Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bosnia

Egypt: Why America Can’t Work to Prevent Change

What is happening in the streets of Egypt is not about the United States or its relation to Hosni Mubarak. The drama has to do with life inside Egypt after 30 years of Mubarak’s autocratic rule, which was preceded by 30 years of similarly autocratic rule by Nasser and Sadat. And yet there seems to be an idea, which one can find suggested in the latest writings of Caroline Glick and Stanley Kurtz, among others, that the United States might have played a crucial role in preventing what appears to be the inevitable Mubarak ouster — and that the U.S. is thereby acceding to the takeover of Egypt by a government that will make the region less safe, less hospitable to us, and of greater danger to Israel.

That may all be so. But it doesn’t actually matter as a practical reality. Kurtz and Glick and some others are, I think, guilty of reiterating a great foreign-policy fallacy, which is that the United States has the power to control the outcomes of large-scale events in faraway lands even when it does not have a direct hand to play with troops and planes and bombs.

Where is the evidence that the United States has a role to play in the prevention of change? Recent history suggests that our only really effective role when it comes to change is when we involve ourselves in hastening it, as we did with assassinations in the 1950s and 1960s, or by choosing sides with the forces of change, as we did in the 1980s in places as various as El Salvador and the Philippines and in the 1990s in Haiti and Bosnia.

Think of the times we have attempted to slow down or impede change. We did in Iran in the late 1970s in a way that came a terrible cropper. We did again, to our shame, at the beginning of the 1990s, when “Chicken Kiev” Bush tried to slam the brakes on the dissolution of the Soviet Empire. And is anyone happy with the way the Obama administration handled the post-election revolt in Iran in 2009?

The implicit notion in these analyses is that the United States should be backing Mubarak to the hilt so that he could put down the revolt before the Muslim Brotherhood takes over. But aside from the highly questionable proposition that our encouragement and support would change the balance of forces in Mubarak’s favor, doing any such thing is akin to suggesting that we ignore the forces of gravity. It is unrealistic in the most basic sense. It is written into the DNA of the United States that, when push comes to shove, we cannot support the forces of tyranny over mass protest.

Hardheaded choices must be made at times, and indeed have been made at times, especially when the options were a regime friendly to the United States vs. a regime that would have been friendly to the Soviet Union. But those choices did not come at moments of flash-point crisis, with a regime’s legitimacy crumbling before the world’s eyes. And they didn’t come at a time when worldwide instant communications make it impossible for the regime to black out the evidence of its suppression.

In warning us not to view the goings-on with unwarranted optimism, those expressing profound concern about what will come next in Egypt are performing a great service. We are heading into rough waters that had been largely stilled in recent decades. But that is why, perhaps, they should have been more supportive of the idea that Mubarak and others should have been pushed toward democratic reform so that the transition to change might have been managed rather than simply observed powerlessly as it turns into a runaway steamroller.

What is happening in the streets of Egypt is not about the United States or its relation to Hosni Mubarak. The drama has to do with life inside Egypt after 30 years of Mubarak’s autocratic rule, which was preceded by 30 years of similarly autocratic rule by Nasser and Sadat. And yet there seems to be an idea, which one can find suggested in the latest writings of Caroline Glick and Stanley Kurtz, among others, that the United States might have played a crucial role in preventing what appears to be the inevitable Mubarak ouster — and that the U.S. is thereby acceding to the takeover of Egypt by a government that will make the region less safe, less hospitable to us, and of greater danger to Israel.

That may all be so. But it doesn’t actually matter as a practical reality. Kurtz and Glick and some others are, I think, guilty of reiterating a great foreign-policy fallacy, which is that the United States has the power to control the outcomes of large-scale events in faraway lands even when it does not have a direct hand to play with troops and planes and bombs.

Where is the evidence that the United States has a role to play in the prevention of change? Recent history suggests that our only really effective role when it comes to change is when we involve ourselves in hastening it, as we did with assassinations in the 1950s and 1960s, or by choosing sides with the forces of change, as we did in the 1980s in places as various as El Salvador and the Philippines and in the 1990s in Haiti and Bosnia.

Think of the times we have attempted to slow down or impede change. We did in Iran in the late 1970s in a way that came a terrible cropper. We did again, to our shame, at the beginning of the 1990s, when “Chicken Kiev” Bush tried to slam the brakes on the dissolution of the Soviet Empire. And is anyone happy with the way the Obama administration handled the post-election revolt in Iran in 2009?

The implicit notion in these analyses is that the United States should be backing Mubarak to the hilt so that he could put down the revolt before the Muslim Brotherhood takes over. But aside from the highly questionable proposition that our encouragement and support would change the balance of forces in Mubarak’s favor, doing any such thing is akin to suggesting that we ignore the forces of gravity. It is unrealistic in the most basic sense. It is written into the DNA of the United States that, when push comes to shove, we cannot support the forces of tyranny over mass protest.

Hardheaded choices must be made at times, and indeed have been made at times, especially when the options were a regime friendly to the United States vs. a regime that would have been friendly to the Soviet Union. But those choices did not come at moments of flash-point crisis, with a regime’s legitimacy crumbling before the world’s eyes. And they didn’t come at a time when worldwide instant communications make it impossible for the regime to black out the evidence of its suppression.

In warning us not to view the goings-on with unwarranted optimism, those expressing profound concern about what will come next in Egypt are performing a great service. We are heading into rough waters that had been largely stilled in recent decades. But that is why, perhaps, they should have been more supportive of the idea that Mubarak and others should have been pushed toward democratic reform so that the transition to change might have been managed rather than simply observed powerlessly as it turns into a runaway steamroller.

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Selective Reading Results in Daft Analysis

You can always count on the Center for American Progress — a Democratic Party propaganda shop disguised as a think tank — to come up with a cheap partisan screed on any issue. And with their response to my concerns about cutting the defense budget, they do not disappoint. Their Matt Duss claims that my concern about cutting troop size is evidence of my animus against President Obama and that I was a cheerleader for a smaller force size under President Bush.

This feat he accomplishes through highly selective, indeed misleading, quotation. For instance, he cites a 2003 Foreign Affairs article I wrote in which I hailed the successful invasion of Iraq as a signal military achievement. He utterly ignores the fact that while I did say the U.S. armed forces could do more with less in a conventional conflict, I noted that this was not the case in nation-building and counterinsurgency. Here is what the article said:

It may make sense to transform some heavy armored units into lighter,
more deployable formations. It makes no sense to reduce the size of
the army as whole, an idea that Rumsfeld once toyed with. The army has
already shrunk from 18 active-duty divisions in 1990 to 10 today — a
force that is not adequate for all its responsibilities, which include
deployments in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sinai, South Korea, and
now Iraq. The army is overstretched and having to lean more heavily on
the reserves and the National Guard for vital functions such as
policing and civil affairs. These part-time soldiers are not happy
about becoming full-timers. The marines should pick up some of the
slack by shouldering occupation duties in Iraq and elsewhere. But the
active-duty army still needs to be increased in size. Airpower, no
matter how awesome, cannot police newly liberated countries — or
build democratic governments. Read More

You can always count on the Center for American Progress — a Democratic Party propaganda shop disguised as a think tank — to come up with a cheap partisan screed on any issue. And with their response to my concerns about cutting the defense budget, they do not disappoint. Their Matt Duss claims that my concern about cutting troop size is evidence of my animus against President Obama and that I was a cheerleader for a smaller force size under President Bush.

This feat he accomplishes through highly selective, indeed misleading, quotation. For instance, he cites a 2003 Foreign Affairs article I wrote in which I hailed the successful invasion of Iraq as a signal military achievement. He utterly ignores the fact that while I did say the U.S. armed forces could do more with less in a conventional conflict, I noted that this was not the case in nation-building and counterinsurgency. Here is what the article said:

It may make sense to transform some heavy armored units into lighter,
more deployable formations. It makes no sense to reduce the size of
the army as whole, an idea that Rumsfeld once toyed with. The army has
already shrunk from 18 active-duty divisions in 1990 to 10 today — a
force that is not adequate for all its responsibilities, which include
deployments in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sinai, South Korea, and
now Iraq. The army is overstretched and having to lean more heavily on
the reserves and the National Guard for vital functions such as
policing and civil affairs. These part-time soldiers are not happy
about becoming full-timers. The marines should pick up some of the
slack by shouldering occupation duties in Iraq and elsewhere. But the
active-duty army still needs to be increased in size. Airpower, no
matter how awesome, cannot police newly liberated countries — or
build democratic governments.

The army needs to tackle the task of “imperial” policing — not a
popular duty, but one that is as vital to safeguarding U.S. interests
in the long run as are the more conventional war-fighting skills on
display during the second Gulf War. The Army War College’s decision to
shut down its Peacekeeping Institute is not a good sign; it means that
the army still wants to avoid focusing on noncombat missions. The army
brass should realize that battlefield victories in places like Afghanistan and Iraq can easily be squandered if they do not do enough
to win the peace.

I picked up on this point in a 2005 Foreign Affairs article that Duss somehow ignores. I wrote:

Even if the Defense Department wanted to dramatically increase the size of the force in Iraq — a step that many experts believe is essential — it
would be hard pressed to find the necessary troops. As it is,
active-duty divisions are being worn down by constant rotations
through Afghanistan and Iraq, and the National Guard and reserves are
now feeling the strain as well. Essential equipment, such as Humvees
and helicopters, is getting worn out by constant use in harsh
conditions. So are the soldiers who operate them. Many officers worry
about a looming recruitment and retention crisis.

This points to the need to increase the overall size of the U.S.
military — especially the Army, which was cut more than 30 percent in
the 1990s. Bush and Rumsfeld have adamantly resisted any permanent
personnel increase because they insist, contrary to all evidence, that
the spike in overseas deployments is only temporary. Rumsfeld instead
plans to reassign soldiers from lower-priority billets to military
policing, intelligence, and civil affairs, while temporarily
increasing the Army’s size by 30,000 and moving civilians into jobs
now performed by uniformed personnel. In this way he hopes to increase
the number of active-duty Army combat brigades from 33 to at least 43.

These are welcome moves, but they are only Band-AIDS for a military
that is bleeding from gaping wounds inflicted by a punishing tempo of
operations. The U.S. armed forces should add at least 100,000 extra
soldiers, and probably a good deal more.

I have quoted extensively from my own writing to show what a crock this attack is. I have been consistently arguing for an increase in the size of our ground combat forces. Failure to increase end-strength more was one of the major mistakes that President Bush made — as I said at the time. I only hope that President Obama does not repeat this mistake.

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RE: The Bracing Realism of Richard Holbrooke

Max Boot’s appreciation of Richard Holbrooke called to mind a sense among the military officers working the Balkans problems in 1995 that Holbrooke was “old school.” Most of us had come of age professionally in the Reagan and the Bush 41 years. We were accustomed to dealing with diplomatic envoys of awe-inspiring preparedness and a certain very American style: hard to describe in few words, but entailing a reliable and irreducible simplicity when it came to our common objectives. That quality could be combined with crustiness and high-handedness, but it was not unwelcome: you could do business with it.

Clinton appointees were a different story. With their penchant for triangulation and interpolation, they tended to produce shifting objectives and temporary principles. Guidance changed regularly. There were times when the U.S. forces working the Balkans problem — I was stationed at a headquarters in Italy from 1992 to 1995 — had the unnerving sense that our political leaders in Washington didn’t have our backs.

Holbrooke, however, seemed to embody the style of an older generation of U.S. diplomats and negotiators. “Scoop Jackson Democrat” was a popular shorthand for describing him. He knew, understood, and appreciated the military way of perceiving a geopolitical problem — unlike many Clinton officials who were actively offended by the “military mindset.”

A good friend of mine went with him as a briefer on a helicopter tour of Bosnia and Croatia, early in Holbrooke’s lengthy orientation from the U.S. and NATO chains of command in the Balkans theater. When I asked afterward how the briefing went, my friend laughed and said, “Well, basically, he briefed me.” Expanding on that, he recounted that Holbrooke had broken into his spiel in the first few minutes, preferring to explain what he considered important and then engaging my friend in a level of discourse that picked his brain on complex topics.

“Guy knows what he’s doing,” concluded my friend. Not every civilian diplomat leaves that impression with the military. I haven’t agreed with all of Holbrooke’s ideas on “AfPak” since he took on that portfolio, but I am very sorry to see the Obama administration lose him. His entry onto the stage in the Balkans conflict brought a sense of order and purpose that was very welcome to the U.S. military in Europe, weary from several years of experimental and ineffective multilateralism. Richard Holbrooke was old school, in the best sense, and he will be missed.

Max Boot’s appreciation of Richard Holbrooke called to mind a sense among the military officers working the Balkans problems in 1995 that Holbrooke was “old school.” Most of us had come of age professionally in the Reagan and the Bush 41 years. We were accustomed to dealing with diplomatic envoys of awe-inspiring preparedness and a certain very American style: hard to describe in few words, but entailing a reliable and irreducible simplicity when it came to our common objectives. That quality could be combined with crustiness and high-handedness, but it was not unwelcome: you could do business with it.

Clinton appointees were a different story. With their penchant for triangulation and interpolation, they tended to produce shifting objectives and temporary principles. Guidance changed regularly. There were times when the U.S. forces working the Balkans problem — I was stationed at a headquarters in Italy from 1992 to 1995 — had the unnerving sense that our political leaders in Washington didn’t have our backs.

Holbrooke, however, seemed to embody the style of an older generation of U.S. diplomats and negotiators. “Scoop Jackson Democrat” was a popular shorthand for describing him. He knew, understood, and appreciated the military way of perceiving a geopolitical problem — unlike many Clinton officials who were actively offended by the “military mindset.”

A good friend of mine went with him as a briefer on a helicopter tour of Bosnia and Croatia, early in Holbrooke’s lengthy orientation from the U.S. and NATO chains of command in the Balkans theater. When I asked afterward how the briefing went, my friend laughed and said, “Well, basically, he briefed me.” Expanding on that, he recounted that Holbrooke had broken into his spiel in the first few minutes, preferring to explain what he considered important and then engaging my friend in a level of discourse that picked his brain on complex topics.

“Guy knows what he’s doing,” concluded my friend. Not every civilian diplomat leaves that impression with the military. I haven’t agreed with all of Holbrooke’s ideas on “AfPak” since he took on that portfolio, but I am very sorry to see the Obama administration lose him. His entry onto the stage in the Balkans conflict brought a sense of order and purpose that was very welcome to the U.S. military in Europe, weary from several years of experimental and ineffective multilateralism. Richard Holbrooke was old school, in the best sense, and he will be missed.

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The Bracing Realism of Richard Holbrooke

Richard Holbrooke was, as the obits have it, a “giant of diplomacy.” Indeed, he has a claim to being one of the most influential diplomats in American history who never became secretary of state — a job he should have been given by President Clinton. He is edged out by George Kennan in the annals of American diplomatic history, but his achievement in hammering out the 1995 Dayton Accords ending the war in Bosnia is as impressive as any feat of negotiations in the post–World War II era.

He was much less successful in his latest job as the administration’s chief “AfPak” envoy. Why is that? Part of the reason was his mistake in alienating Hamid Karzai; an American envoy’s job is to talk tough behind the scenes but to preserve relations with an important allied head of state. Holbrooke, inexplicably, failed to do that. But most of the blame does not accrue to Holbrooke. The problem was that in Bosnia, the skillful use of force had set the conditions for diplomatic success — something that has not yet occurred in Afghanistan.

By the time Holbrooke was called upon to negotiate an end to the Bosnian fighting, the combatants had been exhausted and Serbian attempts at aggrandizement had been stymied, first by a Croatian offensive, then by NATO bombing. They were ready to cut a deal. Not so the Taliban and their sponsors in Islamabad. General David Petraeus has only now launched in earnest the military operations necessary to frustrate Taliban designs and compel elements of the group to negotiate or face annihilation. Without the effective use of force, not even a diplomat as supremely skilled as Holbrooke could achieve success.

A personal note: I knew Holbrooke slightly and liked him. I realize he had a reputation in Washington for being abrasive and egotistical; that reputation probably cost him the secretary of state job that he coveted and had earned. But effective diplomats can’t afford to be shrinking violets. Sure, Holbrooke had an outsize personality, but so did Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger, and other diplomatic superstars. Like them, Holbrooke also had enormous reservoirs of intelligence , savvy, and learning. And like them, he was a skilled writer; his memoir of the Dayton peace process was a classic. One of many regrets about his premature passing is that the world will be denied his memoirs.

He was a liberal but a tough-minded one — one of the last prominent hawks in the Democratic Party. He was, in short, a “neo-liberal,” which isn’t so far removed from a “neo-conservative,” a label that I teased him with and that he naturally resisted. The country as a whole will miss him, and so in particular will the Democratic Party, which could use more of his bracing realism in its counsels.

Richard Holbrooke was, as the obits have it, a “giant of diplomacy.” Indeed, he has a claim to being one of the most influential diplomats in American history who never became secretary of state — a job he should have been given by President Clinton. He is edged out by George Kennan in the annals of American diplomatic history, but his achievement in hammering out the 1995 Dayton Accords ending the war in Bosnia is as impressive as any feat of negotiations in the post–World War II era.

He was much less successful in his latest job as the administration’s chief “AfPak” envoy. Why is that? Part of the reason was his mistake in alienating Hamid Karzai; an American envoy’s job is to talk tough behind the scenes but to preserve relations with an important allied head of state. Holbrooke, inexplicably, failed to do that. But most of the blame does not accrue to Holbrooke. The problem was that in Bosnia, the skillful use of force had set the conditions for diplomatic success — something that has not yet occurred in Afghanistan.

By the time Holbrooke was called upon to negotiate an end to the Bosnian fighting, the combatants had been exhausted and Serbian attempts at aggrandizement had been stymied, first by a Croatian offensive, then by NATO bombing. They were ready to cut a deal. Not so the Taliban and their sponsors in Islamabad. General David Petraeus has only now launched in earnest the military operations necessary to frustrate Taliban designs and compel elements of the group to negotiate or face annihilation. Without the effective use of force, not even a diplomat as supremely skilled as Holbrooke could achieve success.

A personal note: I knew Holbrooke slightly and liked him. I realize he had a reputation in Washington for being abrasive and egotistical; that reputation probably cost him the secretary of state job that he coveted and had earned. But effective diplomats can’t afford to be shrinking violets. Sure, Holbrooke had an outsize personality, but so did Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger, and other diplomatic superstars. Like them, Holbrooke also had enormous reservoirs of intelligence , savvy, and learning. And like them, he was a skilled writer; his memoir of the Dayton peace process was a classic. One of many regrets about his premature passing is that the world will be denied his memoirs.

He was a liberal but a tough-minded one — one of the last prominent hawks in the Democratic Party. He was, in short, a “neo-liberal,” which isn’t so far removed from a “neo-conservative,” a label that I teased him with and that he naturally resisted. The country as a whole will miss him, and so in particular will the Democratic Party, which could use more of his bracing realism in its counsels.

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NATO Considering Peacekeeping Force in Middle East

Speaking at a press conference in Lisbon during NATO’s summit, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the alliance is prepared to consider sending a peacekeeping force to enforce an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Now, that is both very commendable and easy to say. Commendable, because it is a real commitment to invest resources to make a peace deal succeed; easy, because the likelihood of a peace deal is very remote.

Still, for skeptics, take a look at a paper produced by Florence Gaub, a scholar attached to the NATO Defence College in Rome. According to Gaub:

Independently from local security forces, the NATO force in Palestine … would, if it follows the example of the successful cases of Bosnia and Kosovo, need forces ranging from 43,700 to 76,000 men, including the police forces. Of these, between 16,100 and 28,000 would patrol Gaza, and between 27,600 and 48,000 the West Bank.

Gaub gives a long and detailed explanation as to how she gets to that number — an explanation that is worth reading because it is based on sound number-crunching from previous experiences of peacekeeping. She also confronts the unpleasant scenarios that putting boots on such ground would result in.

But quite aside from her assessment (which leads her to conclude that “NATO’s mission in Palestine would have slim chances of success and a high probability of failure”), what are the chances that NATO countries that found it hard to contribute an additional few thousand men to Afghanistan would give 76,000 for Palestine?

Speaking at a press conference in Lisbon during NATO’s summit, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the alliance is prepared to consider sending a peacekeeping force to enforce an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Now, that is both very commendable and easy to say. Commendable, because it is a real commitment to invest resources to make a peace deal succeed; easy, because the likelihood of a peace deal is very remote.

Still, for skeptics, take a look at a paper produced by Florence Gaub, a scholar attached to the NATO Defence College in Rome. According to Gaub:

Independently from local security forces, the NATO force in Palestine … would, if it follows the example of the successful cases of Bosnia and Kosovo, need forces ranging from 43,700 to 76,000 men, including the police forces. Of these, between 16,100 and 28,000 would patrol Gaza, and between 27,600 and 48,000 the West Bank.

Gaub gives a long and detailed explanation as to how she gets to that number — an explanation that is worth reading because it is based on sound number-crunching from previous experiences of peacekeeping. She also confronts the unpleasant scenarios that putting boots on such ground would result in.

But quite aside from her assessment (which leads her to conclude that “NATO’s mission in Palestine would have slim chances of success and a high probability of failure”), what are the chances that NATO countries that found it hard to contribute an additional few thousand men to Afghanistan would give 76,000 for Palestine?

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Rules of Engagement: From Bosnia to Afghanistan

A career military officer is typically less inclined than civilians to offer sweeping criticism of the rules of engagement (ROE) adopted for an operation. This is due to an ingrained understanding of the basic purpose of ROE, which is to enable our side to retain initiative and operational discretion. ROE exist to discourage situations created by the enemy from spiraling out of control, while allowing commanders the optimum latitude for what U.S. ROE call the “right and obligation of self defense.”

To continue reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

A career military officer is typically less inclined than civilians to offer sweeping criticism of the rules of engagement (ROE) adopted for an operation. This is due to an ingrained understanding of the basic purpose of ROE, which is to enable our side to retain initiative and operational discretion. ROE exist to discourage situations created by the enemy from spiraling out of control, while allowing commanders the optimum latitude for what U.S. ROE call the “right and obligation of self defense.”

To continue reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Report: “Free Gaza” Flotilla Organizers Linked to Terrorists

Though the Palestinian propaganda machine continues to dominate much of the mainstream media’s depiction of the “Free Gaza” flotilla as a group of humanitarians, the truth about this organization and its goals is gradually becoming better known. While the weapons on board and the bloody attacks on Israeli soldiers belied the claim that those on board were helpless victims, the Investigative Project on Terrorism offers an instructive report on the Turkish-based organization behind the flotilla. According to the report, the IHH has “deep, longstanding ties” to Hamas and has also been linked to Islamist terrorists in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya. The fact that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a supporter of the group is all the more reason to worry about Turkey’s shift toward the Islamists and away from the West.

This week Sen. Charles Schumer wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and asked the State Department to investigate the ties between the IHH, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups. Other members of Congress should second this call. The only reasonable conclusion that could be drawn from such an investigation is that the IHH should be placed on the United States list of known terrorist organizations.

Though the Palestinian propaganda machine continues to dominate much of the mainstream media’s depiction of the “Free Gaza” flotilla as a group of humanitarians, the truth about this organization and its goals is gradually becoming better known. While the weapons on board and the bloody attacks on Israeli soldiers belied the claim that those on board were helpless victims, the Investigative Project on Terrorism offers an instructive report on the Turkish-based organization behind the flotilla. According to the report, the IHH has “deep, longstanding ties” to Hamas and has also been linked to Islamist terrorists in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya. The fact that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a supporter of the group is all the more reason to worry about Turkey’s shift toward the Islamists and away from the West.

This week Sen. Charles Schumer wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and asked the State Department to investigate the ties between the IHH, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups. Other members of Congress should second this call. The only reasonable conclusion that could be drawn from such an investigation is that the IHH should be placed on the United States list of known terrorist organizations.

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Israel Can’t Afford Unforced Errors

Shmuel Rosner at the Jerusalem Post aptly identifies two things on which the “vast majority of Israelis” would probably agree: first, “letting the flotilla into Gaza was not an option,” because ending the naval blockade would allow Hamas to import huge quantities of arms that, as recent history proves, would be used against Israeli civilians. And second, “letting peace activists stab Israeli soldiers with knives and hammer them and axe them was also not an option”: in a life-threatening situation, soldiers are supposed to defend themselves, not let themselves be killed. These two points are the heart of the matter, and CONTENTIONS contributors rightly focused on them yesterday.

Nevertheless, I can’t agree with Jonathan that given the circumstances, “the question of whether Israel’s forces might have been better prepared” is “insignificant.” Israel knows that much of the world will seize on any pretext to condemn it, justified or not; it also knows there will be many times when it cannot avoid providing such pretexts: for instance, it couldn’t let its citizens suffer daily rocket fire from Gaza forever, even knowing that last year’s successful military action against Hamas would spark widespread denunciations. Therefore, it must take extra care to avoid providing unnecessary pretexts for condemnation. And in this case, it failed to take even minimal precautions.

For instance, the radical nature of IHH, the Turkish group that organized the flotilla, was well known. J.E. Dyer detailed it for CONTENTIONS readers yesterday; similar information is available from Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. The center was founded by retired members of Israel’s intelligence community and cooperates closely with this community; anything it knows would also have been known to the Israel Defense Forces — or at least should have been.

But given that the flotilla was organized by a group with links to al-Qaeda and other “jihadist terrorist networks in Bosnia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya” — a group that actively provided “logistical support and funding” to such networks and kept weapons, explosives, and instructions for making improvised explosive devices in its Istanbul offices — how could the IDF possibly have “planned on dealing with peace activists, not a battle,” as one senior naval officer said afterward? Al-Qaeda affiliates are not generally known for peaceful demonstrations.

For that matter, neither are some of the left-wing activists Israel attracts — as nobody knows better than the IDF: it confronts them weekly at demonstrations against the security fence in Bili’in. Though Palestinian shills term these protests “nonviolent,” they are anything but: masked men routinely use slingshots to hurl stones at Israeli troops and have wounded many; one Israeli policeman was permanently blinded when a hurled stone took out his eye. The IDF would never send a lone soldier into the mob at Bili’in. So why send soldiers to rappel one by one into the mob aboard the Marmara, making them easy pickings?

This is the kind of unforced error Israel cannot afford to make. It may be unfair that Israel can’t afford mistakes that other countries make with impunity, but it’s reality. And Israel must start learning to deal with it.

Shmuel Rosner at the Jerusalem Post aptly identifies two things on which the “vast majority of Israelis” would probably agree: first, “letting the flotilla into Gaza was not an option,” because ending the naval blockade would allow Hamas to import huge quantities of arms that, as recent history proves, would be used against Israeli civilians. And second, “letting peace activists stab Israeli soldiers with knives and hammer them and axe them was also not an option”: in a life-threatening situation, soldiers are supposed to defend themselves, not let themselves be killed. These two points are the heart of the matter, and CONTENTIONS contributors rightly focused on them yesterday.

Nevertheless, I can’t agree with Jonathan that given the circumstances, “the question of whether Israel’s forces might have been better prepared” is “insignificant.” Israel knows that much of the world will seize on any pretext to condemn it, justified or not; it also knows there will be many times when it cannot avoid providing such pretexts: for instance, it couldn’t let its citizens suffer daily rocket fire from Gaza forever, even knowing that last year’s successful military action against Hamas would spark widespread denunciations. Therefore, it must take extra care to avoid providing unnecessary pretexts for condemnation. And in this case, it failed to take even minimal precautions.

For instance, the radical nature of IHH, the Turkish group that organized the flotilla, was well known. J.E. Dyer detailed it for CONTENTIONS readers yesterday; similar information is available from Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. The center was founded by retired members of Israel’s intelligence community and cooperates closely with this community; anything it knows would also have been known to the Israel Defense Forces — or at least should have been.

But given that the flotilla was organized by a group with links to al-Qaeda and other “jihadist terrorist networks in Bosnia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya” — a group that actively provided “logistical support and funding” to such networks and kept weapons, explosives, and instructions for making improvised explosive devices in its Istanbul offices — how could the IDF possibly have “planned on dealing with peace activists, not a battle,” as one senior naval officer said afterward? Al-Qaeda affiliates are not generally known for peaceful demonstrations.

For that matter, neither are some of the left-wing activists Israel attracts — as nobody knows better than the IDF: it confronts them weekly at demonstrations against the security fence in Bili’in. Though Palestinian shills term these protests “nonviolent,” they are anything but: masked men routinely use slingshots to hurl stones at Israeli troops and have wounded many; one Israeli policeman was permanently blinded when a hurled stone took out his eye. The IDF would never send a lone soldier into the mob at Bili’in. So why send soldiers to rappel one by one into the mob aboard the Marmara, making them easy pickings?

This is the kind of unforced error Israel cannot afford to make. It may be unfair that Israel can’t afford mistakes that other countries make with impunity, but it’s reality. And Israel must start learning to deal with it.

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Mia Farrow: Done Wrong Again

Poor Mia Farrow. No, I’m not referring to her atrocious romantic choices. She is alas learning too late that Obama cares not one wit about human rights in Darfur. She explains that a sham election is currently underway:

Intimidation, vote rigging, manipulation of the census, and bribing of tribal leaders are rampant. Most of the 2.7 million displaced Darfuris are living in refugee camps. They are unable or unwilling to be counted at all. All of this, plus the ongoing violence in Darfur, have caused key opposition candidates including Yassir Arman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement to withdraw from the election.

Now, hopes were high that with Obama in the White House such behavior wouldn’t be countenanced and we’d get serious about the genocidal behavior. She recalls fondly:

Hope is rare in Darfur, but when Barack Obama became president the refugees had reason to be hopeful. As a junior senator in 2006, Mr. Obama made his feelings about the evils in Darfur quite clear. “Today we know what is right, and today we know what is wrong. The slaughter of innocents is wrong. Two million people driven from their homes is wrong. Women gang raped while gathering firewood is wrong. And silence, acquiescence and paralysis in the face of genocide is wrong.”

A year later, then-candidate Barack Obama said: “When you see a genocide, whether it’s in Rwanda or Bosnia or in Darfur, that’s a stain on all of us. That’s a stain on our souls.”

What’s our government doing about it? Passing out cookies. Yup:

And how is his appointed envoy dealing with the perpetrators of those atrocities that have stained our souls? “We’ve got to think about giving out cookies,” Mr. Gration told the Washington Post last fall. “Kids, countries—they react to gold stars, smiley faces . . .”

Cookies for a regime that is as savvy as it is cruel? Smiley faces for a thug who seized power by coup in 1989 and has retained it only through iron-fisted brutality? Gold stars for an indicted war criminal responsible for the murder, rape and displacement of millions?

This spectacularly naïve perspective—and accompanying policy of appeasement—has further terrified Darfur’s refugees, who feel increasingly abandoned by the U.S. and marginalized within their country.

Well, Mia, you can get in line with the other disappointed human-rights activists and the Israel supporters who were snookered by the hope-and-change routine. They assumed he was on their side. Silly them.

Poor Mia Farrow. No, I’m not referring to her atrocious romantic choices. She is alas learning too late that Obama cares not one wit about human rights in Darfur. She explains that a sham election is currently underway:

Intimidation, vote rigging, manipulation of the census, and bribing of tribal leaders are rampant. Most of the 2.7 million displaced Darfuris are living in refugee camps. They are unable or unwilling to be counted at all. All of this, plus the ongoing violence in Darfur, have caused key opposition candidates including Yassir Arman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement to withdraw from the election.

Now, hopes were high that with Obama in the White House such behavior wouldn’t be countenanced and we’d get serious about the genocidal behavior. She recalls fondly:

Hope is rare in Darfur, but when Barack Obama became president the refugees had reason to be hopeful. As a junior senator in 2006, Mr. Obama made his feelings about the evils in Darfur quite clear. “Today we know what is right, and today we know what is wrong. The slaughter of innocents is wrong. Two million people driven from their homes is wrong. Women gang raped while gathering firewood is wrong. And silence, acquiescence and paralysis in the face of genocide is wrong.”

A year later, then-candidate Barack Obama said: “When you see a genocide, whether it’s in Rwanda or Bosnia or in Darfur, that’s a stain on all of us. That’s a stain on our souls.”

What’s our government doing about it? Passing out cookies. Yup:

And how is his appointed envoy dealing with the perpetrators of those atrocities that have stained our souls? “We’ve got to think about giving out cookies,” Mr. Gration told the Washington Post last fall. “Kids, countries—they react to gold stars, smiley faces . . .”

Cookies for a regime that is as savvy as it is cruel? Smiley faces for a thug who seized power by coup in 1989 and has retained it only through iron-fisted brutality? Gold stars for an indicted war criminal responsible for the murder, rape and displacement of millions?

This spectacularly naïve perspective—and accompanying policy of appeasement—has further terrified Darfur’s refugees, who feel increasingly abandoned by the U.S. and marginalized within their country.

Well, Mia, you can get in line with the other disappointed human-rights activists and the Israel supporters who were snookered by the hope-and-change routine. They assumed he was on their side. Silly them.

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RE: Keeping the Boot Off

Jen, I too was impressed with Bret Stephens’s powerful column on Iraq – and grateful that he quoted the late Michael Kelly. I have written about Mike before. He wrote so well on so many topics, from politics to his family to matters of war and peace. On the matter of Iraq and the tyranny of Saddam, these words are worth recalling as well:

I covered the Gulf War as a reporter, and it was this experience, later compounded by what I saw reporting in Bosnia, that convinced me of the moral imperative, sometimes, for war.

In liberated Kuwait City, one vast crime scene, I toured the morgue on day and inspected torture and murder victims left behind by the departing Iraqis. “The corpse in drawer 3… belonged to a young man,” I later wrote. “When he was alive, he had been beaten from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head, and every inch of his skin was covered with purple-and-black bruises…. The man in drawer 12 had been burned to death with some flammable liquid…. Corpses 18 and 19… belonged to the brothers Abbas… the eyeballs of the elder of the Abbas brothers had been removed. The sockets were bloody holes.”

That was the beginning of the making of me as at least an honorary chicken hawk. After that, I never again could stand the arguments of those who sat in the luxury of safety – “in advocating nonresistance behind the guns of the American Fleet,” as George Orwell wrote of World War II pacifists – and held that the moral course was, in crimes against humanity as in crimes on the street corner: Better not to get involved, dear.

The last two sentences of Bret’s column are these:

I still miss Kelly. Sunday’s election was his vindication, too.

So do I. And yes it was.

Jen, I too was impressed with Bret Stephens’s powerful column on Iraq – and grateful that he quoted the late Michael Kelly. I have written about Mike before. He wrote so well on so many topics, from politics to his family to matters of war and peace. On the matter of Iraq and the tyranny of Saddam, these words are worth recalling as well:

I covered the Gulf War as a reporter, and it was this experience, later compounded by what I saw reporting in Bosnia, that convinced me of the moral imperative, sometimes, for war.

In liberated Kuwait City, one vast crime scene, I toured the morgue on day and inspected torture and murder victims left behind by the departing Iraqis. “The corpse in drawer 3… belonged to a young man,” I later wrote. “When he was alive, he had been beaten from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head, and every inch of his skin was covered with purple-and-black bruises…. The man in drawer 12 had been burned to death with some flammable liquid…. Corpses 18 and 19… belonged to the brothers Abbas… the eyeballs of the elder of the Abbas brothers had been removed. The sockets were bloody holes.”

That was the beginning of the making of me as at least an honorary chicken hawk. After that, I never again could stand the arguments of those who sat in the luxury of safety – “in advocating nonresistance behind the guns of the American Fleet,” as George Orwell wrote of World War II pacifists – and held that the moral course was, in crimes against humanity as in crimes on the street corner: Better not to get involved, dear.

The last two sentences of Bret’s column are these:

I still miss Kelly. Sunday’s election was his vindication, too.

So do I. And yes it was.

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Continued U.S. Presence Best Hope for Democracy in Iraq

Over at National Review Online, Pete Wehner makes a number of excellent points on Newsweek‘s cover story, “Victory at Last,” which heralds the emergence of Iraqi democracy. He points out, rightly, how remarkable the progress has been since 2007, how much credit President Bush deserves for ordering the surge, and how wrong the skeptics were (he mentions, in particular, Joe Klein and Tom Ricks). All good points, but I would add a few cautionary notes.

In the first place, as Pete himself acknowledges, terrible mistakes were made in the war’s early years. They do not in my judgment (or in Pete’s) make the invasion of Iraq “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy,” as Ricks has called it, but they will tarnish the Bush administration even if Iraq stays on its current trajectory toward full-blown democracy.

My second cautionary note concerns whether this will in fact be the case. Iraq has defied the naysayers since 2007, but recall how from 2003 to 2007 it also defied the Pollyannas of the Bush administration. There is no guarantee that its present progress will continue — any more than there was a guarantee that it would go into a death spiral in 2007, as so widely assumed in Washington.

The key to Iraq’s remarkable transformation has been the vigorous actions of American troops, and it’s anyone’s guess what will happen when they are withdrawn. If the Obama administration’s policy (which builds on an agreement reached by the Bush administration and the government of Iraq) continues unchanged, we will be down to 50,000 troops by September (from roughly 100,000 today) and then to zero by the end of 2011. That is a potentially worrisome development given how many violent rifts remain in Iraqi politics just below the surface — Sunni vs. Shia, Kurd vs. Arab, secular vs. religious, military vs. civilian, tribe vs. tribe — and how hard Iran is trying to destabilize the situation and put its proxies into position of power.

That’s why I agree with Ricks when he advocates that the Obama administration negotiate an accord with the new government of Iraq to allow American troops to remain beyond 2011. Not in a combat role, in all likelihood, but simply as a peacekeeping force, akin to the forces that still remain in Kosovo and Bosnia long after the end of their wars. The continued presence of U.S. troops will be the best possible guarantee that Iraq will continue to develop into a flourishing democracy. Although I disagreed with Ricks over the surge and the invasion of Iraq, he deserves kudos for taking this principled stand, because he knows how important it is not to leave Iraq as thoughtlessly as we arrived.

Over at National Review Online, Pete Wehner makes a number of excellent points on Newsweek‘s cover story, “Victory at Last,” which heralds the emergence of Iraqi democracy. He points out, rightly, how remarkable the progress has been since 2007, how much credit President Bush deserves for ordering the surge, and how wrong the skeptics were (he mentions, in particular, Joe Klein and Tom Ricks). All good points, but I would add a few cautionary notes.

In the first place, as Pete himself acknowledges, terrible mistakes were made in the war’s early years. They do not in my judgment (or in Pete’s) make the invasion of Iraq “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy,” as Ricks has called it, but they will tarnish the Bush administration even if Iraq stays on its current trajectory toward full-blown democracy.

My second cautionary note concerns whether this will in fact be the case. Iraq has defied the naysayers since 2007, but recall how from 2003 to 2007 it also defied the Pollyannas of the Bush administration. There is no guarantee that its present progress will continue — any more than there was a guarantee that it would go into a death spiral in 2007, as so widely assumed in Washington.

The key to Iraq’s remarkable transformation has been the vigorous actions of American troops, and it’s anyone’s guess what will happen when they are withdrawn. If the Obama administration’s policy (which builds on an agreement reached by the Bush administration and the government of Iraq) continues unchanged, we will be down to 50,000 troops by September (from roughly 100,000 today) and then to zero by the end of 2011. That is a potentially worrisome development given how many violent rifts remain in Iraqi politics just below the surface — Sunni vs. Shia, Kurd vs. Arab, secular vs. religious, military vs. civilian, tribe vs. tribe — and how hard Iran is trying to destabilize the situation and put its proxies into position of power.

That’s why I agree with Ricks when he advocates that the Obama administration negotiate an accord with the new government of Iraq to allow American troops to remain beyond 2011. Not in a combat role, in all likelihood, but simply as a peacekeeping force, akin to the forces that still remain in Kosovo and Bosnia long after the end of their wars. The continued presence of U.S. troops will be the best possible guarantee that Iraq will continue to develop into a flourishing democracy. Although I disagreed with Ricks over the surge and the invasion of Iraq, he deserves kudos for taking this principled stand, because he knows how important it is not to leave Iraq as thoughtlessly as we arrived.

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The Human-Rights Facade Is Beginning to Crumble

The collaboration between Amnesty International and an unrepentant Islamist named Moazzam Begg has been a source of wonderment among those who follow these kinds of things, but only back-burner wonderment, obscured by the media’s general tendency to protect the credibility of “human rights” NGOs, or at least not ask too many questions.

The UK Times was impelled, finally, to give some space to the fact that Amnesty, one of the two largest human-rights groups* (the other being Human Rights Watch) has been promoting Begg, a former Gitmo detainee and booster of terrorists and radicals. What finally attracted press attention to this outrageous state of affairs was the appearance of a whistleblower from within the ranks of Amnesty.

Meet Gita Sahgal, the head of Amnesty’s gender unit. She went public with her disgust after spending two years in a failed effort to separate Amnesty from Begg:

“I believe the campaign [with Begg’s organization, “Cageprisoners”] fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights,” Sahgal wrote in an email to the organisation’s leaders on January 30. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment.”

No kidding. But this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Amnesty responded to her going public by suspending her. The excellent British blog Harry’s Place has posted her statement:

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others? For in defending the torture standard, one of the strongest and most embedded in international human rights law, Amnesty International has sanitized the history and politics of the ex-Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg and completely failed to recognize the nature of his organisation Cageprisoners. …

The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights.

Or, as a British blogger puts it, “upholding concepts of due process and women’s rights may not be best served by strolling along to Downing Street hand in hand with Moazzam Begg, a Salafi Islamist who has attended Jihadi training camps in Afghanistan and Bosnia.”

There is a vital role for groups like HRW and Amnesty to play in the world. Properly understood, their mission is to use their moral authority to shame and condemn tyranny and those who wish to make the world a hospitable place for tyrants and terrorists. But moral authority requires moral clarity. HRW and Amnesty have been overtaken by activists who use their position to wage easy campaigns against open societies instead of taking on the more difficult, thankless, and sometimes dangerous struggle against closed ones.

For people who do not follow these issues closely, there have been a few recent moments that indicate beyond any doubt that something is rotten in the “human-rights community.” One moment was when HRW went to Saudi Arabia to raise money. We have arrived at another such moment: a human-rights organization has suspended an employee for complaining about the organization’s partnership with a terrorist.

*In my opinion, the largest and most important human rights organization in the world is the U.S. Army, but that’s an argument for another time.

The collaboration between Amnesty International and an unrepentant Islamist named Moazzam Begg has been a source of wonderment among those who follow these kinds of things, but only back-burner wonderment, obscured by the media’s general tendency to protect the credibility of “human rights” NGOs, or at least not ask too many questions.

The UK Times was impelled, finally, to give some space to the fact that Amnesty, one of the two largest human-rights groups* (the other being Human Rights Watch) has been promoting Begg, a former Gitmo detainee and booster of terrorists and radicals. What finally attracted press attention to this outrageous state of affairs was the appearance of a whistleblower from within the ranks of Amnesty.

Meet Gita Sahgal, the head of Amnesty’s gender unit. She went public with her disgust after spending two years in a failed effort to separate Amnesty from Begg:

“I believe the campaign [with Begg’s organization, “Cageprisoners”] fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights,” Sahgal wrote in an email to the organisation’s leaders on January 30. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment.”

No kidding. But this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Amnesty responded to her going public by suspending her. The excellent British blog Harry’s Place has posted her statement:

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others? For in defending the torture standard, one of the strongest and most embedded in international human rights law, Amnesty International has sanitized the history and politics of the ex-Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg and completely failed to recognize the nature of his organisation Cageprisoners. …

The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights.

Or, as a British blogger puts it, “upholding concepts of due process and women’s rights may not be best served by strolling along to Downing Street hand in hand with Moazzam Begg, a Salafi Islamist who has attended Jihadi training camps in Afghanistan and Bosnia.”

There is a vital role for groups like HRW and Amnesty to play in the world. Properly understood, their mission is to use their moral authority to shame and condemn tyranny and those who wish to make the world a hospitable place for tyrants and terrorists. But moral authority requires moral clarity. HRW and Amnesty have been overtaken by activists who use their position to wage easy campaigns against open societies instead of taking on the more difficult, thankless, and sometimes dangerous struggle against closed ones.

For people who do not follow these issues closely, there have been a few recent moments that indicate beyond any doubt that something is rotten in the “human-rights community.” One moment was when HRW went to Saudi Arabia to raise money. We have arrived at another such moment: a human-rights organization has suspended an employee for complaining about the organization’s partnership with a terrorist.

*In my opinion, the largest and most important human rights organization in the world is the U.S. Army, but that’s an argument for another time.

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The Centrist Tug

As he marks a year in office, President Obama has to deal with plunging opinion polls, repeated rebuffs abroad from nations as diverse as Israel and Iran, and now the loss of a Senate seat in solidly Democratic Massachusetts — a result only slightly more surprising than if the residents of Mecca had converted to Catholicism. That last setback has put his signature legislative initiative, an overhaul of the health-care system, in the critical-care ward.

I differ from the general disenchantment with Obama only insofar as I was never that enchanted to begin with. Yet I am still glad in retrospect that he won. And not because I doubt that John McCain would have been a better president; I don’t. But if McCain had won, he would have faced a poisonous environment in Washington with embittered Democrats blocking his every initiative and castigating him as a Bush clone.

An overly long period in opposition can drive any political party to extremes. We saw it with Republicans in the 1990s. Many Republicans opposed well-justified interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo simply because they were “Clinton’s wars” and spent much of their time in ever-more-bizarre scandal-mongering regarding the occupant of the Oval Office. Democrats went even more overboard during the Bush years; some went so far as to accuse the president of usurping our liberties and starting wars for profit. Even the more respectable center of the Democratic Party gave vent to views that were often fantastically irresponsible. They seemed to believe that every foreign difficulty encountered by the U.S. was due to Bush’s truculence, and that a president who believed in “outreach” could somehow bring about a miraculous rapprochement with nations from Iran to Russia.

A year into the Obama presidency, those illusions are rapidly evaporating upon contact with reality. Democrats are learning that negotiations alone will not end the threat from rogue regimes and that no sales job can stop al-Qaeda from trying to kill us. President Obama has actually chosen in many areas, ranging from the Patriot Act to U.S. dealings with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, to continue Bush initiatives, sometimes providing more resources and acting more aggressively than Bush had done. (He has, for example, ordered more Predator strikes over Pakistan than Bush did.) In those areas where he has tried to carry out the biggest deviations from Bush policy — e.g., closing Gitmo and dealing with Tehran — he has met nothing but frustration and disappointment. Now we can most likely add health-care reform to the list of leftist failures in Obama’s first term. Wise Democrats realize that a more centrist course is needed to prevent Obama’s first term from becoming his only term.

This is exactly how our democracy is supposed to function. The result will be, I hope, a president and a party that emerge wiser and more responsible in their policy prescriptions than they had been during the years in the wilderness.

As he marks a year in office, President Obama has to deal with plunging opinion polls, repeated rebuffs abroad from nations as diverse as Israel and Iran, and now the loss of a Senate seat in solidly Democratic Massachusetts — a result only slightly more surprising than if the residents of Mecca had converted to Catholicism. That last setback has put his signature legislative initiative, an overhaul of the health-care system, in the critical-care ward.

I differ from the general disenchantment with Obama only insofar as I was never that enchanted to begin with. Yet I am still glad in retrospect that he won. And not because I doubt that John McCain would have been a better president; I don’t. But if McCain had won, he would have faced a poisonous environment in Washington with embittered Democrats blocking his every initiative and castigating him as a Bush clone.

An overly long period in opposition can drive any political party to extremes. We saw it with Republicans in the 1990s. Many Republicans opposed well-justified interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo simply because they were “Clinton’s wars” and spent much of their time in ever-more-bizarre scandal-mongering regarding the occupant of the Oval Office. Democrats went even more overboard during the Bush years; some went so far as to accuse the president of usurping our liberties and starting wars for profit. Even the more respectable center of the Democratic Party gave vent to views that were often fantastically irresponsible. They seemed to believe that every foreign difficulty encountered by the U.S. was due to Bush’s truculence, and that a president who believed in “outreach” could somehow bring about a miraculous rapprochement with nations from Iran to Russia.

A year into the Obama presidency, those illusions are rapidly evaporating upon contact with reality. Democrats are learning that negotiations alone will not end the threat from rogue regimes and that no sales job can stop al-Qaeda from trying to kill us. President Obama has actually chosen in many areas, ranging from the Patriot Act to U.S. dealings with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, to continue Bush initiatives, sometimes providing more resources and acting more aggressively than Bush had done. (He has, for example, ordered more Predator strikes over Pakistan than Bush did.) In those areas where he has tried to carry out the biggest deviations from Bush policy — e.g., closing Gitmo and dealing with Tehran — he has met nothing but frustration and disappointment. Now we can most likely add health-care reform to the list of leftist failures in Obama’s first term. Wise Democrats realize that a more centrist course is needed to prevent Obama’s first term from becoming his only term.

This is exactly how our democracy is supposed to function. The result will be, I hope, a president and a party that emerge wiser and more responsible in their policy prescriptions than they had been during the years in the wilderness.

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America’s Uncertain Presence in Haiti’s Uncertain Future

The New York Times wonders what the American role in Haiti is going to be after the current disaster is dealt with. The sad reality is that it’s hard to imagine a better future for Haiti absent a great deal of American involvement, but it’s equally hard to see what strategic calculation could justify such a stepped-up American presence.

Unfashionable though it may be to say so, some of Haiti’s best years — the years when it was most free of violence and turmoil — were between 1915 and 1934, when the country was occupied by U.S. Marines. They did not run Haiti directly, but they provided support for local elites who with American backing were able to impose more stability and freedom than Haiti has enjoyed before or since. But the reason for the American takeover was not altruism; it was fear that if the U.S. did not intervene, Germany or some other hostile power would, thereby creating a base that could threaten the Panama Canal and other vital American interests. After the onset of the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration lost interest and pulled out. This lack of American involvement allowed the rise of a string of tinhorn dictators, most famously the father and son duo of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier.

The American intervention in 1994 during the Clinton administration had less strategic justification; it was mainly an example of altruism in action although there were also concerns about Haitian boat people flooding into the United States if we did not stabilize the situation. That intervention involved putting Jean-Bertrand Aristide back into power. He turned out to be a singularly inept and vicious ruler whose departure was facilitated by the Bush administration in 1996. Since then the president of Haiti has been Rene Preval, but he has enjoyed limited power over a violent and chaotic country.

What stability there is has come from “Minustah,” which sounds like a Southern pronunciation of “minister” but in fact is the French acronym for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti. This is a Brazilian-led military and police mission designed to defeat Haiti’s notorious gangs and allow the government to rule. As has become apparent during the post-earthquake looting and mayhem, Minustah has not been terribly successful since being established in 1994. Brazil’s heart is in the right place, but its troops, and those of other nations, have not been able to impose the kind of peace that NATO forces have brought to Bosnia and Kosovo.

Given American commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is scant chance we will take over the peacekeeping mission ourselves. But it would make sense to provide more support to Minustah and work in general to strengthen such international mechanisms. We desperately need a way to place dysfunctional countries like Haiti into international receivership. Until such a mechanism is invented, it appears, alas, that Haiti will continue to experience more of the lawlessness and tragedy that have characterized its history ever since the establishment of a French slave regime in the 18th century.

The New York Times wonders what the American role in Haiti is going to be after the current disaster is dealt with. The sad reality is that it’s hard to imagine a better future for Haiti absent a great deal of American involvement, but it’s equally hard to see what strategic calculation could justify such a stepped-up American presence.

Unfashionable though it may be to say so, some of Haiti’s best years — the years when it was most free of violence and turmoil — were between 1915 and 1934, when the country was occupied by U.S. Marines. They did not run Haiti directly, but they provided support for local elites who with American backing were able to impose more stability and freedom than Haiti has enjoyed before or since. But the reason for the American takeover was not altruism; it was fear that if the U.S. did not intervene, Germany or some other hostile power would, thereby creating a base that could threaten the Panama Canal and other vital American interests. After the onset of the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration lost interest and pulled out. This lack of American involvement allowed the rise of a string of tinhorn dictators, most famously the father and son duo of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier.

The American intervention in 1994 during the Clinton administration had less strategic justification; it was mainly an example of altruism in action although there were also concerns about Haitian boat people flooding into the United States if we did not stabilize the situation. That intervention involved putting Jean-Bertrand Aristide back into power. He turned out to be a singularly inept and vicious ruler whose departure was facilitated by the Bush administration in 1996. Since then the president of Haiti has been Rene Preval, but he has enjoyed limited power over a violent and chaotic country.

What stability there is has come from “Minustah,” which sounds like a Southern pronunciation of “minister” but in fact is the French acronym for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti. This is a Brazilian-led military and police mission designed to defeat Haiti’s notorious gangs and allow the government to rule. As has become apparent during the post-earthquake looting and mayhem, Minustah has not been terribly successful since being established in 1994. Brazil’s heart is in the right place, but its troops, and those of other nations, have not been able to impose the kind of peace that NATO forces have brought to Bosnia and Kosovo.

Given American commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is scant chance we will take over the peacekeeping mission ourselves. But it would make sense to provide more support to Minustah and work in general to strengthen such international mechanisms. We desperately need a way to place dysfunctional countries like Haiti into international receivership. Until such a mechanism is invented, it appears, alas, that Haiti will continue to experience more of the lawlessness and tragedy that have characterized its history ever since the establishment of a French slave regime in the 18th century.

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Re: Eurabia Debunked

Mark Steyn and Tony Blankley, both commentators for whom I have considerable respect, have responded to my “Eurabia Debunked” and a few other articles taking exception to their warnings about the Muslimization of Europe.

Mark cherry-picks data showing Muslims are supposedly 10 percent of the population in France, that one-fifth of British university students are Muslim, that Brussels’ governing socialist caucus is majority Muslim, etc. Actually, there is considerable uncertainty about these numbers because there is no definitive accounting of Muslims in Europe (or anywhere else). Consider this Pew study, which finds Muslims are only 6 percent of the French population, 5 perccent in Germany, and 2.7 percent in the United Kingdom. Overall, Europe has about 38 million Muslims, or 5 percent of the population, but most of them are concentrated in Russia, Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia.

If there is uncertainty about how many Muslims are in Europe today, there is even greater cloudiness about how many there will be in the future. As this Newsweek article notes, the case made by Mark and other alarmists is based on the worst-case reading of long-term population projections, which are notoriously unreliable. As William Underhill writes in Newsweek:

For the number of Muslims to outnumber non-Muslims by midcentury, it would require either breeding on a scale rarely seen in history or for immigration to continue at a pace that’s now politically unacceptable. More likely, new controls will slow Muslim immigration. The birthrate for Muslim immigrants is also likely to continue to decline, as it has tended to do, with greater affluence and better health care.

That doesn’t mean we have nothing to worry about. Blankley is right to note the “powerful impact of even very small numbers of determined people in a host country riddled with guilt and political correctness.” David Frum makes a powerful point about how Britain has become a center of Muslim radicalization. That obviously is of great concern to us because of the easy access that British subject have to the U.S.

I agree with Steyn, Blankley, et al. that radical Muslims will continue to be a major problem in Europe. I just don’t think they will take over and turn the continent into “Eurabia.” In fact, there are already many signs of a backlash building — for instance, the Swiss banning the construction of new minarets, the French banning the veil in school and now proposing to ban burkas in public, and the British banning the radical group Islam4UK. I still see considerable resiliency in European civilization and great latent power that can and will be deployed against Muslim radicals who seriously threaten internal order.

Mark Steyn and Tony Blankley, both commentators for whom I have considerable respect, have responded to my “Eurabia Debunked” and a few other articles taking exception to their warnings about the Muslimization of Europe.

Mark cherry-picks data showing Muslims are supposedly 10 percent of the population in France, that one-fifth of British university students are Muslim, that Brussels’ governing socialist caucus is majority Muslim, etc. Actually, there is considerable uncertainty about these numbers because there is no definitive accounting of Muslims in Europe (or anywhere else). Consider this Pew study, which finds Muslims are only 6 percent of the French population, 5 perccent in Germany, and 2.7 percent in the United Kingdom. Overall, Europe has about 38 million Muslims, or 5 percent of the population, but most of them are concentrated in Russia, Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia.

If there is uncertainty about how many Muslims are in Europe today, there is even greater cloudiness about how many there will be in the future. As this Newsweek article notes, the case made by Mark and other alarmists is based on the worst-case reading of long-term population projections, which are notoriously unreliable. As William Underhill writes in Newsweek:

For the number of Muslims to outnumber non-Muslims by midcentury, it would require either breeding on a scale rarely seen in history or for immigration to continue at a pace that’s now politically unacceptable. More likely, new controls will slow Muslim immigration. The birthrate for Muslim immigrants is also likely to continue to decline, as it has tended to do, with greater affluence and better health care.

That doesn’t mean we have nothing to worry about. Blankley is right to note the “powerful impact of even very small numbers of determined people in a host country riddled with guilt and political correctness.” David Frum makes a powerful point about how Britain has become a center of Muslim radicalization. That obviously is of great concern to us because of the easy access that British subject have to the U.S.

I agree with Steyn, Blankley, et al. that radical Muslims will continue to be a major problem in Europe. I just don’t think they will take over and turn the continent into “Eurabia.” In fact, there are already many signs of a backlash building — for instance, the Swiss banning the construction of new minarets, the French banning the veil in school and now proposing to ban burkas in public, and the British banning the radical group Islam4UK. I still see considerable resiliency in European civilization and great latent power that can and will be deployed against Muslim radicals who seriously threaten internal order.

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The Speech and the Policy

Last week, I wrote that the December 1 speech and the decision it would announce were going to give us “some sense of whether Obama is finally surrendering to the logic of the presidency, in which you have to deal with the world as it is and make policy out of the materials at hand rather than wishing bad stuff away. If he does so, he will announce his acceptance of the McChrystal plan, and he will take a giant step toward filling the Oval Office in the way it needs to be filled.”

Whatever the flaws in the speech itself — and they were considerable — Obama’s announcement and the details of the plan together represent a landmark moment. After spending a few months desperately looking for another choice, a third choice, a cute choice, Obama did in fact surrender to the logic of the presidency. Having called the conflict in Afghanistan a “war of necessity,” he has committed the nation to it, and himself to it. Even his words about troop withdrawal in 2011 suggest the seriousness of that commitment, since he only mentioned beginning the withdrawals and conditioned even that on the facts on the ground at the time. As Andrew Ferguson writes,

Obama is the first Democratic president in forty years to call for a significant deployment of American troops in the national security interest of his country. This is very big news. His predecessor, President Clinton, could give a stirring address dispatching bombers over Bosnia and be confident of the support of his fellow Democrats, because the show of power was purely humanitarian and had nothing to do with keeping us safe from our enemies. With great courage, Obama is trying something that hasn’t been tried within the living memory of most of the members of his party.

I think Andy Ferguson is right about Obama’s courage. He is clearly acting against his own gut instincts and those within the ideological tendency that is his natural and longtime home, and that does take courage. Indeed, that is what accounts for the unsatisfying quality of the speech he delivered. He was trying to find language with which he could make his decision explicable to people like him — indeed, perhaps even to an alternate-universe Barack Obama who hadn’t won the presidency and would almost certainly have viewed the notion of committing more troops to Afghanistan in a Bush-like “surge” an awful proposition. That mollification isn’t really possible, and so the speech didn’t work as a matter of rhetoric or suasion.

But that is a missed opportunity for him. It doesn’t really matter. It’s the policy that matters.

Last week, I wrote that the December 1 speech and the decision it would announce were going to give us “some sense of whether Obama is finally surrendering to the logic of the presidency, in which you have to deal with the world as it is and make policy out of the materials at hand rather than wishing bad stuff away. If he does so, he will announce his acceptance of the McChrystal plan, and he will take a giant step toward filling the Oval Office in the way it needs to be filled.”

Whatever the flaws in the speech itself — and they were considerable — Obama’s announcement and the details of the plan together represent a landmark moment. After spending a few months desperately looking for another choice, a third choice, a cute choice, Obama did in fact surrender to the logic of the presidency. Having called the conflict in Afghanistan a “war of necessity,” he has committed the nation to it, and himself to it. Even his words about troop withdrawal in 2011 suggest the seriousness of that commitment, since he only mentioned beginning the withdrawals and conditioned even that on the facts on the ground at the time. As Andrew Ferguson writes,

Obama is the first Democratic president in forty years to call for a significant deployment of American troops in the national security interest of his country. This is very big news. His predecessor, President Clinton, could give a stirring address dispatching bombers over Bosnia and be confident of the support of his fellow Democrats, because the show of power was purely humanitarian and had nothing to do with keeping us safe from our enemies. With great courage, Obama is trying something that hasn’t been tried within the living memory of most of the members of his party.

I think Andy Ferguson is right about Obama’s courage. He is clearly acting against his own gut instincts and those within the ideological tendency that is his natural and longtime home, and that does take courage. Indeed, that is what accounts for the unsatisfying quality of the speech he delivered. He was trying to find language with which he could make his decision explicable to people like him — indeed, perhaps even to an alternate-universe Barack Obama who hadn’t won the presidency and would almost certainly have viewed the notion of committing more troops to Afghanistan in a Bush-like “surge” an awful proposition. That mollification isn’t really possible, and so the speech didn’t work as a matter of rhetoric or suasion.

But that is a missed opportunity for him. It doesn’t really matter. It’s the policy that matters.

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Senator Lieberman’s Address

Senator Joseph Lieberman spoke last night at the annual Commentary Fund dinner at New York’s University Club, which I attended. Although he termed it a “lecture,” his address was in fact a history lesson, one that–in light of the past week’s events–it appears the country badly needs.

Lieberman reviewed the bipartisan war that both American political parties waged against fascism and then communism in the 20th century. He traced the committment to fighting totalitarianism that ran from Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy to Reagan. After a near-collapse during the Carter presidency and abandonment by a series of failed Democratic presidential candidates, that tradition of support for freedom and opposition to tyranny, he contended, was restored and became a mainstay in the Clinton administration. He praised Clinton’s willingness to use American military power in Bosnia to prevent ethnic cleansing in Europe’s midst. And he maintained this was the essential platform that he and Al Gore ran on in 2000.

With obvious pained disappointed he argued that his once stalwart Democratic party has in fact fallen prey to isolationism and defeatism. He spoke of his decision to endorse John McCain, who, he contends, understands the stakes in Iraq and more generally America’s role in the world. As for his own historic party, he is not yet ready to give up on the notion of a Democratic Party devoted to a muscular defense of American interest and thus remains an “Independent Democrat.”

What to make of the address? I confess I came away wondering how the American political alignment on this issues would have turned out had that Florida vote gone differently in 2000. But overwhelmingly, I felt a sense of regret that he really is a voice in the wilderness, without bitterness but nevertheless alone, in his struggle to return the Democratic party to its robust national security position. Still, his erudite and good-humored address reminds us that those in public life (and those who write about it) are obligated to teach and reteach the lessons of the past. Without them– properly told and properly understood–we are lost. And never more so than now.

Senator Joseph Lieberman spoke last night at the annual Commentary Fund dinner at New York’s University Club, which I attended. Although he termed it a “lecture,” his address was in fact a history lesson, one that–in light of the past week’s events–it appears the country badly needs.

Lieberman reviewed the bipartisan war that both American political parties waged against fascism and then communism in the 20th century. He traced the committment to fighting totalitarianism that ran from Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy to Reagan. After a near-collapse during the Carter presidency and abandonment by a series of failed Democratic presidential candidates, that tradition of support for freedom and opposition to tyranny, he contended, was restored and became a mainstay in the Clinton administration. He praised Clinton’s willingness to use American military power in Bosnia to prevent ethnic cleansing in Europe’s midst. And he maintained this was the essential platform that he and Al Gore ran on in 2000.

With obvious pained disappointed he argued that his once stalwart Democratic party has in fact fallen prey to isolationism and defeatism. He spoke of his decision to endorse John McCain, who, he contends, understands the stakes in Iraq and more generally America’s role in the world. As for his own historic party, he is not yet ready to give up on the notion of a Democratic Party devoted to a muscular defense of American interest and thus remains an “Independent Democrat.”

What to make of the address? I confess I came away wondering how the American political alignment on this issues would have turned out had that Florida vote gone differently in 2000. But overwhelmingly, I felt a sense of regret that he really is a voice in the wilderness, without bitterness but nevertheless alone, in his struggle to return the Democratic party to its robust national security position. Still, his erudite and good-humored address reminds us that those in public life (and those who write about it) are obligated to teach and reteach the lessons of the past. Without them– properly told and properly understood–we are lost. And never more so than now.

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Obama’s Role Model?

David Brooks reports today that, like a lot of other Democrats, Barack Obama has become a born-again believer in the presidency of George H.W. Bush. The Democratic candidate tells Brooks: “I have enormous sympathy for the foreign policy of George H. W. Bush. I don’t have a lot of complaints about their handling of Desert Storm. I don’t have a lot of complaints with their handling of the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

This new-found admiration conveniently overlooks some decisions by the elder President Bush that were roundly and correctly criticized at the time by many liberals as well as conservatives: decisions such as the botched aftermath of the Gulf War, which resulted in Shiites and Kurds getting slaughtered after they heeded the President’s call to rise up; the notorious “Chicken Kiev” speech in which he urged Ukrainians to remain part of a dissolving Soviet Union; and the failure to intervene in Bosnia.

Instead, Obama focuses on a couple of the high points of the Bush presidency, even though the elder Bush’s realpolitik doctrine was as responsible for his failures as for his successes. But even taking Obama’s compliments at face value, how likely is it that he could or would replicate such achievements?

Although everyone supported Operation Desert Storm after its success became evident, it was a different story when Bush asked Congress to authorize the mission. Even after winning United Nations approval, he had trouble getting a Democrat-dominated Congress to sign off. The vote in favor of the war resolution was 52-47 in the Senate, with 45 Democrats voting nay. Only 10 Democrats voted for the resolution, mostly conservative Southerners. Even such moderates as Sam Nunn opposed the use of force. How likely is it that if Barack Obama-the most liberal member of the Senate last year-had been in the Senate that year that he would have voted for the resolution?

As for the other Bush administration achievement that he cites-“their handling of the fall of the Berlin Wall”-that was made possible by the long personal experience and contacts built up by the President over the course of many years on the international stage as an ambassador to China and the UN, CIA director, and vice president. That allowed Bush to conduct adroit diplomacy with Helmut Kohl, Mikhail Gorbachev, and other world leaders. Obama has almost no experience in international affairs beyond having lived in Indonesia as a child; certainly he has never held a job in any field related to foreign affairs before entering the Senate three years ago. Granted, he is charming and charismatic. But what are the odds that he can replicate the kind of skilled diplomacy pursued by an old hand like George H.W. Bush?

The more likely comparison is not to Bush but to two previous Democratic nominees who had no experience in foreign policy before entering the White House: Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. In both cases they learned on the job and gradually improved, but the world paid a high price for their stumbles from Iran (Carter) to Somalia (Clinton).

David Brooks reports today that, like a lot of other Democrats, Barack Obama has become a born-again believer in the presidency of George H.W. Bush. The Democratic candidate tells Brooks: “I have enormous sympathy for the foreign policy of George H. W. Bush. I don’t have a lot of complaints about their handling of Desert Storm. I don’t have a lot of complaints with their handling of the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

This new-found admiration conveniently overlooks some decisions by the elder President Bush that were roundly and correctly criticized at the time by many liberals as well as conservatives: decisions such as the botched aftermath of the Gulf War, which resulted in Shiites and Kurds getting slaughtered after they heeded the President’s call to rise up; the notorious “Chicken Kiev” speech in which he urged Ukrainians to remain part of a dissolving Soviet Union; and the failure to intervene in Bosnia.

Instead, Obama focuses on a couple of the high points of the Bush presidency, even though the elder Bush’s realpolitik doctrine was as responsible for his failures as for his successes. But even taking Obama’s compliments at face value, how likely is it that he could or would replicate such achievements?

Although everyone supported Operation Desert Storm after its success became evident, it was a different story when Bush asked Congress to authorize the mission. Even after winning United Nations approval, he had trouble getting a Democrat-dominated Congress to sign off. The vote in favor of the war resolution was 52-47 in the Senate, with 45 Democrats voting nay. Only 10 Democrats voted for the resolution, mostly conservative Southerners. Even such moderates as Sam Nunn opposed the use of force. How likely is it that if Barack Obama-the most liberal member of the Senate last year-had been in the Senate that year that he would have voted for the resolution?

As for the other Bush administration achievement that he cites-“their handling of the fall of the Berlin Wall”-that was made possible by the long personal experience and contacts built up by the President over the course of many years on the international stage as an ambassador to China and the UN, CIA director, and vice president. That allowed Bush to conduct adroit diplomacy with Helmut Kohl, Mikhail Gorbachev, and other world leaders. Obama has almost no experience in international affairs beyond having lived in Indonesia as a child; certainly he has never held a job in any field related to foreign affairs before entering the Senate three years ago. Granted, he is charming and charismatic. But what are the odds that he can replicate the kind of skilled diplomacy pursued by an old hand like George H.W. Bush?

The more likely comparison is not to Bush but to two previous Democratic nominees who had no experience in foreign policy before entering the White House: Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. In both cases they learned on the job and gradually improved, but the world paid a high price for their stumbles from Iran (Carter) to Somalia (Clinton).

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The Doctor Is In

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are stumping many of the political gurus. Because they behave in ways entirely contrary to their own self-interest (e.g. Clinton’s lying about Bosnia, Obama’s not dumping Wright when his campaign started), pundits search for psychological explanations and deeper meaning to be gleaned from these episodes.

Does her fragile grip on the truth suggest that she divorces herself from painful realities? Does his inability to recognize bad actors in his personal and even professional life (e.g. Ayers, Rezko, Wright) suggest he won’t be able to spot menaces on the world stage?

All of this is like reading tea leaves, trying to figure out–based on scant (and some would argue not relevant) information–the personalities and predispositions of very glib, very smart people whose entire campaigns are designed to persuade, cajole and, to a degree, conceal their candidates’ worst characteristics.

In that regard, Clinton and John McCain have a bit of an advantage. We know how they behave, for better or worse, over a long period of time on the public stage. With Obama, average voters have only a thimbleful of information in his Senate record. So it is not only appropriate they should examine these scraps of data about him, but even necessary.

Obama has started pleading with voters to consider the Wright matter only as evidence of his judgment in the context of his entire career. On Meet The Press he said:

I think it’s fair for people to look at this episode along with all the other things that I’ve done over the last 20 years. You know, when you’re running for president, your life’s an open book, and I think that people have a right to flip the hood and kick the tires, and, and this is one element of a much larger track record that has led me to not only run for president, but to help build a movement all across the country to bring about change.

But let’s be realistic: the average voter has no clue what Obama did in his 20-year career, the vast majority of which was spent in relative obscurity in Illinois state and local politics and community organizing. Running on the scantiest record of any serious contender in recent memory, he has left voters little choice but to ponder the tidbits of data unearthed during the campaign.

Obama may not like it. But it’s most of what voters have to rely on as they decide what kind of person he is and what type of President he’ll turn out to be. And frankly, it may be more illuminating that probing the minutiae of his state senate record.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are stumping many of the political gurus. Because they behave in ways entirely contrary to their own self-interest (e.g. Clinton’s lying about Bosnia, Obama’s not dumping Wright when his campaign started), pundits search for psychological explanations and deeper meaning to be gleaned from these episodes.

Does her fragile grip on the truth suggest that she divorces herself from painful realities? Does his inability to recognize bad actors in his personal and even professional life (e.g. Ayers, Rezko, Wright) suggest he won’t be able to spot menaces on the world stage?

All of this is like reading tea leaves, trying to figure out–based on scant (and some would argue not relevant) information–the personalities and predispositions of very glib, very smart people whose entire campaigns are designed to persuade, cajole and, to a degree, conceal their candidates’ worst characteristics.

In that regard, Clinton and John McCain have a bit of an advantage. We know how they behave, for better or worse, over a long period of time on the public stage. With Obama, average voters have only a thimbleful of information in his Senate record. So it is not only appropriate they should examine these scraps of data about him, but even necessary.

Obama has started pleading with voters to consider the Wright matter only as evidence of his judgment in the context of his entire career. On Meet The Press he said:

I think it’s fair for people to look at this episode along with all the other things that I’ve done over the last 20 years. You know, when you’re running for president, your life’s an open book, and I think that people have a right to flip the hood and kick the tires, and, and this is one element of a much larger track record that has led me to not only run for president, but to help build a movement all across the country to bring about change.

But let’s be realistic: the average voter has no clue what Obama did in his 20-year career, the vast majority of which was spent in relative obscurity in Illinois state and local politics and community organizing. Running on the scantiest record of any serious contender in recent memory, he has left voters little choice but to ponder the tidbits of data unearthed during the campaign.

Obama may not like it. But it’s most of what voters have to rely on as they decide what kind of person he is and what type of President he’ll turn out to be. And frankly, it may be more illuminating that probing the minutiae of his state senate record.

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She Finally Gets It

Hillary Clinton is in uncharted territory. For the first time in this primary, Barack Obama has taken successive hits without Hillary somehow spoiling her own good luck.

Every previous Obama gaffe was quickly followed by a counterbalancing embarrassment from the Clinton camp that effectively reset the primary at a tie. If Obama’s wife said something offensive, Hillary’s husband popped up a day later to do the same. If Obama made a naïve statement about diplomacy, Hillary made an entitled statement about being treated unfairly. The tit-for-tat unfolded with relentless parity, so that the first thunderclap of Jeremiah Wright’s outrageous sermons was drowned out by the sniper fire of Hillary’s outrageous Bosnia tale.

But starting with her opponent’s ungenerous assessment of blue-collar Americans, Hillary has enjoyed the first string of Obama blunders not broken by her own reciprocal slips. Obama managed to insult the working class, give an abysmal debate performance, take a heavy loss in Pennsylvania, and fall back into the mud with Jeremiah Wright, all without any Clinton self-destruction to ease his pain. Hillary, by getting out of the way of her own good fortune, is now experiencing momentum by default.

And with Obama’s breakdown doing all the work, Hillary has at last grasped the concept of moderation. According to the Trail:

In recent days, Clinton’s jabs at Obama have been gentle and often unnamed, far from her “meet me in Ohio” and “shame on you, Barack Obama” blasts on the eve of the vote in Ohio. She spent the weekend challenging him to debates, but even dropped that this week to criticize Obama for not supporting a temporary suspension of the federal gas tax.”

If she can continue to resist the urge to scold or crow, and if she can keep her husband’s seemingly inevitable tantrums to a minimum, Obama’s campaign just might implode completely. At U.S. News & World Report, Bonnie Erbe suggests it’s time for Obama to consider dropping out. That’s not going to happen. But if the purpose of superdelegates is to have Democratic leadership steer the party out of trouble, their moment is now. While all the drama unfolds among them, Hillary should just cool her heels.

Hillary Clinton is in uncharted territory. For the first time in this primary, Barack Obama has taken successive hits without Hillary somehow spoiling her own good luck.

Every previous Obama gaffe was quickly followed by a counterbalancing embarrassment from the Clinton camp that effectively reset the primary at a tie. If Obama’s wife said something offensive, Hillary’s husband popped up a day later to do the same. If Obama made a naïve statement about diplomacy, Hillary made an entitled statement about being treated unfairly. The tit-for-tat unfolded with relentless parity, so that the first thunderclap of Jeremiah Wright’s outrageous sermons was drowned out by the sniper fire of Hillary’s outrageous Bosnia tale.

But starting with her opponent’s ungenerous assessment of blue-collar Americans, Hillary has enjoyed the first string of Obama blunders not broken by her own reciprocal slips. Obama managed to insult the working class, give an abysmal debate performance, take a heavy loss in Pennsylvania, and fall back into the mud with Jeremiah Wright, all without any Clinton self-destruction to ease his pain. Hillary, by getting out of the way of her own good fortune, is now experiencing momentum by default.

And with Obama’s breakdown doing all the work, Hillary has at last grasped the concept of moderation. According to the Trail:

In recent days, Clinton’s jabs at Obama have been gentle and often unnamed, far from her “meet me in Ohio” and “shame on you, Barack Obama” blasts on the eve of the vote in Ohio. She spent the weekend challenging him to debates, but even dropped that this week to criticize Obama for not supporting a temporary suspension of the federal gas tax.”

If she can continue to resist the urge to scold or crow, and if she can keep her husband’s seemingly inevitable tantrums to a minimum, Obama’s campaign just might implode completely. At U.S. News & World Report, Bonnie Erbe suggests it’s time for Obama to consider dropping out. That’s not going to happen. But if the purpose of superdelegates is to have Democratic leadership steer the party out of trouble, their moment is now. While all the drama unfolds among them, Hillary should just cool her heels.

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