Commentary Magazine


Topic: current president

What Obama Has Done Wrong in the Middle East

In a fascinating interview, former Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, who oversaw George W. Bush’s Israel policy (remember — when we treated our ally with affection and respect?), details Obama’s errors regarding Israel (yes, it’s a lengthy interview), gives some insight into the Bush administration, and offers some predictions and suggestions. The program should be watched in full or the transcript read, but there are certain sections that are especially noteworthy.

Topping the list of Obama’s errors, Abrams explains, is the peace-process fixation:

First, I guess, and — and — most significant. They seem to think that peace between Israel and the Palestinians comes top-down. It is created someplace at a conference table in — in Taba or Camp David or Annapolis or Geneva. And that’s wrong. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be created between them, on the ground, in the real world. And it will depend on essentially what happens on the West Bank, on creating the institutions of Palestinian — self-government. And the fight against terrorism, I guess — critical things on the Palestinian side. So — concentrating on diplomacy, concentrating on the settlements is just wrong. That’s not what’s critical. What’s critical is what happens in the so — in the West Bank.

This leads to a glimpse inside the Bush White House:

I thought Annapolis was a mistake because — obviously, President Bush didn’t agree with me. I thought they were not going to reach an agreement. It seemed to me that — that if you look at the terms that were out there, neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders were ready to accept those terms. I thought we were putting the emphasis in the wrong place, again, on conferences and conference tables and flying flags and all, rather than on the pretty — undramatic but critically important work of building institutions on the ground.

(In a prior interview with the Jerusalem Post, Abrams made clear that Condoleezza Rice pushed for the peace process, failing to provide the president with a full array of options.) It is a candid admission that presidents of both parties have fallen prey to peace-process-itis – the ailment characterized by a deep aversion to candidly assessing reality. But unlike the current president, Bush, to his credit, did not make a settlement freeze the cornerstone of his policy or escalate the issue of Jerusalem:

Since 1967, Israel has been building in — the West Bank, at one point in Gaza. Of course, that’s over now. And in Jerusalem, which is under Israeli law, the capital of Israel. It’s not occupied territory. In the Bush Administration, we reached a kind of agreement with Israel, under which they would build up and in but not out in the settlements.

In other words, no more land would be taken. The idea was, let’s not disadvantage the Palestinians by taking — an olive grove or a road.  And let’s not create a new issue for final settle — status talks someday.  If you want to build for more people to live in the middle of a settlement, fine. That doesn’t hurt Palestinians. I thought the Obama administration would accept that deal.

But Bush’s successor trashed that agreement and embarked on a new tactic: bullying Israel and trying to topple Bibi. (Abrams speculates: “It’s a reasonable theory that he thought, ‘We’ll continue to escalate the tension. Sooner or later, this coalition in Israel will crack.’”)

Abrams also takes a look at Iran, assessing the chance of an Israeli military action at “above 50-50. I think they really mean it when they say an Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable. Britain, France, England, Germany, the US, China, Russia, everybody says unacceptable. I don’t think we really mean unacceptable. I think we really mean not good. I think the Israelis mean unacceptable.” The interview took place before the UN sanctions deal, and Abrams correctly predicted that we would not obtain the kind of sanctions needed to deter the mullahs from pursuing their nuclear plans.

What impact on the U.S. would result from the failure to prevent Iran from going nuclear? “[I]t is a threat to the American position in the entire Middle East and therefore in the entire world. American’s strategic credibility is deeply damaged, I think, if after all these speeches we’ve given, we let them get a nuclear weapon.”

Since Obama is plainly not getting those crippling sanctions. what would Abrams advise? In addition to an all-out effort to bolster the Green Movement, he invokes John McCain’s 2008 campaign line:

“The only thing worse than bombing Iran is an Iranian bomb.” I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon. I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon.

In private, many self-proclaimed defenders of the Jewish state voice the same views as those of Abrams. When will they pipe up?

In a fascinating interview, former Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, who oversaw George W. Bush’s Israel policy (remember — when we treated our ally with affection and respect?), details Obama’s errors regarding Israel (yes, it’s a lengthy interview), gives some insight into the Bush administration, and offers some predictions and suggestions. The program should be watched in full or the transcript read, but there are certain sections that are especially noteworthy.

Topping the list of Obama’s errors, Abrams explains, is the peace-process fixation:

First, I guess, and — and — most significant. They seem to think that peace between Israel and the Palestinians comes top-down. It is created someplace at a conference table in — in Taba or Camp David or Annapolis or Geneva. And that’s wrong. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be created between them, on the ground, in the real world. And it will depend on essentially what happens on the West Bank, on creating the institutions of Palestinian — self-government. And the fight against terrorism, I guess — critical things on the Palestinian side. So — concentrating on diplomacy, concentrating on the settlements is just wrong. That’s not what’s critical. What’s critical is what happens in the so — in the West Bank.

This leads to a glimpse inside the Bush White House:

I thought Annapolis was a mistake because — obviously, President Bush didn’t agree with me. I thought they were not going to reach an agreement. It seemed to me that — that if you look at the terms that were out there, neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders were ready to accept those terms. I thought we were putting the emphasis in the wrong place, again, on conferences and conference tables and flying flags and all, rather than on the pretty — undramatic but critically important work of building institutions on the ground.

(In a prior interview with the Jerusalem Post, Abrams made clear that Condoleezza Rice pushed for the peace process, failing to provide the president with a full array of options.) It is a candid admission that presidents of both parties have fallen prey to peace-process-itis – the ailment characterized by a deep aversion to candidly assessing reality. But unlike the current president, Bush, to his credit, did not make a settlement freeze the cornerstone of his policy or escalate the issue of Jerusalem:

Since 1967, Israel has been building in — the West Bank, at one point in Gaza. Of course, that’s over now. And in Jerusalem, which is under Israeli law, the capital of Israel. It’s not occupied territory. In the Bush Administration, we reached a kind of agreement with Israel, under which they would build up and in but not out in the settlements.

In other words, no more land would be taken. The idea was, let’s not disadvantage the Palestinians by taking — an olive grove or a road.  And let’s not create a new issue for final settle — status talks someday.  If you want to build for more people to live in the middle of a settlement, fine. That doesn’t hurt Palestinians. I thought the Obama administration would accept that deal.

But Bush’s successor trashed that agreement and embarked on a new tactic: bullying Israel and trying to topple Bibi. (Abrams speculates: “It’s a reasonable theory that he thought, ‘We’ll continue to escalate the tension. Sooner or later, this coalition in Israel will crack.’”)

Abrams also takes a look at Iran, assessing the chance of an Israeli military action at “above 50-50. I think they really mean it when they say an Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable. Britain, France, England, Germany, the US, China, Russia, everybody says unacceptable. I don’t think we really mean unacceptable. I think we really mean not good. I think the Israelis mean unacceptable.” The interview took place before the UN sanctions deal, and Abrams correctly predicted that we would not obtain the kind of sanctions needed to deter the mullahs from pursuing their nuclear plans.

What impact on the U.S. would result from the failure to prevent Iran from going nuclear? “[I]t is a threat to the American position in the entire Middle East and therefore in the entire world. American’s strategic credibility is deeply damaged, I think, if after all these speeches we’ve given, we let them get a nuclear weapon.”

Since Obama is plainly not getting those crippling sanctions. what would Abrams advise? In addition to an all-out effort to bolster the Green Movement, he invokes John McCain’s 2008 campaign line:

“The only thing worse than bombing Iran is an Iranian bomb.” I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon. I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon.

In private, many self-proclaimed defenders of the Jewish state voice the same views as those of Abrams. When will they pipe up?

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RE: Obama’s Lousy Record on Religious Freedom

As I noted yesterday, the U.S. Commission on International Freedom released its annual report. Its chairman, Leonard Leo, writes a column highlighting some of its findings. Two in particular stand out, in large part because U.S. policy is so badly out of sync and at odds with those striving to promote religious freedom.

First is Sudan. Critics on the right and left have deplored the administration’s feckless envoy, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, and the administration’s “spectacularly naïve perspective—and accompanying policy of appeasement.” Meanwhile, the religious atrocities continue, as Leo details:

USCIRF has focused since its inception on Sudan because Khartoum’s policies of Islamization and Arabization were a major factor in the Sudanese North-South civil war (1983-2005). During that period, Northern leaders, including Sudan’s current President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, exploited religion to mobilize northern Muslims against non-Muslim Southerners by appealing to Islam and calling for jihad. USCIRF remains concerned about continuing severe human rights violations committed by the Sudanese government against both non-Muslims and Muslims who depart from the government’s interpretation of Islam; the two million Southerners who reside in the North as internally displaced persons (IDPS); and the dramatic need for international support to develop Southern Sudan. … As the USCIRF delegation carried out its work, visiting displaced South Sudanese Christians living in camps outside Khartoum, the ominous sights of barricaded streets, armed military and security personnel around the National Assembly were a sobering reminder of the challenges to peace that lay ahead for Sudan.

Gration and the administration remain mute.

Then there is Egypt. The administration again is apathetic, it seems, to the religious persecution taking place there. Rep. Frank Wolf observed this about the virtual enslavement of Coptic women: “I expect the State Department to do nothing because that’s the way the State Department has been responding.” Leo explains what fails to interest the Obami:

In Egypt, serious problems of discrimination and intolerance against non-Muslim religious minorities and disfavored members of the Muslim majority remain widespread. The Egyptian government’s inadequate prosecution of those responsible and the politically expedient and occasional use of an ineffective reconciliation process, an improper substitute for conviction and punishment, have created a climate of impunity. Although the government has arrested three Muslim men and put them on trial for the Coptic Christmas Eve attack on six Coptic Orthodox Christians and one Muslim, the Coptic community fears reprisals and is skeptical that the government will either follow through with the trial of the three men in question or use its authority to create an environment in which individuals safely exercise their internationally guaranteed rights of religious freedom. However, President Mubarak publicly condemned the violence and acknowledged its sectarian character, and the Egyptian press for the first time called for a national conversation and an investigation on the root causes of this violence. Juxtaposed against these signs are the USCIRF delegation’s visits to the Muslim Koranist, Jehovah Witnesses, and Baha’i communities, each victimized by state-sponsored discrimination and repression. The government also has responded inadequately to combat widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the government-controlled media.

The administration’s verbiage provides a clue to its disinterest in elevating this issue to a top priority. This report explains:

[C]ommission chairman Leonard Leo says the shrinking importance of religious freedom can be seen in the Obama administration’s evolving rhetoric on the issue. Whereas Mr. Obama came into office speaking of “freedom of religion,” Mr. Leo says, the president more recently has opted for speaking about “freedom of worship,” which the USCIRF chairman says has a more limited connotation. “Freedom of religion” is more broadly understood as a universal right and more specific in its referral to religions than is the more ephemeral phrase “freedom of worship,” some religious experts say. Critics say Obama’s recent preference for “worship” raises doubts about the administration’s determination to aggressively press for the rights of religious minorities in “friendly” countries such as Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan – all of which receive billions of dollars in US aid. The president referred to “freedom of worship,” for example, during his Asia trip last fall, when he was castigated by rights groups for downplaying the issue of religious freedom in China and the status of the Dalai Lama.

The administration’s slothful indifference to the uptick in religious persecution in the “Muslim World” stands in stark contrast to its obsession with the Palestinian-Israel conflict. Months and months of diplomacy, countless speeches and appearances by the president and high-level officials, condemnations for the Jewish state, and a special envoy are all focused on what is largely a fruitless endeavor — getting to the bargaining table (not even the same table at which the Israelis sit) with recalcitrant Palestinians who lack the will and the ability to make a peace deal. Meanwhile, virtually no time or focus and no ambassador is named to deal with a problem that could, if sufficient resources were devoted, be ameliorated by a forceful American policy. It is a vivid display of the misplaced priorities and wasted opportunities that characterize much of the Obama foreign policy.

As I noted yesterday, the U.S. Commission on International Freedom released its annual report. Its chairman, Leonard Leo, writes a column highlighting some of its findings. Two in particular stand out, in large part because U.S. policy is so badly out of sync and at odds with those striving to promote religious freedom.

First is Sudan. Critics on the right and left have deplored the administration’s feckless envoy, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, and the administration’s “spectacularly naïve perspective—and accompanying policy of appeasement.” Meanwhile, the religious atrocities continue, as Leo details:

USCIRF has focused since its inception on Sudan because Khartoum’s policies of Islamization and Arabization were a major factor in the Sudanese North-South civil war (1983-2005). During that period, Northern leaders, including Sudan’s current President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, exploited religion to mobilize northern Muslims against non-Muslim Southerners by appealing to Islam and calling for jihad. USCIRF remains concerned about continuing severe human rights violations committed by the Sudanese government against both non-Muslims and Muslims who depart from the government’s interpretation of Islam; the two million Southerners who reside in the North as internally displaced persons (IDPS); and the dramatic need for international support to develop Southern Sudan. … As the USCIRF delegation carried out its work, visiting displaced South Sudanese Christians living in camps outside Khartoum, the ominous sights of barricaded streets, armed military and security personnel around the National Assembly were a sobering reminder of the challenges to peace that lay ahead for Sudan.

Gration and the administration remain mute.

Then there is Egypt. The administration again is apathetic, it seems, to the religious persecution taking place there. Rep. Frank Wolf observed this about the virtual enslavement of Coptic women: “I expect the State Department to do nothing because that’s the way the State Department has been responding.” Leo explains what fails to interest the Obami:

In Egypt, serious problems of discrimination and intolerance against non-Muslim religious minorities and disfavored members of the Muslim majority remain widespread. The Egyptian government’s inadequate prosecution of those responsible and the politically expedient and occasional use of an ineffective reconciliation process, an improper substitute for conviction and punishment, have created a climate of impunity. Although the government has arrested three Muslim men and put them on trial for the Coptic Christmas Eve attack on six Coptic Orthodox Christians and one Muslim, the Coptic community fears reprisals and is skeptical that the government will either follow through with the trial of the three men in question or use its authority to create an environment in which individuals safely exercise their internationally guaranteed rights of religious freedom. However, President Mubarak publicly condemned the violence and acknowledged its sectarian character, and the Egyptian press for the first time called for a national conversation and an investigation on the root causes of this violence. Juxtaposed against these signs are the USCIRF delegation’s visits to the Muslim Koranist, Jehovah Witnesses, and Baha’i communities, each victimized by state-sponsored discrimination and repression. The government also has responded inadequately to combat widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the government-controlled media.

The administration’s verbiage provides a clue to its disinterest in elevating this issue to a top priority. This report explains:

[C]ommission chairman Leonard Leo says the shrinking importance of religious freedom can be seen in the Obama administration’s evolving rhetoric on the issue. Whereas Mr. Obama came into office speaking of “freedom of religion,” Mr. Leo says, the president more recently has opted for speaking about “freedom of worship,” which the USCIRF chairman says has a more limited connotation. “Freedom of religion” is more broadly understood as a universal right and more specific in its referral to religions than is the more ephemeral phrase “freedom of worship,” some religious experts say. Critics say Obama’s recent preference for “worship” raises doubts about the administration’s determination to aggressively press for the rights of religious minorities in “friendly” countries such as Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan – all of which receive billions of dollars in US aid. The president referred to “freedom of worship,” for example, during his Asia trip last fall, when he was castigated by rights groups for downplaying the issue of religious freedom in China and the status of the Dalai Lama.

The administration’s slothful indifference to the uptick in religious persecution in the “Muslim World” stands in stark contrast to its obsession with the Palestinian-Israel conflict. Months and months of diplomacy, countless speeches and appearances by the president and high-level officials, condemnations for the Jewish state, and a special envoy are all focused on what is largely a fruitless endeavor — getting to the bargaining table (not even the same table at which the Israelis sit) with recalcitrant Palestinians who lack the will and the ability to make a peace deal. Meanwhile, virtually no time or focus and no ambassador is named to deal with a problem that could, if sufficient resources were devoted, be ameliorated by a forceful American policy. It is a vivid display of the misplaced priorities and wasted opportunities that characterize much of the Obama foreign policy.

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Grandstanding on Immigration

The immigration debate that stymied George W. Bush, nearly wrecked John McCain’s presidential aspirations, and engenders grand hypocrisy on the Left (it was, after all, Senator Barack Obama who backed a number of poison-pen amendments that helped sink the 2008 bill) is back with a bang. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a new immigration bill. (Yes, she’s a governor and what’s she doing making immigration law, you ask? More later on this.) And it is like 2007 all over again:

Even before she signed the bill at an afternoon news conference here, President Obama strongly criticized it.

Speaking at a naturalization ceremony for 24 active-duty service members in the Rose Garden, he called for a federal overhaul of immigration laws, which Congressional leaders signaled they were preparing to take up soon, to avoid “irresponsibility by others.”

The Arizona law, he added, threatened “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”

The law, which proponents and critics alike said was the broadest and strictest immigration measure in generations, would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Opponents have called it an open invitation for harassment and discrimination against Hispanics regardless of their citizenship status.

Let’s begin with the constitutional problem. This state law seeking to regulate what is plainly within the federal government’s purview is almost certainly not going to pass constitutional muster. And for those who say, ah well, the courts will sort it out, conservatives should be the first to holler, “Wait a minute!” Every elected official has an obligation to uphold the Constitution. They didn’t much appreciate it when George W. Bush said that the courts would eventually sort out McCain-Feingold (they finally did). It’s not up to states to start requiring immigration documents and the Arizona governor should know better. But the temptation to meddle and to grandstand in this area is irresistible. (Recall how much time in the 2008 election was spent fighting about the immigration policies of the former New York City mayor and the former Massachusetts governor.)

Next on the annoying grandstanders’ list is the current president, who did his best to grind immigration reform to a halt in 2007, and is — after all — now the chief executive in charge of, among other things, border control. So if he had been a more conscientious senator in the past and a more adept executive today, governors might not be at wits’ end trying to handle the financial and social burdens of illegal immigration. If he doesn’t like states meddling in immigration law, he should propose his own legislation.

And finally, the third place on the grandstanders’ list goes to the Democratic leadership in Congress, which no doubt wants to bring up immigration reform now to both tie the Republicans up in knots and mollify pro-immigration activists who’ve noticed that the Democrats have done nothing on this issue for a year and a half. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have no intention of actually passing a bill (Big Labor, of course, would freak if they did); it’s simply another political Hail Mary to try to minimize the electoral wipe-out heading their way. Nothing like baiting anti-immigration activists into saying outlandish things to get the Hispanic vote energized, right?

At some point there will be some mix of Democrats and Republicans who want to take a serious stab at immigration reform. But we’re eons away from that point. But that won’t stop the Arizona governor, the president, and the Congressional Democrats from trying to get the most mileage out of the issue — while decrying everyone else who’s doing exactly the same thing.

The immigration debate that stymied George W. Bush, nearly wrecked John McCain’s presidential aspirations, and engenders grand hypocrisy on the Left (it was, after all, Senator Barack Obama who backed a number of poison-pen amendments that helped sink the 2008 bill) is back with a bang. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a new immigration bill. (Yes, she’s a governor and what’s she doing making immigration law, you ask? More later on this.) And it is like 2007 all over again:

Even before she signed the bill at an afternoon news conference here, President Obama strongly criticized it.

Speaking at a naturalization ceremony for 24 active-duty service members in the Rose Garden, he called for a federal overhaul of immigration laws, which Congressional leaders signaled they were preparing to take up soon, to avoid “irresponsibility by others.”

The Arizona law, he added, threatened “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”

The law, which proponents and critics alike said was the broadest and strictest immigration measure in generations, would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Opponents have called it an open invitation for harassment and discrimination against Hispanics regardless of their citizenship status.

Let’s begin with the constitutional problem. This state law seeking to regulate what is plainly within the federal government’s purview is almost certainly not going to pass constitutional muster. And for those who say, ah well, the courts will sort it out, conservatives should be the first to holler, “Wait a minute!” Every elected official has an obligation to uphold the Constitution. They didn’t much appreciate it when George W. Bush said that the courts would eventually sort out McCain-Feingold (they finally did). It’s not up to states to start requiring immigration documents and the Arizona governor should know better. But the temptation to meddle and to grandstand in this area is irresistible. (Recall how much time in the 2008 election was spent fighting about the immigration policies of the former New York City mayor and the former Massachusetts governor.)

Next on the annoying grandstanders’ list is the current president, who did his best to grind immigration reform to a halt in 2007, and is — after all — now the chief executive in charge of, among other things, border control. So if he had been a more conscientious senator in the past and a more adept executive today, governors might not be at wits’ end trying to handle the financial and social burdens of illegal immigration. If he doesn’t like states meddling in immigration law, he should propose his own legislation.

And finally, the third place on the grandstanders’ list goes to the Democratic leadership in Congress, which no doubt wants to bring up immigration reform now to both tie the Republicans up in knots and mollify pro-immigration activists who’ve noticed that the Democrats have done nothing on this issue for a year and a half. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have no intention of actually passing a bill (Big Labor, of course, would freak if they did); it’s simply another political Hail Mary to try to minimize the electoral wipe-out heading their way. Nothing like baiting anti-immigration activists into saying outlandish things to get the Hispanic vote energized, right?

At some point there will be some mix of Democrats and Republicans who want to take a serious stab at immigration reform. But we’re eons away from that point. But that won’t stop the Arizona governor, the president, and the Congressional Democrats from trying to get the most mileage out of the issue — while decrying everyone else who’s doing exactly the same thing.

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A Bipartisan Terror Trial

It’s nice to know that, according to the Washington Post, “President Obama is planning to insert himself into the debate about where to try the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001,” although this raises the obvious question of why he hadn’t inserted himself into the debate before now. If George W. Bush had done something like this, he would have been accused of being dangerously disengaged, intellectually uncurious, etc. It is no doubt expecting too much to expect the MSM to lodge similar accusations against the current president.

But now that Obama is getting engaged, I hope this former law professor looks beyond the options currently on offer — civil trial vs. military commissions — and puts his influence behind a third possibility: National Security Courts to be run by federal judges but with special rules of procedure to make it easier to convict terrorists. There would, for example, be no demand for Miranda rights and no absolute bar on hearsay evidence. This is a proposal that has been knocking around for a while and has picked up bipartisan support — including that of liberal law professor Neal Katyal, conservative law professor Jack Goldsmith, conservative former prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy, and centrist journalist Stuart Taylor Jr. Yet it has gone nowhere in Congress. This is an issue where the liberal-conservative divide appears bridgeable, if only Obama would put his personal prestige behind the proposal.

It’s nice to know that, according to the Washington Post, “President Obama is planning to insert himself into the debate about where to try the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001,” although this raises the obvious question of why he hadn’t inserted himself into the debate before now. If George W. Bush had done something like this, he would have been accused of being dangerously disengaged, intellectually uncurious, etc. It is no doubt expecting too much to expect the MSM to lodge similar accusations against the current president.

But now that Obama is getting engaged, I hope this former law professor looks beyond the options currently on offer — civil trial vs. military commissions — and puts his influence behind a third possibility: National Security Courts to be run by federal judges but with special rules of procedure to make it easier to convict terrorists. There would, for example, be no demand for Miranda rights and no absolute bar on hearsay evidence. This is a proposal that has been knocking around for a while and has picked up bipartisan support — including that of liberal law professor Neal Katyal, conservative law professor Jack Goldsmith, conservative former prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy, and centrist journalist Stuart Taylor Jr. Yet it has gone nowhere in Congress. This is an issue where the liberal-conservative divide appears bridgeable, if only Obama would put his personal prestige behind the proposal.

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The True Administration of Justice is the Firmest Pillar of Good Government

About an hour ago I was holding an umbrella against the wind and rain, in the outer skirts of the crowd that had gathered on Foley Square, Manhattan, to protest Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s impending civil trial. Judging by how much space had been barricaded, I’d say the city must have expected a bigger turnout. Doubtless, the weather deterred many would-be attendees. But the 300-400 people who had shown up were determined and righteously angry—at the president’s and attorney general’s measly arguments for extending to the 9/11 mastermind the same legal privileges of American citizens; at the travesty of justice that his civil trial would entail; and at the cheap rhetorical shots through which the administration is dismissing the critics of its decision.

Several passionate speakers shared the podium, among them close relatives of 9/11 victims and a surviving firefighter from the first-response teams dispatched to the World Trade Center. They all voiced their disgust at how the administration is handling KSM with gloves of moral priggishness. And they also urged the demonstrators to leave no political stone unturned and to buttonhole their representatives until they take responsibility for this disgrace.

It was fitting that the rally stirred at the feet of the New York State Supreme Courthouse, whose Corinthian columns underscore the engraving “The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government.” I wonder what George Washington, who wrote those words to Attorney General Edmund Randolph on September 28, 1789, would think of the kind of trial our current president and attorney general have in store for KSM and of the kind of justice that trial will beget. What is anyone to make of a civil trial whose outcome, whatever it is, will not determine whether the defendant is to be freed and exonerated? I, for one, would not think it civil at all, or just. And neither would the protesters on Foley Square today.  Some photographs from the rally:











About an hour ago I was holding an umbrella against the wind and rain, in the outer skirts of the crowd that had gathered on Foley Square, Manhattan, to protest Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s impending civil trial. Judging by how much space had been barricaded, I’d say the city must have expected a bigger turnout. Doubtless, the weather deterred many would-be attendees. But the 300-400 people who had shown up were determined and righteously angry—at the president’s and attorney general’s measly arguments for extending to the 9/11 mastermind the same legal privileges of American citizens; at the travesty of justice that his civil trial would entail; and at the cheap rhetorical shots through which the administration is dismissing the critics of its decision.

Several passionate speakers shared the podium, among them close relatives of 9/11 victims and a surviving firefighter from the first-response teams dispatched to the World Trade Center. They all voiced their disgust at how the administration is handling KSM with gloves of moral priggishness. And they also urged the demonstrators to leave no political stone unturned and to buttonhole their representatives until they take responsibility for this disgrace.

It was fitting that the rally stirred at the feet of the New York State Supreme Courthouse, whose Corinthian columns underscore the engraving “The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government.” I wonder what George Washington, who wrote those words to Attorney General Edmund Randolph on September 28, 1789, would think of the kind of trial our current president and attorney general have in store for KSM and of the kind of justice that trial will beget. What is anyone to make of a civil trial whose outcome, whatever it is, will not determine whether the defendant is to be freed and exonerated? I, for one, would not think it civil at all, or just. And neither would the protesters on Foley Square today.  Some photographs from the rally:











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Inspired?

Howard Fineman would have us believe that Obama is looking to Ronald Reagan for inspiration. They were both “celebrities” (except one was a governor and wrote and spoke about foreign policy for decades) and loved the written word (except one wrote about the world and the other about himself). Fineman does (sort of ) point out a key difference that was instrumental to Reagan’s success: “It requires an obstinate clarity of message that the current president has not always achieved, and an outsider’s agitating stance that does not fit Obama’s equable insider mentality.” Translation: Reagan had a firm vision of where he wanted to take the country, and it defied conventional, Beltway wisdom. And then there is the foreign-policy part: “Reagan was a hawk”; Obama is anything but. And by the way, Reagan was an amiable figure who seemed to look up to his fellow citizens and regard the White House as more than a new campaign headquarters. Obama? Not so much.

OK, Obama really has nothing much at all in common with Reagan, doesn’t believe in the same things, doesn’t behave like him, has a completely different personality and a personal history not at all like Reagan’s. So why would Obama look to Reagan for inspiration? I frankly doubt he would. Obama = Reagan was campaign spin meant to sooth nervous Republicans; it seems to have been put through the spin cycle again at the new Newsweek, where nothing much is new.

What Obama no doubt would like to be is respected (and feared by our adversaries) on the world stage, the maker of bipartisan domestic deals and a comfortable presence who wears well over time.  That would be nice and Reaganesque. It would, however, require that Obama drastically remake himself and his agenda. But a “sort of God” would never do that.

Howard Fineman would have us believe that Obama is looking to Ronald Reagan for inspiration. They were both “celebrities” (except one was a governor and wrote and spoke about foreign policy for decades) and loved the written word (except one wrote about the world and the other about himself). Fineman does (sort of ) point out a key difference that was instrumental to Reagan’s success: “It requires an obstinate clarity of message that the current president has not always achieved, and an outsider’s agitating stance that does not fit Obama’s equable insider mentality.” Translation: Reagan had a firm vision of where he wanted to take the country, and it defied conventional, Beltway wisdom. And then there is the foreign-policy part: “Reagan was a hawk”; Obama is anything but. And by the way, Reagan was an amiable figure who seemed to look up to his fellow citizens and regard the White House as more than a new campaign headquarters. Obama? Not so much.

OK, Obama really has nothing much at all in common with Reagan, doesn’t believe in the same things, doesn’t behave like him, has a completely different personality and a personal history not at all like Reagan’s. So why would Obama look to Reagan for inspiration? I frankly doubt he would. Obama = Reagan was campaign spin meant to sooth nervous Republicans; it seems to have been put through the spin cycle again at the new Newsweek, where nothing much is new.

What Obama no doubt would like to be is respected (and feared by our adversaries) on the world stage, the maker of bipartisan domestic deals and a comfortable presence who wears well over time.  That would be nice and Reaganesque. It would, however, require that Obama drastically remake himself and his agenda. But a “sort of God” would never do that.

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