Biden in his own inimitable words, take a look at this.

One would be hard pressed to think of another person who was as persistently and consistently wrong about the surge as Biden (though Barack Obama would give him a good run for his money). Biden went so far as to advocate dividing up Iraq into three parts based on ethnicity, one of the more ill-informed and dangerous ideas to emerge among war critics.

The truth is that if Joe Biden had had his way, the war would have been lost, Iraq would probably be engulfed in something close to genocide, al-Qaeda would have emerged with its most important victory ever, and America would have sustained a defeat far worse than it did in Vietnam.

As for Biden’s claim that what was lacking in the past was a “coherent political process,” let’s be generous to the vice president: he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The then-American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, was one of its outstanding diplomats. And unlike the situation in Afghanistan under the Obama administration, in Iraq the commanding general at the time (David Petraeus) and the U.S. ambassador (Crocker) worked hand-in-glove. They were an extraordinarily effective team. In order to refresh Biden’s memory of the coherent political process that was in place, he might want to review Ambassador Crocker’s Senate testimony from September 2007, before a committee Biden himself sat on.

Of course, none of what Biden said is especially surprising. Over the years he has shown himself to be loquacious, personable, comically self-important (this video is priceless), and a somewhat buffoonish figure (who can forget this gem or these incidents here and here). Beyond that, if you go back to his record since he was first elected to Congress in the early 1970s, you will find few if any members of Congress whose record on national-security matters can be judged to have been as consistently bad as Biden’s (see here).

Over the years, Mr. Biden has said a countless number of things that are silly and wrong. We can add what he said to USA Today to the list. And you can bet there will be plenty more to come.

According to USA Today, in an interview Vice President Biden said that

former president George W. Bush deserved some credit for sending additional troops to Iraq in 2007. But even though Biden said the surge worked militarily, he said he didn’t regret his vote in the Senate against it because Bush did not include a plan to address Iraq’s political problems. “I don’t regret a thing, what I said or did about Iraq policy,” he said. It was the Obama administration, Biden said, that put in the plan that led to success. “What was lacking in the past was a coherent political process.”

Where oh where to begin? Perhaps with a short journey down Memory Lane.

In January 2007, after President Bush announced the so-called surge of forces in Iraq, then-Senator Joseph Biden declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.” He called it “doomed” and “a fantasy.”

“The surge isn’t going to work either tactically or strategically,” Biden assured the Boston Globe in the summer of 2007. Even well into 2008, when the surge had made undeniable progress, Biden was still insisting it was a failure, that Bush had no strategy, and that “there is little evidence the Iraqis will settle their differences peacefully any time soon.”

If you’d like to see Biden in his own inimitable words, take a look at this.

One would be hard pressed to think of another person who was as persistently and consistently wrong about the surge as Biden (though Barack Obama would give him a good run for his money). Biden went so far as to advocate dividing up Iraq into three parts based on ethnicity, one of the more ill-informed and dangerous ideas to emerge among war critics.

The truth is that if Joe Biden had had his way, the war would have been lost, Iraq would probably be engulfed in something close to genocide, al-Qaeda would have emerged with its most important victory ever, and America would have sustained a defeat far worse than it did in Vietnam.

As for Biden’s claim that what was lacking in the past was a “coherent political process,” let’s be generous to the vice president: he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The then-American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, was one of its outstanding diplomats. And unlike the situation in Afghanistan under the Obama administration, in Iraq the commanding general at the time (David Petraeus) and the U.S. ambassador (Crocker) worked hand-in-glove. They were an extraordinarily effective team. In order to refresh Biden’s memory of the coherent political process that was in place, he might want to review Ambassador Crocker’s Senate testimony from September 2007, before a committee Biden himself sat on.

Of course, none of what Biden said is especially surprising. Over the years he has shown himself to be loquacious, personable, comically self-important (this video is priceless), and a somewhat buffoonish figure (who can forget this gem or these incidents here and here). Beyond that, if you go back to his record since he was first elected to Congress in the early 1970s, you will find few if any members of Congress whose record on national-security matters can be judged to have been as consistently bad as Biden’s (see here).

Over the years, Mr. Biden has said a countless number of things that are silly and wrong. We can add what he said to USA Today to the list. And you can bet there will be plenty more to come.

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GOP Puts Principle Ahead of Politics and Backs President

According to the New York Times,

the House of Representatives agreed on Tuesday to provide $37 billion to continue financing America’s two wars, but the vote showed deepening divisions and anxiety among Democrats over the course of the nearly nine-year-old conflict in Afghanistan. The 308-to-114 vote, with strong Republican support, came after the leak of an archive of classified battlefield reports from Afghanistan that fueled new debate over the course of the war and whether President Obama’s counterinsurgency strategy could work.

GOP support was strong indeed: 160 Republicans backed the war spending, while only 12 opposed it. By way of comparison, 148 Democrats backed the war spending, while 102 opposed it.

This is a good opportunity, then, to praise Republicans for standing with a Democratic president during a war that is increasingly unpopular.

I am reminded how, during the Bush years, the situation was very much reversed. Virtually the entire Democratic Party, with very few exceptions, turned hard against the Iraq war (which most of them initially supported). It is one of the most irresponsible and reckless displays we have seen in modern political history.

Democrats’ opposition to Bush and the surge was so intense, their commitment to a particular (defeatist) narrative so strong, and their eagerness to withdraw from Iraq so irresistible that they declared the Petraeus-led surge would not and could not work. It was simply incomprehensible to consider any other possibility.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for example, declared that “this surge is not accomplishing anything” and in April 2007 announced flatly that the Iraq war was “lost.” A young senator from Illinois, on the night President Bush announced the surge, proclaimed, “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” So said Barack Obama. Not to be outdone, Senator Joseph Biden declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.”

(I can’t help but point out that a few future Journolisters joined in the Surrender Chorus as well, with Time magazine’s Joe Klein ridiculing “Bush’s futile pipe dream” and the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, having convinced himself that he brought some actual knowledge and expertise to the debate, said he found “something genuinely bizarre” about those Americans who actually supported the new strategy. “It is not just that they are wrong. . . . It’s that they are completely detached from reality. Their arguments have nothing to do with what is actually happening in Iraq.” The detachment from reality, of course, was found among people like Chait, whose self-declared hatred for Bush caused him to once again look foolish.)

In the case of Afghanistan, GOP and conservative opposition to Obama on domestic polices, which is fierce, has not led them to oppose Obama in his efforts to win the war. The Republican Party is, in this instance, the responsible party, standing with a wartime president in a conflict of enormous significance. With a new commanding general in place and a new counterinsurgency strategy in the very early states of implementation, now is not the time to go wobbly. To its credit, the GOP, unlike the Democratic Party with Iraq, is holding shape.

According to the New York Times,

the House of Representatives agreed on Tuesday to provide $37 billion to continue financing America’s two wars, but the vote showed deepening divisions and anxiety among Democrats over the course of the nearly nine-year-old conflict in Afghanistan. The 308-to-114 vote, with strong Republican support, came after the leak of an archive of classified battlefield reports from Afghanistan that fueled new debate over the course of the war and whether President Obama’s counterinsurgency strategy could work.

GOP support was strong indeed: 160 Republicans backed the war spending, while only 12 opposed it. By way of comparison, 148 Democrats backed the war spending, while 102 opposed it.

This is a good opportunity, then, to praise Republicans for standing with a Democratic president during a war that is increasingly unpopular.

I am reminded how, during the Bush years, the situation was very much reversed. Virtually the entire Democratic Party, with very few exceptions, turned hard against the Iraq war (which most of them initially supported). It is one of the most irresponsible and reckless displays we have seen in modern political history.

Democrats’ opposition to Bush and the surge was so intense, their commitment to a particular (defeatist) narrative so strong, and their eagerness to withdraw from Iraq so irresistible that they declared the Petraeus-led surge would not and could not work. It was simply incomprehensible to consider any other possibility.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for example, declared that “this surge is not accomplishing anything” and in April 2007 announced flatly that the Iraq war was “lost.” A young senator from Illinois, on the night President Bush announced the surge, proclaimed, “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” So said Barack Obama. Not to be outdone, Senator Joseph Biden declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.”

(I can’t help but point out that a few future Journolisters joined in the Surrender Chorus as well, with Time magazine’s Joe Klein ridiculing “Bush’s futile pipe dream” and the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, having convinced himself that he brought some actual knowledge and expertise to the debate, said he found “something genuinely bizarre” about those Americans who actually supported the new strategy. “It is not just that they are wrong. . . . It’s that they are completely detached from reality. Their arguments have nothing to do with what is actually happening in Iraq.” The detachment from reality, of course, was found among people like Chait, whose self-declared hatred for Bush caused him to once again look foolish.)

In the case of Afghanistan, GOP and conservative opposition to Obama on domestic polices, which is fierce, has not led them to oppose Obama in his efforts to win the war. The Republican Party is, in this instance, the responsible party, standing with a wartime president in a conflict of enormous significance. With a new commanding general in place and a new counterinsurgency strategy in the very early states of implementation, now is not the time to go wobbly. To its credit, the GOP, unlike the Democratic Party with Iraq, is holding shape.

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The Shoe Hurler’s Admission

A friend writes:

Via MEMRI, the Iraqi journalist cum shoe hurler Muntazer al-Zaidi reveals that he handed his ring to a photographer at the Bush press conference in Baghdad before his first tossed shoe because he thought it was likely he would become a martyr – i.e., be killed – for his act.  But in the George Bush-inspired, post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, martyrdom was not to be. He served nine months in prison and exited a hero throughout the Arab world.  I’d venture to say that Muntazer didn’t use his time in prison to reflect on the changes wrought in Iraq, as he continues to curse America and its role there.  Can anyone doubt what would have befallen Muntazer – a Shi’ite – had he tossed his shoes at Saddam or at an esteemed guest of Saddam’s prior to the U.S. invasion? That Muntazer and the other civil-disobedient Muntazers in Iraq don’t make the connection between the invasion and the transformation of their civil liberties is equal parts a failure of our public diplomacy and the puerile rage that animates the Arab world.

Also noteworthy in Muntazer’s interview is his take on the transformation in US-Iraqi relations spearheaded by President Obama:  None.  While his comments confirm recent Pew polls on the utter failure of the President’s outstretched hand and focus on the Islamic world in changing Muslim attitudes towards the US, Muntazer sees Presidents Bush and Obama as essentially indistinguishable.  Muntazer’s outrageous characterization of President Obama (“Away goes a white dog, and along comes a black dog. They are the same, except for the color. Away goes a white U.S. president, and along comes a black president. They are no different.”) suggests that President Bush may have better understood the pathology of the Arab world than does President Obama.

A long period of democracy, free speech and the marketplace of ideas will do more to transform the next generation of Muntazers and the Arab world than any other cure – and it is George Bush that tomorrow’s Muntazers will have to thank for that.

A friend writes:

Via MEMRI, the Iraqi journalist cum shoe hurler Muntazer al-Zaidi reveals that he handed his ring to a photographer at the Bush press conference in Baghdad before his first tossed shoe because he thought it was likely he would become a martyr – i.e., be killed – for his act.  But in the George Bush-inspired, post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, martyrdom was not to be. He served nine months in prison and exited a hero throughout the Arab world.  I’d venture to say that Muntazer didn’t use his time in prison to reflect on the changes wrought in Iraq, as he continues to curse America and its role there.  Can anyone doubt what would have befallen Muntazer – a Shi’ite – had he tossed his shoes at Saddam or at an esteemed guest of Saddam’s prior to the U.S. invasion? That Muntazer and the other civil-disobedient Muntazers in Iraq don’t make the connection between the invasion and the transformation of their civil liberties is equal parts a failure of our public diplomacy and the puerile rage that animates the Arab world.

Also noteworthy in Muntazer’s interview is his take on the transformation in US-Iraqi relations spearheaded by President Obama:  None.  While his comments confirm recent Pew polls on the utter failure of the President’s outstretched hand and focus on the Islamic world in changing Muslim attitudes towards the US, Muntazer sees Presidents Bush and Obama as essentially indistinguishable.  Muntazer’s outrageous characterization of President Obama (“Away goes a white dog, and along comes a black dog. They are the same, except for the color. Away goes a white U.S. president, and along comes a black president. They are no different.”) suggests that President Bush may have better understood the pathology of the Arab world than does President Obama.

A long period of democracy, free speech and the marketplace of ideas will do more to transform the next generation of Muntazers and the Arab world than any other cure – and it is George Bush that tomorrow’s Muntazers will have to thank for that.

Read Less




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