Commentary Magazine


Topic: Central Intelligence Agency

Woodward’s Forgettable Writings

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran my review of Bob Woodward’s latest epic of insiderdom. Since then, I have received some interesting e-mails from informed readers who make a few points that I think are worth sharing.

I poked fun at Battlefield Bob for writing about the war in Afghanistan while making only one perfunctory visit there, which he then hyped as if he were eyeball-to-eyeball with the enemy. A veteran war correspondent points out that this isn’t at all unusual for Woodward:

As best I can tell he hasn’t gone to Iraq for a single day. Not even to the I.Z. [International Zone, or Green Zone] or to a FOB [Forward Operating Base]. I haven’t tried to confirm that, but there is no mention of it in his books that I recall. And he wrote five books on the subject if you count “The Commanders.”

This correspondent continued:

Your analytical points were on target, too. And they are related. If don’t go to these places and talk to the Iraqi or Afghan leaders, politicians, pretenders, warlords, army officers and citizens how can you begin to understand what is happening there. They and their countries become a distant backdrop for personality feuds among US officials and second-tier aides in DC.

Absolutely right, and it is this reason that, as a government official pointed out to me, “these books have no lasting impact.” Indeed, it is hard for me to remember anything about Woodward’s last dozen books. The last major revelation I remember from one of his tomes was CIA Director Bill Casey’s “deathbed confession” in Veil (1987) — and that is largely because Woodward was accused of making it up.

Woodward continues to churn out No. 1 best-sellers. But, after being avidly hyped (especially by his employer, the Washington Post), each one drops down the memory chute because his revelations about Washington infighting are so petty and so far removed from the factors that shape presidential reputations — namely how well policies work out in the real world. In the meantime, however, Woodward does real damage to our government’s ability to implement its policies — a point Eliot Cohen wittily makes in this Washington Post op-ed, which features fictional interior monologues a la Woodward.

The real question, to my mind, isn’t why Woodward does what he does — he makes jillions from his books. The question is why so many administrations so willingly cooperate with him. As Eliot notes, “Senior Washington officials, in this administration or its predecessors, talk to Bob Woodward for all kinds of reasons — to fluff up their vanity, to avenge slights, to neutralize rivals, to gratify egos or, most laughably, to shape the historical record. ” It’s high time for the Obama administration and its successors to rethink this policy of granting Woodward unlimited access.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran my review of Bob Woodward’s latest epic of insiderdom. Since then, I have received some interesting e-mails from informed readers who make a few points that I think are worth sharing.

I poked fun at Battlefield Bob for writing about the war in Afghanistan while making only one perfunctory visit there, which he then hyped as if he were eyeball-to-eyeball with the enemy. A veteran war correspondent points out that this isn’t at all unusual for Woodward:

As best I can tell he hasn’t gone to Iraq for a single day. Not even to the I.Z. [International Zone, or Green Zone] or to a FOB [Forward Operating Base]. I haven’t tried to confirm that, but there is no mention of it in his books that I recall. And he wrote five books on the subject if you count “The Commanders.”

This correspondent continued:

Your analytical points were on target, too. And they are related. If don’t go to these places and talk to the Iraqi or Afghan leaders, politicians, pretenders, warlords, army officers and citizens how can you begin to understand what is happening there. They and their countries become a distant backdrop for personality feuds among US officials and second-tier aides in DC.

Absolutely right, and it is this reason that, as a government official pointed out to me, “these books have no lasting impact.” Indeed, it is hard for me to remember anything about Woodward’s last dozen books. The last major revelation I remember from one of his tomes was CIA Director Bill Casey’s “deathbed confession” in Veil (1987) — and that is largely because Woodward was accused of making it up.

Woodward continues to churn out No. 1 best-sellers. But, after being avidly hyped (especially by his employer, the Washington Post), each one drops down the memory chute because his revelations about Washington infighting are so petty and so far removed from the factors that shape presidential reputations — namely how well policies work out in the real world. In the meantime, however, Woodward does real damage to our government’s ability to implement its policies — a point Eliot Cohen wittily makes in this Washington Post op-ed, which features fictional interior monologues a la Woodward.

The real question, to my mind, isn’t why Woodward does what he does — he makes jillions from his books. The question is why so many administrations so willingly cooperate with him. As Eliot notes, “Senior Washington officials, in this administration or its predecessors, talk to Bob Woodward for all kinds of reasons — to fluff up their vanity, to avenge slights, to neutralize rivals, to gratify egos or, most laughably, to shape the historical record. ” It’s high time for the Obama administration and its successors to rethink this policy of granting Woodward unlimited access.

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On Bob Woodward’s Revelations

I haven’t read Bob Woodward’s new book yet (apparently, it hasn’t been released yet), so I will reserve final judgment until I do. But based on the excerpts published so far in the New York Times and Washington Post, I am less exercised than some colleagues about what it reveals.

The book’s most explosive revelation is said to be a quote from Obama: “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever … we absorbed it and we are stronger.” This is a gaffe in the Michael Kinsley sense, defined as what happens when a politician inadvertently tells the truth. Would it have been better if Obama said we couldn’t survive a terrorist attack? Probably it would have been preferable if he had said nothing at all, because his nonchalant way of talking seems to slight the pain incurred by 9/11 casualties and their families. Moreover, his comment might be interpreted as though he didn’t care much about terrorism. I doubt that’s true or fair, and, in fact, there is a case to be made for advertising our ability not only to defend against, but also to absorb terrorist attacks, based on the theory that this may deter potential attacks.

Most of the other excerpts concern infighting among Obama’s aides over Afghanistan policy (this is a surprise?) and Obama’s desire to create an exit strategy — also, not exactly news. “This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling his aides. “Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room.”

On the contrary, I believe the plan in Afghanistan needs to be about how to achieve victory — not about how to leave early. Obama’s emphasis on an eventual pullout, which led him to announce a timeline for withdrawal, is, I believe, deeply misguided and actually makes it harder for us to leave by making it harder for Afghans to trust us.

But I judge a president more by his actions than by his words. For all of Obama’s talk about an exit strategy, the fact remains that he has consistently stiffed those in his administration who favored a precipitous pullout. Now all the signals emanating from the administration suggest that the vaunted December policy review won’t amount to much and that we are unlikely to see a major drawdown next summer. Obama may talk exit strategies but his actions support General Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy.

The most interesting news in the Woodward excerpts concerns the CIA’s private army – 3,000-strong Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams. It is common knowledge that the CIA has been running black ops in Afghanistan but Woodward sheds light on the strength of its forces and suggests that they have penetrated into Pakistan as well — apparently only for intelligence gathering and not actual fighting, though who knows?

On one level, this is encouraging news, which shows how our presence in Afghanistan can be a strategic asset to deal with terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan. On the other hand, this raises all sorts of troubling questions about what the teams’ impact is on our overall counterinsurgency strategy. The CIA has a tendency to strike deals with warlords who produce gunmen. Problem is, these warlords tend to be deeply corrupt, often complicit in the drug trade, and their conduct undermines the legitimacy of the Afghan government and drives ordinary people into the arms of the Taliban.

I don’t doubt that that CIA’s paramilitaries are effective and well-paid, but their existence also serves to siphon away top-tier fighters from the Afghan Security Forces. Their operations are probably not well integrated with US military operations, either, since the CIA doesn’t report to the military chain of command. The CIA’s resort to its own paramilitaries may still be useful but it made a lot more sense back in the early days of the war, when there were few American forces in the country, than it does today when there are 100,000 U.S. troops (and 40,000 allies) in Afghanistan.

I haven’t read Bob Woodward’s new book yet (apparently, it hasn’t been released yet), so I will reserve final judgment until I do. But based on the excerpts published so far in the New York Times and Washington Post, I am less exercised than some colleagues about what it reveals.

The book’s most explosive revelation is said to be a quote from Obama: “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever … we absorbed it and we are stronger.” This is a gaffe in the Michael Kinsley sense, defined as what happens when a politician inadvertently tells the truth. Would it have been better if Obama said we couldn’t survive a terrorist attack? Probably it would have been preferable if he had said nothing at all, because his nonchalant way of talking seems to slight the pain incurred by 9/11 casualties and their families. Moreover, his comment might be interpreted as though he didn’t care much about terrorism. I doubt that’s true or fair, and, in fact, there is a case to be made for advertising our ability not only to defend against, but also to absorb terrorist attacks, based on the theory that this may deter potential attacks.

Most of the other excerpts concern infighting among Obama’s aides over Afghanistan policy (this is a surprise?) and Obama’s desire to create an exit strategy — also, not exactly news. “This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling his aides. “Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room.”

On the contrary, I believe the plan in Afghanistan needs to be about how to achieve victory — not about how to leave early. Obama’s emphasis on an eventual pullout, which led him to announce a timeline for withdrawal, is, I believe, deeply misguided and actually makes it harder for us to leave by making it harder for Afghans to trust us.

But I judge a president more by his actions than by his words. For all of Obama’s talk about an exit strategy, the fact remains that he has consistently stiffed those in his administration who favored a precipitous pullout. Now all the signals emanating from the administration suggest that the vaunted December policy review won’t amount to much and that we are unlikely to see a major drawdown next summer. Obama may talk exit strategies but his actions support General Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy.

The most interesting news in the Woodward excerpts concerns the CIA’s private army – 3,000-strong Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams. It is common knowledge that the CIA has been running black ops in Afghanistan but Woodward sheds light on the strength of its forces and suggests that they have penetrated into Pakistan as well — apparently only for intelligence gathering and not actual fighting, though who knows?

On one level, this is encouraging news, which shows how our presence in Afghanistan can be a strategic asset to deal with terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan. On the other hand, this raises all sorts of troubling questions about what the teams’ impact is on our overall counterinsurgency strategy. The CIA has a tendency to strike deals with warlords who produce gunmen. Problem is, these warlords tend to be deeply corrupt, often complicit in the drug trade, and their conduct undermines the legitimacy of the Afghan government and drives ordinary people into the arms of the Taliban.

I don’t doubt that that CIA’s paramilitaries are effective and well-paid, but their existence also serves to siphon away top-tier fighters from the Afghan Security Forces. Their operations are probably not well integrated with US military operations, either, since the CIA doesn’t report to the military chain of command. The CIA’s resort to its own paramilitaries may still be useful but it made a lot more sense back in the early days of the war, when there were few American forces in the country, than it does today when there are 100,000 U.S. troops (and 40,000 allies) in Afghanistan.

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Another False Defense of Obama on Terrorism

Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent has now published the full passage from Bob Woodward’s book in which the president discusses his views on terrorism, and claims it reveals the criticism of him from people like me is “thoroughly bogus.” Fine. Here is the passage Sargent quotes:

“I said very early on, as a Senator and continue to believe, as a presidential candidate and now as president, that we can absorb a terrorist attack. We will do everything we can to prevent it. but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever, that every took palce on our soil, we absorbed it, and we are stronger. This is a strong, powerful country that we live in, and our people are incredibly resilient.”

Then he addressed his big concern. “A potential game changer would be a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists, blowing up a major American city. Or a weapon of mass destruction in a major American city. and so when I go down on the list of things I have to worry about all the time, that is at the top, because that’s one area where you can’t afford any mistakes. And so right away, coming in, we said, how are we going to start ramping up and putting that at the center of a lot of our national security discussion? Making sure that that occurence, even if remote, never happens.”

Sargent says he hasn’t been able to find evidence of Obama saying we could “absorb” a terrorist attack and unless I’m very much mistaken, he never will, because it would have sunk Obama, no matter what the qualification might have been. (And if he did and the opposition researchers in the Clinton and McCain camps didn’t find it, we will have more evidence of their gross incompetence.)

But just because Obama qualified his words about absorbing an attack by saying America is resilient and we can handle anything but a nuclear attack is no comfort. It may be the opposite. His words suggest the president is engaging in false categorization that may explain why and how he and his administration felt free to define down the threat — such that it became conceivable for reasons other than simple liberal political payoff to  to end CIA interrogation programs on the grounds that they were doing more harm than help.

And the full passage from Woodward’s book reveals something else astonishing: the notion that because Obama knew this nation was so resilient it could absorb an attack and come out stronger, he could now “start ramping up and putting” the nuclear-terrorism threat “at the center of a lot of our national security discussion.”

What?

So in his view, the Bush administration wasn’t focused on the nuclear/unconventional threat? What, then, explains in the act now considered a crime by so many in Obama’s camp — taking the nation to war in Iraq in part to preempt one? What explained the persistence of the interrogation programs Obama so blithely cancelled?

The president seems to think the terrorist threat is not a continuum from box cutters to shoe bombs to potential nukes. But that is exactly what it is. And that is, if anything, even more terrifying than a president so emotionally insulated from the true aftereffects of a terrorist attack — which, as I said earlier, are not to be confused with the momentary spasm of unity and good feeling that overtook the country in the months following 9/11 —  that he seems already to have graded his own response and the country’s on a morally unforgivable curve.

Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent has now published the full passage from Bob Woodward’s book in which the president discusses his views on terrorism, and claims it reveals the criticism of him from people like me is “thoroughly bogus.” Fine. Here is the passage Sargent quotes:

“I said very early on, as a Senator and continue to believe, as a presidential candidate and now as president, that we can absorb a terrorist attack. We will do everything we can to prevent it. but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever, that every took palce on our soil, we absorbed it, and we are stronger. This is a strong, powerful country that we live in, and our people are incredibly resilient.”

Then he addressed his big concern. “A potential game changer would be a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists, blowing up a major American city. Or a weapon of mass destruction in a major American city. and so when I go down on the list of things I have to worry about all the time, that is at the top, because that’s one area where you can’t afford any mistakes. And so right away, coming in, we said, how are we going to start ramping up and putting that at the center of a lot of our national security discussion? Making sure that that occurence, even if remote, never happens.”

Sargent says he hasn’t been able to find evidence of Obama saying we could “absorb” a terrorist attack and unless I’m very much mistaken, he never will, because it would have sunk Obama, no matter what the qualification might have been. (And if he did and the opposition researchers in the Clinton and McCain camps didn’t find it, we will have more evidence of their gross incompetence.)

But just because Obama qualified his words about absorbing an attack by saying America is resilient and we can handle anything but a nuclear attack is no comfort. It may be the opposite. His words suggest the president is engaging in false categorization that may explain why and how he and his administration felt free to define down the threat — such that it became conceivable for reasons other than simple liberal political payoff to  to end CIA interrogation programs on the grounds that they were doing more harm than help.

And the full passage from Woodward’s book reveals something else astonishing: the notion that because Obama knew this nation was so resilient it could absorb an attack and come out stronger, he could now “start ramping up and putting” the nuclear-terrorism threat “at the center of a lot of our national security discussion.”

What?

So in his view, the Bush administration wasn’t focused on the nuclear/unconventional threat? What, then, explains in the act now considered a crime by so many in Obama’s camp — taking the nation to war in Iraq in part to preempt one? What explained the persistence of the interrogation programs Obama so blithely cancelled?

The president seems to think the terrorist threat is not a continuum from box cutters to shoe bombs to potential nukes. But that is exactly what it is. And that is, if anything, even more terrifying than a president so emotionally insulated from the true aftereffects of a terrorist attack — which, as I said earlier, are not to be confused with the momentary spasm of unity and good feeling that overtook the country in the months following 9/11 —  that he seems already to have graded his own response and the country’s on a morally unforgivable curve.

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Did Obama Say What Cheney Said? Oh, No.

In Slate, John Dickerson defends Obama from people like me who were horrified by his remark quoted yesterday that we could “absorb” another terrorist attack and come out “stronger” from it. A senior White House official told him Obama was talking to Bob Woodward about the panoply of threats:

Objectively, the president said, you would want to be able to stop every attack, but a president has to prioritize. So what does the president put at the top of the danger list? A nuclear weapon or a weapon of mass destruction. Why? Because—and here’s where the quote in question comes in—as bad as 9/11 was, the United States was not crippled. A nuclear attack or weapon of mass destruction, however, would be a “game changer”…

This line of reasoning is identical to what I heard regularly when I covered the Bush White House. Former Vice President Dick Cheney … said: “We have to assume there will be more attacks. And for the first time in our history, we will probably suffer more casualties here at home in America than will our troops overseas.”

I remember being a little shocked at how brutal the calculus was when I heard officials in Cheney’s office … say that they had to focus their energy first on “mass casualty” events. What were they talking about? The same thing the president was: a nuclear attack or one that used a weapon of mass destruction.

I generally like Dickerson’s reporting, but even if the White House official is telling the truth, and we don’t know that yet, this analysis is preposterous. I interviewed those people too, including in Cheney’s office, at the time, and I’m pretty sure there were no  “brutal” calculations about absorbing a second terrorist attack. The truth is that officials dealing with these matters were gripped with fear and anxiety about everything they were hearing and seeing in the intelligence. Every morning. For years. They were the opposite of certain that the country could absorb even a second major attack, though of course, as I said in my blog post yesterday, it could have and it can now in the narrowest possible sense. We would not roll over and die.

The last thing the Bush White House was airy and accepting about was the possibility of another terrorist attack. Why else were Bush’s critics screaming about the imposition of a fascist regime at home and a torture regime abroad? They were complaining of tactics and measures taken to interdict not only a “game changer” but anything — like the panoply of conventional attacks and ideas for them revealed to interrogators who waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and Abu Zubaydah. I know the logic of the most extreme of Bush’s critics seemed to be that the administration was doing it for sadistic kicks. But minimally rational people who strongly opposed the policy do acknowledge the fact that it arose from a true threat and that the people who instituted the policy did so out of a rational concern for preventing any conceivable attack, not just a nuclear one.

What was being sought was not only information on suitcase nukes. A colossal program of attack prevention was instituted over the objection from, among other people, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy. The United States didn’t institute Homeland Security measures in airports and ballparks and office buildings and the like because of fears of a nuclear attack. A conventional attack would suffice.

On the second day of his presidency, Barack Obama signed an executive order ending the CIA’s interrogation program. Since the White House official who talked to Dickerson told him Obama’s line — “we can absorb a terrorist attack … we absorbed it and we are stronger” — had to do with “the national security threats he faced upon becoming the president,” Obama’s quote to Woodward might prove even more damning.

In other words, it was acceptable to end the interrogation program in part because Obama had journeyed beyond the adrenalized alarm that characterized the condition of Bush national security officials for more than seven years. It was change Obama could believe in.

In Slate, John Dickerson defends Obama from people like me who were horrified by his remark quoted yesterday that we could “absorb” another terrorist attack and come out “stronger” from it. A senior White House official told him Obama was talking to Bob Woodward about the panoply of threats:

Objectively, the president said, you would want to be able to stop every attack, but a president has to prioritize. So what does the president put at the top of the danger list? A nuclear weapon or a weapon of mass destruction. Why? Because—and here’s where the quote in question comes in—as bad as 9/11 was, the United States was not crippled. A nuclear attack or weapon of mass destruction, however, would be a “game changer”…

This line of reasoning is identical to what I heard regularly when I covered the Bush White House. Former Vice President Dick Cheney … said: “We have to assume there will be more attacks. And for the first time in our history, we will probably suffer more casualties here at home in America than will our troops overseas.”

I remember being a little shocked at how brutal the calculus was when I heard officials in Cheney’s office … say that they had to focus their energy first on “mass casualty” events. What were they talking about? The same thing the president was: a nuclear attack or one that used a weapon of mass destruction.

I generally like Dickerson’s reporting, but even if the White House official is telling the truth, and we don’t know that yet, this analysis is preposterous. I interviewed those people too, including in Cheney’s office, at the time, and I’m pretty sure there were no  “brutal” calculations about absorbing a second terrorist attack. The truth is that officials dealing with these matters were gripped with fear and anxiety about everything they were hearing and seeing in the intelligence. Every morning. For years. They were the opposite of certain that the country could absorb even a second major attack, though of course, as I said in my blog post yesterday, it could have and it can now in the narrowest possible sense. We would not roll over and die.

The last thing the Bush White House was airy and accepting about was the possibility of another terrorist attack. Why else were Bush’s critics screaming about the imposition of a fascist regime at home and a torture regime abroad? They were complaining of tactics and measures taken to interdict not only a “game changer” but anything — like the panoply of conventional attacks and ideas for them revealed to interrogators who waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and Abu Zubaydah. I know the logic of the most extreme of Bush’s critics seemed to be that the administration was doing it for sadistic kicks. But minimally rational people who strongly opposed the policy do acknowledge the fact that it arose from a true threat and that the people who instituted the policy did so out of a rational concern for preventing any conceivable attack, not just a nuclear one.

What was being sought was not only information on suitcase nukes. A colossal program of attack prevention was instituted over the objection from, among other people, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy. The United States didn’t institute Homeland Security measures in airports and ballparks and office buildings and the like because of fears of a nuclear attack. A conventional attack would suffice.

On the second day of his presidency, Barack Obama signed an executive order ending the CIA’s interrogation program. Since the White House official who talked to Dickerson told him Obama’s line — “we can absorb a terrorist attack … we absorbed it and we are stronger” — had to do with “the national security threats he faced upon becoming the president,” Obama’s quote to Woodward might prove even more damning.

In other words, it was acceptable to end the interrogation program in part because Obama had journeyed beyond the adrenalized alarm that characterized the condition of Bush national security officials for more than seven years. It was change Obama could believe in.

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The CIA’s Self-Fulfilling Premises in Afghanistan

Dexter Filkins has a good dispatch from Afghanistan — or as the headline dubs it, “Corrupt-istan.” He (correctly, in my opinion) criticizes all too many senior U.S. officials for their condescending attitude toward governance in Afghanistan:

Since 2001, one of the unquestioned premises of American and NATO policy has been that ordinary Afghans don’t view public corruption in quite the same way that Americans and others do in the West. Diplomats, military officers and senior officials flying in from Washington often say privately that while public graft is pernicious, there is no point in trying to abolish it — and that trying to do so could destroy the very government the West has helped to build.

Filkins notes that this has become a self-fulfilling premise with the CIA, for example, “putting on its payroll some of the most disputable members of Mr. Karzai’s government.” But ordinary Afghans turn out to be just as disgusted by widespread corruption as ordinary Americans would be. Writes Filkins:

Ahmed Shah Hakimi, who runs a currency exchange in Kabul, had just finished explaining some of the shadowy dealings of the business and political elite when he stopped in disgust.

“There are 50 of them,” Mr. Hakimi said. “The corrupt ones. All the Afghans know who they are.”

“Why do the Americans support them?” he asked.

Mr. Hakimi, a shrewd businessman, seemed genuinely perplexed.

“What the Americans need to do is take these Afghans and put them on a plane and fly them to America — and then crash the plane into a mountain,” Mr. Hakimi said. “Kill them all.”

Hakimi’s attitude is, indeed, widespread in Afghanistan. There is little of the “tolerance” for corruption that senior American officials seem to think is prevalent. Instead, corruption is driving more and more Afghans into the arms of the Taliban, who claim to crack down on immorality. That makes it imperative to reduce the runaway graft that is fueled by Western money. General David Petraeus realizes that; he is bent on reducing the power of what his aides call, according to Filkins, “the MAN” — short for “malign actor network.” But other U.S. agencies, especially the CIA, are working at cross-purposes by empowering the “MAN.” There needs to be greater cohesion from the top of the administration to make sure that all agencies of the U.S. government work together to push Afghanistan in the right direction.

Dexter Filkins has a good dispatch from Afghanistan — or as the headline dubs it, “Corrupt-istan.” He (correctly, in my opinion) criticizes all too many senior U.S. officials for their condescending attitude toward governance in Afghanistan:

Since 2001, one of the unquestioned premises of American and NATO policy has been that ordinary Afghans don’t view public corruption in quite the same way that Americans and others do in the West. Diplomats, military officers and senior officials flying in from Washington often say privately that while public graft is pernicious, there is no point in trying to abolish it — and that trying to do so could destroy the very government the West has helped to build.

Filkins notes that this has become a self-fulfilling premise with the CIA, for example, “putting on its payroll some of the most disputable members of Mr. Karzai’s government.” But ordinary Afghans turn out to be just as disgusted by widespread corruption as ordinary Americans would be. Writes Filkins:

Ahmed Shah Hakimi, who runs a currency exchange in Kabul, had just finished explaining some of the shadowy dealings of the business and political elite when he stopped in disgust.

“There are 50 of them,” Mr. Hakimi said. “The corrupt ones. All the Afghans know who they are.”

“Why do the Americans support them?” he asked.

Mr. Hakimi, a shrewd businessman, seemed genuinely perplexed.

“What the Americans need to do is take these Afghans and put them on a plane and fly them to America — and then crash the plane into a mountain,” Mr. Hakimi said. “Kill them all.”

Hakimi’s attitude is, indeed, widespread in Afghanistan. There is little of the “tolerance” for corruption that senior American officials seem to think is prevalent. Instead, corruption is driving more and more Afghans into the arms of the Taliban, who claim to crack down on immorality. That makes it imperative to reduce the runaway graft that is fueled by Western money. General David Petraeus realizes that; he is bent on reducing the power of what his aides call, according to Filkins, “the MAN” — short for “malign actor network.” But other U.S. agencies, especially the CIA, are working at cross-purposes by empowering the “MAN.” There needs to be greater cohesion from the top of the administration to make sure that all agencies of the U.S. government work together to push Afghanistan in the right direction.

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Funding Corruption in Afghanistan

Everyone knows that corruption is a huge, crippling, corrosive problem in Afghanistan and that reducing it won’t be easy. But aside from the obvious obstacles we face — namely an entrenched political class in Afghanistan that has gotten rich from foreign lucre — there is a not-so-obvious obstacle as well: the interest that many in the U.S. government have in lubricating relationships with lots of greenbacks. In this connection the New York Times‘s Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti have a great scoop today about how the CIA has been paying off Mohammed Zia Salehi, the aide to President Karzai who has been charged with corruption. As the Times account notes, “Other prominent Afghans who American officials have said were on the C.I.A.’s payroll include the president’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, suspected by investigators of playing a role in Afghanistan’s booming opium trade.”

The list is actually considerably longer, and from the CIA’s narrow standpoint, the investments are well justified. The Times quotes an anonymous “American official” as follows: “If we decide as a country that we’ll never deal with anyone in Afghanistan who might down the road — and certainly not at our behest — put his hand in the till, we can all come home right now. If you want intelligence in a war zone, you’re not going to get it from Mother Teresa or Mary Poppins.” True, and the CIA has been paying off rogues for information ever since its inception. Such activity is to be expected from any competent intelligence service, but in Afghanistan, this has had parlous consequences.

The funding that the CIA has provided — along with largesse from the U.S. military, USAID, the State Department, and other agencies — has turbo-charged the problem of corruption. It has led to the emergence of a class of malign actors, fabulously wealthy Afghans who have connections not only to the U.S. government but also to the Taliban and the drug cartels. They are widely seen as the real center of power in Afghanistan, and it is this perception, more than anything else, that fuels support for the insurgency. The problem begins at the top with Hamid Karzai who, shamefully, intervened to get Salehi sprung from jail shortly after his arrest.

Some in the U.S. government believe that there is nothing to be done about such corruption and that fighting it is counterproductive because it will damage our “relationships” with key Afghans. As one “Obama administration official” tells Filkins and Mazzetti:  “Fighting corruption is the very definition of mission creep.” Wrong. Fighting corruption is the only way to achieve our mission. That won’t require eliminating corruption — truly a mission impossible. But it should be possible to reduce corruption from the current, off-the-charts levels to more socially acceptable norms. In fact, this is the most urgent priority for NATO forces. To achieve that objective, President Obama will have to make sure that all U.S. government agencies and officials are on board. So far, as the Salehi scandal shows, that hasn’t been the case.

Everyone knows that corruption is a huge, crippling, corrosive problem in Afghanistan and that reducing it won’t be easy. But aside from the obvious obstacles we face — namely an entrenched political class in Afghanistan that has gotten rich from foreign lucre — there is a not-so-obvious obstacle as well: the interest that many in the U.S. government have in lubricating relationships with lots of greenbacks. In this connection the New York Times‘s Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti have a great scoop today about how the CIA has been paying off Mohammed Zia Salehi, the aide to President Karzai who has been charged with corruption. As the Times account notes, “Other prominent Afghans who American officials have said were on the C.I.A.’s payroll include the president’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, suspected by investigators of playing a role in Afghanistan’s booming opium trade.”

The list is actually considerably longer, and from the CIA’s narrow standpoint, the investments are well justified. The Times quotes an anonymous “American official” as follows: “If we decide as a country that we’ll never deal with anyone in Afghanistan who might down the road — and certainly not at our behest — put his hand in the till, we can all come home right now. If you want intelligence in a war zone, you’re not going to get it from Mother Teresa or Mary Poppins.” True, and the CIA has been paying off rogues for information ever since its inception. Such activity is to be expected from any competent intelligence service, but in Afghanistan, this has had parlous consequences.

The funding that the CIA has provided — along with largesse from the U.S. military, USAID, the State Department, and other agencies — has turbo-charged the problem of corruption. It has led to the emergence of a class of malign actors, fabulously wealthy Afghans who have connections not only to the U.S. government but also to the Taliban and the drug cartels. They are widely seen as the real center of power in Afghanistan, and it is this perception, more than anything else, that fuels support for the insurgency. The problem begins at the top with Hamid Karzai who, shamefully, intervened to get Salehi sprung from jail shortly after his arrest.

Some in the U.S. government believe that there is nothing to be done about such corruption and that fighting it is counterproductive because it will damage our “relationships” with key Afghans. As one “Obama administration official” tells Filkins and Mazzetti:  “Fighting corruption is the very definition of mission creep.” Wrong. Fighting corruption is the only way to achieve our mission. That won’t require eliminating corruption — truly a mission impossible. But it should be possible to reduce corruption from the current, off-the-charts levels to more socially acceptable norms. In fact, this is the most urgent priority for NATO forces. To achieve that objective, President Obama will have to make sure that all U.S. government agencies and officials are on board. So far, as the Salehi scandal shows, that hasn’t been the case.

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Yemen and the Shell Game of the Anti-War Camp

Both the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal have articles reporting that the CIA now believes that Islamist extremists based in Yemen pose a bigger threat than those from Pakistan. This will no doubt spur indignant demands to explain why we are committing more resources in Afghanistan. Similar calls were heard for years during the height of the war effort in Iraq. Back then the cry was to invest more in “Afpak” (Afghanistan-Pakistan). Now that we have sent more resources there, critics claim that the threat has moved and our war effort is ill advised.

This is starting to feel like a shell game. Some people seem to simply oppose any war we are currently fighting, using the existence of threats elsewhere as an excuse to cut back on our existing troop commitments. That would be a disastrous mistake because it would hand al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist groups a major victory in Afghanistan that would spur their terrorist efforts elsewhere.

In any case it should be perfectly possible to fight in Afghanistan while maintaining a light footprint in countries like Yemen and Somalia. The Special Operations Command and the CIA are reportedly planning more drone strikes and other low-visibility actions in Yemen. That seems like the right response.

It is hard to imagine that, even if we weren’t committed in Afghanistan, we would be sending tens of thousands of troops to Yemen. Certainly those who argue that Afghanistan is unimportant don’t advocate an American invasion of some other country where al-Qaeda has taken root. The reality is that we have to use different strategies in different places. We’re in Afghanistan because of 9/11 and we need to win that war. We’ve made a lesser commitment in lots of other countries because they have not (yet) been used as a base from which to attack our homeland. That seems not only a reasonable division of labor but the only politically feasible one: few in Washington of either party would support an invasion of another country unless we are actually attacked.

Both the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal have articles reporting that the CIA now believes that Islamist extremists based in Yemen pose a bigger threat than those from Pakistan. This will no doubt spur indignant demands to explain why we are committing more resources in Afghanistan. Similar calls were heard for years during the height of the war effort in Iraq. Back then the cry was to invest more in “Afpak” (Afghanistan-Pakistan). Now that we have sent more resources there, critics claim that the threat has moved and our war effort is ill advised.

This is starting to feel like a shell game. Some people seem to simply oppose any war we are currently fighting, using the existence of threats elsewhere as an excuse to cut back on our existing troop commitments. That would be a disastrous mistake because it would hand al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist groups a major victory in Afghanistan that would spur their terrorist efforts elsewhere.

In any case it should be perfectly possible to fight in Afghanistan while maintaining a light footprint in countries like Yemen and Somalia. The Special Operations Command and the CIA are reportedly planning more drone strikes and other low-visibility actions in Yemen. That seems like the right response.

It is hard to imagine that, even if we weren’t committed in Afghanistan, we would be sending tens of thousands of troops to Yemen. Certainly those who argue that Afghanistan is unimportant don’t advocate an American invasion of some other country where al-Qaeda has taken root. The reality is that we have to use different strategies in different places. We’re in Afghanistan because of 9/11 and we need to win that war. We’ve made a lesser commitment in lots of other countries because they have not (yet) been used as a base from which to attack our homeland. That seems not only a reasonable division of labor but the only politically feasible one: few in Washington of either party would support an invasion of another country unless we are actually attacked.

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What Bushehr Tells Us

Jamie Fly has an important analysis of the Bushehr reactor. He contends that the reactor in and of itself is less important (“The real key to Iran’s nuclear program lies at its facilities at Natanz, Esfahan, at the factories where its centrifuges are being built, and the labs and campuses of its nuclear scientists”) than what it tells us about the general state of our Iran policy:

First, it serves as another reminder of the bipartisan failure of U.S. Iran policy. The Iran saga is not solely about failed engagement by President Obama. The Bush administration tried various tactics with Iran and also failed to halt its progress toward a nuclear capability. A serious exploration of new options, including the military option, is thus in order if the United States remains unwilling to accept a nuclear Iran. …

Second, the actual startup of Bushehr says something about Russia’s perceptions of the Iranian threat. . .Jay Solomon of the Wall Street Journal reported that the administration “consented in recent months to Russia pushing forward with Bushehr in order to gain Moscow’s support for a fourth round of United Nations sanctions against Iran, which passed in June.” That adds Bushehr to a long list of concessions granted by this administration to Moscow as part of its “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations. . .

Finally, the brouhaha over Bushehr obscures the real troubling aspect of the current crisis — the ongoing nuclear weapons program’s timeline.

As to the timeline, Obama’s Gray Lady PR gambit to dissuade Israel from acting unilaterally highlights the difficulty, as Fly puts it, in determining “how close Iran should be allowed to get to a nuclear capability before military action is taken to stop the program.” Fly echoes former CIA director Michael Hayden’s worry that Iran may “loiter at the nuclear threshold and not make the decision to immediately build a weapon, knowing that it would be a green light for preemptive action. If it chooses this route, Iran could keep Western intelligence agencies guessing for years, trying to discern whether the ‘go’ order had actually been given by the Supreme Leader.”

In sum, Bushehr illuminates the faulty judgment and flawed assumptions that undergird Obama’s foreign policy. It turns out that sanctions are too late in coming and totally ineffective, that the Russians can’t be enlisted to disarm Iran, that “reset” is nothing more than frantic appeasement, that Iran isn’t more “isolated” thanks to the Obami’s policy, that time is on the mullah’s side (Obama squandered a critical 18 months on engagement/scrawny sanctions), and that it wasn’t so smart to put the mullahs at ease about the prospects for U.S. military action.

We can’t get the 18 months back. We can’t reset the calendar to June 12 and lend critical, timely aid to the Green movement. But we can prepare, threaten, and, if need be, conduct a military action that would rescue Obama’s credibility, maintain America’s superpower status, prevent an existential danger to Israel, remove a threat to the American homeland and to our allies, and disrupt  Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and growing alliances in the region. Or we could sit idly by as the worst national security disaster in our lifetime plays out before our eyes. We should pray that Obama – for good reasons or not – chooses action rather than passivity.

Jamie Fly has an important analysis of the Bushehr reactor. He contends that the reactor in and of itself is less important (“The real key to Iran’s nuclear program lies at its facilities at Natanz, Esfahan, at the factories where its centrifuges are being built, and the labs and campuses of its nuclear scientists”) than what it tells us about the general state of our Iran policy:

First, it serves as another reminder of the bipartisan failure of U.S. Iran policy. The Iran saga is not solely about failed engagement by President Obama. The Bush administration tried various tactics with Iran and also failed to halt its progress toward a nuclear capability. A serious exploration of new options, including the military option, is thus in order if the United States remains unwilling to accept a nuclear Iran. …

Second, the actual startup of Bushehr says something about Russia’s perceptions of the Iranian threat. . .Jay Solomon of the Wall Street Journal reported that the administration “consented in recent months to Russia pushing forward with Bushehr in order to gain Moscow’s support for a fourth round of United Nations sanctions against Iran, which passed in June.” That adds Bushehr to a long list of concessions granted by this administration to Moscow as part of its “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations. . .

Finally, the brouhaha over Bushehr obscures the real troubling aspect of the current crisis — the ongoing nuclear weapons program’s timeline.

As to the timeline, Obama’s Gray Lady PR gambit to dissuade Israel from acting unilaterally highlights the difficulty, as Fly puts it, in determining “how close Iran should be allowed to get to a nuclear capability before military action is taken to stop the program.” Fly echoes former CIA director Michael Hayden’s worry that Iran may “loiter at the nuclear threshold and not make the decision to immediately build a weapon, knowing that it would be a green light for preemptive action. If it chooses this route, Iran could keep Western intelligence agencies guessing for years, trying to discern whether the ‘go’ order had actually been given by the Supreme Leader.”

In sum, Bushehr illuminates the faulty judgment and flawed assumptions that undergird Obama’s foreign policy. It turns out that sanctions are too late in coming and totally ineffective, that the Russians can’t be enlisted to disarm Iran, that “reset” is nothing more than frantic appeasement, that Iran isn’t more “isolated” thanks to the Obami’s policy, that time is on the mullah’s side (Obama squandered a critical 18 months on engagement/scrawny sanctions), and that it wasn’t so smart to put the mullahs at ease about the prospects for U.S. military action.

We can’t get the 18 months back. We can’t reset the calendar to June 12 and lend critical, timely aid to the Green movement. But we can prepare, threaten, and, if need be, conduct a military action that would rescue Obama’s credibility, maintain America’s superpower status, prevent an existential danger to Israel, remove a threat to the American homeland and to our allies, and disrupt  Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and growing alliances in the region. Or we could sit idly by as the worst national security disaster in our lifetime plays out before our eyes. We should pray that Obama – for good reasons or not – chooses action rather than passivity.

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For Secretary of Defense? (Updated)

Chuck Hagel made news by endorsing Joe Sestak, but quite apart from Sestak there is reason to examine Hagel’s record. The administration, it seems, is seriously considering him for secretary of defense when Robert Gates retires. Yes, Hagel – the Republican opposed to the Iraq war and who’s compiled an anti-Israel record that brought appropriate condemnation from Jewish Democrats — is in the mix, according to news reports.

Ben Smith reports that Hagel is being championed by National Security Adviser Jim Jones (often the originator of silly ideas and ill-advised statements). Smith explains:

He opposed the war in Iraq, has spoken of the need to leave Afghanistan, and — though this is hazier territory — has infuriated supporters of Israel for a refusal to sign on to the many statements of support on the Hill for the Jewish State, and by suggesting the more dispassionate approach to that conflict that — on some days — Obama seems to prefer.

This is the context for the fierce attacks on Joe Sestak, incidentally, for accepting Hagel’s endorsement: It’s a warning signal that whatever the other merits, confirmation would hardly be a cakewalk. He’s taken fire from Democrats as well as Republican for his Middle East politics, and with both that process and Iran on the front burner, his appointment would likely concentrate debate on those issues.

Indeed, it is unclear, with a nuclear-armed Iran looming and a more Republican Senate in the offing, whether Hagel would be confirmable. His national security record would be hard to defend, even by Democrats wishing to support the faltering president.

For example, in 2006, when Hezbollah’s attacks provoked Israeli retaliation and the war in Lebanon, Hagel screeched for the president to demand an immediate cease-fire, arguing it was essential in order to “enhance America’s image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East.” Our credibility, in his eyes, depends on the United States’s preventing Israel from defending itself.

Last year, Hagel signed a letter urging Obama to open direct negotiations with Hamas, a position so extreme that Obama hasn’t (yet) embraced it.

On Iran, Hagel was one of two senators in 2004 to vote against renewal of the Libya-Iran sanctions act. (“Messrs. Hagel and Lugar … want a weaker stance than most other senators against the terrorists in Iran and Syria and the West Bank and Gaza and against those who help the terrorists. They are more concerned than most other senators about upsetting our erstwhile allies in Europe — the French and Germans — who do business with the terrorists.”)

Hagel seems to be a member in good standing of the Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett school of Iran suck-uppery. In 2007 Hagel wanted to open direct, unconditional talks with Iran. (“It could create a historic new dynamic in US-Iran relations, in part forcing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with the West.”) In 2007 he voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. In 2008 he voted against Iran sanctions.

His views on Syria are equally misguided:

On November 11, 2003, when the Senate, by a vote of 89 to 4, passed the Syria Accountability Act authorizing sanctions on Syria for its support of terrorism and its occupation of Lebanon. Mr. Hagel — along with Mr. Kerry — didn’t vote. Mr. Hagel met in Damascus in 1998 with the terror-sponsoring dictator, Hafez Al-Assad, and returned to tell a reporter about the meeting, “Peace comes through dealing with people. Peace doesn’t come at the end of a bayonet or the end of a gun.”

If Obama’s pick for ambassador to Syria couldn’t get through the Senate, how would Hagel?

Finally, Hagel is a nominee who would thrill the Walt-Mearsheimer Lobby:

In an interview quoted in Aaron David Miller’s book on the peace process called The Much Too Promised Land, Hagel said: “The political reality is that … the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”

Hagel then described a meeting he had in New York with a group of supporters of Israel, one of whom suggested Hagel wasn’t supportive enough of Israel. Hagel said he responded: “Let me clear something up here if there’s any doubt in your mind. I’m a United States Senator. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States Senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is, I take an oath of office to the constitution of the United States. Not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel.”

A Democratic, pro-Israel activist alarmed by the possibility of a Hagel appointment told me:

In 2006, after Hezbollah attacked Israel and instigated a war, Hagel took to the Senate floor and called on President Bush to demand an immediate Israeli cease-fire and accused Israel of “the systematic destruction of an American friend, Lebanon” and of “slaughter.” Given that Hezbollah has killed more Americans than any terrorist group except al-Qaeda — including 241 brave young Marines and some of our finest CIA officers — and Israel is one of our closest allies in the world, these kinds of statements not only call into question Hagel’s views but his fitness to serve as secretary of defense or in any other national security capacity.

Given his long, questionable record and the clear problems his nomination would cause — not to mention the volumes of criticism by other Democrats for his rank hostility to Israel — it is hard to believe that the White House would want to make such a risky choice at precisely the time we are asking the Israelis to “trust us” on Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict. I wonder if his career-long effort to derail sanctions to stop Iran’s nuclear program will comfort the Israelis or our Arab and European allies at this critical juncture. Then again, given President’s Obama’s record in this area, this is a matter of serious, ongoing concern.

A Hagel nomination would be a political nightmare for Senate Democrats — another “walk the plank” request from the White House that would paint them as weak on defense and on the Iranian nuclear threat. Maybe this is a trial balloon. If it’s more than that, it will go over like a lead one.

UPDATE: A reader emails that “Hagel didn’t just vote no on sanctions in 2008; he killed the bill.” The reader is correct: “In early October, he prevented action on a bill, which had passed in the House, proposing economic sanctions against Iran. Hagel has long criticized unilateral sanctions as ineffective and counterproductive.”

Chuck Hagel made news by endorsing Joe Sestak, but quite apart from Sestak there is reason to examine Hagel’s record. The administration, it seems, is seriously considering him for secretary of defense when Robert Gates retires. Yes, Hagel – the Republican opposed to the Iraq war and who’s compiled an anti-Israel record that brought appropriate condemnation from Jewish Democrats — is in the mix, according to news reports.

Ben Smith reports that Hagel is being championed by National Security Adviser Jim Jones (often the originator of silly ideas and ill-advised statements). Smith explains:

He opposed the war in Iraq, has spoken of the need to leave Afghanistan, and — though this is hazier territory — has infuriated supporters of Israel for a refusal to sign on to the many statements of support on the Hill for the Jewish State, and by suggesting the more dispassionate approach to that conflict that — on some days — Obama seems to prefer.

This is the context for the fierce attacks on Joe Sestak, incidentally, for accepting Hagel’s endorsement: It’s a warning signal that whatever the other merits, confirmation would hardly be a cakewalk. He’s taken fire from Democrats as well as Republican for his Middle East politics, and with both that process and Iran on the front burner, his appointment would likely concentrate debate on those issues.

Indeed, it is unclear, with a nuclear-armed Iran looming and a more Republican Senate in the offing, whether Hagel would be confirmable. His national security record would be hard to defend, even by Democrats wishing to support the faltering president.

For example, in 2006, when Hezbollah’s attacks provoked Israeli retaliation and the war in Lebanon, Hagel screeched for the president to demand an immediate cease-fire, arguing it was essential in order to “enhance America’s image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East.” Our credibility, in his eyes, depends on the United States’s preventing Israel from defending itself.

Last year, Hagel signed a letter urging Obama to open direct negotiations with Hamas, a position so extreme that Obama hasn’t (yet) embraced it.

On Iran, Hagel was one of two senators in 2004 to vote against renewal of the Libya-Iran sanctions act. (“Messrs. Hagel and Lugar … want a weaker stance than most other senators against the terrorists in Iran and Syria and the West Bank and Gaza and against those who help the terrorists. They are more concerned than most other senators about upsetting our erstwhile allies in Europe — the French and Germans — who do business with the terrorists.”)

Hagel seems to be a member in good standing of the Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett school of Iran suck-uppery. In 2007 Hagel wanted to open direct, unconditional talks with Iran. (“It could create a historic new dynamic in US-Iran relations, in part forcing the Iranians to react to the possibility of better relations with the West.”) In 2007 he voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. In 2008 he voted against Iran sanctions.

His views on Syria are equally misguided:

On November 11, 2003, when the Senate, by a vote of 89 to 4, passed the Syria Accountability Act authorizing sanctions on Syria for its support of terrorism and its occupation of Lebanon. Mr. Hagel — along with Mr. Kerry — didn’t vote. Mr. Hagel met in Damascus in 1998 with the terror-sponsoring dictator, Hafez Al-Assad, and returned to tell a reporter about the meeting, “Peace comes through dealing with people. Peace doesn’t come at the end of a bayonet or the end of a gun.”

If Obama’s pick for ambassador to Syria couldn’t get through the Senate, how would Hagel?

Finally, Hagel is a nominee who would thrill the Walt-Mearsheimer Lobby:

In an interview quoted in Aaron David Miller’s book on the peace process called The Much Too Promised Land, Hagel said: “The political reality is that … the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”

Hagel then described a meeting he had in New York with a group of supporters of Israel, one of whom suggested Hagel wasn’t supportive enough of Israel. Hagel said he responded: “Let me clear something up here if there’s any doubt in your mind. I’m a United States Senator. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States Senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is, I take an oath of office to the constitution of the United States. Not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel.”

A Democratic, pro-Israel activist alarmed by the possibility of a Hagel appointment told me:

In 2006, after Hezbollah attacked Israel and instigated a war, Hagel took to the Senate floor and called on President Bush to demand an immediate Israeli cease-fire and accused Israel of “the systematic destruction of an American friend, Lebanon” and of “slaughter.” Given that Hezbollah has killed more Americans than any terrorist group except al-Qaeda — including 241 brave young Marines and some of our finest CIA officers — and Israel is one of our closest allies in the world, these kinds of statements not only call into question Hagel’s views but his fitness to serve as secretary of defense or in any other national security capacity.

Given his long, questionable record and the clear problems his nomination would cause — not to mention the volumes of criticism by other Democrats for his rank hostility to Israel — it is hard to believe that the White House would want to make such a risky choice at precisely the time we are asking the Israelis to “trust us” on Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict. I wonder if his career-long effort to derail sanctions to stop Iran’s nuclear program will comfort the Israelis or our Arab and European allies at this critical juncture. Then again, given President’s Obama’s record in this area, this is a matter of serious, ongoing concern.

A Hagel nomination would be a political nightmare for Senate Democrats — another “walk the plank” request from the White House that would paint them as weak on defense and on the Iranian nuclear threat. Maybe this is a trial balloon. If it’s more than that, it will go over like a lead one.

UPDATE: A reader emails that “Hagel didn’t just vote no on sanctions in 2008; he killed the bill.” The reader is correct: “In early October, he prevented action on a bill, which had passed in the House, proposing economic sanctions against Iran. Hagel has long criticized unilateral sanctions as ineffective and counterproductive.”

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Pack It Up, Inspector Javert

Not only witty conservative bloggers are calling for Patrick Fitzgerald to hang it up. In the wake of Blago’s largely hung jury, it has dawned on many more that the prosecutor is more persecutor and a menace to the justice system. The Wall Street Journal reminds us of Fitzgerald’s presser two years ago:

Then, the U.S. Attorney spoke of “what we can only describe as a political corruption crime spree” and accused Blagojevich of “the most appalling conduct” that would have “Lincoln roll over in his grave.” It was “a truly new low,” Mr. Fitzgerald told the world. … As the former Justice Department lawyer Victoria Toensing noted in these pages at the time, Mr. Fitzgerald violated prosecutorial ethics by speaking “beyond the four corners of the complaint,” to use the criminal law vernacular for the facts at issue, thus possibly tainting the jury pool.

As the WSJ editors point out, this is not an isolated occurrence. There is a pattern at work here — smear and intimidate, throw whatever charges you can at the vilified defendant, and see what the jury will buy:

At a 2005 press conference, Mr. Fitzgerald implied that Mr. Libby had obstructed his investigation into who leaked the former CIA analyst’s name, even though he knew from the start that the real “leaker” was Richard Armitage.

Then there was the railroading of Conrad Black, the conservative newspaper baron who was convicted in 2007 using the infinitely malleable “honest services” fraud law. The Supreme Court junked much of that law earlier this year, leading to Mr. Black’s release from prison. The jury had earlier dismissed nine of the 13 charges Mr. Fitzgerald filed.

Fitzgerald is lacking in the very qualities we must demand of prosecutors: discretion and restraint. The Washington Post editors recognize this in their well-taken objection to Blago’s retrial:

Mr. Fitzgerald is entitled under the law to drag the ex-governor back into court. He has the resources to do so and the motivation: The Blagojevich brand of politics is repugnant, beyond any doubt. It perverts democracy and puts moneyed interests over the common good. But the prosecutor took his shot and lost. He should stand down before crossing another fine line — the one that separates prosecution from persecution.

Because Fitzgerald can’t or won’t recognize the difference between the two, it’s time for him to pack it in, albeit much too late for Scooter Libby and Conrad Black. One final thought: had the extent of Fitzgerald’s abuse of power been clear at the time, would President Bush have withheld a full pardon from Libby? We don’t know, but all this is further evidence of the need to rethink the notion of “special prosecutors,” who by definition are freed from the restraints that prevent ordinary prosecutors from running amok and abusing their power.

Not only witty conservative bloggers are calling for Patrick Fitzgerald to hang it up. In the wake of Blago’s largely hung jury, it has dawned on many more that the prosecutor is more persecutor and a menace to the justice system. The Wall Street Journal reminds us of Fitzgerald’s presser two years ago:

Then, the U.S. Attorney spoke of “what we can only describe as a political corruption crime spree” and accused Blagojevich of “the most appalling conduct” that would have “Lincoln roll over in his grave.” It was “a truly new low,” Mr. Fitzgerald told the world. … As the former Justice Department lawyer Victoria Toensing noted in these pages at the time, Mr. Fitzgerald violated prosecutorial ethics by speaking “beyond the four corners of the complaint,” to use the criminal law vernacular for the facts at issue, thus possibly tainting the jury pool.

As the WSJ editors point out, this is not an isolated occurrence. There is a pattern at work here — smear and intimidate, throw whatever charges you can at the vilified defendant, and see what the jury will buy:

At a 2005 press conference, Mr. Fitzgerald implied that Mr. Libby had obstructed his investigation into who leaked the former CIA analyst’s name, even though he knew from the start that the real “leaker” was Richard Armitage.

Then there was the railroading of Conrad Black, the conservative newspaper baron who was convicted in 2007 using the infinitely malleable “honest services” fraud law. The Supreme Court junked much of that law earlier this year, leading to Mr. Black’s release from prison. The jury had earlier dismissed nine of the 13 charges Mr. Fitzgerald filed.

Fitzgerald is lacking in the very qualities we must demand of prosecutors: discretion and restraint. The Washington Post editors recognize this in their well-taken objection to Blago’s retrial:

Mr. Fitzgerald is entitled under the law to drag the ex-governor back into court. He has the resources to do so and the motivation: The Blagojevich brand of politics is repugnant, beyond any doubt. It perverts democracy and puts moneyed interests over the common good. But the prosecutor took his shot and lost. He should stand down before crossing another fine line — the one that separates prosecution from persecution.

Because Fitzgerald can’t or won’t recognize the difference between the two, it’s time for him to pack it in, albeit much too late for Scooter Libby and Conrad Black. One final thought: had the extent of Fitzgerald’s abuse of power been clear at the time, would President Bush have withheld a full pardon from Libby? We don’t know, but all this is further evidence of the need to rethink the notion of “special prosecutors,” who by definition are freed from the restraints that prevent ordinary prosecutors from running amok and abusing their power.

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Defending Our Afghanistan Policy

From the left and the right, this morning’s newspapers bring fundamental challenges to our Afghanistan policy.

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof argues that the U.S. war effort is simply too costly. He suggests withdrawing troops and instead building schools. “That,” he argues, “would help build an Afghan economy, civil society and future — all for one-quarter of 1 percent of our military spending in Afghanistan this year.”

Over in the Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, Jack Devine, a former CIA officer who was involved in efforts to help the mujahideen in the 1980s, also argues for withdrawing U.S. soldiers. His preferred alternative is relying on his former employer, the CIA, to mobilize Afghan proxies on our behalf. He admits that after a troop withdrawal, which he envisions happening in 2012, “Afghanistan will likely enter a period of heightened instability,” including the possible collapse of the government, so he advises “we should figure out now which tribal leaders — and, under specially negotiated arrangements, which Taliban factions — we could establish productive relationships with.”

I’ve written a longer article based on my recent visit to Afghanistan for an upcoming issue of Commentary that explains why the policy we’re currently following offers our best chance of success and why there is no realistic Plan B on the horizon. But let me just point out a few of the more obvious problems with Kristof’s and Devine’s prescriptions.

Take Kristof first: he places an awful lot of faith in the power of education despite the fact that some types of education — like that provided in many madrassas — actually fuels extremism. Presumably, he has in mind secular schools that educate boys and girls. He might ask himself how long such schools would last under a Taliban regime — which would be the inevitable result of an American pullout.

Kristof takes comfort from the fact that some foreign-funded schools are able to operate today in dangerous parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan with the connivance of local tribes, but the Taliban today don’t exercise absolute control over most parts of Afghanistan. Even in areas of strength, they often must make compromises with local factions and avoid antagonizing the people because they know that if they do, the government of Afghanistan and its foreign allies may take advantage of a popular backlash to push them out. If the U.S. actually left and the Taliban were able to consolidate their rule, it is safe to say they would exercise no such restraint. They certainly didn’t in the 1990s when few schools were operating, and practically none admitted girls.

More broadly, a Taliban takeover would be a nightmare for the people of Afghanistan. How would women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, freedom of speech, and other cherished liberal values fare under those conditions? Perhaps Kristof should ponder those questions a bit before suggesting the withdrawal of the most humane and liberal force in Afghanistan — the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.

Devine’s argument appears, on the surface, to be more hardheaded, but actually, it is almost as unrealistic — and not incompatible with Kristof’s fantasy, as I bet Kristof imagines that his “schools for all” option could be supplemented by Special Operations and CIA actions to keep the Taliban in check. Such operations worked well in the past, as Devine notes, when the CIA was helping the mujahideen resist Soviet rule and then again in 2001, when it was helping the Northern Alliance overthrow the Taliban. But there is a fundamental disparity between those situations and the one we face today. It’s much easier for a covert force to overthrow a government, especially an unpopular government like the Soviet-backed regime or the Taliban. Altogether more difficult is imposing the rule of law, extending the authority of a new government, and stamping out a tenacious insurgency. Those are the challenges that we face today in Afghanistan, and they can’t be accomplished by a handful of special operators. They require large troop numbers, and because the Afghan National Army still lacks adequate capacity to police the country, its efforts must be supplemented for the short-term by the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Devine’s prescription – making common cause with local strongmen — would make the problem worse, not better. Much of the reason the Taliban were able to stage a resurgence beginning around 2005 was that after 2001, we had not sent large troop numbers into Afghanistan. Instead, we relied on unsavory local allies who, with our help, built up vast networks of patronage and corruption that alienated the people and made some of them turn to the Taliban for succor. (For a profile of one of these unsavory characters, turn to the Washington Post today).  As Richard Holbrooke notes, “Rampant corruption in Afghanistan provides the Taliban with their No. 1 recruiting tool.” Devine’s strategy of bolstering local strongmen would make the corruption problem even worse and would thereby make the Taliban even stronger.

POSTSCRIPT: An American working in Afghanistan points out another problem with Kristof’s argument that I should have noted: “How will Kristof’s schools get built if there’s no U.S. presence to make sure they’re done? How many billions have we already had stolen by the locals and local governments, right under our noses?” Good point. The deeper one delves, the more absurdities emerge with Kristof’s “schools rather than troops” daydream.

From the left and the right, this morning’s newspapers bring fundamental challenges to our Afghanistan policy.

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof argues that the U.S. war effort is simply too costly. He suggests withdrawing troops and instead building schools. “That,” he argues, “would help build an Afghan economy, civil society and future — all for one-quarter of 1 percent of our military spending in Afghanistan this year.”

Over in the Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, Jack Devine, a former CIA officer who was involved in efforts to help the mujahideen in the 1980s, also argues for withdrawing U.S. soldiers. His preferred alternative is relying on his former employer, the CIA, to mobilize Afghan proxies on our behalf. He admits that after a troop withdrawal, which he envisions happening in 2012, “Afghanistan will likely enter a period of heightened instability,” including the possible collapse of the government, so he advises “we should figure out now which tribal leaders — and, under specially negotiated arrangements, which Taliban factions — we could establish productive relationships with.”

I’ve written a longer article based on my recent visit to Afghanistan for an upcoming issue of Commentary that explains why the policy we’re currently following offers our best chance of success and why there is no realistic Plan B on the horizon. But let me just point out a few of the more obvious problems with Kristof’s and Devine’s prescriptions.

Take Kristof first: he places an awful lot of faith in the power of education despite the fact that some types of education — like that provided in many madrassas — actually fuels extremism. Presumably, he has in mind secular schools that educate boys and girls. He might ask himself how long such schools would last under a Taliban regime — which would be the inevitable result of an American pullout.

Kristof takes comfort from the fact that some foreign-funded schools are able to operate today in dangerous parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan with the connivance of local tribes, but the Taliban today don’t exercise absolute control over most parts of Afghanistan. Even in areas of strength, they often must make compromises with local factions and avoid antagonizing the people because they know that if they do, the government of Afghanistan and its foreign allies may take advantage of a popular backlash to push them out. If the U.S. actually left and the Taliban were able to consolidate their rule, it is safe to say they would exercise no such restraint. They certainly didn’t in the 1990s when few schools were operating, and practically none admitted girls.

More broadly, a Taliban takeover would be a nightmare for the people of Afghanistan. How would women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, freedom of speech, and other cherished liberal values fare under those conditions? Perhaps Kristof should ponder those questions a bit before suggesting the withdrawal of the most humane and liberal force in Afghanistan — the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.

Devine’s argument appears, on the surface, to be more hardheaded, but actually, it is almost as unrealistic — and not incompatible with Kristof’s fantasy, as I bet Kristof imagines that his “schools for all” option could be supplemented by Special Operations and CIA actions to keep the Taliban in check. Such operations worked well in the past, as Devine notes, when the CIA was helping the mujahideen resist Soviet rule and then again in 2001, when it was helping the Northern Alliance overthrow the Taliban. But there is a fundamental disparity between those situations and the one we face today. It’s much easier for a covert force to overthrow a government, especially an unpopular government like the Soviet-backed regime or the Taliban. Altogether more difficult is imposing the rule of law, extending the authority of a new government, and stamping out a tenacious insurgency. Those are the challenges that we face today in Afghanistan, and they can’t be accomplished by a handful of special operators. They require large troop numbers, and because the Afghan National Army still lacks adequate capacity to police the country, its efforts must be supplemented for the short-term by the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Devine’s prescription – making common cause with local strongmen — would make the problem worse, not better. Much of the reason the Taliban were able to stage a resurgence beginning around 2005 was that after 2001, we had not sent large troop numbers into Afghanistan. Instead, we relied on unsavory local allies who, with our help, built up vast networks of patronage and corruption that alienated the people and made some of them turn to the Taliban for succor. (For a profile of one of these unsavory characters, turn to the Washington Post today).  As Richard Holbrooke notes, “Rampant corruption in Afghanistan provides the Taliban with their No. 1 recruiting tool.” Devine’s strategy of bolstering local strongmen would make the corruption problem even worse and would thereby make the Taliban even stronger.

POSTSCRIPT: An American working in Afghanistan points out another problem with Kristof’s argument that I should have noted: “How will Kristof’s schools get built if there’s no U.S. presence to make sure they’re done? How many billions have we already had stolen by the locals and local governments, right under our noses?” Good point. The deeper one delves, the more absurdities emerge with Kristof’s “schools rather than troops” daydream.

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Wikileaks, Insignificant

The Pentagon Papers they’re not. The New York Times and the Guardian, among others, are touting the massive leak of 92,000 classified documents relating to the Afghanistan War, which was unearthed by the Wikileaks website. What bombshells do these secret memos contain? Pretty much none, if you are an even marginally attentive follower of the news.

In fact, the only new thing I learned from the documents was that the Taliban have attacked coalition aircraft with heat-seeking missiles. That is interesting to learn but not necessarily terribly alarming because, even with such missiles, the insurgents have not managed to take down many aircraft — certainly nothing like the toll that Stingers took on the Red Army in the 1980s.

As for the other “revelations,” here is the best the Times could do after weeks of examining the documents:

The documents … suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan. …

  • The military employs more and more drone aircraft to survey the battlefield and strike targets in Afghanistan, although their performance is less impressive than officially portrayed. Some crash or collide, forcing American troops to undertake risky retrieval missions before the Taliban can claim the drone’s weaponry.
  • The Central Intelligence Agency has expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan. The units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids. From 2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary.
  • Secret commando units like Task Force 373 — a classified group of Army and Navy special operatives — work from a “capture/kill list” of about 70 top insurgent commanders. These missions, which have been stepped up under the Obama administration, claim notable successes, but have sometimes gone wrong, killing civilians and stoking Afghan resentment.

Is it really news to anyone that Pakistan supports the Taliban? Or that Special Operations Forces and the CIA are conducting raids against the Taliban? If so, these must be the worst-kept secrets in the world. Senior U.S. officials have quite openly spoken about Pakistan’s role and about the Special Operations raids. As usual, comments on the CIA’s role have been more circumspect, but the agency’s involvement has been written about in numerous books and articles and not denied by senior officials.

Perhaps the biggest faux news here is that unmanned aerial vehicles sometimes “crash or collide.” This would come as a revelation, presumably, only to those who believe that military operations in wartime should achieve a standard of perfection unknown in any other human activity.

The Guardian, as befitting the more freewheeling (and less factual) culture of British journalism, tries harder to hype the findings, which, it claims, provide a “devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan.” Actually, the documents show no such thing. At most, they provide a ground-level view of difficulties the coalition experienced in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2009.

Nobody denies that the war was being lost in that period; in fact, that was the rationale for the surge in forces orchestrated by the Bush and Obama administrations since 2008 — to turn around a failing war effort. The documents do not at all reflect on how the war is going now because they don’t cover this year. Even if they did, their usefulness would be highly limited: like most such reports, they provide a soda-straw view of events narrowly circumscribed by time and location. The fact that blunders and casualties occur in wartime should hardly be news; whether those blunders and casualties amount to a failing war effort or whether they are part of the fog and friction normal even in victory is more than the documents can tell us.

The Wikileakers should certainly be castigated for their cavalier treatment of classified documents, which may make our troops’ jobs harder and more dangerous. Their enablers in the mainstream media should also come in for censure. Whoever provided the information to them should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But at the same time, we should recognize this disclosure for what it is: an unsuccessful attempt to damage the war effort. I doubt that anyone will remember this episode a year from now; what will count, as always, will be the outcome on the battlefield. Win, and a thousand missteps are forgiven; lose, and even the biggest tactical victories fade into insignificance.

The Pentagon Papers they’re not. The New York Times and the Guardian, among others, are touting the massive leak of 92,000 classified documents relating to the Afghanistan War, which was unearthed by the Wikileaks website. What bombshells do these secret memos contain? Pretty much none, if you are an even marginally attentive follower of the news.

In fact, the only new thing I learned from the documents was that the Taliban have attacked coalition aircraft with heat-seeking missiles. That is interesting to learn but not necessarily terribly alarming because, even with such missiles, the insurgents have not managed to take down many aircraft — certainly nothing like the toll that Stingers took on the Red Army in the 1980s.

As for the other “revelations,” here is the best the Times could do after weeks of examining the documents:

The documents … suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan. …

  • The military employs more and more drone aircraft to survey the battlefield and strike targets in Afghanistan, although their performance is less impressive than officially portrayed. Some crash or collide, forcing American troops to undertake risky retrieval missions before the Taliban can claim the drone’s weaponry.
  • The Central Intelligence Agency has expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan. The units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids. From 2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary.
  • Secret commando units like Task Force 373 — a classified group of Army and Navy special operatives — work from a “capture/kill list” of about 70 top insurgent commanders. These missions, which have been stepped up under the Obama administration, claim notable successes, but have sometimes gone wrong, killing civilians and stoking Afghan resentment.

Is it really news to anyone that Pakistan supports the Taliban? Or that Special Operations Forces and the CIA are conducting raids against the Taliban? If so, these must be the worst-kept secrets in the world. Senior U.S. officials have quite openly spoken about Pakistan’s role and about the Special Operations raids. As usual, comments on the CIA’s role have been more circumspect, but the agency’s involvement has been written about in numerous books and articles and not denied by senior officials.

Perhaps the biggest faux news here is that unmanned aerial vehicles sometimes “crash or collide.” This would come as a revelation, presumably, only to those who believe that military operations in wartime should achieve a standard of perfection unknown in any other human activity.

The Guardian, as befitting the more freewheeling (and less factual) culture of British journalism, tries harder to hype the findings, which, it claims, provide a “devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan.” Actually, the documents show no such thing. At most, they provide a ground-level view of difficulties the coalition experienced in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2009.

Nobody denies that the war was being lost in that period; in fact, that was the rationale for the surge in forces orchestrated by the Bush and Obama administrations since 2008 — to turn around a failing war effort. The documents do not at all reflect on how the war is going now because they don’t cover this year. Even if they did, their usefulness would be highly limited: like most such reports, they provide a soda-straw view of events narrowly circumscribed by time and location. The fact that blunders and casualties occur in wartime should hardly be news; whether those blunders and casualties amount to a failing war effort or whether they are part of the fog and friction normal even in victory is more than the documents can tell us.

The Wikileakers should certainly be castigated for their cavalier treatment of classified documents, which may make our troops’ jobs harder and more dangerous. Their enablers in the mainstream media should also come in for censure. Whoever provided the information to them should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But at the same time, we should recognize this disclosure for what it is: an unsuccessful attempt to damage the war effort. I doubt that anyone will remember this episode a year from now; what will count, as always, will be the outcome on the battlefield. Win, and a thousand missteps are forgiven; lose, and even the biggest tactical victories fade into insignificance.

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Really, Is There Any Alternative?

Candy Crowley on State of the Union had this exchange with former CIA director Michael Hayden:

COWLEY: … I mean, Iran doesn’t seem to be paying much attention to the sanctions. As far as we know, they are still trying to get nuclear capability. If it should, is there any alternative to taking out their facilities?

HAYDEN: It seems inexorable, doesn’t it?

We engage. They continue to move forward. We vote for sanctions. They continue to move forward. We try to deter, to dissuade. They continue to move forward.

My personal view is that Iran, left to its own devices, will get itself to that step right below a nuclear weapon, that permanent breakout stage, so the needle isn’t quite in the red for the international community. And, frankly, that will be as destabilizing as their actually having a weapon.

When I was in government, what we would used to mystically call “the kinetic option” was way down on our list. In my personal thinking — in my personal thinking; I need to emphasize that — I have begun to consider that that may not be the worst of all possible outcomes.

To put it differently, the most destabilizing event would be a nuclear-armed Iran, not a military strike on Iran. Hayden was not predicting what Obama would do, merely what should be done if all other options fail. It remains far from clear that the Obama team — which has been insistent on playing out engagement and then sanctions long after their utility was widely called into doubt — will act to prevent the worst of all possible outcomes.

What remains inexplicable is that the administration has openly and repeatedly pooh-poohed the idea of military action. You would think a team so desperate to avoid military conflict would recognize that a credible threat of force would be useful. But the administration can’t even bring itself to bluff. How likely is it, then, that it will deploy military force?

It is an election year, so voters have maximum leverage to extract answers and commitments from candidates. It would seem there is no more important question to ask than this: if force is needed, would you urge military action to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran? For those incumbents who answer yes, the next question should be: so what are you doing to persuade the administration to do just that?

Come to think of it, that is the most telling pair of questions to pose for those lawmakers, pundits, and groups advertising themselves as pro-Israel. If the answer to the first is “no,” the respondent can’t, in any meaningful sense, be considered pro-Israel. If the answer to the second is “nothing,” then we know the respondent is too timid, too ineffective, or too shortsighted to be of any help to Israel in the Jewish state’s hour of need.

Candy Crowley on State of the Union had this exchange with former CIA director Michael Hayden:

COWLEY: … I mean, Iran doesn’t seem to be paying much attention to the sanctions. As far as we know, they are still trying to get nuclear capability. If it should, is there any alternative to taking out their facilities?

HAYDEN: It seems inexorable, doesn’t it?

We engage. They continue to move forward. We vote for sanctions. They continue to move forward. We try to deter, to dissuade. They continue to move forward.

My personal view is that Iran, left to its own devices, will get itself to that step right below a nuclear weapon, that permanent breakout stage, so the needle isn’t quite in the red for the international community. And, frankly, that will be as destabilizing as their actually having a weapon.

When I was in government, what we would used to mystically call “the kinetic option” was way down on our list. In my personal thinking — in my personal thinking; I need to emphasize that — I have begun to consider that that may not be the worst of all possible outcomes.

To put it differently, the most destabilizing event would be a nuclear-armed Iran, not a military strike on Iran. Hayden was not predicting what Obama would do, merely what should be done if all other options fail. It remains far from clear that the Obama team — which has been insistent on playing out engagement and then sanctions long after their utility was widely called into doubt — will act to prevent the worst of all possible outcomes.

What remains inexplicable is that the administration has openly and repeatedly pooh-poohed the idea of military action. You would think a team so desperate to avoid military conflict would recognize that a credible threat of force would be useful. But the administration can’t even bring itself to bluff. How likely is it, then, that it will deploy military force?

It is an election year, so voters have maximum leverage to extract answers and commitments from candidates. It would seem there is no more important question to ask than this: if force is needed, would you urge military action to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran? For those incumbents who answer yes, the next question should be: so what are you doing to persuade the administration to do just that?

Come to think of it, that is the most telling pair of questions to pose for those lawmakers, pundits, and groups advertising themselves as pro-Israel. If the answer to the first is “no,” the respondent can’t, in any meaningful sense, be considered pro-Israel. If the answer to the second is “nothing,” then we know the respondent is too timid, too ineffective, or too shortsighted to be of any help to Israel in the Jewish state’s hour of need.

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Bibi Is More Than Holding His Own

The challenge for the Israeli prime minister in managing the U.S.-Israeli relationship is immense. A complete rupture with the U.S. is fraught with peril, but quiet acquiescence to Obama’s assault on the Jewish state is untenable as well. It is indicative of how well Bibi has done in navigating through the Obama presidency that, in many respects, Obama is now in retreat. He has essentially repudiated his own NPT statement. He’s now publicly pressing for direct peace process talks, to the chagrin of the Palestinians, who were looking for a gift-wrapped state from Obama with no need for them to ever get in a room with the Israeli prime minister.

On Fox News Sunday, Bibi gave a strong performance and displayed how the balance has shifted in the “peace process”:

NETANYAHU: I don’t think we can make peace with an organization that seeks our destruction. That’s Hamas. But I think we can make peace with the Palestinian Authority. It requires a lot of courage from our side, from me. And it also requires courage from President Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.

It’s going to be a very tough negotiation, but one that I think our peoples are ripe for. Is Hamas going to be a part of it? No. As long as it wants to destroy Israel, it’s not going to be a part of it.

Now, at this point, I could tell you we’ll never negotiate with the Palestinian Authority as long as Hamas is in Gaza. That’s not my position. I think we should get on with it and seek to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We’ll have to deal with Hamas later.

WALLACE: But your foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, says he sees, quote, “no chance” — no chance — of a Palestinian state by 2012.

NETANYAHU: Well, you know, there are different views. There are people who have different ideas. We’re a democracy. We’re a parliamentary democracy. So people are entitled to have different views. They express them.

But I think that there is no substitute for getting into direct talks right now and seeking to break this logger jam, to actually go ahead and try to negotiate a final peace settlement.

WALLACE: Do you believe there can be a Palestinian state by 2012?

NETANYAHU: I think there can be a solution. It may be implemented over time, because time is an important factor of getting the solution, both in terms of security arrangements and other things that would be difficult if they’re not allowed to take place over time.

So I think the — can we have a negotiated peace? Yes. Can it be implemented by 2012? I think it’s going to take longer than that.

WALLACE: You say it will take courage on your part. Are you willing to put East Jerusalem as a possible capital of the Palestinian state on the table?

NETANYAHU: Well, we have differences of views with the Palestinians. We want a united city. They have their own views. We can — this is one of the issues that will have to be negotiated. But I think the main point is to get on with it.

In short, Bibi is doing everything possible to call the Palestinians’ — and Obama’s — bluff. You want a peace process? Let’s talk!

And on the settlement freeze, Bibi is also holding his ground — at least for now:

WALLACE: Have you and the president resolved the issue of whether you are willing to extend the moratorium on construction of settlements as part of the Palestinians engaging in direct talks?

NETANYAHU: The settlements are an issue that have to be engaged in the final status peace negotiations. That’s always been agreed on, along with other issues.

I made the exceptional, really extraordinary, move of making a freeze on new construction for 10 months — I did that seven months ago — in order to help the Palestinians get in the talks. They haven’t gotten into the talks right now.

Now we’re asked to make an extension of this. Look, I think this is — this is the wrong approach. I think we should eliminate all these preconditions and all these excuses and all those demands for entering into direct talks. We should just get into them.

Again, the message is  — if you want your own state, get in the room. For now it appears that Bibi is in no mood for more concessions. The Palestinians are frantic to find excuses and to avoid pulling back the curtain on the underlying truth that has animated the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for 60 years: the Palestinians lack the will and ability to make peace.

Finally, Bibi was also rather bold on Iran. Here, too, he skillfully threw the Obami’s own words back at them — and made clear that there is not much more time for Israel to wait patiently as the mullahs inch ever closer to membership in the nuclear club:

WALLACE: During your meeting with President Obama, you praised the recent round of sanctions, not just the U.N., but also the additional sanctions that President Obama signed, that the U.S. Congress passed, on Iran.

But recently, the CIA director, Leon Panetta, said this, “Will it deter them” — speaking of the Iranians — “from their ambitions with regards to a nuclear capability? Probably not.” Is Panetta right?

NETANYAHU: Probably. He’s probably right. I can tell you one thing, Iran is closer to developing nuclear weapons today than it was a week ago, or a month ago or a year ago. It’s just moving on with its efforts. And I think there is a great danger to the world, not only to my country but to the United States, to the Middle East, to peace, to all of humanity, from the prospect that such a regime that brutalizes its own people, that sponsors terrorism more than any other regime in the world — that this regime acquires atomic bombs is very, very dangerous.

WALLACE: U.S. officials estimate that Iran perhaps within two years will have a nuclear warhead it can put on a ballistic missile that can strike Israel, Europe, much of the world. Do you have a deadline in your own mind for how long you’re willing to let diplomacy play out?

NETANYAHU: There’s only been one time that Iran actually stopped the program, and that was when it feared U.S. military action. So the — when the president says that he’s determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and that all options are on the table, I think that’s the right statement of policy.

You ask what is our policy. Our policy is very simple. The Jewish state was set up to defend Jewish lives, and we always reserve the right to defend ourselves.

WALLACE: Do you have a deadline in your mind for how long you’re willing to let diplomacy play out?

NETANYAHU: Well, I think that we always reserve the right to defend ourselves.

WALLACE: Do you believe a nuclear Iran — a nuclear Iran — can be contained?

NETANYAHU: No. No, I don’t. I think that’s a mistake, and I think people fall into a misconception.

I don’t think you can rely on Iran. I don’t think you can rely on other radicals like the Taliban. They dispatched Al Qaida to bomb New York and Washington. What were they thinking? Were they that stupid? They weren’t stupid. There is an irrationality there, and there is madness in this method. … And we should not allow irrational regimes like Iran to have nuclear weapons. It’s the ultimate terrorist threat today.

WALLACE: But I want to follow your argument. You say that Panetta is probably right that sanctions won’t work. You say flatly that containing a nuclear Iran is impossible. Have you and the president ever discussed the possibility of a military strike?

NETANYAHU: I’m not going to get into the confidential discussions, and I’m not confirming anything of the sort. But I am saying that the president’s position that all options are on the table might actually have the only real effect on Iran if they — if they think it’s true.

Yes, Mr. President, if you could be a wee bit more credible on the use of military force (by the way, how long ago was it that Obama made any reference to the potential use of force? Was it the campaign?) it would — maybe — give the Iranians pause. But if not, Bibi will do what he must do.

The challenge for the Israeli prime minister in managing the U.S.-Israeli relationship is immense. A complete rupture with the U.S. is fraught with peril, but quiet acquiescence to Obama’s assault on the Jewish state is untenable as well. It is indicative of how well Bibi has done in navigating through the Obama presidency that, in many respects, Obama is now in retreat. He has essentially repudiated his own NPT statement. He’s now publicly pressing for direct peace process talks, to the chagrin of the Palestinians, who were looking for a gift-wrapped state from Obama with no need for them to ever get in a room with the Israeli prime minister.

On Fox News Sunday, Bibi gave a strong performance and displayed how the balance has shifted in the “peace process”:

NETANYAHU: I don’t think we can make peace with an organization that seeks our destruction. That’s Hamas. But I think we can make peace with the Palestinian Authority. It requires a lot of courage from our side, from me. And it also requires courage from President Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.

It’s going to be a very tough negotiation, but one that I think our peoples are ripe for. Is Hamas going to be a part of it? No. As long as it wants to destroy Israel, it’s not going to be a part of it.

Now, at this point, I could tell you we’ll never negotiate with the Palestinian Authority as long as Hamas is in Gaza. That’s not my position. I think we should get on with it and seek to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We’ll have to deal with Hamas later.

WALLACE: But your foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, says he sees, quote, “no chance” — no chance — of a Palestinian state by 2012.

NETANYAHU: Well, you know, there are different views. There are people who have different ideas. We’re a democracy. We’re a parliamentary democracy. So people are entitled to have different views. They express them.

But I think that there is no substitute for getting into direct talks right now and seeking to break this logger jam, to actually go ahead and try to negotiate a final peace settlement.

WALLACE: Do you believe there can be a Palestinian state by 2012?

NETANYAHU: I think there can be a solution. It may be implemented over time, because time is an important factor of getting the solution, both in terms of security arrangements and other things that would be difficult if they’re not allowed to take place over time.

So I think the — can we have a negotiated peace? Yes. Can it be implemented by 2012? I think it’s going to take longer than that.

WALLACE: You say it will take courage on your part. Are you willing to put East Jerusalem as a possible capital of the Palestinian state on the table?

NETANYAHU: Well, we have differences of views with the Palestinians. We want a united city. They have their own views. We can — this is one of the issues that will have to be negotiated. But I think the main point is to get on with it.

In short, Bibi is doing everything possible to call the Palestinians’ — and Obama’s — bluff. You want a peace process? Let’s talk!

And on the settlement freeze, Bibi is also holding his ground — at least for now:

WALLACE: Have you and the president resolved the issue of whether you are willing to extend the moratorium on construction of settlements as part of the Palestinians engaging in direct talks?

NETANYAHU: The settlements are an issue that have to be engaged in the final status peace negotiations. That’s always been agreed on, along with other issues.

I made the exceptional, really extraordinary, move of making a freeze on new construction for 10 months — I did that seven months ago — in order to help the Palestinians get in the talks. They haven’t gotten into the talks right now.

Now we’re asked to make an extension of this. Look, I think this is — this is the wrong approach. I think we should eliminate all these preconditions and all these excuses and all those demands for entering into direct talks. We should just get into them.

Again, the message is  — if you want your own state, get in the room. For now it appears that Bibi is in no mood for more concessions. The Palestinians are frantic to find excuses and to avoid pulling back the curtain on the underlying truth that has animated the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for 60 years: the Palestinians lack the will and ability to make peace.

Finally, Bibi was also rather bold on Iran. Here, too, he skillfully threw the Obami’s own words back at them — and made clear that there is not much more time for Israel to wait patiently as the mullahs inch ever closer to membership in the nuclear club:

WALLACE: During your meeting with President Obama, you praised the recent round of sanctions, not just the U.N., but also the additional sanctions that President Obama signed, that the U.S. Congress passed, on Iran.

But recently, the CIA director, Leon Panetta, said this, “Will it deter them” — speaking of the Iranians — “from their ambitions with regards to a nuclear capability? Probably not.” Is Panetta right?

NETANYAHU: Probably. He’s probably right. I can tell you one thing, Iran is closer to developing nuclear weapons today than it was a week ago, or a month ago or a year ago. It’s just moving on with its efforts. And I think there is a great danger to the world, not only to my country but to the United States, to the Middle East, to peace, to all of humanity, from the prospect that such a regime that brutalizes its own people, that sponsors terrorism more than any other regime in the world — that this regime acquires atomic bombs is very, very dangerous.

WALLACE: U.S. officials estimate that Iran perhaps within two years will have a nuclear warhead it can put on a ballistic missile that can strike Israel, Europe, much of the world. Do you have a deadline in your own mind for how long you’re willing to let diplomacy play out?

NETANYAHU: There’s only been one time that Iran actually stopped the program, and that was when it feared U.S. military action. So the — when the president says that he’s determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and that all options are on the table, I think that’s the right statement of policy.

You ask what is our policy. Our policy is very simple. The Jewish state was set up to defend Jewish lives, and we always reserve the right to defend ourselves.

WALLACE: Do you have a deadline in your mind for how long you’re willing to let diplomacy play out?

NETANYAHU: Well, I think that we always reserve the right to defend ourselves.

WALLACE: Do you believe a nuclear Iran — a nuclear Iran — can be contained?

NETANYAHU: No. No, I don’t. I think that’s a mistake, and I think people fall into a misconception.

I don’t think you can rely on Iran. I don’t think you can rely on other radicals like the Taliban. They dispatched Al Qaida to bomb New York and Washington. What were they thinking? Were they that stupid? They weren’t stupid. There is an irrationality there, and there is madness in this method. … And we should not allow irrational regimes like Iran to have nuclear weapons. It’s the ultimate terrorist threat today.

WALLACE: But I want to follow your argument. You say that Panetta is probably right that sanctions won’t work. You say flatly that containing a nuclear Iran is impossible. Have you and the president ever discussed the possibility of a military strike?

NETANYAHU: I’m not going to get into the confidential discussions, and I’m not confirming anything of the sort. But I am saying that the president’s position that all options are on the table might actually have the only real effect on Iran if they — if they think it’s true.

Yes, Mr. President, if you could be a wee bit more credible on the use of military force (by the way, how long ago was it that Obama made any reference to the potential use of force? Was it the campaign?) it would — maybe — give the Iranians pause. But if not, Bibi will do what he must do.

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But Obama Won’t Say It

Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham met with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak:

The U.S. will address the Iranian threat “through diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions if we can, but through military action if we must,” said Lieberman. Although U.S. officials often say no option should be taken off the table in relation to Iran’s nuclear program, this is one of the few times an official of Lieberman’s standing has explicitly used the term “military action” while in Israel.

Well, yes, that’s because this isn’t the policy — at least from everything stated publicly — of the Obama administration. On the contrary, the administration has gone to great lengths to fog up the consequences of Iran’s failure to dismantle its nuclear program. As a result, no one — including the Iranians — is convinced that a military option is still on the table. The president — and only the president — can remedy that.

Rather than fixating on a peace process that is going nowhere, Jewish groups and pro-Israel members of Congress should focus on getting a public commitment from Obama to use force and to defend Israel unconditionally. Sanctions, as even the CIA director and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff concede, are unlikely to do the trick. So the question must be answered: what then?

Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham met with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak:

The U.S. will address the Iranian threat “through diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions if we can, but through military action if we must,” said Lieberman. Although U.S. officials often say no option should be taken off the table in relation to Iran’s nuclear program, this is one of the few times an official of Lieberman’s standing has explicitly used the term “military action” while in Israel.

Well, yes, that’s because this isn’t the policy — at least from everything stated publicly — of the Obama administration. On the contrary, the administration has gone to great lengths to fog up the consequences of Iran’s failure to dismantle its nuclear program. As a result, no one — including the Iranians — is convinced that a military option is still on the table. The president — and only the president — can remedy that.

Rather than fixating on a peace process that is going nowhere, Jewish groups and pro-Israel members of Congress should focus on getting a public commitment from Obama to use force and to defend Israel unconditionally. Sanctions, as even the CIA director and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff concede, are unlikely to do the trick. So the question must be answered: what then?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

No joke: Mother Jones has an excellent expose on the al-Qaeda lawyers’ antics in showing terrorists photos of CIA officials.

No news network except Fox has picked up on the New Black Panther Party scandal.

No meltdown (yet): “The U.S. Senate race in Kentucky is little changed from earlier this month, with Republican Rand Paul continuing to hold a modest lead over Democrat Jack Conway. The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voters shows Paul picking up 49% support to Conway’s 42%.”

No good news for the Democrats. Stuart Rothenberg: “The news on joblessness and the U.S. economy, combined with growing concerns over the federal deficit, Europe’s financial health (particularly growing debt), the lack of progress of the war in Afghanistan and the damage resulting from the BP oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, are burying the president and his party in an avalanche of public dissatisfaction.”

No answers (from Elena Kagan): “Republicans and Democrats alike expressed frustration that she wasn’t willing to answer more questions despite having once written a book review saying Supreme Court nominees needed to do just that.”

No “shift” or “rift” between Israel and the U.S., says Yoram Ettinger. It’s worse: “Obama is an ideologue, determined to change the US and the world, irrespective of his declining fortunes internally and externally.” The result is an “unbridgeable gap” between the two countries.

No better distillation of Obama’s flawed Middle East policy than this from Elliott Abrams: “The Obama Administration appears to have three basic premises about the Middle East. The first is that the key issue in the entire Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The second is that it is a territorial conflict that can be resolved in essence by Israeli concessions. The third is that the central function of the United States is to serve as the PLO’s lawyer to broker those concessions so that an agreement can be signed.”

No cloture vote. With senators’ newfound concern for fiscal responsibility (it’s an election year), Harry Reid can’t round up enough votes to pass unemployment benefits. “Reid intends to call a vote Thursday evening on the smaller benefits bill — now paired with a homebuyer’s credit provision that may help garner more support. But the majority leader conceded he might not be able to clear the bill before the July recess. A more comprehensive tax extenders and unemployment benefits bill failed to pass the procedural block on three consecutive tries.”

No timeline on immigration reform: “President Barack Obama will talk about the urgency of the need for immigration reform in a major speech on Thursday, but will not give a timeline for action.” (It would be nice if he felt the same about a troop pullout from Afghanistan.) Makes you almost think he’s not serious about doing something, only making a campaign issue out of it.

No joke: Mother Jones has an excellent expose on the al-Qaeda lawyers’ antics in showing terrorists photos of CIA officials.

No news network except Fox has picked up on the New Black Panther Party scandal.

No meltdown (yet): “The U.S. Senate race in Kentucky is little changed from earlier this month, with Republican Rand Paul continuing to hold a modest lead over Democrat Jack Conway. The latest Rasmussen Reports statewide telephone survey of Likely Voters shows Paul picking up 49% support to Conway’s 42%.”

No good news for the Democrats. Stuart Rothenberg: “The news on joblessness and the U.S. economy, combined with growing concerns over the federal deficit, Europe’s financial health (particularly growing debt), the lack of progress of the war in Afghanistan and the damage resulting from the BP oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, are burying the president and his party in an avalanche of public dissatisfaction.”

No answers (from Elena Kagan): “Republicans and Democrats alike expressed frustration that she wasn’t willing to answer more questions despite having once written a book review saying Supreme Court nominees needed to do just that.”

No “shift” or “rift” between Israel and the U.S., says Yoram Ettinger. It’s worse: “Obama is an ideologue, determined to change the US and the world, irrespective of his declining fortunes internally and externally.” The result is an “unbridgeable gap” between the two countries.

No better distillation of Obama’s flawed Middle East policy than this from Elliott Abrams: “The Obama Administration appears to have three basic premises about the Middle East. The first is that the key issue in the entire Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The second is that it is a territorial conflict that can be resolved in essence by Israeli concessions. The third is that the central function of the United States is to serve as the PLO’s lawyer to broker those concessions so that an agreement can be signed.”

No cloture vote. With senators’ newfound concern for fiscal responsibility (it’s an election year), Harry Reid can’t round up enough votes to pass unemployment benefits. “Reid intends to call a vote Thursday evening on the smaller benefits bill — now paired with a homebuyer’s credit provision that may help garner more support. But the majority leader conceded he might not be able to clear the bill before the July recess. A more comprehensive tax extenders and unemployment benefits bill failed to pass the procedural block on three consecutive tries.”

No timeline on immigration reform: “President Barack Obama will talk about the urgency of the need for immigration reform in a major speech on Thursday, but will not give a timeline for action.” (It would be nice if he felt the same about a troop pullout from Afghanistan.) Makes you almost think he’s not serious about doing something, only making a campaign issue out of it.

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Panetta Stalls for Time on Iran

CIA director Leon Panetta had this exchange with Jake Tapper on This Week:

TAPPER: Do you think these latest sanctions will dissuade the Iranians from trying to enrich uranium?

PANETTA: I think the sanctions will have some impact. You know, the fact that we had Russia and China agree to that, that there is at least strong international opinion that Iran is on the wrong track, that’s important. Those sanctions will have some impact. The sanctions that were passed by the Congress this last week will have some additional impact. It could help weaken the regime. It could create some serious economic problems. Will it deter them from their ambitions with regards to nuclear capability? Probably not.

TAPPER: The 2007 national intelligence estimate said all of Iran’s work on nuclear weapons ended in 2003. You don’t still believe that, do you?

PANETTA: I think they continue to develop their know-how. They continue to develop their nuclear capability.

TAPPER: Including weaponization?

PANETTA: I think they continue to work on designs in that area. There is a continuing debate right now as to whether or nor they ought to proceed with the bomb. But they clearly are developing their nuclear capability, and that raises concerns. It raises concerns about, you know, just exactly what are their intentions, and where they intend to go. I mean, we think they have enough low-enriched uranium right now for two weapons. They do have to enrich it, fully, in order to get there. And we would estimate that if they made that decision, it would probably take a year to get there, probably another year to develop the kind of weapon delivery system in order to make that viable.

But having said that, you know, the president and the international community has said to Iran, you’ve got to wake up, you’ve got to join the family of nations, you’ve got to abide by international law. That’s in the best interests of Iran. It’s in the best interests of the Iranian people.

After Panetta declined to say whether the Iranians’ “technical troubles in their nuclear program” was the result of our sabotage (we certainly hope this is the case), there was this final discussion:

TAPPER: How likely do you think it is that Israel strikes Iran’s nuclear facilities within the next two years?

PANETTA: I think, you know, Israel obviously is very concerned, as is the entire world, about what’s happening in Iran. And they in particular because they’re in that region in the world, have a particular concern about their security. At the same time, I think, you know, on an intelligence basis, we continue to share intelligence as to what exactly is Iran’s capacity. I think they feel more strongly that Iran has already made the decision to proceed with the bomb. But at the same time, I think they know that sanctions will have an impact, they know that if we continue to push Iran from a diplomatic point of view, that we can have some impact, and I think they’re willing to give us the room to be able to try to change Iran diplomatically and culturally and politically as opposed to changing them militarily.

The interview is, to put it mildly, distressing. Americans should understand that it is not a question of whether the Iranians have enough material for a bomb — but how to get what they already have out of their hands. (So what were we doing last year offering to let them ship an unverifiable amount of their enriched uranium out of the country?) As Panetta explained, before Obama leaves office, Iran will probably have figured out how to boost the level of uranium enrichment and how to weaponize the material.

Moreover, the administration, at the risk of appearing ludicrously naive, is not willing to say what everyone now knows to be true: the 2007 NIE was rubbish. (The 2007 NIE was supposed to be modified or dispensed with last December, but the intelligence agencies continue to drag out the process.) As long as the NIE remains on the books, the administration is wedded to ambiguity on the topic, and therefore must in essence characterize the Israelis’ assessment as more alarmist than our own.

And finally, Panetta lets on that the Israelis are willing to give us some time to allow sanctions to work, but neither he nor the Israelis, we presume, seem all that confident they will work. “Some impact” doesn’t really provide comfort that the mullahs will give up on their nuclear ambitions.

All this is designed, no doubt, to forestall demands for decisive (i.e., military) action on our part and to keep Israel in a holding pattern. If we conceded that the Iranians — of course — are seeking nuclear weapons, have the material they need (once they are able to enrich the material further and weaponize it) to threaten its neighbors with annihilation, and that sanctions are too little, too late, why then Obama might be expected to do something about the greatest threat to our and our allies’ security in a generation. And that is a responsibility our president is unwilling to bear at present.

The administration, the Congress, and American Jewish groups continue the dance — pretending but not believing (unless Jewish leaders are entirely out to lunch) that Obama has a plan and the will to prevent the “unacceptable” (a nuclear-armed Iran). The Israelis meanwhile are left to consider: just how long do they dare wait before acting on their own to eliminate (or at least set back) the threat of nuclear attack on the Jewish state?

CIA director Leon Panetta had this exchange with Jake Tapper on This Week:

TAPPER: Do you think these latest sanctions will dissuade the Iranians from trying to enrich uranium?

PANETTA: I think the sanctions will have some impact. You know, the fact that we had Russia and China agree to that, that there is at least strong international opinion that Iran is on the wrong track, that’s important. Those sanctions will have some impact. The sanctions that were passed by the Congress this last week will have some additional impact. It could help weaken the regime. It could create some serious economic problems. Will it deter them from their ambitions with regards to nuclear capability? Probably not.

TAPPER: The 2007 national intelligence estimate said all of Iran’s work on nuclear weapons ended in 2003. You don’t still believe that, do you?

PANETTA: I think they continue to develop their know-how. They continue to develop their nuclear capability.

TAPPER: Including weaponization?

PANETTA: I think they continue to work on designs in that area. There is a continuing debate right now as to whether or nor they ought to proceed with the bomb. But they clearly are developing their nuclear capability, and that raises concerns. It raises concerns about, you know, just exactly what are their intentions, and where they intend to go. I mean, we think they have enough low-enriched uranium right now for two weapons. They do have to enrich it, fully, in order to get there. And we would estimate that if they made that decision, it would probably take a year to get there, probably another year to develop the kind of weapon delivery system in order to make that viable.

But having said that, you know, the president and the international community has said to Iran, you’ve got to wake up, you’ve got to join the family of nations, you’ve got to abide by international law. That’s in the best interests of Iran. It’s in the best interests of the Iranian people.

After Panetta declined to say whether the Iranians’ “technical troubles in their nuclear program” was the result of our sabotage (we certainly hope this is the case), there was this final discussion:

TAPPER: How likely do you think it is that Israel strikes Iran’s nuclear facilities within the next two years?

PANETTA: I think, you know, Israel obviously is very concerned, as is the entire world, about what’s happening in Iran. And they in particular because they’re in that region in the world, have a particular concern about their security. At the same time, I think, you know, on an intelligence basis, we continue to share intelligence as to what exactly is Iran’s capacity. I think they feel more strongly that Iran has already made the decision to proceed with the bomb. But at the same time, I think they know that sanctions will have an impact, they know that if we continue to push Iran from a diplomatic point of view, that we can have some impact, and I think they’re willing to give us the room to be able to try to change Iran diplomatically and culturally and politically as opposed to changing them militarily.

The interview is, to put it mildly, distressing. Americans should understand that it is not a question of whether the Iranians have enough material for a bomb — but how to get what they already have out of their hands. (So what were we doing last year offering to let them ship an unverifiable amount of their enriched uranium out of the country?) As Panetta explained, before Obama leaves office, Iran will probably have figured out how to boost the level of uranium enrichment and how to weaponize the material.

Moreover, the administration, at the risk of appearing ludicrously naive, is not willing to say what everyone now knows to be true: the 2007 NIE was rubbish. (The 2007 NIE was supposed to be modified or dispensed with last December, but the intelligence agencies continue to drag out the process.) As long as the NIE remains on the books, the administration is wedded to ambiguity on the topic, and therefore must in essence characterize the Israelis’ assessment as more alarmist than our own.

And finally, Panetta lets on that the Israelis are willing to give us some time to allow sanctions to work, but neither he nor the Israelis, we presume, seem all that confident they will work. “Some impact” doesn’t really provide comfort that the mullahs will give up on their nuclear ambitions.

All this is designed, no doubt, to forestall demands for decisive (i.e., military) action on our part and to keep Israel in a holding pattern. If we conceded that the Iranians — of course — are seeking nuclear weapons, have the material they need (once they are able to enrich the material further and weaponize it) to threaten its neighbors with annihilation, and that sanctions are too little, too late, why then Obama might be expected to do something about the greatest threat to our and our allies’ security in a generation. And that is a responsibility our president is unwilling to bear at present.

The administration, the Congress, and American Jewish groups continue the dance — pretending but not believing (unless Jewish leaders are entirely out to lunch) that Obama has a plan and the will to prevent the “unacceptable” (a nuclear-armed Iran). The Israelis meanwhile are left to consider: just how long do they dare wait before acting on their own to eliminate (or at least set back) the threat of nuclear attack on the Jewish state?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

It took Barack Obama to turn an ex-president into a sleazy “bag man.”

What will it take for the left to break with the anti-Semites, racists, and Israel-bashers? “Democracy for America, the progressive group that grew out of Howard Dean’s campaign for president, is standing by its support for a House candidate who backs a radical single-state solution in the Middle East and suggested in an interview that Jewish Reps. Jane Harman and Henry Waxman should ‘pledge allegiance to this country as the country they represent.”

Will Obama take this opportunity to dump the witch hunt against CIA interrogators? Stephen Hayes recommends that he should: “The repercussions have been severe. CIA operators, already risk averse, are today far less willing to take risks in the field out of fear that a wrong decision, even a legal one that produced crucial intelligence, could send them to jail. Obama should also insist that the Justice Department aggressively investigate the alleged exposure of CIA officials by lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees. Photographs of officials were discovered in the cell of Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi and were reportedly provided by investigators working for the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. John Rizzo, former CIA general counsel and a 30-year intelligence veteran, said that the breach was far graver than the leak of Valerie Plame’s name.”

It took a few weeks of criticism to reveal Peter Beinart’s vile attitudes toward his fellow Jews: Nathan Diament on Beinart’s latest outburst in the Israel-hating the New York Review of Books: “Peter goes way beyond debating substance and drifts into stereotyping and calumny, saying: ‘the same sort of settler fanatics who burn Palestinian olive groves also assassinated an Israeli prime minister. The same ultra-Orthodox hooligans who burn Christian holy books also attack Jewish women trying to pray at the Western Wall.’ He also slams Rav Ovadia Yosef and, apparently, anyone else in Israel who, we suppose, doesn’t agree with his view — or that of the editorial board of Ha’aretz — as to precisely what ought to happen.”

It took a year and a half of Obama’s presidency to ruin Blanche Lincoln’s career: “[Arkansas's] larger bloc of conservative Democrats and independents upset over the perception that the incumbent is overly cozy with the unpopular President Obama, the Agriculture Committee chair and Delta farmer’s daughter finds her 18-year congressional career in grave jeopardy.”

It took a determined Jewish mom from Los Angeles to figure out it only took a $15 dollar solar cooker (made of cardboard and aluminum) to help protect “female [Darfur] refugees who were being ruthlessly subjected to physical and sexual brutality when they left the relative safety of their refugee camps.” She’s done more for human rights in Darfur — much more — than Obama and his embarrassingly ineffective special envoy have.

Have you noticed that Democrats aren’t so willing to take unpopular stands for this president on national security? “The Senate Armed Services Committee dealt a big setback to President Obama’s plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay when lawmakers stripped funding for a new prison in Illinois to hold the detainees. Committee Chairman Carl Levin on Friday told reporters the committee, in a voice vote, stripped $245 million that would have gone to buy and retrofit the Thomson prison in Illinois.”

Charles Hurt catches Obama taking responsibility for “zilch” at his BP oil-spill press conference: “It was yet another performance of the ‘full responsibility’ flimflam. … President Obama repeatedly took ‘full responsibility’ for the blundering efforts to clog up the geyser of crude oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico coating everything in sight. At the same time, Obama repeatedly denied that his administration was complicit in allowing the catastrophe to happen in the first place, slow to realize the devastating nature of it, or ham-handed in the five-week effort to try to stem the toxic tide. In other words, Obama — as he often does — took ‘full responsibility’ for being awesome.”

It took Barack Obama to turn an ex-president into a sleazy “bag man.”

What will it take for the left to break with the anti-Semites, racists, and Israel-bashers? “Democracy for America, the progressive group that grew out of Howard Dean’s campaign for president, is standing by its support for a House candidate who backs a radical single-state solution in the Middle East and suggested in an interview that Jewish Reps. Jane Harman and Henry Waxman should ‘pledge allegiance to this country as the country they represent.”

Will Obama take this opportunity to dump the witch hunt against CIA interrogators? Stephen Hayes recommends that he should: “The repercussions have been severe. CIA operators, already risk averse, are today far less willing to take risks in the field out of fear that a wrong decision, even a legal one that produced crucial intelligence, could send them to jail. Obama should also insist that the Justice Department aggressively investigate the alleged exposure of CIA officials by lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees. Photographs of officials were discovered in the cell of Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi and were reportedly provided by investigators working for the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. John Rizzo, former CIA general counsel and a 30-year intelligence veteran, said that the breach was far graver than the leak of Valerie Plame’s name.”

It took a few weeks of criticism to reveal Peter Beinart’s vile attitudes toward his fellow Jews: Nathan Diament on Beinart’s latest outburst in the Israel-hating the New York Review of Books: “Peter goes way beyond debating substance and drifts into stereotyping and calumny, saying: ‘the same sort of settler fanatics who burn Palestinian olive groves also assassinated an Israeli prime minister. The same ultra-Orthodox hooligans who burn Christian holy books also attack Jewish women trying to pray at the Western Wall.’ He also slams Rav Ovadia Yosef and, apparently, anyone else in Israel who, we suppose, doesn’t agree with his view — or that of the editorial board of Ha’aretz — as to precisely what ought to happen.”

It took a year and a half of Obama’s presidency to ruin Blanche Lincoln’s career: “[Arkansas's] larger bloc of conservative Democrats and independents upset over the perception that the incumbent is overly cozy with the unpopular President Obama, the Agriculture Committee chair and Delta farmer’s daughter finds her 18-year congressional career in grave jeopardy.”

It took a determined Jewish mom from Los Angeles to figure out it only took a $15 dollar solar cooker (made of cardboard and aluminum) to help protect “female [Darfur] refugees who were being ruthlessly subjected to physical and sexual brutality when they left the relative safety of their refugee camps.” She’s done more for human rights in Darfur — much more — than Obama and his embarrassingly ineffective special envoy have.

Have you noticed that Democrats aren’t so willing to take unpopular stands for this president on national security? “The Senate Armed Services Committee dealt a big setback to President Obama’s plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay when lawmakers stripped funding for a new prison in Illinois to hold the detainees. Committee Chairman Carl Levin on Friday told reporters the committee, in a voice vote, stripped $245 million that would have gone to buy and retrofit the Thomson prison in Illinois.”

Charles Hurt catches Obama taking responsibility for “zilch” at his BP oil-spill press conference: “It was yet another performance of the ‘full responsibility’ flimflam. … President Obama repeatedly took ‘full responsibility’ for the blundering efforts to clog up the geyser of crude oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico coating everything in sight. At the same time, Obama repeatedly denied that his administration was complicit in allowing the catastrophe to happen in the first place, slow to realize the devastating nature of it, or ham-handed in the five-week effort to try to stem the toxic tide. In other words, Obama — as he often does — took ‘full responsibility’ for being awesome.”

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When It Comes to National Intelligence, One Head Is Better than Two

The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House is having a tough time finding anyone willing to take on the thankless job of director of National Intelligence after firing retired Admiral Dennis Blair. If the newspaper’s reporting is to be believed, the post has already been turned down by CIA director Leon Panetta and former senator Chuck Hagel. That leaves Gen. James Clapper, the top intelligence official at the Department of Defense, as the front-runner, but his appointment is unpopular on Capitol Hill.

What to do? Here’s a thought from out of left field: why not appoint Panetta to the job while letting him keep his current appointment as CIA director? In fact, why not make it a tradition to have the same person serve as both DNI and DCI? That would actually be in line with the historic expectation that the head of the CIA would also be the head of the entire intelligence community. That promise was never realized, so in 2005 Congress created a separate DNI post. But each DNI has struggled to exercise any real power over individual intelligence agencies, and in particular over the CIA; Blair lost bruising turf battles to Panetta. By putting the same person in charge of both National Intelligence and CIA, you eliminate at least one turf battle. That may very well be the best solution for the short term, and possibly even the long term, unless Congress invests the DNI with vast new powers over budgeting and personnel, which it so far hasn’t been willing to do.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House is having a tough time finding anyone willing to take on the thankless job of director of National Intelligence after firing retired Admiral Dennis Blair. If the newspaper’s reporting is to be believed, the post has already been turned down by CIA director Leon Panetta and former senator Chuck Hagel. That leaves Gen. James Clapper, the top intelligence official at the Department of Defense, as the front-runner, but his appointment is unpopular on Capitol Hill.

What to do? Here’s a thought from out of left field: why not appoint Panetta to the job while letting him keep his current appointment as CIA director? In fact, why not make it a tradition to have the same person serve as both DNI and DCI? That would actually be in line with the historic expectation that the head of the CIA would also be the head of the entire intelligence community. That promise was never realized, so in 2005 Congress created a separate DNI post. But each DNI has struggled to exercise any real power over individual intelligence agencies, and in particular over the CIA; Blair lost bruising turf battles to Panetta. By putting the same person in charge of both National Intelligence and CIA, you eliminate at least one turf battle. That may very well be the best solution for the short term, and possibly even the long term, unless Congress invests the DNI with vast new powers over budgeting and personnel, which it so far hasn’t been willing to do.

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UN Deal Has Giant Loophole

We suspected that the UN sanctions deal was toothless, and now Eli Lake reveals just how toothless it is:

A draft U.N. resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran, including limits on global arms transfers, will not block the controversial transfer of Russian S-300 missiles to the Iranian military, according to U.S. and Russian officials.

The Obama administration had opposed the S-300 sale because the system is highly effective against aircraft and some missiles. The CIA has said the S-300 missiles, which have been contracted by Tehran but not delivered, will be used to defend Iranian nuclear facilities. . .

Asked about S-300s, a senior State Department official said the draft “would not impose a legally binding obligation not to transfer S-300 to Iran” since the register does not cover defensive missiles.

I think it’s clear why the Obama administration agreed to this: Hillary Clinton had to rush a deal through to head off the Brazil-Turkey gambit and had no bargaining leverage with Russia. It seems the Obama foreign-policy team is just stalling for time now — which would make sense if we were furiously assisting the Green Movement. But we aren’t.

The gaping loophole is not escaping notice:

John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, criticized the Obama administration for not closing the sanctions resolution loophole on the S-300, calling it “diplomatic malpractice.” …

Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, an Illinois Republican running for the Senate, is circulating a letter calling on Mr. Obama to close the loophole.

And just to turn the knife, Lake quotes a State Department spokesman who back in October declared that “we do not believe that this is the time to sell Iran this kind of sophisticated defense capability. … And we’ve understood from the Russian government that they have no plans to ship this sophisticated system to Iran at this time.” Uh, guess that unacceptable sale is now acceptable.

It will be interesting to see the reaction of lawmakers, candidates, and Jewish groups to this latest confirmation that Obama’s Iran policy is entirely unserious. Will Democrats push back against Obama? Maybe now Jewish organizations will pipe up rather than merely pass “their whispered worries from one to another.” The window of time to turn up the heat on the administration is closing fast.

We suspected that the UN sanctions deal was toothless, and now Eli Lake reveals just how toothless it is:

A draft U.N. resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran, including limits on global arms transfers, will not block the controversial transfer of Russian S-300 missiles to the Iranian military, according to U.S. and Russian officials.

The Obama administration had opposed the S-300 sale because the system is highly effective against aircraft and some missiles. The CIA has said the S-300 missiles, which have been contracted by Tehran but not delivered, will be used to defend Iranian nuclear facilities. . .

Asked about S-300s, a senior State Department official said the draft “would not impose a legally binding obligation not to transfer S-300 to Iran” since the register does not cover defensive missiles.

I think it’s clear why the Obama administration agreed to this: Hillary Clinton had to rush a deal through to head off the Brazil-Turkey gambit and had no bargaining leverage with Russia. It seems the Obama foreign-policy team is just stalling for time now — which would make sense if we were furiously assisting the Green Movement. But we aren’t.

The gaping loophole is not escaping notice:

John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, criticized the Obama administration for not closing the sanctions resolution loophole on the S-300, calling it “diplomatic malpractice.” …

Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, an Illinois Republican running for the Senate, is circulating a letter calling on Mr. Obama to close the loophole.

And just to turn the knife, Lake quotes a State Department spokesman who back in October declared that “we do not believe that this is the time to sell Iran this kind of sophisticated defense capability. … And we’ve understood from the Russian government that they have no plans to ship this sophisticated system to Iran at this time.” Uh, guess that unacceptable sale is now acceptable.

It will be interesting to see the reaction of lawmakers, candidates, and Jewish groups to this latest confirmation that Obama’s Iran policy is entirely unserious. Will Democrats push back against Obama? Maybe now Jewish organizations will pipe up rather than merely pass “their whispered worries from one to another.” The window of time to turn up the heat on the administration is closing fast.

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