Commentary Magazine


Topic: commander

Billy Graham and the Temptations of Politics

In an interview with Christianity Today, Billy Graham, 92, said this:

I … would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.

Graham, of course, was not a particularly powerful force in American politics. Rather, he was known as the “pastor to the president.” He was a friend to presidents of both parties — and he certainly wasn’t as political as, say, D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson (who is not a minister but is certainly a prominent Christian).

Still, we know that Graham’s close association with Richard Nixon is one he came to regret, especially in the aftermath of Watergate. Tapes released in 2002 revealed Graham as saying disparaging things about Jews, which Graham was embarrassed by and for which he apologized. And proximity to power can appeal to one’s ego and pride. Ministering to the powerful can be a heady experience.

It’s important to point out that the Reverend Graham was not offering a sweeping condemnation of Christians who involve themselves in politics. My guess is that he would agree that according to Christian doctrine, God has never detached Himself from the affairs of the world; that in the Hebrew Bible, certain kings win the outright approval of God; that civil government was itself established by God; and that because politics, in its deepest and best sense, is about justice, it would be foolish to exclude Christians from the realm of politics. Some are called to participate in that arena.

But what Graham was saying — and what Christians need to pay special attention to — is that politics is an arena in which the witness of believers
can be easily harmed. Issue by issue, act by act, faith can become — or can be reasonably seen to become — subordinate to a political party or ideology. In addition, the passions and emotions politics can stir up can cause people to act in troubling ways. Grace can give way to bitterness and brittleness, to viewing political opponents as political enemies. Read More

In an interview with Christianity Today, Billy Graham, 92, said this:

I … would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.

Graham, of course, was not a particularly powerful force in American politics. Rather, he was known as the “pastor to the president.” He was a friend to presidents of both parties — and he certainly wasn’t as political as, say, D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson (who is not a minister but is certainly a prominent Christian).

Still, we know that Graham’s close association with Richard Nixon is one he came to regret, especially in the aftermath of Watergate. Tapes released in 2002 revealed Graham as saying disparaging things about Jews, which Graham was embarrassed by and for which he apologized. And proximity to power can appeal to one’s ego and pride. Ministering to the powerful can be a heady experience.

It’s important to point out that the Reverend Graham was not offering a sweeping condemnation of Christians who involve themselves in politics. My guess is that he would agree that according to Christian doctrine, God has never detached Himself from the affairs of the world; that in the Hebrew Bible, certain kings win the outright approval of God; that civil government was itself established by God; and that because politics, in its deepest and best sense, is about justice, it would be foolish to exclude Christians from the realm of politics. Some are called to participate in that arena.

But what Graham was saying — and what Christians need to pay special attention to — is that politics is an arena in which the witness of believers
can be easily harmed. Issue by issue, act by act, faith can become — or can be reasonably seen to become — subordinate to a political party or ideology. In addition, the passions and emotions politics can stir up can cause people to act in troubling ways. Grace can give way to bitterness and brittleness, to viewing political opponents as political enemies.

The writer Sheldon Vanauken has written about the fine line between zeal and anger. Admitting that he was caught up in the mood and action of the 1960s, Vanauken wrote that Jesus, he thought, would surely have him oppose what appeared to him to be an unjust war (Vietnam). “But the movement,” Vanauken conceded, “whatever its ideals, did a good deal of hating.” And Jesus, he said, was gradually pushed to the rear. “Movement goals, not God, became first.” Vanauken admitted that that is not quite what God had in mind.

In 1951, Prime Minister Winston Churchill offered Christian author and apologist C.S. Lewis the title of Commander of the British Empire, a high and appropriate distinction. But Lewis refused the honor. “I feel greatly obligated to the Prime Minister,” he responded, “and so far as my personal feelings are concerned this honour would be highly agreeable. There are always, however, knaves who say, and fools who believe, that my religious writings are all covert anti-Leftist propaganda, and my appearance in the Honours List would of course strengthen their hands. It is therefore better that I should not appear there.”

In his own way, what Graham is saying, I think, is that he wishes he had followed the Lewis example. I can understand why. For those of us who claim the title Christian, faith should always be more important than politics. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be involved in politics; it simply means we should do so with care, with wisdom, with our eyes wide open.

The City of Man may be our residence for now, but the City of God is our home.

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The Unraveling of Seymour Hersh

The New Yorker’s investigative reporter Seymour Hersh seems to be unraveling. According to a story posted on Foreignpolicy.com, in a speech in Doha, Qatar, Hersh

delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday expressing his disappointment with President Barack Obama and his dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

“Just when we needed an angry black man,” he began, his arm perched jauntily on the podium, “we didn’t get one.”

It quickly went downhill from there.

Blake Hounshell reports that Hersh, who is writing a book on what he calls the “Cheney-Bush years,” charged that U.S. foreign policy had been hijacked by a cabal of neoconservative “crusaders” in the former vice president’s office and now in the special operations community. “What I’m really talking about is how eight or nine neoconservative, radicals if you will, overthrew the American government. Took it over,” he said of his forthcoming book. “It’s not only that the neocons took it over but how easily they did it — how Congress disappeared, how the press became part of it, how the public acquiesced.”

During his remarks, Hersh brought up the widespread looting that took place in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. “In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? … Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.'”

“That’s the attitude,” Hersh continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”

Hersh also alleged that General Stanley McChrystal, who headed Joint Special Operations Command before becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Admiral William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.”

“Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh continued. “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They seem themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”

“They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins,” he continued. “They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.”

These are the mutterings of a fevered, obsessive mind. His strange, conspiracy-plagued world is dominated by neo-conservatives and Opus Dei crusaders who are reliving the 13th century. Such writers now find a welcoming home at the New Yorker.

David Remnick must be so proud.

The New Yorker’s investigative reporter Seymour Hersh seems to be unraveling. According to a story posted on Foreignpolicy.com, in a speech in Doha, Qatar, Hersh

delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday expressing his disappointment with President Barack Obama and his dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

“Just when we needed an angry black man,” he began, his arm perched jauntily on the podium, “we didn’t get one.”

It quickly went downhill from there.

Blake Hounshell reports that Hersh, who is writing a book on what he calls the “Cheney-Bush years,” charged that U.S. foreign policy had been hijacked by a cabal of neoconservative “crusaders” in the former vice president’s office and now in the special operations community. “What I’m really talking about is how eight or nine neoconservative, radicals if you will, overthrew the American government. Took it over,” he said of his forthcoming book. “It’s not only that the neocons took it over but how easily they did it — how Congress disappeared, how the press became part of it, how the public acquiesced.”

During his remarks, Hersh brought up the widespread looting that took place in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. “In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? … Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.'”

“That’s the attitude,” Hersh continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”

Hersh also alleged that General Stanley McChrystal, who headed Joint Special Operations Command before becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Admiral William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.”

“Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh continued. “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They seem themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”

“They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins,” he continued. “They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.”

These are the mutterings of a fevered, obsessive mind. His strange, conspiracy-plagued world is dominated by neo-conservatives and Opus Dei crusaders who are reliving the 13th century. Such writers now find a welcoming home at the New Yorker.

David Remnick must be so proud.

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No Fifth Star for Petraeus … Yet

I am a fan and admirer of Pete Hegseth and Wade Zirkle, two distinguished combat veterans who have been the driving forces behind Vets for Freedom, an important organization (on whose advisory board I once served) that has done much to buttress home-front support for the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am all the more impressed by Hegseth for his willingness to volunteer to go to Afghanistan this year as a reservist, with no obligation to do so. Needless to say, I am also a great admirer of David Petraeus — our most successful general since Matthew Ridgway. But I cannot see the imperative of giving Petraeus a fifth star as suggested by Hegseth and Zirkle in this Wall Street Journal op-ed.

As I understand it, Eisenhower, Marshall, MacArthur, and the other great World War II commanders got five stars so they would not be outranked by British field marshals. (As I recall, FDR considered creating an American rank of “field marshal” but decided to call it “general of the army” because “Marshal Marshall” would have sounded silly.) That’s not a concern today, so it’s hard to see any practical reason to elevate Petraeus and easy to see many difficulties that would arise if the U.S. commander in Afghanistan were to outrank the Central Command commander, his nominal boss, and even the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Petraeus is already primus inter pares by virtue of his success in Iraq. Formally giving him another star would only make his life more difficult when he has to deal with his four-star counterparts.

However, I do think that when Petraeus is ready for retirement — something that I hope will not happen anytime soon — Congress should consider granting him another star if by that point he has turned around the war in Afghanistan as he did in Iraq. Heck, I’d even be in favor of reviving the old British custom of giving vast estates and pots of money to winning generals, though these days the Washington Speakers Bureau achieves the same result without government subsidy. So I do not absolutely oppose the Hegseth/Zirkle proposal; I just think it is premature.

I am a fan and admirer of Pete Hegseth and Wade Zirkle, two distinguished combat veterans who have been the driving forces behind Vets for Freedom, an important organization (on whose advisory board I once served) that has done much to buttress home-front support for the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am all the more impressed by Hegseth for his willingness to volunteer to go to Afghanistan this year as a reservist, with no obligation to do so. Needless to say, I am also a great admirer of David Petraeus — our most successful general since Matthew Ridgway. But I cannot see the imperative of giving Petraeus a fifth star as suggested by Hegseth and Zirkle in this Wall Street Journal op-ed.

As I understand it, Eisenhower, Marshall, MacArthur, and the other great World War II commanders got five stars so they would not be outranked by British field marshals. (As I recall, FDR considered creating an American rank of “field marshal” but decided to call it “general of the army” because “Marshal Marshall” would have sounded silly.) That’s not a concern today, so it’s hard to see any practical reason to elevate Petraeus and easy to see many difficulties that would arise if the U.S. commander in Afghanistan were to outrank the Central Command commander, his nominal boss, and even the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Petraeus is already primus inter pares by virtue of his success in Iraq. Formally giving him another star would only make his life more difficult when he has to deal with his four-star counterparts.

However, I do think that when Petraeus is ready for retirement — something that I hope will not happen anytime soon — Congress should consider granting him another star if by that point he has turned around the war in Afghanistan as he did in Iraq. Heck, I’d even be in favor of reviving the old British custom of giving vast estates and pots of money to winning generals, though these days the Washington Speakers Bureau achieves the same result without government subsidy. So I do not absolutely oppose the Hegseth/Zirkle proposal; I just think it is premature.

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Our Military Personnel System Is in Definite Need of Reform

A snow day (which is what today is in the New York suburb where I live) is the perfect day to catch up on some reading. For those interested in military affairs, I recommend this intriguing article in the Atlantic, which argues that the armed forces are plagued by an antiquated personnel system which drives the best young officers out of the service.

The weakest part of the article, written by Kauffman Foundation fellow Tim Kane (a former Air Force officer), is its claim that “many of the most talented officers are now abandoning military life for the private sector.” There is little evidence that this is the fact; Kane cites the example of counterinsurgency strategist John Nagl, who left the Army as a lieutenant-colonel, and no doubt he was an outstanding officer; but the officers I meet still on active duty are no slouches either. Nevertheless, Kane makes a cogent critique of the out-of-date, top-down, industrial-era, one-size-fits-all personnel system that is an enduring source of frustration for most career officers. He writes:

The military’s problem is a deeply anti-entrepreneurial personnel structure. From officer evaluations to promotions to job assignments, all branches of the military operate more like a government bureaucracy with a unionized workforce than like a cutting-edge meritocracy. …

[T]he military personnel system—every aspect of it—is nearly blind to merit. Performance evaluations emphasize a zero-defect mentality, meaning that risk-avoidance trickles down the chain of command. Promotions can be anticipated almost to the day—regardless of an officer’s competence—so that there is essentially no difference in rank among officers the same age, even after 15 years of service. Job assignments are managed by a faceless, centralized bureaucracy that keeps everyone guessing where they might be shipped next.

Some of these complaints echo issues I raised in a Foreign Affairs article in 2005. I wrote:

Soldiers shuttle through units with dizzying rapidity: two-thirds of army personnel change stations every year, and the average officer spends only 18 months at each assignment over the course of a 25-year career. This system is designed to create a cadre of generalists who will be qualified for the upper echelons of command, but it prevents the kind of unit cohesion and inspired leadership that characterizes the highest-quality armies. Even the best troop leaders do not get to spend very much time with the troops: the average officer spends no more than 30 percent of his or her career in the field, with the rest spent in staff jobs and schools. Ordinary soldiers shuffle in and out of units just as rapidly.

This personnel system makes it especially difficult to cultivate the kind of cultural and linguistic expertise we need in today’s world, where most wars are fought against insurgents who blend into the population. Read More

A snow day (which is what today is in the New York suburb where I live) is the perfect day to catch up on some reading. For those interested in military affairs, I recommend this intriguing article in the Atlantic, which argues that the armed forces are plagued by an antiquated personnel system which drives the best young officers out of the service.

The weakest part of the article, written by Kauffman Foundation fellow Tim Kane (a former Air Force officer), is its claim that “many of the most talented officers are now abandoning military life for the private sector.” There is little evidence that this is the fact; Kane cites the example of counterinsurgency strategist John Nagl, who left the Army as a lieutenant-colonel, and no doubt he was an outstanding officer; but the officers I meet still on active duty are no slouches either. Nevertheless, Kane makes a cogent critique of the out-of-date, top-down, industrial-era, one-size-fits-all personnel system that is an enduring source of frustration for most career officers. He writes:

The military’s problem is a deeply anti-entrepreneurial personnel structure. From officer evaluations to promotions to job assignments, all branches of the military operate more like a government bureaucracy with a unionized workforce than like a cutting-edge meritocracy. …

[T]he military personnel system—every aspect of it—is nearly blind to merit. Performance evaluations emphasize a zero-defect mentality, meaning that risk-avoidance trickles down the chain of command. Promotions can be anticipated almost to the day—regardless of an officer’s competence—so that there is essentially no difference in rank among officers the same age, even after 15 years of service. Job assignments are managed by a faceless, centralized bureaucracy that keeps everyone guessing where they might be shipped next.

Some of these complaints echo issues I raised in a Foreign Affairs article in 2005. I wrote:

Soldiers shuttle through units with dizzying rapidity: two-thirds of army personnel change stations every year, and the average officer spends only 18 months at each assignment over the course of a 25-year career. This system is designed to create a cadre of generalists who will be qualified for the upper echelons of command, but it prevents the kind of unit cohesion and inspired leadership that characterizes the highest-quality armies. Even the best troop leaders do not get to spend very much time with the troops: the average officer spends no more than 30 percent of his or her career in the field, with the rest spent in staff jobs and schools. Ordinary soldiers shuffle in and out of units just as rapidly.

This personnel system makes it especially difficult to cultivate the kind of cultural and linguistic expertise we need in today’s world, where most wars are fought against insurgents who blend into the population.

Kane suggests that the answer is to borrow personnel practices from the private sector, giving officers more power to choose their own assignments and commanders more power to choose their subordinates, rather than delegating these tasks to some faceless, far-off bureaucracy. He suggests:

Each commander would have sole hiring authority over the people in his unit. Officers would be free to apply for any job opening. If a major applied for an opening above his pay grade, the commander at that unit could hire him (and bear the consequences). Coordination could be done through existing online tools such as monster.com or careerbuilder.com (presumably those companies would be interested in offering rebranded versions for the military). If an officer chose to stay in a job longer than “normal” (“I just want to fly fighter jets, sir”), that would be solely between him and his commander.

I am intrigued by these ideas and hope that at least one of the services will experiment with them. Even if the “best and brightest” aren’t necessarily leaving, and even if the services are hardly broken (in fact the armed forces are as good as they have ever been), there is always room for improvement, and the personnel system, which dates back to World War II, is a prime candidate for reform.

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Obama Snubs Britain Yet Again

He just can’t help himself. President Obama has apparently dissed Britain once again by declaring that “[w]e don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people” during a White House appearance with the French president. And the British press has taken notice:

Barack Obama has declared that France is America’s greatest ally, undermining Britain’s Special Relationship with the U.S.

The President risked offending British troops in Afghanistan by saying that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a ‘stronger friend’ than David Cameron.

The remarks, during a White House appearance with Mr Sarkozy, will reinforce the widely-held view in British diplomatic circles that Mr Obama has less interest in the Special Relationship than any other recent American leader.

Whether or not Obama meant any offense by the statement, he obviously should have realized that his past coldness toward Britain has made the it highly sensitive to any perceived slights from the White House. The president previously declined to meet with former prime minister Gordon Brown, removed the bust of Winston Churchill from his office, and famously gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod with photos of himself on it as a gift. His latest amateur diplomatic slip-up has sparked a bit of anti-French bad-mouthing from both British lawmakers and foreign-policy experts in Washington:

Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former commander of the Sherwood Foresters regiment, said: “I’m getting a bit fed up with the American President using terms like ‘best ally’ so loosely.

“It’s Britain that has had more than 300 servicemen killed in Afghanistan, not France.

“That to my mind is a lot more powerful than any political gesture making.”

The remarks also angered conservatives in Washington.

Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre For Freedom at the Heritage Foundation think-tank, said: “Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the U.S. President is difficult to fathom.

“And if the White House means what it says this represents an extraordinary sea change in foreign policy.” Dr Gardiner, a former aide to Lady Thatcher, added: “To suggest that Paris and not London is Washington’s strongest partner is simply ludicrous.

“Such a remark is not only factually wrong but insulting to Britain, not least coming just a few years after the French knifed Washington in the back over the war in Iraq.”

And it’s not hard to see why Obama’s statement provoked such a response. As the Daily Mail notes, the UK has lost nearly seven times as many troops as France in the global war on terror. I’d say that the president should choose his words more carefully next time, but in light of his numerous diplomatic flaps with Britain, I’m not sure if he has it in him.

He just can’t help himself. President Obama has apparently dissed Britain once again by declaring that “[w]e don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people” during a White House appearance with the French president. And the British press has taken notice:

Barack Obama has declared that France is America’s greatest ally, undermining Britain’s Special Relationship with the U.S.

The President risked offending British troops in Afghanistan by saying that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a ‘stronger friend’ than David Cameron.

The remarks, during a White House appearance with Mr Sarkozy, will reinforce the widely-held view in British diplomatic circles that Mr Obama has less interest in the Special Relationship than any other recent American leader.

Whether or not Obama meant any offense by the statement, he obviously should have realized that his past coldness toward Britain has made the it highly sensitive to any perceived slights from the White House. The president previously declined to meet with former prime minister Gordon Brown, removed the bust of Winston Churchill from his office, and famously gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod with photos of himself on it as a gift. His latest amateur diplomatic slip-up has sparked a bit of anti-French bad-mouthing from both British lawmakers and foreign-policy experts in Washington:

Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former commander of the Sherwood Foresters regiment, said: “I’m getting a bit fed up with the American President using terms like ‘best ally’ so loosely.

“It’s Britain that has had more than 300 servicemen killed in Afghanistan, not France.

“That to my mind is a lot more powerful than any political gesture making.”

The remarks also angered conservatives in Washington.

Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre For Freedom at the Heritage Foundation think-tank, said: “Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the U.S. President is difficult to fathom.

“And if the White House means what it says this represents an extraordinary sea change in foreign policy.” Dr Gardiner, a former aide to Lady Thatcher, added: “To suggest that Paris and not London is Washington’s strongest partner is simply ludicrous.

“Such a remark is not only factually wrong but insulting to Britain, not least coming just a few years after the French knifed Washington in the back over the war in Iraq.”

And it’s not hard to see why Obama’s statement provoked such a response. As the Daily Mail notes, the UK has lost nearly seven times as many troops as France in the global war on terror. I’d say that the president should choose his words more carefully next time, but in light of his numerous diplomatic flaps with Britain, I’m not sure if he has it in him.

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New Facts Emerge in Abu Rahma Case

The IDF has released more details of its investigation of the bizarre death of Jawaher Abu Rahma, a Palestinian woman killed near an anti-Israel rally near Bil’in. Palestinian activists have blamed her death on tear gas fired at the protest by IDF soldiers, but that claim has seemed increasingly dubious as more information has come to light.

The investigation initially found that additional medical issues were likely involved, and now the IDF has reportedly concluded that the woman died from medical treatment she received at a Ramallah hospital immediately after the rally:

Jawaher Abu Rahma, the woman who Palestinians claimed was killed a week and a half ago by IDF-fired tear gas during a demonstration near Bil’in, died as a result of the medical treatment she received at a Ramallah hospital, the commander of the IDF’s Judea and Samaria Division said on Friday.

Brig.-Gen. Nitzan Alon said that the IDF’s conclusion was based on new medical documents it received from the hospital which indicated that the woman received doses of different types of medication completely unrelated to tear gas inhalation.

According to previous information released by the IDF, Abu Rahma was given drugs that are typically used to treat cancer, poison, or a drug overdose. This led some to wonder whether the woman was suffering from cancer long before she was allegedly exposed to tear gas. But based on the new evidence, it doesn’t appear that cancer was what killed her.

Of course, there have been so many contradictory reports on this issue that it’s probably unwise to speculate on the true cause of her death, at least until the IDF releases its final conclusion. But it’s been obvious for a while that tear gas probably wasn’t the culprit — especially considering that Abu Rahma was reportedly about 500 meters away from the rally, and inside a house, when the non-toxic gas was fired.

But despite the growing evidence, anti-Israel activists are continuing to use the incident as a political pawn. Last Friday, activists dedicated an anti-Israel march to Abu Rahma, and others are distributing petitions in her name to ban the supposedly deadly tear gas.

The IDF has released more details of its investigation of the bizarre death of Jawaher Abu Rahma, a Palestinian woman killed near an anti-Israel rally near Bil’in. Palestinian activists have blamed her death on tear gas fired at the protest by IDF soldiers, but that claim has seemed increasingly dubious as more information has come to light.

The investigation initially found that additional medical issues were likely involved, and now the IDF has reportedly concluded that the woman died from medical treatment she received at a Ramallah hospital immediately after the rally:

Jawaher Abu Rahma, the woman who Palestinians claimed was killed a week and a half ago by IDF-fired tear gas during a demonstration near Bil’in, died as a result of the medical treatment she received at a Ramallah hospital, the commander of the IDF’s Judea and Samaria Division said on Friday.

Brig.-Gen. Nitzan Alon said that the IDF’s conclusion was based on new medical documents it received from the hospital which indicated that the woman received doses of different types of medication completely unrelated to tear gas inhalation.

According to previous information released by the IDF, Abu Rahma was given drugs that are typically used to treat cancer, poison, or a drug overdose. This led some to wonder whether the woman was suffering from cancer long before she was allegedly exposed to tear gas. But based on the new evidence, it doesn’t appear that cancer was what killed her.

Of course, there have been so many contradictory reports on this issue that it’s probably unwise to speculate on the true cause of her death, at least until the IDF releases its final conclusion. But it’s been obvious for a while that tear gas probably wasn’t the culprit — especially considering that Abu Rahma was reportedly about 500 meters away from the rally, and inside a house, when the non-toxic gas was fired.

But despite the growing evidence, anti-Israel activists are continuing to use the incident as a political pawn. Last Friday, activists dedicated an anti-Israel march to Abu Rahma, and others are distributing petitions in her name to ban the supposedly deadly tear gas.

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Afternoon Commentary

A member of the Iranian Qods force, an elite branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps, was found to be moonlighting as a Taliban commander. As Stephen Hayes points out at the Weekly Standard, this development is further evidence that the doctrinal differences between Iranians and the Taliban don’t preclude them from working together.

From Scott Brown’s Senate win to Glenn Beck’s big rally, Politico counts down the top 10 political moments of 2010.

While national security experts remain concerned about the growing military capabilities of China’s navy, the Washington Post notes that the country is still struggling with some basic components of its air force technology.

Why do Israelis support a two state solution, but oppose a freeze on settlement construction? Jeremy Sharon argues that it’s because they have become discouraged about the possibility of a peace deal at this point in time: “Support for the notion of ‘two states for two peoples’ remains high at over 60 percent because Israelis acknowledge that ultimately, continued rule over the Palestinians is untenable. But there is no desire to rush into an irreversible agreement which could result not with the shelling of Sderot or Haifa, but of Tel Aviv.”

A member of the Iranian Qods force, an elite branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps, was found to be moonlighting as a Taliban commander. As Stephen Hayes points out at the Weekly Standard, this development is further evidence that the doctrinal differences between Iranians and the Taliban don’t preclude them from working together.

From Scott Brown’s Senate win to Glenn Beck’s big rally, Politico counts down the top 10 political moments of 2010.

While national security experts remain concerned about the growing military capabilities of China’s navy, the Washington Post notes that the country is still struggling with some basic components of its air force technology.

Why do Israelis support a two state solution, but oppose a freeze on settlement construction? Jeremy Sharon argues that it’s because they have become discouraged about the possibility of a peace deal at this point in time: “Support for the notion of ‘two states for two peoples’ remains high at over 60 percent because Israelis acknowledge that ultimately, continued rule over the Palestinians is untenable. But there is no desire to rush into an irreversible agreement which could result not with the shelling of Sderot or Haifa, but of Tel Aviv.”

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Cut and Run Was No Strategy for Iraq and Isn’t One for Afghanistan

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has written in the Wall Street Journal that we should “un-surge” in Afghanistan. While arguing against total withdrawal, he says “the U.S. effort there should be sharply reduced.”

Mr. Haass’s recommendation on Afghanistan sounds similar to his (flawed) recommendation on Iraq during the debate about the surge.

In a November 13, 2006, interview with Der Spiegel, Haass said: “We’ve reached a point in Iraq where we’ve got to get real. … The Iraq situation is not winnable in any meaningful sense of the word ‘winnable.’ So what we need to do now is look for a way to limit the losses and costs, try to advance on other fronts in the region and try to limit the fallout of Iraq. That’s what you have to do sometimes when you’re a global power.”

A few weeks later, on November 30, Haass said, “It’s not clear to me that even if you double the level of American troops you would somehow stabilize the situation [in Iraq].”

And on December 10, 2006, on NBC’s Meet the Press, he said this:

I would perhaps do it for a short amount of time, a surge, as part, again, of this narrative, as part of saying, “We’ve gone the extra mile.” I want to take away the arguments, quite honestly, from the critics of the [Iraq Study Group] report. I want to take away the argument that if Iraq turns out as badly as I fear it might, I want to take away the argument that it was because of what we didn’t do. If Iraq doesn’t work, I think it’s incredibly important for the future of the Middle East and for the future of American foreign policy around the world that the principle lesson not be that the United States is unreliable or we lacked staying power. “If only we’d done a little bit more for a little bit longer it would’ve succeeded.” To me, it is essentially important for the future of this country that Iraq be seen, if you will, as Iraq’s failure, not as America’s failure.

So Haass supported a temporary surge in Iraq not because he thought it would work but in order to place the blame on the Iraqis when it failed. There was a notably amoral quality to Haass’s recommendation (the realpolitik Haass might accept this as a compliment). Read More

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has written in the Wall Street Journal that we should “un-surge” in Afghanistan. While arguing against total withdrawal, he says “the U.S. effort there should be sharply reduced.”

Mr. Haass’s recommendation on Afghanistan sounds similar to his (flawed) recommendation on Iraq during the debate about the surge.

In a November 13, 2006, interview with Der Spiegel, Haass said: “We’ve reached a point in Iraq where we’ve got to get real. … The Iraq situation is not winnable in any meaningful sense of the word ‘winnable.’ So what we need to do now is look for a way to limit the losses and costs, try to advance on other fronts in the region and try to limit the fallout of Iraq. That’s what you have to do sometimes when you’re a global power.”

A few weeks later, on November 30, Haass said, “It’s not clear to me that even if you double the level of American troops you would somehow stabilize the situation [in Iraq].”

And on December 10, 2006, on NBC’s Meet the Press, he said this:

I would perhaps do it for a short amount of time, a surge, as part, again, of this narrative, as part of saying, “We’ve gone the extra mile.” I want to take away the arguments, quite honestly, from the critics of the [Iraq Study Group] report. I want to take away the argument that if Iraq turns out as badly as I fear it might, I want to take away the argument that it was because of what we didn’t do. If Iraq doesn’t work, I think it’s incredibly important for the future of the Middle East and for the future of American foreign policy around the world that the principle lesson not be that the United States is unreliable or we lacked staying power. “If only we’d done a little bit more for a little bit longer it would’ve succeeded.” To me, it is essentially important for the future of this country that Iraq be seen, if you will, as Iraq’s failure, not as America’s failure.

So Haass supported a temporary surge in Iraq not because he thought it would work but in order to place the blame on the Iraqis when it failed. There was a notably amoral quality to Haass’s recommendation (the realpolitik Haass might accept this as a compliment).

In his Journal op-ed arguing for undoing the surge in Afghanistan, Haass lays out the “broader reasons to recast policy.” They include:

The greatest threat to U.S. national security stems from our own fiscal crisis. Afghanistan is a significant contributor to this situation and could play an important role in reducing it. A savings of $75 billion a year could help finance much-needed military modernization and reduce the deficit.

Another factor is the increased possibility of a conflict with a reckless North Korea and the continued possibility of a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program. U.S. military forces must be freed up to contend with these issues. The perception that we are tied down in Afghanistan makes it more difficult to threaten North Korea or Iran credibly—and makes it more difficult to muster the forces to deal with either if necessary.

Haass’s somewhat novel argument, then, is that in order to preserve our capacity to wage future wars, we should lose (in the guise of de-escalation) our current ones. He doesn’t take into account that retreating in Afghanistan would be (rightly) interpreted by nations like Iran and North Korea as weakness on the part of America, thereby emboldening our adversaries. And nowhere does Haass explain how his recommended offshore counterterrorism strategy would work, since credible counterterrorism strikes depend on good intelligence, which is best gathered by ground forces that enjoy the trust of the local population. If we pull out our troops, we lose even that capacity.

One cannot help but suspect that Haass has arrived at a position based on a theory he holds to with dogmatic certitude and has gone in search of arguments to support it. This may explain why Haass is forced to mimic David Stockman on the deficit and Richard Perle on Iran. It’s not a terribly persuasive pose.

Mr. Haass concludes his op-ed this way:

Ultimately Afghanistan is a strategic distraction. U.S. interests there are limited. So, too, are the resources available for national security. It is not surprising that the commander in the field, Gen. David Petraeus, is calling for committing greater resources to the theater. But it is the commander-in-chief’s responsibility to take into account the nation’s capacity to meet all of its challenges, national and international. It is for this reason that the perspectives of Gen. Petraeus and President Obama must necessarily diverge.

The notion that Afghanistan is nothing more than a “strategic distraction” is not terribly serious. Events of the past decade have turned it into something very much more than that.

Defeat there would have profound, negative effects on, among other nations, nuclear-armed Pakistan. While it’s obviously true that events in Afghanistan don’t have unlimited effects on Pakistan, Haass’s insistence that they are almost completely unrelated will come as news to the Pakistani government and virtually everyone else in the region. The capitulation of the United States and the fall of the existing government in a neighboring state, Afghanistan, would have significant ramifications in Pakistan. It would be an enormously important psychological victory for jihadists and the Taliban. Islamists all over the world would assume that if they wait long enough, the U.S. will cut out and move on. And defeat in Afghanistan would have baleful consequences for the people, and especially the women, of Afghanistan (though that dimension of this issue doesn’t appear to enter into Haass’s calculus at all).

When it comes to both military planning and strategic thinking, General Petraeus is simply in a different league than Mr. Haass. The four-star general and Princeton Ph.D. has proved himself to be far wiser, more prescient, and more knowledgeable than the former State Department official. Which is why I’m thankful that America’s 44th president, like America’s 43rd president, is listening to David Petraeus rather than to Richard Haass.

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We Are Winning in Afghanistan, Though Work Remains to Be Done

In the L.A. Times today, Pete Mansoor and I have an op-ed reporting on our recently completed trip to Afghanistan. (Mansoor is a retired army colonel who served two combat tours in Iraq and now teaches history at Ohio State). In brief, our message is that we are now winning in Afghanistan, at least in Helmand and Kandahar, the heartland of the Taliban, where we have focused most of our resources. But don’t take our word for it. The New York Times runs a fantastic article by Carlotta Gall and Ruhullah Khapalwak that quotes an unnamed mid-level Taliban commander conceding that “the government has the upper hand now” in and around Kandahar — a message confirmed by local residents they spoke with. The article explains:

“The people are not happy with us,” the Taliban fighter said. “People gave us a place to stay for several years, but we did not provide them with anything except fighting. The situation is different now: the local people are not willingly cooperating with us. They are not giving us a place to stay or giving us food.”

NATO’s announcement that it would remain until a transfer to Afghan forces in 2014 has also convinced people that it will not withdraw quickly, he said.

“The Americans are more serious, and another thing that made people hopeful was when they said they would stay until 2014,” the Taliban commander said. “That has made people change their minds.”

Naturally, the article reports that the Taliban will plan to return to their old stomping grounds in the spring, but “in a dozen interviews, Afghan landowners, tribal elders and villagers said they believed that the Taliban could find it hard to return if American troops remained.”

That was exactly what Mansoor and I found. But isn’t there a danger that the insurgency, after setbacks in the south, will simply move to the north or east? That’s what another New York Times article claims.

Alissa Rubin reports from Kunduz in the north — an area garrisoned primarily by Germans — where she finds security conditions have deteriorated. No doubt that’s true, but there is scant chance that the Taliban could re-create strongholds in other parts of the country after being chased out of the south. That’s because the Taliban have essentially no appeal outside the Pashtun community, and there are few Pashtuns in the north or west. True, the Taliban have made some inroads among Pashtun pockets in those areas, but let’s not exaggerate. Most days, there are no reported attacks at all in the north or west. The Taliban may be spreading some fear and intimidation, but there is a natural limit on their appeal. The odds of their gaining support in the Tajik or Hazara communities are about as great as the odds of Hamas winning supporters in Jewish neighborhoods of Israel.

I do not, by any means, suggest that all the news from Afghanistan is great. As Mansoor and I note, governance and Pakistan sanctuaries remain difficult challenges, and the eastern part of the country — where there are a lot of Pashtuns — has not yet seen the kind of concerted counterinsurgency campaign that has taken place in the south. (There simply aren’t enough troops even now to pacify both south and east at the same time.) But overall, we are making great progress with the surge, which, after all, has only just been completed.

In the L.A. Times today, Pete Mansoor and I have an op-ed reporting on our recently completed trip to Afghanistan. (Mansoor is a retired army colonel who served two combat tours in Iraq and now teaches history at Ohio State). In brief, our message is that we are now winning in Afghanistan, at least in Helmand and Kandahar, the heartland of the Taliban, where we have focused most of our resources. But don’t take our word for it. The New York Times runs a fantastic article by Carlotta Gall and Ruhullah Khapalwak that quotes an unnamed mid-level Taliban commander conceding that “the government has the upper hand now” in and around Kandahar — a message confirmed by local residents they spoke with. The article explains:

“The people are not happy with us,” the Taliban fighter said. “People gave us a place to stay for several years, but we did not provide them with anything except fighting. The situation is different now: the local people are not willingly cooperating with us. They are not giving us a place to stay or giving us food.”

NATO’s announcement that it would remain until a transfer to Afghan forces in 2014 has also convinced people that it will not withdraw quickly, he said.

“The Americans are more serious, and another thing that made people hopeful was when they said they would stay until 2014,” the Taliban commander said. “That has made people change their minds.”

Naturally, the article reports that the Taliban will plan to return to their old stomping grounds in the spring, but “in a dozen interviews, Afghan landowners, tribal elders and villagers said they believed that the Taliban could find it hard to return if American troops remained.”

That was exactly what Mansoor and I found. But isn’t there a danger that the insurgency, after setbacks in the south, will simply move to the north or east? That’s what another New York Times article claims.

Alissa Rubin reports from Kunduz in the north — an area garrisoned primarily by Germans — where she finds security conditions have deteriorated. No doubt that’s true, but there is scant chance that the Taliban could re-create strongholds in other parts of the country after being chased out of the south. That’s because the Taliban have essentially no appeal outside the Pashtun community, and there are few Pashtuns in the north or west. True, the Taliban have made some inroads among Pashtun pockets in those areas, but let’s not exaggerate. Most days, there are no reported attacks at all in the north or west. The Taliban may be spreading some fear and intimidation, but there is a natural limit on their appeal. The odds of their gaining support in the Tajik or Hazara communities are about as great as the odds of Hamas winning supporters in Jewish neighborhoods of Israel.

I do not, by any means, suggest that all the news from Afghanistan is great. As Mansoor and I note, governance and Pakistan sanctuaries remain difficult challenges, and the eastern part of the country — where there are a lot of Pashtuns — has not yet seen the kind of concerted counterinsurgency campaign that has taken place in the south. (There simply aren’t enough troops even now to pacify both south and east at the same time.) But overall, we are making great progress with the surge, which, after all, has only just been completed.

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Changing of the Ambassadorial Guard

With Richard Holbrooke’s death, questions will inevitably be asked about the fate of the post he held: Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The job was created expressly for him on the theory that Afghanistan and Pakistan (“AfPak”) were a related problem set that required the appointment of a high-level diplomatic coordinator to handle. The expectation was that Holbrooke would emerge as a dominant force in AfPak policy to rival the NATO commander in Kabul. It never happened. In fact, by the time of his death, it was generally agreed that Holbrooke had largely been marginalized in the policy process.

Part of this was due to some missteps on his part, but the larger problem was that there is not really much of a role for an “SRAP”: it was always a theory more than an actual job description. What we need are capable ambassadors in Islamabad and Kabul who can work closely with our military commander in Kabul, General Petraeus. The model  here is the special relationship that Petraeus had with Ryan Crocker, who was ambassador in Baghdad during the surge. Their close collaboration greatly maximized the impact of the surge forces and convinced Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki  to make hard decisions to cut off sectarian actors.

There is nothing similar in Kabul. General Stanley McChrystal famously feuded with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, leading to the elevation of the NATO representative, Mark Sedwill, to become McChrystal’s chief diplomatic partner. Sedwill is still in place, and he is a capable and shrewd diplomat, but he would be the first to acknowledge that, as a Brit, he cannot speak with the authority of the United States. Eikenberry also remains in place and has not gotten into any public dust-ups with Petraeus, but he has also burned his bridges to Hamid Karzai with the leak of numerous cables deprecating the Afghan president.

By April, Eikenberry will have completed two years in the job — longer than many last in such pressure-packed assignments. The priority now should not be to replace Holbrooke as the SRAP but rather to ensure that Eikenberry’s replacement will perform in Crocker-like fashion. In this regard, I can’t help but note that Crocker has also previously served as ambassador to Pakistan, so he is familiar with the region. Is there, I wonder, some way that President Obama could lure him out of retirement (he is currently dean of the Bush School at Texas A&M) for one more assignment to work with Petraeus to rescue another troubled war effort?

With Richard Holbrooke’s death, questions will inevitably be asked about the fate of the post he held: Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The job was created expressly for him on the theory that Afghanistan and Pakistan (“AfPak”) were a related problem set that required the appointment of a high-level diplomatic coordinator to handle. The expectation was that Holbrooke would emerge as a dominant force in AfPak policy to rival the NATO commander in Kabul. It never happened. In fact, by the time of his death, it was generally agreed that Holbrooke had largely been marginalized in the policy process.

Part of this was due to some missteps on his part, but the larger problem was that there is not really much of a role for an “SRAP”: it was always a theory more than an actual job description. What we need are capable ambassadors in Islamabad and Kabul who can work closely with our military commander in Kabul, General Petraeus. The model  here is the special relationship that Petraeus had with Ryan Crocker, who was ambassador in Baghdad during the surge. Their close collaboration greatly maximized the impact of the surge forces and convinced Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki  to make hard decisions to cut off sectarian actors.

There is nothing similar in Kabul. General Stanley McChrystal famously feuded with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, leading to the elevation of the NATO representative, Mark Sedwill, to become McChrystal’s chief diplomatic partner. Sedwill is still in place, and he is a capable and shrewd diplomat, but he would be the first to acknowledge that, as a Brit, he cannot speak with the authority of the United States. Eikenberry also remains in place and has not gotten into any public dust-ups with Petraeus, but he has also burned his bridges to Hamid Karzai with the leak of numerous cables deprecating the Afghan president.

By April, Eikenberry will have completed two years in the job — longer than many last in such pressure-packed assignments. The priority now should not be to replace Holbrooke as the SRAP but rather to ensure that Eikenberry’s replacement will perform in Crocker-like fashion. In this regard, I can’t help but note that Crocker has also previously served as ambassador to Pakistan, so he is familiar with the region. Is there, I wonder, some way that President Obama could lure him out of retirement (he is currently dean of the Bush School at Texas A&M) for one more assignment to work with Petraeus to rescue another troubled war effort?

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To Get Arab Support on Iran, Take a Leaf from Bush Sr.

As Jennifer noted yesterday, the latest WikiLeaks revelations definitively refute Barack Obama’s “linkage” theory: that Israeli concessions to the Palestinians were necessary to persuade Arab states to oppose Iran’s nuclear program. But what the documents reveal about the profound strategic misconception behind this theory is frightening.

The list of Arab states urging America to bomb Iran, and the forcefulness with which they urged it, is astonishing. It includes Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates; virtually the only exception was Qatar. Clearly, no Israeli concessions were needed to persuade these countries that strong action against Iran was desirable.

But both Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush insisted that this behind-the-scenes urging wasn’t enough; they needed Arab states to go public with it. As CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid told UAE officials in 2007, “we need our friends to say that they stand with the Americans.”

If Bush had any strategy for achieving this goal, it doesn’t emerge from the reports I’ve seen. But Obama did: linkage. If America showed that it’s on the Arabs’ side by extracting Israeli concessions, the theory went, then Arab states would no longer be reluctant to stand publicly beside the U.S.

But the idea that “soft power” could solve a quintessentially hard-power problem is a profound misconception, because the issue wasn’t the Arabs’ view of Washington as too pro-Israel; that never stopped them from supporting America if it served their interests before.

The real issue was their fear, given the visible reluctance to attack Iran displayed by both Bush and Obama, that if they publicly urged America to bomb Iran, and then America didn’t do it — they would be left alone to face the wrath of a nuclear-armed neighbor. And no amount of arm-twisting directed at Israel could possibly assuage that fear.

Indeed, only one thing could have done so: a clear American determination to attack Iran. You needn’t look far to find the model; it’s the one used by the first President George Bush in the Gulf War.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Arab states also initially refused to publicly back American action against Iraq. The day after the invasion, the Arab League even passed a resolution warning against outside intervention in the conflict.

But Bush, ignoring the verbiage, took swift action to assure Iraq’s neighbors that America wouldn’t leave them to face Iraq alone. Within a week, two naval battle groups had deployed to the area and more than 80 fighter jets had begun patrolling Saudi Arabia’s border. More forces arrived subsequently.

Only then did he start forming his coalition to invade Iraq. And with their protection assured, nine Arab states ultimately joined it.

Today, too, Arab states won’t publicly support attacking Iran without the surety that America will follow through. Nor can you blame them: they’re the ones who will have to live with a vengeful nuclear neighbor if America punts.

But you can certainly blame Washington for the delusion that gestures on an unrelated issue would suffice to allay a well-grounded existential fear — and be deeply worried that American leaders could misread the situation that profoundly.

As Jennifer noted yesterday, the latest WikiLeaks revelations definitively refute Barack Obama’s “linkage” theory: that Israeli concessions to the Palestinians were necessary to persuade Arab states to oppose Iran’s nuclear program. But what the documents reveal about the profound strategic misconception behind this theory is frightening.

The list of Arab states urging America to bomb Iran, and the forcefulness with which they urged it, is astonishing. It includes Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates; virtually the only exception was Qatar. Clearly, no Israeli concessions were needed to persuade these countries that strong action against Iran was desirable.

But both Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush insisted that this behind-the-scenes urging wasn’t enough; they needed Arab states to go public with it. As CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid told UAE officials in 2007, “we need our friends to say that they stand with the Americans.”

If Bush had any strategy for achieving this goal, it doesn’t emerge from the reports I’ve seen. But Obama did: linkage. If America showed that it’s on the Arabs’ side by extracting Israeli concessions, the theory went, then Arab states would no longer be reluctant to stand publicly beside the U.S.

But the idea that “soft power” could solve a quintessentially hard-power problem is a profound misconception, because the issue wasn’t the Arabs’ view of Washington as too pro-Israel; that never stopped them from supporting America if it served their interests before.

The real issue was their fear, given the visible reluctance to attack Iran displayed by both Bush and Obama, that if they publicly urged America to bomb Iran, and then America didn’t do it — they would be left alone to face the wrath of a nuclear-armed neighbor. And no amount of arm-twisting directed at Israel could possibly assuage that fear.

Indeed, only one thing could have done so: a clear American determination to attack Iran. You needn’t look far to find the model; it’s the one used by the first President George Bush in the Gulf War.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Arab states also initially refused to publicly back American action against Iraq. The day after the invasion, the Arab League even passed a resolution warning against outside intervention in the conflict.

But Bush, ignoring the verbiage, took swift action to assure Iraq’s neighbors that America wouldn’t leave them to face Iraq alone. Within a week, two naval battle groups had deployed to the area and more than 80 fighter jets had begun patrolling Saudi Arabia’s border. More forces arrived subsequently.

Only then did he start forming his coalition to invade Iraq. And with their protection assured, nine Arab states ultimately joined it.

Today, too, Arab states won’t publicly support attacking Iran without the surety that America will follow through. Nor can you blame them: they’re the ones who will have to live with a vengeful nuclear neighbor if America punts.

But you can certainly blame Washington for the delusion that gestures on an unrelated issue would suffice to allay a well-grounded existential fear — and be deeply worried that American leaders could misread the situation that profoundly.

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Good Works Plus Firepower Equals Effective Counterinsurgency

Among some Army traditionalists (and some ultra-hawkish conservatives), the knock on “population-centric” counterinsurgency — whose most prominent advocate is General David Petraeus — is that it is nothing more than “social work” that ignores the need to kill or capture the enemy. Nothing could be further from the truth, as current events in Afghanistan demonstrate. Yes, Petraeus has put more emphasis on securing the population, improving governance, and decreasing corruption. But, no, he hasn’t ignored the imperative to hit the enemy and to hit him hard.

That should be clear from this Washington Post article reporting on a decision to send a company of M1 Abrams tanks to assist Marine infantrymen fighting in Helmand Province. Gen. David McKiernan, a previous NATO commander who ironically had a reputation for being overly conventional, had actually turned down a prior Marine request for heavy armor because he thought it would reek too much of the Red Army’s tactics. Now Petraeus has approved the dispatch of tanks that are needed to aid Marines who are in a tough fight in places like Sangin.

That should hardly be surprising, because Petraeus is overseeing an impressive increase in overall firepower. As the Post notes:

Despite an overall counterinsurgency strategy that emphasizes the use of troops to protect Afghan civilians from insurgents, statistics released by the NATO military command in Kabul and interviews with several senior commanders indicate that U.S. troop operations over the past two months have been more intense and have had a harder edge than at any point since the initial 2001 drive to oust the Taliban government.

The pace of Special Operations missions to kill or capture Taliban leaders has more than tripled over the past three months. U.S. and NATO aircraft unleashed more bombs and missiles in October – 1,000 total – than in any single month since 2001. In the districts around the southern city of Kandahar, soldiers from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division have demolished dozens of homes that were thought to be booby-trapped, and they have used scores of high-explosive line charges — a weapon that had been used only sparingly in the past — to blast through minefields.

That is not a repudiation of counterinsurgency doctrine but a good example of how it is supposed to work: melding kinetic and non-kinetic operations into a seamless whole. While more troops are among the population, and doing more civil-action projects, they are also gaining the trust and confidence of the locals and learning the lay of the land. That allows them to use firepower far more effectively than in the past, when the U.S. relied on a “small footprint,” counterterrorism-focused strategy.

In years past, air strikes resulted in many civilian deaths because we had so few boots on the ground; that meant we did not have good intelligence about where exactly the enemy was hiding. Now U.S. troops are able to call in air strikes far more precisely, which is why the considerable increase in air strikes has not led to a corresponding increase in civilian casualties or to widespread accusations of brutality, such as were common when U.S. bombs were blamed for blowing up wedding parties.

What Petraeus realizes — and his critics seem to miss — is that effective counterinsurgency can’t rely on force alone or on good works alone. Both are necessary to defeat a tenacious foe and secure a scared populace.

Among some Army traditionalists (and some ultra-hawkish conservatives), the knock on “population-centric” counterinsurgency — whose most prominent advocate is General David Petraeus — is that it is nothing more than “social work” that ignores the need to kill or capture the enemy. Nothing could be further from the truth, as current events in Afghanistan demonstrate. Yes, Petraeus has put more emphasis on securing the population, improving governance, and decreasing corruption. But, no, he hasn’t ignored the imperative to hit the enemy and to hit him hard.

That should be clear from this Washington Post article reporting on a decision to send a company of M1 Abrams tanks to assist Marine infantrymen fighting in Helmand Province. Gen. David McKiernan, a previous NATO commander who ironically had a reputation for being overly conventional, had actually turned down a prior Marine request for heavy armor because he thought it would reek too much of the Red Army’s tactics. Now Petraeus has approved the dispatch of tanks that are needed to aid Marines who are in a tough fight in places like Sangin.

That should hardly be surprising, because Petraeus is overseeing an impressive increase in overall firepower. As the Post notes:

Despite an overall counterinsurgency strategy that emphasizes the use of troops to protect Afghan civilians from insurgents, statistics released by the NATO military command in Kabul and interviews with several senior commanders indicate that U.S. troop operations over the past two months have been more intense and have had a harder edge than at any point since the initial 2001 drive to oust the Taliban government.

The pace of Special Operations missions to kill or capture Taliban leaders has more than tripled over the past three months. U.S. and NATO aircraft unleashed more bombs and missiles in October – 1,000 total – than in any single month since 2001. In the districts around the southern city of Kandahar, soldiers from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division have demolished dozens of homes that were thought to be booby-trapped, and they have used scores of high-explosive line charges — a weapon that had been used only sparingly in the past — to blast through minefields.

That is not a repudiation of counterinsurgency doctrine but a good example of how it is supposed to work: melding kinetic and non-kinetic operations into a seamless whole. While more troops are among the population, and doing more civil-action projects, they are also gaining the trust and confidence of the locals and learning the lay of the land. That allows them to use firepower far more effectively than in the past, when the U.S. relied on a “small footprint,” counterterrorism-focused strategy.

In years past, air strikes resulted in many civilian deaths because we had so few boots on the ground; that meant we did not have good intelligence about where exactly the enemy was hiding. Now U.S. troops are able to call in air strikes far more precisely, which is why the considerable increase in air strikes has not led to a corresponding increase in civilian casualties or to widespread accusations of brutality, such as were common when U.S. bombs were blamed for blowing up wedding parties.

What Petraeus realizes — and his critics seem to miss — is that effective counterinsurgency can’t rely on force alone or on good works alone. Both are necessary to defeat a tenacious foe and secure a scared populace.

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Blood Libel: The Sequel

Claire Berlinski’s must-read article in the September issue of Standpoint describes how the overwhelming majority of Turks have no idea what really happened earlier this year aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara vessel, where an Israeli boarding party enforcing the blockade of Gaza was ambushed in a premeditated attack with knives and iron bars.

She canvassed Istanbul — where she lives — with a Turkish documentary filmmaker and interviewed a number of local people about that now-notorious incident. None knew the Israelis acted in self-defense when they shot their attackers.

“The men and women to whom we spoke,” she wrote, “were astonished when we told them that Israeli officials had invited the ship to disembark at Ashdod and deliver the aid overland. But they were not disbelieving — and importantly, when we told them this, it changed their view. Many spontaneously said that they knew they could not trust what they heard in the news, that the situation confused them and that something about the story just didn’t sound right.”

Unfortunately, few Turks will ever know what really happened that night. The Turkish media reported a grossly distorted version of the events, describing the attackers as “activists” and the Israelis who fought back as murderers. Most Turks can’t read or speak foreign languages and are therefore unable to learn the truth from newspapers abroad.

A new Turkish film may make the big lie all but permanent in the minds of millions of Turkish people. Kurtlar Vadisi Filistin, or Valley of the Wolves: Palestine, is the sequel to the notorious Valley of the Wolves: Iraq, which was released in 2006. The first installment portrays American soldiers massacring civilians at an Iraqi wedding party and harvesting the internal organs of prisoners to sell to Israelis.

The trailer for the second installment begins with an obviously false portrayal of the Mavi Marmara incident, and a later scene shows Israeli soldiers shooting more than a dozen handcuffed prisoners in the back.

The film’s main character is a Turkish special agent who sets out to avenge those killed on the boat by assassinating the Israeli commander in charge at the time, who is cartoonishly outfitted with an eye patch. “Our hero acts for the rights of the oppressed,” says Zübeyr Sasmaz, the director. “We’re talking about things people don’t want to hear,” says Necati Şaşmaz, one of the actors. “Up until now we have seen only Western heroes such as Rambo and James Bond. For the first time in the history of cinema there is an undefeatable protagonist from the Middle East.”

It’s too bad the story is based on a lie.

The first film in this libelous series was the most expensive ever produced in the country, and this one is slated to cost even more. It’s sure to be a big hit. Hopefully, the Turkish documentary filmmaker Clair Berlinski is working with can push back a little, at least.

Claire Berlinski’s must-read article in the September issue of Standpoint describes how the overwhelming majority of Turks have no idea what really happened earlier this year aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara vessel, where an Israeli boarding party enforcing the blockade of Gaza was ambushed in a premeditated attack with knives and iron bars.

She canvassed Istanbul — where she lives — with a Turkish documentary filmmaker and interviewed a number of local people about that now-notorious incident. None knew the Israelis acted in self-defense when they shot their attackers.

“The men and women to whom we spoke,” she wrote, “were astonished when we told them that Israeli officials had invited the ship to disembark at Ashdod and deliver the aid overland. But they were not disbelieving — and importantly, when we told them this, it changed their view. Many spontaneously said that they knew they could not trust what they heard in the news, that the situation confused them and that something about the story just didn’t sound right.”

Unfortunately, few Turks will ever know what really happened that night. The Turkish media reported a grossly distorted version of the events, describing the attackers as “activists” and the Israelis who fought back as murderers. Most Turks can’t read or speak foreign languages and are therefore unable to learn the truth from newspapers abroad.

A new Turkish film may make the big lie all but permanent in the minds of millions of Turkish people. Kurtlar Vadisi Filistin, or Valley of the Wolves: Palestine, is the sequel to the notorious Valley of the Wolves: Iraq, which was released in 2006. The first installment portrays American soldiers massacring civilians at an Iraqi wedding party and harvesting the internal organs of prisoners to sell to Israelis.

The trailer for the second installment begins with an obviously false portrayal of the Mavi Marmara incident, and a later scene shows Israeli soldiers shooting more than a dozen handcuffed prisoners in the back.

The film’s main character is a Turkish special agent who sets out to avenge those killed on the boat by assassinating the Israeli commander in charge at the time, who is cartoonishly outfitted with an eye patch. “Our hero acts for the rights of the oppressed,” says Zübeyr Sasmaz, the director. “We’re talking about things people don’t want to hear,” says Necati Şaşmaz, one of the actors. “Up until now we have seen only Western heroes such as Rambo and James Bond. For the first time in the history of cinema there is an undefeatable protagonist from the Middle East.”

It’s too bad the story is based on a lie.

The first film in this libelous series was the most expensive ever produced in the country, and this one is slated to cost even more. It’s sure to be a big hit. Hopefully, the Turkish documentary filmmaker Clair Berlinski is working with can push back a little, at least.

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The Limits of Technology in Counterinsurgency

The Washington Post has an interesting if depressing report on the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, 2nd infantry division — the unit where five soldiers who are accused of killing several Afghan men “for sport” came from.

The Post notes that the brigade’s commander, Col. Harry Tunnell, was adamantly opposed to the prevailing counterinsurgency doctrine, which emphasizes protecting the population. He believed in “counterguerrilla operations” along the lines of his brigade’s motto, “Strike and destroy.” He encouraged an aggressive attitude that resulted in many casualties — both among Afghans and among his own men. Some of those losses were no doubt inevitable, because the 5th Brigade was deployed to a heavily Taliban-infested area on the outskirts of Kandahar. But it is striking, and alarming, that the army allowed the deployment of this brigade to a vital area even when it was obvious to all, as far back as pre-deployment training, that Col. Tunnell was dangerously out of sync with the state-of-the-art thinking on how to fight counterinsurgency. The Washington Post article notes that Tunnell is not implicated in the atrocities allegedly committed by his men, but it raises legitimate questions about whether his overly aggressive attitude may have been at the root of some of the brigade’s problems.

That was certainly an issue in my mind when I visited Col. Tunnell and was briefed by him at his brigade operations center at Kandahar Air Field in October 2009. A related issue, which isn’t mentioned in the Post article, is Tunnell’s faith in technology. The Stryker brigades are among the most high-tech in the army, equipped with armored vehicles that are “networked” to provide a common “operating picture” of the battlefield. This can breed hubris among soldiers who think that their gee-whiz gadgets give them an insuperable advantage over a more primitive foe. That was certainly the case with Tunnell, who actually told me that all his sophisticated computer systems gave him a better picture of his area’s “human terrain” than that that possessed by the insurgents. I thought this was a pretty amazing statement considering that few if any of his soldiers spoke Pashto or understand anything about local customs — all of which was second nature to the Taliban.

The army has made great strides in counterinsurgency, but this shows clearly that it still has a way to go. It clearly has to do a better job of making sure that all those in such important combat commands have a better understanding of counterinsurgency doctrine — which includes a keen appreciation of the need for cultural knowledge and the limits of technology in this kind of fight.

The Washington Post has an interesting if depressing report on the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, 2nd infantry division — the unit where five soldiers who are accused of killing several Afghan men “for sport” came from.

The Post notes that the brigade’s commander, Col. Harry Tunnell, was adamantly opposed to the prevailing counterinsurgency doctrine, which emphasizes protecting the population. He believed in “counterguerrilla operations” along the lines of his brigade’s motto, “Strike and destroy.” He encouraged an aggressive attitude that resulted in many casualties — both among Afghans and among his own men. Some of those losses were no doubt inevitable, because the 5th Brigade was deployed to a heavily Taliban-infested area on the outskirts of Kandahar. But it is striking, and alarming, that the army allowed the deployment of this brigade to a vital area even when it was obvious to all, as far back as pre-deployment training, that Col. Tunnell was dangerously out of sync with the state-of-the-art thinking on how to fight counterinsurgency. The Washington Post article notes that Tunnell is not implicated in the atrocities allegedly committed by his men, but it raises legitimate questions about whether his overly aggressive attitude may have been at the root of some of the brigade’s problems.

That was certainly an issue in my mind when I visited Col. Tunnell and was briefed by him at his brigade operations center at Kandahar Air Field in October 2009. A related issue, which isn’t mentioned in the Post article, is Tunnell’s faith in technology. The Stryker brigades are among the most high-tech in the army, equipped with armored vehicles that are “networked” to provide a common “operating picture” of the battlefield. This can breed hubris among soldiers who think that their gee-whiz gadgets give them an insuperable advantage over a more primitive foe. That was certainly the case with Tunnell, who actually told me that all his sophisticated computer systems gave him a better picture of his area’s “human terrain” than that that possessed by the insurgents. I thought this was a pretty amazing statement considering that few if any of his soldiers spoke Pashto or understand anything about local customs — all of which was second nature to the Taliban.

The army has made great strides in counterinsurgency, but this shows clearly that it still has a way to go. It clearly has to do a better job of making sure that all those in such important combat commands have a better understanding of counterinsurgency doctrine — which includes a keen appreciation of the need for cultural knowledge and the limits of technology in this kind of fight.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The Chamber of Commerce gambit is a bust. So Jonathan Chait tries: “Hear me now and believe me later: If Republicans win and maintain control of the House of Representatives, they are going to impeach President Obama.” OK, that’s just pathetic.

A Ben Smith reader also thinks it’s a loser.Why not run against the VFW, Knights of Columbus, or maybe the Lions Club? The ‘Chamber of Congress’ does not exactly conjure up a nefarious image to voters in the middle of the spectrum. Further, it just makes Obama’s anti-business tag stick even harder. I’m not quite sure what the Democrats hope to gain by demonizing these folks, the money is not going to stop and the Democrats’ attacks make for pretty bad optics, unless one is simply very anti-business.”

The liberal meme that the Tea Partiers are racists is fizzling. “A new analysis of political signs displayed at a tea party rally in Washington last month reveals that the vast majority of activists expressed narrow concerns about the government’s economic and spending policies and steered clear of the racially charged anti-Obama messages that have helped define some media coverage of such events.”

The Dems’ “comeback” storyline is a dud, too. Charlie Cook has 92 seats in play. Eighty-five of them are held by Democrats.

Obama’s base-rousing efforts have bombed. “In a punctuation mark to what is shaping up to be a tough political year for the Democrats, Obama’s approval rating dropped to 43 percent from 47 percent last month, with 53 percent disapproving of the way he is handling his job. Obama’s handling of the economy was a leading cause of the drop. And much of this decline came from his own Democrats. The poll found Democrats’ approval rating of Obama has dropped to 70 percent this month from 78 percent last month.”

New evidence every day that Obama’s Middle East policy is a total flop. “Israel’s stance, which has been clearly expressed over recent days, is that Ahmadinejad’s visit proves that Lebanon is becoming more extreme, on its way to becoming an Iranian outpost. ‘Lebanon has joined the axis of extreme nations which object to the peace process and support terror,’ said a senior Israeli official involved in preparations for the two-day visit. … Iran’s president is visiting Lebanon like a commander coming to inspect his troops — Hezbollah terrorists — who serve as a wing of Iran’s military in the region.” This is Iran without the bomb. Imagine when the regime gets nukes.

Obamamania is kaput. “An Associated Press-mtvU poll found college students cooling in their support for President Barack Obama, a fresh sign of trouble for Democrats struggling to rekindle enthusiasm among many of these newest voters for the crucial midterm elections in three weeks. Forty-four percent of students approve of the job Obama is doing as president, while 27 percent are unhappy with his stewardship, according to the survey conducted late last month. … [H]is diminished backing from college students raises further questions about whether the Democrats’ efforts to rally them — and other loyal supporters such as blacks and union members — will be enough to prevent Republicans from winning control of Congress in the Nov. 2 elections.”

The Chamber of Commerce gambit is a bust. So Jonathan Chait tries: “Hear me now and believe me later: If Republicans win and maintain control of the House of Representatives, they are going to impeach President Obama.” OK, that’s just pathetic.

A Ben Smith reader also thinks it’s a loser.Why not run against the VFW, Knights of Columbus, or maybe the Lions Club? The ‘Chamber of Congress’ does not exactly conjure up a nefarious image to voters in the middle of the spectrum. Further, it just makes Obama’s anti-business tag stick even harder. I’m not quite sure what the Democrats hope to gain by demonizing these folks, the money is not going to stop and the Democrats’ attacks make for pretty bad optics, unless one is simply very anti-business.”

The liberal meme that the Tea Partiers are racists is fizzling. “A new analysis of political signs displayed at a tea party rally in Washington last month reveals that the vast majority of activists expressed narrow concerns about the government’s economic and spending policies and steered clear of the racially charged anti-Obama messages that have helped define some media coverage of such events.”

The Dems’ “comeback” storyline is a dud, too. Charlie Cook has 92 seats in play. Eighty-five of them are held by Democrats.

Obama’s base-rousing efforts have bombed. “In a punctuation mark to what is shaping up to be a tough political year for the Democrats, Obama’s approval rating dropped to 43 percent from 47 percent last month, with 53 percent disapproving of the way he is handling his job. Obama’s handling of the economy was a leading cause of the drop. And much of this decline came from his own Democrats. The poll found Democrats’ approval rating of Obama has dropped to 70 percent this month from 78 percent last month.”

New evidence every day that Obama’s Middle East policy is a total flop. “Israel’s stance, which has been clearly expressed over recent days, is that Ahmadinejad’s visit proves that Lebanon is becoming more extreme, on its way to becoming an Iranian outpost. ‘Lebanon has joined the axis of extreme nations which object to the peace process and support terror,’ said a senior Israeli official involved in preparations for the two-day visit. … Iran’s president is visiting Lebanon like a commander coming to inspect his troops — Hezbollah terrorists — who serve as a wing of Iran’s military in the region.” This is Iran without the bomb. Imagine when the regime gets nukes.

Obamamania is kaput. “An Associated Press-mtvU poll found college students cooling in their support for President Barack Obama, a fresh sign of trouble for Democrats struggling to rekindle enthusiasm among many of these newest voters for the crucial midterm elections in three weeks. Forty-four percent of students approve of the job Obama is doing as president, while 27 percent are unhappy with his stewardship, according to the survey conducted late last month. … [H]is diminished backing from college students raises further questions about whether the Democrats’ efforts to rally them — and other loyal supporters such as blacks and union members — will be enough to prevent Republicans from winning control of Congress in the Nov. 2 elections.”

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Bum Rap?

Stanley McChrystal didn’t do what he was accused of doing. The New York Times reports:

An Army inquiry into a Rolling Stone magazine article about Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal has found that it was not the general or senior officers on his staff who made the most egregious comments that led to his abrupt dismissal as the top Afghan commander in June, according to Army and Pentagon officials.

But the review, commissioned after an embarrassing and disruptive episode, does not wholly resolve who was responsible for the inflammatory quotations, most of which were anonymous.

Did tolerating others’ disparaging comments constitute grounds for firing him? Not so clear.

The assignment of Gen. David Petraeus to the Afghanistan command was certainly a good move. But that’s not what is at issue. The dismissal of McChrystal now looks unduly hasty and frankly a bit unfair.

It is yet one more indication that the White House decision-making process bounces between the slipshod (e.g., Shirley Sherrod, Stanley McChrystal) and the snail-like agonizing that characterized the Afghanistan strategy sessions. As to the latter, if Bob Woodward’s book is remotely accurate, the reason it took so long was that a recalcitrant president resisted the advice of his military advisers and was interested not in a war strategy but in a political one. Credit is due primarily to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who hung in there to get the best result obtainable from a president whose concerns were primarily political.

Stanley McChrystal didn’t do what he was accused of doing. The New York Times reports:

An Army inquiry into a Rolling Stone magazine article about Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal has found that it was not the general or senior officers on his staff who made the most egregious comments that led to his abrupt dismissal as the top Afghan commander in June, according to Army and Pentagon officials.

But the review, commissioned after an embarrassing and disruptive episode, does not wholly resolve who was responsible for the inflammatory quotations, most of which were anonymous.

Did tolerating others’ disparaging comments constitute grounds for firing him? Not so clear.

The assignment of Gen. David Petraeus to the Afghanistan command was certainly a good move. But that’s not what is at issue. The dismissal of McChrystal now looks unduly hasty and frankly a bit unfair.

It is yet one more indication that the White House decision-making process bounces between the slipshod (e.g., Shirley Sherrod, Stanley McChrystal) and the snail-like agonizing that characterized the Afghanistan strategy sessions. As to the latter, if Bob Woodward’s book is remotely accurate, the reason it took so long was that a recalcitrant president resisted the advice of his military advisers and was interested not in a war strategy but in a political one. Credit is due primarily to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who hung in there to get the best result obtainable from a president whose concerns were primarily political.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Good advice to conservative pundits from Michael Gerson (in defending Karl Rove): “[A commentator] owes his readers or viewers his best judgment — which means he cannot simply be a tool of someone else’s ideological agenda. Some conservatives have adopted the Bolshevik approach to information and the media: Every personal feeling, every independent thought, every inconvenient fact, must be subordinated to the party line — the Tea Party line.” Read the whole thing.

Good time, actually, for those ferocious Rove critics to apologize. It seems she is a loon: “The story of Christine O’Donnell’s past got a little stranger Friday. Bill Maher — on whose former show, ‘Politically Incorrect,’ O’Donnell appeared repeatedly in the late 1990s — showed a previously unaired clip from Oct. 29, 1999, on his current HBO program, ‘Real Time,’ in which the GOP Senate nominee from Delaware said she ‘dabbled into witchcraft.”’

Good line from Mitt Romney at the Value Voters Summit: “Welcome to the Nancy Pelosi-Harry Reid-President Obama farewell party. This has been a pretty tough year for those three—their numbers have gone down the chute faster than a Jet Blue flight attendant.” And a good speech on Obamanomics.

Good critique of the problem(s) with Newt Gingrich: “Like the former and would-be next California governor [Jerry Brown], Gingrich talks big, but has no loyalty to his ideas. He was for tax cuts before he was against them. He supported a $35,000 congressional pay raise and leaner government. Like Brown, Gingrich’s real skill has been in seeing a trend early and jumping on it, unencumbered by any past positions. … The last time Gingrich set out to save America, he ended up burning his career. He taught a college course called ‘Renewing American Civilization.’ That would not have been a problem except that this modern-day John Adams felt the need to raise $300,000 and $450,000 to bankroll his discourses on American ‘core values.’ That’s a long pricey schlep from the log cabin.”

Good move. “Since General Petraeus took on the commander’s job in June, several aides said, the president has struck a more deferential tone toward him than he used with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, General Petraeus’s predecessor. Often during pauses in meetings, one White House official said, Mr. Obama will stop and say, ‘Dave, what do you think?'” Less Axelrod and Emanuel and more Petraeus, and we might win this.

Good golly. “Two Los Angeles departments have received $111 million in federal stimulus funds yet have created only 55 jobs so far, according to a pair of reports issued Thursday by City Controller Wendy Greuel.”

Good luck to Tom Joscelyn trying to explain to David Ignatius (and the Obami): “For the umpteenth time, Iran is not on our side in Afghanistan. They are currently allied with the Taliban, the mullahs’ one-time enemy. Iran is not going to help us ‘undermine the Taliban.’ They are working with the Taliban to undermine the U.S.-led coalition.”

Good job, Madam Speaker! Now 38 Democrats favor full extension of the Bush tax cuts. Maybe more: “Other Democrats have indicated privately that they prefer an extension instead of allowing rates to expire for top earners, and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who heads Democratic campaign efforts, has argued behind closed doors for taking a political issue off the table by giving a short reprieve to wealthy folks before the midterm elections.”

Good for her. “A politically vulnerable Democratic lawmaker blasted her party’s House leadership as she demanded a vote to cut the salaries of lawmakers by $8,700 next year. In a letter sent Thursday afternoon, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) pressured Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to hold a vote on her bill to cut congressional pay by five percent and save taxpayers $4.7 million next year before Congress breaks for its fall recess.”

Good for him. Greg Sargent rises above partisan cheerleading: “It isn’t every day that Democrats target Latino challengers with nasty anti-immigrant ads, but these are apparently desperate times for certain embattled Dems. … [Rep. Walt] Minnick apparently sees the need to run an ad that stinks of fear and desperation. Quite a specimen.”

Good news for Republicans in the Hoosier state: “The Indiana Senate seat now held by Democrat Evan Bayh remains a likely Republican pickup on Election Day. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Indiana finds Republican Dan Coats leading Democratic Congressman Brad Ellsworth 50% to 34% in the state’s U.S. Senate race.”

Goodbye, Charlie: “Gov. Charlie Crist and the disgraced former chairman of the Florida Republican Party took family vacations on party money, an audit released Friday shows. The two men and their families vacationed at Disney World in June 2009 and put the $13,435.99 bill on the party’s American Express credit card, the audit found. Greer also took three personal vacations to fashionable Fisher Island near Miami Beach, one including Crist, at a cost of $10,992.17, auditors reported.”

Good advice to conservative pundits from Michael Gerson (in defending Karl Rove): “[A commentator] owes his readers or viewers his best judgment — which means he cannot simply be a tool of someone else’s ideological agenda. Some conservatives have adopted the Bolshevik approach to information and the media: Every personal feeling, every independent thought, every inconvenient fact, must be subordinated to the party line — the Tea Party line.” Read the whole thing.

Good time, actually, for those ferocious Rove critics to apologize. It seems she is a loon: “The story of Christine O’Donnell’s past got a little stranger Friday. Bill Maher — on whose former show, ‘Politically Incorrect,’ O’Donnell appeared repeatedly in the late 1990s — showed a previously unaired clip from Oct. 29, 1999, on his current HBO program, ‘Real Time,’ in which the GOP Senate nominee from Delaware said she ‘dabbled into witchcraft.”’

Good line from Mitt Romney at the Value Voters Summit: “Welcome to the Nancy Pelosi-Harry Reid-President Obama farewell party. This has been a pretty tough year for those three—their numbers have gone down the chute faster than a Jet Blue flight attendant.” And a good speech on Obamanomics.

Good critique of the problem(s) with Newt Gingrich: “Like the former and would-be next California governor [Jerry Brown], Gingrich talks big, but has no loyalty to his ideas. He was for tax cuts before he was against them. He supported a $35,000 congressional pay raise and leaner government. Like Brown, Gingrich’s real skill has been in seeing a trend early and jumping on it, unencumbered by any past positions. … The last time Gingrich set out to save America, he ended up burning his career. He taught a college course called ‘Renewing American Civilization.’ That would not have been a problem except that this modern-day John Adams felt the need to raise $300,000 and $450,000 to bankroll his discourses on American ‘core values.’ That’s a long pricey schlep from the log cabin.”

Good move. “Since General Petraeus took on the commander’s job in June, several aides said, the president has struck a more deferential tone toward him than he used with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, General Petraeus’s predecessor. Often during pauses in meetings, one White House official said, Mr. Obama will stop and say, ‘Dave, what do you think?'” Less Axelrod and Emanuel and more Petraeus, and we might win this.

Good golly. “Two Los Angeles departments have received $111 million in federal stimulus funds yet have created only 55 jobs so far, according to a pair of reports issued Thursday by City Controller Wendy Greuel.”

Good luck to Tom Joscelyn trying to explain to David Ignatius (and the Obami): “For the umpteenth time, Iran is not on our side in Afghanistan. They are currently allied with the Taliban, the mullahs’ one-time enemy. Iran is not going to help us ‘undermine the Taliban.’ They are working with the Taliban to undermine the U.S.-led coalition.”

Good job, Madam Speaker! Now 38 Democrats favor full extension of the Bush tax cuts. Maybe more: “Other Democrats have indicated privately that they prefer an extension instead of allowing rates to expire for top earners, and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who heads Democratic campaign efforts, has argued behind closed doors for taking a political issue off the table by giving a short reprieve to wealthy folks before the midterm elections.”

Good for her. “A politically vulnerable Democratic lawmaker blasted her party’s House leadership as she demanded a vote to cut the salaries of lawmakers by $8,700 next year. In a letter sent Thursday afternoon, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) pressured Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to hold a vote on her bill to cut congressional pay by five percent and save taxpayers $4.7 million next year before Congress breaks for its fall recess.”

Good for him. Greg Sargent rises above partisan cheerleading: “It isn’t every day that Democrats target Latino challengers with nasty anti-immigrant ads, but these are apparently desperate times for certain embattled Dems. … [Rep. Walt] Minnick apparently sees the need to run an ad that stinks of fear and desperation. Quite a specimen.”

Good news for Republicans in the Hoosier state: “The Indiana Senate seat now held by Democrat Evan Bayh remains a likely Republican pickup on Election Day. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Indiana finds Republican Dan Coats leading Democratic Congressman Brad Ellsworth 50% to 34% in the state’s U.S. Senate race.”

Goodbye, Charlie: “Gov. Charlie Crist and the disgraced former chairman of the Florida Republican Party took family vacations on party money, an audit released Friday shows. The two men and their families vacationed at Disney World in June 2009 and put the $13,435.99 bill on the party’s American Express credit card, the audit found. Greer also took three personal vacations to fashionable Fisher Island near Miami Beach, one including Crist, at a cost of $10,992.17, auditors reported.”

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The Consequences of Clinton’s Expectations Game

Hillary Clinton’s happy talk about Middle East peace has become part of the soundtrack of the peace talks the administration has orchestrated. Both before and during her drop-in at Sharm el-Sheik, the secretary of state has exuded optimism about the American push for a renewal of a Jewish settlement freeze and the continuance of the negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The rhetoric from the Americans has been largely devoted, as Jennifer noted, to direct pressure on the Israelis to make concessions, while demands on the Palestinians remain amorphous. But this imbalance in pressure is just part of the problem. The raising of expectations about peace arriving within another year (as Obama’s envoy George Mitchell keeps telling the press) may have negative consequences that neither Obama nor Clinton is prepared to face.

Given the realities of Palestinian politics, both parties to the talks know very well that the chances of an agreement on final-status issues are slim and none. With his Hamas rivals in control of Gaza and threatening him in the West Bank (where he maintains control only with the help of Israel), Abbas is in no position to make any move to advance peace. Meanwhile Netanyahu is getting beat up by the Israeli right for being weak in the face of American pressure. He may not wish to make concessions on settlements or borders that will compromise his country’s security and be considered irretrievably ceded to the Arabs no matter the outcome of the talks if there is little likelihood that the Palestinians will declare a complete end to their 62-year-old war to destroy Israel. But he also doesn’t want to be blamed for the collapse of the talks when he knows that sooner or later Abbas will bolt.

However long Clinton and Mitchell force Abbas and Netanyahu to dance with each other, at some point the music is going to stop, and when it does, the Americans will have little to show for this latest attempt to persuade Abbas to do what he knows he cannot do. (It was, after all, Abbas who turned down a Palestinian state only two years ago, when Ehud Olmert offered him the same deal Obama is talking about now.) At that point, the pressure on PA president to initiate a campaign of terror against the Israelis in an effort to compete with Hamas for Palestinian popularity may be irresistible. By building up hopes for peace when the foundation for a lasting agreement doesn’t exist, what Obama and Clinton may be generating is a repeat of the aftermath of Camp David 2000, when Israel said yes and Yasir Arafat said no to a deal very much along the lines that the peace processors claim they want now. Anyone who thinks another intifada is out of the question need only read the statements emanating from Hamas this week. As the New York Times reported this afternoon:

The commander of the military wing of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that rules Gaza, issued a harsh statement against the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, saying that Hamas remained committed to “liberating” Palestine from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, meaning both Israel itself and the West Bank it occupies. In a letter marking the end of the month of Ramadan, the Hamas military commander, Ahmad Al-Jaabari, said the path of jihad and resistance is the only way forward “until victory or martyrdom.” He criticized the Palestinian Authority under Mr. Abbas for negotiating “with the Zionist enemy.”

While the Americans may pretend that just a few more concessions from Netanyahu will do the trick, the specter of Hamas and a renewal of Palestinian violence remains the real obstacle to peace. Clinton’s sparkling optimism about the magic of diplomacy may be setting the stage for yet more bloodshed.

Hillary Clinton’s happy talk about Middle East peace has become part of the soundtrack of the peace talks the administration has orchestrated. Both before and during her drop-in at Sharm el-Sheik, the secretary of state has exuded optimism about the American push for a renewal of a Jewish settlement freeze and the continuance of the negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The rhetoric from the Americans has been largely devoted, as Jennifer noted, to direct pressure on the Israelis to make concessions, while demands on the Palestinians remain amorphous. But this imbalance in pressure is just part of the problem. The raising of expectations about peace arriving within another year (as Obama’s envoy George Mitchell keeps telling the press) may have negative consequences that neither Obama nor Clinton is prepared to face.

Given the realities of Palestinian politics, both parties to the talks know very well that the chances of an agreement on final-status issues are slim and none. With his Hamas rivals in control of Gaza and threatening him in the West Bank (where he maintains control only with the help of Israel), Abbas is in no position to make any move to advance peace. Meanwhile Netanyahu is getting beat up by the Israeli right for being weak in the face of American pressure. He may not wish to make concessions on settlements or borders that will compromise his country’s security and be considered irretrievably ceded to the Arabs no matter the outcome of the talks if there is little likelihood that the Palestinians will declare a complete end to their 62-year-old war to destroy Israel. But he also doesn’t want to be blamed for the collapse of the talks when he knows that sooner or later Abbas will bolt.

However long Clinton and Mitchell force Abbas and Netanyahu to dance with each other, at some point the music is going to stop, and when it does, the Americans will have little to show for this latest attempt to persuade Abbas to do what he knows he cannot do. (It was, after all, Abbas who turned down a Palestinian state only two years ago, when Ehud Olmert offered him the same deal Obama is talking about now.) At that point, the pressure on PA president to initiate a campaign of terror against the Israelis in an effort to compete with Hamas for Palestinian popularity may be irresistible. By building up hopes for peace when the foundation for a lasting agreement doesn’t exist, what Obama and Clinton may be generating is a repeat of the aftermath of Camp David 2000, when Israel said yes and Yasir Arafat said no to a deal very much along the lines that the peace processors claim they want now. Anyone who thinks another intifada is out of the question need only read the statements emanating from Hamas this week. As the New York Times reported this afternoon:

The commander of the military wing of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that rules Gaza, issued a harsh statement against the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, saying that Hamas remained committed to “liberating” Palestine from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, meaning both Israel itself and the West Bank it occupies. In a letter marking the end of the month of Ramadan, the Hamas military commander, Ahmad Al-Jaabari, said the path of jihad and resistance is the only way forward “until victory or martyrdom.” He criticized the Palestinian Authority under Mr. Abbas for negotiating “with the Zionist enemy.”

While the Americans may pretend that just a few more concessions from Netanyahu will do the trick, the specter of Hamas and a renewal of Palestinian violence remains the real obstacle to peace. Clinton’s sparkling optimism about the magic of diplomacy may be setting the stage for yet more bloodshed.

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On Burning the Koran

According to the Wall Street Journal:

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said the planned burning of Qurans on Sept. 11 by a Florida church could put the lives of American troops in danger and damage the war effort.

Gen. David Petraeus said the Taliban would exploit the demonstration for propaganda purposes, drumming up anger toward the U.S. and making it harder for allied troops to carry out their mission of protecting Afghan civilians.

“It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort,” Gen. Petraeus said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community.”

General Petraeus points out that hundreds of Afghans attended a demonstration in Kabul on Monday simply in anticipation of the plans of Florida pastor Terry Jones, who has said he will burn the Koran on September 11. Afghan protesters chanted “death to America” and speakers called on the U.S. to withdraw its military convoy. Military officials fear the protests are likely to spread beyond Kabul to other Afghan cities.

Some people may believe this is all overdone. Jones, after all, leads a church of just 50 people. He clearly does not speak for the overwhelming number of Christians in America. And of course, in a nation of more than 300 million people, there are a handful who can be found supporting every imaginable crazed cause.

But this incident has the capacity to be different. General Petraeus is a careful and cautious man; for him to speak out as he did means the danger is real enough. And there is precedent. As the Journal story reminds us, reports in Newsweek, later retracted, that a U.S. interrogator at the Guantanamo Bay prison had flushed a Koran down a toilet set off riots in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

If he carries through on his plan, then, the actions by Jones may undermine our mission in Afghanistan and threaten the lives of those serving in that theater. People with standing in Jones’s life need to stop him, in part because his actions are deeply antithetical to our founding principles. The Third Reich burned books; those who are citizens of the United States should not.

Jones’s actions would also be an offense against the Christian faith. From what we know, Jesus not only wasn’t an advocate of book-burning; he was a lover of them, most especially the Hebrew Bible, which he often quoted. Beyond that, Christianity is premised on evangelism, on spreading what the faithful believe to be truth about God, history, and the human person. There is nothing that would lead one to embrace coercion or to stoke (literally) the flames of hatred.

Whatever differences the Christian faith has with Islam, they are ones that followers of Jesus need to articulate with reason, with measured words, and with a spirit of grace and understanding. And whatever purpose Jones thinks he’s serving, it is not the purpose of the Prince of Peace. It is, in fact, very nearly its antithesis. We can only hope that this deeply misguided pastor is stopped before he does significant damage to his country, its gallant warriors, and the faith Jones claims as his own.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said the planned burning of Qurans on Sept. 11 by a Florida church could put the lives of American troops in danger and damage the war effort.

Gen. David Petraeus said the Taliban would exploit the demonstration for propaganda purposes, drumming up anger toward the U.S. and making it harder for allied troops to carry out their mission of protecting Afghan civilians.

“It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort,” Gen. Petraeus said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community.”

General Petraeus points out that hundreds of Afghans attended a demonstration in Kabul on Monday simply in anticipation of the plans of Florida pastor Terry Jones, who has said he will burn the Koran on September 11. Afghan protesters chanted “death to America” and speakers called on the U.S. to withdraw its military convoy. Military officials fear the protests are likely to spread beyond Kabul to other Afghan cities.

Some people may believe this is all overdone. Jones, after all, leads a church of just 50 people. He clearly does not speak for the overwhelming number of Christians in America. And of course, in a nation of more than 300 million people, there are a handful who can be found supporting every imaginable crazed cause.

But this incident has the capacity to be different. General Petraeus is a careful and cautious man; for him to speak out as he did means the danger is real enough. And there is precedent. As the Journal story reminds us, reports in Newsweek, later retracted, that a U.S. interrogator at the Guantanamo Bay prison had flushed a Koran down a toilet set off riots in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

If he carries through on his plan, then, the actions by Jones may undermine our mission in Afghanistan and threaten the lives of those serving in that theater. People with standing in Jones’s life need to stop him, in part because his actions are deeply antithetical to our founding principles. The Third Reich burned books; those who are citizens of the United States should not.

Jones’s actions would also be an offense against the Christian faith. From what we know, Jesus not only wasn’t an advocate of book-burning; he was a lover of them, most especially the Hebrew Bible, which he often quoted. Beyond that, Christianity is premised on evangelism, on spreading what the faithful believe to be truth about God, history, and the human person. There is nothing that would lead one to embrace coercion or to stoke (literally) the flames of hatred.

Whatever differences the Christian faith has with Islam, they are ones that followers of Jesus need to articulate with reason, with measured words, and with a spirit of grace and understanding. And whatever purpose Jones thinks he’s serving, it is not the purpose of the Prince of Peace. It is, in fact, very nearly its antithesis. We can only hope that this deeply misguided pastor is stopped before he does significant damage to his country, its gallant warriors, and the faith Jones claims as his own.

Read Less

Deadlines

Obama from last night on Iraq:

Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.

And on Afghanistan:

But, as was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That’s why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems. And, next July, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: this transition will begin – because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s. [emphasis added]

Obama, as many of us discussed at the time, did great damage to his own Afghanistan war strategy — which properly centered on an infusion of 30,000 troops — by imposing a deadline. His secretaries of state and defense have struggled mightily to blur it and redefine it. But it still stands and is, as the outgoing commandant of the Marines, John McCain, and many others have argued, a hindrance to our mission.

Less widely discussed (and kudos to the New York Post editors for picking this up) was the statement on Iraq. A number of distinguished supporters of the war, including former Ambassador Ryan Crocker, have cautioned that should the Iraqis request an extension of the Strategic Framework Agreement, we should respond positively. Paul Wolfowitz, likewise, advised:

Our commitment must also include continued material support, particularly in the form of military and technical assistance. And though we have agreed to withdraw all our troops by the end of next year — a pledge that we must honor if the Iraqi government so desires — we need to remain open to the possibility of a mutually agreed longer-term security commitment or military presence for deterrence and support.

And earlier this year, Fred and Kim Kagan warned:

The U.S. has steadfastly refused to discuss a long-term military partnership with Iraq beyond 2011, despite the fact that the Iraqi military will not be able to defend Iraq on its own by then. It has refused fully to increase civilian efforts in order to accomplish tasks that had been performed by military forces now withdrawing. It has reduced funding for the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, which allows the military to provide “urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction” projects, as well as for other forms of humanitarian and security assistance.

But Obama is, at least for now, saying, in effect “We are out of here.” What if the situation deteriorates? What if conditions on the ground worsen? His statement hints at no wiggle room.

Deadlines, especially in wars against ideologically minded foes, are nearly always a bad idea. It is why George W. Bush, who understood well the nature of the war against jihadists, took such a firm stance against them. He was right, as are Crocker, Wolfowitz, and the Kagans: we should, in fact, be leaving the door open to the the extension of our military presence.

Presidential statements carry immense weight and we should be candid about what is said and why it is problematic. Those who root for success in Iraq owe the president the benefit of their counsel on the danger of deadlines.

Obama from last night on Iraq:

Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.

And on Afghanistan:

But, as was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That’s why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems. And, next July, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: this transition will begin – because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s. [emphasis added]

Obama, as many of us discussed at the time, did great damage to his own Afghanistan war strategy — which properly centered on an infusion of 30,000 troops — by imposing a deadline. His secretaries of state and defense have struggled mightily to blur it and redefine it. But it still stands and is, as the outgoing commandant of the Marines, John McCain, and many others have argued, a hindrance to our mission.

Less widely discussed (and kudos to the New York Post editors for picking this up) was the statement on Iraq. A number of distinguished supporters of the war, including former Ambassador Ryan Crocker, have cautioned that should the Iraqis request an extension of the Strategic Framework Agreement, we should respond positively. Paul Wolfowitz, likewise, advised:

Our commitment must also include continued material support, particularly in the form of military and technical assistance. And though we have agreed to withdraw all our troops by the end of next year — a pledge that we must honor if the Iraqi government so desires — we need to remain open to the possibility of a mutually agreed longer-term security commitment or military presence for deterrence and support.

And earlier this year, Fred and Kim Kagan warned:

The U.S. has steadfastly refused to discuss a long-term military partnership with Iraq beyond 2011, despite the fact that the Iraqi military will not be able to defend Iraq on its own by then. It has refused fully to increase civilian efforts in order to accomplish tasks that had been performed by military forces now withdrawing. It has reduced funding for the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, which allows the military to provide “urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction” projects, as well as for other forms of humanitarian and security assistance.

But Obama is, at least for now, saying, in effect “We are out of here.” What if the situation deteriorates? What if conditions on the ground worsen? His statement hints at no wiggle room.

Deadlines, especially in wars against ideologically minded foes, are nearly always a bad idea. It is why George W. Bush, who understood well the nature of the war against jihadists, took such a firm stance against them. He was right, as are Crocker, Wolfowitz, and the Kagans: we should, in fact, be leaving the door open to the the extension of our military presence.

Presidential statements carry immense weight and we should be candid about what is said and why it is problematic. Those who root for success in Iraq owe the president the benefit of their counsel on the danger of deadlines.

Read Less




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