Commentary Magazine


Topic: blindness

RE: It’s Not About Settlements

As Jennifer noted yesterday in her comments on Giora Eiland’s Ynet op-ed, Palestinian unwillingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is the make-or-break issue of the peace process. She’s also correct that the Obama administration shows no signs of recognizing this fact. But two recent developments make this blindness particularly puzzling.

First, the critical importance of recognition is not an obscure point that an honest broker could easily overlook; it has by now become glaringly obvious to an overwhelming majority of ordinary Americans.

In an Israel Project poll released this week, 63 percent of respondents said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “is mostly about religion and ideology,” so “the key to peace is each side acknowledging the other’s right to exist.” That is double the 32 percent who thought it’s “mostly about land,” so “the key to peace is figuring out how to divide the land they share, establish borders, and address Jerusalem.”

Nor did respondents have trouble identifying which party was actually unwilling to recognize the other: 61 percent said Israel was “more committed” to reaching a deal; only 11 percent chose the Palestinians.

But the administration’s inability to grasp what is obvious to most Americans is even more bewildering given that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has spared no effort recently to drive the point home.

Even at the talks’ gala Washington launch on September 2, when both sides were presumably at their most conciliatory, Abbas used the opening ceremony to announce that he would never recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

A few days later, he told the Al-Quds newspaper that he won’t even discuss recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. And if he’s pressured to make any concessions on this point, or on the refugees’ “right of return” — a euphemism for eradicating the Jewish state through demography — he will “pack his bags and leave.”

Other leading Palestinian officials, such as senior negotiator Nabil Shaath, have echoed this refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Yet Barack Obama and his team still insist, in the teeth of all this evidence, that the most critical issue is getting Israel to continue its moratorium on settlement construction. “I told [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu that ‘you’ve got to show president Abbas that you’re serious,’” he told reporters last week.

And this week, U.S. mediator George Mitchell once again touted his favorite idea (Hebrew only): that the talks for now should focus solely on borders, because once the border is finalized, settlement construction — which is clearly Washington’s primary concern — would cease to be an issue. But Netanyahu again rejected it, pointing out that in practice, this means Israel ceding land without the Palestinians’ having to address any of Israel’s main concerns, like recognition.

In last week’s interview, Obama also said that “the only way to succeed [in the talks] is to see the world through the other person’s eyes.” Perhaps he should take his own advice and look at the world through Israeli, or even ordinary American, eyes. For unless he grasps that the real issue is not settlements, but recognition, negotiations don’t have a prayer.

As Jennifer noted yesterday in her comments on Giora Eiland’s Ynet op-ed, Palestinian unwillingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is the make-or-break issue of the peace process. She’s also correct that the Obama administration shows no signs of recognizing this fact. But two recent developments make this blindness particularly puzzling.

First, the critical importance of recognition is not an obscure point that an honest broker could easily overlook; it has by now become glaringly obvious to an overwhelming majority of ordinary Americans.

In an Israel Project poll released this week, 63 percent of respondents said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “is mostly about religion and ideology,” so “the key to peace is each side acknowledging the other’s right to exist.” That is double the 32 percent who thought it’s “mostly about land,” so “the key to peace is figuring out how to divide the land they share, establish borders, and address Jerusalem.”

Nor did respondents have trouble identifying which party was actually unwilling to recognize the other: 61 percent said Israel was “more committed” to reaching a deal; only 11 percent chose the Palestinians.

But the administration’s inability to grasp what is obvious to most Americans is even more bewildering given that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has spared no effort recently to drive the point home.

Even at the talks’ gala Washington launch on September 2, when both sides were presumably at their most conciliatory, Abbas used the opening ceremony to announce that he would never recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

A few days later, he told the Al-Quds newspaper that he won’t even discuss recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. And if he’s pressured to make any concessions on this point, or on the refugees’ “right of return” — a euphemism for eradicating the Jewish state through demography — he will “pack his bags and leave.”

Other leading Palestinian officials, such as senior negotiator Nabil Shaath, have echoed this refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Yet Barack Obama and his team still insist, in the teeth of all this evidence, that the most critical issue is getting Israel to continue its moratorium on settlement construction. “I told [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu that ‘you’ve got to show president Abbas that you’re serious,’” he told reporters last week.

And this week, U.S. mediator George Mitchell once again touted his favorite idea (Hebrew only): that the talks for now should focus solely on borders, because once the border is finalized, settlement construction — which is clearly Washington’s primary concern — would cease to be an issue. But Netanyahu again rejected it, pointing out that in practice, this means Israel ceding land without the Palestinians’ having to address any of Israel’s main concerns, like recognition.

In last week’s interview, Obama also said that “the only way to succeed [in the talks] is to see the world through the other person’s eyes.” Perhaps he should take his own advice and look at the world through Israeli, or even ordinary American, eyes. For unless he grasps that the real issue is not settlements, but recognition, negotiations don’t have a prayer.

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Obama Emotionless Except When It’s Personal

Last November, which seems like a lifetime ago, in the context of anti-terror measures, a sharp observer spotted a common thread that connected Obama to his attorney general. Of Eric Holder, she remarked:

The dispassion, the self-reverence, the blindness of the man, are marvelous to behold, and so perfectly reflect the president he so perfectly serves. “Neutral and detached” people shall “understand the reasons why” he made those decisions, shall see he has left “the politics out of it,” and shall recognize what’s right–something the rest of us, benighted and bellicose souls that we are, have never managed to do with respect to the disposition of those committing mass murders of Americans in their ongoing war against our civilization.

It is more true today in the wake of excising “jihadist” and “Islamic fundamentalist” from our lexicon. Indeed, it extends to every area of governance.  The public doesn’t appreciate the gift of ObamaCare. The voters fail to understand that “costs” (that would be taxes) are needed to enact a massive cap-and-trade scheme. The Jews don’t comprehend that Obama has their interests at heart — go self-reflect, he instructs them. And he tut-tuts Jewish leaders who don’t “get” how his master plan for peace in the Middle East is unfolding. He judges, evaluates, and criticizes us — remaining above the fray.

Even Maureen Dowd stumbles upon the truth: “President Obama’s bloodless quality about people and events, the emotional detachment that his aides said allowed him to see things more clearly, has instead obscured his vision.” (And rendered him ineffective and increasingly unlikable.) Robert Reich similarly edges to the core problem:

The man who electrified the nation with his speech at the Democratic National Convention of 2004 put it to sleep tonight. … [H]e failed tonight to rise to the occasion. Is it because he’s not getting good advice, or because he’s psychologically incapable of expressing the moral outrage the nation feels?

When Obama drops the mask of detachment and reveals true emotion, it is for himself. What spurred the angry denunciation of Rev. Wright? Wright’s personal attack on him. What gets his goat? The media, which impose a 24/7 news cycle on him. What gets his blood boiling? The “insult” he perceives to him when Israel dared to announce a building project while his VP was visiting. Why was Obama annoyed with Daniel Ortega? He implied that Obama was responsible for the Bay of Pigs when he was but a child.

So we have a curious president — cold and distant when it comes to dangers from foreign foes, economic catastrophe, and environmental disaster, which wreck havoc on our lives, but filled with outrage at the slightest offense to himself. Now Bill Clinton was and is a renowned self-pitier. But at least he had the political smarts and acting skills (and to be fair, a real emotional connection to his fellow citizens) to project empathy and to tell us that he felt our pain. Obama can’t muster that. The lion’s share of his concern and emotional energy is reserved for himself. As his presidency comes crashing down around him, his self-concern will grow, the yelps of self-pity will intensify, and the complaints about dull-witted Americans and duplicitous opponents will multiply.

Last November, which seems like a lifetime ago, in the context of anti-terror measures, a sharp observer spotted a common thread that connected Obama to his attorney general. Of Eric Holder, she remarked:

The dispassion, the self-reverence, the blindness of the man, are marvelous to behold, and so perfectly reflect the president he so perfectly serves. “Neutral and detached” people shall “understand the reasons why” he made those decisions, shall see he has left “the politics out of it,” and shall recognize what’s right–something the rest of us, benighted and bellicose souls that we are, have never managed to do with respect to the disposition of those committing mass murders of Americans in their ongoing war against our civilization.

It is more true today in the wake of excising “jihadist” and “Islamic fundamentalist” from our lexicon. Indeed, it extends to every area of governance.  The public doesn’t appreciate the gift of ObamaCare. The voters fail to understand that “costs” (that would be taxes) are needed to enact a massive cap-and-trade scheme. The Jews don’t comprehend that Obama has their interests at heart — go self-reflect, he instructs them. And he tut-tuts Jewish leaders who don’t “get” how his master plan for peace in the Middle East is unfolding. He judges, evaluates, and criticizes us — remaining above the fray.

Even Maureen Dowd stumbles upon the truth: “President Obama’s bloodless quality about people and events, the emotional detachment that his aides said allowed him to see things more clearly, has instead obscured his vision.” (And rendered him ineffective and increasingly unlikable.) Robert Reich similarly edges to the core problem:

The man who electrified the nation with his speech at the Democratic National Convention of 2004 put it to sleep tonight. … [H]e failed tonight to rise to the occasion. Is it because he’s not getting good advice, or because he’s psychologically incapable of expressing the moral outrage the nation feels?

When Obama drops the mask of detachment and reveals true emotion, it is for himself. What spurred the angry denunciation of Rev. Wright? Wright’s personal attack on him. What gets his goat? The media, which impose a 24/7 news cycle on him. What gets his blood boiling? The “insult” he perceives to him when Israel dared to announce a building project while his VP was visiting. Why was Obama annoyed with Daniel Ortega? He implied that Obama was responsible for the Bay of Pigs when he was but a child.

So we have a curious president — cold and distant when it comes to dangers from foreign foes, economic catastrophe, and environmental disaster, which wreck havoc on our lives, but filled with outrage at the slightest offense to himself. Now Bill Clinton was and is a renowned self-pitier. But at least he had the political smarts and acting skills (and to be fair, a real emotional connection to his fellow citizens) to project empathy and to tell us that he felt our pain. Obama can’t muster that. The lion’s share of his concern and emotional energy is reserved for himself. As his presidency comes crashing down around him, his self-concern will grow, the yelps of self-pity will intensify, and the complaints about dull-witted Americans and duplicitous opponents will multiply.

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Blindness to the Real Syrian Problem

Cliff May wonders whether Dianne Feinstein is dumb or just pretending to be. Feinstein on the shipment of missiles to Hezbollah and the potential for war, pronounces: “There’s only one thing that’s going to solve it, and that’s a two-state solution.” Thunk. As May observes, is it really possible that the “chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, believes that Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria would be satisfied with a two-state solution — assuming that one of those states is Israel”? Well, to be honest, that is not far removed from the claptrap we hear from the administration, which has reduced every issue to a pretext for “focusing” (haven’t we focused for decades?) on the non-existent peace process.

For a saner take on what is really at issue in Syria, read Lee Smith’s compelling piece on the SCUDs and what the administration is doing about that situation. The contrast to the prior administration is stark:

This past week was a bad one for those eager to reach out to Syria. It was reported that Damascus is believed to have transferred to Hezbollah Scud missiles that would be able to reach any part of Israel. “The threat that Syria might transfer more advanced weapons to Hezbollah has existed for a long time,” says Elliott Abrams, who oversaw Middle East affairs in the George W. Bush White House and is now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “With respect to Scuds, it has been understood the Israelis would interdict such a shipment. I do not recall the Bush Administration ever expressing disagreement with that view.”

The Obama Administration seems to feel differently. Initial reports explained that the White House convinced the Israelis not to attack the arms shipment and promised that Kerry would deliver a strong message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during his visit to Damascus early this month. U.S. officials confirmed Kerry did indeed convey the Americans’ displeasure even as more recent reports suggest that the Obama Administration now believes that the actual transfer may not have occurred.

As Smith notes, the great danger here is that Syria and its senior partner Iran will once again perceive American weakness if we don’t respond (with something more meaningful than a tongue-lashing for the Syrian minister) to this latest act of aggression. (“If we let Syria off the hook for its proven acts of terror against U.S. military and diplomatic personnel, as well as U.S. allies in Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq, we have all but announced that in the event of future attacks on the U.S. homeland we will never retaliate against the states without which so-called stateless terrorist organizations cannot exist. We will have effectively disabled any deterrence we have against our adversaries and made our cities vulnerable to anyone who can lie his way past the Transportation Security Administration.”) But we should not be reassured that it is John Kerry delivering the message to Damascus, Smith says. He — and his wife, we learn — have a soft spot for Bashar al-Assad.

So Feinstein is not alone in her silliness. Unfortunately, the president and those carrying out his foreign policy are equally confused.

Cliff May wonders whether Dianne Feinstein is dumb or just pretending to be. Feinstein on the shipment of missiles to Hezbollah and the potential for war, pronounces: “There’s only one thing that’s going to solve it, and that’s a two-state solution.” Thunk. As May observes, is it really possible that the “chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, believes that Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria would be satisfied with a two-state solution — assuming that one of those states is Israel”? Well, to be honest, that is not far removed from the claptrap we hear from the administration, which has reduced every issue to a pretext for “focusing” (haven’t we focused for decades?) on the non-existent peace process.

For a saner take on what is really at issue in Syria, read Lee Smith’s compelling piece on the SCUDs and what the administration is doing about that situation. The contrast to the prior administration is stark:

This past week was a bad one for those eager to reach out to Syria. It was reported that Damascus is believed to have transferred to Hezbollah Scud missiles that would be able to reach any part of Israel. “The threat that Syria might transfer more advanced weapons to Hezbollah has existed for a long time,” says Elliott Abrams, who oversaw Middle East affairs in the George W. Bush White House and is now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “With respect to Scuds, it has been understood the Israelis would interdict such a shipment. I do not recall the Bush Administration ever expressing disagreement with that view.”

The Obama Administration seems to feel differently. Initial reports explained that the White House convinced the Israelis not to attack the arms shipment and promised that Kerry would deliver a strong message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during his visit to Damascus early this month. U.S. officials confirmed Kerry did indeed convey the Americans’ displeasure even as more recent reports suggest that the Obama Administration now believes that the actual transfer may not have occurred.

As Smith notes, the great danger here is that Syria and its senior partner Iran will once again perceive American weakness if we don’t respond (with something more meaningful than a tongue-lashing for the Syrian minister) to this latest act of aggression. (“If we let Syria off the hook for its proven acts of terror against U.S. military and diplomatic personnel, as well as U.S. allies in Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq, we have all but announced that in the event of future attacks on the U.S. homeland we will never retaliate against the states without which so-called stateless terrorist organizations cannot exist. We will have effectively disabled any deterrence we have against our adversaries and made our cities vulnerable to anyone who can lie his way past the Transportation Security Administration.”) But we should not be reassured that it is John Kerry delivering the message to Damascus, Smith says. He — and his wife, we learn — have a soft spot for Bashar al-Assad.

So Feinstein is not alone in her silliness. Unfortunately, the president and those carrying out his foreign policy are equally confused.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

A Katrina-like abomination: “The United States has suspended its medical evacuations of critically injured Haitian earthquake victims until a dispute over who will pay for their care is settled, military officials said Friday. The military flights, usually C-130s carrying Haitians with spinal cord injuries, burns and other serious wounds, ended on Wednesday after Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida formally asked the federal government to shoulder some of the cost of the care. . . The suspension could be catastrophic for patients, said Dr. Barth A. Green, the co-founder of Project Medishare for Haiti. . . ‘People are dying in Haiti because they can’t get out,’ Dr. Green said.”

Speaking of Katrina, imagine if a Republican Secretary of Education said of New Orleans: “that education system was a disaster. And it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better. And the progress that it made in four years since the hurricane, is unbelievable.” In a cabinet filled with underachievers, by the way, Arne Duncan has certainly not lived up to his reviews.

Gail Collins lectures her readers that opposition to the KSM trial in New York is just selfishness run amok. You will find no better example of liberals’ contempt for the concerns of ordinary Americans and the blithe dismissal of the risks of a jihadist trial. You wonder if the Obami cringe — are they capable of shame? — when they hear their harebrained scheme defended in such a fashion.

Her colleague Charles Blow is convinced this is all a communication problem. How is it that liberals can simultaneously rave about Obama’s eloquence and conclude he’s not getting through? Well, he’s too “studious” for us and doesn’t understand Americans are “suspicious of complexity.” Ah, you see, we are not worthy of such a leader as he.

On the administration’s proposed Defense Department budget: “The lack of big weapons cuts is causing some outcry from congressional Democrats. ‘I don’t think that we have to protect military contractors. And I want to make that distinction very clearly,’ said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.). ‘I do not think the entire defense budget should be exempted.’” You can’t make this stuff up.

The public doesn’t much believe Obama on the economy: “The president in the speech declared that his administration has cut taxes for 95% of Americans. He even chided Republicans for not applauding on that point. However, just 21% of voters nationwide believe that taxes have been cut for 95% of Americans. . . The president also asserted that ‘after two years of recession, the economy is growing again.’ Just 35% of voters believe that statement is true, while 50% say it is false. Obama claimed that steps taken by his team are responsible for putting two million people to work ‘who would otherwise be unemployed.’ Just 27% of voters say that statement is true. Fifty-one percent (51%) say it’s false.”

The Washington Post editors: “The best chance of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear capacity lies in a victory by the opposition — and so it follows that the Obama administration’s strategy should be aimed at bolstering the self-styled ‘green movement’ rather than striking deals with the Khamenei regime.” First, Richard Haass and now the Post — we are all neocons now.

You know things have gotten bad when Maxine Waters sounds saner than the Speaker of the House: “During an interview on Friday, the congresswoman stressed it was going to be ‘very difficult’ to pass that legislation in the coming weeks, mostly because House and Senate leaders are still without a ‘roadmap’ and have yet to address key policy differences between the two chambers’ efforts.”

And when Sen. Susan Collins sounds like Andy McCarthy: “Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) on Saturday hammered the Justice Department for treating Flight 253 terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a ‘common criminal’ –  a move she described in her party’s weekly address as a ‘failure’ of the entire justice system. The decision to read Miranda rights to Abdulmutallab — better known as the Christmas Day bomber — is symptomatic of the White House’s general ‘blindness’ in its handling of the larger War on Terrorism, Collins stressed.”

A Katrina-like abomination: “The United States has suspended its medical evacuations of critically injured Haitian earthquake victims until a dispute over who will pay for their care is settled, military officials said Friday. The military flights, usually C-130s carrying Haitians with spinal cord injuries, burns and other serious wounds, ended on Wednesday after Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida formally asked the federal government to shoulder some of the cost of the care. . . The suspension could be catastrophic for patients, said Dr. Barth A. Green, the co-founder of Project Medishare for Haiti. . . ‘People are dying in Haiti because they can’t get out,’ Dr. Green said.”

Speaking of Katrina, imagine if a Republican Secretary of Education said of New Orleans: “that education system was a disaster. And it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better. And the progress that it made in four years since the hurricane, is unbelievable.” In a cabinet filled with underachievers, by the way, Arne Duncan has certainly not lived up to his reviews.

Gail Collins lectures her readers that opposition to the KSM trial in New York is just selfishness run amok. You will find no better example of liberals’ contempt for the concerns of ordinary Americans and the blithe dismissal of the risks of a jihadist trial. You wonder if the Obami cringe — are they capable of shame? — when they hear their harebrained scheme defended in such a fashion.

Her colleague Charles Blow is convinced this is all a communication problem. How is it that liberals can simultaneously rave about Obama’s eloquence and conclude he’s not getting through? Well, he’s too “studious” for us and doesn’t understand Americans are “suspicious of complexity.” Ah, you see, we are not worthy of such a leader as he.

On the administration’s proposed Defense Department budget: “The lack of big weapons cuts is causing some outcry from congressional Democrats. ‘I don’t think that we have to protect military contractors. And I want to make that distinction very clearly,’ said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.). ‘I do not think the entire defense budget should be exempted.’” You can’t make this stuff up.

The public doesn’t much believe Obama on the economy: “The president in the speech declared that his administration has cut taxes for 95% of Americans. He even chided Republicans for not applauding on that point. However, just 21% of voters nationwide believe that taxes have been cut for 95% of Americans. . . The president also asserted that ‘after two years of recession, the economy is growing again.’ Just 35% of voters believe that statement is true, while 50% say it is false. Obama claimed that steps taken by his team are responsible for putting two million people to work ‘who would otherwise be unemployed.’ Just 27% of voters say that statement is true. Fifty-one percent (51%) say it’s false.”

The Washington Post editors: “The best chance of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear capacity lies in a victory by the opposition — and so it follows that the Obama administration’s strategy should be aimed at bolstering the self-styled ‘green movement’ rather than striking deals with the Khamenei regime.” First, Richard Haass and now the Post — we are all neocons now.

You know things have gotten bad when Maxine Waters sounds saner than the Speaker of the House: “During an interview on Friday, the congresswoman stressed it was going to be ‘very difficult’ to pass that legislation in the coming weeks, mostly because House and Senate leaders are still without a ‘roadmap’ and have yet to address key policy differences between the two chambers’ efforts.”

And when Sen. Susan Collins sounds like Andy McCarthy: “Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) on Saturday hammered the Justice Department for treating Flight 253 terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a ‘common criminal’ –  a move she described in her party’s weekly address as a ‘failure’ of the entire justice system. The decision to read Miranda rights to Abdulmutallab — better known as the Christmas Day bomber — is symptomatic of the White House’s general ‘blindness’ in its handling of the larger War on Terrorism, Collins stressed.”

Read Less

The Need for Getting Good at Nation Building

Fred Kagan and Christopher Harnisch make a good point in this Wall Street Journal article about the need to build up the state in Yemen and to help it defeat secessionist rebels — not just al-Qaeda. They suggest setting up an inter-agency task force to accomplish this mission. That’s a good idea. Problem is, the U.S. government still lacks the right resources and structures to tackle effectively the difficult task of state-building (or, as it is popularly known, “nation building”) in the Third World.

This is not exactly a new problem. Back in July 2003 I was writing about the need for Washington to create a “Colonial Office.” That was simply a cheeky way of getting attention for the idea of boosting our nation-building capacity — to create what I later suggested should be called a Department of Peace. Whatever you call it, we need to boost our capacity to build up foreign law-enforcement and military capacity along with electricity, sewage treatment, medical care, and the myriad other tasks that states need to perform in order to enjoy legitimacy with their own citizens and control their own borders.

This isn’t a matter of do-goodism run rampant; it’s a matter of self-preservation. Because as we are now seeing in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, among others, countries lacking effective governance — especially countries of large, discontented Muslim populations — can pose a direct national-security threat to the United States. After the early setbacks in Iraq, it was generally acknowledged that there was a need to boost our capacity in this regard but remarkably little has been accomplished outside the military.

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have become much more adept at counterinsurgency since 2003, which, they have realized, includes a large nation-building element that would enable our local allies to carry on in the future with decreasing degrees of assistance from us. But the State Department, USAID, and other civilian agencies? They have shown only marginal improvements since 2003. Their capacities remain far too small and they are far too dependant on contractors of mixed reliability and worth.

A lot of this, admittedly, is not their fault; Congress deserves a fair share of the blame for not adequately funding these desperately needed capacities and for yielding to lawmakers’ knee-jerk revulsion against “nation building.” They seem to imagine that if we don’t develop these capacities we won’t be called upon to undertake missions that are never popular on the home front. Unfortunately, as events from Haiti to Yemen show, there is and will continue to be a high demand for the U.S. government to provide these services. The only choice we have is whether we will perform nation-building badly or well. We have chosen to do it badly and will continue to pay a high price if we persist in our blindness.

Fred Kagan and Christopher Harnisch make a good point in this Wall Street Journal article about the need to build up the state in Yemen and to help it defeat secessionist rebels — not just al-Qaeda. They suggest setting up an inter-agency task force to accomplish this mission. That’s a good idea. Problem is, the U.S. government still lacks the right resources and structures to tackle effectively the difficult task of state-building (or, as it is popularly known, “nation building”) in the Third World.

This is not exactly a new problem. Back in July 2003 I was writing about the need for Washington to create a “Colonial Office.” That was simply a cheeky way of getting attention for the idea of boosting our nation-building capacity — to create what I later suggested should be called a Department of Peace. Whatever you call it, we need to boost our capacity to build up foreign law-enforcement and military capacity along with electricity, sewage treatment, medical care, and the myriad other tasks that states need to perform in order to enjoy legitimacy with their own citizens and control their own borders.

This isn’t a matter of do-goodism run rampant; it’s a matter of self-preservation. Because as we are now seeing in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, among others, countries lacking effective governance — especially countries of large, discontented Muslim populations — can pose a direct national-security threat to the United States. After the early setbacks in Iraq, it was generally acknowledged that there was a need to boost our capacity in this regard but remarkably little has been accomplished outside the military.

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have become much more adept at counterinsurgency since 2003, which, they have realized, includes a large nation-building element that would enable our local allies to carry on in the future with decreasing degrees of assistance from us. But the State Department, USAID, and other civilian agencies? They have shown only marginal improvements since 2003. Their capacities remain far too small and they are far too dependant on contractors of mixed reliability and worth.

A lot of this, admittedly, is not their fault; Congress deserves a fair share of the blame for not adequately funding these desperately needed capacities and for yielding to lawmakers’ knee-jerk revulsion against “nation building.” They seem to imagine that if we don’t develop these capacities we won’t be called upon to undertake missions that are never popular on the home front. Unfortunately, as events from Haiti to Yemen show, there is and will continue to be a high demand for the U.S. government to provide these services. The only choice we have is whether we will perform nation-building badly or well. We have chosen to do it badly and will continue to pay a high price if we persist in our blindness.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

The guru of conventional Beltway wisdom, David Broder, has had enough: “The more President Obama examines our options in Afghanistan, the less he likes the choices he sees. But, as the old saying goes, to govern is to choose — and he has stretched the internal debate to the breaking point. … The cost of indecision is growing every day. Americans, our allies who have contributed their own troops to the struggle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and the Afghans and their government are waiting impatiently, while the challenge is getting worse.”

A devastating portrait of Eric Holder: “The dispassion, the self-reverence, the blindness of the man, are marvelous to behold, and so perfectly reflect the president he so perfectly serves. ‘Neutral and detached’ people shall ‘understand the reasons why’ he made those decisions, shall see he has left ‘the politics out of it,’ and shall recognize what’s right — something the rest of us, benighted and bellicose souls that we are, have never managed to do with respect to the disposition of those committing mass murders of Americans in their ongoing war against our civilization.”

Another nail in the coffin of PelosiCare: “The House-approved healthcare overhaul would raise the costs of healthcare by $289 billion over the next 10 years, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan, independent Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).”

And that’s not all: “A plan to slash more than $500 billion from future Medicare spending — one of the biggest sources of funding for President Obama’s proposed overhaul of the nation’s health-care system — would sharply reduce benefits for some senior citizens and could jeopardize access to care for millions of others, according to a government evaluation released Saturday.”

Surprise, surprise: the Obami are bothered by the cost of winning the war in Afghanistan.

Rep. Peter King: “Like many New Yorkers and members of the families of the nearly 3,000 innocent Americans murdered on that horrific Tuesday morning eight years ago, I’m outraged and insulted by President Obama’s decision to transfer Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, to New York City for trial in civilian federal court. The decision will go down in history as one of the worst made by any US president. While it may be hailed by Europeans, the ACLU and the far-left-wing of the Democratic Party, the president’s action actually threatens American lives and weakens US national security.” I wonder what Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand will say.

Enough is enough, says Secretary of Defense Robert Gates: “Defense Secretary Robert Gates has blocked the public release of any more pictures of foreign detainees abused by their U.S. captors, saying their release would endanger American soldiers. The Obama administration filed a brief with the Supreme Court late Friday saying that Mr. Gates has invoked new powers blocking the release of the photos.”

Steve Schmidt vs. Sarah Palin. Hmm. Is there any doubt who’s got a better chance of being on a 2012 campaign? It’s one thing to lose a campaign, quite another to go down as the perpetual bad-mouther of your VP candidate.

The guru of conventional Beltway wisdom, David Broder, has had enough: “The more President Obama examines our options in Afghanistan, the less he likes the choices he sees. But, as the old saying goes, to govern is to choose — and he has stretched the internal debate to the breaking point. … The cost of indecision is growing every day. Americans, our allies who have contributed their own troops to the struggle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and the Afghans and their government are waiting impatiently, while the challenge is getting worse.”

A devastating portrait of Eric Holder: “The dispassion, the self-reverence, the blindness of the man, are marvelous to behold, and so perfectly reflect the president he so perfectly serves. ‘Neutral and detached’ people shall ‘understand the reasons why’ he made those decisions, shall see he has left ‘the politics out of it,’ and shall recognize what’s right — something the rest of us, benighted and bellicose souls that we are, have never managed to do with respect to the disposition of those committing mass murders of Americans in their ongoing war against our civilization.”

Another nail in the coffin of PelosiCare: “The House-approved healthcare overhaul would raise the costs of healthcare by $289 billion over the next 10 years, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan, independent Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).”

And that’s not all: “A plan to slash more than $500 billion from future Medicare spending — one of the biggest sources of funding for President Obama’s proposed overhaul of the nation’s health-care system — would sharply reduce benefits for some senior citizens and could jeopardize access to care for millions of others, according to a government evaluation released Saturday.”

Surprise, surprise: the Obami are bothered by the cost of winning the war in Afghanistan.

Rep. Peter King: “Like many New Yorkers and members of the families of the nearly 3,000 innocent Americans murdered on that horrific Tuesday morning eight years ago, I’m outraged and insulted by President Obama’s decision to transfer Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, to New York City for trial in civilian federal court. The decision will go down in history as one of the worst made by any US president. While it may be hailed by Europeans, the ACLU and the far-left-wing of the Democratic Party, the president’s action actually threatens American lives and weakens US national security.” I wonder what Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand will say.

Enough is enough, says Secretary of Defense Robert Gates: “Defense Secretary Robert Gates has blocked the public release of any more pictures of foreign detainees abused by their U.S. captors, saying their release would endanger American soldiers. The Obama administration filed a brief with the Supreme Court late Friday saying that Mr. Gates has invoked new powers blocking the release of the photos.”

Steve Schmidt vs. Sarah Palin. Hmm. Is there any doubt who’s got a better chance of being on a 2012 campaign? It’s one thing to lose a campaign, quite another to go down as the perpetual bad-mouther of your VP candidate.

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Identity Hits the GOP

An article at Politico quotes Republican strategist Kellyanne Conway:

Republicans will need to exercise less deafness and more deftness in dealing with a different looking candidate, whether it is a woman or a black man.

If only I could have exercised more blindness before reading that. Apparently there’s a big GOP plan underway to ensure that Republicans aren’t insensitive to race or gender and don’t succumb to “undisciplined messaging” while campaigning against Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. David Paul Kuhn writes: “Many expect to be held to a higher rhetorical standard than is customary in campaigns, in part because of perceptions of intolerance that still dog the party.” Has is not been this season’s Democrats who’ve demonstrated a base reliance on the “perceptions of intolerance”? Frankly, the Republicans would have to go pretty far to match the “undisciplined messaging” displayed by Bill Clinton in his effort to convince White voters that his wife was with them. Here’s more:

Republicans will be told to “be sensitive to tone and stick to the substance of the discussion” and that “the key is that you have to be sensitive to the fact that you are running against historic firsts,” the strategist explained.

What about policy and ability? Must the whole country take part in this obsession with “historic firsts” or can we view the identity-poisoned Democratic race as a cautionary tale and move on? Having watched the Democrats use identity as a deadly weapon while pretending to celebrate diversity, I’ve had enough deftness to last me a lifetime.

An article at Politico quotes Republican strategist Kellyanne Conway:

Republicans will need to exercise less deafness and more deftness in dealing with a different looking candidate, whether it is a woman or a black man.

If only I could have exercised more blindness before reading that. Apparently there’s a big GOP plan underway to ensure that Republicans aren’t insensitive to race or gender and don’t succumb to “undisciplined messaging” while campaigning against Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. David Paul Kuhn writes: “Many expect to be held to a higher rhetorical standard than is customary in campaigns, in part because of perceptions of intolerance that still dog the party.” Has is not been this season’s Democrats who’ve demonstrated a base reliance on the “perceptions of intolerance”? Frankly, the Republicans would have to go pretty far to match the “undisciplined messaging” displayed by Bill Clinton in his effort to convince White voters that his wife was with them. Here’s more:

Republicans will be told to “be sensitive to tone and stick to the substance of the discussion” and that “the key is that you have to be sensitive to the fact that you are running against historic firsts,” the strategist explained.

What about policy and ability? Must the whole country take part in this obsession with “historic firsts” or can we view the identity-poisoned Democratic race as a cautionary tale and move on? Having watched the Democrats use identity as a deadly weapon while pretending to celebrate diversity, I’ve had enough deftness to last me a lifetime.

Read Less




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