Commentary Magazine


Topic: Brookings Institution

Morning Commentary

New START picked up support from Republican Sens. Scott Brown, Bob Corker, Judd Gregg, and George Voinovich on Monday, making it look like the treaty may actually get ratified before the end of the week. Sens. Richard Lugar, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins had previously come out in favor of New START, which means Democrats now just need to pick up two more GOP “yes” votes to get the treaty ratified.

The latest Public Policy Polling survey of conservative voters in eight states found Sarah Palin to be the top pick for a 2012 presidential run. She’s followed closely by Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich, with Mitt Romney in last place. PPP has more results and analysis from the poll on its blog.

Sadness: Melanie Phillips explains why the left is at war with itself over whether to canonize Julian Assange as a hero or convict him as a rapist without trial: “To understand why there is such an ear-splitting screeching of brakes from The Guardian, it is necessary to consider the mind-bending contradictions of what passes for thinking on the Left. For it believes certain things as articles of faith which cannot be denied. One is that America is a force for bad in the world and so can never be anything other than guilty. Another is that all men are potential rapists, and so can never be anything other than guilty.”

Steve Chapman discusses how political correctness in American schools helps turn top students into mediocre ones: “The danger in putting the brightest kids in general classes is that they will be bored by instruction geared to the middle. But their troubles don’t elicit much sympathy. Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless told The Atlantic magazine, ‘The United States does not do a good job of educating kids at the top. There’s a long-standing attitude that, “Well, smart kids can make it on their own.”’ But can they? Only 6 percent of American kids achieve advanced proficiency in math—lower than in 30 other countries. In Taiwan, the figure is 28 percent.”

Nathan Glazer reviews Kenneth Marcus’s latest book on campus anti-Semitism and the inclusion of Jews in Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. An essay adapted from Marcus’s book was published in the September issue of COMMENTARY.

The nastiness of the anti-Israel fringe is now invading the morning commute. JTA reports that Seattle buses will soon be plastered with ads decrying “Israeli war-crimes.” From JTA: “The Seattle Midwest Awareness Campaign has paid $1,794 to place the advertisements on 12 buses beginning Dec. 27, the day Israel entered Gaza to stop rocket attacks on its southern communities, according to Seattle’s King 5 News. The ads feature a group of children looking at a demolished building under the heading ‘Israeli War Crimes: Your tax dollars at work.’”

New START picked up support from Republican Sens. Scott Brown, Bob Corker, Judd Gregg, and George Voinovich on Monday, making it look like the treaty may actually get ratified before the end of the week. Sens. Richard Lugar, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins had previously come out in favor of New START, which means Democrats now just need to pick up two more GOP “yes” votes to get the treaty ratified.

The latest Public Policy Polling survey of conservative voters in eight states found Sarah Palin to be the top pick for a 2012 presidential run. She’s followed closely by Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich, with Mitt Romney in last place. PPP has more results and analysis from the poll on its blog.

Sadness: Melanie Phillips explains why the left is at war with itself over whether to canonize Julian Assange as a hero or convict him as a rapist without trial: “To understand why there is such an ear-splitting screeching of brakes from The Guardian, it is necessary to consider the mind-bending contradictions of what passes for thinking on the Left. For it believes certain things as articles of faith which cannot be denied. One is that America is a force for bad in the world and so can never be anything other than guilty. Another is that all men are potential rapists, and so can never be anything other than guilty.”

Steve Chapman discusses how political correctness in American schools helps turn top students into mediocre ones: “The danger in putting the brightest kids in general classes is that they will be bored by instruction geared to the middle. But their troubles don’t elicit much sympathy. Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless told The Atlantic magazine, ‘The United States does not do a good job of educating kids at the top. There’s a long-standing attitude that, “Well, smart kids can make it on their own.”’ But can they? Only 6 percent of American kids achieve advanced proficiency in math—lower than in 30 other countries. In Taiwan, the figure is 28 percent.”

Nathan Glazer reviews Kenneth Marcus’s latest book on campus anti-Semitism and the inclusion of Jews in Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. An essay adapted from Marcus’s book was published in the September issue of COMMENTARY.

The nastiness of the anti-Israel fringe is now invading the morning commute. JTA reports that Seattle buses will soon be plastered with ads decrying “Israeli war-crimes.” From JTA: “The Seattle Midwest Awareness Campaign has paid $1,794 to place the advertisements on 12 buses beginning Dec. 27, the day Israel entered Gaza to stop rocket attacks on its southern communities, according to Seattle’s King 5 News. The ads feature a group of children looking at a demolished building under the heading ‘Israeli War Crimes: Your tax dollars at work.’”

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The Kennedys Leave Washington with a Whimper

Today’s New York Times has an elegiac piece on the last days of Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress. It is a remarkable fact that when the new Congress convenes in January, it will be the first time since 1947 that a member of that family will not hold a federal office. The Times quotes the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West, who sees this moment as “a pretty dramatic fall and it’s a symbol of the decline of liberalism.” But that, I think, puts a little too much weight on the meaning of this clan’s long struggle to first acquire and then to retain political power.

The fate of liberalism has little to do with the Kennedys. After all, they pushed their way onto the public square not as liberals but as stridently anti-Communist Democrats. Although in the aftermath of President John Kennedy’s assassination, first Robert and then Ted Kennedy became standard bearers for the liberal myth of Camelot, the idea that this family’s political fortunes are somehow the cause of a political movement’s rise and fall is utterly fallacious.

While America has had other dominant political dynasties (the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes being the most important), the Kennedys represented a new twist on the theme. They may have touted themselves as merely following a legacy of public service into politics, but their enduring popularity was more the result of modern celebrity culture and media infatuation than anything else. How else can we explain the way they seemed to rise above scandals involving vehicular homicide, rape, and addiction that would have sunk the fortunes of others who thought to keep their hold on the reins of power?

Even as he leaves Congress for good, Patrick Kennedy is still attempting to burnish the fairy tale that the Kennedys stood for more than just a lust for power. Yet his undistinguished career is a rebuke to the idea that they were about “giving back” to their country. Indeed, from the first moment that his paternal grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, stepped onto the public stage in the 1930s as the chairman of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and then ambassador to Britain until his own ignominious career in Congress, Patrick Kennedy’s family has been an exemplar of entitlement and living above and beyond the rules that apply to lesser mortals.

This last Kennedy must also be seen as the poster child for famous scions who have no business in politics. Patrick Kennedy, who entered the Rhode Island legislature at 21 (after being treated for cocaine addiction in his teens) and has been in Congress for 16 years, won and retained office solely on the basis of his famous name. As the Times reports, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after arriving in Congress and behaved accordingly for much of his time there. He will be best remembered for crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night while under the influence, as well as for a bizarre rant during a congressional session during which he berated the press for not covering his speech.

As for liberalism, it will survive, for good or for ill, without the likes of Patrick Kennedy or any of the other equally unfortunate members of his generation that bear the same name. And for all the funereal-like prose of the Times piece, this probably won’t be the last Kennedy in office. There are a great many other members of the family still armed with what’s left of the first Joe Kennedy’s ill-gotten loot and the allure and the insatiable ambition that seems to come with the Kennedy moniker. But, if anything, Patrick Kennedy’s embarrassing and largely pointless public career should stand as a warning to other Kennedys, as well as the descendants of any other famous politician, that there is more to public life than the shallow celebrity that propelled this young man into a position of responsibility he never deserved.

Today’s New York Times has an elegiac piece on the last days of Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress. It is a remarkable fact that when the new Congress convenes in January, it will be the first time since 1947 that a member of that family will not hold a federal office. The Times quotes the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West, who sees this moment as “a pretty dramatic fall and it’s a symbol of the decline of liberalism.” But that, I think, puts a little too much weight on the meaning of this clan’s long struggle to first acquire and then to retain political power.

The fate of liberalism has little to do with the Kennedys. After all, they pushed their way onto the public square not as liberals but as stridently anti-Communist Democrats. Although in the aftermath of President John Kennedy’s assassination, first Robert and then Ted Kennedy became standard bearers for the liberal myth of Camelot, the idea that this family’s political fortunes are somehow the cause of a political movement’s rise and fall is utterly fallacious.

While America has had other dominant political dynasties (the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes being the most important), the Kennedys represented a new twist on the theme. They may have touted themselves as merely following a legacy of public service into politics, but their enduring popularity was more the result of modern celebrity culture and media infatuation than anything else. How else can we explain the way they seemed to rise above scandals involving vehicular homicide, rape, and addiction that would have sunk the fortunes of others who thought to keep their hold on the reins of power?

Even as he leaves Congress for good, Patrick Kennedy is still attempting to burnish the fairy tale that the Kennedys stood for more than just a lust for power. Yet his undistinguished career is a rebuke to the idea that they were about “giving back” to their country. Indeed, from the first moment that his paternal grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, stepped onto the public stage in the 1930s as the chairman of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and then ambassador to Britain until his own ignominious career in Congress, Patrick Kennedy’s family has been an exemplar of entitlement and living above and beyond the rules that apply to lesser mortals.

This last Kennedy must also be seen as the poster child for famous scions who have no business in politics. Patrick Kennedy, who entered the Rhode Island legislature at 21 (after being treated for cocaine addiction in his teens) and has been in Congress for 16 years, won and retained office solely on the basis of his famous name. As the Times reports, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after arriving in Congress and behaved accordingly for much of his time there. He will be best remembered for crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night while under the influence, as well as for a bizarre rant during a congressional session during which he berated the press for not covering his speech.

As for liberalism, it will survive, for good or for ill, without the likes of Patrick Kennedy or any of the other equally unfortunate members of his generation that bear the same name. And for all the funereal-like prose of the Times piece, this probably won’t be the last Kennedy in office. There are a great many other members of the family still armed with what’s left of the first Joe Kennedy’s ill-gotten loot and the allure and the insatiable ambition that seems to come with the Kennedy moniker. But, if anything, Patrick Kennedy’s embarrassing and largely pointless public career should stand as a warning to other Kennedys, as well as the descendants of any other famous politician, that there is more to public life than the shallow celebrity that propelled this young man into a position of responsibility he never deserved.

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War Statistics: Iraq vs. Afghanistan

The New York Times has a front-page story today about the worsening security situation across Afghanistan. It’s hard to deny that violence has been getting worse, but for some perspective, turn to the Op-Ed page, where the crew from the Brookings Institution produces one of their periodic charts offering statistics on Afghanistan and Iraq. It notes Iraqi civilian deaths from war in August 2010 were 400. The comparable figure for Afghanistan is 150. That’s actually a decrease from the number of Afghans killed in August 2009 — 230. The decrease from August 2009 to August 2010 may be a statistical fluke (overall violence has been greater this year), but it suggests that there is some good news mixed in with the bad. And the fact that even today Iraq is suffering more civilian casualties than Afghanistan should caution us against concluding that Afghanistan is a lost cause.

Yes, Afghanistan is getting worse — but it’s not nearly as bad as Iraq was (or in some respects, still is). If we could turn around the situation in Iraq, there is no reason we can’t turn around Afghanistan as well. But that will involve hard fighting and, in the short-term at least, a further uptick in both American and Afghan casualties. While this is going on, it’s imperative that Americans not panic and assume that the situation is hopeless. It isn’t.

The New York Times has a front-page story today about the worsening security situation across Afghanistan. It’s hard to deny that violence has been getting worse, but for some perspective, turn to the Op-Ed page, where the crew from the Brookings Institution produces one of their periodic charts offering statistics on Afghanistan and Iraq. It notes Iraqi civilian deaths from war in August 2010 were 400. The comparable figure for Afghanistan is 150. That’s actually a decrease from the number of Afghans killed in August 2009 — 230. The decrease from August 2009 to August 2010 may be a statistical fluke (overall violence has been greater this year), but it suggests that there is some good news mixed in with the bad. And the fact that even today Iraq is suffering more civilian casualties than Afghanistan should caution us against concluding that Afghanistan is a lost cause.

Yes, Afghanistan is getting worse — but it’s not nearly as bad as Iraq was (or in some respects, still is). If we could turn around the situation in Iraq, there is no reason we can’t turn around Afghanistan as well. But that will involve hard fighting and, in the short-term at least, a further uptick in both American and Afghan casualties. While this is going on, it’s imperative that Americans not panic and assume that the situation is hopeless. It isn’t.

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The New Republic’s Keith Olbermann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Galston Talks Sense About Israel

A sensible and intellectually honest  thinker (whose posts appear on a website replete with those who are neither), William Galston has developed a habit of talking political sense to Democrats determined to screen out bad news. He now gives us a report from his trip to Israel. It is more candid and useful than what we’ve been getting from Jewish groups, the administration, and Michael Oren (except when he thinks he’s talking privately).

Galston dispenses with the sugar-coating when explaining the current U.S.-Israeli relationship:

Never before have I sensed such a mood of foreboding, which has been triggered by two issues above all—the looming impasse in relations with the United States and a possible military confrontation with Iran. … There are persistent rumors here that the Obama administration hopes to bring down the current Israeli government and replace it with a more tractable coalition. Don’t hold your breath. … To bring about a new coalition without the hardliners, the Obama administration would have to threaten Israel with measures at least as tough as the ones George H. W. Bush and James Baker implemented two decades ago against the Shamir government, risking a huge domestic political backlash.

On Iran, Galston describes the vast divide between Obama and the Israelis:

Looking farther east, most Israelis—including many who are very dovish vis-a-vis the Palestinians—believe that only military force can prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power in the near future, and they cannot understand why the United States resists this conclusion.

A few months ago I participated in a day-long exercise, organized by the Brookings Institution, simulating the aftermath of a surprise Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. The outcome wasn’t pretty—a forceful Iranian attack on American allies throughout the region and a serious rift in relations between Israel and the United States. The Israeli team hoped that the United States would back them with military measures against Iran that the American team refused to initiate.

As Galston observes, “the sand in the hourglass is running down quickly. Some time this fall, an administration headed toward a midterm election with a faltering economy and negative developments in two war zones may confront a genuine Middle East crisis. We can only hope that its contingency plans are in place and that they’re better than BP’s.” Unfortunately, we know — thanks to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates — that there really isn’t much contingency planning going on.

Whether it is a “shift” or a “rift,” the U.S.-Israel relationship is not what it used to be. There is foreboding in Israel because the realization is sinking in that the Obama administration in all likelihood will not be there to defend the Jewish state — either diplomatically or militarily — when Israel needs America most. You would think American Jewry would be gripped by the same sense of foreboding as their brothers and sisters in Israel — and motivated to do something about it. But like Obama, they are, in Galston’s words, “playing for time.” I hope that they at least have a contingency plan better than BP’s and a sense of urgency to put it into action.

A sensible and intellectually honest  thinker (whose posts appear on a website replete with those who are neither), William Galston has developed a habit of talking political sense to Democrats determined to screen out bad news. He now gives us a report from his trip to Israel. It is more candid and useful than what we’ve been getting from Jewish groups, the administration, and Michael Oren (except when he thinks he’s talking privately).

Galston dispenses with the sugar-coating when explaining the current U.S.-Israeli relationship:

Never before have I sensed such a mood of foreboding, which has been triggered by two issues above all—the looming impasse in relations with the United States and a possible military confrontation with Iran. … There are persistent rumors here that the Obama administration hopes to bring down the current Israeli government and replace it with a more tractable coalition. Don’t hold your breath. … To bring about a new coalition without the hardliners, the Obama administration would have to threaten Israel with measures at least as tough as the ones George H. W. Bush and James Baker implemented two decades ago against the Shamir government, risking a huge domestic political backlash.

On Iran, Galston describes the vast divide between Obama and the Israelis:

Looking farther east, most Israelis—including many who are very dovish vis-a-vis the Palestinians—believe that only military force can prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power in the near future, and they cannot understand why the United States resists this conclusion.

A few months ago I participated in a day-long exercise, organized by the Brookings Institution, simulating the aftermath of a surprise Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. The outcome wasn’t pretty—a forceful Iranian attack on American allies throughout the region and a serious rift in relations between Israel and the United States. The Israeli team hoped that the United States would back them with military measures against Iran that the American team refused to initiate.

As Galston observes, “the sand in the hourglass is running down quickly. Some time this fall, an administration headed toward a midterm election with a faltering economy and negative developments in two war zones may confront a genuine Middle East crisis. We can only hope that its contingency plans are in place and that they’re better than BP’s.” Unfortunately, we know — thanks to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates — that there really isn’t much contingency planning going on.

Whether it is a “shift” or a “rift,” the U.S.-Israel relationship is not what it used to be. There is foreboding in Israel because the realization is sinking in that the Obama administration in all likelihood will not be there to defend the Jewish state — either diplomatically or militarily — when Israel needs America most. You would think American Jewry would be gripped by the same sense of foreboding as their brothers and sisters in Israel — and motivated to do something about it. But like Obama, they are, in Galston’s words, “playing for time.” I hope that they at least have a contingency plan better than BP’s and a sense of urgency to put it into action.

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Bad News For Democrats Now “Fit To Print”

It’s no secret that, as a smart Brookings Institution pundit conceded recently to me, that the CBS/New York Times poll “slants left.” So that makes the latest survey all the more bracing for the White House ( if they’d stop ignoring bad news):

[D]espite intense news coverage and widespread public concern about the economic and ecological damage from the gulf disaster, most Americans remain far more concerned about jobs and the nation’s overall economy.

And in that regard, President Obama does not fare well: 54 percent of the public say he does not have a clear plan for creating jobs, while only 34 percent say he does, an ominous sign heading into this fall’s midterm elections.

Respondents were nearly evenly split on the president’s handling of the economy — 45 percent approve, 48 percent disapprove. His job approval rating remains just below 50 percent. And by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, Americans think the country is on the wrong track.

They are also impatient with Mr. Obama’s response to the oil disaster in the gulf, by a large margin, and attribute the spill to risks taken by BP and its partners in the failed well, according to the poll, which was conducted by telephone from June 16 to 2o with 1,259 adults.

And after his widely panned Oval office, the poll shows 59% of respondents don’t think Obama has a plan for cleaning up the Gulf.

The decline in Obama’s fortunes is not solely attributable to the oil spill, of course. It’s been a long time in coming, although Times readers have been sheltered from much of the bad news for Obama ( much like the president himself, we suspect). If they only read the Times, they might have missed the warning signs in the 2009 gubernatorial elections, written off the election of Scott Brown as a fluke, clung to the belief that the public would learn to love ObamaCare and been convinced George W. Bush could be blamed for everything that went wrong. But there’s no averting their eyes now — Obama and his party are in a heap of trouble and the election will in all likelihood deal a punishing blow to Democrats unlucky enough to be on the ballot.

It’s no secret that, as a smart Brookings Institution pundit conceded recently to me, that the CBS/New York Times poll “slants left.” So that makes the latest survey all the more bracing for the White House ( if they’d stop ignoring bad news):

[D]espite intense news coverage and widespread public concern about the economic and ecological damage from the gulf disaster, most Americans remain far more concerned about jobs and the nation’s overall economy.

And in that regard, President Obama does not fare well: 54 percent of the public say he does not have a clear plan for creating jobs, while only 34 percent say he does, an ominous sign heading into this fall’s midterm elections.

Respondents were nearly evenly split on the president’s handling of the economy — 45 percent approve, 48 percent disapprove. His job approval rating remains just below 50 percent. And by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, Americans think the country is on the wrong track.

They are also impatient with Mr. Obama’s response to the oil disaster in the gulf, by a large margin, and attribute the spill to risks taken by BP and its partners in the failed well, according to the poll, which was conducted by telephone from June 16 to 2o with 1,259 adults.

And after his widely panned Oval office, the poll shows 59% of respondents don’t think Obama has a plan for cleaning up the Gulf.

The decline in Obama’s fortunes is not solely attributable to the oil spill, of course. It’s been a long time in coming, although Times readers have been sheltered from much of the bad news for Obama ( much like the president himself, we suspect). If they only read the Times, they might have missed the warning signs in the 2009 gubernatorial elections, written off the election of Scott Brown as a fluke, clung to the belief that the public would learn to love ObamaCare and been convinced George W. Bush could be blamed for everything that went wrong. But there’s no averting their eyes now — Obama and his party are in a heap of trouble and the election will in all likelihood deal a punishing blow to Democrats unlucky enough to be on the ballot.

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When Does an Unfulfilled Political Promise Become a Lie?

The president and his hapless attorney general (who, like the former director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, seems to be handicapped by his inability to go out in public without unnerving political supporters and giving fodder to opponents) repeatedly promised that they would reverse the Bush administration’s alleged proclivity to politicize the administration of justice. In the end, the accusations against the Bush team proved to be generally groundless (John Yoo and Jay Bybee were cleared, and the allegations that Yoo intentionally provided faulty legal advice were specifically rejected) or trivial (e.g., replacing nine U.S. attorneys, in contrast to other administrations, which replaced all of them). And in the politicization department, no one holds a candle to the Obama team.

This report explains that for all the crying about upholding our legal traditions and rejecting the “lawless” Bush team, the Obama gang is delaying a decision on the KSM trial until the election is in the rear-view mirror. It’s hard to get more political than that (unless, of course, it’s dismissing the New Black Panther intimidation case because left-wing civil rights groups and Holder’s lawyers don’t like enforcing the civil rights laws against minority defendants). Josh Gerstein reports:

Attorney General Eric Holder said the decision over where to hold the trial for alleged 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was “weeks away” — three months ago. Now advocates on both sides of the issue say they expect the Obama administration to punt the decision until after the November midterm elections — when the controversial plan could do less damage to the political fortunes of endangered Democrats and might face less resistance on Capitol Hill.

Holder last week explicitly denied the midterms had anything to do with the timing but would only say discussions are continuing. The White House had no comment. Any further stalling could pose a serious political problem for President Barack Obama on the left — where advocates cheered his administration’s plan to break from the Bush administration and give top al-Qaida figures trials in American courtrooms, a sign to the country and the world that U.S.-style justice was enough to try to men accused of the worst crimes in the nation’s history. … Advocates say the signs of foot-dragging are evident. The Democrats’ political fortunes have dipped further, talks on the broader issue of Guantanamo closure have ground to a halt and the House took a little-noticed vote to block transporting any Gitmo detainees to the United States, for any reason.

The Obama administration plainly doesn’t have the nerve to stand up to its own base, so it delays and delays. Not exactly upholding our fundamental values, as Obama often preened. When the Bush administration had to combat endless attacks on its detainee procedures, the left, of course, excoriated the Bush Justice Department for dragging its feet and holding detainees in limbo. Some are shocked, shocked, to discover that the Obama gang is much worse:

“The worst possible outcome is not making a decision. … There’s a genuinely weird paralysis I would not have predicted,” said Ben Wittes, a Brookings Institution scholar who has urged Obama to announce that there will be no trials for the 9/11 suspects. “It’s disgraceful and they should be embarrassed by it. There are pros and cons of any approach you take, but there is no good argument to let this fester indefinitely.”

If there were Democrats willing to exercise any semblance of congressional oversight, the administration might be pressured to end the “weird” and entirely self-imposed paralysis. But for now, onlookers can only fume:

While “swift and certain justice” once was a regular part of the White House lexicon on Guantanamo and detainee trials, that catchphrase has now vanished along with the prospect of anything swift happening to most of the prisoners slated for continued detention or trial.

“Both the 9/11 and the Cole families had the president look them in the eye and say, ‘We’re going to close Gitmo, move forward with this process, and hold people accountable,’” said Commander Kirk Lippold, a proponent of military trials who was the commanding officer aboard the U.S.S. Cole when it was attacked in Yemen in 2000. “When does an unfulfilled political promise become a lie?” Lippold asked.

Now, there’s a question for Holder for his next outing on Capitol Hill.

The president and his hapless attorney general (who, like the former director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, seems to be handicapped by his inability to go out in public without unnerving political supporters and giving fodder to opponents) repeatedly promised that they would reverse the Bush administration’s alleged proclivity to politicize the administration of justice. In the end, the accusations against the Bush team proved to be generally groundless (John Yoo and Jay Bybee were cleared, and the allegations that Yoo intentionally provided faulty legal advice were specifically rejected) or trivial (e.g., replacing nine U.S. attorneys, in contrast to other administrations, which replaced all of them). And in the politicization department, no one holds a candle to the Obama team.

This report explains that for all the crying about upholding our legal traditions and rejecting the “lawless” Bush team, the Obama gang is delaying a decision on the KSM trial until the election is in the rear-view mirror. It’s hard to get more political than that (unless, of course, it’s dismissing the New Black Panther intimidation case because left-wing civil rights groups and Holder’s lawyers don’t like enforcing the civil rights laws against minority defendants). Josh Gerstein reports:

Attorney General Eric Holder said the decision over where to hold the trial for alleged 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was “weeks away” — three months ago. Now advocates on both sides of the issue say they expect the Obama administration to punt the decision until after the November midterm elections — when the controversial plan could do less damage to the political fortunes of endangered Democrats and might face less resistance on Capitol Hill.

Holder last week explicitly denied the midterms had anything to do with the timing but would only say discussions are continuing. The White House had no comment. Any further stalling could pose a serious political problem for President Barack Obama on the left — where advocates cheered his administration’s plan to break from the Bush administration and give top al-Qaida figures trials in American courtrooms, a sign to the country and the world that U.S.-style justice was enough to try to men accused of the worst crimes in the nation’s history. … Advocates say the signs of foot-dragging are evident. The Democrats’ political fortunes have dipped further, talks on the broader issue of Guantanamo closure have ground to a halt and the House took a little-noticed vote to block transporting any Gitmo detainees to the United States, for any reason.

The Obama administration plainly doesn’t have the nerve to stand up to its own base, so it delays and delays. Not exactly upholding our fundamental values, as Obama often preened. When the Bush administration had to combat endless attacks on its detainee procedures, the left, of course, excoriated the Bush Justice Department for dragging its feet and holding detainees in limbo. Some are shocked, shocked, to discover that the Obama gang is much worse:

“The worst possible outcome is not making a decision. … There’s a genuinely weird paralysis I would not have predicted,” said Ben Wittes, a Brookings Institution scholar who has urged Obama to announce that there will be no trials for the 9/11 suspects. “It’s disgraceful and they should be embarrassed by it. There are pros and cons of any approach you take, but there is no good argument to let this fester indefinitely.”

If there were Democrats willing to exercise any semblance of congressional oversight, the administration might be pressured to end the “weird” and entirely self-imposed paralysis. But for now, onlookers can only fume:

While “swift and certain justice” once was a regular part of the White House lexicon on Guantanamo and detainee trials, that catchphrase has now vanished along with the prospect of anything swift happening to most of the prisoners slated for continued detention or trial.

“Both the 9/11 and the Cole families had the president look them in the eye and say, ‘We’re going to close Gitmo, move forward with this process, and hold people accountable,’” said Commander Kirk Lippold, a proponent of military trials who was the commanding officer aboard the U.S.S. Cole when it was attacked in Yemen in 2000. “When does an unfulfilled political promise become a lie?” Lippold asked.

Now, there’s a question for Holder for his next outing on Capitol Hill.

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Middle East Realists vs. Middle East Fabulists

There is a clear division not only between politicians but also Middle East hands on the UN sanctions. The Washington Post sets the table. On one side is the reality-based community (not to be confused with “realists,” who aren’t at all):

“It is ironic that Bush had a far better record at the U.N. than Obama, as there was a unanimous UNSC vote under Bush, and Obama has lost it,” said Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser under Bush. He said the reason is not that the Iranians’ behavior has improved, because “the clock keeps ticking, and Iran gets closer and closer to a bomb.” The reason, Abrams said, “is simply that American weakness has created a vacuum, and other states are trying to step into it.”

[John] Bolton argues that the administration’s willingness to operate within the U.N. system left it at a negotiating disadvantage. “Everyone believes the Obama administration is joined at the hip to the council, which is a position of negotiating weakness,” he said. “Weakness produces today’s result.”

(In the category of “elections have consequences,” imagine if a Republican were in the White House taking advice from these two.)

And then there is the fabulist Martin Indyk:

But Martin Indyk, vice president for foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, said that the no votes were “a product of the shifting templates in international affairs that is in part a result of Bush’s policies that squandered American influence when it was at its height, allowing for regional powers to emerge with greater ambitions and independence.”

Indyk said that the fact that Russia and China — two of the five permanent Security Council members with veto power — have yet again joined in new sanctions “should serve to underscore the Obama administration’s considerable achievement in maintaining P5 consensus in a new era in which the United States can no longer dictate outcomes.”

I don’t know what the heck he is talking about. Obama is in office two years and has produced an incoherent and ineffective Iran policy, but the no votes from two nations (whose drift into Iran’s orbit has been accelerated by this administration) are George W. Bush’s fault. Even for Indyk this is lame. But you have to hand it to him: he simultaneously touts the loophole-ridden sanctions as a great achievement and then concedes that America is in retreat (“the United States can no longer dictate outcomes”). For those who root for Hillary Clinton’s departure, or George Mitchell’s, it is useful to remember that those who would fill the spots are going to sound like Indyk and not Abrams or Bolton.

Made obvious by Indyk’s gobbledygook, there really is no credible defense for Obama’s diplomatic malpractice. Kori Schake, writing in Foreign Policy, sums up:

he Obama administration is doing its best to put a good face on a major disappointment: After sixteen months’ effort, they have succeeded in delivering less international support than did the Bush administration for a problem everyone agrees is growing rapidly worse. … Sanctions aren’t a strategy, they’re a tool for achieving the strategic objective of preventing Iran becoming a nuclear weapons state. We’re over-reliant on sanctions to deliver that weighty objective and need to be thinking much more creatively about how to impose costs on the Iranian government — internationally and domestically — for their choices.

In the absence of anyone in the administration willing to press this point with Obama, we are headed for a nightmarish choice. We will either have a war or see a nuclear-armed Iran. Either way it will be the greatest foreign-policy disaster since, well, maybe ever. The tragedy is that we had the chance to follow a different strategy and avoid the Hobson’s choice.

There is a clear division not only between politicians but also Middle East hands on the UN sanctions. The Washington Post sets the table. On one side is the reality-based community (not to be confused with “realists,” who aren’t at all):

“It is ironic that Bush had a far better record at the U.N. than Obama, as there was a unanimous UNSC vote under Bush, and Obama has lost it,” said Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser under Bush. He said the reason is not that the Iranians’ behavior has improved, because “the clock keeps ticking, and Iran gets closer and closer to a bomb.” The reason, Abrams said, “is simply that American weakness has created a vacuum, and other states are trying to step into it.”

[John] Bolton argues that the administration’s willingness to operate within the U.N. system left it at a negotiating disadvantage. “Everyone believes the Obama administration is joined at the hip to the council, which is a position of negotiating weakness,” he said. “Weakness produces today’s result.”

(In the category of “elections have consequences,” imagine if a Republican were in the White House taking advice from these two.)

And then there is the fabulist Martin Indyk:

But Martin Indyk, vice president for foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, said that the no votes were “a product of the shifting templates in international affairs that is in part a result of Bush’s policies that squandered American influence when it was at its height, allowing for regional powers to emerge with greater ambitions and independence.”

Indyk said that the fact that Russia and China — two of the five permanent Security Council members with veto power — have yet again joined in new sanctions “should serve to underscore the Obama administration’s considerable achievement in maintaining P5 consensus in a new era in which the United States can no longer dictate outcomes.”

I don’t know what the heck he is talking about. Obama is in office two years and has produced an incoherent and ineffective Iran policy, but the no votes from two nations (whose drift into Iran’s orbit has been accelerated by this administration) are George W. Bush’s fault. Even for Indyk this is lame. But you have to hand it to him: he simultaneously touts the loophole-ridden sanctions as a great achievement and then concedes that America is in retreat (“the United States can no longer dictate outcomes”). For those who root for Hillary Clinton’s departure, or George Mitchell’s, it is useful to remember that those who would fill the spots are going to sound like Indyk and not Abrams or Bolton.

Made obvious by Indyk’s gobbledygook, there really is no credible defense for Obama’s diplomatic malpractice. Kori Schake, writing in Foreign Policy, sums up:

he Obama administration is doing its best to put a good face on a major disappointment: After sixteen months’ effort, they have succeeded in delivering less international support than did the Bush administration for a problem everyone agrees is growing rapidly worse. … Sanctions aren’t a strategy, they’re a tool for achieving the strategic objective of preventing Iran becoming a nuclear weapons state. We’re over-reliant on sanctions to deliver that weighty objective and need to be thinking much more creatively about how to impose costs on the Iranian government — internationally and domestically — for their choices.

In the absence of anyone in the administration willing to press this point with Obama, we are headed for a nightmarish choice. We will either have a war or see a nuclear-armed Iran. Either way it will be the greatest foreign-policy disaster since, well, maybe ever. The tragedy is that we had the chance to follow a different strategy and avoid the Hobson’s choice.

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Cheering Their Failed Israel Policy

The Washington Post headline — “Experts question whether U.S. has a real Israel strategy or ‘talking points'” — suggests the disarray in the Obami’s approach and the general consternation that has greeted their bully-boyism directed at the Jewish state. Indeed, the Post can find no one but George Mitchell’s lackey Martin Indyk (more on him later) who agrees with Hillary Clinton’s obnoxious claim that the staged hissy fit with Israel is “paying off.” (And if it were bearing fruit, then we are back to amateur hour when Hillary announces as much, and on the Israel-hating BBC, of all places). Elliott Abrams dryly notes: “It has made life harder and has made negotiations harder for the Israelis and the Palestinians.” Certainly taunting one side in public has that effect.

We are now in a fencing match. Hillary demands some concessions; Bibi tries to serve up some small gesture or soothing platitude so Hillary and company can climb down off the roof on which they have perched themselves to impress their Palestinian friends. But all we have to show for this is Palestinian stone-throwing, a dead Thai worker, a strained but not yet broken relationship with Israel, and further reason for Palestinians to do what they do best — play victim and demand unilateral concessions.

But nothing is more telling than the comments of Indyk, an adviser to Mitchell, who presumably channels the Obami’s thinking:

Martin S. Indyk, vice president for foreign studies at the Brookings Institution and an adviser to Mitchell, said the administration in the past 10 days has made the Israeli government “supersensitive” to the issue of Jerusalem. He praised the administration for not revealing its demands and said U.S. officials adroitly turned down the heat as quickly as they turned it up.

“I think they handled it quite well,” he said.

Supersensitive about their eternal capital? Well, that’s one way — a particularly nasty and undiplomatic way — to express it but also a telling admission of how the administration picked a fight on the one issue that unites Israelis and that no government could, short of a final-status deal, compromise on housing. And his boast of adroitness — does that include the BBC bragging? The onslaught of condemnations? And three cheers, Indyk is leading, for the attempt to wring out of our ally even more concessions!

You see the problem: the members of this crew are high-fiving themselves for continuing, albeit in quieter tones, the same losing strategy they’ve been pursuing from the get-go. So do they have a real strategy? Definitely — the most counterproductive and dangerous one imaginable.

The Washington Post headline — “Experts question whether U.S. has a real Israel strategy or ‘talking points'” — suggests the disarray in the Obami’s approach and the general consternation that has greeted their bully-boyism directed at the Jewish state. Indeed, the Post can find no one but George Mitchell’s lackey Martin Indyk (more on him later) who agrees with Hillary Clinton’s obnoxious claim that the staged hissy fit with Israel is “paying off.” (And if it were bearing fruit, then we are back to amateur hour when Hillary announces as much, and on the Israel-hating BBC, of all places). Elliott Abrams dryly notes: “It has made life harder and has made negotiations harder for the Israelis and the Palestinians.” Certainly taunting one side in public has that effect.

We are now in a fencing match. Hillary demands some concessions; Bibi tries to serve up some small gesture or soothing platitude so Hillary and company can climb down off the roof on which they have perched themselves to impress their Palestinian friends. But all we have to show for this is Palestinian stone-throwing, a dead Thai worker, a strained but not yet broken relationship with Israel, and further reason for Palestinians to do what they do best — play victim and demand unilateral concessions.

But nothing is more telling than the comments of Indyk, an adviser to Mitchell, who presumably channels the Obami’s thinking:

Martin S. Indyk, vice president for foreign studies at the Brookings Institution and an adviser to Mitchell, said the administration in the past 10 days has made the Israeli government “supersensitive” to the issue of Jerusalem. He praised the administration for not revealing its demands and said U.S. officials adroitly turned down the heat as quickly as they turned it up.

“I think they handled it quite well,” he said.

Supersensitive about their eternal capital? Well, that’s one way — a particularly nasty and undiplomatic way — to express it but also a telling admission of how the administration picked a fight on the one issue that unites Israelis and that no government could, short of a final-status deal, compromise on housing. And his boast of adroitness — does that include the BBC bragging? The onslaught of condemnations? And three cheers, Indyk is leading, for the attempt to wring out of our ally even more concessions!

You see the problem: the members of this crew are high-fiving themselves for continuing, albeit in quieter tones, the same losing strategy they’ve been pursuing from the get-go. So do they have a real strategy? Definitely — the most counterproductive and dangerous one imaginable.

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“Eurabia” Debunked

Is Europe committing demographic and cultural suicide? Is the continent turning into “Eurabia” — a land populated primarily by Muslims? That is the case made in a series of popular books by the likes of Bernard Lewis, Mark Steyn, Tony Blankley, and Oriana Fallaci. Personally I’m skeptical. For much the same reason that I was skeptical about the prospects of a Y2K or avian-flu catastrophe: disasters that are so widely predicted seldom occur because corrective action can usually be taken in time. Justin Vaisse of the Brookings Institution, formerly a French Foreign Ministry staffer, suggests some other reasons for skepticism in this Foreign Policy article.

He points out that, while there are currently 18 million Muslims in Western Europe, or 4.5% of the population, and there will be increases in the future, “it’s hard to imagine that Europe will even reach the 10 percent mark (except in some countries or cities).” Why not? Because “fertility rates among Muslims are sharply declining as children of immigrants gradually conform to prevailing social and economic norms. Nor is immigration still a major source of newly minted European Muslims. Only about 500,000 people a year come legally to Europe from Muslim-majority countries, with an even smaller number coming illegally — meaning that the annual influx is a fraction of a percent of the European population.”

Moreover, he writes, fertility rates are actually rising in European countries: “In 2008, fertility rates in France and Ireland were more than two children per woman, close to the U.S. (and replacement) level; in Britain and Sweden they were above 1.9. And though in the 1990s European countries set an all-time record for low fertility rates, figures are now rising in all EU states except Germany.” And, no, those increasing fertility figures are not due to Muslims alone. Although Muslim migrant women have a lot of children, overall they “have a negligible impact on overall fertility rates, adding a maximum of 0.1 to any country’s average.”

Vaisse adds another reason we shouldn’t worry. He cites polling data to show that “to large majorities of Europe’s Muslims, Islam is neither an exclusive identity nor a marching order. Recent poll data from Gallup show that most European Muslims happily combine their national and religious identities, and a 2009 Harvard University working paper by Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris demonstrates that in the long term, the basic cultural values of Muslim migrants evolve to conform to the predominant culture of the European society in which they live.”

I would add another point: that continental societies have more resiliency than it may appear on the surface to Americans who caricature Europeans as effete surrender monkeys. While most European nations are not willing to engage in vigorous military action overseas (France and Britain are partial exceptions) they have shown far more ruthlessness in policing their own borders. France, in particular, as this AEI study notes, has been extremely aggressive in going after Islamist terror cells, giving their law enforcement and judicial authorities more power than in the U.S. Islamist excesses such as the killing of Theo van Gogh or the attempted murder of the Muhammad cartoonist are triggering a backlash. Europe, I predict, will not be subsumed into the umma as so many alarmists claim, based on worst-case projections.

Is Europe committing demographic and cultural suicide? Is the continent turning into “Eurabia” — a land populated primarily by Muslims? That is the case made in a series of popular books by the likes of Bernard Lewis, Mark Steyn, Tony Blankley, and Oriana Fallaci. Personally I’m skeptical. For much the same reason that I was skeptical about the prospects of a Y2K or avian-flu catastrophe: disasters that are so widely predicted seldom occur because corrective action can usually be taken in time. Justin Vaisse of the Brookings Institution, formerly a French Foreign Ministry staffer, suggests some other reasons for skepticism in this Foreign Policy article.

He points out that, while there are currently 18 million Muslims in Western Europe, or 4.5% of the population, and there will be increases in the future, “it’s hard to imagine that Europe will even reach the 10 percent mark (except in some countries or cities).” Why not? Because “fertility rates among Muslims are sharply declining as children of immigrants gradually conform to prevailing social and economic norms. Nor is immigration still a major source of newly minted European Muslims. Only about 500,000 people a year come legally to Europe from Muslim-majority countries, with an even smaller number coming illegally — meaning that the annual influx is a fraction of a percent of the European population.”

Moreover, he writes, fertility rates are actually rising in European countries: “In 2008, fertility rates in France and Ireland were more than two children per woman, close to the U.S. (and replacement) level; in Britain and Sweden they were above 1.9. And though in the 1990s European countries set an all-time record for low fertility rates, figures are now rising in all EU states except Germany.” And, no, those increasing fertility figures are not due to Muslims alone. Although Muslim migrant women have a lot of children, overall they “have a negligible impact on overall fertility rates, adding a maximum of 0.1 to any country’s average.”

Vaisse adds another reason we shouldn’t worry. He cites polling data to show that “to large majorities of Europe’s Muslims, Islam is neither an exclusive identity nor a marching order. Recent poll data from Gallup show that most European Muslims happily combine their national and religious identities, and a 2009 Harvard University working paper by Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris demonstrates that in the long term, the basic cultural values of Muslim migrants evolve to conform to the predominant culture of the European society in which they live.”

I would add another point: that continental societies have more resiliency than it may appear on the surface to Americans who caricature Europeans as effete surrender monkeys. While most European nations are not willing to engage in vigorous military action overseas (France and Britain are partial exceptions) they have shown far more ruthlessness in policing their own borders. France, in particular, as this AEI study notes, has been extremely aggressive in going after Islamist terror cells, giving their law enforcement and judicial authorities more power than in the U.S. Islamist excesses such as the killing of Theo van Gogh or the attempted murder of the Muhammad cartoonist are triggering a backlash. Europe, I predict, will not be subsumed into the umma as so many alarmists claim, based on worst-case projections.

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The Perils of Executive Inexperience

Al Hunt writes a column that reveals the typical finger-pointing and backbiting that ensues when things are not going all that well in an administration. First, he relates this episode:

On Dec. 2, as Obama prepared to give a major economic speech at the Brookings Institution on Dec. 8 (and a day after his Afghanistan speech at West Point) he met with policy makers. He heard a familiar reprise of the previous several meetings with budget director Peter Orszag arguing for more emphasis on reducing the deficit and Council of Economic Advisers chief Christina Romer leading the contingent espousing a greater short-term stress on jobs. The president, by his standards, exploded. Why are we having this meeting again, the same discussion, participants quoted him as saying.

But really, who comes off looking bad in this one? It’s Obama. He is the one who apparently allows the same discussion to churn endlessly. He is the one who hasn’t set the direction of his economic policy. (And that aides would not just finger-point at each other but also suggest that the president is lacking in executive mojo tells us that both focus and loyalty are in short supply in this White House.) Hunt continues with this:

The other problem, an inability to effectively communicate an economic policy, was typified in a Dec. 4 interview with Geithner, who was asked what is the clear, coherent economic message of the administration. He proceeded to talk about high-class education for children, affordable health care, better incentives for energy and infrastructure, public-private arrangements and the like. There are 15.4 million unemployed Americans and another 11.5 million underemployed, either having given up looking and thus not counted in the jobless numbers or involuntarily relegated to part-time work. A laundry list of the Democrats agenda is unlikely to prove comforting.

But is this really the fault of the hapless Geithner or is this rather a problem characteristic of the president’s own lack of focus? Obama spent a year hawking a health-care plan no one can defend on the merits, while pushing a series of small-beans job proposals and signing on to a stimulus plan widely regarded as a failure. For months we saw a new dog-and-pony show every week, each on a different topic. Obama’s spinners incessantly told us the problem wasn’t that he was trying to do too many things at once. But now it seems that it was and that his key advisers don’t understand the administration’s top priority.

The administration seems to have reached the stage of leaving the advisers and the “message” to be blamed. But it is the president who appointed and directs the advisers. And the president — celebrated for his eloquence — is supposed to be the chief communicator. All of this reveals that the president frankly lacks some basic leadership skills and executive know-how. Obama didn’t come to the White House with any executive experience beyond sitting atop a campaign operation that was fortunate to have on off-message primary opponent followed by a non-message general-election opponent. He never ran a company, directed an agency, led a military organization, or served in any executive office. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the White House doesn’t have its act together. The only mild surprise is that now the mainstream media is willing to tell us about it.

Al Hunt writes a column that reveals the typical finger-pointing and backbiting that ensues when things are not going all that well in an administration. First, he relates this episode:

On Dec. 2, as Obama prepared to give a major economic speech at the Brookings Institution on Dec. 8 (and a day after his Afghanistan speech at West Point) he met with policy makers. He heard a familiar reprise of the previous several meetings with budget director Peter Orszag arguing for more emphasis on reducing the deficit and Council of Economic Advisers chief Christina Romer leading the contingent espousing a greater short-term stress on jobs. The president, by his standards, exploded. Why are we having this meeting again, the same discussion, participants quoted him as saying.

But really, who comes off looking bad in this one? It’s Obama. He is the one who apparently allows the same discussion to churn endlessly. He is the one who hasn’t set the direction of his economic policy. (And that aides would not just finger-point at each other but also suggest that the president is lacking in executive mojo tells us that both focus and loyalty are in short supply in this White House.) Hunt continues with this:

The other problem, an inability to effectively communicate an economic policy, was typified in a Dec. 4 interview with Geithner, who was asked what is the clear, coherent economic message of the administration. He proceeded to talk about high-class education for children, affordable health care, better incentives for energy and infrastructure, public-private arrangements and the like. There are 15.4 million unemployed Americans and another 11.5 million underemployed, either having given up looking and thus not counted in the jobless numbers or involuntarily relegated to part-time work. A laundry list of the Democrats agenda is unlikely to prove comforting.

But is this really the fault of the hapless Geithner or is this rather a problem characteristic of the president’s own lack of focus? Obama spent a year hawking a health-care plan no one can defend on the merits, while pushing a series of small-beans job proposals and signing on to a stimulus plan widely regarded as a failure. For months we saw a new dog-and-pony show every week, each on a different topic. Obama’s spinners incessantly told us the problem wasn’t that he was trying to do too many things at once. But now it seems that it was and that his key advisers don’t understand the administration’s top priority.

The administration seems to have reached the stage of leaving the advisers and the “message” to be blamed. But it is the president who appointed and directs the advisers. And the president — celebrated for his eloquence — is supposed to be the chief communicator. All of this reveals that the president frankly lacks some basic leadership skills and executive know-how. Obama didn’t come to the White House with any executive experience beyond sitting atop a campaign operation that was fortunate to have on off-message primary opponent followed by a non-message general-election opponent. He never ran a company, directed an agency, led a military organization, or served in any executive office. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the White House doesn’t have its act together. The only mild surprise is that now the mainstream media is willing to tell us about it.

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Talking Nonsense

Having placed their faith in the civilian justice system, the president and Eric Holder have gone about assuring us that the conviction of KSM and his associates is a done deal. Except it’s not, and they do that very justice system (which was never intended for enemy combatants) no favors when they promise a conviction. Others have noticed as well:

Ben Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that Holder’s confidence is misleading. “Holder is clearly talking nonsense when he says failure is not an option,” Wittes said. “Adverse outcomes can happen, and I am certain that within the Justice Department, they don’t consider it a zero possibility that this case will get totally out of control.”

Wittes goes on to argue that there are “risks in a military commission” system. Well, yes, but KSM was last seen pleading guilty, so it would seem the “risks” are a bit theoretical. As for the civilian trials, it’s about time Holder did away with the “following the law” meme. It’s nonsense. (“The 9/11 trials would make history, however, because the five detainees would become the first enemy combatants captured overseas and brought to the United States for a federal trial.”) Following the law would have meant employing the military commissions and following more than 200 years of American jurisprudence, both of which would have avoided the spectacle of an attorney general and a president spinning easily debunked tales.

And the president’s duck-and-run routine has gotten under the skin of even generally sympathetic pundits like Richard Cohen, who can spot political cowardice when he sees it, chastising Obama, who “let his attorney general, Eric Holder, announce the new policy for trying Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other Sept. 11 defendants in criminal court, as if this were a mere departmental issue and not one of momentous policy.” Cohen can also figure out the logical gulf in the argument for trying some but not all terrorists in civilian court: “What is the principle in that: What works, works? Try putting that one on the Liberty Bell.”

It seems that no one is buying the rationale for this decision. Perhaps the president should get in front of the press or, better yet, meet with all the 9/11 families and explain it himself.

Having placed their faith in the civilian justice system, the president and Eric Holder have gone about assuring us that the conviction of KSM and his associates is a done deal. Except it’s not, and they do that very justice system (which was never intended for enemy combatants) no favors when they promise a conviction. Others have noticed as well:

Ben Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that Holder’s confidence is misleading. “Holder is clearly talking nonsense when he says failure is not an option,” Wittes said. “Adverse outcomes can happen, and I am certain that within the Justice Department, they don’t consider it a zero possibility that this case will get totally out of control.”

Wittes goes on to argue that there are “risks in a military commission” system. Well, yes, but KSM was last seen pleading guilty, so it would seem the “risks” are a bit theoretical. As for the civilian trials, it’s about time Holder did away with the “following the law” meme. It’s nonsense. (“The 9/11 trials would make history, however, because the five detainees would become the first enemy combatants captured overseas and brought to the United States for a federal trial.”) Following the law would have meant employing the military commissions and following more than 200 years of American jurisprudence, both of which would have avoided the spectacle of an attorney general and a president spinning easily debunked tales.

And the president’s duck-and-run routine has gotten under the skin of even generally sympathetic pundits like Richard Cohen, who can spot political cowardice when he sees it, chastising Obama, who “let his attorney general, Eric Holder, announce the new policy for trying Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other Sept. 11 defendants in criminal court, as if this were a mere departmental issue and not one of momentous policy.” Cohen can also figure out the logical gulf in the argument for trying some but not all terrorists in civilian court: “What is the principle in that: What works, works? Try putting that one on the Liberty Bell.”

It seems that no one is buying the rationale for this decision. Perhaps the president should get in front of the press or, better yet, meet with all the 9/11 families and explain it himself.

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Toobin on Gitmo

Jeffrey Toobin has a pretty good overview in the current issue of the New Yorker of the whole issue of Guatanamo and the handling of terrorist detainees–especially useful for those like me who have not followed the issue super-closely. Two points in particular jumped out at me.

1) “But, in 2004, the Supreme Court ruled, in Rasul v. Bush, that, because the Guantánamo base was under the exclusive control of the U.S. military, the detainees were effectively on American soil and had the right to bring habeas-corpus petitions in federal court.”

This is something that conservative critics of John McCain don’t seem to have grasped–that, rightly or wrongly, the Supreme Court has already conferred rights on detainees at Gitmo and they probably won’t gain any more rights simply by being transferred to the mainland, as McCain has proposed. (Full disclosure: I am a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

2) Neal Katyal and Jack Goldsmith–a liberal and a conservative law professor–have come up with an idea for trying detainees: “a national-security court:”

According to their proposal, which was recently the subject of a conference sponsored by American University’s Washington College of Law and the Brookings Institution, sitting federal judges would preside over proceedings in which prosecutors would make the case that a person should be detained. There would be trials of sorts, and detainees would have lawyers, but they would have fewer rights than in a criminal case. Hearsay evidence may be admissible-so government agents could testify about what informants told them-and there would be no requirement for Miranda warnings before interrogations.

This seems like an excellent idea and one that could address concerns that if detainees are moved from Gitmo they will be afforded all the same rights as normal criminal defendants.

Of course even beyond the issue of trials there is the equally vital issue of preventative detention: There is insufficient evidence against many of the Gitmo detainees to convict them in a court of law but sufficient evidence to hold them indefinitely because of the risk that if released they would go back to terrorism. Obviously this needs to be part of any longterm legal solution. But simply keeping them at Gitmo will not do anything to resolve this thorny issue–and all the while it will continue to cost us international support.

Jeffrey Toobin has a pretty good overview in the current issue of the New Yorker of the whole issue of Guatanamo and the handling of terrorist detainees–especially useful for those like me who have not followed the issue super-closely. Two points in particular jumped out at me.

1) “But, in 2004, the Supreme Court ruled, in Rasul v. Bush, that, because the Guantánamo base was under the exclusive control of the U.S. military, the detainees were effectively on American soil and had the right to bring habeas-corpus petitions in federal court.”

This is something that conservative critics of John McCain don’t seem to have grasped–that, rightly or wrongly, the Supreme Court has already conferred rights on detainees at Gitmo and they probably won’t gain any more rights simply by being transferred to the mainland, as McCain has proposed. (Full disclosure: I am a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.)

2) Neal Katyal and Jack Goldsmith–a liberal and a conservative law professor–have come up with an idea for trying detainees: “a national-security court:”

According to their proposal, which was recently the subject of a conference sponsored by American University’s Washington College of Law and the Brookings Institution, sitting federal judges would preside over proceedings in which prosecutors would make the case that a person should be detained. There would be trials of sorts, and detainees would have lawyers, but they would have fewer rights than in a criminal case. Hearsay evidence may be admissible-so government agents could testify about what informants told them-and there would be no requirement for Miranda warnings before interrogations.

This seems like an excellent idea and one that could address concerns that if detainees are moved from Gitmo they will be afforded all the same rights as normal criminal defendants.

Of course even beyond the issue of trials there is the equally vital issue of preventative detention: There is insufficient evidence against many of the Gitmo detainees to convict them in a court of law but sufficient evidence to hold them indefinitely because of the risk that if released they would go back to terrorism. Obviously this needs to be part of any longterm legal solution. But simply keeping them at Gitmo will not do anything to resolve this thorny issue–and all the while it will continue to cost us international support.

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The Road Ahead

Here and there among liberal pundits are suggestions that there is less than meets the eye in the Barack Obama message. If you lose Paul Krugman and Joe Klein thinks Obama-mania is getting “creepy” there may be a problem. Well, the Obama campaign did not get where it is by being dim. In Wisconsin, Obama is running an ad on an actual issue, health care. While the ad is not exactly a Brookings Institution policy paper, it does address a core issue for voters. I think, if he is the nominee, you will expect to see more substance, less chanting. It will be John McCain’s job, not an enviable one, to point out why, aside from the exceptional messenger, this is more of the same liberal domestic policy wish list agenda. It is never fun being the “No, you can’t” candidate, but it is a role that fits McCain well. (“No you can’t have the $1M Woodstock museum,” “No you can’t run a war on the cheap,” etc.) It remains to be seen whether he can do this without descending into the voice of doom and gloom and being painted as the naysayer. (His message can be phrased in positive terms, but “Yes, we can reach an acceptable outcome in Iraq” doesn’t exactly stir the masses.)

Here and there among liberal pundits are suggestions that there is less than meets the eye in the Barack Obama message. If you lose Paul Krugman and Joe Klein thinks Obama-mania is getting “creepy” there may be a problem. Well, the Obama campaign did not get where it is by being dim. In Wisconsin, Obama is running an ad on an actual issue, health care. While the ad is not exactly a Brookings Institution policy paper, it does address a core issue for voters. I think, if he is the nominee, you will expect to see more substance, less chanting. It will be John McCain’s job, not an enviable one, to point out why, aside from the exceptional messenger, this is more of the same liberal domestic policy wish list agenda. It is never fun being the “No, you can’t” candidate, but it is a role that fits McCain well. (“No you can’t have the $1M Woodstock museum,” “No you can’t run a war on the cheap,” etc.) It remains to be seen whether he can do this without descending into the voice of doom and gloom and being painted as the naysayer. (His message can be phrased in positive terms, but “Yes, we can reach an acceptable outcome in Iraq” doesn’t exactly stir the masses.)

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O’Hanlon’s Courage

Everyone in Washington praises courage in the abstract, but real courage in practice is rare and seldom rewarded. John McCain has repeatedly exhibited admirable bravery not only physically but politically, and the result is that he was all but written off (prematurely, it now appears) as a serious contender by pundits who declared that his willingness to challenge Republican orthodoxy on a number of issues would deny him the nomination.

For a lesser but still significant exhibition of political courage I call attention to this Wall Street Journal op-ed by Michael O’Hanlon. In it, O’Hanlon blasts Barack Obama for casting aspersions on the motives of those who backed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and for failing to acknowledge that the surge has been successful.

Neither viewpoint would be particularly novel or noteworthy if coming from a confirmed conservative like me. But Mike is a Democrat who works at a liberal think tank—the Brookings Institution. He and his Brookings colleague, Ken Pollack, went out on a limb back on July 20, 2007, when, after returning from Iraq, they published an article in the New York Times proclaiming Iraq “A War We Just Might Win.” That message, coming at a time when Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of the Democratic establishment had already proclaimed the surge a failure, earned them opprobrium on the left.

As the ending of his new Wall Street Journal article reveals, it even lead to a severing of relations between O’Hanlon and the Clinton campaign: Hillary, the most moderate of the Democratic candidates, had come out against the surge. But O’Hanlon evidently remains undaunted, and now he is shooting a few well-aimed darts at the new Democratic front-runner.

Most people in Mike’s position, no doubt hoping for a job in the next administration, would keep quiet. But he is putting principle over party, and for that he deserves kudos. I realize it’s not the same kind of courage that so many of our troops exhibit every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it is more courage than the average denizen of the Beltway shows.

Everyone in Washington praises courage in the abstract, but real courage in practice is rare and seldom rewarded. John McCain has repeatedly exhibited admirable bravery not only physically but politically, and the result is that he was all but written off (prematurely, it now appears) as a serious contender by pundits who declared that his willingness to challenge Republican orthodoxy on a number of issues would deny him the nomination.

For a lesser but still significant exhibition of political courage I call attention to this Wall Street Journal op-ed by Michael O’Hanlon. In it, O’Hanlon blasts Barack Obama for casting aspersions on the motives of those who backed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and for failing to acknowledge that the surge has been successful.

Neither viewpoint would be particularly novel or noteworthy if coming from a confirmed conservative like me. But Mike is a Democrat who works at a liberal think tank—the Brookings Institution. He and his Brookings colleague, Ken Pollack, went out on a limb back on July 20, 2007, when, after returning from Iraq, they published an article in the New York Times proclaiming Iraq “A War We Just Might Win.” That message, coming at a time when Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of the Democratic establishment had already proclaimed the surge a failure, earned them opprobrium on the left.

As the ending of his new Wall Street Journal article reveals, it even lead to a severing of relations between O’Hanlon and the Clinton campaign: Hillary, the most moderate of the Democratic candidates, had come out against the surge. But O’Hanlon evidently remains undaunted, and now he is shooting a few well-aimed darts at the new Democratic front-runner.

Most people in Mike’s position, no doubt hoping for a job in the next administration, would keep quiet. But he is putting principle over party, and for that he deserves kudos. I realize it’s not the same kind of courage that so many of our troops exhibit every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it is more courage than the average denizen of the Beltway shows.

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The New CW

The security progress in Iraq this year is so overwhelming and obvious that even critics of the war cannot gainsay it. And now, belatedly, we are seeing the inevitable political ramifications in this country of that progress. On the front page of Sunday’s New York Times, for example, we read:

As violence declines in Baghdad, the leading Democratic presidential candidates are undertaking a new and challenging balancing act on Iraq: acknowledging that success, trying to shift the focus to the lack of political progress there, and highlighting more domestic concerns like health care and the economy. Advisers to Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama say that the candidates have watched security conditions improve after the troop escalation in Iraq and concluded that it would be folly not to acknowledge those gains…. While the Democratic candidates are continuing to assail the war—a popular position with many of the party’s primary voters—they run the risk that Republicans will use those critiques to attack the party’s nominee in the election as defeatist and lacking faith in the American military…. “The politics of Iraq are going to change dramatically in the general election, assuming Iraq continues to show some hopefulness,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who is a supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s and a proponent of the military buildup. “If Iraq looks at least partly salvageable, it will be important to explain as a candidate how you would salvage it—how you would get our troops out and not lose the war. The Democrats need to be very careful with what they say and not hem themselves in.”

In the Financial Times, Clive Crook writes

Up to now, Democrats have been stinting in their recognition that the situation in Iraq has improved: “Yes, violence is down a bit, but….” That is the wrong posture. They need to celebrate the success, as long as it lasts, as enthusiastically as the Republicans. They also need to stop harrying the administration with symbolic war-funding measures demanding a timetable for rapid withdrawal, as though nothing has changed. This would take little away from their larger valid criticisms of the war and of its conduct until very recently. And it is not as though Iraq is all the Democrats have going for them in this election – they are on to a winner with healthcare. Any suspicion that they are rooting for defeat in Iraq could sink them.

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The security progress in Iraq this year is so overwhelming and obvious that even critics of the war cannot gainsay it. And now, belatedly, we are seeing the inevitable political ramifications in this country of that progress. On the front page of Sunday’s New York Times, for example, we read:

As violence declines in Baghdad, the leading Democratic presidential candidates are undertaking a new and challenging balancing act on Iraq: acknowledging that success, trying to shift the focus to the lack of political progress there, and highlighting more domestic concerns like health care and the economy. Advisers to Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama say that the candidates have watched security conditions improve after the troop escalation in Iraq and concluded that it would be folly not to acknowledge those gains…. While the Democratic candidates are continuing to assail the war—a popular position with many of the party’s primary voters—they run the risk that Republicans will use those critiques to attack the party’s nominee in the election as defeatist and lacking faith in the American military…. “The politics of Iraq are going to change dramatically in the general election, assuming Iraq continues to show some hopefulness,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who is a supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s and a proponent of the military buildup. “If Iraq looks at least partly salvageable, it will be important to explain as a candidate how you would salvage it—how you would get our troops out and not lose the war. The Democrats need to be very careful with what they say and not hem themselves in.”

In the Financial Times, Clive Crook writes

Up to now, Democrats have been stinting in their recognition that the situation in Iraq has improved: “Yes, violence is down a bit, but….” That is the wrong posture. They need to celebrate the success, as long as it lasts, as enthusiastically as the Republicans. They also need to stop harrying the administration with symbolic war-funding measures demanding a timetable for rapid withdrawal, as though nothing has changed. This would take little away from their larger valid criticisms of the war and of its conduct until very recently. And it is not as though Iraq is all the Democrats have going for them in this election – they are on to a winner with healthcare. Any suspicion that they are rooting for defeat in Iraq could sink them.

And in Newsweek Charles Peters, founder of the Washington Monthly, writes

I have been troubled by the reluctance of my fellow liberals to acknowledge the progress made in Iraq in the last six months, a reluctance I am embarrassed to admit that I have shared. Giving Gen. David Petraeus his due does not mean we have to start saying it was a great idea to invade Iraq. It remains the terrible idea it always was. And the occupation that followed has been until recently a continuing disaster, causing the death or maiming of far too many American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. Still, the fact is that the situation in Iraq, though some violence persists, is much improved since the summer. Why do liberals not want to face this fact, let alone ponder its implications?

These accounts reinforce what some observers have been saying for months now: the Democratic Party crossed into treacherous political territory when its leadership declared the “surge” to be lost even before it was in place. This mistake was compounded when scores of Democrats denied, and even seemed to get agitated at, the progress the United States military was making in Iraq; when Democrats went out of their way to attack the credibility of General David Petraeus, the architect of our success there; and when they persisted, and continue to persist, in their attempts to subvert a military strategy that is showing extraordinary gains.

The better things got in Iraq, the more frantic the Democratic leadership seemed to get. While it is entirely legitimate for Democrats to criticize the Bush administration’s mistakes in Iraq, and while it was also understandable for them to be skeptical about the progress in the early part of this year, given the false summits we have experienced, what was unpardonable, according to Christopher Hitchens, was “the dank and sinister impression [liberals and Democrats] give that the worse the tidings, the better they would be pleased.”

That this happened at all ranks among the most disheartening and disturbing political developments we have seen. That there will be an accounting for it is only just—and, perhaps, only now a matter of time.

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Unpardonable Behavior

The New York Times yesterday carried a front-page article entitled “As Democrats See Security Gains in Iraq, Tone Shifts.” The story details the rank cynicism of the Democratic presidential candidates, who—with the possible exception of Joe Biden—have tailored their presidential campaigns to a narrative of defeat in Iraq. Now that the tide unmistakably is turning for the better, Democrats seem to have found themselves in a quandary: their campaign slogans not only are embarrassingly incongruous with the facts on the ground, but also seem politically obsolescent. Now that American defeat in Iraq no longer is an inevitability—and thus, no longer a “victory” for partisans who view Iraq in terms of how it will affect the fortunes of the Bush administration, rather than contemplating what a defeat there might mean for the United States and its allies—the Democrats “are also turning to pocketbook concerns with new intensity as the nominating contests approach in January.” One wonders what the Democrats will do if “pocketbook concerns” like the economy and oil prices fare better in the coming months and they’re left with less and less to lament.

The Times article reveals that, regarding Iraq, of foremost concern to the Democrats is how the situation there will affect their political prospects:

“The politics of Iraq are going to change dramatically in the general election, assuming Iraq continues to show some hopefulness,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who is a supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s and a proponent of the military buildup. “If Iraq looks at least partly salvageable, it will be important to explain as a candidate how you would salvage it—how you would get our troops out and not lose the war. The Democrats need to be very careful with what they say and not hem themselves in.”

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The New York Times yesterday carried a front-page article entitled “As Democrats See Security Gains in Iraq, Tone Shifts.” The story details the rank cynicism of the Democratic presidential candidates, who—with the possible exception of Joe Biden—have tailored their presidential campaigns to a narrative of defeat in Iraq. Now that the tide unmistakably is turning for the better, Democrats seem to have found themselves in a quandary: their campaign slogans not only are embarrassingly incongruous with the facts on the ground, but also seem politically obsolescent. Now that American defeat in Iraq no longer is an inevitability—and thus, no longer a “victory” for partisans who view Iraq in terms of how it will affect the fortunes of the Bush administration, rather than contemplating what a defeat there might mean for the United States and its allies—the Democrats “are also turning to pocketbook concerns with new intensity as the nominating contests approach in January.” One wonders what the Democrats will do if “pocketbook concerns” like the economy and oil prices fare better in the coming months and they’re left with less and less to lament.

The Times article reveals that, regarding Iraq, of foremost concern to the Democrats is how the situation there will affect their political prospects:

“The politics of Iraq are going to change dramatically in the general election, assuming Iraq continues to show some hopefulness,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who is a supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s and a proponent of the military buildup. “If Iraq looks at least partly salvageable, it will be important to explain as a candidate how you would salvage it—how you would get our troops out and not lose the war. The Democrats need to be very careful with what they say and not hem themselves in.”

O’Hanlon is correct in predicting that the Democrats—none of whom supported the troop surge, which has led to the positive gains in and around Baghdad—will have a tough time waging a campaign on the supposed failure of Iraq if the situation there proves “at least partly salvageable” come November of next year. And certainly it would be nice to hear something more constructive than mere defeatism coming from the mouths of Democratic candidates. Yet will voters trust a Democratic nominee to explain how they “would salvage” Iraq, especially in light of the fact that said nominee inevitably will have opposed from the very start and decried every step of the way the very strategy that got us to the present moment?

This situation (in which good news must be, at best, ignored and, at worst, distorted) poses a difficult problem for the antiwar Left in general and the Democrats in particular, and brings to mind the latest offering from Christopher Hitchens, who, while readily acknowledging that the good news out of Iraq may prove ephemeral, last week argued that:

What worries me about the reaction of liberals and Democrats is not the skepticism, which is pardonable, but the dank and sinister impression they give that the worse the tidings, the better they would be pleased. The latter mentality isn’t pardonable and ought not to be pardoned, either.

Given his own political odyssey, Hitchens is quite familiar with this sort of crass anti-Americanism. Wishing for America’s defeat at the hands of whatever enemy wearing an “anti-imperialist” mantle it happens to face is a longstanding article of faith amongst many of his erstwhile comrades on the Left. The times and conflicts may have changed dramatically since the days Hitchens was an unreconstructed Marxist, but the enemy—American power—remains, apparently, the same.

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The Truth Will Out

We can now declare it official: the general perception of the Iraq war is changing, including among the mainstream media.

Yesterday, the Washington Post ran an editorial that began:

The evidence is now overwhelming that the “surge” of U.S. military forces in Iraq this year has been, in purely military terms, a remarkable success. By every metric used to measure the war—total attacks, U.S. casualties, Iraqi casualties, suicide bombings, roadside bombs—there has been an enormous improvement since January. U.S. commanders report that al Qaeda has been cleared from large areas it once controlled and that its remaining forces in Iraq are reeling. Markets in Baghdad are reopening, and the curfew is being eased; the huge refugee flow out of the country has begun to reverse itself. Credit for these achievements belongs in large part to U.S. soldiers in Iraq, who took on a tremendously challenging new counterterrorism strategy and made it work; to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the architect of that strategy; and to President Bush, for making the decision to launch the surge against the advice of most of Congress and the country’s foreign policy elite.

On the front page of today’s New York Times, we read this:

The American military said Sunday that the weekly number of attacks in Iraq had fallen to the lowest level since just before the February 2006 bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra, an event commonly used as a benchmark for the country’s worst spasm of bloodletting after the American invasion nearly five years ago. Data released at a news conference in Baghdad showed that attacks had declined to the lowest level since January 2006. It is the third week in a row that attacks have been at this reduced level. The statistics on attack trends have long been a standard measure that the American military has used to assess violence in Iraq. Because the data have been gathered for years and are deemed generally reliable they allow analysts to identify trends…. “These trends are stunning in military terms and beyond the predictions of most proponents of the surge last winter,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, referring to President Bush’s troop reinforcement plan. “Nobody knows if the trends are durable in the absence of national reconciliation and in the face of major U.S. troop drawdowns in 2008.”

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We can now declare it official: the general perception of the Iraq war is changing, including among the mainstream media.

Yesterday, the Washington Post ran an editorial that began:

The evidence is now overwhelming that the “surge” of U.S. military forces in Iraq this year has been, in purely military terms, a remarkable success. By every metric used to measure the war—total attacks, U.S. casualties, Iraqi casualties, suicide bombings, roadside bombs—there has been an enormous improvement since January. U.S. commanders report that al Qaeda has been cleared from large areas it once controlled and that its remaining forces in Iraq are reeling. Markets in Baghdad are reopening, and the curfew is being eased; the huge refugee flow out of the country has begun to reverse itself. Credit for these achievements belongs in large part to U.S. soldiers in Iraq, who took on a tremendously challenging new counterterrorism strategy and made it work; to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the architect of that strategy; and to President Bush, for making the decision to launch the surge against the advice of most of Congress and the country’s foreign policy elite.

On the front page of today’s New York Times, we read this:

The American military said Sunday that the weekly number of attacks in Iraq had fallen to the lowest level since just before the February 2006 bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra, an event commonly used as a benchmark for the country’s worst spasm of bloodletting after the American invasion nearly five years ago. Data released at a news conference in Baghdad showed that attacks had declined to the lowest level since January 2006. It is the third week in a row that attacks have been at this reduced level. The statistics on attack trends have long been a standard measure that the American military has used to assess violence in Iraq. Because the data have been gathered for years and are deemed generally reliable they allow analysts to identify trends…. “These trends are stunning in military terms and beyond the predictions of most proponents of the surge last winter,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, referring to President Bush’s troop reinforcement plan. “Nobody knows if the trends are durable in the absence of national reconciliation and in the face of major U.S. troop drawdowns in 2008.”

And Newsweek’s foreign correspondent Rod Nordland reports:

For someone who has returned periodically to Baghdad during these past four and a half years of war, there has been one constant: it only gets worse. The faces change, the units rotate, the victims vary, but it has always gotten worse…. For the first time, however, returning to Baghdad after an absence of four months, I can actually say that things do seem to have gotten better, and in ways that may even be durable…. Al Qaeda in Iraq is starting to look like a spent force, especially in Baghdad. The civil war is in the midst of a huge, though nervous, pause. Most Shiite militias are honoring a truce. Iran appears to have stopped shipping deadly arms to Iraqi militants. The indigenous Sunni insurgency has declared for the Americans across broad swaths of the country, especially in the capital. Emerging from our bunkers into the Red Zone, I see the results everywhere.

Each of these stories has important caveats: it’s far too early to celebrate, things can still get worse, Iraq is still a violent and fragile society, and the political opportunity created by the surge has yet to be taken advantage of by Iraq’s central government as eventually it must be if the country is to become stable. Nevertheless, it’s not too early to say that the military success in Iraq has the dimensions of a sea-change, and that, in turn, is having positive, radiating effects, as Max Boot noted earlier today.

What lessons can we draw from what we have seen during this remarkable year?

First, the changes in our military strategy clearly were necessary and should have come sooner. Second, President Bush deserves credit for having endorsed the surge in the face of ferocious opposition from Democrats and deep skepticism from Republicans. The President was almost alone in taking his stand—one now vindicated by events. Third, those who months ago declared that the surge was a failure and that Iraq was irredeemably lost were wrong and in some cases reckless in what they said. Fourth, change—sometimes for good and sometimes for ill—can happen faster than we think. Fifth, what we are seeing unfold in Iraq, under the leadership of General David Petraeus and his team, may well rank as among the most extraordinary military turnabouts in our history. The U.S. military, given the right strategy, is performing tasks that were thought to be nearly impossible. And sixth, the MSM, which has been skeptical (for some good reasons) about reporting good news from Iraq, is now doing just that, and it deserves credit for doing so.

It will be interesting to see if public opinion shifts in light of these developments. My sense is that the country remains deeply weary of the war, which will never be popular, and that there will be a considerable lag time before public opinion shifts in any significant way, if at all. But if progress continues the public will probably, with reservations, stick with the war until we achieve a decent outcome.

The other effect of the progress in Iraq is that it may not be nearly as potent a political weapon for Democrats as they thought six months ago. The facts on the ground have changed dramatically—and so may the politics of the war. Leading Democrats massively have mishandled their approach to this conflict. Almost every week, it seems, they position themselves as champions of a premature withdrawal, despite the awful geopolitical and human cost that would follow in its wake. These Democrats speak as if the events of the last year never happened. But blessedly they have—and more and more people realize they have. Even in Iraq, the truth will out.

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Not Time to Come Home

It’s time to declare victory and go home. That was the formula that Senator George Aiken famously suggested for Vietnam in 1966. Today, it bears relevance to Iraq. No, not to the U. S. military presence in that country, but to the Democrats in Congress.

Since November, the Pelosi-Reid Democrats have demonstrated shocking disdain for the well-being of our country. Their only concern has been to defeat or embarrass George W. Bush. Once, one of the noblest American traditions held that politics stops at the water’s edge. But, for the Pelosi-Reid Democrats, it seems that the inverse is true: namely, that national interests stop when the opportunity arises for partisan point-scoring.

In the last few weeks, however, a number of Democratic voices have been raised to observe that General Petraeus’s surge strategy seems to be working in Iraq. “We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms,” wrote Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of The Brookings Institution in a widely quoted op-ed. Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois reported from Baghdad that our forces are “making some measurable progress.” And Anthony Cordesman, a strong critic of the war, said after a recent visit to the country, “real military progress is taking place.”

In view of these hopeful assessments, it would be criminally irresponsible to deny Petraeus the time and resources he needs to see if he can pull America’s chestnuts from the fire. It would also, in the end, be bad politics. Congressional Democrats should drop their efforts to force surrender upon us. Instead, they should try to take credit for the fact that things are improving. They can argue plausibly that by holding Bush’s feet to the fire, they forced him to adjust strategy, bringing on a new field commander and authorizing the surge. The Democrats should, in short, declare victory and go home.

It’s time to declare victory and go home. That was the formula that Senator George Aiken famously suggested for Vietnam in 1966. Today, it bears relevance to Iraq. No, not to the U. S. military presence in that country, but to the Democrats in Congress.

Since November, the Pelosi-Reid Democrats have demonstrated shocking disdain for the well-being of our country. Their only concern has been to defeat or embarrass George W. Bush. Once, one of the noblest American traditions held that politics stops at the water’s edge. But, for the Pelosi-Reid Democrats, it seems that the inverse is true: namely, that national interests stop when the opportunity arises for partisan point-scoring.

In the last few weeks, however, a number of Democratic voices have been raised to observe that General Petraeus’s surge strategy seems to be working in Iraq. “We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms,” wrote Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of The Brookings Institution in a widely quoted op-ed. Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois reported from Baghdad that our forces are “making some measurable progress.” And Anthony Cordesman, a strong critic of the war, said after a recent visit to the country, “real military progress is taking place.”

In view of these hopeful assessments, it would be criminally irresponsible to deny Petraeus the time and resources he needs to see if he can pull America’s chestnuts from the fire. It would also, in the end, be bad politics. Congressional Democrats should drop their efforts to force surrender upon us. Instead, they should try to take credit for the fact that things are improving. They can argue plausibly that by holding Bush’s feet to the fire, they forced him to adjust strategy, bringing on a new field commander and authorizing the surge. The Democrats should, in short, declare victory and go home.

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Rational Optimism on Iraq

The evidence of gains being made on the ground in Iraq continues to pile up.

See, for instance, this article by Robert Burns, the Associated Press’s veteran military writer. Burns has just returned from his 18th trip to Iraq to report: “The new U.S. military strategy in Iraq, unveiled six months ago to little acclaim, is working.”

Or this new report by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He traveled to Iraq with Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution recently, and while his findings are not quite as positive as theirs, he nevertheless writes: “While all the half-truths and spin of the past have built up a valid distrust of virtually anything the Administration says about Iraq, real military progress is taking place and the U.S. team in Baghdad is actively seeking matching political and economic progress.”

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The evidence of gains being made on the ground in Iraq continues to pile up.

See, for instance, this article by Robert Burns, the Associated Press’s veteran military writer. Burns has just returned from his 18th trip to Iraq to report: “The new U.S. military strategy in Iraq, unveiled six months ago to little acclaim, is working.”

Or this new report by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He traveled to Iraq with Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution recently, and while his findings are not quite as positive as theirs, he nevertheless writes: “While all the half-truths and spin of the past have built up a valid distrust of virtually anything the Administration says about Iraq, real military progress is taking place and the U.S. team in Baghdad is actively seeking matching political and economic progress.”

Unfortunately, that matching political progress has not yet materialized. To be sure, there have been surprising and encouraging gains at the local level where Sunni tribes are increasingly turning against al Qaeda. But at the national level the political gridlock is worse than ever. The latest news from Baghdad is that five ministers belonging to Ayad Allawi’s secular Iraqiyah party have suspended their participation in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s cabinet (though they continue to run their ministries). This comes on top of similar boycotts by the six ministers from the Iraqi Consensus Front, the major Sunni party, and six ministers from Moktada al-Sadr’s radical Shiite party. In all, seventeen ministers, or nearly half the cabinet, are not participating in its deliberations at the moment.

Confidence in Maliki’s government seems to be plummeting, and various Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish chieftains seem to be farther apart than ever when it comes to vital legislation, such as the law to share Iraq’s oil wealth.

Of course, no serious proponent of the “surge” expected that Iraqis would get their act together overnight. In fact, the theory has always been that gains in security are a necessary prerequisite for the major political factions to make compromises. Since the gains in security are just beginning, it is far too soon to say that political progress won’t happen, too. After all, who would have predicted the turnaround in the attitude of the tribes that has occurred over the past year? Yet even supporters of the surge—a group to which I belong—must admit, if we’re being honest with ourselves, that it’s dismaying to see the political situation regressing, at least at the national level, even as the security situation is progressing.

That doesn’t mean it’s prudent to wash our hands of Iraq, or give up on the surge. Cordesman’s report, making the case for “strategic patience,” has it right. But even the most ardent backers of General Petraeus should not let their hopes run out of control. Given how bad the situation was by the time Petraeus took over, there is still a possibility he could do everything right and fail.

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