Commentary Magazine


Topic: Carter

How Bad in 2010?

Obama is tumbling in the polls, and his party will bear the brunt. That’s what Gallup reports today:

President Obama averaged 47.3% job approval during his sixth quarter in office, spanning April 20-July 19 — his lowest quarterly average to date. Americans’ approval of Obama has declined at least slightly in each quarter of his presidency. … The average presidential job approval rating across all presidents in Gallup’s trends since Franklin Roosevelt is 54%, about seven points above Obama’s sixth quarter average. … Elected presidents with sub-50% approval ratings in their sixth quarters in office — Carter, Reagan, and Clinton — tended to see more significant midterm congressional seat losses than other presidents.

Just how bad could those midterm losses be? Gallup’s chart going back to 1946 is eye-opening. In 1994, Bill Clinton was at 46 percent approval, and Democrats lost 53 House seats. LBJ was at 44 percent, and the Democrats lost 47 seats in 1966 (just two years after the 1964 landslide).

The problem may be even more acute for Democrats this year insofar as Obama’s approval is especially low in the very House districts that are in play. The extent of the losses will depend on a variety of factors in individual races, but the blame will fall on Obama. If history is any guide, the damage will be great as will the Democrats’ anger at the White House.

UPDATE: Gallup is not an outlier: “A year after President Barack Obama’s political honeymoon ended, his job approval rating has dropped to a negative 44 – 48 percent, his worst net score ever, and American voters say by a narrow 39 – 36 percent margin that they would vote for an unnamed Republican rather than President Obama in 2012, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. … American voters also say 48 – 40 percent Obama does not deserve reelection in 2012.”

Obama is tumbling in the polls, and his party will bear the brunt. That’s what Gallup reports today:

President Obama averaged 47.3% job approval during his sixth quarter in office, spanning April 20-July 19 — his lowest quarterly average to date. Americans’ approval of Obama has declined at least slightly in each quarter of his presidency. … The average presidential job approval rating across all presidents in Gallup’s trends since Franklin Roosevelt is 54%, about seven points above Obama’s sixth quarter average. … Elected presidents with sub-50% approval ratings in their sixth quarters in office — Carter, Reagan, and Clinton — tended to see more significant midterm congressional seat losses than other presidents.

Just how bad could those midterm losses be? Gallup’s chart going back to 1946 is eye-opening. In 1994, Bill Clinton was at 46 percent approval, and Democrats lost 53 House seats. LBJ was at 44 percent, and the Democrats lost 47 seats in 1966 (just two years after the 1964 landslide).

The problem may be even more acute for Democrats this year insofar as Obama’s approval is especially low in the very House districts that are in play. The extent of the losses will depend on a variety of factors in individual races, but the blame will fall on Obama. If history is any guide, the damage will be great as will the Democrats’ anger at the White House.

UPDATE: Gallup is not an outlier: “A year after President Barack Obama’s political honeymoon ended, his job approval rating has dropped to a negative 44 – 48 percent, his worst net score ever, and American voters say by a narrow 39 – 36 percent margin that they would vote for an unnamed Republican rather than President Obama in 2012, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. … American voters also say 48 – 40 percent Obama does not deserve reelection in 2012.”

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Jewish Voters Deceived

Those disturbed by President Obama’s habit of saying one thing in the campaign and doing another while in office have another example, this one on foreign policy. And those disturbed by the talk of the president issuing his own Arab-Israeli peace plan have another, related question to ponder: what is Carter-administration official Zbigniew Brzezinski doing in the room? During the presidential campaign, candidate Obama addressed the issue of Brzezinski’s role directly at least twice when asked about it by concerned Jewish voters. Relations between Brzezinski and the Obama campaign were already an issue, with Alan Dershowitz having publicly called on Obama to repudiate Brzezinski when he met with about 100 members of the Cleveland Jewish Community on February 24, 2008. Here’s what he said:

I know Brzezinski. He’s not one of my key advisors. I’ve had lunch with him once, I’ve exchanged e-mails with him maybe 3 times. … I do not share his views with respect to Israel. I have said so clearly and unequivocally….

Then, on April 16, 2008, candidate Obama met with Jewish leaders from the Philadelphia area. This is how the New York Sun reported the April 16 meeting:

Rabbi Neil Cooper of Beth Hillel-Beth El Synagogue came away skeptical. He said he buttonholed the candidate as he was leaving the event and asked him about the connection between Mr. Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the Obama campaign. “From my perspective, the devil here is going to be in the details,” Rabbi Cooper said. “The questions I have have to do with his very pronouncements on Israel on the one hand, which are positive, and then he seems to attract all kinds of other people who have a different agenda on Israel, like Brzezinski. I said, ‘Why don’t you get rid of Brzezinski?’ He says he listens to Brzezinski on certain things but not when it comes to Israel. (Emphasis added.)

Now comes a report in the New York Times according to which, at a White House meeting, President Obama asked Mr. Brzezinski for his advice on whether to put forward an American plan for Arab-Israeli peace. Worse, present at this same meeting was Brent Scowcroft, whom, back during the campaign, Obama proxies were criticizing Senator McCain for listening to. President Obama says consumers need a new regulatory agency to protect them from being conned by greedy bankers. But as far as fraudulent sales jobs go, the one that the Democrat pulled on Jewish voters in 2008 is one for the ages.

Those disturbed by President Obama’s habit of saying one thing in the campaign and doing another while in office have another example, this one on foreign policy. And those disturbed by the talk of the president issuing his own Arab-Israeli peace plan have another, related question to ponder: what is Carter-administration official Zbigniew Brzezinski doing in the room? During the presidential campaign, candidate Obama addressed the issue of Brzezinski’s role directly at least twice when asked about it by concerned Jewish voters. Relations between Brzezinski and the Obama campaign were already an issue, with Alan Dershowitz having publicly called on Obama to repudiate Brzezinski when he met with about 100 members of the Cleveland Jewish Community on February 24, 2008. Here’s what he said:

I know Brzezinski. He’s not one of my key advisors. I’ve had lunch with him once, I’ve exchanged e-mails with him maybe 3 times. … I do not share his views with respect to Israel. I have said so clearly and unequivocally….

Then, on April 16, 2008, candidate Obama met with Jewish leaders from the Philadelphia area. This is how the New York Sun reported the April 16 meeting:

Rabbi Neil Cooper of Beth Hillel-Beth El Synagogue came away skeptical. He said he buttonholed the candidate as he was leaving the event and asked him about the connection between Mr. Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the Obama campaign. “From my perspective, the devil here is going to be in the details,” Rabbi Cooper said. “The questions I have have to do with his very pronouncements on Israel on the one hand, which are positive, and then he seems to attract all kinds of other people who have a different agenda on Israel, like Brzezinski. I said, ‘Why don’t you get rid of Brzezinski?’ He says he listens to Brzezinski on certain things but not when it comes to Israel. (Emphasis added.)

Now comes a report in the New York Times according to which, at a White House meeting, President Obama asked Mr. Brzezinski for his advice on whether to put forward an American plan for Arab-Israeli peace. Worse, present at this same meeting was Brent Scowcroft, whom, back during the campaign, Obama proxies were criticizing Senator McCain for listening to. President Obama says consumers need a new regulatory agency to protect them from being conned by greedy bankers. But as far as fraudulent sales jobs go, the one that the Democrat pulled on Jewish voters in 2008 is one for the ages.

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Gelb Sounds Like Cheney

When Leslie Gelb writes a column entitled “Amateur Hour at the White House,” which sounds like he’s channeling Dick Cheney, the White House has a problem. Gelb is no right-winger but rather a dean in the Beltway foreign-policy establishment. The former New York Times columnist, Carter administration official, and now president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations reviews the lame Asia trip and finds that it “suggests a disturbing amateurishness in managing America’s power.” He then blasts away:

On top of the inexcusably clumsy review of Afghan policy and the fumbling of Mideast negotiations, the message for Mr. Obama should be clear: He should stare hard at the skills of his foreign-policy team and, more so, at his own dominant role in decision-making. Something is awry somewhere, and he’s got to fix it.

He rightly observes that it is hard to see much purpose in the trip. Without real progress on issues of consequence, Gelb argues that “Mr. Obama should have taken a well-deserved vacation in Hawaii.” The nub of the problem, he goes on to say, is that Obama doesn’t really have a foreign policy. Invoking “the God of Multilateralism without spelling out America’s leadership role” doesn’t really count. Gelb’s advice is to bring in new advisers.

Well, they can’t do any worse than the current crew has. But the problem, of course, stems from Obama’s obsessive infatuation with that “God of Multilateralism,” an aversion to projecting American power, and a refusal to embrace (or even fake belief in) American exceptionalism. Then there is Obama’s adoption of unhelpful excuse-mongering on behalf of those anxious to be unhelpful (e.g., the Palestinians are like enslaved African Americans, the Russians are fearful of the West), his amoral willingness to jettison human rights in the hopes of gaining favor with tyrants, and his narcissistic view of foreign policy that assumes his personal history and non-George-Bush-ness will be significant in dealing with international powers.

Will new advisers solve all that — and would Obama even listen to those who didn’t share his passive-aggressive predilections? It’s not likely, unless Obama himself acknowledged first that his foreign policy has been an embarrassing bust. No sign of that yet, although Gelb does his best to alert a White House unusually immune to criticism that the complaints are not simply the dreamed-up critiques of right-wingers. One imagines — hard as it may be to — that things will have to get worse before the Obami’s foreign policy gets better.

When Leslie Gelb writes a column entitled “Amateur Hour at the White House,” which sounds like he’s channeling Dick Cheney, the White House has a problem. Gelb is no right-winger but rather a dean in the Beltway foreign-policy establishment. The former New York Times columnist, Carter administration official, and now president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations reviews the lame Asia trip and finds that it “suggests a disturbing amateurishness in managing America’s power.” He then blasts away:

On top of the inexcusably clumsy review of Afghan policy and the fumbling of Mideast negotiations, the message for Mr. Obama should be clear: He should stare hard at the skills of his foreign-policy team and, more so, at his own dominant role in decision-making. Something is awry somewhere, and he’s got to fix it.

He rightly observes that it is hard to see much purpose in the trip. Without real progress on issues of consequence, Gelb argues that “Mr. Obama should have taken a well-deserved vacation in Hawaii.” The nub of the problem, he goes on to say, is that Obama doesn’t really have a foreign policy. Invoking “the God of Multilateralism without spelling out America’s leadership role” doesn’t really count. Gelb’s advice is to bring in new advisers.

Well, they can’t do any worse than the current crew has. But the problem, of course, stems from Obama’s obsessive infatuation with that “God of Multilateralism,” an aversion to projecting American power, and a refusal to embrace (or even fake belief in) American exceptionalism. Then there is Obama’s adoption of unhelpful excuse-mongering on behalf of those anxious to be unhelpful (e.g., the Palestinians are like enslaved African Americans, the Russians are fearful of the West), his amoral willingness to jettison human rights in the hopes of gaining favor with tyrants, and his narcissistic view of foreign policy that assumes his personal history and non-George-Bush-ness will be significant in dealing with international powers.

Will new advisers solve all that — and would Obama even listen to those who didn’t share his passive-aggressive predilections? It’s not likely, unless Obama himself acknowledged first that his foreign policy has been an embarrassing bust. No sign of that yet, although Gelb does his best to alert a White House unusually immune to criticism that the complaints are not simply the dreamed-up critiques of right-wingers. One imagines — hard as it may be to — that things will have to get worse before the Obami’s foreign policy gets better.

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The Silence Is Deafening

We heard plenty today from the punditssome of whom think Reverend Wright’s display may be the beginning of the end for the post-racial, post-partisan Barack Obama. (Hillary Clinton is being tight-lipped. Rule #1 of politics: never cause a distraction while your opponent has a major controversy.) But we have heard nothing from Barack Obama on his mentor’s tirade, not even on gems like this:

MODERATOR: What is your relationship with Louis Farrakhan? Do you agree with and respect his views, including his most racially divisive views?

WRIGHT: As I said on the Bill Moyers’ show, one of our news channels keeps playing a news clip from 20 years ago when Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism, not Judaism, was a gutter religion.

And he was talking about the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter is being vilified for, and Bishop Tutu is being vilified for. And everybody wants to paint me as if I’m anti-Semitic because of what Louis Farrakhan said 20 years ago.

I believe that people of all faiths have to work together in this country if we’re going to build a future for our children, whether those people are — just as Michelle and Barack don’t agree on everything, Raymond and I don’t agree on everything, Louis and I don’t agree on everything, most of you all don’t agree — you get two people in the same room, you’ve got three opinions.

[…]

Now, I am not going to put down Louis Farrakhan anymore than Mandela would put down Fidel Castro. Do you remember that Ted Koppel show, where Ted wanted Mandela to put down Castro because Castro was our enemy? And he said, “You don’t tell me who my enemies are. You don’t tell me who my friends are.”

Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains. He did not put me in slavery. And he didn’t make me this color.

If Obama was going to have his Uncle Souljah moment, it would have had to happen immediately after Wright’s remarks. Every passing hour makes any rebuttal that much more difficult. If he only manages some comment after a day or two, it will scream political calculation (or worse, paralysis). If he wanted to get away from Wright, the time to do it was today.

As we end the news day it appears he plans to hunker down and hope that voters will shrug. Electability? That’s the new buzzword. Wonder what those polls will look like in a few days. But by then the moment for action will have passed.

We heard plenty today from the punditssome of whom think Reverend Wright’s display may be the beginning of the end for the post-racial, post-partisan Barack Obama. (Hillary Clinton is being tight-lipped. Rule #1 of politics: never cause a distraction while your opponent has a major controversy.) But we have heard nothing from Barack Obama on his mentor’s tirade, not even on gems like this:

MODERATOR: What is your relationship with Louis Farrakhan? Do you agree with and respect his views, including his most racially divisive views?

WRIGHT: As I said on the Bill Moyers’ show, one of our news channels keeps playing a news clip from 20 years ago when Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism, not Judaism, was a gutter religion.

And he was talking about the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter is being vilified for, and Bishop Tutu is being vilified for. And everybody wants to paint me as if I’m anti-Semitic because of what Louis Farrakhan said 20 years ago.

I believe that people of all faiths have to work together in this country if we’re going to build a future for our children, whether those people are — just as Michelle and Barack don’t agree on everything, Raymond and I don’t agree on everything, Louis and I don’t agree on everything, most of you all don’t agree — you get two people in the same room, you’ve got three opinions.

[…]

Now, I am not going to put down Louis Farrakhan anymore than Mandela would put down Fidel Castro. Do you remember that Ted Koppel show, where Ted wanted Mandela to put down Castro because Castro was our enemy? And he said, “You don’t tell me who my enemies are. You don’t tell me who my friends are.”

Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains. He did not put me in slavery. And he didn’t make me this color.

If Obama was going to have his Uncle Souljah moment, it would have had to happen immediately after Wright’s remarks. Every passing hour makes any rebuttal that much more difficult. If he only manages some comment after a day or two, it will scream political calculation (or worse, paralysis). If he wanted to get away from Wright, the time to do it was today.

As we end the news day it appears he plans to hunker down and hope that voters will shrug. Electability? That’s the new buzzword. Wonder what those polls will look like in a few days. But by then the moment for action will have passed.

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“Pariah Diplomacy”

Jimmy Carter, writing in this morning’s New York Times, praises his own “Pariah Diplomacy.” He cites, as an example of success, his mediation in Nepal that led to the Maoists joining the government. He then describes the results of his just-concluded meetings with the leaders of Hamas. “In the Middle East, as in Nepal, the path to peace lies in negotiation, not in isolation,” the Nobel laureate writes.

Whatever one thinks of Carter’s diplomacy with Nepalese Maoists and Palestinian terrorists, it’s too early to pronounce final verdicts in either case. Yet we can begin to judge the former President’s general approach by looking at the results of his past efforts.

Take his peacemaking initiative with regard to Kim Il Sung’s North Korea, for example. After meeting with the charismatic dictator in June 1994, Carter said that he had performed “a miracle.”

At the time, he looked as if he were right. He had, on his own initiative, gone to Pyongyang despite the wishes of the Clinton administration and the government in Seoul-sound familiar?-and, by all accounts, averted war. He did that by putting together a plan that formed the basis of the Agreed Framework, a bilateral deal inked in October 1994 by Washington and Pyongyang.

It’s clear that Carter, by willfulness and charm, reduced the possibility of war. But did he bring lasting peace to the Korean peninsula? Since then, Kim Jong Il, who succeeded his father, has tested long-range missiles, detonated an atomic device with a plutonium core, pursued a uranium weapons program, proliferated nuclear technology to Syria, and worked with Iran on its nuclear weapons and missiles.

None of this, in all probability, would have occurred if Carter had not gone to Pyongyang. On the eve of his visit, Bill Clinton had accomplished something that so far has eluded George W. Bush–he had prepared the international community for the use of force against the Kim family regime. In one of those rare moments of unity, the world was ready for meaningful coercive measures against the North. Even China, Kim Il Sung’s staunch ally, was willing to permit the United Nations to impose penalties-and had told Kim Il Sung as much. Carter’s trip, unfortunately, dissolved that unity. Left without support for the use of force, the Clinton administration had no choice but to accept the Agreed Framework, which provided a crucial lifeline to the abhorrent Kim regime.

So bolstered, Kim Jong Il adopted polices that could only have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of his fellow Koreans, and that is exactly what happened in the great famine in the middle of last decade. When nobody had to starve, many perished. Since then, North Korea has done more than almost any other nation to destabilize the international community. Carter, the itinerant peacemaker in 1994, apparently prevented war. Yet he stopped the United States and the rest of the world from putting together an enduring solution-and he essentially permitted Kim Jong Il to commit murder on the largest scale since the end of the Cold War.

This, more than anything, is Jimmy Carter’s legacy so far. I hope there can be peace in Nepal and in Israel. But if we have learned anything from Ronald Reagan, it is that we should talk with tyrants as Carter advises, but only when they know they have been defeated. Jimmy’s approach, however, first legitimizes and then strengthens them. And that is why the world is in such disarray at this moment.

Jimmy Carter, writing in this morning’s New York Times, praises his own “Pariah Diplomacy.” He cites, as an example of success, his mediation in Nepal that led to the Maoists joining the government. He then describes the results of his just-concluded meetings with the leaders of Hamas. “In the Middle East, as in Nepal, the path to peace lies in negotiation, not in isolation,” the Nobel laureate writes.

Whatever one thinks of Carter’s diplomacy with Nepalese Maoists and Palestinian terrorists, it’s too early to pronounce final verdicts in either case. Yet we can begin to judge the former President’s general approach by looking at the results of his past efforts.

Take his peacemaking initiative with regard to Kim Il Sung’s North Korea, for example. After meeting with the charismatic dictator in June 1994, Carter said that he had performed “a miracle.”

At the time, he looked as if he were right. He had, on his own initiative, gone to Pyongyang despite the wishes of the Clinton administration and the government in Seoul-sound familiar?-and, by all accounts, averted war. He did that by putting together a plan that formed the basis of the Agreed Framework, a bilateral deal inked in October 1994 by Washington and Pyongyang.

It’s clear that Carter, by willfulness and charm, reduced the possibility of war. But did he bring lasting peace to the Korean peninsula? Since then, Kim Jong Il, who succeeded his father, has tested long-range missiles, detonated an atomic device with a plutonium core, pursued a uranium weapons program, proliferated nuclear technology to Syria, and worked with Iran on its nuclear weapons and missiles.

None of this, in all probability, would have occurred if Carter had not gone to Pyongyang. On the eve of his visit, Bill Clinton had accomplished something that so far has eluded George W. Bush–he had prepared the international community for the use of force against the Kim family regime. In one of those rare moments of unity, the world was ready for meaningful coercive measures against the North. Even China, Kim Il Sung’s staunch ally, was willing to permit the United Nations to impose penalties-and had told Kim Il Sung as much. Carter’s trip, unfortunately, dissolved that unity. Left without support for the use of force, the Clinton administration had no choice but to accept the Agreed Framework, which provided a crucial lifeline to the abhorrent Kim regime.

So bolstered, Kim Jong Il adopted polices that could only have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of his fellow Koreans, and that is exactly what happened in the great famine in the middle of last decade. When nobody had to starve, many perished. Since then, North Korea has done more than almost any other nation to destabilize the international community. Carter, the itinerant peacemaker in 1994, apparently prevented war. Yet he stopped the United States and the rest of the world from putting together an enduring solution-and he essentially permitted Kim Jong Il to commit murder on the largest scale since the end of the Cold War.

This, more than anything, is Jimmy Carter’s legacy so far. I hope there can be peace in Nepal and in Israel. But if we have learned anything from Ronald Reagan, it is that we should talk with tyrants as Carter advises, but only when they know they have been defeated. Jimmy’s approach, however, first legitimizes and then strengthens them. And that is why the world is in such disarray at this moment.

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No Hard Feelings

Hamas holds no grudges apparently against Barack Obama for his aversion to meeting with them. Carl Cameron reports:

During an interview on WABC radio Sunday, top Hamas political adviser Ahmed Yousef said the terrorist group supports Obama’s foreign policy vision. “We don’t mind – actually we like Mr. Obama. We hope he will [win] the election and I do believe he is like John Kennedy, great man with great principle, and he has a vision to change America to make it in a position to lead the world community but not with domination and arrogance,” Yousef said in response to a question about the group’s willingness to meet with either of the Democratic presidential candidates.

That is the problem with telling people only what they want to hear — some of them believe you.

Meanwhile, the Republican Jewish Coalition had offered rare praise for two Democratic congressmen:

“We commend the decision of House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Rep. Howard Berman and Committee Member Rep. Gary Ackerman to take a principled stance and ask former President Carter to cancel his planned meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal,” said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks. “Now more than ever, Senator Barack Obama must explain why he will not join the growing chorus of U.S. lawmakers demanding that President Carter stop undermining the Middle East peace process. Senator Obama’s silence speaks volumes about his weak support of Israel.”

And therein lies the problem: the Middle East does not lead itself to telling everyone what he wants to hear. Sometimes you have to say “no” to be the most “stalwart ally of Israel.”

Hamas holds no grudges apparently against Barack Obama for his aversion to meeting with them. Carl Cameron reports:

During an interview on WABC radio Sunday, top Hamas political adviser Ahmed Yousef said the terrorist group supports Obama’s foreign policy vision. “We don’t mind – actually we like Mr. Obama. We hope he will [win] the election and I do believe he is like John Kennedy, great man with great principle, and he has a vision to change America to make it in a position to lead the world community but not with domination and arrogance,” Yousef said in response to a question about the group’s willingness to meet with either of the Democratic presidential candidates.

That is the problem with telling people only what they want to hear — some of them believe you.

Meanwhile, the Republican Jewish Coalition had offered rare praise for two Democratic congressmen:

“We commend the decision of House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Rep. Howard Berman and Committee Member Rep. Gary Ackerman to take a principled stance and ask former President Carter to cancel his planned meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal,” said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks. “Now more than ever, Senator Barack Obama must explain why he will not join the growing chorus of U.S. lawmakers demanding that President Carter stop undermining the Middle East peace process. Senator Obama’s silence speaks volumes about his weak support of Israel.”

And therein lies the problem: the Middle East does not lead itself to telling everyone what he wants to hear. Sometimes you have to say “no” to be the most “stalwart ally of Israel.”

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Really, Mr. Carter?

At a book promo event yesterday at Emory University, a student asked our worst ex-president if he thinks Iran is a threat to Israel. “Iran is quite distant from Israel,” said Carter. “I think it would be almost inconceivable that Iran would commit suicide by launching one or two missiles of any kind against the nation of Israel.” Carter appears to be operating under the delusion that Hizballah, which receives over $100 million per year in Iranian funding, is some kind of independent operator.

On this score, Carter disagrees with Hassan Nasrallah himself, the leader of Hizballah, who only a month ago told Iranian TV:

We are ready to become dismembered limbs to keep Iran strong and dignified, for we are strong if Iran is strong. I am but a small soldier for Imam Khamenei. . . . The youth of Hizballah acted in the name of Imam Khomeini and invoked Imam Hussein, and saluted the Iranian people.

Carter also offered up what is perhaps the most lamely-formulated statement of opposition to the Iranian nuclear program I’ve ever seen: “Obviously, we all hope we can do whatever we can to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power.” Almost Churchillian.

At a book promo event yesterday at Emory University, a student asked our worst ex-president if he thinks Iran is a threat to Israel. “Iran is quite distant from Israel,” said Carter. “I think it would be almost inconceivable that Iran would commit suicide by launching one or two missiles of any kind against the nation of Israel.” Carter appears to be operating under the delusion that Hizballah, which receives over $100 million per year in Iranian funding, is some kind of independent operator.

On this score, Carter disagrees with Hassan Nasrallah himself, the leader of Hizballah, who only a month ago told Iranian TV:

We are ready to become dismembered limbs to keep Iran strong and dignified, for we are strong if Iran is strong. I am but a small soldier for Imam Khamenei. . . . The youth of Hizballah acted in the name of Imam Khomeini and invoked Imam Hussein, and saluted the Iranian people.

Carter also offered up what is perhaps the most lamely-formulated statement of opposition to the Iranian nuclear program I’ve ever seen: “Obviously, we all hope we can do whatever we can to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power.” Almost Churchillian.

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Bad Character Assassination

Is torture ever permissible? The U.S. is in the midst of a great debate on this subject as the exigencies of counterterrorism collide with peacetime norms and traditions. But if inflicting pain during an interrogation is highly controversial, what about inflicting death before an interrogation?

We do this all the time on the battlefield, where killing enemy combatants before they kill us is accepted as the ordinary course of war. But now we are engaged in a shadow war off the battlefield, against terrorists who do not wear uniforms and operate in stealth. Is it permissible to strike them before they strike us?

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Is torture ever permissible? The U.S. is in the midst of a great debate on this subject as the exigencies of counterterrorism collide with peacetime norms and traditions. But if inflicting pain during an interrogation is highly controversial, what about inflicting death before an interrogation?

We do this all the time on the battlefield, where killing enemy combatants before they kill us is accepted as the ordinary course of war. But now we are engaged in a shadow war off the battlefield, against terrorists who do not wear uniforms and operate in stealth. Is it permissible to strike them before they strike us?

Let me be more specific. In 1981, Ronald Reagan promulgated Executive Order 12333, which, among other provisions, declared that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” This had been preceded by similar such restrictions issued by Presidents Ford and Carter.

These assassination bans, as the 9/11 Commission report makes clear, came to hamstring our policy against al Qaeda in the late 1990’s. After Osama bin Laden had successfully launched terrorist attacks against American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the CIA was ordered to find ways to put al Qaeda out of business. Elaborate plans were drawn up, but the assassination ban dominated the agency’s thinking; the upshot of all the preparations, states the 9/11 Commission staff report, was that “the only acceptable context for killing bin Laden was a credible capture operation.”

A plan designed to kill bin Laden outright was deemed unacceptable and illegal. Never mind that the U.S. had launched a fusillade of cruise missiles at one of his camps in 1998 to do just that; that was a military action, not a CIA covert operation.

One of the most memorable sentences in the entire 9/11 Commission report concerns the CIA contemplating action against bin Laden on a road leading to the Afghan city of Kandahar. James Pavitt, the assistant head of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, “expressed concern that people might get killed; it appears he thought the operation had at least a slight flavor of a plan for an assassination.”

Not long afterward, the operation was called off. As a result, people did get killed—thousands of them—and not on the road to Kandahar but in lower Manhattan, at the Pentagon, and in rural Pennsylvania.

Islamist clerics around the world are still calling for suicide bombers to attack the United States. Jane Perlez of the New York Times reports on one such Pakistani cleric in today’s paper. If the CIA could from time to time engage in covert action against such avowed advocates of violence against the U.S., would they be so brazen? Would the madrassas in which they preach their hatred continue to be multiplying homicidal graduates?

President Bush can revoke the assassination ban at will. As the Congressional Research Service explains, he can most obviously do so by issuing a new Executive Order. As the CRS also points out, under certain circumstances, like an attack or an impending attack on the United States, such an Executive Order need not be published. In other words, Bush might already have revoked the ban and we would not know it—at least until homicidal clerics start disappearing.

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