Commentary Magazine


Topic: cheerleader

Who Is Najib Miqati?

So Hezbollah did it. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been replaced with Najib Miqati, a man billed as a “compromise” leader who is time zones away from being a Hezbollah member but who nevertheless agrees with Hezbollah on the few things — which ultimately add up to everything — that matter most.

Miqati says he’s an independent centrist who disagrees with Hezbollah as much as he disagrees with everyone else in Lebanon. I believe him, actually, so long as he’s referring to the number of things he disagrees with Hezbollah about. He’s a Sunni and therefore obviously not a cheerleader for the parochial Shia sectarian interests that Hezbollah champions. There’s no chance he endorses the Iranian government’s reigning ideology of Velayat-e faqih, the totalitarian theocratic system Hezbollah would love to impose on Lebanon if it had the strength — which it doesn’t. Miqati is a billionaire businessman and does not even remotely share Hezbollah’s cartoonish paranoia about global capitalism and how it’s supposedly a nefarious Jewish-American plot.

What Miqati will do, however, is safeguard “the resistance,” as he has promised — meaning he won’t ask Hezbollah to hand over its weapons to the authorities — which is one of only two things Hezbollah requires of him. The second is repudiate the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Everyone now expects the tribunal to indict Hezbollah for the assassination of the Sunni former prime minister Rafik Hariri, an event that may severely damage Hezbollah’s standing in the majority-Sunni Arab world even if it does have a prominent Sunni willing to provide some cover.

Hezbollah also needs, and will get, the same from Lebanon’s Christian president Michel Suleiman. Anything else these two leaders do in their official capacities is irrelevant from Hezbollah’s perspective.

Lebanon won’t likely ever resemble Gaza, which is under the complete control of an Islamist terrorist army. Hamas rules that beleaguered territory as the virtual Taliban of the eastern Mediterranean, but the Lebanese will blow their country to hell and gone all over again before submitting to something like that. Hezbollah knows it, as do the Syrians and the Iranians. They also know, or at least think they know, that they can bully the rest of the country into surrendering on the two most crucial items on its agenda, the ones that give Hezbollah the latitude to do whatever it wants in the Shia-majority areas that it does control directly.

We’re about to find out if that’s actually true. We’ll also most likely find out how true it remains if Israel takes the gloves off the next time there’s war.

So Hezbollah did it. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been replaced with Najib Miqati, a man billed as a “compromise” leader who is time zones away from being a Hezbollah member but who nevertheless agrees with Hezbollah on the few things — which ultimately add up to everything — that matter most.

Miqati says he’s an independent centrist who disagrees with Hezbollah as much as he disagrees with everyone else in Lebanon. I believe him, actually, so long as he’s referring to the number of things he disagrees with Hezbollah about. He’s a Sunni and therefore obviously not a cheerleader for the parochial Shia sectarian interests that Hezbollah champions. There’s no chance he endorses the Iranian government’s reigning ideology of Velayat-e faqih, the totalitarian theocratic system Hezbollah would love to impose on Lebanon if it had the strength — which it doesn’t. Miqati is a billionaire businessman and does not even remotely share Hezbollah’s cartoonish paranoia about global capitalism and how it’s supposedly a nefarious Jewish-American plot.

What Miqati will do, however, is safeguard “the resistance,” as he has promised — meaning he won’t ask Hezbollah to hand over its weapons to the authorities — which is one of only two things Hezbollah requires of him. The second is repudiate the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Everyone now expects the tribunal to indict Hezbollah for the assassination of the Sunni former prime minister Rafik Hariri, an event that may severely damage Hezbollah’s standing in the majority-Sunni Arab world even if it does have a prominent Sunni willing to provide some cover.

Hezbollah also needs, and will get, the same from Lebanon’s Christian president Michel Suleiman. Anything else these two leaders do in their official capacities is irrelevant from Hezbollah’s perspective.

Lebanon won’t likely ever resemble Gaza, which is under the complete control of an Islamist terrorist army. Hamas rules that beleaguered territory as the virtual Taliban of the eastern Mediterranean, but the Lebanese will blow their country to hell and gone all over again before submitting to something like that. Hezbollah knows it, as do the Syrians and the Iranians. They also know, or at least think they know, that they can bully the rest of the country into surrendering on the two most crucial items on its agenda, the ones that give Hezbollah the latitude to do whatever it wants in the Shia-majority areas that it does control directly.

We’re about to find out if that’s actually true. We’ll also most likely find out how true it remains if Israel takes the gloves off the next time there’s war.

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Selective Reading Results in Daft Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Endorsed by the Mosque Builders’ Cheerleader

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who not only defended the Ground Zero mosque but also told its critics to shut up, is going to Pennsylvania today to endorse Rep. Joe Sestak. Honest. Sestak, who is fending off attacks that he is too liberal on a range of issues, is anti-Israel in his voting record, and who keynoted for CAIR, is now, in the midst of a fever-pitch debate about Cordoba House, going to get the blessing of the mayor who managed to infuriate even liberal New Yorkers.

I suppose Sestak could criticize Bloomberg, J Street, Obama, and CAIR — all of whom support both his candidacy and the mosque — but that would certainly come as a shock to those who’ve been supporting him and raising money for campaign. Meanwhile, Pat Toomey’s director of communications, Nachama Soloveichik, had this statement when I asked about his views: “It is provocative in the extreme to build a mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero. Islamic leaders should be encouraged to move the mosque elsewhere.” A fine suggestion — Rep. Sestak, what say you? So far, he’s waffling:

A spokesman for Sestak said the congressman “believes there is a Constitutional right to religious freedom and separation of church and state that applies equally to all Americans,” but he declined to clearly back the plan.

Sooner or later, he and other Democrats will be forced to answer – for or against the mosque? It’s not like it’s a hard question or one that lacks national significance. After all, Gov. Bob McDonnell had no problem stating his views: “If it were my decision, I would not put that center there. It is a site where nearly 3,000 people lost their lives and I certainly would not locate that center there if I had a voice.” Eventually Sestak will have to either alienate his lefty, pro-mosque supporters or the people of Pennsylvania. Not sure which he’ll choose.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who not only defended the Ground Zero mosque but also told its critics to shut up, is going to Pennsylvania today to endorse Rep. Joe Sestak. Honest. Sestak, who is fending off attacks that he is too liberal on a range of issues, is anti-Israel in his voting record, and who keynoted for CAIR, is now, in the midst of a fever-pitch debate about Cordoba House, going to get the blessing of the mayor who managed to infuriate even liberal New Yorkers.

I suppose Sestak could criticize Bloomberg, J Street, Obama, and CAIR — all of whom support both his candidacy and the mosque — but that would certainly come as a shock to those who’ve been supporting him and raising money for campaign. Meanwhile, Pat Toomey’s director of communications, Nachama Soloveichik, had this statement when I asked about his views: “It is provocative in the extreme to build a mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero. Islamic leaders should be encouraged to move the mosque elsewhere.” A fine suggestion — Rep. Sestak, what say you? So far, he’s waffling:

A spokesman for Sestak said the congressman “believes there is a Constitutional right to religious freedom and separation of church and state that applies equally to all Americans,” but he declined to clearly back the plan.

Sooner or later, he and other Democrats will be forced to answer – for or against the mosque? It’s not like it’s a hard question or one that lacks national significance. After all, Gov. Bob McDonnell had no problem stating his views: “If it were my decision, I would not put that center there. It is a site where nearly 3,000 people lost their lives and I certainly would not locate that center there if I had a voice.” Eventually Sestak will have to either alienate his lefty, pro-mosque supporters or the people of Pennsylvania. Not sure which he’ll choose.

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How Dare You Fire the Hezbollah Cheerleader!

As one might imagine, the pro-terrorist lobby (wait — you’ll see it’s appropriate in this context) is raising a fuss over CNN’s decision to can an editor for praising a Hezbollah leader. This is particularly revealing:

“This is unbelievable what is happening in the United States of America,” said Osama Siblani, the publisher of the Arab American News. “You can say anything you want – except when it comes to Israel.”

He accused CNN of a double standard, citing what he said was CNN host Wolf Blitzer’s history of working for the Jerusalem Post and for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). “But for Octavia Nasr to make a statement that’s in agreement with millions of people around the world, has become a firing offense at CNN. It’s incredible the level we have sunk to.”

You know, he says “double standard” like it’s a bad thing. Actually, it’s good to have one standard for those who are infatuated with terrorists — so infatuated that while employed in a “news” capacity, they sing their praises — and another standard for those who used to work in Israel or for a Jewish organization who, in their current capacity, rather objectively report the news. I think if Wolf Blitzer started sending tweets about his deep and abiding respect for Bibi, he’d be in hot water too. But more to the point, it’s revealing that Arab groups and the Israel-hating John Zogby consider it an outrage that CNN would fire someone who did not merely praise Palestinians or their cause but praised an avowed terrorist. Speaks volumes about the accusers, doesn’t it?

As one might imagine, the pro-terrorist lobby (wait — you’ll see it’s appropriate in this context) is raising a fuss over CNN’s decision to can an editor for praising a Hezbollah leader. This is particularly revealing:

“This is unbelievable what is happening in the United States of America,” said Osama Siblani, the publisher of the Arab American News. “You can say anything you want – except when it comes to Israel.”

He accused CNN of a double standard, citing what he said was CNN host Wolf Blitzer’s history of working for the Jerusalem Post and for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). “But for Octavia Nasr to make a statement that’s in agreement with millions of people around the world, has become a firing offense at CNN. It’s incredible the level we have sunk to.”

You know, he says “double standard” like it’s a bad thing. Actually, it’s good to have one standard for those who are infatuated with terrorists — so infatuated that while employed in a “news” capacity, they sing their praises — and another standard for those who used to work in Israel or for a Jewish organization who, in their current capacity, rather objectively report the news. I think if Wolf Blitzer started sending tweets about his deep and abiding respect for Bibi, he’d be in hot water too. But more to the point, it’s revealing that Arab groups and the Israel-hating John Zogby consider it an outrage that CNN would fire someone who did not merely praise Palestinians or their cause but praised an avowed terrorist. Speaks volumes about the accusers, doesn’t it?

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The Purpose of the Proximity Talks

The newly launched Israeli-Palestinian “proximity talks” have two remarkable features. One is the consensus, even among doves, that the talks have no chance of success. The other is the consensus that the onus for their success rests entirely on Israel.

Regarding the first, here are two of many examples: David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, once an enthusiastic peace-processor, warned last month that “whenever it is all-or-nothing in the Middle East, it is nothing. We should not set ourselves up for failure.” Avi Issacharoff, who covers Palestinian affairs for left-wing Haaretz, published an analysis whose title says it all: “Indirect Mideast peace talks – a highway to failure.”

Regarding the second, even Barack Obama’s media cheerleader-in-chief, Roger Cohen of the New York Times, noticed the embarrassing imbalance: “Israel will refrain from provocations of the Ramat Shlomo kind (those planned 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem) and will promise to get substantive, on borders above all. Palestinians will promise to, well, show up.”

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was explicit about it. Addressing the American Jewish Committee last month, she declared: “Israel must do its part by respecting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, stopping settlement activity, addressing the humanitarian needs in Gaza, and supporting the institution-building efforts of the Palestinian Authority.” The Arab states also have obligations, like helping to fund the PA and backing its negotiating efforts. And the PA’s obligations? About that, she hadn’t a word to say.

Putting these two facts together, what emerges? Noah suggested that the talks’ inevitable failure is actually the point, as it will give Obama an excuse for imposing his own peace plan. I agree with the first half of this conclusion. But if the goal were merely an Obama peace plan, it wouldn’t be necessary to place the onus on Israel in advance: any impasse, regardless of who was to blame, would provide an equally good excuse.

Therefore, I think the goal is simpler: to provide an excuse for putting more “daylight” between America and Israel — presumably entailing substantive sanctions rather than merely the hostile rhetoric employed hitherto — and thereby further Obama’s goal of rapprochement with the Arab world.

Why is the proximity-talks charade necessary? Because currently, Obama lacks both public and congressional support for moving beyond mere verbal hostility. If he didn’t realize this before, the backlash to his March temper tantrum over Ramat Shlomo would certainly have convinced him.

So he needs to up the ante by painting Israel’s government as responsible for torpedoing a key American foreign-policy initiative — one he has repeatedly framed as serving both a vital American national interest and a vital Israeli one. He could then argue not only that Israel deserves punishment but that such punishment would actually serve Israel’s interests.

To avoid this trap, Jerusalem must launch its own PR campaign in America now to put the focus back where it belongs: on Palestinian unwillingness to accept a Jewish state. For if Israel lets Obama control the narrative, the public and congressional support on which it depends may be irretrievably undermined.

The newly launched Israeli-Palestinian “proximity talks” have two remarkable features. One is the consensus, even among doves, that the talks have no chance of success. The other is the consensus that the onus for their success rests entirely on Israel.

Regarding the first, here are two of many examples: David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, once an enthusiastic peace-processor, warned last month that “whenever it is all-or-nothing in the Middle East, it is nothing. We should not set ourselves up for failure.” Avi Issacharoff, who covers Palestinian affairs for left-wing Haaretz, published an analysis whose title says it all: “Indirect Mideast peace talks – a highway to failure.”

Regarding the second, even Barack Obama’s media cheerleader-in-chief, Roger Cohen of the New York Times, noticed the embarrassing imbalance: “Israel will refrain from provocations of the Ramat Shlomo kind (those planned 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem) and will promise to get substantive, on borders above all. Palestinians will promise to, well, show up.”

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was explicit about it. Addressing the American Jewish Committee last month, she declared: “Israel must do its part by respecting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, stopping settlement activity, addressing the humanitarian needs in Gaza, and supporting the institution-building efforts of the Palestinian Authority.” The Arab states also have obligations, like helping to fund the PA and backing its negotiating efforts. And the PA’s obligations? About that, she hadn’t a word to say.

Putting these two facts together, what emerges? Noah suggested that the talks’ inevitable failure is actually the point, as it will give Obama an excuse for imposing his own peace plan. I agree with the first half of this conclusion. But if the goal were merely an Obama peace plan, it wouldn’t be necessary to place the onus on Israel in advance: any impasse, regardless of who was to blame, would provide an equally good excuse.

Therefore, I think the goal is simpler: to provide an excuse for putting more “daylight” between America and Israel — presumably entailing substantive sanctions rather than merely the hostile rhetoric employed hitherto — and thereby further Obama’s goal of rapprochement with the Arab world.

Why is the proximity-talks charade necessary? Because currently, Obama lacks both public and congressional support for moving beyond mere verbal hostility. If he didn’t realize this before, the backlash to his March temper tantrum over Ramat Shlomo would certainly have convinced him.

So he needs to up the ante by painting Israel’s government as responsible for torpedoing a key American foreign-policy initiative — one he has repeatedly framed as serving both a vital American national interest and a vital Israeli one. He could then argue not only that Israel deserves punishment but that such punishment would actually serve Israel’s interests.

To avoid this trap, Jerusalem must launch its own PR campaign in America now to put the focus back where it belongs: on Palestinian unwillingness to accept a Jewish state. For if Israel lets Obama control the narrative, the public and congressional support on which it depends may be irretrievably undermined.

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Where’s the Support for U.S. Civilians in Iraq?

In recent years there has been a welcome outpouring of love and admiration for American troops. It has been common to hear, “I may not support the war, but I support the troops.” A commendable sentiment, but why doesn’t it extend to civilians who have risked their necks in war zones?

I was struck by Jim Dwyer’s snarky New York Times column about my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Dan Senor, who is contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate in New York. There are plenty of reasons for a liberal columnist to disagree with the conservative Senor on matters of policy, but Dwyer chooses instead to launch a very personal attack on Senor’s service in Iraq as chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority during 15 tumultuous months from the spring of 2003 to the summer of 2004. Dwyer sneers: “As Iraq was entering its bloodiest days, Mr. Senor was a prophet and cheerleader for the Bush administration, his daily messages seemingly disconnected from the country that was imploding outside the American headquarters in Baghdad, known as the Green Zone.”

Echoing Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, he goes on to describe the Green Zone “as heavily populated by Republican loyalists” — like Senor — “who brought little experience to the towering task of restoring Iraq to any semblance of normalcy after the invasion.”

Granted, Ambassador L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer and his senior aides, including Dan Senor, were not well-prepared for the task of governing Iraq. Nor did they have adequate resources for the task. But that was hardly their fault. Blame lay in the senior levels of the administration and the military, where there was an appalling lack of planning for the post-invasion phase of the Iraq operation. Troop numbers remained grossly inadequate despite Bremer’s pleas for more help.

Bremer & Co. made mistakes of their own (who wouldn’t?), but they were not wrong about everything or even most things. Some of their projects — a new Iraqi constitution, for example — have been standing the test of time. Some of the worst decisions — disbanding the Iraqi army and purging too many Baathists — seem to have been dictated from Washington. Whatever the details, there can be no doubt that Ambassador Bremer and his aides did the best they could in an extremely challenging, dangerous, chaotic environment.

Did Dan Senor put a positive gloss on events? Of course. That was his job. He was the official spokesman. Maybe Jim Dwyer would have preferred that he join the press corps in daily bemoaning Iraq’s woes, but that wasn’t what he was paid to do. His job was to give the official CPA line, and in the process try to calm and improve the situation rather than simply pointing out the numerous deficiencies that were being (for the most part accurately) exposed by the news media.

To read Dwyer and others, you would think that being sent to Iraq was akin to an all-expenses paid holiday in the Bahamas. In fact, it was a dangerous assignment that was, with some heroic exceptions, for the most part avoided by experienced Foreign Service officers who generally opposed the decision to go to war. The largest group of people volunteering to go, aside from those in uniform, were a bunch of young conservative idealists like Senor. Their dedication and idealism reminds me of young liberals who were inspired by JFK to join the Peace Corps in the early 1960s.

Scott Erwin, a former Council colleague, was one of them. A onetime White House intern, he postponed his senior year in college to work for CPA — an assignment that ended on June 2, 2004, when he was shot four times in an ambush that killed two Iraqis who were in the same car. He survived but others didn’t. Even the Green Zone, while safer than the surrounding areas, was hardly a pocket of tranquility. It was a constant magnet for rocket and mortar attacks that frequently landed in the embassy parking lot and killed a number of employees over the years. It was generally safer to be on one of the giant Forward Operating Bases, where most Americans in Iraq, troops and contractors alike, were garrisoned.

We should be celebrating those who volunteered to serve in the Iraq war, whether they wore a uniform or not — not demeaning their service to score political points.

In recent years there has been a welcome outpouring of love and admiration for American troops. It has been common to hear, “I may not support the war, but I support the troops.” A commendable sentiment, but why doesn’t it extend to civilians who have risked their necks in war zones?

I was struck by Jim Dwyer’s snarky New York Times column about my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Dan Senor, who is contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate in New York. There are plenty of reasons for a liberal columnist to disagree with the conservative Senor on matters of policy, but Dwyer chooses instead to launch a very personal attack on Senor’s service in Iraq as chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority during 15 tumultuous months from the spring of 2003 to the summer of 2004. Dwyer sneers: “As Iraq was entering its bloodiest days, Mr. Senor was a prophet and cheerleader for the Bush administration, his daily messages seemingly disconnected from the country that was imploding outside the American headquarters in Baghdad, known as the Green Zone.”

Echoing Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, he goes on to describe the Green Zone “as heavily populated by Republican loyalists” — like Senor — “who brought little experience to the towering task of restoring Iraq to any semblance of normalcy after the invasion.”

Granted, Ambassador L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer and his senior aides, including Dan Senor, were not well-prepared for the task of governing Iraq. Nor did they have adequate resources for the task. But that was hardly their fault. Blame lay in the senior levels of the administration and the military, where there was an appalling lack of planning for the post-invasion phase of the Iraq operation. Troop numbers remained grossly inadequate despite Bremer’s pleas for more help.

Bremer & Co. made mistakes of their own (who wouldn’t?), but they were not wrong about everything or even most things. Some of their projects — a new Iraqi constitution, for example — have been standing the test of time. Some of the worst decisions — disbanding the Iraqi army and purging too many Baathists — seem to have been dictated from Washington. Whatever the details, there can be no doubt that Ambassador Bremer and his aides did the best they could in an extremely challenging, dangerous, chaotic environment.

Did Dan Senor put a positive gloss on events? Of course. That was his job. He was the official spokesman. Maybe Jim Dwyer would have preferred that he join the press corps in daily bemoaning Iraq’s woes, but that wasn’t what he was paid to do. His job was to give the official CPA line, and in the process try to calm and improve the situation rather than simply pointing out the numerous deficiencies that were being (for the most part accurately) exposed by the news media.

To read Dwyer and others, you would think that being sent to Iraq was akin to an all-expenses paid holiday in the Bahamas. In fact, it was a dangerous assignment that was, with some heroic exceptions, for the most part avoided by experienced Foreign Service officers who generally opposed the decision to go to war. The largest group of people volunteering to go, aside from those in uniform, were a bunch of young conservative idealists like Senor. Their dedication and idealism reminds me of young liberals who were inspired by JFK to join the Peace Corps in the early 1960s.

Scott Erwin, a former Council colleague, was one of them. A onetime White House intern, he postponed his senior year in college to work for CPA — an assignment that ended on June 2, 2004, when he was shot four times in an ambush that killed two Iraqis who were in the same car. He survived but others didn’t. Even the Green Zone, while safer than the surrounding areas, was hardly a pocket of tranquility. It was a constant magnet for rocket and mortar attacks that frequently landed in the embassy parking lot and killed a number of employees over the years. It was generally safer to be on one of the giant Forward Operating Bases, where most Americans in Iraq, troops and contractors alike, were garrisoned.

We should be celebrating those who volunteered to serve in the Iraq war, whether they wore a uniform or not — not demeaning their service to score political points.

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George W. Bush Gets His Due

Tom Friedman has not exactly been a cheerleader for democracy around the globe. Truth be told, he’s rather partial to autocratic states, especially ones he and his New York Times comrade visit. But even he cannot deny the triumph of Iraqi democracy — nor of the U. S. president who made it possible. He writes:

Of all the pictures I saw from the Iraqi elections last weekend, my favorite was on nytimes.com: an Iraqi mother holding up her son to let him stuff her ballot into the box. I loved that picture. Being able to freely cast a ballot for the candidate of your choice is still unusual for Iraqis and for that entire region. That mother seemed to be saying: When I was a child, I never got to vote. I want to live in a world where my child will always be able to.

And unlike the Obami on Iraq, who — as Ann Richards once said of George H.W. Bush — effectively woke up on third base and thought they hit a triple, Friedman gives credit where credit is due:

Yes, the U.S.’s toppling of Saddam Hussein helped Iran expand its influence into the Arab world. Saddam’s Iraq was a temporary iron-fisted bulwark against Iranian expansion. But if Iraq has any sort of decent outcome — and becomes a real Shiite-majority, multiethnic democracy right next door to the phony Iranian version — it will be a source of permanent pressure on the Iranian regime. It will be a constant reminder that “Islamic democracy” — the rigged system the Iranians set up — is nonsense. Real “Islamic democracy” is just like any other democracy, except with Muslims voting.

Former President George W. Bush’s gut instinct that this region craved and needed democracy was always right. It should have and could have been pursued with much better planning and execution. This war has been extraordinarily painful and costly. But democracy was never going to have a virgin birth in a place like Iraq, which has never known any such thing.

Now why can’t Obama say the same? It would dispel the notion that he is peevish, small, and unable to accept his own errors in opposing the war – the results of which Friedman and the West now cheer.

Tom Friedman has not exactly been a cheerleader for democracy around the globe. Truth be told, he’s rather partial to autocratic states, especially ones he and his New York Times comrade visit. But even he cannot deny the triumph of Iraqi democracy — nor of the U. S. president who made it possible. He writes:

Of all the pictures I saw from the Iraqi elections last weekend, my favorite was on nytimes.com: an Iraqi mother holding up her son to let him stuff her ballot into the box. I loved that picture. Being able to freely cast a ballot for the candidate of your choice is still unusual for Iraqis and for that entire region. That mother seemed to be saying: When I was a child, I never got to vote. I want to live in a world where my child will always be able to.

And unlike the Obami on Iraq, who — as Ann Richards once said of George H.W. Bush — effectively woke up on third base and thought they hit a triple, Friedman gives credit where credit is due:

Yes, the U.S.’s toppling of Saddam Hussein helped Iran expand its influence into the Arab world. Saddam’s Iraq was a temporary iron-fisted bulwark against Iranian expansion. But if Iraq has any sort of decent outcome — and becomes a real Shiite-majority, multiethnic democracy right next door to the phony Iranian version — it will be a source of permanent pressure on the Iranian regime. It will be a constant reminder that “Islamic democracy” — the rigged system the Iranians set up — is nonsense. Real “Islamic democracy” is just like any other democracy, except with Muslims voting.

Former President George W. Bush’s gut instinct that this region craved and needed democracy was always right. It should have and could have been pursued with much better planning and execution. This war has been extraordinarily painful and costly. But democracy was never going to have a virgin birth in a place like Iraq, which has never known any such thing.

Now why can’t Obama say the same? It would dispel the notion that he is peevish, small, and unable to accept his own errors in opposing the war – the results of which Friedman and the West now cheer.

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Still Apologizing?

Barack Obama’s greatest cheerleader writes:

“Wright is doubtless a complex figure: you cannot deny his theological depth, his intellectual gifts, his service in the Marines, his contribution to his community. But he is also clearly an ego-maniac, as some preachers often are. And he has succumbed to bitterness, envy, paranoia and racial polarization.”

I beg to differ! I certainly can deny his theological depth and intellectual gifts. Even a cursory read through his sermons, his National Press Club tirade, and his NAACP speech should remove any doubt. Wright’s assertions that AIDS was created to destroy African-Americans, that Israel has created an ethnic bomb, that African-American brains are wired differently to be more musical, and that Israel is a “dirty word” show that he is not theologically deep but a crank. Even Obama now says:

But when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS; when he suggests that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st century; when he equates the United States’ wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses.

So if Obama can now admit Wright is spouting “a bunch of rants that aren’t grounded in truth,” isn’t it time for Obama apologists to stop making excuses? But that would be to admit that their candidate had been an atrocious judge of intellect and character.

Barack Obama’s greatest cheerleader writes:

“Wright is doubtless a complex figure: you cannot deny his theological depth, his intellectual gifts, his service in the Marines, his contribution to his community. But he is also clearly an ego-maniac, as some preachers often are. And he has succumbed to bitterness, envy, paranoia and racial polarization.”

I beg to differ! I certainly can deny his theological depth and intellectual gifts. Even a cursory read through his sermons, his National Press Club tirade, and his NAACP speech should remove any doubt. Wright’s assertions that AIDS was created to destroy African-Americans, that Israel has created an ethnic bomb, that African-American brains are wired differently to be more musical, and that Israel is a “dirty word” show that he is not theologically deep but a crank. Even Obama now says:

But when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS; when he suggests that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st century; when he equates the United States’ wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses.

So if Obama can now admit Wright is spouting “a bunch of rants that aren’t grounded in truth,” isn’t it time for Obama apologists to stop making excuses? But that would be to admit that their candidate had been an atrocious judge of intellect and character.

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A Hint of What Is Coming

David Brooks reviews John McCain’s rather impressive record (too impressive for many in the conservative base) of trying to limit money in politics and of going after lobbying interests and concludes the early potshots taken by Barack Obama are unwarranted:

This is, of course, the gospel of the mediocre man: to ridicule somebody who tries something difficult on the grounds that the effort was not a total success. But any decent person who looks at the McCain record sees that while he has certainly faltered at times, he has also battled concentrated power more doggedly than any other legislator. If this is the record of a candidate with lobbyists on his campaign bus, then every candidate should have lobbyists on the bus. And here’s the larger point: We’re going to have two extraordinary nominees for president this year. This could be one of the great general election campaigns in American history. The only thing that could ruin it is if the candidates become demagogues and hurl accusations at each other that are an insult to reality and common sense. Maybe Obama can start this campaign over.

Well this perhaps raises a larger problem for Obama: what exactly is he going to talk about? After a few more months, maybe just weeks, the “change” mantra and accompanying fluff will grow old and the media will begin to grow impatient for more. (Signs of that are already popping up.)

There seem to be three possibilities. First, he will describe how horrible the Bush years have been. There is always a segment of the population who will nod approvingly when told things are bad and getting worse. However, you cannot do this for long without sounding like a depressing scold. Moreover, with Bush not running it has limited utility. (This is especially true since McCain has not been a cheerleader for many of the Bush positions which Obama will attack — e.g. energy policy, torture.) Second, he will talk about leaving Iraq. Or will he? If military and political progress continue, does his insistence that everything is just a mess begin to look as out of touch with reality as he is accusing the Bush administration of being? At some point it may be better to say as little as possible. Third, he can talk about all the things he wants to do. However, unless he is content with trimming and hedging ( not a good thing for a “change” guy) it is going to sound fairly far Left. He does not have much that is not out of the liberal playbook and that rarely wins elections.

So, we are back to taking shots at McCain — on age, on lobbyists, on anything he thinks plausible. Those who are expecting a high minded campaign may be sorely disappointed.

David Brooks reviews John McCain’s rather impressive record (too impressive for many in the conservative base) of trying to limit money in politics and of going after lobbying interests and concludes the early potshots taken by Barack Obama are unwarranted:

This is, of course, the gospel of the mediocre man: to ridicule somebody who tries something difficult on the grounds that the effort was not a total success. But any decent person who looks at the McCain record sees that while he has certainly faltered at times, he has also battled concentrated power more doggedly than any other legislator. If this is the record of a candidate with lobbyists on his campaign bus, then every candidate should have lobbyists on the bus. And here’s the larger point: We’re going to have two extraordinary nominees for president this year. This could be one of the great general election campaigns in American history. The only thing that could ruin it is if the candidates become demagogues and hurl accusations at each other that are an insult to reality and common sense. Maybe Obama can start this campaign over.

Well this perhaps raises a larger problem for Obama: what exactly is he going to talk about? After a few more months, maybe just weeks, the “change” mantra and accompanying fluff will grow old and the media will begin to grow impatient for more. (Signs of that are already popping up.)

There seem to be three possibilities. First, he will describe how horrible the Bush years have been. There is always a segment of the population who will nod approvingly when told things are bad and getting worse. However, you cannot do this for long without sounding like a depressing scold. Moreover, with Bush not running it has limited utility. (This is especially true since McCain has not been a cheerleader for many of the Bush positions which Obama will attack — e.g. energy policy, torture.) Second, he will talk about leaving Iraq. Or will he? If military and political progress continue, does his insistence that everything is just a mess begin to look as out of touch with reality as he is accusing the Bush administration of being? At some point it may be better to say as little as possible. Third, he can talk about all the things he wants to do. However, unless he is content with trimming and hedging ( not a good thing for a “change” guy) it is going to sound fairly far Left. He does not have much that is not out of the liberal playbook and that rarely wins elections.

So, we are back to taking shots at McCain — on age, on lobbyists, on anything he thinks plausible. Those who are expecting a high minded campaign may be sorely disappointed.

Read Less




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