Commentary Magazine


Topic: David Ignatius

Iraq, Another Grim Point for Romney

At the Washington Post, David Ignatius recalls a 2012 debate exchange between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, during which the two covered al-Qaeda and Iraq:

Romney tried to shake Obama’s optimistic narrative about al-Qaeda. “It’s really not on the run. It’s certainly not hiding. This is a group that is now involved in 10 or 20 countries, and it presents an enormous threat to our friends, to the world, to America long term, and we must have a comprehensive strategy to help reject this kind of extremism.”

[…]

Obama scored points later in that debate when he dismissed Romney’s concerns about Iraq. “What I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East.” The transcript records Romney sputtering back: “I’m sorry, you actually — there was a — .”

Obama had the better of that exchange, certainly for a war-weary United States that a few weeks later gave him a new mandate. But looking back, which picture was closer to the truth? Probably Romney’s.

Probably? Al-Qaeda has gone from terrorist organization to conquering army and it’s still not entirely safe to say President Obama kind of blew it on that whole anti-terrorism thing.

But the grudging acknowledgement is something. Reality has the ability to trump spin. Obama was elected in large part to pull out of Iraq “responsibly.” But few watching ISIS plow through the country are thinking that he’s handled things well.

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At the Washington Post, David Ignatius recalls a 2012 debate exchange between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, during which the two covered al-Qaeda and Iraq:

Romney tried to shake Obama’s optimistic narrative about al-Qaeda. “It’s really not on the run. It’s certainly not hiding. This is a group that is now involved in 10 or 20 countries, and it presents an enormous threat to our friends, to the world, to America long term, and we must have a comprehensive strategy to help reject this kind of extremism.”

[…]

Obama scored points later in that debate when he dismissed Romney’s concerns about Iraq. “What I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East.” The transcript records Romney sputtering back: “I’m sorry, you actually — there was a — .”

Obama had the better of that exchange, certainly for a war-weary United States that a few weeks later gave him a new mandate. But looking back, which picture was closer to the truth? Probably Romney’s.

Probably? Al-Qaeda has gone from terrorist organization to conquering army and it’s still not entirely safe to say President Obama kind of blew it on that whole anti-terrorism thing.

But the grudging acknowledgement is something. Reality has the ability to trump spin. Obama was elected in large part to pull out of Iraq “responsibly.” But few watching ISIS plow through the country are thinking that he’s handled things well.

The crumbling of Iraq, of course, isn’t the first event to vindicate a maligned Romney debating point. Back when he pronounced Russia “without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe,” Obama derided Romney as a Cold Warrior 20 years past his sell-by date. The president, for his part, was busy touting his “reset” with the Kremlin. But the American public soon took up the fight against Vladimir Putin’s human-rights abuses—and then Russia invaded Crimea. Thus came headlines explaining “Why Obama Got Russia Wrong (and Romney Got It Right).”

That’s not all he got right. While the Obama administration plays Let’s Fake a Deal with Tehran, it’s worth recalling another Romney line of foreign-affairs analysis: “Of course the greatest threat that the world faces is a nuclear Iran,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. If Obama gets that wrong, belated acknowledgment of his error won’t quite cut it.

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Commanders-in-Chief Should Command

President Obama may be coming under withering criticism from his own former secretaries of defense for his hesitant and uncertain conduct vis-à-vis Syria. But he has at least a few defenders left who argue—as David Ignatius does today in the Washington Post—that he is simply giving the public what it wants. Writes Ignatius:

Obama has accomplished goals that most Americans endorse, given the unpalatable menu of choices. Polls suggest that the public overwhelmingly backs the course Obama has chosen. A Post-ABC News survey asked Americans if they endorsed the U.S.-Russian plan to dismantle Syrian chemical weapons as an alternative to missile strikes; 79 percent were supportive.  Read More

President Obama may be coming under withering criticism from his own former secretaries of defense for his hesitant and uncertain conduct vis-à-vis Syria. But he has at least a few defenders left who argue—as David Ignatius does today in the Washington Post—that he is simply giving the public what it wants. Writes Ignatius:

Obama has accomplished goals that most Americans endorse, given the unpalatable menu of choices. Polls suggest that the public overwhelmingly backs the course Obama has chosen. A Post-ABC News survey asked Americans if they endorsed the U.S.-Russian plan to dismantle Syrian chemical weapons as an alternative to missile strikes; 79 percent were supportive. 

Have we now become a plebiscitary democracy where great questions of the day are to be decided based on public-opinion polls? What’s next? Are we going to give every American a Xbox-like device that he can use to instantly vote on every bill before Congress and every major decision on the president’s desk?

That’s not how the Founders envisioned this country operating. They created a representative democracy in which the people vote for their leaders and the leaders then are responsible for exercising their own judgment as to what course of action is best for the country. The voters still get a say, but they have to wait two to four years before they can give a thumbs up or thumbs down to their elected representatives. 

The genius of our system is plainly evident in how easily presidents who follow public opinion can be led astray. Americans approved of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by rough similar margins as they approve of the Syria chemical-weapons deal today. That did not get President Bush off the hook when the war went south; public opinion quickly turned. And there was scant sympathy among the president’s critics—including David Ignatius—for the argument that the invasion was right because it was popular.

By 2007 there was virtually no support among the public for the surge. Yet President Bush ordered it anyway, and it worked. As evidence came in of declining rates of violence in Iraq, support for the surge increased. In retrospect Bush had made the gutsiest and best call of his presidency by taking a tough stance in defiance of public opinion. And as events on the ground shifted, so did public opinion.

That’s what we expect commanders-in-chief to do. And it’s not just Bush or Republican presidents who make these tough calls. So do Democrats, ranging from Harry Truman with his support of NATO and the Marshall Plan (neither of which was initially popular) to Bill Clinton, with his support of unpopular interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo. Even Obama has defied public opinion to intervene in Libya. There was no more enthusiasm among voters for that conflict than there is now for the one in Syria.

So Obama will find scant refuge today in the argument that public-opinion polls support his stance. Sure, the public is supportive—but then the public hopes that the chemical-weapons deal will be carried out. Perhaps they imagine, as Ignatius does, that the deal forces Russia to collect Syria’s chemical weapons and could foster a political solution to the mess in Syria. If so, Obama may well be vindicated. But the greater likelihood is that the deal will be an excuse for Assad to stall for time, that most of his chemical weapons will never be destroyed, and that the United States will be complicit along with Russia in keeping his criminal regime in power. In that case, the verdict of the public—and history—is likely to turn against Obama.

The president should keep in mind the pearl of wisdom often voiced by embattled sports coaches who are under criticism from the fans and media for not starting player X or not calling play Y: If you let the fans in the stands make your coaching decisions for you, before long you’re likely to join them as a spectator.

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Ignatius Asks Important Questions About Benghazi

David Ignatius, the liberal Washington Post columnist, has a good column on the Benghazi episode in which he recounts what we know–and, more to the point, what we don’t know–about the official response to the hours-long attack on our consulate and a CIA annex. Ignatius quotes a statement from the CIA making clear that no one at the agency told contractor Tyrone Woods or anyone else not to go to the aid of the embattled diplomats: “no one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate.” 

That still leaves open the question of whether anyone else in government told them not to do so, and also, more importantly, of how and why the decision was made not to send more military help to Benghazi beyond a force of eight security personnel from the CIA who were dispatched from Tripoli. Ignatius asks: “Why didn’t the United States send armed drones or other air assistance to Benghazi immediately? This one is harder to answer.” After all, he notes: “A Joint Special Operations Command team was moved that night to Sigonella air base in Sicily, for quick deployment to Benghazi or any of the other U.S. facilities in danger that night across North Africa. Armed drones could also have been sent.” Yet those assets were not deployed during the seven or so hours that the attack lasted.

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David Ignatius, the liberal Washington Post columnist, has a good column on the Benghazi episode in which he recounts what we know–and, more to the point, what we don’t know–about the official response to the hours-long attack on our consulate and a CIA annex. Ignatius quotes a statement from the CIA making clear that no one at the agency told contractor Tyrone Woods or anyone else not to go to the aid of the embattled diplomats: “no one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate.” 

That still leaves open the question of whether anyone else in government told them not to do so, and also, more importantly, of how and why the decision was made not to send more military help to Benghazi beyond a force of eight security personnel from the CIA who were dispatched from Tripoli. Ignatius asks: “Why didn’t the United States send armed drones or other air assistance to Benghazi immediately? This one is harder to answer.” After all, he notes: “A Joint Special Operations Command team was moved that night to Sigonella air base in Sicily, for quick deployment to Benghazi or any of the other U.S. facilities in danger that night across North Africa. Armed drones could also have been sent.” Yet those assets were not deployed during the seven or so hours that the attack lasted.

One wonders if the decision not to act was taken at Africa Command, the Pentagon, or at the White House. My bet is on the White House. It’s likely that National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, known for his attention to details, was the crisis manager in the White House, and if he didn’t inform his boss, the president, of what was going on at the time, he would have been guilty of dereliction of duty–which seems unlikely for such a conscientious bureaucrat. The decision not to act, taken in the heat of the moment and without full information available, was understandable; it might even have been the right decision in hindsight, although this seems less likely. But the White House isn’t really answering these questions. Instead, it seems to be trying to push the whole issue past the election–and the news media, which would have been putting this on page one every day if this had happened on President McCain’s watch, are happy to cooperate by burying this controversy. David Ignatius is an honorable and welcome exception to this trend.

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Iran Nuclear Sabotage Helps Delay Inevitable

Outgoing Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s recent assessment that Iran won’t be able to build a bomb until 2015 appears to be further evidence that the sabotage campaign against the Iranian nuclear facilities is working beautifully. At the Washington Post, David Ignatius has the same impression:

What’s increasingly clear is that low-key weapons — covert sabotage and economic sanctions — are accomplishing many of the benefits of military action, without the costs. It’s a devious approach — all the more so because it’s accompanied by near-constant U.S. proposals of diplomatic dialogue — but in that sense, it matches Iran’s own operating style of pursuing multiple options at once.

Officials won’t discuss the clandestine program of cyberattack and other sabotage being waged against the Iranian nuclear program. Yet we see the effects – in crashing centrifuges and reduced operations of the Iranian enrichment facility at Natanz — but don’t understand the causes. That’s the way covert action is supposed to work.

Sabotage operations include the widely publicized Stuxnet virus, which has wreaked havoc on Iran’s facilities. But there have also been other less-reported operations that have helped slow the nuclear process. Over the summer, the New Republic’s Eli Lake reported that several Western countries had launched an extensive clandestine program aimed at undermining Iranian nuclear efforts:

Michael Adler, an expert on Iran’s nuclear program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, put it this way: “It seems to be clear that there is an active and imaginative sabotage program from several Western nations as well as Israel involving booby-trapping equipment which the Iranians are procuring, tricking black-market smugglers, cyber-operations, and recruiting scientists.” Three current U.S. government officials confirmed that sabotage operations have been a key part of American plans to slow down the Iranian program—and that they are continuing under Obama.

Of course, so far these operations have been able only to delay, not prevent, Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. And while they help buy the U.S. more time to consider whether to take military action, obviously the decision can’t be put off forever.

Outgoing Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s recent assessment that Iran won’t be able to build a bomb until 2015 appears to be further evidence that the sabotage campaign against the Iranian nuclear facilities is working beautifully. At the Washington Post, David Ignatius has the same impression:

What’s increasingly clear is that low-key weapons — covert sabotage and economic sanctions — are accomplishing many of the benefits of military action, without the costs. It’s a devious approach — all the more so because it’s accompanied by near-constant U.S. proposals of diplomatic dialogue — but in that sense, it matches Iran’s own operating style of pursuing multiple options at once.

Officials won’t discuss the clandestine program of cyberattack and other sabotage being waged against the Iranian nuclear program. Yet we see the effects – in crashing centrifuges and reduced operations of the Iranian enrichment facility at Natanz — but don’t understand the causes. That’s the way covert action is supposed to work.

Sabotage operations include the widely publicized Stuxnet virus, which has wreaked havoc on Iran’s facilities. But there have also been other less-reported operations that have helped slow the nuclear process. Over the summer, the New Republic’s Eli Lake reported that several Western countries had launched an extensive clandestine program aimed at undermining Iranian nuclear efforts:

Michael Adler, an expert on Iran’s nuclear program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, put it this way: “It seems to be clear that there is an active and imaginative sabotage program from several Western nations as well as Israel involving booby-trapping equipment which the Iranians are procuring, tricking black-market smugglers, cyber-operations, and recruiting scientists.” Three current U.S. government officials confirmed that sabotage operations have been a key part of American plans to slow down the Iranian program—and that they are continuing under Obama.

Of course, so far these operations have been able only to delay, not prevent, Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. And while they help buy the U.S. more time to consider whether to take military action, obviously the decision can’t be put off forever.

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Morning Commentary

As the GOP prepares to read the Constitution on the floor of the House this morning — in a nod to the new Tea Party members of Congress — Seth Lipsky discusses why the reading of the founding document irks the left so much.

Robert Gibbs seems pretty excited to leave the White House for the private sector: “‘The best service I can provide this president is, for the next couple of years, outside this building,’ said Gibbs, who announced Wednesday that he would leave his press secretary job in early February. He will then hit the lucrative speaking circuit and become a paid consultant to the Obama reelection campaign.” And the search for Gibbs’s successor is on. The White House is reportedly looking past in-house candidates, like Joe Biden’s spokesman Bill Burton and Obama deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, and considering outsiders like former DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney.

Lee Smith explains the “condescending moral double standard” that allows Western intellectuals like Roger Cohen to call themselves “liberals” while ignoring, excusing, or praising the murderous actions of the Middle East’s most illiberal regimes: “[L]ike many other Western observers of the Middle East, [Cohen] uses the region as a kind of virtual reality screen on which to project a self-congratulatory vision of a world in which superior beings like himself can naturally expect to live under the sign of law, civility, and morality while lesser beings in other parts of the world are quite naturally ruled by violence.”

David Ignatius is terribly, terribly concerned that the new head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican Darrell Issa, may be the new Joe McCarthy: “It was scary, frankly, to hear Issa describe the executive branch under President Obama as ‘one of the most corrupt administrations.’…When you see the righteous gleam in Issa’s eye, recall other zealous congressional investigators who claimed to be doing the public’s business but ended up pursuing vendettas.”

As the GOP prepares to read the Constitution on the floor of the House this morning — in a nod to the new Tea Party members of Congress — Seth Lipsky discusses why the reading of the founding document irks the left so much.

Robert Gibbs seems pretty excited to leave the White House for the private sector: “‘The best service I can provide this president is, for the next couple of years, outside this building,’ said Gibbs, who announced Wednesday that he would leave his press secretary job in early February. He will then hit the lucrative speaking circuit and become a paid consultant to the Obama reelection campaign.” And the search for Gibbs’s successor is on. The White House is reportedly looking past in-house candidates, like Joe Biden’s spokesman Bill Burton and Obama deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, and considering outsiders like former DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney.

Lee Smith explains the “condescending moral double standard” that allows Western intellectuals like Roger Cohen to call themselves “liberals” while ignoring, excusing, or praising the murderous actions of the Middle East’s most illiberal regimes: “[L]ike many other Western observers of the Middle East, [Cohen] uses the region as a kind of virtual reality screen on which to project a self-congratulatory vision of a world in which superior beings like himself can naturally expect to live under the sign of law, civility, and morality while lesser beings in other parts of the world are quite naturally ruled by violence.”

David Ignatius is terribly, terribly concerned that the new head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican Darrell Issa, may be the new Joe McCarthy: “It was scary, frankly, to hear Issa describe the executive branch under President Obama as ‘one of the most corrupt administrations.’…When you see the righteous gleam in Issa’s eye, recall other zealous congressional investigators who claimed to be doing the public’s business but ended up pursuing vendettas.”

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Counterinsurgency 101

A number of commentators such as Fred Kaplan, David Ignatius, and Joe Klein have claimed that General Petraeus is abandoning counterinsurgency doctrine in Afghanistan in favor of a more kinetic counterterrorism approach designed to generate faster results. As evidence, they can point to an increase in air strike and Special Operations raids. This represents a fundamental misreading of counterinsurgency doctrine, which hardly eschews killing the enemy; rather, a proper counterinsurgency strategy has to be about more than simply killing the enemy — it has to have political, economic, diplomatic, legal, communications, and other elements to be successful. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore the imperative to kill or lock up insurgents — and Petraeus hasn’t, in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Paula Broadwell, an Army reservist who has written a biography of Petraeus, sets the commentators straight in this post on Tom Ricks’s blog. She writes:

Since Petraeus has arrived in Afghanistan, he has increased the intensity of every element of a comprehensive civil-military COIN campaign, not just the so-called CT element. After my trip to Afghanistan last month, during which I visited at the battalion, division, and ISAF headquarters levels, it is clear to me that the “shift” is not one of focus, but of energy and increased intensity across all lines of the counterinsurgency effort.

That certainly confirms my impression of what’s going on. It is not a shift of focus but an intensified commitment to counterinsurgency in all its facets — which includes but is not limited to the counterterrorism “line of operation.” It is this sort of comprehensive approach that worked in Iraq and can work in Afghanistan, given sufficient time and commitment — whereas attempting to implement counterterrorism in isolation (as many critics want to do) is almost guaranteed to fail.

A number of commentators such as Fred Kaplan, David Ignatius, and Joe Klein have claimed that General Petraeus is abandoning counterinsurgency doctrine in Afghanistan in favor of a more kinetic counterterrorism approach designed to generate faster results. As evidence, they can point to an increase in air strike and Special Operations raids. This represents a fundamental misreading of counterinsurgency doctrine, which hardly eschews killing the enemy; rather, a proper counterinsurgency strategy has to be about more than simply killing the enemy — it has to have political, economic, diplomatic, legal, communications, and other elements to be successful. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore the imperative to kill or lock up insurgents — and Petraeus hasn’t, in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Paula Broadwell, an Army reservist who has written a biography of Petraeus, sets the commentators straight in this post on Tom Ricks’s blog. She writes:

Since Petraeus has arrived in Afghanistan, he has increased the intensity of every element of a comprehensive civil-military COIN campaign, not just the so-called CT element. After my trip to Afghanistan last month, during which I visited at the battalion, division, and ISAF headquarters levels, it is clear to me that the “shift” is not one of focus, but of energy and increased intensity across all lines of the counterinsurgency effort.

That certainly confirms my impression of what’s going on. It is not a shift of focus but an intensified commitment to counterinsurgency in all its facets — which includes but is not limited to the counterterrorism “line of operation.” It is this sort of comprehensive approach that worked in Iraq and can work in Afghanistan, given sufficient time and commitment — whereas attempting to implement counterterrorism in isolation (as many critics want to do) is almost guaranteed to fail.

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Never the Policy

It’s never the policy. That is the Democrats’ watchword when it comes to explaining failure, whether it is substantive or political.

On domestic policy, Obama is now complaining we’ve all gotten the wrong idea that he is a tax-and-spend liberal. On Fox News Sunday, Bill Kristol explained:

Now, it’s a little farcical since he was a tax-and-spend liberal Democrat. He had chances not to be. He could have cut a deal on taxes six weeks ago, accepted the Republican proposal to extend the Bush tax rates and say, “You know what? I’m not your traditional tax- hiking Democrat.”

He insisted on tax hikes. He’s a huge spender. But I think that’s very revealing. When a liberal says, “I can’t look like a tax- and-spend liberal Democrat,” he is conceding you can’t govern this country as a liberal Democrat.

If I were a liberal, I’d be upset about that. It would be as if a conservative president said, “Well, I’ve learned I can’t just look like some conservative.” I mean, the whole point of Barack Obama’s presidency was to be the next wave of liberalism. Isn’t that why they were so excited two years ago?

The foreign policy version of this was set forth by David Ignatius by way of Zbig Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft. You get this gobbledygook:

What perplexed both men was the disconnect between Obama’s strategic vision and what he has been able to achieve. “He makes dramatic presidential speeches,” said Brzezinski, “but it’s never translated into a process in which good ideas become strategies.”

They are perplexed because they do not find fault with the underlying assumptions of Obama’s foreign policy. So it’s distraction by the economy or failure to “implement” his foreign policy vision that is the problem. And they’re very miffed, of course, that Obama didn’t cram a peace deal down the Israelis’ throats.

The domestic and foreign policy excuses abound — the Republicans undermined Obama, Bibi wrecked the peace process, the 24/7 news cycle makes governing impossible, and the country is ungovernable or irrational. The degree to which the president and his team lack virtually any ability to reflect on and evaluate the substance of their agenda is remarkable. There is, of course, no one in the White House who does not embrace a leftist ideology. They therefore must ignore populist unrest, ample polling, and any evidence that suggests that their economic policy and foreign policy vision is fundamentally flawed, not to mention politically untenable.

Republicans should keep their fingers crossed that this obtuseness is heartfelt and long-lasting. Should the White House internalize the lessons of the past two years (e.g., Keynesian economics is a bust, the Palestinians aren’t ready for a peace deal, the public resists the vast expansion of the public sector), they might be able to adjust course and rescue the Obama presidency. But so far, I see no danger of that occurring.

It’s never the policy. That is the Democrats’ watchword when it comes to explaining failure, whether it is substantive or political.

On domestic policy, Obama is now complaining we’ve all gotten the wrong idea that he is a tax-and-spend liberal. On Fox News Sunday, Bill Kristol explained:

Now, it’s a little farcical since he was a tax-and-spend liberal Democrat. He had chances not to be. He could have cut a deal on taxes six weeks ago, accepted the Republican proposal to extend the Bush tax rates and say, “You know what? I’m not your traditional tax- hiking Democrat.”

He insisted on tax hikes. He’s a huge spender. But I think that’s very revealing. When a liberal says, “I can’t look like a tax- and-spend liberal Democrat,” he is conceding you can’t govern this country as a liberal Democrat.

If I were a liberal, I’d be upset about that. It would be as if a conservative president said, “Well, I’ve learned I can’t just look like some conservative.” I mean, the whole point of Barack Obama’s presidency was to be the next wave of liberalism. Isn’t that why they were so excited two years ago?

The foreign policy version of this was set forth by David Ignatius by way of Zbig Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft. You get this gobbledygook:

What perplexed both men was the disconnect between Obama’s strategic vision and what he has been able to achieve. “He makes dramatic presidential speeches,” said Brzezinski, “but it’s never translated into a process in which good ideas become strategies.”

They are perplexed because they do not find fault with the underlying assumptions of Obama’s foreign policy. So it’s distraction by the economy or failure to “implement” his foreign policy vision that is the problem. And they’re very miffed, of course, that Obama didn’t cram a peace deal down the Israelis’ throats.

The domestic and foreign policy excuses abound — the Republicans undermined Obama, Bibi wrecked the peace process, the 24/7 news cycle makes governing impossible, and the country is ungovernable or irrational. The degree to which the president and his team lack virtually any ability to reflect on and evaluate the substance of their agenda is remarkable. There is, of course, no one in the White House who does not embrace a leftist ideology. They therefore must ignore populist unrest, ample polling, and any evidence that suggests that their economic policy and foreign policy vision is fundamentally flawed, not to mention politically untenable.

Republicans should keep their fingers crossed that this obtuseness is heartfelt and long-lasting. Should the White House internalize the lessons of the past two years (e.g., Keynesian economics is a bust, the Palestinians aren’t ready for a peace deal, the public resists the vast expansion of the public sector), they might be able to adjust course and rescue the Obama presidency. But so far, I see no danger of that occurring.

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Beyond Shame — They Like the Book!

David Ignatius uses a peculiar adjective to describe Obama’s portrayal in Bob Woodward’s new book: “poignant.” An odd word choice, considering Ignatius’s otherwise apt description:

By Woodward’s account, Obama was looking for an exit from Afghanistan even as he sent 30,000 more U.S. combat troops there.

That’s an untenable position. If the president doubted his strategy, he shouldn’t have sent the troops. If he believes his war plan stands a chance of stabilizing Afghanistan so that he can transfer responsibility to the Afghans starting next July, then he must rally the public so that it understands and supports what he’s doing.

Woodward shows us an Obama who is halfway to war, doubting his strategy even as he asks young men and women to die for it. That’s the one thing a president must not do: Sacrifice lives for a policy he doesn’t think can succeed.

Poignant or shameful? Poignant or irresponsible? Poignant is George Bush, an increasingly reviled figure in the White House making a decision for the sake of the country and the Free World that he knew would politically harm him and his party.

The Obami are so lacking in common sense and self-awareness that they apparently like Obama’s portrayal. Honest:

Many of Obama’s senior advisers have already obtained and read the book, “Obama’s Wars,” and are satisfied with the image it conveys of the president, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

“The President comes across in the [Afghanistan] review and throughout the decision-making process as a Commander in Chief who is analytical, strategic, and decisive, with a broad view of history, national security, and his role,” the official said in an e-mail.

They are incapable of being shamed — beyond embarrassment. Not even the “absorb 9/11″ part seems to upset them. Well, to a crew that thinks ObamaCare is a political winner, the economy is in recovery, and the Tea Party is a fringe group, I suppose you can’t be surprised by a book documenting that Obama cares more about politics than winning the war (“I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party,” Woodward quotes him as declaring). And yet it is shocking. We simply don’t  imagine — and find it hard to stomach — a presidency conducted on these terms.

David Ignatius uses a peculiar adjective to describe Obama’s portrayal in Bob Woodward’s new book: “poignant.” An odd word choice, considering Ignatius’s otherwise apt description:

By Woodward’s account, Obama was looking for an exit from Afghanistan even as he sent 30,000 more U.S. combat troops there.

That’s an untenable position. If the president doubted his strategy, he shouldn’t have sent the troops. If he believes his war plan stands a chance of stabilizing Afghanistan so that he can transfer responsibility to the Afghans starting next July, then he must rally the public so that it understands and supports what he’s doing.

Woodward shows us an Obama who is halfway to war, doubting his strategy even as he asks young men and women to die for it. That’s the one thing a president must not do: Sacrifice lives for a policy he doesn’t think can succeed.

Poignant or shameful? Poignant or irresponsible? Poignant is George Bush, an increasingly reviled figure in the White House making a decision for the sake of the country and the Free World that he knew would politically harm him and his party.

The Obami are so lacking in common sense and self-awareness that they apparently like Obama’s portrayal. Honest:

Many of Obama’s senior advisers have already obtained and read the book, “Obama’s Wars,” and are satisfied with the image it conveys of the president, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

“The President comes across in the [Afghanistan] review and throughout the decision-making process as a Commander in Chief who is analytical, strategic, and decisive, with a broad view of history, national security, and his role,” the official said in an e-mail.

They are incapable of being shamed — beyond embarrassment. Not even the “absorb 9/11″ part seems to upset them. Well, to a crew that thinks ObamaCare is a political winner, the economy is in recovery, and the Tea Party is a fringe group, I suppose you can’t be surprised by a book documenting that Obama cares more about politics than winning the war (“I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party,” Woodward quotes him as declaring). And yet it is shocking. We simply don’t  imagine — and find it hard to stomach — a presidency conducted on these terms.

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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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Flotsam and Jetsam

Is the media having buyers remorse too? “Ed Chen, a White House correspondent for Bloomberg News who is president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said he asked for the meeting ‘to clear the air because in my 10-plus years at the White House, rarely have I sensed such a level of anger, which is wide and deep, among members over White House practices and attitude toward the press.’”

A story about an Iraq vet, the Yankees and a rabbi. Honest.

David Ignatius suggests that if Obama is looking for “big ideas to shape its foreign policy,” he should consider promoting freedom of the press. Hasn’t Ignatius heard? Obama isn’t much interested in promoting any sort of freedom. It’s too much like George Bush, I suppose.

Gov. Rick Perry sounds Shermanesque about 2012.

One ludicrous nuclear summit begets another one: “Iran opened an ‘alternative’ nuclear disarmament summit in Tehran on Saturday, bringing together representatives of 60 countries including Russia and China to slam U.S. nuclear policy and encourage nations to pull out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Stuart Rothenberg: “Substantial Republican gains are inevitable, with net Democratic losses now looking to be at least two dozen. At this point, GOP gains of 25-30 seats seem likely, though considerably larger gains in excess of 40 seats certainly seem possible. We’ve moved 44 seats toward the Republicans and only 4 toward the Democrats.”

By the time he’s done, he will have alienated everyone in the state: “Some of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s top fundraisers are warning that they will no longer support him if he bolts the Republican Party to run for the Senate as an independent. … If he abandons the GOP race, a group of his most prominent supporters indicate they will not follow him.”

Barbara Boxer isn’t entirely clueless: “Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) warned that Democrats must match the Tea Party’s energy and enthusiasm or face the consequences in November. ‘At this point, I think the polls are showing that there is more enthusiasm with the tea party party,’ Boxer said.”

Is the media having buyers remorse too? “Ed Chen, a White House correspondent for Bloomberg News who is president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said he asked for the meeting ‘to clear the air because in my 10-plus years at the White House, rarely have I sensed such a level of anger, which is wide and deep, among members over White House practices and attitude toward the press.’”

A story about an Iraq vet, the Yankees and a rabbi. Honest.

David Ignatius suggests that if Obama is looking for “big ideas to shape its foreign policy,” he should consider promoting freedom of the press. Hasn’t Ignatius heard? Obama isn’t much interested in promoting any sort of freedom. It’s too much like George Bush, I suppose.

Gov. Rick Perry sounds Shermanesque about 2012.

One ludicrous nuclear summit begets another one: “Iran opened an ‘alternative’ nuclear disarmament summit in Tehran on Saturday, bringing together representatives of 60 countries including Russia and China to slam U.S. nuclear policy and encourage nations to pull out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Stuart Rothenberg: “Substantial Republican gains are inevitable, with net Democratic losses now looking to be at least two dozen. At this point, GOP gains of 25-30 seats seem likely, though considerably larger gains in excess of 40 seats certainly seem possible. We’ve moved 44 seats toward the Republicans and only 4 toward the Democrats.”

By the time he’s done, he will have alienated everyone in the state: “Some of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s top fundraisers are warning that they will no longer support him if he bolts the Republican Party to run for the Senate as an independent. … If he abandons the GOP race, a group of his most prominent supporters indicate they will not follow him.”

Barbara Boxer isn’t entirely clueless: “Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) warned that Democrats must match the Tea Party’s energy and enthusiasm or face the consequences in November. ‘At this point, I think the polls are showing that there is more enthusiasm with the tea party party,’ Boxer said.”

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Obama’s Diplomatic War on Israel Is Just Getting Started

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RE: Imposed Arrogance

Parsing through David Ignatius’s column on the potential (threat, I think is a more apt term) for an imposed Middle East peace deal, Elliott Abrams — who managed as deputy national-security advisor to induce Israel to take “risks for peace” by cementing an actually rock-solid relationship between the countries — takes issue with the Obami’s assertion that really everyone knows what the peace deal is and that what we need is an American president to impose one:

This is false and dangerous. First, if indeed everyone has known the terms for nearly 20 years (since Oslo) yet agreement has never been reached, is it not obvious that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are willing and able to accept those terms? Does their embrace by an ambitious American president make them any more palatable to the people who will have to live with them? Second, the conclusion that all the terms are known is quite wrong. Is the fate of Jerusalem’s Old City agreed? Do Palestinians accept that Israel will keep every major settlement bloc? Do Israelis and Palestinians agree on the terms needed to guarantee Israel’s security once the IDF must leave the West Bank? (Examples: Is it agreed that Israel will control the air space and electromagnetic spectrum? Is it agreed that Israel can keep troops in the West Bank for some years? Do Palestinians accept that Israel can control the Jordan Valley and patrol the border with Jordan?) This is nonsense. One of Ignatius’s sources says the Obama plan will “take on the absolute requirements of Israeli security.” After 14 months of harassment by Obama and his team, will any Israeli risk his nation’s safety on that assurance?

It is such nonsense that one suspects this is another bullying tactic by the Obami. They haven’t been able to club Bibi into submitting to their demand with regard to Jerusalem building. Snubbing him at the White House didn’t do the trick. His government isn’t teetering on the brink of collapse. So what to do? Ah! Scare the Israelis with the prospect that if they don’t start “cooperating,” the Obami will whip out their own plan and that’ll be that.

And through this one can see the petulance of the neophyte president, who is peeved the world does not bend to his will. The New York Times reports on his confab with former national security figures:

The fact that President Obama was willing to have such an impromptu discussion with former advisers illustrates his increasing frustration with the foot-dragging over Middle East peace talks, and a growing sense that he may have to present a specific plan, rather than wait for the two sides to come to any sort of agreement.

And not even the Gray Lady can avoid reminding its readers that much (all?) of the stalemate and heightened tensions are attributable to the Obami’s own diplomatic malpractice: “So far, administration officials are still smarting from their first attempt at sticking their collective necks out, as they did last summer when they demanded a freeze of Jewish settlements, and then had to stand back with no contingency plan after Israel refused outright.” And the administration learned what from that experience? Nothing apparently. Onward they plunge, immune to experience and impervious to history. It seems that ideology isn’t, as Hillary said, really “so yesterday” after all.

Parsing through David Ignatius’s column on the potential (threat, I think is a more apt term) for an imposed Middle East peace deal, Elliott Abrams — who managed as deputy national-security advisor to induce Israel to take “risks for peace” by cementing an actually rock-solid relationship between the countries — takes issue with the Obami’s assertion that really everyone knows what the peace deal is and that what we need is an American president to impose one:

This is false and dangerous. First, if indeed everyone has known the terms for nearly 20 years (since Oslo) yet agreement has never been reached, is it not obvious that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are willing and able to accept those terms? Does their embrace by an ambitious American president make them any more palatable to the people who will have to live with them? Second, the conclusion that all the terms are known is quite wrong. Is the fate of Jerusalem’s Old City agreed? Do Palestinians accept that Israel will keep every major settlement bloc? Do Israelis and Palestinians agree on the terms needed to guarantee Israel’s security once the IDF must leave the West Bank? (Examples: Is it agreed that Israel will control the air space and electromagnetic spectrum? Is it agreed that Israel can keep troops in the West Bank for some years? Do Palestinians accept that Israel can control the Jordan Valley and patrol the border with Jordan?) This is nonsense. One of Ignatius’s sources says the Obama plan will “take on the absolute requirements of Israeli security.” After 14 months of harassment by Obama and his team, will any Israeli risk his nation’s safety on that assurance?

It is such nonsense that one suspects this is another bullying tactic by the Obami. They haven’t been able to club Bibi into submitting to their demand with regard to Jerusalem building. Snubbing him at the White House didn’t do the trick. His government isn’t teetering on the brink of collapse. So what to do? Ah! Scare the Israelis with the prospect that if they don’t start “cooperating,” the Obami will whip out their own plan and that’ll be that.

And through this one can see the petulance of the neophyte president, who is peeved the world does not bend to his will. The New York Times reports on his confab with former national security figures:

The fact that President Obama was willing to have such an impromptu discussion with former advisers illustrates his increasing frustration with the foot-dragging over Middle East peace talks, and a growing sense that he may have to present a specific plan, rather than wait for the two sides to come to any sort of agreement.

And not even the Gray Lady can avoid reminding its readers that much (all?) of the stalemate and heightened tensions are attributable to the Obami’s own diplomatic malpractice: “So far, administration officials are still smarting from their first attempt at sticking their collective necks out, as they did last summer when they demanded a freeze of Jewish settlements, and then had to stand back with no contingency plan after Israel refused outright.” And the administration learned what from that experience? Nothing apparently. Onward they plunge, immune to experience and impervious to history. It seems that ideology isn’t, as Hillary said, really “so yesterday” after all.

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Imposed Arrogance

David Ignatius writes: “Despite recent turbulence in U.S. relations with Israel, President Obama is ‘seriously considering’ proposing an American peace plan to resolve the Palestinian conflict, according to two top administration officials.” As frightful as this sounds, it smacks of just the sort of arrogance we have come to expect from this administration. The gang that deplored “cowboy diplomacy” and said we should be more attuned to our allies’ concerns has devoted itself to bullying and blustering — but, of course, not when it comes to despotic regimes. There, it’s all smiles and bows.

Who might be the architect of such a scheme — one that presupposes there is a Palestinian negotiator with the authority to make a deal and enforce the peace? Why, Ignatius tells us, “the real strategist in chief is Obama himself. If he decides to launch a peace plan, it would mark a return to the ambitious themes the president sounded in his June 2009 speech in Cairo.” That would be the speech in which he skipped over 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism, analogized Palestinians to enslaved African Americans, and posited that Israel’s legitimacy rested on Holocaust guilt.

Ignatius concludes:

A political battle royal is likely to begin soon, with Israeli officials and their supporters in the United States protesting what they fear would be an American attempt to impose a settlement and arguing to focus instead on Iran. The White House rejoinder is expressed this way by one of the senior officials: “It’s not either Iran or the Middle East peace process. You have to do both.”

This is poppycock, of course. The Obami can’t come up with an effective Iran approach. And now they want to add to their overwhelmed and underperforming foreign-policy apparatus by imposing a Middle East plan? It is apparent that the latter is an excuse and diversion from doing anything about the former. It is also very dangerous.

Writing last fall, Barry Rubin (no relation) explained the fallacy of a get-tough-with-Bibi approach, a less extreme variation on an imposed settlement presumably under contemplation:

It never enters the minds of these people that a “peace” agreement that was broken or had dangerous provisions (giving up strategic territory; east Jerusalem; empowering a radical regime in a next-door Palestinian state; opening the door to foreign Arab or Iranian armies entering; bringing in millions of Palestinian Arabs to Israel) could leave Israel far worse off.

Or perhaps it does, and the Obami simply don’t care. They’ve shown very little sympatico for Israel of late, and perhaps the increased peril that an imposed settlement (With what Palestinian entity, by the way? Is Hamas in on this?) would inflict on the Jewish state is not of great concern to the president, who has made Muslim outreach, not the U.S.-Israel alliance, the cornerstone of his Middle East policy. And why would Obama be able to divine a magical solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? As Rubin reminded us last year (and his points are even more on point with the passage of time):

As for those giving advice, here’s what we’ve seen in the last six months from those who want to “save” others by imposing their own vision:

–The idea that stopping construction on Jewish settlements would bring some Arab concession has already proven wrong.

–The idea that engagement with Iran would work has already proven wrong.

–The idea that the United States could successfully engage Syria in a set of mutual compromises has already proven wrong.

–The idea that an Obama charm offensive would bring higher levels of Arab support has already proven wrong. And that’s just in six months!

Let’s have a little humility and readiness to listen, please, from those who would play with the lives of other people.

But humility is not a trait in the Obama repetoire. Saner heads who forsee the unworkability of an imposed peace (Is the U.S. going to disarm the Palestinians and enforce the peace?) may prevail in the administration, but it would behoove Israel’s supporters to register their loud and unequivocal objection — and enlist Congress if need be — to make clear that an imposed “peace deal” against Israel’s will is a non-starter. Moreover, talk of such a deal (perhaps just another form of public bullying of Israel) only encourages the same Palestinian rejectionism and violence that has deprived the Palestinians of their own state for over six decades.

David Ignatius writes: “Despite recent turbulence in U.S. relations with Israel, President Obama is ‘seriously considering’ proposing an American peace plan to resolve the Palestinian conflict, according to two top administration officials.” As frightful as this sounds, it smacks of just the sort of arrogance we have come to expect from this administration. The gang that deplored “cowboy diplomacy” and said we should be more attuned to our allies’ concerns has devoted itself to bullying and blustering — but, of course, not when it comes to despotic regimes. There, it’s all smiles and bows.

Who might be the architect of such a scheme — one that presupposes there is a Palestinian negotiator with the authority to make a deal and enforce the peace? Why, Ignatius tells us, “the real strategist in chief is Obama himself. If he decides to launch a peace plan, it would mark a return to the ambitious themes the president sounded in his June 2009 speech in Cairo.” That would be the speech in which he skipped over 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism, analogized Palestinians to enslaved African Americans, and posited that Israel’s legitimacy rested on Holocaust guilt.

Ignatius concludes:

A political battle royal is likely to begin soon, with Israeli officials and their supporters in the United States protesting what they fear would be an American attempt to impose a settlement and arguing to focus instead on Iran. The White House rejoinder is expressed this way by one of the senior officials: “It’s not either Iran or the Middle East peace process. You have to do both.”

This is poppycock, of course. The Obami can’t come up with an effective Iran approach. And now they want to add to their overwhelmed and underperforming foreign-policy apparatus by imposing a Middle East plan? It is apparent that the latter is an excuse and diversion from doing anything about the former. It is also very dangerous.

Writing last fall, Barry Rubin (no relation) explained the fallacy of a get-tough-with-Bibi approach, a less extreme variation on an imposed settlement presumably under contemplation:

It never enters the minds of these people that a “peace” agreement that was broken or had dangerous provisions (giving up strategic territory; east Jerusalem; empowering a radical regime in a next-door Palestinian state; opening the door to foreign Arab or Iranian armies entering; bringing in millions of Palestinian Arabs to Israel) could leave Israel far worse off.

Or perhaps it does, and the Obami simply don’t care. They’ve shown very little sympatico for Israel of late, and perhaps the increased peril that an imposed settlement (With what Palestinian entity, by the way? Is Hamas in on this?) would inflict on the Jewish state is not of great concern to the president, who has made Muslim outreach, not the U.S.-Israel alliance, the cornerstone of his Middle East policy. And why would Obama be able to divine a magical solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? As Rubin reminded us last year (and his points are even more on point with the passage of time):

As for those giving advice, here’s what we’ve seen in the last six months from those who want to “save” others by imposing their own vision:

–The idea that stopping construction on Jewish settlements would bring some Arab concession has already proven wrong.

–The idea that engagement with Iran would work has already proven wrong.

–The idea that the United States could successfully engage Syria in a set of mutual compromises has already proven wrong.

–The idea that an Obama charm offensive would bring higher levels of Arab support has already proven wrong. And that’s just in six months!

Let’s have a little humility and readiness to listen, please, from those who would play with the lives of other people.

But humility is not a trait in the Obama repetoire. Saner heads who forsee the unworkability of an imposed peace (Is the U.S. going to disarm the Palestinians and enforce the peace?) may prevail in the administration, but it would behoove Israel’s supporters to register their loud and unequivocal objection — and enlist Congress if need be — to make clear that an imposed “peace deal” against Israel’s will is a non-starter. Moreover, talk of such a deal (perhaps just another form of public bullying of Israel) only encourages the same Palestinian rejectionism and violence that has deprived the Palestinians of their own state for over six decades.

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Iraq’s Losers

David Ignatius and Kori Schake make a good point about the Iraqi election results: the big loser, at least for now, is Iran. Ignatius notes how hard the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force worked to derail the electoral ambitions of Ayad Allawi and to engineer a victory for the Iraqi National Alliance, a Shiite religious combination of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadrists. Iran was widely seen as responsible for the De-Baathification Commission’s attempts to disqualify many Sunni, secular candidates, and, Ignatius reports, “A U.S. military commander told me in February that Iran was sending $9 million a month to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and $8 million a month to the political party of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.”

Obviously the Iranian strategy failed, as Allawi’s Iraqiya slate came out the top vote-getter with 91 parliamentary seats, followed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition with 89 seats. The Iraqi National Alliance was a distant third with 75 seats.

As Schake notes, the results suggest that “Iraqi voters don’t want Iran running their government or having sway in their society.” Allawi was the most anti-Iranian candidate. Maliki may well have lost votes because, writes Schake, he “is seen — rightly or wrongly — as more susceptible to Iranian influence.”

These are all, of course, only preliminary conclusions. It is still possible that Iran may regain the edge in post-election camel-trading that it lost in the actual vote. Allawi will struggle to form a government, and if he fails, Maliki will get a shot. Both sides have an obvious incentive to woo at least one of the Shiite religious parties by making who knows what kinds of concessions. The obvious alternative would be for Maliki and Allawi to form their own coalition — a nationalist unity government –but that would be hard to pull off because they can’t stand each other.

Stay tuned. It’s hard to predict what will happen. In some ways, that is the highest tribute we can pay to Iraq. In how many other countries in the Middle East is it so hard to know in advance who will rule after an election? In most countries, the voting is a mere formality to ratify the authoritarian status quo. Not in Iraq. It is emerging as a genuine democracy, but it now faces a major test. As has been noted by many experts, the true test of a political system is whether power can shift peacefully from one party to another. It will be the reaction of the losers, more than the winners, that will set the tone in Iraqi politics and help determine the ultimate success or failure of its democratic experiment.

David Ignatius and Kori Schake make a good point about the Iraqi election results: the big loser, at least for now, is Iran. Ignatius notes how hard the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force worked to derail the electoral ambitions of Ayad Allawi and to engineer a victory for the Iraqi National Alliance, a Shiite religious combination of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadrists. Iran was widely seen as responsible for the De-Baathification Commission’s attempts to disqualify many Sunni, secular candidates, and, Ignatius reports, “A U.S. military commander told me in February that Iran was sending $9 million a month to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and $8 million a month to the political party of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.”

Obviously the Iranian strategy failed, as Allawi’s Iraqiya slate came out the top vote-getter with 91 parliamentary seats, followed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition with 89 seats. The Iraqi National Alliance was a distant third with 75 seats.

As Schake notes, the results suggest that “Iraqi voters don’t want Iran running their government or having sway in their society.” Allawi was the most anti-Iranian candidate. Maliki may well have lost votes because, writes Schake, he “is seen — rightly or wrongly — as more susceptible to Iranian influence.”

These are all, of course, only preliminary conclusions. It is still possible that Iran may regain the edge in post-election camel-trading that it lost in the actual vote. Allawi will struggle to form a government, and if he fails, Maliki will get a shot. Both sides have an obvious incentive to woo at least one of the Shiite religious parties by making who knows what kinds of concessions. The obvious alternative would be for Maliki and Allawi to form their own coalition — a nationalist unity government –but that would be hard to pull off because they can’t stand each other.

Stay tuned. It’s hard to predict what will happen. In some ways, that is the highest tribute we can pay to Iraq. In how many other countries in the Middle East is it so hard to know in advance who will rule after an election? In most countries, the voting is a mere formality to ratify the authoritarian status quo. Not in Iraq. It is emerging as a genuine democracy, but it now faces a major test. As has been noted by many experts, the true test of a political system is whether power can shift peacefully from one party to another. It will be the reaction of the losers, more than the winners, that will set the tone in Iraqi politics and help determine the ultimate success or failure of its democratic experiment.

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But He Told Us. . .

Obama spent a great deal of 2009 trying to convince us of things that just weren’t true. He told us we had to have a trillion dollar (including interest) stimulus plan to keep unemployment at 8 percent. We paid (well, borrowed) the money, and unemployment went above 10 percent. He told us the stimulus plan saved many jobs. We never could figure out how many or where they were. He told us there was a health-care crisis. But more people than ever like their health care just the way it is. He told us he wanted a health-care bill that would cut costs, reform Medicare, improve access to care, not tax anyone but the rich, and eliminate the disparity between the haves and have-nots. We got a bill that does none of that. He promised an end to partisan recriminations and small-minded politics. He practiced both, leaving the New York Times complaining about the resurgence of partisan bitterness. He vowed to end the politicization of the Justice Department, but Eric Holder has run roughshod over career attorneys, given free rein to leftist ideologues, and effectuated a war on the CIA. Obama told us he would return science to its rightful place but refuses to acknowledge evidence that the science underpinning climate-change fanaticism has been exaggerated and bastardized.

In the realm of national security, Obama told us George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had made us less safe, and he set about to reverse the policies that kept us free from domestic attacks for seven and a half years.  But Americans now feel less safe and have experienced three domestic terror attacks. Obama told us he was going to engage Iran to cure the misunderstandings and ill will between our countries. He sent video messages to the mullahs and spent a year overlooking the regime’s thuggish behavior and downplaying their violations of international agreements.  But the Iranian regime has stolen an election, murdered its own people, and is building gobs of new enrichment sites. Obama said he could improve America’s image in the “Muslim World,” but as David Ignatius put it, “The problems the United States faced in 2009 in the Muslim world were deep and intractable, and less amenable to solutions than the Obama administration might have hoped.” Obama told us if he could halt Israel’s settlements, the Palestinians would be forthcoming, and a peace deal could be reached. The parties are farther apart than ever.

I could go on, but you get the point. There is ample evidence that Obama’s rhetoric is divorced from reality and that his policies, both foreign and domestic, have failed even by his own standards. Will he learn and adjust – or will he persist in his folly, a prisoner of a worldview and domestic agenda ill-suited to the challenges that confront us? If he adjusts, his presidency may still be a successful one. If not, he will join the list of failed presidents who never lived up to the promise of their campaigns and who left the country less prosperous and less safe. In 2010, we’ll get an idea which it will be.

Obama spent a great deal of 2009 trying to convince us of things that just weren’t true. He told us we had to have a trillion dollar (including interest) stimulus plan to keep unemployment at 8 percent. We paid (well, borrowed) the money, and unemployment went above 10 percent. He told us the stimulus plan saved many jobs. We never could figure out how many or where they were. He told us there was a health-care crisis. But more people than ever like their health care just the way it is. He told us he wanted a health-care bill that would cut costs, reform Medicare, improve access to care, not tax anyone but the rich, and eliminate the disparity between the haves and have-nots. We got a bill that does none of that. He promised an end to partisan recriminations and small-minded politics. He practiced both, leaving the New York Times complaining about the resurgence of partisan bitterness. He vowed to end the politicization of the Justice Department, but Eric Holder has run roughshod over career attorneys, given free rein to leftist ideologues, and effectuated a war on the CIA. Obama told us he would return science to its rightful place but refuses to acknowledge evidence that the science underpinning climate-change fanaticism has been exaggerated and bastardized.

In the realm of national security, Obama told us George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had made us less safe, and he set about to reverse the policies that kept us free from domestic attacks for seven and a half years.  But Americans now feel less safe and have experienced three domestic terror attacks. Obama told us he was going to engage Iran to cure the misunderstandings and ill will between our countries. He sent video messages to the mullahs and spent a year overlooking the regime’s thuggish behavior and downplaying their violations of international agreements.  But the Iranian regime has stolen an election, murdered its own people, and is building gobs of new enrichment sites. Obama said he could improve America’s image in the “Muslim World,” but as David Ignatius put it, “The problems the United States faced in 2009 in the Muslim world were deep and intractable, and less amenable to solutions than the Obama administration might have hoped.” Obama told us if he could halt Israel’s settlements, the Palestinians would be forthcoming, and a peace deal could be reached. The parties are farther apart than ever.

I could go on, but you get the point. There is ample evidence that Obama’s rhetoric is divorced from reality and that his policies, both foreign and domestic, have failed even by his own standards. Will he learn and adjust – or will he persist in his folly, a prisoner of a worldview and domestic agenda ill-suited to the challenges that confront us? If he adjusts, his presidency may still be a successful one. If not, he will join the list of failed presidents who never lived up to the promise of their campaigns and who left the country less prosperous and less safe. In 2010, we’ll get an idea which it will be.

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Not So Speedy a Buildup After All

David Ignatius makes an important observation about Obama’s announced schedule for a troop surge in Afghanistan:

I asked Lt Gen. David Rodriquez, the No. 2 US commander here, in a briefing tonight how long the deployment of the extra 30,000 would take. He answered that “it will happen between nine and eleven months,” starting in January 2010. Which means that some troops might not arrive until November 2010. The next month after that, December 2010, is when Obama plans to assess how well the troops are doing — so he can decide how many to pull out when the withdrawal begins in July 2011. That doesn’t give him much time to make good decisions. Am I the only person who worries that “fuzzy math” is being used here?

It seems that the super-speedy troop buildup that Obama wanted and the corresponding 18-month deadline don’t have much to do with military reality. Ignatius explains: “As Rodriguez said in tonight’s briefing, you can move people only so fast into a landlocked battlefield half a world away from the U.S. McChrystal’s original finishing point for adding 40,000 troops was March 2011. Now it has been ‘rushed’ to November 2010 for 30,000 troops.” So before you know it, we’ll be up against a July 2011 date, when pressure will build to begin to draw down the troops. And the president, at least the 60 Minutes version, seems to take that date somewhat seriously.

All this suggests that the troop schedule has less to do with military strategy and much more to do with assuring the Left (and the president himself) that this really is a limited commitment and that we’ll be out soon enough, with resources freed up to do what they really want — continue the ultra-liberal domestic agenda. Conservatives are hoping it’s all meaningless, that reality will once again force Obama’s hand, and that if it really takes longer to get the troops there, the date will simply slide. Maybe. But domestic opponents of the war will be ready to pounce come July 2011, and Obama may be hard-pressed to explain that he really didn’t mean exactly what he said. Meanwhile, those in Pakistan and Afghanistan deciding which side to align themselves with will continue to wonder whether America intends to stick it out when progress is slow and casualties mount.

David Ignatius makes an important observation about Obama’s announced schedule for a troop surge in Afghanistan:

I asked Lt Gen. David Rodriquez, the No. 2 US commander here, in a briefing tonight how long the deployment of the extra 30,000 would take. He answered that “it will happen between nine and eleven months,” starting in January 2010. Which means that some troops might not arrive until November 2010. The next month after that, December 2010, is when Obama plans to assess how well the troops are doing — so he can decide how many to pull out when the withdrawal begins in July 2011. That doesn’t give him much time to make good decisions. Am I the only person who worries that “fuzzy math” is being used here?

It seems that the super-speedy troop buildup that Obama wanted and the corresponding 18-month deadline don’t have much to do with military reality. Ignatius explains: “As Rodriguez said in tonight’s briefing, you can move people only so fast into a landlocked battlefield half a world away from the U.S. McChrystal’s original finishing point for adding 40,000 troops was March 2011. Now it has been ‘rushed’ to November 2010 for 30,000 troops.” So before you know it, we’ll be up against a July 2011 date, when pressure will build to begin to draw down the troops. And the president, at least the 60 Minutes version, seems to take that date somewhat seriously.

All this suggests that the troop schedule has less to do with military strategy and much more to do with assuring the Left (and the president himself) that this really is a limited commitment and that we’ll be out soon enough, with resources freed up to do what they really want — continue the ultra-liberal domestic agenda. Conservatives are hoping it’s all meaningless, that reality will once again force Obama’s hand, and that if it really takes longer to get the troops there, the date will simply slide. Maybe. But domestic opponents of the war will be ready to pounce come July 2011, and Obama may be hard-pressed to explain that he really didn’t mean exactly what he said. Meanwhile, those in Pakistan and Afghanistan deciding which side to align themselves with will continue to wonder whether America intends to stick it out when progress is slow and casualties mount.

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The Real Threat to Middle East Peace

David Ignatius’s account of a war game involving the United States, Israel, the Europeans, and Iran (and Gary Sick’s addendum) is a good guide to how the struggle over the Iranian nuclear program might play out:

The U.S. team — unable to stop the Iranian nuclear program and unwilling to go to war — concluded the game by embracing a strategy of containment and deterrence. The Iranian team wound up with Russia and China as its diplomatic protectors. And the Israeli team ended in a sharp break with Washington.

Let me try to flesh out what the “sharp break with Washington” might consist of.

It’s clear at this point that the Obama administration has reconciled itself to a nuclear Iran and even, I think, convinced itself that this won’t be such a bad thing. After all, China opened up to the West after it went nuclear. We dealt with the Russians after they went nuclear. The Indians and Pakistanis haven’t nuked each other, despite Kashmir and all the terrorism. Neither has Israel used nukes, for that matter.

In fact, Iran going nuclear might help remove the chip on the shoulder of the Islamic Revolutionaries by making them feel as important as they hope to be — because as we all know from our Iran experts, there’s an important psychological dimension to all of this; one must understand the legacy of colonialism and imperialism. The nuclear program will really be a socialization program, in other words. It is how Iran will be broken to the saddle of the international system.

So, if you’ve reconciled yourself to all of that, the next step is ensuring the smooth transition of the Middle East into a region with two, not one, nuclear powers. This is where the Israelis, and Israeli power, become a huge problem. Such a problem, I think, that the real challenge for Obama over the next year isn’t going to be dealing with the Iranians, it’s going to be deterring the Israelis.

The Iranians probably won’t test a nuke, so there will be no above-the-fold three-alarm headline when Americans suddenly will be forced to confront the fecklessness of their president. There will be no Soviet-tanks-rolling-into-Afghanistan moment. There will be ambiguity, enough of it for Obama to be able to maintain for a long time that we just don’t know whether Iran has gone nuclear because they’re still considering our latest offer to build reactors for them on the Galapagos Islands and they’ve requested another three weeks for deliberations.

The president is perfectly capable of muddling through the nuclearization of Iran. What would create huge problems is an Israeli strike. Obama would have to use the military to keep the Strait of Hormuz open. The “Arab street,” which he has worked so hard to befriend, would burn him in effigy from Algiers to Islamabad. The Zionist-Crusader axis would be denounced around the world. “Optics” are very important to Obama, quite more so than substance, and he would look as though he had completely lost control of the Middle East (which would be true). And once again, the world would descend into the kind of brutal struggle for power that is not supposed to happen during the Obama Era.

Yes, this is the real problem — the Israelis and their dangerous, rigid feelings of insecurity. So in my estimation, expect to see a major effort by the administration to keep the Israelis, not the Iranians, in check. It’s the logical thing to do.

David Ignatius’s account of a war game involving the United States, Israel, the Europeans, and Iran (and Gary Sick’s addendum) is a good guide to how the struggle over the Iranian nuclear program might play out:

The U.S. team — unable to stop the Iranian nuclear program and unwilling to go to war — concluded the game by embracing a strategy of containment and deterrence. The Iranian team wound up with Russia and China as its diplomatic protectors. And the Israeli team ended in a sharp break with Washington.

Let me try to flesh out what the “sharp break with Washington” might consist of.

It’s clear at this point that the Obama administration has reconciled itself to a nuclear Iran and even, I think, convinced itself that this won’t be such a bad thing. After all, China opened up to the West after it went nuclear. We dealt with the Russians after they went nuclear. The Indians and Pakistanis haven’t nuked each other, despite Kashmir and all the terrorism. Neither has Israel used nukes, for that matter.

In fact, Iran going nuclear might help remove the chip on the shoulder of the Islamic Revolutionaries by making them feel as important as they hope to be — because as we all know from our Iran experts, there’s an important psychological dimension to all of this; one must understand the legacy of colonialism and imperialism. The nuclear program will really be a socialization program, in other words. It is how Iran will be broken to the saddle of the international system.

So, if you’ve reconciled yourself to all of that, the next step is ensuring the smooth transition of the Middle East into a region with two, not one, nuclear powers. This is where the Israelis, and Israeli power, become a huge problem. Such a problem, I think, that the real challenge for Obama over the next year isn’t going to be dealing with the Iranians, it’s going to be deterring the Israelis.

The Iranians probably won’t test a nuke, so there will be no above-the-fold three-alarm headline when Americans suddenly will be forced to confront the fecklessness of their president. There will be no Soviet-tanks-rolling-into-Afghanistan moment. There will be ambiguity, enough of it for Obama to be able to maintain for a long time that we just don’t know whether Iran has gone nuclear because they’re still considering our latest offer to build reactors for them on the Galapagos Islands and they’ve requested another three weeks for deliberations.

The president is perfectly capable of muddling through the nuclearization of Iran. What would create huge problems is an Israeli strike. Obama would have to use the military to keep the Strait of Hormuz open. The “Arab street,” which he has worked so hard to befriend, would burn him in effigy from Algiers to Islamabad. The Zionist-Crusader axis would be denounced around the world. “Optics” are very important to Obama, quite more so than substance, and he would look as though he had completely lost control of the Middle East (which would be true). And once again, the world would descend into the kind of brutal struggle for power that is not supposed to happen during the Obama Era.

Yes, this is the real problem — the Israelis and their dangerous, rigid feelings of insecurity. So in my estimation, expect to see a major effort by the administration to keep the Israelis, not the Iranians, in check. It’s the logical thing to do.

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Muddled Future, Fractured History

There is, it seems, some agreement that the speech last night was a bit of a mess. Bob Schieffer, noting that exit ramps have been constructed before the deployment, observed:  “I just don’t understand the logic of how that works.” John Dickerson at Slate, not exactly the heart of neo-conservatism, writes that he did order a troop increase:

The rest, though, is a bit blurry. According to his speech, Obama is escalating while retreating, adding more troops while also setting a date for their departure. Obama said he was putting pressure on the Afghan government, but he didn’t suggest how. Some of the blurring was by design. He smudged the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, explaining that while he was sending troops to Afghanistan, the struggle was now more regional than it was when the war started eight years ago.

And David Ignatius was similarly skeptical of the obsession with an exit plan, wondering why the president doesn’t really get the problem with telling the enemy that we have limited patience to fight. He relates his conversation with the president:

He has defined success downward, by focusing on the ability to transfer control to the Afghans. He shows little interest in the big ideas of counterinsurgency and insists he will avoid “a nation-building commitment in Afghanistan.” That will make it easier to declare a “good enough” outcome in July 2011, if not victory.

When I asked Obama if the Taliban wouldn’t simply wait us out, he was dismissive: “This is an argument that I don’t give a lot of credence to, because if you follow the logic of this argument, then you would never leave. Right? Essentially you’d be signing on to have Afghanistan as a protectorate of the United States indefinitely.”

Well, no, actually. You convince the enemy you’ll stay until you win. You win, and then you leave. It really isn’t that hard. As Ignatius notes of the president’s apparent cluelessness: “Obama thinks that setting deadlines will force the Afghans to get their act together at last. That strikes me as the most dubious premise of his strategy. He is telling his adversary that he will start leaving on a certain date, and telling his ally to be ready to take over then, or else.”

But if Obama’s war vision was confused, the account of his own presidency was positively unrecognizable. It seemed that he was speaking of some other presidency, or one he hoped to have had, when he, for example, declared: “We have forged a new beginning between America and the Muslim World — one that recognizes our mutual interest in breaking a cycle of conflict, and that promises a future in which those who kill innocents are isolated by those who stand up for peace and prosperity and human dignity.” What is he talking about? The Middle East “peace process” is in a shambles, and he has left a trail of disappointed and aggrieved Muslims — from the Palestinian Authority, which thought it was getting the impossible, to the democracy advocates, who thought they had a friend in the White House. What’s new, exactly? Read More

There is, it seems, some agreement that the speech last night was a bit of a mess. Bob Schieffer, noting that exit ramps have been constructed before the deployment, observed:  “I just don’t understand the logic of how that works.” John Dickerson at Slate, not exactly the heart of neo-conservatism, writes that he did order a troop increase:

The rest, though, is a bit blurry. According to his speech, Obama is escalating while retreating, adding more troops while also setting a date for their departure. Obama said he was putting pressure on the Afghan government, but he didn’t suggest how. Some of the blurring was by design. He smudged the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, explaining that while he was sending troops to Afghanistan, the struggle was now more regional than it was when the war started eight years ago.

And David Ignatius was similarly skeptical of the obsession with an exit plan, wondering why the president doesn’t really get the problem with telling the enemy that we have limited patience to fight. He relates his conversation with the president:

He has defined success downward, by focusing on the ability to transfer control to the Afghans. He shows little interest in the big ideas of counterinsurgency and insists he will avoid “a nation-building commitment in Afghanistan.” That will make it easier to declare a “good enough” outcome in July 2011, if not victory.

When I asked Obama if the Taliban wouldn’t simply wait us out, he was dismissive: “This is an argument that I don’t give a lot of credence to, because if you follow the logic of this argument, then you would never leave. Right? Essentially you’d be signing on to have Afghanistan as a protectorate of the United States indefinitely.”

Well, no, actually. You convince the enemy you’ll stay until you win. You win, and then you leave. It really isn’t that hard. As Ignatius notes of the president’s apparent cluelessness: “Obama thinks that setting deadlines will force the Afghans to get their act together at last. That strikes me as the most dubious premise of his strategy. He is telling his adversary that he will start leaving on a certain date, and telling his ally to be ready to take over then, or else.”

But if Obama’s war vision was confused, the account of his own presidency was positively unrecognizable. It seemed that he was speaking of some other presidency, or one he hoped to have had, when he, for example, declared: “We have forged a new beginning between America and the Muslim World — one that recognizes our mutual interest in breaking a cycle of conflict, and that promises a future in which those who kill innocents are isolated by those who stand up for peace and prosperity and human dignity.” What is he talking about? The Middle East “peace process” is in a shambles, and he has left a trail of disappointed and aggrieved Muslims — from the Palestinian Authority, which thought it was getting the impossible, to the democracy advocates, who thought they had a friend in the White House. What’s new, exactly?

But the next line was the jaw dropper: “We must make it clear to every man, woman and child around the world who lives under the dark cloud of tyranny that America will speak out on behalf of their human rights, and tend to the light of freedom, and justice, and opportunity, and respect for the dignity of all peoples.” Well we “must,” but he’s done nothing of the sort, repeatedly downgrading, diminishing, and discarding human rights and democracy promotion. He hasn’t spoken out to or on behalf of the Chinese democracy advocates. When he had the chance, he did nothing to “tend the light of freedom and justice” in Iran. When he could have showed the Dalai Lama that he valued “respect for the dignity of all peoples,” he decided it was more important to show the Chinese Communists his inner toadiness. Really, embellishment in a speech is to be expected, but this was one big lie.

Obama never did say “victory,” and that is telling. It’s not his thing. As a colleague points out, what Obama believes in is leaving. You see, “America will have to show our strength in the way that we end wars and prevent conflict.” I’m sure the Taliban are delighted to hear that, as are our foes around the world, who will be only too happy to have Obama “show strength” by bugging out of hard conflicts. It’s an inanity, the sort of thing a college grad student would say. We show strength in victory. We show strength by standing up to thugs. We show strength by building our military and not penny-pinching on Defense Department budgets. But don’t expect to hear that from this president.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

You have to strain to find the Washington Post‘s editors acknowledging that Obama’s Honduras policy has been a bust.

Elliott Abrams on the human-rights consequences of raising “multilateralism” to the end-all and be-all of American foreign policy: “Multilateral diplomacy means small talk with torturers, tea with dictators, negotiations with regimes that survive through sheer brutal repression — and it means putting such unpleasant facts aside to gather UN votes and seek consensus.”

David Ignatius has figured out what scares Democrats: “If the Fed’s projections are right, the public is going to be very angry next year — at big business and at the elected officials who have spent trillions of dollars without putting the country fully back to work.” Translation: they mortgaged our future economic security and growth for nothing.

Clarence Page is scared about the gap in enthusiasm, which shows that in 2010, “81 percent of self-described Republicans say they are certain or likely to vote, compared to 65 percent of independent voters and only 56 percent of Democrats.”

Charles Krauthammer keeps getting hung up on that whole Constitution thing: “I think what’s interesting about Obama is he is going to be at the U.N. [conference in Copenhagen] to announce the [new] policy about climate change on the basis of — nothing. He is going to be proposing what the House has passed — that he knows is not going to pass in the Senate. And we are actually a constitutional democracy where the president can’t announce a policy unilaterally. It actually has to pass the two houses of the Congress, and our allies abroad know that, and they’re going to look at this announcement he is going to make and think it … extremely strange.”

Apparently Americans don’t like panels of experts telling them what to do about health care: “A federal medical panel’s recommendation that women can now wait until age 50 to get a routine mammogram instead of age 40 is stirring up strong debate. The latest Rasmussen Reports survey finds that 81% of adults disagree with the panel’s recommendation. Just nine percent (8%) agree with the new guideline, and another nine percent (9%) are not sure.”

We certainly have seen lots of these already: “It’s one of the oldest tricks in the presidential playbook: when you want to focus attention on an issue, hold a meeting and call it a ‘summit.’” But if you really don’t have a plan to address unemployment and your agenda items are anti–job growth (e.g., raising taxes on small businesses), is it such a good idea to hold a summit?

The New York Times pans Obama’s Middle East approach: “Nine months later, the president’s promising peace initiative has unraveled. The Israelis have refused to stop all building. The Palestinians say that they won’t talk to the Israelis until they do, and President Mahmoud Abbas is so despondent he has threatened to quit. Arab states are refusing to do anything. Mr. Obama’s own credibility is so diminished (his approval rating in Israel is 4 percent) that serious negotiations may be farther off than ever.” And to boot, even the Times can see that George Mitchell and Rahm Emanuel bear responsibility for the debacle. So will either be canned?

You have to strain to find the Washington Post‘s editors acknowledging that Obama’s Honduras policy has been a bust.

Elliott Abrams on the human-rights consequences of raising “multilateralism” to the end-all and be-all of American foreign policy: “Multilateral diplomacy means small talk with torturers, tea with dictators, negotiations with regimes that survive through sheer brutal repression — and it means putting such unpleasant facts aside to gather UN votes and seek consensus.”

David Ignatius has figured out what scares Democrats: “If the Fed’s projections are right, the public is going to be very angry next year — at big business and at the elected officials who have spent trillions of dollars without putting the country fully back to work.” Translation: they mortgaged our future economic security and growth for nothing.

Clarence Page is scared about the gap in enthusiasm, which shows that in 2010, “81 percent of self-described Republicans say they are certain or likely to vote, compared to 65 percent of independent voters and only 56 percent of Democrats.”

Charles Krauthammer keeps getting hung up on that whole Constitution thing: “I think what’s interesting about Obama is he is going to be at the U.N. [conference in Copenhagen] to announce the [new] policy about climate change on the basis of — nothing. He is going to be proposing what the House has passed — that he knows is not going to pass in the Senate. And we are actually a constitutional democracy where the president can’t announce a policy unilaterally. It actually has to pass the two houses of the Congress, and our allies abroad know that, and they’re going to look at this announcement he is going to make and think it … extremely strange.”

Apparently Americans don’t like panels of experts telling them what to do about health care: “A federal medical panel’s recommendation that women can now wait until age 50 to get a routine mammogram instead of age 40 is stirring up strong debate. The latest Rasmussen Reports survey finds that 81% of adults disagree with the panel’s recommendation. Just nine percent (8%) agree with the new guideline, and another nine percent (9%) are not sure.”

We certainly have seen lots of these already: “It’s one of the oldest tricks in the presidential playbook: when you want to focus attention on an issue, hold a meeting and call it a ‘summit.’” But if you really don’t have a plan to address unemployment and your agenda items are anti–job growth (e.g., raising taxes on small businesses), is it such a good idea to hold a summit?

The New York Times pans Obama’s Middle East approach: “Nine months later, the president’s promising peace initiative has unraveled. The Israelis have refused to stop all building. The Palestinians say that they won’t talk to the Israelis until they do, and President Mahmoud Abbas is so despondent he has threatened to quit. Arab states are refusing to do anything. Mr. Obama’s own credibility is so diminished (his approval rating in Israel is 4 percent) that serious negotiations may be farther off than ever.” And to boot, even the Times can see that George Mitchell and Rahm Emanuel bear responsibility for the debacle. So will either be canned?

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Ignatius: Scrap The CIA and Start Over

David Ignatius has written several spy-thrillers in addition to his day job. (He’s now a columnist for the Washington Post.) He has developed some good sources within the intelligence community and for good reason—he is generally a defender of the CIA against its multitude of critics. So it is significant when even Igantius suggests that the CIA’s day may have passed. In Sunday’s column, he writes:

When the next president thinks about fixing the CIA, he or she ought to consider the radical thought that it’s time to blow up the CIA and start over. That’s not to denigrate the thousands of professionals who work there; but they deserve a chance to do their jobs without having those three scarlet letters attached permanently to their work. It’s too late, unfortunately, to undo the reorganization that created the DNI [Director of National Intelligence]. So let those three initials cloak a new, elite corps of analysts drawn from the CIA cadre; let’s give the science and technology division to the DNI, too. The tech revolution hasn’t prospered in the past decade under CIA management.

Meanwhile, let’s float the clandestine service free from its barnacle-encrusted CIA anchor and let it find a new home — somewhere distant from Langley, where the old ghosts and myths are far away.

Ignatius’s comments suggest that the next president might have bipartisan support for a massive restructuring of the intelligence community. Of course the CIA can be expected to fight change with every bit of cunning it possesses. And while the agency has muffed many of its overseas assignments, it has shown a disconcerting aptitude for political infighting in Washington.

David Ignatius has written several spy-thrillers in addition to his day job. (He’s now a columnist for the Washington Post.) He has developed some good sources within the intelligence community and for good reason—he is generally a defender of the CIA against its multitude of critics. So it is significant when even Igantius suggests that the CIA’s day may have passed. In Sunday’s column, he writes:

When the next president thinks about fixing the CIA, he or she ought to consider the radical thought that it’s time to blow up the CIA and start over. That’s not to denigrate the thousands of professionals who work there; but they deserve a chance to do their jobs without having those three scarlet letters attached permanently to their work. It’s too late, unfortunately, to undo the reorganization that created the DNI [Director of National Intelligence]. So let those three initials cloak a new, elite corps of analysts drawn from the CIA cadre; let’s give the science and technology division to the DNI, too. The tech revolution hasn’t prospered in the past decade under CIA management.

Meanwhile, let’s float the clandestine service free from its barnacle-encrusted CIA anchor and let it find a new home — somewhere distant from Langley, where the old ghosts and myths are far away.

Ignatius’s comments suggest that the next president might have bipartisan support for a massive restructuring of the intelligence community. Of course the CIA can be expected to fight change with every bit of cunning it possesses. And while the agency has muffed many of its overseas assignments, it has shown a disconcerting aptitude for political infighting in Washington.

Read Less




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