Commentary Magazine


Topic: Clinton administration

How History Weighs on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

In September 1993, Yasir Arafat told one of recent history’s most significant lies. At the time, Arafat still resided where he certainly belonged: on the State Department’s terrorism list. But the date of the White House ceremony announcing the signing of the declaration of principles was nearing, and the Clinton administration had given up its earlier resistance to asking Yitzhak Rabin to shake the bloodstained hand of the committed murderer on the White House lawn so everyone could have their “historic” moment in the sun.

So Arafat wrote a letter. He would–scout’s honor–end his campaign to annihilate the Jewish people. “Our lawyers judged this written renunciation as sufficient grounds for the president to take Arafat and the PLO off the State Department’s terrorism list,” wrote Martin Indyk in his memoir of the Clinton administration’s Middle East diplomacy. The rest, as they say, is history.

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In September 1993, Yasir Arafat told one of recent history’s most significant lies. At the time, Arafat still resided where he certainly belonged: on the State Department’s terrorism list. But the date of the White House ceremony announcing the signing of the declaration of principles was nearing, and the Clinton administration had given up its earlier resistance to asking Yitzhak Rabin to shake the bloodstained hand of the committed murderer on the White House lawn so everyone could have their “historic” moment in the sun.

So Arafat wrote a letter. He would–scout’s honor–end his campaign to annihilate the Jewish people. “Our lawyers judged this written renunciation as sufficient grounds for the president to take Arafat and the PLO off the State Department’s terrorism list,” wrote Martin Indyk in his memoir of the Clinton administration’s Middle East diplomacy. The rest, as they say, is history.

I recount this story not to take a gratuitous swipe at the naïveté of the Clinton administration nor at the cavalier way Israeli security concerns were put in a box in the White House attic so Clinton could mug for the cameras. The point is that allowing Arafat to hijack and destroy the chances for peace cannot be so easily undone, even if we’ve learned something from these mistakes.

Aaron David Miller, a member of the Clinton team, is now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a regular columnist for Foreign Policy, and has used his perch to attempt to atone for the mistakes of the Clinton administration. It is an honorable and laudable act. And yesterday at the center, Miller moderated an interesting discussion between former Shin Bet director Ami Ayalon and former Obama campaign adviser Robert Malley. The event was ostensibly about how the old negotiations paradigm has become somewhat useless and the value of unilateralism in moving forward.

Malley described a strategy of “parallel unilateral steps.” Ayalon mostly agreed, but insisted “this is a friendly unilateralism, not an antagonistic unilateralism.” Neither, however, went on to describe in any great detail what your friendly neighborhood unilateralism would look like in practice. And Malley restated Miller’s own thesis, suggesting that it was difficult to understand how giving up the fiction of a bilateral peace process could possibly be more damaging than maintaining it, at this point.

But there are two problems here. First, Ayalon readily admitted that “we know the parameters” of a final deal, and those would be “the Clinton parameters… and all that was discussed in the last 20 years.” Because the “last 20 years” have been used by the Palestinian leadership to broadcast as loudly and as often as possible that they utterly reject this idea, it’s hard to imagine why Ayalon still thinks this is a workable plan. But his opening seems to be that Israel should conform to those parameters with or without Palestinian cooperation.

This may or may not be worth exploring–I’ve written about “coordinated unilateralism” before, though I’m not sure changing the tactics while keeping the same parameters of a final-status agreement is practical.

But Ayalon does have one revolutionary idea, and it’s one he has been drawing attention to recently. That idea is: treat Israeli settlers like human beings. As Ayalon wrote in the New York Times in April: “We have learned that we must be candid about our proposed plan, discuss the settlers’ concerns and above all not demonize them. They are the ones who would pay the price of being uprooted from their homes and also from their deeply felt mission of settling the land.”

Ayalon repeated this thesis yesterday. This is important, because among mainstream media outlets and left-of-center journalists you will not find such empathy toward the settlers. Nor will you find nuance or complexity.

For his part, Malley wants the settlers at the table too. This is in part because Malley wants everyone at the table–he’s long been a proponent of negotiating with Hamas. But that just makes those who would exclude the settlers look that much more ridiculous. (Among leftists, the idea that you would talk to Hamas but not Orthodox Jews makes perfect sense–which helps explain the marginalization of the Israeli left.)

But this raises an important question: Are you bringing settlers to the table as props, to display your empathy and humanity and ask them to sit there quietly as you pat them on the head? Or are you bringing them to the table to include them in negotiations? Malley, Ayalon, and Miller are all men of the left, so it’s encouraging to hear them talk like this, but the panel was not exactly balanced. And history is, once again, an obstacle–disrespect of the settlers and the whitewashing of violent Palestinian rejectionism have become ingrained elements of the peace process.

During the presentation, Ayalon said he believes “there is no peace without partners.” If that’s true, then based on the behavior of Israel’s “partner,” there is no peace.

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Learning from Clinton’s Mideast Mistakes

In 1974, Yasser Arafat delivered a famous address to the United Nations in which he said: “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.” It was meant as an implicit threat, and it underlined one of the dangers of the peace process: there was value in the two sides talking, but Arafat’s side promised to resort to violence if unsatisfied with the talks.

Arafat fulfilled his promise repeatedly over the years, but never more famously or with more damage to long-term prospects for peace than after the failure of the Clinton administration’s Camp David summit in 2000. At a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared US on Tuesday night, one of the negotiators involved in that summit, Aaron David Miller, said this:

In July 2000, we decided to recommend to Bill Clinton to go to Camp David to try to create a conflict-ending solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Do you realize that a dozen years after that summit, we are still paying for the lack of wisdom and the recklessness of that decision? Israelis and Palestinians have not yet recovered from the trauma of those ten years, because we believed in an effort to do something in the face of a desperate situation, that we could make it better. This notion is reckless, and it’s not well thought through.

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In 1974, Yasser Arafat delivered a famous address to the United Nations in which he said: “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.” It was meant as an implicit threat, and it underlined one of the dangers of the peace process: there was value in the two sides talking, but Arafat’s side promised to resort to violence if unsatisfied with the talks.

Arafat fulfilled his promise repeatedly over the years, but never more famously or with more damage to long-term prospects for peace than after the failure of the Clinton administration’s Camp David summit in 2000. At a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared US on Tuesday night, one of the negotiators involved in that summit, Aaron David Miller, said this:

In July 2000, we decided to recommend to Bill Clinton to go to Camp David to try to create a conflict-ending solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Do you realize that a dozen years after that summit, we are still paying for the lack of wisdom and the recklessness of that decision? Israelis and Palestinians have not yet recovered from the trauma of those ten years, because we believed in an effort to do something in the face of a desperate situation, that we could make it better. This notion is reckless, and it’s not well thought through.

The wisdom of the Bush administration that followed was to recognize–though without saying it explicitly–just how much the Clinton administration had wrecked the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It’s nice to see Miller–who, by the way, encouraged the reelection of Barack Obama Tuesday night–admit it as well.

But the question now is, what should be done instead? That was the topic of the debate, which was entitled: “The U.N. should admit Palestine as a full member state.” It pitted, for the motion, Palestinian legislator Mustafa Barghouthi and the New America Foundation and J Street’s Daniel Levy against Israeli diplomat Dore Gold and Miller.

The whole debate is worth watching, which can be done at Intelligence Squared’s website. But, aside from the brutal honesty about some of the worst features of Clinton’s diplomatic destruction in the Middle East, one aspect jumped out at me. Barghouthi and Levy made it clear the main goal of U.N. recognition would be to immediately declare the 1949 armistice lines as official borders and deem every last Israeli over those lines–including in Jerusalem–an illegal nuisance over whom the PLO now had sovereignty.

Both Miller and Gold raised this point out of concern that borders should be negotiated, not declared, and that if the Palestinians declare their borders then Israel will have every right to do the same–and in fact would be forced to out of an obligation to protect Jews living in an area the Palestinians have deemed should be Judenrein the moment such borders are set.

Gold was asked why the declaration of a Palestinian state at the U.N. would necessarily set those borders. Gold responded: “Well, what if the very resolution itself states that the borders will be the June 4 [1967] lines? Is the Palestinian side willing to relinquish that phraseology from a Security Council resolution?”

In response, Barghouthi tried valiantly to avoid answering the question, but moderator John Donvan pressed him on each dodge. Finally, Barghouthi said this: “I think there are four issues for negotiation. There is settlements, there is the borders, there is the issue of refugees, there is the issue of Jerusalem. Nobody said that admitting us to the U.N. will mean that we will not negotiate about all these issues.”

In other words, no, he would not agree to drop the June 4, 1967 lines from the resolution. He then said this: “As one final point, please, it’s very dangerous to say we admit, we accept Palestinian[s], that they should have a state, but we don’t agree with ‘67 borders because what that means is that you want us to have a Bantustan like there was in South Africa.”

There went any hint Barghouthi would be willing to fulfill an agreement even Arafat agreed to, which was to make borders subject to final-status negotiations.

It should be clear why this is significantly more dangerous than even the formulation that the two sides should agree to set the 1949/67 lines as the basis for negotiations and go from there. The Palestinian insistence on pulling this stunt at the U.N. tells you why the U.S. is so vehemently opposed to it. As Miller suggested, the pain and suffering inflicted upon the Israelis and Palestinians by the foolhardy Clinton administration is no excuse to encourage its desperate sequel.

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The China Show

According to the New York Times, Barack Obama is about to get tough on China. Helene Cooper quotes Clinton administration national-security expert David Rothkopf, who says, “There’s been this well-orchestrated and clearly well thought-out campaign, over the past two weeks, involving the secretary of state, Treasury, defense and commerce making strong statements regarding currency, the trade imbalance, human rights and China’s military stance.” Cooper notes: “The more assertive strategy comes after Mr. Obama was criticized as appearing to kowtow to China in his visit there in 2009, and then again for allowing Beijing to get the upper hand against the United States at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Seoul late last year.”

A genuine policy shift is certainly welcome, but this is not it. The administration’s new approach on China will likely fail because it is compartmentalized. Without a bold change in America’s larger foreign policy, these feints amount to no more than fleeting imitations of power. Why would Hu Jintao concern himself with a one-day human-rights condemnation from an administration that has spent two straight years softening its human-rights rhetoric? Why would Hu fear the retaliation of a president who is so mild on international trade that now, as the Times puts it, “corporate leaders are pressing” him to “take a tougher stance”? Why would Beijing be concerned with a narrow and localized military investment boost pledged by a White House that has sworn to shrink America’s military posture around the globe?

America cannot simultaneously apologize and intimidate. So long as there remains no connection between this week’s slapdash simulation of American confidence and long-term American policy, we are negotiating without credibility. Which will prove no more effective than asking nicely.

According to the New York Times, Barack Obama is about to get tough on China. Helene Cooper quotes Clinton administration national-security expert David Rothkopf, who says, “There’s been this well-orchestrated and clearly well thought-out campaign, over the past two weeks, involving the secretary of state, Treasury, defense and commerce making strong statements regarding currency, the trade imbalance, human rights and China’s military stance.” Cooper notes: “The more assertive strategy comes after Mr. Obama was criticized as appearing to kowtow to China in his visit there in 2009, and then again for allowing Beijing to get the upper hand against the United States at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Seoul late last year.”

A genuine policy shift is certainly welcome, but this is not it. The administration’s new approach on China will likely fail because it is compartmentalized. Without a bold change in America’s larger foreign policy, these feints amount to no more than fleeting imitations of power. Why would Hu Jintao concern himself with a one-day human-rights condemnation from an administration that has spent two straight years softening its human-rights rhetoric? Why would Hu fear the retaliation of a president who is so mild on international trade that now, as the Times puts it, “corporate leaders are pressing” him to “take a tougher stance”? Why would Beijing be concerned with a narrow and localized military investment boost pledged by a White House that has sworn to shrink America’s military posture around the globe?

America cannot simultaneously apologize and intimidate. So long as there remains no connection between this week’s slapdash simulation of American confidence and long-term American policy, we are negotiating without credibility. Which will prove no more effective than asking nicely.

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The Merits of Measured, Judicious, and Precise Language

In an interview with CNN, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was asked about his pre-election comments that President Obama was among the “most corrupt presidents” in modern times. Here’s what he said:

I corrected what I meant to say. … In saying that this is one of the most corrupt administrations, which is what I meant to say there, when you hand out $1 trillion in TARP just before this president came in, most of it unspent, $1 trillion nearly in stimulus that this president asked for, plus this huge expansion in health care and government, it has a corrupting effect. When I look at waste, fraud and abuse in the bureaucracy and in the government, this is like steroids to pump up the muscles of waste.

Criticisms of the president and his policies are certainly warranted. Still, Mr. Issa needs to be careful not to toss around the term “corruption” in a promiscuous manner. Corruption is commonly understood to mean extremely immoral, dishonest, or depraved; susceptible to bribery; crooked, and the like. What Richard Nixon did in Watergate and what Bill Clinton did to cover up his affair with Monica Lewinski was corrupt.

The Obama administration, whatever its errors, has not approached the level of corruption or criminality of either the Nixon or Clinton administration. And citing TARP as key evidence to prove the corruption of the Obama administration is discrediting. (For a good account of the merits of TARP, see this Washington Post editorial.)

If lawmakers hope to increase public confidence in Congress, they need to speak in measured, judicious, and precise ways. They need to resist resorting to incendiary charges. And they can’t let their rhetoric get ahead of the evidence. That was true when George W. Bush was president, and it should be true when Barack Obama is president.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to go after Mr. Obama and his administration. Charging them with being the most liberal administration in our history, or even as among the more pernicious in our lifetime, is, I think, fair. But charging them with being among the most corrupt isn’t.

In an interview with CNN, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was asked about his pre-election comments that President Obama was among the “most corrupt presidents” in modern times. Here’s what he said:

I corrected what I meant to say. … In saying that this is one of the most corrupt administrations, which is what I meant to say there, when you hand out $1 trillion in TARP just before this president came in, most of it unspent, $1 trillion nearly in stimulus that this president asked for, plus this huge expansion in health care and government, it has a corrupting effect. When I look at waste, fraud and abuse in the bureaucracy and in the government, this is like steroids to pump up the muscles of waste.

Criticisms of the president and his policies are certainly warranted. Still, Mr. Issa needs to be careful not to toss around the term “corruption” in a promiscuous manner. Corruption is commonly understood to mean extremely immoral, dishonest, or depraved; susceptible to bribery; crooked, and the like. What Richard Nixon did in Watergate and what Bill Clinton did to cover up his affair with Monica Lewinski was corrupt.

The Obama administration, whatever its errors, has not approached the level of corruption or criminality of either the Nixon or Clinton administration. And citing TARP as key evidence to prove the corruption of the Obama administration is discrediting. (For a good account of the merits of TARP, see this Washington Post editorial.)

If lawmakers hope to increase public confidence in Congress, they need to speak in measured, judicious, and precise ways. They need to resist resorting to incendiary charges. And they can’t let their rhetoric get ahead of the evidence. That was true when George W. Bush was president, and it should be true when Barack Obama is president.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to go after Mr. Obama and his administration. Charging them with being the most liberal administration in our history, or even as among the more pernicious in our lifetime, is, I think, fair. But charging them with being among the most corrupt isn’t.

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Exemptions Granted by U.S. Prove Iran Sanctions Won’t Work

Those aware of the profound nature of the threat that an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose to the West and to Israel have long been assured by the Washington foreign policy establishment that if diplomacy fails to persuade Tehran to behave, international sanctions provide the leverage that can solve the problem. Well, after two years of an administration dedicated to “engagement,” even President Obama seems to know diplomacy won’t work. So that leaves us with sanctions.

Amassing an international coalition to back the sort of economic sanctions that could bring Iran to heel has proven beyond the capacity of the United States. Even if our European allies are now prepared to think about tough sanctions, the Chinese and the Russians are not. So the best President Obama could do was to get the United Nations to pass a set of mild sanctions this past year that didn’t impress the Iranians. We knew that the confidence of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime as they faced down the West was due to its knowledge that Russia and China would never allow serious sanctions to be passed. We also knew that Tehran felt it could count on its Western European business partners to ensure that the West was sufficiently divided on the need to enforce sanctions, let alone resort to force to prevent Tehran from achieving their nuclear ambitions.

But today we learned another reason why the Iranians were so confident about their chances for victory: the United States government has been allowing a vast number of companies to evade the existing sanctions and to do literally billions of dollars in business with Iran. Read More

Those aware of the profound nature of the threat that an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose to the West and to Israel have long been assured by the Washington foreign policy establishment that if diplomacy fails to persuade Tehran to behave, international sanctions provide the leverage that can solve the problem. Well, after two years of an administration dedicated to “engagement,” even President Obama seems to know diplomacy won’t work. So that leaves us with sanctions.

Amassing an international coalition to back the sort of economic sanctions that could bring Iran to heel has proven beyond the capacity of the United States. Even if our European allies are now prepared to think about tough sanctions, the Chinese and the Russians are not. So the best President Obama could do was to get the United Nations to pass a set of mild sanctions this past year that didn’t impress the Iranians. We knew that the confidence of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime as they faced down the West was due to its knowledge that Russia and China would never allow serious sanctions to be passed. We also knew that Tehran felt it could count on its Western European business partners to ensure that the West was sufficiently divided on the need to enforce sanctions, let alone resort to force to prevent Tehran from achieving their nuclear ambitions.

But today we learned another reason why the Iranians were so confident about their chances for victory: the United States government has been allowing a vast number of companies to evade the existing sanctions and to do literally billions of dollars in business with Iran.

A story on the front page of today’s New York Times informs us that a “little known office of the Treasury Department has granted more than 10,000 licenses” allowing Americans to trade with Iran and other blacklisted countries. The companies that have gained these exemptions include some of the biggest, such as Kraft Food and Pepsi as well as major banks. While the purpose of the statute that allows for exemptions was to provide humanitarian aid, the Obama administration has let things like chewing gum, sports equipment and even hot sauce be sold to Iran. Even worse, it has allowed an American company to “bid on a pipeline job that would have helped Iran sell natural gas to Europe, even though the United States opposes such projects. Several other American businesses were permitted to deal with foreign companies believed to be involved in terrorism or weapons proliferation.”

An administration spokesman claimed that focusing on the vast number of exemptions “misses the forest for the trees,” since “no one can doubt that we are serious about this.” But as even former Clinton administration official Stuart Eizenstat told the Times, “When you create loopholes like this that you can drive a Mack truck through, you are giving countries something for nothing, and they just laugh in their teeth. I think there have been abuses.”

The loopholes in the law are bad enough. But, as the Times reports, they are widened by the influence of politicians who seek to grant favors to local businesses and contributors. In one instance, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) intervened to force the Treasury office to allow a company owned by one of his contributors to do business with a Chinese firm that had been banned for its role in selling missile technology to Iran and Pakistan.

The point here is not so much the corruption of our political system. Rather it is that as much as we doubted the determination of our allies to enforce sanctions, the United States government has shown itself to be equally incapable of getting tough with Iran. While concerned citizens can pray that clandestine operations, such as the Stuxnet virus, will undermine Iran’s nuclear program, the fact remains that the countdown toward an Iranian nuke proceeds. Though it was common knowledge that this administration, like its predecessor led by George W. Bush, seemed to lack the will to fully confront Iran, we didn’t know just how much our own government was allowing the existing sanctions to be flouted. In light of these revelations, it’s clear that sanctions will never work to halt the march of this terror sponsor toward nuclear capability. After reading this shocking story, there’s little doubt that Ahmadinejad and his tyrannical Islamist confederates are laughing at us.

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Cut Defense Spending NOW?

The attack on North Korea — an act of war by any definition, even if not acknowledged as such — is a timely reminder that the suggestions floating around to cut defense spending are misguided. The Foreign Policy Initiative explains:

America’s military has come under severe strain in the last decade, fighting two wars, preparing for the many potential challenges of the future, and contending with a growing number of aging, worn-out weapons systems. Yet as the debate in Washington about reducing America’s deficit gathers steam, there are increasing calls to make deep cuts in the defense budget. The fiscal effects of such reductions are miniscule—saving perhaps $100 billion over many years against projected annual deficits of more than $1.4 trillion—but the impact on the U.S. military is major. Greater still would be the effects of diminished American power in an increasingly “multipolar” world. …

There is a common misconception that the military has enjoyed ballooning budgets since the beginning of the decade. In reality, the baseline defense budget (not including the costs of the-wars) grew from only 3 to 3.5 percent of GDP from the end of the Clinton administration to the time George W. Bush left office, delaying modernization and procurement efforts across all the armed services. “Going to war with the army you have,” to paraphrase former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has exacerbated this problem, gobbling up the remaining service life of older systems; nine-plus years of war have only increased this “modernization deficit.” Further reductions, on top of the more than $300 billion Secretary Gates has already cut in proposed procurement of new weapon systems, will dangerously erode the technological edge that America’s armed forces depend upon, and deserve.

The frenzy to cut defense spending is in reality an entirely political ploy: to get liberals on board with cuts in massive entitlement and discretionary spending, fiscal hawks are willing to throw defense spending into the mix. But this ignores the real and multiplying threats we face, especially under a president whose reticence seems only to have whetted the appetites of aggressive regimes.

The result of the lower-defense-spending fetish is that the way we have traditionally looked at defense spending and national security has been reversed. Presidents of both parties have attempted to assess the threats we face and from that determine what expenditures we need. It is imperfect at best, since congressmen and senators are not shy about asking for goodies for their districts and states. But at least the effort is made to gear spending to national security needs. But in the rush to cut defense spending, this process is reversed: we are told by liberal Democrats, conservative neo-isolationists, and budget hawks that because of the need to cut spending, we need to reassess our national security commitments. It is quite frankly a non sequitur. Al-Qaeda, North Korea, Iran, and the rest are only growing bolder. If the defense cutters were honest, they’d say they are willing to make us less safe to get liberals to accept domestic spending cuts. But that sounds daft. And it is.

As the 2012 GOP presidential contenders scramble for visibility, they would do well to take on this issue — and those who think that in an increasingly dangerous world we should be spending less to defend ourselves.

The attack on North Korea — an act of war by any definition, even if not acknowledged as such — is a timely reminder that the suggestions floating around to cut defense spending are misguided. The Foreign Policy Initiative explains:

America’s military has come under severe strain in the last decade, fighting two wars, preparing for the many potential challenges of the future, and contending with a growing number of aging, worn-out weapons systems. Yet as the debate in Washington about reducing America’s deficit gathers steam, there are increasing calls to make deep cuts in the defense budget. The fiscal effects of such reductions are miniscule—saving perhaps $100 billion over many years against projected annual deficits of more than $1.4 trillion—but the impact on the U.S. military is major. Greater still would be the effects of diminished American power in an increasingly “multipolar” world. …

There is a common misconception that the military has enjoyed ballooning budgets since the beginning of the decade. In reality, the baseline defense budget (not including the costs of the-wars) grew from only 3 to 3.5 percent of GDP from the end of the Clinton administration to the time George W. Bush left office, delaying modernization and procurement efforts across all the armed services. “Going to war with the army you have,” to paraphrase former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has exacerbated this problem, gobbling up the remaining service life of older systems; nine-plus years of war have only increased this “modernization deficit.” Further reductions, on top of the more than $300 billion Secretary Gates has already cut in proposed procurement of new weapon systems, will dangerously erode the technological edge that America’s armed forces depend upon, and deserve.

The frenzy to cut defense spending is in reality an entirely political ploy: to get liberals on board with cuts in massive entitlement and discretionary spending, fiscal hawks are willing to throw defense spending into the mix. But this ignores the real and multiplying threats we face, especially under a president whose reticence seems only to have whetted the appetites of aggressive regimes.

The result of the lower-defense-spending fetish is that the way we have traditionally looked at defense spending and national security has been reversed. Presidents of both parties have attempted to assess the threats we face and from that determine what expenditures we need. It is imperfect at best, since congressmen and senators are not shy about asking for goodies for their districts and states. But at least the effort is made to gear spending to national security needs. But in the rush to cut defense spending, this process is reversed: we are told by liberal Democrats, conservative neo-isolationists, and budget hawks that because of the need to cut spending, we need to reassess our national security commitments. It is quite frankly a non sequitur. Al-Qaeda, North Korea, Iran, and the rest are only growing bolder. If the defense cutters were honest, they’d say they are willing to make us less safe to get liberals to accept domestic spending cuts. But that sounds daft. And it is.

As the 2012 GOP presidential contenders scramble for visibility, they would do well to take on this issue — and those who think that in an increasingly dangerous world we should be spending less to defend ourselves.

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North Korea Playing the U.S. — Still

Try as he might, Obama can’t escape being a wartime president and foreign-policy-crisis manager. That’s the world in which we live, and it keeps intruding into his desired agenda:

North Korea’s deadly attack on a populated South Korean island dramatically escalated the conflict between the two countries, leaving Seoul and its allies hunting for a response that would stave off more attacks but stop short of sparking war.

Artillery fire from the North came out of clear skies Tuesday afternoon and pounded an island near a disputed maritime border for more than an hour. Yeonpyeong Island’s 1,200 civilians scattered as shells exploded and homes and buildings caught fire, witnesses said, with many residents hunkering down in bomb shelters or fleeing on boats.

This act of provocation was met with tough talk, but produced more questions than answers:

The United Nations, European Union, Japan and others condemned the attack, with Russia and China calling for a cooling of tensions on the peninsula. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Tuesday’s exchange “one of the gravest incidents since the end of the Korean War.”

President Barack Obama strongly affirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. Mr. Obama called Mr. Lee to say the U.S. stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the ally and would work with the international community to condemn the “outrageous” attack, the Associated Press reported.

But what do the flurry of words mean, and what is the value of a shoulder-to-shoulder commitment while South Korea’s ships are at risk and its territory is violated? One senses quite clearly that Obama is being tested. After all, what did he do when Syria violated the UN resolution? What has he done about the Russian occupation of Georgia? The proliferation of non-actions has emboldened the North Koreans, as it has all the rogue states. And now Obama has his hands full.

Before word of the attack, former ambassador and potential 2012 presidential candidate John R. Bolton wrote in reference to the newly discovered nuclear facility in Yongbyon that we’ve been “played” by North Korea ever since the Clinton administration. He does not spare the Bush administration either:

Worse, in President George W. Bush’s second term, an assertive group of deniers in the State Department and the intelligence community claimed or implied that North Korea did not have a substantial or ongoing uranium-enrichment program. They denied that the North Koreans had conceded as much in 2002 and that there was sufficient evidence of a continuing program. The intelligence community downgraded its confidence level in its earlier conclusion, not because of contradictory information but because it had not subsequently acquired significant new data. State Department negotiators scorned the idea that the North had a serious enrichment capability. …

The last thing Washington should do now is resurrect the failed six-party talks or start bilateral negotiations with the North. Instead, serious efforts need to be made with China on reunifying the Korean peninsula, a goal made ever more urgent by the clear transition of power now underway in Pyongyang as Kim Jong Il faces the actuarial tables. North Korea’s threat will only end when it does, and that day cannot come soon enough.

What is clear is that the North Koreans perceive no downside to acts of aggression against their neighbor. So long as Obama has only words in response, the barrages are not likely to end. And meanwhile, Iran and our other foes look on.

Try as he might, Obama can’t escape being a wartime president and foreign-policy-crisis manager. That’s the world in which we live, and it keeps intruding into his desired agenda:

North Korea’s deadly attack on a populated South Korean island dramatically escalated the conflict between the two countries, leaving Seoul and its allies hunting for a response that would stave off more attacks but stop short of sparking war.

Artillery fire from the North came out of clear skies Tuesday afternoon and pounded an island near a disputed maritime border for more than an hour. Yeonpyeong Island’s 1,200 civilians scattered as shells exploded and homes and buildings caught fire, witnesses said, with many residents hunkering down in bomb shelters or fleeing on boats.

This act of provocation was met with tough talk, but produced more questions than answers:

The United Nations, European Union, Japan and others condemned the attack, with Russia and China calling for a cooling of tensions on the peninsula. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Tuesday’s exchange “one of the gravest incidents since the end of the Korean War.”

President Barack Obama strongly affirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. Mr. Obama called Mr. Lee to say the U.S. stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the ally and would work with the international community to condemn the “outrageous” attack, the Associated Press reported.

But what do the flurry of words mean, and what is the value of a shoulder-to-shoulder commitment while South Korea’s ships are at risk and its territory is violated? One senses quite clearly that Obama is being tested. After all, what did he do when Syria violated the UN resolution? What has he done about the Russian occupation of Georgia? The proliferation of non-actions has emboldened the North Koreans, as it has all the rogue states. And now Obama has his hands full.

Before word of the attack, former ambassador and potential 2012 presidential candidate John R. Bolton wrote in reference to the newly discovered nuclear facility in Yongbyon that we’ve been “played” by North Korea ever since the Clinton administration. He does not spare the Bush administration either:

Worse, in President George W. Bush’s second term, an assertive group of deniers in the State Department and the intelligence community claimed or implied that North Korea did not have a substantial or ongoing uranium-enrichment program. They denied that the North Koreans had conceded as much in 2002 and that there was sufficient evidence of a continuing program. The intelligence community downgraded its confidence level in its earlier conclusion, not because of contradictory information but because it had not subsequently acquired significant new data. State Department negotiators scorned the idea that the North had a serious enrichment capability. …

The last thing Washington should do now is resurrect the failed six-party talks or start bilateral negotiations with the North. Instead, serious efforts need to be made with China on reunifying the Korean peninsula, a goal made ever more urgent by the clear transition of power now underway in Pyongyang as Kim Jong Il faces the actuarial tables. North Korea’s threat will only end when it does, and that day cannot come soon enough.

What is clear is that the North Koreans perceive no downside to acts of aggression against their neighbor. So long as Obama has only words in response, the barrages are not likely to end. And meanwhile, Iran and our other foes look on.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A good question. “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday slammed the world’s response to North Korea’s attack on its southern neighbor, saying the international community was showing weakness in the face of aggression. … ‘How will the world be able to stop Iran if it can’t stop North Korea,’ Lieberman said.”

A good example of the power of the Tea Party. “In one of the biggest election surprises of the year, Ann Marie Buerkle is officially the winner in New York’s 25th congressional district. Ms. Buerkle was ahead by some 800 votes on Election Day, and after several thousand absentee ballots were finally counted her lead held up. Ms. Buerkle is a nurse and mother of six who had never sought political office. She knocked off Dan Maffei, a life long politician and a protégé of scandal-plagued Charlie Rangel.”

A good bit of advice. “The incoming class of House Republicans is being urged to re-read the Constitution, carefully deal with the press and become very familiar with congressional ethics rules.”

A “good grief” report: “Fed lowers economic expectations for 2011.” They could be lower?

A good reminder that our awful policy toward North Korea is a bipartisan undertaking. Charles Krauthammer on the revelations of an advanced nuclear plan in North Korea: “The farce began 16 years ago when the Clinton administration concluded what was called the framework agreement in which the deal was they would freeze and then dismantle their plutonium program in return for all kinds of goodies, including two nuclear reactors that we would construct, and a lot of, a lot of economic support.”

A good reason not to send your kid to NYU. “A New York University arts professor might not have eyes on the back of his head, but he’s coming pretty close. Wafaa Bilal, a visual artist widely recognized for his interactive and performance pieces, had a small digital camera implanted in the back of his head — all in the name of art.”

Not a good thing for Mitt Romney’s outreach to the Tea Party crowd. President “Read My Lips,” George H.W. Bush, endorsed him for president.

A good question. “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday slammed the world’s response to North Korea’s attack on its southern neighbor, saying the international community was showing weakness in the face of aggression. … ‘How will the world be able to stop Iran if it can’t stop North Korea,’ Lieberman said.”

A good example of the power of the Tea Party. “In one of the biggest election surprises of the year, Ann Marie Buerkle is officially the winner in New York’s 25th congressional district. Ms. Buerkle was ahead by some 800 votes on Election Day, and after several thousand absentee ballots were finally counted her lead held up. Ms. Buerkle is a nurse and mother of six who had never sought political office. She knocked off Dan Maffei, a life long politician and a protégé of scandal-plagued Charlie Rangel.”

A good bit of advice. “The incoming class of House Republicans is being urged to re-read the Constitution, carefully deal with the press and become very familiar with congressional ethics rules.”

A “good grief” report: “Fed lowers economic expectations for 2011.” They could be lower?

A good reminder that our awful policy toward North Korea is a bipartisan undertaking. Charles Krauthammer on the revelations of an advanced nuclear plan in North Korea: “The farce began 16 years ago when the Clinton administration concluded what was called the framework agreement in which the deal was they would freeze and then dismantle their plutonium program in return for all kinds of goodies, including two nuclear reactors that we would construct, and a lot of, a lot of economic support.”

A good reason not to send your kid to NYU. “A New York University arts professor might not have eyes on the back of his head, but he’s coming pretty close. Wafaa Bilal, a visual artist widely recognized for his interactive and performance pieces, had a small digital camera implanted in the back of his head — all in the name of art.”

Not a good thing for Mitt Romney’s outreach to the Tea Party crowd. President “Read My Lips,” George H.W. Bush, endorsed him for president.

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Netanyahu Isn’t the One Playing Politics on Iran

Israeli leaders are often rightly warned to avoid the temptation to tiptoe into the muddy waters of American partisan politics. That is a lesson that current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu learned during his first term in office during the 1990s, when he answered the antipathy of the Clinton administration by cozying up to the Republicans. Though Clinton had done everything but go door to door asking Israeli voters to back Shimon Peres and Labor instead of Netanyahu and Likud in Israel’s 1996 parliamentary election, Netanyahu’s clear preference for the GOP was a mistake that did Israel no good and Clinton little harm.

That is the sort of mistake that Netanyahu has avoided since coming back to the prime minister’s office in 2009. Though President Obama has picked fights with Israel as he sought to distance the United States from its ally in a futile bid for popularity in the Muslim world and treated Netanyahu abominably, the prime minister has wisely never voiced a single complaint and has frustrated those in the White House who foolishly thought they could unseat him. But these rope-a-dope tactics are not only frustrating for the Obami. They are driving some Israeli left-wingers crazy, too.

That’s the spirit of a piece published yesterday at Politico by Alon Pinkas, Israel’s former consul general in New York City. He accuses Netanyahu of violating the unwritten rule prohibiting prime ministers from partisan activities here. What’s his evidence? The speech Netanyahu gave to the General Assembly of North American Jewish Federations in which he called for the assertion of a threat of force to respond to the nuclear threat from Iran. Netanyahu said that while he hoped that sanctions would work to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, a credible threat of force must be on the table. Since U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates soon responded that sanctions are working (a position that no serious person actually believes), Pinkas concludes that Netanyahu violated a tradition of non-partisanship. After that, he goes on to switch gears and then rehearse the arguments often heard from Jewish Democrats that even raising the issue of support for Israel in U.S. elections is somehow not kosher.

Such arguments are nonsense.

First, worrying about Iran has never been the sole preserve of the Republicans. For example, a certain Democratic presidential candidate named Barack Obama made a number of pledges that he would never allow Iran to go nuclear on his watch. Many Democrats as well as Republicans have sounded the alarm about Iran as Obama spent his first year in office pursuing a feckless policy of “engagement” with the ayatollahs and then watched in dismay as he spent his second year assembling a coalition that could only muster support for tepid sanctions that have made no impression on the Iranians.

But what his piece illustrates is that it is Pinkas who is playing American party politics, not Netanyahu. By decrying the claim of some Republicans that some Democrats have been unsupportive of Israel, all Pinkas is doing is demonstrating that he dislikes the GOP and sympathizes with the Democrats. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if that’s how he feels, then perhaps he should move here, become a citizen, and get a vote. (Oddly enough, a few years ago Pinkas actually made a bid to become the head of the American Jewish Congress and almost got the job, until it was learned that it was a violation of Israeli law for a diplomat to take such a position so soon after leaving his post. Eventually, even the members of that moribund organization realized that the idea of an unemployed Israeli diplomat becoming the head of an American group was ridiculous.)

Contrary to Pinkas’s assertion, accountability is the one thing all friends of Israel should welcome. If either a Democrat or a Republican takes stances that are unhelpful to Israel, he or she ought to pay a political price at the ballot box. Taking the issue of support for Israel off the table does nothing to encourage politicians of either party to make good on their campaign promises to defend the Jewish state.

By expressing the justified concerns of Israelis about the existential threat facing their country from Iran, Netanyahu was doing exactly what he should be doing. By injecting himself into party squabbles here on behalf of his friends in the Democratic Party and by attempting to undermine his prime minister’s mission with a false allegation of partisanship, Pinkas demonstrated how out of touch he is with the realities of both Israeli and American politics.

Israeli leaders are often rightly warned to avoid the temptation to tiptoe into the muddy waters of American partisan politics. That is a lesson that current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu learned during his first term in office during the 1990s, when he answered the antipathy of the Clinton administration by cozying up to the Republicans. Though Clinton had done everything but go door to door asking Israeli voters to back Shimon Peres and Labor instead of Netanyahu and Likud in Israel’s 1996 parliamentary election, Netanyahu’s clear preference for the GOP was a mistake that did Israel no good and Clinton little harm.

That is the sort of mistake that Netanyahu has avoided since coming back to the prime minister’s office in 2009. Though President Obama has picked fights with Israel as he sought to distance the United States from its ally in a futile bid for popularity in the Muslim world and treated Netanyahu abominably, the prime minister has wisely never voiced a single complaint and has frustrated those in the White House who foolishly thought they could unseat him. But these rope-a-dope tactics are not only frustrating for the Obami. They are driving some Israeli left-wingers crazy, too.

That’s the spirit of a piece published yesterday at Politico by Alon Pinkas, Israel’s former consul general in New York City. He accuses Netanyahu of violating the unwritten rule prohibiting prime ministers from partisan activities here. What’s his evidence? The speech Netanyahu gave to the General Assembly of North American Jewish Federations in which he called for the assertion of a threat of force to respond to the nuclear threat from Iran. Netanyahu said that while he hoped that sanctions would work to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, a credible threat of force must be on the table. Since U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates soon responded that sanctions are working (a position that no serious person actually believes), Pinkas concludes that Netanyahu violated a tradition of non-partisanship. After that, he goes on to switch gears and then rehearse the arguments often heard from Jewish Democrats that even raising the issue of support for Israel in U.S. elections is somehow not kosher.

Such arguments are nonsense.

First, worrying about Iran has never been the sole preserve of the Republicans. For example, a certain Democratic presidential candidate named Barack Obama made a number of pledges that he would never allow Iran to go nuclear on his watch. Many Democrats as well as Republicans have sounded the alarm about Iran as Obama spent his first year in office pursuing a feckless policy of “engagement” with the ayatollahs and then watched in dismay as he spent his second year assembling a coalition that could only muster support for tepid sanctions that have made no impression on the Iranians.

But what his piece illustrates is that it is Pinkas who is playing American party politics, not Netanyahu. By decrying the claim of some Republicans that some Democrats have been unsupportive of Israel, all Pinkas is doing is demonstrating that he dislikes the GOP and sympathizes with the Democrats. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if that’s how he feels, then perhaps he should move here, become a citizen, and get a vote. (Oddly enough, a few years ago Pinkas actually made a bid to become the head of the American Jewish Congress and almost got the job, until it was learned that it was a violation of Israeli law for a diplomat to take such a position so soon after leaving his post. Eventually, even the members of that moribund organization realized that the idea of an unemployed Israeli diplomat becoming the head of an American group was ridiculous.)

Contrary to Pinkas’s assertion, accountability is the one thing all friends of Israel should welcome. If either a Democrat or a Republican takes stances that are unhelpful to Israel, he or she ought to pay a political price at the ballot box. Taking the issue of support for Israel off the table does nothing to encourage politicians of either party to make good on their campaign promises to defend the Jewish state.

By expressing the justified concerns of Israelis about the existential threat facing their country from Iran, Netanyahu was doing exactly what he should be doing. By injecting himself into party squabbles here on behalf of his friends in the Democratic Party and by attempting to undermine his prime minister’s mission with a false allegation of partisanship, Pinkas demonstrated how out of touch he is with the realities of both Israeli and American politics.

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Don’t Let the Door Hit You, Rahm

Rahm Emanuel is leaving, and American Jewish leaders couldn’t care less. In this regard, they have figured out who is running the U.S.-Israel policy (and hence, where the problem is):

“A lot of people like to think this Israeli-Palestinian policy has been Rahm Emanuel’s and it’s not. It’s Barack Obama’s,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a Democratic strategist and former Clinton administration aide. …

Noted William Daroff, the Jewish Federations of North America’s vice president for public policy and director of its Washington Office: “The buck stops at the desk of the president of the United States, so any staff change shouldn’t impact the relationship [Obama] has with the state of Israel or the Jewish community.”

The savviest remark comes from a “Jewish community professional” who observes:

“In some ways,” that professional added, Emanuel’s belief that he could effortlessly handle the Jewish community due to his deep connections has “been a detriment to the White House [because Emanuel's] saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got that,’ but then he doesn’t.”

Well, he didn’t. And there’s a smidgen of candor — well, what passes for candor in Washington (a blind quote, in other words):

“That hasn’t always been of a great benefit to Israel,” noted one of the Jewish leaders previously quoted on background. “In an American government, a friend of Israel is more important a factor than whether they’re Jewish.”

Emanuel’s religion, in fact, already seems to be having a negative net impact on his bid to become Chicago’s next mayor.

According to the Chicago Tribune, some politically conservative Jews tend to blame Emanuel, the son of an Israeli doctor, for some of the Obama administration’s tensions with Israel, while Orthodox Jews quibbled with his decision to announce his resignation on Friday of last week, Simchat Torah.

Alas, that’s Rahm’s problem now. As for American Jewish leaders and pro-Israel pundits, it’s about time they wised up. They have learned the hard way that the president’s naming a Jew as chief of staff doesn’t mean that his heart is in the right place on Israel. The departure of one adviser out of many selected by a president convinced of his own wisdom on the Middle East is virtually meaningless. What matters is that a president was elected who lacks empathy toward and understanding of the nature of the Zionist enterprise, who imagines kicking a democratic ally will impress its despotic foes, who is convinced he can engage the mullahs and then contain them after they rebuff his entreaties, and who fails to grasp that serial weakness by the U.S. places both the U.S. and Israel at risk.

That such an overwhelming majority of American Jewish leaders cheered, vouched and raised money for candidate Obama explains, in large part, their reluctance to come to terms with what a disaster he has been for U.S.-Israel relations and for the West’s security in the face of an Islamic revolutionary state bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Let’s see if they can now work strenuously — as strenuously as they did to elect him – to limit the damage their chosen candidate will inflict on both American and Israeli security, which the president seems not to fully comprehend are inextricably linked. And then the real test will come in 2012, when they will have the opportunity to shed their “sick addiction” to the president and his party. Or will “a woman’s right to choose,” government-run health care, and the supposed scourge of global warming once more take precedence over the fate of the Jewish state?

Rahm Emanuel is leaving, and American Jewish leaders couldn’t care less. In this regard, they have figured out who is running the U.S.-Israel policy (and hence, where the problem is):

“A lot of people like to think this Israeli-Palestinian policy has been Rahm Emanuel’s and it’s not. It’s Barack Obama’s,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a Democratic strategist and former Clinton administration aide. …

Noted William Daroff, the Jewish Federations of North America’s vice president for public policy and director of its Washington Office: “The buck stops at the desk of the president of the United States, so any staff change shouldn’t impact the relationship [Obama] has with the state of Israel or the Jewish community.”

The savviest remark comes from a “Jewish community professional” who observes:

“In some ways,” that professional added, Emanuel’s belief that he could effortlessly handle the Jewish community due to his deep connections has “been a detriment to the White House [because Emanuel's] saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got that,’ but then he doesn’t.”

Well, he didn’t. And there’s a smidgen of candor — well, what passes for candor in Washington (a blind quote, in other words):

“That hasn’t always been of a great benefit to Israel,” noted one of the Jewish leaders previously quoted on background. “In an American government, a friend of Israel is more important a factor than whether they’re Jewish.”

Emanuel’s religion, in fact, already seems to be having a negative net impact on his bid to become Chicago’s next mayor.

According to the Chicago Tribune, some politically conservative Jews tend to blame Emanuel, the son of an Israeli doctor, for some of the Obama administration’s tensions with Israel, while Orthodox Jews quibbled with his decision to announce his resignation on Friday of last week, Simchat Torah.

Alas, that’s Rahm’s problem now. As for American Jewish leaders and pro-Israel pundits, it’s about time they wised up. They have learned the hard way that the president’s naming a Jew as chief of staff doesn’t mean that his heart is in the right place on Israel. The departure of one adviser out of many selected by a president convinced of his own wisdom on the Middle East is virtually meaningless. What matters is that a president was elected who lacks empathy toward and understanding of the nature of the Zionist enterprise, who imagines kicking a democratic ally will impress its despotic foes, who is convinced he can engage the mullahs and then contain them after they rebuff his entreaties, and who fails to grasp that serial weakness by the U.S. places both the U.S. and Israel at risk.

That such an overwhelming majority of American Jewish leaders cheered, vouched and raised money for candidate Obama explains, in large part, their reluctance to come to terms with what a disaster he has been for U.S.-Israel relations and for the West’s security in the face of an Islamic revolutionary state bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Let’s see if they can now work strenuously — as strenuously as they did to elect him – to limit the damage their chosen candidate will inflict on both American and Israeli security, which the president seems not to fully comprehend are inextricably linked. And then the real test will come in 2012, when they will have the opportunity to shed their “sick addiction” to the president and his party. Or will “a woman’s right to choose,” government-run health care, and the supposed scourge of global warming once more take precedence over the fate of the Jewish state?

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Dumbest Policy Response, 2010 Award

A significant mismatch of “policy” with “problem” arose yesterday in a speech by James Clapper, Obama’s new director of national intelligence (DNI), addressed to the audience of a Washington think tank. This AFP report summarizes Clapper’s thesis (emphasis added):

US President Barack Obama is full of “angst” over a “hemorrhage” of leaks of sensitive intelligence from government officials, the director of national intelligence said on Wednesday.

James Clapper, the new chief of the country’s spy services, also said that intelligence agencies would have to be more restrained about sharing information with each other as a result of the leaks, citing the recent release of secret files on the Afghan war by the WikiLeaks website.

To begin with, the allusion to WikiLeaks is a political strawman. Interagency intelligence sharing wasn’t the point of vulnerability in that leak, which involved a soldier leaking the tactical Army intelligence to which he had routine access. Limiting information sharing between agencies won’t stop that kind of leak. Nor is it the key to stopping the practice of higher-level political leaking. The political leakers of the George W. Bush years leaked classified information that was within their own agencies’ purview.

This policy gambit doesn’t compute. When the Clinton administration solidified the famous “wall” between FBI and CIA intelligence, the putative purpose was to protect civil liberties. The policy went too far, but it was at least grounded in an idea with some political merit. Americans should be protected against intelligence agencies sharing information about them outside the constraints of civil law.

But now the DNI wants to limit information sharing between agencies as a means of addressing the problem of leaks. There are not enough clichés to adequately express how absurd this is. There’s no evidence that information sharing, per se, is even the problem. Meanwhile, the alternative of investigating and prosecuting the leaks, as painfully and inconveniently as necessary to actually discourage them, doesn’t seem to occur to anyone. The leakers are, after all, committing felonies every time they leak the classified information they have sworn — on pain of punishment under federal law — to keep secure.

There is little appetite in Washington for prosecution and punishment, because political partisans, including members of Congress, find leaks a convenience. It’s valid, moreover, to point out that clamping down on leaks could be abused by an administration inclined to be overly secretive about policy in general. These countervailing factors, along with the presumptive privilege enjoyed by the media, will always discourage the systematic prosecution of leakers.

But reverting to a pre-9/11 posture respecting information sharing is too high a price to pay for the convenience of leaving these entrenched assumptions undisturbed, especially when information sharing isn’t the root of the problem in the first place. Congress needs to inquire promptly into the policy trend previewed this week by Clapper. It doesn’t make sense. Its dangers for the American people are obvious — and we can only hope that, as a signal of the Obama administration’s intentions, “dumb” is the worst thing it is.

A significant mismatch of “policy” with “problem” arose yesterday in a speech by James Clapper, Obama’s new director of national intelligence (DNI), addressed to the audience of a Washington think tank. This AFP report summarizes Clapper’s thesis (emphasis added):

US President Barack Obama is full of “angst” over a “hemorrhage” of leaks of sensitive intelligence from government officials, the director of national intelligence said on Wednesday.

James Clapper, the new chief of the country’s spy services, also said that intelligence agencies would have to be more restrained about sharing information with each other as a result of the leaks, citing the recent release of secret files on the Afghan war by the WikiLeaks website.

To begin with, the allusion to WikiLeaks is a political strawman. Interagency intelligence sharing wasn’t the point of vulnerability in that leak, which involved a soldier leaking the tactical Army intelligence to which he had routine access. Limiting information sharing between agencies won’t stop that kind of leak. Nor is it the key to stopping the practice of higher-level political leaking. The political leakers of the George W. Bush years leaked classified information that was within their own agencies’ purview.

This policy gambit doesn’t compute. When the Clinton administration solidified the famous “wall” between FBI and CIA intelligence, the putative purpose was to protect civil liberties. The policy went too far, but it was at least grounded in an idea with some political merit. Americans should be protected against intelligence agencies sharing information about them outside the constraints of civil law.

But now the DNI wants to limit information sharing between agencies as a means of addressing the problem of leaks. There are not enough clichés to adequately express how absurd this is. There’s no evidence that information sharing, per se, is even the problem. Meanwhile, the alternative of investigating and prosecuting the leaks, as painfully and inconveniently as necessary to actually discourage them, doesn’t seem to occur to anyone. The leakers are, after all, committing felonies every time they leak the classified information they have sworn — on pain of punishment under federal law — to keep secure.

There is little appetite in Washington for prosecution and punishment, because political partisans, including members of Congress, find leaks a convenience. It’s valid, moreover, to point out that clamping down on leaks could be abused by an administration inclined to be overly secretive about policy in general. These countervailing factors, along with the presumptive privilege enjoyed by the media, will always discourage the systematic prosecution of leakers.

But reverting to a pre-9/11 posture respecting information sharing is too high a price to pay for the convenience of leaving these entrenched assumptions undisturbed, especially when information sharing isn’t the root of the problem in the first place. Congress needs to inquire promptly into the policy trend previewed this week by Clapper. It doesn’t make sense. Its dangers for the American people are obvious — and we can only hope that, as a signal of the Obama administration’s intentions, “dumb” is the worst thing it is.

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The Problem with the Obama Letter

Paul Mirengoff concurs with Evelyn Gordon’s suggestion that Barack Obama’s proposed letter, promising significant “goodies” for Israel if it extends its settlement moratorium, is unreliable — given Obama’s failure to abide by promises made by the U.S. in his predecessor’s letter. My own view is that the problem with the proposed letter is not simply its credibility but also its substance.

The Obama administration has refused 22 times to state whether it considers itself bound by the Bush letter, which conceded that it “seems clear” that Palestinian refugees must be resettled in a Palestinian state rather than in Israel and that it is “unrealistic” to expect a complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, given the major Israeli population centers there. Those factual statements remain true notwithstanding Obama’s refusal to acknowledge them. But the critical part of the Bush letter was the promise that the U.S. would stand by its “steadfast commitment” to “defensible borders” (a term with a long diplomatic history and military meaning) — a commitment made not only by Bush, but by the Clinton administration in its own letter to Israel’s then-prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to David Makovsky’s quasi-official summary of the proposed Obama letter, the administration promises to help ensure “a complete ban” on the smuggling of arms and terrorists into a Palestinian state; maintain a “transitional period” for Israeli enforcement of security in the Jordan Valley; and enhance Israel’s defense capabilities in a “post-peace era.” But there was no reiteration of the prior U.S. commitment to such borders as are necessary for Israel to defend itself if the ban proves less than complete, the transitional period not quite long enough, and the “post-peace era” similar to the one that followed withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza.

The failure of the proposed letter to reiterate the commitment to defensible borders made by both Democratic and Republican administrations is another indication the Obama administration has reneged on it. In its place, the administration offers a “complete ban” that no one can guarantee; a “transitional period” no one can assure will be long enough; and a promised enhancement of Israel’s defense capabilities, which is an implicit admission that Israel’s current capabilities are insufficient for the risks involved in a “post-peace era.” Even if given in good faith, the Obama letter cannot substitute for defensible borders, but that is the function the proposed letter seems intended to serve.

Paul Mirengoff concurs with Evelyn Gordon’s suggestion that Barack Obama’s proposed letter, promising significant “goodies” for Israel if it extends its settlement moratorium, is unreliable — given Obama’s failure to abide by promises made by the U.S. in his predecessor’s letter. My own view is that the problem with the proposed letter is not simply its credibility but also its substance.

The Obama administration has refused 22 times to state whether it considers itself bound by the Bush letter, which conceded that it “seems clear” that Palestinian refugees must be resettled in a Palestinian state rather than in Israel and that it is “unrealistic” to expect a complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, given the major Israeli population centers there. Those factual statements remain true notwithstanding Obama’s refusal to acknowledge them. But the critical part of the Bush letter was the promise that the U.S. would stand by its “steadfast commitment” to “defensible borders” (a term with a long diplomatic history and military meaning) — a commitment made not only by Bush, but by the Clinton administration in its own letter to Israel’s then-prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to David Makovsky’s quasi-official summary of the proposed Obama letter, the administration promises to help ensure “a complete ban” on the smuggling of arms and terrorists into a Palestinian state; maintain a “transitional period” for Israeli enforcement of security in the Jordan Valley; and enhance Israel’s defense capabilities in a “post-peace era.” But there was no reiteration of the prior U.S. commitment to such borders as are necessary for Israel to defend itself if the ban proves less than complete, the transitional period not quite long enough, and the “post-peace era” similar to the one that followed withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza.

The failure of the proposed letter to reiterate the commitment to defensible borders made by both Democratic and Republican administrations is another indication the Obama administration has reneged on it. In its place, the administration offers a “complete ban” that no one can guarantee; a “transitional period” no one can assure will be long enough; and a promised enhancement of Israel’s defense capabilities, which is an implicit admission that Israel’s current capabilities are insufficient for the risks involved in a “post-peace era.” Even if given in good faith, the Obama letter cannot substitute for defensible borders, but that is the function the proposed letter seems intended to serve.

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Reading (and Misreading) Kim

Now and then a media theme comes along that can only be called fatuous. Next week, North Korea will hold its first ruling-party conference in 30 years. In advance of the conference, the Kim government has promoted to higher office three senior officials with career connections to the nuclear program. The three men in question were prominent in previous iterations of the multilateral negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Therefore, Western media are depicting these personnel moves as a sign that “the country’s leaders are seeking to stabilize foreign relations and encourage diplomacy.” Very few of the mainstream media outlets report, however, that Kang Sok Ju, who has been made the new vice premier, was the chief designer of the North Korean nuclear program. He was chosen in 1994 to negotiate the Agreed Framework with the Clinton administration because he was the North’s nuclear chief. From the perspective of the Kim regime — which intended all along to retain its program and achieve a weapons capability — the most senior proponent of the program was the appropriate emissary to the proceedings.

There are a number of indications that Kim Jong-Il is planning to introduce his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, as his political successor next week. The current Kim was named successor at the last such conference in 1980. Close followers of Pyongyang’s ineffable party media note that in the last six months, Kim Jong-Il has been referred to as “Great Leader,” a title once reserved for his father Kim Il-Sung.  The post of “Dear Leader” is now unoccupied, just in time for the rare party conference. The three men in the new government positions are Kim Jong-Il loyalists: from any standpoint — tensions with the South, the terrible toll of typhoons and flooding this summer, the need to secure a succession — it makes sense for the current Kim to ensure loyalty in his senior ranks.

The logical interpretation of the personnel moves is that they are intended to secure the optimum conditions for Kim’s internal political plans. The men in question are trusted, long-time aides of the regime: that’s why they were associated with the nuclear program to begin with, it’s why they were dispatched for nuclear negotiations in the past, and it’s why they are being shuffled upward now.

It bears reiterating that their record in foreign negotiations was all to Pyongyang’s advantage. They never negotiated in good faith and North Korea never kept the commitments it made. At no time were they or their regime negotiating in order to cultivate good foreign relations — or, in fact, to seek any common objective with the other parties to the talks.

It hasn’t been that long since the Soviet Union collapsed. But today’s mainstream media seem to retain no corporate memory of the dynamics of secretive Communist regimes. Regime succession is a recurring national-security emergency for such governments. Many Western media outlets have picked up on the warning from a Russian diplomat this week that the Koreas are on the brink of conflict. But if the Russians are observing a bustling in North Korea’s national-defense apparatus, that would be perfectly in character for a Communist thugocracy before a landmark party conference. “The wicked flee when none pursueth,” say the Proverbs; it’s much more likely that the Kim regime is maneuvering, in the Communist manner, against anticipated threats to itself rather than taking a vow of “good diplomacy” to improve relations with the U.S.

Now and then a media theme comes along that can only be called fatuous. Next week, North Korea will hold its first ruling-party conference in 30 years. In advance of the conference, the Kim government has promoted to higher office three senior officials with career connections to the nuclear program. The three men in question were prominent in previous iterations of the multilateral negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Therefore, Western media are depicting these personnel moves as a sign that “the country’s leaders are seeking to stabilize foreign relations and encourage diplomacy.” Very few of the mainstream media outlets report, however, that Kang Sok Ju, who has been made the new vice premier, was the chief designer of the North Korean nuclear program. He was chosen in 1994 to negotiate the Agreed Framework with the Clinton administration because he was the North’s nuclear chief. From the perspective of the Kim regime — which intended all along to retain its program and achieve a weapons capability — the most senior proponent of the program was the appropriate emissary to the proceedings.

There are a number of indications that Kim Jong-Il is planning to introduce his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, as his political successor next week. The current Kim was named successor at the last such conference in 1980. Close followers of Pyongyang’s ineffable party media note that in the last six months, Kim Jong-Il has been referred to as “Great Leader,” a title once reserved for his father Kim Il-Sung.  The post of “Dear Leader” is now unoccupied, just in time for the rare party conference. The three men in the new government positions are Kim Jong-Il loyalists: from any standpoint — tensions with the South, the terrible toll of typhoons and flooding this summer, the need to secure a succession — it makes sense for the current Kim to ensure loyalty in his senior ranks.

The logical interpretation of the personnel moves is that they are intended to secure the optimum conditions for Kim’s internal political plans. The men in question are trusted, long-time aides of the regime: that’s why they were associated with the nuclear program to begin with, it’s why they were dispatched for nuclear negotiations in the past, and it’s why they are being shuffled upward now.

It bears reiterating that their record in foreign negotiations was all to Pyongyang’s advantage. They never negotiated in good faith and North Korea never kept the commitments it made. At no time were they or their regime negotiating in order to cultivate good foreign relations — or, in fact, to seek any common objective with the other parties to the talks.

It hasn’t been that long since the Soviet Union collapsed. But today’s mainstream media seem to retain no corporate memory of the dynamics of secretive Communist regimes. Regime succession is a recurring national-security emergency for such governments. Many Western media outlets have picked up on the warning from a Russian diplomat this week that the Koreas are on the brink of conflict. But if the Russians are observing a bustling in North Korea’s national-defense apparatus, that would be perfectly in character for a Communist thugocracy before a landmark party conference. “The wicked flee when none pursueth,” say the Proverbs; it’s much more likely that the Kim regime is maneuvering, in the Communist manner, against anticipated threats to itself rather than taking a vow of “good diplomacy” to improve relations with the U.S.

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Americans Get It

Rasmussen has an interesting poll concerning which countries Americans consider to be our allies:

Eighty-seven percent (87%) rate our neighbor to the north as a U.S. ally, while two percent (2%) view Canada as an enemy. Six percent (6%) place it somewhere between an ally and an enemy. … Great Britain, whose had a special relationship with America from the start, is seen as an ally by 85%, an enemy by two percent (2%) and somewhere in between by eight percent (8%). … Next comes Israel, recognized by the United States immediately after its independence in 1948. America has been the Jewish state’s strongest supporter ever since. Seventy-one percent (71%) of Americans regard Israel as an ally, but six percent (6%) say it’s an enemy. For 17%, Israel falls somewhere in between.

Alas, Obama does not seem to share the warm feelings about Britain or Israel, and the relationship between the U.S. and these countries is indisputably worse than it was under the Bush administration, or, for that matter, the Clinton administration. Americans have figured that out as well, according to a separate Rasmussen poll earlier this month:

U.S. voters are now as pessimistic about America’s relationship with Israel as they are about relations with the Muslim world. A new Rasmussen Reports nationwide telephone survey finds that one-in-three voters (34%) believe the U.S. relationship with Israel will be worse one year from now.

Let’s hope that voters are wrong on that one and that after 18 months of acrimonious dealings with the Jewish state, Obama rethinks he approach. As for Britain, I don’t imagine Obama can top sending back the Churchill bust or giving cheesy gifts to the prime minister. But he might do well to spend more time reassuring on our skittish allies and less time fawning over despots and throwing concessions at the Russians’ feet.

Rasmussen has an interesting poll concerning which countries Americans consider to be our allies:

Eighty-seven percent (87%) rate our neighbor to the north as a U.S. ally, while two percent (2%) view Canada as an enemy. Six percent (6%) place it somewhere between an ally and an enemy. … Great Britain, whose had a special relationship with America from the start, is seen as an ally by 85%, an enemy by two percent (2%) and somewhere in between by eight percent (8%). … Next comes Israel, recognized by the United States immediately after its independence in 1948. America has been the Jewish state’s strongest supporter ever since. Seventy-one percent (71%) of Americans regard Israel as an ally, but six percent (6%) say it’s an enemy. For 17%, Israel falls somewhere in between.

Alas, Obama does not seem to share the warm feelings about Britain or Israel, and the relationship between the U.S. and these countries is indisputably worse than it was under the Bush administration, or, for that matter, the Clinton administration. Americans have figured that out as well, according to a separate Rasmussen poll earlier this month:

U.S. voters are now as pessimistic about America’s relationship with Israel as they are about relations with the Muslim world. A new Rasmussen Reports nationwide telephone survey finds that one-in-three voters (34%) believe the U.S. relationship with Israel will be worse one year from now.

Let’s hope that voters are wrong on that one and that after 18 months of acrimonious dealings with the Jewish state, Obama rethinks he approach. As for Britain, I don’t imagine Obama can top sending back the Churchill bust or giving cheesy gifts to the prime minister. But he might do well to spend more time reassuring on our skittish allies and less time fawning over despots and throwing concessions at the Russians’ feet.

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The 31 Years’ War

Bret Stephens makes a convincing argument that we took too long to decide to and then act decisively to oust Saddam Hussein. Dubbing it the Twenty Years’ War (beginning with Desert Storm, which “proved an apt name for a military operation that had been blinded to its own real purposes”), he writes:

Kuwait was liberated but Saddam stayed on for another 12 years, supposedly—as Madeleine Albright notoriously put it—”in a box.” In that box, he killed tens of thousands of Iraq’s Shiites, caused a humanitarian crisis among the Kurds, attempted to assassinate George H.W. Bush, profited from a sanctions regime that otherwise starved his own people, compelled a “no-fly zone” that cost the U.S. $1 billion a year to police, defied more than a dozen U.N. sanctions, corrupted the U.N. Secretariat, evicted U.N. weapons inspectors and gave cash prizes to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. …

The Twenty Years’ War lasted as long as it did because the first Bush administration failed to finish it when it could, and because the Clinton administration pretended it wasn’t happening. Should we now draw the lesson that hesitation and delay are the best policy? Or that wars are best fought swiftly to their necessary conclusion? The former conclusion did not ultimately spare us the war. The latter would have spared us one of 20 years.

Well, this would seem equally apt for the Thirty-One Years War that Iran has waged against the U.S. and the West more generally. Multiple administrations have done nothing as it waged a proxy war through terrorists groups against the West. Neither the Bush administration or the current one has responded to the deaths of hundreds of U.S. soldiers (and Iraqi allies as well) killed by Iran’s weapons and operatives in Iraq. Iran too has committed human-rights atrocities against its own people and defied UN resolutions.

So now we are faced with the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran that would, if it possesses nuclear weapons, certainly be emboldened to continue and step up its war on the West. The question for the Obama administration is whether to finally engage the enemy, thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and commit ourselves to regime change. The chances are slim indeed that this president would rise to the occasion. But perhaps, if Israel buys the world sufficient time (yes, we are down to whether the Jewish state will pick up the slack for the sleeping superpower), the next president will.

Bret Stephens makes a convincing argument that we took too long to decide to and then act decisively to oust Saddam Hussein. Dubbing it the Twenty Years’ War (beginning with Desert Storm, which “proved an apt name for a military operation that had been blinded to its own real purposes”), he writes:

Kuwait was liberated but Saddam stayed on for another 12 years, supposedly—as Madeleine Albright notoriously put it—”in a box.” In that box, he killed tens of thousands of Iraq’s Shiites, caused a humanitarian crisis among the Kurds, attempted to assassinate George H.W. Bush, profited from a sanctions regime that otherwise starved his own people, compelled a “no-fly zone” that cost the U.S. $1 billion a year to police, defied more than a dozen U.N. sanctions, corrupted the U.N. Secretariat, evicted U.N. weapons inspectors and gave cash prizes to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. …

The Twenty Years’ War lasted as long as it did because the first Bush administration failed to finish it when it could, and because the Clinton administration pretended it wasn’t happening. Should we now draw the lesson that hesitation and delay are the best policy? Or that wars are best fought swiftly to their necessary conclusion? The former conclusion did not ultimately spare us the war. The latter would have spared us one of 20 years.

Well, this would seem equally apt for the Thirty-One Years War that Iran has waged against the U.S. and the West more generally. Multiple administrations have done nothing as it waged a proxy war through terrorists groups against the West. Neither the Bush administration or the current one has responded to the deaths of hundreds of U.S. soldiers (and Iraqi allies as well) killed by Iran’s weapons and operatives in Iraq. Iran too has committed human-rights atrocities against its own people and defied UN resolutions.

So now we are faced with the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran that would, if it possesses nuclear weapons, certainly be emboldened to continue and step up its war on the West. The question for the Obama administration is whether to finally engage the enemy, thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and commit ourselves to regime change. The chances are slim indeed that this president would rise to the occasion. But perhaps, if Israel buys the world sufficient time (yes, we are down to whether the Jewish state will pick up the slack for the sleeping superpower), the next president will.

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Another Questionable Appointee, Another Recess Appointment

Obama is using the recess appointment again. Recall that is how he got the SEIU’s lawyer on to the National Labor Relations Board and how he got Donald Berwick past the Senate’s scrutiny. (“‘Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered,’ [Max] Baucus said in a statement.”)

Now he’s at is again, this time to get an ambassador to El Salvador through. What was her problem? Josh Rogin explains that Mari Carmen Aponte is going to be pushed through “despite lingering GOP concerns about her long-ago relationship with a Cuban operative.” Obama’s not serious, is he? Oh, yes indeed:

Aponte’s nomination had been stalled as of April due to objections by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, who prevented the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from voting on the nomination because he was worried about a romantic involvement she had in the 1990s with Robert Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who was alleged to have ties to both the FBI and Fidel Castro’s intelligence apparatus.

DeMint and other Republicans wanted access to all of the FBI’s records on the relationship. The FBI interviewed both Aponte and Tamayo about the matter back in 1993, but Aponte has admitted she declined to take a lie-detector test. She withdrew herself from consideration to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 1998 after then Sen. Jesse Helms promised to ask invasive questions about the relationship at her hearing, citing “personal reasons.”

Translation: the Clinton administration was not going to go to bat for this woman. But not Obama. Off she will go, with no examination of her ties to Castro.

This is yet another instance of both Obama’s preference for appointing questionable characters and his need (which likely will intensify with time) to resort to strong-arm tactics. (After all, none of the Democrats in the Senate really wanted to vote for this woman, did they?) This does not seem to be the sort of president who’s going to tack to the center and learn the art of compromise after November. But we’ll see.

Obama is using the recess appointment again. Recall that is how he got the SEIU’s lawyer on to the National Labor Relations Board and how he got Donald Berwick past the Senate’s scrutiny. (“‘Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered,’ [Max] Baucus said in a statement.”)

Now he’s at is again, this time to get an ambassador to El Salvador through. What was her problem? Josh Rogin explains that Mari Carmen Aponte is going to be pushed through “despite lingering GOP concerns about her long-ago relationship with a Cuban operative.” Obama’s not serious, is he? Oh, yes indeed:

Aponte’s nomination had been stalled as of April due to objections by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, who prevented the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from voting on the nomination because he was worried about a romantic involvement she had in the 1990s with Robert Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who was alleged to have ties to both the FBI and Fidel Castro’s intelligence apparatus.

DeMint and other Republicans wanted access to all of the FBI’s records on the relationship. The FBI interviewed both Aponte and Tamayo about the matter back in 1993, but Aponte has admitted she declined to take a lie-detector test. She withdrew herself from consideration to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 1998 after then Sen. Jesse Helms promised to ask invasive questions about the relationship at her hearing, citing “personal reasons.”

Translation: the Clinton administration was not going to go to bat for this woman. But not Obama. Off she will go, with no examination of her ties to Castro.

This is yet another instance of both Obama’s preference for appointing questionable characters and his need (which likely will intensify with time) to resort to strong-arm tactics. (After all, none of the Democrats in the Senate really wanted to vote for this woman, did they?) This does not seem to be the sort of president who’s going to tack to the center and learn the art of compromise after November. But we’ll see.

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The New Republic’s Keith Olbermann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Former Clinton Officials Pessimistic About November

The Financial Times, in a story titled “Obama faces growing credibility crisis,” quotes two former Clinton administration officials. Their words will not reassure Democrats.

“If you ask me where the silver lining is for President Obama, I have to say I cannot see one,” according to William Galston, a former domestic adviser to President Clinton. “Just as BP’s failure to cap the well has been so damaging, Obama’s failure to cap unemployment will be his undoing. There is nothing he can do to affect the jobless rate before November.”

Not to be outdone, Rob Shapiro, another former Clinton administration official and a supporter of Obama, said, “The bottom line here is that Americans don’t believe in President Obama’s leadership. He has to find some way between now and November of demonstrating that he is a leader who can command confidence and, short of a 9/11 event or an Oklahoma City bombing, I can’t think of how he could do that.”

Messrs. Galston’s and Shapiro’s pessimism is fully warranted. As was said earlier this week, sometimes the sky really is falling. That is the case right now for Democrats — and it’s hard to see how things will get better for them between now and November 2. All the data point to a crushing loss for Democrats in the midterm election. It turns out that to be a Democratic lawmaker in the Age of Obama is a very dangerous thing. And the days of referring to Barack Obama as the next Lincoln and FDR, a “sort of God,” and a “black Jesus” appear to be over, don’t they?

The Financial Times, in a story titled “Obama faces growing credibility crisis,” quotes two former Clinton administration officials. Their words will not reassure Democrats.

“If you ask me where the silver lining is for President Obama, I have to say I cannot see one,” according to William Galston, a former domestic adviser to President Clinton. “Just as BP’s failure to cap the well has been so damaging, Obama’s failure to cap unemployment will be his undoing. There is nothing he can do to affect the jobless rate before November.”

Not to be outdone, Rob Shapiro, another former Clinton administration official and a supporter of Obama, said, “The bottom line here is that Americans don’t believe in President Obama’s leadership. He has to find some way between now and November of demonstrating that he is a leader who can command confidence and, short of a 9/11 event or an Oklahoma City bombing, I can’t think of how he could do that.”

Messrs. Galston’s and Shapiro’s pessimism is fully warranted. As was said earlier this week, sometimes the sky really is falling. That is the case right now for Democrats — and it’s hard to see how things will get better for them between now and November 2. All the data point to a crushing loss for Democrats in the midterm election. It turns out that to be a Democratic lawmaker in the Age of Obama is a very dangerous thing. And the days of referring to Barack Obama as the next Lincoln and FDR, a “sort of God,” and a “black Jesus” appear to be over, don’t they?

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Darrell Issa and the Criminalization of Politics

Politico reports that

Rep. Darrell Issa, the conservative firebrand whose specialty is lobbing corruption allegations at the Obama White House, is making plans to hire dozens of subpoena-wielding investigators if Republicans win the House this fall. … Issa has told Republican leadership that if he becomes chairman, he wants to roughly double his staff from 40 to between 70 and 80. And he is not subtle about what that means for President Barack Obama. At a recent speech to Pennsylvania Republicans here, he boasted about what would happen if the GOP wins 39 seats, and he gets the power to subpoena.

“That will make all the difference in the world,” he told 400 applauding party members during a dinner at the chocolate-themed Hershey Lodge. “I won’t use it to have corporate America live in fear that we’re going to subpoena everything. I will use it to get the very information that today the White House is either shredding or not producing.”

In other words, Issa wants to be to the Obama administration what Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) was to the Clinton administration — a subpoena machine in search of White House scandals.

For the sake of the country I hope that Republicans take over the House in November — and for the sake of the country, I hope that if they do, Representative Issa is very careful with the power he wields.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Politico reports that

Rep. Darrell Issa, the conservative firebrand whose specialty is lobbing corruption allegations at the Obama White House, is making plans to hire dozens of subpoena-wielding investigators if Republicans win the House this fall. … Issa has told Republican leadership that if he becomes chairman, he wants to roughly double his staff from 40 to between 70 and 80. And he is not subtle about what that means for President Barack Obama. At a recent speech to Pennsylvania Republicans here, he boasted about what would happen if the GOP wins 39 seats, and he gets the power to subpoena.

“That will make all the difference in the world,” he told 400 applauding party members during a dinner at the chocolate-themed Hershey Lodge. “I won’t use it to have corporate America live in fear that we’re going to subpoena everything. I will use it to get the very information that today the White House is either shredding or not producing.”

In other words, Issa wants to be to the Obama administration what Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) was to the Clinton administration — a subpoena machine in search of White House scandals.

For the sake of the country I hope that Republicans take over the House in November — and for the sake of the country, I hope that if they do, Representative Issa is very careful with the power he wields.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Who Would Bid on a Flop?

Howard Kurtz looks at the bidders for Newsweek:

One is Newsmax, a conservative Web site and monthly favored by Sarah Palin and founded by Christopher Ruddy, who once investigated conspiracy theories that Clinton administration officials Vince Foster and Ron Brown were murdered. Another is Thane Ritchie, an Illinois hedge-fund manager and Ross Perot fan who is angling to start a new political party. The third is OpenGate Capital, a private equity firm that two years ago bought TV Guide for $1. It’s hard to imagine any of them supporting Newsweek as a vibrant weekly that could compete with Time.

Ummm, it’s really not vibrant, and it apparently isn’t competitive with Time now, so what could these or any new owner do? But Newsweek says it has lots of other bidders. Tons, I am sure. Nevertheless, it seems there is anger among the staffers, who are aggrieved that “Editor Jon Meacham erred badly by transforming the newsweekly into an upscale, left-leaning opinion magazine.” But Meacham kept telling us it was news! Oh my, quite startling to learn this was all a flim-flam, and a grossly unsuccessful one at that.

Kurtz then opines:

On one level, the situation is a paradox. Here you have a magazine loaded with talent — from the Pulitzer-winning Meacham (who is pursuing his own bid to buy the magazine) to such media stars as Jonathan Alter, Howard Fineman, Mike Isikoff, Evan Thomas, Fareed Zakaria and Robert Samuelson — and few seem willing to bet on its financial future. That amounts to a no-confidence vote not just on the category of newsweeklies, which have long been squeezed between daily papers and in-depth monthlies, but on print journalism itself. The lucrative properties these days are digital, and Newsweek’s Web site has long been a flop, both creatively and commercially.

Oh, puleez. With the exception of Samuelson, these are predictable liberals parroting the anti-Israel, pro-Obama, anti-conservative line. It isn’t a vote of no confidence in the concept of a weekly — it’s a vote of no confidence in this product and those people. Whoever buys it, if anyone does, would do well to scrap the dreary liberal perspective, fire most of the current crew, and figure out something a lot of people actually want to read. I can tell you it’s not “a sort of a God” Thomas or Zakaria’s noxious views on Israel.

Howard Kurtz looks at the bidders for Newsweek:

One is Newsmax, a conservative Web site and monthly favored by Sarah Palin and founded by Christopher Ruddy, who once investigated conspiracy theories that Clinton administration officials Vince Foster and Ron Brown were murdered. Another is Thane Ritchie, an Illinois hedge-fund manager and Ross Perot fan who is angling to start a new political party. The third is OpenGate Capital, a private equity firm that two years ago bought TV Guide for $1. It’s hard to imagine any of them supporting Newsweek as a vibrant weekly that could compete with Time.

Ummm, it’s really not vibrant, and it apparently isn’t competitive with Time now, so what could these or any new owner do? But Newsweek says it has lots of other bidders. Tons, I am sure. Nevertheless, it seems there is anger among the staffers, who are aggrieved that “Editor Jon Meacham erred badly by transforming the newsweekly into an upscale, left-leaning opinion magazine.” But Meacham kept telling us it was news! Oh my, quite startling to learn this was all a flim-flam, and a grossly unsuccessful one at that.

Kurtz then opines:

On one level, the situation is a paradox. Here you have a magazine loaded with talent — from the Pulitzer-winning Meacham (who is pursuing his own bid to buy the magazine) to such media stars as Jonathan Alter, Howard Fineman, Mike Isikoff, Evan Thomas, Fareed Zakaria and Robert Samuelson — and few seem willing to bet on its financial future. That amounts to a no-confidence vote not just on the category of newsweeklies, which have long been squeezed between daily papers and in-depth monthlies, but on print journalism itself. The lucrative properties these days are digital, and Newsweek’s Web site has long been a flop, both creatively and commercially.

Oh, puleez. With the exception of Samuelson, these are predictable liberals parroting the anti-Israel, pro-Obama, anti-conservative line. It isn’t a vote of no confidence in the concept of a weekly — it’s a vote of no confidence in this product and those people. Whoever buys it, if anyone does, would do well to scrap the dreary liberal perspective, fire most of the current crew, and figure out something a lot of people actually want to read. I can tell you it’s not “a sort of a God” Thomas or Zakaria’s noxious views on Israel.

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