Commentary Magazine


Topic: Colin Powell

Is Colin Powell a War Criminal?

The answer to the question in the headline is, of course, no. Whatever Americans may think about Colin Powell’s politics, his decision to let Saddam Hussein remain in power in 1991, and his diplomacy while secretary of state, differences of opinion are not illegal: The simple fact of the matter is that Powell served honorably and was a brilliant military commander.

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The answer to the question in the headline is, of course, no. Whatever Americans may think about Colin Powell’s politics, his decision to let Saddam Hussein remain in power in 1991, and his diplomacy while secretary of state, differences of opinion are not illegal: The simple fact of the matter is that Powell served honorably and was a brilliant military commander.

When Powell’s legacy is written, chief among it will be a series of principles relating to the use of military force which he articulated while chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This so-called “Powell Doctrine” prioritized restraint and demanded a clear exit strategy when force was used. However, when military action became necessary, then Powell called for a decisive edge and overwhelming force.

Hence, in Operation Desert Storm, Americans went in with overwhelming force, and Powell did not hesitate until he reached his objective: the liberation of Kuwait and the surrender of Iraqi forces. Americans celebrated that military victory, and Kuwaitis still do. The overwhelming victory led directly to the 1991 Madrid Conference which brought Israel and Arab states like Syria together in an unprecedented way, as well as to a renewed peace process on the Korean peninsula.

Fast forward to the present day: Journalists, human-rights activists, diplomats, and foreign officials all castigate Israel for its use of disproportionate military force. Israel, however, has adhered closely to the Powell Doctrine. It deferred the current military operation for years despite multiple provocations by Hamas, which had fired hundreds of rockets and missiles into Israel. Rather than resort to military force loosely, it sought to utilize diplomatic pressure to force closure of the tunnels which Hamas has constructed to smuggle weaponry, explosives, and other contraband into Gaza. However, with the kidnapping and murder of three Israelis, one of them also an American citizen, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided he had no option but to utilize military force.

Has Israel committed war crimes? Only in the fevered imagination of the political left and those whose moral barometer has become so dangerously miscalibrated. Is Israel acting with disproportionate force? Absolutely. And should it? Well, that’s the celebrated lesson of the Powell Doctrine.

Just as the United States leveraged its industrial might and used overwhelming force in World War II against both Japan and Germany, and more recently used disproportionate force in Panama, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and again in Iraq; and just as France more recently has used disproportionate force in Libya and against al-Qaeda in Mali; so Israel now uses disproportionate force against Hamas in pursuit of aims of destroying Hamas’s tunnels, eradicating the Hamas missile threat, and rendering for a short time at least Hamas impotent. In each case, civilians died, often in numbers far greater than have been killed in Gaza.

How ironic it is that CNN and other media networks which once celebrated the wisdom of Colin Powell now condemn it when it is pursued by others. Perhaps, though, when it comes to accusations of lack of impropriety, the fact that it is Israel that is fighting terrorists is no coincidence.

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Wilkerson’s Shame. And Colin Powell’s

On May 2, Lawrence Wilkerson, a close confidant of Colin Powell who served as chief-of-staff during Powell’s tenure as secretary of state, raised eyebrows when he told Current TV that reports of Syrian chemical weapons use might have been Israeli “false flag operations.” His pronouncement—which was part speculation and part sourced to his friends in the intelligence community—was quickly picked up and rebroadcast as fact by such outlets as Iran’s Press TV and Hezbollah’s Al-Manar.

As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) points out, this is hardly the first time Wilkerson has made bizarre accusations, but CAMERA does not go far enough. Wilkerson acted as a definitive source for any number of stories throughout the Bush administration until now. As Powell’s chief-of-staff, journalists accepted his pabulum uncritically, never asking whether Wilkerson was at meetings for which he purported to offer first-hand accounts. The fact is that chiefs-of-staff do not go to meetings; they manage offices. Many of those whom Wilkerson pretends to have had conversations with say they never met him.

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On May 2, Lawrence Wilkerson, a close confidant of Colin Powell who served as chief-of-staff during Powell’s tenure as secretary of state, raised eyebrows when he told Current TV that reports of Syrian chemical weapons use might have been Israeli “false flag operations.” His pronouncement—which was part speculation and part sourced to his friends in the intelligence community—was quickly picked up and rebroadcast as fact by such outlets as Iran’s Press TV and Hezbollah’s Al-Manar.

As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) points out, this is hardly the first time Wilkerson has made bizarre accusations, but CAMERA does not go far enough. Wilkerson acted as a definitive source for any number of stories throughout the Bush administration until now. As Powell’s chief-of-staff, journalists accepted his pabulum uncritically, never asking whether Wilkerson was at meetings for which he purported to offer first-hand accounts. The fact is that chiefs-of-staff do not go to meetings; they manage offices. Many of those whom Wilkerson pretends to have had conversations with say they never met him.

Nevertheless, Wilkerson remains central to some of the most pernicious—and false—rumors and conspiracies surrounding George W. Bush’s tenure:

  • Craig Unger, a prolific journalist who frequently contributes to The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, used Wilkerson as a source in his conspiratorial polemic about so-called neoconservatives (Unger uses the term more synonymously with Jews than with the true meaning of the movement) and the Christian Right.
  • Alan Kennedy-Shaffer, an Obama campaign operative and Huffington Post contributor, used Wilkerson as a source to slander Vice President Dick Cheney and to cast blame for intelligence failures overshadowing Operation Iraqi Freedom.
  • Much of the demonstrated falsehood regarding an alleged 2003 Iranian grand bargain offer that Iran lobbyist Trita Parsi put forward in his two books rests on conversations with Wilkerson.
  • Both the Washington Post and the New York Times regularly used Wilkerson to tar Republicans.
  • Journalists like Laura Rozen and Jeff Stein, and the Atlantic Council’s Barbara Slavin (formerly of USA Today and The Washington Times), also relied disproportionately on Lawrence Wilkerson to confirm wild conspiracy theories. They appear to have been so consumed with partisan animus that they did not bother to fact-check his allegations with those who had first-hand knowledge of events he purported to describe.
  • Steve Clemons—one of Chuck Hagel’s staunchest supporters—worked tirelessly to promote Wilkerson and his views.
  • Scott Bonn, an academic at Drew University, also cited Wilkerson to support the notion that Bush lied in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Wilkerson was a source for journalists not only after Powell retired from government, but also during his tenure. The only difference was before 2005 he would speak on background, while after 2005 he would let his hatred for anyone with whom he disagreed shine through. That Wilkerson is a fabulist who prioritizes polemic over truth should be readily clear as his outbursts become increasingly bizarre. That no journalist has yet to go back and trace how many stories they accept as conventional wisdom were based on rotten foundations is a testimony to how unprofessional many of the writers, journalists, and bloggers cited above can be. Those who quoted Wilkerson became his willing accomplices. Together, they represent the rot that permeates the Fourth Estate.

The story does not stop there, however. It is unlikely that Powell was ignorant of Wilkerson’s actions; rather, Powell appeared all too willing to turn a blind eye in a dirty game to win a policy debate by tarring his opponents. Nor was Powell likely unaware of Wilkerson’s dangerous obsession with American policymakers who happened to be Jewish. It is quite easy to interpret Powell’s persistent silence and failure to repudiate a man whose credibility is solely based on his relationship to Powell as an endorsement for Wilkerson’s hateful views. Wilkerson’s shame is Colin Powell’s as well. Powell’s silence shows his own character is likely not much different from that of the colonel who was his closest aide.

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Colin Powell Plays the Race Card

These days Colin Powell assumes his primary purpose is to lecture Republicans on what it means to be a Republican. In order to pull this off–in order to have his words taken with more seriousness than, say, Rachel Maddow or Howard Dean–General Powell continues to insist that he’s a Republican. He does so despite the fact that he’s twice voted for Barack Obama.

Memo to Mr. Powell: If you’ve twice voted for Barack Obama, a man of deeply liberal/progressive philosophy and policies, you’re no Republican. Of course, there’s an obvious reason Powell continues to claim he’s a Republican. He knows it gives him greater standing to criticize the GOP, which is one of the main things he does these days.

Yesterday on “Meet the Press,” for example, Powell said there’s “a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party.” As evidence for this claim, Powell took issue with former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu calling Obama “lazy” after his poor showing at the first presidential debate last fall.

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These days Colin Powell assumes his primary purpose is to lecture Republicans on what it means to be a Republican. In order to pull this off–in order to have his words taken with more seriousness than, say, Rachel Maddow or Howard Dean–General Powell continues to insist that he’s a Republican. He does so despite the fact that he’s twice voted for Barack Obama.

Memo to Mr. Powell: If you’ve twice voted for Barack Obama, a man of deeply liberal/progressive philosophy and policies, you’re no Republican. Of course, there’s an obvious reason Powell continues to claim he’s a Republican. He knows it gives him greater standing to criticize the GOP, which is one of the main things he does these days.

Yesterday on “Meet the Press,” for example, Powell said there’s “a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party.” As evidence for this claim, Powell took issue with former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu calling Obama “lazy” after his poor showing at the first presidential debate last fall.

“He didn’t say he was slow, he was tired, he didn’t do well; he said he was ‘lazy,’” Powell said. “Now, it may not mean anything to most Americans, but to those of us who are African Americans, the second word is ‘shiftless,’ and then there’s a third word that goes along with it.”

Here’s the problem with what Powell said. First, media reports showed that Obama did not study hard for the first debate; and second, Obama has admitted that the quality he most deplores in himself is … laziness. “It’s interesting. Deep down underneath all the work I do, I think there’s a laziness in me,” Obama went on to tell Walters in 2011. “It’s probably from growing up in Hawaii, and it’s sunny outside. Sitting on the beach.”

See how it works? Obama can claim to be lazy and it’s fine. But if a Republican claims he’s lazy, in the aftermath of a debate which evidenced laziness, it indicates “a dark vein of intolerance.” So even Colin Powell has been reduced to playing the race card–and to do so in a particularly transparent and sloppy way. 

Colin Powell was a vocal Republican when it served his political career–and now that it’s fashionable to be hyper-critical of Republicans and ignore the worst elements and most offensive comments of Democrats, he’s taken up that job with relish.

Compounding all of this, I think, is that Powell has never come to terms with his support for the Iraq war and the fact that he went before the U.N. to make the case against Iraq based on his belief that they had weapons of mass destruction. In order to keep this from having been a career-destroying moment, Powell instinctively understood he needed to become much more vocal in his criticisms of Republicans. He’s executed that move–and the press, eager to find a prominent self-proclaimed Republican whose main purpose is to lambast Republicans, has played along with it. It’s a game we’re all supposed to take seriously, but some of us really can’t. 

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Powell Dismisses Hagel “Jewish Lobby” Controversy

Are we sure Colin Powell was on “Meet the Press” yesterday to help Chuck Hagel? Because he could have done a much better job by just staying home:

David Gregory: He referred to a “Jewish lobby,” saying it intimidates a lot of people on Capitol Hill. What kind of thinking does that reflect? Can you understand pro-Israel Senators being concerned by that comment?

Colin Powell: They shouldn’t be that concerned. That term slips out from time to time. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has occasionally used the same thing. And so, Chuck should have said “Israeli lobby” and not “Jewish lobby,” and perhaps he needs to write on a blackboard a hundred times “It is the Israeli lobby.” But there is an Israeli lobby. There are people who are very supportive of the state of Israel. I’m very supportive of the state of Israel. So is Senator Hagel, and you’ll see that in the confirmation hearings. But it doesn’t mean you have to agree with every single position that the Israeli government takes.

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Are we sure Colin Powell was on “Meet the Press” yesterday to help Chuck Hagel? Because he could have done a much better job by just staying home:

David Gregory: He referred to a “Jewish lobby,” saying it intimidates a lot of people on Capitol Hill. What kind of thinking does that reflect? Can you understand pro-Israel Senators being concerned by that comment?

Colin Powell: They shouldn’t be that concerned. That term slips out from time to time. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has occasionally used the same thing. And so, Chuck should have said “Israeli lobby” and not “Jewish lobby,” and perhaps he needs to write on a blackboard a hundred times “It is the Israeli lobby.” But there is an Israeli lobby. There are people who are very supportive of the state of Israel. I’m very supportive of the state of Israel. So is Senator Hagel, and you’ll see that in the confirmation hearings. But it doesn’t mean you have to agree with every single position that the Israeli government takes.

Powell’s oddly dismissive attitude aside, the fact that Hagel uttered the words “Jewish lobby” is not the only problem here. It’s the context that matters–the idea that, as Hagel suggested, there is a cabal of influential Jews who “intimidate” Washington politicians into taking pro-Israel positions. Hagel could have substituted the term “Jewish lobby” with “Israel lobby” (or “Israeli lobby,” as Powell bizarrely dubs it) and it wouldn’t make his message any less Walt-and-Mearsheimer-esque.

At NRO, Eliana Johnson calls Powell out on another glaring contradiction:

Powell’s bizarre defense of Hagel took an even more troubling turn as he decried the “dark vein of intolerance” in some parts of the Republican Party. In particular, he singled out former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and former New Hampshire governor John Sununu for their racial insensitivity, charging that they “look down on minorities.” Palin attacked the Obama administration for withholding information on the Benghazi scandal, accusing the president of doing a “shuck and jive”; “That’s a racial-era, slave term,” Powell said. Sununu slammed the president’s first debate performance against Mitt Romney, calling Obama “lazy and detached”; “Now, it may not mean anything to most Americans, but to those of us who are African-Americans, the second word is ‘shiftless’ and then there’s another word that goes along with it.” 

One might think that a modicum of self-awareness would prevent Powell from making such charges after flippantly dismissing the concerns raised by many in the Jewish and pro-Israel communities. Don’t such remarks just — woopsy daisy! — “slip out from time to time”? And if Powell finds the use of slave-era terminology offensive, one wonders why he has difficulty understanding that, among Jews, the imputation of dual loyalties rankles, even if “it many not mean anything to most Americans.”

So by Powell’s logic, calling President Obama “lazy and detached” is a symptom of the GOP’s “dark vein of intolerance”–but espousing dual-loyalty myths about the so-called “Jewish lobby” is an understandable slip-of-the-tongue that could happen to anyone. I can’t tell if the “common slip-up” argument is just Powell freelancing or if this is actually going to be Hagel’s defense during the confirmation hearings. But if it’s the latter, we’re in for an interesting show.

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The Rationale for the Racism Canard

Last week, John Sununu lost his perch as one of the Mitt Romney campaign’s leading cable news talking head surrogates when he surmised that the reason former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed President Obama again this year is because both men are African-American. While, as I wrote, there were other, perhaps more compelling reasons for Powell to back the president, liberals seized on Sununu’s statement as evidence of Republican racism. The race theme resurfaced again yesterday when liberal blogger Andrew Sullivan said on ABC’s “This Week” that the potential return of Virginia and Florida to the Republican column this year (along with likely GOP pickup North Carolina that he failed to mention) would mean the revival of “the Confederacy.”

Sullivan’s rather simplistic thesis was quickly shot down by George Will who pointed out that it was more likely that the whites who voted for Obama in 2008 but who won’t this year are judging the president on his performance in office rather than having become racist in the last four years. That’s obvious, but the willingness to jump on Sununu and to start talking about the Confederacy is no accident. In an election in which the president seems to be losing independents, Democrats desperately need voters to think more about Barack Obama’s historic status as the first African-American president and less about the record that he can’t run on. The president’s difficult electoral predicament is not a function of prejudice but the fact that more Americans are looking beyond race rather than obsessing about it.

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Last week, John Sununu lost his perch as one of the Mitt Romney campaign’s leading cable news talking head surrogates when he surmised that the reason former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed President Obama again this year is because both men are African-American. While, as I wrote, there were other, perhaps more compelling reasons for Powell to back the president, liberals seized on Sununu’s statement as evidence of Republican racism. The race theme resurfaced again yesterday when liberal blogger Andrew Sullivan said on ABC’s “This Week” that the potential return of Virginia and Florida to the Republican column this year (along with likely GOP pickup North Carolina that he failed to mention) would mean the revival of “the Confederacy.”

Sullivan’s rather simplistic thesis was quickly shot down by George Will who pointed out that it was more likely that the whites who voted for Obama in 2008 but who won’t this year are judging the president on his performance in office rather than having become racist in the last four years. That’s obvious, but the willingness to jump on Sununu and to start talking about the Confederacy is no accident. In an election in which the president seems to be losing independents, Democrats desperately need voters to think more about Barack Obama’s historic status as the first African-American president and less about the record that he can’t run on. The president’s difficult electoral predicament is not a function of prejudice but the fact that more Americans are looking beyond race rather than obsessing about it.

Race is the original sin of American history, and anyone who attempted to argue that it no longer plays a role in our society is being disingenuous. But while the 2008 election did not mean it disappeared, it did remove it as an explanation for the voting behavior of the majority of Americans. While it is possible that some people will not vote for the president because of prejudice against his race, it is hardly a sign of bias to notice that there are many Americans — both white and black — who believe the symbolism of his ascendancy to the presidency is an act of historic justice that is an argument in itself for voting for Obama. Indeed, the president has very little to recommend his re-election other than party loyalty on the part of Democrats and lingering good feelings about what happened in 2008.

By contrast, Sununu is not a particularly sympathetic figure, and there are those of us who still bitterly recall that when he was the governor of New Hampshire he was the only U.S. governor who refused to repudiate the United Nations’ infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution. But rehashing his past, including the ethical problems that led the first President Bush to fire him from his post as White House chief of staff, as the New York Times’ Charles Blow did this past weekend during the course of a column that attempted to first brand Sununu a racist and then to smear Romney as one by association, tells us more about the Obama campaign than it does about the GOP. That canard is a disreputable political tactic and nothing more.

The remarkable thing about both the 2008 and the 2012 elections is how unremarkable we have come to see the idea of an African-American running for and then serving as president. The decline in the president’s fortune has nothing to do with the revival of prejudice but is, instead, a result of the sober judgment of a significant portion of white Americans that the man they voted for in 2008 has not merited re-election. Republicans are asking the American people to assess the president on his record, not his race. It is, unfortunately, the Democrats who are the ones who are attempting inject race into the campaign.

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Colin Powell, Obama and Pressuring Israel

Yesterday, I explained at length why Efraim Halevy’s oddly partisan op-ed in the New York Times alleging that only Republicans have strong-armed Israel was as absurd as it was irrelevant to the question of whether President Obama should be re-elected. Nevertheless, some liberals have continued to circulate Halevy’s piece as if it was conclusive proof that Democrats are always good and Republicans are bad. As I pointed out, presidents from both parties have been pressuring the Jewish state since it was born. Even if we were to accept the former Mossad chief’s lame attempt to summarize the history of U.S.-Israel relations so as to focus only on episodes of tension when the GOP had the White House, it does nothing to answer the justified criticisms of President Obama’s undeniable record of pressure.

But there is one aspect of Halevy’s piece that is relevant this morning: his discussion of the way the George W. Bush administration hammered Israel into accepting the “road map” for Middle East peace in 2003 prior to the Iraq War. The prime mover behind that policy went unnamed in Halevy’s piece, but he is very much in the news today: former Secretary of State Colin Powell. To no one’s surprise, Powell endorsed President Obama for re-election. The former general had a number of reasons for backing the president, but by all accounts the most important one was distrust of the “neoconservatives” who advise Mitt Romney on foreign policy. Those who think criticism of the Bush administration’s attitude to Israel should inform the 2012 election need to understand that Powell — the most prominent critic of Israel on Bush’s team — is weighing in on the election largely because he doesn’t like the pro-Israel tone of the Romney campaign and endorses Obama’s policy of pressure. That puts Halevy’s “bad Republican” argument in a perspective that renders it useless to those supporting the president’s re-election.

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Yesterday, I explained at length why Efraim Halevy’s oddly partisan op-ed in the New York Times alleging that only Republicans have strong-armed Israel was as absurd as it was irrelevant to the question of whether President Obama should be re-elected. Nevertheless, some liberals have continued to circulate Halevy’s piece as if it was conclusive proof that Democrats are always good and Republicans are bad. As I pointed out, presidents from both parties have been pressuring the Jewish state since it was born. Even if we were to accept the former Mossad chief’s lame attempt to summarize the history of U.S.-Israel relations so as to focus only on episodes of tension when the GOP had the White House, it does nothing to answer the justified criticisms of President Obama’s undeniable record of pressure.

But there is one aspect of Halevy’s piece that is relevant this morning: his discussion of the way the George W. Bush administration hammered Israel into accepting the “road map” for Middle East peace in 2003 prior to the Iraq War. The prime mover behind that policy went unnamed in Halevy’s piece, but he is very much in the news today: former Secretary of State Colin Powell. To no one’s surprise, Powell endorsed President Obama for re-election. The former general had a number of reasons for backing the president, but by all accounts the most important one was distrust of the “neoconservatives” who advise Mitt Romney on foreign policy. Those who think criticism of the Bush administration’s attitude to Israel should inform the 2012 election need to understand that Powell — the most prominent critic of Israel on Bush’s team — is weighing in on the election largely because he doesn’t like the pro-Israel tone of the Romney campaign and endorses Obama’s policy of pressure. That puts Halevy’s “bad Republican” argument in a perspective that renders it useless to those supporting the president’s re-election.

In an administration where friendship for Israel and sympathy for its security concerns was the norm, Powell was a prominent skeptic about the Jewish state’s point of view about self-defense and the peace process. He was not happy about President Bush’s decision to give Israel a “green light” to take out Palestinian terror bases during the second intifada, and was a key player in the episode Halevy highlighted about the “road map.”

Powell’s antagonism for the neocons in the Bush administration is well known and is not limited to their disagreements about how the U.S. should treat Israel. But the point here is that Powell’s sympathy for Obama’s foreign policy stems in no small measure from their similar views about the Middle East. If the conceit of Halevy’s piece is that a vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for a repeat of the worst aspects of George W. Bush’s attitude toward Israel (as opposed to what every objective observer concedes was its overall stance of unflinching support), then Colin Powell’s endorsement demolishes it.

President Obama came into office determined to create some distance between the U.S. and Israel because he and his advisors thought the two countries had become too close under Bush. In doing so, he seemed to champion the stance that Powell, who was the loser in most Bush administration arguments about policy, had wished to pursue.

President Obama’s record deserves to be judged on its own merits, a point that Halevy ignored in his op-ed. But anyone who thinks concern about a return of Bush-era pressure on Israel is relevant to their decision in this election ought to take Powell’s views into consideration and understand that what he likes about Obama’s policies is precisely what supporters of Israel fear.

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Colin Powell: Budget Cutter

On CNN yesterday, in discussing the budget, Colin Powell said that “the real money [is] in the entitlements … and unless we do something about those, you can’t balance the budget.” He added, “You can’t fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or National Endowment for the Humanities or the Arts. Nice political chatter, but that doesn’t do it.” And then, putting on his David Stockman cape, Powell said: “Don’t tell me you’re going to freeze to a level. That usually is a very inefficient way of doing it. Tell me what you’re going to cut, and nobody up there yet is being very, very candid about what they are going to cut to fix this problem.”

Secretary Powell is quite right that entitlement programs are where the real money is. And Powell is also correct when he says that you can’t fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or the NEA. Of course, the former secretary of state can’t name a single influential Republican figure who has made such a claim.

The case against NPR and the NEA isn’t that they absorb a huge percentage of federal dollars; it is that they are undeserving of taxpayer money. They don’t have a legitimate claim on public funds. Why should NPR get taxpayer subsidies when no other news outlet does? And why should the federal government be subsidizing such a thing in the first place? Does anyone really believe Diane Rehm or Terry Gross are national treasures who merit taxpayer support?

Beyond that, symbolism matters. Having the House cuts its own budget won’t fix our fiscal imbalance either — but it’s still a worthwhile thing to do, both symbolically and on the merits.

Finally, Powell wants to know specifically what Republicans are going to cut. To which I would say: Patience, Mr. Secretary, patience. In just a matter of months, Representative Paul Ryan is going to produce a detailed budget, and his colleagues on the appropriations committee are going to list specific programs they want to cut. This will cause official Washington to shriek in protest, even though those cuts by themselves won’t be nearly enough. But it will be a start.

I hope conservative lawmakers can count on Powell’s support rather than criticism once they gin up the courage and do what Powell is now demanding of them. As this drama unfolds, will he be arguing for fiscal discipline and limited government — or will he try to ward off cuts in his favorite programs?

I would be delighted — and frankly surprised — if Secretary Powell ends up being a strong, visible ally of genuine budget cutters. But here’s to hoping.

On CNN yesterday, in discussing the budget, Colin Powell said that “the real money [is] in the entitlements … and unless we do something about those, you can’t balance the budget.” He added, “You can’t fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or National Endowment for the Humanities or the Arts. Nice political chatter, but that doesn’t do it.” And then, putting on his David Stockman cape, Powell said: “Don’t tell me you’re going to freeze to a level. That usually is a very inefficient way of doing it. Tell me what you’re going to cut, and nobody up there yet is being very, very candid about what they are going to cut to fix this problem.”

Secretary Powell is quite right that entitlement programs are where the real money is. And Powell is also correct when he says that you can’t fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or the NEA. Of course, the former secretary of state can’t name a single influential Republican figure who has made such a claim.

The case against NPR and the NEA isn’t that they absorb a huge percentage of federal dollars; it is that they are undeserving of taxpayer money. They don’t have a legitimate claim on public funds. Why should NPR get taxpayer subsidies when no other news outlet does? And why should the federal government be subsidizing such a thing in the first place? Does anyone really believe Diane Rehm or Terry Gross are national treasures who merit taxpayer support?

Beyond that, symbolism matters. Having the House cuts its own budget won’t fix our fiscal imbalance either — but it’s still a worthwhile thing to do, both symbolically and on the merits.

Finally, Powell wants to know specifically what Republicans are going to cut. To which I would say: Patience, Mr. Secretary, patience. In just a matter of months, Representative Paul Ryan is going to produce a detailed budget, and his colleagues on the appropriations committee are going to list specific programs they want to cut. This will cause official Washington to shriek in protest, even though those cuts by themselves won’t be nearly enough. But it will be a start.

I hope conservative lawmakers can count on Powell’s support rather than criticism once they gin up the courage and do what Powell is now demanding of them. As this drama unfolds, will he be arguing for fiscal discipline and limited government — or will he try to ward off cuts in his favorite programs?

I would be delighted — and frankly surprised — if Secretary Powell ends up being a strong, visible ally of genuine budget cutters. But here’s to hoping.

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Group Outlines the Conservative Case Against New Start

Earlier this month, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Jim Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger, and Colin Powell laid out the “Republican case” for ratifying New START in the Washington Post.

But now another group of conservative national-security experts has outlined the case against the arms-reduction treaty. The New Deterrent Working group, which includes John Bolton, Edwin Meese, Frank J. Gaffney Jr., Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney, Bruce S. Gelb, and J. William Middendorf II, has sent a letter to Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Mitch McConnell urging them to reject New Start.

From the text of the letter:

As you know, President Obama insists that the United States Senate advise and consent during the present lame-duck session to the bilateral U.S.-Russian strategic arms control treaty known as “New START” that he signed earlier this year in Prague. It is our considered professional judgment that this treaty and the larger disarmament agenda which its ratification would endorse are not consistent with the national security interests of the United States, and that both should be rejected by the Senate.

Administration efforts to compel the Senate to vote under circumstances in which an informed and full debate are effectively precluded is inconsistent with your institution’s precedents, its constitutionally mandated quality-control responsibilities with respect to treaties and, in particular, the critical deliberation New START requires in light of that accord’s myriad defects …

The letter summed up the direct risks of reducing our nuclear capabilities, but the more compelling argument touched on the potential unintended consequences of the treaty. The group cautioned that New START could actually increase nuclear proliferation by prompting countries that rely on the U.S. for security to develop their own nuclear capabilities. In addition, reductions by the U.S. could encourage China to expand its own stockpile in pursuit of nuclear parity. Since the entire point of New START is to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, this might be one of the more effective arguments against it.

The letter also argued that Russia’s inventory of strategic launchers would shrink dramatically over the next decade (from 680 to 270) because of aging and regardless of whether New START is ratified.

This vocal opposition from prominent conservatives may help keep Senate Republicans in line against New START. Three Republican senators are currently supporting the treaty, but six additional GOP votes are needed to ratify it.

Earlier this month, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Jim Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger, and Colin Powell laid out the “Republican case” for ratifying New START in the Washington Post.

But now another group of conservative national-security experts has outlined the case against the arms-reduction treaty. The New Deterrent Working group, which includes John Bolton, Edwin Meese, Frank J. Gaffney Jr., Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney, Bruce S. Gelb, and J. William Middendorf II, has sent a letter to Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Mitch McConnell urging them to reject New Start.

From the text of the letter:

As you know, President Obama insists that the United States Senate advise and consent during the present lame-duck session to the bilateral U.S.-Russian strategic arms control treaty known as “New START” that he signed earlier this year in Prague. It is our considered professional judgment that this treaty and the larger disarmament agenda which its ratification would endorse are not consistent with the national security interests of the United States, and that both should be rejected by the Senate.

Administration efforts to compel the Senate to vote under circumstances in which an informed and full debate are effectively precluded is inconsistent with your institution’s precedents, its constitutionally mandated quality-control responsibilities with respect to treaties and, in particular, the critical deliberation New START requires in light of that accord’s myriad defects …

The letter summed up the direct risks of reducing our nuclear capabilities, but the more compelling argument touched on the potential unintended consequences of the treaty. The group cautioned that New START could actually increase nuclear proliferation by prompting countries that rely on the U.S. for security to develop their own nuclear capabilities. In addition, reductions by the U.S. could encourage China to expand its own stockpile in pursuit of nuclear parity. Since the entire point of New START is to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, this might be one of the more effective arguments against it.

The letter also argued that Russia’s inventory of strategic launchers would shrink dramatically over the next decade (from 680 to 270) because of aging and regardless of whether New START is ratified.

This vocal opposition from prominent conservatives may help keep Senate Republicans in line against New START. Three Republican senators are currently supporting the treaty, but six additional GOP votes are needed to ratify it.

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Cyberwar Is Here. Now What?

When al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. on 9/11, the country discovered to its complete shock that it was at war and ill-prepared to do much about it. Once again, the U.S. is waking up to the fact that it’s under attack and not yet up to fighting back. This enemy, like the last one, is nontraditional in nature, and the battle is asymmetrical.

Just as we’d been practiced in fighting other countries when we were attacked by a network of transnational Islamists, we’ve mostly considered the possibility of cyber-attack as coming from another nation, whereas it has come (and continues to come) from loosely connected global networks. After WikiLeaks exposed hundreds of thousands of national security secrets and put untold lives at risk, WikiLeaks’s cyber-allies are now attacking the websites (and, thus, the functional capabilities) of perceived corporate, organizational, and governmental enemies.  An expansion of these kinds of breaches and attacks has the potential to bring our hi-tech world to a standstill. The fecklessness being displayed by American officials, the insistent downplaying of the disaster, and the pervasive sense of confusion all point to the likelihood that we are in for yet another long, controversial, and little-understood war. Read More

When al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. on 9/11, the country discovered to its complete shock that it was at war and ill-prepared to do much about it. Once again, the U.S. is waking up to the fact that it’s under attack and not yet up to fighting back. This enemy, like the last one, is nontraditional in nature, and the battle is asymmetrical.

Just as we’d been practiced in fighting other countries when we were attacked by a network of transnational Islamists, we’ve mostly considered the possibility of cyber-attack as coming from another nation, whereas it has come (and continues to come) from loosely connected global networks. After WikiLeaks exposed hundreds of thousands of national security secrets and put untold lives at risk, WikiLeaks’s cyber-allies are now attacking the websites (and, thus, the functional capabilities) of perceived corporate, organizational, and governmental enemies.  An expansion of these kinds of breaches and attacks has the potential to bring our hi-tech world to a standstill. The fecklessness being displayed by American officials, the insistent downplaying of the disaster, and the pervasive sense of confusion all point to the likelihood that we are in for yet another long, controversial, and little-understood war.

Once again, we are not only unprepared in terms of legal frameworks and battle strategies; we find ourselves essentially weak of character. In the New York Times, Robert Wright writes that WikiLeaks “is doing God’s work.” Regarding the revelations about secret American actions taken against terrorists in the Middle East, he notes, “I’d put this stuff on the positive side of the ledger.” Meanwhile, civil libertarians go on television to rail against the mistreatment of WikiLeaks mastermind Julian Assange and liberal journalists, such as the Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan, decry Assange’s “demonization.”

The facts around Assange’s arrest provide a stick-figure sketch of the perplexing cultural battle now underway in the West. On the one side we have a hip techno-nihilism, utilizing the infinite resources of the Internet and finding support in a warped libertarianism. And on the other, the only thing going up against it with enough conviction to bring Assange to justice is the politically correct junior-high sex-ed police, who managed to collar him in Britain on an unsafe-sex rap. Perhaps Colin Powell used the wrong props at the UN back in 2003. Forget WMD. If he just held up some defective birth control nabbed from Saddam’s bedroom, the sanctioned social workers of Europe might have gone to Baghdad and toppled him for us.

Real threats are no longer taken seriously, while small antagonisms and inconveniences are elevated to capital crimes. This holds true across the political spectrum and in government and among the public. We’ve just had a record year in attempted jihadist attacks against America, but if you’re on the right, chances are you’re fighting the War on Airport Pat-Downs.  The Obama administration made prisoner transfer from Guantanamo Bay its very first order of business. Never mind that one out of every four prisoners released from Gitmo in the last two years is “confirmed or suspected” of having returned to terrorism. We’re too busy with cheap self-righteousness and cheaper “outreach” to address the previous enemy, let alone the new one.

In accordance with the new doctrine of Western war, we’ve taken the first step in response to attack: apology. After 9/11, we apologized to Muslims. Today Hillary Clinton is traveling the world apologizing to foreign governments for leaked State Department cables.  That’s fine as far as it goes, but saying, “Sorry, we’re weak” doesn’t do much to stop the attacks still underway. As someone recently put it, “The war is on. And everyone ought to spend some time thinking about it, discussing it with others, preparing yourselves so you know how to act if something compels you to make a decision. Be very careful not to err on the side of inaction.” Those are the words of a contributor to a cyber-anarchist site called whyweprotest.net. Once again, the enemy has a better handle on the war than we do. We’re sure to busy ourselves finding out more about why they “protest” than reaffirming our conviction to stop them.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal agree — Obama’s end-around the Senate on the zealous czarina of consumer protection is outrageous. S. 1 in the 112th Congress? Defund the consumer protection agency.

Lots of Democratic Senate candidates agree with the GOP: “Senate Democratic candidates are wavering over whether to support President Obama’s plan to raise taxes on families earning more than $250,000 a year. At least seven Democrats in battleground states say they support or could support extending tax breaks for families who make more than $250,000.”

Karl Rove and his conservative critics agree — Lisa Murkowski’s independent run is “sad and sorry.”

Independents agree with Republicans: refudiate Obamanomics. “A new comprehensive national survey shows that independent voters—who voted for Barack Obama by a 52%-to-44% margin in the 2008 presidential election—are now moving strongly in the direction of the Republican Party. … Today, independents say they lean more toward the Republican Party than the Democratic Party, 50% to 25%, and that the Republican Party is closer to their views by 52% to 30%. … More generally, independents made clear in the survey what they want candidates to do: Decrease the size and scope of government, cut spending and taxes, balance the budget, reduce the federal debt, reduce the power of special interests and unions, repeal and replace the health-care legislation, and decrease partisanship.”

Colin Powell and his (former?) party finally agree: Obama needs to “shift the way in which he has been doing things. … I think the American people feel that too many programs have come down. … There are so many rocks in our knapsack now that we’re having trouble carrying it.”

At least conservatives and Maureen Dowd can agree on this about Obama: “Empathy seems more like an abstract concept than something to practice. He has never shaken off that slight patronizing attitude toward the working-class voters he is losing now, the ones he dubbed ‘bitter’ during his campaign. There is no premium in trying to save people’s jobs and lift them up and give them health care if they feel that you can’t relate to them.”

The left and right can agree that the latest administration move on Sudan is a disgrace: “After long, and reportedly heated, arguments inside the White House over the proper balance between carrot and stick, officials have produced a document that is highly specific about inducements and carefully vague about threats. … John Norris, a Sudan expert at the Center for American Progress and former head of the Enough Project, calls the package ‘unseemly.'”

CAIR agrees with the late Tony Snow (one of his finest moments): Hezbollah never had a better spokesperson than Helen Thomas.

I think we can all agree that Christiane Amanpour is the weakest Sunday talk-show host. Not only does she not ask a serious follow-up question of Hillary Clinton, but Ahmadinejad runs circles around her. (The proof of her ineptitude? You don’t see Ahmadinejad submitting to an interview with Candy Crowley or Chris Wallace.)

The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal agree — Obama’s end-around the Senate on the zealous czarina of consumer protection is outrageous. S. 1 in the 112th Congress? Defund the consumer protection agency.

Lots of Democratic Senate candidates agree with the GOP: “Senate Democratic candidates are wavering over whether to support President Obama’s plan to raise taxes on families earning more than $250,000 a year. At least seven Democrats in battleground states say they support or could support extending tax breaks for families who make more than $250,000.”

Karl Rove and his conservative critics agree — Lisa Murkowski’s independent run is “sad and sorry.”

Independents agree with Republicans: refudiate Obamanomics. “A new comprehensive national survey shows that independent voters—who voted for Barack Obama by a 52%-to-44% margin in the 2008 presidential election—are now moving strongly in the direction of the Republican Party. … Today, independents say they lean more toward the Republican Party than the Democratic Party, 50% to 25%, and that the Republican Party is closer to their views by 52% to 30%. … More generally, independents made clear in the survey what they want candidates to do: Decrease the size and scope of government, cut spending and taxes, balance the budget, reduce the federal debt, reduce the power of special interests and unions, repeal and replace the health-care legislation, and decrease partisanship.”

Colin Powell and his (former?) party finally agree: Obama needs to “shift the way in which he has been doing things. … I think the American people feel that too many programs have come down. … There are so many rocks in our knapsack now that we’re having trouble carrying it.”

At least conservatives and Maureen Dowd can agree on this about Obama: “Empathy seems more like an abstract concept than something to practice. He has never shaken off that slight patronizing attitude toward the working-class voters he is losing now, the ones he dubbed ‘bitter’ during his campaign. There is no premium in trying to save people’s jobs and lift them up and give them health care if they feel that you can’t relate to them.”

The left and right can agree that the latest administration move on Sudan is a disgrace: “After long, and reportedly heated, arguments inside the White House over the proper balance between carrot and stick, officials have produced a document that is highly specific about inducements and carefully vague about threats. … John Norris, a Sudan expert at the Center for American Progress and former head of the Enough Project, calls the package ‘unseemly.'”

CAIR agrees with the late Tony Snow (one of his finest moments): Hezbollah never had a better spokesperson than Helen Thomas.

I think we can all agree that Christiane Amanpour is the weakest Sunday talk-show host. Not only does she not ask a serious follow-up question of Hillary Clinton, but Ahmadinejad runs circles around her. (The proof of her ineptitude? You don’t see Ahmadinejad submitting to an interview with Candy Crowley or Chris Wallace.)

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Flotsam and Jetsam

When the New York Times and Colin Powell start taking potshots at Obama’s handling of the BP spill, you know things are dismal for the White House.

When the Obama team at least wants to get all the facts before speaking out on the flotilla incident, that’s a mild improvement. Unfortunately, he expresses no “deep regret” that Israeli soldiers were attacked. And of course, Israel’s enemies and supposed European friends are not so circumspect in condemning Israel.

When will the Obama team speak up about this? “Ten thousand Turks marched in protest from the Israeli consulate to a main square on Monday afternoon, chanting, ‘Murderous Israel you will drown in the blood you shed!’ The protesters had earlier tried to storm the consulate building but were blocked by police. Earlier on Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan condemned the seizure of the Gaza flotilla ship, Mavi Marmara, as ‘state terrorism,’ saying that Israel had violated international law and shown that it does not want peace in the region. The Mavi Marmara was flying a Turkish flag and most of the activists injured on board were Turkish members of the Islamic NGO IHH, which Israeli officials have said is linked to terrorist organizations.”

When the BBC runs amok and the world is at Israel’s throat, Melanie Phillips explains what’s afoot: “And now we can see that the real purpose of this invasion — backed by the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), a radical Islamic organization outlawed by Israel in 2008 for allegedly serving as a major component in Hamas’s global fund-raising machine — was to incite a violent uprising in the Middle East and across the Islamic world. As I write, reports are coming in of Arab rioting in Jerusalem. The notion — uncritically swallowed by the lazy, ignorant and bigoted BBC and other western media — that the flotilla organisers are ‘peace activists’ is simply ludicrous.”

When the world is at Israel’s throat and its soldiers are attacked, Jeffrey Goldberg wrings his hands.

When Ron Paul sends out a fundraising plea for Rand, it doesn’t help the son shake the rap that he is as politically extreme as his father.

When the Obama team is saying the worst is behind us, “Sixty-eight percent (68%) believe the U.S. economy is in a recession.”

When we are approaching the one-year anniversary of  Obama’s noxious Cairo speech, Michael Rubin writes: “As we near the first anniversary of President Obama’s Cairo speech, the Middle East is heading to hell in a handbag. The core of the Obama doctrine is that ‘if we say what our enemies want to hear and if they like us, then our strategic objectives will naturally fall in line. ‘This of course is naïve in the extreme, but it has been at the core of the Obama administration’s foreign policy for the past year. … If Obama decides it is in America’s interest to make an example of Israel after the Gaza flotilla incident in order to win goodwill in Cairo, Beirut, Tehran, and Ankara, then he must also recognize that the leadership in Jerusalem is going to conclude that it cannot trust the United States to safeguard its security, and that therefore it must take matters into its own hands on any number of issues, not the least of which is Iran’s nuclear program.”

When the New York Times and Colin Powell start taking potshots at Obama’s handling of the BP spill, you know things are dismal for the White House.

When the Obama team at least wants to get all the facts before speaking out on the flotilla incident, that’s a mild improvement. Unfortunately, he expresses no “deep regret” that Israeli soldiers were attacked. And of course, Israel’s enemies and supposed European friends are not so circumspect in condemning Israel.

When will the Obama team speak up about this? “Ten thousand Turks marched in protest from the Israeli consulate to a main square on Monday afternoon, chanting, ‘Murderous Israel you will drown in the blood you shed!’ The protesters had earlier tried to storm the consulate building but were blocked by police. Earlier on Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan condemned the seizure of the Gaza flotilla ship, Mavi Marmara, as ‘state terrorism,’ saying that Israel had violated international law and shown that it does not want peace in the region. The Mavi Marmara was flying a Turkish flag and most of the activists injured on board were Turkish members of the Islamic NGO IHH, which Israeli officials have said is linked to terrorist organizations.”

When the BBC runs amok and the world is at Israel’s throat, Melanie Phillips explains what’s afoot: “And now we can see that the real purpose of this invasion — backed by the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), a radical Islamic organization outlawed by Israel in 2008 for allegedly serving as a major component in Hamas’s global fund-raising machine — was to incite a violent uprising in the Middle East and across the Islamic world. As I write, reports are coming in of Arab rioting in Jerusalem. The notion — uncritically swallowed by the lazy, ignorant and bigoted BBC and other western media — that the flotilla organisers are ‘peace activists’ is simply ludicrous.”

When the world is at Israel’s throat and its soldiers are attacked, Jeffrey Goldberg wrings his hands.

When Ron Paul sends out a fundraising plea for Rand, it doesn’t help the son shake the rap that he is as politically extreme as his father.

When the Obama team is saying the worst is behind us, “Sixty-eight percent (68%) believe the U.S. economy is in a recession.”

When we are approaching the one-year anniversary of  Obama’s noxious Cairo speech, Michael Rubin writes: “As we near the first anniversary of President Obama’s Cairo speech, the Middle East is heading to hell in a handbag. The core of the Obama doctrine is that ‘if we say what our enemies want to hear and if they like us, then our strategic objectives will naturally fall in line. ‘This of course is naïve in the extreme, but it has been at the core of the Obama administration’s foreign policy for the past year. … If Obama decides it is in America’s interest to make an example of Israel after the Gaza flotilla incident in order to win goodwill in Cairo, Beirut, Tehran, and Ankara, then he must also recognize that the leadership in Jerusalem is going to conclude that it cannot trust the United States to safeguard its security, and that therefore it must take matters into its own hands on any number of issues, not the least of which is Iran’s nuclear program.”

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Increasing Arabs’ Clout in Congress: The NH-1 GOP Primary

In the New Hampshire 1st congressional district, there is a spirited, multi-candidate Republican primary race to face off against Democrat Carol Shea-Porter. The most viable Republicans are Sean Mahoney, Frank Guinta, Bob Bestani, and Rich Ashooh. (Polls suggest that Shea-Porter is in trouble, and the Cook Report pegs the seat as a “toss up.”) One of the candidates, Ashooh, is being bankrolled by a curious character. Nijad Fares and his wife, who reside in Houston, donated $2,400 to Ashooh and raised thousands more for him, likely making Ashooh the GOP candidate in the race with the most donors from  Houston. (Weird, huh?)

Now, who is Fares? He’s a self-proclaimed advocate for increasing Arab clout in Congress. This report relates:

Nijad Fares bluntly laid out his strategy for increasing the clout of Arab-Americans in an opinion piece he authored that appeared in the Detroit News on Dec. 16, 1996.

“Arab-Americans must substantially increase contributions to political candidates,” he wrote. “Even modest contributions help ensure that Members of Congress and their staffs take phone calls and are more responsive to requests. Furthermore, the contributor must make explicit an interest in Middle East-related issues.”

He and his father, Issam (“known to be close to the powerful chief of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, Ghazi Kenaan”), have been implicated in some funny business with regard to campaign donations:

After the Wall Street Journal reported the inaugural donation last month, the inaugural committee said the donation listed from Issam Fares came from the Link Group, LLC, a company headed by Nijad Fares and that the son had attempted to give credit for the donation to his father.

Both father and son have a long history of intimate political connections with U.S. politicians and have been major supporters of groups promoting Lebanon’s interests. The family’s main U.S. business holding, a Houston-based firm called the Wedge Group, is a major player in the oil services industry and is headed by William White, the former number two official at the Energy Department during the Clinton administration.

So what sorts of views does Nijad Fares hope will gain traction through fundraising like that done for Ashooh? We have some clues. It seems that Nijad Fares has a track record of giving to congressional candidates, having given handsomely to Rep. Joe Knollenberg and his state legislator son. Knollenberg “put ‘Seeds of Peace’ — a summer camp founded by Yasser Arafat’s fave biographer — on the federal budget.” He also “doled out at least $86 million of our tax money [in USAID funding to southern Lebanon] … allowing Hezbollah to rebuild its strongholds in Southern Lebanon and expand.” That, it seems, is what “increasing Arabs’ clout” is all about. (Fares also gave to Obama and to the only Republican to co-host J Street’s confab, Charles Boustany. Fares is nothing if not consistent in his choice of recipients.)

And then there is this: when the fundraising brouhaha surfaced, Issam was quick to blame the Jews. Caught in a media firestorm for paying a large sum to Colin Powell for a speech five days before the 2000 election, he immediately “accused the ‘Zionist lobby’ of spreading ‘distortion and lies.'”

And the family seems to have an unusual take on Hezbollah, as well. Issam offered this:

“It is a mistake to make a comparison between the [Al Qaeda] network … which Lebanon has condemned, and Hezbollah, which Lebanon considers a resistance party fighting the Israeli occupation,” Fares told Agence France-Presse. He claimed the group has never targeted Americans, a position disputed by U.S. officials as well as Fares’s own Wedge Group CEO.

An Ashooh spokesman had this comment when I asked about the Fares fundraising:

What I can tell you is this: People donate to the Ashooh campaign based on Rich’s positions on the issues. As a candidate, he cannot possibly know or share all of the individual positions his donors may or may not have. At this time, Rich is focused on running a very positive campaign based on fiscal responsibility and bringing conservative, New Hampshire values back to Washington.

So are Ashooh’s positions the same as those of the Fares family, and is he someone ready and willing to increase the clout of Arabs? The campaign did not respond to my direct queries on these points or whether he will return the funds. If it does, I will be sure to pass it on.

In the New Hampshire 1st congressional district, there is a spirited, multi-candidate Republican primary race to face off against Democrat Carol Shea-Porter. The most viable Republicans are Sean Mahoney, Frank Guinta, Bob Bestani, and Rich Ashooh. (Polls suggest that Shea-Porter is in trouble, and the Cook Report pegs the seat as a “toss up.”) One of the candidates, Ashooh, is being bankrolled by a curious character. Nijad Fares and his wife, who reside in Houston, donated $2,400 to Ashooh and raised thousands more for him, likely making Ashooh the GOP candidate in the race with the most donors from  Houston. (Weird, huh?)

Now, who is Fares? He’s a self-proclaimed advocate for increasing Arab clout in Congress. This report relates:

Nijad Fares bluntly laid out his strategy for increasing the clout of Arab-Americans in an opinion piece he authored that appeared in the Detroit News on Dec. 16, 1996.

“Arab-Americans must substantially increase contributions to political candidates,” he wrote. “Even modest contributions help ensure that Members of Congress and their staffs take phone calls and are more responsive to requests. Furthermore, the contributor must make explicit an interest in Middle East-related issues.”

He and his father, Issam (“known to be close to the powerful chief of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, Ghazi Kenaan”), have been implicated in some funny business with regard to campaign donations:

After the Wall Street Journal reported the inaugural donation last month, the inaugural committee said the donation listed from Issam Fares came from the Link Group, LLC, a company headed by Nijad Fares and that the son had attempted to give credit for the donation to his father.

Both father and son have a long history of intimate political connections with U.S. politicians and have been major supporters of groups promoting Lebanon’s interests. The family’s main U.S. business holding, a Houston-based firm called the Wedge Group, is a major player in the oil services industry and is headed by William White, the former number two official at the Energy Department during the Clinton administration.

So what sorts of views does Nijad Fares hope will gain traction through fundraising like that done for Ashooh? We have some clues. It seems that Nijad Fares has a track record of giving to congressional candidates, having given handsomely to Rep. Joe Knollenberg and his state legislator son. Knollenberg “put ‘Seeds of Peace’ — a summer camp founded by Yasser Arafat’s fave biographer — on the federal budget.” He also “doled out at least $86 million of our tax money [in USAID funding to southern Lebanon] … allowing Hezbollah to rebuild its strongholds in Southern Lebanon and expand.” That, it seems, is what “increasing Arabs’ clout” is all about. (Fares also gave to Obama and to the only Republican to co-host J Street’s confab, Charles Boustany. Fares is nothing if not consistent in his choice of recipients.)

And then there is this: when the fundraising brouhaha surfaced, Issam was quick to blame the Jews. Caught in a media firestorm for paying a large sum to Colin Powell for a speech five days before the 2000 election, he immediately “accused the ‘Zionist lobby’ of spreading ‘distortion and lies.'”

And the family seems to have an unusual take on Hezbollah, as well. Issam offered this:

“It is a mistake to make a comparison between the [Al Qaeda] network … which Lebanon has condemned, and Hezbollah, which Lebanon considers a resistance party fighting the Israeli occupation,” Fares told Agence France-Presse. He claimed the group has never targeted Americans, a position disputed by U.S. officials as well as Fares’s own Wedge Group CEO.

An Ashooh spokesman had this comment when I asked about the Fares fundraising:

What I can tell you is this: People donate to the Ashooh campaign based on Rich’s positions on the issues. As a candidate, he cannot possibly know or share all of the individual positions his donors may or may not have. At this time, Rich is focused on running a very positive campaign based on fiscal responsibility and bringing conservative, New Hampshire values back to Washington.

So are Ashooh’s positions the same as those of the Fares family, and is he someone ready and willing to increase the clout of Arabs? The campaign did not respond to my direct queries on these points or whether he will return the funds. If it does, I will be sure to pass it on.

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Obama’s Diplomatic War on Israel Is Just Getting Started

Apparently, David Ignatius of the Washington Post isn’t the only recipient of White House leaks about an Obama peace plan. Helen Cooper of the New York Times chimed in with her own piece this afternoon about the president’s desire to jump into the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

According to Cooper, the trigger for this latest instance of administration hubris was a recent gathering of former national-security advisers including Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, Samuel Berger, and Colin Powell, who were called in to consult with the president and his adviser General James L. Jones. The consensus (only Powell seems to have dissented) was that Obama must put forward his own scheme that would state exactly what the parameters of a peace deal would be. The idea is that peace can only be obtained by the United States imposing it on the parties. The plan is, of course, along the lines of past Israeli peace offers rejected by the Palestinians, plus extra Israeli concessions. The Palestinians give up their “right of return,” and Israel “would return to its 1967 borders,” including the one that divided Jerusalem, with only “a few negotiated settlements” as an exception. The supposed sweetener for Israel is that the United States or NATO, whose troops would be stationed along the Jordan River, would guarantee Israeli security.

Cheering from the sidelines is former Clinton staffer Robert Malley, who advised Obama on Middle East issues during the 2008 campaign until he was put aside to reassure Jewish voters worried about the Democrats having a man on staff who had served as an apologist for Yasser Arafat in the aftermath of the 2000 Camp David talks. For Malley, the logic of an American diktat is simple: “It’s not rocket science. If the U.S. wants it done, it will have to do it.”

This fits in with the messianic self-confidence of the president, and with the vision of his presidency that his staffers exude. They are not interested in the fact that such attempts have always failed because of Palestinian intransigence, or that such attempts have ultimately led to more, not less, violence. It isn’t clear whether they truly believe that weak figures like Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad can sign any peace deal that recognizes Israel’s existence within any borders. But the administration’s simmering resentment against Israel seems to be driving this development more than anything else. Even if such a plan failed, as it surely would, the mere exercise of attempting to shove it down a reluctant Israel’s throat would appear to be deeply satisfying to figures like Brzezinski and Malley and perhaps Obama, whose predilection for trumped-up bitter disputes with the Jewish state and its leaders is now an established fact.

The effort to leak this story to multiple outlets appears to be a continuation of Obama’s feud with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Having failed to make Netanyahu bend to his will on the building of homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Obama is now raising the stakes by pointedly holding out the possibility that he will impose his own partition on Israel’s capital after the certain failure of the so-called “proximity talks” — so named because the Palestinians will not even sit in the same room to talk peace with Israelis.

It goes without saying that such a plan from Obama would, itself, constitute the baseline of future Arab demands on Israel because, as even Cooper points out, “once Mr. Obama puts American parameters on the table, the Palestinians will refuse to accept anything less.”

The prospect of an Obama dictat aimed at Israel again raises the question of what Jewish Democrats think about all this. Some may have thought that Obama’s rage at Netanyahu and the histrionics that the president and his staff have engaged in during the last month was just a passing phase, to be forgotten as the administration moved on to other issues. But apparently, Obama’s anger at Israel and his desire to bring down Bibi and to force the Jewish state to surrender on Jerusalem has not diminished. Obama’s diplomatic war on Israel seems to be just beginning.

Apparently, David Ignatius of the Washington Post isn’t the only recipient of White House leaks about an Obama peace plan. Helen Cooper of the New York Times chimed in with her own piece this afternoon about the president’s desire to jump into the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

According to Cooper, the trigger for this latest instance of administration hubris was a recent gathering of former national-security advisers including Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, Samuel Berger, and Colin Powell, who were called in to consult with the president and his adviser General James L. Jones. The consensus (only Powell seems to have dissented) was that Obama must put forward his own scheme that would state exactly what the parameters of a peace deal would be. The idea is that peace can only be obtained by the United States imposing it on the parties. The plan is, of course, along the lines of past Israeli peace offers rejected by the Palestinians, plus extra Israeli concessions. The Palestinians give up their “right of return,” and Israel “would return to its 1967 borders,” including the one that divided Jerusalem, with only “a few negotiated settlements” as an exception. The supposed sweetener for Israel is that the United States or NATO, whose troops would be stationed along the Jordan River, would guarantee Israeli security.

Cheering from the sidelines is former Clinton staffer Robert Malley, who advised Obama on Middle East issues during the 2008 campaign until he was put aside to reassure Jewish voters worried about the Democrats having a man on staff who had served as an apologist for Yasser Arafat in the aftermath of the 2000 Camp David talks. For Malley, the logic of an American diktat is simple: “It’s not rocket science. If the U.S. wants it done, it will have to do it.”

This fits in with the messianic self-confidence of the president, and with the vision of his presidency that his staffers exude. They are not interested in the fact that such attempts have always failed because of Palestinian intransigence, or that such attempts have ultimately led to more, not less, violence. It isn’t clear whether they truly believe that weak figures like Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad can sign any peace deal that recognizes Israel’s existence within any borders. But the administration’s simmering resentment against Israel seems to be driving this development more than anything else. Even if such a plan failed, as it surely would, the mere exercise of attempting to shove it down a reluctant Israel’s throat would appear to be deeply satisfying to figures like Brzezinski and Malley and perhaps Obama, whose predilection for trumped-up bitter disputes with the Jewish state and its leaders is now an established fact.

The effort to leak this story to multiple outlets appears to be a continuation of Obama’s feud with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Having failed to make Netanyahu bend to his will on the building of homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Obama is now raising the stakes by pointedly holding out the possibility that he will impose his own partition on Israel’s capital after the certain failure of the so-called “proximity talks” — so named because the Palestinians will not even sit in the same room to talk peace with Israelis.

It goes without saying that such a plan from Obama would, itself, constitute the baseline of future Arab demands on Israel because, as even Cooper points out, “once Mr. Obama puts American parameters on the table, the Palestinians will refuse to accept anything less.”

The prospect of an Obama dictat aimed at Israel again raises the question of what Jewish Democrats think about all this. Some may have thought that Obama’s rage at Netanyahu and the histrionics that the president and his staff have engaged in during the last month was just a passing phase, to be forgotten as the administration moved on to other issues. But apparently, Obama’s anger at Israel and his desire to bring down Bibi and to force the Jewish state to surrender on Jerusalem has not diminished. Obama’s diplomatic war on Israel seems to be just beginning.

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The Harmony Isn’t the Problem

Granted, Leslie Gelb is frustrated with Obama. After all, many in the foreign-policy establishment (from Gelb to Colin Powell) were convinced that Obama would correct the misjudgments of the Bush administration, restore our standing in the world, practice smart diplomacy, and most of all, not embarrass foreign-policy establishment types who touted him. So one can understand that Gelb is upset, but that’s really no excuse for his theory that the problem with the Obami foreign policy is that there isn’t enough conflict among the central players.

His theory goes like this: other presidents had more dissension within their foreign-policy teams, and other presidents were more successful in conducting foreign policy — so Obama should have more dissension within his team, too. Gelb then really veers into the abyss:

To the extent that anyone within the administration is challenging the conventional or consensual wisdom on any major policy, it seems to be Biden himself. Probably the only real strategist among Obama’s senior advisers, he fought hard to keep the number of new troops heading to Afghanistan well below the 30,000 level Obama finally approved.

So we should be thankful that Biden is there to make inane suggestions that are overridden and that merely delay the decision-making process, causing the president to look irresolute? Hmm. (And if Biden is the “only real strategist” in the administration, that might be the root of the problem.)

All this is silliness on stilts, of course. The problem is not lack of conflict but bad, dangerous ideas carried out ineptly. It’s hard for some Obama-philes to acknowledge the obvious and so much easier for them to blame the staff or, as Obama has done, whine that issues like the Middle East are so darn hard. But in point of fact the Obama administration is a foreign-policy toxic-waste dump of awful ideas and tactics (e.g., Iran engagement, bullying Israel, cutting missile defense and pulling the rug out from allies, pushing aside human rights). Agreement or lack thereof is not the problem. The problem is that the president has some very mistaken ideas about how the world works, what motivates our foes, and how America can exercise its influence in the world. But acknowledging all that would mean that those who backed Obama and spun for him for a very long time got it very, very wrong. So better to come up with crackpot theories, I suppose.

Granted, Leslie Gelb is frustrated with Obama. After all, many in the foreign-policy establishment (from Gelb to Colin Powell) were convinced that Obama would correct the misjudgments of the Bush administration, restore our standing in the world, practice smart diplomacy, and most of all, not embarrass foreign-policy establishment types who touted him. So one can understand that Gelb is upset, but that’s really no excuse for his theory that the problem with the Obami foreign policy is that there isn’t enough conflict among the central players.

His theory goes like this: other presidents had more dissension within their foreign-policy teams, and other presidents were more successful in conducting foreign policy — so Obama should have more dissension within his team, too. Gelb then really veers into the abyss:

To the extent that anyone within the administration is challenging the conventional or consensual wisdom on any major policy, it seems to be Biden himself. Probably the only real strategist among Obama’s senior advisers, he fought hard to keep the number of new troops heading to Afghanistan well below the 30,000 level Obama finally approved.

So we should be thankful that Biden is there to make inane suggestions that are overridden and that merely delay the decision-making process, causing the president to look irresolute? Hmm. (And if Biden is the “only real strategist” in the administration, that might be the root of the problem.)

All this is silliness on stilts, of course. The problem is not lack of conflict but bad, dangerous ideas carried out ineptly. It’s hard for some Obama-philes to acknowledge the obvious and so much easier for them to blame the staff or, as Obama has done, whine that issues like the Middle East are so darn hard. But in point of fact the Obama administration is a foreign-policy toxic-waste dump of awful ideas and tactics (e.g., Iran engagement, bullying Israel, cutting missile defense and pulling the rug out from allies, pushing aside human rights). Agreement or lack thereof is not the problem. The problem is that the president has some very mistaken ideas about how the world works, what motivates our foes, and how America can exercise its influence in the world. But acknowledging all that would mean that those who backed Obama and spun for him for a very long time got it very, very wrong. So better to come up with crackpot theories, I suppose.

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What’s Their Excuse?

Colin Powell was an enthusiastic backer of Obama’s presidential candidacy. Asked on Face the Nation if he regrets it — the shared assumption being that he might, because Obama’s presidency has been a bust so far — Powell insisted that he didn’t regret a thing. But “I’m afraid he put too much on the plate for the American people to absorb at one time.” And on national security:

He admitted he was “surprised” by the lack of coordination among different agencies in dealing with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the suspect in the Christmas Day bombing attempt of an airliner.

“Should he have been given his Miranda rights either after 90 minutes or 15 hours? The story kept changing,” Powell said. “I would have thought after all these years we would have had a process in place – either in the previous administration or in this administration – that when you get somebody like that, we all know how to respond and how to interrogate him, or not interrogate him. But he’s in jail. He’s facing trial. I don’t think it will be a difficult trial to handle. And also he’s still talking. They found other ways to interrogate him.”

Well, that’s Powell for you — as Max memorably said when the general endorsed Obama, a bit “incoherent” in his rationale. Powell’s reasons for endorsing Obama were never all that compelling. But now that Obama has proved to be none of the things Powell and his co-validators claimed (not moderate, not competent, not post-racial), what’s the general going to say?

Powell’s not alone, of course. There were those Republicans (Powell included) who claimed that they couldn’t vote for John McCain because his VP choice showed such poor judgment and they couldn’t bear the thought of such a person just a heartbeat from the Oval Office. Despite Biden’s gaffe-a-thon and Obama’s frequent disdain for his own VP, we’ve seen no mea culpas on that front. Then there were those who proclaimed Obama’s fiscal moderation and careful approach to governance. Despite the spending jag and the serial extremism of one left-wing agenda item after another, we haven’t heard many recantations on that front. And what of those who were convinced Obama would be a stalwart defender of Israel and tough on the mullahs? They sure went out on a limb, only to be proved tragically gullible. (Or are we to believe that “This was all predictable from the day Obama won the election. Only innocents thought otherwise.” Oh, really?)

The pundits and pols who vouched for Obama are in a bind. Maybe that’s why you hear such wailing that America is ungovernable and too partisan. It can’t be Obama’s fault, after all — that would mean that Obama’s supporters were badly snookered. It’s never easy to say you were wrong, especially when the stakes are so high.

Colin Powell was an enthusiastic backer of Obama’s presidential candidacy. Asked on Face the Nation if he regrets it — the shared assumption being that he might, because Obama’s presidency has been a bust so far — Powell insisted that he didn’t regret a thing. But “I’m afraid he put too much on the plate for the American people to absorb at one time.” And on national security:

He admitted he was “surprised” by the lack of coordination among different agencies in dealing with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the suspect in the Christmas Day bombing attempt of an airliner.

“Should he have been given his Miranda rights either after 90 minutes or 15 hours? The story kept changing,” Powell said. “I would have thought after all these years we would have had a process in place – either in the previous administration or in this administration – that when you get somebody like that, we all know how to respond and how to interrogate him, or not interrogate him. But he’s in jail. He’s facing trial. I don’t think it will be a difficult trial to handle. And also he’s still talking. They found other ways to interrogate him.”

Well, that’s Powell for you — as Max memorably said when the general endorsed Obama, a bit “incoherent” in his rationale. Powell’s reasons for endorsing Obama were never all that compelling. But now that Obama has proved to be none of the things Powell and his co-validators claimed (not moderate, not competent, not post-racial), what’s the general going to say?

Powell’s not alone, of course. There were those Republicans (Powell included) who claimed that they couldn’t vote for John McCain because his VP choice showed such poor judgment and they couldn’t bear the thought of such a person just a heartbeat from the Oval Office. Despite Biden’s gaffe-a-thon and Obama’s frequent disdain for his own VP, we’ve seen no mea culpas on that front. Then there were those who proclaimed Obama’s fiscal moderation and careful approach to governance. Despite the spending jag and the serial extremism of one left-wing agenda item after another, we haven’t heard many recantations on that front. And what of those who were convinced Obama would be a stalwart defender of Israel and tough on the mullahs? They sure went out on a limb, only to be proved tragically gullible. (Or are we to believe that “This was all predictable from the day Obama won the election. Only innocents thought otherwise.” Oh, really?)

The pundits and pols who vouched for Obama are in a bind. Maybe that’s why you hear such wailing that America is ungovernable and too partisan. It can’t be Obama’s fault, after all — that would mean that Obama’s supporters were badly snookered. It’s never easy to say you were wrong, especially when the stakes are so high.

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Throwing Rocks in the Pond

Hillary Clinton has been mum on the subject lately. The McCain camp has studiously avoided mentioning Reverend Wright. But not Vice President Cheney. He had this to say on Thursday in an interview with Sean Hannity:

I’ve watched what’s going on on the Democratic side with great interest, and sort of blowing hot and cold in terms of who is going to win, whether it is going to be Senator Clinton or Senator Obama. I thought the controversy over Reverend Wright was remarkable. I thought some of the things he said were absolutely appalling. And, you know, I haven’t gotten into the business of trying to judge how Senator Obama dealt with it, or didn’t deal with it, but I really — I think, like most Americans, I was stunned at what the Reverend was preaching in his church and then putting up on his website.

Is this just a casual observation? Unlikely: Cheney has weathered two presidential elections. Maybe it’s a bouquet to Hillary Clinton, who could use a lift. Maybe it’s an attempt to counteract Colin Powell’s praise for Obama earlier in the day. Regardless of its motive, the effect is the same: Wright’s name stays in the news and voters continue to ponder this troubling association.

Meanwhile, Howard Dean tells us that, under no circumstances, will the Democrats bring up McCain’s age (71) as a factor in the election. It would be wrong, you see, to mention McCain’s age (71), and the Democrats are above mentioning McCain’s age (71). Did he mention that the Democrats’ high ethical standards don’t allow them to mention McCain’s age (71)? Even though his age (71) is a factor, according to focus groups run by the DNC (which is too high-minded to bring up his age)?

Hillary Clinton has been mum on the subject lately. The McCain camp has studiously avoided mentioning Reverend Wright. But not Vice President Cheney. He had this to say on Thursday in an interview with Sean Hannity:

I’ve watched what’s going on on the Democratic side with great interest, and sort of blowing hot and cold in terms of who is going to win, whether it is going to be Senator Clinton or Senator Obama. I thought the controversy over Reverend Wright was remarkable. I thought some of the things he said were absolutely appalling. And, you know, I haven’t gotten into the business of trying to judge how Senator Obama dealt with it, or didn’t deal with it, but I really — I think, like most Americans, I was stunned at what the Reverend was preaching in his church and then putting up on his website.

Is this just a casual observation? Unlikely: Cheney has weathered two presidential elections. Maybe it’s a bouquet to Hillary Clinton, who could use a lift. Maybe it’s an attempt to counteract Colin Powell’s praise for Obama earlier in the day. Regardless of its motive, the effect is the same: Wright’s name stays in the news and voters continue to ponder this troubling association.

Meanwhile, Howard Dean tells us that, under no circumstances, will the Democrats bring up McCain’s age (71) as a factor in the election. It would be wrong, you see, to mention McCain’s age (71), and the Democrats are above mentioning McCain’s age (71). Did he mention that the Democrats’ high ethical standards don’t allow them to mention McCain’s age (71)? Even though his age (71) is a factor, according to focus groups run by the DNC (which is too high-minded to bring up his age)?

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The Artificial Neocon

I know there are a few competing priorities, but at this moment in our long life as a nation I can think of no more urgent task for Congress than to pass emergency legislation banning the further use of the word “neocon.” At least until a committee of deep thinkers can get together to agree on a commonly accepted definition. (A starting point may be the Robert Kagan essay I referred to in an earlier posting.) Until that happens, its use will only continue to muddy and obfuscate the debate over otherwise important issues.

Exhibit 2,348,485 of this terminological confusion may be found on today’s front page of the New York Times. In an article entitled “2 Camps Trying to Influence McCain on Foreign Policy,” Times correspondents Elizabeth Bumiller and Larry Rohter posit a nonexistent death struggle between John McCain’s “neocon” advisers (including yours truly) and those of a more “pragmatic” bent. Several bloggers have already noted the article’s shoddy sourcing and tendentious nature.

For my part, I’m simply mystified by how Bumiller and Rohter decided to assign certain personages and policies and not others to the “neocon” camp. Why, for instance, is John Bolton a neocon and John Lehman a “pragmatist” (as the graphic that accompanies the article has it)? I have no idea–and I bet Bolton doesn’t either, since he has repeatedly said he’s not a neocon. Indeed, he’s been a vocal opponent of the idea that democracy promotion should be at the center of American foreign policy (as many neocons argue). A conservative yes, even a hawkish conservative, but not a neocon.

Support for the Iraq War cannot be the test of “neocon-ness.” It was supported by virtually all conservatives, neo- and otherwise, and by many liberals as well. Aware of this difficulty, Bumiller and Rohter imply that pragmatists display their superior wisdom by criticizing the conduct of the war effort. In assigning Colin Powell and Richard Armitage to the pragmatist camp, for example, they write:

While Mr. Powell and Mr. Armitage supported Mr. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq while they were in office, they have become critics of the management of the war.

By that standard, I’m a “pragmatist” too. So are Bob Kagan, Bill Kristol, Fred Kagan, and just about every other “neocon” you can think of.

Another test that Bumiller and Rohter seem to apply is willingness “to work more closely with allies” –something that pragmatists are for and neocons are supposedly against. Bumiller and Rohter write that, in a recent Los Angeles speech, McCain hewed to the pragmatist path because he “rejected the unilateralism that has been the hallmark of the Bush administration’s foreign policy in favor of what he called ‘being a good and reliable ally to our fellow democracies’.”

How do they square this with their earlier assertion that the “author who helped write much of the foreign policy speech that Mr. McCain delivered in Los Angeles on March 26″ was none other than arch-neocon Robert Kagan? Can it be that “neocons” might actually be in favor of working with other countries and not simply bombing them? What a revolutionary idea. Rest assured, it is not a thought that has ever entered the heads of the MSM–or at least affected their coverage.

I know there are a few competing priorities, but at this moment in our long life as a nation I can think of no more urgent task for Congress than to pass emergency legislation banning the further use of the word “neocon.” At least until a committee of deep thinkers can get together to agree on a commonly accepted definition. (A starting point may be the Robert Kagan essay I referred to in an earlier posting.) Until that happens, its use will only continue to muddy and obfuscate the debate over otherwise important issues.

Exhibit 2,348,485 of this terminological confusion may be found on today’s front page of the New York Times. In an article entitled “2 Camps Trying to Influence McCain on Foreign Policy,” Times correspondents Elizabeth Bumiller and Larry Rohter posit a nonexistent death struggle between John McCain’s “neocon” advisers (including yours truly) and those of a more “pragmatic” bent. Several bloggers have already noted the article’s shoddy sourcing and tendentious nature.

For my part, I’m simply mystified by how Bumiller and Rohter decided to assign certain personages and policies and not others to the “neocon” camp. Why, for instance, is John Bolton a neocon and John Lehman a “pragmatist” (as the graphic that accompanies the article has it)? I have no idea–and I bet Bolton doesn’t either, since he has repeatedly said he’s not a neocon. Indeed, he’s been a vocal opponent of the idea that democracy promotion should be at the center of American foreign policy (as many neocons argue). A conservative yes, even a hawkish conservative, but not a neocon.

Support for the Iraq War cannot be the test of “neocon-ness.” It was supported by virtually all conservatives, neo- and otherwise, and by many liberals as well. Aware of this difficulty, Bumiller and Rohter imply that pragmatists display their superior wisdom by criticizing the conduct of the war effort. In assigning Colin Powell and Richard Armitage to the pragmatist camp, for example, they write:

While Mr. Powell and Mr. Armitage supported Mr. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq while they were in office, they have become critics of the management of the war.

By that standard, I’m a “pragmatist” too. So are Bob Kagan, Bill Kristol, Fred Kagan, and just about every other “neocon” you can think of.

Another test that Bumiller and Rohter seem to apply is willingness “to work more closely with allies” –something that pragmatists are for and neocons are supposedly against. Bumiller and Rohter write that, in a recent Los Angeles speech, McCain hewed to the pragmatist path because he “rejected the unilateralism that has been the hallmark of the Bush administration’s foreign policy in favor of what he called ‘being a good and reliable ally to our fellow democracies’.”

How do they square this with their earlier assertion that the “author who helped write much of the foreign policy speech that Mr. McCain delivered in Los Angeles on March 26″ was none other than arch-neocon Robert Kagan? Can it be that “neocons” might actually be in favor of working with other countries and not simply bombing them? What a revolutionary idea. Rest assured, it is not a thought that has ever entered the heads of the MSM–or at least affected their coverage.

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“The True Neocon”

If there are still conservatives out there fretting that John McCain (lifetime American Conservative Union voting record: 82.3%) is “too liberal,” they should check out this hit job from the house organ of the American left, The Nation. After reciting the tired clichés about what a terrible temper McCain supposedly has (something said about many other Presidents, including Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman), author Robert Dreyfuss recounts with horror McCain’s plans to “carry the ‘war on terror’ deep into the twenty-first century.”

He provides a brief overview of some ideas McCain has put forward, from reorganizing the CIA to creating a League of Democracies as a supplement to the UN. All of these come with a gloss of horrified quotes from the usual suspects, such as Larry Wilkerson (Colin Powell’s former chief of staff who has been one of the Bush administration’s most vociferous critics) and liberal foreign policy scholars Larry Korb and Ivo Daalder. Daalder is quoted as calling McCain “the true neocon,” which isn’t intended as a compliment–but may well be seen that way by some nervous conservatives.

Dreyfuss highlights McCain’s support for tough action to combat America’s foes, from Russia to the Middle East. But he doesn’t even mention a host of other positions McCain has taken that should horrify Nation-ites. The Republican nominee is in favor of the Patriot Act. He’s in favor of  reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act with immunity for telephone companies that cooperate with the government. He is opposed to limiting the CIA to the interrogation techniques laid out in the Army interrogation manual. And while he wants to close the detention facility at Guantanamo (which has become, rightly or wrongly, an international embarrassment), he hardly wants to let the inmates go free. He proposes to move them to the federal prison at Fort Leavenworth (where conditions would probably be more grim) and to try them through military tribunals, not through the normal criminal courts so many leftist activists want.

Perhaps these other positions could be the subject of a future expose in The Nation. As a supporter of (and foreign policy adviser to) Senator McCain, I can only hope for more such attacks, which should help to solidify the Right around his candidacy without alienating any centrists.

If there are still conservatives out there fretting that John McCain (lifetime American Conservative Union voting record: 82.3%) is “too liberal,” they should check out this hit job from the house organ of the American left, The Nation. After reciting the tired clichés about what a terrible temper McCain supposedly has (something said about many other Presidents, including Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman), author Robert Dreyfuss recounts with horror McCain’s plans to “carry the ‘war on terror’ deep into the twenty-first century.”

He provides a brief overview of some ideas McCain has put forward, from reorganizing the CIA to creating a League of Democracies as a supplement to the UN. All of these come with a gloss of horrified quotes from the usual suspects, such as Larry Wilkerson (Colin Powell’s former chief of staff who has been one of the Bush administration’s most vociferous critics) and liberal foreign policy scholars Larry Korb and Ivo Daalder. Daalder is quoted as calling McCain “the true neocon,” which isn’t intended as a compliment–but may well be seen that way by some nervous conservatives.

Dreyfuss highlights McCain’s support for tough action to combat America’s foes, from Russia to the Middle East. But he doesn’t even mention a host of other positions McCain has taken that should horrify Nation-ites. The Republican nominee is in favor of the Patriot Act. He’s in favor of  reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act with immunity for telephone companies that cooperate with the government. He is opposed to limiting the CIA to the interrogation techniques laid out in the Army interrogation manual. And while he wants to close the detention facility at Guantanamo (which has become, rightly or wrongly, an international embarrassment), he hardly wants to let the inmates go free. He proposes to move them to the federal prison at Fort Leavenworth (where conditions would probably be more grim) and to try them through military tribunals, not through the normal criminal courts so many leftist activists want.

Perhaps these other positions could be the subject of a future expose in The Nation. As a supporter of (and foreign policy adviser to) Senator McCain, I can only hope for more such attacks, which should help to solidify the Right around his candidacy without alienating any centrists.

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McCain Gets Some Help

John McCain has begun vigorously engaging Barack Obama on the subject of Obama’s proposed immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. As reported by abcnews.com, he got a major assist yesterday from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs who stated that:

[a] rapid of withdrawal from Iraq would lead to a “chaotic situation” and would “turnaround the gains we have achieved, and struggled to achieve, and turn them around overnight. Admiral Mullen’s comments came in a response to a question about what the Joint Chiefs are doing to prepare for a new president, given that two of the candidates have called for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. “We need to be prepared across the board for what a new president will bring,” Mullen said. “I do worry about a rapid withdrawal. . . [that would] turn around the gains we have achieved and struggled to achieve and turn them around overnight.” Asked to define a “rapid withdrawal,” Mullen said, “a withdrawal that would be so fast that it would leave us in a chaotic situation and the gains we have achieved would be lost.” That said, Mullen added: “When a new president comes in, I will get my orders and I will carry them out.”

Obama would certainly like to talk in the general election about the initial decision to go to war, which has been a winning issue in his primary fight with Hillary Clinton. In light of polling which shows a lopsided majority of Americans believe that the war was a mistake or not worth the cost, this seems a smart tactic. McCain intends to cast this, in essence, as crying over spilt milk. As he put it “That’s history, that’s the past. . . . What we should be talking about is what we are going to do now.”

Indeed the “what do we do now” issue was much discussed in the last presidential election year. Back then, when Colin Powell subscribed to the “pottery barn” analogy (you break it, you pay for it), he was widely praised. Democrats had no problem when John Kerry said this in the 2004 presidential debate:

Yes, we have to be steadfast and resolved, and I am. And I will succeed for those troops, now that we’re there. We have to succeed. We can’t leave a failed Iraq. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a mistake of judgment to go there and take the focus off of Osama bin Laden. It was. Now, we can succeed.

For Obama and much of the Democratic base, that was then and this is now. Meanwhile, McCain hopes that the adage that “elections are about the future and not the past” holds true here.

John McCain has begun vigorously engaging Barack Obama on the subject of Obama’s proposed immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. As reported by abcnews.com, he got a major assist yesterday from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs who stated that:

[a] rapid of withdrawal from Iraq would lead to a “chaotic situation” and would “turnaround the gains we have achieved, and struggled to achieve, and turn them around overnight. Admiral Mullen’s comments came in a response to a question about what the Joint Chiefs are doing to prepare for a new president, given that two of the candidates have called for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. “We need to be prepared across the board for what a new president will bring,” Mullen said. “I do worry about a rapid withdrawal. . . [that would] turn around the gains we have achieved and struggled to achieve and turn them around overnight.” Asked to define a “rapid withdrawal,” Mullen said, “a withdrawal that would be so fast that it would leave us in a chaotic situation and the gains we have achieved would be lost.” That said, Mullen added: “When a new president comes in, I will get my orders and I will carry them out.”

Obama would certainly like to talk in the general election about the initial decision to go to war, which has been a winning issue in his primary fight with Hillary Clinton. In light of polling which shows a lopsided majority of Americans believe that the war was a mistake or not worth the cost, this seems a smart tactic. McCain intends to cast this, in essence, as crying over spilt milk. As he put it “That’s history, that’s the past. . . . What we should be talking about is what we are going to do now.”

Indeed the “what do we do now” issue was much discussed in the last presidential election year. Back then, when Colin Powell subscribed to the “pottery barn” analogy (you break it, you pay for it), he was widely praised. Democrats had no problem when John Kerry said this in the 2004 presidential debate:

Yes, we have to be steadfast and resolved, and I am. And I will succeed for those troops, now that we’re there. We have to succeed. We can’t leave a failed Iraq. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a mistake of judgment to go there and take the focus off of Osama bin Laden. It was. Now, we can succeed.

For Obama and much of the Democratic base, that was then and this is now. Meanwhile, McCain hopes that the adage that “elections are about the future and not the past” holds true here.

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Out of Iraq Now

Barack Obama has a plan to the end the war in Iraq. Since he may well be the next President of the United States, let’s give it a respectful hearing. Here is the sum and substance of it, as presented in an issue paper posted on his website:

Bring Our Troops Home: Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.

Hillary Clinton also has a plan to the end the war in Iraq. Even though her chances of becoming President are diminishing by the day, she is still in the race, so let’s give her plan a respectful hearing, too. Here is the sum and substance of it, as presented in an issue paper posted on her website:

Starting Phased Redeployment within Hillary’s First Days in Office: The most important part of Hillary’s plan is the first: to end our military engagement in Iraq’s civil war and immediately start bringing our troops home. As president, one of Hillary’s first official actions would be to convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, her Secretary of Defense, and her National Security Council. She would direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home starting with the first 60 days of her Administration.

Obama is promising a faster withdrawal than Hillary. although Hillary has also said, “Our message to the President is clear. It is time to begin ending this war — not next year, not next month — but today.”

For those Americans who want to end the war as rapidly as possible, should we vote for him or for her?

There can be only one answer: neither.

When the United States was contemplating the invasion, Colin Powell memorably enunciated the Pottery Barn doctrine: “you break it, you own it.” Both Hillary and Obama want to walk out of the shop with the crockery in pieces and without paying. Indeed, the main issue between them is which will exit the shop faster.

This leaves Connecting the Dots with two questions: 

1.  Is there anything more shameful than their blithe indifference to the fate of the Iraqi people?

2.  Is there anything more shameful then their insouciant disregard of the iron-clad logic of events: that if the U.S. withdraws without a credible security system in place, our forces will have to fight their way back after one or another ruthless Islamic group terrorizes its way into power?

Last night I listened to Henry Kissinger speak at a dinner (honoring Norman Podhoretz for his new book) that was put on by the amazing trio running Power Line. He made one point that struck me with special force: American withdrawal from Iraq will be an unmistakable American defeat, and the consequences will not be long-term, they will be immediate and grave.

No one can predict the future, but Kissinger’s analysis and warning seems irrefutable. Is that what America wants? This election is shaping up to be even more critical than the Carter-Reagan choice of 1980. Am I correct in thinking that, of the post-war elections, only the Nixon-McGovern race in 1972 had more riding on it?

 

Barack Obama has a plan to the end the war in Iraq. Since he may well be the next President of the United States, let’s give it a respectful hearing. Here is the sum and substance of it, as presented in an issue paper posted on his website:

Bring Our Troops Home: Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.

Hillary Clinton also has a plan to the end the war in Iraq. Even though her chances of becoming President are diminishing by the day, she is still in the race, so let’s give her plan a respectful hearing, too. Here is the sum and substance of it, as presented in an issue paper posted on her website:

Starting Phased Redeployment within Hillary’s First Days in Office: The most important part of Hillary’s plan is the first: to end our military engagement in Iraq’s civil war and immediately start bringing our troops home. As president, one of Hillary’s first official actions would be to convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, her Secretary of Defense, and her National Security Council. She would direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home starting with the first 60 days of her Administration.

Obama is promising a faster withdrawal than Hillary. although Hillary has also said, “Our message to the President is clear. It is time to begin ending this war — not next year, not next month — but today.”

For those Americans who want to end the war as rapidly as possible, should we vote for him or for her?

There can be only one answer: neither.

When the United States was contemplating the invasion, Colin Powell memorably enunciated the Pottery Barn doctrine: “you break it, you own it.” Both Hillary and Obama want to walk out of the shop with the crockery in pieces and without paying. Indeed, the main issue between them is which will exit the shop faster.

This leaves Connecting the Dots with two questions: 

1.  Is there anything more shameful than their blithe indifference to the fate of the Iraqi people?

2.  Is there anything more shameful then their insouciant disregard of the iron-clad logic of events: that if the U.S. withdraws without a credible security system in place, our forces will have to fight their way back after one or another ruthless Islamic group terrorizes its way into power?

Last night I listened to Henry Kissinger speak at a dinner (honoring Norman Podhoretz for his new book) that was put on by the amazing trio running Power Line. He made one point that struck me with special force: American withdrawal from Iraq will be an unmistakable American defeat, and the consequences will not be long-term, they will be immediate and grave.

No one can predict the future, but Kissinger’s analysis and warning seems irrefutable. Is that what America wants? This election is shaping up to be even more critical than the Carter-Reagan choice of 1980. Am I correct in thinking that, of the post-war elections, only the Nixon-McGovern race in 1972 had more riding on it?

 

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