Commentary Magazine


Topic: Captain

Fight Off, Don’t Pay Off, Pirates

Good for South Korea. Last week its commandos staged a daring assault on a freighter ship hijacked by pirates off Somalia. Eight pirates were killed, five captured. All 21 hostages were released; only one of them — the captain of the ship — was wounded.

This raid comes only a few months after the ship in question, the Samho Jewelry, was freed by Somali pirates from a previous period of captivity. South Korea reportedly paid a ransom $9.5 million — the highest ever. Ransom payments to the pirates have been going up dramatically. According to the Financial Times: “A recent study from the US-based One Earth Future foundation showed the average ransom paid to Somali pirates rose nearly 60 per cent from 2009 to 2010, reaching $5.4m. The average ransom paid in 2005 was $150,000.”

The experience of the Samho Jewelry should  confirm that paying off pirates is not a wise move. Fighting them makes more sense. After all, the Somali pirates are lightly armed; professional military forces like South Korea’s can make mincemeat of them. The problem is that most of the countries that have sent naval vessels off the coast of Somalia have been reluctant to give them the kind of robust rules of engagement that would allow them to take the fight to the pirates. Too often, even when pirates have been captured, they have been released because Somalia has no functioning courts and no other country is eager to try them. Shipping lines have operated under the assumption that it’s cheaper to cooperate with pirates than to fight them. Under those circumstances, is it any wonder that piracy has grown and grown? If the risk is low and the payoff high, it’s safe to expect that more Somalis will take to the seas to take down merchant shipping.

The key to securing this vital shipping lane is to unleash all the naval power that is already in the region. The U.S. and our allies should give our fleets shoot-on-sight orders when they detect suspected pirates — the same kind of order our troops operate under when dealing with armed insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan. It would not take many gunfights, I suspect, to deter all but the most foolhardy or daring pirates from continuing with their criminal racket.

Good for South Korea. Last week its commandos staged a daring assault on a freighter ship hijacked by pirates off Somalia. Eight pirates were killed, five captured. All 21 hostages were released; only one of them — the captain of the ship — was wounded.

This raid comes only a few months after the ship in question, the Samho Jewelry, was freed by Somali pirates from a previous period of captivity. South Korea reportedly paid a ransom $9.5 million — the highest ever. Ransom payments to the pirates have been going up dramatically. According to the Financial Times: “A recent study from the US-based One Earth Future foundation showed the average ransom paid to Somali pirates rose nearly 60 per cent from 2009 to 2010, reaching $5.4m. The average ransom paid in 2005 was $150,000.”

The experience of the Samho Jewelry should  confirm that paying off pirates is not a wise move. Fighting them makes more sense. After all, the Somali pirates are lightly armed; professional military forces like South Korea’s can make mincemeat of them. The problem is that most of the countries that have sent naval vessels off the coast of Somalia have been reluctant to give them the kind of robust rules of engagement that would allow them to take the fight to the pirates. Too often, even when pirates have been captured, they have been released because Somalia has no functioning courts and no other country is eager to try them. Shipping lines have operated under the assumption that it’s cheaper to cooperate with pirates than to fight them. Under those circumstances, is it any wonder that piracy has grown and grown? If the risk is low and the payoff high, it’s safe to expect that more Somalis will take to the seas to take down merchant shipping.

The key to securing this vital shipping lane is to unleash all the naval power that is already in the region. The U.S. and our allies should give our fleets shoot-on-sight orders when they detect suspected pirates — the same kind of order our troops operate under when dealing with armed insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan. It would not take many gunfights, I suspect, to deter all but the most foolhardy or daring pirates from continuing with their criminal racket.

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RE: Judging Captain Honors

Max Boot puts his finger on the central point when he concludes that it’s Captain Owen Honors’s judgment — as a naval leader, not as a political actor — that was put in question by his ill-advised videos. But for the senior officers who decided to relieve him of command, I believe there is a deeper professional principle at work than reflexive, politically sensitive concern about the untoward sexual innuendo. In fact, I would call it a professional instinct more than a principle. Most officers recognize this intuitively: Honors’s failure of judgment — as the XO of a carrier — was not in making comedy videos with sexual connotations; it was in making comedy videos.

There is, naturally, levity in the Navy. But graduating to the carrier-command pipeline is tacitly understood to be the signal for an aviator to pack up his levity and put it in storage. In some things, the Navy can’t take a joke; command of the taxpayers’ most expensive, nuclear-powered weapon systems is one of them. An essential aspect of good judgment is choosing not to create unnecessary vulnerabilities to failure or reprimand on the job, either from a personal or an operational standpoint. Save the unnecessary vulnerabilities for your off-duty time. There are plenty of unavoidable ones lurking in the tasks you’ve actually been assigned.

The sense that Captain Honors’s fate wasn’t a political decision is a sound one. This was Navy discipline at work. It is always painful to have to discipline a senior officer; civilians might wonder if it was really necessary to act so summarily in Honors’s case. Hollywood tells us that misunderstood kids with attitudes often save the world between bouts of rebellion and self-expression. Does it really matter to be so serious?

But to the U.S. Navy, a carrier captain has the Navy’s unequaled nuclear-safety record in his keeping. And if you’ve ever witnessed flight operations on an aircraft carrier, and grasped that one man (or, someday, woman) is responsible for the safety and success of every aspect of that perilous, counterintuitive performance — all taking place a few decks above the nuclear reactors slicing through the water at 40-plus miles an hour — you may understand why the Navy regards a penchant for unsolicited comedy videos as a disqualifier.

Max Boot puts his finger on the central point when he concludes that it’s Captain Owen Honors’s judgment — as a naval leader, not as a political actor — that was put in question by his ill-advised videos. But for the senior officers who decided to relieve him of command, I believe there is a deeper professional principle at work than reflexive, politically sensitive concern about the untoward sexual innuendo. In fact, I would call it a professional instinct more than a principle. Most officers recognize this intuitively: Honors’s failure of judgment — as the XO of a carrier — was not in making comedy videos with sexual connotations; it was in making comedy videos.

There is, naturally, levity in the Navy. But graduating to the carrier-command pipeline is tacitly understood to be the signal for an aviator to pack up his levity and put it in storage. In some things, the Navy can’t take a joke; command of the taxpayers’ most expensive, nuclear-powered weapon systems is one of them. An essential aspect of good judgment is choosing not to create unnecessary vulnerabilities to failure or reprimand on the job, either from a personal or an operational standpoint. Save the unnecessary vulnerabilities for your off-duty time. There are plenty of unavoidable ones lurking in the tasks you’ve actually been assigned.

The sense that Captain Honors’s fate wasn’t a political decision is a sound one. This was Navy discipline at work. It is always painful to have to discipline a senior officer; civilians might wonder if it was really necessary to act so summarily in Honors’s case. Hollywood tells us that misunderstood kids with attitudes often save the world between bouts of rebellion and self-expression. Does it really matter to be so serious?

But to the U.S. Navy, a carrier captain has the Navy’s unequaled nuclear-safety record in his keeping. And if you’ve ever witnessed flight operations on an aircraft carrier, and grasped that one man (or, someday, woman) is responsible for the safety and success of every aspect of that perilous, counterintuitive performance — all taking place a few decks above the nuclear reactors slicing through the water at 40-plus miles an hour — you may understand why the Navy regards a penchant for unsolicited comedy videos as a disqualifier.

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Judging Captain Honors

The Navy has just relieved Capt. Owen Honors, skipper of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, of his command. His offense? When he was XO (executive officer) of the ship, he made some comedic videos intended for the entertainment of the crew, and now those videos have surfaced, leading to complaints that they were raunchy and offensive.

Having viewed one of the videos in question, I found it pretty mild by the standards of typical TV and movie fare circa 2011; certainly there is nothing in it remotely as offensive as in The Hangover, one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. On the other hand, Honors isn’t a Hollywood comedian; he is a senior Navy officer who is supposed to set a standard of decorum and behavior well above that found in the civilian world. He failed in that task and is now paying the price.

His real mistake was to miss decades’ worth of signals that the worst sin any officer can commit is to do anything even tangentially wrong related to sex. Ever since the Tailhook scandal in 1991, it has been obvious that sex-related offenses would be judged far more harshly than other screw-ups. Honors seems to have not gotten the message, which calls his judgment into question. On the other hand, the military’s judgment is open to question, too, when it is far easier to relieve an officer of his command for a sexual imbroglio of even the mildest sort than it is for losing a battle or even a war.

Obviously, it’s important to police the military workplace against sexual harassment, but I can’t help think that we’ve elevated this issue above somewhat more important considerations — such as winning wars.

The Navy has just relieved Capt. Owen Honors, skipper of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, of his command. His offense? When he was XO (executive officer) of the ship, he made some comedic videos intended for the entertainment of the crew, and now those videos have surfaced, leading to complaints that they were raunchy and offensive.

Having viewed one of the videos in question, I found it pretty mild by the standards of typical TV and movie fare circa 2011; certainly there is nothing in it remotely as offensive as in The Hangover, one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. On the other hand, Honors isn’t a Hollywood comedian; he is a senior Navy officer who is supposed to set a standard of decorum and behavior well above that found in the civilian world. He failed in that task and is now paying the price.

His real mistake was to miss decades’ worth of signals that the worst sin any officer can commit is to do anything even tangentially wrong related to sex. Ever since the Tailhook scandal in 1991, it has been obvious that sex-related offenses would be judged far more harshly than other screw-ups. Honors seems to have not gotten the message, which calls his judgment into question. On the other hand, the military’s judgment is open to question, too, when it is far easier to relieve an officer of his command for a sexual imbroglio of even the mildest sort than it is for losing a battle or even a war.

Obviously, it’s important to police the military workplace against sexual harassment, but I can’t help think that we’ve elevated this issue above somewhat more important considerations — such as winning wars.

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Plus Ça Change

A poignant development illustrates the disintegration of the rarefied post-Cold War order we have inhabited since the early 1990s. Against the backdrop of shocks to that order over the past year and half, this little event may seem minor. But it is emblematic of the actions our strategic opponents no longer fear to take openly.

President Obama, currently in Indonesia, will attend the G-20 summit in Seoul on Nov. 11-12. Dmitry Medvedev arrives in Seoul today for a state visit and will hold bilateral talks with South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak prior to the summit. These discussions – in which Korean security and global economic policy are expected to be major topics – continue the theme of Medvedev’s summit with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel in October. Each case involves the Russian president talking over the biggest of global and regional issues with key American allies, in advance of the general summits to be held this month (the G-20 meeting in Seoul and the NATO summit in Lisbon).

But that’s not the most telling aspect of Russia’s posture for the G-20 summit in Seoul. That aspect is to be observed down the road in Inchon, from the pier where the flagship of the Russian Pacific Fleet, the missile cruiser Varyag, will be moored throughout the summit. The unambiguous signal from this visit is underscored by the report that South Korea will turn over to Varyag a set of artifacts Russia has been requesting for years: a battle flag and remnants of weapons from Varyag’s namesake, which participated in the Russo-Japanese War more than a century ago.

The earlier Varyag, attacked in Inchon in 1904 by a Japanese task force, was scuttled by the captain rather than being surrendered to the more powerful Japanese flotilla. Artifacts recovered from it by the Japanese have been stored in Inchon for decades – and each year since 1996, the modern cruiser Varyag has visited Inchon in February to commemorate the battle. Besides the latent bellicosity of bringing a warship to a G-20 summit, Russia is dealing a symbolic slap to Japan: occupying, under the aegis of a U.S. ally and an international body, the position in which a Japanese force once inflicted defeat on Russian ships.

To the American mind, the era before World War I seems to have existed across an unbridgeable historical divide. In a geopolitical sense, in particular, we have believed for decades that we inhabit a different order now. The old territorial resentments seem antique and irrelevant for global technological powers; we think of these obsessions as the province of benighted tribal cultures. But it shouldn’t surprise us to see Russia reverting to this age-old pattern. What we have to understand – but probably don’t today – is that this isn’t a meaningless gesture from Russia: it’s a marking of territory. This is how Russia operates. It all matters.

A poignant development illustrates the disintegration of the rarefied post-Cold War order we have inhabited since the early 1990s. Against the backdrop of shocks to that order over the past year and half, this little event may seem minor. But it is emblematic of the actions our strategic opponents no longer fear to take openly.

President Obama, currently in Indonesia, will attend the G-20 summit in Seoul on Nov. 11-12. Dmitry Medvedev arrives in Seoul today for a state visit and will hold bilateral talks with South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak prior to the summit. These discussions – in which Korean security and global economic policy are expected to be major topics – continue the theme of Medvedev’s summit with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel in October. Each case involves the Russian president talking over the biggest of global and regional issues with key American allies, in advance of the general summits to be held this month (the G-20 meeting in Seoul and the NATO summit in Lisbon).

But that’s not the most telling aspect of Russia’s posture for the G-20 summit in Seoul. That aspect is to be observed down the road in Inchon, from the pier where the flagship of the Russian Pacific Fleet, the missile cruiser Varyag, will be moored throughout the summit. The unambiguous signal from this visit is underscored by the report that South Korea will turn over to Varyag a set of artifacts Russia has been requesting for years: a battle flag and remnants of weapons from Varyag’s namesake, which participated in the Russo-Japanese War more than a century ago.

The earlier Varyag, attacked in Inchon in 1904 by a Japanese task force, was scuttled by the captain rather than being surrendered to the more powerful Japanese flotilla. Artifacts recovered from it by the Japanese have been stored in Inchon for decades – and each year since 1996, the modern cruiser Varyag has visited Inchon in February to commemorate the battle. Besides the latent bellicosity of bringing a warship to a G-20 summit, Russia is dealing a symbolic slap to Japan: occupying, under the aegis of a U.S. ally and an international body, the position in which a Japanese force once inflicted defeat on Russian ships.

To the American mind, the era before World War I seems to have existed across an unbridgeable historical divide. In a geopolitical sense, in particular, we have believed for decades that we inhabit a different order now. The old territorial resentments seem antique and irrelevant for global technological powers; we think of these obsessions as the province of benighted tribal cultures. But it shouldn’t surprise us to see Russia reverting to this age-old pattern. What we have to understand – but probably don’t today – is that this isn’t a meaningless gesture from Russia: it’s a marking of territory. This is how Russia operates. It all matters.

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Encumbered Female Marines

The New York Times has a fascinating story on how female Marines are making a contribution in Marja, a still dangerous district in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. They are assigned to a “female engagement team,” which is designed to interact with Afghanistan’s women; turns out, they also do a good job of interacting with Afghanistan’s men, who sometimes open up more when confronted with women Marines than with their male counterparts.

But their deployment has run into legal problems because of the anachronistic and overly restrictive Pentagon rules on employing women in combat roles. They are technically forbidden from serving in infantry, armor, or Special Forces, but are nevertheless often in the field, sometimes under the legal fiction of being “attached to” (allowed) rather than “assigned to” (forbidden) a combat unit. The rules only allow women “temporary stays” at combat bases. So, the Times reports, “To fulfill the letter but hardly the spirit of the guidelines, the female Marines now travel from their combat outposts every six weeks for an overnight stay at a big base like Camp Leatherneck, then head back out the next morning.”

The commander of the female engagement team, Capt. Emily Naslund, thinks “the legal hoops are absurd when there are no front lines — and when members of her team are taking fire almost daily on foot patrols. ‘The current policy on women in combat is outdated and does not apply to the type of war we are fighting,’ she wrote to her parents, friends and this reporter in an e-mail after the legal review in July.”

Capt. Naslund is right. These old-fashioned rules from the Department of Defense need to be adjusted to conform with the “no front-lines” reality of today’s wars.

The New York Times has a fascinating story on how female Marines are making a contribution in Marja, a still dangerous district in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. They are assigned to a “female engagement team,” which is designed to interact with Afghanistan’s women; turns out, they also do a good job of interacting with Afghanistan’s men, who sometimes open up more when confronted with women Marines than with their male counterparts.

But their deployment has run into legal problems because of the anachronistic and overly restrictive Pentagon rules on employing women in combat roles. They are technically forbidden from serving in infantry, armor, or Special Forces, but are nevertheless often in the field, sometimes under the legal fiction of being “attached to” (allowed) rather than “assigned to” (forbidden) a combat unit. The rules only allow women “temporary stays” at combat bases. So, the Times reports, “To fulfill the letter but hardly the spirit of the guidelines, the female Marines now travel from their combat outposts every six weeks for an overnight stay at a big base like Camp Leatherneck, then head back out the next morning.”

The commander of the female engagement team, Capt. Emily Naslund, thinks “the legal hoops are absurd when there are no front lines — and when members of her team are taking fire almost daily on foot patrols. ‘The current policy on women in combat is outdated and does not apply to the type of war we are fighting,’ she wrote to her parents, friends and this reporter in an e-mail after the legal review in July.”

Capt. Naslund is right. These old-fashioned rules from the Department of Defense need to be adjusted to conform with the “no front-lines” reality of today’s wars.

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Our Petulant President

I wanted to pick up on a point you made, Jen, about the latest example of petulance by our commander in chief. In Politico we read:

Obama chastised what he dubbed a current “obsession” over a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops. “My focus right now is how do we make sure what we’re doing there is successful,” he said. “By next year we will begin a transition.”

Perhaps the “obsession” is based on the fact that (a) Obama included a deadline for beginning troop withdrawals in his December 2009 West Point speech; (b) Vice President Biden has said that in “July of 2011 you’re going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it. Bet. On. It”; and (c) as recently as a week ago yesterday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said that July 2011 is a “firm date. … The July 2011 date, as stated by the president, that’s not moving. That’s not changing.”

It’s clear that the government and people in Afghanistan, as well as the Taliban (among others), are “obsessed” about Obama’s timeline and take it seriously. Silly them.

If the president recognizes the errors of his ways and deems the deadline inoperative, terrific. And if he has to pretend that his shift is not really a shift, okay. But we could all do with a little less lecturing and self-righteousness from Captain Kick-A**.

As is usually the case with Obama, the weaker his arguments are, the more peevish and mocking of his critics he becomes. When he can’t refute criticisms with facts, he resorts to ridicule. It’s an old game — and when it comes to our president, an increasingly wearying one. It’s worth noting, I suppose, that as Obama’s failures mount, his ill-temper and irritation increase. Which means that Obama, and the country, have an increasingly dyspeptic few years ahead of us.

I wanted to pick up on a point you made, Jen, about the latest example of petulance by our commander in chief. In Politico we read:

Obama chastised what he dubbed a current “obsession” over a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops. “My focus right now is how do we make sure what we’re doing there is successful,” he said. “By next year we will begin a transition.”

Perhaps the “obsession” is based on the fact that (a) Obama included a deadline for beginning troop withdrawals in his December 2009 West Point speech; (b) Vice President Biden has said that in “July of 2011 you’re going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it. Bet. On. It”; and (c) as recently as a week ago yesterday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said that July 2011 is a “firm date. … The July 2011 date, as stated by the president, that’s not moving. That’s not changing.”

It’s clear that the government and people in Afghanistan, as well as the Taliban (among others), are “obsessed” about Obama’s timeline and take it seriously. Silly them.

If the president recognizes the errors of his ways and deems the deadline inoperative, terrific. And if he has to pretend that his shift is not really a shift, okay. But we could all do with a little less lecturing and self-righteousness from Captain Kick-A**.

As is usually the case with Obama, the weaker his arguments are, the more peevish and mocking of his critics he becomes. When he can’t refute criticisms with facts, he resorts to ridicule. It’s an old game — and when it comes to our president, an increasingly wearying one. It’s worth noting, I suppose, that as Obama’s failures mount, his ill-temper and irritation increase. Which means that Obama, and the country, have an increasingly dyspeptic few years ahead of us.

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Maybe His Worst Interview Ever

It is not only that Obama’s “so I know whose a** to kick” language was crude and revealed an unseemly desperation (as Pete pointed out), reinforcing the perception that he doesn’t command respect, let alone fear, from foreign or domestic opponents; it is also not true. Allahpundit points out that Obama never talked to BP’s CEO:

The One’s logic, such as it is, is that it’s not worth talking to Tony Hayward because he’ll only end up giving him the runaround — a curious position coming from a guy who campaigned on the virtues of “dialogue” and who’s been locked in halting negotiations with Iran for fully 16 months. Even Lauer is openly incredulous. Captain Kickass has nothing to say to a guy who potentially holds the fate of his presidency in his hands? Even after yesterday’s hair-raising Times piece claiming that BP’s effort to cut the leaking riser may have actually increased the flow of oil many times over? I thought this was supposed to be the new, improved, “engaged” Hopenchange.

Even Chris Matthews says the “public is probably stunned” that Obama hasn’t talked to the BP CEO. It is a sorry spectacle (both the interview and Obama’s post-spill performance), revealing both the president’s personal immaturity and his lack of managerial acumen. He’s not responsible for the spill, but he is responsible for his own conduct in managing the disaster. On that, even his allies give him a failing grade.

It is not only that Obama’s “so I know whose a** to kick” language was crude and revealed an unseemly desperation (as Pete pointed out), reinforcing the perception that he doesn’t command respect, let alone fear, from foreign or domestic opponents; it is also not true. Allahpundit points out that Obama never talked to BP’s CEO:

The One’s logic, such as it is, is that it’s not worth talking to Tony Hayward because he’ll only end up giving him the runaround — a curious position coming from a guy who campaigned on the virtues of “dialogue” and who’s been locked in halting negotiations with Iran for fully 16 months. Even Lauer is openly incredulous. Captain Kickass has nothing to say to a guy who potentially holds the fate of his presidency in his hands? Even after yesterday’s hair-raising Times piece claiming that BP’s effort to cut the leaking riser may have actually increased the flow of oil many times over? I thought this was supposed to be the new, improved, “engaged” Hopenchange.

Even Chris Matthews says the “public is probably stunned” that Obama hasn’t talked to the BP CEO. It is a sorry spectacle (both the interview and Obama’s post-spill performance), revealing both the president’s personal immaturity and his lack of managerial acumen. He’s not responsible for the spill, but he is responsible for his own conduct in managing the disaster. On that, even his allies give him a failing grade.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Another idiotic idea from the Obama brain trust: Hezbollah engagement. No, really: “‘There is certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us what they’re doing. And what we need to do is to find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements,’ [John] Brennan said. He did not spell out how Washington hoped to promote ‘moderate elements’ given that the organization is branded a ‘foreign terrorist organization’ by the United States.”

Another rotten poll for Obama: “Overall, 44% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the president’s performance. Fifty-five percent (55%) disapprove. Those figures also reflect the weakest ratings for the president since the health care bill became law.” Maybe the election reminded voters how much they dislike the president.

Another problem for Obama: the Democrats who won Tuesday ran from his agenda. “Of course, it’s possible that Democrats will fare better than expected this fall. And there’s only so much that any president can do to help other candidates, especially in a non-presidential election year. Still, Obama’s poor record thus far could hurt his legislative agenda if Democratic lawmakers decide they need some distance from him as they seek re-election in what is shaping up as a pro-Republican year. Conversely, it might embolden Republican lawmakers and candidates who oppose him.” Like they say: run away, run away!

Another reason for the Democrats to recover their sanity and dump Blumenthal: his lead over Republican opponents is melting away.

Another scary consequence of Obama’s no-nuke fantasy: Brazil is very likely “working on its own secret nuclear program. … Brazil’s conditioning of NPT cooperation upon the progress made by the existing nuclear powers toward nuclear disarmament reveals how the global ‘nuclear zero’ campaign, of which Barack Obama has made himself the spokesperson, plays into the hands of would-be proliferators.”

Another roll-over-and-play-dead moment for Jewish Democrats: in a meeting to express “misgivings” about Obama’s Israel policy, the president shmoozed them, and at least some felt “like [Obama] is genuinely committed to accomplishing a lasting [Israeli-Palestinian peace] agreement, and that he feels it strongly.” Did they extract from him a promise to use military force if needed to prevent an existential threat to Israel? Did they extract a promise not to impose on or pressure Israel to accept a unilateral peace deal cooked up by Obama? No, I don’t think so.

Another touching reminder that pirates have moms, too: “The mother of a Somali pirate who pleaded guilty to charges of hijacking a U.S.-flagged ship and kidnapping its captain appealed to President Barack Obama on Wednesday to pardon her son and grant him citizenship.”

Another idiotic idea from the Obama brain trust: Hezbollah engagement. No, really: “‘There is certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us what they’re doing. And what we need to do is to find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements,’ [John] Brennan said. He did not spell out how Washington hoped to promote ‘moderate elements’ given that the organization is branded a ‘foreign terrorist organization’ by the United States.”

Another rotten poll for Obama: “Overall, 44% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the president’s performance. Fifty-five percent (55%) disapprove. Those figures also reflect the weakest ratings for the president since the health care bill became law.” Maybe the election reminded voters how much they dislike the president.

Another problem for Obama: the Democrats who won Tuesday ran from his agenda. “Of course, it’s possible that Democrats will fare better than expected this fall. And there’s only so much that any president can do to help other candidates, especially in a non-presidential election year. Still, Obama’s poor record thus far could hurt his legislative agenda if Democratic lawmakers decide they need some distance from him as they seek re-election in what is shaping up as a pro-Republican year. Conversely, it might embolden Republican lawmakers and candidates who oppose him.” Like they say: run away, run away!

Another reason for the Democrats to recover their sanity and dump Blumenthal: his lead over Republican opponents is melting away.

Another scary consequence of Obama’s no-nuke fantasy: Brazil is very likely “working on its own secret nuclear program. … Brazil’s conditioning of NPT cooperation upon the progress made by the existing nuclear powers toward nuclear disarmament reveals how the global ‘nuclear zero’ campaign, of which Barack Obama has made himself the spokesperson, plays into the hands of would-be proliferators.”

Another roll-over-and-play-dead moment for Jewish Democrats: in a meeting to express “misgivings” about Obama’s Israel policy, the president shmoozed them, and at least some felt “like [Obama] is genuinely committed to accomplishing a lasting [Israeli-Palestinian peace] agreement, and that he feels it strongly.” Did they extract from him a promise to use military force if needed to prevent an existential threat to Israel? Did they extract a promise not to impose on or pressure Israel to accept a unilateral peace deal cooked up by Obama? No, I don’t think so.

Another touching reminder that pirates have moms, too: “The mother of a Somali pirate who pleaded guilty to charges of hijacking a U.S.-flagged ship and kidnapping its captain appealed to President Barack Obama on Wednesday to pardon her son and grant him citizenship.”

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Obama OKs Assassination of American Citizen

…and no, it’s not Rush Limbaugh.

Mr. Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and spent years in the United States as an imam, is in hiding in Yemen. He has been the focus of intense scrutiny since he was linked to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in November, and then to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25.

American counterterrorism officials say Mr. Awlaki is an operative of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate of the terror network in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They say they believe that he has become a recruiter for the terrorist network, feeding prospects into plots aimed at the United States and at Americans abroad, the officials said.

It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials said.

Nice to know.

However, I respectfully request, Mr. President, that the following be added to your hit list:

• Customer-service rep #2346 at Time Warner Cable, Queens, New York
• Customer-service rep “Treacle” at Verizon Wireless
• Customer-service rep “Chandra” at Dell
• Customer-service rep “Mahmoud” at Vonage
• Customer-service rep “Captain Nightmare” at Citibank
• Whoever thought this was a good idea

…and no, it’s not Rush Limbaugh.

Mr. Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and spent years in the United States as an imam, is in hiding in Yemen. He has been the focus of intense scrutiny since he was linked to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in November, and then to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25.

American counterterrorism officials say Mr. Awlaki is an operative of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate of the terror network in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They say they believe that he has become a recruiter for the terrorist network, feeding prospects into plots aimed at the United States and at Americans abroad, the officials said.

It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials said.

Nice to know.

However, I respectfully request, Mr. President, that the following be added to your hit list:

• Customer-service rep #2346 at Time Warner Cable, Queens, New York
• Customer-service rep “Treacle” at Verizon Wireless
• Customer-service rep “Chandra” at Dell
• Customer-service rep “Mahmoud” at Vonage
• Customer-service rep “Captain Nightmare” at Citibank
• Whoever thought this was a good idea

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Where’s the Good Will?

Has Barack Obama lost the liberal elite? To hear Matt Damon tell it, yes. “I’m disappointed in the health care plan and in the troop buildup in Afghanistan. Everyone feels a little let down because, on some level, people expected all their problems to go away,” he said.

Matt Damon has problems? Sorry to hear it. He should get in touch with Nancy Pelosi. Next time she’s in front of a microphone pitching the government annexation of a fifth of the economy, she can relay the sad tale of Matt from Los Angeles, who needs this bill to pass immediately because the success of the Bourne franchise depends upon it. After all, the workaday folks at the center of the Democrats’ standard sob stories are now more fearful of — than desperate for — a health-care takeover. A majority of average Americans believe the federal government is so big it poses an immediate threat to their rights, so the Democrats are pretty much left with the Hollywood A-list as their support base. (Just imagine the procedures that will be covered by this health-care bill, should it pass.)

This is not a surprise. Progressivism is nothing if not the natural consequence of outsized prosperity. As Irving Kristol put it, “Those who benefit most from capitalism — and their children, especially — experience a withering away of the acquisitive impulse.”

Because progressives still want universal health care, they are, as Damon articulates, upset with Obama. He was supposed to make it happen. Left academia, like its showbiz counterpart, is disillusioned. The late Howard Zinn, weighing in at the Nation on Obama’s first year, suggested that “people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president — which means, in our time, a dangerous president — unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.”

Therein lies the progressives’ mistake. Obama’s direction has remained the same.  He’s still with them. His real problem is two-fold: he’s too incompetent and arrogant to make anything happen; and the country remains stubbornly Center-Right. What the Left considers some sort of ideological betrayal is really a combination of failed leadership strategy and the exceptional continuity of the American polity. Does Matt Damon really think the President is trying to intravenously force universal health care on an unwilling nation because he’s gone soft? Is the President watching his approval ratings and political capital nosedive because he’s a cynical compromiser?

After all Obama’s interregnum talk about how America was not a speedboat but an oceanliner whose course-changes required only incremental adjustments at the helm, he grabbed the wheel and plunged Left. In so doing, he sent the moderates and independents overboard. Whoever remains has been asked to walk the plank and let the captain take the ship into uncharted waters.

The policy traffic jam that has resulted has caused the pro-health-care crowd to declare America “ungovernable.” What they really mean is that America is undictatable. And they are deeply upset about it. Let’s not forget that Obama’s crestfallen celebrity groupies also constitute the Hollywood chapter of the Hugo Chavez fan club. The country doesn’t want universal health care? Well, what would Hugo do? For progressives, “ramming it through” is a far more noble process than all that messy checks-and-balances nonsense.

The Afghanistan complaint is even more baffling. The single unambiguous foreign-policy talking point of Obama’s campaign was that he planned to refocus the war effort on Afghanistan and Pakistan. If he failed to do that once in office, one could see how Damon and others who campaigned for Obama would be “disappointed.” But this is one of those rare political instances when an elected official has done exactly as promised during the campaign. Yet Michael Moore, who endorsed the “exceptional man” during the campaign, is now also “very disappointed” in Obama’s Afghanistan decision.

While the far-Left cries itself to sleep over the breakup with its soul mate, the rest of the country has come to its senses about what Obama really represented: a rebound relationship — a relationship in which, according to the gods of pop psychology, “you spend a significant amount of time focusing on your previous one.” Goodness knows we’ve done plenty of that.  What’s the problem in falling for Obama because he’s not George W. Bush? “The biggest danger of being in a rebound relationship is that you might commit to it when your partner really isn’t suitable for you. In any relationship in the early romantic stages there’s a danger that you’re going to think this is the best relationship you’ve ever had and you’ll want to commit too early.” As polls since last spring demonstrate: danger averted. And the truth is the Damons, Zinns, and Moores don’t know how good they have it.  If Obama had the nationwide support to institute the progressive policies they want, they’d first understand what disappointment really is.

Has Barack Obama lost the liberal elite? To hear Matt Damon tell it, yes. “I’m disappointed in the health care plan and in the troop buildup in Afghanistan. Everyone feels a little let down because, on some level, people expected all their problems to go away,” he said.

Matt Damon has problems? Sorry to hear it. He should get in touch with Nancy Pelosi. Next time she’s in front of a microphone pitching the government annexation of a fifth of the economy, she can relay the sad tale of Matt from Los Angeles, who needs this bill to pass immediately because the success of the Bourne franchise depends upon it. After all, the workaday folks at the center of the Democrats’ standard sob stories are now more fearful of — than desperate for — a health-care takeover. A majority of average Americans believe the federal government is so big it poses an immediate threat to their rights, so the Democrats are pretty much left with the Hollywood A-list as their support base. (Just imagine the procedures that will be covered by this health-care bill, should it pass.)

This is not a surprise. Progressivism is nothing if not the natural consequence of outsized prosperity. As Irving Kristol put it, “Those who benefit most from capitalism — and their children, especially — experience a withering away of the acquisitive impulse.”

Because progressives still want universal health care, they are, as Damon articulates, upset with Obama. He was supposed to make it happen. Left academia, like its showbiz counterpart, is disillusioned. The late Howard Zinn, weighing in at the Nation on Obama’s first year, suggested that “people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president — which means, in our time, a dangerous president — unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.”

Therein lies the progressives’ mistake. Obama’s direction has remained the same.  He’s still with them. His real problem is two-fold: he’s too incompetent and arrogant to make anything happen; and the country remains stubbornly Center-Right. What the Left considers some sort of ideological betrayal is really a combination of failed leadership strategy and the exceptional continuity of the American polity. Does Matt Damon really think the President is trying to intravenously force universal health care on an unwilling nation because he’s gone soft? Is the President watching his approval ratings and political capital nosedive because he’s a cynical compromiser?

After all Obama’s interregnum talk about how America was not a speedboat but an oceanliner whose course-changes required only incremental adjustments at the helm, he grabbed the wheel and plunged Left. In so doing, he sent the moderates and independents overboard. Whoever remains has been asked to walk the plank and let the captain take the ship into uncharted waters.

The policy traffic jam that has resulted has caused the pro-health-care crowd to declare America “ungovernable.” What they really mean is that America is undictatable. And they are deeply upset about it. Let’s not forget that Obama’s crestfallen celebrity groupies also constitute the Hollywood chapter of the Hugo Chavez fan club. The country doesn’t want universal health care? Well, what would Hugo do? For progressives, “ramming it through” is a far more noble process than all that messy checks-and-balances nonsense.

The Afghanistan complaint is even more baffling. The single unambiguous foreign-policy talking point of Obama’s campaign was that he planned to refocus the war effort on Afghanistan and Pakistan. If he failed to do that once in office, one could see how Damon and others who campaigned for Obama would be “disappointed.” But this is one of those rare political instances when an elected official has done exactly as promised during the campaign. Yet Michael Moore, who endorsed the “exceptional man” during the campaign, is now also “very disappointed” in Obama’s Afghanistan decision.

While the far-Left cries itself to sleep over the breakup with its soul mate, the rest of the country has come to its senses about what Obama really represented: a rebound relationship — a relationship in which, according to the gods of pop psychology, “you spend a significant amount of time focusing on your previous one.” Goodness knows we’ve done plenty of that.  What’s the problem in falling for Obama because he’s not George W. Bush? “The biggest danger of being in a rebound relationship is that you might commit to it when your partner really isn’t suitable for you. In any relationship in the early romantic stages there’s a danger that you’re going to think this is the best relationship you’ve ever had and you’ll want to commit too early.” As polls since last spring demonstrate: danger averted. And the truth is the Damons, Zinns, and Moores don’t know how good they have it.  If Obama had the nationwide support to institute the progressive policies they want, they’d first understand what disappointment really is.

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A Military in Progress in Afghanistan

C.J. “Chris” Chivers, a former Marine officer turned New York Times correspondent, provides an update on how the Afghan National Army is doing in the Marjah offensive. It’s a mixed picture — pretty much what one would have expected. The Afghans are hardly leading and planning the mission, as suggested by some spinners in Kabul. Chivers writes:

In every engagement between the Taliban and one front-line American Marine unit, the operation has been led in almost every significant sense by American officers and troops. They organized the forces for battle, transported them in American vehicles and helicopters from Western-run bases into Taliban-held ground, and have been the primary fighting force each day.

No surprise there, given how advanced the Marine Corps is and how relatively primitive the ANA remains. But the good news is that the ANA soldiers are not running away, either — as so many Iraqi soldiers did in the early years of the Iraq War. Chivers notes:

At the squad level [the ANA] has been a source of effective, if modestly skilled, manpower. Its soldiers have shown courage and a willingness to fight. Afghan soldiers have also proved, as they have for years, to be more proficient than Americans at searching Afghan homes and identifying potential Taliban members — two tasks difficult for outsiders to perform….

“They are a lot better than the Iraqis,” said the sergeant [Joseph G. Harms], who served a combat tour in Iraq. “They understand all of our formations, they understand how to move. They know how to flank and they can recognize the bad guys a lot better than we can.”

The main problem for the ANA is a lack of effective leadership. Chivers recounts an anecdote of an ANA captain taking away a Red Bull that one of his men had acquired in a trade with a marine; the captain and his officers and NCOs drank the entire beverage and didn’t let the poor soldier have a sip. It’s hard to imagine something like that happening in the Marine Corps, where officers are drilled to always take care of the men first and foremost. That ethic is alien to the ANA, as it is to most Third World militaries, and it will take time to inculcate it, however imperfectly.

It will take just as long to teach ANA officers to conduct complex operations. The task is actually more difficult than in Iraq because of the lower level of literacy and education in Afghanistan, but it’s not impossible. If the Taliban can field effective leadership, so can the ANA. Just don’t expect results overnight — and don’t write off the ANA as hopeless because they can’t perform up to USMC standards.

C.J. “Chris” Chivers, a former Marine officer turned New York Times correspondent, provides an update on how the Afghan National Army is doing in the Marjah offensive. It’s a mixed picture — pretty much what one would have expected. The Afghans are hardly leading and planning the mission, as suggested by some spinners in Kabul. Chivers writes:

In every engagement between the Taliban and one front-line American Marine unit, the operation has been led in almost every significant sense by American officers and troops. They organized the forces for battle, transported them in American vehicles and helicopters from Western-run bases into Taliban-held ground, and have been the primary fighting force each day.

No surprise there, given how advanced the Marine Corps is and how relatively primitive the ANA remains. But the good news is that the ANA soldiers are not running away, either — as so many Iraqi soldiers did in the early years of the Iraq War. Chivers notes:

At the squad level [the ANA] has been a source of effective, if modestly skilled, manpower. Its soldiers have shown courage and a willingness to fight. Afghan soldiers have also proved, as they have for years, to be more proficient than Americans at searching Afghan homes and identifying potential Taliban members — two tasks difficult for outsiders to perform….

“They are a lot better than the Iraqis,” said the sergeant [Joseph G. Harms], who served a combat tour in Iraq. “They understand all of our formations, they understand how to move. They know how to flank and they can recognize the bad guys a lot better than we can.”

The main problem for the ANA is a lack of effective leadership. Chivers recounts an anecdote of an ANA captain taking away a Red Bull that one of his men had acquired in a trade with a marine; the captain and his officers and NCOs drank the entire beverage and didn’t let the poor soldier have a sip. It’s hard to imagine something like that happening in the Marine Corps, where officers are drilled to always take care of the men first and foremost. That ethic is alien to the ANA, as it is to most Third World militaries, and it will take time to inculcate it, however imperfectly.

It will take just as long to teach ANA officers to conduct complex operations. The task is actually more difficult than in Iraq because of the lower level of literacy and education in Afghanistan, but it’s not impossible. If the Taliban can field effective leadership, so can the ANA. Just don’t expect results overnight — and don’t write off the ANA as hopeless because they can’t perform up to USMC standards.

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Re: Gartenstein-Ross Defends Rashad Hussain

Hussain’s comment was not an isolated one. Josh Gerstein reports on the recording of the event that Hussain has tried to conceal from view:

Hussain refers to some provisions of the Patriot Act as “horrible” and called “dangerous” an aspect of that law that allows intelligence-related surveillance to be used in criminal cases. Most lawmakers, including many Democrats critical of the Patriot Act, have said the provision has proved valuable, because it removed a wall that made it difficult for those pursuing investigations of international terror or spying operations to share information with criminal investigators. Hussain did express support for other aspects of the law, including a provision permitting so-called roving wiretaps.

Hussain’s position seems to be in direct conflict with the current administration, but quite in tune with the grievance-mongering lobby of CAIR and other groups. But that is not all. In his speech, Hussain cited chapter and verse on the supposed persecution of Muslims:

— The court martial of Capt. James Yee, a Guantanamo chaplain initially suspected of treason and later charged with adultery. All charges were eventually dropped.

— The case of Jose Padilla, who was held without charge for more than three years as an enemy combatant on suspicions of trying to detonate a radiation-laced “dirty bomb” in the U.S. In 2006, more than a year after Hussain spoke, Padilla was charged in a terrorist plot unrelated to the dirty bomb allegations. He was convicted by a jury in 2007 and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

— The imprisonment of Yaser Hamdi, who was captured in Afghanistan, held as an enemy combatant and released to Saudi Arabia weeks after Hussain spoke.

— The prosecution of an imam and a pizzeria owner in Albany, N.Y., for conspiring with an informant in a fictitious plot to use a missile launcher to attack a Pakistani diplomat. The men were convicted in 2006 and sentenced to 15 years in prison, though their lawyers claimed the pair were entrapped.

— The prosecution of a Somali man, Nuradin Abdi, in 2004 for plotting to blow up a shopping mall in Columbus, Ohio. He pled guilty in 2007 to conspiring to support terrorism and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

— The imprisonment of an Oregon lawyer, Brandon Mayfield, who was jailed for more than two weeks in 2004 as a material witness on suspicion of involvement in the Madrid train bombings that year. He was never charged with a crime, received an apology from the FBI, which said it misidentified his fingerprints, and brought a lawsuit that led to a reported $2 million settlement from the government in 2006.

— The prosecution of four men as alleged members of a Detroit-based Al Qaeda “sleeper cell” plotting an attack. Two of the men were convicted on terror charges in 2003 but the convictions were thrown out at the government’s request after evidence emerged of prosecutorial misconduct and an unreliable informant. The prosecutor was charged criminally with concealing exculpatory evidence but later acquitted.

Hussain went on to tell the audience at the event, held roughly two months before the 2004 election, that electing Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as president could stem the tide of such cases.

This kind of rhetoric may get cheers from the Left and from CAIR but is not, even for this administration, remotely acceptable. The Obami have pointedly refused to stick up for Hussain since Friday’s revelation. At this point, I suspect they would rather have someone else in that role — someone who does not see behind every legitimate effort to defend America from Islamic fascist the specter of anti-Muslim discrimination.

Hussain’s comment was not an isolated one. Josh Gerstein reports on the recording of the event that Hussain has tried to conceal from view:

Hussain refers to some provisions of the Patriot Act as “horrible” and called “dangerous” an aspect of that law that allows intelligence-related surveillance to be used in criminal cases. Most lawmakers, including many Democrats critical of the Patriot Act, have said the provision has proved valuable, because it removed a wall that made it difficult for those pursuing investigations of international terror or spying operations to share information with criminal investigators. Hussain did express support for other aspects of the law, including a provision permitting so-called roving wiretaps.

Hussain’s position seems to be in direct conflict with the current administration, but quite in tune with the grievance-mongering lobby of CAIR and other groups. But that is not all. In his speech, Hussain cited chapter and verse on the supposed persecution of Muslims:

— The court martial of Capt. James Yee, a Guantanamo chaplain initially suspected of treason and later charged with adultery. All charges were eventually dropped.

— The case of Jose Padilla, who was held without charge for more than three years as an enemy combatant on suspicions of trying to detonate a radiation-laced “dirty bomb” in the U.S. In 2006, more than a year after Hussain spoke, Padilla was charged in a terrorist plot unrelated to the dirty bomb allegations. He was convicted by a jury in 2007 and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

— The imprisonment of Yaser Hamdi, who was captured in Afghanistan, held as an enemy combatant and released to Saudi Arabia weeks after Hussain spoke.

— The prosecution of an imam and a pizzeria owner in Albany, N.Y., for conspiring with an informant in a fictitious plot to use a missile launcher to attack a Pakistani diplomat. The men were convicted in 2006 and sentenced to 15 years in prison, though their lawyers claimed the pair were entrapped.

— The prosecution of a Somali man, Nuradin Abdi, in 2004 for plotting to blow up a shopping mall in Columbus, Ohio. He pled guilty in 2007 to conspiring to support terrorism and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

— The imprisonment of an Oregon lawyer, Brandon Mayfield, who was jailed for more than two weeks in 2004 as a material witness on suspicion of involvement in the Madrid train bombings that year. He was never charged with a crime, received an apology from the FBI, which said it misidentified his fingerprints, and brought a lawsuit that led to a reported $2 million settlement from the government in 2006.

— The prosecution of four men as alleged members of a Detroit-based Al Qaeda “sleeper cell” plotting an attack. Two of the men were convicted on terror charges in 2003 but the convictions were thrown out at the government’s request after evidence emerged of prosecutorial misconduct and an unreliable informant. The prosecutor was charged criminally with concealing exculpatory evidence but later acquitted.

Hussain went on to tell the audience at the event, held roughly two months before the 2004 election, that electing Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as president could stem the tide of such cases.

This kind of rhetoric may get cheers from the Left and from CAIR but is not, even for this administration, remotely acceptable. The Obami have pointedly refused to stick up for Hussain since Friday’s revelation. At this point, I suspect they would rather have someone else in that role — someone who does not see behind every legitimate effort to defend America from Islamic fascist the specter of anti-Muslim discrimination.

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Obama Can’t Decide — Again

Obama declares himself agnostic on a key campaign promise and the most important economic call he will make this year:

President Barack Obama said he is “agnostic” about raising taxes on households making less than $250,000 as part of a broad effort to rein in the budget deficit.

Obama, in a Feb. 9 Oval Office interview, said that a presidential commission on the budget needs to consider all options for reducing the deficit, including tax increases and cuts in spending on entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

“The whole point of it is to make sure that all ideas are on the table,” the president said in the interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which will appear on newsstands Friday. “So what I want to do is to be completely agnostic, in terms of solutions.”

It is rather typical of him. We have come to expect a lack of policy definition, an unwillingness to make hard choices (you really do have to be for or against letting tax rates rise — it’s not a “false” choice), a cluelessness regarding the economic impact of his policies or the uncertainty they are generating, and a conceited self-portrait as a president unbound by ideology. He wants to know what works? He should look at the revenue generated by the Reagan and Bush tax cuts. He wants to know what would work to cut the deficit? Cancel the spending increases and roll back expenditures to 2007 levels.

It is not that hard — unless you find choosing, governing, and leading hard. And then the Hamlet-routine and the seeming indifference to fundamental policy decisions makes him appear craven and irresolute. You can sympathize with the Democrats. He is the captain of their ship, the party’s leader, and his best answer is “I don’t know”? The Clintons must be kicking themselves and shouting into pillows. This is the guy they lost to? Yup.

Obama declares himself agnostic on a key campaign promise and the most important economic call he will make this year:

President Barack Obama said he is “agnostic” about raising taxes on households making less than $250,000 as part of a broad effort to rein in the budget deficit.

Obama, in a Feb. 9 Oval Office interview, said that a presidential commission on the budget needs to consider all options for reducing the deficit, including tax increases and cuts in spending on entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

“The whole point of it is to make sure that all ideas are on the table,” the president said in the interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which will appear on newsstands Friday. “So what I want to do is to be completely agnostic, in terms of solutions.”

It is rather typical of him. We have come to expect a lack of policy definition, an unwillingness to make hard choices (you really do have to be for or against letting tax rates rise — it’s not a “false” choice), a cluelessness regarding the economic impact of his policies or the uncertainty they are generating, and a conceited self-portrait as a president unbound by ideology. He wants to know what works? He should look at the revenue generated by the Reagan and Bush tax cuts. He wants to know what would work to cut the deficit? Cancel the spending increases and roll back expenditures to 2007 levels.

It is not that hard — unless you find choosing, governing, and leading hard. And then the Hamlet-routine and the seeming indifference to fundamental policy decisions makes him appear craven and irresolute. You can sympathize with the Democrats. He is the captain of their ship, the party’s leader, and his best answer is “I don’t know”? The Clintons must be kicking themselves and shouting into pillows. This is the guy they lost to? Yup.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

University of Pennsylvania’s Hillel is hosting J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami. Does Hillel not know that J Street doesn’t like to be known as a “pro-Israel” organization? One wonders what those who support Hillel must be thinking.

Mitt Romney was either missing in action or responsible for Scott Brown’s success, depending on which narrative you like. If Scott Brown wins, lots of people will claim credit, but Scott Brown will be forever indebted to ObamaCare. Without that target, is there any doubt that a plain-wrap Democrat, even one as mediocre as Coakley, was going to win going away?

Martha Coakley in “free fall”? Down by 9 in one poll. And it’s a similar story in many other polls — making for one eye-opening graph.

Nate Silver also is picking Scott Brown to win.

Marty Peretz sums up: “A loss in Massachusetts for the Obami would be a disastrous event. A narrow win would be a terrible warning.”

Ruth Marcus thinks it’s a plane crash: “If the Democratic party were a plane, its captain would have gotten on the intercom and instructed passengers to brace for impact. But President Obama, in this instance, may be no Sully Sullenberger. The chances of pulling off a smooth landing seem slight. The consequences could be catastrophic. … [A] Coakley loss would not simply reflect her shortcomings; it would illustrate the desire, in Democratic Massachusetts and nationwide, to put some checks on Democratic control of the levers of government. The first victim could be the central legislative focus of Obama’s presidency.”

The Wall Street Journal editors think it’s “the classic political mistake of ideological overreach”: “Mr. Obama won the White House in part on his personal style and cool confidence amid a recession and an unpopular war. Yet liberals in Congress interpreted their victory as a mandate to repeal more or less the entire post-1980 policy era and to fulfill, at last, their dream of turning the U.S. into a cradle-to-grave entitlement state. … The lesson of Mr. Obama’s lost first year is that an economic crisis is a terrible thing to exploit. As they have each time in the last 40 years that they have had total control of Washington, Democrats are proving again that America can’t be successfully governed from the left. If that is the lesson Mr. Obama learns from Massachusetts, he might still salvage his Presidency.”

Nancy Pelosi’s not listening to a bunch of know-nothing voters. Full steam ahead! And they wonder why they’re on the verge of a political earthquake.

This suggests that a large plurality of voters want to stop ObamaCare dead in its tracks: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 49% of likely voters nationwide want Brown to win, while 34% are cheering on Coakley. Seventeen percent (17%) are undecided.”

University of Pennsylvania’s Hillel is hosting J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami. Does Hillel not know that J Street doesn’t like to be known as a “pro-Israel” organization? One wonders what those who support Hillel must be thinking.

Mitt Romney was either missing in action or responsible for Scott Brown’s success, depending on which narrative you like. If Scott Brown wins, lots of people will claim credit, but Scott Brown will be forever indebted to ObamaCare. Without that target, is there any doubt that a plain-wrap Democrat, even one as mediocre as Coakley, was going to win going away?

Martha Coakley in “free fall”? Down by 9 in one poll. And it’s a similar story in many other polls — making for one eye-opening graph.

Nate Silver also is picking Scott Brown to win.

Marty Peretz sums up: “A loss in Massachusetts for the Obami would be a disastrous event. A narrow win would be a terrible warning.”

Ruth Marcus thinks it’s a plane crash: “If the Democratic party were a plane, its captain would have gotten on the intercom and instructed passengers to brace for impact. But President Obama, in this instance, may be no Sully Sullenberger. The chances of pulling off a smooth landing seem slight. The consequences could be catastrophic. … [A] Coakley loss would not simply reflect her shortcomings; it would illustrate the desire, in Democratic Massachusetts and nationwide, to put some checks on Democratic control of the levers of government. The first victim could be the central legislative focus of Obama’s presidency.”

The Wall Street Journal editors think it’s “the classic political mistake of ideological overreach”: “Mr. Obama won the White House in part on his personal style and cool confidence amid a recession and an unpopular war. Yet liberals in Congress interpreted their victory as a mandate to repeal more or less the entire post-1980 policy era and to fulfill, at last, their dream of turning the U.S. into a cradle-to-grave entitlement state. … The lesson of Mr. Obama’s lost first year is that an economic crisis is a terrible thing to exploit. As they have each time in the last 40 years that they have had total control of Washington, Democrats are proving again that America can’t be successfully governed from the left. If that is the lesson Mr. Obama learns from Massachusetts, he might still salvage his Presidency.”

Nancy Pelosi’s not listening to a bunch of know-nothing voters. Full steam ahead! And they wonder why they’re on the verge of a political earthquake.

This suggests that a large plurality of voters want to stop ObamaCare dead in its tracks: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 49% of likely voters nationwide want Brown to win, while 34% are cheering on Coakley. Seventeen percent (17%) are undecided.”

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One of Theirs Doesn’t Pan Out

Maureen Dowd is a woman scorned, it seems. Candidate Dreamy has become Captain Obvious. She hisses:

“We must do better,” Captain Obvious said Thursday at the White House, “in keeping dangerous people off airplanes while still facilitating air travel.” John Brennan, the deputy national security adviser, was equally illuminating. “The intelligence,” he informed us, “fell through the cracks.” He also offered this: “Al-Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.” That rings a bell. The president and his intelligence officials stressed that these were not the same mistakes made before 9/11. “Rather than a failure to collect or share intelligence,” President Obama said, “this was a failure to connect and understand the intelligence that we already had.” Wow. That makes me feel that all those billions spent on upgrading the intelligence system were well spent.

And like many a conservative pundit, she’s had quite enough of the “President Cool” routine and of the insistence “on staying aloof and setting his own deliberate pace for responding.” She fumes: “He’s so sure of himself and his actions that he fails to see that he misses the moment to be president — to be the strong father who protects the home from invaders, who reassures and instructs the public at traumatic moments.”

Not even the grande dame of the Gray Lady can avoid the conclusion that Obama hasn’t panned out. The fellow whom she and the entire liberal media swooned over during the campaign and those very qualities the Left punditocracy touted as praiseworthy (e.g., intellecutalism, emotional reserve) have proven ill-suited to the job. Obama is neither leading nor seeming to understand state craft.

How could they have gotten it so wrong? Well, they were plainly in love with the “historic” opportunity to elect an African American. And they saw in Obama one of them — elite educated, scornful of gun clinging and Bible thumping Americans, contemptuous of American exceptionalism, skeptical of “hard power,” and infatuated with the public sector. It turns out that this was a recipe for disaster when it comes the the presidency.

And Obama’s background has proved, if anything, to be a hindrance. Obama’s oversight of the Harvard Law Review didn’t prepare him for the Oval Office. To the contrary, his preference for government by seminar made for an excruciating war-planning process. His cool persona doesn’t instill confidence in voters. It frightens them that their president is disengaged (emotionally and otherwise).

Dowd and her colleagues complain now — but he was their kind of guy. Perhaps we shouldn’t put in the White House someone better suited to edit a liberal publication.

Maureen Dowd is a woman scorned, it seems. Candidate Dreamy has become Captain Obvious. She hisses:

“We must do better,” Captain Obvious said Thursday at the White House, “in keeping dangerous people off airplanes while still facilitating air travel.” John Brennan, the deputy national security adviser, was equally illuminating. “The intelligence,” he informed us, “fell through the cracks.” He also offered this: “Al-Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.” That rings a bell. The president and his intelligence officials stressed that these were not the same mistakes made before 9/11. “Rather than a failure to collect or share intelligence,” President Obama said, “this was a failure to connect and understand the intelligence that we already had.” Wow. That makes me feel that all those billions spent on upgrading the intelligence system were well spent.

And like many a conservative pundit, she’s had quite enough of the “President Cool” routine and of the insistence “on staying aloof and setting his own deliberate pace for responding.” She fumes: “He’s so sure of himself and his actions that he fails to see that he misses the moment to be president — to be the strong father who protects the home from invaders, who reassures and instructs the public at traumatic moments.”

Not even the grande dame of the Gray Lady can avoid the conclusion that Obama hasn’t panned out. The fellow whom she and the entire liberal media swooned over during the campaign and those very qualities the Left punditocracy touted as praiseworthy (e.g., intellecutalism, emotional reserve) have proven ill-suited to the job. Obama is neither leading nor seeming to understand state craft.

How could they have gotten it so wrong? Well, they were plainly in love with the “historic” opportunity to elect an African American. And they saw in Obama one of them — elite educated, scornful of gun clinging and Bible thumping Americans, contemptuous of American exceptionalism, skeptical of “hard power,” and infatuated with the public sector. It turns out that this was a recipe for disaster when it comes the the presidency.

And Obama’s background has proved, if anything, to be a hindrance. Obama’s oversight of the Harvard Law Review didn’t prepare him for the Oval Office. To the contrary, his preference for government by seminar made for an excruciating war-planning process. His cool persona doesn’t instill confidence in voters. It frightens them that their president is disengaged (emotionally and otherwise).

Dowd and her colleagues complain now — but he was their kind of guy. Perhaps we shouldn’t put in the White House someone better suited to edit a liberal publication.

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The Difference Between Drefyus and al-Qaeda

I have not read novelist Louis Begley’s new book Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters, which received a favorable review in today’s New York Times Book Review section. However, there are some things that may be confidently asserted even without having perused that tome.

One is that there is absolutely no analogy to be drawn between Captain Alfred Dreyfus on the one hand, and Khalid Sheik Muhammad and the other al-Qaeda operatives on the other, who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay over the last several years.

A second is that there is no analogy between the machinations of the French Army’s High Command, which covered up the identity of the real German spy in Paris in the 1890s and instead chose to place the blame for a security breach on a loyal French Jew, and the efforts of the Bush administration to defend the United States against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.

A third would be to note that if there is any common thread between the actors of 9/11 and those of the Dreyfus affair, it is not between the anti-Dreyfusards and the Bush administration but rather between the former and their fellow Jew haters in al-Qaeda, not to mention the lunatic Left, which has rationalized Islamist terrorism and attacked those who fight it.

One would think that such elemental facts would be known to the editors of the Book Review or to Ruth Scurr, who gave Begley’s book a rave. But apparently in this case political prejudices trump even the barest knowledge of history. Scurr applauds Begley when he asks: “Will some day in the near future the crimes of the Bush administration, like … the crimes against Dreyfus, disappear under the scar tissue of silence and indifference?” She goes on to note approvingly his desire for the emergence of “an American Zola or Proust” to speak up against Bush as those French writers did against the Dreyfus persecutors.

What can one say about such nonsense? Most Americans probably know little of the Dreyfus Affair. So it’s worth pointing out a few facts about the difference between our contemporary war on terror and the political and cultural conflict that turned France upside down over 100 years ago.

Unlike the al-Qaeda murderers who planned and executed 9/11, Dreyfus was innocent. One may criticize the zealousness of the Bush administration in their counter-offensive against al Qaeda. One may even criticize Guantanamo though when compared to the Devil’s Island accommodations offered Dreyfus, it looks more like a stay at the Waldorf than a prison. But in the end, the notion that KSM and other al-Qaeda members are the victims of persecution and, as Scurr put it, of “kangaroo trials,” is beyond absurd.

Unlike Bush’s critics, those who defended Dreyfus were speaking up for a genuine victim of injustice, a patriot wrongly accused and convicted solely because he was a Jew. But it is a telling insight into the depth of the political bias that Bush-haters have descended to observe that some are even prepared to analogize Dreyfus and al-Qaeda. The bizarre notion that virtually everything done by Bush after 9/11 was an attack on American liberty has become so firmly ingrained in the popular imagination that anything can and will be said to besmirch his administration. That it occurs to neither Begley nor Scurr that the anti-Semitism of the anti-Dreyfusards finds its echo in the forces that Bush sought to fight speaks volumes about the tone-deaf nature of their political vendetta.

Of course, the Dreyfus Affair does matter. For those who want to actually learn about the Dreyfus Affair, there is still no better place to turn to than Jean Louis Bredin’s 1986 The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus.

But it matters not just because speaking out against injustice is the duty of all decent persons but also because the forces that sought to delegitimize Jewish identity in the 1890s are once again on the march in Europe. The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe in our time is due, in no small measure, to the influence of political Islam and the unwillingness of many Westerners to defend their democratic traditions. If any analogy is to be found today for the persecution of Dreyfus, it is in the lies that are hurled by Europeans and their Islamist friends against the State of Israel.

The spectacle of Dreyfus’s degradation in the courtyard of the Ecole Militaire in Paris – as Dreyfus’s pitiful cries of his innocence and loyalty to France were drowned out by a mob screaming for the death of the Jews — helped motivate Theodor Herzl to write “The Jewish State” and launch the modern Zionist movement. Today, as then, there are many in Europe and elsewhere who cry out for Jewish blood or attempt to portray Israel’s terrorist foes as innocent victims. Those like Begley and Scurr — who seem to think the fight against Islamist terrorists is the real evil of the day – have the bully pulpit of venues such as the Times from which to vent their spleen against Bush. But there is no resemblance between such jeremiads and a defense of Western values or of the Jews for which Zola is better remembered than his novels.

I have not read novelist Louis Begley’s new book Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters, which received a favorable review in today’s New York Times Book Review section. However, there are some things that may be confidently asserted even without having perused that tome.

One is that there is absolutely no analogy to be drawn between Captain Alfred Dreyfus on the one hand, and Khalid Sheik Muhammad and the other al-Qaeda operatives on the other, who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay over the last several years.

A second is that there is no analogy between the machinations of the French Army’s High Command, which covered up the identity of the real German spy in Paris in the 1890s and instead chose to place the blame for a security breach on a loyal French Jew, and the efforts of the Bush administration to defend the United States against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.

A third would be to note that if there is any common thread between the actors of 9/11 and those of the Dreyfus affair, it is not between the anti-Dreyfusards and the Bush administration but rather between the former and their fellow Jew haters in al-Qaeda, not to mention the lunatic Left, which has rationalized Islamist terrorism and attacked those who fight it.

One would think that such elemental facts would be known to the editors of the Book Review or to Ruth Scurr, who gave Begley’s book a rave. But apparently in this case political prejudices trump even the barest knowledge of history. Scurr applauds Begley when he asks: “Will some day in the near future the crimes of the Bush administration, like … the crimes against Dreyfus, disappear under the scar tissue of silence and indifference?” She goes on to note approvingly his desire for the emergence of “an American Zola or Proust” to speak up against Bush as those French writers did against the Dreyfus persecutors.

What can one say about such nonsense? Most Americans probably know little of the Dreyfus Affair. So it’s worth pointing out a few facts about the difference between our contemporary war on terror and the political and cultural conflict that turned France upside down over 100 years ago.

Unlike the al-Qaeda murderers who planned and executed 9/11, Dreyfus was innocent. One may criticize the zealousness of the Bush administration in their counter-offensive against al Qaeda. One may even criticize Guantanamo though when compared to the Devil’s Island accommodations offered Dreyfus, it looks more like a stay at the Waldorf than a prison. But in the end, the notion that KSM and other al-Qaeda members are the victims of persecution and, as Scurr put it, of “kangaroo trials,” is beyond absurd.

Unlike Bush’s critics, those who defended Dreyfus were speaking up for a genuine victim of injustice, a patriot wrongly accused and convicted solely because he was a Jew. But it is a telling insight into the depth of the political bias that Bush-haters have descended to observe that some are even prepared to analogize Dreyfus and al-Qaeda. The bizarre notion that virtually everything done by Bush after 9/11 was an attack on American liberty has become so firmly ingrained in the popular imagination that anything can and will be said to besmirch his administration. That it occurs to neither Begley nor Scurr that the anti-Semitism of the anti-Dreyfusards finds its echo in the forces that Bush sought to fight speaks volumes about the tone-deaf nature of their political vendetta.

Of course, the Dreyfus Affair does matter. For those who want to actually learn about the Dreyfus Affair, there is still no better place to turn to than Jean Louis Bredin’s 1986 The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus.

But it matters not just because speaking out against injustice is the duty of all decent persons but also because the forces that sought to delegitimize Jewish identity in the 1890s are once again on the march in Europe. The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe in our time is due, in no small measure, to the influence of political Islam and the unwillingness of many Westerners to defend their democratic traditions. If any analogy is to be found today for the persecution of Dreyfus, it is in the lies that are hurled by Europeans and their Islamist friends against the State of Israel.

The spectacle of Dreyfus’s degradation in the courtyard of the Ecole Militaire in Paris – as Dreyfus’s pitiful cries of his innocence and loyalty to France were drowned out by a mob screaming for the death of the Jews — helped motivate Theodor Herzl to write “The Jewish State” and launch the modern Zionist movement. Today, as then, there are many in Europe and elsewhere who cry out for Jewish blood or attempt to portray Israel’s terrorist foes as innocent victims. Those like Begley and Scurr — who seem to think the fight against Islamist terrorists is the real evil of the day – have the bully pulpit of venues such as the Times from which to vent their spleen against Bush. But there is no resemblance between such jeremiads and a defense of Western values or of the Jews for which Zola is better remembered than his novels.

Read Less

Iceberg Dead Ahead, Captain Orders “All Engines Ahead Full”

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, has an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, in which he predicts — correctly in my opinion — that we are headed for a fiscal iceberg.

Our fiscal situation has deteriorated rapidly in just the past few years. The federal government ran a 2009 deficit of $1.4 trillion — the highest since World War II — as spending reached nearly 25% of GDP and total revenues fell below 15% of GDP. Shortfalls like these have not been seen in more than 50 years.

Going forward, there is no relief in sight, as spending far outpaces revenues and the federal budget is projected to be in enormous deficit every year. Our national debt is projected to stand at $17.1 trillion 10 years from now, or over $50,000 for every American. By 2019, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) analysis of the president’s budget, the deficit will still be roughly $1 trillion, even though the economic situation will have improved and revenues will be above historical norms.

This is also nothing new. The national debt was for most of American history, as Hamilton said it would be, a “national blessing.” It allowed us to fight and win our wars and to relieve suffering in an economic depression far worse than what the country is experiencing now. But in the last thirty years — the most prosperous and relatively peaceful thirty-year period in American history — liberals and “conservatives,” Democrats and Republicans alike in Washington have allowed the debt to explode for their short-term political benefit while they hid the truth with phony accounting.

How bad was it? Consider this: In 1980, the debt was 33.3 percent of the country’s GDP. By 1990 the GDP had increased by 37.6 percent in real terms. But the debt had grown much faster. It was 55.9 percent of the much larger GDP. In the 1990’s GDP increased by 39.7 percent, and the debt more than kept pace. It was 58 percent of GDP in 2000. At the end of 2008, GDP had grown 18.5 percent over 2000, and the debt was fast approaching 80 percent of GDP.  And the debt, being denominated in dollars, is made smaller by inflation while GDP is enlarged.

No one believes that the debt can be kept under 100 percent of GDP in the near future. And if Obamacare gets passed in anything like its present form, it will only makes matters far worse. As Mr. Holtz-Eakin explains, President Obama’s promise not to sign a bill that adds to the deficit is false:

. . . the bills are fiscally dishonest, using every budget gimmick and trick in the book: Leave out inconvenient spending, back-load spending to disguise the true scale, front-load tax revenues, let inflation push up tax revenues, promise spending cuts to doctors and hospitals that have no record of materializing, and so on.

If you’re disturbed by the long-term outlook for the country’s fiscal health, you shouldn’t be. You should be terrified.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, has an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, in which he predicts — correctly in my opinion — that we are headed for a fiscal iceberg.

Our fiscal situation has deteriorated rapidly in just the past few years. The federal government ran a 2009 deficit of $1.4 trillion — the highest since World War II — as spending reached nearly 25% of GDP and total revenues fell below 15% of GDP. Shortfalls like these have not been seen in more than 50 years.

Going forward, there is no relief in sight, as spending far outpaces revenues and the federal budget is projected to be in enormous deficit every year. Our national debt is projected to stand at $17.1 trillion 10 years from now, or over $50,000 for every American. By 2019, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) analysis of the president’s budget, the deficit will still be roughly $1 trillion, even though the economic situation will have improved and revenues will be above historical norms.

This is also nothing new. The national debt was for most of American history, as Hamilton said it would be, a “national blessing.” It allowed us to fight and win our wars and to relieve suffering in an economic depression far worse than what the country is experiencing now. But in the last thirty years — the most prosperous and relatively peaceful thirty-year period in American history — liberals and “conservatives,” Democrats and Republicans alike in Washington have allowed the debt to explode for their short-term political benefit while they hid the truth with phony accounting.

How bad was it? Consider this: In 1980, the debt was 33.3 percent of the country’s GDP. By 1990 the GDP had increased by 37.6 percent in real terms. But the debt had grown much faster. It was 55.9 percent of the much larger GDP. In the 1990’s GDP increased by 39.7 percent, and the debt more than kept pace. It was 58 percent of GDP in 2000. At the end of 2008, GDP had grown 18.5 percent over 2000, and the debt was fast approaching 80 percent of GDP.  And the debt, being denominated in dollars, is made smaller by inflation while GDP is enlarged.

No one believes that the debt can be kept under 100 percent of GDP in the near future. And if Obamacare gets passed in anything like its present form, it will only makes matters far worse. As Mr. Holtz-Eakin explains, President Obama’s promise not to sign a bill that adds to the deficit is false:

. . . the bills are fiscally dishonest, using every budget gimmick and trick in the book: Leave out inconvenient spending, back-load spending to disguise the true scale, front-load tax revenues, let inflation push up tax revenues, promise spending cuts to doctors and hospitals that have no record of materializing, and so on.

If you’re disturbed by the long-term outlook for the country’s fiscal health, you shouldn’t be. You should be terrified.

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The Only Sin

The only mortal sin in politics is hypocrisy. Conservatives, especially social conservatives, have been easy targets for their sexual peccadilloes (which the media contrast with their public advocacy of family values): think Ted Haggard or Larry Craig.  Liberals tend to get hoisted on financial hypocrisy (although Eliot Spitzer and James McGreevey are exception). To wit: John Edwards’s $400 haircuts, hedge fund employment, and high-paying speeches on poverty.

Barack Obama is coming close to that latter line. He identifies himself as the “throw the lobbyists out” champion and “money corrupts politics” truth-teller. But wait! His “parallel public financing system” is populated by 79 “bundlers,” you say? Can’t be. Plus the media has finally woken up to the fact that Obama’s “I don’t take corporate money” is a ruse for the rubes and that millions of dollars from supposedly nefarious sources (drug and oil companies and banks) are underwriting the Obama-mania road show. (Feeling the heat, Obama is now dialing back on his suggestion that he has definitively decided to opt out of the real public campaign finance system.)

There is, of course, a bit of Captain Renault-style incredulity in the reporting. But it was Obama who elevated himself to mythical levels of political purity. That his image would eventually collide with reality was only a matter of time. The question now is whether it survives intact.

The only mortal sin in politics is hypocrisy. Conservatives, especially social conservatives, have been easy targets for their sexual peccadilloes (which the media contrast with their public advocacy of family values): think Ted Haggard or Larry Craig.  Liberals tend to get hoisted on financial hypocrisy (although Eliot Spitzer and James McGreevey are exception). To wit: John Edwards’s $400 haircuts, hedge fund employment, and high-paying speeches on poverty.

Barack Obama is coming close to that latter line. He identifies himself as the “throw the lobbyists out” champion and “money corrupts politics” truth-teller. But wait! His “parallel public financing system” is populated by 79 “bundlers,” you say? Can’t be. Plus the media has finally woken up to the fact that Obama’s “I don’t take corporate money” is a ruse for the rubes and that millions of dollars from supposedly nefarious sources (drug and oil companies and banks) are underwriting the Obama-mania road show. (Feeling the heat, Obama is now dialing back on his suggestion that he has definitively decided to opt out of the real public campaign finance system.)

There is, of course, a bit of Captain Renault-style incredulity in the reporting. But it was Obama who elevated himself to mythical levels of political purity. That his image would eventually collide with reality was only a matter of time. The question now is whether it survives intact.

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Gee Whiz, Superman!

“A Superman Approach to Foreign Policy.” That’s the title of this Ezra Klein essay over at The American Prospect, currently the feature piece on the homepage. (Comic books seem to be a popular analytical framework for the up-and-coming blogger set: Matthew Yglesias writes at length about “The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics” in his new book).

To be fair, TAP is a magazine that that has a former editor of Lyndon LaRouche’s newspaper on its masthead and publishes the work of a denier of the genocide in Cambodia. But Superman? Really? Here’s the core of the piece:

Yet the internationalist vision was more deeply interwoven into our cultural fabric than we often realize. Superman and Captain America were superheroes of an odd sort: tremendously powerful beings whose primary struggle was often to follow the self-imposed rules and strictures that lent their power a moral legitimacy. Neither allowed themselves to kill, and both sought to work within the law. Given their strength, either could have sought world domination, and even if they didn’t, they could have been viewed with deep suspicion and even hatred by those who were convinced that they one day would seek world domination. It was only by following ostentatiously strict moral codes that they could legitimize their power and thus exist cooperatively with a world that had every right to fear them. Indeed, soon enough, both were forming communities of like-minded super beings (The Justice League for Superman, the Avengers for Captain America) and generally operating much like, well, the nation that birthed them. As Spiderman — a later hero who, like so many heroes, bought into the idea that rules and restraint separated the good guys from the bad guys — liked to say, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

That strain of foreign-policy thinking was largely abandoned in the rubble of the Twin Towers. As Yglesias puts it, “9/11 marked the beginning of an enormous psychological change on the part of the American people.” With a newfound sense of vulnerability, there was a newfound sense of fear. Restraint was a luxury, a nice ideal when we were primarily dealing with the problems of other people, but less desirable when our own lives were on the line. After 9-11, the country’s foreign-policy debate contracted, and liberal internationalists, who had always been better at pursuing their agenda than selling it politically, were largely left out. Instead, the conversation was dominated by those on the right who believed in unilateral U.S military hegemony over the world, and those on the left who believed in a superficially multilateral U.S military hegemony over the world, with the option to revert back to unilateralism if other countries proved disagreeable. It was Michael O’Hanlon versus Richard Perle, and few even seemed to find that strange.

This, too, saw its expression in a new type of hero: Jack Bauer. If Superman and Captain America were the emblems of the national mood directly after World War II, Bauer expressed the national anxieties uncovered by 9-11. Rather than an invincible superhero, Bauer was but a man, one who could perish like any other, and was aware of not only his own vulnerability, but that of his family, his government, and his country. Though there were laws he was supposed to follow, the enormity of the dangers he faced and the ruthlessness of the enemies he encountered led him to break them almost constantly, and so he tortured, killed, and generally let the ends lay claim to whatever means they could think of. Indeed, he did it so often, and with such abandon, that he’ll start Season 7 on trial for torture.

All very neat, indeed. But it has little to do with reality: America had been engaging in the kind of war-making putatively forbidden by the Superman model since well before the birth of DC and Marvel, and continued doing so in the years between Superman’s heyday and 9/11. Klein’s framework is cute–but very, very reductive.

When you attempt to force the paradigm of comic books onto something as inherently chaotic as global politics, your hopes of making sense are limited. And Klein’s essay doesn’t, in the end, cohere. But it does serve as a useful reminder of the intellectual vagaries of “the kind of whole bloggy progressive thing.” Serious people who want to engage in serious debate about foreign policy have no shortage of publications they can check out, offering any number of wildly conflicting views. Without, I might add, having recourse to infusions of inept popcult references.

“A Superman Approach to Foreign Policy.” That’s the title of this Ezra Klein essay over at The American Prospect, currently the feature piece on the homepage. (Comic books seem to be a popular analytical framework for the up-and-coming blogger set: Matthew Yglesias writes at length about “The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics” in his new book).

To be fair, TAP is a magazine that that has a former editor of Lyndon LaRouche’s newspaper on its masthead and publishes the work of a denier of the genocide in Cambodia. But Superman? Really? Here’s the core of the piece:

Yet the internationalist vision was more deeply interwoven into our cultural fabric than we often realize. Superman and Captain America were superheroes of an odd sort: tremendously powerful beings whose primary struggle was often to follow the self-imposed rules and strictures that lent their power a moral legitimacy. Neither allowed themselves to kill, and both sought to work within the law. Given their strength, either could have sought world domination, and even if they didn’t, they could have been viewed with deep suspicion and even hatred by those who were convinced that they one day would seek world domination. It was only by following ostentatiously strict moral codes that they could legitimize their power and thus exist cooperatively with a world that had every right to fear them. Indeed, soon enough, both were forming communities of like-minded super beings (The Justice League for Superman, the Avengers for Captain America) and generally operating much like, well, the nation that birthed them. As Spiderman — a later hero who, like so many heroes, bought into the idea that rules and restraint separated the good guys from the bad guys — liked to say, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

That strain of foreign-policy thinking was largely abandoned in the rubble of the Twin Towers. As Yglesias puts it, “9/11 marked the beginning of an enormous psychological change on the part of the American people.” With a newfound sense of vulnerability, there was a newfound sense of fear. Restraint was a luxury, a nice ideal when we were primarily dealing with the problems of other people, but less desirable when our own lives were on the line. After 9-11, the country’s foreign-policy debate contracted, and liberal internationalists, who had always been better at pursuing their agenda than selling it politically, were largely left out. Instead, the conversation was dominated by those on the right who believed in unilateral U.S military hegemony over the world, and those on the left who believed in a superficially multilateral U.S military hegemony over the world, with the option to revert back to unilateralism if other countries proved disagreeable. It was Michael O’Hanlon versus Richard Perle, and few even seemed to find that strange.

This, too, saw its expression in a new type of hero: Jack Bauer. If Superman and Captain America were the emblems of the national mood directly after World War II, Bauer expressed the national anxieties uncovered by 9-11. Rather than an invincible superhero, Bauer was but a man, one who could perish like any other, and was aware of not only his own vulnerability, but that of his family, his government, and his country. Though there were laws he was supposed to follow, the enormity of the dangers he faced and the ruthlessness of the enemies he encountered led him to break them almost constantly, and so he tortured, killed, and generally let the ends lay claim to whatever means they could think of. Indeed, he did it so often, and with such abandon, that he’ll start Season 7 on trial for torture.

All very neat, indeed. But it has little to do with reality: America had been engaging in the kind of war-making putatively forbidden by the Superman model since well before the birth of DC and Marvel, and continued doing so in the years between Superman’s heyday and 9/11. Klein’s framework is cute–but very, very reductive.

When you attempt to force the paradigm of comic books onto something as inherently chaotic as global politics, your hopes of making sense are limited. And Klein’s essay doesn’t, in the end, cohere. But it does serve as a useful reminder of the intellectual vagaries of “the kind of whole bloggy progressive thing.” Serious people who want to engage in serious debate about foreign policy have no shortage of publications they can check out, offering any number of wildly conflicting views. Without, I might add, having recourse to infusions of inept popcult references.

Read Less

From Middle East Journal: Builders of Nations

“This is my hardest deployment,” Marine Sergeant Cooley said as he unfastened his helmet and tossed it onto his bed. “We weren’t trained for this kind of thing.” He’s been shot at with bullets and mortars, and he’s endured IED attacks on his Humvee, but post-war Fallujah is more difficult and more stressful than combat. He isn’t unusual for saying so. Many Marines I spoke to in and around the Fallujah area said something similar.

“We’re trained as infantrymen,” Captain Stewart Glenn said. “But here we are doing civil administration and trying to get the milk factory up and running.”

“We make up all this stuff as we go,” Lieutenant Mike Barefoot added.

While most Americans go to school, work traditional day jobs, and raise their families, young American men and women like these are deployed to Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan where they work seven days a week rebuilding societies torn to pieces by fascism, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and war. It is not what they signed up to do. Some may have geeked out on nation-building video games like Civilization, but none of the enlisted men picked up any of these skills in boot camp.

Officers pick up some basic relevant skills, though, as well as a more complete education. Lieutenant Nathan Bibler runs a Joint Security Station in the slums of Fallujah and works with local authorities every day.

He has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. “In a lot of ways it helps me analyze and interpret,” he said. What helps more than anything, though, is a training program Marine officers go through in 29 Palms, California, before they’re deployed.

“We were living in a town they built out in the desert with Iraqis.”

“Really,” I said. “Iraqi-Americans?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t know if they were all U.S. citizens, but Iraqis who were already in the U.S. We were living in this town that they built. We lived in the town with the Iraqi Police right next door. Actually they lived with us part of the time.”

Enlisted men don’t go through role playing training in 29 Palms, but every officer who mentioned it to me said those exercises were eerily effective, that actors from Iraq hired to play Iraqis in Iraq during counter-terrorist warfare turned out to be surprisingly like real Iraqis in a real counter-terrorist war.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

“This is my hardest deployment,” Marine Sergeant Cooley said as he unfastened his helmet and tossed it onto his bed. “We weren’t trained for this kind of thing.” He’s been shot at with bullets and mortars, and he’s endured IED attacks on his Humvee, but post-war Fallujah is more difficult and more stressful than combat. He isn’t unusual for saying so. Many Marines I spoke to in and around the Fallujah area said something similar.

“We’re trained as infantrymen,” Captain Stewart Glenn said. “But here we are doing civil administration and trying to get the milk factory up and running.”

“We make up all this stuff as we go,” Lieutenant Mike Barefoot added.

While most Americans go to school, work traditional day jobs, and raise their families, young American men and women like these are deployed to Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan where they work seven days a week rebuilding societies torn to pieces by fascism, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and war. It is not what they signed up to do. Some may have geeked out on nation-building video games like Civilization, but none of the enlisted men picked up any of these skills in boot camp.

Officers pick up some basic relevant skills, though, as well as a more complete education. Lieutenant Nathan Bibler runs a Joint Security Station in the slums of Fallujah and works with local authorities every day.

He has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. “In a lot of ways it helps me analyze and interpret,” he said. What helps more than anything, though, is a training program Marine officers go through in 29 Palms, California, before they’re deployed.

“We were living in a town they built out in the desert with Iraqis.”

“Really,” I said. “Iraqi-Americans?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t know if they were all U.S. citizens, but Iraqis who were already in the U.S. We were living in this town that they built. We lived in the town with the Iraqi Police right next door. Actually they lived with us part of the time.”

Enlisted men don’t go through role playing training in 29 Palms, but every officer who mentioned it to me said those exercises were eerily effective, that actors from Iraq hired to play Iraqis in Iraq during counter-terrorist warfare turned out to be surprisingly like real Iraqis in a real counter-terrorist war.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

Read Less




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